Scarlet Shield Crossovers

For those who have a way with words.
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Green-Lightning
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Scarlet Shield Crossovers

Post by Green-Lightning »

An Unexpected Gift

December 6, 2021
2:08 am
Redford, Michigan
Universe: 84

Was that the doorbell? Kenzie thought as she opened her eyes. Rolling over, she took her glasses from the nightstand on her side of the bed and put them on, then grabbed her smartphone, looked at it and groaned. Who would ring the doorbell at two in the morning? She rolled over again and gently shook Jen’s shoulder. “Hey,” she whispered. Jen stopped snoring, opened her eyes halfway and made an unintelligible sound. Kenzie shook her shoulder a second time. “I think someone rang the doorbell. Did you hear it?” Jen mumbled something, closed her eyes again and almost immediately resumed snoring.

“Dweeb,” Kenzie whispered with more than a hint of affection. She kissed her girlfriend lightly on the forehead and got out of bed. Grabbing her robe, she put it on as she left the bedroom and made her way across the small apartment she had shared with Jen for the past two years to peek through the peephole in the front door. Seeing nobody, she unlocked the deadbolt and cautiously opened the door. She went to step outside so she could look around but her foot connected with something on the doorstep, causing her to stumble. She looked down and saw a Christmas present. A label on the top said To: Scarlet Shield.

“Oh boy,” Kenzie whispered as she quickly grabbed the present and brought it inside, carefully closing the door behind her. The last thing she and Jen needed was for any of their neighbors to see that. She set the present on the coffee table then got a knife from the kitchen. Normally she would have put it under the tree and waited until Christmas, or at least Christmas Eve, to open it. But finding it on her doorstep in the middle of the night addressed to “Scarlet Shield” instead of “Kenzie Jacobs” bothered her and she didn’t think waiting almost three weeks was a good idea. Sitting down on the couch, she removed the ribbon and wrapping paper, and took a close look at the box. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it: it was just a plain, brown cardboard box sealed with clear packaging tape. The only markings on it were the box manufacturer’s logo and basic information in small print on the bottom, from a company she hadn’t heard of before.

“Let’s see what’s inside,” Kenzie muttered to herself. “But first...” The usual glow surrounded Kenzie as she activated her force field. At the same time a matching soft red, transparent orb formed around the box. “Can’t be too careful.” Kenzie reached through the orb and slowly cut the tape on top of the box with the knife, then opened the box. Three small objects floated upward from inside the box, bumping against the top of the orb. The objects were metallic, with bases about the size and shape of hockey pucks and raised sections on what Kenzie could only guess were the top or front of each one. She watched warily as they continued to push against the orb. Alarmingly, the orb flickered, then vanished completely.

Kenzie quickly stood and moved away from the couch and coffee table as the objects turned so that their raised sections faced her. She noticed that they had begun to glow with the same soft red energy that made up her force fields. “Jen,” she called as she formed a force wall between herself and the floating objects. The objects stopped for a moment when they reached the force wall, then passed through it as if it wasn’t there. “Jen!” Kenzie repeated, much more loudly.

The snoring in the bedroom stopped, followed by a thud, and a moment later Jen stood in the bedroom’s doorway, electric bass in hand. “Kenz, what’s wro-- what the fuck are those?!” Without waiting for an answer, she charged the closest of the three devices as they began to circle Kenzie. She swung the bass at it, but it flew upward to avoid the attack and returned to its original position once the instrument had passed harmlessly below it. She moved closer and tried to grab it, but it avoided her again.

“Wait,” Kenzie said, holding her hand out to stop Jen before she could continue attacking. The devices had begun to bathe her in red energy, causing her force field to glow more brightly than usual. “I think whoever made these sent them to help me, not hurt me. They’re feeding me energy. I want to try something.” Kenzie turned her force field off and the energy radiating toward her faded, though the devices kept glowing softly. “Try to touch one of them again. Don’t attack it, just touch it.”

“Sure,” Jen answered, “okay.” She did what Kenzie asked and tried to touch the nearest object, only to have it dodge her once again.

“Now let’s see what happens if I try to touch one of them.” She reached out to a device and it made no attempt to move away as she brushed it with her fingertips through the force field. She closed her hand around it, still meeting no resistance.

As Kenzie examined the device in her hand, Jen noticed the box on the coffee table and walked over to look at it. “Kenz, how close a look did you take in the box?” She reached into the box and pulled out a folded piece of paper.

“I never got the chance,” Kenzie replied. “These things came out on their own as soon as I opened it. Why?” Turning the metal object in her hand over, she pressed her thumb against its back, which pushed inward slightly under the pressure. The force field around it faded away. “I think I found the off switch.”

Jen, meanwhile, had unfolded the slip of paper and read what was written on it. She scoffed and held it out to Kenzie. “It’s for you.” Kenzie moved closer and set the inert device down on the coffee table, then took the page and read it:

Scarlet Shield

I had the lab develope these Portable/Detachable Shield Generators to give your defense more range in the fight against crime.

Merry Christmas,
Dr. Jihiro


The note was written on a page of Christmas-themed paper with a red border and a drawing of a sprig of holly in the upper right corner. In the lower right corner was a cartoon sketch of a man, probably Dr. Jihiro, with a full head of hair and a goatee.

“So who’s this Dr. Jihiro guy?” Jen asked as Kenzie refolded the note and dropped it back into the box.

“I don’t know,” Kenzie said as she picked up the shield generator from the table and put it in the box, then grabbed a second one. “I’ve never heard of him. Maybe he works for MAE?” She turned the second one off and put it away as well, then did the same with the third.

“Maybe,” Jen agreed. “We can ask Stillwell on Monday. He’ll know if anyone does.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Kenzie. “C’mon, let’s go back to bed and get some more sleep.” She turned toward the bedroom but Jen stopped her, taking her by the hand.

“Bed, yes,” Jen said with a mischievous smile. “Sleep? Nooo.” She pulled Kenzie closer and continued, “We’re wide awake now, so let’s stay that way for a few hours. It’s Sunday, we get to sleep in.”

“Ooh,” Kenzie practically purred as she wrapped her arms around her girlfriend’s neck. “Sounds like an even better plan. I mean, it’s Monday, not Sunday. But still...” Eventually they made their way back to the bedroom, leaving Jen’s bass and Kenzie’s robe lying on the hallway floor when they finally closed the door behind them...

((I had planned on starting this thread a bit differently, with something that I’m still working on, but that changed when I noticed a submission to DeviantArt that seemed to fit the theme of the thread. Namely, a drawing by an artist there who calls himself The-One-Aardvark, featuring Scarlet Shield as part of what he calls “25 Days of Gifts-Mas”. The artwork itself can be seen at https://www.deviantart.com/the-one-aard ... -899855498. Many thanks to The-One-Aardvark for liking Scarlet Shield enough to include her in his annual event this year, and for allowing me to include his OC, Dr. Jihiro, in the first installment of my Scarlet Shield Crossovers thread.))
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Green-Lightning
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Prologue, Part 1: One Simple Question

Post by Green-Lightning »

September 18, 2021
10:52 pm
Detroit, Michigan
Universe: 84

Burning Rome was filled to capacity: fifteen hundred people cheering, laughing, making out, drinking, smoking or vaping various substances (some of which were even legal), recording or livestreaming on their phones as the band played. Kenzie was at the edge of the stage, front and center, as she was every time Dark Thoughts played in town, as she had been for every show since Jen joined the band seven years earlier.

The first time they appeared at the concert house, having gained enough of a following to graduate from night clubs and bars to the larger venue, Kenzie had done an online search to find out more about it. The Burning Rome chain got its name from the city of Rome, Georgia, where it started out in 1983 as a nightclub owned by a man named Nero Metcalf. His slogan had been, “Burning Rome, the HOTTEST Night Club in Georgia!” (He would go on to use a variation of the slogan for each of his concert houses.) The city council, offended by the name, spent years trying to come up with an excuse to close the club down. Eventually it was sold and renamed, not due to the actions of local politicians but because Nero had set his sights on bigger things, buying or building concert houses in other, larger cities and bringing them under the Burning Rome banner, and he just didn’t have the time for a small night club in a tiny city any more. Currently there were twelve concert houses bearing the name throughout the southern and midwestern United States, the one in Detroit being the most recent of them. Dark Thoughts was booked to play there again in a little more than three months, kicking off the location’s tenth anniversary celebration at the stroke of midnight as New Year’s Eve 2021 gave way to New Year’s Day 2022.

