"We've been involved with the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association since before we even existed, back when we operated under the pretense of a…" the man placed a hand over his mouth to cover the devious smirk on his face. "…non-profit, community oriented organization."

The man, dressed in a fully formal three piece business suit looked around the room as he adjusted his glasses. He saw a few familiar faces, but settled on the new ones. The rookies sat poised and ready to reap the benefits of his already contributed years of hard work. Ready to show they could carry the torch further.

They were hungry to prove themselves.

"Sir, why the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association?" a young woman asked, features as sharp as an eagle in the midst of a hunt. "Aren't there more prestigious organizations out there, ones that would impact our public relations on a more, significant level?"

The man at the center of the room sighed. That was the issue with new ones. They just didn't get it right away. He had exploded at them for it. His frustration vented through one naïve question. He knew better. He learned that a gentle nudge in the right direction was what was needed. Gravity's tug was often what brought the infant the needed momentum and incentive to use its legs.

"The Pantheon is a great structure wouldn't you agree?"

All eyes turned on her but she never lost her demeanor. To be ambitious was one thing, but to lose your calm in the presence of the man known as "The Ocho" was from what she understood, a career killer. She wouldn't abandon her resolve.


"What is it best known for?"

"Its design, its dedication to the gods, the fact that it has outlasted other edifies."

"Correct." He eyed her some more. Her eyes permeated wisdom beyond her youth. He decided he wouldn't embarrass her this time. He didn't want to see that flame extinguish. "What would this edifice be without its pillars?"


"Without one pillar?"


There was a new glow in her eyes and he knew she understood immediately.

"Octocorp does not forget its pillars Ms…"

She looked up at him and stood up. She was known for her etiquette.

"Ms. Pavil. But you may call me Margaret sir."

The man approached her and shook her extended hand. "Very well than Margaret. Thanks to your bravery I think everyone now understands the importance of this event without my having to drag on and on about it." he said with a chuckle. "I like when people speak up. I think I'm going to have to keep you around." he said as he smiled and went back to the center of the room in front of the projection screen.

"You're welcome Mr. Contreras." said Margaret as she began to sit down.

"Please, call me Ocho." he said. He cleared his throat as he dug into his pocket and produced a small remote for the projector. "Now, back to the matter at hand, the event is set to be a fund raiser for the ever expanding Peace Garden, I want people to break up into teams…"

"Real great prank putting that picture of me in the middle of Mr. Ocho's slide presentation." said Johnsonberg, angrily as he caught up with Deacon down the hallway. "I'm glad everyone got a good kick out of my kitten whiskers."

"Such is a consequence of passing out at a Deacon Party." said Deacon, his usual calm tone revealing his New York accent.

"Well had I known I would have stayed home and"

"What? Played bridge with mother?"

Johnsonberg glared but it was only met with the backside of Deacon as they continued down the hallway to their respective areas.

"Don't feel too bad, it's a rite of passage, an esprit de corps builder if you will." he said smiling as he turned around to face Johnsonberg. Everyone goes through it when you're one of us."

"One of us?"

Deacon looked around the hallway; it was vacant as everyone else had already found their cubicles or offices from the meeting. "One of the cool guys."

"Cool guys?" Johnsonberg said, trying to hide a smile. His perfect features betraying him.

"Yeah, people like you want to be one of us."

"Oh." Johnsonsberg's elation deflated.

"You're getting there though, keep it up champ." said Deacon as he slapped Johnsonberg on the shoulder. "You might make it before God does."

Just then an aged man in flowing white robes stepped in from another room carrying stacks of new printer paper. "I'm not in yet?" he asked.

Deacon smirked as he turned around. "Almost there big guy. Both of you in fact, just need to hang in there." He began whistling as he turned the corner and was gone.

"Good party last night huh?" said God.

Johnsonberg stared off. "Yeah."

"Would you mind giving me a hand with these?"

Aware of God's struggle, Johnsonberg immediately grabbed a few packages of the printer paper allowing God to adjust himself.


Johnsonberg surveyed the park as he walked alongside the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets. He felt slightly out of place. Children were playing games; adults were gathering in groups conversing, music was blaring.

"Deacon said business casual…" he thought to himself as he adjusted the tie around his neck.

There were numerous booths, exhibiting a wide array from anti drug programs, bicycle safety, games as well as food. Lodged in between a Tucson Police Department booth and a local radio station featuring the morning disc jockeys was the "Octo-booth" a well crafted Octocorp logo sat behind a desk littered with literature regarding many of Octocorp's public relations and projects.

