15 Years Ago
Paul generally hated moving around as much as he did, and this time was no exception.
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 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Ogallala, 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 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 friendsÃ¢â‚¬Â, 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 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 expouse on whatever his pet project at the time was and use Steve as a captive audience.
“What are you doing?Ã¢â‚¬Â 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 sympathic Debbie, Steve’s next-door neighbor.
“I am,Ã¢â‚¬Â Paul began dramatically, as always, “injecting this snake with my serum to see what effect it has on lower-lifeforms and if it can be adapted for human use.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Ah.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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?Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Assuming this radioactive isotope remains stable, it’s going remarkably well.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Um radiation? Isn’t that dangerous?Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Only,Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Ah.Ã¢â‚¬Â Steve agreed, and there that conversational tract ended. “So what’s going to happen to the snake?Ã¢â‚¬Â
“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Huh.Ã¢â‚¬Â Steve said, his mind wandering again. “I heard from the other students that you’re about to be kicked out of school.Ã¢â‚¬Â That kind of snapped Paul out of his funk.
“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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 Ã¢â‚¬Â 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 snaketank.
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!Ã¢â‚¬Â 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,Ã¢â‚¬Â a stern-looking figure began, “you’re very lucky to have a hero like Steve to pull you from that snaketank 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Who are you Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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.
AngleMan surveyed the city. His city.
No, that sounded too clichÃƒÂ©. Even for his own internal monologue.
“Ah, chum,Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Hmm?Ã¢â‚¬Â replied a distracted Edge.
“Something troubling you, my friend?Ã¢â‚¬Â
“No not really. It’s just that I think that armored truck is up to no good down by the Guthrie Institute.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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-renowed 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,Ã¢â‚¬Â 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,Ã¢â‚¬Â Edge commented, ” Ice-Pac.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Let’s go.Ã¢â‚¬Â AngleMan offered, “Maybe he can be negotiated with.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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!Ã¢â‚¬Â AngleMan yelled out. “Cease your evil-doing and let’s go have a milk and talk about this!Ã¢â‚¬Â
In response, one of the henchmen levelled 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?Ã¢â‚¬Â Edge asked his mentor.
“We improvise, chum.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Seems like an obvious plan.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“What’s the plan, AngleMan? More improvising?Ã¢â‚¬Â
“No, I think we’d better retreat for the moment.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â The voice was coming from Billy GUNN, but it obviously belong 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Fighting evil-doers such as yourself is never a trouble, it’s a PLEASURE!Ã¢â‚¬Â
“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?Ã¢â‚¬Â
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 Ã¢â‚¬Â Edge gasped between dodges, “Why don’t we just go down there?Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Down THERE!Ã¢â‚¬Â 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, stupified. AngleMan lept down after him.
“Where the hell did they go?Ã¢â‚¬Â Ice-Pac’s indignent 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!Ã¢â‚¬Â AngleMan yelled dramatically, hoping to psyche out Ice-Pac.
“Maybe this one, but I’ll be back!Ã¢â‚¬Â , and a wall of ice seperated 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Indeed they are correct,Ã¢â‚¬Â 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?Ã¢â‚¬Â
“You had me at hello.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.Ã¢â‚¬Â A hole in space, about AngleMan’s size, opened to welcome him. AngleMan stepped through into the blackness, and Edge followed.
“No sidekicks allowed!Ã¢â‚¬Â 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!Ã¢â‚¬Â
Sadly, no one was around to hear this witty rejoinder.
* * * * * *