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New Rourke Unmasked
Rites of Passage
Epic Feats of Muddling Through | Freak Ecology | Memories of the Undermind


Elisabeth Raleigh was spending a relaxing afternoon on the roof of her apartment building sunbathing among the vegetable and spice gardens. Halfway through a canteen of mojito, her head bopping along to the 80’s pop coming out of her little radio, the warmth of the sun and the slight breeze washed the world away. She still had a little smile on her face from the teasing she had given the Vietnamese boy who had come up to tend the gardens yet had been completely unprepared for the bikini-clad woman he’d found between the tomatoes and tarragon. He’d quickly run away, and Mrs. Cao would probably give her an ear-full later, but what the hell? It was a nice day, and if you can’t poke fun at the awkwardness of puberty what’s the point?

As the sun began its descent, Elisabeth started to drift off. Dreams of fame and esteem bubbled up in your mind. As a clothing designer, her innovative stylings would bring her world-wide acclaim. The great fashion houses of Paris and Milan would take cues from her. She’d summer on the Riviera. Elegant and aloof, a famous perfumer would come to her villa on bended knee to work day and night to capture her scent.

At the same time, as Springer, she would become a revered paragon of the superhero community. She’d capture terrorists, disrupt the plots of super villains, rescue kittens from trees. Stoic and resourceful, other heroes would come to her for advice and training. She’d rescue some foreign prince from an assassination attempt. He’d beg for her hand in marriage, yet she’d graciously decline.

Her eyes fluttered open when she head the sound of low flying jump jets overhead. At first she only saw glaring a ball of light, but as it passed she recognized the chrome and white of Axiom’s power armor. A couple minutes later he came back for another pass. Elisabeth wrapped her head in her towel to conceal her identity then waved him down with her floppy sunhat. He landed on the corner of the roof where his downblast wouldn’t disturb the plants too much. His arms-width wing struts collapsed, pulling the jets into a backpack configuration, and the engines cut out.

Elisabeth was a little awestruck. She’d seen mecha suits before, but never so close up. And this was freaking Axiom after all, the Platinum Paladin! If anyone, Axiom was the guy all superheroes in New Rourke wished they could be. He’d fought and defeated hundreds of bad guys in and around the city, even saved the country a time or two. Yeah, Akiva had been the top dog for a long time, but Axiom was the poster boy for feats of derring-do. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t geek out, but as she stood there, staring at his seven foot frame, her mind blanked.

“Can I help you, miss?” he said, with an electronic reverb to his voice.

“Oh, yeah.” she said, looking up at the vertical slit in his otherwise featureless clamshell helmet. “I’m Springer.”

“The rookie.” he nodded. “Hello.”

Elisabeth popped her hip and frowned. Sure, she was relatively new to the superhero business, but being called a rookie still felt demeaning. “I saw you flying overhead. Is something going on?”

“The Tangler broke out of containment. Other heroes and I are trying to find it before it manages to get lost in city again.”

Other heroes, she thought, besides the rookie. Her thoughts of infatuation-fueled stalking were slipping away. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“We’ve coordinated an expanding search pattern with the police, but The Tangler may have already moved farther out. Suit up, and head to MayBurg. If you see anything, report in. You’re not ready to handle The Tangler solo.”

Without waiting for a reply Axiom’s jets started up again, and he took off.

Elisabeth snapped off a mock salute after him. “Aye, aye, Cap’n Jerknuts.”

* * *

Kitted out in her pink bodysuit and helmet, Elisabeth headed to MayBurg where all of her buzz quickly wore off and was replaced with the exciting world of high-stakes superhero busywork.

MayBurg used to be a sleepy little town, but in the mid-20’s it was enveloped by New Rourke with a large segment of the land being turned into an enormous scrap yard. Most of the people who lived there now were hearty blue collar folk. MayBurg didn’t have much going for it besides the hipster art commune and that weird coffee shop that for some reason was called The Tuesday Night Steak House. It had been a long while since anything really super had happened there, and Springer knew it.

“Ugh! Lame.”

After jumping around for an hour and a half, not finding anything of interest, Springer sat down on a high stack of passenger cars from New Rourke’s defunct trolley line. She looked down into the walled off lot next to the stack where there was an overgrown baseball field that had probably been put together by neighborhood kids decades ago. On the pitchers mound a dark-haired ten-year-old boy sorted through junk from an old wheelbarrow. She watched him for a few minutes while he took items from the wheelbarrow, examined them, and then placed them in two piles on the ground.

With no sign of The Tangler, doubtful it had even come out this far, Springer decided to see what the boy was up to. Using her repulsion blast powers, she shot herself off the stack with the accompanying sound of a racquetball ricochet and landed about a yard from the mound. The boy was so surprised he stumbled backwards over his feet, landing in a small cloud of dust.

