02:11:09 - The pan who shod gibbering balance

Alpha-man's cape slowly fluttered in the breeze. He stood, looking over the town with a harsh, yet protective gaze. The weary citizens of Downer's Grove, IL slowly crept from their hiding places. They crawled past shattered remains of Destructo-bots and Death-o-matic tanks. A few paused to gawk at the Millstream Deli which now featured the burnt plasma core from a quadra-pulse cannon, but soon a small girl happily points toward the broad shouldered hero.

Someone claps in appreciation, and is soon joined by another. Within minutes the once sleepy town center is filled with happy cheers and tearful cries of thanks.

Alpha man stands for a few seconds, then seems awkwardly uncomfortable with the unbridled praise. He smiles in a humble way, embarrassed with the exuberance of the crowd. Once again, he shows the charm of being "The Down to Earth Superhero Next Door".

He puts up a hand and nods a little and the crowd finally quiets down.

Alpha-man takes a breath and collects his thoughts as the crowd eagerly awaits his words. "Citizens of Downer's Grove", the ultra hero begins, "let it be known, that Evil is not welcome here."

Again the crowd cheers madly for their hero. He waits for them to quiet a bit and continues his speech, "Today, fortune has smiled and granted me the ability to defeat those that seek to dominate without due electoral process, but justice and lettuce have triumphed."

Near the back of the crowd, dusty but puzzled boy asked his father, "Dad, did he just say.."

"Shh, son, let's listen to the nice superhero."

"Brave Citizens of Insert Town Here, now the challenge belongs to you you you to rebuild your homes and bus stations butter pan sleigh boost tube bees. I must sleeve poop now, but if ever weevils slow tar pace, I'll be Bach to try pump. Pup, Hup and I'M GAY!"

Alpha man leapt into the air with his trademark leap and soared above the crowd. Then he dove head first into the highway. The only bit visible was his cape fluttering around his amazingly inactive legs.

Within seconds the area was flooded by agents in dark navy blue uniforms who raced to the newly formed super crater. A jump jet hovered above the site and dropped a heavy cable to the ground. The agents quickly fastened the cable to the belt of Alpha-man and as they dove away, the jet's engines screamed to life. Alpha-man was torn from the pavement in a shower of asphalt. He still struck the trademark flying pose, only now he spun wildly out of control at the end of his metal tether.

Just as suddenly as the agents had appeared, they once again disappeared into the background.

The smiling crowd had no idea what to make of the five seconds they just witnessed, so they cheered and applauded.

It seemed like the right thing to do.

Located in a tiny corner of an even smaller portion of the wastelands that marked the shattered ruins of a former unknown state, stands the eminently forgettable Free Peoples Republic Democracy of the Confederated States of Zomgoynamstan, Inc. The last bit added solely as a play to overseas investment groups looking for places to store their funds, no questions asked. To say, however that the FPRDCS Zomgoynamstan was a paradise would be to pretty much guarantee that your travel agent license (as well as your poetic one) would be revoked immediately.

If one were to read the official record of such things, the lone Zomgoynamstan weatherman had committed suicide ten years ago. This was during the brutal occupation by the Wheys, so naturally no one believed it. In reality he hadn't died at all. He had simply gotten fed up of reporting which of the two types of weather in the tiny nation was currently suffering from. Neither of which were well received which made him the most hated man in all of Zomgoynamstan. He was now living quite comfortably as a septic diver in Lebanon, a job and a location several orders of magnitude better than his previous.

Ruling over this less than delightful wasteland was Supreme General President Stanislav Ahkmid Francisco M'Bwalti de Maria Zomgoynamstan, "Stan" to friends and the people not on the short-list for execution. Considering the number of individuals generally on the "short" list comprised most of the remaining residents of the country of Zomgoynamstan at one point or another, "Stan" wasn't on a first name basis with many of his own citizens.

Or for that matter all that many of his neighbors, who preferred calling him various other names, preferably when he wasn't there. This was because Stan was a collector of sorts. He had all sorts of high grade weapons that he was eager to try out.

None of this really mattered to Roger and Carla at the moment, well other than they were currently experiencing the better kind of Zomgoynamstan's weather. A massive sandstorm fueled by blazing heat coming from a combination of volcanic rifts to the west and the winds from the Russian Step. For reasons far to complicated to really get into, the resulting effect had the interior of the van currently hovering at a not entirely pleasant three degrees Celsius.

Roger sneezed again as he pulled the thin thermal blanket around him. "Paper. Why did I have to pick 'Paper'?" he asked.

"Madre Dios!", Carla moaned as she slumped her head against the passenger's dashboard. A heartbeat later, she snapped it back up. "At least you got the chance to say no!" She screamed more than snapped. Roger continued to stare out the front window at the swirling flow of dust and frost. Carla steamed, muttering a stream of Spanish terms certain to bring yardstick-bearing nuns back to life. Occasionally Roger could pick out mumbled epithets toward Jack.

