Chapter 32

Hydrogen Guy accepted the steaming mug from JB and bobbed his teabag a few times. He was seated next to his partner Deuterium Boy on the Futon/Sofa that comprised the main item of furniture in the Grayhound loft. The rest comprising mostly of a second hand dinette set, various tables, and other forms of cleverly arranged debris masquerading as furniture. Things had the look of semi-ordered chaos. JB pulled up a creaking office chair that he used whenever he was on-line. Despite its cracked leather and the various initials carved into the handles, it was still surprisingly comfortable.

Chris sat at the table, somewhat away from the group, his head resting in one hand as he stared at the Canadian Visitors.

Hydrogen Guy continued, acutely aware of Chris' intense gaze, but doing his best to carry on a civil conversation with the more hospitable JB. "Unfortunately it looks like I was right. You and DB have somehow swapped powers." He took a tentative sip from his mug. "Do either of you remember doing anything... unusual recently?"

JB sat back, a little uncomfortable with the question. "What do you mean by 'unusual'?"

"Well, something you haven't done before. Something like eaten some really good Indian Food, played bocci with a fickle demon, offered to look after Herr Schrödinger's cat..."

Deuterium Boy continued to massage his temples, "Do they ever shut up?" During the past few nights, DB had dealt with the nearly constant background noise of the four voices speaking together. At first it was nearly impossible to distinguish what they were saying, but eventually they settled into a regular pattern. Still, it was like being stuck in an elevator with four noisy people and a hangover.

"No," JB replied bluntly, then smiled a bit. "Hey DB? What's a world of laughter and a world of tears, a world of hopes and a world of fears?"

DB looked at JB curiously for a second, then became a bit irritated as the song slowly became embedded in his brain.

Then DB's eyes widened and he perked up. "Ooh, they hate that don't they?"

JB sat back and grinned evilly. "Why yes, they do. Don't use that trick too often though, just when the arguing gets out of hand. Detective? What's your take on all of this?"

DB sat listening for a few seconds. "That was the Detective? Uhm, Hello to you too. He says he's not really sure either." DB turned to Hydrogen Guy and said, "He also says that he doesn't remember JB doing anything peculiar, just a typical night. Zrng even made meatloaf."

Hydrogen Guy raised a bit of an eyebrow. "Zrng?"

"He's our live-in alien." JB said calmly. "I think he's also the Protectorate of the planet or something."

"Protectorate of the what?" Hydrogen Guy said a bit confused.

"He's a bit odd and he's usually out most of the time, but you should taste his cooking."

Hydrogen Guy turned to his partner, "Do you think Chuck knows about him?"

"Probably, but we should ask." DB replied.

Hydrogen Guy took another sip from his mug as he mulled over the details. Finally he turned and addressed one of his problems. "Excuse me, but can I ask exactly what you find so fascinating?" It was addressed to Chris, who continued to sit and stare at Hydrogen Guy.

Chris continued to stare for a few seconds longer, before answering in a calm voice. "I'm trying to figure out what you would have gained from exchanging their powers."

Hydrogen Guy could feel his blood pressure rise several points. "Excuse me?" he said as he controlled himself.

"I said, I'm trying to figure out what you would have gained."

Hydrogen Guy took several deep breaths. "My apologies JB, but why exactly would I want to exchange DB's control over elemental forces powers for a bunch of flaky ghosts?"

"Because of their delightful fruit filling?" JB responded with a weak smile. Hydrogen Guy was not amused. "Sorry," JB said as he slumped a bit.

Chris continued, still unfazed, "I don't know, but it's a distinct possibility for someone who's keeping more secrets than you care to admit, isn't it, Dr. Evans?"

JB's gaze snapped from his brother to his hero and back again. He stared at Hydrogen Guy for a few seconds. "Chris, I don't think that.."

Chris didn't give JB time to finish, "I must admit that I understand your need for privacy and respect it, but you really ought to do something about your voice. Your costume doesn't do anything to alter it. Likewise your jawline is generic enough not to place, if it wasn't for that nasty zit on it."

JB again focused on Hydrogen Guy. Sure there might be some passing resemblance, but JB still wasn't sure that...

