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New year, new employer, new suit.

Maxwell Hudson took a flying leap out of his own penthouse. Corp Hudson nearly fell apart. Then it got better. Thanks in no small part to Chelsea and the new CEO, Roland Stockton.

Oh, and I had my part in it.

Sabotaged a couple of those Board members before they could get to the meeting and vote one way or the other. Couldn't have them taking the company public or breaking it up. Couldn't have them outvoting Stockton, and especially couldn't have them voting to fire Chelsea.

In return, Stockton gave Chelsea a bigger budget. And the first thing she did was redesign Dualmask. I don't wear fabric over the mug anymore. It's a graphite/Kevlar hybrid techno-mask with all the trimmings. Infrared, night vision, sonar, audio isolation…a real beauty. And the fun doesn't stop there. The gloves—or should I say gauntlets, the body armor, the boots…the whole skull suit is like a new baby. And the Bo…oh man, the Bo. Hyperkinetic shock-charged tips with force built up through accelerometers—the faster I swing it, the bigger the discharge, and it's covered in a special alloy that makes it nearly unbreakable. Still retractable too.

Almost makes me…happy that I'm Corp Hudson's killing machine. And I still do it without letting anything inside my body that takes away my humanity. Not like those jokers they're working on in the lower depths, getting their body parts replaced and everything…putting weapons on their bodies, taking the whole extension of self thing way too far.

Speaking of, my latest target is this girl. But she's no ordinary girl. Normally I wouldn't lay a hand on a woman. Not after what happened with Danielle back at the dojo. But this one is different. Special. Not really human. She's some kind of biological nanomachine hybrid or whatever. I'm not the techie, ask Chelsea about the details. All I know is the girl can jump over rooftops the way little kids play hopscotch. Not only is her body strong, but she's got these boots. Crazy boots that boost her around like a rocket. They compared her to this old-school game I played, Rocket-something…think it had a opossum in it. Anyway, the girl's boots are made of the same material as my new Bo. In fact, the guy who designed her weaponry is the one asking for our help on this one, and get this. It's Serin Drakonis. Guy's the head of Corp Hudson's biggest competitor. I guess with the big man gone, Corp Hudson and Drakonis Incorporated can let bygones be bygones. Serin wants the girl found and brought down, alive. Found out that I'm good at finding people, good at bringing them down, 'special' or not. So I'm on it.

The first part of the mission is Michael's job. I hit the pavement, asking questions, getting info about the rumors of this "Jet Dancer" chick, and the streets are full of them. I start hearing wild stories. She jumps off a skyscraper, lands on a car, blows the thing up and sweeps herself off and prances away like she did it again like Britney Spears. She jumps off one roof, changes her mind in midair and bursts in another direction. Breaks all kinds of statues and ledges, but never, ever hurts anyone. Not anyone innocent anyway. Heard she put a couple of low level goons in their place though.

So she's a ditz, she's a do-gooder and she's destructive yet careful.

Oh yeah. And apparently she's hot.

That part of the intel was definitely true. Asking around led me to this life drawing class downtown, and get this. This broad's the model. She's sitting in the middle of the room showing everything God gave her…or at least whatever was grown in the lab, whatever… looking as calm as you please while people of all ages—mostly guys—stare at her and probably draw. I signed up for the class so I could figure her out. I used to draw when I was a kid…haven't picked up the charcoal since before the dojo though…but now it felt like it was only yesterday. Maybe it was the right subject.

Class is over and she puts on her robe. Then she's walking around, looking at everyone's drawings. She's critiquing them along with the instructor, encouraging them—she's even got pleasant words for the jerks who couldn't draw a stick figure but paid for the class just for the view. Not that I blame them. She even gave me some pointers. Then she was gone with a huge duffel bag that carried more than her clothes. Those boots were in there. She's not fooling anyone. Not anyone paying attention anyway.

But…

Damn.

She is hot.

And not only that…she's nice. I don't think I've ever met anyone so nice. We live in a city where superhuman criminals are strong enough to kick cars like soccer balls and psychos attach weapons to their bodies that can cut through buildings like lasers. People run scared every night and we got law enforcement with military class weapons policing the streets, and this chick does nothing but smile and help people all the time. And jump around like a jackrabbit at night.

You know where this is going.

It doesn't feel right. I don't like attacking girls, but I especially don't like attacking innocent people. Far as I can tell she's done nothing wrong. Yeah, a little property damage here and there, but aside from that she's as pure as the driven snow.

But what the hell am I supposed to do?

This is who I am. This is what I do. This is why I have the new armor and that amazing new Bo. This is why I'm Dualmask.

