“An abandoned Play-Doh factory,” she muttered to herself as she walked silently through the site of her latest task, hopefully the last one she’d have to perform in order to finish her assignment. A Langford Labs Chemical Thrower was slung over her back. “I know that Batman rogues and their amalgams prefer hideouts that match their ‘themes’ but this just silly.”
She mentally shrugged to herself, already working on her strategy for after she’d dealt with her target inside. Framing someone for murder involved walking a very fine line, especially when the person you were attempting to frame was a very highly trained super soldier. Leave too much incriminating evidence and it looked suspicious. Leave too little and people weren’t sure where to point the finger.
/It doesn’t help that nobody’s around to witness this./ She thought. /Shit, this is even worse than with Bane. I’ll have to set the place on fire or something to make sure people come to investigate./
Shoving all thoughts of what to do later aside, she crept through the dusty hallways and silent production lines of the old plant, careful not to make a sound. With all her preparations ready, it was time to actually move on her target. She had scouted the place out earlier, and so knew exactly where to find her quarry.
Moving as stealthily as possible, she approached the largest production floor. Roughly in the center of the area that had once bustled with people making colorful, non-toxic clay for children to play with, she soon found a young man working at an enormous vat filled with brownish goop.
Overall, he wasn’t a particularly extraordinary individual; with dark hair, a slim build, and unremarkable clothes, he probably could’ve melted into a crowd in two seconds flat.
Except for one thing.
Where normal arms and legs should’ve been were too long, asymmetrical limbs made of brownish sludge that she knew at once was clay. Only with the extra height and reach was he able to stir the contents of the vat with what appeared to be the world’s largest wooden spoon.
Silently observing her target, she briefly allowed herself to wonder what he was doing. If she walked away now and didn’t return, would this young man add all that to his body and become a giant?
No point in speculating. It wasn’t going to happen, whatever it was exactly.
“Clayface Shinji,” she called out to him, taking the Chemical Thrower in hand, ready on the trigger. “I’d hoped I’d find you here. Getting ready for an Independence Day bash?”
She emerged from her hiding spot as she said this. Even in the muted light filtering through dirty windows, her red, white, and blue battle suit seemed practically luminescent. The colors were that much brighter than anything else in the area.
Her target looked up, releasing the wooden pole. Arms and legs returned to more regular proportions, simultaneously reverting to a normal appearance, leaving nothing to distinguish him as different from any ordinary human.
“You,” he breathed.
“That’s right: me,” she grinned. “I’m aware that you and the rest of your companions are probably planning something for when I’m awarded my key to the city on the Fourth, and I decided I’d rather deal with you assholes now than during my big day.”
Clayface Shinji’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not Captain America,” he said.
She forced her grin to widen, even as she felt a prick of anxiety. He sounded just a little too confident about that.
“Sure I’m not,” she said sarcastically, slowly drawing nearer to him.
A few more feet, and he’d be in range of the Chemical Thrower.
“You’re not,” the clay creature repeated, sounding just as certain as before. “And you know what else?”
She decided to play along. Best to keep him talking until she was close enough to turn him into a fudgsicle. “What?” she asked.
“I’m not Clayface Shinji.”
Before she could respond, the young man’s form began to writhe and change, transforming into an amorphous lump of clay. Seconds later, it resumed human form, but not the same one from a moment ago.
Instead, he was now a *she*. The young woman who had taken Clayface Shinji’s place looked to be in her mid teens or so, and had dark brown hair and a slender build. A domino mask concealed her eyes and part of her face, and she wore a costume similar in design to a typical Robin alt, but all in varying shades of brown. The only splash of color was the letters “CG” on her right breast in bright yellow.
“The name’s Annie,” she said. “But you can address me as Clay Girl.”
“Whoever you are, you’re caught.” A new voice called from nearby. “No more killing, and no more trying to ruin Captain Makinami’s good name.”
“Now why don’t you put the scary looking weapon down and come quietly?”
She turned toward the source of the new voice just enough to see two people emerge from the shadows. Two of the Indianapolis Champions, she realized at once.
