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Prologue - "24 Hours Ago" for Hercules Papadopolis


Kaerri's Man. =)
Roleplay Availability
Roleplay Type(s)
(Spoiler contains mood music.)

Because Nikos Vertis can make some good music and the song title fits the scene in its own strange fashion. =)
"De me skefttesai" ("You Don't Think of Me") by Nikos Vertis

About 24 hours ago...

It was almost like an ordinary Florida afternoon on Eglin ASC base. To the east, the sky was crystal clear, blue and bright with the heavenly sun in the sky making for a breath-taking picturesque scene. To the west, the same skies held a raging tornado complete with angry-looking clouds and winds that threatened to darken and bring chaos to whatever stood before them. This was sometimes the way of Floridian skies. This was also sometimes the way of life.

So it was for A.T.A.C. Corporal Hercules Papadopolis. On one hand, because of the weather, the Greek-born giant had the kitchen of the A.T.A.C. mess hall nearly all to himself while he stood over the stove. This was a first. The sunny side of Herc was probably alive as he followed the idea of cooking Psaria Tiganita with Florida's native striped mullet since Greece's red mullet seemed impossible to come by. He had a glass of Floridian San Sebastian white wine nearby, but no baklava in sight.

The lack of honey and chocolate, however, was not the real ammunition that fed Herc's unhappier side. For like the storm outside, there was a part of Herc that probably felt very alone here at Eglin ASC. Even as his fellow military soldiers passed through the kitchen, they did not stop to say hello or start a conversation. Though they had worked together before, Herc just had not broken the ice with anyone here yet. Usually, he was too busy training in his Veritech Hover Tank or performing mechanical tasks suited for someone of his immense strength. Earlier, Herc had used that very power to help ready things against the tornado and in doing so, one of the cooks placed this fresh fish into Herc's hands with permission to use the stove with her gratitude.

So all there was to do now was cook, which was usually a sure-fire way of taking Herc's mind off of his troubles.

And yet those troubles nagged at him like a foul-tempered grandmother full of gripes. Herc had been at Eglin base for a month. An entire month! And not one word from Legend Squadron in Greece! They promised they would send their love through letters and packages filled with Greek-gotten goodies of all kinds. Promised! It was easy enough for Herc's mother and father to settle far to the south of Eglin in Tampa Bay where they could make these things in their own home, but here in the military life where hardly anyone knew you, it was difficult to keep one's spirit up when worry knocked at your door like an impatient salesman.

Still, Herc knew he had to keep his kefi alive. While his parea might not be present here in Florida with him, he knew, he just knew they could not have forgotten him! And one day, he would come into his own parea here in Florida. But... his mind asked... what if his friends in Greece had met some untimely end? What if they couldn't reply? He had worried for weeks. Being a corporal in the Army of the Southern Cross meant that poor Herc lacked the means to call them. Plus, the papers here were few and far between and none of them had any news of Europe, much less Greece.

(Spoiler contains translations from Greek)
Kefi is a hard-to-translate word which has been described by various Greeks as meaning the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, overpowering emotion or frenzy. Kefi takes many forms, but is usually, but not always, associated with the expression of positive emotion.
(Source: gogreece.about.com/cs/glossary/g/kefi.htm)

Parea: (Gr.) A Parea in Greek culture is a group of friends who regularly gather together to share their experiences about life, their philosophies, values and ideas. The Parea is really a venue for the growth of the human spirit, the development of friendships and the exploration of ideas to enrich our quality of life that is all too brief in time. In Greece, the Parea is a long-lasting circle and cycle of life nourished by the people who participate.
(Source: www.constantinealexander.net/2010/11/definition-of-a-parea.html)

How technology had changed since the Rain of Death all those years ago! Such a call, even between military channels in war-time, would have been far easier prior to the near-destruction of the planet Earth.

The crackling of his striped mullet on the skillet was singing a melody of sorts to his ears while the delicious smell sent missives of its own to Herc's nose. The sensation brought him back to the present and away from his worries. Beside the skillet, his fresh-cut lemon waited patiently. People, strangers mostly, passed by his stove if only to glance at his work. Even this striped mullet had been troublesome to come by, for Herc's many duties as a tanker kept him busy and away from the markets that sold these things. Still, he had his wine beside his stove and his thoughts.

That's about the time the lights in the mess hall flickered and died. All went dark. People gasped and some cursed. A few were near Herc and his stove. Moments later, electricity was restored. Two soldiers were right beside him as the lights came back on. They walked past him and enjoyed the aroma of the fish.

As the soldiers left, Herc was truly alone. He tried this Floridian striped mullet. Oh, it was delectable! The recipe, while different, still worked quite well! Another page to add to his mental cookbook! The white wine would go well with this! He had a deep gulp and went back to distracting himself with his cooking, except that he noticed the wine tasted a little differently.

That was the last thing Herc remembered thinking before he slowly and gently passed out on the mess hall floor...

(More GM mood music.)
Alice in Chains. What a shift from Mr. Vertis's music! Still, that bass guitar just brings out this cool and dreadful "coming out of blackness and into a dangerous unknown" feeling. For this scene, it's fitting.
"Angry Chair" by Alice in Chains

When Herc came to, he was groggy. Very groggy. It wasn't like being drunk-groggy; this was worse. Weirder. It was like someone had put a big translucent rubber sack around his head, for he couldn't see right, couldn't hear right. All his senses were muddled like in a faraway dream. The white lights he was staring at, the various blurry shapes in the room, the distant muffled voices of two people talking, one younger, one older.

And Herc couldn't move a single muscle.

When he tried, he realized his muscles were groggy too and not responding to his mental commands. That was all right, something told him. Herc's Greek ancestors, of whom he had every right to be proud of, had survived much longer bouts of endurance than this - like evening-long parties and orgies and... well, this was unfortunately neither of those.

Herc found himself examining his body in an effort to learn more information. His sense of being restrained came from the notion that something was holding different parts of his body firmly against the chair. As the room slowly began to get a little clearer, Herc began to realize that not only was he not in the mess hall anymore, but he was in some sort of medical room, sitting upright in some strange chair like those in a dentist's office. Or perhaps those big chairs used in executions...

The light came from a trio of ceiling lamps. Herc saw various medical instruments all about him - a few computers with lively readouts, IV bag on its stand, a tray table, three small and strangely-marked bottles with their caps on. Unfortunately, some of the instruments were of the sharp variety; three syringes each of differing sizes and two scalpels also lay on an aluminum tray on that table. They appeared unused. Or... maybe they were used and someone thought to clean them mighty well using that sink on the wall.

Whatever the case, Herc found himself bound to this chair. The straps were made of sturdy leather and locked together using metal clamps and buckles, six straps in all, starting from his ankles and working their way up to his massive chest. Apparently someone out there actually made chairs not only large enough to hold rare huge people like Herc, but also went to great lengths to make certain Herc-sized people did not just get up and walk around without some kind of permission.

By this time, Herc realized that he was truly alone in the room. No passer-bys. Just him. The two voices he was hearing came from another room to which he could see through a window connecting the two rooms. Herc had seen windows like this before and his brain told him that the window looked very much like a one-way mirror and he was on the good end. While he could not see anyone, he could definitely hear. Someone male and caucasian-sounding was shouting in that bare-looking room. Shouting angrily. Even threateningly.

Whatever was going on was far from good.

Anyone who knew Greek history knew that at one time slavery was a reality in ancient Greece. To be strapped to a chair like this, unable to move or act, well, it went against everything passionate and fiery that laid inside every Greek soul. Including Herc's. To stay in this chair and do nothing was a travesty against his very blood, his very spirit. Bad enough he had been worried for weeks for his parea, worse still to hear something horrible going on to someone else in the next room, but to suddenly have his own body bound up like a helpless slave of old brought forth his very kefi.

When those feelings hit him, something deep and awe-inspiring in Herc flared brightly to life. The Greek began to struggle and struggle with all that was inside of him as if he were fighting against the very powers of Hades. Like the heroes of old, Herc wrestled against those solid, brown straps to win the one thing all Greek-blooded people valued - freedom!

His thrashing caused him to knock against the tray table. Helpless to do anything but watch and knowing full well the alarming cacophony that would certainly gain the attention of the angry man in the next room, Herc saw the metal and plastic contents fall toward the tile floor. There, they crashed in a chaotic symphony of skidding utensils and banging bottles. It seemed that the aluminum tray would not stop its mad clattering across the floor.

Herc found himself staring out of the one-way mirror. The fierce shouting had continued without pause. Nothing had changed. The man had not heard him. It was as if this room were soundproofed from the room he was looking into. And all that meant one thing...

...Hercules could struggle to his great heart's delight!

Herc fought and thrashed so passionately and violently that the chair came right out of its mounting on the floor. One by one, those leather straps strained and cracked from stress until, finally, finally one of Herc's huge arms burst free! Heatedly, but not incoherently, Herc began to grab at the buckles that held him in.

One by one, they loosed until the Greek giant stood over the toppled chair that was his prison like a Pankration warrior looming over a fallen foe. He had certainly exerted himself as if he had been in a terrific battle, for the parts of his body that the straps held against were sore. Yet, as any Greek would likely agree, this was a small price to pay for the freedom Herc had won.

There were two doors leading out of this room. One door, behind him, seemed secured only with a doorknob. As for the other, Herc saw the sliding door that led into the bare room where the shouting was coming from, but he also spied the keycard device that likely activated that door. His eyes did not spot any sort of card in the room here that might fit the slot. However, now that he had changed his position in the room, his eyes did find the angry man and his hapless victim...

(Spoiler contains picture of the hapless victim)
Note: Imagine two major changes, please.
1. Imagine the same person below at about 15 years of age.
2. He has black hair. It's styled a short, flat-top afro. It looks good on him.
I just love this kid's smile! =) )
(Image credit: www.rvmosart.com )

Herc could see a thin young man sitting down on a cheap plastic chair in the middle of the room. Dressed in sharp black corduroy pants and a handsome blue dress shirt, his head was low and he looked confused and afraid. He appeared unharmed, physically. He did not seem bound, but still he clutched the chair with both hands tightly.

Opposite him was an average-sized man in military fatigues with Eglin ASC base patches except that something about the fellow didn't seem right. For one thing, his hair was a tad too long for someone in active duty. Then it hit Herc. The Greek recognized this guy as one of the men from the mess hall. He had been watching Herc cook when the lights went out.

The man had cruel eyes and an expression to match. On his belt, Herc could see a knife and a handheld radio. Between them was a chrome and black wheelchair with the logo of the Army of the Southern Cross proudly emblazoned on its back cushion as if specially designed that way. The chair seemed a little flimsy and though it was far from new, it appeared to be very well-kept.

Until the man reared back his booted foot and kicked it hard. The kid winced as if he had been the one kicked.

"Please, sir," he pleaded. "I need my chair. It's my life."

The man screamed back with such hate that it defied reason. It was the kind of scream that made one think that he was used to screaming. His shrieks boomed in the small room. "You still don't get it, do you? And you're supposed to be so damned smart!"

He struck the wheelchair again and again. The back cushion tore. The arm support bent.

"See? This is what you get when your father helps Zentraedi scum! This is what you get when your fucking father turns his back on all of humanity!!"

"Please, sir! My father didn't betray humanity!"

"Yes he did! YES, he did!" He pointed his fist in the kid's face. The kid fell back and cringed fearfully. "We caught him! Those RDF Zentraedi here at base who are supposedly here to help us against the Malcontents! Well, guess what? The only good Zeek is a dead Zeek!"

"But... but..."

