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NAKED IN THE COLD SUN
by Matt Rossi

Naked in the cold sun
Breathing life like fire
Thought I was the only one
But that was just a lie
Soundgarden, 4th of July

Remember all those renowned generations,
They left their bodies to fatten the wolves
W.B. Yeats, Three Marching Songs)

Environment
Made you smart
Helmet-House of Pain, Just Another Victim)

The USS RHODE ISLAND was your everyday Trident Nuclear Submarine. Huge, sleek, powerful, loaded with atomic warheads, and an anachronism. Still, Eric thought as he pulled the breached submarine out of the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean and landed on an Aleutian Island, no reason to let them drown.

Water drained out of the hole in the steel hull. Eric wondered what had put the hole there in the first place, but it wasn't a big deal. He set it down on the beach, making sure that any hatches were openable, and then flew off. He didn't want them, or anybody else, to know about it...he was trying to keep a low profile. The last thing he needed was more press. He had more of that than he could handle already.

Then again, they'd be dead if I wasn't in Alaska, checking out that Omega that Danny sensed last night. Some old Eskimo guy who called himself an Angakok or something: was breathing his last when I showed up. Said he was calling for a successor out on the spirit plane, and that might have been what Danny picked up on, and all about some bear that wasn't there. Lucky for him that girl showed up so he could get on with it, whatever it was. And then the sub, almost like it was waiting for me, sinking with that big hole in it. Strange all the way around.

Eric pointed himself toward home and sheared through the air.


Danny was sweating again. Mirranda sat and watched him mumble in his sleep and wondered why his mind seemed hellbent on killing him when he slept. Three out of four nights this week he'd gone walking...and the nightmares he went into were getting worse and more violent. Last night, it was a tropical warzone, that much he'd inadvertently broadcast before waking up and shutting her out. Since Jarod died, he'd been doing that more and more.

Where are you tonight? And will you come back this time?


The Astral Plane. Actually, there isn't one: It all exists inside a mind, or inside more than one when they join. Danny looked at the angles twisting to meet at odd junctions, the floating shards of glass, the fire that burned for no reason floating in the air, and realized he'd gone walking again. But where to?

"Daniel...I finally get to meet you."

Danny whirled around. He found himself facing a man in lush robes, the silk and smooth fabric of a Daimyo, but he barely looked at the red and green costume, focusing on the face. He knew it. It was scorched into him, burned there by the fires that killed his mother and father.

"Tazakles."

"I am the bitter name. Who said that? Oh, well, I can't remember anymore. You know, Danny, most people who lose loved ones just seek therapy."

"I've found that revenge is cheaper."

"Not when you'll never achieve it, Daniel." Tazakles stood, and his robes slid off of him, revealing writing tattoo art that blazed with color. With power. And skill, in order to draw Danny here he'd need skill.

"How'd you know about my walkabouts?"

"When I was young and untrained, my power would range out of control when I slept." Tazakles was now wearing the armor of a Samurai, a classical one, with the lacquered layers perfect, red and green and gold that surged with light in time with a pulse Danny could feel all around him. In return, he formed the less flashy chainmail of a Norman Footsoldier. Tazakles gestured with a stunningly beautiful, terrible Katana, and Danny hefted a dull gray shortsword. "I was much as you are now, Daniel. Powerful, untrained, idealistic. But I learned better."

"Is this the part where you tell me that the Emperor has foreseen this and reveal to me that you are my true father?"

"Very droll. Yet closer than you might think. I am what you will become, with your ragtag army and designs of vengeance you come ever closer to this." He swung, the air hissed as the blade swept, and it made Danny notice how much more realistic than reality the mindscapes can be in the hands of one who knows them. Danny parried, knowing that he was playing into Tazakles hands but stalling for time. "Eventually, if I allow you the time, you will grow until you are my equal, or perhaps my better. You will become my shadow. All great men must have an enemy, Daniel. We, you and I, were made for one another."

"You sure talk a lot." Danny struck, and Tazakles easily parried. Danny was all power compared to Tazakles, who matched that and then added years of skill to the mix. Danny was a rank amateur, and knew it, as he barely parried Tazakles.

"Continue your hunt, and Grow. Soon, we will be ready for each other."