/This whole thing was a trap!/ She thought, cursing her stupidity even as her mind worked at overdrive, trying to figure out how to salvage the situation.
If she could kill all of them, she could turn it to her advantage, make it look like Captain America had murdered three people here, two of them heroes. She moved to fire the Chemical Thrower, hoping she could catch at least one of them with a blast of liquid nitrogen.
Before she could, however, something went sailing through the dusty air of the old factory, bouncing off numerous objects with a series of loud clangs. She realized what it was an instant too late, and the red, white, and blue round shield hit one of the Chemical Thrower’s tanks hard enough to make a hole in it before it bounced away.
“Shit!” she cursed, tearing off the weapon and the tanks she’d had on her back and hurling them across the room.
It was none too soon; before the thing even hit the ground, the tank containing the electric gel burst, spraying tongues of lightning in all directions.
“No more killing for you,” Captain Mari Illustrious Makinami said, appearing from the shadows like a ghost, an effect heightened by the way she was hovering well above the floor.
The super soldier’s still moving shield struck an old piece of equipment and went flying back to her. She caught it easily and returned it to its place on her arm.
“*Especially* not while pretending to be me!” she added.
“What are you doing here, Captain?” Turnot asked the real super soldier, doing his best not to show how shocked he was by her abrupt appearance.
“I’m here to stop the bitch who’s been trying to pin her crimes on me,” Mari replied.
“We’ve got that covered, in case you didn’t notice,” Karin retorted.
“You’ve done a great job of corralling her here,” Mari agreed. “But I know this knockoff here has at least some of my moves, and I can be a handful for even your big guns. Trust me, I proved it the other day back in Chicago.”
This could be very bad, Turnot realized. With the true Captain Makinami here, it would be that much easier for the false one to frame her for a crime, if things really went south.
/We’d better make sure things don’t go south, then./ He thought.
“You know,” the fake super soldier addressed the real one, “I really should be upset that you’re here. It’s not exactly part of my plan, after all. But I’m not. I think I’m going to enjoy the next few minutes.”
“I bet you do,” Captain Makinami said, eyes narrowing. “Before we get down to business, who are you?”
The phony super soldier smirked. “And why should I tell you that?”
Captain Makinami shrugged. “In order to salvage this situation, you pretty much have to kill us all,” she pointed out. “So if you win, we’ll be dead and won’t be able to tell anyone. And if we win, I’ll get it out of you anyway. No reason not to gloat now.”
Turnot’s eyes widened slightly. He couldn’t find a flaw in the super soldier’s logic, but to hear her lay out the matter of life and death in such a matter-of-fact tone was a bit disturbing.
Still, he had to admit appealing to a super villain’s desire to brag like that was a very slick move.
“Well, when you put it that way, why not?” the duplicate Captain America said, reaching down and pressing a button on her belt.
Instantly, her outfit began to change. Red, white, and blue became black, white, and light brown. The belt and boots shifted form. A white cloak appeared where there hadn’t been one before, and even the shield she carried changed, the star in the center transforming into a large letter “T”.
“Taskmaster?!” Captain Makinami exclaimed. “There’s already a Deadpool alt of me, and now I have to deal with a *Taskmaster*, too?!”
“Indeed,” Taskmaster Mari smirked. “The Bloody Tasks Academy sends its regards.”
“Bloody Tasks Academy?” Turnot asked.
Captain Makinami replied before Taskmaster Mari could. “An alt of Brother Blood and a regular Taskmaster decided to merge their super villain schools a while ago, so they could better compete with HenchCo,” she explained.
“But the good Captain and her friend Thunderstrike stumbled upon their new campus and thoroughly wrecked the place,” Taskmaster Mari added with a scowl.
“So, this is all about revenge, then?” Captain Makinami scowled. “Brother Blood and Tony Masters sent you to get back at me?”
“And to hopefully end a new group of Avengers before it truly begins, if the rumors about that are true,” Taskmaster Mari agreed. “Though I have to say I’m looking forward to ruining you on a more personal level.”
“And why is that?” Captain Makinami demanded.
