Metal vs. Magic

Herk vs. Kitty

Acme Petro Chemical
Processing and distribution plant
11:55 p.m.

Caffeine and sugar were a night watchman's best friends. For man, who's nature is not to skulk in darkness under a waning gibbus, something unnatural is required to stay awake through an eight-hour overnight shift. And you don't get much more unnatural than processed sugar; sweet, sweet poison. But, like many poisons, excess exposure in non-lethal doses will build tolerance, even resistance.

Gus had been pulling graveyard full time for years, stalwart, reliable. He was never late for a shift, never grumbled or complained. The complainers were the morning relief, the people who had to wake him up from his latest sugar crash.

They weren't due for another six hours, and the man who stared disdainfully at the corpulent sentry was not about to complain.

Two dozen security monitors flickered briefly when the man placed a small USB plug into the socket. The micro device was not the sort of thing you'd pick off the rack at Best Buy; beyond cutting edge, invisible unless you were looking for it. The full body suit he wore was of a similar nature.

"I'm in," the man said quietly as he strode from the office and onto the grounds of the plant proper.

"Good. I've charted a map of all the recent security pings. It should lead you to the creature."

"Copy that."

Quickly surveying the map projected on the inside of his helmet, the man in the suit followed the trail projected. It was high end tech, beyond cutting edge, true powered armor, the kind of thing the military would happily stomp all over your civil liberties to acquire.

It was a good thing the man inside wasn't working for the military, nor was the originator of the voice in the helmet. A helmet, oddly enough, shaped something like a beetle's head, the kind with the big horn.

"Coming to the first door, or what's left of it."

The metal door was half melted, hanging out of its frame from a single desperate hinge.

"Confirmed. It's definitely been this way. Be careful."

"Always," the suited man said, drawing his sidearm.

The large sidearm looked more like a fancy space gun toy than an actual weapon; tubes and buttons and a small dial where the hammer should have been. The rounds of the clip he slid into the butt glowed an angry chemical red.

He stepped cautiously into the building, passing through the entry then another door, also melted. Stepping into the next room he found himself surrounded by large glass tubes full of chemicals of various colors. Each was labeled with its proper scientific name and atomic structure, none of which meant anything to him.

"You getting this?" he asked.

"I see it."

"Recognize any of it?"

"Nothing special," the voice replied, "common agents found in household products."

"Anything our 'friend' might find interesting?"

"Maybe. Some are highly acidic on their own. Any sign of him?"

"Not yet," the room was eerily silent. "Wait. I think I found something."

A trail dragged across the floor to the far end of the room, melted spots too large, too regular, and too recent to have been from anything else, they were still smoking as they ate through the tile.

"I see it," the voice said. "Watch your step. Those tiles are treated to resist corrosion. Come to think of it, the doors probably were too."

"Wonderful," it had acid that could eat through acid resistance.

The door at the far end of the room was, to his surprise, not melted. It also wasn't locked.

He picked up the trail on the other side, small smoking splotches leading down the hall, past several doors emitting the gentle hum of refrigeration. One near the end appeared to have been molested by something with claws, though shockingly there was no sign of acid damage.

"Boss, can you read this?"

The small placard on the door was more science babble and chemical symbols, it must have been bad because he heard a gentle gasp on the other end of the comm.

"That's the one," the voice replied.

A quick peek inside revealed a cooled room full of canisters with the same markings as the door lining several shelves and nothing else.

"He's not here," and the trail continued down the hall.

"Pursue with caution but be quick. We cannot allow him to escape with that canister."

"Do I want to know what's in it?" he asked as he power walked down the hall with his gun pointed firmly forward.

"It's not the chemical itself but what it can be used for that worries me."

"Is it complicated?"

"Quite."

"Save it for later then," he said as he came to yet another half-melted door.

Through the hole was inky blackness and a feeling of great space.

"No lights. Switch to infra-red."

