Last Ride of the Malificors

By Max Bowen

"Floor it!" shouted Sparkstrike, as he fired lighting from his gun.

The bolt struck one of the seven police cruisers in pursuit. It shattered the front end, sending the vehicle flipping in the air. It landed on its back, a shower of glass and metal fragments spraying in all directions. The other cruisers sped up, the officers firing at the fleeing vehicle.

"Damn it," snarled Razor, who was doing his best not to shred the steering wheel with the six-inch steel talons that adorned his gloves. "Now you've done it, you world class screw-up."

Sparkstrike, whose costume consisted of a blue jacket with sloppy, handmade lighting bolts sewn onto the sleeves, merely smiled from the backseat. "Hey, it's not like things can get any worse."

"Speak for yourself," whined Top Dog, whose claim to fame was employing large tops with blades, flame throwers, guns, and other deadly accessaries. He had spent the majority of the chase sucking his thumb and crying. "I didn't do anything. You're the one who killed that kid."

"Hey, if she hadn't gotten in the way, she wouldn't have gotten fried," Sparkstrike retorted. "Besides, it's not my fault. I set the gun to low power. Worthless thing's been on the fritz all month."

"And that's your excuse?" shouted Top Dog, turning around in the front passenger seat, tears steaming down his face. "That's what you're gonna tell the cops when they take us to the chair? Or the Protectors when they beat us to a pulp like they always do?"

Sparkstrike's response was to punch the younger man in the face. He fell back, banging his head on the glove box. Top Dog glared at the leader of their ill-fated team of supervillains, although what qualified these four as "super" was anyone's guess.

Sitting beside the lightning-wielding villain was TKO. Like the others, he had no powers, only a pair of nuclear gauntlets that granted him superhuman strength, although the best he could do was throw a compact car thirty yards. Against almost any super-strong hero, he was completely outclassed. He hadn't said a word since their attempt to rob several million in jewels had ended with the tragic death of a ten-year-old girl named Shauna.

Sparkstrike had used the girl's mother as a shield when he went to make his demands to the police, who were being forced to deal with the villains alone. Apparently the Swarm, a small army of interstellar insect warriors, had chosen that moment to stage an invasion of Tokyo, and much of the planet's defenders were busy dealing with them. Word was Lionclaw, a local hero a few rungs down from some of Earth's more popular champions of truth and justice was on his way, but so far he was nowhere in sight.

Probably for the best. He was a schizophrenic who, if not properly medicated, was more of a threat than the four villains in the store.

The woman and her daughter had been there to buy the girl's grandmother a birthday present. When Sparkstrike went outside with his hostage in hand, the child ran out to stop him. He blasted her with his Shock Gun, intending only to stun the girl.

Unfortunately, the gun had been miscalibrated, and the young Shauna was dead before she hit the ground.

The four villains, known in bad jokes as the Malificors, had taken advantage of the tragedy to steal a car and make a run for it. Good thing too, because the police had orders to use lethal force to stop them

Razor turned the corner sharply, heading out of the city and into the heavily wooded suburbs. This was an old trick of the Malificors: after they pulled a job, they would drive into the 'burbs, ditch their stolen car, and head into the woods. The cops were never able to find them, and the quartet usually rated too low a priority for some of the more notable heroes to track them down. All in all, in was a good plan, one that never failed.

As the sharp-taloned driver floored the gas pedal on a straightaway, he wondered for the first time how he had gotten into this mess.

A security guard at the Bridgetown Mall, Razor (formerly James Chesterfield) had never been good at anything. He lacked the physical ability to get into the town's police academy, and he was a notorious coward; the punks who frequented the mall had only to growl menacingly and Chesterfield would look the other way and pretend he hadn't seen them. He was never a man to take a risk of any kind, even something as innocuous as looking for a new job. In fact, it was his timid nature that ended his marriage.

That was before he found the suit.

The van it was located in had been abandoned, by who he never knew. He broke the lock on the rear doors after it had sat in the mall parking lot for three days. No one had driven it, and he had no idea who it belonged to; the license plate had come back with a fake name. He decided to search it, expecting to find drugs or some stolen DVDs.

But not this. Not the suit.

Small servomotors built into the costume, which seemed to resemble a bat or ferret, increased James' strength and speed by a factor of four. Nothing too impressive, but that was okay. It was the claws he loved. Made of a unknown material, they were six inches in length, and could slice through a bank vault like a hot knife through butter. Now, reborn as Razor, he could get all the respect he wanted, and so much more.