Johnsonberg spotted Deacon with his chair back leaning back and his legs propped up on the table

"Yo-han-sun-berg…" Deacon said with a smile. "Glad you made it buddy."

Johnsonberg eyed Deacon. Through his sunglasses he could see Deacon was holding back the urge to laugh. Noting Deacon's casual jeans and t-shirt with over shirt arrangement he knew he had over dressed.

"You said dress business casual."

"Pretty sure I didn't."

Johnsonberg sighed and walked around the table to join Deacon behind the booth.

"You did. But you know what? That's fine. You're a child and I'm here to babysit you it seems."

Deacon chuckled. "You just wanted to out dress everyone and show off, like you always do."

Johnsonberg grunted. He looked at the brochures spread out neatly before him. He was a little disappointed in how boring the booth appeared. He looked around and saw kids adorned with stickers and face paint. Some were engaged in the games and carried prizes like water bottles, bicycle helmets and knee guards.

"These prizes are lame. So is our booth. I thought we were supposed to be more kid oriented this time around."

Deacon drank a generous amount of what may have been water out of a brand new "D.A.R.E." bottle. When he saw Johnsonberg's condescending stare above him he smile. "Hey I earned this."

Some time passed until a little girl ran up to the booth. Johnsonberg put his hands on his thighs and doubled over.

"Can I help you little girl?"

She looked passed him and at Deacon and wore a pouty expression. "You said Ozzie was going to be here soon!"

Johnsonberg straightened out. He was eager to see how Deacon would deal with the youth's disappointment.

"He's on his way, don't worry."


Deacon looked at Johnsonberg as he stood up from his chair. "Very soon. I promise."

Johnsonberg flushed.

"Okay. I hope it's soon!" said the little girl as she ran away.

Deacon turned and faced Johnsonberg.



"Absolutely not. There is no way I would even think to do that to myself."

"But, it's for the children…"

"What happened to the original Ozzie?"

Deacon shrugged. "God called out. Said he couldn't do it."

Johnsonberg looked around. He had a feeling he was sniffing around another one of Deacon's snare traps. He leaned closer to him trying not to look angry and began talking in a low tone.

"Look, you play me for a fool every chance you get. I'm not falling for another one today." He said as he stroked his tie, indicating his contempt for taking Deacon's attire suggestion. "How do I know you're not throwing me into another prank of yours?"

Deacon shrugged. "I have to watch the booth, Our other staff members are helping with the other aspects of the event and now no one is left to take up the mantle of Ozzie." He nodded out toward a pack of children gathering in the grass. "That was their emissary's third visit. They want to see Ozzie."

Johnsonberg looked over. He could see more than two dozen children eagerly awaiting the arrival of what ironically was their favorite character. Ozzie Octopus, the official mascot of Octocorp. He sighed.

"No one else can do it?"

Deacon shook his head. "You'd be a hero to step up and do this for us."

Us. Those two simple letters formed a complicated concept, yet it immediately put everything into context. Johnsonberg was still relatively new, hungry and wanting to outshine his peers. Deacon, offensive and juvenile as he may be, was like the gatekeeper to the side he wanted to be on. The movers and shakers; the "who's who" of Octocorp.

Like most of the "pledges" as Deacon liked to call the rookies that wanted to be seen with Deacon, to hang out with Deacon to be called and even considered Deacon's friend, Johnsonberg enjoyed the boost in status but he sought after more than the social benefit. He wanted more than popularity amongst the hundreds employed by Octocorp. He wanted to prove himself.

Looking passed Deacon he saw his opportunity. Sure, it was a small community event but nothing Octocorp took likely. The Ocho had made this very clear to Margaret. Like he, she demonstrated the need to stand out. Too many others wanted to stand out but never got the opportunity. They had to search for it. This was his opportunity. It landed right in his lap.

"Very well then Deacon. I'll step up. I shall be Ozzie."

Deacon smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "That's my boy Yo-han-sun-berg."

"Please stop pronouncing my name like that."

"You got it hero." Deacon pointed off toward a nearby street. "The van's out there. They'll get you suited up and ready for action."

"Is all this really necessary? I feel like I'm in a mech suit…"

The technician that was helping Johnsonberg suit up nodded. "You pretty much are."

Johnsonberg felt a strap tighten around his calf and then ease up. It felt like he was getting his blood pressure checked. He flinched as it happened again with his other leg and simultaneously up and down joint areas of his body, tightening his two handed grip on the heavy head of Ozzie Octopus. Loud beeping ensued until he released his grip.

"What the hell is going on?"

"Latest in bio-robotic technology, straight out of the Research and Development Department. The suit's gauging the range of your joint movement and in a second your muscles. It adjusts based on your activity to allow smooth flow of current and any other transmission."