The colors inside the helmet shifted and he found himself inside a large garage. Several trucks sat parked at the dock; their doors all closed. A quick scan revealed nothing in the immediate area.

"He couldn't have gotten that far. The door was still smoking. Switch to thermal vision."

Another shift and the garage became a kaleidoscope of colors meant to represent the ambient temperatures. All the trucks were in the blue and green, having not been on for several hours giving them time to cool.

"Where is it? Come on."

Hopping onto one of the trucks he continued scanning.

"I know you're here. I know you're—ah! There!"

The garage door was a slightly different shade than the rest of the room, and at the very center a peculiar shaped splotch of red and yellow moved around an expanding patch of white. He ran across the truck, switching back to infra-red just as he reached the end and vaulted to the floor.

A metallic shriek echoed through the massive room and a barely visible form darted through the hole in the door.

Charging forward, sidearm up, he was barely feet from the hole when it hit him.

"TIGRESS BLAZE!"

A tiger head made of flame blasted through the hole, meeting him midstride. The flame exploded against his armor which sparked furiously, the force of it knocking him flat on his back.

"Herk! What happened. I just read a serious surge from your suits shield. Herk, are you alright?"

"That's a matter of opinion," he grumbled, forcing himself into a sitting position. "Looks like we're not the only ones hunting this bug."

He knew she was there. He didn't have to see her to know exactly what she was doing, that stupid pose. She should be saying it any second now.

"You thought you could get away, but I shall not allow it! Come out of there so I can punish you!"

"Brat," he grumbled, adjusting the dial on his sidearm and firing a short barrage through the open hold.

A satisfying yelp followed by some rather colorful cursing made him grin. Back on his feet, he walked carefully through the hole, finding on the other side exactly what he expected to find.

"Well look who it is."

"Hey jerk! You shot me!"

She scowled angrily; the full effect lost due to the frilly pink dress she was wearing. The cat ears on top of her head twitched and the tail swished back and forth in great agitation.

"I imagine it hurt a lot less than what you hit me with."

"Wasn't aiming at you. Next time don't get in the way."

"How bout next time you make sure no one else is in the line of fire."

The girl growled and leapt to her feet, "How bout next time you don't be in the line of fire!"

It wasn't the first time he'd been on the worse end of one of her attacks. If he didn't kill her it probably wouldn't be the last either and that thought left him feeling less than empathetic.

The two began bickering, as they usually did whenever they ran into each other, till a strange hissing interrupted their verbal melee. Both turned back to the melted door where a horrible creature clung to the concrete overhang.

"There you are."

"Ew!"

The thing was roughly man shaped, having two arms and two legs all attached to a torso with a head on top, but it barely took a glance to know this creature was not human. Its head looked like a bloated cricket, massive eyes taking up most of the front while a pair of wing like horns jutted out each side. Its legs were long and disjointed with tiny claws at the end and its hands were huge, possessing only three digits, each looking like it could rip a man open from top to bottom. One such hand held a canister, smoking in the warm evening air.

"That doesn't belong to you," said Herk, pointing his gun at the hissing creature. "Put it down, nice and easy."

"What is it?" the cat-eared girl asked, staring curiously.

"Something bad," he replied, possessing neither the time nor patience to explain further, even if he had been inclined to do so, which he wasn't.

The cricket creature scuttled around, turning toward the roof. Herk took careful aim and shot a single leg off the wall. With only two appendages still clinging the weight proved too much to hold and it fell painfully to the ground, wrapping its body protectively around the canister.

"Looks like he really wants that," Herk observed, adjusting the dial on his gun as he approached the scrambling bug man.

"Mine!" the cat girl declared, bounding ahead of him as the bug got one leg under it, only to be slammed to the ground again under a hyperactive teenage girl. "I'll take that."

Stunned, the cricket creature lost its grip on the canister as she pulled it free, "Gah! Cold!"

"Don't drop that!" Herk barked, taking his eyes off the creature for one fateful second.

