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Attack of the Orange Goblin
Levesque

15 Years Ago…

Paul generally hated moving around as much as he did, and this time was no exception.

The son of a colonel in the army and a mother who died when he was 3, Paul spent much of his childhood jumping from small town to small town, until one day his father gave him news that was decidedly mixed in nature. They would be staying in one place for the foreseeable future as he helped train new recruits at an out-of-the-way facility in the Midwest US.

Of course, he didn’t mention just HOW out of the way it was – Ogalla, Nebraska, a town he didn’t even know existed until they got out of the army-supplied car on a miserable morning and prepared to start a new life.

Truth be told, Paul would rather have been where the action was – following the adventures of the mysterious Samaritan who was going from city to city and showcasing fantastic powers and abilities. Paul’s only power seemed to be scaring girls away and breaking out in acne.

For ability, however, Paul had one advantage: He was smart. Really smart. In fact, if he didn’t have to change schools every few months, he probably would have been recognized on a national level for exceptional intelligence by that point.

In fact, he started many conversations with that very thought, which is probably why he didn’t have many friends.

“Go make friends”, his father would gruffly tell him, as though it was as easy as walking up to people in school and introducing himself. They were all jealous, something Paul knew as instinctively as the nose on his face.

After a couple of weeks in Ogalla, Paul amended his initial theory somewhat: They were all jealous, except for his new companion Steve, who was a pretty cool guy, all in all. Steve was what others might term a space case, a perpetually paranoid weirdo who wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. Paul’s goals were a little less lofty – he wanted to be a scientist, and possibly find a safe and effective way to improve his own physical appearance as a bonus.

Steve tended to hang around him in the lab, but Paul tolerated it because Steve understood the way things worked and Paul knew that someone like that was handy to have around for a lot of reasons. He also asked dumb, open-ended questions that allowed for Paul to expound on whatever his pet project at the time was and use Steve as a captive audience.

“What are you doing?” was one such open-ended question, asked one afternoon in the lab as Steve was reading a comic book and munching on a cookie, baked for them by a sympathetic Debbie, Steve’s next-door neighbor.

“I am,” Paul began dramatically, as always, “injecting this snake with my serum to see what effect it has on lower life forms and if it can be adapted for human use.”

“Ah.” Steve said in a tone of voice that indicated he didn’t really understand or care but was interested in carrying on the conversation anyway. “So how’s that going?”

“Assuming this radioactive isotope remains stable, it’s going remarkably well.”

“Um…radiation? Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Only,” Paul began condescendingly, “if I were to inject myself with it. And since that would be exceedingly stupid, I think we can discount that as an option.”

“Ah.” Steve agreed, and there that conversational tract ended. “So what’s going to happen to the snake?”

“Rattlesnake, actually. I’m bombarding him with several types of radiation to bring him to the brink of death, and then I’m going to inject him with the serum and hopefully he will not only recover, but be a bigger and more healthy snake than he was before.”

“Huh.” Steve said, his mind wandering again. “I heard from the other students that you’re about to be kicked out of school.” That kind of snapped Paul out of his funk.

“What?”

“You spend all your time in here, and the teachers think you’re going to flunk out of school, and they want to kick you out before that happens.”

This was a major problem for Paul, not only because it would ruin any potential career plans he had, but because his father would likely kick his ass. Still, he was confident enough in his own abilities to shrug it off.

“Doesn’t matter. If this project works, I’ll get an A for sure and probably make the science journals, too. This is important work.” Whether he was saying it because it was true, or because he wanted to believe it, even he wasn’t sure. He wanted to speak on the subject further, but only got as far as “Hand me that…” before the world spun around him and he collided with a lamp in a haze, knocking him out cold and causing him to fall headfirst into the snake tank.

Paul would later find small consolation in knowing that the other students WERE jealous and some reacted worse than others.

* * * * *

Paul awoke some hours later with a splitting headache and several reporters crowded around him.

“He’s awake!” one of them called out, obviously someone with an astounding grasp of the obvious. Paul started to comment on that situation when he noticed he was having trouble forming words. Apparently a good old shot to the head wasn’t as easily recovered from as the cartoons would indicate.

“Young man,” a stern-looking figure began, “you’re very lucky to have a hero like Steve to pull you from that snake tank and keep you from suffering permanent damage due to that radiation. As it is, we don’t know the full extent of what you brought upon yourself after all that exposure to it over the months. The doctors apparently think you don’t have long to live as it is, and I don’t even want to know where you stole all that sensitive military equipment from to begin with. You’re in a lot of trouble, that’s for sure.”