As usual, Warren stopped about halfway through the set long enough to introduce the band members. “Let’s hear it for the band!” The crowd cheered as he pointed to each of them, one by one, and called out their names. “Terry Pulanski on guitar!” Terry’s guitar was briefly raised in the air in response. “On the keyboard, Adam Delawar!” Adam was the newest member of the band, having joined two years after Jen. “We’ve got Jen Harrison over here on bass!” Jen upnodded to the crowd and played a short riff. “And last but not least, Dan Gorman on the drums!” Dan stood up behind his drumset and tapped his sticks together over his head twice, then sat down again. “Now...” Warren paused, waiting for the cheering to die down some before continuing. “Now before we go back to the music, there’s someone special in the audience tonight. She’s at all of our shows here in Detroit, always right up front, and makes it to every show she can anywhere else. She’s the ace reporter for our hometown newspaper, the Redford Register, Kenzie Jacobs! Kenzie, come on up here!”

“Wait, what?” Kenzie looked up, her eyes wide with surprise, to see Warren reaching out to her. Nothing like this had ever happened at one of the band’s shows before. Hesitantly she took his hand and he helped her up onto the stage.

“Now, I didn’t bring Kenzie up here just so you could all look at her. She’s on this stage right now because Jen has something very important to say to her!”

Jen set her bass on its stand, then put her hands in her jacket pockets and walked over. Kenzie glanced uncertainly at the mic that Warren had placed back in its own stand and adjusted to Jen’s height before moving a respectful distance away. When Jen got to her she leaned in close and said into Kenzie’s ear, “The crowd knows who you are now, so I guess you’ll have to start watching from backstage.” She took a step back and smiled at Kenzie who, still unsure why she was up on the stage, smiled back at her. “Look,” Jen said, her expression becoming mostly serious, “it’s like this. The last seven years have been freakin’ unbelievable. I’ve got all our mutual friends to thank for that, and the guys in the band.” She took a moment as she was talking to glance past Kenzie and upnod at her bandmates, who were listening attentively. “But mostly, it’s because of you. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like without you.”

While Jen spoke she took something out of her pocket. It was a small box, covered in black velvet. “I love you. I have since the day we met.” Slowly, she opened the box and showed it to Kenzie. Inside the box was a ring consisting of a small, bright green gem -- peridot, Kenzie’s birthstone -- set in a band of either silver or white gold, she couldn’t tell which. The rest of Jen’s speech went unheard. Wide-eyed, mouth open in surprise, Kenzie looked up at Jen as she realized that, in front of a capacity crowd at Burning Rome, her girlfriend was going to ask her to--

“Marry me?” Jen smiled hopefully.

Blushing brightly, Kenzie covered her mouth with her hands and she muttered, “Oh my god.” The rest of the world ceased to exist for her. The band, the stage, the crowd all faded from her awareness. Jen, her hopeful smile and the ring were all there was, all that mattered at that moment. Kenzie closed the small gap between them and kissed Jen passionately, only pausing long enough to whisper, “Yes.”

((To Be Continued...))
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Green-Lightning
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Prologue, Part 2: White Wedding

Post by Green-Lightning »

January 15, 2022
2:17 pm
Redford, Michigan
Universe: 84

Finally, it was the big day. Kenzie and Jen were moments away from walking down the aisle together so that they could say their wedding vows. As they stood waiting at the entrance to the church sanctuary, Kenzie peeked in at the guests sitting in the pews. The crowd was small, but that was exactly the way she and Jen wanted it. Her parents were there, of course, along with a few relatives and friends of the family including Liz’s parents. Jen didn’t have any family to invite -- Kenzie wished her parents could have been there -- but her bandmates were there, and Terry had even agreed to be Jen’s ringbearer. Their Millennials teammates, some of the Protector Alliance and Agent Stillwell were there, too. The heroes were in their civilian identities, of course, and many had brought a guest with them.

There were a few notable absences, too. Jeremy had chosen not to attend, which saddened Kenzie. He was her brother, after all, but with the bad blood between them she decided it was probably for the best. Brett, a former member of the Millennials and currently the leader of the metavillain team Jeremy had joined, wasn’t invited, and Kenzie couldn’t imagine anything good happening if he showed up unexpectedly. And Kayla wasn’t there -- it was anyone’s guess where she was -- but that was also just as well. It would be too hard to explain why someone who looked like Kenzie’s much bolder twin sister was there to people who knew that she didn’t have a sister.

At the front of the sanctuary stood Pastor Armitage, facing the audience with his back to the altar. The ringbearers were also there, standing far enough to either side to leave plenty of room for Kenzie and Jen when they got there. Terry was dressed in black as always, while Liz wore a simple, light blue dress of the same design as the white ones Kenzie and Jen were wearing. Kenzie glanced at Jen, who was noticeably uncomfortable in her dress. She doubted that Jen had ever worn one before.

The church was housed in a modest building, befitting the congregation that attended it. Kenzie had regularly gone to services and Sunday school there when she was younger, like her father before her. Though not particularly religious, she had fond memories of the time spent in that building. Some of the best memories involved conversations with Pastor Armitage. A kind, gentle, soft spoken man, the pastor was tall and lanky with thick glasses and a full head of snow white hair. He was also old and planned on retiring soon. Kenzie would hate to see him go and was glad that he had agreed to preside over her and Jen’s wedding.

“Nervous?” Jen asked, bringing Kenzie back to the present.

“Yeah.” Kenzie closed her eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled and opened them again. “Yeah,” she repeated.

With a wry smile Jen replied, “Me too.” She nodded to a man standing just inside the sanctuary when he motioned for them to enter. “It’s our turn. Come on.”

They walked into the sanctuary together and, moving slowly side by side up the aisle, made their way to the altar, stopping in front of the pastor, and turned to face the people they had just passed. “I would like to welcome everyone here today,” the pastor said cheerfully to the audience. “We are gathered to witness the marriage of Jenifa Harrison and Mackenzie Jacobs, and to celebrate the beginning of the next chapter in their lives together. Today they will formally and publicly affirm their bond. This affirmation is made even more meaningful because it’s shared with all of you, their most cherished friends and family.”

The pastor turned his attention to the two young women standing before him; at the same time, they turned to face him. “Jenifa and Mackenzie, today you not only marry the right person, you commit to being the right partner -- the one with whom the other can stand and face the world. It’s time to joyfully seal this chapter with the declarations that will unite you in marriage.

“Do you, Jenifa, take Mackenzie to be your lawfully wedded partner, to have and to hold, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, committing yourself unto her for as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” Jen answered.

“Do you, Mackenzie, take Jenifa to be your lawfully wedded partner, to have and to hold, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, committing yourself unto her for as long as you both shall live?”

“I do.”

“The rings, please.” At the pastor’s urging, Terry and Liz each took a step forward, handed the rings to Jen and Kenzie and stepped back to their original positions. “These rings are a reminder of the vows you have made to each other today. A ring is an unbroken circle, with ends that have been joined together. It represents your union. It is a symbol of infinity, and of your infinite love. It encircles an opening, which is the door to your future. When you look at these rings on your hands, be reminded of this moment, your commitment, and the love you feel for each other today.

“Jenifa, place the ring on Mackenzie’s finger and repeat after me: ‘Mackenzie, I give you this ring as a symbol of my love with the pledge to love you today, tomorrow, always, and forever.’”

Jen slid the ring she held onto the ring finger of Kenzie’s left hand. “Mackenzie, I give you this ring as a symbol of my love with the pledge to love you today, tomorrow, always and forever.”

“Mackenzie, place the ring on Jenifa’s finger and repeat after me: ‘Jenifa, I give you this ring as a symbol of my love with the pledge to love you today, tomorrow, always and forever.’”

