As if the increasing number of people wearing silly outfits wasn't bad enough, the Major's missions had just become exponentially more annoying. And the Chief was clearly enjoying it. Bastard.
"They'll all know I'm not Meteor Enhanced," he protests, even though he knows it's useless.
"Not all of us are M.E.s," Eroica informs him composedly. "Bee Man is just a man in a bee outfit, and the Forty-Eighth Ronin is just a martial arts expert with a few gadgets."
"The Soviets have let their Proletariat Of Tomorrow join the League, Major," the Chief reminds him with malicious patience. "We need to learn whatever we can about him."
The Major gives in, ungraciously. "All right, all right. But only for one mission, is that understood? I am not going to spend the rest of my life flouncing around in a cape." He seizes the sketches on the Chief's desk and brandishes them. "In fact, I'm not going to flounce around in a cape at all. No cape. You can give this design to him, if you want; I'm not wearing it."
"Why not a mosel green unitard, with a little boar on your chest?" Eroica suggests.
"IDIOT!" It's fortunate for everyone that the Major didn't get hit by a meteor and develop heat vision. "I am not wearing any flashy colors, is that understood? The disguise will be in decent dark colors, let's say dark grey, and no indecent tight pants, no cape, and a mask that covers my entire face. My father is an old man and shouldn't have to find out about this."
Eroica tilts his head. "Come to think of it… you've got the gadgets, the butler, and the bad temper. All you need is a pointy-eared mask and a cave."
The Major replies to this with a look of disgust. "Clearly meteors do not enhance brain power."
The Margrave of Blood
"What are his powers?" the Major asks while they search the villain's hideaway for stolen goods, sensitive data and booby traps. He's wearing the charcoal grey mask, of course, and the bodysuit (which is only as snug as it has to be). And no cape. Eroica has elected to wear his gold outfit tonight. He's the only superhero with a complete wardrobe instead of just one costume he wears all the time.
It's all right. Everyone knows it's him anyway.
Bonham's voice answers on the comm. "He doesn't have any. Sir Ogre Whatshisknickers isn't an M.E."
The villain draws himself up, offended, looking as impressive as he can, handcuffed to his own torture rack (purely for decorative purposes). "I am Sir Orgrof Markyz Rajakrahv - The Margrave of Blood!"
His captors, both landed aristocrats themselves, are unimpressed. "So, where is Blood, exactly?" Eroica asks. "Do you have a castle?"
"FOOL! Do not mock the fearsome Margrave of BLOOD!"
"Don't you feel silly saying that?" Eroica leafs through a manila folder and then offers it to the Major. "Look familiar?"
The Major takes it, glances inside, makes an unpleasant noise, and packs the folder away.
The Margrave of Blood, however, will not shut up.
"You cannot leave the MARGRAVE OF BLOOD tied up like an animal! Get back here! I shall set my retainers upon you!"
Eroica sets his mouth, then saunters purposefully over to the Margrave of Blood. He stands in front of him, feet planted apart, arms akimbo. "Please tell me something, Sir Ogre."
While the Margrave of Blood clearly wants to complain about being called that, it is difficult to be brave when you're handcuffed with the most powerful being on earth staring down at you. He settles for seething silence.
"I was wearing my turquoise costume the last time our paths crossed, wasn't I? Tell me, which do you think looks better on me?"
Fabulousman's masked partner stops his searching to stare at him.
"I think the gold accentuates my eyes." He turns to a slight angle. "And these tights really show off my legs superbly. Don't you agree?"
The Margrave of Blood is speechless with horror.
"As one man of breeding to another, tell me honestly. Would gold with black trim be more becoming, or black with gold trim? Or perhaps I should have one of each made?"
The Margrave of Blood makes a strangled sound. The Major returns to his search.
"Are you trying to drive him to suicide before we get him to jail?" he mutters.
Klaus refused to choose a superhero name for his mission. The helpful suggestions of "Eisernmench" and "Panzerman" were answered with colorful obscenities.
He might have accepted those suggestions had he reflected that a costumed crimefighter who does not select a nom de guerre for himself will have one inflicted on him.
At first, the other superheroes call him "the Major" because Princess Eowyn Potter (who at 14 is one of the youngest of the M.E.s, and who is generally addressed as "Peep") overheard Eroica calling him that once.
"Cool hero name," the Queen of Spades remarks one day by the coffeemaker, fluttering her lashes and earning the Major the envy of most of the male M.E.s. "Very minimalistic. Very you."
"Idiot," the Major replies, stomping off.
They keep calling him "the Major" until he helps them apprehend Laser Lad on a rainy March day, wearing a black overcoat with his charcoal grey costume. His accent is slight but still distinguishable, and someone knows just enough German to be dangerous.