The technician tapped the side of his head. "Brain waves. If the body is constricted, for whatever reason or if blood circulation is cut off, it equals anything other than optimum performance. By knowing the wearer's physical capabilities, the suit will react accordingly to allow total free range of movement with less restriction. It comes in handy when you have eight tentacles." The technician chuckled. "Or a war to fight. That beeping you heard before was the Central Control Unit sensing danger to the computer system that operates the whole thing."

"All this for a mascot?!" he said as he felt the suit constrict and release. It seemed like a living organism had gotten hold of his entire body and then became it.

"Octocorp takes nothing lightly, especially the entertainment of its fans."

The technician reached behind him for something and when his hand came up empty he turned around. "Darn it, clip board is on the passenger's seat in the front. I'll be right back."

Johnsonberg took a moment to look around. He was in what used to be an O.E.S. van. He could tell by the monitors and sensors that were still inside the van. He saw a reflection of himself almost in full Ozzie gear. He took a step closer.

He looked ridiculous.

"Ridiculously cool." he said to himself. He looked like the offspring of a business man who had successfully mated with an octopus. While he didn't have the giant head on yet, he could tell that he would look exactly like the Ozzie caricatures he'd seen on just about any appropriate ad.

Margaret would get such a kick out of this. This would please the Ocho he thought to himself. The children would love him. He might land a shot in the paper, or even on the news. Maybe the radio show next to their booth might give them some free P.R. This is definitely a step in the right direction.

"Johnsonberg saves the day." he said to himself.

"Okay I just need you to sign here please, stating that you have been briefed on the Ozzie the Octopus Suit version 2.5 beta and agree to conduct yourself in accordance with Section PR. Category Youth. Subcategory Children's Entertainment, paragraph Fictional Characters."

"But you never briefed me." said Johnsonberg as he held the head of Ozzie Octopus under his left shoulder to sign the document on the clipboard.

"You're receiving it." said the technician as he took the clipboard.

Johnsonberg put the head of Ozzie Octopus over his head and with the technician watching him slid himself in.


He was surprised at how light the head felt. He at first couldn't tell if he was wearing anything other than a motorcycle mask. What felt like foam padding contorted and shaped to his head and facial structure. Within a few seconds he was very comfortable.

After realizing that his eyes had nothing to adjust to, he pointed with his right hand that was now a tentacle to where he believed his eyes should be. "How am I supposed to see?" his voice was muffled.

"One sec." said the technician.

Johnsonberg could hear himself breathing. He could hear the low hum of his ears. He swallowed. It was the loudest thing he'd heard since he arrived at the event. He felt like he was in a cool cavern. He felt the technician reach under his chin. His fingers reached for and found something. He heard the noise of a computer booting up.

Within seconds lights flickered immediately in front of his eyes and he was able to scan the room from left to right.

"Welcome" said a calm and ethereal female voice that sounded as if it came from inside his own mind. "Do you wish to employ battle mode?"

"Disregard that." said the technician. "Just stay put, I'm firing up command control. Darn thing still thinks it's a S.E.A.R. frame for OPS helmets."

"Sensory Enhancement Accretion Receiver." said Johnsonberg. He pondered a moment. Ocotocorp's Security Force wasn't his department but he knew enough to know he wasn't operating a child's favorite character. "You're using munitions' technology for this thing?"

"Not quite. That's why it's a 2.5 beta. We're using similar aspects of the technology to deliver a more impactful mascot appearance." he said dryly.

"Heads Up Display online." said the female voice.

"Are you sure I can handle this thing?" said Johnsonberg as what appeared to be vital signs of the technician displayed on the upper left corner of his field of vision. The technician himself was also highlight by a red outline.

"One of the temps did a gig last week for the first time and it went well." He sat down in front of the computer screen; it too had powered on and was ready to go. Immediately, crosshairs scrutinized the computer revealing no threat in bold yellow words in the center of Johnsonberg's eyes. "The trick is not to let it intimidate you. Let Sarah get to know you before you immediately jump the gun. Just like any lass."


"Yes?" said the female voice.

"Sarah is the name we decided to give to control unit. Its suiting." said the technician. "It was named after one of the OPS members' daughters."


"I do not recognize this command." said Sarah. "Shall I assimilate new order?"

"Disregard." said the technician. He looked at Johnsonberg before he turned fully and began typing in commands into the computer.

A meter on the right hand side read "Aggravation Index" increased by 5%. It was illustrated by one of three other bars in colors of blue and red. When Sarah notified him of the technician's change in emotion the "Aggravation Index" increased in size long enough for Johnsonberg to notice it before it went back to its former state in the right hand side of this vision.