But how, he wondered? Even with the suit, he was still too much of a coward to do anything as risky as rob a bank.

Then he met Sparkstrike.

A petty crook and occasional enforcer for the local mob, Sparkstrike, A.K.A. Earl Mikkels, broke into the lab of the Widget, a well-known inventor who designed weapons for the highest bidder. He ran once the alarm sounded, but not before grabbing the Shock Gun, a Flash Gordon-looking piece of technology that could fire lighting bolts powerful enough to turn a wall to cinders, or weak enough to stun a child.

Mikkels, now wearing a homemade costume that would have gotten him confined to an asylum if he went out in public, found Razor while the former mall cop was practicing his snarls. Sparkstrike was about to electrocute him, but faced with his first super-powered challenge, the Razor took him down in a flash, much to the surprise of both men.

Impressed, Sparkstrike made his unlikely opponent an offer: join him and become a crimefighting duo the likes of which the world had never seen.

Two days later, they were in jail, arrested after they were knocked cold by a mall security guard, of all things.

But it seemed fate was on their side, for as the two sat in stir waiting for Razor's sister to make bail, they met Richie Welch, an unsuccessful toy inventor. Welch had designed a new, remote controlled top which he thought would revolutionize the industry and make him a fortune, except the amusing machines had an annoying tendency to run wild, causing injuries, massive damage, and eventually lawsuits piling outside his door.

Welch swore revenge, and redesigned his lethal toys into, well, lethal toys. Ironically, it was as the villain Top Dog that he was able to perfect his invention's control mechanisms, and using his trademark weapons, broke the two villains out of jail. Unfortunately, he badly burned Sparkstrike in the process. So their next step was to the hospital, where they kidnapped a doctor and forced him to help their teammate.

That was were they "recruited" their last member, TKO.

Like the others, Curtis Brooks was adept at failing every challenge life put before him. A former pro wrestler who landed himself in prison after beating his wife into a coma, he was offered a 'get out of jail free card' in the form of participating in an experiment to make the world's first mass-produced super hero. Using the gauntlets, known as the "Hercules Bands," Pentagon scientists were able to give Brooks low-level super strength, enhanced stamina and a bulletproof hide.

His first mission, ironically enough, was to track down and capture Razor, Sparkstrike and Top Dog. It was an easy mission, and an easier fight: the three were taken down more by their own incompetence than TKO's abilities.

Just as Brooks was about to cuff the three would-be villains, Top Dog struck him from behind with a brick, robbing him of his memory, and gaining the Malificors their fourth member.

A stray bullet shattered the rear window. Sparkstrike cursed and fired at the pursuing cars, taking three out of action. The remaining officers fired back, and Sparkstrike cursed again, dropping the Shock Gun and grabbing his shoulder. Blood oozed out between his fingers.

Top Dog's eyes went wide at the sight. "You...your..your shoulder," he stammered, pointing a shaking finger.

"Yes, thank you, Dog, I hadn't noticed," shouted Sparkstrike, tearing one of his sleeves to make a tourniquet.

Razor risked a quick glance in the rearview mirror. "How bad is it?"

Sparkstrike grimaced as he tightened his makeshift bandage. "Bad,"he said, grabbing his Shock Gun and cursing for a third time as it refused to fire. "Worse."

"Great. So we're minus one of our most effective members, our car's almost toast and we've got every cop in the state after our blood. Were things ever this bad?"

"Yeah," said Sparkstrike, easing himself into a more comfortable position. "Remember the Infidels?"

Razor smiled at the name. The Infidels was a small army of supervillains, around 30 in all. They were led by Count Obsidian, an immortal demon who had visions of world conquest and nothing less. Together, they stormed the United Nations building. and held the diplomats hostage. The Malificors were honored to be a part of the force, and it looked like they would finally get their due.

Once the U.N. building was secured, the Count presented the diplomats with a document, one which named him and the Infidels rulers of the world. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Unfortunately, the Count was a notorious braggart. He dared the Protectors, Earth's mightiest heroes, to try and stop him.

An hour later, that's just what they did. Sparkstrike, Razor, Top Dog and TKO spent a month in intensive care, over 300 broken bones between the four of them.

The car jerked to a stop near the woods. "Everybody out," said Razor. "TKO, guard our rear."

Without a word, the team's powerhouse ran toward the cruisers, knocking them aside as they came toward him. The police opened fire, but the bullets were like gnats to him, and one by one, they were taken down.

Suddenly a shadow fell on the team, followed by an impact usually experienced when an nuclear warhead detonates.

