A MAN CALLED MACE, created by Douglas Wojtowicz
"So, tell me again, Arnold, why do you think your first 'official' appearance was such a failure?" she asked.
Arnold looked at her. Doctor Simone Nimoy would have been one of the most beautiful creatures on Earth had she not an emotionless face. Her cheeks and chin were sharp, yet elfin in nature, and her black hair was cut in a fetching pixie-style as if to amplify both her fantasy world features and her severe, cool nature. The only thing that hinted at anything approaching passion were her lips which were lush, soft, and Arnold could imagine them tasting like strawberries.
"Arnold?" Simone asked again.
Arnold blinked and pulled himself back in, reining in his wandering, lust-eyed attention as surely and securely as he pulled in his signature weapon that served also as his nomme du guerre - Mace. "Which first 'official' appearance, doc? The one where I showed up and had my ass handed to me on a silver platter? Or the one where I appeared with all the crutches in place?"
"Crutches? You have never entered the field with an injured leg. Even if you did, you can hover," Simone said.
"No. My crutches," Arnold said. "Because my powers are too damned puny otherwise."
With a flourish, he gestured at his folded uniform laid on the other side of the office, padded chain-mail rising like a marionette. He flipped up his helmet to hover, just above the neck hole, and wrapped the glove around the handle of his mace, letting it twirl as Charlie Chaplin would have spun his little cane. To add to the image, he let his costume do the famous Chaplin waddle as well.
"My crutches. My body armor. My big steel club," Arnold said. "All these toys. And let's not get into hours of martial arts training, and accuracy training with my magnetism..."
"All the stuff you've done, all the lives you've saved..."
Arnold cut her off, holding up his finger. The marionette collapsed, the metal mace clanking loudly on the floor. "Please. I'm a sham. A trick-shot artist. I never fight fair."
"You're a military man, Mace. You should know, above all else..."
"I was only given military rank and clearance because of him," Arnold said. "The Knight."
Simone interlaced her fingers, her chin resting on the lattice hammock formed. Her green eyes sparkled as if a bank of computers whirred to life. "Morning Knight."
"If it hadn't been for him, you and I wouldn't be talking," Arnold continued. "That first night..."
Arnold Judas Dolenz felt the strength rolling through his muscles. He hated that he couldn't use his talents to fly, but his mastery and manipulation of magnetic fields allowed him so much more than most people could imagine. At the junk yard, he tried out until he could pick up an old wreck of a steel-framed far without effort using his limbs, even being so far as to punt it across the lot with all the attendant noise and crunch.
He kept trying to fly, but that held no joy for him. However, he could jump insanely far. Five hundred feet in a single bound, by forcing his magnetic energies beneath him in a pulse.
He couldn't lift as much from a distance, and he could tell that it was magnetic energy after the way he blanked so many of his friends' credit cards and 3.5 inch floppies by accident.
That didn't mean that Arnold's power was lacking. He could still easily make a thousand pounds of metal, or whatever was attached to metal, float and hover at his whim. He was able to do three times that hands on, which was indeed out of proportion from merely adding his own physical strength to the magnetism, as if it seemed to grow exponentially in power. He wasn't sure of his limits, despite everything he'd tried, but a ton and a half of automobile was a sure sign that he was something remarkable. Even so, at age 16, being able to lift that much meant that he was on the fast road to becoming an amazing powerhouse. Arnold wondered, absently, if some of the other big guns, the dudes who seemed to be endless displays of muscle, didn't have a little bit of magnetic or telekinetic control on their own part. After all, even 500 pounds of rock-skinned man couldn't get the leverage to hoist city buses.
The hows and wheres of other super-beings didn't matter now, with the costume just right, he felt ready for action. Ready to make the world a better place.
"Get ready for the Magnetic Ace!" he called out to the empty junkyard.