Afterwards, nobody can remember who said it first, or maybe whoever it is just won't admit it.
The Major is not amused.
"First, this is a coat, not a cape," he announces. "And second, that is a terrible Austrian opera. Not that any of you know the difference between Austria and Germany. Like Canada and America, practically the same country, right?" he demands, sarcastic.
"Hey!" Amazing Mountie starts to protest, but the Major isn't finished yet.
"And a ridiculous opera. Two idiot wastrels exacting petty revenge on each other at a party! And third, do I look like one of those fools in an animal costume? This is just a dark grey suit with a mask! There are no ears! There are no wings! Why?"
But it's too late. After that whenever he dons the mask, he is Fledermaus.
Mrs. Neilds, Part I
Mrs. Neilds crouched in the Cookiemobile, gripping a cookie in each hand as she watched the building. The explosions would begin any moment.
The fools. She would show them all. All the idiot executives of those cookie corporations who hadn't seen the value of her groundbreaking research.
"Cookies are cookies," they had said. "Anyone who tries to get us to market mood altering cookies deseves what they get."
Her cookies would bring world peace! They would spread universal peace and docility!
As soon as she took care of the Hall of Heroes.
She waited. It would be easiest if they all ate some of Formula 238 before figuring it out.
Inside, the Sapphire Flame was finding that her power was a handicap when dealing with volatile baked goods, Captain Eagle was finding that flying away from the explosions was about all he could do, and the Forty-Eighth Ronin was finding that cookies are not thwarted by karate chops.
"Fabulousman! I mean, Eroica! Come in! We need you!" the Green Cougar was saying frantically into the radio. "It's Mrs. Neilds again, and this time it's even worse than last time with the mind control cookies or the time before with the amnesia cookies! Can you hear me, Eroica?" The Green Cougar turned to the Eroica team, frantic. "Do you have any idea where he is?"
Bonham didn't answer for a moment; he just barely managed to snatch one of the cookies from James's hand and throw it to the other side of the room, where it detonated against the wall, scarring the plaster. "No! You can't eat them, Jamesie! Be strong!"
"But they're free!"
"Sorry, guv, we don't have the slightest," Bonham told the Green Cougar with regret.
"Then we have only one other hope!" The Green Cougar turned the dials on the radio. "Fledermaus, this is the Hall of Heroes control! Urgently requesting assistance!"
Mrs. Neilds, Part II
Those costumed idiots couldn't be left on their own for a minute. No matter how incredible their powers were, they always needed someone with sense to get them out of trouble.
All he had heard of the message from the Green Puma or whatever he was called (and since when were pumas green? None of these caped lunatics ever made any sense) was that the Hall of Heroes they needed his help. Again.
After rushing to the scene, foiling the dastardly Mrs. Neilds turned out to be simplicity itself. The cookies only contained about the same amount of explosive material as a standard grenade. No private fresh out of boot would have been panicking like these caped crusaders at these little bangs. Hell, his alphabets could have handled the situation all by themselves, leaving him free to sit back and drink a cup of Nescafé and smoke a cigarette. Even if Agent A (the only one with any sense whatsoever) had been home with a cold. If Klaus had his way, every M.E. who took it into his head that just because he could levitate things or run at Mach V he should therefore fight crime would be drafted for basic training.
So he had simply started issuing orders, and the superheroes at least had the sense to follow them. "Turn those tables and desks over for a barricade! You, put that stuff in the supply closet, it's flammable! Don't you idiots have any fire extinguishers?"
They do, and someone produces a couple to put out the two small blazes that have started up. He quickly evaluates them. Typically, most of the costumes are more intended to symbolize their powers than shield their bodies from the various dangers they insist on attracting to themselves.
"You, Captain Eagle. Pick up Sapphire Flame and fly her close enough to Mrs. Neilds' stockpile to torch the cookie reserve, then hurry back here to take cover. Quit making that face, she can't be very heavy."
"Set them off, you mean?" Sapphire Flame asks, troubled. "But that could blow the entire building!"
"Don't be ridiculous, it'll make a hole in the wall and the wall will have to be repaired anyway. Schnell!"
They follow his instructions and a minute later, Mrs. Neilds is forced from her redoubt by the blast. With her ammunition now a charred mass of crumbs, even Peep can easily take the crazed culinary scientist into custody, which she does.
"Thank you, Fledermaus!" Green Cougar begins. "We called for Fabulousman first, of course, but he wasn't answering the phone. If it hadn't been for your brilliant strategy-"
"We are instituting new regulations about superhero costumes, effective immediately," the Major cuts in. "Flame-retardant material and Kevlar, for a start. And starting tomorrow morning at eight, you are all going to be here for some drills. The next time something like this happens, everyone is going to know what to do. Also, as long as you all insist on dealing with supervillains, this building's security needs improvement... but I believe Eroica is the expert in that."
