[Clash: Rise of the Heroes] Bark 3: Ichabod

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Please do not comment in this thread as I want to post all parts of this story in a single thread. If you wish to comment, please start a new thread, I will check and respond. This is a long story and will have many parts, keep checking back each week for the next part. If you have trouble reading it on here, I am simultaneously posting it in my blog:
http://thunderchicken-outofmyhead.blogspot.com/

Teaser: A few days ago over Knoxville Tennessee.

Frost turned to look at the screen. The General had gone quiet and Bolt had slowed in breathing, something terrible was happening. Time seemed to stop. She could see the entire planet from where Ichabod was located, but she could also see blood, and broken armor, as well as its green glowing heart. But, worst of all, she was watching the lifeless Bark fall from the heavens. He was slipping away, through the clouds and down to his death. Then, as a horrible last chord of this symphony, the image was engulfed in a massive green explosion that ended the signal. The news reports showing on the other screens revealed what had just happened. The bodies energy supply had erupted and exploded in the upper atmosphere. It was a spectacular sight, had it not accompanied such a sad moment.

The General was choked up, like he had never been before. “ he did it.” He whispered.
 
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A few days before

Part 1:

Bark stood in the middle of a swamp. The murky water was almost up to his knees and the mud was clinging to his fur. The night was dark and filled with fog rising from the swamp waters. He pulled up his foot from the muck and took a step in the direction that his nose told him to go. The scents here were atrocious, but he could determine a single scent that was unique to his target. Since this thing was hiding under the water, it was good that Bark could use his nose to find it.

Right now all Bark had to defend himself with was a bo staff that Toshi had given to him. He held it above the water, so as not to lean on it like a cane. If he let it become something other than a weapon for a second, he would lose the advantage. With a sudden burst of energy, a large man shaped mound of swamp debris and mud burst out of the water behind Bark. Leaning back hard to dodge the swipe of the creatures arm at him, Bark deflected its other arm with the bo and hit the thing in the side, sending it down into the waters again. The swamp monster purposefully melted down into the swamp and seemed to disperse in the muck. Bark crouched slightly to attain a more grounded posture. He used his nose to try and determine where the beast would congeal next. It was not his nose, but his ears that alerted him. The scream of energy gathering caught his attention and he turned just in time to dodge a radioactive energy blast thrown from a hole in the chest of the swamp demon. Bark could see that another blast was coming and decided to use his natural talent to get the upper hand. He prepared himself for an attack and ran straight at the monster. The monster let loose another blast of energy as Bark ducked his head down letting the energy wash over him. It did not detour his attack and he met the monster head on with his staff at the ready. With two motions he sliced the beasts hands off, which was nothing more than chopping the radioactive swamp debris off of the created limbs. Then, with a jump up into the air, Bark sliced clean through the monsters neck, severing its head from the rest of its body. The leaves, twigs, mud and other nasty bits of swamp melted off of a green glowing brain that was the source of this creatures intelligence. Bark snarled at the thought of having to do it, but he knew it was the final requirement. He held his staff so that the end was pointed at the brain, and with a clean punch, he punctured it and killed the mutated thing. ‘’ Simulation over. Winner: Bark.” The computer announced as the holosimulation evaporated into thin air. The room lost the swamp and became just another one of the simulators used on the station. He was no longer knee deep in mud, in fact the wet muck clinging to him was gone. Bark tried to resist the canine urge, but could not, he shook his whole body as though he were getting rid of the water and muck of the swamp. It really wasn’t on him, only in his mind. Dr. Glyph came up to Bark with a scanner in his hand. He ran it up and down the dog man, and then looked at the readings. Barks voice collar asked, “Well? How’d I do?” Tobias smiled and nodded, “ You did well. It seems that your training with Toshi Sensei is giving you a fighting chance to be a real hero.” Bark frowned, “ Hey, I have already saved the entire ULH and possibly Earth. I think I AM a Hero.” Tobias laughed, “ Okay. Sorry.” He looked at his sensors. “ Amazing.” Bark walked with the doctor out of the training room. “What’s Amazing?” Tobias showed him his sensors. “The simulation used actual radioactive energy to blast you. And your natural….or really, your designed defenses blocked it. I am not showing any radiation signature on you that is above normal. In fact, your radiation signature is lower than normal. My tests are right, you have an incredible immunity to energy attacks.” Bark shook his head, still having a hard time getting the feeling of that murky water off of his fur. “ Does this mean I am finished with all these silly swamp simulations?” Tobias cocked his head, “ Haven’t you been paying attention in your History of Villainy class ?” Bark nodded, “ I pay attention.’’ Tobias pressed the button to open the door to the hallway. “ This simulation is designed after the actual battle with the radiation monster of New Orleans back in 1996. “ Bark frowned, “ I don’t think we have covered that one yet?” Tobias led Bark out in the hall while giving him a short history lesson, “ Back on Three Mile Island, one worker was exposed to massive amounts of radiation and was presumed dead. To cover it up so that the press wouldn’t know, they threw his body in the ocean, hoping it would sink and be forgotten. Somehow, the brain absorbed larger quantities of the radiation than expected and it survived even when the body was destroyed by the waters. Amazingly it was caught by the current that sent it all the way down the coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. It wound up in the swamps of Louisiana and came in contact with the natural debris. After almost a decade to garner a lot of hate and anger, the brain learned how to harness its radioactive properties and summon a body made up of nature. It attacked several boats and a small town before Thrasher was called in to stop it. He put it down and we still have the brain encased in a chamber for study.” Bark laughed, “ Did Thrasher have four arms before or after that battle?” Tobias laughed at that joke, “ Before. Like you, Thrasher is resistant to radioactive elements. Though, he isn’t resistant to all forms of radiation. You have a very valuable immunity. “ Bark looked down at the scanner that Dr. Glyph had been using, “ Tell me something. Why is it that the more I am hit by the energy weapons, the less it affects me? Am I just getting used to them? Or, am I still mutating? I would hate to end up like those mindless dog soldiers in Korea.” Tobias looked at his readings again, “ I cannot really say. Your body might be adaptive, or you may be correct and the mutations are still in process. I wouldn’t worry too much about becoming a mindless soldier, or a dog, I doubt that is the case. And don’t worry, I am still keeping an eye on you. If anything does show up, we will take care of it.” Bark looked up and down his body to see that the feeling of wetness was just in his mind. “ Fine. I really don’t want to have to let Frost take me out on a leash each time I need to go to the bathroom.” Dr. Glyph snickered at that notion and then looked at the clock on the scanning device, “Looks like it’s time for our class with the General.” “Our class ?” Bark asked. “ Yup, I will be there. Now, let’s get moving. It isn’t wise to make him wait. “ Dr. Glyph and Bark headed off down the corridors toward the main area.
 
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Bark stood in the middle of a swamp. The murky water was almost up to his knees and the mud was clinging to his fur. The night was dark and filled with fog rising from the swamp waters. He pulled up his foot from the muck and took a step in the direction that his nose told him to go. The scents here were atrocious, but he could determine a single scent that was unique to his target. Since this thing was hiding under the water, it was good that Bark could use his nose to find it.

Right now all Bark had to defend himself with was a bo staff that Toshi had given to him. He held it above the water, so as not to lean on it like a cane. If he let it become something other than a weapon for a second, he would lose the advantage.

With a sudden burst of energy, a large man shaped mound of swamp debris and mud burst out of the water behind Bark. Leaning back hard to dodge the swipe of the creatures arm at him, Bark deflected its other arm with the bo and hit the thing in the side, sending it down into the waters again.

The swamp monster purposefully melted down into the swamp and seemed to disperse in the muck. Bark crouched slightly to attain a more grounded posture. He used his nose to try and determine where the beast would congeal next. It was not his nose, but his ears that alerted him. The scream of energy gathering caught his attention and he turned just in time to dodge a radioactive energy blast thrown from a hole in the chest of the swamp demon. Bark could see that another blast was coming and decided to use his natural talent to get the upper hand. He prepared himself for an attack and ran straight at the monster. The monster let loose another blast of energy as Bark ducked his head down letting the energy wash over him. It did not detour his attack and he met the monster head on with his staff at the ready. With two motions he sliced the beasts hands off, which was nothing more than chopping the radioactive swamp debris off of the created limbs. Then, with a jump up into the air, Bark sliced clean through the monsters neck, severing its head from the rest of its body.

The leaves, twigs, mud and other nasty bits of swamp melted off of a green glowing brain that was the source of this creatures intelligence. Bark snarled at the thought of having to do it, but he knew it was the final requirement. He held his staff so that the end was pointed at the brain, and with a clean punch, he punctured it and killed the mutated thing.

‘’ Simulation over. Winner: Bark.” The computer announced as the holosimulation evaporated into thin air. The room lost the swamp and became just another one of the simulators used on the station. He was no longer knee deep in mud, in fact the wet muck clinging to him was gone. Bark tried to resist the canine urge, but could not, he shook his whole body as though he were getting rid of the water and muck of the swamp. It really wasn’t on him, only in his mind.

Dr. Glyph came up to Bark with a scanner in his hand. He ran it up and down the dog man, and then looked at the readings.

Barks voice collar asked, “Well? How’d I do?”

Tobias smiled and nodded, “ You did well. It seems that your training with Toshi Sensei is giving you a fighting chance to be a real hero.”

Bark frowned, “ Hey, I have already saved the entire ULH and possibly Earth. I think I AM a Hero.”

Tobias laughed, “ Okay. Sorry.” He looked at his sensors. “ Amazing.”

Bark walked with the doctor out of the training room. “What’s Amazing?”

Tobias showed him his sensors. “The simulation used actual radioactive energy to blast you. And your natural….or really, your designed defenses blocked it. I am not showing any radiation signature on you that is above normal. In fact, your radiation signature is lower than normal. My tests are right, you have an incredible immunity to energy attacks.”

Bark shook his head, still having a hard time getting the feeling of that murky water off of his fur. “ Does this mean I am finished with all these silly swamp simulations?”

Tobias cocked his head, “ Haven’t you been paying attention in your History of Villainy class ?”

Bark nodded, “ I pay attention.’’

Tobias pressed the button to open the door to the hallway. “ This simulation is designed after the actual battle with the radiation monster of New Orleans back in 1996. “

Bark frowned, “ I don’t think we have covered that one yet?

Tobias led Bark out in the hall while giving him a short history lesson, “ Back on Three Mile Island, one worker was exposed to massive amounts of radiation and was presumed dead. To cover it up so that the press wouldn’t know, they threw his body in the ocean, hoping it would sink and be forgotten. Somehow, the brain absorbed larger quantities of the radiation than expected and it survived even when the body was destroyed by the waters. Amazingly it was caught by the current that sent it all the way down the coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. It wound up in the swamps of Louisiana and came in contact with the natural debris. After almost a decade to garner a lot of hate and anger, the brain learned how to harness its radioactive properties and summon a body made up of nature. It attacked several boats and a small town before Thrasher was called in to stop it. He put it down and we still have the brain encased in a chamber for study.”

Bark laughed, “ Did Thrasher have four arms before or after that battle?”

Tobias laughed at that joke, “ Before. Like you, Thrasher is resistant to radioactive elements. Though, he isn’t resistant to all forms of radiation. You have a very valuable immunity. “

Bark looked down at the scanner that Dr. Glyph had been using, “ Tell me something. Why is it that the more I am hit by the energy weapons, the less it affects me? Am I just getting used to them? Or, am I still mutating? I would hate to end up like those mindless dog soldiers in Korea.”

Tobias looked at his readings again, “ I cannot really say. Your body might be adaptive, or you may be correct and the mutations are still in process. I wouldn’t worry too much about becoming a mindless soldier, or a dog, I doubt that is the case. And don’t worry, I am still keeping an eye on you. If anything does show up, we will take care of it

Bark looked up and down his body to see that the feeling of wetness was just in his mind. “ Fine. I really don’t want to have to let Frost take me out on a leash each time I need to go to the bathroom.”