Chris stood up. "In case you're curious, my name is Christopher Crane Reid. I was born March 5th, 1969 in Dunn Loring, VA. My bloodtype is A positive, and the mask I wear provides eye protection from sudden blows to the head." Chris reached up to remove his mask and hat and stood, unadorned before Hydrogen Guy. "I have no idea what yours does. Like I said, I have no interest in who you are outside of what has happened to my brother. I am reasonably sure that you're not responsible for what's happened, but positive you haven't a shadow of a clue on how to go about fixing it. Sitting here isn't going to solve any problems and unlike in New York, I don't have to waste my time listening to you."

Chris replaced his mask and hat. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go out and tend to my city. JB? I don't want you out with me until we know what's going on. Call me when you come up with something and I'll be back here in five minutes, clear?"

JB simply nodded as Chris jogged down the front stairs.

Hydrogen Guy simply stared at the Ruler, "C'mon glow a little, the guy's got to be evil."

"Oh, don't be so hard on him, James, you did get his car wrecked."

"N!" Hydrogen Guy shouted angrily as he whirled around. "And don't call me 'James'!"

'N' stood dressed almost identically to the departed Chris, albeit significantly taller and better tailored. He had a casual air about him that disturbed JB greatly.

"Well, OK, it's not like you actually did it, more you happened to be one of the contributing factors behind it. You see, after returning from that little get-together in New York, Chris got a rather distressing reminder that they're called the cheap lots for a reason, but none of that really matters." N turned to look at JB.

"Ah, but where are my manners?" N removed his hat and extended a hand toward JB. "If I may beg Hydrogen Guy's forgiveness, allow me to introduce myself. I am N as in the letter and not the downstairs neighbor with the Lycra fetish."

"Are you sure about that?" Hydrogen Guy mumbled as JB tentatively shook N's hand. N grinned sociably as he proceeded to wipe his hand clean with a kerchief.

"Tut-tut, even worse, I've not properly introduce the other guests, have I? Well, let me solve that problem right now." N walked briskly to where DB sat. He placed his hand on his chin for a second then reached over and opened DB up like a door. A two dimensional "DB" swung away from his place and a bright doorway filled the spot where he had been sitting. N smiled cheerfully and pointed the way for the others. Hydrogen Guy and JB simply looked at each other. "Please, Gentlemen, this will be much easier."

Hydrogen Guy had no idea what to expect as he walked into his partner. JB was a bit more timid but relented and entered as well. N merrily closed DB behind him as he too entered the brightly illuminated door.

Once "inside", things were a bit different. Hydrogen Guy looked around suspiciously at the nearly empty room. His eyes adjusted quickly to the ambient light. From the corner of his eye he saw JB walk up next to him.

"Where are we?" JB asked quietly.

N strode by briskly, "That's easy. We're in the one place where we can all be together." As he strode past JB four people suddenly appeared in the room, giving the same startled reaction that Hydrogen Guy and JB did.

JB instantly recognized them, but Becky Sue was the first to talk. "JB? Is that you?"

"Becky Sue?" JB said, still not quite believing his eyes.

With a happy whoop, Becky Sue sprinted toward JB, then stopped suddenly as she bounced off something unseen. "Hey!" she cried out, unhurt, but significantly annoyed.

"I'm sorry my dear, but I'm afraid that contact between you two is quite impossible for the time being. We're simply here to visit and save DB some translation time."

"Who exactly are you, 'N'?" Myron said as he locked N in his gaze.

N smiled and again stretched out his hand, "Yes, of course, I am called 'N'. I hope you didn't mind the exchange. I thought it might be good for you to stretch your legs a bit. Very nice work on the West Haney case."

"Thank You." The Detective said with more suspicion than gratitude, and carefully shook N's hand.

"Justice Furlong? This is Hydrogen Guy. Hydrogen Guy? The Justice Furlong." N said playing host. "And of course everyone knows DB."

"Where is DB?" Hydrogen Guy asked N pointedly.

"I'm here, kind of." DB's voice said. It came from everywhere.

N smiled again. "As I said, we're the one place where we can all be together. We're in DB's head."

"Well, that explains the empty space." Hydrogen Guy quipped, unable to resist.

"Hardy-har-har," DB's voice replied less than amused. "If you like I can provide some background music..." The faint strains of "It's a Small World" started to fade in.

"NO!" the Furlong screamed in chorus. The music faded away.