The man reared his hand back. "It's like this! The Anti-Unification League is the only force left on Earth that can stop those alien bastards! Only we can save Earth! Don't you get it, kid? It wasn't enough for those alien sons of bitches to nearly destroy us, now they wanna mate with us! They wanna make those damned abominations! Then they wanna put 'em in our cities, in our army, in our very schools! Just what do you think is going to happen to humanity when that happens?!"

The cruel man bashed and stomped the chair in his fury. First the right wheel bent in. Then the left caved in. Then the left side of the chair bent in badly. He drew his knife and stabbed and slashed the cushions until there was padding floating miserably through the air. All the while the kid sat there helpless, unable to do anything but cry. And cry he did. Silently.

The man brandished his knife proudly. "We're Earth's only hope! Only when the AUL kills every last Zeek-blooded bastard on Earth will humanity ever have a chance at being truly free again! Like we were before they came! But until then, they won't rest until they have infiltrated our hearts, our minds, our very genes! When you see your father again, you get to tell him everything! Oh! And you know the best part?"

The kid looked up, astonished that there was more.

The man spoke slowly. "He's in the next room!" He pointed at the one-way mirror. "That code you heard earlier? The other cell told me they just put his big, bad self into my favorite chair. That means you'll get to tell him about how he and people like him betrayed Earth! Maybe he'll listen to you! When he sees we have you.... Ohh.... Then we can get him to work for us!" The man sheathed his knife and stared at the door leading into the room where Herc watched all of this. He took a few steps away from the kid. "I can't wait to meet him..."

"But first..."

The man turned toward the wheelchair. With a running start, he leaped into the air and came down with all of his weight into a full-strength double-footed stomp onto the wheelchair. The wheelchair bent horribly and broke under his weight with a metal squeal. The chair was destroyed. Utterly useless. The man stared at the kid for a long moment and then walked toward the door and, underneath his handheld radio, he produced a keycard.

"Be lucky I don't do it to you, kid!"

Herc saw his chance. The man was about to use his key to open the sliding door leading out of the bare room and into the one Herc hid in. Herc's body, having just freed himself from his own chair through great efforts, was pumping with every ounce of vitality in him. He knew that once the man opened the door, he would likely be surprised. In that moment, Herc could attempt many things...

Unarmed but with the element of surprise, Herc has the following options:
1. Haul off and deck this jerk with everything Herc's got (power punch - knock this guy into next week; possibly "one-shot" him)!
2. Go for the man's radio so that he cannot use it.
3. Attempt to leave through the other door in Herc's room (this does not seem to require a keycard, only the turning of a doorknob).
4. Pick up a syringe and stab the man with it.
5. Anything else Herc can think of...
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Mood music:

Herc smiled to himself despite the aching loneliness and concern for Legend Squad that nestled in his heart. He was cooking, adding to his repertoire of succulent, enticing, exciting dishes. In his head, The Olympians sang their hit song, Φίλε μου φίλε*, and he hummed along to the chorus. Then, just as the red mullet was almost ready for the sprig of tarragon and the lemon juice, the lights went out and returned.

Ah, the oncoming tornado must have tripped the local power supply and the base has switched over to it's own power station, he thought to himself as the lights returned.

He sipped his wine, and, only too late, realised something was wrong. Then the world slanted ninety degrees and plummeted upward swiftly, leaving him staring at a pair of boots, before his vision fled completely.


Herc awoke, his head groggy as if after a long night on ouzo. His mouth tasted furry and his limbs were heavy. As full sensation returned, so did vision and hearing. And what he saw and heard he did not like. This room, it was no dental surgery, or an operating room. It was an interrogation room, well kitted out and prepped to work on him. A single word formed in his mind, a word shaped like a razor that slashed through the grogginess and brought clarity of thought. ESCAPE. No two ways about it. Hercules exerted himself, one muscle at a time. He began tensing the muscles of his left arm, then his right, forcing biceps and quads to exert intolerable strain on the straps and the buckles and fittings restraining him. He remembered his boyhood days in Greece, rolling around with his eldest brother. He remembered the armlocks his brother used to use, trapping a limb in a reversed angle, straining the joints against themselves. He remembered how he strained and stretched and forced the armlock open. There was a creak of over-stressed metal, a squeak of leather stretching, a whine of restraint components breaking. And then his right arm was free. The violence of his escape had uprooted the chair from its fixings on the floor, so he had to roll free once he'd unfastened the remaining straps. He rose to his feet, carefully taking in his environment, but the shouting from the other room was drawing his attention enough that his desire to escape was overcome by curiosity.

And what started as curiosity ended in fury, cold unrelenting fury. To see that poor, defenseless boy sobbing as the heartless bully broke and tore apart his wheelchair made Hercules tense with rage, his eyes misting with tears of sympathy. But the moment was changing, the man, this AUL flunky was about to enter the interrogation room and see Herc and the chair.

The chair.

Hercules ran over and grabbed the uprooted chair and gripped it by the seat, the legs either side of his waist and the back in front of him, close to the floor. He trotted back to the sliding door and waited. There was a bleep from the scanner on his side of the door and the little red light turned green. Then the door slid swiftly open and Herc was face to face with the bully.

"Take a seat.", Herc said, then hefted the heavy chair into the bully's gut.

He didn't pause there; as the bully stumbled back, doubled over and winded by the impact of the heavy chair propelled by Herc's massive arms, Hercules whipped the chair up, catching the bully under the chin with a sickening crack of hard metal on bone. The bully fell back, poleaxed. Herc stepped forward and without another word, slammed the chair back down onto the bully's unprotected head. He released the chair, it's back buckled and splashed with blood and prized the keycard out of the fallen man's hand. He also secured the knife and the guy's ID. Once he'd done, he looked around to see the young man, still sitting in his chair, staring wide-eyed at the humongous corporal.

"My name is Hercules. I'm going to get you out of here."
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The moment the sliding door opened, the young man suddenly leaned forward and yelled at the top of his lungs. "Daaaad, look out! He's comi--" But then the words stopped in his throat as both men realized that the gigantic figure standing in the doorway was not this young man's father...

"What the fu--" was all Herc heard the AUL man say before Herc began his overpowering assault. Herc's first and second blows did indeed land as described. The man reached for his only hope, the handheld radio on his hip. There were two knobs and an important-looking red button placed between them. It was this that he was reaching for when...

Herc stepped forward and without another word, slammed the chair back down onto the bully's unprotected head.

Sometimes even the hardest hits become improved by the roll of the dice. As it turned out, this finishing strike of Hercules's appeared to come not from his kind and perhaps merciful side but instead from the blood-seeking wolf that seemed to howl crazily for justice from deep within Herc's very soul. So when Herc swung this third and final time... not only did he hit... but he critically hit. And not with his fist, but with that gigantic metal chair that weighed more than the man he was hitting. It came down on him with every ounce of brutal force Herc seemed to possess.

In other words... (I'm going to have a little fun here.)


Herc hit his opponent so terribly hard it caused the entire RP Nation website to crash!

The site stayed down for 5 whole minutes while Staff high and low tried frantically to figure out just what had taken place!

Herc hit this guy so hard, it was felt in other games!


When Herc tossed the chair aside, the man did not stir. Not even a little bit. Ashen-faced, the young man sat gasping and holding his chest with one clenched hand while gripping the armrest tightly with the other. It became obvious to Herc that he had never witnessed such a display of emotional violence like this in his short life.

Once he'd done, he looked around to see the young man, still sitting in his chair, staring wide-eyed at the humongous corporal.
"My name is Hercules. I'm going to get you out of here."

This held true. The young man stared at Hercules in blank-faced shock. He spoke and the more he spoke, the more his calm returned. "Hercules? Like the demigod son of Zeus from Greek mythology? Wow... You certainly look the part, sir." He tried not to look at the remains of his chair but instead, he looked up to Herc with as much civility as a soul in his unhappy position could. "My name is Rothschild. Thank you so much for rescuing me, sir. I saw things flying around in the room you were in, but I didn't want him to notice, so I kept my eyes on him instead of you."

But then he looked back to the AUL man as if remembering something. "Sir! His radio! I was listening to it while he was... shouting at me. Do you mind if we take it with us? We might learn somethi--"

Just then, the radio crackled to life. Rothschild stared at it, unable to walk over and pick it up. So instead, he listened intently. Not that it was hard to hear it; someone on the other end was screaming for his life.

"--dammit, I don't care! We have to get out of here!!" The man sounded American... and in a pure panic.

A far steadier voice, also male, replied. This man had a Hispanic accent. He sounded bored. "Get a hold of yourself, Myers. Just tell me what bug you have so I can come down and squash it for you. You and your damned imagination."

"Damn you, Quintero, you're not listening to me! He's killing us!"

"Who is?"

"It's Fat Gandalf and he's really pissed off!"

There was dead silence on the radio.

Rothschild looked up to Herc. "Fat Gandalf? Is he a friend of yours, sir?"

"Quintero! Quintero, do something damn youaAAAAAAAGH!!!"

Silence reigned again but not for long.

"Quintero, is it?" The voice sounded aged with an accent both English and American at the same time. It sounded like it came from a very heavy man, a very heavy man who had lost his patience long before he got here. He spoke slowly and meaningfully. "Listen well. I have had a rotten night. I am not in the mood for your little AUL tricks and threats. Just give me what I want and you live. Refuse and I kill you all. Decide now."

"What?! Suck my dick, bitch! Who the fuck are you to come into my house talking this shit?"

"I have your answer. AUL, you roast in Hell tonight."

"Hey! I'm talking to you! I said, 'who are you?!' Hey! Hey! You answer me! I'm in charge here!!"

But the radio remained otherwise silent.

Rothschild held his chest with both hands as if experiencing a chill. He looked up to Herc, his brown eyes full of apology. "Sir, I hate to be a burden, but I also have a heart condition. I try to stay calm to keep it under control. They took my medicine. If we see it on the way out, could I get it, please? It's in a blue and white pillbox with a really cool N.A.S.A. logo on it."

The way out for Herc and Rothschild appeared safe, but Herc had the cautious feeling that this could change at any moment.

What does Herc do?
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The conversation on the radio was... disconcerting. But a radio tuned to enemy frequencies was a vital source of intel. So that joined the knife and the keycard in Herc's blood-spattered fatigues. He turned to the young man and his face softened further, the feral monster he'd been moments before smoothed away and replaced with the amiable smile of a true Greek. The sun had come out from behind the clouds in the Mediterranean sky and beamed out to lighten all beneath it.

"I am glad to meet you, Rothschild.", he said warmly and with feeling, "We'll go as quickly as we can, and we'll keep an eye out for your medicine. I can't promise that there'll not be more trouble, because I don't know how deeply in trouble we are right now. But relax, I'll not let anyone harm you, not while there's breath in my lungs and blood in my veins."

He tore a strip from the dead bully's fatigues and tied it around the hilt of the knife, before securing the knife to his right wrist. Now the knife dangled just within reach below his wrist for ease of use in an emergency without needing a sheath. With this done and with little noticeable effort, he hoisted the boy onto his back, instructing Rothschild to hold on tightly around his neck. He scooped his left arm under Rothschild's butt for support and to prevent the boy accidentally choking him. Thus prepared, Herc took one last look around the observation room and the interrogation room before heading to the door he'd originally seen when he'd broken free of the chair. He avoided looking at the cooling corpse and the spreading crimson pool that seeped out from under the chair.

Mama, Papa, forgive your little Herc for what he did, but the bad man was doing horrible things to someone who could not defend himself and was going to do horrible things to me, too. If there had been another way, I would have taken it, I swear.
"I am glad to meet you, Rothschild.", he said warmly and with feeling, "We'll go as quickly as we can, and we'll keep an eye out for your medicine. I can't promise that there'll not be more trouble, because I don't know how deeply in trouble we are right now. But relax, I'll not let anyone harm you, not while there's breath in my lungs and blood in my veins."

