By Happy Little Darren


Captain Vortex stared around the long, oval table at each of his fellow Ultra-Crusaders. Warlock Woman looked bored. Power Bolt looked depressed and bored. Golden Songbird, behind her gaudy, high pointed domino mask, was most likely asleep. Dr. Justice looked resolute, grim and determined, but then, Dr. Justice would most likely have required cosmetic surgery to NOT look resolute, grim and determined, he'd been doing it for so long. Fastman was vibrating in his chair in a manner that was reminiscent of a little kid who has to go to the bathroom, but at much higher velocity... he generally wore out three or four high quality leather executive chairs a year.

Captain Vortex sighed, and returned his attention to the head of the table, where team chairman Fellow American was concluding his reading of the minutes of the Ultra-Crusaders' last monthly meeting, as prepared by Mrs. Roboto, their sentient headquarters computer.

"I need a motion to accept or reject these minutes as official records," Fellow American finally said.

Warlock Woman, who almost assuredly hadn't listened to a single phrase he had uttered prior to his last sentence, responded in a fast monotone "Movetoreceiveandfiletheminutes". Captain Vortex often thought it was a pity that neither Mrs. Roboto nor Fellow American had any sense of humor; you could put some interesting stuff in those minutes, the way no one ever really listened to them being read back later. "Second," he said, raising one finger sparingly.

"Motion to receive and file the minutes has been made by Warlock Woman and seconded by Captain Vortex, any discussion, vote and record," Fellow American droned.

"Aye," everyone (except, probably, Golden Songbird) chorused wearily. Inwardly, Captain Vortex groaned; this was only the START of the goddam meeting.

Abruptly, there was a flash of light, a sharp, acrid odor, and immediately choking clouds of purplish black smoke filled the room with a pervasive chemical reek. A black clad figure stepped forward out of the gouts of stinking smoke, his long dark cloak swirling melodramatically behind him. "NightLord, the Master Mage, has arrived! I greet you in reverent enlightenment, my fellow Ultra-Crusaders!"

"Oh, Jesus Christ," Warlock Woman said, coughing and blinking her eyes against the stinging smoke, "do you HAVE to show up that way, Nightie? I just washed my goddam hair and now its going to REEK of brimstone for the rest of the day!"

"Not to mention we'll never get the stink out of the curtains," Power Bolt said glumly. He hitched up his criss crossing Chest Straps Of Power and re-settled them on his shoulders, trying to make them ride more comfortably.

"Actually," Dr. Justice said, grimly (but he said everything grimly) "NightLord came up in the elevator five minutes ago and then walked over to the corner and waited to make his entrance. He used skillful misdirection to keep the rest of you from noticing him, but the Avatar of Law sees all!"

Fellow American raised his eyebrows. "And you didn't say anything?"

"The Embodiment of All Order keeps his own counsel," Dr. Justice said, loftily.

Captain Vortex suspected the Avatar of Law and Embodiment of All Order hadn't noticed NightLord making his surreptitious entrance either, but had instead furtively accessed Mrs. Roboto's video security logs on his wrist-monitor before speaking up... but he didn't say so.

Golden Songbird stirred in her chair and sat up, her pug nose wrinkling. "Holy moley, what smells like dog doo... oh, geez, NightLord, do you HAVE to use that crappy fake smoke every time you come in?"

"Ne'er mind," NightLord said haughtily. "I have matters of cosmic import to lay before our companionship of champions. Namely..." He flourished with one hand, and something appeared in it... "THIS!"

The assembled Ultra-Crusaders leaned forward and peered at it through the dissipating mists of NightLord's entrance.

"Er," Fellow American said, dubiously, "it looks like a rock."

"THIS," NightLord said ominously, "be no mere rock, my fellow Ultra-Crusaders. THIS... is... THE PUMMELING STONE!"

Captain Vortex snorted. "Okay. It's a rock with a really stupid name."

NightLord glared at him from the depths of his hooded cloak. "It is not a really stupid name."

Captain Vortex rolled his eyes. "Oh come on now. I get my powers from a chunk of radioactive debris that fell out of space and landed on my 1966 Mustang convertible while I was underneath it putting a new muffler on. Which, by the way, is not something covered by any insurance policy, in case you were wondering, which is why I now drive a 1986 Dodge Dart. Anyway, for the first two years of my career the papers called me Meteorite Man. Trust me, I know about stupid names. And The Pummeling Stone is a completely stupid name."

"It's a perfectly good name," NightLord said in a small, petulant voice, glowering at Captain Vortex.

Golden Songbird squinted at the rock in NightLord's hand. "What does it do?" she asked, ingenuously.

"I'm gonna guess it pummels," Power Bolt said dryly.