Kenzie did as the pastor instructed, inwardly thankful that she didn’t drop the ring the way she had during the previous day’s rehearsal. “Jenifa, I give you this ring as a symbol of my love with the pledge to love you today, tomorrow, always, and forever.”

“Jenifa and Mackenzie, before these witnesses you have pledged to be joined in marriage. You have sealed this pledge with your wedding rings. You may now seal this ceremony with a kiss.” Smiling, the women leaned in until their lips touched. Kenzie closed her eyes and they moved closer to each other as the attendees applauded. The kiss lingered; Kenzie was sure that Jen didn’t want it to end any more than she did.

Kenzie opened her eyes when the clapping died suddenly, replaced by confused murmuring. She and Jen were surrounded by a thick, gray haze that she couldn’t see through. “Oh my,” said the pastor, though he sounded like he was at the far end of the room instead of just a couple feet away. “Kenzie!” Even though it seemed little more than a whisper to her, she could still hear the frantic tone in Liz’s voice. “Jen!” Then, where there had been several voices a moment earlier, there was only the sound of Jen’s breathing and her own.

“What’s happening?” Kenzie asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s got something to do with whoever was sending their pet monsters after me back when we met.” Jen’s answer brought back Kenzie’s memory of the night she and Liz had helped rid Jen of Coralindra and Kurira for good and the way the monsters had vanished in a gray cloud just like the one surrounding them. The cloud that was dissipating quickly...

((To Be Continued...))

((The vows exchanged by Kenzie and Jen in this story, and the wedding script in general, are adapted from examples found at https://junebugweddings.com/wedding-blo ... ipt-ideas/ with a few minor changes. As much as I’d like to say I could do it, writing the script for a wedding of any kind from scratch is simply beyond my ability, so I took the liberty of following the lead of people who know what they’re doing.))
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Green-Lightning
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Into the Omniverse, Part 1: Long, Long Way from Home

Post by Green-Lightning »

Sometime after the 20th century
Midday
The planet Mars
Universe: Fox

The gray haze surrounding Kenzie and Jen quickly dissipated to reveal a forest. At least Kenzie thought it might be a forest, or maybe a jungle. The trees she saw were all leafless, as if in mid-winter. Winter in Michigan usually meant snow, but there was none to be seen in any direction. The air around her didn’t feel cold, either, as it would in winter. Also, there were no evergreen trees as far as she could tell. There was more plant life than just the trees, some of which looked vaguely like thistles and other plants she had seen at home only much, much larger. Kenzie had never before been to a place like the one she and Jen found themselves in and she had no idea where they were.

“At least whoever did this let us have our costumes,” Jen muttered as she struggled to keep Oni’s fighting outfit from falling off, “even if mine’s way too big for me right now.” Kenzie could feel the familiar skin-tight fabric covering her, but she took a moment to look down at herself anyway and briefly ran the tips of gloved fingers along the frame of her goggles. Sure enough, she was wearing her uniform. “And I’ve got my bass,” Jen added a little more brightly.

As Jen fussed with her clothes, movement from above and to one side caught Scarlet’s attention. What she saw was an orange and white creature that was at least fifteen feet long with an insectlike body from which sprouted four long, segmented legs -- the front pair ending in large, clawed hands -- and a pair of leathery, vaguely batlike wings. Its long neck ended in an almost humanoid head covered by extremely short, bristly hair. Teeth ranging from six inches to more than a foot in length filled an oversized mouth large enough to fit Scarlet with room to spare. The monster had two compound eyes; from within each eye grew an antenna. A thin trunk which, if fully extended, would increase the monster’s length by at least another ten feet snaked outward from the center of its face. The trunk was tipped by what appeared to be a stinger. The creature had spotted the women and was quickly flying in their direction.

“Jen,” Scarlet said urgently as she raised force fields around each of them.

Jen turned to see what Scarlet was staring at as she pulled a shoulder strap back into place for the fourth time. “Oh, shit.” Her human form was gone in an instant, replaced by the demonic-looking Oni. No longer needing to adjust her outfit, she grabbed her shamisen and prepared to face the oncoming threat.

As large as the plants were, the forest wasn’t dense enough to slow the oncoming creature. It closed in on the heroes hungrily, mouth open wide to scoop one of them up. Oni stood her ground, growling under her breath and gripping her shamisen in both hands, ready to attack when it got close enough. It stopped abruptly before it could reach her, crashing face first into a force wall hastily erected by Scarlet. Momentarily stunned, the beast shook its head as the force wall vanished. Oni took advantage of the giant animal’s disorientation by leaping onto its neck just behind the base of its skull. She hesitated a moment as she tried to figure out what to do with her shamisen, then leaned forward and grabbed an antenna in each hand, trapping the instrument between her body and the back of the monster’s head. Immediately the creature took flight again and tried to shake her loose, its trunk striking blindly at her. It was a futile effort, as Oni’s grip on the antennae was too strong, her legs were wrapped too tightly around its neck and Scarlet’s force field protected her from the large stinger. Oni tugged on first one antenna then the other, forcing the monster to fly even more erratically than it was on its own. She used the antennae to steer the beast, bashing its head against one tree or plant after another, with Scarlet staying close enough behind it to keep Oni’s force field from faltering. Before long the battering became too much for the creature and it fell to the ground, unconscious.

That was fun,” Oni said sarcastically as she grabbed her weapon and slid off the monster’s neck. “Let’s get out of here before it wakes up.” Picking a direction at random she started to run as fast as she could, with Scarlet flying along beside her. When they felt that they were a safe distance away they stopped and quickly looked around to make sure there weren’t any more creatures like that nearby.

“I’ll see if I can spot the edge of the forest,” Scarlet said. “Be right back.” She flew upward, above the treeline, and looked around, then came back down. “It ends over there,” she stated, pointing. “There’s a spaceship of some kind and what looks like a bunch of green men carrying something to a nearby building. I think we should see what’s going on.” Oni nodded in agreement and they hurried off in the direction Scarlet had indicated.

When they got to the forest’s edge they could see that the green men, who looked much smaller than the two people they were carrying, were almost to the building. Scarlet flew ahead for a closer look. Fortunately the green men didn’t seem very observant and she approached unnoticed. They weren’t human as it turned out, being no more than three feet tall and looking like some kind of goblins or other small creatures from folklore. The creatures had sharp teeth, claws, long pointy noses and rows of spikes that ran down their backs. Lizardlike tails emerged from the shorts that were their only clothing. The humans they carried, a man and a woman, were both unconscious. The woman had shoulder-length blonde hair and wore a short red dress with spaghetti straps. The man, sporting short blond hair, wore a blue bodysuit that had more in common with Scarlet’s uniform than with the bulky space suits she had seen astronauts wear, but still seemed more appropriate for space travel than the woman’s attire. She watched as the mob and their prisoners entered the building through a doorway, then created a small force field to act as a doorstop so she and Oni would be able to get inside easily. Landing, she walked cautiously to the door and waited for Oni to catch up before entering the building.

Quietly, they followed the creatures and their prisoners to an opening -- the building’s entrance seemed to have the only door -- that lead to a large room. Hoping she wouldn’t be spotted, Scarlet risked taking a peek into the room. Other than the small creatures, their captives and a man sitting in a swivel chair near a corner of the room, it was mostly empty with strange machinery lining the walls. A large monitor faced the man from the wall opposite him. The man wore a blue robe and a pair of spectacles. His oversized, bald head was shaped like an egg laying on its side, with its narrow end pointing backward. A pair of long, metal arms reached up from the floor, seemingly connecting to the sides of his head where his ears should have been. Each arm was attached to a base that glided along the floor on either side of the chair as it turned.

“Space Smith,” he said to the now-conscious male captive, “we meet again. This shall be the last time.”

“You bet it will, Skomah,” Space said to the man in the chair with the air of one who was supremely confident in his abilities. “We stopped your invasion and now I’m here to stop you!”

“Earth’s fleet may have defeated my ogres, but I have other means.” To the woman he said, “Once more, I offer to make you my queen.”

“I’d still rather die first,” the woman answered coldly.