"Wow..." Rothschild repeated in awe, but this awe was not from having witnessed Herc's might, but from Herc's transformation from a terrible monster into a deeply warm and caring human being, one who had just promised to do everything in his power to free the young man regardless of the odds. Rothschild's expression of shock slowly changed into strong curiosity. His expression seemed to say, "Whooooa! All that and you're friendly, too?" Perhaps the young fellow did not put his feelings into words lest they offend, or perhaps it was because he was so overcome by the transition from hellish violence to the truest of bravery and compassion. Whatever it was, Hercules had shown both sides of himself - and young Rothschild appeared so incredibly impressed that he did relax as Herc suggested.

With this done and with little noticeable effort, he hoisted the boy onto his back, instructing Rothschild to hold on tightly around his neck. He scooped his left arm under Rothschild's butt for support and to prevent the boy accidentally choking him.

Rothschild took to this direction eagerly. As Herc lifted Rothschild, it became suddenly apparent just how light the young man was. He did not weigh as much as someone who appeared to be 15 years old should. His legs, like well-dressed sticks, dangled uselessly for a moment until Herc provided his support. Once Rothschild was in place, the young fellow, whose arms appeared stronger-looking than his legs, was very mindful of Herc's windpipe. Whenever he could, he held onto Herc's broad shoulders instead. He had strong hands.

Rothschild spoke but not too loudly. "Hercules, sir... If Dad wasn't the one in the big chair, then... why did these people capture you and bring you here?"

He avoided looking at the cooling corpse and the spreading crimson pool that seeped out from under the chair.

The young fellow in Herc's care did the same. Instead, he seemed to need distraction. He tried to put his mind somewhere else to take it away from the horrific and grisly scene. Again, the more he spoke, the calmer he became. "I was having such a good day, sir, before this happened. You see, Flight Lieutenant Mackenzie and I helped save a convoy from the Malcontents on Interstate 10! And then she let me pilot the Valkyrie back to base. Sure, she had set the autopilot all up and let the tower tell me what to do, but I did it! I flew! And when it was time to land in Guardian mode? Well, I did that too - I put her down just as the lady from the tower told me to. Perfectly! I can't wait to tell Dad!"

"And maybe someday... I can repay you for all this by flying you somewhere." Rothschild sighed dreamily as his next words poured out from the longing of his heart. "I sure hope so..."

Thus prepared, Herc took one last look around the observation room and the interrogation room before heading to the door he'd originally seen when he'd broken free of the chair.

The more Herc looked around these rooms, the more he realized they had seen much use. Deep black bloodstains tained the floor of the bare room like sin. The "medical" room had a secured cabinet with a handful of bottles and vials all with red warning labels emblazoned across their typed lettering. Despite Herc's tremendous efforts, he felt whatever was in his system had not yet left it. The grogginess threatened to return, but movement and action seemed to keep this dreaded feeling, this easy surrender to sleep to wake to an unwelcome future, at bay.

With his free hand, Herc tried the door leading out into the unknown. It was not locked. Opening it revealed a long corridor of concrete and metal reinforcements. Whatever this place was, it was made for heavy duty of some kind. There were attractively-painted numbers and arrows on the walls at about eye level, but no clues as to what they meant or where they came from.

There were eight numbered doors but no indicators as to their purpose. All but one, the door at the end of the corridor, had electronic keycard readers. They looked far from new. Harsh white light was supplied by long LED lamps inside the ceiling. They gave an eery feeling to what otherwise felt like the clean, tough atmosphere of a military complex. It all gave the impression that these hard walls were keeping more than just their secrets from easy release.

Without warning, there came a muffled explosion from somewhere inside this complex. Those hard concrete walls momentarily shuddered. Dust fell from the ceiling for a moment. Then Herc saw the red "Exit" sign on the ceiling at the very end of the corridor. It seemed the best way to go to get out of a strange and dangerous place like this.

This door too was unlocked. Opening it, Herc and Rothschild saw that it led into a medium-sized room where computers blinked and monitors provided full-color images of scenes viewed through sharp camera eyes. Red alarm lights winked silently everywhere. Six office chairs at four expensive desks were in the room in a haphazard fashion as if their owners had gotten up in a hurry. The insistent beeping of a microwave telling of some readied meal or drink came from one wall. A locker made of hard metal built into the wall was open and empty. Herc noticed empty gun racks built to hold half a dozen shotguns or assault rifles. One door led away. It was marked 223. It was reinforced with a keycard reader on its right.

However... the most telling thing of all were the curious contents displayed on the four monitors above the computers. Together, they told of a scene taking place. A fiery, angry scene coupled with much violence...

(Spoiler contains GM mood music)
This music is Fat Gandalf-approved. Just sayin'. =)
Note: Since RpN moved back to xenForo, I have lost this song so I'll just use my imagination, "ask him," and insert another (Fat Gandalf-approved) song that fits the scene. Ah! Here's the one he "wants." =)
"Hard Day's Night" by The Beatles

According to the cameras, somewhere nearby in this complex was a motor pool. This motor pool was burning, mega-damage supply trucks, jeeps, and all. Fuel tanks roared with chaotic flames creating crazy shadows upon every surface. The bloodied, torched bodies of men in battle dress uniforms littered the area. Not one moved. Not one could.

All over the speakers in the room Herc was in there were voices raised in confusion and alarm. From the motor pool, there came another hard explosion. The walls trembled again as if quaking in fear. From the monitor, Herc and Rothschild saw a 25 ton M-2200 Janissary APC rise up and flip onto one side before crashing down. Men and women yelling hatefully and firing automatic weapons fell one by one until six more blasted corpses joined the floor.

At first, Herc could not see the origin of this raging conflagration and death, that is until one of the cameras locked onto a man who was very out of place here in the AUL stronghold.

His navy blue Armani suit was stylish and truly upper-class along with the black and holographically-lit starlit tie that peeked out and sparkled from time to time. As for the man himself, he was quite round and heavy with a great, white mane and flowing beard that traveled down his chest nearly to his waist. His hands were large, but not pudgy and his skin while aged was not unhealthy with the scars of stress or injury. Instead, he seemed like one big lion of a man with piercing blue eyes filled with resolve.

Furthermore, this man's countenance was truly horrible to behold. "Pissed" was not the word. This man's eyes blazed like a demon's and the way he moved told Hercules that he was not stopping until he had found what he had come for, regardless of how many smoking and twisted AUL corpses he had to step on to get it. Hell had few furies comparable with a man this willing to fight and succeed.

(Spoiler contains a rough picture of the man in question)
Add some height and some serious pounds to this fellow and you just about have him.
steven-hermans-oldsoldier.jpg www.artstation.com.jpg
(Image credit: "steven-hermans-oldsoldier" at www.artstation.com.jpg)

"Dammit!" Herc heard over the speakers. "How'd we piss off Fat Gandalf?!"

"Simple," the big man growled as he pressed forward like an oncoming freight train. "You and your Brutes took a friend of mine. I am getting him back." He turned and held out one outstretched arm. As if by magic, something else exploded into vibrant orange light and men screamed and flew quite unnaturally about the room. They landed in smoking tatters. "I told you I was having a bad night. You ninnies should have listened."

In front of Fat Gandalf, something fast, small, nimble, and white was zipping along the floor in front of him, but Herc could not tell what it was. Despite the smoke, flames, bodies, and blood, Fat Gandalf seemed be following it. Casually.

Rothschild's face brightened in recognition. He pointed excitedly. "Sir! Mister Hercules, sir! It's my friend, the Professor! But he's always so peaceful! What is he doing? He could be killed! Oh! Oh my!" Rothschild reached for his chest. He began breathing heavily in an effort to calm himself again, but it wasn't easy.

That is when Hercules noticed something else that was quite out of the ordinary. One of the computer screens was different than the rest, for it had targeting reticules, numbers, and the view of a weapon of some sort. The keyboard and joystick controls waited below it. Looking closer, Herc's M.A.C. II and Veritech Hover Tank training told him that this was some kind of hidden gun emplacement outside this room.

From what Herc could tell, a quartet of armed men and women were lying in wait. They were AUL militants; Herc was sure from their hateful dispositions (normal people really don't look this angry!). They placed themselves outside a door marked 223 over which they would soon have a good view of Fat Gandalf who following his little white guide below them, did not appear aware of the AUL team. Their leader was counting down on his fingers to the rest of his team while they readied assault rifles to fire on him.

What does Herc do?
1. Use the radio.
2. Use the computer and fire whatever it fires on the AUL militants.
3. Open the door using his keycard.
4. Hide under a desk until the battle is over (because I have to put at least one ridiculous option in here if only for the fun of it! Hah!).
5. Anything else Herc can dream up. =)
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Trying not to think too deeply on the events that had transpired in the interrogation room, Herc moved swiftly but cautiously through the facility. His every movement was measured, but without hesitation. Once he committed to an action, he followed it through to its conclusion. To doubt his instincts now would risk himself, but worse it would risk Rothschild and that was a risk too great to endure. The shaking and muffled noise indicated that something serious was happening in the vicinity and that was enough to tell him we don't want to be here any more. Without pause, Herc rushed through the door marked 'EXIT'.

The room was deserted, banks of monitors revealing camera views, a row of deserted chairs and other accoutrements indicating the inhabitants of the room had recently tried reenacting the Marie Celeste. The view of combat on the screen and Rothschild's surprised exclamation drew Herc up short. Why and how a scholar should be so martial staggered him. But then he wondered, perhaps this man has the blood of an Athenian? They were notable warrior-scholars. But the more pressing concern was the presence of the ambushing team. Herc had to do something, this 'Professor' seemed likely to be the only chance he had at getting away from this place with all of his body parts firmly attached to him. He prised the young man off his back and sat him into one of the vacated chairs. He handed Rothschild the radio and pointed out the armed ambushers.

"Warn your friend about them, before it's too late.", he said simply.

This done, he dragged one of the chairs over and squeezed himself into it and grabbed the joystick. He gave it a few wiggles to test the sensitivity, up, down, left, right. Once done, he sighted up alongside the head of the man counting down.

"Turn the radio up, and hold it close!", he called then, as the boy did so, bellowed, "DROP YOUR WEAPONS AND STEP OUT WITH YOUR HANDS RAISED!"

He squeezed the trigger lightly, firing the weapon once at the cover beside the leader's head.

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(Spoiler contains GM mood music. Enjoy. =) )

Given what happens in this scene, I just can't help but play this excellent jam just for the title's name and what happens to Herc here. Really! Don't blame Herc! He didn't know! 8D
"Blow Me Away" by Breaking Benjamin

"Warn your friend about them, before it's too late.", he said simply.

Rothschild held the radio in both hands. He looked scared but he also looked as if he were fighting it. "Professor! Gunners up and to your right!"

Fat Gandalf glared menacingly but also with a touch of confusion. "Reggie?" He whirled and aimed his hands at the area Rothschild described.

Once done, he sighted up alongside the head of the man counting down.

"Turn the radio up, and hold it close!", he called then, as the boy did so, bellowed, "DROP YOUR WEAPONS AND STEP OUT WITH YOUR HANDS RAISED!"

Their reply to Herc was anything but civilized or leaning toward surrender. "Go screw yourself, whoever you are!" Realizing their cover was blown, the AUL militants began to quickly stand up with longarms aimed on Fat Gandalf. However, they never got the chance to act...

He squeezed the trigger lightly, firing the weapon once at the cover beside the leader's head.