"She takes just about anything literally. Just like with any other computer."

"I see." said Johnsonberg

"Vision increased." said Sarah.

As if a veil was lifted, the side of the van revealed everything that was taking place outside of it. The crosshairs scoured through every moving object, be it a balloon, a person or an animal. The vital signs on his right hand side did not reveal any indexes. Johnsonberg figured it was because he was looking through a wall.

"So is there anything I should know about this thing?"

The technician shrugged. "Just don't do anything stupid."

"Should be hard not to."

"Don't worry, I'll be your eyes and ears besides Sarah for this operation. I've got you covered."

A youth stood alone on the sidewalk. Tears streaming down her puffing cheeks. She was holding back sobs as she watched her ice cream cone slowly melt into a pool of muck on the hot cement.

Someone approached her and her face transfixed into a smile.


Ozzie Octopus held out two tentacles and embraced the now happy child.

Johnsonberg had amplified his audio. Sarah had found the sobs and isolated them. He was able to find the source. Within an instant, Johnsonberg was able to read her high stress levels were depleting and being replaced with something else. Her pulse and heartbeat quickened, signifying the emotions of happiness and excitement.

Sarah, calculating as she was seemed to understand the problem as an image of the melting ice cream was pulled up on the Heads Up Display. It was astounding how she could so quickly put two and two together. What would appear to be simple solution with human logic could require lines upon lines of code if written properly for a computer. It seemed overkill.

However Johnsonberg realized that such simple thoughts didn't happen in combat. Such simple thoughts or lapses in between actions was what killed even the best of soldiers, Johnsonberg now understood why it was imperative for OPS members to have S.E.A.R. technology. He now understood why they were considered invincible. They had but to carry out the suggestions Sarah offered.

Like the options the OPS members may have received, so too, was Johnsonburg.

"Hug the child." Sarah had suggested.

Above Johnsonberg's field of vision where lines of suggested phrases, as if all he had to do was read a script.

"What's the matter little one?"

"I dropped my ice cream." she said through choked sobs as she pointed to the ground.

"I understand." said Johnsonberg. He smirked. He could be half awake and operate the Ozzie Octopus suit.

"Acquire ice cream replacement." said Sarah.

"I'll get you a new one." he said as he straightened himself.

"Stay right there."

The child nodded and watched as Ozzie Octopus, the physical incarnation of her favorite cartoon series walked with purpose to the ice cream truck.

He returned and extended the exact replacement of ice cream novelty toward the little girl.

The girl beamed. "Thank you!"

Johnsonberg, although through human eyes could have observed the drastic change in the girl's demeanor, enjoyed watching the data sky rocket. New objects displaying readings flashed in front of his eyes.

"You're quite welcome." he said as he patted the girl on the head. "Stay in school."

Johnsonberg walked onward. Although his back was turned to everything, he saw everything. The happy little girl happily enjoying her ice cream, her back turned to a half turned ice cream truck with a cursing ice cream man.

"Mission accomplished." said Sarah.

He surveyed the area in front of him and saw the dozens of children eagerly awaiting him.

Ozzie Octopus had arrived.

"Ozzie's here!" said a little boy as he pointed toward the oncoming Octopus.

Immediately the children flocked to Johnsonberg's outstretched arms.

He embraced each one without needing to worry if his tentacles would constrict too tight. He could feel the suit adjusting itself accordingly to each child's size and weight.

Positive readings were soaring upward as new "indexes" where revealed. His sensors beeped continuously, almost harmoniously with the swarm of cheerful children.

"Hello boys and girls." said Johnsonberg. The first time he actually heard his voice. It was altered and sounded just like the cartoon character.

"You're doing good kid. I saw the way you handled the objective back there." said the technician.

Johnsonberg flinched. After hearing so many beeps and Sarah's continuous updates and briefs, it was not out of surprise that he jumped when he heard the technicians.' It was fear that the children would hear another voice and lose the effect.

"Don't worry, they can't hear me. Just keep dispensing the affection. They're eating that shit up."

Johnsonberg weaved through the children, asking and answering simple questions under the steady watch of the technician and Sarah. Anytime a child asked a question pertaining to the cartoon life of Ozzie Octopus, answers would prompt in the center of his Heads Up Display.

He was doing well. Everyone would hear about this. Margaret would glow with envy at the praise he was about to receive.

Margaret Pavil… He felt himself flush at the thought of her smile. At the thought of it directed at him. Her auburn hair undone and whipping through the wind, taming his pride, allowing him to succumb into her azure eyes.

