Rated PG for two bad words.
What Has Gone Before: Pete Petruski, the Trapster, has moved to Chicago and reformed, becoming a crime-fighter in the South Side of Chicago. After convincing Captain America that his reformation is genuine, he began training with Captain America and learning how to fight. He has recently discovered that most of the crime in Chicago is being directed by one figure, who seems to be operating out of the Sears Tower. As Pete discovered this, he was approached by a group of costumed figures, calling themselves the Rejects, who (along with the Answer, whom Pete worked with previously) claimed to want to help him defeat Chicago's crimelord.
July 28, 1998.
Pete and the others, seeing the figures swing open the windows from halfway up the Sears Tower and begin shooting down at them, scattered, running across the street and taking shelter in the space in front of the doors to the Tower.
Pete looked at the Answer and then at the kid in the blue cape, the one who'd called himself the Kabbalist,' and said, "You're here to do what, now?"
The Kabbalist said, "We've come to help you. The Answer told us about you, and so here we are."
As the Stone Man arrived and stood next to the others - he was slower than the rest, but the bullets fired from the Sears Tower had only ricocheted harmlessly off his rocky orange hide as he'd lumbered across the street - the Trapster looked at the Answer and said, "And you'll vouch for them?"
The Answer nodded and said, "I am aware of their goals, and find them worthy, Peter. Make use of them. You--"
He cocked his head, obviously listening to something. He waited a few seconds, then said, "Prepare yourselves. He's sent men to kill us."
The tall black man that the Kabbalist had introduced as "The Advisor" said to the Kabbalist, "Why don't I just enlarge myself to the size of the building and start clearing it out, floor by floor?"
The Kabbalist nodded, and the Answer said, "That would be one way to stop our enemy."
Pete stared, aghast, at the others, and seeing that they were serious, said, "NO! What are you, crazy?"
The Answer looked at him, expressionless, and the Kabbalist said, with a surprised look, "No - why? What's wrong with that plan?"
Pete said, "Look around you! Do you know how much damage that would do? People live in floors of the Sears Tower - they live in condos in these other buildings, too." Pete pointed at the other skyscrapers towering around the group. "This is the downtown district of Chicago - you wreck this place in a battle, you'll be doing millions of dollars of damage to the city, and killing dozens--"
Pete was shoved aside by the Answer, who in a blur snatched Pete's glue gun out of his hand and fired it at the glass doors to the Tower. The acid from the gun ate through the glass and struck the oncoming figures (who, Pete noted, were dressed just like the ninja-wannabes he'd defeated before) flush in the chest and the head, and they went down, screaming in pain. The Answer handed the gun back to Pete and said, "I'm afraid the choice has been taken out of our hands, gentlemen. Our enemy will be here...now."
And with that the lobby to the Sears Tower was suddenly filled with black-clad figures, all carrying curved swords and knives and various chained weaponry, and the street in front of the Sears Tower was suddenly crowded with similar-looking figures, who were dropping from the Tower in great numbers.
The Rejects moved into action before Pete could say anything. The Stone Man unholstered two large, strangely-shaped weapons and began firing at the "ninjas" with each; the weapons emitted orange rays which disintegrated everything they hit. Mr. Doll threw a handful of what looked like dust into the air; the dust-mites did not fall, but instead seemed to fly at the ninjas, landing on the faces of one at a time, doing something that would leave them bloody and mangled, and then flying to the next one. The Xartan, who looked to Pete like an orange-skinned human, seemed to melt and reform as Pete was watching, turning into Thor, and then leaping at the ninjas and literally tearing them apart.
The other Rejects charged into the Sears Tower, led by the Constrictor, who shot his steel coils at the closest two ninjas and then used them as clubs against the others. The Advisor was hurling flame from both hands at the enemy, the Bookworm had opened a book and summoned up several knights, who were dueling with the ninja and winning, Crossfire was using automatics on the ninja, and the X-Cutioner was using what looked like a lightsaber on the ninja.
The Kabbalist stood next to the Answer and Pete and smiled and nodded. Pete said, "This isn't getting us anywhere - Answer, who's sending these guys at us? Where is he?"
The Answer said, "On the 72nd floor, Peter. Unfortunately, the elevator is in use by the ninjas' master, so we will be forced to use the stairs."
Without saying a word Pete ran through what was left of the glass doors and past the carnage in the lobby - more ninjas were arriving, seemingly from nowhere - and through the doors to the stairwell. He drew his gun and began carefully walking up it, followed in short order by the Kabbalist and then the Answer, who had produced a long staff from somewhere and was holding it at the ready.