And with that, Tazakles was gone. Danny stood there for a moment, and then awoke, sweating again, harder than before. Was that a dream, a walkabout, or both?

"This time, will you tell me what happened?" Mirranda was sitting on the edge of the bed, her arms crossed, her red hair pulled back in a tight bun that made her look like the teacher Danny had a crush on in second grade.

"I would if I knew myself."


Eric watched the massive monitor screen in dismay. Footage of his flight over Lake Michigan and his fight with Deathbringer had become hot media property in the week and a half since it had happened. I've replaced O.J. as the chew toy of the press, wonder how that happened? The smiling face of Doctor Linda Tanaka, a geneticist and expert on Omega biology, was displayed in a small box in the corner of the screen, which was frozen on him. His face, glowing eyes and all, was leering out of the television as Tom Brokaw asked questions.

"So, Linda, what can you tell us about the young Omega that some in the media have dubbed `Tempest'?" Eric nearly puked. Christ, they even gave me a comic-book name! What's next, an red and black costume like the one Overman wears? I know, I can get a leather jacket and bitch about my life like the Z-Men do!

"Well, Tom, it appears that he has both Telekinetic and Photokinetic powers, as well as Pyrotic abilities and perhaps some sort of Telepathy. We here at DYNAMAX have screened this footage carefully, and we really wish we had a sample of some kind" I'll bet you do, preferably with me strapped down and cut open so you could get more, huh? "of his DNA...it must be fascinating to look at where his evolutionary process has led him."

"Well, Doctor, thank you for your time. You'll be one of the guests on NOW, with Jarvin Tazakles himself, as Katie Couric covers both the Tempest Fever phenomenon and the general Omega situation, as I understand."

"That's correct, Tom."

WHAT!?? Now they're doing a stinking INTERVIEW about me with TAZAKLES!? I can't....get a grip, Eric. You can't do anything about the press, they just sort of happen. Hopefully they'll let it go when they realize that I'm keeping a low profile.

"And coming up...NASA releases astonishing Hubble Telescope footage that truly makes history...Over to you, Stone."

Eric got up and nearly ran away from the monitor screen. This is not good, not good at all. How do I go anywhere now? And everybody will think SOMETHING about me, something that they conjured up.

Finally Eric reached the huge cavern that was considered the training area. Several of the Colonists were there, working on firearms skills or hand to hand...both skills now superfluous to Eric. What am I now? What do I do if people start expecting me to do for them like they seem to? Caught up in his self pity, Eric didn't notice Warren and Jimmy as they approached.

"Eric...you okay?"

"Warren...yeah, I'm fine. Just a little weirded out." Eric turned and looked at Jimmy, who was encased in a red metal suit and carrying a skeletal-looking helmet. "What's that gear, man?"

"Oh, didn' I ever tell ya about my days as a solo, busting heads in Miami?"

"Yeah, but you didn't go into detail...you wore that thing?"

"Of course I did! The only way you'll ever get me to fight ANA'BODY is covered head to toe in metal. That, and I usually like to be wasted, too." Warren laughed, and Eric felt his first genuine smile crease his face unwillingly. "So, what are you doing in the Training Room, Mr. Hottest thing since the Z-Men?"

"Oh, God, please! Don't bring that up."

"Then I guess," Warren looked insufferably pleased with himself, even moreso than usual. "you won't want to hear about the comic of your adventures that just got released in Japan? You happen to be almost as popular in Japan as the Filthy Duo."

"No. Please, no, tell me he's lying Jimmy."

"I got copies for evry'body, mon. That's how Warren knows." They both smiled, then suddenly Jimmy dropped the smile. "It's good for morale down here, Eric, and it's harmless. No one knows you out there anyway...and now, all the kids down here, the little ones, can say they know you, and feel safe."

"BUT I DON'T KNOW IF I CAN PROTECT THEM!"

"It doesn't matter, Eric." Warren leaned up against the wall. "It only matters that they believe that you can. They..WE have nowhere else to go. Now, at least there's a feeling of hope down here. You want to take that away?"

"I don't want to let this get out of hand is all. I'm not Overman, and this isn't a f@#king comic book, Warren! They could die believing in me!"

"They could die anaway, mon. Jarod proved dat." The three of them fell silent, run out of things to say.