“Who are you…” Paul managed to croak out.

“Thomas Sledge. FBI. Your father is on the way, and then we’re going to take a trip to the city and have a nice long talk.”

With his world collapsing around him, wishing Steve had just left him for dead, Paul Levesque pulled the unused serum syringe out of his pocket, and plunged it into his own leg.

He felt a little…weird. If the serum actually worked and he recovered from the radiation poisoning, he would make sure he dedicated his life to one thing only: Ending that of Steve Austin.

He couldn’t help noticing everyone suddenly staring at him. Good. He liked that feeling.

Things were going to change for Paul Levesque. He could feel it.

Today…

AngleMan surveyed the city. His city.

No, that sounded too cliché. Even for his own internal monologue.

“Ah, chum,” he began in his usual happy voice, “tonight the city sleeps restfully knowing that AngleMan and his faithful sidekick Edge are protecting it. This is the reason I became a superhero in the first place, the thrill of doing right, serving justice, drinking milk…all the good stuff.”

“Hmm?” replied a distracted Edge.

“Something troubling you, my friend?”

“No…not really. It’s just that I think that armored truck is up to no good down by the Guthrie Institute.”

AngleMan peered over the side of the building they were currently perched on (in the most dramatic pose they could form) and saw the world-renowned Guthrie Institute below. World-renowned for the advances in robots in general, and specifically in the field of androids and cyborgs, with some successes so close to human that few could even tell the difference anymore. In fact, an early prototype developed by the Institute, the Guthrie Universal Neo-Cybernetic Neutralizer (or GUNN for short) was a hot property among the army, with bidding going into the billions before problems forced the cancellation of the project. Specifically, problems with the series 5.4 model (codename: Bart) had led to the death of his original partner, the Lightning Kid, 5 years previous.

It was a very painful thing for AngleMan to think about, and he could only hope that the bugs that had ended the promising life of Lightning Kid had been worked out sufficiently in the 6.0 model (codename: Billy), which was scheduled to debut…right about then.

AngleMan sensed trouble.

“Trouble, chum,” he noted to Edge.

Just about then, the entire front facing of the Guthrie Institute was covered by a sudden and rather unexpected hail-storm, especially unexpected because the sky was completely clear and blue. Within seconds, the temperate had dropped so far, so fast, that the building was covered with a sheet of ice, and the hapless security guard by the front door was frozen in place forever, his face a grimace of shock and pain.

“There’s only one man out there who can suck the heat out of a building that fast,” Edge commented, “…Ice-Pac.”

“Let’s go.” AngleMan offered, “Maybe he can be negotiated with.”

Edge rolled his eyes, but the heroes leaped dramatically from the building and glided on the air currents down to street level, where indeed, the mysterious Ice-Pac and his henchmen were preparing for what were obviously bad intentions.

“Ice-Pac!” AngleMan yelled out. “Cease your evil-doing and let’s go have a milk and talk about this!”

In response, one of the henchmen leveled his gun at AngleMan. Faster than the eye could follow, Edge responded by hurling himself at the hapless soul, turning into an invisible human spear that sent the henchman crashing into the frozen building at an impossible (and unhealthy) speed. At the same time, the other henchman took an ill-advised run at AngleMan, only to be hurled with a throw that sent him flying onto the rooftop from which AngleMan and Edge had come.

But Ice-Pac had already taken that moment to freeze the main door and stroll into the building, leaving AngleMan and his partner staring at an imposing wall of ice that blocked the former entrance.

“What do we do now, AngleMan?” Edge asked his mentor.

“We improvise, chum.” Taking a look at a higher, less-frozen window up the side of the building, AngleMan ascended up the building with a mighty leap and sent himself crashing through the brittle window and into an anonymous lab on the 12th floor. Edge bolted up in a burst of energy to follow him, and they took stock of the situation.

“Now then, we’re on the 12th floor, and I’d assume that his target is going to be the Billy GUNN prototype. So, in order to stop him we’ll likely have to traverse 11 floors downwards into the laboratories and put a halt to whatever he’s doing.”

“Seems like an obvious plan.” Edge agreed. He turned to open the door, only to come face-to-face with an imposing-looking, muscular form that could pass for human in a heartbeat, if only AngleMan didn’t know better from fatal personal experience.

“Stay back, faithful chum, that’s no human…it’s Billy GUNN.”

“What’s the plan, AngleMan? More improvising?”

“No, I think we’d better retreat for the moment.” They started to back up, only to watch another wall of ice form and fill the hole they had left behind.