Dr. Glyph snickered at that notion and then looked at the clock on the scanning device, “Looks like it’s time for our class with the General.”

“Our class ?” Bark asked.

“ Yup, I will be there. Now, let’s get moving. It isn’t wise to make him wait. “ Dr. Glyph and Bark headed off down the corridors toward the main area.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

The ULH training facility, operational headquarters, and mission base had put itself back together without much trouble after the Green Scream incident. Bark and Toshi had been honored with medals and commendations. Toshi was reluctant to receive any sort of medal, as it goes against the philosophy of humility that she embraces. Bark was a little more eager to be honored. However, he was Toshi’s student and she would help him learn that merits and awards only bolster ego, and that isn’t what a true hero needs to rely on.

After all the awards, and recovery, the school returned to its normal sessions. Bark was treated better now that he had saved everyone, but that did not mean that his instructors would be any less strict with him. It also did not prevent any pranks, they were just less mean and more humorous.

Today, he and Frost were heading for a special class. This was not a normal class that was held each day, it was a mission class. All students were given these classes periodically throughout the semesters. During this class, the students were treated like regular members of the ULH and given missions. The missions were suited to their talents and level of training. The General taught this class, and knew exactly who to send where. This was perhaps the only ‘’class’’ that the General would teach, and it wasn’t really a lesson but a mission briefing.

______________________________________________________________________________________________


“ What do you suppose our mission will be?” Frost asked Bark.

Bark, always speaking through his dog collar voice box, shrugged, “ I have no idea. I have been put through all sorts of tests recently and hope that this isn’t another professor firing another energy beam at me to see what level of radiation I can handle.”

Frost grinned and rubbed her dogs ear, “ Yeah, by now you would think that they wanted you to mutate or something.”

Bark nodded, “ Dr. Glyph even tried basic radioactive materials on me today.”

Frost slowly took her hand off of him, “ Uh, what were the results?”

Bark laughed while his voice box answered, “ It’s okay, my radiation signature is the same as before the tests. I don’t know what that mad scientist wanted to do with me but he made me nearly impervious to all kinds of radiated energy.”

Frost was surprised, and happy. “ So, you can take a hit then?”

He nodded, “ Yup. Two days ago, Solstice was invited to test me. She blasted me with her solar beam. It knocked me on my butt, but otherwise I was fine.”

Frost rubbed her hand down his bare, furry chest, “ At least she didn’t singe any of that fur off. I would hate to not have this to snuggle up to at night.”

Bark cleared his throat, “ When are you planning to snuggle up at night with me? We can’t, you know that…”

“ I know, I know…” Frost relented, “ You had a weak moment. You want to wait until we are married before we…”

Bark cleared his throat again, “ Let’s not talk about it. I don’t want to get into trouble.” He knew perfectly well that their night of passion had to remain a secret. Even if every ounce of testosterone in his body wanted to jump her bones, he had to restrain himself if he wanted to stay in the ULH. Of course if they were married it would be a different story.

Frost and Bark had arrived at the door to the meeting room. He just about pressed the open button when Frost nudged him up against the wall with her body pressed up against him. She ran her hand down his back, found his butt in those tight briefs he wears and gave him a good squeeze. “ So, when will I see a ring?”

Bark whimpered like a puppydog wanting to play, clearing his throat again and he replied. “I….uh…don’t know.”

She ran her fingers under the elastic at the leg of the briefs and traced it all the way to the front, where she took her hand out just before this got too steamy. “ Pity.” Without another word, she pressed the open button and then walked in.

Bark gulped, composed himself, and then followed after her.
________________________________________________________________________________________

Bark, Frost and Bolt sat at the meeting table with The General and Tobias Glyph standing near the dark screens used for briefing missions. Usually this room could hold upwards of twenty people, but obviously that was unnecessary at the moment.

The General gave everyone a stern look, as always. He liked to let a few moments pass before saying anything, just to let everyone know who was in charge. After the pause, he quietly turned on a screen. It showed the face of a man in a wheel chair. It was obvious that he was paralyzed from the neck down, but why he was on the screen was anyone’s guess right now.

“ Students…and Bolt. This is Dr. William Ogle.” The General finally spoke.

Frost frowned, “ Ogle…Ogle, wait, isn’t he some kind of brilliant scientist?”

Tobias answered, “ Yes. He is a genius in the fields of theoretical engineering, advanced genetics, and computer programming.”

Bolt, with his feet flopped up on the meeting desk, passively stated, “ Oh, great, another scientist gone mad. What did he do now? Create a bio weapon? Mutate a few people?”

The General calmly strolled around the table, stopped by Bolt, shoved the man’s feet off of the table, and then continued. “ No. Dr. Ogle is not a target or a threat, he is a petitioner.”

Bark asked, “ Petitioner? He is asking for help?”

The General nodded, “ Yes.”

Bolt scooted up to the table, sitting a little more dignified. “ So, are we taking personal calls now? Is he paying or something?”

Tobias answered, “ Dr. Ogle is an old friend of mine. I actually took one of his courses and the University of Tennessee, where he teaches. I helped him create the chair that he uses to get to and from classes. “

The General continued, “ If it was not for the personal contact with Cerberus here, we would not normally take such a call. But, Dr. Ogle is worried and asked for some assistance from us. I doubt it is much of anything, and that is why I am only sending one instructor and two students.”

“ Is there any danger we need to be aware of?” Frost asked.

Tobias smiled and shook his bald head, “ I doubt it.”

Bolt frowned, “ Huh? Then why send in a team of superheroes ‘’

Tobias explained, “ William is a nervous person. If you know his story, you know that he was not born in this condition, it was forced upon him by a car accident when he was thirteen. Since then, he has been a very cautious person, almost to a neurotic point. He cannot even cross a street without a lot of help. I would wager that he is just overly worried, but I owe him a favor and thought it might be nice to bring him up here for a few days so he can see my work and even help me with something for Mr. Bark.”

Barks ears perked up and he looked at Tobias, “ Me?”

Tobias smiled, “ Dr. Ogle is a geneticist, one of the most brilliant geneticists in the world. He might be able to figure out a way to fix that voice of yours, give it back to you. “

The General turned on another screen with a map of north America. It zoomed in on East Tennessee, quickly coming to Knoxville. “ Your mission will be simple. Go in, check on what his problem is, and then escort him back to the station. I doubt you will encounter any resistance, or problems, but we don’t take threats lightly. If there is any crisis, it will be your responsibility to examine it, deal with it if possible, or contact us for further support.”

Bark had to ask, “So, what are we supposed to be learning from this exercise?”

The General leaned over the table and addressed both Bark and Frost, as they were the students here. “ This mission will help you with your investigative skill, and even assess your ability to respond to unknown anomaly that you might encounter. Take every mission with the intention of learning something.”

Bolt, who could really care less about this particular mission, added, “ And it’s a good opportunity to stretch your legs. “

The General nodded while standing back up, “ You will leave in two hours. Get yourselves ready and report to the docking bay at 1100 hours. Dismissed.”

Bolt, Bark and Frost got up. Tobias walked out first, followed by Frost and almost Bark.

“Wait, I need to talk to you, Bark.” The General stopped the dog.

Bolt smiled and whispered, “ oooh, going to the principal’s office.”

Bark sneered at Bolt and then followed the General out another door into his private office. It did, in fact, feel like Bark had been called into the principal’s office, and he was worried what this could mean. Had he done something wrong? Who complained?

The General sat down behind a desk covered in papers and computer tablets, each filled with mountains of reports he had to sign off on. He looked up and immediately noticed that Bark was as scared as he could be, with his tail sort of between his legs. Few people actually filled out that statement as well as Bark, but few people had actual tails to tuck.

“ Sit down and stop shaking so hard, your shedding all over the furniture.” The General pointed to one of the chairs in front of his desk.

Bark gulped and then sat down. It sort of hurt, but he didn’t realize that he was going to sit on his tail. He scooted around for a moment and fixed his posture. “ Uh…Mr….” He looked at the desk for a name plate to see if, in fact, this man did have a name. But, the name plate only read, The General. “General…sir. What did you need?”

The General turned off his computer on the desk and then took a long breath. Letting it out slowly, he gave Bark a commanding gaze. It was just like being in third grade for Bark. The General finally spoke. “ I have come to the understanding that you and Ms. Frost are very close.”

Bark’s worst fears were coming true. He was discovered. What did the General know? “Uh…well…you see…we…”

The General gave Bark a curious look with a raised eyebrow. “ You two are together?”

Bark quickly nodded, “Y…yes. We are a couple. She is my girlfriend, and I am her boyfriend. Is there a problem with that?”

The General slowly shook his head. “ Yes, and no. It was a policy to not allow the staff to have any kind of romantic relationship with anyone else on the staff. It was expected of the students as well, but never a written rule for them. We had flirts who almost crossed the line at times….”

Bark replied, “ Bolt..”

The General gave him that ‘he is not who we are here to talk about’ look. “ When you came, you and Ms. Frost bonded and it helped you. But, I was ready to stop it. Dr. Glyph came to your rescue and told me that it was a good relationship and not to try and break it up. So, I allowed it.”

Bark gulped again, and said, “Thank you.”

“ But, there are rules that I am not going to break, bend or ignore. A high school boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is enough. Intimacy is another thing.”

Bark just about shed all of his fur at that moment. The General knew. “ I am so sorry. It was a weak moment. I was tired, and she was on top of me. And, you see, we just…”

The General held up his hand, “ I know the birds and the bees. “

Bark looked down, “ Sorry.”

The General let out a long sigh again, “ We have a problem. If students start getting intimate too often, it will affect their grades, their work, and ultimately the entire social structure of the ULH. “

Bark really couldn’t see how his intimate relationship with Frost could bring down the rigid social structure of the entire ULH. But, he was not going to argue with this man. “ It has only happened once. I promise you, it won’t happen again. Please do not break us up? “

The General sort of smiled, “ If I wanted you two to not be together, you would not be going on this mission with her. In fact, you would not even see her in class.”

Bark smiled brightly, “ So, you aren’t asking us to end our relationship?”

The General shook his head, “ No. Young man, you saved every person’s life on this station. You put yourself in a dangerous position to secure our welfare. I follow rules, but that earns you a few allowances. What I brought you in here to say is this. You two cannot replay that incident again, not unless you plan on being married.”

Barks eyes widened until it felt like his eyeballs were going to plop right out of his head. Was the General going to order him to get married? Surely not. “ What are you saying?”

The General stood up and walked around the desk to look at Bark. “ That girl is one of the best students we have. You are right up there with her. The students look up to both of you, and if you show them a serious, mature relationship. I want to make sure that you two are serious. If you are just playing around, then you will see the end of this relationship. But, if you are going to marry her, then you had better do it. Prove to me that you both are serious.”

Bark smiled, he looked right at the General and nodded. “ I want to be with her for the rest of my life.”

“ Good. Now, make it official soon, I hate long engagements.”

Bark stood up, “ Can I leave now?’'

The General started to smile differently, “ There is one more thing.”

Bark did not know whether to be excited or scared. “ What is it?”

“ The investigation in the Green Scream case has turned up something interesting. Apparently, someone had transferred a large sum of money into his bank account as a down payment for him to do what he did. After consultation with the council, we have come to the conclusion that the person who deserves it most, is you. “

Bark was confused, “ But…he hurt the whole station. Not just me.”

The General nodded, “ That is true. And everyone at first considered just letting the ULH have the money for repairs and such. But, I know that you have nothing. We are your friends, your family, your support. You have put your life on the line for us and never asked for anything in return. I think it’s high time that you earn something for that. The money is yours, if you wish to take it.”