“Very well.” Skomah turned his attention to his minions. “Imp men, kill them.”

“Oh!” the woman yelped as the imp men advanced on her. “Space, help!”

“Leave Dianna alone, you monsters!” Space demanded as he struggled to make his way through a small sea of imp men, fighting them off as they sought to sink their claws and teeth into him. He seemed to be holding his own but Scarlet knew that, as badly outnumbered as he was, it was only a matter of time before he was overwhelmed. To the surprise of everyone in the room the soft red glow of Scarlet’s force fields appeared around Space and Dianna, which the imp men were unable to penetrate. Simultaneously, Scarlet enveloped herself and Oni in matching protective fields.

“This’ll get their attention,” Oni said to Scarlet with a smirk. She took two steps into the room and brought her hands together with enough force that the clap’s volume would leave the imp men nearest to her with ringing ears for several minutes.

Quiet descended on the room as everyone turned to look. “No one dies today,” Scarlet announced, entering the room to stand next to Oni. Space, Dianna and the imp men all stared in stunned silence at the unexpected sight of the two women.

Skomah wasn’t as impressed as his minions and captives, however. “I don’t know who you are but if your intent is to rescue Space Smith and his companion, then you shall suffer their fate. Imp men, kill them all!”

The heroes didn’t wait for the imp men to follow their master’s orders. Scarlet lifted herself into the air as Oni leapt at the closest group of charging imp men, bowling them over. Space redoubled his attack but stopped trying to rescue Dianna once he realized that the red glow around her was keeping her safe. Scarlet, near the top of the high-ceilinged room, alternated between raising force walls as needed to limit the number of imp men that could reach the others and firing volleys of low-powered force bolts to distract the imp men. It took longer than she had expected for the dimwitted creatures to realize that the bolts weren’t strong enough to hurt them, but once they did she increased the bolts’ intensity enough to have a noticeable effect.

While making sure the others’ force fields remained at full strength, Scarlet saw Space frown as he looked momentarily at Oni, who was near a weapon rack embedded into one wall. The rack was about halfway between her and Dianna, who was mostly being ignored by the imp men as she watched Space fighting. The imp men, seeing Oni as the greater threat, were putting more effort into fighting her. It seemed that Space was unused to being upstaged and Scarlet had a feeling that he didn’t like it.

“Grab a gun from that rack,” Space shouted to Oni over the din, “and hold onto it for me until I need it!”

“Screw you, asshole!” Oni shouted back as she knocked four of the imp men over the others with her shamisen to hit the far wall. “I’m busy! Get it yourself!”

“I’ll get it, Space,” Dianna called out as she made her way to the weapon rack and took a rifle-sized ray gun from it.

Oni glanced at Dianna while she kicked another imp man into a group of them, knocking them over, then did a double-take. “Are you gonna use that thing or what?”

“I’m holding it for Space,” Dianna stated.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Oni said as she rounded on Dianna, ignoring the seven imp men that were trying to take her down. “Grow a pair already!”

“A pair of what?” Dianna asked, confused.

Oni rolled her eyes. “Point the gun at the little green men and pull the trigger,” she said, exasperated, as if she were speaking to a child. “You can do that, can’t you?” Then she glared at an imp man who was desperately trying to bite through the force field that covered her arm. “Get off me, you little shit,” she growled as she pulled him away and casually flung him over her shoulder before taking hold of her shamisen with both hands again and resuming her attack.

Dianna did as Oni told her and started firing at the imp men. Apparently she wasn’t completely unused to it, as she managed to hit her target more often than not. Her last shot narrowly missed Skomah and hit the bank of machinery against the wall behind him. Sparks flew from the machine and electricity began arcing between it and the machines to either side of it.

“It’s gonna blow!” Space shouted. He pointed at a large, round hole in one wall through which they could see outside. “Quick, the window! It’s our only hope!” Oni continued fighting and Scarlet turned her attention to the damaged machine as Space and Dianna fled through the opening.

“What part of ‘no one dies today’ doesn’t that moron understand?” Oni muttered under her breath. More loudly she asked, “Hey Red, you got the machine?”

“I’m pretty sure a containment field could handle that one,” Scarlet answered, “but I don’t know about the rest.” The machines on either side of the one that had been shot were sparking as well, the result of the electricity arcing to them from the first machine. In turn, arcs had formed between them and the machines on either side of them, starting a chain reaction that was quickly spreading around the room. “We have to get everyone out of the building.”

“You stay and rescue us instead of fleeing?” Skomah asked, unable to hide his surprise.

“Yeah,” Scarlet replied, “it’s what we do.”

“Foolish girls,” he said mockingly. “By saving me you guarantee humanity’s destruction and my subjugation of--”

“That’s great,” Oni interrupted, tapping him on the chin with her knuckles hard enough to knock him out, “but we don’t have time for this.” The man’s head snapped backward, pulling it loose from the metal arms that were apparently holding it up, then flopped awkwardly to one side. Alarmed, Scarlet quickly checked to make sure he was all right. Though her medical knowledge was limited to basic first aid and CPR, she didn’t think he had suffered any serious injury.

“His fat head doesn’t do a thing to protect that glass jaw, does it?” Oni joked as she lifted him out of his chair and laid his head against her shoulder. With the imp men no longer under their master’s control most of them fled fearfully from the malfunctioning equipment, which made herding the rest of them out of the building considerably easier. They made it outside and got as far as possible from the building as quickly as they could. By the time they heard the first explosion they were a safe distance away. Oni turned to watch the building collapse while Scarlet looked around for Space and Dianna.

“I see them,” she said. “They’re almost to their ship. I’ll fly ahead and get them to wait for you.” Though Oni could run faster than any normal human, Scarlet quicky outdistanced her. Flying ahead of the others, she landed between them and their spaceship then waited until they stopped in front of her.

“Who are you,” Space demanded, “and why are you here?”

“I’m Scarlet Shield,” answered Scarlet. “This,” she continued as she motioned to Oni, who had just caught up with them, “is my partner, Oni. We were sent here against our will.”

“We don’t even know where ‘here’ is,” added Oni.

“We’re on Mars,” Space told them. Ignoring their startled looks he continued, “The Central Brain sent his fleet to Earth to destroy civilization but the Space Patrol stopped them. I’m here to make sure he doesn’t get another chance.”

“No way this is Mars,” Oni commented. “And if you’re here to stop this loser,” she said, dipping her horns momentarily in Dianna’s direction, “why’s she here?”

“I’ll ask the questions,” Space said. Scarlet could tell that he was as irritated by Oni’s attitude as Oni was by his. “Where are the two of you from and why are you here?”

We’re from Michigan,” Scarlet said as she laid a hand gently on Oni’s bicep, “near Detroit, and we already told you that we’re not here by choice.”

Space scoffed. “You can’t be from Earth.” He turned toward Scarlet. “If there was anyone who could do what you do the Space Patrol would’ve known about him.” Then he pointed at Oni as he said, “And her! Whatever she is, she’s sure not from Earth!”

Dumping Skomah none-too-gently on the ground in her anger, Oni began advancing on Space. “I’ll show you what I am you son of a--” Fists raised, Space was ready to meet Oni head-on. Before the would-be combatants could reach each other, however, a translucent red wall of energy appeared between them.

“Come on, guys,” Scarlet said as she checked Skomah again for injuries. “We’re all on the same side.” She glanced up at Space and Dianna. “I mean, we did help you back there.”

“Yes,” Space said grudgingly, “I suppose you did.”

“And we need a ride back to Earth so we can figure out how to get home,” she said, walking over and taking Oni’s hand in hers.

Oni sighed and visibly relaxed. “Yeah, you’re right.” She gave Scarlet an uncharacteristically sheepish smile. “You usually are.” Scarlet shrugged, returning the smile and blushing slightly. The others watched the exchange silently; Space frowned but Dianna’s expression was unreadable.

Scarlet turned to face Space and Dianna. “We should get Skomah into your ship and restrain him somehow before he wakes up. Then you can take him back to Earth so he can stand trial for...” Her voice trailed off as she found herself once again surrounded by a gray haze. “...Jen?”

