Act 1, Scene 7: Honey, I Shrunk Kasumi
A Ranma ½ / Avengers (the superhero group) fusion
by DB Sommer
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the any of the Marvel characters, or the folks from Ranma ½ or any of the other various anime sources I refer to here.
Mopping the sweat from her brow with an embroidered silk handkerchief, Kodachi Kunou gave a satisfied smirk at her handiwork. The modifications were finally completed. It had taken a great deal of sweat and toil for the better part of the last two days, but the results were what she desired. The Iron Rose Mark II armor could now fit into the attaché case she had especially designed for it. True, the case was a bit large; three times the size of a normal attaché case, but it was necessary. The armor was just too bulky to fit in something smaller, even having been redesigned to be collapsible, as it was now.
The need to carry the armor around at all times had become a necessary evil. Recent events, combined with what she had just learned about the stock situation concerning Kunou Industries, clearly indicated someone was targeting her family's business for a takeover of the most hostile kind. Kunou Industries' stock was being purchased at an astronomical rate by a number of different sources. On the surface, it appeared to be little more than normal, if somewhat healthy, trading. However, when she dug a good bit deeper, it became apparent that most of the buyers were nothing more than propped up fronts. The truth was obvious; there was a major player who was preparing to make her family's company their own. Kodachi had not yet uncovered who the mystery person (or persons) behind the plot was, but she had hired a small army of investigators to discover the identity of schemer or company. It was only a matter of time before the truth was uncovered, and she would have a name for the problems plaguing her.
It was also clear that whoever was moving in for the takeover was probably behind the disappearances of both her father and brother. Neither would have parted with the company willingly any more than Kodachi would have. With any of them at the helm, and with their controlling stock, a takeover would be nearly impossible. Without them, it would go smoothly and save the person trying to buy the company billions of yen. That was more than enough motive for any ruthless person or corporation to have the only potential stumbling blocks eliminated, or at least try to eliminate them.
After Misuharu Ohama's mysterious assassination attempt failed, a second effort was made on Kodachi's life. Luckily, security had proven their worth by catching the would-be bomber before he managed to enter Kodachi's offices. Both attempts were nearly identical. The man had been an employee for Kunou Industries for nearly two decades and by all accounts was satisfied with his job and pay. He had a family that he loved dearly. He had no known outstanding debts and his bank account had the expected amount of money in it. There was no reason for him to try to kill her. Once the man had been interrogated, it became obvious his mental condition was similar to Ohama's. He had fallen victim to some sort of brainwashing as well, and no leads had turned up on that clue to date either.
Kodachi had little doubt that it was only a matter of time before this mystery person attacked her again through another surrogate. It would be up to her to uncover the identity of her assailant, or more accurately, it would be up to the Iron Rose. That meant keeping the armor close at hand. The only way to do that was to conceal it. Enter her new attaché case. She was going to show it off to the world. Once people became used to her always walking around with it like it was surgically attached to her, no one would be suspicious that she and the Iron Rose were the same. It was a magnificent plan.
She closed the lid on the case. A mental note was made to redesign the helmet again to make it more collapsible, since she had to use a great deal of muscle to force the top shut and latch it tight. Once it was closed, it looked fine, except for the large size of the case. She grabbed the handle and pulled it off the table it was resting on…
…And promptly screamed in pain as it landed squarely on her foot, the weight of the attaché being far too much for her to carry around.
As she hopped on one foot while trying to hold the other at the same time, Kodachi decided that this was the final straw. She silently vowed she would streamline the armor the first decent chance she got, the additional protection of the current version be damned. In the meantime, she would need to modify the attaché case again, maybe some wheels added to the bottom and a pull cord…
Daredevil craned his neck back to speak to the new impending menace that was threatening the city. From the waist upwards, this strange newcomer was an imposing sight to those that had sight. Midnight blue armor covered his body like a medieval knight hell-bent on some glorious crusade. The faceplate was not meant to be intimidating, with its flat surface and plain features, but that unadorned look was unsettling in some way to those who could see it, perhaps because it lacked character of any kind. The musculature of the armor wasn't exaggerated, but still appeared imposing due to its size and obvious thickness. All things considered, it was an impressive appearance that implied a mysterious power and implied this man might be someone to be reckoned with.
Save for the fact his legs were stilts.
"What's your name again?!" Daredevil shouted upward to the man that, though standing only fifteen feet away from him on the ground, was also five stories high.
"The Stilt Man!"
Daredevil cringed. He was afraid that was what the man had said the first time. "And your powers?!"
"I ASKED YOU WHAT YOUR POWERS ARE!"
"Isn't it obvious?! As you can plainly tell, I am a brilliant inventor whose unappreciated work in hydraulics, as well as dealing with stupid pointy-haired bosses and working fifty-five hours a week for inferior pay, has frustrated me to the point that I have decided to embark on a life of crime! Using my genius in the field of hydraulics, I devised these massive legs to enable me to get really tall and… Hold on! I'm getting tired of shouting!" The Stilt Man's hydraulic legs, which looked pretty much like two plain, thick metal columns with nothing in the way of feet, retracted downward so that he was only fifteen feet high instead of the previous ninety.
"Ah, that's better," Stilt Man said. "My throat was getting dry. I'm going to have to put a microphone in this thing. I didn't realize I'd have to shout so much when I'm so much taller than everyone else. Now, where was I?"
Daredevil sighed almost painfully. "You were talking about building those legs and being tall."
"Right, I built these legs so that I would be a powerful super-villain and can steal lots of money. Now I'm not just a second story man, but the third, fourth, and fifth floors as well."
"I… see." Daredevil casually moved five steps to the right, placed his hands behind his back, and stood still once more. "And the armor you wear? Lots of built in weapons, I suppose?"
Stilt Man gave a nervous laugh. "Not really. My genius is restricted to the field of hydraulics. I haven't got the faintest idea of how to build cool things like sonic guns or heat rays or shooting sticky paste at people. But the armor does protect me from small arms fire and from the fists of costumed adventurers."
While his arms were out of sight behind his back, Daredevil flicked his wrist and a crowbar fell from out of his voluminous robes and into his hands. He made it appear he was listening with rapt attention while he used his body and loose outfit to shield the crowbar from view. He softly played it along the ground until it caught in the opening he had spotted with his radar sense. "So, what you're telling me is, your sole superpower is the ability to look stupid on a pair of adjustable stilts."
"I do not look stupid!"
"Did you look in a mirror?"
"Sure. When I first put the armor on. I looked cool. Maybe a little stumpy with the leg designs, but cool."
"Your stilts weren't extended then, were they?"
"Ah, no, but I couldn't. I mean, it's not like someone's built a two story full-length mirror or something, right?"
Daredevil could barely refrain from just walking away from the whole thing. He raged more at the world than the Stilt Man as he began shouting, "Most super-heroes get cool villains! Like pasty faced guys with wicked senses of humor and laughing gas that can kill, or enigmatic fellows with an affinity for clever riddles that the hero has to figure out to prevent the crimes. Some even get an attractive female thief with a cat motif that feels helplessly drawn to them even while she's in the middle of fighting them. That's what I want, but what do I get? Weenie racecar drivers, men in frog costumes with springs in their feet that have the ability to, get this, jump, and overweight guys that have bad hair and can glide. An owl is not an intimidating creature to anything but a mouse, goddamn it!"
"How dare you make fun of me and my cool super stilts!" Stilt Man shouted. "All right, I'll concede my appearance might not be intimidating, but my abilities can't be beat. You see, by being up here, you can't get me. I'm out of reach. And even if you could get fifteen feet high, I could go up to thirty, even seventy feet or higher. You can't touch me. Hahahaha!"
"But with you up there, you can't get to me either," Daredevil pointed out.
Stilt Man's voice took on a sinister bent, at least as sinister as he could manage with two giant pylons for legs. "That's easy. All I have to do is step on you with one of these 'stupid' hydraulic legs, which can press ten tons under optimal conditions. And these conditions are very optimal, Darepancake." Stilt Man raised his foot and aimed it right at Daredevil's stationary form, humming 'London Bridge is Falling Down' as it descended towards his foe.
Daredevil sighed, waiting until the last moment to nimbly leap to the side. As he jumped, he pulled the crowbar upward and yanked off the manhole cover he had been standing on like a pop top on a bottle of beer.
Stilt Man had only an instant to allow the horror of what had just happened wash over him as he watched his right leg disappear down the hole. There was no time to extend the errant limb to the bottom as his leg fell into the equivalent of a five foot gopher hole on a man not wearing stilts. His downward motion was arrested by his body hitting the pavement at the edge of the hole. Or, to be more specific, his crotch hitting the pavement at the edge of the hole.
"Needed… more… armor… there," Stilt Man squeaked out as he remained exactly where he was, tears streaming from his eyes.
Daredevil walked up to his opponent, twirling something that looked like it was from a UFO catcher machine. "Give up, or do I show you the terrors of my new weapon, the 'testicular claw'?"
"I give up," Stilt Man said in falsetto as he held his arms up in eager surrender.
"Thought so." Daredevil tossed the UFO catcher claw aside. And Stick had told him it was stupid to carry something so useless around. But once you added a terrifying name made up on the spur of the moment, it became a device of unimaginable horror. Superheroing was easy. It was like a courtroom. Half of the fight was won on actual ability, and the other half was won on delivering a good performance.
"Wow, this place is something else." Kyosuke Kasuga whistled in awe. His eyes took in every piece of fantastic equipment that filled the cathedral-sized chamber of the secret sub-level of the local branch of Hydra's headquarters he had been ordered to go to.
"Yes, the cost and impressive array of equipment they have clearly indicates this terrorist organization should have the resources I require for my purposes," Hiroshi Karigari told his companion.
It was the first time the two had met. Kyosuke marked Hiroshi as slightly older than him, somewhere around nineteen while he was a mere seventeen. Where Kyosuke was only a touch on the geeky side, a bit undersized, soft-spoken, and not in particularly good shape, Hiroshi fell under the category of the classic 'nerd'. He was lucky if he weighed one hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet, wore thick glasses, and, judging by the way his hand kept going for his chest, had only recently managed to kick the habit of perpetually wearing a pocket protector. Their new employers frowned on such things in their agents. Pocket protectors simply weren't intimidating. And besides, everyone knew all the nerds joined the Advanced Idea Mechanics. Hydra agents were supposed to be better than that. They were strong. They were dangerous. They could pick up chicks.
Even as Kyosuke sized Hiroshi up, the older youth did the same. He noted that Kyosuke was dressed, not in the standard green suit with yellow stripes that most of the field agents were given, but rather wore a red, loose-fitting jumpsuit. Attached to the back of the neck of the uniform was a helmet with a wide visor attached to the front, which would effectively conceal his identity from casual observation. Hiroshi wore a similar outfit, save that it was green, and he had a simple black mask instead of a visor attachment. Both uniforms marked them as part of the 'super agent' branch of Hydra, which everyone just called the 'Super Villain Squad.'
At the moment, they were alone, the room having been emptied for their upcoming meeting with the Imperial Hydra, the mysterious leader of the organization. Hiroshi had heard from others that no one had even seen the Imperial Hydra face-to-face for years, but he still held the group in an iron grip. He supposed it was one of the advantages of being the boss of your own terrorist organization; you could telecommute whenever you felt like it.
"So what name do you go by?" Hiroshi asked his companion.
"They had a list of code names. I chose Mentallo. I know it's not great, but it was better than some of the other choices. You should have seen what some of those idiots in the promotions section came up with. There were ones like Headlok, Mind-Wave, Think Tank, and the absolute worst, Brain Guy. I think Mentallo was the least bad of the choices. It's not too bad." Kyosuke shrugged.
"You mean you actually got to choose?" There was obvious anger in Hiroshi's voice.
"Why? What's your name?" Kyosuke missed the signs of an obvious diatribe coming up.
"The Fixer! Can you believe that? I sound like a cheap television repairman. It is a totally inappropriate name for field operations. I mean, what's someone going to do if I go charging in and shouting, 'You'd better give up, or the Fixer's going to fix you'? Please, they'll think I'm there to neuter their pets."
"That is pretty lame," Kyosuke agreed.
Having a sympathetic ear, Hiroshi continued, "What really stinks is I had a really good name picked out: Techno. I mean, it's great. It sounds much more sophisticated than the 'Fixer.' You just get visions of me with my high-tech equipment doing all sorts of unpleasant things with a wide array of advanced weapons to the good guys."
Kyosuke nodded his head. "Have to agree with you there. I'm a lot happier with Mentallo now than I was before. So you're a high-tech gadget guy?"
"Yep. Inventive genius. I can design and build all sorts of things. Ray guns, magnetic couplers, anti-gravity flying units, a version of Windows that runs without getting error messages every hour. Yourself?"
"High level telepath. I can read minds, and attack people with mental blasts. I have telekinesis as well, but I don't use it much. It gives me a splitting headache whenever I use it."
"Take aspirin for that?"
"Yes, but it doesn't really help all that much. Besides, super-villains can't chug aspirin in the middle of fight. Someone could beat me up while I was trying to get the goddamn stupid childproof caps off. Usually I just suffer when I use it and down half a bottle when I get back to base."