N appeared to be blissfully unaware of the nearly averted disaster. "I must say, JB, that I am most encouraged by your progress. You have been adjusting to your role rather well. Even your brother is coming along rather nicely." N stood with his back toward the group. "Well, except for that whole 'Being a total ass' thing. He really should work on that."

"Chris doesn't mean it." JB tried to defend his brother. "He's just under a lot of stress and he's not really a people person."

N held up a hand, "Ah, no need, JB, no need. Most nouveau superheroes go through this sort of thing. You've been lucky enough to avoid it so far. Isn't that right, James?"

Hydrogen Guy winced again, N merely smiled.

"I'm sorry," N said to Hydrogen Guy, "Yes, I believe you've had enough breaches of etiquette today, Hydrogen Guy." N waved his hand and was no longer dressed like Chris. Instead he was dressed far more casually. He wore a pair of denims, deck shoes and a Hydrogen Guy Fan Club T-shirt featuring the Chibi Hydrogen Guy.

"I think I liked you better the other way." HG said flatly.

"Oh come now," N said, "those two are fun to watch on occasion, but I really am your biggest fan. If I weren't, do you think I would go through all this effort to get you back down to Boise?"

Hydrogen Guy could have slapped himself. This did have all of the hallmarks of an N operation, but why?

"I'm glad you asked!" N replied to the unasked question. "I tried to be more subtle about it..." N leaned against the small TV that suddenly flickered on to show two news anchors.

"...authorities are still not sure exactly who was responsible for creating the traffic jam that brought most of Eastern Boise to a near standstill yesterday, although they have discovered that one of the city's main traffic control system computers had apparently either been tampered with or failed dramatically due to a possible malfunction in the computer's CPU..."

The screen flickered past several channels before again stopping at another news report, oddly featuring the same two reporters.

".. reported that several of her shop's crystal figurines apparently sprung to life and began dancing the Macarena. Witnesses report that the figures performed the entire dance before returning to their previous state..."

Again the screen flickered

"...are reluctant to proclaim it as a miracle, even though the cement replica of Michelangelo's David had adorned their hall without incident for nearly seventy five years. In fact, Antonio DeVecchio, the owner of the hall, claimed that the statue's more aroused state was the work of vandals..."

More flickering.

"...this cute puppy will be finding a new home at the Billy Evan's Orphanage for Children suffering from Urban Legends Syndrome..."

The TV flickered off.

"Sorry, the last one wasn't part of the main thing. I just have a weak spot for puppies and orphans." N smiled a bit then quickly continued.

"So you were busy around town, N?" HG said with a raised eyebrow.

"Moi?" N said, "Of course not. All I did was convince a few stuffed shirts to have you be the guest speaker at some bore-a-thon. If you had been watching the news instead of going over your notes, you would have seen those or some of the other stories that have been going on here. Come now, use those finely honed skills. What do those stories have in common?" He paused again, "Well, except the last one, of course"

Hydrogen Guy stood thinking for a few seconds. A broken CPU that tied up traffic, a report of dancing crystal figures, and an obscene classical statue.

"Silicon," the Detective and Hydrogen Guy said together. They both turned an appreciative eye toward each other, then Hydrogen Guy was suddenly much more active. "That means there must be a Silicon Elemental in Boise."

N stood behind a game show MC's podium. "Correct, 100 points for Hydrogen Guy. The next question is.." A bell clanged and a sign rolled over into existence. It read: "He would also be interested in finding a new Elemental."

"Hans-Raoul." Hydrogen Guy said as he bristled.

"Ooh, I'm sorry, you've forgotten to phrase that in the form of a question." N said as the sound of a taped "Awww" filled the space. Suddenly the game show was gone and N was standing very close and very serious to Hydrogen Guy. "But you are still very correct. The Elemental is young and impressionable. You need to find him and get him proper training before our mutual friend finds and eliminates him."

"We can't bring him up to Maple Ridge," DB's voice stated, "ICBC would eliminate him on the spot."

"You're darn tootin' they would, he needs to stay here, in Boise, and your best bet would be to get the Grayhound to take care of him."

"That idiot?" Hydrogen Guy spurted out. "I wouldn't trust him to take care of my pet rock."

"I hate to admit it, " JB said a bit timidly, "but Chris can't even take care of an artificial plant. Isn't there someone else that could do the job?"