Jarvin sat in his chair and through the minds of several of his unsuspecting employees read seventeen newspapers at once, while watching six television shows and eating a dozen breakfasts. It was really quite...intense. And he loved sensation as a boy loves a new toy, collecting them, using them with ease. The chess game was beginning to show promise: Young Daniel had shown adaptability, bravery, and common sense. Very promising, indeed.

Sipping on the coffee that actually was the only thing in front of him, Jarvin severed the links and reviewed the report of the HAVOC unit. They'd engaged the Tempest omega and driven him off the roof of the Sears Tower...but that was as far as they'd gotten. They couldn't claim they'd even wounded him: He just flew away after a dip in the Lake. Not tremendously impressive...but exactly as he'd planned it. Everything was fitting Tazakles little plan like a fine crafted glove...it was as beautiful as crystal, really, both fragile and hard.

If things go as I have shaped them...and they will...I will drive a wedge between my enemies. Already I've caused confusion among dozens of Omegas, both private and otherwise...soon the cursed Colony will feel the wrath of my erstwhile allies...and then my allies will be eliminated, won't they? Washington will be dead, and I know the old man doesn't dare to go out of the shadows, so who's in line? The Mad Dog, of course. And I think if I'm careful, I can break the old man's leash and put my own there. And once I have SIRECOM, who's to say the old man isn't next? Best to be cautious, though...he's a deadly bastard. But so am I. And I can wait.

A chessboard slid up through the top of the desk, and Tazakles lifted the black Rook off of the board. "Phase Two...time to make you ready, young ones. The higher I place you...the farther you'll fall." If the noise Tazakles made was laughter, then nobody was there to say.


In the Yukon, thirty miles west of Alaska, a huge complex squats in the center of a square mile of tundra. People mill around, but never leave until their one year hitches are up, and even then many choose to sign up for another. Only the best weaponsmiths, technicians and scientists get to work at DYNAMAX Munitions.

"Wolf" Paul DuFresne, at forty one of the youngest executives at DYNAMAX, sat in his chair in his office and waited, as he had every day in the three years since his daughter had run away, for her to call him. She never did. The red light on his desk clicked, and snarling, Wolf pushed it, causing a holographic display of a thin reedy man in his late forties to appear.

"This'd better be good, Steven." Despite his age, DuFresne was rockhard under his suit, and his shaggy brown hair and beard had not a speck of gray, which was due to the irony of his life. He was an Omega. His daughter Jen had run away from his home in Vancouver because she was an Omega as well...and because he had never been there to tell her he understood.

"Sir, we've developed the HK bot you asked for. We call it the..."

"I don't give two shits what you call it. I'll be right there." He got up, removed his jacket and tie, and walked out his office, stopping only to talk to his secretary, Jane. "I'll be indisposed the rest of the week, so tell Andre it's all in his lap."

"He'll love that."

"Jane, I very well might not be alive to care." He walked out the double doors and down the hallway, causing several people to practically have to leap out of his way to avoid colliding with him. He barely knew they were there, images of the surveillance and investigation results dancing in his head. Discussions with several witnesses told him that in the past two years a girl matching his daughters appearance and answering to the name "Agony" was mixed up with a group of Omega terrorists calling themselves The Colony. This person had been responsible for ten raids on DYNAMAX facilities.

As he entered a high-speed elevator, Wolf wondered how his daughter had become an anti-industrial lunatic. And of all the companies to attack, DYNAMAX seemed the oddest choice...a fairly benign outfit. The smooth drop began...you can't even tell we are dropping three miles, can you? Does anyone know this entire complex? I know I don't.

The elevator stopped as smoothly as it had begun, and the doors slid open. Wolf walked into a huge vault where dozens of armament rested in racks. Fifteen different suits of armor sat in racks, and surrounded by technos was what he'd come to see.

It was fifteen feet tall. Humanoid, with a large weapon of some kind, possibly the plasma cannon he'd seen the specs on last week, for a left arm. Doors for micromissles and other firepower bristled on every square inch. It looked as deadly as he'd hoped it would.

"Sir!"