Kneeling, he charged up his magnetic field, then hurled himself skyward. He kept his altitude low, and his distance long, touching down just enough to focus another magnetic pulse to keep him from shattering his femurs and bounced to a new set of roofs. His senses hummed, and he picked up a fast radio dispatch. He still had trouble "tuning in" to broadcasts readily. Sooner or later he'd get the hang of it.
This was his first night, and he could always get a police radio. That felt like cheating, though.
Sailing from rooftop to rooftop with the greatest of grace an ease was a rush, and he was able to home in on the flash of Mars lights atop police cars in the distance, hear the wail of their sirens. He changed course, and bounded into action, to catch up with the commotion. Maybe he'd be able to do some good right off of the bat.
The jumping - he'd been practicing it for so long, making sure he got it right. It felt so good, a rush. Before, he used to be afraid of going upside down, of heights, but now that he was under control, it was magical. He could even cling to walls like that bug dude.
He saw the police cars, racing to the scene of... he couldn't see from here. Arnold paused, wondering whether he should press on without sufficient information or...
Gunfire crackled in the distance, and Arnold, the Magnetic Ace, was not going to dither for another moment. He launched himself, sizzling through the air. He didn't know how fast he could go with these jumps, but it was fast. He overtook and passed a pair of squads racing along, sirens blaring. This had to be more than 60 miles an hour.
Arnold didn't have much in way of steering, but what he did have were the street lights, which he could latch onto with his magnetism, land upon, then spring forth from.
He saw them then. Gunmen who were out in front of a bank. Police cars were taking the brunt of a lot of bullets, protecting the lawmen behind them. The guns they had were big, loud, and didn't seem to be running out of ammunition.
Fine, Arnold thought. The Magnetic Ace lifted both hands and concentrated on those weapons. The gunmen started skidding, dragged along by their ponderous weaponry, surprise flashing across their faces. He thought harder, closing his hands, willing every ounce of magnetic power he had to crush those deadly weapons. Then the gunmen started pulling back, breaking free of his grasp.
You won't come to me, I'll come to you.
With another surge, he hurtled at the closer of the machine gunners, leaping and using the line of magnetic force as his means of aiming at the gunman. He shifted his magnetism to full strength just before he collided with his foe, fist outstretched. The two of them hurtled up against a van parked on the street, sheet metal crumpling under the impact.
Up close now, Arnold noticed that the man was wearing some kind of harness with which he could carry the huge weapon he wielded. He also saw that his fist had all but torn the jaw off of the man he'd struck. Blood poured from the wrecked maw of the man.
He struggled to get up and saw the other mechanically enhanced gunner turn toward him.
Arnold threw out his hand, pushing the machine gun to fire upwards. That act saved his life, as the violent wrenching of the weapon tore away the feed belt attached to it. The angry man in the booster suit tossed his gun aside and stomped forward.
Arnold rose and was about to throw another punch, but remembered the carnage he'd wrought on the poor bastard he'd already hit. That moment was more than enough time for the boosted thug to hit him. The blow hit him so hard, he didn't feel anything. Arnold, however, heard his ribs snap and break under the force of his enemy's punch. Copper and bile flooded his mouth, and the only thing he could think to do was push back.
Something bright flared nearby. It was a man, he thought it was a man, back lit and glowing, the rush of hot wind blowing over him. There were snaps and flashes of light, and suddenly the robber who'd punched him screamed about his arms and legs burning, and of not being able to move.
"Son, are you all right?" It was a warm, friendly voice.
"...blew it..." Arnold sputtered past the blood and vomit still in his mouth. "...blew it..."
That was the last thing he remembered for a long time.
"That was when you first met the Morning Knight," Simone said as Arnold reached the end of his story.
"It was also the first time I saw what super-strength could do to a man," he added. He floated up from the couch, landing gently on his feet. Doctor Nimoy's office was safely tucked away in a top secret installation, so he could be free here.
"Was it the first time you ever killed?" Simone asked.