The superheroes are still looking dismayed at the prospect of treating their crusade against crime as something other than an exciting hobby when Eroica floats in, looking lazily surprised at the disarray of the Hall of Heroes.
"Jones said you left a message," he remarks, alighting. "Something about... Oh! Linzer tortes!"
Before anyone can warn him, Eroica picks up one of the remaining cookies. It explodes halfway to his mouth, charring the sleeve of his current costume (a white-and-gold one, as he was a bit bored with red for the moment).
"Sod it!" he cries, forgetting that Peep is in the room. "This costume was brand new!"
"It cost a fortune!" James wails.
"I cannot leave any of you alone for minute, can I?" Fledermaus concludes, darkly.
Mighty Mike is one of the most powerful M.E.'s. He is one of the few besides Fabulousman who has acquired superstrength. It is his only power, but he uses it enthusiastically. He tries not to seriously injure any bad guys he sees preying on the weak, but nonetheless the many criminals of his home city are soon either in the hospital, in jail, relocating, or reforming. Despite the concerns of his loved ones, he insists upon patrolling the seedy areas of town every night, and really, there's no way they can stop him.
He likes stopping would-be murderers and muggers, but it's even more fun to help with earthquakes or collapsed bridges and things like that. He doesn't have to be careful not to hurt the bad guys too much, and everyone is always so happy when he digs them out. Whenever he hears about earthquakes and things in foreign countries, he gets Fabulousman to fly him there so they can both rescue people.
Mighty Mike is six years old. He is the world's youngest M.E.
"We're not actually going to let a six-year-old join the Hall of Heroes?" Suprema gasps when she hears, appalled.
"Is there a better way to shape the moral development of a six-year-old who can lift five tons?" Fledermaus points out.
"We're just lucky he imprinted on Spiderman before the meteors, you know," Eroica adds. "Thwart his youthful heroics and in ten years we'll have a bitter, angry teenager with Goth makeup and superpowers."
Suprema gives the dozen costumed men in the room a measuring look. "You're jealous of him," she pronounces.
None of them can deny it.
Man of Mystery
"One of us has to distract her while some of us figure out an escape route," Fledermaus orders. He surveys the other caped crusaders who've been captured by Fatal Femme, all either normal humans in costumes or else M.E.'s with lower-level powers, looking for a likely candidate.
"I believe that is my forté, Fledermaus," one of them says, stepping forward grandly. His accent is English and very posh.
Fledermaus hasn't seen this particular costume before: a black domino mask, slicked-back black hair, and what amounts to a skintight tuxedo. He stares.
"You're an M.E.?"
The tuxedo'ed hero shrugs with elaborate indifference instead of answering the question. "Just call me… Man of Mystery."
Even with his entire face covered by the mask, Fledermaus appears deeply unimpressed. "You're joking."
"Have no worries, my comrade in arms!" Man of Mystery declares. He adjusts his costume a bit and gives Lady Justice a rakish look, which she only gawks at, before strutting past the guards towards their captress.
"Have you ever seen this man before?" Lady Justice asks the others, flummoxed.
"I know him," Fledermaus grumbles, resuming his furtive search for weak points in their prison.
The guards stop Man of Mystery. Undaunted, he informs them that he only wishes to kiss the fair hand which shall soon dispatch him and his boon companions. The guards stare at him blankly, and Fatal Femme actually looks up from her unstoppable superweapon to see the man who has said this.
"Is this guy for real?" Ice Queen mutters.
"I fear so," Fledermaus answers. "Aha, maybe this will – no. Damn."
"You are even more beautiful than you are evil," Man of Mystery is telling Fatal Femme.
"I disagree," Fledermaus mutters.
Man of Mystery is able to keep spinning poetry to a poleaxed Fatal Femme for a quarter of an hour, when the door is broken down and Eroica blasts through. Eroica pauses in midair long enough to spy Fledermaus before he commences reducing the unstoppable superweapon to scrap metal.
"You lads might as well just put down your guns and let my chums take you into custody," Eroica advises the guards as he crumples the machinery under his boots (Florentian leather, perfectly matching his newest white-and-silver costume, but a devil to keep clean). "It'll save you all a lot of bother."
The guards wisely take this advice, ignoring their employer's shrieks of "Cowards! Destroy them!" Man of Mystery urbanely offers Fatal Femme a pair of handcuffs as if they were an ermine wrap, though the effect is rather spoiled when she responds by punching him in the face. He staggers back a step before Ice Queen impatiently seizes her, giving her a mild case of frostbite in the process.