“Hey, guys, stay a while and chill out.” The voice was coming from Billy GUNN, but it obviously belonged to Ice-Pac. “You see, I’m in control of this fine robotic specimen now, and if you want to stop me from using him to bust open every bank in this worthless city, all you have to do is get past him and meet me in the basement at the control panel. Since I don’t think you’ll be doing that any time soon, you might as well surrender now and save us all the trouble.”

“Fighting evil-doers such as yourself is never a trouble, it’s a PLEASURE!”

“Oh, good comeback…would you be saying the same thing if you lost ANOTHER partner? Or maybe you’ll just leave this one in a burning building to die, too?”

AngleMan was perplexed with the whole direction the conversation was taking. Edge, meanwhile, was busy dodging blasts from the GUNN’s side-mounted lasers and frantically trying to make up some sort of a plan.

“AngleMan…” Edge gasped between dodges, “Why don’t we just go down there?”

“Down where?”

“Down THERE!” Edge finished, as he drove himself into the floor with his energy burst power, shattering through several floors and leaving Billy GUNN standing in place, stupefied. AngleMan leapt down after him.

“Where the hell did they go?” Ice-Pac’s indignant voice screeched from the android’s mouth. In fact, his own question was answered shortly as Edge smashed through the ceiling above him, with AngleMan closely behind.

“The game is over!” AngleMan yelled dramatically, hoping to psyche out Ice-Pac.

“Maybe this one, but I’ll be back!” , and a wall of ice separated them shortly after, and by the time Edge was able to smash through that one, Ice-Pac was gone. AngleMan surmised that Billy GUNN was with him, and that presented a problem for everyone in range of them.

“All right, we should split up and look for him, old friend…I’ll go north, you go south.”

They were about to start their search when the lights went out…and a tall and very dead-looking figure appeared before them. AngleMan gasped in shock.

“Undertaker…I’ve heard legends about you. That you died and came from the netherworld.”

“Indeed they are correct,” the figure said, “and furthermore I come from beyond the pale to ask for your help. The greatest threat that humanity has yet seen is about to be revealed to the world, and in order to fight that threat, I must gather together the most powerful group of heroes that this world has seen, for the common good. AngleMan, will you join my group of heroes and put forth your efforts towards saving the world?”

“You had me at hello.” AngleMan sniffed, feeling the call of justice, and feeling ready to accept the charges.

“Good. Then step through this portal and brace yourself for the unknown.” A hole in space, about AngleMan’s size, opened to welcome him. AngleMan stepped through into the blackness, and Edge followed.

“No sidekicks allowed!” Undertaker barked, closing the portal and leaving Edge standing in the middle of the room like a moron.

“You know, for a guy who’s been dead for years, you’re really a dick!”

Sadly, no one was around to hear this witty rejoinder.

* * * * * *

Steve Austin’s mother often referred to him as an employee of the giant media conglomerate HHH Networks. Usually that level of vagueness sufficed to get her through casual conversations without having to get into the gory details. Steve was sorry she felt that way, but he was damned if he was gonna feel ashamed of his job – he was a janitor and damn proud of it. After his run-ins with the law and problems with previous employers, as his psychiatrist Dr. Levesque always told him, Steve was lucky to even have this job.

Which is why he was a little bit freaked out when his name was called over the intercom to report to The Big Office.

Steve had heard stories about The Big Office, about employees coming in and never coming out again, getting fired and mysteriously disappearing.

That, of course, was silly talk, and only crazy people engaged in silly talk. His watch told him so every day.

So, fighting off the calming effects of the drugs constantly keeping him in a dull haze those days, he brushed his long hair out of the face and defiantly marched up to the door of the Big Office, determined to come out of this encounter for the better.

“ENTER,” a voice boomed as he stepped towards the door. The doors swung open automatically and Steve stepped forward, like Dante into the Inferno.

The first thing he noticed was that the people sitting at the large, classy, oak table were much smaller than he had pictured them.

“Greetings, Mr. Austin,” the one on the left began, “my name is Matthew Hardy, and we’ve heard a lot about you.”

“What?” was all Austin could get out in reply.

“Indeed,” the second one said, “you may be just a low-level janitor scrubbing toilets on the 82nd floor, but to us you’re part of the family.” The large plaque in front of him read “Gregory Helms, Vice-President.”

“What?” was again the only syllable Austin was capable of producing under the influence of the drugs prescribed to him.

“That’s why it pains us so much to have to fire you.” The third one finished, giving him a weird smile.

“Well said, Jeffrey.” Offered Matthew.

“What?” Austin asked again.