Bark thought about that. He really didn’t need money right now as the ULH supplied his needs. But there was something that he wanted to do, and it required money. And, if he ever wanted to have a normal life, he would need some capital to make it happen. So, with a smile and a nod, Bark accepted. “ I’ll take it.”

The General tossed over a bank card. “Thought you might. This is set up with an account at the central bank. The money is there for you to do with as you see fit. Use it wisely.”

Bark took the card and smiled, “Exactly how much is in this?”

The General turned in his seat, picked up a small bankbook, and handed it to him. “Keep that safe, it has all your information in it.”

Bark opened the book and his eyes bugged out, his tail wagged, and he just about fainted. “Wow.”

“Yup. Looks like whoever paid him had the money to spend. Since we can’t trace it, it was just floating in limbo. Now, it’s all yours. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

Bark stood up and then properly asked, “ Am I dismissed?” “ Yes, yes. Go and get ready for the mission.”

Bark nodded, “yes, sir. “ He turned and started to walk out while The General headed back to his paperwork. Just before opening the door, Bark turned around, “ Uh, can I ask a favor?”

The General stopped shuffling the papers, “ Yes?”

“ After the mission, can I stay in Knoxville for a little longer. I want to look for something. Something for Frost. I don’t want Frost to know, so I need another shuttle to come and pick me up when I am done.”

The General nodded, “ Yes, you can have two extra hours down there. But, if you are late, you will get a lower grade on the mission.”

Bark nodded, “ Of course. Just, one more thing.”

“ Don’t worry, I won’t tell Frost. It will be part of your orders.” The General knew what was coming next.

Bark smiled brightly, “ Thanks. Bye.” He left the old General to his work.

The General pushed aside all the student reports and looked at some of the intel from central services. He muttered to himself. “ Ah, to be young and in love.”
 
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The shuttlebay was busy, but that was normal. This was the main way for everyone to go and come from the ULH spacestation. Bark walked in holding a small wallet and a bar of metal. He asked a man which shuttle was waiting for him and followed the directions.

“ Are you going to cradle that flower through the whole mission?” Bolt walked passed Frost, who was sitting in the shuttle, holding a star lily in her arms. A bundle of five of them were a surprise gift from Bark that she found in her room that morning, with a note attached that said ‘’happy anniversary.”

Frost smiled and looked at the flower, “ No, I will leave it on the shuttle. I just wanted to have one of them with me.”

“ Where did you get that?” Bolt asked her while he sat in the pilot’s seat.

Frost, who was sitting in a passenger seat, waiting for Bark to sit next to her, answered, “ It was an anniversary gift from my boyfriend.”

“Anniversary? You two aren’t even married.” Bolt retorted.

Frost let out a huff, “ There are other anniversaries.”

“ Good lord, I hope that I don’t find a girl worried about silly stuff like that. I have a hard enough time remembering what movie I last saw with my date.”

Frost chuckled, “ That is because you grow six extra arms and spend the whole date trying to wrap them all over your girl and smooch like a fifteen year old.”

Bolt pulled down a mirror that was used to look back at the guests and looked at her through it, “ And how would you know? You never went on a date with me.”

Frost gave him a look that both excited and frightened him. “ Be glad that I didn’t. You might have found yourself missing parts. Besides, I am a girl who likes those silly things, and I have a man who remembers them.”

“ Speaking of the mutt, where is he? ” Bolt looked out the open door into the docking bay.

Frost rolled her eyes, “ I thought you two were friends?”

“ Huh?”

“Calling him ‘mutt’ is rude.”

Just then Bark came up the steps into the shuttle. He answered for Bolt, having heard both of them as he approached. “ It’s okay. I am sort of a mutt, a mixed breed. Human and various dogs.”

Bolt looked back at Frost through the mirror, “Ha.”

Frost shook her head and then turned her attention to her boyfriend, “ What took you so long to get here?”

Bark smiled and held up a small bar of metal in his hands, “I found this in the replication database and thought it would be a good thing for me.”

Bolt looked over at Bark and the metal bar, “ What is that, some kind of nightstick?”

Bark held it up in one hand and flicked his wrist, the bar expanded out to be nearly the length of the bo staff he trained with, “ It is my weapon. If I am going to fight anyone, I would like to be armed.” He pressed on part of it with his thumb and pushed it back together, telescoping the sections down to the small bar that it started out as. “ My only problem is that I still don’t have a place to put it while I am not using it. “

Bolt grinned that Bolt grin, “ You could always tuck it into those briefs. Would certainly add to the..”

‘’BOLT!” Frost knew exactly where he was going with this.

Bark was frowning, not quite understanding that at first. Then it hit him and he rolled his eyes at Bolt.

Bolt pressed the ‘close’ button closing the door/stairs closed as the engines warmed up. “Take your seats; we will get going as soon as I get the all clear.”

“ Hey, can I pilot?” Bark asked.

Bolt smiled and shook his head. “ No. You have done well with your pilot lessons over the past two weeks, but you aren’t certified yet and I don’t want to be reprimanded. Just sit and stay.” He couldn’t curb the dog puns.

Bark walked over and sat next to Frost. The seats on this little shuttle were set up in pairs, two pairs on one side, an aisle between them, and another two pairs on the other side. The pair of seats made a perfect place for the cozy lovers to sit and enjoy each other’s company while enroute to their destination.

Frost buckled in and then leaned over to Bark, “Thank you again for the flowers. I absolutely love them.”

Bark grinned, “ Anything to make you smile.”

Frost noticed the wallet he had with him, “ What is that for?”

“ Uh, I keep a small communicator in it. You know, in case I need to contact the station after my mission.”

Bolt nodded, “ yeah, I got those orders. You are to stay behind for two extra hours for an undisclosed mission. What did you and the general talk about?”

Frost gave her man a worried face, “ The General asked to speak with you? What about?”

Bark smiled and looked at Frost, “It seems that our…..intimacy is not a secret.”

Frost gasped, “ Did he punish you? Am I in trouble?”

“ No. Apparently saving the station and everyone aboard grants me a little allowance. But, I don’t think we should push it any further. Not right now.”

Bolt smiled greedily in the mirror at them. “ So curb the tail wagging.”

Frost glared at Bolt, “ Cool it. “ Then she nodded at her boyfriend. “ I see. I guess we need to find less seductive ways to express ourselves.”

Bark nodded, “ It would help if you didn’t play with my shorts and press up against me all the time. I love it, but it can….uh….excite us too much.”

Bolt stuck both eyebrows up. “ Playing with shorts. Pressing bodies together. I miss all the fun.”

Frost didn’t respond to the little boy in the pilot’s seat and addressed her man. “Alright. Did he say anything else?"

Bark shook his head and lied, “ Nothing else.”

Bolt asked again, “ What is this mission?”

Bark looked at him, then at Frost and smiled with a very fake smile. “ I can’t talk about it. A secret meeting of sorts. You will find out later.”

Coming to his rescue, stopping all further questions, the docking controller announced through the com system. “ Shuttle seven, you are cleared to leave.”

“Understood. Shuttle seven out. Buckle up everyone, we are heading out.” Bolt turned on the nav system and the shuttles engines started to roar.

The docking bay cleared of people and the doors opened. The shields dropped and the shuttle lifted off of the metallic ground. In moments it was out of the bay and heading for earth. After leaving the bay, it employed its holographic cloaking system. Each shuttle uses a unique technology that disguises the ship. The ship is wrapped in a hologram that can render it invisible, or it can make it appear as anything, a cloud, a plane, a dragon, anything that is needed to protect it and get to the places it needs to be. To keep from frightening people, the cloak is normally set to invisible. This way when it enters earth’s atmosphere, there aren't a dozen UFO sightings reported.



The Tennessee State Bank’s home office was busy today. So many files to be filed, meetings to be attended, and budgets to be approved, it was dull unless you enjoyed that sort of life. Max was happy with it. In his little cubicle world, he was content to run a small piece of this mini-economic empire.

“ Hey, Max, the team wants to hold a lunch meeting at Calhouns, you up for that?” One of his co-workers leaned against the door to the cube he was assigned.

The short, balding, middle aged accountant set down his paperwork and then picked up another stack. “ Maybe, if I get this crap taken care of. They won’t like it much if I make a mistake with the numbers.”

The coworker shrugged, “ Don’t worry about it. It is just an opportunity to use the company credit card for a few good beers. You can come next time.”

Max nodded, “Sure. Remember to keep your receipts, last time we didn't get the money back.”

“ Gotcha. See you at the meeting later.’’ The coworker headed off to have fun on the companies dime.

Max shook his head. He never approved of the idea of wasting company money just because technically you can. He worked and worked, hardly noticing that his lunch hour was being wasted and he was going to be very hungry for the rest of the day. Finally looking up to his clock he noticed that it was a quarter till noon and he might as well run and get something to eat.

He set aside his papers and stood up. Adjusting his tie he heard a huge ‘thunk’ against the roof. Looking up he frowned and tried to figure out what on earth would make such a large noise above him. This was the top floor, anything above that was outdoors. Surely no one was working on the roof today.
His curiosity got the best of him. He had to find out what was up there. Passing the maze of cube dwellers, he walked up a small flight of stairs and exited through a little door to the roof where maintenance could get to the air conditioning units if they needed repair.

Max was not prepared for what he came upon. There was an armored man standing there, seemingly looking down. Max wasn’t sure if this person was looking down or not, he could not see his head from this angle . The armor was colorful and bulky. Could this be one of those superheroes that he had heard so much about. Or worse, could it be a villain? This was a banking headquarters, but they really didn’t keep a lot of money on hand here.

“ Hello, sir, can I help you?”

The armored man turned around and Max nearly swallowed his teeth. This thing had no head! The body and armor did not seem worried to be decapitated. And to make matters more confusing, it spoke to him. “ Do not worry citizen, I am here to assist during this time of crisis.”

Max frowned, “ Crisis? What sort of crisis?”

“ Information incomplete.” It stated in a very robotic voice.

Max stepped back, wanting to run, yet another part of him wanted to know more. “ Is there something I should know? Is Knoxville in any danger?”
The suit of armor appeared as if it were about to answer when a small light on the chest blinked and it turned around to look into the sky. “ Please get to safety, I will handle this.” Without another word of warning, the body bent at the knees and leapt straight into the air, flying off at incredible speeds. Max was nearly knocked over by the ensuing shockwave from it’s launching.

“Good God, what is going on?!” He composed himself and then ran towards the door. “Gotta warn everyone.” He had no idea what was happening, but he watched the news every night. The last time there was some kind of invasion in a large city, half of the city was turned to rubble.

Bark quietly watched Frost caress the flower he had given her. She had beautiful hands, and her eyes were something he could get lost in.

Frost noticed that he was silently staring at her and smiled at him with a curious brow, “Bark?”

Bark looked into those beautiful blue eyes with a smile, “ I do not deserve you.”

Frost blushed and Bolt responded, “ Not in the least. God only knows why you got her, when I was perfectly free.” He was joking, of course.

Frost gave Bolt a smug glance, “ You were never even on my radar. I wanted a man who asked before he touched.”

Bark replied through his voice box. “ Yeah, and you get a man who can’t even talk.”

Bolt let out a sigh and rolled his eyes, “ Prepare for landing, we are over Tennesse, approaching Knoxvil…..HOLD ON!!!”

Suddenly Bolt turned the shuttle into a hard left, then a hard right. He dodged two green energy blasts coming at them. They flew like mad around the buildings and bridges of Knoxville, barely missing a few disastrous head on collisions with the glass wall of a skyscraper. Following them was some kind of flying man with a heavy suit of armor, and no head.

“ What the hell is that!?” Bolt yelled while he attempted to out navigate the attacker.