"You alright there big guy?" your vitals have changed.

"Activating cool down." said Sarah.

He could feel a slight release in key areas of his body where the suit was fastened onto him. A cool current of air breezed through him. He felt embarrassed once he released his heart was being read just as coldly from Sarah as any other of the children. At the same time it made him appreciate the synergetic relationship between OPS member and OES agent.

"Incoming projectile!" said Sarah with admonition in her tone.

"Check your six."

Johnsonberg spun around just in time to catch a lightly thrown foam coated ball between two tentacles. Crosshairs scoured for its source and locked on to a child a bit older than the current crowd he was entertaining. He had mischievous look on his face.

Sarah was all over him.

"Aggression measured. Facial recognition complete. Vital signs recognized. Current threat .5."

"Looks like we got ourselves a neighborhood bully." said the technician.

A list of suggested protocol scrolled up on Johnsonberg's Head's Up Display.

Reason. Fight. Ignore. Scold. Rally against. Inquire into earlier childhood memories. Appease. Engage.

Johnsonberg liked the last option. Ozzie Octopus loved every child. Every child was different, but every child required attention. Ozzie Octopus had eight times the love for each child.

"Engage." he said in a low voice.

"Activating Threat level .5 Engage Protocol" said Sarah.

"It's on a scale of one to ten. Just follow Sarah's suggestions and you'll win this kid over big guy." said the technician.

"What's your name bruiser?" said Johnsonberg, as if reading a script from a play.

"Tyler." said the boy confidently.

"You want this ball back?" Johnsonberg reactively offered the ball. Tyler eyed it and snatched it.

"How did you know I was going to hit you?"

Johnsonberg searched for a few responses before he picked the right one. "I'm a world class Dodgeball player."

Tyler brightened a bit, but tried to hide it. Sarah detected it all the same. Johnsonberg had selected a good response.

"I don't believe you. You're a liar."

"I'll prove it."

Johnsonberg turned to the children who, well aware of the neighborhood bully watched intensely to see if Ozzie was going to stand up to him.

"Who wants to play Dodgeball?" he asked.

Screams and shouts of approval came in unison.

A few more balls were acquired as with several cones provided by the police department, a crude Dodgeball field was setup. Although the majority of children wanted to play on Ozzie's side, a few stepped over to Tyler's side and two teams were formed. Johnsonberg, with the aid of Sarah's instantaneous and incessant assessment was able to pick the weaker children for his side. He would protect them. He would lead them to victory.


"Ready." Sarah confirmed.


"Active mode initialized"

"GO!" said Johnsonberg.

Johnsonberg saw everything. He was receiving immediate reports about the morale of his teammates. He was aware of everything. He saw balls fly in already calculated paths. This gave him the edge he needed to be able to dodge as Ozzie Octopus.

"Unit lost. Unit recovered. Tango down. Incoming projectile! Evade! Stand firm. Defend! Defend! Unit lost. Unit lost." said Sarah.

Every time Johnsonberg managed to catch a ball or make a successful dodge, cheers were heard all around him and he saw readings of morale increase. He was having fun, losing himself to the game. It was as if one of his favorite games: Mechanical Warrior had become real.

He played more aggressively. Using Sarah, he singled out the stronger kids and with precision accuracy began taking them out one by one.

Tyler was a worthy opponent. He was quick on his feet and used Johnsonberg's lack of attention to pick off others.

"Tango down. Tango down. Unit lost. Unit lost. Unit lost. Tango down. Morale decreased. Threat neutralized. Tango down. Unit lost. Unit lost."

Johnsonberg looked around, he saw that he was down to one smaller little girl on his team and only Tyler on the other. Victory was his. It was all he cared about. He watched as Tyler, revealing bitterness for coming so close to defeat picked up a ball. He looked at Johnsonberg.

"Come on, hit me." said Johnsonberg, planting his feet and motioning his tentacles toward him. "HIT ME TYLER!"

Tyler looked at him and immediately through the ball at the little girl.

In an instant, Johnsonberg realized his error. He had become so blind to winning that he sacrificed nearly all of his comrades. He couldn't win on his own. He needed his last comrade to survive the game.

"Hyper mode engaged."

With speed he did not know he had, he sprinted. A tentacle scooped up a ball as he dove in the air with his back toward Tyler. He saw the girl cover her eyes, ready to get hit. The foam coated ball struck his back. When he felt it, he twisted himself in mid air to face Tyler. The cross hair's locked.