It was Brigadier, the muscle of the Protectors, and the strongest being on the planet.

Once more, TKO wasted no words, and charged the hero. Brigadier, who stood at almost nine feet in height, sneered and knocked the criminal through the side of a house. The structure, already rickety, collapsed under the damage, burying the former wrestler alive.

There was silence as the rest of the Malificors stared at their teammate's makeshift cairn. Top Dog let out a grief-stricken scream and whipped out a remote control, furiously pressing buttons.

Four tops popped out from the trunk, two armed with chain guns and the others bearing flame throwers. Spinning at near sonic rates, they unleashed their full firepower on the titan.

Brigadier strode through a wave of firepower that would have left a platoon in pieces. With one hand, he swept the oversized toys aside, shattering them. With the other, he knocked Top Dog, all 103 pounds of him, into a large oak, shattering his body and killing him.

In his costume, a bizarre patchwork of yellow, blue, green and pink, he looked like a broken party doll.

"Can't believe I have to waste my time with you losers," growled Brigadier, as if he were the victim.

The strongman of the Protectors advanced on the two remaining Malificors, murder clear in his eyes. While most heroes abhorred killing, believing it to be the one thing which separated them from 'monsters' like the Malificors, Brigadier had no such conflictions.

A pair of large hands stopped his advance, pulling him underground, then knocking him twenty feet in the air. TKO emerged, bleeding, beaten and gasping for breath. He looked towards the corpse of Top Dog, then to the others.

Razor could only manage a weak nod, "Come on," he said, helping Sparkstrike, who had lost too much blood to move under his own power anymore.

Top Dog watched with lifeless eyes as his teammates made their way through the woods.

"Easy now," said Razor, gently lowering Sparkstrike into a bed. The house they were in was empty, the family on vacation. He was loathe to do anything which would make a bad situation worse, but given their current predicament, he didn't see the harm in a little B & E.

Mikkels gasped in pain, his face pale and sweating. Razor knew a little first aid from the courses he took becoming a mall cop, but bullets were a little outside his league. And his teammate's patch job was no replacement for an emergency room.

Razor shook his head, removing the mask for the first time since this ill-fated voyage. At 48, he was hardly in the prime of life, and it showed on his wrinkled face and thinning hair. The truth was, even with the strength-enhancing suit, his power was little more than human.

He walked downstairs, trying to rub the arthritis from his hands. TKO was in the living room, keeping an eye out for the police, or worse, the Protectors. He had hit Brigadier so hard one of his Hercules Bands had cracked, but he doubted the hero had been seriously hurt. And with a damaged gauntlet, he wouldn't be able to do much more if Brigadier came looking for a rematch.

TKO shook his head, and in the pale moonlight, Razor could see tears on the big man's face. "Yeah, I miss him too," said Razor. "He just wasn't cut out for it."

Things got worse before they got better.

Sparkstrike became delirious as the night passed. One minute he would be clear and coherent, planning their escape and mapping out routes for Razor. The next, he would talk in a whining, high-pitched voice, recalling battles that never happened and robberies that went off without a hitch.

Those never happened either.

The family that lived in the home chose that day to return. Razor had taken the liberty of shredding all the phone lines in the house, and TKO blocked the door, preventing any escape.

"Look, all we need is your car," said Razor, more eager than the family, whose bland welcome mat proclaimed them to be the Hensons, to be out of the house.

"Take 'em with us," said Sparkstrike, as he weakly made his way down the stairs.

"What? We don't have to do that," replied Razor.

"Just do it," he snarled, clearly in one of his coherent moments.

And that was how the three remaining members of the Malificors came to be doing 70 miles an hour down I-85, a very nervous Fred Henson behind the wheel, his wife Cindy and their son Jake in the backseat between Sparkstrike and TKO. Razor was in the passenger seat, directing as they went.

"Just keep going and everything's going to be alright,"he said.

"All right? You break into our house, steal our car and kidnap us. What part of that is alright for us?" asked Fred, who made a living as a tax collector.

"Just..just keep driving," said Razor, not eager or willing to get into an argument.

"You guys are sick, you know that? We saw what happened to that girl. I hope they give you freaks the chair," said Cindy, not in the least intimidated by her hostage-takers.

"Look lady, it was an accident okay? Could have happened to anyone," Razor said.

Cindy just shook her head. "No, only you villains kill people. The heroes never do that."

"Tell that to Top Dog. We left his corpse a couple miles from your house," said Sparkstrike weakly. He leaned against the window, blood oozing from his bandaged shoulder onto the car's green upholstery.