“You seem to say that a lot, Mr. Austin,” Gregory pointed out. “You should see someone about that habit.”

“I am.”

“Good, glad to hear you’re capable of more than one word. All right, you’ve talked us into offering you a second chance at redeeming yourself. Now, while the main focus of Hardy/Helms/Hardy Networks is in the media areas, really you have to find something to do with your time and 103 floors of office space, or else you’re just going to stagnate, no?”

Austin didn’t follow, but followed the advice his watch most often gave him and nodded along anyway.

“Excellent.” Jeffrey had now picked up the conversation. “You see, we feel that branching into biotechnology is the best way for HHH Networks to diversify for the next century while maintaining our iron grip on the world’s TV and film needs. Do you read much, Mr. Austin?”

“Uh…yes. Comic books, mainly.”

“Well,” Helms continued for Jeffrey, “perhaps we were thinking more along the lines of that book about something in a Jurassic Park type of vein, but I suppose those ridiculous tales of ‘pro wrestling’ might also provide some educational value.” Helms even did the quote marks in the air with his fingers, annoying Austin to no end.

“I believe that wrestlers exist, and not just in comics.”

“Now is not the time,” Matthew chided, “because you are rapidly causing us to lose our point. Now then, for years every school child in America has been concerned with one thing above all others: DNA re-sequencing and recombining.”

Austin seemed confused at this turn in the conversation.

“All right, perhaps we went to a more scientifically oriented school than you did, but who among us has not dreamed of having our DNA combined with that of a wild animal?”

Austin was feeling a little less confused and a little more freaked out.

“W…what?” he stammered.

“You should be honored, Mr. Austin.” Helms smugly added. “All the others have been spectacular failures, unstable, unusable…really, quite the disgrace to the whole field of so-called ‘mad science’. But you, Mr. Austin…you are tougher and more adaptable. You will be our greatest success and make the name ‘HHH’ synonymous with the greatest advances in the history of science!”

Austin heard the doors slam shut behind him, and turned around to see something he had only read rumors about in the National Enquirer before then. 7 feet tall, covered in burn tissue, with a red mask covering his face, stood the thing that was only supposed to be a child’s tale, like Bigfoot or Loch Ness.

Kane.

Sadly, Austin’s watch had nothing of value to offer him in the way of advice before the first shot to the head by the monster Kane rendered him unconscious.

* * * * * *

Deep in the Grand Canyon, beyond where normal human excursions could be taken, beyond where even the birds bothered to fly, there stood a statue.

Just the rock, sand, nothingness, darkness, and then this STATUE. If you had the patience and time to venture deep enough into the mind-numbingly boring canyon and had the patience to stare at the huge amounts of rock and sand for long enough to recognize that there would likely be nothing but huge amounts of rock and sand on the horizon for any time in the near future. You would be rewarded with seeing a statue where no statue should possibly be at just about the least likely time to see such a statue. For some, this could quite possibly be a deeply moving pseudo-religious experience.

For Undertaker, it was nothing more than an inconvenience, as he appeared instantaneously at the exact spot of the statue (in a bad mood), thus completely bypassing all the neat by-products of the journey to get there.

“Wake up.” He growled, seemingly at no one in particular but the statue. To the surprise of no one, there was no answer. This did not seem to faze the Undertaker, however, as he continued his seemingly-pointless one-sided conversation with an audience that may as well have been a sandbox for all the feedback he got from it. But being dead for so long tends to give you a fresh perspective on things like standing around at the bottom of a canyon having a conversation with a statue, so he continued undeterred.

“Wake up.” Then in case his point wasn’t completely understood, he decided to add “now” to the sentence.

If the statue cared, it didn’t show it. But then, that wasn’t a shock to anyone present.

Undertaker seemed to think long and hard, weighing what he was about to do. It disgusted him on many levels, but greater things were at stake. Despite his total lack of need for doing so, he took a deep breath, gritted his teeth, and put his cards on the table one last time.

“Please?” He felt unclean just saying the word.

The statue moved. One eyebrow.

“Are you happy now?” Undertaker griped. “You’ve been sitting out here sulking for almost six months now, and the world’s going to hell.”

The statue moved a little more, and now actually spoke.

“I suppose you have the solution to this great problem ailing the world, and I’m a part of it?”

“Look, Rock,” Undertaker said, using the statue’s proper name for the first time, “you can either help me, or sit here meditating like a monk for the next thousand years, it’s your choice. I would prefer to have your help because all I have so far is AngleMan and I swear that I’m gonna have to kill him myself if I’m forced to spend the next month alone with him. So, Rock, PLEASE, help me.”