With more might than he remembered having, he hurled the ball straight for Tyler before the ball he was struck with could hit the ground. He was out, but his throw was still legitimate. The ball flew with such ferocity that it whirled through the air. It hit Tyler so hard the ball flew over Johnsonberg's territory and beyond a good thirty yards.

Johnsonberg hit the floor. He sat up and saw Tyler sprawled out across the grass. After a few moments of shock Tyler began to cry.

"Mission accomplished." said Sarah.

Johnsonberg heard the technician gasping for air in between riotous laughter.

"We won!" said Johnsonberg.

"You're a monster!" said the little girl as she ran toward Tyler.

Johnsonberg got up and walked toward Tyler. Protocols and the obvious readings went rampant. "He tried to hit you." said Johnsonberg, ignoring the readings.

"He's my older brother!" said the little girl as Tyler tried to stop crying.

Some of the kids ran toward Tyler while the others stayed away. He was losing them.

"Why did you hit him so hard Ozzie? Why?!" demanded the little girl as she hovered over Tyler.

"What's the matter kids?" said a familiar voice.

Instantly, the kids' faces went from grim to beaming.

Johnsonberg turned around. The crosshairs locked on Deacon. He was looking straight at Johnsonberg with his usual, devious smile.

"WARNING! WARNING! THREAT LEVEL EXCEEDED!" said Sarah. Although she was emotionless as always, the blood red font in his Head's Up Display unnerved him. He was not pleased to see Deacon but he was not about to treat him as a threat to his existence like the readings seemed to be doing. He did not know why Sarah was going berserk.

He walked over to him, who was occupied with patting kids on the top of their heads.

"What are you doing here?" asked Johnsonberg quietly. He could tell that Sarah would only alter his voice to Ozzie's if he spoke a certain decibel level.

"Is this guy bothering you?" said Deacon, ignoring Johnsonberg. "Is Ozzie being bad?"

One of the kids spoke up. "He was being mean to Lizzy's brother!" he said looking at Ozzie with a betrayed look. "He made him cry!"

Tyler came over, absorbing the sympathy of the mob.

"Is this true?" asked Deacon, hiding the smile that was trying to spread across his face.

Tyler rubbed his eye and nodded.

"What a bully!" said Deacon. "Do you want me to get him for you?"

Tyler nodded.

Deacon started walking toward the side of the field Tyler's team was on.

Johnsonberg followed alongside.

"Deacon you said you needed someone to be Ozzie, I've got things under control!"

"I leave you alone for twenty minutes and you're taking out little children!" he said under his breath. "I saw the ball fly smash into him from all the way to the booth! That isn't very Ozzie!"

Johnsonberg came to a halt as Deacon picked up a ball and tossed it to him.

"Its time for Ozzie Octopus to face Deacon!"

The children yelled with enthusiastic cheers for Deacon.

"Ozzie Octopus will defeat Deacon!" said Johnsonberg.

The children remained silent. All that could be heard were the regular sounds of the event taking place.

"Thank you for tuning into DCTJ 104.8 this is Chuck from The Good Station, we're broadcasting live at Manny Herrera Park, where we're enjoying the annual "Community Days" hosted by the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association. It looks like we've got a Dodgeball Battle Royale about to take place."

Johnsonberg turned around and saw one of the morning disc jockeys walking over to him. He straightened himself up. Public Relations. Finally, he was going to be the voice of Octocorp.

"Looks like we got the adored, Ozzie Octopus from the cartoon series against what's your name sir?"

Chuck the disc jockey pointed his microphone to the right of Johnsonberg before he could say anything.

Deacon, having seen the disc jockeys walked over and leaned toward the microphone. "Deacon Harris, Human Resource Director of Octocorp. I just want to say hi to all my friends here in Tucson, Az, Beki, I love ya, Ethan, Matt Winder, you're the man and especially Yo-Han-Sun-Berg, a good friend of mine who unfortunately couldn't make it tonight."

Johnsonberg felt like he was thrown in an arctic pool. He stood frozen as the game was finally set up.

"Well it looks like Ozzie Octopus and Deacon Harris are about to duke it out. If you're not on your way over here you best be to jump in on what looks to be even more hours of entertainment. This event was brought to you by…"

Deacon had already walked back to his side of the field, which had all but one ball and all of the kids.

"Alright ready kids?"


"Let's get him!"

Johnsonberg was infuriated. Deacon, like always, stole his thunder. And worse, he thought he saw Margaret amongst the spectators. He wondered if she knew it was him in the suit.

Everything had happened so fast he forgot about the warnings. The technician must've overridden the system to keep the continuous flashes and horns from going off. He wondered why it deemed Deacon so dangerous. Regardless, he was going to defeat him, Ozzie Octopus suit or not.