"Yes, there is, and Chris is the only one who can get in touch with her. JB, Furlong? I'm counting on your assistance in this matter. This is a very serious issue that effects more than just the life of one boy. Hydrogen Guy and Deuterium Boy can't do it alone and will need all of your help. Can I trust you'll provide it?"

"Yes." Karl spoke for the group.

"Although, I'll say that I'd feel better if'n we were back where we belonged." Becky Sue said.

"And I had my powers back" DB's voice added.

N smiled slyly. "Ah, yes, but what fun would that be?"

There was a sudden flash and Hydrogen Guy and JB were once again in the loft.

"That was surreal." JB stated.

"Sadly, not where N is concerned." Hydrogen Guy said dryly, "JB, call your brother. We need to find our elemental."

The first clue Mark had that something was wrong was when he felt himself being jerked from the console controls and slammed against the wall. "Hey!" Mark yelled as an arm pressed hard against his chest, pinning him in place, "I didn't do nothing!"

"Yes, you're right. If you had done nothing, I wouldn't have bothered you. However since you've now admitted in your broken English that you have altered that console, I have even more reason to bother you."

The figure addressing Mark was not the owner of the store. The owner was sitting behind his case, just like normal, head buried in a game catalog, completely oblivious to the assault going on in his store. Tommy, the store-owner, was big, but normally would have clobbered anyone thinking about fighting before the first fist moved. The fact that he was ignoring the current proceedings was a bit disturbing.

The figure pressing Mark into the pegboard was dressed in gray and wore a matching mask and hat. Mark recognized him. It was the Grayhound. Mark felt a bit nervous, but spat back, "Shouldn't you be out rescuing the city or something? You can't prove that I did anything to that Dreamcast."

"Really, then how come it's playing an X-Box game?" the Grayhound said with the kind of anger normally reserved for accusations of murder or crimes against the state. Mark determined that this guy was waaaayyy too into Sega products.

"Buddy, you seriously need a life." Mark responded dryly.

The Grayhound pressed his elbow in a bit deeper. "Look. Some of us have a bit more on the job stress than others, and some of us look forward to coming home after a long day and getting a bit of that stress out of our system by playing a favorite game or two."

"So go buy a Playstation or X-Box or something. Why are you hassling me?"

"First off, I like the Dreamcast games. Secondly, out of everyone who's come into this shop, you're the only one that grabbed a Xbox game demo and popped it into the Dreamcast without pausing, making you prime suspect number one. Third, I know for a fact that particular console can't play Xbox games."

"Oh really, you own it or something?"

The Grayhound leaned even closer and growled, "Why, yes. Yes I do."

Mark wondered why the console had suddenly just shown up one day, but considering how clean it was, he figured it was just an old demo model. Apparently, he was wrong.

The Grayhound, having made his point, backed off a bit. "Now, normally I really wouldn't mind, except for one little detail. I can no longer play DC games on it. I would really appreciate you either changing it back or giving me the option to play my old games."

Mark became visibly nervous again. "Uhm, I... I can't..."

Instantly the Grayhound was back to his snarling self. "You WHAT!?!"

"Look, Dude, it was kind of a major change. Maybe if there was another Dreamcast lying around somewhere..."

The Grayhound let Mark go. He looked like his best friend just died. Yep, waaaayyyy too attached to Sega gear. Mark almost felt sorry for the guy. "Hey, but you can play all the new Xbox games, and Sega's porting over most of their stuff..."

"I don't own any Xbox games." the Grayhound said flatly, then turned to the store owner. "Hey Tommy?


"Can you ban this punk from coming here?"

Mark blanched a bit, "What!? Hey, this is the best game shop in Boise, I've got pre-orders here! You can't!"

Tommy never looked up from his magazine, "Yep, hey kid, you're banned. Get out."

The Grayhound grinned a bit evilly, "Chalk it up as a learning experience, don't dork with stuff that doesn't belong to you. Get out."

Mark was stunned. He walked out of the shop in a haze. He had close to a hundred dollars of pre-orders that had just disappeared. Halfway home, "stunned" gave way to angry. Just who the hell did that jerk think he was? By the time Mark got home, he had planned exactly how he was going to get back at that "Gayhound" dork.