"Steven." Wolf walked into the midst of the men, who parted and scurried to get a safe distance. Despite his generous pay and the complete design freedom he gave them, he intimidated the shit out of his workers. And he enjoyed it, truth be known. "Capabilities are as I specified?"

"Actually, sir, we improved a good deal on what you specified."

"Indeed? Explain." Wolf wasn't much of a talker. Steven tugged at his collar with his left hand and wondered why he'd signed on with DYNAMAX Munitions, but the answer was already in his head...Because they let you build things like that.

"Well, sir, I discovered a better way to bond alloy to alloy than the old monomolecular method...I went with a decamolecular fused bonding, putting every ten molecules to one and then reversed."

"Steven?"

"Yes sir, I'll skip the babble. At any rate, it is five times stronger then any alloy previously designed by any firm, including us..despite a slight reduction in the amount of plating I used to armor it, it has four times the resistance you said you needed, and is lighter now too. And while putting the weapons systems in, Wanda and I discovered a way to improve the plasma cannon significantly...three times the output and the same amount of power required to fire it...you'll still have thirty-five shots before the weapon runs out of power. Everything else is exactly as you specified."

Wolf looked up at the machine that would bring his daughter home. It gleamed a silvery blue, and the sensor pod where the head would be had a grinning look. "Excellent. Everyone leave now."

"Yessir." Steven and the others left, but Steven was confused by one thing...the systems on board were designed for a pilot...but he'd been ordered not to put a space for one. Where would the pilot sit?

Wolf watched them go...he knew what Steven was thinking, but didn't care. Finally, when he was alone, he looked up at the robot. "Lets go get Jenny back, huh?" The robot almost seemed to wink at him. He touched both hands to it, and concentrated his will...and then dropped to the ground, almost comatose. The robot stood to its full height. Various systems whirred through their diagnostic mode, while the robot linked with the factory computer.

(Seal off design bay two...no one enters, no one leaves, save this unit.)

It then stood and walked into what vaguely resembled an elevator shaft...but there was no car, just a plate under its massive feet.

(Enable...engage.)

Maglev fields grabbed hold of the robot, and accelerated it to Mach one in two seconds. Sound suppression baffles damped the boom down, but everyone in the factory heard it...and no one responded. DYNAMAX had that effect on people. In seconds the machine was in the air, streaking southward at Mach 2.3 or better. Its stealth suite kept it invisible to radar as it plotted a course towards where the investigators told him the sightings of Jen had centered.

(I'll bring you home...get you out of the brainwashing and see that these bastards pay for stealing my little girl...and I'll make sure they never do it to anyone else.)


Eric was finally alone in the training room, slamming his hands through various metal plates in a vain attempt to gauge his strength. Jimmy was working on a force field device that might be able to adapt, at least as long as he held back from using the upper 25% of his ability...he was beginning to feel a lot like the characters in Harrison Bergeron, always holding back.

Finally he gave up and walked back to the monitor room...maybe Warren will be watching some soft-core film, or the twins might be there and I can flirt with them. Sure, they don't take me seriously, but they're girls. While walking, he didn't hear a noise approaching him...until a redheaded blur flipped over him and landed in front of him.

"Hey, studmuffin...how's it hanging?" Jen...Agony...whatever.

"It's still there, I suppose."

"Awww...you sound so depressed. Wanna go smash something?"

"Oh, haven't you heard? I'm a role model now...no terrorism for me."

"Hey, you want something to eat with that sarcasm?" She smiled as they both resumed walking down the hall. "You know, it'll never go away, but it will die down a lot. I know the press..they act like Piranha. At first, they go nuts...but then they get enough and swim away."

"I just hope they swim away sooner, not later."

"Say, why don't you and I go get something to eat...you could take me to see The Lion King."

"Are you asking me out?"

"I'm encouraging YOU to ask ME out...there's a difference." Eric didn't see one, but it wasn't like he had a lot of offers, and despite a certain...eccentricity...Jen was pretty, and fun, in a "Let's play mumbleypeg with girders" sort of way...and besides, he could keep up, now.

"Yeah...I can see that. Sure. That'd be good. I'm just gonna tell Dan so he can find us if something happens." She looked like the suggestion put a bad taste in her mouth, but nodded and headed off.

"I'll be in my room...when you get done, head on over, and we'll blow this place."

