Chapter 11

[for once, the title makes sense...]

Krullux pressed rewind and watched the video roll backwards. Setting the Resumatrix to record was almost an afterthought, but now he was glad he did it. He slowed the record down and hit Play.

The angle was a bit unusual, but that was to be expected. Ah, there was Bob applying the artifact to the Grayhound, ah, nice scream, with pleasant guttural overtones. Krullux made a note to change his new mail sound.

He slowed the display and widened the focus a bit. There the gaudy dressed one called Puppyboy pulled the chains from the walls. Krullux watched the chains snake out, and the dust cloud billow. Just as he suspected, he paused the video, and changed the point of focus and applied several advanced degaussing filters. Yes, it was clear now.

Tony had passed Lenny a fiver, and they said that they didn't have a bet running.

Krullux returned to the original point of focus and started video again. The Grayhound slowly slumped against the wall. Bob stood frozen by timelapse but turned and launched himself away as Krullux accelerated the playback.

Puppyboy looked at his chains, he wrapped a hand around the base and with a yank the chain fell away. The other one fell away moments later.

Lenny passed the fiver back to Tony. Krullux made another note to talk to those two later.

Puppyboy grabbed the chains that held the immobile Grayhound in one hand and with an almost practiced flick of his wrist, the heavy chains snapped and sent bits flying. He expertly turned and grabbed the falling hero and in a single bound cleared the twenty feet to the door where they exploded through. The picture shook as the tiny jets on the robot engaged to pursue the two.

The humans that remained in the room barely could turn their heads to keep up with the two. The robot had little problem, but Krullux had to work to keep the fleeing heroes centered, even with the tape drastically slowed down.

The robot flew through the newly formed opening which silhouetted the pair, undoubtedly a product of both Puppyboys acceleration and the Grayhounds discomfort. The thought brought a quick smile.

Once past the door the two stopped, Krullux returned the video to regular play. His finger hovered above the pause.

Puppyboy:
Citizen, are you ok?

Grayhound:
Huh, where… wha… ow…
Puppyboy:
I am afraid that we're far from reconciling our situation.
Grayhound:
Why is there chunks of wood in my collar?
[noises from other room]
Grayhound:
I'm not gonna ask how we got here JB, but we need to get going.
Puppyboy:
What? Uh yeah, let's try up here.
[the two run up a flight of stairs to a heavy metal door]
Puppyboy:
It's locked.
Grayhound:
Well, now's the time.
Puppyboy:
Huh?
Grayhound:
C'mon JB, bust it down, they're almost through the other doors.
Puppyboy:
Uh, sure. h-ruff.
Puppyboy:
ow!
Grayhound:
C'mon JB. turn up the juice or whatever.
Puppyboy:
I can't! I told you it's locked!
Grayhound:
Don't give me that crap, JB, I know better.
Puppyboy:
I told you I can't, you're the hero, you do something.
Tony:
There they are! Get them!

Krullux hit pause. The screen showed the Grayhound, with a rather distressed look on his face pulling his fist back. Krullux pressed a control and the playback slowly inched forward.

There! You could see the Grayhound's fist starting to glow a bit, then what looked like sparks started trailing behind it, by mid swing the fist was definitely glowing and something looking like tendrils were beginning to form near the front. The Grayhound's eyes were closed and his teeth were locked in quite a grimace. The picture was starting to get statically as whatever this was began to interfere with the recording. By three/quarters of the way through the punch, what little Krullux could make out was nothing but a blue-ish white wash.

He didn't even bother trying to listen to the audio pickup, it was nothing but a distorted wave of sound.

The screen went to when the signal cut. The next thing on the recording was the scene several minutes later after the Resumatrix rebooted.

Bob:
ound somewhere! Find them!
Lenny:
Are you kidding? Look what they did to the door! I thought you said they were normal!
Bob:
Apparently, my information was incorrect.
Tony:
I don't think I wanna stick around if they come back.
Bob:
You have a point. Help me gather up the equipment and get it into the van, we'll meet back at the house.

The trio moved out of the way of the missing door.

Well, missing wasn't quite the right word for it, Krullux could see most of what was left of it, behind the piles of shattered masonry that lined the tunnels the doors cut through the buildings adjacent to where they had begun.

Krullux froze the playback.

This was unexpected. The artifact quite obviously has a very different effect on humans than it did on Doomians. Sending it to Earth had been a mistake and he knew he had to recover it before he could conquer the planet.