The statue, Rock to his friends, stepped off his pedestal and walked up to Undertaker, meeting him eye-to-eye.

“If AngleMan offers The Rock so much as a glass of milk, The Rock is leaving.”

“Understood.”

“The Rock is serious. You might THINK The Rock is making it up, but he’s not. The Rock will be right back in the middle of the Grand Canyon doing time as a statue faster than you can say ‘rest in peace.’”

The conversation continued that way as they stepped through the portal.

However, unknown to them, there was one other person watching the exchange…

* * * * * * * *

Today…

In the strange part of town known only as “Sidekicksville”, Edge wandered around aimlessly. With the departure of AngleMan for god-knew-where with that weirdo Undertaker, Edge had been having enough trouble patrolling the city, let alone finding time to strike dramatic poses on rooftops. Besides, a sidekick striking a dramatic pose by himself wasn’t really that effective.

So Edge made the only decision he possibly could: He decided it was time to go solo and get away from AngleMan on his own.

He walked into the Sidekick Employment Office, looking for a suitable person to call “chum” and give affirming life advice to, and nearly crashed headfirst into someone who could have been his brother.

He even had the cool shades that AngleMan hated so much. AngleMan always hated the really neat stuff, like crazy shades and unorthodox shenanigans. Edge was shocked that he even let him have some of the one-liners with the way AngleMan was always trying to control his life.

Well, no more.

“Hey,” he said to the stranger, “what’s your name?”

“Well, I don’t have a real super heroic name yet, but my friends call me Christian.”

It was destiny, Edge thought.

I’ve finally found my sidekick…they both thought.

* * * * * * * *

Two Weeks Later…

Steve Austin was having the most wonderful dream, involving a sponge bath from his boyhood sweetheart Debbie, when he suddenly woke up and realized that a dog was licking his face.

Well, the dog was licking his head, to be precise.

His bald head.

The head that had hadn’t been bald last time he had checked.

“What the hell is going on?” He yelled out, to no one in particular. No one in particular answered.

“Sit tight!” Someone answered.

“Who are you?” Austin demanded.

“No one in particular.”

Austin should have seen that one coming.

“Why am I bald?” He demanded.

“It’s to facilitate the connections to your head. Hair gets in the way.”

Come to think of it, thought Austin, he DID feel some weird wires poking into his head, but he had been too busy wondering about the sudden lack of hair and even more sudden lack of drug-induced haze that kept him repeating “What” all the time like a broken record. He felt like getting up and doing something useful with his sobriety, but found his legs were strapped firmly to the chair he was sitting in.

“Why are my legs strapped down to this chair?” He demanded again, hoping to bluff his way out of the situation with some bravado.

“It matches your hands nicely.” And yes, there they were, strapped down to the arms of the chair, and indeed it occurred to Austin that it WAS more organized to have BOTH sets of limbs strapped down than to throw everything out of whack with just one.

“Oh, Christ, now I’m thinking like you, GET ME OUT OF HERE.”

“Don’t panic, the doctor will be with you shortly.”

“I’M NOT PANICKING!” Austin decided to give the old “thrashing around aimlessly” plan a shot, hoping that this might be the one time when it worked and he could shatter his bonds like Hercules in one of those dubbed Italian movies. He thrashed this way, and that way, and back to this way again just to make sure he hadn’t forgotten to do it the first time, and then he decided to try head faking “that way” and thrash this way again, but all to no avail.

Just then, Dr. Paul Levesque walked in, carrying a clipboard.

“Steve, please don’t thrash around, the bonds are for your own good. I promise I’ll release you in good time if you cooperate.”

“What’s going on, Dr. Levesque?”

“Tell me, Steve, do you remember much about junior high?”

“I think I went. That’s about all.”

“Yes, I know, the effects of the drugs on long-term memory are an unfortunate side-effect. Well, Steve, have you ever seen any James Bond movies?”

“Sure. I like it when things blow up.”

“Well, you’re going to get a hell of a show in a few days, then. But I digress: This is the part of the plot where the hero -- you -- is tied up to an inescapable deathtrap, and the villain – me – proceeds to explain the details of his nefarious plan in great detail for the benefit of audience members who haven’t figured it out by then. There are, however, two differences between this and a Bond movie. First, you are not the hero, and second, I’m going to release you from this deathtrap in about 5 minutes, once the effects kick in.”

“Effects?”

“Don’t interrupt, Steve, it’s impolite. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a lack of proper respect for your betters.” Levesque stopped his monologue and backhanded Austin across the face, hard, to emphasize that point.