Arnold paced away from the couch, heading toward a window which, in reality, was a large plasma screen. It showed an overview of Washington DC, as if they were ten stories up, rather than ten below the Capital. Somewhere, 200 feet above his head, there was a camera picking up the events happening. It was a means of making the cramped underground administration building seem a alive and natural. Even the window sills before the giant monitors were ionic airflow fans, so that Simone could open a "window" and get a breeze blowing in.
Simone had the nerve to say that she couldn't understand where his "Impostor syndrome" originated.
"Actually, the Knight saved the man I punched. Cauterized his worst bleeding. If he hadn't shown up when he did, both of us would have died that night," Arnold explained. He opened the window, and a substitute for fresh air wafted in. Considering the pollution of the town, it was the absolute best he could ever ask for.
"That's where your first arch foes came from?" Simone asked. "Gnasher and Deathpunch."
"They only knew I was the one who turned their lives to crap when I blurted out that I recognized them," Arnold returned.
Arnold rubbed his forehead. "My first night trying to help fight crime. I made two monsters, responsible for so many deaths..."
He walked back to the couch and sat on it, folding his elbows across his knees. He rested his chin on his forearms, dark eyes looking at a spot on the carpeting that had enough shading and pattern to give him an image to build in his mind. The trouble with doing that elsewhere was the tendency for his will to continue molding the image.
Here, he was free to let his attention wander, turning the nap of the carpet into his tapestry.
"Arnold, please concentrate," Simone spoke up. "So, you said that was not when you first killed? But your record does, despite the redactions, list you have resorted to lethal force."
Arnold looked up, a glimmer of a smile on his lips before losing it, his dark eyes growing solemn again.
"Your first kills were a pleasant memory?" Simone asked.
Arnold shook his head. "No... the pleasant memory was my delivery to the first solo mission where I was... weapons free."
"Weapons free?" Simone asked.
Arnold nodded. "As in, I could apply as much lethal force as was deemed necessary."
The interior of the plane's cabin dimmed to red, and the man now called Mace stepped to the edge of the lowering ramp. Between him and the ground were fifty-thousand feet of empty air. They were high above a cottony, moon-lit layer of clouds, and Arnold clenched his fists and loosened his shoulders. His hands were clad in dark leather, and his armor was of midnight blue. The one concession to his super heroic nature was his winged helmet. Even then, this one had a full, midnight black faceplate, not the rose-colored visor that he wore as the Morning Knight's junior partner.
The helmet was winged so that it could help him steer, as well as providing surface area for the encrypted radio transceivers in the headpiece. Yes, Arnold had learned, over the past five years, that he was very skilled at tuning into, and listening to, radio transmissions. It became child's play. The antenna, however, enabled him to talk back, as well as extending that radio hearing practically across the globe, enabling constant contact with home base.
For five years, he'd been known as Silverstick, named for his ever-present stainless steel, mirror polished fighting staff. Now, he eschewed the battle stave for a pair of Ka-Bar USMC fighting knives. Beneath their parkerized black finish and the leather washer handles, they were both made of steel, ferrous metal that he could command at a whim.
One thing he had learned was that when he was holding onto a significant weapon of steel or iron, he could "bootstrap" himself. Literally, he could push and steer the knives as if he were lifting himself from the ground by his own bootstraps. His speed record was 125 miles an hour on even flight.
The light turned green. His smile broadened under the jet black faceplate. He took two steps and dove off of the ramp, fighting knives in hand. They tugged him into the empty sky behind the plane. He held the blades out, like small wings, cutting edge first to meet the air. It didn't matter how he held it, because it wasn't a case of aerodynamics. He dragged himself along behind a heavy metal mallet with little effort.
Up here, the cold was brisk and cutting through his armor, and he let go of the pressure on his knives, letting gravity do most of the work. The speed of his descent let the wind give a slight whistle over his helm's wings. He adjusted the attitude of his head, and the whistle disappeared.