((To Be Continued...))

((Space Smith and Dianna (later changed to “Diana”) are Public Domain characters created by Fletcher Hanks under the pseudonym of “Hank Christy”; they appeared in Fantastic Comics issues 1 through 22 (December 1939-September 1941), published by Fox Publications, Inc. The Martian mosquito’s only appearance was in the story in issue 1. Skomah (AKA the Brain or the Central Brain) and the Martian imp men also appeared in issue 1. The Central Brain was mentioned in the stories in issues 2 and 3, but his storyline seems to have been dropped after that because he was neither seen nor mentioned again. This story is set sometime after issue 3 but before the story in issue 6, where the first panel says that Space and Dianna are “returning to Earth after a trip to red planet.” Mars isn’t mentioned by name again until issue 9.))
Last edited by Green-Lightning on Mon Mar 28, 2022 1:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Into the Omniverse, Part 2: Smoke on the Water

Post by Green-Lightning »

A Wednesday in June, early in the twentieth century
Shortly before sunset
The Strait of Dover near the Essex coast, England
Universe: HGW

Scarlet Shield looked around through the vanishing haze, first to assure herself that Oni was still with her then to determine their location. They were alone near the bow of a warship unlike any that she was familiar with. The hull was metal, steel she guessed, like the ones she knew about at home. Otherwise the ship seemed... “old fashioned” was the only way she could describe it. It brought to mind the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, a pair of ironclads she had seen drawings of when her high school history class learned about the Civil War. A mixture of smoke and steam rose skyward from the ironclad’s smokestacks as it cut through the water, increasing its speed as it went. Scarlet looked toward the coastline in the direction the ship was moving and instantly knew where they had ended up.

“We’re on the Thunder Child,” she stated.

“Okay,” Oni replied, unable to grasp the statement’s significance even as she watched a trio of large machines wade into the water from the shore on tripod legs. Between the ship and the long-legged machines was a large flotilla of seagoing vessels of just about every kind imaginable from a time at least several decades before Scarlet and Oni had been born. They were all fleeing the coast as quickly as possible. “So?” Without fully understanding the situation, Oni instinctively knew enemies when she saw them. Watching the machines in the distance she tightened her grip on her shamisen, readying herself for a fight.

“Haven’t you read The War of the Worlds?”

“Kenz,” Oni answered with a wry smile, “when do you remember me ever opening a book?”

“Good point.” Scarlet nodded toward the machines, which had gathered together far enough from the shore that their legs were nearly submerged. “England has been invaded by Martians. They’re in those.”

“Martians again?” Oni growled. “We just kicked their ugly little green asses once, so what’s gonna stop us from doing it now too?”

Scarlet shook her head. “These Martians aren’t like those. They’re a lot bigger, blobs about the size of bears according to H.G. Wells. But they can’t handle Earth’s gravity, so they stay in their machines.”

“So we go up there and break them open, then kick the Martians’ asses.”

“I don’t think it’ll be that easy,” Scarlet said. “The machines have Heat Rays that come out of the tops and tubes underneath that shoot canisters of something Mr. Wells called ‘Black Smoke’. I don’t know if it’s poison or if it’s just so dense that it smothers anything caught in it, and I’d rather not find out. They also have, like, cables or metal tentacles or something to grab people with and metal containers on their backs to put the people they catch into. Those don’t matter yet because right now you’re kind of stuck on the ship here until...”

The Thunder Child closed quickly on the ragtag, impromptu fleet, veering to port just enough to go around it. “Until what?” Oni asked while Scarlet watched as the boat closest to them, a badly overcrowded paddlewheel steamer that looked more like it should have been on a river than heading out to sea, was caught up in the ironclad’s wake and barely avoided taking on water.

Scarlet turned and looked Oni in the eyes. “Until they blow it up.” Her own eyes began to tear up slightly at the thought, though her voice remained calm. “In the book, everyone on the Thunder Child dies, at least I think they do, but they save the people on all the other boats.”

“This isn’t a story in a book,” Oni pointed out, “this is really happening. So what do we do? And why hasn’t anyone on this boat tried to find out who we are?”

“I’m sure they know we’re here, but they have more important things to worry about and I doubt any of them want to be outside for this. As for us, we just have to wait until the attack starts. Anything we do, maybe even the glow of my force field, could make the Martians react too soon, and the ship needs to get within range.” Scarlet took Oni’s hand in her own. “Stay close, please. If things go the way they’re supposed to, I’ll need you here next to me.”

By then the ironclad was roughly halfway between the fleeing boats and the Martian machines. The invaders had been standing motionless as their alien occupants seemingly struggled to understand the intent of the vessel that quickly approached without firing its guns. Finally the Martians reacted; the machine in front lowered its tube and launched a canister at the Thunder Child. “It’s starting,” Scarlet announced. “I hope this works.” She quickly erected a force dome over herself and Oni as the canister bounced off the port side of the ironclad’s hull, breaking open and releasing the Black Smoke within it. For a brief moment an inky blackness completely blotted out the sky and it was only due to the dome’s gentle glow that the heroes could even dimly see each other within it. To Scarlet’s relief the dome kept the Black Smoke away from them, and the darkness quickly passed as the warship continued on its course, seemingly unaffected by the Martians’ initial attack. Scarlet let the dome vanish, surrounding Oni in a personal force field and activating her own.

“Is that the best they can do?” Oni quipped.

“It gets worse,” Scarlet warned her. The Martians started retreating toward the shore, rising up from the water some as it grew shallower under them. Scarlet turned and created a large force wall in front of the ironclad’s cabin just as one of the alien machines raised its Heat Ray and fired it downward into the water. A dense cloud of steam rose up around the ship, making it difficult to see the closest fighting machine and completely hiding anything beyond it. Flames shot upward suddenly from a section of the deck between the heroes and the cabin where the Heat Ray connected with it, cutting through the metal hull with ease. Scarlet turned her attention to the alien machine then, holding her arms together in front of her, pointed upward at it. The glow around her arms and hands brightened and grew larger until it formed a cylindrical shape. The cylinder shot toward the machine, punching a hole in its underside and staggering it. A moment later there was a jolt that knocked Scarlet off her feet and nearly did the same to Oni as the Thunder Child ran directly into one of the fighting machine’s legs, shearing it off. The impact did nothing to slow the ironclad, which continued on as the alien vehicle fell behind it, sending a giant plume of water and steam into the air. Scarlet thought she could almost hear cheers coming from the direction of the departing flotilla but decided it was just her imagination, fueled by the memory of the story she had read several times, the reality of which was unfolding around her.

Just then the ship’s guns began to fire, one after another, though Scarlet wasn’t sure if they were being fired at the remaining Martians by the crew or if the blazes that had started burning inside the ironclad had reached whatever explosive charges were used in their firing mechanisms. Whichever was the case at least the ship, damaged and belching flames from its vents and smokestacks as it was, was still under the crew’s control. Clearing the steam, it immediately turned and charged the second fighting machine.

“Jen!” Scarlet shouted. “Hit the deck, now!” Without hesitation Oni did as she was told, flattening herself against the deck with her shamisen gripped firmly in one hand. As soon as Oni was down, Scarlet rolled onto her side to face her. “Quickly, wrap your arms around me,” Scarlet said as she scooted toward her. Oni rolled onto her side to face Scarlet and the two pulled each other close, the force fields around them merging into one. Scarlet could feel Oni’s strong arms holding her and the shamisen pressed against her back. More than anything she wanted to just lay there resting her head against her wife’s chest, listening to the beat of her loved one’s heart, but she knew what was coming and had to be ready for it.

As the Thunder Child neared the second Martian, the machine aimed its Heat Ray and fired. “Hold on!” Scarlet yelled as, somewhere inside the ship’s hull, a loud THUD could be heard. There was a blinding flash of light and the deck exploded, violently flinging the heroes and hunks of metal into the air.