His armor sparked when the cricket's leg lashed out, knocking him back. Hissing angrily, it launched itself at the girl, tackling her and taking back its canister.

"Dammit!" The creature was fast, dodging a quick barrage of fire before jumping to the wall again and begin a swift leaping ascent.

"You won't get away from me." Crouching on all fours, a blazing aura surrounded her and she bounded after the cricket, hitting the wall and scampering up like a flaming squirrel.

"Crap! Every time!"

Tapping several buttons, he holstered his sidearm, feeling the hum as energy rushed to his legs.

"POWER JUMP—GO!"

Driven by invisible force he shot straight up, overtaking the cricket just as it hit the roof, bleeding the last of his ascending force into a powerful axe kick that sent the bug man crashing to the roof.

The cricket hissed as he drew his sidearm, but both paused when a flaming cat girl bounded over the edge to join them.

"This one's mine!" she growled.

"Says you," he countered, twisting the dial, and firing one of the red chemical shots at their mutual enemy.

The shot exploded against the right shoulder, knocking the cricket back and sending the canister arcing through the air. Quickly holstering his weapon again Herk caught the canister, almost going over the edge of the roof in the process.

"Whoa. Whoa! Ah, that was close."

"I would have laughed if you fell."

The armored man scowled at the magical girl. It lost something through the helmet.

"Brat."

"Hisssss!"

Remembering they were not alone; the cat girl took the initiative and rushed the bug while Herk looked for somewhere to stash the canister.

"You're all mine grasshopper!" she taunted, bounding at him in feline fashion, flaming claws protruding from her fingertips.

The cricket spewed something phlegmy and smoking, forcing her into a rolling dodge.

"That is gross!" she cried, summoning up a flaming tiger head and hurling it at him, "TIGRESS BLAZE!"

The cricket leapt over the projectile and came down in a double clawed smash, pulverizing the roof where the cat girl had just been standing. Dust and debris leapt in every direction, pummeling the overdressed girl who backpedaled in bounding backflips.

"Ew! Ew! Ew! Get away! Get away!" she shrieked as the cricket chased her across the roof.

"Having fun?" Herk called, watching the cricket pursue her.

"Aw shut up and do something!"

Grinning behind the helmet, he raced after them and intercepted the cricket with a flying sidekick to the head, knocking the bug down and cracking the left mandible.

It recovered quickly and refocused on him standing there giving him the 'come and get it' gesture.

The bug was fast but Herk had fought its like before and danced around its massive slashing claws, connecting blow after blow to its damaged head but with little apparent effect.

"Got a hard shell, don't cha?"

The cricket hissed and made an eviscerating lunge, missing and leaving itself wide open. One quick draw put the gun in his hand and three more of the angry red shots exploded across its back leaving long cracks in its carapace.

"Hard, but not unbreakable."

Tapping a few buttons, he fired a shot into its chest. The shot didn't explode, it didn't appear to do much of anything, but inside the helmet Herk could see the big red X, could feel the energy surging to his right hand as he put the gun again in its holster.

The cricket staggered on shaky legs, and the armored man charged forward, glowing fist raised for a final strike.

"CAT RIBBON CAPTURE!"

That strike was preempted by a mass of obnoxious pink ribbon wrapping the cricket in a cocoon of silk and lace. When the cocoon vanished, the cricket was gone, and in its place, a tiny statuette of what had once been a fearsome monster.

"Mine," the cat girl proclaimed, happily collecting her prize.

"I had him you know," the armored man grumbled, glaring at the magical girl.

"Hmm, too bad, so sad," she gloated, showing him her back, which was a terrible mistake.

She yelped when he put a short, stinging barrage in her backside. The sound of it was pleasing enough. The small statuette that flew into his hand was just icing.

"Mine now."

He grinned like a maniac as he dashed off the roof, the sounds of an angry cat girl echoing after him.

"YOU LOUSY STINKING JERK! GET BACK HERE!"