Unfortunately for good-hearted Hercules, the weapon system in no way told him just what the weapon in question he was operating was. Nor did there seem time to adequately figure it out before someone good got shot. So when the well-meaning Greek tanker squeezed the trigger ever so lightly in his attempt to let off a single warning shot, the machine did exactly as it was instructed - one round precisely flew at the cover beside the leader's head...

Thooop... KABOOOOOOM!!

...which exploded into a tremendous blast that completely blew apart all four AUL troopers in one loud, wall-shaking eruption of fire and shrapnel. At the same time, that explosion shook the room he and Rothschild were in, badly damaging the door that appeared to be their way out. Herc immediately realized that only the power of an explosive, area-of-effect, mega-damage weapon could do that. Now the one door that led out into the motor pool area had gone from being in good shape to being a smoking and mangled ruin. They would have to find another way out of here.

Rothschild looked up at Herc in total awe for the third time in as many minutes. "Wow!" he beamed, his beautiful eyes shining. "You got those guys to break cover right as your mega-damage grenade launcher struck them! You're a brilliant tactician, sir!" At the moment, there did not seem to be any changing Rothschild's incorrect putting together of this evidence, for immediately after Rothschild said this, the radio came alive with the voice of Fat Gandalf.

"Reggie, did you do that?"

"No, sir! My new friend did! We are..." Rothschild looked around. "...behind room 223."

"That presents a problem, now doesn't it? Thank your friend for me and go back the way you came. You should find a corridor with eight doors. Take only the first door on the right. You will have to find a keycard with access to it. It will eventually lead to a freight elevator. Take it down to the motor pool level. And remember," he added, "AUL is hearing everything we are saying..."

An angry voice with a Hispanic accent came over. "We're gonna fuckin' kill you!!"

"Oh, no." sighed Fat Gandalf in a dreary, bored monotone. "The Anti-Unification League is coming to get me. I am so terribly frightened. Whatever shall I do..."

"Damn you!"

"I have been damned enough for one evening, thank you." Fat Gandalf began moving and muttering, apparently to himself.

Rothschild giggled. It sounded out of place given the situation, but he could not help it. He was giddy with all this excitement. He smiled to Herc. "I... can't believe this is happening. You. The Professor. Am I dreaming?" He lifted his arms toward Hercules as if ready to be carried and looked to the one way out of the AUL complex.
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Hercules frowned as he watched the view on the camera blossom in flames and death. He'd worried that the weapon might not simply be an explosive ordinance weapon, but he'd figured that only an idiot would install such a weapon for point defense inside their own motor pool garage! Well, what was done was done. He turned to listen to Rothschild's laughter and shrugged. At least he seemed less concerned about his medical condition, and that was a plus. Herc automatically hefted the slight figure onto his back again and fished the keycard out of his fatigues pocket.

"Let us hope the dream ends without a nightmare, my friend.", he replied to the young man's question. He trotted back out the door, taking care to peek the corners in case any stragglers might be lurking then set off, following the instructions.

"Your professor friend seems quite familiar with this location, and the Anti-Unification League are quite familiar with him, even if it is hostile. Any idea why this is?", Hercules found himself asking.

He was trying to stay positive, trying not to thing of leaping from the frying pan and into the fire. This man, this Professor, whom the AUL called 'Fat Gandalf' did seem very familiar with this location, a building which to Herc was a complex as the Labyrinth of Minos. He jogged to the first door on the right and tried the keycard, praying to God that it was the correct card. If it wasn't that would require a detailed search of the other rooms until he found a card that would work.

He hoped it wouldn't come to that, because he didn't have any thread...
"Your professor friend seems quite familiar with this location, and the Anti-Unification League are quite familiar with him, even if it is hostile. Any idea why this is?", Hercules found himself asking.

Rothschild scratched his hair and shook his head. "None, sir! Our Professor is such a nice and generous fellow, well... I didn't think he had any enemies!" Unlike before, the young man now clutched against Hercules's muscles as if the Greek were the only rock of stability he could count on during this violent and emotional roller coaster.

It was one thing to be flying hundreds or even thousands of feet above the action with Lieutenant Mackenzie in her Valkyrie fighting giant military aliens; it was quite another to be thrust face-first into this unreal scene of bloody espionage where one wrong turn into the unknown could cost both he and his new friend their lives - and there were a lot of unknowns. Rothschild felt glad that there was so much intrigue and unanswered questions to keep his mind busy, else he may have fainted right out from fear.

He kept talking; thinking aloud. Reason helped to keep the fear away. "Is this the same Anti-Unification League that everyone calls terrorists? Haven't they killed lots of people? I thought they were pro-human, but if that's the case then why hurt us? Not all Zentraedi are bent on our destruction! Some are good-hearted!" Rothschild's expression turned to concern.

"And why capture you, sir? The cruel man seemed to think you were Dad, but... Oh, this probably means he's in danger too! No, not my Dad! He's everything!" He trembled noticeably. "But wait... The Professor is here. He's risking his life to save me and you too, I bet. Of course he knows his way around; he always stresses the importance of researching the unknown, finding the facts. He'll find some way to help Dad too if he hasn't already!" Then he glanced at Hercules. "Oh, sir, I hope you don't mind me thinking out loud like this..."

"Reggie?" the radio spoke.

"Oh! Yes, sir?"

"You and your friend be ultra-careful; there is a Tormentor, a bald-headed, averagely-built man of unusual cruelty they call 'Scathe.' If you have to battle him, I can guarantee he will have a keycard with the best access."

"Oh, I think my new friend took care of him, sir! Permanent care!"

"Oh. Well, in that case, use his card at your leisure; I have just made certain the AUL cannot deactivate it."

"Thank you!"

"I should like to meet this new friend of yours and soon."

"I hope so, sir! Thank you for the warning, sir!"

"Remember, Reggie. They are listening..."

Rothschild whispered with a hopeful smile in his voice. "Yes, sir."

By this time, Hercules had come to the first door on the right. Rothschild gulped and held on. Hercules swiped the keycard. The light turned green and the door slid open. Rothschild sighed in relief once when the door opened and again when the room turned out to be empty of hostiles, yet the constant sounds explosive devices and automatic gunfire rattled from elsewhere in the compound.

The room was of large size and easy to get around in. Soft faux-leather couches and a sharp-looking kitchen with lots of cupboards dominated a room clearly meant for leisure. Another door like the one they had come through could be seen on the opposite side of this room. An arrow on a sign on the door read, "To Freight Elevator." There was a refrigerator, stove and oven, sink, microwave, three tables with matching chairs, and a wide inoperative television set.

Along one wall was a series of three-foot-tall armored lockers, twenty in all, mega-damage in construction with keycard readers and barcodes and numbers over every door. It was then that Hercules realized that the keycard he held also had a barcode and arrangement of numbers on one side.

Hercules also came to notice that two of the three tables were not empty; there, carelessly littered about, were empty RDF containers and plastic and foil wrappers that appeared to have once held food in them. These airtight containers could keep food fresh for quite some time. Each of them were about the size of a big lunchbox. There were four in all, but Hercules had never seen their like here in America. Something nagged at Hercules as he caught himself staring at these items. It was a feeling that would not let him pass by.

And then it hit him. The last time he had seen containers like these was in Greece...

...at the RDF base he was stationed in...

...he used to eat out of these.

Rothschild looked around, confused. "Is something wrong, sir?"

(Spoiler contains mood music. Enjoy!)

Such a soulful voice! =)
"Eimai mazi sou" by Nikos Vertis

Another look showed Greek lettering across the shipping labels. The address on the labels was here in what was once the United States. In Florida. In Eglin ASC base. The name on each container?

Cpl. Hercules Papadopolis.

What was the name on the return address in Greece?

Staff Sergeant Tahel Yaffe of Legend Squad.

What were the contents of the first container? Hercules could easily recognize the recently-eaten remains.

(Spoiler contains what was once inside.)
And I quote from Herc's In-character Quiz... =)

Cap'n as Herc sez, "One of my favorite meals is a starter of taramasalata and hummus with freshly-baked pitta, followed by some well-stuffed dolmades. After that, a dish of lamb moussaka and perhaps a few goat souvlaki. If the season is right, perhaps some barbounia in ladholemono. Finally, a hearty helping of baklava. Of course, it'd need the right accompaniment, a refreshing Santorini Assyrtiko."

It was true. Hercules's parea had never forgotten him nor forsaken him! They were clearly alive. According to the dates on the shipping labels, they had been sending these care packages to him from across the wide Atlantic Ocean on a weekly basis. But there was more amiss... his parea always put little notes, pictures, or jokes of some kind into his lunch box when they were to be away on different missions. Always.

So where were they?

What does Herc do?
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Looking at the remnants of his parea's, his old squadmates, gifts from home made Hercules' heart swell with joy. They were alive and well! And they were thinking of me! He did not spare a moment in thought on the fact that his long-yearned-for food had been stolen and stuffed into the mouths of thieves. Instead, he rejoiced that his friends were all well. But the notes! These were important, he decided that he would not leave without at least one of the letters from the four boxes.

"See these meal boxes? They were sent to me by... very close friends. They once held delightful food that I used to cook for my friends, food that they took time to prepare for me and sent to me. Now that food is gone, stolen and eaten but these League people.", Hercules told Rothschild with a sigh, "But more than that, there were usually letters, pictures and such in the boxes. I cannot leave here without them. I will bring you to your friend, the Professor, but then I must come back and find my friends' letters. They are important to me."

He settled the young man's weight more comfortably on his shoulders and walked over to the row of lockers. He started to swipe the card through each of the readers, hoping that at least one of them would respond and reveal something of use to him.
"See these meal boxes? They were sent to me by... very close friends. They once held delightful food that I used to cook for my friends, food that they took time to prepare for me and sent to me. Now that food is gone, stolen and eaten but these League people.", Hercules told Rothschild with a sigh, "But more than that, there were usually letters, pictures and such in the boxes. I cannot leave here without them. I will bring you to your friend, the Professor, but then I must come back and find my friends' letters. They are important to me."

Rothschild examined the hardy lunch boxes with renewed curiosity. Finally he said, "You mean the AUL has been stealing your mail, too? Why would they do that? It defies logic. Your friends on the other hand... they must think the world of you to make you food all the way from..." he squinted at the RDF shipping label. "Greece?! You really come all the way from Greece, sir? Wow! You must love them very much to want to stay in a dangerous place like this long enough to find whatever else they sent you." He thought for a moment, then added, "You know, I would too if I had friends."

He started to swipe the card through each of the readers, hoping that at least one of them would respond and reveal something of use to him.

"Sir..." Rothschild patted Herc's shoulder in an attempt to courteously get the huge man's attention. "May I recommend that you examine the keycard to see if any of the barcodes match up? It's easy when you know what to look for!"

Rothschild took a moment to examine the back of the keycard, then he looked hard at the lockers. "There! I bet that's it!" But he had it wrong. So he tried again. "That's the one!" Sure enough, Hercules was rewarded with a green light. The locker door creaked open. On the inside of the door was a name in black lettering: "Scathe."

The first thing Hercules noticed was a black leather holster in which a pistol seemed to be resting.

(Spoiler contains picture of pistol.)

Hercules instantly recognized the RDF S.D.C. LP-3 Laser Pistol.
(Image credit: RSI Community Forums - Star Citizen)

Whatever Scathe was when he was alive, he took care of his weapon. It had a battery-like magazine installed in its top (which the military called an "E-clip"). Herc, having proficiency in these weapons not only knew the weapon by its sturdy reputation, he had also fired LP-3s before on the range (thankfully, the pistol was just large enough for his digits!).

On a clothes-hanger, Herc then found a a sharp-looking, medium-sized, black leather jacket. On a shelf behind this, he discovered two spare E-clips along with a small aluminum case with a sliding lid decorated with a snazzy N.A.S.A. logo. Under the shelf, Herc then came across a Ziploc bag with small documents inside - it was here in this bag that Hercules came across the letters from his friends.