But the housewife was not convinced. "I'm sure he deserved it. Probably tried to kill another child."

"He was only seventeen, you stupid bitch!" yelled Razor, bearing his claws and looking for all the world like he was about to skin the woman alive.

Cindy only glared at him, not scared for a moment. And why should she be? These were three of the lamest villains on the face of the Earth. Regular police officers routinely took them down, and most of the heroes couldn't be bothered to fight them.

Razor turned around, disgusted with himself and angry at the woman. But the fact was she was right. They had killed a girl. An innocent child who only wanted to help her mother. Maybe they deserved what they got. All of them. He pointed to a wooded path by the side of the road.

"Stop there."

Razor slashed the tires while TKO tied up the Hensons and left them in the trunk. Together, the three villains made their way down a dirt path, one most would just as soon ignore. But to the Malificors, it was one of special significance.

They came to a battered farmhouse, long forgotten by the rest of the civilized world. The windows were boarded up, and in places the walls were rotted with age and neglect. There was a large hole in the roof. A few chickens wandered the yard, pecking at the dried and lifeless dirt. As the trio approached, bullets hit the ground, kicking up small clouds of dust.

"Damn it Annie, cut the crap!" shouted Razor.

A figure emerged from the barn, a hunting rifle on her shoulder. She was an older woman, around 40 years. Dressed in a dungaree jacket, jeans and leather boots, she looked like a reject from a Wild West show.

She was Annie Six-Gun, the fifth and often forgotten member of the Malificors.

When she saw who she had fired at, Annie, also known as Sara Pelswich, dropped her rifle and ran toward Razor, wrapping her arms around him. A moderately skilled sharpshooter in the Metro Police Department, she had fallen in love with Razor during one his many botched jobs.

The Malificors had tried to hijack an armored car, only to discover it had already delivered its cargo of money. Things didn't get any better when the Cyber Centurions showed up. As Razor was being carted away on a stretcher, Sara was overcome by how pathetic he looked. Nothing like pity love.

She wrote to him every day he was in jail, and on the day he was released, she was there to meet him, guns and all. Frankly she annoyed him. She was bouncy, chipper, and an excessive prattler. Plus she had an obsession with country music, which she loved to sing in a tone that would shatter glass.

Razor disentangled himself from the cowgirl's grip. Her inane smile never left her face, even when she saw how battered the group looked. "Well shucks, y'all look like you tried to wrassle a herd of buffalo."

He groaned inwardly. Perhaps the most annoying thing about Six-Gun was her need to talk like John Wayne's retarded half-sister. "Just get inside, will you? Sparkstrike's in bad shape."

Annie followed the trio as they moved to the house. The property had belonged to Razor's uncle and when he died, the building and the dust field it was built on was passed to his beloved nephew.

"So where's Top Dog?" asked Annie her bouncy, upbeat tone never once descending into the cavernous despair which the rest of the team now dwelled in. "Did that little prankster get hisself into trouble again?"

Tazor turned on the woman, practically foaming at the mouth. "Just get your ass in there and get that bullet out of his shoulder!"

Annie's expression seemed to shatter before him. It was if she suddenly changed back into the dour, serious-minded police officer she had been before she joined the Malificors. Her southern twang was noticeably absent when she said, "Yeah, sure. You got it."

Hours passed while Annie worked on the leader of the ragtag evildoers. She was the only one with any real medical training, and even that was pretty limited. But a hospital was out of the question. Razor doubted they would get within five miles of one before the police gunned them down like rabid dogs.

Once more, TKO was watching for any signs they had been followed. Razor emerged from one of the bedrooms, his brown and red costume exchanged for a pair of jeans and a red flannel shirt. He still wore the claws, as well as the mask. Old habits and all that.

Razor had always been a loser, and nothing had changed once he became a villain. But it had been fun. Damn fun. He had fought superheroes, even beaten a few, and there was the occasional robbery that actually paid off.

Thanks to those rare occurrences, his daughter's college education was fully funded, and his wife had a new home, a palace compared to the hovel he had shared with her while they were marriage.

Yeah, it had been fun. Too bad it was over.

Razor walked over to the window to stand beside TKO. The big man looked at him, a grim finality in his eyes. "You're right. It sure was fun," he said, a trace of laughter in his voice.

The words took Razor aback. TKO was no mute, but talking was a rare occurrence. Top Dog once joked that he probably set a record for the fewest words used, and had even stolen his larger friend a dictionary for his birthday.