After two flights of stairs the Kabbalist said, in an eager voice, "So - Mr. Petruski - what did you think? Pretty good, huh?"
Pete whirled, pointing his gun directly in the Kabbalist's face, and said, "I think it stank, kid. I think you oughta be ashamed of yourself, if you really are leading that group."
The Kabbalist, obviously taken aback, blink, a shocked expression on his face, and turned to the Answer and said, "What'd I do?"
The Answer, expressionless as usual, said, "I believe I know. Peter is bothered by your methods."
The Trapster said, "Goddamn right I am! Look at you - you're supposed to be the leader of that group - and you're letting them run wild!"
The Kabbalist said, "But - they're the bad guys!"
The Trapster said, "So? That doesn't mean it's okay to kill them!"
The Answer said, "They are unaware of our presence here so far, Peter, but if you continue to raise your voice, they will be."
The Kabbalist said, in an urgent whisper, "But - they were gonna kill us! And people like Wolverine and the Punisher kill their enemies all the time! These ninjas are the bad guys - they deserve to die!"
The Trapster shook his head and said, "By killing them you're no better than they are. You could beat them without killing them - but you don't. That's murder, kid. Dress it up how you want, it's still murder. And in case you haven't noticed, both Wolverine and the Punisher are psychopaths. They both shoulda been put down years ago."
He paused, and then, hearing the distant sounds of screams and combat from the lobby, said, "And where'd you get that group from, anyhow? A couple of those guys I don't know, but the others I do, and they ain't good people, either. Since when did the Constrictor care about fighting crime? And how did--"
He stopped and fired as three ninjas leapt down into the stairwell in front of them. His glue took the first one in the chest. The Answer's staff swept the second ninja off his feet and then knocked him unconscious. And the Kabbalist moved his fingers in a quick pattern in the air in front of him, producing a glowing symbol that flared shooting a light at the third ninja and slamming him against the wall of the stairwell.
The Trapster continued up the stairs. "How did Mister Doll come back from the dead? Last time I was in the Vault, his name was still on the list of Criminals The Heroes Have Killed.' Or did the Doctor get that one wrong, too?"
The Kabbalist, smiling proudly, said, "I brought him back. The answers to your questions, Mister Petruski, come down to one thing: I wanted a team of super-criminals to make up for all the harm they did, and so I brought them together."
The Trapster, carefully moving up the stairs, said, "Who exactly are you, anyhow? I've never heard of you, but obviously you got some power going for you."
The Kabbalist said, "You wouldn't have heard of me, unless you knew Dr. Strange. See, a couple of years back I decided that I was powerful enough to - well, it doesn't matter. I confronted Dr. Strange, and he showed me that I really didn't want what I thought I'd wanted. So I left him and started thinking about what I really wanted. I decided that I should fight evil, like Dr. Strange - he's my hero, he's the guy I want to be when I'm your age."
"But I knew that, even with my magicks, I still couldn't make a real impact. Only the teams can do that. You never hear about Daredevil bringing down a crimelord by himself; only the Avengers and the FF and the Crusaders and the Seekers. But I don't know any other heroes, and if I went looking for them, I'd have to gain their trust and work with them - and I wanted to lead a group, not be a follower in one."
The Trapster said, "That explains where you came from, at least. But you didn't answer my question. Why are these guys working together with you? What makes someone like the Constrictor want to fight crime. I mean - the Constrictor? He used to work with Sabretooth!"
The Kabbalist said, "I was getting there, Mr. Petr--watch out!"
The three were caught between flights as the doors to the floors above and below them flew open and the stairwell filled with ninjas. For thirty seconds all Pete could think to do was fire his glue gun and dodge knives and swords; he noticed but did not register the flashing lights from behind him, where the Kabbalist was. When he glued the last ninja to the wall he looked around him, and saw the Answer surrounded by unconscious ninja and the Kabbalist surrounded by smoking scraps of black cloth and melted and twisted swords.
The Kabbalist, continuing up the staircase as if nothing had happened, said, "I was getting there, Mister Petruski. I knew I needed a team, and I couldn't get other heroes, so I decided to use criminals, instead. Obviously, I couldn't rely on reason or argument - so I used my magicks to convince them they should help me."
The Trapster halted in mid-stride and said, "You did what?"
The Kabbalist looked innocently at the Trapster and said, "I used my magicks to convince them that I was right, and they should help me."