Eroica looks up from the wreckage of the superweapon, still crushing a few bits of it in his hands. "Good show you lot were able to stall her till I got here. I am sorry, but there was just a hurricane in China. Mighty Mike and some others are still there, and I was the only one who could get back in time. I told them I'd hurry back as soon as I put paid to this, so if you've got matters under control, I must dash."
"By all means, dash," Fledermaus agrees.
"Fly on a wing and a prayer, my fellow countryman!" Man of Mystery declaims.
Eroica pauses in midair, seeing Man of Mystery for the first time. "Oh, no."
He can't stay for discussion, however. Duty calls.
Kryptonite, Part II
At first the Major thinks it is another ridiculous trick, but when he turns to look at his occasional ally, Eroica's grey face convinces him.
He examines the scene cautiously before moving to Eroica's side, but he doesn't see anything that looks dangerous; no vials of genetically engineered supergerms, no noxious chemicals, nothing likely to be radioactive. Whatever has Fabulousman lying weakly on the floor doesn't seem to have any effect on him.
Eroica opens his eyes sluggishly. "Help?"
The Major folds his arms. "After you've told me what's done this to you."
Eroica lets his eyes fall shut, defeated. "Your word… you won't tell anyone…." His voice is slurred.
It is hard to stand by with him in such pain, but someday the world may depend on this. "Not unless you go rogue and become a supervillain. Now what is it?"
Eroica takes a deep breath, gathering his strength. "'S why I stopped wearin' rose perfume…. Can't 'member the chem'cal name, but 's my weakness…."
Now that Klaus pays attention, the room does smell like roses. Some kind of room freshener. "The chemical that makes roses smell like roses? That's your weakness?"
"Yeah…." Eroica's voice is defeated.
The Major bends, grasps Eroica under the arms, and hauls him to his feet. He carries the Earl until they are several yards away. At a safe remove, the color returns to Eroica's face and he can walk on his own power again. The Major shoves him away.
"So now you know," Eroica says, resigned. "I suppose you're going to start wearing rose scent now."
The Major reflects, not for the first time, that the universe seems to have a nasty sense of humor where he's concerned. "I am not going to go around smelling like flowers. Not even to keep you away."
Maybe he'd let Conrad plant more rosebushes around the Schloss, though.
Skullcrusher chuckles in triumph. "At last, we have Fledermaus in our clutches!"
They do indeed. Their trap caught the mysterious grey-suited hero in a net and now they have him tied to a chair. Skullcrusher leers, triumphant.
"Now we shall learn the identity of Fledermaus! Now I know you are...."
With a grand gesture, he reaches for the dark grey mask and pulls it off, to reveal a handsome, angular face, a sharp nose and chin, longish dark hair, irritated green eyes.
"...someone I do not recognize," Skullcrusher finishes lamely. "Damn! Why does this never happen in the movies? Xavier! Who is this man?!"
"Yes, but who is Fledermaus!"
"German and in his thirties?"
"But we knew this! Tell me, what is the point of this unmasking anyway!"
Whatever reply Xavier might have made is cut short when the unknown German on the chair suddenly stands and lands a solid punch to his jaw. Skullcrusher follows his henchman onto the ground. Fledermaus puts away the concealed knife with which he cut himself free.
“Amateurs,” he says in disgust. “You should have been more concerned with disarming me than with unmasking me.”
The wall collapses and Eroica bursts through. "Stop right there, Skullcrusher!"
"About time you showed up," Fledermaus says, retrieving his mask.
Eroica looks disappointed, but rallies quickly. "I knew you had it under control. That’s why I didn’t come sooner.”
Klaus is about to put the mask back on, but stops to scowl at Eroica. “Bull. How could you have known?”
"I don't see any reason to tell the press, and the bad guys, everything about my abilities."
The Major, who hadn't been particularly concerned about being captured by two lunatics in skeleton costumes, feels the beginnings of dread. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about my X-ray vision, darling."
The Major's face turns very white. He starts to cross his arms protectively over his body but stops, realizing how futile this would be. "I don't believe you." He does not sound very sure.
Eroica turns back to the Major and rakes his eyes over him tauntingly. “It’s so like you. White cotton boxer shorts.”
Fledermaus’s entire body relaxes. “Hah! I knew you were making it up. They’re grey, to match my costume!”
Dorian might have been disappointed that his bluff has been called, but he can’t help giggling.
“What?” the Major demands, offended. “What if in a fight my pants got a tear in them? And it were at night? I will not have my position revealed by the color of my underwear!”
Fabulousman can’t stop giggling. “Sound advice, darling. I’ll tell Mr. James that I’m buying new briefs to match every one of my costumes on your advice.”