Silence, blissful silence enveloped him. The chill of high altitude prickled his skin beneath the padded uniform, the tender caress of a frost-fingered fairy. Jacqueline Frost, he called her, and he continued his descent, plummeting toward the ground like a missile.
Finally, he brought the knives up, decelerating from terminal velocity to a more sedate sixty miles an hour, going from vertical drop to skimming the treetops. The mountain pines of Afghanistan rushed by beneath him, and he opened himself up to the Earth's magnetic lines, following them, navigating not by compass, but by his own unity with the magnetosphere.
Arnold brought himself to a halt, resting at the peak of one of them. He engaged the binocular function of his visor with a thought, sweeping the square of land where the Pentagon claimed the enemy were. He saw the base. He felt the weight of iron receivers and steel casings for artillery shells. The artillery pieces literally burned like spotlights before him.
The men with those weapons, the iron in their blood and the neuroelectrical activity of their central nervous systems, were beacons, fainter than their metal guns and knives and grenades, but they were present.
He saw two who were unarmed. Caged in iron bars. They were all within range of him so that he could hurl his knives and allow them to carve up the guards, to rescue the prisoners without getting close. Unfortunately, that way of business was not going to be enough. This had to be close, and ugly and personal.
For his teacher's sake.
Arnold stepped off of the bough and glided along the tips of branches until he reached the ground, the knives providing just enough lift to prevent his landing from being louder than the footstep of a sparrow. He sheathed the knives and approached, seeing everyone before him. The odds were fifty to one. But they didn't even know his presence, the plane too high, too far away for anyone to have heard him gliding in on magnetic thrust. It was dark, so none saw him, but he knew where they all were.
Closer to the perimeter, closer to the patrols.
Arnold Dolenz remembered his mentor, the Knight, bleeding, limbs shorn off from the booby trap, the cowardly attack that left one of America's most notable heroes a cripple.
Arnold didn't like the mirthless grin that stretched his lips as one knife leaped into his hand, literally, and he drew closer to a sentry lighting a cigarette, the flare of his match ruining his night vision just enough to keep him as a phantom in the darkness. Razor sharp steel sank into flesh.
No super-strength. No extra magnetic "English" on the knife to make it extra accurate or penetrate deeper. This was from a young boy who lost his best friend, his father figure for the past half-decade. Unyielding steel bisected the Afghan's kidney, renal shock instantly paralyzing the man, making the mouthful of leather-clad palm unnecessary, but even at his most enraged, Arnold was not one for sloppy tactics.
Fifty yards distant, another sentry paused, maybe hearing the frantic scrabble of his comrade's boots on gravel. Arnold pulled the second knife and hurled it. Faster than any arrow, and straighter as well, the Marine fighting knife punched through the right eye socket of that guard, stabbing deep into the lower brain, severing any connections which would have allowed the man to cry out, let alone continue breathing. With a though, he wrenched the blade free and summoned it back to his grasp.
Forty-eight to one odds. Two hostages - two of the Knight's most beloved - to rescue. One dear friend to avenge.
Arnold was going to show just how blunt one could be with two razor sharp knives...
"You killed all fifty of the terrorists," Simone summed up from Arnold's story. She shifted in her high-backed chair, squirming uncomfortably.
"The message needed to be sent," he said.
"The message?" Simone repeated.
Arnold looked down at his hands. "You know why I went for such a bright red for my gloves and boots? So I wouldn't forget the blood on my hands. And I wanted them to know I had it."
He rubbed the palm of his hand. "I wanted them to know I was wearing that blood as a badge of honor."
Simone opened up his file, and the various costumes he wore. Up until he was 20, his costume had the same black and gold motif as the Morning Knight, with gold tinted gloves and highlights on his jacket. His weapon back then was a stainless steel, six foot long fighting staff that he could collapse. As the Knight's sidekick, he was known as Silverstick. He'd balance on the stick and surf on it across the city, following the Knight and his rocket thrust leaps.
That changed with the Knight's fall.
"I thought you were going for a patriotic theme," Simone said.