I'm no hero. I'm no villain. I'm just an enforcer, with a job to do. It's not my job to understand, to decide, to judge or to question. It's my job to deliver.

That's right, Michael. Keep telling yourself that. Squash those thoughts. You know the ones—the ones whispering the truth to you in the back of your mind but you're too weak to act on.

They did say bring her in alive. I'm not going to kill her. Maybe when I finish, I'll get some answers. And maybe I'll do something if I don't get answers I like.

Or maybe I'll be the same old Michael and keep saying 'maybe I'll this' and 'maybe I'll that' while doing exactly what I hate that I have to do and complain about it later.

Nighttime's here. I keep telling myself I can't decide, but my heart knows it's a lie.

My hands move all on their own. It's beyond a habit now. Beyond subconscious. It's practically remote controlled. Go home. Open the secret room in the closet. Pull out the armor. Put it on. Extend the Bo to make sure it's in prime condition, then retract it and put it on the belt. The black half and the white half of the helmet come together like a shell over my face and it does all kinds of diagnostics before my eyes checking the visuals and the air intake and everything. A-OK, it says. Only one deviation from my routine. I took the time to lay out my charcoal sketch of the girl on my coffee table before I left. Not bad for someone who hasn't drawn anything in years.

I slip to the apartment building roof, make sure no one sees me, and I'm off.

I'm off to say hi to Jet Dancer.

She's local to a certain part of the city. Coming up with potential drop points won't be hard, especially with all the tech in this helmet hooked up to radar and maps and what not. Funny no one's caught her yet. Cops probably aren't even looking for her. Maybe they know what I know—she's harmless. But unlike them, I can't ignore her. Because it's either her or me.

I swing around with the grappling gun built into the gauntlet, land on another roof. I look around, nothing. So I get ready to go somewhere else—

Then I hear it. A whistling sound.

Then the helmet's optics put an alert in front of me, says something like a mass is falling toward me at high velocity.

I somersault backward an instant before a meteor smashes into the ground where I'm standing. Except it's not a meteor. It's a woman wearing only a little bit more than what she wore in that drawing class. And those boots. And those…those eyes.

One blue, one red. Not like before. They were brown before. It's like they've got little lights inside of them. Guess she can turn them on or off. What is this chick, anyway?

The blue one's glowing bright when she stands up in the middle of the crater she made.

She looks right at me and says "Hi," like we're best friends. Then she bends down.

She's going to jump again. Can't let her.

She's in the air half an instant before I'm on her. Didn't know what else to do, so I just sprang up and grabbed her like she was the love of my life. Got my arms around her waist, we're eye to eye—at least we would be if I didn't have the mask on.

"What are you doing?" she says, as calm as you please as we collapse back to the ground, her big orange mop flying off the edge of the building.

I push up, raise my right fist, keep the left one on her shoulder. Her smile drops. She gets it.

And then she kicks my back with one of those big boots and I go flipping off her. I was stupid. Underestimated her. I get a grapple on the ledge and cancel the order for street pizza. I pull myself up, expecting her to be already gone…

But she's not.

This broad's kneeling on the ledge, reaching out to me. The thrusters in her boots are glowing, but they're dying down. She was about to jump after me. She knows what I'm here for, but even then, she planned to save me.

She's just too much.

She pulls me up to the ledge and helps me get my bearings. I shake my head, and then out comes the Bo. It flies through her hair; she ducked practically before I even winded up.

Her red eye is glowing now. So are her boots. Her fists go tight. I thought I finally pissed her off.

But you couldn't tell by looking at her. She's still got that simple look on her face. No animosity. No anger. Just…there.

Doesn't stop her from swinging back though. I can barely keep up. The Bo blocks her kicks just fine, but she's swinging those boots like wrecking balls and she isn't so much as breaking a sweat. Meanwhile, I'm vibrating like a tuning fork every time we make contact. When I manage to dodge, her feet hit the surface and crack the ground with every hit. Flames are coming out of the thrusters. But she's still not angry.

She jumps straight up. This time I'm too slow; can't stop her from getting away—wait. She's not. She's coming back down, and her boots are on fire.

I get out of the way just in time. She hits like a mortar, blowing up the spot. That was a killing stroke. But she had to know I could dodge it with all that time to spare.

I get it. She's trying to scare me off. Letting me know she's not to be messed with.

But neither am I. Time to go on the offensive. I rush in while she's recovering from that big impact, and I'm finally close enough to make her have to do the dodging and blocking. I figured the boots would slow her down. I figured wrong. It's like she doesn't even have them on. She's doing cartwheels and back flips and jumping off walls like Jackie Chan or something. Then I stop, feel the ground underfoot. It's different here…I know what to do.