One letter was larger than the rest - it was a pristine digital photograph - a close-up of Herc's buttocks in shorts. Pressed upon them were strong-looking hands that could only belong to a daring woman. They grabbed greedily, red nails pressing into his muscular buns.

If the picture could speak, it would shout boldly and freely the following message: "My brave Hercules, you may find a woman to take your heart someday... but until then, this ass belongs to me!"

There, upon the photograph, written in red ink in Tahel's lovely handwriting were two lines in Greek: "When life brings you down - just remember us!" Lastly, Herc could see the unmistakable marks of ruby lipstick passionately planted in a big kiss on the picture's upper right corner.

"Oooooh!" Wide-eyed Rothschild craned his neck over Herc's shoulder when he saw that. "What does it say? What does it say?" the young man could not help but ask.

What does Herc do?
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With the locker open, Hercules took in the view. The first thing that drew his attention was the holstered LP-3. It was a weapon with a good reputation, reliable and accurate, if not particularly long ranged. He hooked the weapon onto the belt of his fatigues and stowed the other E-cells in his pockets. With this done, he grabbed the box with the NASA logo and waved it over a shoulder, saying "Yours, I believe." in a cheerful tone. 

Next came the bag with the letters and photo. He smiled at the memory of Tahel's pranks. She'd always seen Herc as 'her pilot', her eye for tracking and predicting a target's route made her best for the role of ordinance officer. He remembered the moment of the picture. A squad versus squad assault course. Of course, Herc had been the squad's prop, allowing the rest to attack the obstacles with relative ease. It was during one of the wall climbs, while Herc had been planted as a climbing frame, she'd struck. He remembered the smarting in his butt cheeks and the wicked cackle in her voice as she climbed up his back and offered him a hand up in his turn. They'd come second place out of forty teams. The bag and it's precious contents were about to be tucked into yet another capacious pocket, when Rothschild asked his question. 

"It says... it says that I should remember my friends back home when life is getting too much for me. They care for me very much, and I care for them and miss them just as much. But I think I miss Tahel, my ordinance officer, the most. And, Rothschild... Reggie, you do have friends. You have Hercules Popadopolis as your friend and you have your Professor."

He thought about taking the leather jacket, but paused. The pistol was an item of necessity, the pillbox and personal letters belonged to Rothschild and himself. The jacket was vanity and it was someone else's property, even if that someone was lying in a puddle of his own blood and brain matter.

"Come, mikrós fílos*, we must go before we encounter further trouble. Let us find your Professor before he brings down the whole facility."

He set off, now holding the LP-3 in his right hand, while supporting Rothschild with his left. Gun and head moved in synchronisation, wherever he looked, the pistol pointed also. It was a part of his training: "When in a combat operation area, keep your gun pointed where you're looking.", his old Marine Sergeant had bellowed at him as a recruit, "At least when you see the guy who's aiming to kill you, you'll have equal chances of getting him first."

*mikrós fílos = little friend
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With this done, he grabbed the box with the NASA logo and waved it over a shoulder, saying "Yours, I believe." in a cheerful tone.

Rothschild looked at the tiny box as if it were worth more to him than purest gold. Its contents rattled inside. With trembling hands, he reached for it with a strange look of desperate longing mixed with exhaustion. He slipped the box open and ever so carefully dropped two pills into one hand. Then he sealed the box up tight.

Rothschild cracked one rainbow-colored pill between his strong fingers, swallowed it, and then did the same with the other all without any request for water. All the while, loud horrified shouts and machinegun fire could be heard muffled through the thick walls. Herc's comment about Fat Gandalf bringing down the whole facility somehow did not seem far fetched. The violence around them was as sudden as it was terrifying. And then it was gone. Then it would start up all over again to disappear as if it had never happened. It was like being in a haunted house where the ghosts carried assault rifles.

As Herc had earlier mentioned, it did not seem like a leap of faith to think that whatever history the Professor and the Anti-Unification League shared was a long and bloody one.

Rothschild stayed quiet as he waited for his medicine to take effect. He shivered as if chilled. He looked to the locker and the expensive leather jacket that Herc could not wear and did not take. He read the name on the locker door again. Then Rothschild turned away, disgusted. "No! I don't want anything owned by that wicked man."

The bag and it's precious contents were about to be tucked into yet another capacious pocket, when Rothschild asked his question.

"It says... it says that I should remember my friends back home when life is getting too much for me. They care for me very much, and I care for them and miss them just as much. But I think I miss Tahel, my ordinance officer, the most. And, Rothschild... Reggie, you do have friends. You have Hercules Popadopolis as your friend and you have your Professor."

"We-- Well," he stammered, "I meant friends my age, but your point is golden, sir. You're right. I feel so alone sometimes... like no one understands... but I do have friends." He smiled. "And I can add Miss Mackenzie to the list, too. And Mom and Dad." Rothschild's words began to slow and slur slightly. "Oh, Dad is going to be so mad when he hears about all this... He's probably going to take off after them in his tank."

Then he looked up, dazed. His grip on Hercules's mighty shoulders floundered for a moment. "Your last name sounds strong like you, sir. You called me 'Reggie...' I guess you prefer it over Rothschild too? And what does mikrós fílos mean, sir?" Though woozy, his attempt at pronunciation was perfect.

It was at this time that Herc left this room through the wide exit door. Swiftly yet with care, he found himself before a large wide pair of closed mega-damage double doors with a keycard slider on one side. Herc had found the freight elevator.

What does Herc do?
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"Yes, my friend, I do prefer Reggie. Tahel, my friend from the picture taught me that 'a last name is the front door of a person, the first name is their lounge.'. I always prefer to talk to people in their lounge, so to speak, unless it's someone more official than myself.", Herc responded, leaning forward slightly to prevent the young man for tipping back as his grip lessened, "Mikrós fílos, it means 'little friend' which, I guess, tends to apply to most of my friends."

He laughed at that fact, as if just realising it for the first time. All his life, he'd towered over others, even as young man Reggie's age. From a sickly newborn to the hulking man he was today, Hercules Popadopolis was easily identifiable. But for all the physical development he'd undergone, he wasn't arrogant about it, if anything he was more self-conscious. Tahel had constantly made references about his physical prowess and good looks that had actually made him blush like a schoolgirl, but he'd never used those 'assets' for his own gain. He felt it was not who he was. If he used his attractiveness to influence others, was he not as false as others who only considered a person based on their appearance?

He thought on this as he continued to the freight elevator. Once by the big doors, he swept the keycard through the reader, drew the pistol and waited for the door to open.
"Yes, my friend, I do prefer Reggie. Tahel, my friend from the picture taught me that 'a last name is the front door of a person, the first name is their lounge.'. I always prefer to talk to people in their lounge, so to speak, unless it's someone more official than myself."

Rothschild sighed and slowed as his medicine took effect. "I suppose... Uh... I suppose I'm used to my lounge being trashed." He frowned sadly. "When the other kids, especially the normal kids, see me on my medicine like this... Out come the jokes. 'Oh, look! It's Reggie the Veggie!' and 'Would he notice if we gave the Veggie a wedgie?'" Rothschild shook his head as if he were drowsy. "It hurts me, but they don't care. That's why I call myself by my last name."

"Mikrós fílos, it means 'little friend' which, I guess, tends to apply to most of my friends."

"Maybe I should take that as my name instead." He tried to laugh. Then he watched Herc as the Greek produced the keycard from his fatigues. "I am sure glad we crossed paths, though. You must mean what you say; you came in and beat down that cruel 'Scathe' man when you could have just gone the other way and forgotten all about me. Instead, you came in and wrecked his life even worse than he wrecked mine." Rothschild smiled dimly, but he smiled.

"I think you and my Dad would get along really good. You both have big bodies and big hearts inside them."

He thought on this as he continued to the freight elevator. Once by the big doors, he swept the keycard through the reader, drew the pistol and waited for the door to open.

From below, the large elevator thrummed to life as it slowly rose upward. As it rose, Herc's ears heard a sound quite unlike any ever made by any elevator. The sound repeated and even dazed Rothschild craned his neck to get a better listen. It seemed to be coming from inside the elevator.

"Meeeeeyoooo?" "Meeeeyooo??"

It was the unmistakably-adorable sound of a kitten! It could belong to no other creature but a feline. The high-pitched meowing sounded confused but not frightened. Rothschild too felt more than his share of confusion. "O.K., I know my medicine is strong, but... are you hearing that too?"

"Meeewwww!" The meowing repeated and neared as the elevator continued its lethargic ascent. Herc could hear little scratching sounds as if something small were pawing at one of the freight elevator doors.

Finally those doors parted. Rothschild, from high above, looked down. As he did, a little face looked up. But it wasn't quite the kind of face Rothschild had expected.... =)

(Spoiler contains a surprise for our Cap'n!)
Hey, Cap'n! After seeing your posts of your then recently-made model, I couldn't help myself but make a character out of this creature! Keeping it a secret even from Kaerri wa hard all this time, but I managed. Besides, somehow I just can't imagine your having a problem with my doing this so meet the newest character in Robotech: Broadsword, as inspired because of your love of 'Zoids! His dimensions are precisely those of the one you showed us, which makes him roughly the size of a kitten! =)

"MEEEEEEEEEEEEW!" = Happy Thanksgiving, Cap'n! 8D
MechaGuy.RZ-041 Liger Zero.jpg
(Image credit: Mecha Guy)

(Image credit: Google+)


Without warning, the "kitten" sprung high into the air and landed expertly on Herc's shoulder. Just like an organic kitten, he began sniffing Herc and Rothschild inquisitively. Unlike an organic kitten, he did not dig his little bitty claws into Herc's flesh for traction.

In a flash, Herc understood three things:

1. He didn't think he was dreaming...

2. This creature appeared to be made of super-structure (mega-damage).

3. The kitten was attempting to smell Herc's breath.

As this is going on, an equally-strange thing took place. As the "kitten" rested his forepaws on Rothschild's arm and Herc's shoulder, a thought entered Herc's mind...

...but it was not a thought Herc had put in there!

i like feeesh!

It was not a voice, it was not a dream, it was an appearance of words that, well, appeared directly inside Herc's brain as if they were the Greek's own private thoughts. Many are the wild and fantastic creatures of Herc's culture, but none were quite like this!

do you like feesh??

After having sniffed Herc's breath, the "kitten" straightened in surprise and delight.

you like feeesh too!!

In a feline display of warm and cuddly affection, the "kitten" rubbed his head against Herc and Rothschild both.

we iz friends! Yippieeeeeeeeee!!

"Meeeeeeeeeeeeyoooooo!!" Then the mega-damage kitten meowed in such triumph and joy as if to send his heartfelt cheer high to the heavens while Rothschild just smiled this wide-eyed, goofy smile, having been struck dumb by this most-unexpected turn of events.


The freight elevator is open...

What does Herc do? =)
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The freight elevator's arrival and with it, the kitten-sized mech phased Herc for a brief second. Then when it acted in adorably kitten fashion, the massive Greek man could not but laugh.

"Yes, little one, I do like fish, freshly caught, cooked, and seasoned. Mikroskopiká éna, but you're a clever one to know I like fish just by smelling my breath!", he said, holstering the LP-3 and reaching up to gently stroke the small machine's neck, "Let us all go and find your Professor, Reggie."

He stepped into the elevator and tapped the control to descend.