“YOU BASTARD!”

“Don’t worry, you’ll forget all this in a few minutes anyway.” And Levesque touched a small button on a small remote control not unlike a cell phone and Austin suddenly became docile again.

“Steve?”

“Uh?” Steve asked, drooling slightly.

“You’re drooling. Now be a good boy and I won’t have to do anything more nasty to your synapses, okay?” Levesque touched another button and the effects seemed to evaporate, as Austin snapped back into awareness. “All right, Steve, now that I have your attention, I’m going to release you and explain my evil plot, after which I’ll place you in an easily-escapable deathtrap and then assume your inevitable demise occurs while I go and watch Friends. I hear Rachel’s pregnant.” Steve’s eyes lit up. “KIDDING! No, sorry, you’re screwed, but I just love the look on people’s faces when I use that bit on them. Actually, I have much bigger plans for you, Steve, so let’s get started.”

Good as his word, Levesque undid the restraints and disconnected the bizarre wiring system from Austin’s shaved head. Steve tentatively sat up, stretched his legs…and fell flat on his face.

“Oh, sorry, forgot to mention that your muscles might be a little bit atrophied. You’ve been in something of a coma for the past two weeks while we worked on you. My bad.” Paul was at least nice enough to help him up and provide him with a pair of crutches to get around with. Steve took a couple of steps forward with them…and stopped in shock at the horrors beneath him.

For the floor was made of glass, containing a series of labyrinthine cages, each holding a more bizarre variety of half man, half animal creations.

One of them, with what looked like a rhinoceros horn growing out of his head, leapt up at the glass and bounced off it, snarling at Austin and Levesque the whole time. Another one, smaller, scratched at the glass with large, sharpened claws on his hands while he foamed at the mouth like a rabid wolverine.

“Oh, Steve, I wouldn’t worry about my little menagerie of experiments – that’s a quadruple-reinforced glass ceiling over their heads, they can’t possibly break through it.”

Austin stopped after looking at the wolverine-creature, however, recognizing something familiar…

“Wait a second! Isn’t that Chris Benoit from Floor 12?”

“Well, honestly, yes. I guess you’ve found out my dirty little secret. But who HASN’T dabbled in ungodly genetic monsters? I mean, really, I’m only human, Steve.”

Something really disgusting and vile, apparently lacking in any kind of skeletal structure, chose that moment to slime up against a glass wall near Austin and vomit blood all over the cage.

“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?” Austin yelled, nearly tripping over his crutches in disgust.

“Oh, that’s just Andrew Martin from Accounting. He’s kind of a test. Ah, there’s Jericho with your injection.”

Jericho, who was apparently the no one in particular from before, came over from a large-ish control panel, carrying a tray with a larger-ish needle on it and a nasty-looking neon-pink substance filling it. Jericho, Austin noted, was wearing a very nice tuxedo and had hair down to his feet and a thick bushy beard.

“Jericho is one of my more successful ventures,” Levesque explained, “as he was dying of an incurable heart condition, so I decided to try a lion’s heart and spliced in some extra DNA at the same time.”

“How can you get away with this?” Austin gasped.

“You’d be amazed what Medicare will pay for these days. Now then, this won’t hurt…much…”

Austin decided to buck the odds and, using his crutch like a catapult, snapped the business end upwards into Levesque’s crotch. He groaned and dropped like a rock.

“You should have had THAT genetically engineered!” Austin quipped, like a real action hero. This WAS as easy as it looked in the movies, he thought. Using his other crutch for leverage, he moved towards a large, open door as fast as he could, figuring ANY exit was better than this. He cast one last look towards the fallen Levesque and his toadying butler Jericho, and seeing no opposition turned around and walked for the door…

…and nearly plummeted 600 feet to the bottom of a rather nasty looking pile of jagged rocks and ice. Austin guessed he was at the top of a mountain, which would explain Levesque’s nonchalance towards the whole situation. Out of the shadows beside the door, a large and ugly looking android stepped towards Austin, looking kind of like a normal person if they had had a hose stuck up their ass and been pumped full of air like in the cartoons.

“I believe,” Levesque croaked in between vomiting and gasps of air, “you’ve met my bodyguard, the robot known as Billy GUNN.”

Austin frantically turned to run again, but found his feet frozen to the steel grating below him. To the other side of the door stood Ice-Pac, a smug look on his face.

Levesque, collecting himself, picked up the needle again and stalked towards Austin, a little more upset, both at Austin for trying to escape and himself for not foreseeing it.