Frost unbuckled herself in a brief moment of stable flight and jumped into the copilot seat. “ How did it find us? Aren’t we cloaked? ”

Bolt almost answered, but the ship was hit by a green energy blast and sent tumbling out of the sky. It fell right through the downtown area, missing several buildings by only a few inches. The shuttle was heading for the river. Bolt got control just in time to miss the water’s edge and fly right under Henley Street Bridge.

‘’ It must be tracking our heat signature. I will try to mask that.” Bolt stopped the shuttle near the bridge and lowered it to the water’s surface. The shuttle changed to look like water. Inside, the cabin went dark as the systems lowered their power output to lower the temperature.

Frost looked back at Bark, “ I am going to cool us off.” She made sure to warn the man wearing nothing but his briefs about the sudden temperature change. Holding up both hands, she calmly caused the water particles in the air to slow down, which made the interior cool off significantly.

Bark shivered and held his arms against him. He wanted to do something, he felt helpless right now. “ Bolt, what can I do to help?”

Bolt, who was checking the readouts for a damage report, shook his head and waved a hand at Bark, “Nothing, nothing, just stay quiet.”

Bark shivered more and frowned. What could he do? He was a hero without the ability to help anyone. Right now, his girlfriend was doing more to save them than he was. He was like the family pet, shuffled out of the way when the situation gets dangerous.

Frost stopped cooling things off when the temperature was cold enough. Only she could really feel comfortable in this climate. Bolt, also shivering, shut off the damage reports. “The ship is okay, I think. The propulsion and shields are working, but they won’t take much more.”

Frost nodded, “We are going to have to do something. That thing is attacking us, who knows what it is going to do to find us. There are thousands of people out there in danger.”

Bark held up his condensed staff, “Let me out, maybe I can get it to fight me, instead of firing random energy blasts.”

Frost smiled at her dog, “ Right now we need to identify it. You may not be able to fight that thing, it is…uh…too powerful.” She wasn’t stupid, she knew that he was becoming self-conscious about his capabilities on the battlefield.

Bark did not reply, he simply tucked his arms back together and waited for whatever they came up with next.

Frost felt terrible, she really didn’t mean to upset him. But, she also didn’t want him to get hurt. “ Bolt, have you located it yet?”

Bolt checked his scanners again, “ I think. This thing is showing some unique energies. Some are as natural as sunlight, and that is throwing off my sensors. OH NO!”

Just then there were several large blasts, each hitting the waters of the river. The water rocked and rolled and splashed clear over the shuttle.

‘’IT’S TAKING POT SHOTS AT US!” Bolt started up the engines to move them away from the firing range.

They had only made it under the bridge, heading the opposite directions of the watery eruptions, when the green energy beams blasted the bridge and sent concrete, cars, metal cables, and other various things down into the waters below. Debris rained down hitting the shuttle.

The cabin of the shuttle was crushed pretty badly. It was designed to take a lot of abuse, but an entire bridge falling on it was not calculated. The systems were all destroyed and the shuttle was sinking into the water. Bark was not hurt, but it took him a good deal of strength to rip his belt off. Frost was fine, she was thrown to the ground, which saved her considering a large chuck of concrete was now sitting in her seat. Bolt was knocked out cold. Something had slammed into the roof above him and caused it to give him a bad blow to the head.

Bark got up and looked at the water flooding into the cabin behind him and then out the hole now cut into the roof of the shuttle. “We have to get out of here.”

Frost got off the floor and brushed some debris out of her hair. “ Come on, let’s get Bolt up before he drowns in the river.”

They grabbed Bolt by the arms, ripped out his safety belt and pulled him clear of his chair. Bark climbed up through the hole and pulled on Bolts arms while Frost pushed.

Bark was doing a pretty good job when he heard the sound of something flying at them at a nearly a super-sonic speed. Bark let go of Bolt and let him fall back into the cabin while he crouched down to miss the fire of the green energy beam. Taking out his staff and expanding it, he prepared himself and waited for the thing to make another pass. He spread his legs and got a grounded stance as Toshi had taught him. The headless body approached and let out an energy blast. Bark let it hit him. It did virtually nothing to him. It shot several more that he literally absorbed.

“ Come on, you can’t hurt me with those attacks. Show me what you got!” Bark called out from his collar.

The body took the prompt and changed arms to fire a small missile at Bark from a wrist mounted launcher. Bark waited and at the very moment that the small projectile was about to hit him he twisted to the side and batted it away from him, sending it down into the water, making the surface erupt upward with the ensuing explosion.

The body flew right at Bark, its arms out to grab the mutt. Bark was patient and waited until the last moment and then used his staff to pole-vault himself upward and getting over the body. He grabbed the collar where a neck would be and slammed his knees into the things back. Bark rode it while the body tried to shake him. They flew furiously over the Tennessee River. The body spun around, dunking Bark over and over into the water. Bark retained his grip. Without warning, it flew right into the water, submerging both of them. Fish hit both of them in the face, and there was a few randomly floating pieces of trash and wood that they both crashed through. Yet, Bark did not lose his grip or drown. Even without a head, the body could not remain under water and it shot out, finally giving Bark air to breathe. Bark kept his grip tight and hit the armor over and over with the collapsed staff, hoping to break through. It didn’t work. This armor was very good.

Just as he was about to rip a plate of armor off he noticed that they were heading right for a train bridge. The body was going to scrape Bark off by going under a cross beam. Bark realized he would have to do something or his face was going to be awfully rusty in a few moments. With precise timing, he used the collapsed staff to jam right into the hole where a head would be, so he would have a grip. Just as they reached the bridge, Bark reared up and used his knees to hit the body right in the middle of the back. He let go just in time to jump over the cross beam, while the body slammed right into it.

Bark tumbled with the precision of a martial arts master, landing right in the middle of a set of train tracks. He took a moment to catch his breath and make sure that he was still in one piece. He was alright, but something about those energy blasts he had absorbed were making his head feel funny.

“ Stand down, Villain.” The body flew overhead with its arms held out with two energy emitters coming up from the back of the wrists.

Bark expanded his staff and prepared to continue fighting. The body began to fly at Bark, and his weapons just about fired when a bright blur ran right under it and sent it spinning in the air.

“ Put me down.” Bark turned around to see that Frost was being carried by Bolt.

Bolt stopped and set her down, “ My pleasure, my lady.”

Frost got to her feet and smirked at him. “ Next time you put your hand on my butt like that, carrying me or not, you are going to have a miserable case of frostbite.”

Bolt grinned, “ Frost bite, sounds like fun.”

Frost just about slapped him, when a red energy beam went right between her and Bolt, hitting the tracks not too far from them.

“ Stand down, villians. You are under arrest for attacking Knoxville Tennessee.” The body was at it again.

Frost frowned, “ We are not attacking Knoxville. We were summoned.”

“ Unclear. Stand down.” The body showed signs of damage, small sparks were flickering out of where it had come into contact with the bridge. With its left arm, it shot another red energy beam at Frost, fortunately Bolt grabbed her hand and moved her out of the way quickly.

“That’s enough.” Bolt let go of Frost and ran at the body, hoping to out maneuver it with his superior speed.

The body ran after Bolt at almost the same speed, both nothing but a blur in the sight of the other two. Frost and Bark stood together and waited to see who would win this speed contest. Then, with a great thunk, Bolt was hit in the side and sent flying against a metal beam of the bridge. He was not seriously hurt, but knocked of his senses for a moment.

The body stopped running right in front of Bark and Frost. “ You….zzzzzzz….are under a.a.a.a.arrest.” It was obvious that something was not right with this thing.

Frost threw her arms out and a massive white blast of ice hit the armor and froze to it. She was concentrating and forcing the ice to grow, hoping to encompass the body. Soon, both arms and the torso were covered in three inches of ice.

The body was forcing its arm to move, slowly cracking the ice.

“I don’t think this is going to work.” Bark exclaimed.

Frost was about to disagree when the arm thrust through the ice and hit her right in the shoulder, sending her down and stopping her freezerburning this thing.

Bark growled and hit the arm away with his staff. The body attacked him without weapons, having realized that its energy weapons were useless against this foe. Bark was able to keep it from hitting him, but it was a stalemate. Each attack was deflected.

Without warning, the whole body lurched forward as a massive blast of electricity hit it right in the back. Bark used the moment of disorientation to land a harsh kick in its abdomen, sending it down. The body jostled left, then right, then stopped moving. The little lights on the armor dimmed and went off.

Bolt, who had used his unique control of electricity, stood up while holding himself against the side of the bridge. “ It think we finally got it.”

Bark helped Frost up and was sniffing her arm where she was hit. “ Are you okay?’'

Frost frowned, “ I think so. Why are you sniffing me?’'

Bark backed up a little and realized what he was doing. “ I…I don’t know. For some reason a part of me thought that I needed to sniff to figure out what was wrong with you. I’ m sorry.

Frost smiled and patted him on the head, “ It’s okay. Sometimes I forget that you do have a little dog in you.”

Bark stuck one eyebrow up, “ A little. Have you noticed the tail?”

Bolt, who had returned to them, replied. “Oh, she’s seen your tail.”

Frost rolled her eyes and did not respond to that. “ Come on, let’s get it off this bridge. Wouldn’t do us much good to have that thing trampled by a train before we can figure out what it is.”

“Sttttttop!” The body announced and it reanimated itself. Sitting up it held out an arm to blast them with yet another energy beam.

Bark didn’t take a second to consider his options. He leaned back and lobbed his staff right at it. The staff stuck right into the chest armor, lodging itself like a spear. The body lay back against the tracks again.

“Good arm.” Bolt commented.

Bark smiled, that was a rare compliment from Bolt. “ Thanks. No one hurts my girl.”

Frost dusted herself off from being pushed down on the traintracks. “ Is he…it dead?”

Bark walked over and unceremoniously yanked out the staff. He looked deeply at the wound and shrugged, “ I don’t see blood. I don’t even see skin.” He started walking back when the body suddenly lifted its arms and then turned over and stood up.

Bark regained his defensive posture, but it was unnecessary.

“ Regeneration required.” The body shot off, seemingly uncaring of those it had just attacked.”

Frost looked at Bolt, “ What the hell was that all about?”

“ I have no idea. “ He cocked his head side to side, popping his neck loudly. “We need to get to this Dr. Ogles place. Maybe he knows something.”

Bark came back to them and asked, “ What makes you say that?”

Bolt started walking down the tracks toward where they could get off of this place. “ He contacted us in hopes of ULH help. My guess is that he knows something about that strange body. Besides, it will be a good place to rest up and get in touch with the ULH. Now, let’s get off these tracks before a cargo train finds us.”

Frost and Bark followed. Bark was rolling his shoulders and looking at himself funny.

Frost asked, “ Is there something wrong?”

Bark shook his head, “ No, well, I don’t think so. I feel a funny tingling feeling all over my fur. It’s probably nothing.”
 
Flag Post
Bark, Bolt, and Frost all approached a very old mansion near the University of Tennessee. This house was built just before the Civil War and had been added to many times over the centuries. At this time, it is the home of a single occupant. The most brilliant mind of the Universities Science department, Dr. William Ogle, bought this place and had a whole new part added below the basement.

Bolt closed his communicator and looked at Frost. “ Command is sending down a salvage team to drag the shuttle out of the river. The General will coordinate with the Knoxville police. We are just to speak with Dr. Ogle and see if he knows anything about that body.”

Frost nodded, “ Good. I hate clean up missions.” She looked back at Bark, who was licking his arm. “ Bark, what are you doing?”

Bark stopped licking mid motion, his tongue out and still dragging across the fur on his arm. “ I have no idea.” He let go of his arm and spit a few times to get the hair out of his mouth. “ I…uh…was injured. It felt better to….lick it.”

Frost laughed, “ Why don’t you let the doctor help you. “

Bolt added, humorously, “ Yeah, his tongue is much better at that kind of stuff.”