Over the years Scarlet’s power of flight had increased, along with her skill and confidence in using it, to the point that she could easily carry Jen with her through the air. As Oni, Jen’s added size and weight usually still presented a problem. In that instance, however, Scarlet let the force of the blast provide most of their momentum while using her ability to guide them in the right direction -- luckily the explosion had sent them more-or-less toward the coast -- and to add what she could to their forward movement, guaranteeing that they would make it past the second fighting machine before coming down in the water. She spared a glance at the machine as they flew past; it had been too close to the Thunder Child and was caught in the explosion. Shrapnel tore through the alien machine before the ironclad’s remains, carried forward by its own momentum, rammed one of the machine’s legs and toppled it. Scarlet turned her attention back toward the coast, doing her best to ignore the titanic SPLASH behind her as the alien fighting machine hit the water.

As the momentum from the blast began to fade it became increasingly difficult for Scarlet to carry Oni. “I need you to change,” she told her partner, “so I can get us to the shore before we have to land.”

“What’re we gonna do when we get there?” Oni asked as she transformed back into Jen.

“By the time the steam over the water clears,” Scarlet answered, “the third Martian will be too far away for the people on the boats to see. It’s gone from the story after that but it’s still out there. I think we should go after it and stop it from hurting anyone else.”

Jen grinned mischievously. “That’s more like it.” Once they reached land they touched down just long enough for Jen to adjust her clothing and for Scarlet to get a less physically awkward hold on her, then they took off again. Flying at a fairly high altitude and with two pairs of eyes looking, it didn’t take them long to spot the lumbering machine walking toward the northwest, away from the sea. Past it Scarlet could see British troops with what she thought might be one of the biggest guns in their arsenal, preparing to face the machine. The “big gun” looked tiny compared to the mechanical monster, which dwarfed even the trees in the area. Scarlet thought that only the tallest buildings in London in that time period might have been taller. She knew that the soldiers’ efforts would be futile without their help.

“Put me down on top of it,” Jen suggested as they approached it from behind, unnoticed by an alien that had no reason to expect an attack from above. “Then get its attention so it’ll raise its Heat Ray.” As the machine approached the waiting soldiers Scarlet flew over the basket on the thing’s back to set Jen down on its hood. As soon as her feet touched the metal surface she transformed back into Oni.

“Be careful,” Scarlet said with a note of worry.

Oni smiled at Scarlet with more affection than any casual acquaintance would have guessed her capable of. “You too.” Flying ahead, Scarlet turned to face the giant alien machine. “This is for the crew of the Thunder Child,” she whispered as force bolts issued from her fists, one after another. It stopped for a moment and Scarlet was sure they were surprised and confused to see a human flying at all, much less of her own power, and firing bolts of energy at them from no visible source with enough force to damage their machine. The confusion seemed to pass quickly and the Heat Ray rose up from within the machine’s hood. Oni, who had been waiting for just that, hit the weapon with her shamisen, leaving a large dent in it and causing it to tilt slightly to one side, then wrapped her arms around its base and pulled with all her might. Metal tentacles from the machine’s underside reached up to grab Oni, but Scarlet fired bolt after bolt at them, keeping them away from her and even breaking some of them.

The Heat Ray was nearly loose when something hit the machine from below, rocking it slightly. Scarlet remembered the soldiers and their gun, and realized she and Oni had given them time to aim and fire. Unfortunately, the only effect of any consequence it seemed to have was to draw the Martians’ attention to them. How many Martians are in it, anyway? she wondered as she flew down toward the troops. She didn’t remember Mr. Wells giving an actual number.

The soldiers were in the middle of hastily reloading but stopped when Scarlet landed in front of them. “Don’t stop,” she told the dumbfounded soldiers. “Hit one of the legs if you can, that’s where you’ll do the most damage.” Hearing a crashing sound behind her, she turned to see what was left of the Heat Ray lying in pieces on the ground. Even from that distance a clanging could be heard from the top of the machine, where she was sure Oni had started hitting it with her shamisen to try and break it open. She looked up and saw the machine lowering its tube to release a Black Smoke canister. “Uh oh.” Without waiting for a reply from the soldiers she launched herself upward. Flying as quickly as she could, she came into range of the tube before it was fully in position to eject a canister and blocked its opening with a force field. A dull thud sounded inside the tube and the darkness inside it -- what she could see through her force field, anyway -- seemed to deepen. The machine began to stagger and Scarlet realized that rather than just preventing the Martians from launching Black Smoke at the soldiers below, she had inadvertently caused at least one canister to break open inside the machine itself.

At the same moment she heard a shriek of metal tearing from the hood. “Jen, stop!” she yelled as she flew up the side of the machine’s body to the hood. On top of the machine Oni stood next to a jagged hole, through which seeped some of the Black Smoke. Luckily, the smoke was denser and heavier than the air above and around it, preventing it from rising quickly enough to catch Oni off guard. The hero backed quickly away from it and watched as it began to slowly spread across the hood.

“What happened?” Oni asked as Scarlet landed next to her.

“I stopped them from dropping a canister on the soldiers,” Scarlet replied as they fought to keep their balance on the unsteady machine. “I didn’t know this would happen.” The thought of killing the Martians, even accidentally, greatly distressed her.

Oni, bracing herself as well as she could, cupped Scarlet’s cheek with a hand. “You couldn’t have known,” she said gently. In the blink of an eye the tall, muscular, demonic-looking woman and her iron shamisen were replaced by the much shorter, much slimmer Jen and her electric bass. She immediately started trying to adjust the fighting suit, which didn’t change with her and was several sizes to large. “But right now we’ve gotta get away from -- ahh!” The women stumbled as the rocking, staggering machine jerked suddenly. Scarlet lifted herself off the metal surface slightly but Jen fell and started sliding toward the Black Smoke, pushing with the heels of her oversized boots in a vain effort to stop herself.

“I’ve got you!” Scarlet called as she erected a force wall between Jen and the Black Smoke, stopping her, then flew over and gave her a hand up. “We can figure out what to do next once we’re safe.” Quickly and wordlessly Jen turned her back to Scarlet, who hooked her arms under her wife’s and flew upward with her, away from the failing alien machine. From a safe distance they watched as it began to fall, only to suddenly find themselves surrounded by a thick gray haze once more. By the time the Martian fighting machine came crashing to the ground, Scarlet Shield and Oni were already gone.

((To Be Continued...))

((The War of the Worlds was written by H.G. Wells and first published in novel form in 1898 after appearing as a serial in two magazines (one in the US and one in the UK) the previous year. The story and all elements of its original publication (including the ironclad Thunder Child and the Martian fighting machines) are in the Public Domain. As far as I can remember the Strait of Dover isn’t actually mentioned by name in the story but a look at a map online told me that’s where the Essex coast, which is mentioned, is at.))
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Into the Omniverse, Part 3: Midnight Maniac

Post by Green-Lightning »

November 6, 1971
10:22 am
Los Angeles, California
Universe: Skywald

The third time the haze enveloped them, Scarlet Shield had been flying with Jen in her arms. Without warning she found herself standing still on a flat, level surface as a man spoke nearby.

“After Jack’s death,” the man said, “I decided to destroy the drug but someone broke into my lab and stole most of it before I had the chance.”

“Hold on,” a second man said, “something weird’s happening.”

Knowing that she had to be ready for anything, Scarlet did her best to force the grief of accidentally killing an unknown number of Martians away for the time being. She let go of Jen and looked around as the haze dissipated. They were in a spacious, high-ceilinged, well-furnished office. Two men stood in front of a garish but obviously expensive desk. One man was dressed in a light gray, pinstriped suit with a paisley tie, wore a black patch over his left eye and smoked a cigarette through a long, slender holder. The other man, who was already facing them with a startled expression, wore a beige suit and a tie with wide brown, burnt orange and tan diagonal stripes. Lying between them on the desk was a newspaper with a large headline proclaiming, “RIPPER RETURNS!”

“Who the hell are you,” the man with the eyepatch -- the one who had spoken first -- demanded when he noticed them, “and how did you get in here?” Without waiting for an answer he started to reach for a phone on the desk only to find his hand blocked by the red glow of Scarlet’s force field.

“If you’re planning on calling security,” Scarlet said calmly, “at least give us a chance to try and explain first.”

“Let’s hear them out,” suggested the other man.