“I only take SOME solace in knowing that in about two minutes, you’ll happily be serving my little crew here and be blissfully unaware of this whole unpleasant incident.” Levesque said, practically spitting the words at him.

“Wait…” Austin said, memory suddenly flooding back to him with the drugs having worn off, “I DO remember! You were that geek in high school who always got beat up by his dad and thought he was so much smarter than everyone else! Didn’t you get expelled and join the army?”

“SHUT UP!” Paul yelled, and then stabbed the needle into Steve Austin’s neck, then added a good punch to the face for good measure.

Austin, before he passed out and began a most remarkable transformation, thought he saw a figure in black before him, murmuring one word over and over as the blackness consumed him…

“Remember…”

* * * * * *

In the cold of the night in the Himalayas, there is a particularly big mountain that is remarkably like all of the other mountains, with one small difference. Near the peak of it is a large door. If you had superhuman strength (like AngleMan) or lacking that, the key, you could open that door and find an impressively large steel tunnel sloping slightly downwards into the interior of the mountain, where, for lack of a better term, the secret lair of Paul Levesque is concealed.

Now, you may wonder where Levesque got the money to hollow out the mountain and build an impressively evil array of machinery, and believe me if the IRS ever found out about it they’d be pretty curious, too.

In fact, so would Levesque.

You see, being an evil genius who was bathed in deadly radiation DOES have a downside: In Levesque’s case, blackouts lasting for up to days at a time where he has no idea who he is or what he’s doing. Being the zen sort of person that he is, after a while he simply stopped worrying about those blackouts because, he reasoned, as long as he kept returning alive he was fine, and his employees didn’t ask too many questions anyway.

One time, following a blackout that lasted for nearly three weeks, he received a phone call from an independent contractor in Nepal who informed him that his project in the Himalayas was going “swimmingly” and would be finished in 1-2 years.

Well, if there was one thing that Paul hated more than an employee running around behind his back, it was HIMSELF running around behind his OWN back. This he could not abide, especially when (according to conservative estimates from his accountants) he was costing himself more than 8 million dollars a month on the so-called “Himalayan Project”. What kind of a dumb bastard was this guy, anyway, to be spending that kind of money?

So he decided to do the only logical thing in this situation: Hire someone to watch himself. If you think that sounds silly, just think how the poor guy hired to do the job felt. So, righteously pissed off at himself and armed with a truckload of money, he hired noted private eye Barry Buchanan, who was not only an exacting professional who didn’t ask stupid questions, but also had zero sense of humor and wouldn’t think Paul’s bizarre request was a sick joke.

Buchanan hung around the office 24/7, taking pictures and making recordings at all times, because Levesque never quite knew when the blackouts would hit.

In fact, one day, after a year of no blackouts and steady work from his associates on the “Himalaya Project”, he came into his office in LA with Buchanan in tow, sat down for a cup of coffee, and suddenly woke up in a very cold and miserable stainless steel-filled laboratory that was about the size of an airplane hanger.

A terrified-looking Buchanan was strapped to a large metal slab, needles and tubes sticking out of him while his head seemed to be reforming into that of a rather impressive bull. His mouth was becoming malformed, and this annoyed Levesque to no end, because it decreased the chances of getting any useful information out of him. Instead, all he was getting was a terrifying non-stop scream of pain and anguish out of the rapidly-devolving Buchanan, who didn’t look to be long for this world.

That, clearly, was no good to Levesque, and indeed he realized that he must have been standing in the top-secret “Himalaya Project”, which was a large experimentation facility. But why was his other self trying to build it without alerting him?

He noticed just then, on a desk sitting in the middle of the floor, a pile of photos and tape recordings marked “Private”, which he presumed were for him.

He opened up one of the envelopes with the photos taken by Buchanan, gazed at what he became during the blackouts, and nearly fell over in horror.

For he was staring at himself, a foot taller, 50 pounds heavier, with jet black hair and a hideously deformed face that was thankfully covered up in most of the photos by an imposing-looking red mask…the creature dubbed by his very own sensationalistic media outlets as “Kane”.

Levesque had the photos burned and Buchanan’s remains bronzed and turned into an award-winning statue that resides to this very day in his atrium at the main offices in LA.

Also, upon seeing the photos, his staff were given strict instructions that, if the monster Kane should appear at any of his offices, he was to be treated with all due courtesy and respect, as though he was Levesque himself.