"I could rig up a portable dispenser unit so you could take some in the middle of a fight without it costing you a punch to the gut."
"Would you? That would help a lot."
"Sure. Once I get a few hours, I'll whip it up for you. It would probably be best to build it into the helmet right next to the extendible helmet microphone. We'll hook up a tube and when you pull out the microphone, the dispenser tube will be right next to it. That way no one will even realize what you're doing."
"I am an genius inventor. I couldn't call myself that if I couldn't handle the simple stuff." Hiroshi primped himself up as he basked in the accolade.
Kyosuke found himself liking his fellow agent, which he could not say for most of his other co-workers. Most members of Hydra seemed just a bit on the psychotic side. Those who weren't outright psychos tended to be either fanatics, opportunists, or worst of all, lawyers. Even the psychotics didn't get along with them, which was probably why Hydra's legal branch was easily the most feared unit in the entire organization.
But Hiroshi was different. Kyosuke almost felt an instant bond form with his fellow Super Agent. Since whatever tensions that normally came between two strangers had disappeared almost instantly, Kyosuke decided to ask some questions of a more personal nature and see if Hiroshi was willing to open up. "What made you decide to join Hydra anyway? No offense, but you don't seem to be the usual type who joins."
"I know, I'm not," Hiroshi admitted. "It all goes back to my college days. There was this girl there named Marie. She was the most beautiful and nicest girl I had ever met. Once she crashed into me, smashing those oh so perfect breasts into my face, I fell for her instantly. But I knew she couldn't feel the same way about me."
"She was a lesbian, wasn't she?" Kyosuke spat with an unusual amount of venom.
"Ah, no." Hiroshi was caught off-guard by the ferocity of the comment. "She was, you know, popular. I was just this poor, geeky, skinny, mousy, little nerd that perpetually went around with a pocket protector. What could she see in someone like me, whose future probably consisted of getting a job in the computer industry making a six figure salary, has a stable personality, and would stay faithful to her and treat her like a queen since she's the best thing that could possibly happen to a nerd like me and I knew it? No. She could have had her pick of any of the popular guys who were handsome, rich, suave, and could have her as a trophy wife while carrying on affairs with their secretaries behind her back, since they're rich and handsome and every good-looking golddigger is gunning for them, just waiting for the moment when he gets tired of his wife and gets a divorce? Why would she choose me when she could have all that?" Hiroshi's shoulder slumped in defeat.
Kyosuke said, "You're so right. Good guys like us always finish last, which is one of the reasons we've become bad guys. So we can finish first and get back at those who have wronged us. So, you're going to become a super-villain so that's she'll be hopelessly drawn to you, since we all know that women secretly want dangerous men deep in their hearts instead of nice guys like they claim?"
"Ah, no. That's not why I'm doing this. Not at all."
"You're not joining Hydra as some twisted form of revenge on a girl who rejected you?" Kyosuke sounded disappointed.
"No. I pretty much resigned myself to her remaining beyond my reach. So instead I made a robot version of her. She's identical in every way, except her hair color is pink and her breasts are just a touch bigger. Her personality is a little different, but she's still sweet and caring and actually likes to talk to me. We even spend quality time doing things together."
"Actually, it sounds like you're pretty together. I don't know why you'd want to join an organization like Hydra," Kyosuke said.
"It's because I need a lot of money, and quick. I ran out of it while building Marie. She runs fine, except for the tiny problem with shielding for her radioactive core."
"What problem is that?"
"She doesn't have any. She leaks radiation like a Russian nuclear power plant. I can't spend more than five minutes with her, or I'd be glowing in the dark."
Kyosuke's eyes widened. "How did you get a radioactive power core, on your own, before you joined Hydra? Did you steal it from a government facility?"
"No. I got it by scraping off the glow-in-the-dark material on those watches Greenpeace handed out while they were on campus protesting environmental degradation."
"I sense a twisted bit of irony there."
"Anyway, since I ran out of cash, building robots is expensive after all, I had to get some money quick. Becoming a member of an elite terrorist organization seemed the best way to raise funds fast. I'm not sorry about it, even if they did give me a tacky name. Now how about you? Why did you become a member of Hydra?"
Kyosuke began to tremble slightly. "Oh, I have reasons, very good reasons. It all started in my second year of high school. I met this," Kyosuke's voice choked up, rendering him unable to speak.
Hiroshi patted him on the back. "If it's too hard for you…?"
"No. I can do this. I have to do this." Kyosuke took a moment to compose himself. "Anyway, I had just moved into the district. On the first day there, I decided to go for a walk. I was just walking down this long flight of steps when I caught this red hat that had been blowing on the wind. I looked up, and it turned out it belonged to the most beautiful girl I had ever seen; it was love at first sight. My heart belonged to her forever in that moment. Her name was Madoka. I should have told her how I felt, but I was too awestruck to speak, and I didn't want to scare her off with that kind of wild talk. We had a brief discussion about the number of steps that were there, and, after mentally tampering with her mind so she agreed that the number I counted was correct, she left. I thought I would never see her again."
"So it's over a woman too, just like me?"
"Yes. Isn't it always about them? Anyway, we did meet again. It was like Fate, or maybe even Destiny. It turned out she not only attended the same school as me, but was also in the same class. She had something of a reputation of being a wild gang girl, but I didn't care. There was something in those eyes I saw on those steps that day that told a different story than the one that her trashy reputation had given her. Just one look in those pools of brown, and I knew there was a good woman worth loving underneath a rough exterior. It was true love that had touched my heart. I knew this was the one woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."
"It sounds very romantic," Hiroshi agreed.
"And then, there was this incident. It involved this underclassman named Hikaru. When I was on my way to morning classes, I saw her get in an argument with this guy who drove her to school on his motorcycle. He didn't like the way it ended when he left. I found that out when I was going home at the end of the day. Thoughts of Madoka were plaguing my mind when I saw Hikaru being accosted by the guy and several of his friends. It was pretty obvious they were going to do some unsavory things to her, and being the sort of person that I am, I was going to go down there and defend her honor."
"Let me guess, after defending her, she became enamored with you, and you ended up in a sordid love triangle with her and that Madoka girl, who turned out to be her best friend?"
"If only it could have been something so simple! It was something much, much worse than that!" Kyosuke wailed. "As I was about to go down there, Madoka showed up. It was obvious Hikaru knew her, as she called out 'Madoka-sama' and hid behind her for protection. Madoka stared those guys off for a while and told them to leave before they got themselves into trouble. She was so heroic, defending her friend like that and risking bodily harm for her. I fell in love with her all over again. The guys didn't back off. They attacked, but Madoka beat the hell out of them way better than I ever could. I'd say she's at least as tough as a hand-to-hand Hydra combat specialist."
"A beautiful girl who can handle herself in a fight and stands up for those that can't defend themselves. Sounds like she's a girl worth loving, all right," Hiroshi agreed.
"But you haven't heard the tragic end to this tale. Anyway, she beat up the whole lot of them and left them lying unconscious on the ground. Hikaru was cheering loudly and telling the whole lot of them that they could never stand-up to her Madoka-sama, and I was inclined to agree. In fact, I was just about to go down there and congratulate her when it happened. She…" Kyosuke's voice momentarily choked up.
"Yes?" Hiroshi asked, drawn into this tale of broken hearts and woe.
"Damn it, man, tell me!"
"She grabbed Hikaru roughly by her hair, told the guys that was her 'bitch' and kissed her full on the lips in front of everyone!"
"The woman I loved with all my heart was a lesbian!" Kyosuke continued on, failing to note Hiroshi's speechless state. "That's why I joined Hydra. I want them to boost my mental powers so I can control everyone on Earth. Then I'm going to wipe out the immoral disease of lesbianism by removing it from every mind on the planet."
"I'll get the gay guys too. I don't really care about them, but I wouldn't want people accusing me of being sexist or anything. But all the lesbians are going to be made to go straight, so they don't maim the hearts of pure young men such as myself, and emotionally scar them for the rest of their lives."
Deciding, "…" was probably not accurately describing events, Hiroshi managed to say, "That's got to be one of the most tragic stories I've ever heard. My heart goes out to you." Actually, it was one of the most pathetically stupid stories Hiroshi had ever heard and his heart was staying right where it was, but he was damned if he would say that out loud. Kyosuke was a telepath, and could probably wipe out Hiroshi's mind if he said what he really thought of someone willing to change his whole life because he mistakenly hit on a dyke. Hiroshi made a mental note to invent some kind of psionic shielding, just in case Kyosuke decided he was a lesbian trapped in a man's body or something and tried wiping his brain out.
Their conversation was interrupted by the lights dimming and the main viewscreen of the chamber suddenly activating. A green masked face dominated three quarters of the screen, filling it completely. The face gave those in the chamber the impression of talking to a colossus that could crush them like fleas if it so chose.
The reaction was instantaneous as both Kyosuke and Hiroshi slipped into their roles as 'The Fixer' and 'Mentallo.' They threw their helmets on, stood at attention, raised their hands over their heads, and shouted, "Hail Hydra! Cut off one head and two more shall grow to take its place!"
"Oh, shut up. I don't have time for that silly rant," The Imperial Hydra said in a deep baritone as he waved his hand in irritation.
Both youths looked at each other in surprise. Neither had met their supreme commander before, but that was not the kind of response either had expected. Most Hydra sub-commanders had a tendency to flog those members who did not repeat the mantra correctly and enthusiastically.
"Here's what you two are going to do," the Imperial Hydra continued, not caring in the slightest at their surprise. "During a recent raid on an A.I.M. base we captured an experimental prototype of a device they were developing. It's a machine designed to magnify a telepath's abilities several-fold. It--"
"Joy! Now my plans will at long last become reality," Mentallo gushed.
In response to the interruption, the Imperial Hydra flicked a switch. The gushing became a sporadic dance of pain as Mentallo found the metal floor plate under his feet suddenly electrified. He continued hopping from one foot to the next for several seconds until the power was turned off.
The Imperial Hydra gave a satisfied muttering at the results. A floor panel slid out to the side and an odd-looking stand rose from its secret recess from below. Upon the top of the stand was an oversized, red metal helmet; about three times the size of a normal human head. A series of spiky electrodes lined its surface, and sparks of electricity occasionally danced between the electrodes.
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen," the Fixer said aloud.
Mentallo jumped away from his companion, anticipating a shock to be delivered for the comment.
"You are correct," the Imperial Hydra agreed. "A.I.M. has no sense of aesthetics. It all comes from having a loser with a giant head running their organization. Now, as I was saying, I want it field-tested. Since you're the strongest telepath we have-- actually, you're the only one we have, Mentallo-- you will employ the device in the field. The Fixer will function as your bodyguard, on the off-hand chance something goes wrong."
"I'm not wearing that stupid thing," Mentallo protested. Another series of shocks was administered to him, resuming the dance. "Hey, OW! that’s not fair! OW! You didn't electroOW! cute him for saying it was stupid. OW!"
"I was agreeing with our illustrious leader's opinion, not protesting a direct order he gave," the Fixer pointed out.
"Oh, OW! right."
Once again the current was turned off. As the pain subsided, Mentallo decided to keep his mouth shut from now on. He'd just have his new, technologically oriented friend redesign the thing so it didn't look quite so ridiculous, and in the meantime he would mind blank everyone so they didn't remember they had seen him in it.
Again the Imperial Hydra spoke. "I warn you, there is a limit of twenty square kilometers on the device, so don't get too excited over it. Still, that should be enough to cover one ward of the Tokyo district. Your target will be Nerima."
Mentallo could barely contain his eagerness. "At last, I can begin the eradication of lesbianism from this entire planet, and it all starts in Nerima."
"No!" the Imperial Hydra shouted. "This is just a basic field test. I want you to cause all of them to enter a trance and nothing else. No mental tampering whatsoever. And make sure that you ease them into it. I don't want any casualties in the area. Make sure people driving in cars pull over first, anyone cooking turns their stoves off, and that everyone resolves such potentially hazardous situations before you put them fully under. I will be overseeing the operation personally. Should you disobey my orders in the slightest, your punishment will be severe. Do you understand your orders?"
"Yes, Sir! Hail Hydra!" the Fixer shouted.
"You're sure I can't tamper with even a single lesbian's mind? I'll be in and out so quick you won't even realizOW! Hail Hydra! Turn off the shocks! OW! Hail Hydra! Hail Hydra!"
"Supervillains," the Imperial Hydra muttered grumpily. "Give me the good old days when we were nothing but mercenaries and disenfranchised military men any time. Now go." The screen went black.
The Fixer and Mentallo looked at each other and sighed. The Fixer said, "It looks like the game's afoot."
"Yeah. And speaking of feet, do you think you can whip me up a set of insulated boots? I have this bad feeling I'm going to be putting them to good use."
With the last of the vegetables done frying, Kasumi quickly removed the skillet from the stove. She placed them next to the other vegetables she had cooked earlier. Dinner was almost ready. Just a little more mixing, and adding a few spices, and everything would be finished, save the meat, which needed to cook in the oven for another hour before it was ready. Akane would be home by then, and the entire family and guests would dine together.