Arnold shook his head. "Sure, it was a good coincidence. The silver chest plate. The blue overall costume. The red hands and feet."
"So why the rose colored visor?"
Arnold spread his fingers, and the helmet shot across the room to his grasp. He looked at his reflection in in the pink-tinted glass. He gave himself a smile. "His last joke for me."
A teardrop splashed on the polycarbonate. He rubbed it away with his thumb, leaving a smear across the translucent glass.
Without his mask, without his black and gold trimmed leather jacket, without the wig that covered his badly burnt bald pate, the Morning Knight looked just a little pathetic. In the tank top, even under the fabric of the wife-beater, you could see the ripples of washboard abs and the swell of his pectoral muscles. His left arm, however, was a red, raw, scrawny thing that he usually kept wound in a segmented metallic sleeve. His skeletal hand glowed with the fiery ember forever embedded in its "palm."
Daryl Piowar's left ear was gone, seared away by the same chaotic, charring union that permanently affixed the fiery heart of a fallen angel to his hand. His left eye was milky, having been cooked to the point where there was no color except for the pinpoint at the middle. Daryl, the Knight, had not lost vision in that eye, but there was no way he could feel comfortable in public. That was why he had mirrored lenses inserted into his domino.
"Happy birthday, Arnold," Daryl said. He held a shopping bag out in his right.
Arnold finished his inverted sit-ups, his legs hooked over a chin-up bar, and he gripped it, rolling himself down. Daryl was tall, and in his full mask, wig and costume, he was the very visage of Lancelot or Galahad. Arnold was forever shorter, topping out at five ten compared to Daryl's six - four. The right half of Daryl's body was lean and muscled, something that Arnold strove for, but he never seemed to have that same Olympian physique as his friend.
Arnold took the bag, looking in. "What... what's this? My birthday isn't for another two months."
"It's your fifth anniversary of taking to the streets," Daryl told him. "Pull it out."
Arnold did so.
"Silverstick is going to forever be a sidekick to the world. And you've just graduated to full-fledged hero."
"Five years since I crashed and burned, you mean," Arnold replied. He looked at the blue segmented uniform. He could feel the metal within, not really a chain-mail blend, but it had enough ferrous thread running through it, it would focus his protective field. When he wore it, it would serve to protect him from even a light machine gun. The front flap of the uniform was made of a sheet of the same flexible material, all silver. "This looks like the design for the old Magnetic Ace costume."
Daryl nodded. "That doesn't sound like a bad name. It puts you first. Above. On an elite level. Names in this business are an important thing."
Arnold stepped back, already feeling the costume's mass, and he focused, winding it about his limbs and torso. It felt good. It was comfortable, easy to move in, and when he made a motion, it was out of the way, as if he were naked. He liked the dangling flap over the front and the back, made of the same metallic sheet that formed his chest piece.
"Extra crotch protection. Not a skirt," Daryl offered.
"I know," Arnold answered. "And it flips aside for rest stops too. Sweet."
"And hooked to the belt, in case you have to take a load off," Daryl added.
Arnold grinned. "And it's a more subtle in your face to the "no capes" crowd. If they don't like it, they can kiss my ass underneath!"
Daryl laughed out loud. "That's the way you do it."
"Thanks, Dare," Arnold said. "I mean it."
"You can use the stick if you want, or pick something else," Daryl told him. "But, I was thinking of something new."
"I can feel it nearby," Arnold answered. "But you wrapped it in... foil. Making it hard to get a feel for."
"Call it to you," Daryl ordered.
He lifted his hand, and out of a locker came the object. It was the length of a baseball bat, and with some concentration, he stripped away the foil enclosing it. It looked like someone had torn the axle out of a car, except the handle was much more slender and graceful, the hub itself a blunt, rounded ring at the top. The whole thing was brassy in color. It had a red leather thong hanging off to match with the red stripe on the helmet and the red M formed by two horseshoe-style magnets joined in the middle. "A hammer?"