[JB goes streaking]

Chris was dressed in his civies, he walked passed his brother and grabbed his hat off the coat rack, partly out of habit, but partly because he was getting attached to the dark gray fedora.

"I'm going out for a while, JB. Don't blow up anything until after I get back."

"Ok, I'll wait 'til you've just opened the door. How's your arm?"

Chris stopped and looked at his arm. He felt a bit of a chill, but it didn't feel anywhere near the same. He flexed his hand. "It's ok, I guess. Still tingles a bit, but it doesn't really hurt anymore."

He looked at his hand in the half-light of the hallway. It looked normal. Chris knew better though.

"Hey JB?"

JB turned from the computer screen to look at his brother.

"JB, I just wanted to say thanks, for saving our bacon back there."

"Chris, we went over this already. Look, all I did was drag you out of there. You did all the heavy blasting, so to speak."

Chris remembered feeling the searing pain of the probe and the echo that raced down his arm later. He remembered feeling something hot and forceful pushing against the door and seeing it flash away. In his mind's eye the coat and arm looked like his, but his mind refused to believe it was. "It's still all just a blur."

He sucked in his breath and returned to the here and now. "Anyway, I'm off. I'll see you in about two or three hours. There's leftovers in the 'fridge if you want it."

Chris stared at his back as JB mumbled something. JB was already lost in whatever the heck he was doing. Cables stretched between the laptop and the Audiotron. Chris was almost afraid to ask what they were for, so he simply turned and hopped down the stairs and headed out into the dusk.


With Chris gone, JB could start working on his project in earnest.

He leaned over the impressive tome that was the manual for the AudioTron 3000 and checked his wiring again. One of the features it had was the ability to record any transmission that matched patterns to look for. Just as a goof, he had entered a pattern to look for anything mentioning either Grayhound or Puppyboy.

Needless to say, he hadn't checked it in a while.

When he did, he found over 300 articles eighty hours of audio and forty hours of video. He was darn happy he hadn't figured out how to set up the IP address on it yet. That, of course was his second priority tonight, maybe third.

After he checked his mail, ran through his daily web comics, hit the sidekick group to see if there was anything new, got into an argument over at the HG Fan Club with some guy about the rumor that Stephen King was suing DB for copyright infringement for acts performed in Alaska, hit RHOD, sent off a few incarnations and cleared 7000 points on his first run thru Part 4 of Xiao-Xiao (ok, so he was playing with a tablet and it was on Easy, but it was still cool).

Now, what was he going to do?

Oh, Yeah!

JB connected the firewire cable of the laptop up to the AudioTron, a few seconds later, the device came up. He went through the configuration screens and found the monitor controls. Most of the captured stuff was junk. He made a note to refine the regular expressions a bit more.

Eventually it got down to just a few snippets of news. He queued up the videos first.

The first story was about a boy whose puppy had been run over by a Grayhound Bus. JB deleted it.

The second was a panel discussion about whether Superheroes add value to municipal businesses. Hmm, maybe he'd play it later if he had problems sleeping. Chris might like it though.

The third through seventh entries were a lot more interesting. They were a collection of footage of the battle with Magnifty. JB wished that the TV he ordered would get here faster. Chris would flip, like normal, but would probably plant himself down to watch it every chance he could. For now, JB had to make due with the LCD panel of the laptop.

JB read a few chapters from the manual, and managed to figure out how to get all of them to display synced to one another. It provided him all of the battle on a single screen.

He switched the images up to full screen. The main focus was that idiot Magnifty hovering above and all of the carnage that was being flung against them. Occasionally a camera would catch either Chris saving some group or JB standing around looking prepared before again switching to the main battle.

Near the end Magnifty hurled a bus toward Biclops, who deflected it away with a discharge from beneath his earphones. Most of the cameras stayed on the main action, but there were two that caught JB's attention. One showed the bus being hit hard by something that flashed up from the ground.

"That had to be Chris. What the heck is he using to make those?"

The other camera showed himself watching the bus and looking very distraught. The camera turned away from him back to the featured attraction, but in the last few frames, he disappeared from view.

JB stopped the playback, rewound and then played back the few frames one at a time. There he is, his head following the bus, the camera turning toward Magnifty. The TV JB reacting, then suddenly JB is missing from the last five frames. No blur, just missing. Magnifty didn't move so it's not an editing glitch.