“ Ha, ha.” Bark retorted. “ Oh crud.” Bark stated out of nowhere.

Frost frowned, “What is it?”

Bark slumped his shoulders, “ My wallet was back on the shuttle. I hope that it didn’t float away.”

Frost grinned, and sexily pulled the top of her uniform out a little. She reached in and produced his wallet. “ I found it and thought you might want it.”

He took it while his eyes were glued on what few men were allowed to stare at. “Thanks.” And, of course, his tail was wagging.

They had just reached the front door. Bolt rang the bell and then responded to Her, “Remind me to leave my wallet behind a time or two, you can always carry it for me.”

Bark growled at him, actually growled. Frost wasn’t laughing at Bolts joke, but she was certainly surprised at her man’s response, “ He was kidding.”

Bark stepped back and stopped growling. The hair on his back was even raised up and his fist was clenched. “ I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

Just then a voice came out of the intercom box by the door. “ I am not seeing students today. Please, go away.”

Bolt pressed a button on the intercom. “We aren’t students. We are from the ULH. I am Bolt, the General sent me, as did Tobias Glyph.”

“ OH, you are Tobias’ friends. Please, come in.” Without warning, the door opened on its own. “ Come in, take the stairs down to the basement, and then move the picture on the lowest landing, there you will find a button. Press 865 and another door will open. From there, I will tell you where to go.”

Bolt pressed the button again, “ Understood.” He released the button and looked back at them. “ I don’t like this. A deep dark basement with hidden doors. “

Frost nodded, “ I agree, its creepy. But, we agreed to come.”

Bolt nodded, “ Yes. We are still going in, just don’t let your guard down.”

Bark tucked his wallet in the side of his briefs and then expanded his staff.

All three walked in cautiously and followed the instructions. The house was well preserved on the inside. Whoever lived here loved antebellum history. There were many artifacts from American history. Military patches and medals from the time of the revolution and paintings from the early days of the colonies. There was a framed letter written and signed by Ben Franklin. In the corner of a sitting room and library was an old, rusty cannon with a pyramid stack of cannonballs beside it. The house itself was just as preserved. The woodwork was hand carved and maintained beautifully. Hard wood banisters with intricate designs carved into the beams. The ceiling was set with embossed tin tiles that were polished perfectly. To a historian, this house was as good as any museum.

“ Here we are.” Bolt found an open door that led to a stairwell which went down.

“It’s dark down there.” Frost looked over.

Bark took her arm. “ Let me go first.”

“ This isn’t some kind of dungeon, just a root cellar. Come on.” Bolt flicked an old light switch and the stairwell was lit up. “ let’s get moving.”

They walked all the way down and found the lowest landing. They would either turn right and go into a large wine cellar, filled to the brim with expensive wines, or they follow instructions and move the painting. Bolt took the painting and opened it like one might open a safe. It was on hinges and behind it was a numeral keypad. Bolt typed in the code 865, and the painting closed itself back up as the wall lifted to reveal yet another room.

This room was unlike the rest of the house. It was a laboratory with very advanced technology. As they proceeded through the room, it was obvious that this lab was used for biological studies. The screens showed body parts and readouts for all sorts of experiments.

“ Creepy lab, buried under an old house, with a secret door. I don’t like it.” Frost announced.

Bark nodded, “ Me neither.”

“ Oh, don’t be afraid. Nothing has happened yet.”

Bark shook his head, “ I really am not too keen on secret laboratories. They haven’t been all that kind to me in the past.”

Bolt was about to disagree when he saw a screen light up in front of him. “ Oh my god.”

Frost was about to ask what he was looking at, but she saw it too. Bark barked once and then covered his mouth, the sight angered him. On the screen was a blueprint for a full body armor, exactly the same design as the one that had attacked them.

Bolt looked around, “ That settles it, this guy has some answering to do.”

“ Please, come in.” The voice that greeted them through the intercom called out from another room adjacent to this one.

Bolt went first, Frost and Bark walked together. They found another room filled with chemicals and more computers. This was the research room, with the tools to do actual biological testing.

Frost looked around to find the person who had called them, but instead she screamed at the sight of something she had not expected to see. There was a large tank with crystal blue liquid filling it. Floating on its back was a human body, sans a head.

Bolt peered into the tank and asked, “ Is it alive?”

Without warning, that voice answered, “ I am afraid not. I tried to keep it alive in case my experiment failed, but that proved impossible. Fortunately, the part I wanted to succeed, did.”

They turned around to find nothing but a head sitting in a box on the wall behind them. It had several cords running to it through the neck, and it was smiling at them as if nothing was wrong.

“Good afternoon all. I am Dr. William Ogle. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Frost gasped and held in the instinctual scream. Bolt’s body buzzed with energy as he prepared to attack, and Bark growled at it, baring his fangs.
__________________________________________________________________

The body suited in armor hovered at the top of a building. There was a hole cut in the top that was designed for him. The body straightened its arms and legs and slid right down into it. Inside the tube, small cords attached themselves to points along the armor.

“Regeneration cycle activated. Time to complete repair: two hours fifteen minutes.” A computer voice announced.

___________________________________________________________________


“ Who…what…are you?” Bolt asked of the head.

The man smiled, “ I just told you, I am Doctor William Ogle. Professor of advanced genetics and genetic engineering at the University of Tennessee. Author of seventeen books on the subjects I know, and, well, a head in a box right now.”

Frost nodded, still holding in the scream that was trying to make its way out of her mouth, “ How did….why did…what happened to you?”

William looked at her, his head able to move around inside this box. “ As you might know, my body was mangled in a car accident some years ago. Over the past ten years, I have been working on a secret project. I wanted to clone a new body and attach my head to it. I used my own genetic cells to craft a new body, only I manipulated the genetics to make the body strong, fast, and able to withstand a lot of punishment. But, I realized that if I over mutated the cellular structure, the body would not adapt to a normal head. It would reject my head as a limb. So, I toned down the mutations, and instead created a suit of armor to go over the body. The armor would have its own intelligence, weaponry, and ability to function independently when necessary.”

Bark replied, interrupting the Doctors story, “ It was your armor that attacked us?! It almost killed us! ” He was still growling.

Bolt held a hand up, “ Calm down, let me deal with this.” He turned back to the doctor, “About this suit of armor…”

“ Yes, I understand that you would have questions. Please, allow me to explain. You see, I have always dreamed of being a super hero, like yourself. I guess it is the pipe dream of most quadriplegic people to have a wonderful body that would never fear damage. I would use this stronger than natural body and powerful armor to take on enemies that might hurt Knoxville or UT, while still teaching. But, something went wrong.”

Bolt stepped closer, less afraid of this disembodied head. He did not accept the whole story. Experience had taught him that scientists always have unique ways of explaining their villainy. “ Where is the body now? It left the battle abruptly and went for repairs. If you have it, we will have to confiscate it, as it is endangering the whole city.” His tone was stern, but professional.

Dr. Ogle smiled at him, not really afraid. “ If you want to see the repair management station, it is right there, against that wall. That tube contains all the systems needed to repair the armor and even the body when either is damaged. When it requires repair, there is a recall function that automatically brings it back. If you press that button, it will show you the regeneration chamber I designed to protect and repair the body.”

Bolt turned and walked over to the wall where a tube was embedded into the rock. He pressed a green button and the door slid to the side to show the contents. To everyone’s surprise, save the doctor, the tube was empty.

“As you can see, the body and armor are not here. This is why I contacted my old friend Tobias.” William explained.

Frost looked at him, or really looked near him, she couldn’t really put her eyes on his head, “What do you want with the ULH?”

“ Help. A few days back, the body launched itself out of its containment unit. I had only just finished the final programming and turned it on for the first time. I have searched my computers and my memory, but I cannot find any reason why it is acting up. I believe that the protection subroutine is active, and that would explain why it is fighting on its own. Why it attacked you, I have no idea.”

Bolt returned to the doctor, “ What is this subroutine?’

“ I created a special program where the body could be active without a head controlling it. Its computer would take over and it would function independently. In the case of an extreme emergency, like some kind of invasion, I could send the body off to help you, or the military defend Knoxville, without putting my life in danger. The computer scans for threats and does what it can to eliminate them. My best guess is that it scanned your ship, found biological entities with much higher than average power levels, and immediately perceived you as a threat.”

Frost was looking at a computer screen that was blank. Really, she was looking at her reflection, trying not to think about the fact they are speaking with a disembodied head. Suddenly the computer activated and it showed a map of Knoxville with two blips on it. She gasped at the surprise activation.

Dr. Ogle responded, “ Sorry. My computers are designed so that I can use them with my brain alone.” He went on to explain what he was showing them. “ You see that. That is what the computer in the armor registered. My guess is that when it finishes repairing itself, however it is doing that, it will continue to attack you.”

Bark frowned at the screen. “Two dots? But there were three of us?”

William smiled, “ Uh, my sensors do not show your energy level as a threat of any kind. Sorry.”

Frost patted her dog on the shoulder, “ Don’t worry. Just means that you are more human that you give yourself credit.”

Bolt remained serious. “ Do you have a kill code for that computer?’'

“Uh….no. I never thought I would need one. But, I do have a plan. I have a design in mind for an antiproton ray that should negate the computers self-awareness subroutine. It would completely shut off the armors ability to function without a head controlling it, thus, ending its threat.”

Bolt looked around, “ Where is this ray?”

“Well, you see, I don’t have the ability to build one. Half the technology used for that kind of work is sanctioned by the government and only allowed to be used by people like the ULH or NASA. If I get the government in on this, they might take my armor technology and use it in ways I never intended. This is why I called Tobias. I know he will not turn this over to the government, and he also knows about the technology I need to build.”

Frost came up to Bolt, “ Looks like our mission is still on course, escorting him back to the station.”

Bolt never took his eyes off the head, his face showed obvious distrust. “ What assurance do I have that this is not some sort of elaborate
scheme? Bringing you to the station could put the station and the entire ULH at risk. I am not willing to do that.”

Frost was surprised by his attitude. “Bolt. This is a friend of Cerberus. I think we can trust him.”

William nodded at Bolt. “ I respect your caution. If you like, you can bring me in like a prisoner. Any way that makes you feel safe, I am okay with. Just, we need to get out of Knoxville soon.”

“Why?” Bark asked.

William answered, “ If the armor is somehow regenerating, it will repair itself shortly. Then, it will scan and find you again. “

Frost agreed, “ I believe the doctor has a point. I don’t want to see any more of Knoxville destroyed by that thing attacking us.”

Bolt waited a long time, considering his options. He should contact the station and discuss this with the General, but they might not have the time. “ Okay, doctor, tell them what you need brought up, and I will get in touch with the station and get us a shuttle ASAP.” He walked out while pulling out his communicator.
_____________________________________________________________________

Bark and Frost waited outside the shuttle while Tobias and Bolt set up the containment unit for William Ogles head. Tobias would help escort the doctor to the station. Not just because they are old friends, but because there is no one more suited to looking after a disembodied head than another doctor. Dr. Ogles head is fully supported and kept alive by the box he designed. It is creepy, gross, and fascinating, but it works for him. Frost still can’t look at him directly.

Bark handed Frost his collapsed staff and took his wallet out of his shorts. “ I will be up there shortly, I have…something to do.”

Frost frowned, “ Now, aren’t you worried that that body thing will attack you?’

Bark shook his head, “ No. You heard the doctor, I am not a powerful enough hero to attract it.”

Frost took her man by the back of the neck and brought him in for a really good kiss. It was a tail wagger, and Bark enjoyed every moment of it. After a few minutes of tongue wrestling, he came up for air and asked, “ What was that for?”

“ Just reminding you to get back to the station quick.” Her eyes were luscious as they looked up and down him, taunting him to break his promise to The General.