“Your ability to copy other people’s techniques after seeing them only once really isn’t a traditional ability of Captain America alts,” the other Mari pointed out. “It’s more of a Taskmaster thing, really.”
“You tried to frame me for murder, and now you’re going to try to kill me, because you’re mad I stole your shtick?” Captain Makinami asked in disbelief.
“No. The issue of…professional pride just means I’m going to *enjoy* killing you and making sure people believe you’re a murderer,” Taskmaster Mari retorted. “I’m doing it because it’s my final assignment at the academy.”
“Yeah, well, I hope you’re ready to get a big, fat ‘F’,” Captain Makinami scowled.
“I don’t think so,” Taskmaster Mari said, pressing the lone button on the tiny remote she’d withdrawn from her belt while deactivating her elaborate disguise.
A series of small explosions tore through the abandoned factory, causing the old structure to shift and creak ominously. For a moment, Turnot thought the whole thing was going to come down.
One final blast tore open a long forgotten tank full of some chemical or another, which went spilling across the production floor in a small tidal wave. Clay Girl let out a small yelp as it washed over her feet and began to dissolve her form.
Turnot was moving before he’d even fully processed the situation, grabbing the young woman and lifting her off the ground and away from danger. Knowing he had to get her to safety, he sped off with her in his arms. He hated to leave, even if only for a few moments, but Clay Girl was hurt and the area was flooded; she would only be a liability now.
Captain Makinami fired a blast of ki at her doppelganger just as he was leaving, but the fake super soldier almost casually deflected the ball of light with her own shield, sending it flying upwards. It struck the ceiling and exploded, causing the already unstable structure to shake and rumble menacingly.
“Damn it!” Karin hissed, flying toward the latest damage to try to hold the place together and hopefully perform a quick and dirty patch job.
Which, Turnot realized as he picked up speed, meant that left only Captain Makinami to deal with her former doppleganger.
“Well, it looks like it’s just you and me now, good-looking,” Captain Makinami said, her feet touching down lightly on the wet floor a good distance away from her duplicate.
Taskmaster Mari chuckled. The sound had more malice than joy in it. “Indeed,” she said. “Can’t say I’m disappointed.”
“Same here,” Captain Makinami replied as her fist rushed toward Taskmaster Mari’s head.
The villain blocked the blow with her forearm and retaliated with a kick, which Captain Makinami deflected just as easily.
For several moments, the two young women—mirror images of one another save for what they wore—traded blows in this fashion. They struck with a fraction of the force they were capable of, testing and probing rather than trying to truly harm the other just yet.
Taskmaster Mari’s confidence seemed to grow as the two felt one another out. “You can’t win, you know,” she finally boasted.
“Oh, really?” Captain Makinami asked as she unleashed a sweeping kick, intending to sweep her foe’s legs out from under her. She moved with blazing speed; it was her first true attack.
Taskmaster Mari easily jumped over the super soldier’s leg and retaliated with a kick of her own on her way back to the ground. Her foot clipped Captain Makinami’s shoulder, sending her staggering.
“The academy’s surveillance of you was *very* extensive!” Taskmaster Mari yelled, a feral grin on her face. “I know what you’re going to do next before you do! I know *all* your moves!”
She unleashed a flurry of blows as she said this, and Captain Makinami was just barely able to regain her balance in time to block them.
She was about to retort that Taskmaster Mari couldn’t possibly have learned all her techniques properly from just watching videos of her in action, that it took a lot of time and practice to properly adapt such moves to your own body. Just blindly copycatting didn’t work.
Then she realized that the person she was dealing with exactly her height, had exactly the same reach as she did, the same bodily proportions. In this one case, blindly copycatting pretty much *would* work.
“You sure you really know all of them?” the super soldier asked instead. “I know a lot of moves, and a lot of them I only use when I really need them.” She added, her feet suddenly leaving the ground.
Taskmaster Mari quickly rose off the floor before the red, white, and blue clad heroine could attempt an aerial assault. Captain Makinami squelched her rising frustration; she wished she could use ki blasts or some of her magic attacks, but she didn’t dare risk it. The building was already too close to collapsing as it was.