It was the one theft he had been able to do right.

The powerhouse looked back outside. "Not long. They'll be here pretty soon. Cops. Lotsa cops."

"You think the Protectors will show up?" asked Razor with a grin.

That provoked a laugh from the big man. "Doubt we're worth their time. Too bad. I'd like another shot at Brigadier."

They turned as Annie entered from the bathroom where she had been working on Sparkstrike. Her hands were covered in blood, and more was smeared on her clothes and face. She shook as she sat down and began to cry.

For a few moments the only sound was her wracking sobs. Razor slowly walked over and placed a hand on her shoulder. She jerked away, the sudden move causing the talons to rip through her jacket, scoring a shallow cut. She gripped the wound and continued to cry, her tears mixing with the blood to form a red river down her cheeks. Razor grabbed the young woman and held her close, feeling her shudder with each sob. "You did the best you could. He couldn't have asked for a better doctor."

Annie shook her head. "I should have done more. Better. He should still be alive. What are we without our leader?"

Razor smirked. "Some leader. Remember when we pulled that bank job in Des Moines and NightKlaw got the drop on us? He split while we sat in jail for six months."

The memory brought a smile to the cowgirl's face. "Yeah, but who was better at those lame one-liners?"

"You mean 'I'm the livest wire in town?' Oh yeah, a real Shakespeare, he was."

The three remaining Malificors laughed, as the thought of their departed leader's unique colloquialisms brought forth a flood of botched bank jobs and embarrassing battles. Suddenly the ground began to shake, as if an earthquake were happening.

TKO ran to the window, and summed up their situation in three words: "Fuck us sideways."

It was the police all right, all armed to the teeth. Razor counted thirty, with more pouring out of the forest every minute.

But the real shock wasn't the police. Brigadier, the Protector's walking mountain of muscle, looking none the worse for wear after his tussle with TKO, strode toward the farmhouse, crushing chicken after chicken with each thunderous step.

Above him flew Lady Light, a radiant beauty with the power to channel sunlight into deadly beams. Leading the charge was Commander Combat, the superstrong, superfast tactical genius and leader of the Protectors.

Annie loaded her six shooters and cocked her shotgun. TKO charged up his intact gauntlet. The one which he cracked after punching Brigadier sparked and hummed weakly as he pressed the activation switch. It was working, but barely.

Razor flexed his hands, hearing his blades sing as they sliced through the air. He turned to Annie and without a word, kissed her passionately. They separated, and the woman's expression was one of complete surprise. "I thought you didn't..." she began.

"I'm an idiot," was all he would say before turning back to the window.

Outside, Commander Combat surveyed the scene. "What a dump," he remarked, spitting on the ground for emphasis. "You'd think they could pick a more dignified place to get broken in half."

"I'll say," said Lady Light. "All this dust is ruining my costume."

"Don't worry babe, this will all be over in a second," said the Commander.

Their conversation was interrupted by a fusillade of bullets from the farmhouse. The police ducked behind their cars, while the heroes merely stood there, regarding the firepower as nothing more than a nuisance. The bullets were vaporized by Lady Light's energy field while the other two let the lead projectiles bounce of them like popcorn.

Suddenly the house exploded from the inside. Furniture, bricks and anything else flew through the air. With no more concern than if she were brushing her hair, Lady Light raised her hand and created a shield which harmlessly deflected the barrage.

The airborne avalanche was merely a distraction, as TKO charged through the dust, bellowing at the top of his lungs and tackling Brigadier into the woods. Razor and Six-Gun Annie followed.

"Malificors, show 'em no mercy!" Razor shouted.

Commander Combat mere smirked as the former mall cop leaped towards him, claws outstretched. As the taloned villain closed in, the combat-fatigued-clad hero drove his foot up in an axe kick, catching him squarely in the jaw. Razor rolled across the ground. He rose on shaky legs, spitting out a few teeth.

"What's the matter old man? Lose your costume?"

Razor only snarled. "You're not worthy to see it."

"Humph. Pathetic to the end. I guess that's the Malificor way. Say, where's your loser leader, Sparkstrike. Let me guess, he had a bodega to knock over?"

Screaming like the feral creature he had tried so hard to be, Razor charged, knowing full well he was as good as dead.

In the forest, TKO's momentum was squarely stopped by Brigadier, who threw the villain against a large rock outcropping, snapping several ribs in the process. TKO sank to the ground, breathing shallowly, blood on his lips.