The first screen also continued its playback. Barely noticeable against the lights and carnage was a faint yellow and green streak across the green, then Chris blasting the bus. JB cleared the other screens and brought that one view up full. Chris and the bus were in the distance, and things looked blurry.

Tick, nothing.
Tick, nothing.
Tick, the yellow/green blur along the ground,
Tick, a flash from Chris up to the bus.
Tick, the bus flying away.
Tick, something still where the bus was.

JB froze the screen.

He copied the image and brought it into Paintshop. He cropped the area down to the tiny Chris and the bus.

He sharpened the image, and then increased the white balance to make the colors stand out more. It was still impossible to make out all of the details, but there was enough detail to make out a few things.

JB went back and grabbed the image of the flash coming from Chris. He performed the same image voodoo. The flash definitely did not originate from Chris, it came from several feet in front of him.

And it was wearing a red cape.

Just like his.

Something inside of JB was more confused than it had ever been before.


[Phil]

'Phantastic' Phil Fetzer thanked the audience and the panel before leaving the BSU Arena stage. He gladly shook hands with various folks backstage. Although he had far more supporters than he had detractors, the expert skeptic of things mystical and paranormal was able to turn on years of well-practiced charm whenever the need arose. The remarkable thing was that in his long career, the worst thing that had happened was being caught in an elevator with a Wiccan High Priest.

Both sides argued politely for several hours until the rescue crews could arrive, and still continue the debate by mail every so often. Phil was not one to berate or demean one's beliefs; in fact he often encouraged folks to look for a bit of mysticism in their lives. He was more intent on dispelling the charlatan and cheats that sought to take advantage of folks more gullible side. To put things bluntly, he hated fakers.

He reached his dressing room and with a somewhat exaggerated sigh, politely informed his audience that he needed to retire to refresh and renew, preferably before his bladder ruptured.

The crowd parted to let the man through and quickly dispersed after he closed the door.

Phil walked briskly to the washroom, and after the requisite needs had been dealt with opened the door, sat on the couch, crossed his legs, picked up a deck of cards and said, "I suppose you're going to ask me about your great aunt Mildred?"

Chris, who had been standing motionless against a wall the entire time, cracked a faint smile "No. Sadly, I don't think any amount of scrutiny will sort her out. I merely wanted to thank you."

Phil looked at Chris over the rims of his wire framed glasses, he glanced at a chair and back at Chris. Chris pulled the chair in front of the small coffee table and watched Phil expertly shuffle and reshuffle a deck of cards.

Chris continued, "I had first seen you talk at SFU a few years ago, and I figured the folks up here might also enjoy hearing you speak. From tonight's showing, I'd say my guess was right."

Phil spread the deck across the table. "Pick a card."

Chris smiled a bit and started to reach for the deck.

"No, not from the deck. Think of a card. Don't tell me what it is."

Chris sat back and did as he was asked. He thought of the Five of Diamonds.

"Do you have one? Good. Now normally I'd ask you to write it down, but considering that you just spent a rather sizable amount of money flying me up here on short notice to speak for a large audience and then met me in my dressing room without a pistol, I'll assume that you're a reasonably honest man, and won't lie to me."

"Now, pick a card from the deck, don't look at it, but instead hold it face down in front of you.'

Chris leaned toward the middle of the deck, paused and took the card from the far right side.

Phil collected the rest of the cards and began reshuffling them.

"Mr. Reid, I do not wish to seem ungrateful for your generosity, but you understand that I am a very skeptical man. I have learned not to look any gift horses in the mouth."

"I've learned that the same holds true for hoses", Chris added.

Phil cracked a wide smile, "True, very true. Still, there is something that's bothering you and unlike you…' Phil spread the deck of cards face up in front of himself. 'I've got my cards on the table. Mr. Reid, allow me to say thank you for your fee, and for flying me along with my guests up here. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to an eager crowd of students who were reasonably awake and had the sense of mind to ask decent questions."

"That said, I wish to make you aware of the fact that I do not trust superheroes. I find your attitudes and actions to be both elitist and reprehensible. You often act well outside of the supposed morals and laws you purport to uphold and frankly I find you silly."

"Well then, it's a darn good thing I'm not a superhero." Chris said flatly as he continued to hold the playing card out in front of him.

"Excuse me?" Phil asked with quite a bit of sarcasm in his voice.