“You do have quite the arsenal of techniques!” Taskmaster Mari shouted.
“Thanks, I try!” the super soldier replied.
Now no longer constrained by the ground, the pair was trading punches and kicks at dizzying speed, their limbs reduced to blurs. To Captain Makinami’s displeasure, the malicious alt of her seemed to be almost as strong as she was. She was just as fast, too, or maybe there was actually something to her boast about being able to predict her actions in advance.
“So, how much have you forgotten so far?” Taskmaster Mari asked, never letting up her assaults or failing to block one of her foe’s strikes.
“What?” Captain Makinami asked, frowning.
“How much have you forgotten?” the malevolent alt of her repeated. “Don’t play dumb. I know the trade off that comes from having the ability to instantly memorize any technique or fighting style just from seeing it once.”
“I’m not like you,” Captain Makinami scowled. “I don’t forget things.”
Taskmaster Mari snorted. “You think your brain has infinite capacity?” she asked. “Just because you haven’t reached the limits of how much you can retain yet, it doesn’t mean none exists. Keep gaining new moves, new ways of fighting, and pretty soon you realize you’re losing other things. Your father’s face, your best friend’s name, your first kiss. None of it is safe.”
“Enough!” Captain Makinami growled. It was time to end this. “Kaio-ken!”
An aura of crimson light flared around her as she used the technique invented by King Kai, multiply her strength and speed. The world around her almost seemed to leap out at the super soldier as her already sharp eyesight and hearing also improved dramatically.
“Kaio-ken!” Taskmaster Mari shouted, a matching scarlet glow enveloping her body as well. When Captain Makinami renewed her assault, she was up to the job of meeting it. “I told you, I know every move that you do!”
“Damn you!” Captain Makinami swore, attacking with everything she had, wanting to get momentum behind her before she had to cease using the kaio-ken.
“Of course, just because I can do everything you can, it doesn’t mean you can do everything *I* can!” Taskmaster Mari shouted, a twisted, triumphant grin on her face.
A green orb embedded in her glove started to glow brightly. Captain Makinami hadn’t noticed it until that moment.
/Materia./ The super soldier thought, eyes widening.
“Haste,” Taskmaster Mari smirked as emerald light flared around her, briefly mingling with the crimson glow of the kaio-ken.
Captain Makinami knew immediately that she was in trouble. “Kaio-ken times—!”
She never got any further. Taskmaster Mari lashed out, the speed increases of the Haste spell and the kaio-ken combining to make her too fast for even the super soldier to block. One blow slammed into the center of the super soldier’s face, accompanied by a meaty crack. Captain Makinami felt something warm and wet on her upper lip and smelled the distinct odor of blood. Her nose was broken.
Then Taskmaster Mari’s fist slammed into Captain Makinami’s abdomen with *incredible* strength and speed, forcing the wind from the super soldier’s lungs and nearly doubling her over.
Before she could recover, Taskmaster Mari struck her in the back with a fierce kick. The scarlet halo of the kaio-ken vanished from around the super soldier’s body, and she went straight downwards, crashing face first into the concrete floor.
“Ugh…” she groaned, seeing stars.
There was a splashing noise from in front of her, which she realized was Taskmaster Mari returning to the still wet floor. With a Herculean effort, the super soldier forced herself to her feet, assuming a ready stance.
It did no good. With the combined effects of the kaio-ken and the Haste spell still boosting her abilities, Taskmaster Mari had no trouble penetrating Captain Makinami’s defenses. With surgical precision, she administered a series of light jabs to the areas around Captain Makinami’s major joints.
The super soldier’s muscles suddenly went slack, and she collapsed limply to the ground, barely able to raise her head to regard her foe.
/Pressure point assault./ She thought. /Damn it./
Taskmaster Mari sneered down at the immobilized heroine, the light of her own kaio-ken finally fading. “Heh, if I sweet talk my instructor just right, I might actually get extra credit for this,” she said as she held out a hand, palm downward, a ball of ki began to form beneath it, ready to blast Captain Makinami.
“Stop it right there, psycho!” a voice came from above.