You can imagine Paul’s surprise when it turned out that Kane, using Paul’s own name, had already given the staff the same instructions about Levesque, many years earlier…

* * * * * * * *

Elsewhere…

Doing his first mugging in a few years, Hogan Russo was a little nervous, but thought that it was reasonable to assume that the underlying principles behind the whole thing probably hadn’t changed much. Pull the gun, make the threat, collect the money. With medical bills for his bad back getting more expensive and his obnoxious wife and kids bugging him more and more every day, he just couldn’t make ends meet as a video store owner, and jobs as henchmen for super villains were becoming too specialized for a more generally skilled thug such as himself. So it was back to the basics again, like he preferred.

However, the guy in the alley, currently being held up by him seemed to be taking things entirely too calmly, and that bugged him.

“Don’t friggin’ move!” he yelled again, to really emphasize the point that he was good and mad.

“Hey, man, be cool”, the victim said, while casually leaning up against the wall with his hands in the air, as though he intended to do just that and Russo was simply joining in on his original plan. “You think I’d do anything stupid?”

“Why the hell are you pointing at yourself?”

“Huh? I don’t know, I guess I’m just really self-centered.”

“Well, knock it off! And give me the money or…”

He was cut off as a shadowy figure dressed all in black dropped from a balcony above him, kicked him square in the face with a shot that felt like being kissed by a cinder block, and then spit some sort of acidic powder right in his eyes, leaving him blinded and screaming in pain.

“Geez,” the guy against the wall said in a whiny voice, “It’s about time you got here! You think I was signaling to you guys to exercise my arms or something? I was about to start yelling ‘My name is Rob Van Dam!’ like a moron so you would take the hint and come deal with this jerk.” As if to emphasize, Rob went over and knocked Russo on his ass with one shot to the jaw.

Another person stepped out of the shadows, dressed in a ratty leather jacket and jeans, covered in tattoos.

“Why didn’t you just handle it yourself?” he asked sarcastically.

“Because, Raven, that’s not the point of why we’re out here tonight. You guys are supposed to be trying out for Extreme Justice, not me. I’m one of the founders, remember? I mean, I’m giving young Buzzsaw there a shot because his dad, Muta, was another of the founding members and an awesome ninja, but your slacker attitude is becoming a problem. I know life has been hard ever since you were kidnapped and…altered…by Dr. Levesque, but for now none of the authorities actually believe that kind of thing is going on, so you’ve got to work with me to find revenge outside of the system.”

“Fine.” Raven said, and walked over to the screaming form of Hogan Russo. Placing his hands on Russo’s head, he intoned “Quoth the Raven, nevermore.” And Russo suddenly sparkled into non-existence. “Better?”

“Did you have to kill him?”

“No.” And that was that from Raven’s end of the conversation.

Walking out of the alley, Rob couldn’t help but notice that Undertaker was standing in the middle of the street, ignoring the traffic that was passing right through him.

“American Ninja.” He said by way of greeting to Rob.

“No, I don’t go by that name anymore. I gave up the superhero life a few years ago when the Justice Legion broke up. Now I’m just plain Rob Van Dam, training recruits privately.”

“Your name is of no concern to me. Your students are needed for a greater cause.”

“Really? Like when you walked out on the Justice Legion 10 years ago for your own ‘greater cause’?”

“Do not presume to question me.”

“Or like when you dragged a poor 13-year old kid out of school because you saw a ‘gift’ in him, trained him to be a junior member of the Justice Legion and then made him watch all his best friends cut down by some maniac super villain who got his jollies from blowing up schools?”

“It was for the greater good.”

“IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME IN THAT SCHOOL, WITH MY FRIENDS, DAMN YOU!”

Undertaker drifted over to Van Dam, stared a cold look in his eyes, and suddenly stopped the righteous indignation in Rob before it got started again.

“I offer you the chance to avenge your friends, and avenge the other members of the Justice Legion who perished 10 years ago. I offer you but one chance, here and now. Take it or leave it.”

“Get out of here.” Was Rob’s only answer.

“So be it. But your anger will not bring your father back from the dead.”

“But you could have, and you didn’t.”

Undertaker had no answer for that one, and left into the darkness from which he came.

“Did you track him last time?” Rob asked into thin air.

“Yeah.” Came the reply, as the mysterious Dreamer faded into view again. “I followed him in my dream-form to the Grand Canyon, where he met with The Rock and took him off somewhere to meet AngleMan. I’m not sure what’s going on, he didn’t say.”

“Well, then, recruits,” Rob said to all three, “it looks like Extreme Justice has its first case to solve! To the Extreme-Mobile!”

“That’s just a pickup truck.” Raven pointed out.

Rob knew it was going to be a LONG ride back to headquarters…



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