Even among the swirling clouds that darkened all around them, Roger found a bit of sunshine.

"I still don't understand what the big deal is about a diesel generator." Carla grumbled.

"No," Roger corrected, "It's a di-stel generator, a twin fusion power supply. In effect, two very small suns generating phenomenal amounts of power in something the size of portable tape player. Used correctly and Chicago wouldn't have to worry about power for a few hundred years. Used incorrectly and the planet no longer need worry about the south west corner of Lake Michigan and several thousand surrounding square kilometers. Of course, that's in the best case scenario."

"Should I even ask what the worst case scenario would be?"

"Two words, Planetary Divot. Needless to say, our job is to make sure that little trinket stays out of the hands of the little man with a big chip who runs this delightful spec of the world."

The tracking display blipped. Both Roger and Carla were back to business. "The ship is coming from the southeast at 390 kph." Carla reported from the screen.

Roger tapped into his screen. "The ID system is off, no surprise there, but I've got enough of their engine signature to do a trace."

"Slax?" Carla asked, a bit worried.

"No," Roger said flatly, "Looks more like… well, well, well." Roger smiled a bit.

The Partunni shuttle shifted a bit as its landing gear attempted to find some purchase in the rocky valley. Eventually, its landing pads crushed and shifted enough to come to a steady stance. A port opened, away from the winds that howled down the canyon.

A figure in a navy blue uniform dashed out from behind one of the boulders near the far wall and leapt into the airlock.

Inside the ship, the squat captain looked nervously at the airlock door. It cycled open, and the captain instinctively drew his sidearm. "You are not Stan." He observed nervously.

"No, I'm not." The figure replied. "But he sends his complements." The figure very carefully showed a large briefcase, then slowly opened it to display an impressively large number of standard credit slips, all high denomination, all carefully chosen to be out of sequence. The Captain looked nervously at the suitcase, still not fully trusting the sudden change. He kept the weapon leveled at the visitor as he motioned with a free hand. One of his crew handed him a small black device.

The Captain hefted the device. "This very dangerous for either of us to have. Why I trust you?"

"Because I trust you." The visitor said as he closed the briefcase and slid it forward, well beyond his grasp. He kept his hands out in the open so that the Captain could see he remained unarmed.

The Captain looked at the briefcase then the visitor. He laughed and threw the black device toward the visitor. The visitor caught it awkwardly, surprised by its weight, but recovered his stance. He took a moment to ensure that this was what he was paying, and risking his life, for. It was.

The visitor bowed graciously, and then slipped back out into the raging sandstorm.

"I don't get it" Carla asked as she watched the ghostly outline of the figure dash away from the quickly departing ship. "Why didn't we go after him?"

"If that was the Zomgoynamstan general who was supposed to be picking up the device, then I wouldn't have wasted a second." Roger said, still oddly bemused by what they could see. "But since it was a gentlemen in a navy blue outfit, I'm far more interested in seeing where he's off to."

Carla was still confused.

Roger fired up the truck and backed down the narrow road toward the rendezvous point, "It's a bit like fishing, really." He explained, "Sometimes, if you want to catch the really big ones, you have to ignore the smaller ones that nibble at the bait."

Carla still had no idea what he was talking about.

Don't answer the phone! I don't want to talk to him!

The phone's not ringing Al.

It is, I tell you. He's using ultra high frequency beams that only I can hear. He does this so that he can tell those secret stories on the weather reports, you know.

Al, will you give it a rest? Al Roker is not trying to hound you.

You don't believe me. None of you believe me. I have powers, you know! Special powers!

Yeah, yeah, Al, you've got powers. Hey, Al? I'm going to go get a sandwich. You want anything?

A sandwich, a sandwich, yes, a sandwich would be good. BUT NO MAYO! You know what mayo does to me!

Yes Al, we're all very much aware of your problem with mayonnaise.

I don't like mayonnaise, it does.. things to me. EVIL things. You don't understand, none of you understand. Ollie understood! Poor Ollie. I miss him.

He'll be by again tomorrow Al.

He will? Is tomorrow Thursday? I like Thursdays. I get ice cream on Thursdays. I.. Uh-oh.

What did you do now, Al?

I melted the table again. I'm sorry.

JB? Hey, how y'all doin? It's me, Leroy!

Not bad, not bad, I'm still doing the show circuit. You know the deal. Besides, it's still kinda fun getting into the old Brown Streak outfit and signing pictures for the kids. So when is the fabulous PuppyBoy gonna be setting up a chair next door?

Heh-heh-heh, Nah, you still gotta few years to go, I'm just hasslin' you. How's Chris and the rest of the gang?