Taskmaster Mari huffed in annoyance. “I’ll be right back,” she told the super soldier. “Lemme borrow this.” She added, grabbing Captain Makinami’s shield and replacing her own with it.
“Stay away from her, you,” Karin ordered as she landed softly on the ground, a few yards away from the two Mari’s.
“No, get away,” Captain Makinami managed to groan out. She could barely speak.
If this alt of her really did know *all* her moves, then this Power Girl would be in for a world of hurt.
Unfortunately, both of the other two women in the room ignored her.
“I’m afraid I have to kill her, and you,” Taskmaster Mari said. “Your boyfriend and that clay girl, too. Nothing personal, you understand. It’s just my assignment. The blame for everything has to fall on her.” She hooked a thumb toward the super soldier. “I’ll be making it look like you all killed each other.”
She said all this as though she was discussing the weather.
“I won’t allow that,” Karin said flatly. “Not any of it.”
Taskmaster Mari chuckled. “You can’t stop me.”
Then she surged forward, the Haste spell still adding to her own natural speed.
“No!” Captain Makinami gasped out, as she watched Taskmaster Mari unleash the same combination of the Satsu and the Spitting White Snake techniques that she herself had recently utilized to drain the yellow sun energy straight from Superman Gamma’s body.
The strike connected, quickly shredding a portion of Karin’s white leotard.
Otherwise, however, it didn’t seem to be working the way it was meant to.
“I don’t think so!” Karin shouted, unleashing a fierce punch with a considerable portion of her awesome might behind it.
“Ooph!” Taskmaster Mari gasped as she went sent flying backwards, landing well behind Captain Makinami.
“What?” the super soldier wondered, her voice barely above a whisper. She couldn’t fathom how Karin had managed to just shrug off that attack.
Taskmaster Mari was equally confounded, by the sound of it.
“H-How did you do that?!” she demanded as she scrambled to her feet.
“She has her ways,” Turnot said from behind her, rejoining the conflict at last.
Captain Makinami winced, aware of the opportunity the Saiyan had just provided their mutual enemy.
Taskmaster Mari was, too. Without wasting time on a witty quip or harsh insult, she lunged at Turnot, managing to get behind him before he reacted. With a cry of triumph, she wrapped both hands around his long, furry tail, squeezing the appendage for all she was worth.
“Now,” she said, facing Karin with a smirk. “You’re going to do what I say, or else your boyfriend—!”
She was cut off by Turnot’s elbow slamming into her face with enough force to send her flying for a second time. Taskmaster Mari kept going until she crashed into a far wall, then flopped down to the floor with a groan.
It took her only a moment to get to her feet again, but in that moment, Karin and Turnot had crossed the distance between them and her. Not giving her a chance to attack again, the two unleashed a storm of punches and kicks upon their foe, who in spite of all her techniques and conditioning was still much weaker than they were.
In only a few seconds, it was over. Taskmaster Mari was beaten black and blue, and rendered completely unconscious. She’d probably stay that way for the better part of a week if left to her own devices.
Even so, the two Champions quickly tracked down a length of rope and hog tied the battered super villain. Captain Makinami couldn’t say she disapproved.
Karin lifted up Taskmaster Mari, while Turnot went over to the mostly motionless super soldier. “We shouldn’t stay in here any longer than necessary. This place could collapse at any time,” he said apologetically as he scooped her into his arms.
“Got it,” Captain Makinami managed to get out.
In moments, the two were outside the dangerously unstable building, relocating to what remained of the factory’s parking lot, which was well on its way to becoming a grassy field. Clay Girl was waiting out there for them there, sitting on an old metal drum.
“You’re back!” she exclaimed. “Oh, but she’s hurt!” she added, looking at Captain Makinami.
“Nothing we can’t fix,” Turnot said, gently placing the super soldier down on the ground. Once his hands were free, he reached into his belt and pulled out a small pouch, from which he withdrew a small bean. “Here, eat this.” He said to Captain Makinami, placing it in her mouth.