“All right,” said the first man, moving his hand from the phone. “Spill it.” Despite his apparent anger at their unexpected presence, he allowed his eye to linger on Jen as she struggled to keep Oni’s oversized fighting suit from revealing more than she wanted to show with one hand while holding her electric bass with the other. Noticing the unwanted attention she glared at him, receiving the faintest hint of a smirk in return.

“Hey, douchebag,” she snarled, “if you don’t wanna lose that eye too--”

“Jen,” Scarlet interrupted softly, placing a hand on her wife’s shoulder. “We could use their help.” She motioned toward the newspaper and added, “And I think maybe they could use ours.”

“How do you think these two can help us get home?” Jen asked indignantly.

“Jen, please.”

Jen relaxed slightly with a sigh. “You’re right. Who knows? Maybe someone on this Earth can actually help us.”

“What do you mean, ‘this Earth’?” the second man asked, frowning slightly.

“Or maybe not,” Jen amended with a roll of her eyes.

“Have you ever heard the words ‘multiverse’ or ‘omniverse’?” Scarlet asked, walking over to them and picking up the newspaper as she did so.

“Can’t say that I have,” the man with the eyepatch replied.

“Me either,” agreed the second man.

“To put it simply, there are multiple universes.” Scarlet glanced at the newspaper as she spoke, noting the paper’s date and city of origin. She hoped it was local and no more than a day or two old. “Every novel, short story or comic book you read and every movie or TV show you watch could represent a different universe. We don’t know how or why, but someone is sending us from one universe to another. This is the third one so far and, even if we’re back in our own -- which I doubt -- we’re still about fifty years before our own time.” She stopped and waited, looking at the two men, to see how they would react.

“I’ve heard some real cock and bull stories,” the man with the eyepatch said as he reached for the phone a second time, “but that one beats ‘em all.” Again, Scarlet’s force field blocked his access to the phone, causing him to turn and quickly walk toward the door. “If I can’t call security then I’ll just go get them in person!”

“Please,” Scarlet said as she erected a barrier to block the door. “I’m telling the truth. We’re not here to hurt anyone. We don’t even know where we are other than ‘probably some alternate version of Los Angeles’ or why we’re here, and we just want to go home. But maybe we can help you before we get sent to wherever we end up after this.” She held the newspaper up and pointed at the headline. “I heard you mention someone named Jack, a drug and a break-in at your lab. Do they have anything to do with this?”

“Maybe we should introduce ourselves and start from the beginning,” the one-eyed man stated after a moment’s hesitation. “I’m Selwyn Samuels, the owner of the Nightowl Club.”

“What the fuck is the Nightowl Club?” Jen asked.

“It’s the private club that occupies the building we’re in,” Selwyn replied, looking Jen up and down and ignoring her renewed glare. “Has anyone told you just how lovely and distracting you are?”

“I’m Scarlet Shield,” Scarlet quickly interjected, cutting off the scathing retort she knew Jen was about to hurl in the man’s direction, “and this is my partner, Oni. Please continue.”

Selwyn turned his attention to Scarlet. “Yeah, right.” He motioned toward the other man. “This is my associate, Brick Reese.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Scarlet said to Brick with a smile. While everyone else was at best a distant second to Jen, Scarlet generally preferred men over women and she had to admit that Brick was one of the more attractive ones, despite his style being half a century out of date by her standards.

“Likewise,” Brick replied, mirroring her smile with one of his own.

“I’m also a scientist,” Selwyn continued. “I was experimenting with a drug the government had developed, thinking that with it I could create men with more raw strength than was normally possible, but I hadn’t tested it on people yet. Turns out my brother Jack was using it without my knowledge. He became a monster the news named ‘the Ripper’ and started killing the girls who work for me. He was finally stopped when a vigilante, the Hell-Rider, shot and killed him. We thought that was the end of it. I was going to destroy the rest of the drug but someone broke into my lab and stole it before I could. We don’t know who took it or why he’s killing my girls.”

“I think we can definitely help you,” Scarlet said. “We have some experience with this kind of thing.”

“Just because you can stop me from using the phone or leaving the room,” Selwyn asked skeptically, “what makes you think you can stop him? Jack was strong, fast and had sharp claws, and the new Ripper seems to be the same.” Then his visible eye and both of Brick’s widened in surprise as Scarlet lifted herself upward to hover about a foot above the floor. A soft red glow formed around both herself and Jen.

“The Ripper’s claws probably can’t get through my force fields. I won’t show you what else I can do because I don’t want to break anything in your office. As for strength...”

It was Jen’s turn to smirk at Selwyn as she leaned the bass next to a nearby chair. “This is why I’m called Oni,” she growled, changing into her demonic-looking form. Scarlet floated to one side, leaving an opening for Oni to advance on the gaping men.

“Holy sh--” Selwyn started as Oni grabbed them by their belts and lifted them off the floor.

“Shut up,” Oni interrupted, setting them gently on the desk with their legs dangling over the side at the knees, “and sit down.” She squatted in front of them, slid her left arm under the desk and, holding it level, effortlessly lifted the desk as she straightened herself back up to a standing position. Then, still one-armed, she just as effortlessly raised the desk over her head, positioning herself under it as she did so. “And this is with my weak hand,” she said, chuckling.

You can put us down now,” Brick said. “You’ve made your point.” Oni set the desk back where it had been and retrieved the shamisen that had replaced her bass. Scarlet landed next to Oni.

“Hire them,” said Brick. “Get them a couple uniforms and some regular clothes, tell everyone they’re replacements for the girls you’ve lost and let them work undercover until the Ripper’s handled.”

Selwyn looked at the women then at Brick and nodded in agreement. “That’s a good idea.” He turned to Scarlet and Oni with a confident smile. “How would you two lovely ladies feel about becoming my newest Nightowl Girls?”

***

“Fuck me,” Jen muttered in disgust as she looked at herself in the changing room’s floor-length mirror. Kenzie understood the sentiment, though the emotion she felt was embarrassment; the glorified swimsuits that were the Nightowl Girls’ uniforms left little to the imagination. Strapless and backless, the bodysuits -- if they could be called that -- barely covered the wearers’ breasts before plunging downward to form Vs slightly above their navels. The suits’ top edges were designed, in theory, to resemble an owl’s feathers, as were the tops of the boots that went with the suits. Their legs were completely bare, of course, from their hips to the boots’ top edges. By far the worst part of the outfits were the “eyes”: pairs of white shapes that looked more like the outlines of daisies than actual eyes, with a black dot in the center of each, connected by inverted triangles that were supposed to represent beaks. These were worn like tiaras, held in place on their foreheads by wires hidden under their hair on either side of their heads.

Kenzie wished she had her glasses with her -- she had been wearing them during the wedding, so where they were at that moment was anyone’s guess -- but she had the next best thing: a small box of disposable contact lenses and bottle of saline solution provided by MAE, which she kept in her jacket’s inner pocket for times when she needed to see without her goggles. Either way she was glad she could see. She didn’t care how Jen was dressed because, as long as Kenzie could look at her, life was good.

Jen, tired of scowling at herself in the mirror, looked over at Kenzie and smiled. At that moment the door opened without warning and Selwyn walked in. “Ready, girls?” The smile vanished from Jen’s face as she prepared to let the man have it with a string of profanity. As much as Kenzie wanted to let Jen go off on him, she knew it wouldn’t improve their situation any.

“We’re not ‘girls’,” Jen grumbled a few seconds later as they followed Selwyn out of the room, “we’re women.”

“Of course you are,” Selwyn replied without looking back as he walked. “I mean no disrespect, I assure you.”

“Here we are,” he said as they approached an attractive woman with short, dark hair who was dressed in the same skimpy costume they wore. “Rita,” he called to her, beckoning with a hand, “come here.”

Rita left the two other Nightowl Girls she was talking to and came over. “Yeah, boss?” Noticing Kenzie and Jen, she grimaced even before Selwyn introduced them.

“Rita, meet Kenzie and Jen.” Naturally, for them to go undercover in the club Selwyn had needed to know their real names. “Girls, Rita.”