A soft sigh escaped Kasumi's lips. It was only during these quiet moments alone in the kitchen, a place that was her sole domain, that the eldest Tendou girl had a chance to think. She had a lot on her mind, most of it relating to the new boy who had entered the lives of her and her family. Actually, all of it had to do with Ranma, and what his presence meant.
The date from the other night, the one she and Akane had been forced to go on thanks to Nabiki's machinations, had been pleasant, if uneventful. The plan she and Akane had come up with had been executed just as they thought it would be. Since both girls had been there, Ranma did not even try to put the moves on either of them, no doubt because he was afraid the other girl would be offended at the attention. Of course, it was only as they set out that the worst-case scenario occurred to Kasumi: what if Ranma tried to seduce both of them. Luckily, nothing like that had occurred. Ranma had not hit on either of them, and had been a perfect gentleman. If anything, he had seemed awkward at being in both their presences. It was the sort of behavior she would have expected from an older man, rather than the normally hormonally driven maniacs younger men tended to be. Ranma's well-mannered behavior had been a welcome surprise.
The dinner itself had been nice. Kasumi rarely ate out anymore. Apart from financial concerns, she didn't know that many people that she could dine with. There were neighbors, but they weren't the sort one took out to dinner. Most of her high school friends were long gone, now living lives of their own or continuing their schooling, and Kasumi had fallen out of touch with them long ago. There wasn't really anyone, outside of her family. Certainly there were no romantic interests. None at all, or so it seemed.
But then, Ranma's presence was her father's attempted solution to that little quandary, wasn't it? Of course, that problem could apply to any of the Tendou girls, but Kasumi's thoughts turned inevitably to herself. Ranma really wasn't acceptable marriage material. There was no bigger turn-off than a younger man, as far as she was concerned. Except it was sort of difficult to think of Ranma in those terms, especially after seeing him dressed in the tuxedo last night. He was a centimeter taller and a good bit larger than her. The impressive physique he boasted was one she had seen on very few men, older or otherwise, and helped to mask his true age. He just didn't appear all that much younger than her, at least physically.
However, his attitude was a different matter. There were definite signs of immaturity there. The sparring sessions with his father told the story. During those times, taunting and childish behaviors were the norm. There were occasions when he behaved as though he were younger than fourteen. Still, there were other times when he didn't. He had acted like a gentleman on the date. To her knowledge, he had not attempted to hit on Akane or Nabiki either. Given their mutual attitudes toward their potential husband, Kasumi was certain she would have seen some reaction on their part. In an odd way, that made her feel good. Not that she wanted Ranma to make a pass at her, but if she was the one he tried to get the interest of first, it would have been sort of reassuring in a way. It would have been a kind of sign that she was still desirable to members of the opposite sex. No one had tried to ask her out, or come on to her in any way, since she had graduated high school. She was beginning to have doubts about her looks, which she thought were good enough, if a bit average. However, if a boy like Ranma thought she was more interesting than a cute girl like Akane, or someone as athletic as Nabiki, it would have been very flattering.
It took Kasumi a moment to realize what direction her thoughts had somehow turned to. That wasn't good. She had not started thinking of Ranma in that way, but now she was finding the faintest hint of doubt in her mind. It was ridiculous. Both Akane and Nabiki were far better suited to marry him than she was. She had no interest in him in that way. All she had to do was open Ranma's eyes so he saw things that way too. During the date she had given several suggestions to Ranma that informed him of what a nice girl Akane was and that she would be a suitable partner to him. Kasumi had even gone to 'powder her nose' after dropping the hints, hoping nature would take its course and Ranma would express some interest in Akane while she was gone. But that had not happened, and both were just as she had left them when she returned. There had to be something she could do to convince Ranma, some way of demonstrating to him that Akane or Nabiki was suitable marriage material.
While Kasumi pondered the matter, her eyes fell upon a medical textbook that was laying on the shelves, lodged between several rarely used cookbooks. So that was where she had left the book she had borrowed from Tofu several weeks ago. She had searched for it for days, wondering where it had been misplaced. Originally, she had been fearful it had been mistakenly thrown out and she would have to pay to replace it, but then the matter of Ranma came up and distracted her to the point that she had completely forgotten about it.
But now it was in front of her, undoubtedly placed there by her father or Akane in an effort to help with the cleaning. This would be an ideal time to return it. It would only take a few moments to finish mixing the vegetables. Then she could go to Dr. Tofu's while the roast cooked and be back just as it was done.
Grabbing the book and her purse, Kasumi quickly left her home and headed down the street.
Akane was sitting at the reception desk, finishing some paperwork for Dr. Tofu. The last of the patients had departed a half hour ago. After cleaning up, Tofu had sat down and spoke to Akane briefly. He mentioned something about hoping to put the finishing touches on the apparatus that had been delivered to him, but was depressed over having to complete some paperwork that, while simple, was also time-consuming. Eager for any opportunity to help Dr. Tofu, Akane insisted on completing what she could for him. The smile he directed towards her was more than enough reward. She'd have written a copy of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for him if it meant receiving another smile like that.
She was just finishing the last sheet of papers and stapling them together when Kasumi entered the office. Instantly Akane's joy was dampened. "What brings you here?"
"I have to return this to Dr. Tofu." Kasumi held the book up for Akane to see.
"You can just leave it on my desk, and I'll give it to him." Akane was barely able to conceal her displeasure.
"Oh no. I wouldn't want to trouble you. I'm sure you have more important things to do."
"I'm done with them."
"Well, it's sweet of you to offer, but since I'm the one who borrowed it, and was so late in returning it, I'd feel better if I apologized personally."
Sensing Kasumi would not be turned from her course of action, Akane finally relented and informed her sister that Tofu was in back. As Kasumi left the room, Akane got up and retrieved her jacket, schoolbooks, and cane. Exiting the building, she knew that as good as her mood had been before, now it was just as dark. A feeling made twice as bad since she had been so happy before.
Ideally, she had hoped Dr. Tofu would complete his device and show her how it worked, or at least revealed what it would do. However, with Kasumi visiting, he would do what he always did when she was around: stumble into things and babble incoherently. It was a tragedy in the making. Akane knew the situation he had with Kasumi was terrible, even if it all came from the basic fact that Tofu obviously liked her oldest sister. But he became a complete gibbering idiot when she was around. They couldn't have a life together, not like that. No, it would be far better for all involved if Kasumi married Ranma. Then Tofu could get over his disability and turn his attentions to someone else. Someone who would work side-by-side with him, complimenting him as both a human being and in his work as a doctor. It made perfect sense. Now if only she could convince Tofu of those simple truths…
Looking away from the schematics, Tofu Ono finished connecting the last circuit board with the final stabilizer. Satisfied the connection would hold, he did a quick run through. The diagnostic system showed everything was operational and functioning at one hundred percent efficiency.
And that was it. It was done, the project completed at last. The finished product was not much to look at. Outwardly, there were only a couple of computers lined two walls of the private addition he had behind his offices, taking up most of the space. There was nothing special about their appearance, nothing that would make a casual observer believe they were anything other than expensive medical equipment for peering into the corners of human beings where the naked eye would ultimately fail. A multitude of wires led between the machines, and a person did have to be careful not to trip over them. Again, all of the wires were inconspicuous, bearing the same black rubber insulation around them, making them appear ordinary as well.
The only part of the machine that might have made someone take a second look was located in the center of the room, which was cleared away so that nothing was in it. At the edge of the empty area was a pair of identical metal stands. They stood two meters apart, opposite one another, each bore a metal and plastic projection near the top, both of them pointing to the center of the open area of the room. However, their outward appearance told nothing of what their function truly was.
It had taken two months and every spare moment he had, and this was what he had to show for it: the reassembled genius of Henry Pym, his dear departed American friend, and genius it was. The machine, at least in theory, could irradiate a person with a form of energy, (which Henry had called 'Pym Particles') which allowed them to access another dimension. The theory held that, once irradiated, the person could then use the dimension to affect their very body mass by shunting it to the dimension so they could shrink in size, or to gain mass so they could become a true giant. It all depended on what setting the machine was on when the beam struck them. According to the notes that came with the device, Henry originally stumbled on the effects when experimenting with it in gas form. During the initial accident, he had several misadventures with the local ant population that had nearly killed him. But fascination overcame apprehension, and he continued working on the theories behind the shrinking until discovering exactly how the gas worked. He then spent all of his time, money, and energy into converting the accessibility of Pym Particles into machine form and permanently irradiating his cells with it, thereby eliminating the need to walk around continuously with a pack of gas canisters.
There was a curious note in the papers. Henry mentioned that after his adventures in the anthill, he considered creating a device to control ants instead of perfecting the machine. However the need to be able to use Pym Particles reliably had overridden this odd desire. Tofu had to admit it was for the best. What could one do with an army of ants at his beck and call? Raid picnics?
There was one problem with the device: it was untested. Henry had only just finished the prototype when a car accident claimed his life. Luckily, he had the foresight to create a will, leaving all of the equipment to Tofu, whom he trusted enough to share this important knowledge with. Tofu himself was no scientist, and probably should have turned the materials and equipment to those more knowledgeable in science that could more properly utilize both the machines and theories behind them. He should have, but he didn't.
Being the only one bearing the knowledge gave Tofu a heady feeling, and Henry was the one who had sent him the device. Perhaps he knew something that Tofu didn't, and that it was best that he tested the apparatus and made certain it worked before unveiling it to the world. Of course, that would mean purchasing some lab rats and maybe cats and dogs from one of the local kennels to measure the effects of the rays on living creatures. Months would have to be spent studying the possible side effects that could result in death, or something worse, just in case Henry's theories were completely wrong. Maybe if he was lucky, Tofu could publish a paper on Pym Particles so people would know what role Henry (and to a lesser degree, himself) had in the discovery of this amazing scientific achievement that could revolutionize the world.
Besides, if it worked, Tofu admitted to himself that he wanted to be the first (technically second) human to receive the abilities the particles could grant. The idea of being able to control his height appealed to the doctor in some weird way. It was silly, really, but he had always wanted to know what it would be like to be tall enough to play basketball. The sport was a real passion for him, and had he been a foot taller and more coordinated, he'd have probably tried to live his dream of entering professional sports instead of medicine. This was a one shot opportunity fate had graced him with, and there would be no second chances. He wanted to be able to actually slam-dunk just once in his life.
Tofu was lost in thoughts of running rampant over the likes of Jordan and Bird when an all too familiar voice said, "Hello, Doctor."
"Ka… Ka… Kasumi." Instantly Tofu's glasses fogged up and his heart raced until the sound of its trip hammer pace filled his ears. What was it he had been thinking about? Basketball? Perhaps he should pass one to Betty-chan and invite Kasumi to try-outs. He bet she could slam too.
Kasumi seemed unmindful of the sudden change that had come over the doctor. "I've finally returned that book you loaned me several weeks ago." She smiled and handed him the book
Tofu accepted the tome and turned a gaze of pure adulation upon it. "Thank you, Kasumi. You're such a wonderful cook." He then proceeded to rip out a page and devour it.
"You're so silly." She unleashed a smile that caused a momentary pause in his eating. Kasumi had to admit, as nice as the doctor tended to be, he was easily the silliest man she had ever met. He was always acting funny around her. She could not remember the last time he had said anything serious. However, one thing he always managed to do was bring a smile to her face. He had a genuine gift for that.
As she gave Tofu a bemused expression, Kasumi noticed the stands with the metal projections. She moved to the center of the room to examine the curious objects, assuming they were some sort of medical equipment. She vaguely remembered Akane mentioning that he had received some from a friend in the United States. "What's this?" she asked.
Tofu looked down in his hands. "Page 180." He proceeded to eat it.
Kasumi gave him another smile, and stepped closer to one of the projectors. It was an interesting device, even if she didn't understand what its purpose was.
Tofu, his hunger now somewhat abated, wondered if he should ask Kasumi to play a game of basketball with him, or just stand around and bask in the glow of her presence. It suddenly occurred to him that the lighting in the room was dim, and he decided to make things brighter. He adjusted a dial and hit a button.
A purplish glow formed around the projector Kasumi was staring intently at. She backed away from it uncertain of what she might have done to set it off. Turning, she was about to ask the doctor if it was supposed to glow when the world suddenly turned white and she felt herself smothered in some sort of tent that had been cut loose and thrown on top of her.
Tofu turned around to ask Kasumi if she would keep score when he became vaguely aware that she was no longer in the room. Laughing as he mumbled, "Kasumi," he exited the room, hoping to find her and see if she wanted to play some hoops. It suddenly occurred to him that he could substitute Betty-chan's head for the basketball. Betty-chan was always ready to lend a helping body part to the cause. She was a good personal assistant that way.
Kasumi struggled within the confines of the voluminous fabric she found herself suddenly enmeshed in. She had no idea what happened. One second, everything was fine. The next thing she knew there was a flash of purple and then she was trapped in this mysterious material that felt like a mass of thick woven rope. As she continued to shift through the material, she realized something else; she was completely naked. For a moment, her struggles ceased as her hands covered her nude form, then she remembered that no one that could possibly see her. She paused for a moment to try and think things through.