Mark leaned against the door trying to feel for a circuit. Finding the Grayhound's headquarters had proved to be amazingly simple. Apparently, this Chris Reid dork didn't care if anyone with half a clue figured out who he was. Mark smiled, some superhero. He wears a mask but doesn't bother with a secret identity.

Trying his best to look casual, Mark felt along the door for the tingle of the security alarm. Well, nothing around the lock. He stretched a hand up to feel along the door, trying his best to look inconspicuous. Zilch.

Maybe the alarm was next to the door. Mark slowly slid down the wall toward the perv shop that the dork lived above. Suddenly Mark felt like his arm had caught fire. He yelped and leapt away from the building, looking for scorch marks on his palm. Nothing. He slowly reached out his hand toward the building again. Several inches away from the concrete Mark, could feel the circuitry pulse. It was stronger than anything he had ever felt before, and confusing as well. Try as he could, he couldn't sync to it. He started to get a really bad headache. Mark pulled away from the building, impressed by the security. This was going to be harder than he thought.

He looked around, but no one on the street paid any attention to him. Mark decided to play it safe and look for a back door.

The alley behind the building was dark, dingy and strewn with garbage. It had the classic urban smell that folks generally tried to avoid. Fortunately, it was also abandoned. Mark pushed a dumpster near the fire-escape ladder and pulled it down. It made a horrendous clattering that Mark was sure that anyone would have heard. He lay low, waiting for someone to come out to investigate, but once again, the urban ignorance struck in his favor.

He scrambled up the ladder and made his way to the small windows of the upper floor. Several of them looked new. Mark crawled toward one of the darker corners and hid in a shadow as he peeked into the loft. The main room was sprawling and filled with what looked like empty boxes and folding furniture. Mark was once again less than impressed by the scale that Boise's "superhero" barely operated at.

If anything it made Mark madder that he pushed Mark around. He needed to improve his mood. A bit of digital anarchy might just do the trick. Speaking of tricks, Mark looked a bit harder at the window casing. He wasn't sure if he could do the trick with this type of window, but figured he might as well try. He picked an older pane of glass that was near the window's latch and started pressing on one corner. He felt the pane slowly starting to give and then folded it slowly inwards. Once he had folded enough of the glass out of the way he reached in and undid the latch, the window popped open with a bit of a creak.

Mark slid inside and carefully pushed the window closed again, he left the glass folded up for the time being. He could peel it back down later, when he was done. Mark tip-toed toward the laptops, carefully listening for anyone who might be coming in, turned to see a short green alien with massive arms and a mohawk looking rather surprised as he came out of the bathroom, and promptly fainted.

Zrng screamed.

Well, what would you do if you walk out of the bathroom wearing only a towel and find someone creeping through the loft? Fortunately (for Zrng's ego at least) the human had a far worse reaction and had apparently passed out. Zrng, feeling a bit guilty, reached in behind him and turned the bathroom fan on. He would definitely have to watch how much of that garlic he had in the future, or at least invest in some scented candles. No, wait, open flame might be bad.

Zrng slowly walked over and poked the prone prowler with his foot. Nope, nothing. This guy was out cold, but at least he was breathing.

Zrng began to steam a bit. This was just perfect. He had a whole day planned out and suddenly there was some prowler skulking around. Zrng added "Security System" to the long list of items he needed the humans to install in their living quarters. Zrng looked around for something to secure the human. He supposed he could use his towel, but considering that he had gotten in to the loft, Zrng wasn't quite sure what he was capable of.

He thought about calling the police, but then remembered that he wasn't exactly a native. Zrng cursed himself yet again for not getting the vocal translator implant. The only people who could adequately deal with the situation and not wind up dissected or in front of Galactic Customs would be either Chris or JB. Looks like he got to be a prowler-sitter for a bit. Fortunately, he knew a good location to keep the visitor.

He got dressed quickly and headed back out. The prowler was starting to wake up a bit, but a quick rabbit punch solved that issue. Zrng hefted the human over his shoulder and headed toward the roof.

Mark had no idea where he was, but he knew he was moving. He almost panicked not quite sure how he wound up here, then remembering entering the loft, then remembering that the alien that he had seen in the Grayhound's loft. A steady stream of unprintable expletives flowed through his mind as he tried his best to put the bits into place. None of which were adding up.