Good, Y'all give Karl a big Hello for me. Hey now, listen. I gotta friend up north who I was talking to and we got to rambling on about the really big guys. You know, the guys who always look good in tights, not like me in these sorry old bags.

Ah-heh-heh-heh, now I know you're lying to an old man, JB! Just because I can still outrun the best of them don't mean that I should be dressing like no sixteen-year-old pop star. Anyway, so we got on to jabbering and we got around to the really big guy.

Yeah, Alphaman, that's the cat, we were hoping you might help us settle a little wager we got going.

Just never you mind what it's for! I don't need to be corrupting your young mind with thoughts of idle devilry!

I called you because you're the biggest drooling fan-boy I know of. Boy, you've got more bits of trivia stuffed into that head of yours than the Library of Congress. I bet you even remember what kind of cereal I used to do commercials for back in the sixties.

See now? Coco Chunks! That's just what I'm talking about. Boy, nobody remembers that because they pulled the commercials after a week.

Well, think about it, would you buy a cereal that turns the milk chocolaty advertised by someone named 'The Brown Streak"? Heh-heh-heh! You wanna talk, letters to the stations? Ah-hee-hee-hee!

Anyway, so we all know what Alphaman can do, but what I need to find out from y'all is what are the problems that he might have. You know, the yang to his yin, the con to his pros, that sorta stuff.

Hang on, hang on, I better get a pen. Let me write some of these down.

Uh-huh… yeah… ok… oh, really?… alright… ok… Hmm, JB? JB!? Hang on a second. Tell you what, instead of giving me the laundry list, what's your best guess at the total?


No, it's ok. Just more than I expected. Hey, I shouldn't keep you on the line, else that brother of yours will come after me for the charges. You take care of yourself, now, you hear?

Alright, I'll talk to you later. So long JB.


Hello Jack? Leroy.

I talked with my resource. Looks like your first guess was right.

Oliver P Omega stood with his fists pressed against the desk. At one time, he was the awkward teenage companion to the mighty Alphaman. Now he was a balding middle aged man who looked far older than he was. Still even though he wore the hot plaid outfit of his younger days, he was no pushover. The glare on his face could have easily burnt through titanium if titanium was subject to that sort of thing. Even though his staff were not made of emotionally unstable titanium either, they were still having a difficult enough time of it.

"How the hell did that happen?" he growled slowly. He didn't have to mention Downer's Grove. It was pretty much the only thing on most of the folk's minds.

"Need I remind you all exactly how important it is that every being in the universe remains blissfully unaware of this project?" Omega continued to growl. "Would you appreciate the Earth being captive to Lord Skull for use in his army of undead cyborg zombies, again?"

There was an uncomfortable shifting in seats as the collected navy blue staff members mumbled toward the negatives.

"Well guess what kids? If Peter Prosportory even thinks that Alpha Man is dribbling psycho, do you think that he'd drop us a line asking if we'd be OK with him destroying International Falls?"

The staff looked at him like whipped children. Omega Lad's shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry. Look we're all under more than a bit of stress, here." He sat back in his chair and rubbed his aching forehead. "Mike? What happened?"

"Unit 47 apparently had a faulty power system. The fight must have drained most of the battery, during the wrap up the system started to collapse. We got the signal and tried to override, but we were a bit too late."

Oliver looked out the conference room window to where unit 47 was being repaired. "Angie, how did you spin it?"

"I leaked a report that the Moleites were building a secret weapons facility under the roadbed that Alphaman quickly dispatched. The Alpha-Agent recovery crew was simply there to offer Alphaman support during the furious mid-air battle."

"What about the steel cable?" Oliver asked.

"Grounding strap."

"Doesn't that normally have to be connected to, say, the ground?"

"It's a trans-phase mono-polar grounding strap from the Dimension Beatrice." Angie said in a well practiced tone.

"They believed that?" One of the other staffers asked.

"Advanced Science scores are well below national average there."

There was some general muttering and nods from the rest of the staff.

Wait a minute, Oliver held up a gloved hand, "Shouldn't the forty series be doing show circuits? They shouldn't be doing anything more strenuous than waving to the kiddies. Those units are nearly twenty years old, aren't they?"

"Yes, sir," an agent near the back agreed, "except we lost five units earlier this week when the Blorgians sent the distress call. Plus we've had problems getting enough power to charge up the heavies."

"The Blorgians." Oliver said as he slumped further into his seat. "Al? Couldn't you have simply dealt with ONE planet instead of racing around the damn cosmos helping out every stinking race out there?"

There was a chirp from Omega Lad's control panel. He lifted the handset and groaned more than spoke into it. He listened for a few seconds then hung up. Suddenly he was very active. "I'm sorry ladies and gentlemen, but I have a pressing concern that I must investigate. We'll continue this meeting later, hopefully I'll have some good news for you."