The Trapster's expression was blank, and he said nothing, and so the Kabbalist mistook his silence for encouragement and continued. "It was really quite simple, after all - not at all as difficult as I expected it would be. I went after the X-Cutioner first, since he'd been active in Westchester County. And when I snared him, I used his armor's database to find some other likely candidates, which is what brought me Crossfire and the Bookworm. I used a searching spell to locate the Advisor and Mister Doll - he'd only had his spirit separated from his body, by the way - all I had to do is reunite the spirit with the body, and he was fine. I used Bookworm's ability to find and bring forth Brota - that's the Stone Man - and Flimjab, the Xartan. And that's when the Answer, here, approached me about my idea, and let me know that the Constrictor was looking for a way to redeem himself."
The Trapster said, in a low voice, "And you...used your powers to change their minds for them."
The Kabbalist, oblivious to the tone of disgust in the Trapster's voice, said, "Well, sure! They weren't going to help me otherwise."
The Trapster stopped and pointed his gun at the Kabbalist. "You know what I think? I think you're a bigger danger than they are. I think you're the worst sort of villain - the one who knows he's right, and knows that his ends justify whatever means he uses. I don't know if I can put you in jail - but I think I should try."
The Kabbalist looked first surprised, then hurt. But before he could say anything the Answer spoke up. "I understand your feelings, Peter, but I don't think you've thought this through."
The Trapster kept his gun pointed at the Kabbalist's hands and said, "Oh? There's something that justifies mind control?"
The Answer said, "From a utilitarian standpoint, Peter, the lives they save do. Tell me, do you know what those eight would be doing if our companion hadn't used the sephirot to change their minds?"
Pete didn't say anything, so the Answer responded for him. "Committing crimes and killing people, Peter. That's what they'd be doing. Oh, the Constrictor would still be sitting alone in his mansion, trying to figure out a way to make up for the crimes he committed, but the others? Flimjab would still be in tree form; Thor tricked him into transforming himself into an unthinking plant. Think on that, Peter - for almost thirty years now Flimjab has been trapped in the form of a being with no brain. The Kabbalist did him a favor by releasing him. The same holds true with Mister Doll; he'd been left a ghost for over ten years until the Kabbalist found him."
"Crossfire, Peter, would be trying to capture and brainwash both people and superheroes, as part of his attempt to eliminate all superheroes from society. To do that he needs money, and he would do what he and his CIA brethren have always done to raise money: sell drugs. Brota of the Stone Men comes from a militaristic and expansionist race; if he were free to do as he would, with his weaponry he would likely create much destruction and misery before he was stopped. The Bookworm is a pathetic soul, but one with great power, and he has a grudge against women that would lead him to commit horrible crimes against them. The X-Cutioner hunts and kills whichever mutants he deems criminals; he killed a mutant named Tower, in a small Central American country, and has made attempts on other mutants, including the one called Skin, of Generation X."
"Finally, Peter, there is the Advisor. He gains power with every futile death and senseless act of violence, and he has done much, over the years, to promote them both. He has been the cause of any number of catastrophes, and attempted to destroy an entire African country. He is pure evil, Peter, and had the Kabbalist not changed his mind for him, the Advisor would surely have killed dozens more people by now."
"All of this is true - and you know this. So, tell me, how can you complain that the Kabbalist has done wrong?"
The Kabbalist said, "Yeah! How can you?"
The Trapster glowered at both of them, finally moving his gun away from the Kabbalist and continuing up the stairs. He said, "You have a point, I'll admit. But mind-control is wrong, too."
They reached the 72nd floor a minute later. Pete counted down to three with his fingers, and then pulled the door open and swung around, gun first, into the open doorway.
He saw a long, carpeted hall, with glass-fronted doors off of it, but nothing else. He crept into the hall, followed closely by the Kabbalist and the Answer. The three began checking the rooms off the hall; they were offices, and all empty. They turned the corner on the hall and saw a light shining from the office at the end of the hall. They began approaching it when the door open and a head poked out into the hall. The three saw and heard the man say, "We're down here!"
The Answer said, "It would appear we are anticipated."
Pete grunted and, holding his glue gun ready, walked to the end of the hall and opened the door to the lit office, noticing the "Chao Enterprises, Inc." sign on the door.
Inside was a typical office, with a pretty Chinese woman sitting at the reception desk. She smiled at the three and pointed to a doorway inside the room and said, "Mr. Chao is waiting for you through there."
They went through the door and found a well-appointed office and teak desk, and a Chinese-American man sitting behind the desk. He gestured at three chairs lined up in front of the desk and said, "Please - sit down. Can I get you something to drink?"
The Trapster pointed the gun at him and said, "No. Please stand up from the desk, hands away from your body, and turn around. I'm placing you under arrest."