"Battle mode initiated." said Sarah.

"Good." said Johnsonberg.

"No! Not good!" said the technician. "You need to get out of there."

"No." said Johnsonberg. "I'm staying put."

"Be careful then." said the technician. "Be very, very damn careful."

Deacon threw a ball lightly. Johnsonberg stood ready to block it.

"Probing shot neutralized."

He paid attention to the readings and ignored the small attempts the other children made to hit him. He was untouchable. He blocked and dodged, threw with such accuracy and care that it did not matter Deacon was surrounded by the children. He had one goal and that was to take Deacon down.

He didn't hear the warnings from the technician.

Deacon, having horded five balls, hurled one followed by one almost simultaneously after the other. The trajectories were not revealed. The first one went over his head, the second hit the ball out of his hands. The third hit him in the shoulder. The forth hit him dead between his Ozzie eyes.

His vision went black and he felt the impact of a foam coated ball hit, transfer its energy into his face and bounce back off.

"BREECH! BREECH!" read the scripts that scrolled across his Head's Up Display.

"Damage taken." said Sarah. "Hyper mode reactivated."

A loud cheer from the children erupted. Deacon was winning.

Johnsonberg got up and with Deacon's back turned, managed to hit him with a ball. Deacon turned.

"Aggression level exceeded. Subject immensely hostile." said Sarah.

"Its so on Ozzie!" said Deacon.

The pair raced to get a ball. Johnsonberg flung one with the strength he hit Tyler earlier. Deacon blocked. Deacon answered with another one but not nearly with as much accuracy.

Johnsonberg was going to win.

The two scrambled for more balls.

"Incoming projectile." said Sarah when Johnsonberg had briefly turned his back on Deacon. He turned around just in time to catch it. He rolled it across the field to an angry Deacon.

Deacon threw a ball and hit Johnsonberg on the right thigh. The suit had a different reaction.

"Leg injury sustained. Artery threatened. Administering tourniquet."

"What?! No!" said Johnsonberg as the suit constricted around his right thigh.

"I god danged tried to warn you son! Sarah thinks she's in full scale war mode!" yelled the technician. "She thinks you're taking bullet rounds! Abort! Abort!"

Seeing Johnsonberg's hesitation, Deacon grabbed a ball and hit Johnsonberg in the left arm.

Leg going numb, Johnsonberg kneeled. He couldn't get the suit to respond.

It was working through what appeared to be hundreds of calculations. Not one solution was prompted on his Head's Up Display. It was working on its own now.

"Limb severed."

He took another shot straight to the chest. Deacon laughed with the kids as they cheered him on further.

"Battle damage limit exceeded. Initializing Self Preservation Mode."

Johnsonberg watched as Deacon ran full speed toward him. He saw readings and warnings flash. Deacon was going to jump into his territory and deliver the final blow.

"Self Preservation Mode Initialized." said Sarah. Beeps and flashes rang rampant on the Head's Up Display. Johnsonberg saw what looked like oil shoot out towards Deacon but it was ineffective.

"That cartoon ink won't save you!" said Deacon as he leapt into the air.

"Enemy airborne." said Sarah. "Missile detected."

Johnsonberg found he was moving. He spun a 180 and with new found strength ran in the opposite direction.

Johnsonberg out of the corners of his Heads Up Display saw what looked like dozens of giant sparks explode from within him.

"Chaff flares released."

"What?!" said Johnsonberg.

He felt a heavy thud at the back of his head. Deacon had nailed him, but that was the least of his worries. He began to feel a surge of heat resonate throughout his body. Somehow, he had caught on fire.

"Heavy damage sustained!" said Sarah.

Johnsonberg, though not physically affected by the intense flames he saw enveloped around his tentacles could feel the heat and knew he would be engulfed if he didn't react. He heard Deacon laughing manically with the children.

"Tentacles 3, 5, 8, offline." said Sarah

"Holy shit man!" yelled the technician.

"Yay Deacon! You beat him!" cheered the kids around him.

Deacon, seeing the flames further swallow up Johnsonberg as he frantically ran about, started pushing the kids back to a safe distance.

"Crap! Crap!" said Johnsonberg. The smoke prevented him from seeing normally. He had to rely on the infrared feed Sarah had displayed for him. Breaks in her voice told him that things were not going to be recoverable.

"Tentacles 4, 7, offline."

"Optics offline."

"S.E.A.R. control system terminated. Goodbye." said Sarah.

Johnsonberg frantically ran this way and that, not aware that he was a running eight limbed fireball.

"Don't leave me!" he yelled.