"I am the Grayhound, but anyone with an active brain cell and a bit of research could figure that one out. I have not taken many steps to protect my so-called secret identity mostly because I don't believe in such subterfuge. I signed up to be a superhero while more than a little drunk in order to get a good parking spot while attending college. Recently, I have been re-enlisted by the city in order to deal with a problem that the city administration felt was beyond the scope and resources of the local police."

"I have nothing but respect and admiration for the true heroes of this community, the firefighters, police, and generally underpaid municipal workers who do amazing things because it's their job. I am more than willing to turn over whatever information and assistance I can to those clearly more suited for this than I am. I also know that all of the statements I have made can easily be verified either via phone calls or simply by following local media reports."

"There were two main reasons why I asked you here. The first was that I enjoy hearing you speak and thought that the students here might appreciate having someone rattle their brains and keep them from falling into any traps. I know I greatly appreciated it and still remember much of what you discussed when I first saw you. The other reason I brought you here was because of my concern about my brother, who is better known as Puppyboy."

"He has displayed several unusual skills including flight and super strength, the ability to communicate with animals, superior reasoning skills and fantastic aim. None of which he displayed before we arrived in Boise. He has also become somewhat obsessed with his costume to the point that I have not seen him without it. Fortunately this seems to include showers."

Phil didn't let the pace of the discussion falter. "That may be true, Mr. Reid, but I am not a licensed psychiatrist."

"True, and had I believed that this was a mental disorder, I would have sent for the best psychiatric mind I could have found and gladly paid whatever he asked. Your appearance here proves my willingness to do so and that I do not believe that to be the case."

"Now that we both understand each other, I have two questions to ask you.", Chris leaned forward a bit and said, "The first, have you ever heard of a group called the Justice Furlong"?

A hint of curiosity nearly crossed Phil's perfect poker face. "Yes, I have, your second question?"

"Why did you give me the wrong card?" and without looking at the card, Chris flipped the it's face toward Phil. It was the Jack of Clubs.

The corner of Phil's mouth pulled back a bit. "I didn't."

Abruptly, the conversation ended. "Mr. Reid, I have enjoyed our little talk here, however I must ask you to leave. I have a pressing dinner engagement that I fear I am already late for."

They stood, exchanged their goodbyes and Chris excused himself out the door. He stood staring at the closed door for a few seconds, crestfallen. Getting Phil was a bit of a long shot, but it was one that Chris knew he had to try.

Maybe Phil was right and this was just a mental thing. Chris turned and headed toward the stage door. He reached inside his pocket for his keys, and then stopped.

He pulled out a card. It was the Five of Diamonds. Across it was written: "Meet me 10a @ Hotel. Bring JB. -Phil"


[...if it's got fertalizer in it, wouldn't that make it a crappachin... ow!]

He stood head and shoulders above most other folks, but that wasn't the principle reason folks stared. His massive arms were easily as thick as the waists of the young girls that stared and giggled. He flexed showing off his green leafy chest, his orange eyes peered out across the parking lot looking for any evil that had the nerve to come near him on his own turf.

One of the girls whispered behind her hand to the others, "Oh, I could just eat him up."

"I wouldn't recommend that," a teen just a bit older than they were dressed in complimentary orange and beige tights (well, complimentary to the larger green warrior) said as he struggled with both the door and the tray of beverages. "It's more gherkin than zucchini."

The girl turned bright red and the table erupted into fits of giggles.

The closing door handle caught one of the many bottles on the Dressing Lad's belt. He mumbled something vicious about Blue Cheese, untangled himself and walked over to his erstwhile mentor, the Salad Barbarian.

"Dressing Lad ask for iced wheat grass tea this time, right?" Salad Barbarian said.

Dressing Lad sighed heavily. "Yes, Look that was two years ago, can you please give it a rest?"

Salad Barbarian took the Mug of Wheat Grass (grande, two sugars, no foam with a sprinkle of Miracle Grow) and sat down at the outside table. "Easy for Dressing Lad to say. Dressing Lad not spend night in can."

"And when I found you I got that can open as soon as I could. Crimany, you know how many cans of vegetable soup I had to open to find you? I said I was sorry!"

"Salad Barbarian, forgive Dressing Lad. Salad Barbarian knows Dressing Lad had hard childhood."

Dressing Lad buried his head into his hands, "Oh God…"

"Dressing Lad almost loose parents to horde of evil radioactive bunnies. Good thing Salad Barbarian arrive, kick bunny butts, otherwise Dressing Lad not enjoy Mom and Dad days too much."