The super soldier eagerly chewed and swallowed the mystical senzu bean. The moment it was in her stomach, her body briefly bulged, as though her muscles were flexing all at once, and then the pain she had been enduring was gone. She could suddenly move once more.
“Oh, wow, thanks,” she said, easily springing to her feet.
“No problem,” Turnot said, smiling amicably. “Uh, you’ve got a little…over here.” He touched his own upper lip with one hand, producing a handkerchief and offering it to her with the other.
“Thanks,” the super soldier said gratefully, accepting the proffered cloth and wiping away the blood from her previously broken nose.
“We’re happy we were able to help,” the Saiyan replied, still smiling, relieved that the whole situation had finally been resolved.
“So am I, though I don’t understand how you both managed it,” Captain Makinami said. “That attack Taskmaster me used on Power Girl…I developed it especially to drain Kryptonians of their energy.”
“I’m not actually a Kryptonian,” Karin said. “I’m human. I gained my powers when the Evangelion I was piloting ate most of the Angel of Might. My synch ratio was really high at the time. High enough for me to get changed along with my Evangelion, at least.”
“So she’s not vulnerable to kryptonite or red solar radiation,,” Turnot added. “And instead of having to rely on yellow sunlight, an S2 organ gives her all the juice she’ll ever need.”
Captain Makinami barely heard the Saiyan; she was too busy studying Karin and confirming what she’d suspected almost immediately. In the dark warehouse, she hadn’t really been certain; thanks to the way the “Kryptonian” wore her hair, and her Amazonian proportions, far taller and more muscular than even the super soldier herself. That she’d had bigger things to worry about also hadn’t helped.
“Another Mari Illustrious Makinami alt, yes,” Karin replied, looking amused that the solder soldier was only truly realizing it now. “I started styling myself as a Power Girl to make it easier to join a group. A lot of people don’t know what to think of some human who got powers because her giant robot ate a giant monster, but PG is a well known entity. And I changed my name to go with it, because, well, you know.”
Captain Makinami did know; she could all too easily remember how many times people had responded negatively to her because of the reputation her alts had.
She’d really rather not discuss that topic again, though.
“How about you?” she asked Turnot. “I thought Saiyans lose all their strength and become totally immobilized when someone grabs their tails.”
“Normally, yeah,” Turnot agreed. “But it’s possible for Saiyans to train themselves to overcome that, which I’ve done. That’s why it didn’t work on me.”
“Oh, I see,” Captain Makinami said, somewhat embarrassed. She hadn’t actually known Saiyans could do that. “Well, again, thank you all for what you’ve done. I would’ve been in a lot of trouble without you. And this crazy bitch here would still be on the loose.” She added, nudging Taskmaster Mari with her boot.
The super villain didn’t stir. She was really out.
“Hey, it’s our job,” Karin said with a shrug. “Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but I think it would be best for everybody if we all say you were never here.”
“Agreed,” Captain Makinami said at once. She didn’t want to think about what the response would be if everyone found out she’d left a shadow clone in her place at the Mansion. “I should get back.”
“And we should get her behind bars,” Karin said, scooping up Taskmaster Mari.
Captain Makinami gave Clay Girl a word of thanks as well, then said goodbye, preparing to leave. Hopefully she could get that Ferengi salesman to beam her back to Chicago with minimal cajoling and she could return to the Mansion without incident…
“Oh, Captain? One more thing,” Turnot said before they parted ways.
“Yeah?” she asked.
“I know most of the people around you haven’t been doing a lot to inspire confidence lately,” Turnot said. “But sometimes you just have to trust other people to do their jobs competently. I imagine that’s especially true for someone in your position.”
Captain Makinami gave him a look of mild surprise. Until he’d said that, she hadn’t for a moment suspected that the Indianapolis Champions might’ve been following events in Chicago as closely as they were.
“Forgive me for the presumption of giving you unsolicited advice, but I thought it should be said,” Turnot told her with a polite bow. “Good day, Captain.”
With that, he scooped up Clay Girl and took off, Karin right behind him with Taskmaster Mari slung unceremoniously over her back.
Captain Makinami watched them fly off for a second, then shook her head. She had a Mansion and a team to get back to.