This was all very strange. Had she been somehow rendered unconscious by the light, then stripped and thrown into the material? No. There was no moment when that could have happened. She had been disoriented by the glow, not knocked out. Besides, Dr. Tofu had been in the room, and he would never do something like that. No, there had to be some other explanation. Perhaps the machine was a device that stripped people of their clothes and put on a surgical smock to prepare them to be examined, and there had been a malfunction. It was a stretch, but Kasumi was grasping at any explanation just as a drowning person would clutch at a life preserver. Something had to have caused this bizarre situation, but she was uncertain as to what it could be, so the somewhat weak explanation she had come up with would have to suffice for the moment.
Kasumi began crying out for help, shouting as loudly as she could, but her pleas went unheeded. She was not claustrophobic, but everything that was happening was just too much to handle. Feeling as though this white prison would hold her forever, she was about to give up hope when she saw a break in the material. There was a hole in the fabric, and beyond it, daylight. Hope returning, Kasumi moved as fast as she could, pushing and fighting her way through every inch of the material, which seemed to fold in on itself as she moved, allowing her to make little headway. Eventually her persistence paid off as she forced her way through and crawled out of the hole. She stood up, basking in the clear flowing air of freedom, unmindful of her unclothed state.
The first indication she had that things were even worse than she had imagined was when she stood up and received her first good look at the room around her. At first, she was convinced she had somehow fallen into a fun house at some warped carnival, but then she recognized the familiar layout of the room and the giant-proportioned furniture.
"But I didn't even see any bottles that said, 'Drink Me'," she protested as visions of Wonderlands danced through her head.
It took a moment for the now diminutive girl to regain her composure. Panicking would solve nothing. She had to deal with the situation that had been forced upon her, no matter how strange it was. She just had to 'deal with it'. In some ways, it was similar to when her mother died. The accident had happened quickly, and there were no explanations anyone could give as to why it happened; it just had. This was the along the same lines. Sometimes things happened and you dealt with them. Back then, handling the situation meant accepting her mother's death and going on to take over many of her mother's chores and responsibilities since she was the oldest and her father was a basket case. Now it meant being trapped in a world that had been made inexplicably big, discovering how to become just as big as everything else, and not get eaten by any giant wandering animals that might mistake her for their next meal in the process.
A multitude of frenzied questions formed in her mind, and she tried to figure out answers as best she could with the minuscule amount of information on hand. Either she had shrunk or the entire room had been enlarged. In light of the fact it was she who had been bathed in the purple light, it seemed likely it was the former. How had she been shrunk? She had been standing in the open area between the two metal things, and the one she had been examining had glowed purple right before the world shifted before her eyes. Probably the machine had done it. Had anyone else been shrunk? The only other person in the room had been Dr. Tofu. She looked around, but saw no sign of him, either large or small. Had Dr. Tofu shrunk her intentionally, or had it been an accident? Her mind failed to conceive of any possible reason that he would do this to her on purpose, unless it was some sort of joke he was pulling on her, he did tend to be silly. However, if that was the case, and Kasumi thought it very unlikely, it was not funny in the slightest. If it was an accident, perhaps he was going to reverse the process. But why had he left without telling her what had happened? It made very little sense. The only other explanation that came to her was that the machine had malfunctioned, and Dr. Tofu mistakenly believed she had been disintegrated. But even that sounded far-fetched. There were too many questions and no way to get answers.
A light breeze made Kasumi shiver. The first order of business was to get some clothes. Now that she thought about it, and had a chance to look at the giant 'tent' she had been trapped in, the reason for her current state of undress became obvious. Somehow, she had been shrunk, but was not lucky enough to have her clothes follow suit. Certainly she could not go about naked, even as tiny as she was, which she estimated to be no more than a half-centimeter tall. Since it was unlikely Tofu had any dolls lying around, that meant trying to create some form of clothing from the materials at hand.
Looking at her former dress, she began to lose hope. There was no way she could tear the fabric. It was so large now, and she was so tiny and weak. If she had a pair of scissors, or even a knife, it would have been different, but with the way things were, the situation appeared hopeless. Despite her distress, she grabbed the material and gave a prayer that she might rip out a tiny enough strip to at least cover the important parts. Taking a firm hold on the material and bracing herself, she used all of her might to try to tear off a strip of cloth.
The material gave way as easily as tearing a sheet of tissue paper. The lack of resistance surprised her, and she fell onto her bare bottom with an audible thump. Rubbing her sore derriere, she looked at the strip of material in her hands. How very curious. She had been certain it would take much more strength than she could muster to tear that much material. Examining the strip of material in hand, Kasumi judged it to be barely enough to cover her chest and bottom. Hoping it was more than just a fluke, Kasumi went for a larger piece of cloth. This time it was a little harder due to the amount of material she was tearing, but it too unexpectedly gave way to her strength with only a minimum of resistance.
Kasumi looked the new piece of fabric over. It was large enough to serve as a sort of shift if she wrapped it around her torso. It would end midway over her thighs, sufficient to keep her from being too exposed, though it would be a bit drafty until she could secure some underwear.
She began wrapping the piece around her torso, but as she tried to bring it around her back, she encountered an unexpected obstruction. The material pushed against something protruding from her back where nothing should be. Moreover, Kasumi felt whatever the material brushed against as though it was no different from the skin on her back. Slowly, painfully slowly, the young woman turned her head to look over her shoulder, nearly paralyzed with fear of the unknown.
Extending from her back were not one, but two wings. They were clear and insect-like, and had most definitely not been there before she had been rendered small. There was a slight look of trepidation on her face as the wing twitched, and now that she was paying attention to it, she could feel the wing itself moving as thought it was another limb, a thin gossamer-like one, but definitely an extension of herself. Despite the fact it was a body part completely foreign to her sensibilities, it did not feel strange, at least not in the way it should have. As impossible as it seemed, it felt natural, as though it had always been a part of her. The fear drifted away with that realization.
A secret thrill replaced the vacuum left by the fear. "I wonder if I can fly?" she softly whispered. The thought became reality as the wings started fluttering at a blurring speed. The pull of gravity on her form lessened. She became light and the ground seemed to fall away from her feet. Her heart soared in conjunction with her body as she rose in the air.
No fear remained, despite the fact any rational person would have been terrified at the idea that she had been shrunk, a pair of wings had mysteriously grown out of her back, and they she flying under their own power. But not for Kasumi. It was like a fantasy come true. She had always dreamed of flying like a bird when she was a small child. She wanted to be able to go anywhere and do anything, just like birds could do, living life without any boundaries, even those created by the Earth itself. Briefly she had entertained notions of becoming a pilot, but then she took her first plane ride and learned how inelegant and unreal it was. It was more like riding a train than real flying, and there could be no substitute for the real thing.
But not this. This was as real as it could get, or perhaps surreal would have been a more appropriate term. Regaining her original size was irrelevant when comparing it to the far more enjoyable power of flight that was now hers to command. Once confident she could stay in the air, she tested herself by flying in basic patterns, seeing what it felt like to move back and forth, and up and down without the benefit of matter beneath her feet. The basics were quickly mastered, and soon her flight changed to include more elaborate movements. Eventually they became complicated aerial maneuvers that would have made an acrobat turn green with envy. It was as natural as walking to her, which should have been impossible. How could a person instinctively know how to fly? It made no sense, but then nothing in the situation did. She would just relax and go with the flow.
Thoughts of seeking Tofu were forgotten as Kasumi paused only long enough to wrap the strip of cloth around her, being mindful of her wings, and exited the building by flying out an open window and into the wide open world beyond. Air blasted past her face, and she took a moment to adjust to the changes that a greater flight speed outdoors could give. Still, she was not afraid. Everything looked smaller, but then it was supposed to when one was flying. Being able to look down at the world below, living a life without the boundaries that pressed in on her at every side, was a sort of freedom she would bask in and never give up. She swore that as she did a cartwheel in mid-air, never.
Kasumi had made it no more than several meters in her flight to freedom when a sudden pressure, like a hundred tiny needles, slipped past her skull and pierced her brain. It was like a headache brought on by eating ice cream too fast, only several times worse. Still poised in mid-air, she fluttered in pain, then started to head to the ground as she lost control. However, just as quickly as the sensation came, it vanished, taking the majority of the pain with it. Kasumi quickly righted herself and flew a far more conservative course close to the ground. All that remained of the mysterious wave of pain was a sort of scratchy feeling inside her head, similar to the leftover remnants of a hangover several hours old, just a tiny bit of queasiness that was surely drifting away.
At first, Kasumi was uneasy, wondering if the headache was related to her transformation. However, there was no further pain, and the skies above beckoned her with a siren's call. Soon, caution fell away to the euphoria that only the newly discovered joy of flying could give. Wind whipped through her auburn hair as she soared high and low, enjoying a perspective of the world she never imagined existed. Multi-colored rooftops dotted the landscape from high above, rendering the neighborhood she had spent her entire life in unrecognizable. Light breezes she had never consciously registered became useful tools or bothersome impediments. Now she understood how a bird might feel, always apart from the world of ground that passed by far below.
It was getting dark, which was something of a relief to her. As small as she was, it would be difficult, but far from impossible for someone to spot a small flying girl. Actual identification of her as Kasumi Tendou would be unlikely due to her size, but why take the chance and set the neighbors' gossipy tongues wagging from one end of Nerima to the other? The darkness would be her shield and hide her from prying eyes as she enjoyed herself to the fullest.
Kasumi noted that the neighborhood seemed unnaturally quiet as she passed by the windows of the houses of people she knew either personally or by name. She gave in to the primitive desire of playing voyeur and spared casual glances in the first and second story windows of those who did not keep their drapes closed. Some part of her knew this was wrong, but the voice of caution was drowned out by the newfound liberation flight had bestowed upon her.
Inside were a variety of scenes. Little Kenta Hiroyoshi, whom Kasumi had baby-sat for several times, was busy staring at a computer screen with a wide-eyed, slack-jawed expression. That was a bit unusual for him, since he tended to be an expressive boy, but she had heard that spending too much time next to a computer screen could do that to a person. The next house Kasumi drifted towards was the Koriyama residence. Inside her second story bedroom, Mrs. Koriyama sat staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the mirror next to the dresser where her make-up lay in front of her, an eyebrow pencil in hand. Kasumi thought the woman was overreacting. She didn't look that bad in make up. Not that good either, but not bad. She passed by the Orchiriou home, where the entire family of five was sitting at the dinner table, all looking wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the food on their plates before them. That was unfortunate, if the food was that bad, she'd have to loan Mrs. Orchiriou some recipes to liven up their meals.
Taking her flight path away from the houses, Kasumi flew over the street, high enough overhead so that casual passers-by in the street could not easily see her. She flew low enough to make out individual faces. Standing still in the middle of the sidewalk was Mr. Ohtono, who had been an old friend of her father's in the past. He was staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed…
Now that Kasumi looked around, it seemed everyone in sight was standing still, wearing the same expression on their faces. Had they all been staring at the same thing, perhaps it would have made sense, but they were looking in a variety of directions. Nerima was a bit slow at times, but the idea that everyone had been rendered comatose by the boredom was too much to believe. It seemed the unexpected silence covering the neighborhood had something to do with the inactivity of the residents in its confines.
As Kasumi hovered there, wondering if this had some connection with her being shrunk, the unnatural stillness was broken by a noise in the distance. It was a strange mix of humming and tearing gelling together. The noise crept into Kasumi's awareness as it grew louder. Curious, and evidently the only one who felt like reacting to the noise, she flew down to street level in the hopes that whatever was making that sound could provide an explanation for everyone's behavior.
Instinctively Kasumi flew low, next to the wall of a building, as she approached the corner where the sound was fast approaching. It would provide cover for her, even if she did not realize that was why she flew so close to the ground. She paused only a moment before turning the corner and was confronted with a most unexpected scene.
Mentallo and the Fixer, like Kasumi, were flying low to the ground. In Mentallo's case, it was mostly due to inexperience with his mode of transportation, as well as wanting to maintain a low profile while scanning the area for the results of his handiwork. The telepath's choice of transportation was a one person anti-gravity platform which had been one of the Fixer's first contributions to Hydra. It consisted of a fifteen-centimeter thick disc with a one-meter radius made of metal and plastic. Yellow lights circling the disc flashed in varying degrees of intensity as the device was propelled through the air. A light magnetic force emanated from the base of the platform, helping the pilot remain fixed on the device by utilizing the metal soles that lined his boots.
"I've definitely gotten the hang of this," Mentallo boasted as he tried to execute a mid-air jump and ended up nearly crashing into a light pole.
"Right." The Fixer sighed. His choice of transportation was his own personal 'Techno-Battle Pack', which looked like an oversized silver metal backpack strapped to him by a metal harness that reached under the armpits and across his chest. Two tubes pointing outward from the rear of the device shot out small jets of red flame, propelling him through the air. Though it was louder than the anti-gravity propulsion system in Mentallo's flying disc, the jets were more compact, which the Fixer preferred since that meant more room for his weapons. A variety of multi-functional weapons were laced through the entirety of the battle pack, each one capable of dealing with any aggressive situation in a wide variety of ways.