"A mace. Magnetic Ace..."
"You're an incorrigible punster..."
"Then why do you incorrige me?" Daryl asked.
Arnold rolled his eyes. In a "red" noticing state of mind, he also noticed the visor of his helmet. It also had a reddish hue, but this was weaker. Lighter.
"Rose colored glasses?" Arnold asked.
"So that you can finally start seeing the world a little better than you do now," Daryl told him. "Gloomy lil' Gus."
He reached out and ruffled Arnold's hair with his good hand. The ember in his left hand was too dangerous to risk casual contact. Daryl would never touch another person with his left hand unless he intended to do violence. "You're one of the best partners a guy could ever hope for. And you'll be the best in the business out there, with the big guys."
"You're one of the big guys," Arnold said, noting the glowing remnant of an angel's heart. "An elemental. I'm just some guy who's gotten good at juggling. From a distance."
Daryl shook his head. "You'll be the best of the best."
An alarm blared. Arnold cast off his current costume. "Gonna do one last job as 'Stick."
"You're the boss now, partner," Daryl replied, going to gear up.
"The boss" watched as his teacher, his mentor, lose both legs and his "good" arm to a booby-trapped car bomb. A non-magnetic mine to be exact, one he couldn't "see."
Blindsided... two heroes ended that day.
But it was still the birthday of Mace.
"The brass mallet," Simone said. "You never fixed the color on that."
"Actually I did fix something on it. I got rid of the strap, and wound the lower half of the mallet's handle in black leather. To remind me of the black and the gold."
Arnold squeezed his eyes shut. He felt the surge in his upper chest, and fought back the convulsion. Just keep talking. Ignore the hurt. "I didn't need a strap... I hung onto the handle and it wouldn't leave my grasp until I ordered it to, even flying at over a hundred miles an hour. I had a belt loop too, because who needs to keep a big mace in their hand all day long?"
"Arnold, it's all right to feel upset..."
He glared at her for cutting him off, then flushed as he realized that he'd silenced her with just a cold stare. Arnold felt around, looked around, to see if he'd done something else that might have threatened her inadvertently. He spotted the letter openers on the desk, their points all aimed directly at her.
He swept them off of the desk and into his hand.
"What happens when I get upset is that people get hurt. What happens when I go to work is that people get hurt. What happens when I try to shirk my responsibilities is that people get hurt," Arnold said. He closed his hand, crumpling the metal spines of the old government issue letter openers as if they were made of clay. He looked at the mess in his hands, the remnants dribbled to the floor where the pressure of his fist closed on it. "See? I'm a bomb. Waiting to go off."
"You're not a bomb," Simone spoke up. Her words reached out to calm and soothe him, but there was too much unrest inside of him. "A bomb would not risk his life for others."
"You just can't see it, can you?" Arnold challenged her.
He leaned back against the wall, and slid down until his knees were nearly to his chin.
Other people would describe his arrival as being fast as a bolt of lightning, but the young man now known as Mace knew better. He had the speed trials memorized. It didn't matter the specifics, but the readout projected onto his visor did clock him at 115 miles per hour just as he hit the ground and switched his battle mallet from "flight engine" to whirling shield. Putting his finger out, he rotated the mace around its tip, and it spun as swift as a propeller, the stream of bullets coming out of Gnasher's assault rifle sparking and dropping, robbed of forward momentum. The wounded policeman and two other officers who were the intended target of that blaze of gunfire looked at the figure standing before them.
"...what the hell?" Gnasher growled through his robotic voice box. His powerful metal jaw gleamed in the dozens of spotlights aimed at him, and he threw his AK aside. "Silverstick?"
"Mace. I'm called Mace now," Arnold answered, letting his mallet flip into his grasp.
"You'll be called crispy, bitch!" Gnasher called back. He lowered his jaw, and the plasma ejector he'd implanted in that bionic jaw extended, tip glowing from red to orange to white hot.