"Cool." She walked off, and Eric wondered what the hell had just happened. She's got to be a couple of years older than me...then he looked at his reflection in a shiny retaining wall and realized that the Omega had done things to him like adding five inches of height, deepening his voice, that sort of thing. Does she even remember my age? I hope not...and I'm sure not going to tell her.

The doors to the Monitor room slid open...the automation not having its best day but working nonetheless. Danny was sitting in the chair he'd stuck smack dab in front of the huge screen, staring at an enhanced-speed feed of various world news programs. "You'll be glad to know that nobody attributed the sub incident to you. Tempest fever is beginning to ebb, except in Japan. Long haired young men with huge, one colored eyes are ALWAYS popular there."

"You make me feel cheap."

"What's up, little brother?" Danny sounded like he'd been hit by a mail truck that was carrying a Dear John letter from his best girl. As he turned to face Eric, it took a lot of willpower to keep from gasping at the bags under his eyes, the yellow tinge to his skin, the sweat in his hair and soaking his shirt.

"Uh...are you sick, Danny?"

"You know, I just may be." He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. "C'mon, you didn't come down here to discuss my health. Besides, I read Jen's mind."

"Jesus, Danny, you ever hear of privacy?"

"It wasn't intentional, Eric...I just sort of wandered. And anyway, let's get on with the part where I say sure, you go and have fun, just so you don't think me a total bastard."

"Hey, I'M the one who probably comes from an illicit union."

"Been reading, have you? Go see your movie...be careful, though. She's a little out of your league...in the same way that the Toronto Blue Jays are out of the Little League World Series champs league."


At the Tanden residence, Jeremy and Angela Tanden were concerned as well, but not about Danny Anderson, save as a faceless Omega terrorist. They were staunchly pro-law and order, and although stodgy, were good people. Jeremy worked in a bank, and Angela was a lawyer who had just begun working again last year. She'd taken seven years off after Melissa had been born. Currently, the lack of appetite that Melissa had displayed since that horrible Omega battle at her school was what they were talking about, in hushed tones so she couldn't hear. Of course, it was hard on her, but then again, you just couldn't shield the little ones anymore. What was needed here was a frank and open discussion of her trauma...when was Dr. Moreau available to see the three of them again?

In her room, Melissa smiled. She was, in fact, ravenously hungry. But then again, as her eyes went from their sweet green to deadly black, and static erupted from her hands, it wasn't conventional food she was hungry for.

"Come, Danforth...come, little raubtier, I have need of you." Inside her perfect angel head, the mind of Melissa Tanden writhed. It was subsumed, buried underneath an older one...and that mind hungered. The Jack Russell Terrier, named in a fit of Republican jingoism by her parents, obediently came to her. It licked her palm.

"That is good...very good, indeed. I had many names, did you know that? One of them was Schwartzritter...but my favorite was Todtschoepfer...or, in your masters language, I was Deathbringer." She closed her hand on the dog's nose...and in seconds he shriveled. There wasn't even time for it to bark before it died. She impassively looked down at it as she allowed her eyes to switch back.

"I suppose I must hide you...as I am not ready to kill die wanze underneath me until I have my revenge...this body will give me the surprise I need." She picked up the dog and walked into the bathroom, where a cleaver and a trashbag had been laid out before the toilet. "I can only pray that Hauptmann comes soon...I so detest hiding my superiority...and the clothes they make this child wear!" Picking up the cleaver, she soon fell to her bloody work, whistling alternating passages from the Horst Wessel song and the theme song to Barney and Friends, which actually go together fairly well.


"That was the saddest thing I've ever seen, and I really mean that."

"Eric, if you start to cry..."

"Oh, and like you didn't feel all sad when that little cub saw his dad die!"

"Eric, it's a cartoon." The two of them were safely out of the film, and were currently engaged in late coffee and bickering. The waitress stopped every so often and refilled their cups, which would then be drained. The great thing about Omega metabolism is that it is several times more efficient than a normal persons...the bad thing is that they eat like drayhorses. Four pizzas had gone the way of the dodo between them. As she left, the waitress (Named Ellen, been there for years, and didn't foresee that this would be her last night working in Ray's Pizza) wondered who drank black coffee with pizza.