"Ok, OK! Cripes, you lord that over me every chance you get, don't you. Those rabbits were half dead from radiation poisoning. The same radiation that made you something other than pellets."

The Salad Barbarian took a smug sip from his mug. He began to sing "Oh, DressingLad Papaaaah.. He almost bee-come bun-nee fooooood. Oh DressingLad Mamaaaah, She almost get it too…"

"Ok, ok, I'm sorry.", he sighed heavily and said with as much sincerity and enthusiasm as anyone who has said the same thing for the thousandth time would put in to it, "Thank you, o great hero, Salad Barbarian, for saving my parents from the rabbits."

The Cruton Crusader waited, "And…"

Dressing Lad gritted his teeth "and I am forever in your debt."

"Dressing Lad darned tootin' Dressing Lad stick with Salad Barbarian. Dressing Lad may get cute chicks too." The Leafy Legionnaire twiddled his fingers toward the table of sixteen year olds.

"Yeah, and Salad Barbarian may get ten to twenty. They're like sixteen."

Salad Barbarian stopped waving. He turned around and returned to his general stoic Hero-on-Guard pose. "Salad Barbarian not make that mistake again. Salad Barbarian thank Dressing Lad."

"Thank me enough to cough up two bucks for a muffin?"

"Yeah, Dressing Lad get Cranberry Orange again. Mighty Tasty."

"Sure."

As Dressing Lad started to stand up when one of his bottles began to vibrate.

"Dressing Lad. Oh no, this is a good time, what's up."

The Barbarian looked quizzically at Dressing Lad. DL covered the mouthpiece up and whispered. "It's Kevin from USHA."

The Barbarian pantomimed understanding and resumed his watch.

Dressing Lad continued his conversation. "Yeah, we've still got the van. What up? Boise? Yeah I guess." He looked toward the Barbarian, who was no help at all.

"Yeah, I think things are pretty quiet around here. We can get up there as early as tomorrow afternoon or so. Why?

Uh-huh.

Well, why can't…

Oh.

They give those out?

 

Ok, well, I guess we'll go up tomorrow.

 

Right, well, it'll probably be before Friday or so. See you at the facility."

Dressing Lad hung up his cell-bottle.

The extremely excited Salad Barbarian bounced in his chair a few times and held up a massive hand as high as he could. "Shotgun! Salad Barbarian get Shotgun!" He loved road trips.

Dressing Lad crossed his arms and looked at the great green grinning idiot. "Yeah, like you'd ever get your Drivers. Look, it's a quick trip up to Boise to pick up some rogues the locals have. We drive them to the Facility then we come home. No stops at Acme Fertilizer or CalAg, just do the job and come back."

Salad Barbarian looked a bit disappointed, but still relatively pleased.

"And for God's sake, wear your bug repellant this time!"


[…and for dessert, garlic flavored breath mints]

Ah and there's Bob. So that's everyone. Shall we begin?

This is the first item we need to come up with a name for. It's manufactured by Evans and Sons, a Canadian toothpaste manufacturer that is branching out to convenience foods. The item is targeted at the general consumer who's looking for delicious gourmet Italian foods served in a tube.

What flavors does it come in?

Currently, either a marinara sauce or a creamy pesto.

Ah, I see. How did it test?

Well, naturally it appealed strongly to both the pre-teen markets.

So bachelors are definitely a target as well.

How about "Squeez-a-Ziti"?

That's why we invited you here, Bob.

No problem.

And we can have Chef Bianca Testa.

Out of curiosity, what does the stuff taste like

[general laughter]

Sorry, just goofing with you all, what's the other item?

Well, in keeping with the pasta theme…

That's testing huge in the big three.

… we've got this.

What is that?

"A delicious gourmet treat you make in your toaster."

It's Pasta?

On a stick.

Doesn't the sauce kind of get all over?

Surprisingly no, it turns out that the red stuff on the outside is kind of like frosting.

How much "kind of like"

Ok, it is frosting. It's the same stuff they use on Cherry Pop-Tarts.

Eeewww

Have you tried it?

 

No, seriously, has anyone even tried it?

C'mon Bob, nobody is that crazy.


Howard Grizbaum walked back to where his wife stood in line.

"Howard?", she asked, "What are you eating?"

"I don't know", Howard replied as he took another bite out of the free sample he had acquired on his way back from the Porta-Potties.