This time, Mace wasn't acting on the defensive. He hurled his namesake cudgel at Gnasher with speed and accuracy, aiming for the weapon, not the soft flesh and bone around it. Even though Gnasher wore body armor to protect the rest of his human form, the speed that Mace pushed his mallet at would burst even the side armor on a main battle tank if he wanted.
No, this was coming in fast and accurate. It veered at the last moment and came in from the side, smashing the plasma ejector's barrel to splinters. Instead of a stream of white hot matter spewing forth to incinerate Mace, Gnasher belched out a diffused cloud of sparking arcs and ionized stench.
The mace returned to its master, and the man called Mace leaped forward, as if swinging on the handle of his hammer. Both of his boots connected with Gnasher's chest, knocking the breath from the villain, even as his broken, built-in weapon continued spitting out crackles and gouts of steam and smoke.
Gnasher's artificial voice box, unfortunately, was unaffected. "You little bastard! I'll kill you, no matter what name you call yourself. No matter what kind of pajamas you're wearing!"
Gnasher started to pull himself to his feet when Mace reached out magnetically, seizing his opponent's jaw and pulling him into the air. It was child's play holding him aloft, using the magnetism not concentrated in lifting 250 pounds of asshole to peel away his spare weapons and magazines.
Mace felt for any enhancements built into Gnasher's armor, and found circuitry within. No motors, but the circuitry hummed with the music of radio transmissions and communications. With Gnasher unable to do anything but kick and flail helplessly at empty air, Mace concentrated, following the signal, riding the electromagnetic highway between the villain and his benefactors.
Unfortunately, the signal originated hundreds of miles away. He couldn't see it, but he knew where the end of the line was. It would take hours to reach there on his own. Under his breath, he muttered the coordinates and the frequency he'd piggybacked, sending this information back to SPIRALE. They could send local cops, or a federal SWAT team to find out exactly who...
Mace roused himself from his revelries, dropped Gnasher onto his ass, and floated ten feet into the air - without a focus, his flight speed was a paltry 16 miles an hour - all in one moment. Deathpunch, with his exo-armor wound arms and legs, replacements for the parts that Morning Knight had burned off, was a big, easy to feel presence for a man who lived in a world of magnetic fields. The punch that rushed toward him had made his "butt cape" flutter in the wind, but that was all.
"You forgot, Gnasher ain't a solo act, kid!" Deathpunch bellowed. To emphasize his point, he punched the palm of his own hand, creating a ruckus as loud as a flash-bang grenade, a painful thing even through the hearing protection built into Mace's helmet.
"Forgot? I wouldn't forget you, Dee Pee," Mace returned. "I just didn't think you could react to me hanging your asshole friend up like a side of beef so fast."
Deathpunch looked to Gnasher, who lay on the ground, curled up. Being hoisted up by your jaw put a lot of pain on one's neck. Kicking around only exacerbated that stress. Gnasher wasn't getting up and running around any time too soon.
"You're saying I'm slow?" Deathpunch asked.
Mace nodded, not concealing the disdain he held for the amplified thug. "Slow. Stupid. Dim. The dullest tool in the shed."
Deathpunch remembered his legs were bionic as well, and he launched himself from the ground in a powerful leap, fist cocked back to deliver a crushing blow to Mace. Instead, iron fist met iron mallet head with a clanging collision that sent Deathpunch rocketing up and back.
"And he goes yard on the dumb ass! The crowd goes wild!" Mace shouted.
As if on cue, there was a cheer rolling through the policemen who watched the steel-armed creep fly away.
The cheer grated on Mace. He hated it.
Mace launched himself, throwing himself after Deathpunch. A fall from that height would kill the dumb bastard, and after Afghanistan...
He reached out, seized Deathpunch's big limbs in the magnetic field, and kept him, at the last moment, from striking the ground hard enough to turn his torso and head into gigantic red puddles of bloody stew.
"Shudda let me die, you dumb kid!" Deathpunch growled.