"Do not worry, Reggie, about those who pick on you. They are blind and foolish people who see a victim, not a person. Their lives will forever be blinkered and their futures will be colored by the acts they perform today. It is my belief that 'what goes around, comes around'. Like that Scathe. He lived his life as a bully, a person who used his power, position and strength to make victims of others. All his decisions lead to him lying down with his brains splashed over the floor under a chair. Such will be the way of all bullies. Perhaps not so brutal, nor so fatal, but sooner or later, their decision to make victims of others will result in them becoming a victim and there will be no-one willing to help them. Kanéna próvlima. Did you know about this kitty? I had no idea such things existed or could say such clever things."

Mikroskopiká éna = Tiny one

Kanéna próvlima = No problem
He stepped into the elevator and tapped the control to descend.

With a press of the button, the wide doors closed and the freight elevator began its unrushed journey.

"Did you know about this kitty? I had no idea such things existed or could say such clever things."

Rothschild shook his head. He looked worried. "I... I... didn't hear him, sir. Er, Hercules." The young lad looked at his new friend with an expression of trepidation. "I really hope you don't think I've gone crazy... but something is in my head and it's not me." He looked to the mechanical kitten. The odd little creature was still fully wound up in his elation.


Rothschild patted Herc's shoulder urgently. "See?! Did you... is there a thought in your head that's not yours? Or... am I going bananas?" With one hand on his forehead, Rothschild found himself in a battle between his reason and his emotion. As such, all of the surprise and action of the day was taking its toll on him. Only his medication seemed to be keeping him calm (or as close to calm as he was going to get, given the circumstances).

Iz you there?

Another thought answered, but it certainly did not belong to the mega-damage beastie now mewing inquisitively on Herc's shoulder. No, these thoughts belonged to someone else entirely; someone else who had much to say.

(GM mood music)
"Road to Nowhere" by Ozzy Osbourne

Partial lyrics:
The wreckage of my past keeps haunting me
It just won't leave me alone
I still find it all a mystery
Could it be a dream?

The Road to Nowhere...
...leads to me."

--so damned enraged about this whole ordeal! Godammit, Hiroshi-san, you should be sitting in your kitchen making dinner for your family, not lying in a cold grave thousands of miles away from your homeland of cherry blossoms and geisha girls! And Toph! The last time I saw that little pink-haired Muppet she had bouncing pigtails and a red lollipop in her mouth! Now look at her! Twenty years older with neither parent near! And where the hell was I when Hiroshi-san and his family needed me?

And yet another thought made itself known...

Let's see. Secretly saving Northern Europe from AUL-led nuclear destruction during what very nearly became World War III?

Perhaps so, but dammit! Look at the cost! If the AUL would have given up, things might have been different for Hiroshi-san and his family. God DAMN it!

Fess'r! Fess'r! I founded dem!

MechaKitten? And did you smell his breath like I told you?

Yesses! Fried striped mullets! Jus' like the skillet in the kitchens!

Good. You've done well, kit. Where are you now?

On da eleeeevaaaator! Goin' down, down, down!

I know the feeling. Blazes, I'm just not in the mood for these bastards tonight. Ah, here's comes another heartless child-stealer! Let us see how this one dies!

Rothschild stared at Herc the whole time, hoping, praying, that Herc was receiving all this too. These were not voices, but information seemingly transmitted directly to the mind - thoughts - like the telling of ghosts in some deep dream; there, but not there. Real, but unreal. It was enough to make a grown man question his sanity.

That is, unless he had with him a young man wondering the same thing and a mechanical kitten purring in such a way as to be completely indiscernible from the real thing. Just having those two things in what otherwise appeared to be reality was concrete evidence for most people that their marbles were still in their heads, however jumbled they might be.

(More mood music.)
"No More Tears" by Ozzy Osbourne

Partial lyrics:
Look in the mirror tell me do you think your life's in danger?

The large twin elevator doors opened silently to reveal a room full of burning debris, bullet-riddled walls, and the red, twisted pieces of four more militarily-dressed figures that would never threaten anyone ever again. Dominating that room was a pair of people.

The first was the large, aging, lion of a man dressed in his expensive suit. Herc instantly recognized him as Rothschild's professor. His chin was down as his eyes blazed upon a mask of unblinking, unforgiving rage. And yet, there remained something civil in him, something reasonable and thinking. Always thinking. It was as if this fellow was a sensible man driven to the outer edge of his limits, a soul standing at a cliff that rose atop some terrible fate, and there he was, willingly leaning over the precipice.

The second was a tall, barrel-chested Asian man with large limbs, dressed in all-black fatigues. He was set in a strange stance of martial design, his fists clenching a pair of devilish hooked swords which he twirled with ease and intimidating expertise. It was clear that both these men were predators, but predators of two entirely different kinds. They were about ten feet apart, facing each other in what could only be a duel to the death.

(Spoiler contains an image of Chinese Hooked Swords)
Often used in Shaolin Kung Fu, these are versatile weapons.
(Image credit: Asian History - About.com)

Those paired swords flashed wickedly in a dazzling display of sharpened steel. The wielder gloated with a chuckle. "Before I help you lose some weight, tell me. What's your style, fat man?"

"My style?" The Professor shrugged. "You could call it... soft/hard style. Here, let me show you, Tormentor." The old man twirled his arms and stomped his foot flat on the floor in a brief display. Aiming both hands at his opponent, he glared. Then he shouted a challenge that echoed across the depot. "HAAAAI!!"

But the martial artist laughed and spat. "Ha! What was that? Your skill sucks! I show you how to challenge, old man!" With a whirl, the warrior became a swirling dance of shining swords and flying feet, graceful, powerful, and impressive. Cocky and sure, he closed the distance until he was but a sword's length from the old man, and then he gave a tremendous throaty call to battle. "OOOOEEEYAAAA--"


At just that moment, a stream of some gray liquid-like substance shot out from underneath one of the Professor's sleeves. The stream caught the martial artist full in the mouth. "--ACCCKKKK-K-K-K!" The artist dropped one sword and clutched his throat with wide, horrified eyes, for he tried to suck in air, but none would go in.

The Professor watched. "Mr. Wu Sen Choi. July 13th, this year. Central Columbia. My records have it that you killed four smart and attractive teenage girls that refused to be recruited into the AUL and endure the torment of AUL indoctrination." The old man raised his eyebrow at the soon-to-be corpse. "Well, guess what, Mr. Choi? You just swallowed fast-drying liquid concrete. It is now hardening as it makes its way down your throat and into your lungs. Before it dries, you will have suffocated to death. That's my 'soft/hard' style for you."

By this time, the Professor was talking to a gagging, shaking, terrified man on the floor clutching his mouth with both hands. "I imagine those girls felt much the way you do now before you killed them, you murderous son of a bitch..."

Once the twitching stopped, the Professor stepped past the corpse and proceeded to the entrance of the freight elevator. His stride seemed as if it belonged to a man taking a stroll in the park were it not for the horrible glare of his eyes as he regarded the dead. He shook his head. Calmness seemed to restore itself as he gazed upon Herc, Rothschild, and MechaKitten.

"Reggie? How are you holding up, lad?"

"Sir! I'm so glad to see you!" Rothschild smiled wearily and stretched one arm out as if he could somehow touch the Professor. The old man swiftly closed the distance and grasped the young man's fingers tenderly in his own.

The Professor whispered. "It's all right, lad! We're getting out of this damnable place. Don't you fear!"

Rothschild closed his eyes, overwhelmed by both the medicine and the wholehearted joy of this reunion. The MechaKitten, seeing a bridge of sorts, made a show of agility and scampered down from Herc's shoulder, across the clasping hands, to sit and purr upon the Professor's shoulder.

The old man looked up at Herc. "Corporal Hercules Papadopolis, I presume? I fear you have caught me at my utter worst. Professor Arthur Stein at your service." He gave a true and graceful bow to the Greek. "I am indebted to you for your rescue of young Reginald here. You have both saved me the dangers of having to rescue the both of you and the sorry inconvenience of facing that incorrigible waste of time, 'Scathe.' How might I repay you, my good man?"

Despite the raging fires from the burning vehicles and bloody unmoving bodies, the Professor did not seem to be in a hurry to escape. It was as if he were done with hurrying. One way or another, he seemed determined to take the rest of his time here at his own pace, regardless of what the enemy had in store for him.

What does Herc do?
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Hercules was slightly troubled by the uninvited voices in his head, but he did not let the sensation show to the visibly-disturbed young man on his back.

"Don't worry so, Reggie, I'm sure all things will be made clear in time.", he said with a cheerful smile, "If not, then we'll go to counseling together, yes?"

At that he let out a bark of genuine laughter at the thought of the nervous young man and himself sat in some psychiatrist's wood-paneled office, talking about their relationships with their parents (and whether or not they had entirely inappropriate feelings for their mothers (damn you, Freud!)).

With the opening of the door and the totally warranted death of the oriental man (in Herc's opinion), Hercules stepped out and observed the scene of total devastation. Wrecked vehicles, dead bodies and burning debris filled what once looked to have been a well-stocked motor pool. Hercules had to admit the utter destruction was poetically beautiful. The Anti-Unification League had obviously been stock-piling these vehicles and munitions for wreaking havoc and death in Florida and the neighboring states, but instead, they had only helped in the wreaking of havoc and death in their own base. He nodded in appreciation of the irony. What goes around, comes around.

The 'Professor', Arthur Stein as he introduced himself, knew Hercules. It was simultaneously reassuring and worrying. The AUL, this Professor, who else knew of and had intents, good or ill, toward him?

"I think a glass of good Greek wine in more comfortable surroundings to these,", Hercules replied, waving his free hand around him at the motor pool, "would be more that enough repayment, Professor Stein. And there is no debt for rescuing Reggie. I would have done the same regardless, simply because I despise those who pick on anyone weaker than they."

He thought for a moment.

"Scathe? I offered him a chair position, but he preferred to take the floor.", he replied cryptically, a brutal smile crossing his face, "I have to ask though, if only for the sanities of Reggie and I, why is it we can 'feel' MechaKitten's thoughts? And we also 'heard' a conversation between yourself and someone else. What is happening?"
"Don't worry so, Reggie, I'm sure all things will be made clear in time.", he said with a cheerful smile, "If not, then we'll go to counseling together, yes?"

At that he let out a bark of genuine laughter at the thought of the nervous young man and himself sat in some psychiatrist's wood-paneled office, talking about their relationships with their parents (and whether or not they had entirely inappropriate feelings for their mothers (damn you, Freud!)).

That brought Rothschild's smile back to his face. His laughter was a mix of hope and nervousness.
"I think a glass of good Greek wine in more comfortable surroundings to these,", Hercules replied, waving his free hand around him at the motor pool, "would be more that enough repayment, Professor Stein. And there is no debt for rescuing Reggie. I would have done the same regardless, simply because I despise those who pick on anyone weaker than they."

"Good Greek wine, you say? I would gladly share a bottle with you after the hellish evening I have endured."

"Scathe? I offered him a chair position, but he preferred to take the floor."

"A position he will keep permanently if I heard correctly. Wonderfully fitting given his loathsome history."

"I have to ask though, if only for the sanities of Reggie and I, why is it we can 'feel' MechaKitten's thoughts? And we also 'heard' a conversation between yourself and someone else. What is happening?"

"What in blazes?" The professor immediately turned to MechaKitten who sat on his shoulder licking his paw clean. For a moment, neither of them made a sound save for the mechanical kitten's cuddly-purring sounds. The professor then looked Hercules right in the eye when he spoke to him. He seemed to be forming a decision.

"Well, well, corporal. You appear to be unusually empathic. I had no idea we were being overheard..." he tapped the 'kitten' on the nose, "...as someone failed to mention it." MechaKitten responded by licking Professor Stein's finger with a remarkably organic-looking tongue. "Now I find myself doubly embarrassed, but that provides you no explanation. Perhaps we should have this discussion over that wine you mentioned." He paused as if distracted for a moment then he returned to the conversation at hand.