"You don't know?"

"No, some guy over there was handing them out. It's like a Pop Tart on a stick. Kindof."

Howard's wife leaned in close to see, "What is it? Cherry? Rasberry?"

"Tomato, as far as I can tell." Howard took another bite.

"Tomato? You're eating a tomato Pop-Tart on a Stick? That's disgusting." She turned away but kept an eye on it.

"Well, it's got cheese or something on it. If you pick off the pink gunk, it's not that bad." Howard said between bites.

"I still think it's terrible. You'll get heartburn."

"Look, it was your idea to come to this stupid show. It's already past lunch and we've still not gotten into the museum."

She turned in stunned surprise, her mouth open. "It is not a stupid show, this is a rare chance to see the original cooking utensils of the late Babylonians."

"I thought you said they were the Sumerians."

"Oh, so now you're the expert?"

"Well, I bet they couldn't make these."

"They were the most accomplished chefs and legendary culinary skills. Remember that show on PBS they had a month ago when they showed all those recipe cards they found in Iraq? They said that their arts lead to most of the high cuisine that flourished in Europe and even China. They were skilled in all forms of food preparations and you're saying that they couldn't make that disgusting thing. Tell me, Mr. Expert, why couldn't they make those."

"No toasters."

"You're impossible. Now where are you going?"

"I'm going to see if he has any more."

"Fine, but you'll get your own antacid later! And it would be nice if you brought back me one this time!"


[it's 10:00, do you know where your psyche is?]

JB tried to stifle a yawn, but wasn't really that successful.

"Mind telling me what kept you awake all night, this time?" Chris asked him. The Hotel lobby was reasonably full as folks started checking out or grabbing breakfast. Chris was again dressed in his street clothes. He had insisted that JB do likewise, although the unusual bulges and hints of yellow and green told Chris that JB was once, again still ready for action.

Chris decided not to make any additional snide remarks about JB's recent addiction. For once, he was kind of glad he wore the damn thing.

"Oh, usual crap, and just setting stuff up." JB lied. "So why are we here anyway?"

"Oh, I wanted to introduce you to a friend of mine, a guy named Phil Fetzer." Chris lied back, possibly putting a bit too much emphasis on the "friend" part of that statement. If he did, it slipped right by JB. He's doing a series of lectures about folks like you and he asked if we could swing by before he left."

JB looked at his brother and raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Folks like me?"

"Yeah, laundry-phobics."

JB relaxed a bit at the jibe.

Chris decided to go for a bit more of a white lie. "No, folks that have had recent, sudden career changes. Specifically folks that have become superheroes."

"Oh." JB said with understanding. "Cool." He paused for a few beats. "Isn't he the cynic guy?"

"Yes, but he has other interests as well."

"Gentlemen, good to see you" An older graying gentleman stepped into the lobby and strode briskly up to meet the two. Chris and JB got to their feet and shook the man's hand.

"I certainly hope you two haven't been waiting long?"

"No, no, we just got here a few minutes ago." Chris replied.

"Excellent, well, if you two don't mind, I've already gotten permission to use a small area from the hotel, but I'm afraid that we only have it until eleven. If you don't mind, we should go there now. Follow me please." Phil turned and quickly walked to the stairs leading up to the conference rooms.

"I could really have used a bit of breakfast, Chris."

"Afterwards, JB. We'll get something to eat later."

"So long as we don't try to go to that Chinese place again.", JB said with a stretch and a yawn.

JB and Chris followed Phil up the stairs and into a smaller conference room welcoming the "Miguel/Sanchez Bridal Party". The room was awfully pink.

Phil walked over to a large, very out of place box and began pulling out items. "I apologize for the decor, but I'm afraid this was all I was able to get." He pulled out several binders, several rods and a few other bits. He stopped, looked to JB and extended a hand.

"I'm sorry, I haven't properly introduced myself yet. My name is Phillip Fetzer, but most folks call me 'Phantastic'. I believe you are JB Reid? Good. Your brother asked me to talk to you for a bit about a few things, if you don't mind. I've got a few tests I'd like to perform. First off, do you have your costume with you? Ah good, you do. Again, if you don't mind I'd very much like to see the full version of it, do you need to go change anywhere?"

JB was finally given a chance to respond. "Uhm, no. Can you excuse us for a second?" JB turned and brusquely grabbed his brother's arm. As he pulled Chris away, he hissed into his ear. "What the heck are y'all doin'?"