“Oh come on, boss,” Rita protested, “you can’t seriously expect me to train the new hires?”

“Someone’s got to do it,” Selwyn countered with a smile. “Oh, and Rita, I’d like to speak to you in my office when your shift’s over.”

Rita sighed dejectedly as Selwyn walked away. “Okay you two,” she said unenthusiastically, “let’s get this over with.”

The day ended up being a long one during which they served drinks to wealthy “gentlemen” who were used to getting what they wanted. For the most part they had been surprisingly polite, though Kenzie suspected that was due more to discretion and concern for their own reputations than respect for the women who worked there. Not everyone was discrete, however, and some either didn’t care about their reputations or wanted to maintain a different kind of reputation. More than a few of the men had found Jen’s mixed ethnicity intriguing and convincing her not to beat up some of them had been difficult to say the least. Even Kenzie, with her Taoist beliefs and desire to resolve confrontations peacefully whenever possible, had wanted to punch one especially obnoxious and insistent man in the face. She restrained herself in that instance and with her help Jen mostly managed to control her temper, though things looked rough for a few minutes after she almost broke the hand of a man who pinched her on the butt. Midnight had come and gone by the time their shift ended and they had changed into “normal” clothing they had been given. Kenzie wore a sleeveless, black and white checkered gogo dress, Jen had grudgingly settled for a sky blue halter top and white hotpants, and they had both managed to score basic white tennis shoes and socks.

As Kenzie finished tying her shoes they heard a woman scream. “That sounded like Rita!” she said, alarmed.

“Isn’t she still in Selwyn’s office?” Jen asked.

“I thought so,” Kenzie answered. “The scream came from that direction. I’ll fly ahead.” Out of the corner of her eye she could see Jen transform into Oni as she flew from the room. A few corners kept her from flying at anything close to full speed but she still found the source of the scream quickly. Rita was in the grip of a feral-looking woman with long, shaggy hair, bushy eyebrows, fangs and claws on her fingers and toes. Her clothing consisted of a bra and a tattered pair of pants, which was a lot more than Rita had on. For some reason that Kenzie couldn’t fathom the woman had torn Rita’s dress off, leaving her in only a pair of high-heeled shoes. The remains of the dress lay on the floor in front of the two women.

“Let me go, you monster!” Rita shouted as she beat her fists ineffectively against her captor. Though obviously terrified she still had the tenacity to fight back, which was something Kenzie hadn’t seem much of among the other women at the Nightowl Club. She would’ve been impressed by it if she had the time.

Ripping Rita’s dress off had probably saved her life, allowing Kenzie to arrive before the wild woman could kill her. A quick swipe from the claws of the woman’s free hand would have sliced Rita’s throat open except that Kenzie was quicker, surrounding the intended victim in a force field. The field also broke her attacker’s hold on her and she stumbled away to lean against the nearest wall.

“Hey, over here!” Kenzie called out, drawing the woman’s attention away from Rita as she touched down and activated her own force field. The feral woman looked at Kenzie, a low growl forming in her throat, and charged. Kenzie balled her hands into fists, the glow around them brightening as she waited for the right moment. When the woman was where Kenzie wanted her she hit her with a well-aimed right to the jaw, snapping her head to one side and stopping her in her tracks. Rather than falling down as Kenzie had hoped, however, the woman turned to face her again and snarled.

“Oh boy,” Kenzie murmured as at the same moment from behind her she heard Oni say, “Holy shit.”

“It’s not the first time someone’s taken a punch like that,” Kenzie reminded her partner. “We can take her.”

“I’ll handle this,” said a voice that Kenzie recognized as Brick Reese’s. He stood the far end of the hallway behind the feral woman dressed in a skin-tight, black leather outfit that left his chest and abdomen mostly bare all the way down to his waist. The outfit was accompanied by black leather boots, a black belt with an H buckle and a black motorcycle helmet-mask combination with a yellow trident painted on the front. In his right hand was a revolver. Kenzie realized that Brick must be the vigilante Selwyn mentioned earlier, the Hell-Rider. She also noticed that Rita had taken advantage of the distraction to grab what was left of her dress and try to escape down the hallway only to stop when the vigilante appeared.

“No,” Kenzie said, “put the gun away. No one else has to die.” She nodded toward Rita, who was cowering with her back to the wall and holding her tattered dress in front of her in an attempt at modesty, and added, “Innocent people might get hurt.”

“Shooting Jack was the only way I could stop him,” the Hell-Rider replied. “He was too strong, even for me. And she took the same drug he did.”

“But it’s not just you this time,” Kenzie replied as the woman turned and ran toward the Hell-Rider, snarling angrily. The Hell-Rider raised his gun and Kenzie got ready to fire a force blast. Before either of them could take their shot Oni’s shamisen flew past Kenzie and hit the woman between the shoulder blades, knocking her forward to land face first at the vigilante’s feet.

“Grab her!” Oni yelled to the Hell-Rider as she ran past Kenzie. He nodded quickly then grabbed the woman and yanked her roughly to her feet, pinning her arms behind her. Kenzie made sure that both her partner and the anti-hero were protected by force fields.

“I don’t know how long I can hold her,” he said, using his leverage against the woman’s strength to keep her arms pinned as she struggled to free herself.

“Not a problem,” Oni said, hitting her with a right that mirrored Kenzie’s earlier punch but managed to stagger both her target and the Hell-Rider, who lost his grip. Before the woman could react Oni followed the punch with a left to the stomach that doubled her over. A knee to the face sent the woman flying upward and back, to land unconscious at the Hell-Rider’s feet with blood streaming from her broken nose.

“What happened?” Everyone turned to look as Selwyn ran toward them followed by a security guard with his gun drawn.

“The Ripper tried to kill Rita,” Kenzie told them, “but we stopped her.”

The security guard holstered his gun and walked over to look down at the woman. Selwyn, seeing Rita, went to her. He took his jacket off and wrapped it around her shoulders, pulling her close and trying to comfort her as, shaking, she leaned against him. “Hold on,” he said a moment later when Kenzie’s words had sunk in, “the Ripper’s a woman?”

“Looks like it, sir,” the guard said. “Come see for yourself.”

“I’ll be damned,” Selwyn said, walking over and pulling a reluctant Rita with him. “I would’ve sworn the Ripper was a man.” He looked down at the unconscious woman on the floor and did a double-take. “Her? But how did she get into my lab?” Kenzie and Oni took their first look at the woman since Oni had knocked her out. The drug had worn off and she had reverted to her natural state. Kenzie recognized her as one of the Nightowl Girls she had seen a few times during the day, but she didn’t know her name.

“The police are on their way,” the guard said. “They can ask her for you when she wakes up.”

“I better leave before the cops get here,” the Hell-Rider said. “But first, if it’s okay...” He pulled Kenzie aside and smiled at her. “I was wondering if you’d like to go get a drink somewhere?”

“I’m flattered,” Kenzie said, “really. But...” Without looking she reached out to Oni, who had followed them over after picking up her shamisen and was glaring dangerously at the vigilante. The glare became a smirk as Kenzie took her free hand and they laced their fingers together. “...I’m taken,” Kenzie finished, smiling apologetically. “Sorry.”

It took the masked man a moment to realize what she was saying as he looked from her to Oni. “Oh! I’m-- I’m-- it’s cool. Anyway, I really need to split before the cops show up. It was a pleasure, ladies.” The last thing Kenzie and Oni saw before the haze surrounded them once again was the Hell-Rider turning and quietly slipping away.

((To Be Continued...))

((The Hell-Rider (AKA Brick Reese) was created by Gary Friedrich, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, and appeared in Skywald Publishing’s Hell-Rider issues 1 and 2 (August and October 1971, respectively). Due to a lack of proper copyright notices (which were necessary at the time), both issues of the comic and everything in them automatically became Public Domain upon publication. As these were the Hell-Rider’s only appearances, this puts the character squarely in the Public Domain. Selwyn Samuels, the Nightowl Club, Nightowl Girls (of which Rita was the only one named who survived to the end of the story) and the original Ripper (Jack Samuels) all appeared in the story “Night of the Ripper” in Hell-Rider #2.))
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