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Even as I landed, the police were arriving.

Channel 10’s studios are in an old former factory. A big brick box on the edge of downtown, it had a strip of lawn in front with the sign and a large parking lot on the opposite side.

I had landed in front, not wanting to land in the middle of the trouble without having a chance to look it over first. I’d carried Haley to save time.

“Your armor’s cold,” she said.

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s warm on the inside.”

“Then I get to be inside next time,” she said, rubbing her arms.

Lights ablaze in the night, police cars passed us without stopping, either not noticing or not caring that we were there. Over the radio, I heard the dispatcher give the code calling up the SWAT team.

“I’m going to take a look around the corner and find out what we’re up against,” I said.

“Not without me.”

I made it to the corner in a few long strides. She kept up.

I peered around the edge of the building. Now decapitated, Willy the Weather Worm burned, his pole listing toward the parking lot. Willy’s head had partially smashed in the roof of an SUV.

Five police cars were parked on the street, police behind them, guns out and pointed toward the middle of the parking lot.

Man-machine stood in the parking lot. I’d assumed he was dead.

Almost every superhero seems to have a stable of regular villains, the people who show up again and again, apparently more interested in making the hero’s life hell than committing crimes. Man-machine was one of Grandpa’s.

Just like Grandpa, he was into powered armor. Unlike Grandpa, the armor he created couldn’t fly. Man-machine concentrated on strength and armor. Where Grandpa’s armor looked slim and elegant, Man-machine’s looked blocky and angular. Though only slightly taller than a normal man, the armor was twice as wide.

The laser cannon mounted on his left shoulder explained the red beam of light I’d seen earlier.

Above me, I heard Haley’s voice say, “I didn’t know he was still alive.”

She hung on the wall between the first and second story. Her fingers and toenails dug into the brick. They were longer, more claw-like than I remembered, and dull black in color.

“Looks like it.”

“Do you have a plan?”

“Does calling for backup count?” Yesterday I’d set things up so that my suit would transmit my address along with a message calling for help to League members’ phones. I activated it.

“I suppose,” she said. Her tone of voice suggested that it only barely counted. Her brother, I imagined, would probably already be dismembering Man-machine by now.

In fairness to me, I should mention that neither Grandpa nor anyone else ever succeeded in catching Man-machine. He’d been defeated, but always got away. Stepping out from behind the building and challenging him seemed like several kinds of stupid.

Meanwhile from the parking lot, I could hear a police officer addressing him over a megaphone. “Man-machine,” she said. “It’s been a long time. What brings you out tonight?”

A dry, wheezing laugh filled the parking lot. Grandpa wasn’t the only one who’d put amplifiers into his armor.

“Officer Van Kley? It’s been years. Still working on the front lines? I’d have thought you would be further along in your career by now.”

“I’m a lieutenant,” she said, “ but they still let me out on special occasions.”

“It will be just,“ he gasped for breath, “like old times.”

Lieutenant Van Kley let her megaphone droop for a moment, but then asked, “Are you alright? We have medical personnel on the way. If you need to be looked at--”

“I’m not sick.” He took another breath. “Just old. Call the Rocket if you haven’t already.”

“Man-machine,” she said, ”the Rocket you fought is gone. If the new one’s the same age as the rest of them, he’s just a kid.”

The laser cannon swiveled toward the side of the parking lot opposite the police cars and fired. A car exploded.

“The Rocket. In five minutes.”
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About the author

zoetewey

Bio: Jim Zoetewey grew up in Holland, Michigan, near where L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books in that series. Admittedly, Baum moved away more than sixty years before Jim was even born, but it's still kind of cool. Jim didn't attain his goal of never leaving school, but did prolong his stay as long as possible. He majored in religion and sociology at Hope College, gaining enough credits to obtain minors in ancient civilizations and creative writing—had he thought to submit applications to the relevant departments. He attended Western Theological Seminary for two years. He followed that up by getting a masters degree in sociology at Western Michigan University. Once out of school, he took up the most logical occupation for someone with his educational background: web developer and technical support. Simultaneously, he finished all but three credits of a masters in Information Systems, a degree that's actually relevant to his field. He's still not done. In the meantime, he's been writing stories about superheroes and posting them online at http://legionofnothing.com. He's still not sure whether that was a good idea, but continues to do it anyway. He's also not sure why he's writing this in the third person, but he's never seen an author bio written in first person and doesn't want to rock the boat.

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