Professor Stein folded his hands and watched Herc with great interest. He spoke distinctly as if very much wanting his message to get across. "Suffice to say that you and Reggie - see, lad? Someone else likes your first name! - are unusually sensitive people. Hard to find to say the least. Both of you have an unusual gift that you might either learn about to your benefits or forever close off if you fear it, which you shouldn't. That gift can do a tremendous amount of good for humanity or make you worse than anything or anyone you have seen tonight. Take my word for it." He rubbed his nose.

"While I lack the time now to offer more, I must ask that you not mention this to anyone until later today when you and I are destined to meet again." He raised his finger. "Whatever happens, do not doubt what you experienced. Forego the temptation to excuse it away with more orderly reasoning like 'mental stress,' 'lack of sleep,' or some such nonsense."

Professor Stein patted Herc's bicep in what appeared to be an unconsciously-fatherly motion. "It happened. You are not mad." Those last sentences came as if he had definitely spoken them before, for they were full of reassurance and the promise of future clarity. "Both of you are gifted, sane, and wonderful people who can do much, not only for yourselves, but for the rest of our wrecked planet. Which reminds me... Reggie, what happened to your chair?"

Reggie looked downcast. "'Scathe' happened to it, sir."

"Scathe, you say?" The professor's voice dropped menacingly. He neared Reggie and as he spoke, his facial expressions changed a touch, becoming more lively and carefree. "Well... You realize what this means, don't you?"

Reggie shook his head.

"I am just going to have to build you a new chair!"

"Oh no, professor, sir!" Now Reggie was shaking his head more emphatically. "My dad and I have only been here a short time! There is no way we can pay--"

"Oh, I have already worked that out, young man." He paused and grinned like a fellow who had something up his sleeve. "I daresay I could use an assistant putting it together, say from a junior technician in his teens? With your father's permission, of course."

Reggie gasped and reflexively clutched his hand over his heart. His eyes lit up like the light of a full moon in the nighttime sky. "Do you-- of course, you do. Even I know you don't play tricks on people who don't have it coming. Oh, this is cool! Super-cool!!"

Professor Stein nodded in agreement. "Then it is settled for the moment. Now let us see to our more immediate problem." As the smelly fires of the blasted motor pool continued to crackle, he indicated a burning forklift that had been knocked onto its side. The engine underneath the driver's chair fumed and sputtered angrily, spitting bits of fire and sparks in every direction.

The professor then pointed out a mangled steel door that the burning forklift was fully blocking. While someone Reggie's size could get through the small gap, there was no way someone of either Herc's nor Professor Stein's girth could squeeze through the space given.

"I can deal with the fire; it is getting the vehicle out of the way that concerns me." He approached the forklift confidently and raised and turned his right arm. Splooooot! Another gray stream shot out from under his sleeve and struck the engine. Immediately, the flames entered a losing battle to stay lit.

"Reggie? Tell me why we are not worried about those flames reaching the forklift's gasoline tank?"

The young man's response was instant. "It doesn't have one. It's an electric engine. See? No exhaust. Plus the batteries will be reinforced against fire and if those were going to go off, it would have by now."

"Dear lad, you are truly your father's son even if you are not blood-related to him."

Reggie beamed proudly though Herc could feel Reggie's grip weakening from exhaustion.

Professor Stein looked to Herc. "Want to have a go at it or should I challenge my creativity further?" The old fellow glanced around the room. This situation seemed to excite something inside of him as if just having a problem to solve was something fun and entertaining. And why not? What could be more eye-opening than the unknown?

What does Herc do?
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Hercules took the subtle meaning in the professor's words and gently maneuvered Reggie around so he could set him down on the ground without so much as a bump. He untied the knife that still dangled from his wrist and tossed it aside before striding confidently over to the overturned forklift. His knowledge of heavy machinery of this type was generally that the most weight was to be found in the base, the better to keep it stable while lifting heavy loads to higher levels. This meant that it would be a case of using the lifting apparatus as a lever to get it back past about forty-five degrees, at which point gravity and momentum would take the strain and the thing would right itself. He climbed over the side to get to the apparatus where it blocked the door. He crouched, back straight, knees bent and grabbed a hold of the forklift. His leg muscles, the largest muscles in even his massive body, tightened, his arms strained and he let out a hiss of exertion as he applied his not-insubstantial strength to the task of up-ending the toppled machine. It grated a little on the reinforced concrete floor at first, resisting his efforts to lift it, but then, it shifted. An inch, the top of the lift apparatus left the floor, and then another. And then a couple more. Hercules shifted his grip, sliding his feet closer into the task, and then strained again. Veins stood out across his exposed arms and the thighs of his fatigues were pulled taut as his muscles strained harder. The tendons in his neck stood out as he called upon his barrel-like chest muscles to the task and the forklift moved more. It slid on the ground again, not quite rising, but still yielding to his unrelenting force. Hercules growled under his breath and for a moment he imagined his older brother laughing at him when he'd been a boy and they had been challenging each other to pick up and throw increasingly heavy rocks in the Aegean Sea. Stavros had already managed to heft a boulder the size of a motorbike engine over the cliffs and it had struck the shimmering blue water with a satisfyingly loud splash and an equally impressive plume of white water. He'd then laughed as Hercules pointed to a rock easily the size of a car engine made of a dense, dark rock. He'd mocked at the grunts and aborted attempts his 'baby brother' made, laughing and taunting Herc with each failed attempt.

But then Hercules found a good grip, set his feet and back and heaved. He surged up as if he were taking the weight of the sky from Atlas and the rock almost leaped up in his hands, leaving the ground it had previously appeared rooted to and performed a slow graceful roll through the air and down, down, down into the sea. The splash was so massive, for a moment the rocks already on the sea bed could be seen for a brief second and the sound completely overwhelmed Stavros' gasp of amazement.

Something gave way and Hercules stood. The forklift gave a final creak of resistance and then was rocking on its wheels again. Hercules gave vent to an animalistic roar of victory and threw his arms out wide as he spoke again the words he'd said to his brother, all those years ago, "Poios geláei tóra, Stávros?"

"Poios geláei tóra, Stávros?" = "Who's laughing now, Stavros?"
At that very moment, somewhere, thousands of beautiful blue miles away across the Atlantic Ocean in Greece, Stàvros Papadopolis stops whatever it is he is doing, gazes westward and smiles warmly, still amazed at the memory of his younger brother that day...

Back in Florida, Herc's new friends and allies were in a similar state of awe. Once again, Rothschild gazed upon Herc with that dreamy face of total hero worship combined with an "Oh, how I wish I could do something that cool..." while Professor Stein stood open-mouthed and silently gaping (an expression he had not worn in a very long time), and the MechaKitten hopped up and down mewing cheerfully as if fully aware of what Herc was doing, why he was doing it, and that Herc had done the nigh-impossible right there in front of all of them.

Finally Professor Stein managed to speak. "I was just wondering how to right that Janissary back on its tracks and use it to push the forklift when you did what could only be described as... Herculean." He raised his hand to his chin. "Furthermore, you seem to possess the kind of will that most men dream of or act as if they have it, but moreso, you use it in good causes. Call me impressed."

"Fat Gandalf, I would rather call you 'dead.''"

The words were venomously-spoken with a Latino accent. There behind the professor about twenty yards away stood a man in his late twenties dressed in black military fatigues with lean muscles and a hawk-like, predatory visage. Beside him were by five equally-fit men in olive drab fatigues aiming assault rifles and submachine guns at Herc and his team. Behind them stood a bare entryway where none had been before; a concrete wall except that a section of it seemed to have silently opened - a secret door in the midst of the motor pool.

"Funny," Stein cracked his knuckles, "that little secret was not on the maps."

"We made some renovations since we stole this place, you fucking fat ass. Let's see you Harry Potter your way outta this one!"

"Ah. With a mouth like that, you must be Quintero."

Quintero jabbed his finger and sneered. "That's right and don't you forget it!"

Professor Stein shrugged. "Already forgotten. Remembering you is like naming a turd in the toilet - a useless waste."

(Mood music. Fitting mood music...)
"Disarm" by Smashing Pumpkins
Partial lyrics:
The killer in me is the killer in you.

"You motherfucker!! You think you're so smart? Show 'em!" Quintero produced a pair of grenades, one in each hand, with a wicked gleam in his eye. In turn, each of his grinning followers followed suit with a grenade in one hand. "Yeah, that's right! Maybe you can do something about bullets, but six grenades at once? An' if you haven't noticed, these are mega-damage..." He loosed the last word with sadistic pleasure.

"You can count that high?" Stein sighed, looking bored, but he did not take his eyes off of the grenades. "Or did someone have to tell you the total beforehand?"

"Ohhh." His pride wounded again, Quintero looked upon Stein with a face of utter hatred. "You know, you could live, you know. The AUL? They really want me to capture you. They really want me to take all those fancy abilities you got an' use 'em for the benefit of all humanity, but nooooo, you gotta be a little bitch to the Zentraedi..." Quintero spat. "The fucking Zentraedi who damned near killed every last human being!!"

Professor Stein glared back with an all-too-familiar hate of his own. "Is that so? And what would an indoctrinated Tormentor like yourself know about it? What about the Zentraedi who allied with us? Or the Meltrandi who struck at the moment when we needed them most? You and the rest of your league seem to conveniently forget that without Lord Breetai and Commander Lisara, all of humanity would be completely wiped out!"

Hearing this, Quintero became stomping pissed. "Bullshit! We could'a taken them! We didn't need alien help!"

"No. Evidence clearly shows we would all be but ash and bone, but believe what you like, pawn. Your masters know very well the leash they have you on, the leash that long ago stripped your free will from you, and gladly do you wear it!"

"Fuck you! I am my own man!"

"Are you?" Professor Stein indicated Rothschild who looked scared. "And so the boy you were before you joined the AUL just naturally grew up kidnapping and killing his own people? The AUL had nothing to do with your xenophobic disgust and violence towards all who do not think as you do? It was always there? From birth?"

Quintero paused, shaken. Stein was anything but. Lion-like, he glared at Quintero as if he were the very embodiment of the Anti-Unification League and all that they had done in Professor Stein's lifetime.

"Ask yourself, Quintero! What would you do to be your own man again?!"

Unable to take his eyes from Fat Gandalf's, Quintero shuddered violently. "No! No! This is just one of your bullshit magic tricks! You're fucking placing a spell on me! Well, I ain't gonna fall for it!"

"You can be freed of your chains..."

"Shut up! Shut up!" Quintero, grenades in hand, pressed his fingers against his head as if reliving some inner nightmare. "Goddamn you, you fat fucking pig! You're gonna wish you never came in here alone!"

"And now you are a bloody fool!"


"Do you revel in such assumptive belligerence?" At Quintero's blank expression, Stein continued. "What in the cosmos made you think I came in here all by myself? Agamemnon!"

No one heard the shot, for it could not be heard at this distance, but all present saw Quintero's head violently snap back and a splash of sickening red and grey appear behind him on the wall. His men gasped and reached for him. Yet somehow, perhaps it was the power of his hate, Quintero pulled the pins on his grenades with his thumbs and tossed them toward Hercules and his new friends. As one, as if in slow motion, Quintero's followers threw with him and made for the secret doorway they had come through.

But then, Quintero's head snapped back up. The left side of his face was gone, shot completely off, but the crimson right side burned bright with cackling hatred. His smile seemed born of the purest evil.

"Eat shit and die, Fat Gandalf!"