He dove to the ground, landing hard on his right shoulder. He didn't care. He had to extinguish the flames. He began rolling around incessantly, trying to dose the flames. As he rolled over on his face, the right eye socket of Ozzie Octopus broke, giving him a clear view of the cerulean sky.

It was so peaceful.

"Hang in there buddy." said the technician, as he appeared over Johnsonberg. He looked down at the heaping mess and then up towards where others may have watched the horror. "I need this place cleared out! I need the paramedics and the fire department!"

Johnsonberg lay sprawled out. He couldn't tell if he was still on fire. A blanket was thrown over him. Followed by more over his body.

"Bring the extinguisher!"

He felt the cooling sensation as the flames were doused.

A blanket was removed from his face. It was the sky again.

The technician offered a hand. "Can you get up buddy?"

Johnsonberg stared passed him.

"Leave me."

The technician looked at him puzzled. He nodded and ran off. To do what or where, Johnsonberg paid no heed.

Time had passed. Johnsonberg did not know how long but he knew that the scene had died down but he didn't care. He laid still.

"Why have you forsaken me God?" asked Johnsonberg to the heavens.

An old man with a long white beard, sunglasses and a baseball cap came into his view. He was holding a hot dog in one hand and a large soda pop in the other. He looked down at Johnsonberg.

"I called in today." he said shrugging. "Didn't want to miss the event."

Johnsonberg moaned. Everything hurt.

Johnsonberg was back in the conference room. He sat next to Mr. Contreras. They were watching footage of the event last week. It wasn't an event. It was a spectacle. It was a humiliation. It was Johnsonberg's failure. He had stepped up only to fall flat on his face. It was a career killer.

He watched as Mr. Contreras maintained a blank expression, half hidden through a fist resting over his mouth.

They watched everything. The little girl crying for her ice cream. The Dodgeball game. Johnsonberg in a frenzied rush almost knocking out Tyler. He looked over and thought he saw signs of Mr. Contreras laughing.

He relived the horror of the suit turning on him. Of catching on fire. Of burning alive. Of diving to the ground and rolling. His right arm, although treated and in a sling, began to throb again.

At last it was over. Both stared at the blank screen for what seemed an eternity. Johnsonberg awaited his sentencing. Mr. Contreras shifted and faced him. Johnsonberg tried to maintain eye contact as long as he could.

"Hm." said Mr. Contreras.

He stood up. "Margaret."

Hardly aware she was in the room, Johnsonberg saw Margaret approach from the corner. His heard raced and he felt his cheeks flush. He didn't need Sarah to remind him what he was experiencing.

"Please debrief Mr. Johnsonberg about our discovery. Afterward I'll see you in my office."

As he turned to leave, Johnsonberg stood up.


Mr. Contreras paused. He looked over his shoulder.

"Sir, am I fired?"

"No." Mr. Contreras turned once again to the door. "Please carry on as if nothing happened."

As Mr. Contreras reached for the door with trembling hands, he managed to steady himself long enough for him to go through and close the door behind him. He walked a few paces down the hall and into a restroom.

He laughed for half an hour.

"As you know, Ozzie Octopus 2.5 beta was designed to be the ultimate child experience. Version 2.5 moves like him, talks like him and thinks like him. To enhance the experience, Ozzie is capable of dispensing actual Octopus Ink into little capsules to give to children to take home as educational souvenirs. He is also equipped with flares, in events fireworks are legalized, he is able to perform a small display of visual pyrotechnics.

"Sarah, an outdated S.E.A.R. mistook the events for an actual combat mission and used whatever available resources it had as both offensive and defensive mechanisms. Recognizing your emotions and reactions toward Deacon Harris, she was able to determine that not only was he an enemy, but also a major threat to both her and the wearer of the suit.

When the oil was used as one of the defensive mechanisms, it spread over tentacle 3 due to your…" Margaret paused. "…Evasive movements."

Johnsonberg's mind conjured countless images and continuously replayed the events. He had never been more embarrassed in his life.

"The flares were utilized as chaff flares resulting in one being lodged in between tentacle 3 and 5 causing the intense heat to ignite upon impact, further fed by the oil." Margaret paused. "You're lucky to be alive."

There was silence within the room.

Johnsonberg moved to get up. "Is that all Ms. Pavil?"

Margaret turned off the projector. "Away from more specifics, we've determined that you were not at fault. Aside from your personal injuries" she nodded to his arm in the sling, "we anticipate a normal return to work."

Johnsonberg nodded. "Thank you."

"Thank you, Johnsonberg." said Margaret with a hint of emotion. More than he had ever heard from her.

His heart soared.