She jumps at me and puts everything into another big, flashy kick meant to be more scary than deadly. Just what I wanted. Just what I needed.

She hits the ground just as I move and lands on a weak spot in the roof I felt, something she made herself with all her stomping and kicking. Crack, crack, crackle. Boom, she's going down.

But there was more damage than I thought. The roof collapses and I fall in with her.

The fall didn't hurt. The pieces of ceiling hitting my helmet was kind of irksome. But it was worth it.

Because we weren't on the wide open roof anymore. We were in a tight, enclosed corridor; some kind of abandoned loft. She's good in open spaces, when she's got room to kick and dance around, but now…now we're in my world.

She's under a pile of debris, trying to dig her way out. I wonder if she's pissed off yet. The way she's maniacally clawing at that pile of cinderblocks and wood and dirt like someone trapped in a coffin tells me she's no fan of tight spaces. Not at all. Might even be claustrophobic. That would explain a lot.

I waste no time. I'm in the air and the Bo is coming down. It explodes through the pile on her and hits her point blank in the chest. She screams. I hit her again and again, and the screams continue. She screams these loud, agonized, emotional screams.

Then as the helmet filtered out all the other noise and isolated that scream, I froze. It was the dojo all over again.

Danielle.

I staggered back, dropped the Bo. What have I done? What am I doing? What did she do to deserve this? I don't care how strong, how ditzy, how 'special' she is. She's innocent. I told them. Told Chelsea never to put me in this position. Never put me against someone innocent, someone who doesn't deserve to die. That's the line I won't cross.

And here I am, crossing it. From the beginning I knew I was crossing it. The stories on the streets told me. The drawing class told me. That scream told me. And I didn't listen. I didn't listen to my heart because I was too scared to cross Stockton and anger Chelsea.

Killing some corrupt businessman or child-molesting politician is one thing. Taking out corporate rivals to prevent some company from building a monopoly is another thing. Finding my father's killer, that's something different. But beating down some innocent girl who doesn't do anything but be nice to people and beat up small time crooks…enough is enough. I can't do it. Not anymore.

Stockton. Chelsea. You made a mistake. You got too comfortable with me. Thought I was your little lapdog forever. And then you made me stronger. You gave me this new skull suit, all this power. And you turned me loose without a leash—

What?

Helicopters. Surrounding the rooftop. Like clockwork. Men on zip lines coming down through the hole we made in the roof. Two of them push me out of the way, four more put shackles on the girl's arms and legs and carry her off before I can even get my thoughts straight. And as quick as they came, they left, and I'm standing there in the middle of a dilapidated room feeling sorry for myself, again, while the sound of their transport chopper dies out and fades.

Why did they send me? How come they couldn't track her down before? It hit me like a kick in the nuts.

They did. They knew exactly where and how to get her. They just needed a tool. Something that was better than Jet Dancer. They needed to make and test a stronger weapon. So they made and sent the new and improved Dualmask.

It was a setup from the beginning. I was nothing more than the fruit of a new collaboration between Corp Hudson and Drakonis Inc. This helmet has so much tech in it, I can't believe it didn't cross my mind that a tracking device would be part of it. Of course they were watching me the whole time. And if I didn't take her down, a hit squad would have cleaned up the mess, would have taken me down.

Never again.

This is the last time they use Dualmask as a—

Yeah, right.

I'm just going to sulk and brood and go back to the Corp like a good little soldier and keep getting my pay. I'm not indecisive or torn or conflicted. Those are emotional responses. Robots like me just take orders and follow them.

As powerful as this suit made me, I'm barely human inside.

Sorry, Jet.

But the job is done.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconhulkdaddyg:
hulkdaddyg Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2012  Professional General Artist
Wow.
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:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Be sure to read Part Two!
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:iconhulkdaddyg:
hulkdaddyg Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2012  Professional General Artist
Ha I just read i!
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:iconjoybuzzer:
Joybuzzer Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012
Nice story. I like it :)
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:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks. :)
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:iconbadenoughdude:
BadEnoughDude Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is the first time I've taken the time to read one of your stories. Now I want to set aside some time and read the rest.
Reply
:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Just a heads up...I don't think my older ones measure up to this one. But I think they still may have their charm. :)
Reply
:iconshadowleviathanzero:
ShadowLeviathanZero Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012
Damn this is some very good stuff you have here. Your story is very impressive from beginning to end. I have read this at least twice maybe more later on because it is that good. So you are a writer and an artist? Awesome. Awesome as always and by the way I have to read your Beloved Weapon. After reading this story and seeing how good it is I must get a copy of Beloved Weapon!! Well keep up the good work as always.
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:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks! Yes, I take writing almost as serious as I do drawing. Maybe more. Hard to say. I did publish a whole book while constantly failing to finish any comics, but...I'd rather not get into that internal debate. ;p