Mark shifted in the tiny space trying to figure out where he was. He felt his stomach rise with the distinct feeling of freefall. He thudded against the floor but not nearly as hard as if they had abruptly landed anywhere. If Mark didn't know better, he'd swear that they were flying.

A glint of light caught his eye and he squirmed to peek through the crack. He was definitely in something like an airplane, but quite obviously not your normal run-of-the mill airplane. The forward half of the area was filled with indicators, control levers and display screens. Seated squarely in the middle was a large chair. A large green arm reached out and punched a few buttons.

He was on the alien's ship.

'Ok, calm thoughts, what the heck am I going to do? Get eaten. No he would have already done that. Maybe he forgot to turn on the microwave you're stuffed into. If it's a microwave, why is there all kinds of other junk stuffed in here too? Is the door locked? Yes, dammit! Ok, calm down, what kind of lock is it?'

Mark pressed his hand against the door and "reached" into the circuitry. Ah, it was a chip of some sort. Mark couldn't recognize the language, but traced the wiring in his mind. There seemed to be two possible circuits that he could break. Hopefully neither were attached to the alarm 'or the microwave' Shut up!

Mark closed his eyes, crossed his fingers and opened a circuit. The door moved a bit, he had unlocked it. Fortunately it didn't swish open which he had just realized was an unexpected possibility what with being stuck on a spacecraft and all.

The floor vibrated and thudded. They had landed. The alien flipped switches and controls as lights flickered from green to red. The chair swung around. Mark held the door and his breath. The alien grabbed something that looked like a boom box, no, wait, it was a boom box (Mark had seen it last week on QVC) and headed out the main hatch. Then to Mark's disappointment, the hatch closed with a secure sounding clack.

He waited a few seconds.

Then Mark slowly opened his door.

The craft's interior was smaller than he had expected, maybe the size of a van. Several seats lined the wall, but for the most part it was empty. Mark looked at the control panel, but had no idea what any of the controls meant.

He looked through the main window, but it was nearly impossible to determine where he was. It looked like the middle of nowhere. A strange heat shimmer seemed to make everything swim a bit, but for the most part it looked like miles and miles of potato plants with a few cows sprinkled on the low hills in the distance.

The pole that Mark was leaning on shifted a bit. Surprised, Mark leapt back, but still clung to the pole. It slid out of its holster and clattered to the deck. Well, actually now that he looked at it, it wasn't quite a pole. It was black metal, about three feet long or so with two brassy nubs at one end. Mark carefully picked the device up off the ground. There was a single button which he pressed slowly, making sure neither end of the device was pointing at him.

The device made a low whining noise, but nothing else. He pressed the button again. This time, nothing. A sudden flurry of movement in the front window caught his attention. It was the alien running hell bent back toward the ship. The boom box looked like it had caught a shotgun blast. Mark dove back to the closet and pulled the door closed.

He probably should have dropped the device.

For the third time that day, Mark blacked out. This time it was preceded by a rather intense shock.

I'm Ken Griffith, and we interrupt our regular broadcasts to bring you breaking report. Scientists at the USGS have confirmed that a magnitude 3 earthquake has shaken parts of downtown Boise. No injuries and only minor damage has been reported. The USGS says that although rare, the earthquake may have been caused by an undiscovered fault system that...

What's happening? We... We seem to be experiencing another shake...

Is everyone ok?

Again, authorities are recommending that everyone stay calm, stay indoors and keep your radios and TV's tuned to this station for breaking news.

"Look," Chris said calmly, "I appreciate the fact that you're in a hurry to find your elementoid,"

"Elemental," JB corrected.

"... elemental, but if you don't mind, I need to find out what the deal is with the recent rash of earthquakes."

Hydrogen Guy's normal nature was beginning to fray under the continual frustration, "What's there to find out about? They're earthquakes, they happen everywhere."

"Not in Boise they don't. We're over a hundred miles from the mountains yet those quakes are occurring nearby. I just need to check with a geologist and find out if there's anything I should be concerned with, then we'll go on your happy little snipe hunt."

"Chris?" JB asked, "Can I talk with you for a minute?"

Chris looked at his brother, JB wasn't smiling but had a rather stern look on his face. Chris suddenly felt very uncomfortable. "Excuse us one minute." Hydrogen Guy nodded in an annoyed fashion.