Bark smiled and sort of rolled his shoulders, he was still not feeling normal. He even reached up with his free hand and swiped a few times at the side of his head where he had an itch.

Frost frowned at him, “Are you sure you are alright?’

Bark took his hand away and looked at it, he hadn’t even thought about what he was doing, it just came naturally. “Uh…sure. Yeah, I’m alright. I think”

“Dr. Glyph is here. Do you want to talk to him?” She was worried about her dog.

Bark shook his head and smiled, “ Just a reminder that I am part dog. Now, you had better get moving, I really don’t want to see that armored body shoot this shuttle out of the sky.”

“ Come on Frost. We’re waiting!” Bolt hung out the door and waved at her.

Frost nodded to him and then rubbed Bark behind the ear. “ Get done quickly. You promised me a big surprise for our date tonight, I can hardly wait.” With that, and leaving him practically melting under the sensation of her hand rubbing that spot behind his ear, Frost left for the shuttle.
_______________________________________________________________________

In a dark laboratory, a man sat and looked over his computer readouts. There, on the screen, was a video feed from Dr. Ogles mansion. He watched as the doctor’s head and the ULH crew boarded the shuttle and prepared to leave.
“ Just as planned.” He commented on something.

The tube behind him opened up, revealing the body in a form of stasis while the tube ran through the repair process. “ Regeneration at 100%.” The computer announced. “ Preparing to launch. Enemies detected in quadrant 4.”

The man swiveled in his chair. “ Belay that. Shut down until further notice. The doctor is on the shuttle.”

“ Shutting down. Stasis systems operational at full capacity.” The alcove lit up and the door closed again, sealing the body away until it was needed.

________________________________________________________________

Bark walked from the home of Dr. Ogle up to Kingston Pike where he would follow the sidewalk until he found the business district and hopefully the shop he was looking for.

More than once he saw an emergency vehicle go screaming passed him. He knew that it was likely heading for the Henley Street bridge that had been destroyed. If he were a better swimmer, he would have helped them rescue any survivors of the disaster. But, he was not a good swimmer and would probably just get in the way. Bolt decided not to bring in the ULH rescue squad, as most of them could alert this attacking body, and that would be a very bad thing for the rescue attempts.

Bolt hoped that the bridge was mostly clear when the attacker blasted it, and that whoever was on the bridge survived. But, he would have to wait to see the reports just like everyone else. The responsibility of the ULH right now was stopping that armored body from doing any more harm.

Bark walked down a sidewalk that had a lot of nice homes and churches. He could see that he soon would be coming up to an intersection, and there was a shopping center on the other side of the road. He ignored the fact that people were slowing down as they passed him. He knew full well that they were looking at him because he was a half-naked dog man walking around like it was nothing. But, if he stopped to pay attention to all the gawkers, he would waste his two hours and he wanted to make good use of them.

“ Drat.” He thought to himself. He found the store he was looking for in the shopping center across the road from him. Also, the nearest shops past this area were quite a ways down and he did not have the time to stroll the entirety of Kingston Pike. He would have to cross this traffic. Fortunate for him, this was an intersection with cross walks, all he had to do was wait.

The light changed and he was signaled to go. So, acting as normal as he could, he made his way across the street. The lady in the car at the red light watched him with wide eyes, she looked like she was about to swallow her tongue. The next lane was empty at this time, but there was a car coming, at top speed. The man behind the wheel was so focused on Bark that he was not paying attention to the light until the last minute. He screeched to a stop as Bark jumped out of the way letting out a rather loud woof. Bark stopped and covered his mouth, he had not intended on saying anything, the bark came out like it was a natural response. He hadn’t done that before. Was there something wrong? He shook it off and finished crossing the street.

Without looking back to see if they were still staring at him, he found the walkway around the strip mall and followed it around, heading for the store. He passed a high end grocery store, a necklace making shop, and a pharmacy.

As he approached an ice cream shop, he rolled his eyes at the sight of all those outdoor tables, filled with teenagers enjoying frozen yogurt and ice cream on this spring afternoon. Adults would stare and whisper, but teens have a tendency to be a little more brash.

“OMG look at him.” This girl exclaimed.

Another girl turned and her eyes just about popped out of her head. She smiled and jumped up. She was dressed in black, with artificially black hair, lips, fingernails, and clothing. Her….everything, was pierced. Just about the only color on her was the lettering on her shirt, which read Midnight: Team Howard. She was a fan of that vampire vs werewolf teen romance novel that was all the rage. And Howard was the sexy werewolf that had all the pubescent girls and their mothers drooling.

She ran right up to him and gasped, “ OMG, that is the best wolf costume I have seen. But, you got the tail wrong, it’s fluffier than that. The face is also more wolf like, but I guess that is harder to do. I like the ears.“

Bark frowned and let out a sigh. He pointed to his collar and it spoke for him, of course. “ I am not in costume, this is my body. I am a student of the ULH.”

“ LOL, you are like a real werewolf. That is so cool. You have to come with me to the premier tonight.” She was drooling all over him.

He had not expected to find anyone drooling at him, he was more prepared for the fear, or the curiosity, but the werewolf fans had not really crossed his mind. “ No, thank you. I have to get back to the station soon. I just have a little shopping to take care of. ”

Two other girls, and a very effeminate boy, got up and joined their friend. All three were dressed like the first, black everything with their ‘’team’’ shirts on. One of the girls was looking at his face, “ Do you have fangs?” The other girl asked, “ Can you change to look like a human?” The boy asked, “ Do you normally walk around like that, or did you lose your clothes?” The first girl to approach him asked, “ Can you talk normally?”

Bark backed up, a little overwhelmed by them, “ I have fangs, I cannot change, this is my uniform, and I cannot talk without the aid of this collar. Please, excuse me.” He pushed his way through them and headed for the store.

He heard the first girl to approach him sigh, “ I want one.” This made him roll his eyes and want to walk even faster.

Finally, he arrived at the store. This was a very high end jewelry store that usually only catered to wealthy clientele. Bark wasn't entirely aware of this, but he guessed at it by the way it was laid out and the people inside.

Walking in, he immediately noted the many cases of sparkling stones set in gold, silver, platinum, and other precious metals. There was a candle lit somewhere that made the shop have a rosy scent, which made this dogs nose sort of cringe. At the moment there were two shoppers and one attendant. Everyone had their eyes glued on the man who had just entered. The ladies shopping had their mouths agape, the balding, snooty looking attendant was snarling slightly and starting to reach for a phone.

“ Sir, are you lost?” The rather rude sounding attendant asked Bark.

Bark shook his head and pointed at a jewelry case. He wanted to just look for a moment, not bother them while they shopped.

“Excuse me.” The attendant said and then came over to Bark. He was standing on the other side of a cabinet looking at Bark with a squinting glare. “ Can I help…..oh my lord. That isn’t a costume!” The man stated, having only just realized that this person was in fact what he appeared to be.

Bark frowned and shook his head, “ I want to shop.”

The man looked at the collar and stepped back, “ Uh….I…well…what can I do for you?” his rudeness had been vanquished by a newfound fear.

Bark let out a sigh and decided to just get this over with quickly. “ I want to see sapphire engagement rings.”

“Sa…sapphire engagement rings. Uh…we…don’t carry those.” He lied.

Bark frowned and looked over at another case, “ Aren’t these the rings?” Bark slid down the cases and looked into a case with expensive platinum rings with beautiful blue stones set on the top.

The attendant followed him, all the while eyeing the security alarm button. The two other customers had left by now, leaving as quickly as they could. “ Uh..sir…those are…uh…you see…we have to do a credit check to let you look at those.”

“ Is there a problem?” The store owner came out, a large man with a well fed body and a snappy suit. His eyes bugged out and he stepped back at the sight of Bark. “ Oh, I see.” As if just seeing him answered a question.

Bark pointed at the ring dead center of the case, “ I would like to see that one please.”

The attendant gulped and restated, “ We have to run a credit check before I can show you anything from this case.”

Bark frowned, “ What do you need from me?”

“ A credit card would do.” The man’s voice was sounding drier and drier, as if all the moisture was fleeing his body.

Bark opened his wallet and produced the card that The General had given him. The man’s hand was shaking so hard that he couldn’t see to grab it.

Bark let out a sigh, which made the man’s whole body jerk. Bark set the card down and then stated plainly, “ I am not here to steal anything, or hurt anyone, I just want to buy a ring. “

The man took the card and nearly ran to the back where they did all this kind of work. The owner, a little more brave than his attendant, walked over to Bark. “ Are you sure you want to see that ring. It is valued at 4,000 dollars. Mikes Pawn down the street might have something more your speed.” His tone was less fearful and more snobby.

Bark cleared his throat, “ My girlfriend loves sapphires and wants a sapphire engagement ring. Now, if you cannot sell me one, then I will have to find one somewhere else.”

The owner, wanting to rid himself of this man, nodded, “Then, perhaps,….”

“ Mr. Cunningham!” The attendant came running back out with a sheet of paper and Barks bank card.

The owner took the paper and looked at it with wide eyes. “ I see. Thank you Hank, I will take care of this one.”

Bark smirked. “Now may I look at your rings?”

The owner smiled, perhaps the first smile Bark had seen in this shop. “ I think I have something that would interest you.” The owner walked Bark to the front of the store and then pushed aside a plant that hid a wall safe. He put in the code and opened the safe to retrieve a tray of rings. “ These are estate rings, some of the finest in all of Knoxville. And this one, my boy, is the most beautiful sapphire that I have seen in many years.” He plucked out a platinum ring with an emerald cut cornflower blue sapphire. The platinum was designed with lattice work that was as elegant as the stone itself.

Bark slowly took the ring from the man and looked at it, “ This is perfect.”

The owner set down the tray and explained, “ That is an antique from the nineteenth century. The work is all hand done, and the ring itself is completely original. You will not find another like it anywhere. “

Bark set the ring down and pulled a small gold band from inside his wallet. It was a ring that he….borrowed from Frosts room while she wasn’t looking. He knew that there was only one last detail that would make this the ring of his choice. He held the rings up together. They matched. It would fit her. “I’ll take it.”

The owner took the ring from his hand and then had his attendant put the case away. Taking Barks card, he proceeded to make the sale. It was not every day that a person walks in and drops eighteen thousand dollars on a ring. But, this particular customer had the money to spend.

The scared attendant looked at Bark, still a little fear in his eyes. “ Uh…can I help you with anything else?”

Just then the little bell on the door rang. Bark shook his head with a smile. “No, you can help the next customer.”

The attendant was relieved at that notion and went around the cases to greet whoever came in.

“Oh good heavens what is that?!” the shrill voice of a snobby woman came from behind Bark.

Bark turned around to respond to that, having had enough of the attitude. But, he was stopped by two sights. The wealthy jewelry shopper had a wolfskin stole around her neck, and worst of all, she had a cat cradled in her arms. Bark was disgusted to see the wolf skin, but he was even more disgusted to see the cat…..and he wasn’t sure why.

The cats hackles raised and it showed all of its teeth. With a spitting hiss, it defended its owner. Bark could not control himself, he responded to the cats hiss with a series of loud barks. He even growled and had to use every ounce of control not to leap into attacking the poor creature.

The woman shrieked, “ OH MY, DON’T HURT MY FLUFFY!” She held her cat even closer to herself and backed up against a case of jewelry to get away from the strange man.

“What is going on out here?!” The owner returned, hearing the cacophony of barks, hisses, and yells.

Bark backed up and covered his mouth with his hands. He had no idea why he was barking like this. It was as if he needed to bark, he wanted to bark, it wasn’t words trying to come out, it was just barking. He looked at the owner with his hands still over his mouth, his collar stated, “ I am sorry. I…I will be going now.”

“Yes, I think you should. Here is your purchase.” The owner handed Bark the small box with the ring, a receipt, and the bank card.