And with that he rushed out of the room.

In a dark back room of the underground base Omega Lad waited. He hated waiting. One of the few perks of setting up this cover facility was that he could generally dispense with the waiting and focus on the required tasks at hand.

Still, he was smart enough to realize that sometimes, as much as he hated it, he'd still have to wait.

Didn't mean he'd have to enjoy it.

He heard the door handle. His finely honed sidekick reflexes still urged him to dive for cover from the onslaught of death that would usually pour forth, but through sheer will power he fought it and simply glanced toward the navy blue uniformed silhouette that entered.

"Do you have the device?" Omega Lad asked.


Oliver held out his hand. "Give it to me."

"No, Twerp."

The last statement caught Omega Lad by surprise. Not because of the name he had just been called, but by the sudden realization of who had just called him it. "Jack?"

Jack took a few more steps forward so that he was in the light. "By all rights, I should be placing you under arrest and shutting down this little operation you've got."

"By who's authority?" Oliver snapped, suddenly very scared.

Jack tapped his Galactic Customs badge. "I'm GC now. You know full well that receiving stolen munitions is an offense regardless of who it is. Just so happens you're in my jurisdiction."

Oliver panicked. It was something his paranoid mind had played out a thousand times, but he kept telling himself that it would never happen. "You CAN'T! You don't understand! You'd be jeopardizing the whole planet, Several systems! They need him! WE NEED HIM!" He started hyperventilating as his screamed protests began rambling. Jack patiently waited for the adrenaline and fear to subside.

"I'll give you credit, Oliver. A few years ago you would have been sobbing right about now."

Omega Lad drew a long breath. "Yeah? Well, I'll save that for after the apocolypse."

Jack frowned, "Don't you think you're jumping the gun just a bit? I said that I should be placing you under arrest, I didn't say anything about actually doing it."

Oliver looked at Jack suspiciously.

Jack continued, "Right now my team has the generator, and no you can't have it. I did a bit of checking up and I know that over the years you've gathered up an impressive assortment of devices that happen to perform tasks similar to Alpha's. I also know that Alpha was a nice enough guy, but wasn't the most stable soufflé in the oven. Unless he's been to a heck of a therapist, the Alphaman I see today isn't the same one that used to scream at the TV weatherman in Syracuse."

"I know. Look, as far as I can figure it's all part of some twisted set of checks and balances. It seems that the more powerful you are, the more... things... you have to deal with. Al's quite probably the most powerful guy I know. At first I thought he just had a few quirks, but the more I really got to know him..." Oliver looked beaten.

Jack smiled paternally, "Oliver, look, we both know that with great power comes great responsibility, and whether we like it or not, a great many issues." Jack stopped smiling for a minute as he was haunted by a memory. He shook his head to clear it and smiled again. "Not everyone could have done all that you've done here, and I'm impressed. Al couldn't have gotten a better friend."

"Great." Oliver said with a heaping dose of sarcasm. "A friend who slipped up and put out the welcome mat for Armageddon."

"Ah, now see, that's the Twerp I used to know." Jack scorned. "Oliver, you don't screw around with Di-Stels. Let's say you got this and didn't set the phase just right. You'd get eight, maybe ten hours of power out of it before the system goes unstable and you get a micro nova. In space you lose an unmanned freighter or a gate relay. On a planet, you lose a metropolis. Do you really want to take that risk?"

Oliver looked at Jack. They both knew the right answer and tower of reasons behind the wrong one.

"So, how about telling me why you're so hot on getting something that powerful?"

Hi Ollie!

Hi Al! Having fun?

You Bet Ollie! This is the best gift ever!

So is that the solution?

No, it's not the solution I was first thinking of. But it's one that was suggested by someone. It's not perfect, but it does have it's good points.

If it's any good news, we've got more than enough power to charge all of the reserve units which means we can have more time to work on the others.

Hmm, good.

You know, I think this is pretty good for him.


Well, with all the sitting around he'd been doing, he was getting kind of out of shape. I'm guessing it probably have been a bit embarrassing swooping into battle with a gut.


I suppose. You know I'd forgotten that we had him as a backup. I don't know why I didn't think of this myself.

Aw, don't beat yourself up about it. You've had enough to think about.

I am curious about one thing though.

What's that?

Well, I'm figuring the dynamos were the ones we had in storage, right?

Yeah. They were leftovers.

Thought so, good use for 'em. It's just that…

Where'd he get a hamster wheel that big?

Well, yeah, now that you mention it, it was something I was wondering about.

"JACK!!" Phil's voice echoed up from the main bay. "WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LOADING RING FOR THE SUPPLY SHIP?"