Mace lifted him five feet, then let him go, letting his head bounce on the road.
"Call me kid again, Dee Pee," Mace growled. He had punched through, nullifying the electronics and interface that allowed the mangled cyborg to control his powerful limbs. Now, they were each 200 pounds of dead weight pinning him to the ground. The only thing he could move was his head and his mouth.
"I'll call you whatever I damn well like!" Deathpunch growled.
Mace reached down with one bright red glove, and pinched the fallen man's jaw, squishing his cheeks up so much that his eyes were half closed. "You will call me one of three things. You'll call me sir. You'll call me a man. And you'll call me Mace!"
Whatever Deathpunch's squinting eyes saw, ended his struggles. He swallowed, and grunted an affirmation of agreement.
Mace let go and stood back.
He hadn't realized what the cameras caught until a moment later, hearing the broadcast on signal waves carried back to the local news affiliate. From now on, he wasn't just Silverstick. He wasn't merely Mace.
The press, even SPIRALE, dubbed him A Man Called Mace.
"...so why did you think it was such a failure again? You stopped two known felons. You saved three police officers with just your arrival," Simone continued.
Arnold hadn't moved, still sitting with his back against the wall. He could feel the bags sagging beneath his eyes, could feel the ache of his back from sitting like this, unmoving for so long.
"First... Gnasher and Deathpunch's benefactor or benefactors were gone from where I'd located them. It was a temporary post, and they faded into the dark."
"But, SPIRALE and you have encountered them again," Simone said.
"Serpent's Tooth," Arnold clarified. "Yeah. We took them on again. And again."
"So, you haven't failed completely in solving that mystery," Simone added.
Arnold looked up at her. "Second, Serpent Tooth was also behind the Afghan group that ambushed the Knight and me, ending his career."
Simone's lips tightened. Arnold could tell she didn't have a glib answer for that.
Good, he thought.
"You'll bring them down," she finally said. She almost sounded as if she believed that crap too.
Arnold closed his eyes.
"There's one more thing you think you failed at?" she asked.
"Can we just leave it at two, and get this damned psyche eval over with? I've got more pleasant things to do. Like walk barefoot on LEGOS or listening to Nickelback," Arnold complained.
"Sure, I could do that. But these evaluations are supposed to help you, not us," Simone countered.
Arnold stood up, shaking his head. "Unbelievable."
"Don't you want the help?"
"It doesn't matter if I want it. I haven't earned it," Arnold continued.
"Please," Simone said. She was now showing some emotion. Was there some warmth in those formerly cold green eyes? Affection? Or pity for Arnold Judas Dolenz?
"You want to know the third thing I failed at?" he asked her.
Simone nodded. "Then maybe we can see that's gotten under your skin."
Arnold walked over and pressed his finger to his name on the file. "Dolenz. Arnold. Judas. I lived up to my name."
"You helped Serpent's Tooth ambush the Knight?" Simone asked. For a moment, his heart fluttered at the idea that she could call in a security breach, bring in a squad of SPIRALE agents to cut him to pieces. But to admit that would be a lie.
"I betrayed the Knight in a worse way," Arnold said.
Simone frowned. "What did you do?"
Arnold looked down at that... middle name. That albatross hung about his neck by an unthinking parent who was just too much of a Beatles fan to not hang that on him.
"Tell me, Simone, you've talked with just about everyone else here at SPIRALE. From the administration to the janitors, right?"
Arnold could feel his eyes staring to sting. "How many have said that we've gone downhill since the Knight, since Daryl was forced into retirement?"
His voice cracked at that question.
"We all miss him," Simone answered.
"How many have said that the agency has gone downhill since we lost the Morning Knight?" Arnold said, louder this time.
Simone shook her head. "Nobody. Hell, you've been doing the best job in the world since you stepped up and replaced... replaced..."
Arnold closed his file folder on her desk. She didn't need to finish the sentence as he picked up his gear and walked silently out of her office.