Please do buy the book! The link is in my signature. Nia Black's story takes place in the same continuity as Dualmask and there are connections. I think you'll enjoy it. It's available both digitally and in print. And tell your friends! :)
Reply
:iconshadowleviathanzero:
ShadowLeviathanZero Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012
This I shall Dualmask. An artist. A writer. A superhero. Damn, Dualmask, you are good. This is why you are an inspiration to me. I have a story I want to write called, Jester Black. Let's just say it involves an artist, a government-created symbiote, a half-human, half-dragon hybrid girl, and lots of crazy stuff that will make you say, WTH?!! Yeah, crazy I know but after reading your literature I am inspired to write this story. Thanks for the inspiration as always friend.
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:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
That's right, just go forward and write it! Worry about quality later. A page a day is a whole novel in a year. :nod: Always glad to be of service.
Reply
:iconshadowleviathanzero:
ShadowLeviathanZero Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012
Thanks yet again sir and this I shall do.
Reply
:iconmadmangamer364:
Madmangamer364 Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012
Great work! Considering that this was something written on the fly (if that's fair to say), this was a joy to read! Not to mention that I really like the idea in general, as I think this is the kind of angle that offers a solid stage for both Dualmask and Jet Dancer to shine, showing the strengths, qualities, and vulnerabilities of both characters. Plus, I just can't help but enjoy the touches of humor and realism that you bring to Dualmask's tales, as usual. Not the easiest thing to pull out a story of a serious character with a healthy dose of laughs to boot.

That was fun, seriously. I'm aware that this is the kind of thing that has to be approached with a great deal of care, but I think this is the kind of concept that both of your characters can benefit from. In any case, it's a great thing that you got the kind of inspiration needed to put this story together. Kudos, dude! :D
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:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks! I did write this on the fly today, but as I went into it, I had something of an ulterior motive. I find myself developing my characters in my writing when all else fails, and with my constant roadblocks trying to make Jet Dancer into an interesting character, I figured it might be more effective to have another character explore her from their point of view, rather than focus on Jet as the protagonist. It worked pretty well--her potential paralyzing fear hinted at late in the text was completely out of left field and popped in my head just as I was writing the previous sentence...how a lot of my ideas come about, actually (that's probably why WCL grew so large too).

You know, it's funny because when I write, I don't set out to balance humor and drama. I consider myself quite an un-funny person, to be honest. I was just following my instincts, speaking 'as Dualmask' as it were, and it just flowed. I had a lot of fun writing it and I'm glad you and others enjoyed it. Thanks again! :)
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:iconjonkin:
JonKin Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Did you just make up this story? Cuz it's pretty good. I got the feeling that Dual is a Villain that doesn't really want to be a villain but feels like he doesn't have any alternative. I guess the "Dual" part also pertain to his personality, huh?
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:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks! Yup, I whipped this up while I was at work. And you've got the point of Dualmask precisely. He started out having to be an assassin/enforcer because he didn't know what else to do with his life, but as time went on, he got better and smarter, but still too afraid to make the hard call that might change his life for the better. Kind of like a lot of people, I suppose.
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:iconadekii:
adekii Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Aaaaaand now I realize my comment could be taken as offensive. Dang. I meant that it's kind of a trap how you can't make a villain not a villain or they... well, you can't use them as a villain anymore. And then if you make them a villain again, it's just awkward and full of "wait, what?" moments. Like Marvels' good/bad dance with Magneto. You read the issues of New Mutants (from the 1980s) where he was headmaster and being a stand-up dude, and then you wonder what possessed Marvel to flip him back over to the other side. Anyway, it's an evil trap!

I meant it when I said this story was a great read!
Reply
:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
I didn't take your comment that way. I was compelled to ask "Who do you think is the villain?" but I reneged. I'm just glad you enjoyed the read, and really, the whole back and forth trapped nature that is Dualmask is part of his "charm". =p
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:iconadekii:
adekii Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, I like it XD
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:iconadekii:
adekii Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This is very well written, and almost had some character development, but then your villain wouldn't be a villain, would he? XD

Great read!
Reply
:icondualmask:
Dualmask Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks. :) I like to scratch the surface about Dualmask's persona rather than get too deep with his history in these short stories.

Mostly because the details of his past are still sketchy even in MY mind.
Reply
:iconadekii:
adekii Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Cool! That makes this story extra cool, if it was a way for you to explore your character further :)
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