"Or in some way facilitates pummeling," Warlock Woman agreed.

"The Pummeling Stone," NightLord intoned in a deep, impressive sounding voice, "is the most powerful mystical artifact known to this plane of reality! It grants vast powers to its wielder! In the hands of evil, it can wreak chaos and havoc from one end of the universe to another!"

"In the hands of me, would it wreak better TV reception?" Captain Vortex asked. "Cuz I had to cancel my cable service and the WB has been coming in for crap ever since."

"DAY am," Fellow American said. "Dude, that sucks. The WB is, like, The Major Babe Network."

"TELL me about it," Captain Vortex said, mournfully. "Although at least BUFFY is on UPN now, and I still get that pretty good."

"Jesus," Warlock Woman said, rolling her eyes. "Get a satellite dish, for Christ's sake. Or tell you what, Techno-Baron has a parole hearing next week; if they let him out I'll send him around and he can hook you up with some free cable. He owes me a couple of favors."

Dr. Justice looked at both of them incredulously. "Uh, Warlock Woman... Avatar of Law right here in the room...?"

"Oh, please," Warlock Woman said, waving her hand dismissively. "What are you gonna do, write me a ticket?"

"I have a duty to the law!" Dr. Justice said, obviously stung. "I will have no choice but to take you both in for facilitating a felony..."

"Oh, well," Warlock Woman said, "then by all the powers of darkness at my command, you certainly did not hear me say any such thing and will never have cause to suspect that Captain Vortex has illegal cable."

Dr. Justice looked blank. "I certainly did not hear you say any such thing and I will never have cause to suspect that Captain Vortex has illegal cable," he repeated back, in a monotone.

"Gee, thanks," Captain Vortex said. "I owe you one."

Fellow American scowled at Warlock Woman. "Have you ever done that to me? You have, haven't you...? That's where all those Polaroids I had from when we were dating disappeared to..."

Warlock Woman sighed. "You never took any Polaroids of me, Andrew." She made a strange gesture with three fingers as she said it. "Also, you never saw me do anything to Dr. Justice's memory just now and would never even consider the idea that I might have that power."

Fellow American shook his head muzzily. "Okay, what were we talking about...?"

"Nothin'," Captain Vortex said. "Pummeling Stone."

Warlock Woman patted his knee under the table and whispered, "Thanks."

Captain Vortex whispered back, "I want to see those Polaroids."

Warlock Woman sighed and said, "Later."

NightLord drew himself up. "IF we could get back to my thing now... Thank you. The most powerful forces of evil and chaos in all existence already seek the Pummeling Stone. Therefore, we must take it to the center of the universe, where we will hurl it into the Gaping Chasm of Oblivion still remaining from the time of the Big Bang, which is the only thing that can possibly destroy it!"

"Now there's a new plot," Fastman commented.

"Lemme see that thing," Fellow American said, reaching across the table towards the Pummeling Stone.

"No, you fool, the Stone's corrupting influence," NightLord said, drawing the Stone back.

Fastman handed the Stone to Fellow American. "Yeah, yeah," he said. "Corrupting influence, whatever, here you go, chief."

"I hate it when he does that," NightLord said in a small voice, staring at his empty hand.

Fellow American turned the Stone back and forth in his hand. "This is a rock," he said, finally, "that someone wrote 'Pummeling Stone' on in magic marker."

NightLord folded his black robed arms across his black robed chest sulkily. "The very mundanity of the Pummeling Stone's appearance belies its massive power," he insisted.

Captain Vortex leaned in closer to look at it. "I'm pretty sure 'pummeling' has two 'm's in it, too," he added.

"And mundanity isn't actually a word," Warlock Woman added.

Dr. Justice tapped something on his wristband and a TV monitor rose up out of a hidden hatch in the center of the table. "Observe," he instructed. On the monitor, NightLord was clearly visible, bending over in the parking lot outside the secret headquarters to pick up a piece of broken curbing that looked suspiciously like The Pummeling Stone. As the Ultra-Crusaders watched, they saw NightLord peer around himself furtively, then take a marker out of his robes and scribble something hastily on the side of the shard of curbing.

In unison, the team turned and glared at NightLord.

"Pummeling Stone, huh," Power Bolt said, ostentatiously adjusting the protruding nozzle of the Ionic Death Beam that was mounted on one of his flaring metal wrist gauntlets.

"It..." NightLord's eyes shifted from face to face, and a note of some desperation entered his voice. "The image you just saw was an obvious attempt at mind control... an illusion created by my arch enemy, EvilMage! Surely you must all see..."

"Gimme that rock," Golden Songbird snarled, "I'm gonna pummel HIM."