In the eventuality the pack proved insufficient, he had a wide leather weapons belt that held a variety of cylindrical objects that resembled grenades. Also attached to the belt was a specially designed gun that was linked up to the targeting computer in his helmet, as well as having its own independent tracking system. And those merely represented his second line of defense. He had the firepower of several army platoons draped on his person. He could take on a tank division single-handed and probably end up victorious. Having such power at his command made his heart race.
"Looks like everyone's under the influence. My influence." Mentallo snickered at his own little joke. "You are recording all of this, aren't you?"
The Fixer pointed to the set of goggles and headset attached to his helmet. "Inside this multi-optics headgear is a super speed digital camera that is recording everything that I see. Linked up as it is with my Techno Pack, it has a sensor suite that would make the JSDF's best surveillance planes turn green with envy."
"Whatever, just don't look my way with it. I don't want anyone to see me in this." The oversized mental intensifier looked even more stupid on Mentallo's head than it had just sitting on the rack. It didn't matter how successful the test was if he was made a laughing stock of the organization in the process.
On the bright side, the test was going successfully. From their observations, everyone inside the district of Nerima was now fully under Mentallo's domination. Even those entering from outside the initial target zone quickly fell under his influence as well. One more pass through the area, and they would have enough information to conclude their mission and write up their report.
Mentallo took note of his partner stopping a moment to do a close up on one of the people on the street that was staring off into space. Distracted, he continued hovering, turning the corner of a street, only to come face-to-tiny-face with an unexpected factor in their experiment.
"Oh my!" Kasumi nearly collided with the gaudily dressed flying man.
Staring at the tiny girl with wings that hovered directly in front of him, Mentallo blinked once under his visor, then sighed. "I knew I never should have listened to Honaga, but noooo. He just had to go on and on about how drugs would make me forget all about Madoka. 'Just try the brown acid once', he says, and now look at what I get: flashbacks a year later."
"What are you mumbling about?" The Fixer asked as he turned away from the person he had been observing.
"Oh, I'm just hallucinating about a cute fairy flying in front of me."
The Fixer let out an irritated moan. "Are you still obsessing about homosexuals? Didn't the Imperial Hydra warn you… Holy!" He focused his telescopic lenses on the tiny girl flying in front of Mentallo. "It is a fairy!"
That shocked Mentallo out of his stupor. "Wait, you mean can see it too? It's not a hallucination?"
"I'm definitely getting readings on the object flying in front of you. It's real."
Embarrassed by the attention she was suddenly receiving, Kasumi blushed. It took her a moment to compose herself and remember the purpose of her flight. "Ah, excuse me, but would either of you happen to know who's responsible for making everyone just stand around? It's not you two, is it? It's really rude to do this to people, you know."
"The fairy talks, too." Mentallo continued staring at her in abject fascination.
"Capture it for study," the Fixer ordered.
"Right." Mentallo brought his platform forward to grab Kasumi.
A wave of panic momentarily overwhelmed the girl and she froze in mid-air. From her perspective, it was a giant's hand that sought to engulf her within its grasp. Rather than fleeing from the Hydra agent's awkward lunge, which she had ample time to do, she held out her tiny hands to ward off his own.
"Keep back!" Kasumi cried. As panic gripped her mind and her heart raced like a triphammer, a tingling sensation built up in her forearms. Instinctively, she pointed at Mentallo. There was a strange feeling surged from her forearms and all the way down to her hand and fingers.
A crimson blast of energy leaped from her hands, catching Mentallo with a glancing blow to his shoulder. Despite the fact the shot barely struck the telepath, there was still enough force to send him spinning off his disc and to the ground five feet below, were he landed on his back. He tried standing up, but fell back down, stunned by the combination of energy and the fall.
The Fixer looked past his fallen partner to the people standing in the street. The slack-jawed expressions were starting to disappear, slowly being replaced by blinking and the closing of mouths.
"Snap out of it and reestablish mental contact with the populace!" the Fixer shouted as he drew a gun from his belt. A narrow cable connected it with his multi-optics helmet. With his weapon currently in battle mode, a head's up display appeared in his goggles, a targeting sight dominating his vision. He lined the sights upon the flying girl, barely able to manage a general lock onto her because of her small form. He fired four times, sending a quartet of 'tracker shells,' of his own design, after her. Once locked onto a target, the tiny computers in the slender projectiles would follow until they hit an object, presumably what they were aimed at. They were like tiny heat-seeking missiles, and could even perform intricate maneuvers if they had enough time to react and reacquire their target.
Due to the sophistication of the tracker shells, they moved far slower than normal bullets. Kasumi saw the projectiles coming right for her, so she flew as fast as her tiny wings could manage. Despite the insect-like appearance of the wings, Kasumi found that when pressed, she could fly far faster than any insect, though her pursuers were faster.
Her flight took her past a fire hydrant, and she ducked behind it. Her stratagem, as basic as it was, worked. The computers in the projectiles had difficulty following a target as small as Kasumi. The first two were unable to reacquire her and slammed into the hydrant. The metal shattered under the force of the miniature missiles, cracking the casing and causing a blast of water to spray straight up in the air. The pressure from the water caught another of the shells, sending it off course and into a tree, its fuel expended.
The fourth tracker shell evaded the deluge of water and reacquired its target, heading right for her. The sight of the huge object, which appeared to be the size of a rocket to her altered perspective, filled her vision as it whipped towards her at deadly speed. Calling on every ounce of strength she had, she twisted her body away from the speeding missile. The projectile rushed past her, the heated surface of the metal gently caressing her flank and nearly catching on her tiny garb and ripping it from her body.
The tracker shell continued onward, striking an empty store and shattering the wide picture window in front. The blast it unleashed destroyed the displays within. Kasumi cringed when she saw the remains of a mannequin that was hit dead-on by the shell.
It was only after the last shell had narrowly missed her, the heat from the exhaust still lingering in the air, that Kasumi came to grips with exactly what had happened. Those two men had to be responsible for what had happened to Nerima. Even worse, they had attacked her with no provocation. It was the first time since fifth grade anyone had tried to harm her, and even then it was just to shake her down for her lunch money. But these people had tried to capture her, and when she defended herself, tried to kill her. Now Kasumi found herself overwhelmed with an emotion she had not felt since her mother died, at least with this sort of intensity.
She was very, very, angry.
Satisfied his genius had taken care of their opposition, the Fixer rushed to Mentallo's side. Pulling out a small stick from his harness, he gripped it in both hands and snapped it in half. He waved the broken object under Mentallo's nose, causing his companion to give a start.
Mentallo's eyes blinked behind his visor as he reoriented himself to the world around him. "Whoa! She might look like a fairy, but she stings like a wasp."
Seeing his partner was fully revived, the Fixer said, "Get these people back under your control before they break free and figure out who wiped their brains out for the last half-hour."
It took only a moment for Mentallo to reestablish control over the populace and returned them to their previous mindless state. Finished, he turned to his partner, still trying to get the nauseating fumes from out of his nose. "What was that? A super-reviver gas you designed? An un-unconsciousnator device?"
The Fixer shook his head. "Just regular smelling salts. Sometimes it's the simplest tools that are the most appropriate for the job."
Mentallo pointed over his partner's shoulder. "Then what are you going to shoot her down with next? A slingshot?"
The Fixer looked in disbelief at the tiny girl who had somehow evaded his tracker shells and was giving him a decidedly evil eye.
"I am very upset with your behavior," Kasumi softly intoned, hands on her hips.
"Can you take her out?" the Fixer asked.
Mentallo sent out a telepathic command and Kasumi felt the scratching increase in her skull. She wavered for a moment, but then forced herself to concentrate. Using a song she had learned in school as the base her focus would anchor upon, she expanded her consciousness, forcing the presence trying to affect her mind out.
The defeat confounded Mentallo. "No. I can feel her mind, but it's hard to make out. It's like it's too tiny to get a hold on."
"Then we do it the old-fashioned way." The Fixer's hand was a blur as he pulled one of the spheres from his belt and hurled it in Kasumi's direction.
Seeing the ball would miss her by a couple of meters, which seemed like a couple of houses away to Kasumi, she pointed her hands once again towards the pair and tried to make the strange energy burst come forth again. It took a moment, but the tingling sensation began to make its way through her forearms and towards her hands.
Suddenly, the ball stopped in mid-air instead of sailing past. The unexpected change in its trajectory caught Kasumi's attention, and she paused to give it a closer look. It was jet black with a smooth glassy surface, the only flaw in its texture were two strips of wires embedded under the sphere's glazed exterior. They circled completely around the object; one towards the top and the other towards the bottom, each was the same distance away from the nearest end, giving perfect symmetry to the odd design.
The sphere began to spin on its axis, increasing its speed until it was nothing more than a blur.
As it spun, Kasumi felt something tugging at her, as though the object was drawing her closer. She tried to fly away, but no matter how hard she beat her wings, she felt herself pulled ever closer to towards the sphere.
"It's a portable gravity well," the Fixer informed her. "Its area of effect is limited, but it's particularly useful for making bullets, grenades, and even small rockets veer off course. And as you can tell, it's also useful for taking care of pesky insects."
Kasumi saw he was telling the truth. Other objects, such as small clumps of dirt, stray bits from the fire hydrant, and even insects no larger than her began to succumb to the pull and shot past her and toward the sphere. They ended up mashed into the surface of the metal object. She beat her wings twice as hard, but it was to no avail as the speed with which she was being drawn to the sphere doubled. Unable to fight the force, she found herself pulled end over end towards the miniature gravity well.
As the distance closed to less than a meter, Kasumi knew soon she would be drawn in and end up flattened across the spinning object's surface. During one of her flips, she caught sight of an open spot through the debris, revealing surface of the sphere. She fired a bolt of energy towards it before being tossed head over heels again. Luck was with her as the bolt hit the sphere dead on. Even as compacted and dense as the object was, it cracked open under the onslaught of Kasumi's 'sting'.
With the sudden cessation of the object's pull, Kasumi found herself flying straight to the ground, the direction she had been pointed in while still trying to escape the sphere. She was barely able to reorient herself in time, pulling out of her dive before crashing headfirst into the earth like a diminutive lawn dart.
The Fixer scowled at the failure of another device. "This one's sure to get her," he swore to himself. "Jericho Tube." In response to the verbal command, his Techno Pack brought a microphone out from the front of his harness and rose it to his lips. Simultaneously, a rod shot upward from the back of the pack. Rounded metal unfolded from each side of the rod. The metal sheets blossomed like a flower until they met above the rod, locking into place and forming into an elliptical disc.
Kasumi was preparing to fly right at the duo when the Fixer gave a shout. His voice was amplified over a hundred times by the antenna, the waves of sound striking Kasumi with physical force. She was swatted down from the air and towards the ground, where she skidded across the street several meters before coming to a stop.
As hard and as far as Kasumi skidded across the ground, she still managed to regain her footing relatively quickly. She was surprised by her resilience. If she had been sent across that much asphalt at normal size, especially wearing so little clothing, she would have been in a great deal of pain and probably been unable to move. But aside from a bit of soreness, she felt fine. She suffered only a few minor scrapes to her legs and arms, rather than the deep gashes and whole patches of skin that probably should have been missing.
Just as she stood fully upon her bare feet, the Fixer grabbed her securely in his grip, pinning her arms to her side. He directed a haughty smirk to his catch. "Looks like I got you. No chance of stinging me with those nasty little arms of you pinned, is there, my little Wasp?"
Despite knowing struggle was futile, Kasumi tried to squirm. If she managed to work an arm free, she could shoot the man with one of those 'stings' as he had dubbed them. To her surprise she was easily able to force the man's hand open, despite the tremendous difference in size. Released, she flew high and out of his ability to snare her a second time.
"How did you do that?" the Fixer gasped out, clutching his hand in pain. She had torn herself out of his grip as though she were as strong as a normal person rather than one less than a centimeter in height.
Seeing the results of her handiwork, it occurred to Kasumi that perhaps she somehow maintained her 'normal' strength despite her diminutive stature. It would explain how she could force her way so easily out of the man's grasp and tear off the strips of her dress. However, there were more important issues to resolve before testing her theory. "Take that!" she cried out as she blasted the rod and circle components of the Jericho Tube from the Fixer's Techno Pack, destroying the weapon beyond repair.
The Fixer held his hand over his face to ward off a second blast, but it never came. He saw just through his fingers his opponent go flying off through the air quite involuntarily, as though she had been slapped by a giant invisible hand. He stared at where she had been in surprise, then turned to his partner.
Mentallo gave off a low moan and held his head as best as he could with the mental amplifier perched on his skull. "I hate having to use my telekinesis like that, especially in a widespread arc."
"You saved my butt." The Fixer activated the radar unit in his pack and tried homing in on the 'Wasp's' current location. Common sense dictated that with their mission completed, both he and his partner should return immediately to their headquarters. Pride overruled that. There was no way he was going to let the flying pest get away with defacing his property and destroying his brilliant and dangerous weapons.
"That's what partners are for. God, my head is killing me." Mentallo's hand went into one of the pockets of his outfit and pulled out a bottle of aspirin. He tried pressing down and twisting the top off, first to the left, and then to the right. Failing to remove it, he tried reversing his actions, all to no avail.
The Fixer held out his hand for the bottle. "Let me. I'm good at getting those childproof caps off. It comes from having skilled hands in designing all of these complex weapon systems."
