As Marian turned the corner in the drive at the Center for Gifted Research, she could see San Savant, Adamant, Flow, Sturdy and Fleet standing at the Garden Express. She parked her van and got out, wondering what was going on. San Savant approached, looking worried.
"I can't believe that even he would do something like that to that nice old man!" Marian stamped a hoof in anger. "He might have killed him!"
Marian's outrage was easy to understand. The folks at the Center for Gifted Research had just received word that the Wizard had been beaten nearly to death by Muscle Man.
"Well, the Wizard did pull a nasty prank on him, a couple of months ago," said Sturdy. "Muscle Man isn't the kind of person who takes jokes at his expense lightly."
It turned out that this assault wasn't the only crime Muscle Man had committed. His most recent problems had started when he tried to crash a party in Chicago. Actually, he did crash the party, literally. The host and the guests tried to ignore him, and for a while things went fairly peacefully. Then Muscle Man discovered that the Wizard was also there. Muscle Man, whom several people described as having been drinking heavily, caught the Wizard by surprise with a sucker punch, and continued pounding on him after he was down. When security men tried to pull him off, Muscle Man went out of his way to hurt them, finally leaving after most of the guests had stampeded out of the ballroom.
The police were notified, and an APB had been put out for the errant Gifted, but so far this had only resulted in several policemen being injured and several police cars being turned into scrap.
"Guess it all shows that the only difference between Gifted and normal is the price of their tantrums," remarked Adamant.
"This could be a serious setback to public opinion concerning the Gifted," explained San Savant. "I'm sending Wanda, Sturdy, Adamant and Fleet to Chicago via Garden Express to help the local police hunt down and capture Muscle Man. With luck, they may be able to persuade him to surrender peacefully."
"Don't count on it," said Fleet.
"Can you send me with them?" asked Marian. "I want to go visit the Wizard."
"No problem," replied Adamant. "We'll be appearing in the middle of a park, not too far from the hospital, anyway. The chief of police is already expecting us."
"Yeah," added Sturdy, "it'll be nice to have you along."
San Savant finished priming the enchanted area of ground, targeting it for the desired location. Now all that was needed was for someone to say the trigger phrase, and anyone within the circle would be transported to the desired location.
"All aboard!" called Adamant, as Marian hurried to join them.
With her and Sturdy both in the circle, things were a bit crowded. The quintet squeezed together, Marian keeping an eye on Adamant. Sturdy, as team leader, chanted a short set of apparently nonsense words, and there was a sudden, brief sensation of giddiness. Then they were standing in the middle of a small park, with tall buildings all around.
The promised police escort was there, all right. Unfortunately, they were not in any condition to help the team, since Muscle Man was there, too, and had already dealt with them.
"Well, well," the rogue Gifted remarked casually, from where he sat on an overturned police car, "look who's coming to the rescue."
Adamant strode forward, looking irritated.
"What's he doing?" hissed Marian.
"He goes in first, as a negotiator," explained Flow. "If he can't persuade someone to surrender, there's no danger, since he can't be hurt."
"Okay, muscle mouth," snapped Adamant, leaning forward with his hands on his hips. "You coming quietly or are we going to have some fun kicking you all over this city?"
"Of course, with Adamant doing the talking, few people ever consider surrender," sighed Fleet.
Muscle Man instructed Adamant to perform a difficult feat of autoeroticism, then grabbed for him. Adamant dodged nimbly out of the they way, and poked his forked fingers into Muscle Man's eyes.
"Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!" chortled Adamant, dodging again as Muscle Man reached blindly for him.
Muscle Man was too tough for someone with normal strength to hurt, even in this way, but the attack had put him off, made him loose some of his confidence. Adamant danced around Muscle Man, punching, jabbing, and jeering.
"You little worm!" Muscle Man screamed, after Adamant kicked him in the groin for the third time.
"Ah, you're just mad 'cause your parents wanted a boy."
Muscle Man suddenly lunged forward, catching Adamant off guard. He grabbed Adamant's shirt, and yanked him into the air, winding up for a punch with his other arm.
"Oh, well," sighed Adamant, resignedly. "I'll try to write!"
The blow launched Adamant upward and backward; he vanished behind a row of buildings. Before Muscle Man could turn back to the others, Fleet blew by, flattening him. Marian had wondered why he always carried that baseball bat when he went on one of these missions. Now she new.
Muscle Man, not really hurt, clambered back to his feet, only to be knocked onto his face, as Fleet came back the other way. The aluminum bat made an almost musical note as it contacted Muscle Man's back.