The man smiled and said, "Really? And what evidence will you use to convict me, Mr. Petruski?"
The Trapster half-smiled and said, "I'll think of something later. But for now you're--" He started to choke and dropped the glue gun and began shaking. He finally dropped into the seat. The Kabbalist and the Answer, both staring at him, found that somehow they were compelled to sit down, and that they couldn't resist the compulsion.
The man smiled and said, "That's better." He walked around the desk and picked up the glue gun, then returned to his seat. He took a sip of something crimson in a wine glass and examined the gun; the three others, watching him, tried to speak but found they could not make their mouths shape any words.
The man finally placed the gun on the desk in front of him and shook his head. "Hard to believe you've had as much success as you have with such a simple weapon."
He stood and looked out the window at the night-sky of Chicago, hands held behind him. He finally turned back to the three and said, "I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here tonight. Oh, yes, Mister Petruski, I did call you. I confess that your little trick with the radioactive glue caught me by surprise, but it would have been simple enough to have distracted you from finding me. Or, for that matter, shooting down the police helicopter that brought you here. Same with you," he said, pointing at the Kabbalist. "Your little group could easily have been sent away somewhere far from here."
"No, you're here for a reason. I want you here."
"You, Mister Petruski, were amusing to me at first, but you quickly became a nuisance and worse. I think it's time you were removed from the game."
"Oh, I'm not going to kill you. That would be a waste. I'm going to change you. You'll still fight crime - but only the crime I tell you to fight. You'll continue to get your share of headlines - but you'll be helping me."
"You, Mr. Answer, will go back to Boston. I will have need of you later, but for now I'll simply keep you in reserve. And you, Kabbalist, you will lead your little team of rejects - but at opponents I send you to. The Kingpin, perhaps."
"I see the questions springing to your lips. Who am I to make you do such things? Why am I doing this? Well, those are questions you'll simply have to content yourself with not knowing. Now, go. Leave here. Mr. Petruski, you will--"
The glass behind him shattered as the Rejects leapt into the room through the windows and assumed combat positions around him. He grimaced and gestured, and all of them froze in place...except for Flimjab, who flickered and changed shape, from Thor into a copy of the man. He gestured at the other Rejects, who jerked and shook and were clearly free, for the moment, of the man's control. As the man focussed his power on the Rejects the Kabbalist quickly sketched a glowing figure in the air and whispered the word, "Yesod," and the man stiffened and then fell, and the Trapster and the Answer were released from the man's mental power.
The group gathered around the man, who stood and crossed his arms and stared at the group. He finally said, "I don't know how...no, I suppose I do know how you did that. Magic." The disgust dripping from his voice was obvious. "Serves me right for not taking care of you all earlier, I suppose." He leaned backwards and touched a button on a speaker on his desk and before any of them could do anything he said, "Miss Goh, please call the police. There are intruders here."
The Rejects glanced at each other, and the Kabbalist began to look concerned. The man said, "You have broken into my office and assaulted me. I'm a respected man in this community. You - you're all criminals. I suggest you leave now, before the police arrive. That will at least give you a head start."
The Kabbalist opened his mouth, and then heard the approaching sirens. He looked around, then muttered a quick sentence. The man jerked and stiffened, then began trembling, and after thirty seconds he jerked again and went limp. He sighed and his shoulders slumped, and he said, "Yes...I will obey."
The Kabbalist said to the Trapster, "I made him want to confess, Mr. Petruski. But he's right - most of us are wanted criminals, and we should go. You can take care of this from here, right?"
And with that he whispered another long sentence, and there was a flash, and the Rejects, the Kabbalist, and the Answer disappeared, leaving Pete alone, blinking and confused.
The police were initially surprised, and a little suspicious, but with the man - Robert Chao, aka Chaka - was a long-time criminal mastermind who'd run an empire in New York's Chinatown until Iron Fist brought him down, and he had a laundry list of warrants outstanding for his arrest. That, plus his willing confession - although he spoke it in a near mumble, his voice occasionally quavering, he was clear enough in confessing to his crimes - cleared Pete of any suspicion, and made the cops positively happy about the events of the evening. They assured Pete that they wouldn't need him to testify, and that they'd take care of the mess.
An hour later Pete was standing across the street from the Sears Tower, looking at the flashing lights of the police cruisers still outside the building. He looked up at the top of the building, ran his hand through his hair, and sighed heavily. Finally he holstered his gun and flagged down a taxi.
His sleep that night was troubled.
Chaka previously appeared in the pages of Iron Fist.