Mentallo handed him the bottle. The Fixer tried pushing and twisting to get the cap off, but he fared no better than his partner had.
"I thought you said you had soft hands," Mentallo winced from another spear of pain to his brain.
"I do." Again the Fixer tried again and he still failed, even after he hit the top of the bottle against his harness a few times. "Fine, I was reluctant to do this, but I see I have no choice." He whipped out a device that vaguely resembled a flashlight.
"Automatic Childproof Cap Remover."
"You actually designed a complex device for something as simple as that?"
"Don't laugh. If I had come up with this before signing a contract with Hydra, I could have made millions that way instead of resorting to join a terrorist organization."
"It looks expensive."
"Each unit's retail price is somewhere around three hundred American dollars."
"What?! You think people would pay that much for something that has only one purpose, and a simple one at that?"
"Oh, I think so, if they want what's inside the bottle, " The Fixer waved the container temptingly at Mentallo. The tablets made a hollow noise as they rolled around in the half-empty container.
Each rattle seemed to make Mentallo's heart (and head) long for them more. "Good point. Get that thing open. I'll pay you later."
"Right." The Fixer pointed the end of the Automatic Childproof Cap Remover at the top of the bottle. A light shone from the end and highlighted the container in an eerie red glow. The cap spun around in several circles. The Fixer gave a satisfied smile, and turned off the light.
"Voila!" he announced as he twisted the top.
The cap spun uselessly in a circle, as it remained attached to the bottle.
"Why you little!" The Fixer shouted at the bottle as he proceeded to beat it against the ground, his anger against his flying foe temporarily forgotten as a much more insidious opponent was presented before him.
Kasumi flew on, dazed by the powerful telekinetic blow. The invisible blast had caught her completely off-guard, and she had suffered fully from its effects. It was obvious she could not fight both men alone and save her neighbors from becoming a bunch of mindless drooling zombies. There was no telling what sort of havoc those two strangely dressed men -who were almost certainly 'super-villains' like she had seen on the news lately- had wrecked on the city. She might be the only person left in the entire country who still possessed her identity and the ability to resist. But she wasn't strong enough to do so and win. Maybe it was her size. If she could use the machine to make herself big again, while keeping her wings and energy blasts, perhaps she would be strong enough to defeat those two menaces, or at least drive them off and free all of the people.
And then a horrifying thought occurred to Kasumi. What if the effects were irreversible, or if they became permanent after a period of time? She had to take a chance and act fast. The first order of business was to get big and try to take the bad guys on at full size; it was her duty to her neighbors, family, and friends.
She headed back toward Tofu's clinic. During her return flight, she kept a wary eye behind her, but there seemed to be no sign of pursuit. That was a break, and she needed every one she could get. She would have time to come up with a plan after she made herself larger. She was still in the process of actually coming up with a battle strategy, a task she had no familiarity with, when her eyes alighted on someone in her flight path. Delighted at the unexpected encounter, she veered down towards the man.
"Dr. Tofu! Dr. Tofu!" Kasumi cried out as she flew up to his face and looked past his glasses and into distant eyes. Now that she thought about it, aside from the slight bit of drool from his open mouth, and the fact he tended to make a lot more noise, the look wasn't all that different from the one he sported most of the time.
She cried out his name again, trying to snap him out of the trance. She was about to give up hope when his jaws began to twitch. Again she cried out, and this time he closed his mouth. His lips began to move. He spoke so softly his voice nearly blended in with the breeze as he managed one word, "Kasumi."
"Yes, Doctor, it's me," she said, delighted she had gotten through to him. "I need your help. I need to get big again. To grow up to my normal size."
The distant look was still in his eyes, but now there was the shadow of an emotion on his face. "Grow?"
"Yes, grow. I need to grow big and keep my wings so I can blast those awful men who are doing this to everyone. Can you help me do that?"
"Grow." There was a hint of finality in the word this time.
Sensing this was the best she could manage, Kasumi said, "Yes. Come with me back to your office so I can grow." She flew on ahead of Tofu, urging him onward.
"Kasumi," he intoned and began to follow, his glasses fogging up ever so slightly with each step he took.
The distance to the clinic was not far, though it took five times longer than normal to get there due to the doctor's plodding pace. Several times he almost stopped, but all it took was Kasumi flying up and pleading with him to prod him onward once again. Eventually, the duo ended up in the lab behind the clinic, next to the equipment that had turned Kasumi's world upside down.
"Can you make me grow again?" Kasumi asked, constantly repeating the word Tofu seemed fixated on.
"Grow," he said, moving over to a dial marked, 'Mass Increase,' at one end, and 'Mass Decrease,' at the other. It was currently on the latter, so he spun it to the left, almost to the maximum of the increase side.
Kasumi flew up to it, reading the English words. "Oh, if I had been paying attention, I would have seen that and figured it out for myself." She looked over some of the other controls Tofu was fooling with. All of them were labeled, at least the important ones. If she had calmed down in the beginning, it would have been simplicity itself to revert to her true size.
With the moment of truth upon her, Kasumi found herself reluctant to return to her normal height. Being able to fly, even if she was tiny, had been the most fun she experienced in ages. The best time she had period. Flying, and being small enough to do so in anonymity, gave her a way to escape all of the frustrations and tedium that came from taking care of her family and acting as the responsible member of her household. True, she had wings sprouting out of her back, but they were more neat than scary. And she still had her normal strength, if not more than usual, at that height. And then there were those mysterious blasts with which she could defend herself. Changes, and in her opinion, all for the better.
Even the fighting, as much as she usually avoided confrontation, had been exhilarating. Kasumi operated under no illusions as to what she was: weak. Nabiki, Ranma, her father, even most people on the street could easily overpower her. Someone had stolen her purse last month when she had gone out shopping. All she could manage was a shout for help. Luckily, the police were within earshot and caught the perpetrator before he had made it more than a block. But if she had these fantastic powers back then, she could have taken care of the matter and caught the thief for the police instead of the other way around.
That line of thinking was silly, Kasumi told herself. She could not remain small forever. She had her family to take care of. There was also the everyday functioning and interacting with the rest of humanity. She could hardly expect to do so when she was the size of a bug. There was no real choice in the matter. She would miss this one brush with having abilities far beyond those of normal people, but it had to be sacrificed for the good of everyone.
The word snapped Kasumi out of her reverie. While she had been lost in thought, Tofu had been busy. The machine was humming now, and the projections, which had baptized her in their purple light, were now gathering once again. Only this time it was Tofu, rather than Kasumi, who was in the middle of them.
"Dr. Tofu, no!" Kasumi shouted.
It was too late as the purple rays struck the doctor, bathing him completely in their eerie light. Instantly, his mass began to increase as he grew in size. Kasumi's eyes turned as wide as saucers as she witnessed firsthand the power of Pym Particles. Tofu's normal five eleven frame became tripled. His clothing tore, shredded into dozens of pieces as his head brushed against the ceiling. He continued to grow, increasing to twenty-four feet. The roof gave out then as his head, then shoulders and chest burst through the top and destroying it. He gave no sign of feeling the effects of driving through the plaster and brick of his addition. And still he grew, expanding to the size of forty feet before at last his growth stopped. Dr. Tofu stood alone in the rubble, the slack-jawed expression at last disappearing as his senses slowly returned.
As the building collapsed, the machines sparked and whined as shattered pieces of roof smashed the equipment beyond repair. Kasumi was forced to fly with every ounce of speed she could summon to avoid falling pieces of brick and mortar. It was a difficult flight, but she managed it, exiting the building and suffering no injuries. The fight with Mentallo and the Fixer had been long enough ago that she had recovered her energy. She was in perfect health, despite the beating she had taken. Again she wondered if her recuperative powers had been increased as well when she was smaller.
But that was only given a brief thought. Once clear of the falling debris, her concern was only for Dr. Tofu. She blamed herself for his predicament. It had been obvious he was not thinking clearly, yet she had dragged him all the way to his office and forced him to help her. Yet when they got there, all she thought about was second guessing herself rather than keeping an eye on him. Now the equipment was smashed into hundreds of tiny pieces and buried under rubble. It was obviously irreparable. Worse, poor Dr. Tofu was now going to be stuck as a giant, even as she was trapped at insect size. It was all her fault.
Her heart weighing heavily upon her, she flew around the remains of the building and towards Tofu. She looked up at his face, which was now starting to regain some of its previous animation. Hoping his upward explosion through the top of the roof had not harmed him, she examined his body for any injuries
"Oh… my." Kasumi quickly covered her eyes, a shudder spreading down her spine. Tofu had gotten larger in every sense of the word, and with his clothes torn to shreds among the debris, she could assess that there was nothing physically wrong with him and all the body parts that men should have were present. It wasn't the first time she has seen that particular part. Back in high school a friend had talked her into being naughty once and they had peeked in the boys' showers after baseball practice. But it had been nothing like this. What was before her eyes now was inhuman, and downright disturbing.
Bracing herself, Kasumi closed her eyes and flew as high as she could. Once convinced she was well past the area causing embarrassment, she dared to open them, making sure she was looking up at the time. Full awareness had returned to Tofu and he was looking around, obviously confused. Kasumi felt it was her responsibility to explain exactly what had happened.
Kasumi's assessment of Tofu's state of mind was correct. He looked around at the small world before him. His ability to react to the situation was better than Kasumi's initially was, he knew damn well this was the result of the Pym Particles, but the question was how had it happened? The last thing he remembered was making the final adjustments to the machine, and then Kasumi had come in…well that explained everything. Obviously he had lost it and accidentally activated the machine, but what of Kasumi?
Tofu looked down at the ruins of the building at his feet. "Kasumi!" he bellowed out with lungs far larger than their original size.
"No need to shout, Doctor," the disembodied voice of Kasumi called out.
Tofu spun his head back and forth. That was odd. By all rights, if he was hearing Kasumi's voice, it should have been near the ground, not near him. "Where are you?"
"I'm right here."
The voice sounded as though it was right in front of him, but still no one was present. It made no sense, and he was about to say so, when the reality of the situation hit him full force. The answer was obvious; he could hear Kasumi's disembodied voice next to his ear because Kasumi didn't have a body anymore. The building had crushed her.
"Oh, Kasumi!" he wailed, burying his face in his hands.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I can't believe how foolish I was. I should have been more careful with you around. It must have hurt you so badly."
"Not really. The change was quite painless. Actually, I feel pretty good. Much more lively than I have in a very long time."
"Lively?" The word stabbed his soul, and he began bawling at the top of his lungs.
Kasumi marked that the deluge would have done her father proud. Trying to regain his attention, Kasumi shouted at the top of her lungs, "Stop crying, Dr. Tofu! Really, I don't mind being this way!"
"You're so forgiving," he lamented. Truly she was the most wonderful woman in the world. If only he had possessed the courage to have told her in life instead of losing his mind around her and acting the part of the fool.
"Well, I admit that I enjoy having the ability to fly. The wings aren't bad at all. They're sort of neat."
She was an angel now. They had already given her wings. He always knew such a sweet girl would end up there someday. "But you shouldn't have passed on so soon," he began crying again.
"Passed on? I shouldn't have passed on what so soon?" Kasumi asked.
Tofu interrupted his crying briefly. "You know, going on the final journey that all of us go on."
"To where, Hawaii? I already went there when I was in high school. It was our senior trip."
"No, I mean, you know, going to the afterlife."
"Why would I want to go there? Is there some side effect of being small that's going to kill me?"
"Being… small?" Tofu barely got out.
"Yes, Doctor. I'm small and can fly now. Your machine shrunk me. Don't you remember that before you grew, or is your new height affecting your memory?"
"The machine shrunk you, and you're not dead?" he blurted out with more hope in his voice than had ever been there before.
"That's right, Doctor. Hold absolutely still and I think you can see me." She flew directly in front of his right eye, which looked as though it was the size of a small car. "Can you see me?"
"No, I suspect I'm too big," Tofu admitted while being overjoyed at the reports of Kasumi's death being greatly exaggerated.
"I'll show you something I think you can see." Kasumi flew several meters away and released one of her stings.
Tofu was clearly able to see the energy blast. "How did you do that? And how can you fly? You said you had wings?"
"You mean you don't know? But it was your machine that did this to me."
"Ah," Tofu was reluctant to tell the truth, but couldn't find the ability to lie to Kasumi, especially since he was the one responsible for her condition. "Actually the equipment is from an American friend of mine. He died and left it to me. It's still experimental. If you have wings and the ability to generate and discharge some form of bio-energy, the odds are Henry's theories about possible mutations are true, even though he thought there was an insignificant chance of it. We'll have to examine you thoroughly and make sure there aren't any harmful side effects." He prayed there were none. Henry's notes had believed there was a less than a tenth of a percent chance of a human's body mutating when irradiated with the particles, but mutations were random, and what appeared beneficial at first might not be so over the long term.
Unaware of Tofu's fears, Kasumi found herself delighted at finally having the facts behind her current condition revealed. Her joy at knowing the truth was quickly dismissed as more pressing matters were at hand. "That will have to wait. First we have to take care of those awful super-villains that made everyone in the neighborhood into mindless zombies."
Tofu scratched his head in confusion. Kasumi made a mental note to inform him he should start shaving his arm pits. It looked like jungle growth forming there, with vines and everything.