Bark didn’t say anything else, or bark anything else for that matter. He ran out of the store and pressed his back against the brick wall. Slowly releasing his mouth, he took a few breaths. The barking had stopped, but he knew that something was the matter. He was acting more and more like a dog. His instincts were kicking in and he didn’t know why. Could he still be mutating? Could the experiment that changed him still be changing him? What could this mean? Inside the shop, he heard the woman with the cat state, “You should call the pound and have them track that thing down.” He was certain that the owner would do not such thing, but a part of him agreed with her. And that scared the hell out of him.

“BEEP BEEP!” his communicator announced an incoming call.

Bark opened his wallet and found a small card shaped device that was used for communications with the shuttle service. He turned it on, “This is Bark. Where are you?”

The shuttle pilot came through loud and clear, “ I will be landing in the parking lot of the shopping center that I have tracked you to. Please come to the far end where there aren’t any cars. The shuttle is in class one cloaking, and I am under orders not to lower the cloak.”

Bark pressed the respond button, “ I understand. Don’t worry, I will hear you coming.”

With that Bark walked down further in this strip mall, where there were several empty shops. The parking lot over here was devoid of cars for obvious reasons, and it made a good landing zone for the small shuttles. With a mighty breeze, the shuttle landed and Bark found the open door in the middle of the air. He entered and was lifted off back to the ULH.
 
Flag Post
“ This is the scene on Neyland Drive this afternoon. Henley Street bridge has been destroyed, Neyland Drive is damaged, two boats were sunk, and seven people were killed. The identity of the attacker is still unknown. Witnesses claim to have seen an armored individual attacking three others at the time of the incident. Which meta-human caused this damage is still unknown.” The reporter stepped aside to show the shredded concrete bridge, once an icon of the Knoxville community, now mostly residing at the bottom of the Tennessee river.

The General paused the view screen at the front of the meeting room, the image of the destroyed bridge frozen there for everyone to see. He paced back and forth for a moment, quietly considering his words. Right now, Frost, Bolt, Tobias, and Dr. Ogle were around the table. Dr. Ogle being only a head sitting in his box designed to keep him alive.

“ Tell me something. How is it that a simple student mission to escort a person to the station resulted in this?” He was calm, but there was
underlying anger in his voice.

Bolt, the official instructor on this mission, replied. “ We really had no other option. We were attacked as soon as we reached Knoxville airspace. “

Dr. Ogle spoke up, “ uh, I can attest to the fact that they were only defending themselves. That armor is malfunctioning. This is why I brought…them…here.” He could see the General was glaring at him for speaking out of turn.

Tobias had heard enough, “ General. What happened was out of everyone’s control. There is no need to get upset with them. We don’t know what could have happened had they not fought that armor. If the bridge is any indication, it is capable of doing considerable damage.”

The General sat down with a heavy sigh, “ We have a hard enough time trying to keep a good image in front of the media. The civilians hardly accept us, the Government wants to sanction us, and the media loves roasting us at every turn. When one of our fights takes out a city’s beloved landmark, it can only hurt us.”

Frost shook her head, “ Right now, we cannot worry about reputation. If that armor decides to go on a rampage, or attack civilians, the results could be much, much worse than just a destroyed bridge.”

The General now looked right at Dr. Ogle. “ Yes. How is it that your creation is causing such havoc?”

Dr. Ogle cleared his throat and replied, “ As I explained to Mr. Bolt, the computer in the armor has the ability to operate the body independently of my control. I believe that the defense protocols have been activated and the system has shorted somewhere. It perceives any and all meta-human activity as a threat to the city. “

Bolt added, “ It is just as I told you before, General, if we don’t send any more of our heroes down there before we have a solution, it should remain dormant.”

“ Well…” Dr. Ogle continued, “That is a probable solution for the moment. I cannot be completely certain that it won’t change its targets again. Even though I don’t know what is wrong with it, my theories are supported by the facts thus far. But, we can’t say for certain that it won’t start attacking for some other reason. “

“ I thought you said that its sensors would only track meta-human energy? “ Bolt asked.

Dr. Ogle frowned, “ That is true. But, my programming was designed not to track meta-humans that were not actively attacking the city. You were doing no such thing, and it attacked you. Therefore, we cannot be completely certain that the programming will act within our logical assumptions.”

“ Huh?” Bolt looked at Tobias for a translation.

Tobias answered, “ It isn’t behaving normally. We really cannot say for certain that it won’t suddenly attack something else it perceives as a threat.”

Dr. Ogle looked at Tobias, “That’s what I said.”

“ So, we blow it up with a ray, sounds good to me.” Bolt exclaimed.

Dr. Ogle took offense to that, “ Hey! That is my body. At least that is the body I cloned to attach my head to.”

Frost grimaced, “There is a human body inside that robot?”

William rolled his eyes, “The armor is just over the body.”

Bolt frowned, “ So you cloned a regular human body and gave it a suit of armor?”

“ In a way. The body is stronger and sturdier than a standard human body. Basically, it can withstand the abuse of being a superhero. The armor is what gives it its super powers. Strength, speed, regeneration, energy weapons, that is all in the armor. But, without a proper body inside the armor, it would just be a pile of technology lying around.”

Frost muttered under her breath, “Creepy.” The only person who heard her was the General and he did not respond to that.

“ Alright. I think we understand. We need to put a stop to this thing, and we need to do it fast. Bolt, would you…..escort Dr. Ogle to the science labs. Dr. Ogle, I will send Tobias there shortly. You will work with him on a way to neutralize this problem.”

Bolt got up and then looked at the head in a box. With a grossed out sneer, he picked up the box and carried the doctor out of the meeting room.

Once the doors shut, The General looked at Tobias, “ So, can we trust him?’'

Tobias looked back at the door, then at The General. “ I have not done an intense scan of his mind yet. But, I have not detected any lie from him. As far as he was talking here, he was telling the truth.”

Frost shuddered, “I don’t know. He is just creepy. Cutting off his own head for some kind of experimentation strikes me as a mad scientist.”

Tobias nodded, “ I have known that man for years. Though we haven’t really been in contact for some time, I can say that I know him, or really, knew him. Doing something like this, creating a super suit and a cloned body for his head, that is…..strange. But, I also know that he has always wanted to fix himself, to get out of the chair and live a normal life. So, in a way, I can believe this.”

The General was quiet for a long time. He looked down at the reports that Bolt and Frost turned in to him about the mission. “ Keep an eye on him and make sure that you have control of every detail of this mission. I don’t want to give him an opportunity, if he turns out to be a villain. But, as it stands, he is helping us, and he knows more about this armored body than we do. So, we have to accept his help in stopping this. “

Tobias got up and started to walk out, “ I was planning on keeping a close eye on him. I will make sure that we find a way to stop this menace.”

The General stopped Tobias before he left the room, “ One more thing. We are going to stop this threat one way or another. He must be aware of the fact that my plan is for that thing to be destroyed. If we can save it and help him fix it, that would be nice, but our first priority is the safety of the people. “

Tobias nodded, “ I understand.” With that he left the room.

Frost smiled and then got up, “ I guess I will go and wait for Bark to return. Will you need a mission report from him as well?”

The General nodded, “ Of course. This was a class for the both of you, after all. “

Frost cleared her throat and asked, “What sort of grade did we get?”

The General looked at her report as if he had to examine it again. “Let’s see. Both of you risked your life to protect the city and stop an unknown, dangerous attacker. You maintained your mission, and returned without having harmed anyone, other than the assailant. I would say that you both get a passing grade.”

“Thanks.” Frost smiled brightly, for her and Bark. “ Am I dismissed?”

The General nodded, “ Yes. You are dismissed for the day. I am sure that you and your companion have plans for tonight, so, go and get ready.” He slowly started to smile, knowing that Bark was considering a proposal and that might happen tonight.

Frost stuck one eyebrow up. How did he know they had a date tonight? Why was he smiling like that? Why did it matter? She softly asked, “ What sort of mission did Bark have after ours was over?”

The General continued to smile, “ It is classified.”

She didn’t quite know how to take that. Bark was a good hero, and a great student, but he wasn’t really the type for a classified mission yet. What could they be up to? She shrugged it off and then left without another word to the General.


_____________________________________________________________

The shuttle approached the station and entered the open docking bay for a perfect landing. The stations pilots were specially trained members of the workstaff of the ULH. The workstaff were mostly normal humans that had special security clearance who had been brought into the ULH to help run the place. Most of them had experience with the military so they knew about taking orders and keeping secrets when needed.

Bark wasn’t worried about such things right now. He was quietly waiting for the pilot to announce disembark. He opened the small hinged case to look at the very expensive ring again. One moment he would be worried sick about what was wrong with him. The next he would be worried sick about finally popping the question.

“ We have landed, you may exit the shuttle, sir.” The pilot announced kindly to Bark.

Bark was staring down at the blue stoned ring in his hands, thinking long and hard about this. Was he ready to be a husband? Would both of them being heroes be a problem? What if she wanted children? Could he even produce children now that he wasn’t really human anymore? Why is he starting to act more like a dog at times?

“Sir?’

Bark jolted and quickly closed the ring case, snapping his finger in it. He pulled it out and then smiled, “Oh, yeah, sorry.” He got up and left the shuttle.

Outside there was one person waiting for him. “ Inu-chan.” Toshi sensei approached and gave Bark a good hug. Over the past few months, this little old Japanese lady had adopted this boy as her son, in a way. Bark did not argue, it is nice to have a mother around, especially one that can still teach you a thing or two, and has the ability to kick your butt when needed.

Bark closed his hand around the ring case, not wishing to show it to her yet. “ Toshi sensei.” He hugged her back, happy to see her.

Toshi let go of her student and then walked with him back into the station. “ The General tells me that you were on a mission today. How did it go?”

Bark’s eyes widened and he smiled, “ uh…the mission. Well, I just had something to do.” He didn’t want to tell her that he was thinking about a proposal.

Toshi cocked her head, “ I thought that you and the others were attacked by some kind of robot thing….or did they say he was covered in robotic armor?”

“OH, that mission. Sure, yeah, that went fine. We still have to figure out what to do next.” He started sniffing the air, much like a dog who has picked up something good to smell.

Toshi frowned and looked at him, “What are you doing?”

Bark had not noticed that he was leaning over and sticking his nose out as far as he could to smell the air. “ I…I don’t know. But, I think I found something I want.” He followed his nose all the way over to a barrel of trash that was being moved to the waste incineration tanks. The worker gave Bark a very quizzical look while the man seemed to be sniffing hard at the can full of food trash from the cafeteria.

“Can I help you?” The portly, mustachioed man asked while trying to figure this out.

Bark did not answer, he stuck his whole upper body into the trash can, balancing on his gut to keep from falling completely down. His legs were up as his body was now turned over while he rummaged around the trash. Toshi frowned as she watched the shaggier fur on the calves of his legs wave right in front of her face. As quickly as he had jumped in, he came up and pulled out a large bone from a steak that had been eaten and then thrown out. Bark stuck the bone in his mouth and started to chew on it.

Toshi came up then and saw this, but did not quite believe it. “Inu-chan, what in heaven’s name are you doing?”

Bark stopped gnawing at the bone, his eyes widened again, the bone still in his teeth, his tail wagging, and everyone looking at him like they were about to either run or burst out laughing. His collar answered, “ I have no idea. I couldn’t help myself.”

Toshi softly took the bone from him and tossed it back into the trash. She waved along the worker and took her student by the arm. “ Is there something wrong?’'

Bark did not have the answer to that question. He looked around and searched himself for any explanation. “ I…I don’t know. I have been acting more and more like a dog today. I tried to ignore it, or fight it, but when it happens, it’s like some kind of instinct is taking over. “

Toshi frowned and shook her head, “ Only a fool ignores a problem. You need to see the doctor.”