The six grenades minus their pins flew through the air toward Herc and his friends. Fat Gandalf stepped forward, his expression one of great focus, his arms outstretched...

...and the grenades stopped in mid-flight.

"You first."

Quintero and his followers gawked and paused in their retreat. Professor Stein, his face a mask of concentration, flicked his wrists and hands forward and the half-dozen grenades reversed course. The secret door began to slide shut as the last of the AUL team crammed inside... and the grenades with them. Men began to thrash, scream, and panic. The door silently closed.

"DOWN!" Stein tried to put his massive girth protectively between the door and cowering Rothschild and MechaKitten.


The door flew from its hinges in an ear-splitting eruption of fire and debris that showered and shook the motor pool. For long moments, pieces of door, wall, and occasionally fleshier things dropped about the room in stinking, smoking bits. Professor Stein looked up and (likely) found Herc helping to cover Rothschild. Underneath the two of them, Rothschild did not move.

Then came a thumbs-up followed by a plea. "Could you guys get off me? I can't breathe too good."

"Oh, sorry."

As the men made way, Herc found the MechaKitten "helping" to protect Rothschild by sitting on the young man's feet. The kitten looked up to a figure who approached casually, a pristine-conditioned Heckler & Koch sniper rifle held confidently in both hands.

Professor Stein smiled. "Thanks, Hitomi." He said this with such familiarity, it could have been a catchphrase.

(Mood music just because I like it.)

"Come To Me" by Hiroshima. Come to think of it, Hitomi's voice sounds a lot like this. =)

"'Agamemnon.' The magic word." Her voice was smooth with an Americanized accent and easy to listen to. The owner of that voice was also even easier to look at.

Hitomi wore a dragon-themed light leather jacket and matching skirt, white silk blouse, and sensible leather shoes; the kind you can move in. Her waist-length hair was tied in a simple ponytail. The easy-going smile on her incredibly-beautiful face was enough to disarm just about any common man, but it was her incredible eyes, kind-hearted, golden-brown, and endlessly deep, that seemed to make one who gazed too long upon them to drift into a hypnotic stare.

There were beautiful women in the world; then there was Hitomi.

(Spoiler contains an image that mostly matches what's in my head.)
This is close, but her face and long black hair are even prettier in a Hawaiian sort of way.
(Image credit: www.pinterest.com )

She is carrying this with a silencer attachment:
(Image credit: GunsAmerica)

And this on her back (no, not the soldier, you dingbat! =) ):
(Image credit: YouTube)

Talk about BOOM-time! =)

"Miss Hitomi, meet Hercules Papadopolis."

"Corporal? How do you do?" She offered her hand in the practiced manner of one who valued good manners.

What does Herc do?
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Hercules grinned cheerfully at the unsought-for complements but the expression froze as Quintero and his mooks appeared and started brandishing their guns and grenades. Hercules recognised the grenades, M310s. Quintero was not bluffing, they were usually used for cracking the battle armor worn by Zentraedi foot soldiers and causing massive damage to the 50-foot warriors within them. A single one of those grenades would turn he and all of his friends into a light red mist. But then red mist was what became of Quintero's head. Sniper? Spurred on, the AUL threw their grenades and Hercules moved, grabbing Reggie and planning to toss him bodily over the forklift into a safer position. But then, a miracle happened. The Professor stopped the grenades in mid-air with seemingly nothing more than a wave of his hand. They hovered ominously before they hurtled back at the retreating AUL soldiers. Hercules might not have understood quite what was going on, but he knew what he needed to do. As Stein turned and threw himself protectively over Reggie, Herc snatched up a large chunk of APC armor that had been blasted from its vehicle and crouched down between the Professor, Reggie and the impending blast, angling the plating to deflect the worst of the shrapnel.

The explosion was tumultuous, the world seemed to disappear in a humongous blast of noise, light, heat and flying debris. Deafened, blinded, winded and straining against the blast and the clatter of shrapnel, reinforced concrete and viscera against his makeshift shield, Hercules endured only so that Reggie could get safely away and back to his family. But as suddenly as it occurred, the explosion was passed. Hercules' ears rang and he was glad of the stars in his eyes as he removed something wet, stringy and warm from his shoulder. The Professor was thanking someone, Hitomi.

The woman in question came into view and Hercules felt his mouth go dry. The Professor introduced him to her and his brain turned to cotton wool. She spoke, her voice smooth as warm honey poured over teflon and his knees felt like he was carrying every single armored vehicle in the motor pool at the same time.

He reached out and clapped her small, smooth, delicate hand in his huge, rough, clumsy hoof and pumped enthusiastically, perhaps a little over-enthusiastically.

"Yes, miss. Hercules. That's my name. It's....ahhhhh..... it's a pleasure to see you, I mean, meet you. Not that you aren't a welcome sight. I mean, of course you are, what with the rescue and everything. Ahhhhhhh!", he stammered and bumbled his way through an introduction, still pumping her arm as if he expected her to start spurting water like the water pipe back home in Greece. His face was rapidly turning red and he felt himself becoming more flustered, "Thank you for coming to us. To help us, I mean. I'm very grateful. I'm Hercules."
Hitomi beamed a smile at Hercules that widened as she shook and shook and shook hands with him as the Hawaiian-Japanese lady listened politely and with real interest to his every word. She was openly pleased to experience his greeting; she was even more pleased that Hercules and the others were alive.

Hitomi seemed to be the kind of woman who knew well her fantastic effect on most men (and indeed, some women), but it was not a thing she ever let go to her head. To be comfortable in one's own skin without vanity was in itself a beautiful quality in anyone; for Hitomi, it was just an ongoing blessing to be as beautiful on the outside as she honestly was on the inside. Now if she could only get her hand back...

"Thank you, Hercules, thank you." Her voice dropped to a mildly-embarrassed light laugh. "Now would you please release my hand, sir? My rifle is getting heavy." With a golden-eyed glance, she indicated her pristine HK-91 with its scope and silencer amounting to twenty pounds or more of deadly longarm.

Professor Stein helped Rothschild sit up. As they brushed themselves off, he asked. "Are you all right, Reggie?"

"Overwhelmed, sir," he shook, "but yeah. I'll be cool..." He looked around as if in a daze. "Is it finally over?"

"Thanks to Hercules's quick-thinking and inventive shield-save, I think so. Good show, sir! While we were well outside the blast radius of the grenades, all it took was one errant piece of shrapnel to permanently end any one of us. As for being in the clear... Hitomi? I counted twenty-five. How about you?"

"Same here, sir. Unless they have someone else on their payroll they're not paying, that's everyone at this base."

Stein shrugged. "Hiram is likely going to get on me about all this destruction, but it's his boss's own fault for not keeping his house clean. Shall we get out of here?"

"Wait!" Rothschild said. "I have so many questions! Just... how did you do that, sir?"

(Mood music, given the topic.)
"Poetry of Reality" by Melodysheep. He's great! =)

"Reggie..." Stein mock-chided, "...a magician never gives away his secrets."

Rothschild grimaced, but the professor then rolled up his sleeves revealing the presence of two bracers, one covering each of his large forearms. Each was an engineer's dream. Each bracer appeared to be a highly-intricate triumph of technology with three small barrels, a tiny canister, a monitor, and more, all neatly encased inside protective housings easily concealed under his sleeves.

Professor Stein allowed himself a grin at Rothschild's dumbfounded expression as he reached inside his suit and pulled forth a pair of E-clips and swapped them out for the drained magazines on each of his bracers.

"Y-you have something up your sleeves, sir?"

The professor was serious for a moment. "I always have something up my sleeves." Hitomi nodded in agreement.

"Micro-engineering? B-but, professor!" Rothschild stammered. "You just said a magician never gives his secrets!"

Stein's big-bearded smile returned. "Reggie... as one of my students, you of all people should know I don't believe in magic." He chuckled and added, "I am both a professional scientist and engineer, regardless of AUL's name for me."

Hitomi added. "Hmm! I think 'Fat Gandalf' is kind of flattering."

"You would, my dear."

Rothschild's expression was thoughtful. "And the grenades?"

"Not movie-screen telekinesis, lad... but magnetism." He indicated MechaKitten who was, for once, just minding 'his' own business. 'Fat Gandalf' raised his palms for all to see. Two thin and small control panels unsheathed silently and discreetly from each bracer. Aiming his hands at MechaKitten and with faint movements of his fingers, he tapped with great practice and confidence upon those pads. Suddenly, MechaKitten rose from the floor, his little kitty feet dangling.


Professor Stein then gently returned MechaKitten to the floor. Rothschild covered his mouth with both hands in yet another display of total surprise. He never saw this coming. "Oh my gosh... So... all that talk about micro-engineering and the physical sciences... you actually use to save people from wicked people like the AUL?"

Stein stood proudly. "Yes, my lad. You see me clearly. These are the skills the AUL want me to bring to their tables. They can go to hell. I did not study all my life just to hand all this over to evil villains. I would much rather continue to use those same skills in making you your new chair."

"In the meantime, I'll procure you a wheelchair from the hospital, Reggie."

"What? Wait, who are you, miss?"

"Hitomi Yashida. Or Doctor Yashida to some. Just another one of the professor's assistants, like yourself now." She closed the distance, bowed, and shook his hand. When she did, Hercules became not the only shy young man in the room. Rothschild blushed.

"Y-you're a doctor? Uhh.... what do you... doc?"

They shared a giggle. "I specialize in trauma-related injuries among other things."

"Oh, I can't wait for dad to hear all of this!"

Professor Stein pointedly turned to Hercules. "Which reminds me... both of you ex-prisoners might be wondering about how the AUL captured the wrong man? You, my Greek friend, are anything but Reggie's foster father... and yet, the two of you bear many similarities. Your capture, corporal, was a titanic error in logistics, AUL-style. This cell was told to capture a..." he turned to one of his bracers and began to read. "Corporal in the Alpha Tactics Armored Corp... A man of tremendous strength and unusual body type... A foreigner recently-come to Florida... Mechanically-trained with Veritech Hover Tanks... Studies the Greek martial art called Pankration..."

"That's my dad all right."

Rothschild reached up. Stein rolled his sleeves down and picked him up with both arms. "They should have went with a picture... Lucky for you, big bodies often come with big scents." He looked toward MechaKitten. "My little fish-loving bandit over there cannot forget a scent. You have him, in part, to thank for this rescue. We tried to reach you to warn you in the mess hall, but we were too late. Thankfully, you left a scent there on the floor strong enough for MechaKitten to catch and thereby follow. The rest you know."

"Mind you, don't get complacent. Not all of AUL is this incompetent; some are real professionals. This cell was newly-formed with people who did not know each other. But that is neither here nor there. It will be dawn in a few short hours. Shall we give our new Greek friend a lift back to Eglin base? I hear he has a big day tomorrow." He grinned at Hercules.

Rothschild looked up at Professor Stein, then at Hercules, at Hitomi, then finally at MechaKitten who was pawing at the air. His expression was tired, full of thought and wonder. There was tremendous gladness too, all there stirring in the young man's mind. He nodded as if making a decision. "You know what, professor?"

"What's that, lad?"

Reggie sat up straight, smiling. "I've been thinking and you're right. I like being called Reggie. I've just decided to stop hiding behind my last name. Those haters in school can call me whatever they want, but me? I'm gonna live my life the way not the way they want me to, but the way I want to. They no longer have any power over me." With big, proud eyes, he smiled and gazed up to Hercules. "I want to be brave like you guys and I'm starting today."

"From now on... my name is Reggie!"

(Game Master note: This concludes the prologue for Hercules Papadopolis. Cap'n, while you are welcome to reply to this in-character, providing Herc's thoughts and feelings, I believe the next time we roleplay Herc will be in Chapter One. =) )
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