"What super-villains?" he asked.
"The ones who made you a mindless zombie before the machine made you big and broke you out of your trance. I'll tell you all about it, but first you need to find a bed sheet to cover yourself up with."
"What do you mean?"
"Look down," Kasumi said as she chose to look up at the sky.
"Oops." For a moment, he was going to cover himself up, but then a wave of pride shot through him. He was not what women would call a 'man among men,' in certain departments, which had always bothered his ego, especially when it came to courting women. As it was now, he was beyond doubt the 'manliest' man of them all, even if it was simply because all of his overall dimensions had increased.
He was still trying to resist the urge to preen when two figures came flying into view.
"I can't believe you had to use that explosive gel to pop the top off," Mentallo said.
"I can't believe I had to use two doses before it worked." The Fixer continued watching the miniature readout on his radar system. Supposedly the flying girl had been in this area before ducking in a building and out of sight. Now that he had finally managed to get aspirin for his partner, they had time to capture the diminutive pest before calling it a night and heading back to base.
However, the sight that greeted the Hydra agents as they came into view stunned both men speechless. They paused in mid-flight, staring in awe at what was before them.
Mentallo finally managed to say said, "I don't know about you, but I suddenly feel very inadequate."
"Put a circus tent on or something, you giant freak!" the Fixer shouted.
Thoroughly embarrassed, Tofu bent down and grabbed a tarp that had been placed over his neighbor's pool. It was a simple matter to tie it around his waist, preventing anyone from making out any further intimate details.
"Why isn't that giant man standing around drooling?" the Fixer asked his partner.
Mentallo reached out with his mind. "It's kind of hard to get a grasp on him, like the girl. It must be a size thing. Although now that I'm probing closer, he isn't as fuzzy around the edges as she is. Let's see if I can put him under my domination."
Mentallo quadrupled his efforts. Instantly, Tofu felt pressure like a five pound weight applied directly to his brain. Waves of fog seemed to cloud over his vision, similar to the effect of seeing Kasumi, but with a black stain tainting it. Realizing he was losing his ability to think, and that it would leave Kasumi vulnerable to the duo's hands, Tofu found the will to concentrate and try to force the presence out of his mind. The contest of wills was fierce, with Mentallo's experience giving him the edge. For a brief moment he had total domination, but the hold on Tofu's mind slipped, as much due to the difficulties of contacting the physically altered mind of Tofu as the doctor's will.
And then the contest was over. Mentallo withdrew his presence. "No go. His mind is too hard to grasp."
The Fixer adjusted his Techno pack. "Then we do it the hard way again. The giant man is mine. You take care of the girl."
While the duo formulated their battle plan, Kasumi acted. Seeing Tofu sway under the telepathic assault, she flew closer to him. "Are you all right?"
Tofu blinked his eyes clear. The background psychic 'static' from Mentallo's widespread domination wave was still echoing in his skull, but the direct assault had failed. "I will be now. Look out!"
Kasumi darted away as the Fixer and Mentallo rose towards them. Kasumi flew away from Tofu, hoping to draw both opponents away from him. However, only Mentallo followed.
Mentallo increased his disc's speed and drew closer. "You're pretty nimble, Fly Girl, but you can't escape me."
"I think I prefer being called Wasp. Fly Girl has all sorts of connotations I don't want associated with me."
"How about Splat Girl, instead?" Mentallo only used a small amount of telekinesis, which would not hurt anywhere near as much as the widespread force he had hit her with earlier, and hurled a flowerpot from a nearby windowsill. Kasumi dodged the unconventional missile with ease. The telepath hurled a second and third pot at the same time, both of which she evaded. Tired of having things thrown at her, she retaliated by firing one of her stings at Mentallo, but he dodged it using the flying disc.
"Nice moves. Now try this." Instead of only hurling one or two objects at the same time at her, Mentallo braced himself for some serious pain as he created a storm of items by using the debris from the addition Tofu had destroyed during his unexpected growth. Again Kasumi found herself dodging and blasting flying objects in an effort to keep from getting splattered.
During the start of the fight between telepath and human insect, the Fixer found himself opening combat by flying up towards his opponent in order to stand on at least semi-even ground with him. Once he had drawn closer to the forty-foot Goliath, the genius began to have second thoughts. The man was even larger than the statue in front of 'Big Boy's.'
Refusing to be intimidated, the Fixer opened up by firing four stun discuses with depleted uranium cores from his Techno Pack, and hit Tofu fully in the chest. Together they had the combined force to knock over an elephant, but Tofu withstood what would have been bone-breaking force to a normal person. The impacts did cause him pain, and struck with enough power to cause bruises to form immediately upon abused flesh, but after teetering for only a moment, he quickly righted himself. In retaliation, he brought his hand up and snatched his surprised opponent out of mid-air in unknowing parity to what the Fixer had done to Kasumi less than half an hour earlier.
The Fixer's surprise was brief. Rather than trying to muscle out of the grip, an impossible task for him, he doubled the intensity of the jets on his pack. The reaction was instantaneous as Tofu growled in pain and released his hold, drawing back his burned hand.
A smile broadened on the Fixer's features. His plan for his second attack was abruptly halted when, instead of remaining in the air, he heard his jets cough in protest and he jerked in the sky. Then the cough ceased, and he plummeted several feet. The decent stopped just as quickly as the jets re-ignited.
A quick system analysis showed the jets were malfunctioning, undoubtedly because the Fixer had fired them in the enclosed space of his opponent's grip and caused them to misfire. He quickly landed before his engines cut out a second time. Despite the setback, the Hydra agent was a picture of composure. Negation of his ability to fly was hardly a concern. He had other weapons which would more than level the field of combat in every sense of the word.
Tofu had finished assessing the burns to his hand, which, to his expert eyes, appeared to be superficial, when a small ball shot forth from a concealed launcher hidden in the shoulder of the Fixer's pack. The shot was on the mark, an easy task considering the size of the target, and struck the giant man in the face. The instant the ball made contact with Tofu's flesh, it expanded to unleash a series of densely compacted tungsten bands that proceeded to wrap themselves around his head. The bands wrapped tight, like giant pythons, and blinding as well as blocking up his nose and mouth.
"I call those rubber bombs," the Fixer bragged. All that was left now was for his opponent to suffocate, then he could assist his partner. Sparing a glance in Mentallo's direction, he saw the fight between telepath and flying girl was currently locked in a stalemate. The girl was continuing to evade or blast all of the objects thrown at her while being too distracted to blast her opponent. It was only a matter of time until she made a wrong turn or the pain became too great for Mentallo to bear. Something had to give.
The Fixer returned his attention to Tofu. Much to the genius's astonishment, the giant was able to dig his fingers under the bands and pull them outward, despite their tremendous tensile strength. There was a snapping sound as one of the bands gave. The sound was soon joined by an identical one, and then a third and fourth. With so many bands destroyed, the rest went limp, unable to maintain the hold on their target.
"This isn't good." The Fixer backed away in caution.
Only several meters away, Kasumi finally had fortune smile her way as there was a temporary ebb in the storm of objects. Seeing her foe sway in obvious pain, she released two quick blasts in his direction, silently noting that both her forearms were starting to feel strained and a burning sensation was creeping through them. It was the same tired sensation she felt when she went swimming for too long. In the back of her mind, she wondered if she was reaching the limit of the number of blasts she could unleash. She hoped she did not find out the hard way.
The two blasts she loosed were on target, however Mentallo recovered enough to dodge shakily with his flying disc. Rather than hitting him, one of the blasts struck the mental amplifying helmet, damaging the casing and causing sparks to fly. The second blast struck his flying disc dead center, punching a hole clean through its propulsion unit. Bereft of the power of flight, Mentallo fell. Fortunately for him, he had been staying close to the ground, and only fell a single meter and landing on his bottom once again.
Sensing an opportunity to finish the fight, Kasumi flew in low. She was just about to unleash another blast at close range, one Mentallo would have no chance of dodging, when she heard the familiar voice of the Fixer to her right.
"Let's see how you like my version of bug spray, Wasp!" Vents from the pack sent out a billowing gray cloud directly at Kasumi, completely engulfing her. "Gotcha!"
"KASUMI!" Tofu's voice boomed louder than a dozen megaphones as he witnessed the young woman's fate. Before the Fixer could hope to react, Tofu closed the distance between them in two steps and caught him with a powerful kick.
The Fixer's fate was somewhat better than a football's in a similar position. The Hydra agent turned just enough to catch the majority of the blow on his backpack. Regardless, enough force was transmitted through the pack and into the body wearing it to send him flying. The Fixer went skidding across a lawn and through a wooden fence before the impromptu flight was arrested by a large oak, which caused his pack to sustain a second hard blow within a handful of seconds. Sparks shot out of his Techno Pack, and the readout in his goggles showed that nearly twenty percent of his systems were down.
"And there's more on the way," the Fixer moaned as Tofu approached him, obviously intent on punting him even further away, most likely somewhere around China. With no time to consider which weapon might come close to enabling him to survive the blow, Hiroshi Karigiri did the first thing that came to mind and prayed.
Just as Tofu drew his foot back, he let out a scream of pain and clutched his head, digging his fingers deep into his scalp. Wide-eyed at the turn of events, the Fixer could scarcely believe his luck as the foot returned to the ground and Tofu swayed on his feet, obviously stunned senseless.
"I got him!" shouted Mentallo as he pumped his fist towards his partner. "I had to turn off my mental domination of the neighborhood, and it took all of my remaining psychic energy, but I got in a brain blast that could knock even tall guy there off his feet. I'd say that's one kill apiece, partner."
Nodding in agreement, the Fixer was returning Mentallo's thumbs-up sign when he saw a shadow begin to grow around his partner. He turned just as Mentallo did, and realized at the same instant what the ominous shadow foretold.
The Fixer couldn't stand to watch as he averted his eyes one moment before Tofu, now unconscious, fell to the ground. Much to the Hydra agents' consternation, the direction their large opponent chose to fall was where Mentallo stood. Unfortunately for Kyosuke, without his flying disc, he lacked the speed to get out of the way.
A loud thump told the tale. Grimacing, the Fixer forced himself to look at the scene. Much to his relief, his partner and not been crushed as flat as a pancake. Instead, a last second lunge had allowed him to move both far and fast enough so that it was Tofu's hand that had struck him, rather than the entire body. Still, judging by the telepath's motionless form, the force from even a glancing hand was sufficient to knock him out.
"This has been one lousy night," the Fixer lamented, wondering if he had enough time to jury-rig something to help carry his partner's body back to base.
"And it's about to get *cough* worse for you, you… you… you bad person, you."
The Fixer spun around and aimed his tracker gun in the direction of where the girl's voice had come from: directly behind him. However, there was no one there. A quick sensor sweep showed no targets in the area.
"I'm *cough* right behind you."
Again the Fixer spun, and still no one was there. It took him a moment to figure out the only place that his opponent could have been to avoid his wide range sensor sweep: right on the Techno Pack itself.
He needed to stall for a moment as he brought the proper weapon system online. Its power had been cut from the damage delivered by either the kick or the collision with the tree. The system was powering up at one tenth its normal speed. "How did you escape the toxic cloud?"
The voice sounded muffled as she said, "I held my breath. You shouldn't *cough* let people know what you're going to do by *cough* saying it out loud before you do it."
"Point taken. Exterior Fry Daddy." Instantly the metal surface of his pack gave off a jolt of electricity. Its original purpose was to electrocute anyone stupid enough to grapple with him, but it could serve as a makeshift bug zapper if the situation called for it.
"Now to collect my troublesome insect." The Fixer brought out a clear tube from his belt. He hoped she wasn't dead; odds were she would reveal more information as to what sort of creature she was through questioning rather than an autopsy. However, when he scanned the ground with his goggles, he could not detect her form.
"Now where did she go?" he mumbled more to himself than expecting someone to answer.
But answer someone did. More muffled than before, Kasumi said, "I'm right behind you."
The Fixer spun back and forth, nearly tripping over his own feet as he twisted in a circle. She still wasn't on the ground, which meant she was still on the pack. "How did you survive being electrocuted? The entire exterior surface of my pack was rigged."
"I'm not on the surface," the muffled voice replied. "I'm inside it."
"Oh, crap, the exhaust tubes--" was all the Fixer got out before a burst of energy, delivered from inside the far more vulnerable confines of his pack, ripped out of the back and up to the sky, shredding metal with an unholy screech.
With the damage done to the pack, terminally melting down its core, a feedback erupted through the Fixer's helmet. It was his turn to be electrocuted by his own pack, and though the charge was less than a quarter of that had been intended for Kasumi, it was still sufficient to send the Fixer into unconsciousness for hours.
Kasumi flew out of the ruins of the Fixer's much vaunted Techno Pack. She carefully examined his face. Convinced from his steady breathing and lack of movement that he was unconscious and would not be threatening her again, Kasumi flew to the primary object of her concern. "Dr. Tofu!" she called out, praying he would respond.
Somewhere in the darkness of Tofu's mind, the voice tickled at the edge of his consciousness. He recognized that voice, and felt a familiar love haze cloud his thoughts. "Kasumi," he softly murmured and sat up.