"So, I guess you aren't one of those girls who pretends not to eat until after the wedding, huh?"

"I think you are getting just a little ahead of yourself."

"So, why'd you suggest this?"

"What do you mean?"

"I know that your Omega send out that little message to people...it would seem to me that you'd be trying to get people to leave you alone."

"I figured you needed to get out..even if you wear those stupid shades in public. At night. In a movie theater."

"Want me to take them off?"

"Yeah...but if you do everybody'd freak. Seriously, I noticed you not noticing me, or at least not any more than any normal guy did before I became...well, you know. I figured that you don't get the broadcast. Was I right?"

"Actually, yeah. Danny says I have a mind shield...that I'm actually a powerful telepath, but that I'm so paranoid about people reading my mind that I locked myself down." He drank his coffee. All of it. It was something to see, really. "So I don't get your "I'm too sexy to beat you up" vibe."

"That's cool." She looked out the window. "You know, Chicago is one of the ugliest towns..."


(Scanner lock...75% match...confirmed...Jennifer DuFresne.)

(I'm coming, Jen.)

With that, powerful rockets altered the course and speed of the robot, sending it arcing down on an attack vector. All the weapons systems came on line. A shield snapped over the armor of the machine, which was already impressively protected. It slammed into the pizza place and wiped out the front. The blast sent everybody, Agony, Eric, and the three other patrons, as well as the employees, to the ground.

"Oh...I know I'm popular in Japan, but did they have to actually send one of their bad guys after me?"

"C'mon, Hotshot...let's take it!" Before Eric could respond, she was in the air, flipping over the silvery-blue man-shaped robot and landing behind it...setting it up rather nicely, Eric thought to himself as he lifted the counter and threw it at the machine's torso. The impact knocked it back on its heels...at least he thought those were its heels.

<Jen, wait! Don't fight me!>

"Dad? Is that you?" Eric was about to interrupt this...whatever it was...but stopped himself from slamming into the robot. He landed and noted with a little bemusement, as the patrons and staff fled the shell of a great pizza place, that he couldn't leave the house anymore. "What is that thing? What are you doing here? Why'd you destroy my favorite pizza place?"

<I thought...I assumed you'd be in wherever this colony place is..and that I'd need to use force...> Odd, Eric thought, that's the best sheepish voice I've ever heard from a giant robot.

"Actually, if we'd been in the Colony, you probably wouldn't have been able to find us, no matter what you did to track us to Ray's. It's shielded." Eric walked up next to Agony. "You know this guy, I assume?"

<You...you're one of them. One of those bastards who stole my little girl.> Two missiles popped out of the shoulder assembly and slammed into Eric, who had assumed the hostilities were over. The force drove him back into the wreckage of the pizza place and through the ovens.

Jen leapt up and drove her hands into the metal, tearing out the launcher before it could fire again. "Dad, you idiot! You just shot a friend of mine...and he's sixteen!"

<Sixteen?>

"Okay...I think I've had enough of being everybody's punching bag." One second Agony was on the shoulder of the robot, and the next she was landing on the sidewalk as Eric slammed through it. Shards of metal and exploding ammo rained out onto the street.

(WARNING...Estimated %65 drop in combat capacity...WARNING...initiating repair protocols.)

"Eric, my dad!"

"There's no one in there, Jen." Eric was floating in the air above the kneeling robot. The hole was sealing, closing up and running together. Finally the machine stood up.

"Dad? I thought..."

<He's wrong, and he's right...physically, I'm still in the plant, but I can separate my mind and enter physical objects with it, animating them...I never wanted anyone to know about it...I hoped you wouldn't be like me, but you were, and then you left before I could tell you...I'm sorry, Jen.>

Suddenly, the roar of a helicopter filled the air. An Apache A-64, to be exact, and loaded for bear as well. Eric, Agony and Wolf all looked up at the bright floodlights as the copter circled them. Suddenly a loudspeaker clicked on.

"Wolf DuFresne, for theft of DYNAMAX property, and association with terrorists, the HAVOC squad hereby places you under citizens arrest!"

Well, Eric thought as the chopper circled, the gang's all here.


NEXT ISSUE:
Eric vs. HAVOC, Agony vs. Her dad, and all sorts of mindless brawling.

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