Chris shook off JB's grip, and stood his ground. "JB, I want to get to the bottom of this. You're not yourself, you know it as well as I do, and I'm worried about you. I saw those pictures you had left on the monitor this morning. Don't play dumb, those were you, JB. Phil is here to help both of us figure out what the heck's going on and see if this is a good or bad thing. Aren't you the least bit curious yourself?"

Chris knew his brother too well. JB was curious. "Ok, just a few quick tests, then. Now shoo." JB walked behind an obstruction. Chris stood for a second and then returned to where Phil was setting up.

"He'll be out in a second", Chris said as he indicated toward where JB was getting ready.

Phil was back to business, "So Mr. Reid, where did you first hear about the Justice Furlong?"

"Where everyone hears about everything, the Internet. I played a hunch that JB's costume might have something to do with all of this, so I did a search for superheroes in our old neighborhood. The only ones I could find were a pretty unknown group that called themselves the 'Justice Furlong'. I think they were around during World War II or so, but I really didn't find out that much. I know that there were four of them and that they had most of the powers that JB seems to have so it seems to work out."

"Interesting, interesting. Have you ever heard of the Rosencranz list?"

"The what?"

"Harry Rosencranz' Attic Inventory."

"No, can't say I have."

"Hmm. Harry Rosencranz was a collector of unusual items in the early part of the last century. He's a conspiracy freaks best friend. Reportedly his collection includes everything from the inventory number for the Arc of the Covenant to the original secret eleven herbs and spices. It's become a bit of a legend itself, and there are numerous frauds and rumors about it. Fortunately, I managed to find an authenticated copy of the original."

"Where?"

"eBay."

"Ok, I knew that was coming."

"Ah, there's your brother." Phil met JB half way and began examining the costume. He continually muttered to himself as he examined the elements that made up the whole. "Interesting, where did you get these?"

"I got the full set from a Goodwill shop in Sunnyvale."

"Do you still have the rest?"

"Well, the rest were in a bag back in the old apartment. I'm guessing they are still there."

"Well, they'd be more interesting if you hadn't taken them all apart."

Chris chirped in, "See, that's just what they guy on Antiques Roadshow said."

JB and Phil looked at Chris. Chris smiled weakly, "Sorry, couldn't resist."

Phil ignored the comment. "Very well, sit here."

Phil took out some pencils and opened a binder. "I have a collection of pictures I'd like you to look through. When you find ones that you feel you recognize, place a check mark next to them."

JB nodded agreement and set about looking through the pictures. Occasionally pausing to look at one or two of them and checking very few. Chris didn't recognize any of them. They stepped back a few feet from JB so as not to interfere with his search.

"Who are they?" Chris whispered to Phil.

Phil whispered back, "Just some pictures of people that I have. I'm interested in which ones he identifies, say like this one." Phil turned over his clipboard and there was black and white picture of Bob. It looked like it was a photocopy of a newspaper article. There were dark smudges from where too much toner had collected as if it were copying a very old document.

There was a *thok*. Phil turned the board to face him and a pencil stood squarely in the middle of Bob's forehead. Chris and Phil turned to look at JB who continued to go through the pictures, calmly reaching for a new pencil.

Phil's only comment, "Interesting."

JB stopped flipping pages. Phil and Chris went back to the table to see JB slowly tracing the cheekline of a man in a cowboy hat. The brightly colored image was a snippet from a poster for some 1920's era Wild West Show. There was no text on it to identify who the man was, but JB's reaction said quite clearly that he knew the person.

What's more, JB's hand was trembling a bit.

Phil slid the book away, "That will do. Now, I'd like to see if you could solve this puzzle for me." Phil presented a printout. On it were various descriptions of some scene with detailed accounts and forensic descriptions. Chris couldn't even begin to follow any of it. JB looked at it a bit forelorn and pushed it away.

Phil again supplied his usual "Interesting. That's quite alright, but I'd like to ask your opinion about something else, if I may. Recently I've been trying to determine if the ebida of a technology company such as, say, Yahoo! is comparable to and old growth sector market such as utilities. The market share is comparable, granted, but can something like a media company compete on a share comparison basis as say a production market?"

JB suddenly became very animated. "Well, the real issue is not whether a media company can compare to something like a utility because the market forces are completely different. You should compare it to a historical media outfit, say early radio.."