"Thank goodness you're all right, Doctor," she said in relief.
Hearing her voice, but not actually seeing her, the doctor was once again able to maintain coherence in her presence. It took another moment for him to remember what had just happened. "Where are they? I know they tried hurting you Kasumi. I'll make them pay!"
Kasumi felt her heart give a flutter at the doctor's show of protectiveness. Or maybe it was just her wings fluttering. It was difficult to say. "I took care of the man with the backpack with all those unpleasant weapons."
"Then where's the other… Oh." Tofu squeezed slightly and discovered what his hand was resting on. "Uh, I didn't accidentally crush him, did I?"
Kasumi flew low and looked Mentallo over. "No. I don't see any bones sticking out, and he's breathing just fine. Nice deep breaths."
A tired sigh escaped Tofu's lips. "For a moment there, I was afraid I let my temper get the better of me. I don't even remember attacking him."
"That's because you didn't. You landed on him when you fell unconscious."
"Oh." Tofu felt his manly pride at defeating an opponent suddenly emasculated.
With the matter seemingly taken care of, Kasumi let out a deep breath that released all of her pent up exhaustion. Tonight had easily been the most exciting, and second most terrifying, experience in her nineteen years of life. Although oddly enough, now that her life was no longer in jeopardy, Kasumi not only felt a profound sense of relief, but one of exhilaration. For the first time in that she could remember, she had dealt with an extremely difficult and physically dangerous situation on her own. Well, Doctor Tofu had helped her, but it had been her own skills that had enabled her to survive the first round of the fight and defeat the bad guy with the pack in the second. She had seized control of the situation, had risked her life, and come out on top. She found the taste of success intoxicating. She had never done anything like that before. Perhaps it was nothing more than an adrenaline high, but even so, she found she wanted to experience the rush and satisfaction of being able to not only influence, but also control her life, again.
And now that she thought about it, she was going to have to. "Oh dear, Doctor. I feel I have to apologize."
"Apologize for what?"
"For not paying closer attention to you and accidentally allowing you to wreck that size changing machine. Now we're going to be stuck like this. I hope you can still continue your practice. Perhaps you can become a veterinarian and work on elephants and giraffes. You have to admit, you'll be better at it than anyone else, as long as you make big instruments that you can handle."
"Hmm. I wonder about that," Tofu said. The theory behind Pym Particles was that after being irradiated only once, one could control their growth by will power alone. Now the theory was about to be tested. Giving a silent prayer to every god there was, Tofu willed himself to become his original size.
A moment later, he found himself tangled in a tarp. He struggled through it, eventually working his way to the surface. More aware of his undressed state than Kasumi had been, Tofu kept the tarp pinned under his armpits. "Just try thinking about regaining your original height, and it should work."
Her heart racing with trepidation, Kasumi landed on the ground, closed her eyes, and did as she was bade. When she opened them again, the world had returned to its original dimensions. She was about to give a cheer of joy when she felt something was missing. Peering over her shoulder at her back, she saw that her wings had disappeared. Feeling a momentary surge of unexpected panic, a surge worse than the one where she thought she was trapped at her small height, Kasumi willed herself to shrink again. It worked as she returned to her 'wasp' form, and was delighted to discover the wings had returned as well. Once again she willed herself to her original height. "Oh, Dr. Tofu. It's wonderful. My wings only appear when I'm small, and I can make myself tiny and big as much as I want…"
Kasumi trailed off as she saw that Tofu was lying on his back, face up to the sky. Blood was trickling from his nostrils in two tiny rivulets. For a moment, she feared it was a delayed reaction from an injury that had gone unnoticed, but then she heard him mumble, "So beautiful. Like a pale, newborn angel."
Kasumi looked down at herself and suspected what had happened to the doctor. Her whole body turned a bright shade of red. She quickly shrunk back down so no one could see her naked. In the distance, she could hear the sound of sirens, and realized she was going to have to move fast before the authorities arrived. True, it was her civic duty to report what had happened, but she felt some unspoken need for secrecy concerning her role in the affair. It wouldn't do to have everyone worry about her and the changes she had undergone. Her father would undoubtedly break down and cry if he thought one of his daughters' lives had been in jeopardy, especially someone as helpless as Kasumi.
Although that was not true anymore, was it? On the contrary, she could do more than take care of herself. Why, she could probably challenge Nabiki, who was a top-grade martial artist, and win. She had been instrumental in taking on two very dangerous super-villains and managed to win, with an assist from Dr. Tofu, who, like her, could also change his size. They had much in common now, more than ever before, even more than what he and Akane shared as doctor and assistant.
Kasumi hoped she could persuade Tofu to refrain from telling anyone about her newfound abilities. Now that the full force of events had settled in, and she could change size at will, she knew without a doubt she was going to use these fantastic abilities again, and would need to keep it secret. It was definitely the sort of thing her father and sisters, would never understand. They were ordinary people with ordinary lives, just like Kasumi's had been not more than two hours ago. But in the span of that time, everything had changed. Now Kasumi Tendou was far more than she had been, and she found she liked it very, very much.
Perhaps Dr. Tofu would want to use his abilities too, rather than hide them. To help others, of course. She was hardly going to use her powers for something as self-centered as fame or fortune. Just the thrill of having the abilities and using them was enough reward for her. Perhaps she could even become one of those super-heroes who seemed to be cropping up all over the country. Just the other week they had discovered two more costumed heroes. What where their names again? Oh yes, Captain Japan and his sidekick, Bucky. Already everyone was trying to guess their secret identities and when they would appear again. Kasumi wanted to be like them, fighting awful people with fantastic powers, just like she had tonight. It might be dangerous, and she could possibly be hurt, but someone had to do it. It might not have been the same sort of responsibility cooking meals for her family was, but it was an obligation nonetheless, one to society. With great powers came great responsibility. At least that was how she felt about the matter.
There was also a self-centered reason mixed in with all of the selfless ones. She enjoyed the unmistakable thrill of winning a fight. It was a bit egotistical of her to want to engage in violent acts simply for the stimulation of triumphing over an adversary, but as long as they were bad people intent on harming others, such confrontations would be justified.
Yes, that just felt right. She was going to do something exciting and important with her life and become a super hero. The name the two villains had given her, that of a 'Wasp' sounded most appropriate. She was only slightly bigger than one, had insect wings, and certainly possessed a sting. Yes, she liked the way it sounded. The Wasp it was.
With her more flamboyant identity decided, all that was left was to figure out what sort of costume she should wear, and what size to make it. The size-changing would make things a bit on the difficult side. She was no exhibitionist, like that Bucky person, flashing her breasts on nationwide television and such. The clothing was going to be tricky, all right, but she had time. All the time in the world, or at least until the next super villain tried to take over the minds of the population of Nerima.
And then an errant thought occurred to her, which ruined her mood.
"Oh, no! The meat!"
Letting out a tired sigh that held the weight of many decades, the Imperial Hydra turned off the portable spy unit she had set up to keep tabs on how Mentallo and the Fixer's operation went. Neither was aware of the cameras she had secreted in the mental amplifier anymore than they were of the fact that the Imperial Hydra was a woman, and an old one at that. But then, it was unlikely a terrorist organization would respond favorably to the idea of being run by a female. True, she could end all of their lives with the special detonator wires hidden in all of their uniforms (a definite advantage in ensuring the loyalty of one's minions, especially when one provided all of their clothing for them), but that would be a complete waste of time. Recruiting was a large expenditure, and the finances of Hydra weren't as mighty as they had been in the past thanks to the current recession. Running a terrorist organization wasn't as easy as the public thought. It took hard work and perspiration to get anything done, as well as a touch of ruthlessness. Well, more like a stranglehold of it, but that was the price one paid in order to call the shots.
The most ironic thing about the whole matter was it never had been her idea to run things in the first place. She would have been perfectly content to be a married woman and raise her brood of children, not even wanting a job. She was old-fashioned that way. But then came the day when the youngest of her children had finally started college and she stumbled upon her husband's real source of income. A door-to-door mattress salesman her foot, he had actually been the leader of one of the world's most reviled terrorist organizations. She knew she should have suspected things were odd when he kept bringing in nearly six hundred million yen a year; no door-to-door mattress salesman in the world made that, even as smooth a talker as her husband could be when the situation demanded it.
When she discovered the truth, she didn't have the heart to turn him in. His groveling and pleading hadn't hurt either. After all, he had been a responsible husband and parent. He had stayed faithful to her. He had provided well for her and the family. He even made certain to attend all the children's recitals and was always home for the holidays. How many salarymen could claim that? And it wasn't as though he had founded the organization; he just ran it. It was his father who had inherited the role from some crazy old Nazi called Von Smucker or something. He might have been related to the jelly baron. She wasn't certain.
In a way, she had been proud of her husband for thinking big, and running one's own terrorist organization was certainly lucrative, even if the risks were high. But at least he had long-term goals and had gone about trying to make them a reality, even if it was global domination. Few men had the courage to chase their dreams. So once she discovered the truth, she decided to help run things. She had to, really. It was a matter of family honor, she was a dutiful wife, her husband had not been in good health, and he always had difficulty in adjusting to the times. So she had helped, actually she had all but taken over, in modernizing Hydra for the current day and age. It got to the point where she was running both long term and day-to-day operations far more efficiently than her husband ever had. It seemed she had a knack for operating illegal enterprises. Hydra grew to ten times its original size and the successes the organization had were astronomical. Already their long-range plan to slowly turn everyone into a state of submissiveness by placing trace chemicals in their coffee was showing results. The people that claimed those Starbuck's franchises were spreading like a cancer didn't know the half of it.
But then her husband died, and she was left running the whole show. She had her technicians create a communications device that would project a holographic image; in her case it was that of her masked husband. It even imitated his voice. It was perfect in every way. Her subordinates had no idea they were taking their orders from a seventy-three year old woman who could be mistaken for a mummy if one didn't look too carefully. She was spry, but for most at her age simply breathing was considered being spry.
And that was part of her problem. She was getting too old to run things. Though she was still in perfect health, the fact was she was at the age where her heart could give out at any moment. That meant the time had come to pass the reins of command on to someone else. Since running Hydra had been a family business, it would be best to give it to the next generation of her offspring. There were some difficulties. All but one of her children had married. While it was true her oldest was to the point of frustration with his marriage that he would probably welcome the opportunity to become a terrorist, his first act would probably be to kill his own family, and she was rather fond of the grandchildren. So that meant offering the position to her youngest first. It was not as though he was doing anything important, like getting married and providing her with grandchildren to dote upon. It was time the useless layabout did something important with his life, like try to take over a large portion of the world.
But then the problem came up. One of the reasons she had wanted the device tested in Nerima was that she was going to be in the area anyway. As soon as they uncovered the amplifier she had ordered her technicians to develop telepathic scramblers making her immune to the effects of the mental amplifier, so that wasn't the problem. And she would be around firsthand in case anything went wrong or the two super nincompoops exceeded their orders and she was forced to liquidate them. However, she was delighted with the initial stages of the operation and the performance of her operatives. Those two had the potential to get ahead in the organization, if S.H.I.E.L.D. or some other annoying international defense agency didn't kill them first.
The operation had been going fine right up to the point they had encountered that 'Wasp' girl. Then things had gone straight downhill from there. It was nice that the boys had shown initiative and tried to capture the strange girl for study, but once they encountered a giant man, they should have canceled the operation and ran for it. Still, they had tried their best and came relatively close to success despite being thrown a curve that no one could have anticipated. She would let them live, despite their failure and subsequent capture. She would have the most vicious operatives at her disposal, the lawyers, get them off on some technicality. Probably from lack of witnesses, since everyone was in a waking state of unconsciousness the entire time.
But Mentallo and the Fixer were far from the most important thing on her mind. No, that honor belonged to another. The old woman closed the secret panel on her portable shrine and hefted it once more upon her back. What was of far more concern than even the loss of the prototype and the loss of two operatives was the identity of the giant man, and the questions surrounding him, one first and foremost on the Imperial Hydra's mind.
How on Earth did her son, Tofu Ono, get involved in the super-hero business? And more importantly, what was she going to do about it?
To be continued.
Author's notes: Finally done. Now you see that this series isn't dead (yet), it just went into hibernation for a while. It does that from time to time. But now at last the final primary members of our merry band of super-heroes have been introduced. Next chapter things are planned to really kick off as the gang gets all together for the first time, and there might even be some new/familiar faces showing up for the first time again as well.
Kyosuke Kasuga, and company are from KOR. Hiroshi and the people he mentioned are from 'My Dear Marie'.
Odd facts: The names from Kyosuke's list of choices are real psionic-oriented super villains (except 'Brain Guy) Ironically, Mentallo at one point in his career did briefly go by the name of Think Tank, largely in part because he attached himself to one in order to have better weapons and defenses. It didn't work.
The sad things is, Daredevil's early foes did tend to be 'unforgettables' like Leap Frog, Stilt Man, and the infamous original 'Hooters' of crime the Owl and his flunkies. And don't ask me about the 'Masked Matador' with his ability to use a red cape to make charging people miss him. ^_^
Special thanks to Gary Ee and William Morse for their detailed analysis of this.
Thanks also to:
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