The big Gifted shook his head, then lurched upright again. This time, he saw Fleet coming. He waited until the last moment, then stepped to the side and held out his arm, meaning to clothesline his tormentor. Now Marian understood why Fleet wore those heavy leather pads on the elbows, knees and seat of his jumpsuit. Unable to dodge in time, he simply dropped and slid, passing safely under Muscle Man's arm.
Now it was Sturdy's turn. He moved in slowly, with Muscle Man watching warily. Suddenly, when they were about ten feet apart, Muscle Man lunged at Sturdy, swinging wildly. Sturdy dodged, and rabbit punched his opponent over the sternum. Sturdy tried to follow this up, but Muscle Man quickly pulled back. He approached again, more cautiously this time, and the two of them got down to a serious slug fest.
Marian watched in awe as the two of them battled. They were about even in strength, with Muscle Man's slightly greater speed and agility being balanced against Sturdy's superior experience. For several tense seconds, it looked like the fight could go either way. Then, Sturdy managed to land an incredible blow, which bounced Muscle Man off the front of a nearby building.
Sturdy hustled over to make use of his momentary advantage, but Muscle Man staggered to his feet before he could get there. Apparently deciding that he didn't want any more, Muscle Man turned and jumped, disappearing into the cloudy sky.
"Damn." Sturdy turned back to the others. "Flow, you head after him. Report back here if you find him. Fleet, same thing, but go that way. Marian, go see if Adamant needs help climbing out of a hole or something. I'll wait here."
Marian took off at a trot, ignoring the stares from bystanders. It was late afternoon, and away from where the battle had forced people to run for cover the streets were crowded with traffic, causing Marian some difficulty as she moved away from the park. She couldn't just take to the sidewalks; they were too full of people for her to move without stepping on someone.
Adamant had gone farther than she had initially thought. She finally found him several blocks from where he had started. He had hit the ground outside a power substation, sliding through the fence before stopping. Muscle Man had found him first, but that wasn't a problem, for one very obvious reason.
Adamant was standing with one hand over his head, gripping the terminal of a transformer. His hair was standing on end, his shoes were on fire, and he was surrounded by a coronal glow.
"Go ahead," he taunted Muscle Man, grinning, "hit me."
Marian suddenly remembered that Adamant had one other ability besides being indestructible. Under certain conditions, he could absorb energy and release it at will. Of course, if he didn't let go soon, his clothes would burn off, but that didn't seem to have occurred to him. Marian wondered what she should do, finally deciding that she should just stand and watch. She would be no more than an annoyance to Muscle Man, and might interfere with whatever Adamant was planning.
As it turned out, her decision was the right one. A bird swooped down over Muscle Man, turned into an elephant, and dropped on him with all four feet. The elephant then turned into a jaguar and limped away; elephants aren't built for jumping.
As the jaguar turned into Flow, Adamant left his post and ran to the stunned Muscle Man, reaching down to touch him. Marian, having an idea of what was coming, closed her eyes and covered her ears. As a result, she was only mildly blinded and deafened by the bright flash and loud crack.
"So we put the sleep charm on him and waited for the police," Marian explained to the Wizard. "We offered to take him back to the Center, but they politely declined. They said they had a facility that would hold him."
"I doubt that," whispered the Wizard, with only a hint of his normal verve. "Still, I suppose they must learn through bitter experience."
He didn't look nearly as bad as Marian had expected from the description of his injuries. Of course, he had been hurt nearly a full day before, and like most Gifted tended to heal fast. The Wizard lay perfectly straight in the bed, both legs and one arm in casts, IV tubes running into his unencased limb, and his white beard on top of the sheet. A nurse came in and told Marian that she had just five more minutes.
"Oh, well, guess this will be it for a while," she sighed. "I'll try to get permission to use the Garden Express to come over for another visit as soon as I can, but that may be several days."
"Don't trouble yourself, child," the Wizard wheezed. "I'll be ambulatory in less than a week. Then I can give the five of you a proper heroes' banquet as thanks for capturing my assailant."
"You don't have to do that," said Marian, embarrassed. "My involvement was an accident, and I really didn't do anything."
"You came here," he told her.
The nurse returned and chased Marian off, showing no signs of being intimidated by someone nearly eight times her weight. Marian rose from where she lay and turned for the door, pausing on the way out for a final wave. The Wizard's eyes were closed, and he might have already been asleep.
This work is Copyright 1998 by Rodford Edmiston Smith,
who can be reached at: email@example.com. Please contact the author for
permission before reposting or reprinting. Thank you.