“Oops!” Springer said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Whoooooaaa!” the boy said as he got up, awe dripping off every elongated syllable. “Are you are superhero?”

“Why, yes I am.” Spring said, striking what she thought of as a heroic pose. “I’m Springer!”

“Springer?” the boy’s forehead furrowed. “Never heard of you.”

Springer slouched. “Well, that’s just typical.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“Eh, hunting monsters.” she shrugged. “What are you doing?”

“Waiting on some friends. They usually come out around now. I feed‘em.”

Springer glanced at the piles again. “You feed them…junk?”

“Only the good stuff.”

”Obviously.”

Springer looked at the junk. It was mostly random stuff one could find in any junk yard mountain, but the boy had sorted out scrap metal and wires in one pile with discarded electronics in the other, leaving mostly rubber and plastic in the wheelbarrow.

“Who are these friends of yours?” Springer asked cautiously.

“They live in the junkyard.”

“Okay…You mind if I stick around?”

The boy shrugged. “Free country.”

Springer helped the boy, whose name turned out to be Jaime Lent, sort through more of his junk. After a few more minutes had past, he pointed across the lot to a gap in the wall.

“Here they come.” he said.

At first Springer thought the three figures where mottled brown and red Labradors, but as they came closer, and she could hear the unnatural mechanical sounds accompanying their movement, she knew exactly what they were.

“Oh my god, those are rust dogs!”

The three cybernetic canines where slightly bigger than normal adult Labradors with a neon blue glow emanating from their eyes and open mouths; their “skin” was a casing made of overlapping little metal plates like scales covered in various degrees of rust. One of them rushed forward, bouncing up and down in a playful manner when it got near Jaime.

Jaime picked up the inner workings of a portable CD player and waved it around.

Bzark!” the dog shouted.

Jaime tossed the CD player, and the dog snatched it out of the air. As the dog crunched happily on the treat, Jaime ran his hand down the dog’s back; the metal scales clinking as he did so.

For the second time that day, Springer was at a loss for words. Fortunately, this time it passed quickly. ”I had no idea there were any out here.”

“You know what they are?”

“Yeah, they run wild in the city, but they mostly avoid people. I heard they used to be more common. I only ever saw a dead one once. The local ASPCA has been trying to get them on the endangered species list for years.”

“Who made them?”

“Another superhero named Cyber Sab0r.”

“Is that a friend of yours?”

Springer paused. “She was a bit before my time.”

When Springer first started out, an older hero pulled her aside one night and told her the cautionary tale of Cyber Sab0r, the self titled “technarchist anti-hero”. She had been one of the new wave of late 80’s-mid 90’s heroes; brash, independent, and by all accounts too headstrong for her own good. Her technical brilliance and ability to create the seemingly impossible earned her quite a bit of esteem during the rise of the digital age. Over the years she developed a tense rivalry with the archaic technology themed villain, The Anachronist. All new superheroes in New Rourke after that point were told the grim details of how The Anachronist had hunted down Sab0r, and how much was found of her body.

“Where did you find them?” Springer continued.

Jaime shrugged. “Like I said. They live here.”

Springer looked at the other two rust dogs and saw that one of them was missing the lower half of its rear left leg; it was limping along with the other dog keeping pace.

“That one’s hurt.” Springer said.

After plucking a severely rusted scale from the neck of the dog next to him, Jaime looked up and frowned. He selected a chunk of metal and part of a circuit board from the piles then handed them to Springer. “Give ‘em this.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. They’re like normal dogs. Only different.”

Springer walked up to the two dogs. Immediately, the healthy one stepped in front of its companion.

Grawl!” it sounded.

“It’s okay.” Springer said softly. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Boof.” it said cocking its head to the side.

Springer slowly placed the junk on the ground then stepped back. The dog stared at it for a moment, and then raised its head and tail followed by a restrained “Bzark!”. The lame dog came forward and crunched down on the junk. Springer watched, marveling at the blue smoke and heat trails coming from its mouth. To her amazement, a mechanical framework and scales extended down from the wounded leg, rebuilding it.

The other dog suddenly rushed pasted Springer bzarking loudly. She turned around and saw the pile of trolleys tilt forward and crash down into the lot. The unnerving way that the ground shook made Springer decide now would be a good time to leave. She used her repulsion blast in order to jump over to Jaime, but instead of her going up, the ground went down. She fell forward, slamming into a ledge just below her collar bone. The lower part of her body dangled over a void while she clawed at loose sod unable to find solid purchase. She shouted for Jaime to run, but the rest of the lot was already beginning to fall away.

As she, Jaime, the rust dogs, and the rest of the lot tumbled into the black of the long forgotten mineshaft the one thought running through her mind was “rookie mistake.”

Continued

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