"Chris, what the hell is wrong with you?" JB asked his brother once they had moved a few steps away. "You've been a total jerk since they showed up."

"I have not," Chris denied, "in fact I've been actively avoiding them."

JB glared at his brother. "Oh, yeah, Ma would put up with that kind of rudeness. Look, this is a major item..."

"JB, everything is a major item with guys like that." Chris whispered at the top of his lungs. "Give them the wrong cream in their coffee and you'd swear that Gabriel just blew his trumpet. JB, back when I was working at ECI I dealt with guys like those all the time."

JB raised a suspicious eyebrow, "Super heroes did a lot of municipal right of way work?"

"No, but I dealt with guys with bloated egos on power trips. The only difference between them and these guys is that they had better tailors. Trust me JB, they've got their own agenda and don't care one iota about you, me or anyone else that doesn't get them to their end."

"Chris, you're so amazingly wrong on this one. Do you have any idea what those two have done? No, of course not, you've just made up your mind about it and proclaimed it gospel."

"JB, you don't know.."

"And neither do you, Chris. Jeez, this is so completely unlike you. You're the guy that does a weeks worth of research before deciding what kind of butter to use, yet you're unwilling to even read up about those two. It's like you're.." Suddenly a light came on in JB's head. "You're jealous, aren't you."

"What!?" Chris didn't bother whispering. "JB of all the outlandish.."

"You're jealous that they're more powerful than you are and that they're going to show you up to me, aren't you."

"JB even if they were to summon the dead, I don't think you could be any more infatuated by them. I'm more concerned that you might go blindly chasing into somewhere and get yourself killed."

"Bull." JB knew when Chris was lying, and he knew when he needed to slap his brother around a bit. "Look, hotshot, let me spell it out for you. Number one, we are a team. I could have left at any time, but I didn't. We're both responsible for each other and we've saved each other's bacon more often than anyone else. Get that through your fat head. Second, I really do know where to draw the line between fiction and reality. I know full well that we are not, nor ever will be, on par with guys like those, but I'm not so bloody egotistical as to pass up the opportunity to learn from a couple of success stories. They've been at this longer than we have and have not been killed yet. I don't know about you, but I'd like to emulate that."

Chris continued to glare, but he was listening. "Are you done, Mom?"

"No, I'm not. But I don't want to embarrass you further in front of company." It was a line that both brothers had heard all too often growing up, and JB delivered it with perfect inflection.

They both laughed a bit before returning to the Diatomic Duo.

JB punched the button and the elevator doors slid open. The group entered as JB pressed the button for the correct floor.

A few floors passed before Chris spoke. "Uhm, J... Hydrogen Guy...", Chris leaned over to JB and whispered again, "Do I really have to call him that."

JB whispered back, "Yes, it's his name."

"Yeah, but it's so goof--"

Suddenly the elevator shook in a manner that it was never designed to handle. The lights went out and each of the group thudded to the floor. The shaking stopped a few moments later.

"Is everyone OK?" Chris asked as he activated a hand light he mounted to the wall.

"Perfect, I'm abso-fricking-lutely perfect" Hydrogen Guy said with as much sarcasm as he could muster. Mind you, he's Canadian, so it's a truly impressive amount. "You know, just when I begin to think that this trip couldn't get any better, I get stuck in an elevator with my current favorite human being while the fate of the world hangs in the balance."

"Fate of the world?" Chris snapped back, "What is your coffee going to get cold or something? Are you going to blame me for the earthquake?"

"Why not? You blamed me for giving your brother better powers than he had."

"And don't think I hadn't ruled out the possibility that you still aren't responsible."

"Uhm, actually Chris, he's not, you see there's this entity called N that..." JB offered, it was ignored.

"In fact for all I know you're responsible for the earthquakes, too."

"Ooh, there's a clever thought. Instead of going out and saving someone from being killed, let's go rot in an elevator shaft. Yeah, that's thinkin'. Besides, genius, it was your idea to come here."

"That's because I wanted to see a scientist about the quakes."

"What do you think I am?" Hydrogen Guy yelled.

"HG, we're solid state physicists, I think he meant a geolo..." DB offered. It was ignored.

"Go to hell." Chris said to Hydrogen Guy.

"Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt!"

"We never got any T-Shirts."

"Deuterium Boy!" Hydrogen Guy wasn't interested in pedantics.