Phil and JB talked for some time about market forces, capital investments and other bits. Phil had taken out two lengths of some metal for the both of them to twiddle while they talked. Phil's remained straight, while JB's had been twisted in all sorts of ways. Although Chris understood most of the discussion, thanks mostly to the time he had spent in business school, he certainly never expected JB to have that level of interest. Heck, Chris didn't have that level of interest.

Eventually Phil brought the discussion to a close, and a very reluctant JB also agreed. Phil got up and walked over to the somewhat groggy Chris. "Here, a little souvenir." He handed Chris the piece of metal that JB had been playing with. It was heavy and twisted like a paperclip. It even had some toothmarks from where JB may have idly nibbled on it.

Chris tried to straighten out a bend. "What do you think?"

Phil looked at JB who still sat at the table, "I'm not certain."

"So he's just nuts?" As hard as Chris tried, he couldn't budge the metal.

Phil looked back at Chris, "Mr. Reid, I am a skeptic, and a con-man par none. I know most of the tricks and can generally spot a phony, usually within a minute of talking to them, the genuine article takes about as much time, but is a far rarer find. I can tell you in all honesty that this is the first time I am not quite certain."

Phil looked at Chris with a skeptical eye, then relaxed a bit. "Mr. Reid, I was not quite sure whether or not this entire trip was some elaborate hoax, and it may still be, yet…" Phils words trailed off a bit as he looked at Chris. Chris continued to look with concern toward his brother.

"For now, I'll assume that this isn't some sort of sham." Phil opened the binder. "The photos that your brother identified are all ones that I have associated with the Justice Furlong. None of the photos appeared in any publication, as they are mostly taken from personal collections. The other unmarked photos are random pictures that I have inserted."

Phil flipped to near the end of the binder, to the man in the Cowboy hat, "The most telling image is the last one. I was told several years back that this picture was the only surviving image of the father of 'Lady Peacemaker', the sole female member of the Justice Furlong. He died in a tragic show accident."

"Another interesting reaction was this." Phil again pulled out the clipboard with Bob's picture on it, abruptly inserted pencil removed.

"Well, that's understandable. I'm pretty ticked off at Bob myself." Chris said with a bit of spite.

Phil was a bit more confused. "Excuse me?"

Chris pointed to the perforated picture. "Him, Bob Malevolent. The psycho idiot that's trying to take over Boise."

Phil raised an eyebrow. "This is a picture of Professor M from 1941."

"Who?" Chris asked.

"Professor M., the Justice Furlong's arch nemesis from Canada. He disappeared about the same time as the Furlong."

"Mr. Fetzer? I have completed your challenge. I'm sure that most folks would have said Mrs. Tuppers, but the only right answer would be Mister Q."

"Can you explain why?"

"Of course. Little Suzy's brown and grey hamster would only run in his wheel counterclockwise, which is a trait bred into only one group of Siamese Hamsters raised in the northern village of Chun Fah and is reachable only during summer months. Mr Q said that he had no knowledge of orchids, yet readily identified the Chun Fah Double Wing Treasure, which blossoms only in August. Something that only a person who had been there would know. It was he alone that mixed in the deadly combination of Soo-Lin peppers that caused Mr. Tuppers spleen to ricochet off the mantle and into the fire. Carol, that poor suffering girl, her only crime was trying to put the flaming spleen back into her husband when the police arrived."

Chris looked at JB like a dog that just didn't understand.

Phil snapped the binder closed, collected the items and began returning them to the cardboard box.

"Mr. Fetzer? Phil?", Chris called after him.

"Mr. Reid.." Phil began

"That's my Dad's name, call me Chris."

"Actually, there's already one too many of those in my life. Mr. Reid, again, I must say that I am not certain if this is a sham or not, but I feel that there is nothing else I can do here."

"Well, what about JB?"

Phil placed the last items into his box and looked JB straight in the eye, "Well, I'd probably start by having Rebecca Susan, Karl, Roger and Myron have a nice long chat with JB."

And with that, Phil hefted the box and walked out of the room.

An even more confused Chris chased after him.

JB didn't move.


What strange power does The Grayhound have, or does he just have something against doors?

Does the Evil Alien Overloard of Planet Doom have plans to conquor Earth?
(well, duh, he's an Evil Alien Overlord for Kripes Sake)

And can the author come up with anything worse than Pas-Tarts and Squeez-a-Ziti?

A Meeting of the Minds
or
Split Level Lobe / No Pets

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