"Come on, get up," said Brigadier, pounding the smaller man again and again. "That stupid kid you were palling around with put up more of a fight then this."

Eyes blazing, TKO struck the oversized hero in the face with his remaining gauntlet. Everything in a 30-foot radius was flattened by the shock wave, and the gauntlet shattered, falling to pieces on the ground.

Brigadier winced.

"Pathetic," he said, and crushed TKO's skull like an egg.

Lady Light rolled and soared through the air, laughing like a high school cheerleader as she effortlessly dodged Annie's shots. With lightning speed borne of years of practice, the former police officer reloaded her revolvers and just as quickly, emptied them into the air.

"Well, this has been oodles of fun, but I suppose I better bring it to a close," said the airborne solar cell, as she fired twin blasts at the cowgirl.

Annie dropped her guns, screaming in pain. She held her hands, now blackened and charred from the solar beams, close to her chest. Lady Light alighted on the ground and walked over to the crippled villainess. For long moments she stared at Annie, as if surveying her. Then, with a toss of her golden hair, she kicked the villainess in the face. Annie fell to the ground, blood pouring from her broken nose.

Lady Light turned away, giggling in a high-pitched tone that quickly turned to a shriek of pain. Looking down, she saw Annie, gripping a knife she had buried up to the hilt in her leg. Snarling, Lady Light unleashed a vicious blast at the woman.

Annie Six-Gun died without a sound.

Her opponent bested, the female member of the Protectors inspected her wound. Though deep, the blade had not hit any arteries, and with a small blast, she cauterized it.

The officers watched her with looks of shock and horror. "Why..why did you do that? She was beaten. You didn't have to kill her."

"Not like her life was worth living," she said, before turning back to her bloodstained costume. "This stain had better not be permanent."

Razor collapsed to the ground, broken and bleeding. He had watched as Annie was reduced to cinders. He saw Brigadier walk out of the forest dragging TKO, and could tell he was the last of the Malificors.

"You know, I'm really going to miss beating you failures," said Commander Combat, brushing the dust off his $450,000 costume. "If nothing else, you guys were good for a laugh."

"I know," said Razor in a conversational tone. "Remember the time I broke your leg? Jewelry heist in New York. That was a real knee-slapper"

The Commander rubbed his jaw as if trying to jog his memory. "Oh yeah. But that was that lame suit of yours doing all the work. On your best day you could never hurt me without it."

Razor laughed, deep and loud, like a true villain. Commander Combat looked down in surprise, thinking that last kick had finally knocked the old man silly.

Razor sat down, taking a few moments to catch his breath. "That suit's been toast for months, kid. When I snapped your femur, that was all me."

The patriotic Protector's eyes went wide, then narrowed in fury. He clenched his teeth, and his hands shook with rage.

To Razor, the reaction was priceless. "That's right, you little snot-nosed puke. You got crippled by a pathetic old man. Like you said, we were good for a laugh."

Screaming with rage, Commander Combat struck Razor with a left haymaker. The old man soared fifty feet before landing in a broken heap, a serene smile on his face.

He had gotten the last laugh. It was the only real victory he had ever achieved, but it was enough.

The leader of the Protectors turned away without another word. Lady Light and Brigadier fell in step behind them, sparing not a glance for the deceased. The police watched the heroes pass, some staring at them in disbelief, others looking at the departed villains. One rookie sat on the ground, crying like a child.

The Commander, known as Spencer Drake in another life, turned to the boys in blue. "Well, what are you waiting for? Get some body bags before they stink up the place."

He turned to the other heroes, who appeared just as annoyed as he. "Let's get out of here. I need a shower after touching those freaks."

Despite all their super powers, none of the Protectors noticed the young man with the video camera, capturing the savage murders of the Malificors in all its gruesome glory. It made all the major news stations, but the results were less than what was expected.

Many dismissed the video as a hoax, a cruel practical joke thought up by some sickos who for some disturbing reason supported the monsters who had callously murdered a child. The victim's family made a statement to the media, calling the young cameraman that captured the fight a depraved glory-seeker who should be locked up for all time.

In the end, the Malificors' bodies were incinerated, and their ashes disposed of. Cheaper than a funeral. The video was taken off the air and all copies were destroyed. Attempts were made to find the man who filmed the battle, but none were successful. In truth, the cameraman thought there would be some kind of backlash, and took great care to cover his tracks.

And the Protectors? They went right on being heroes, even getting a ticker-tape parade near the government-funded headquarters in the heart of New York City, while villains around the world made a point to keep a low profile.