Dr. Justice folded his arms sanctimoniously across his chest. "None," he intoned smugly, "may deceive the all seeing eyes of the Avatar of Justice."

"Really?" Fastman said, looking over at Warlock Woman, "because, a couple of minutes ago... OW!" He bent down and massaged his lower leg under the table.

Fellow American looked perplexed. "A couple of minutes ago what?"

"Nothing," Captain Vortex said reassuringly, shaking his boot surreptitiously under the table - kicking the constantly vibrating Fastman felt something like whacking a big tree with a baseball bat. "He wasn't going to say anything. Right, Fastman?"

Fastman shifted his eyes warily back and forth between Warlock Woman, who was smiling at him pleasantly, and Captain Vortex, who was also smiling at him pleasantly. "Uh," he said, "no, no, I wasn't gonna say a thing." He massaged his ankle and winced. "Ow."

"Polaroids," Captain Vortex whispered out of the corner of his mouth to Warlock Woman.

"Okay, okay, right after the meeting," she whispered back in an aggravated tone, "I have them in the Invisible Helicopter, meet me on the roof after we adjourn, geez." She narrowed her eyes. "But you ain't getting' free cable, buddy." She lowered her voice even further, so that even with his super hearing, Captain Vortex could only barely make out something about 'goddam meteorite powered people who are immune to mind control spells'.

Captain Vortex sighed. Free cable WOULD have been nice. He eyed Warlock Woman furtively from the corner of his eye, in her tight black leather bodysuit with red trim... nah. He could get one of his own tech-geek enemies to give him free cable. In fact, now that he thought of it, Nerdo Supremo was going on trial sometime this month, and the prosecutor owed Cap a few favors...

Captain Vortex nodded firmly and whispered again, "Polaroids. Definitely Polaroids. Meet you on the roof."

Warlock Woman sighed in exasperation.

NightLord looked around the room again. "Um... so... we're not going to do the Pummeling Stone thing, right...?"

"Oh, by all means, let's do the Pummeling Stone thing," Power Bolt said. "But I'm pretty sure we can find this Abyss of Eternal Chaos, or whatever, in that nudie bar two blocks over, if we look hard enough."

"Second!" Dr. Justice said immediately. "We will probably have to be very observant, though. Over a considerable length of time."

"What are you talkin' about, the Gaping Chasm of Oblivion isn't in a nudie bar, it's..." NightLord stopped grumbling and looked around, seeing the rest of the team glaring at him again, and Golden Songbird fingering the Pummeling Stone in a menacing fashion. "Oh. Oh, yeah. Nudie bar. Sure. It could be there. What the hell."

Warlock Woman folded her arms haughtily across her magnificent leather clad bosom. "These taverns are shrines to male domination of the female, where women labor in sexual bondage to the disgusting desires of the masculine gender."

Captain Vortex, Power Bolt, Fellow American, NightLord, Fastman, and Dr. Justice all looked at her.

Fellow American finally said, "...AAAAand...?"

Warlock Woman spread her hands. "Hey, I'm just SAYin', is all. Not that there's anything WRONG with that. Let's do it. Ultra-Crusaders Assemble!"

Golden Songbird looked warily at Warlock Woman. "Okay, I'm going to need a separate shower cubicle from hers in the locker room from now on."

Warlock Woman looked across the table at Golden Songbird and smiled. "No you won't," she said, making an odd gesture at the same time.

"No I won't," Golden Songbird said, her eyes growing wide as she stared in obvious fascination at Warlock Woman.

"Polaroids," Captain Vortex said quite firmly. "Hell, I want videotape of that."

Warlock Woman sighed. "Whatever," she said. "Now?"

"What the hell are you two...?" Fastman stared at them both in bewilderment.

"Never mind," Captain Vortex said. "You guys go ahead. Warlock Woman, Golden Songbird, and I will catch up. Later."

"Now, wait a minute," Dr. Justice and Power Bolt both said, suspiciously.

Minutes later, NightLord, Fellow American, Dr. Justice, Fastman, and Power Bolt all stepped out of the hidden elevator and into the abandoned warehouse that stood above the Ultra-Americans’ secret subterranean headquarters.

"This should be cool!" Fastman said. "I've never been to a nudie bar before!"

"Remember, our mission is one of the gravest consequence," NightLord said, after which he and the others immediately dissolved in chuckles.

"Hey," Fellow American said a minute or so later, as they walked out into the parking lot, "where are the other three...?"

Fastman's brow furrowed as he thought, and then he said, "Oh... they'll catch up... later. Yeah, later."

"Right," Dr. Justice said. "I remember that."

Power Bolt scratched his head. "Why does the phrase 'these are not the droids you're looking for...?' keep running through my head...?"