"Besides, you're the all-powerful Hydrogen Guy. Why don't you just fly out of here and get Lassie to help us?"

"That would be because although we can float, we can't generate lift..." DB again offered, the masochist. He was ignored again as the two continued to bark at each other.

JB slid over to the only other non-shouting individual in the elevator. "Hey."

"Hey," DB responded.

"Do you think they'll actually start pounding on each other?"

DB watched for a second or two. "Nah. Heck, this is probably what they both need right about now."

JB laughed a bit at that. "Yeah. I suppose. Too bad they decided to get it out of their system here, in a small room with the two of us locked in it."

Hydrogen Guy reached a quick crescendo. "My name's goofy? Well, at least it's spelled right!" Immediately the two started battling anew.

JB leaned over to DB again. "So, do you have any ideas on how to get us out of here?"

"Yeah, but they all involve either waiting for the power to come back or the fire department."

JB nodded agreement.

"So it's true?" JB asked DB.


"You two really can't fly?"

"Nope, granted we might be able to but if we can, we haven't figured out how to do it. Floating isn't bad though. Kept us from becoming street pizzas on more than one occasion."

"Yeah, I remember doing some pretty good leaps with Karl in control, but that took a lot out of him."


"Yeah, Captain Industry. Have you had uncontrollable urges to read the Wall Street Journal yet?"

DB beamed with a flash of insight, "Yeah, actually." He frowned and turned toward JB, "You know how hard that is to get in Maple Ridge?"

"Well, that would be Karl." JB said, with an odd note of loss in his voice. "He's pretty quiet most of the time, but he's really good to have around when you need him."

"Well they can show me on TV without having to blank out portions for sensitive viewers!" Hydrogen Guy snarled.

"Yeah, you're right, the biggest problem they have is getting you off of the TV." Chris fired back.

"So, how come in the old comic books about you two they had you flying all over the place?" JB continued.

DB laughed a bit and rolled his eyes. "The publisher thought that it would help us look better. I hated those damn books. Pretty much nothing in them was accurate. You know that they had him as being an assistant prof at the University of Ottawa with only a Masters? They felt that would help us reach the 18-26 demographic. He was livid, of course."

"So what about the other powers?"

"Like what?"

"I know about the super senses, speed, and the tricks with gasses, but what other powers do you really have? Can you really do the shield trick?"

"Yeah, but only for a limited time. Takes a lot out of you."

"What about converting yourself into a gas?"

"Yeah, we really can do that one too."

"That's got to be handy. How did you do it?"

"Well, the first trick is to just relax and clear your mind, then give yourself a metal image. I like to think of big puffy clouds, then I think of myself kind of disappearing into the clouds and... JB?"

Chris looked around the elevator room. "Where's JB?"

Hydrogen Guy sniffed the air. "He's just evaporated into deuterium... ozone."

Suddenly Hydrogen Guy was gone as well. DB's reaction was instant. He grabbed Chris' collar and lifted him through the elevator's access panel, or what Chris hoped was the access panel. Either way, they were suddenly standing on top of the broken elevator with DB speaking very clearly.

"No questions. What do you have that can break their fall?"

Chris' mind raced through his inventory "I... I've got..."

Suddenly there was a loud pop as Hydrogen Guy and JB materialized thirty feet up the shaft. Just shy of the sparking electrical cable. For an instant, they both hung in mid air before the full effects of gravity took over.

Mark awoke. He was a bit groggy, but ok. His leg still tingled a bit from where the shock hit, but he could flex it. He pushed the door open and staggered into the main capsule. Fortunately, it was once again abandoned. Mark wanted to get out.

The hatch light blinked green and the door opened.

Mark looked at it suspiciously. Wasn't that just closed?

The hatch light blinked red and the door closed.


The hatch light went back to green and opened.

Mark wasted no time racing though the opening.


The door obediently closed behind him as Mark blindly sprinted down whatever the road was he was on.

Holy Plummeting Personae!

Is that device that zapped Mark what
I think it was?

For that matter, is Mark the Silicon

And where will Hydrogen Guy and JB go
on their honeymoon after taking the plunge?

Tune in Next Week over at The Files of Hydrogen Guy for:

Chapter 74: Unwanted Discoveries
Bobbing for Silicon

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