Bark stepped back, “ But…but, I don’t want to…you see…I…”

Toshi gave her son a look that makes any child answer his mother. “Inu-chan. What is going on? Why would you not want to see the doctor?’

Bark slowly opened his hand and handed her the ring case. “ I have plans. And, being a dog might mess them up.”

Toshi took the little box and slowly opened it. Her eyes lit up and she smiled broadly, “Oh, this is magnificent. Is it what I think it is?’’

Bark nodded, “ Yes, it is an engagement ring. I think I am ready to ask Frost to marry me. But…”

Toshi closed the box and handed it back to him. “But, you are afraid that if you find out something that you do not want to know, that it will put a stop to those plans.”

He slowly nodded again, “Yes.”

“ A wise man knows better than to ignore a problem. That is never a solution. You will go see Dr. Glyph, and you will find out what is wrong. “

Bark slumped his shoulders and he nodded, “ Yes, sensei.”

Toshi smiled at him and took his arm to escort him to the doctor. “ Besides. If you had said no, I would have brought you anyway. By any means necessary.”

Bark shuddered at that thought, she had a lot of ‘means’ available to her.

_______________________________________________________________
Dr. Glyph sat in front of his computer with Dr. Ogles head-in-a-box on the desk beside him. Both men were staring at the computer screen, analyzing some equations for the energy beam. Behind them were two of the security bots, assigned to keep an eye on Dr. Ogle and assist in his transportation when necessary.

Dr. Ogle looked at his old friend, “ Okay, if you look at the sensor data your team brought back, you will see that the flight system on the armor uses a similar energy to this one. Not only will the computer’s base programming shut down, but its flight should be stunted briefly, which will ground it quickly for capture.”

Tobias nodded while rubbing his chin, “ Good point. I must say, William, this is impressive work. The genetic structuring of the body is almost perfect.”

Dr. Ogle cleared his throat, “ Almost?’

Tobias smiled, “ The nervous system has a lag in the design that could prove to be a problem.”

Dr. Ogle looked at the screen with a furrowed brow, “ The nervous system is fine. I made sure to take into account….wait…I see it too. Crud. I thought I had the cloning process down perfect.”

Tobias laughed, “ No one has gotten the cloning process perfect yet. Hell, I haven’t seen any cloning techniques that are ten percent as good as this. “
“Aw shucks doctor, thanks.” William was joking around.

Tobias shook his head and returned to their work at hand, “ What we need is a delivery system.”

William nodded, “ That is one of the reasons I contacted you. Not only do I not have all the components to build the ray, I certainly don’t have the equipment to build a gun to fire it with. Half the technology in this is banned from public use, and the last thing I would want is to be put into federal prison.”

Tobias smirked, “ I can only imagine how difficult it would be for just a head to live in prison.”

“Oh, ha ha.” William retorted sarcastically.

Tobias gave William a quizzical look, “ Tell me, what on earth prompted you to remove your own head? “

Dr. Ogle cleared his throat again, “ It really wasn’t that much of a stretch. Since I couldn’t use my body below the neck, not having the body really didn’t change my life all that much.”

“ True. But, to decapitate yourself is still extreme. You were always such a cautious, quite person. One of the smartest men I know, but to do this is…..more than I expected from you.”

William smiled, “ I got tired of being cautious. Teaching and theorizing is one thing, but actually being a part of society is more than I could really ever hope for. I wanted to be a man that people looked up to, not just pitied for his condition.”

Tobias shook his head, “ We didn’t pity you. Your scientific work with genetic research and cloning is by far one of the most impressive pieces of work in human history. Your book on energy waves is legendary, heck most homes have the coffee table version sitting right in the middle of their living room.”

Dr. Ogle shook his head, “ You don’t understand. When they read my work, they were fascinated, intrigued, and wanted to know more. But, when they came face to face with me, I saw that look in their eyes. They didn’t want to know more about my theories or studies, they just wondered how horrible it would be to be me.”

Dr. Glyph did not agree, “ You have classrooms full of students that respect you, and want to learn from you every day.”

“Not anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

William looked at the computer screen, at the body and armor he created. “ I retired after last semester. I am no longer a professor.”

Tobias sat back, “ So, you retired young, cloned a new body, built a powerful suit of armor, and cut your head off. Something is missing here. Why?”

Dr. Ogle looked at the monitor and then at his friend, “ One of my students was in a car wreck. She was pinned under another car for too long. The emergency people fought hard to free her and get her help, but it was too late. She is fighting for her life in the hospital right now, in a comma that will probably end with her death. And, even if she survives, she will likely lose the use of her body from the neck down. “

Tobias frowned in sympathy, “ I am so sorry to hear that.”

William returned his gaze to the computer screen. “ I started considering cloning a new body for myself a lot of years ago. But, it was just in the theory stage most of my life. When this happened, I knew that I wanted to put those theories into practice. Not only would I find a way to give people back their bodies in cases like these, I would also craft a suit of armor to protect mine from the possibility of damage. I would do everything in my power, my newfound powers, to save people like her. If I had been there, with my new body and armor, I could have lifted that car off of her long before it did all this damage.”

Dr. Glyph shook his head, “ One of the lessons all students here at the ULH must learn is that we aren’t Gods. We can save lives and stop villains, but we cannot always be there when needed. Tragic things will happen, and we cannot punish ourselves for not always being there. You might save one life, but you will be too late for ten others.”

Dr. Ogle nodded, “ I understand that. I know that I cannot solve the world’s problems with one suit of armor. But, if I save one life, that will be one less tragedy we all have to suffer.”

Tobias nodded, happy to hear his friend say this. He returned to his work, “ Well, unfortunately for us all, that hope for mankind is terrorizing a city and we need to stop it. “

“ The ray will work with just about any raygun you have.” Dr. William

Tobias did not snicker at the archaic word, raygun. “ I think that Red Fury can help us. I will send these energy schematics to him and let him take a look at them.”

“Wow, what a cool name. Red Fury. If I get to be a hero what hero name should I use? The Doctor? No, sounds too British. Iron Man….no, too comic book. “

Tobias did laugh now, “ Let’s just figure out the current problem first, then we can ponder on these other enigmas .”

“OH, OH, How about Super Science Man?” William commented on his own statement before Tobias had a chance to respond. “ No, that’s just stupid. “

While Tobias was both rolling his eyes and sending the specs for the energy beam to Red Fury, the doors to the infirmary opened. Toshi and Bark walked in, Bark looking more nervous than ever to be in here.

Toshi retained a cool and composed outward appearance, but inwardly she just about leapt out of her skin at the sight of the human head smiling at her, “ Oh my. What an interesting…thing?’'

Tobias smiled at her and said, “I’ll explain later. Can I help either of you?”

Toshi took Bark by the hand and pulled him along, “ Tell him.”

Bark frowned, “ I don’t think it’s anything to tell.” Now he was being an obstinate kid.

Toshi sighed and then answered, “ He is not well. “

Tobias got up and looked at Bark, who was not willing to look him in the eye. “ What is wrong?’'

Bark did not make eye contact, “ It’s nothing. I am…well…I am just having some dog things happen to me.”

Tobias frowned, “Huh?”

Toshi was tired of this. She dragged Bark over to one of the biobeds and made Bark get up on it. Then she looked at Tobias. “ He is acting more like a dog than a man. There might be something wrong. Please give him a thorough check up. Do not let him leave until you are finished.” She turned to her boy and held out her hand. “I will take the ring for now, it will be safe in the dojo. You behave for the doctor.”

Bark slumped his whole body, but knew better than to argue with mom. Handing her the ring box, he nodded, “Yes, sensei.”

Toshi gave the doctor a commanding gaze, and then promptly left the infirmary.

Dr. Glyph retrieved a scanner from the wall and started scanning Bark all over. “ Explain the symptoms?”

Bark let out a sigh, and then said, “ Well, I have been reacting to situations more like a dog. I bark without meaning to, I have been sniffing around everything. I was licking my arm where it got hurt, and didn’t even notice it until Frost said something. Then, when I returned to the station, I ran right for the trash and pulled out a t-bone and started gnawing on it.”

Tobias stopped scanning for a second and gave Bark a surprised look. “ And you think this is nothing?”

Bark smiled ashamedly. “ Well, I was hoping it would just go away.”

Tobias looked at his sensor readings and then looked at Bark. “ As far as I can tell with this, you are fine. But, I had better do a deep genetic scan of you. Now, where did I put that trolodyne sensor rod?” he left Bark for the back room of the infirmary, where he kept his more sensitive equipment.

Dr. Ogle looked at the security bot assigned to him. “ Plug me in please.” The bot did what was programmed into it. It reached over to its side, pulled out a cord and stuck the jack end of the cord into a small plug on Dr. Ogles head case. This gave the doctor limited use of the robot as his transportation. He couldn’t order it to do any damage or hack into something, but at least it gave him feet. The two arms reached down and picked up the case and carried it over to Bark.

“Sir…uh…did he call you Bark?” Dr. Ogle was grinning like a fan.

Bark looked up, a little grossed out by the sight of this head in a box. “ Yeah, my name is Bark.”

Dr. Ogle looked at Barks face, and then down to his voice box. “ Wow, a brainwave voice translator. Can you not speak normally?”

Bark nodded, “I am unable to use my normal voice, every time I do it comes out with a…” he purposefully made out with a ‘woof’ “ This is why everyone called me Bark when I first arrived. Frost was the first to not believe I was some kind of wild animal human thing, and Dr. Glyph was the first to read my thoughts and find out that I was able to speak, if my voice box had not been too altered.”

“ Intriguing. I wonder if I could use some genetic cells to craft a cloned vocal box, and graft it to your system in the hopes of transplant. That way I could see if vocal box transplant is possible.” William was sort of lost in his own world of genetic science.

Bark shrugged, “ If you could, that would be great. But, for now, I at least have this.” He pointed to the collar.

Dr. Ogle smiled at Bark with a funny grin. “ Uh, do you know Frost well?”

Bark laughed, “ I should. She is my girlfriend.”

Dr. Ogle was in awe, “ Wow, what a hot girlfriend. You are sooo lucky. Can I ask you a favor…if that is okay…I mean, I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t such a fan…you know. “

Bark was frowning, trying to follow this. “What kind of favor?”

“ You know Frost and Bolt, and even The General. Could you, possibly, maybe, get me their autographs?” Dr. Ogles voice trailed off as he asked this, a little shy to make such a request.

Bark nodded, “ I can try. “

“ That would be so awesome. Especially Frost’s. I think I still have one of her posters, back at the lab.” Dr. Ogle was about to swoon at the thought of that gorgeous poster of her back in her glory days as a dancer and model.

Bark frowned again, “Poster? What kind of poster?”

Dr. Ogle grinned, and even blushed, which seemed hard to do as just a head. “ Well, I was a huge fan of hers back when she was a super model. In fact I had the biggest crush on her. She came to Portland, where I was living at the time, but I was too embarrassed to show up in a wheel chair to see her. So, I just watched on T.V. I have kicked myself for years for not getting her autograph. Now that she is right here, I just can’t pass up the opportunity. But, since she is a superhero, and, you know, busy, I was afraid to ask her myself.”

Bark laughed, “ You shouldn’t be ashamed of being in a wheel chair. I was just walking around Knoxville, trust me, furry is more awkward. “

Dr. Ogle laughed in reply, “ Sure. But at least you have a body that works. You are a toned superhero with animal magnetism. There really aren’t many people who find a mangled body in a wheel chair all that attractive.”

Bark knew that he couldn’t break through this man’s insecurities without a lot of psychological training. So, he left that alone. “ I am just worried that my relationship with her will be over soon.”

Dr. Ogle frowned, “Why? Having trouble between you?”

Bark shook his head, “ No. But, if I am mutating into a dog, then there won’t be much of a man to love her. Trust me, I have seen what these mutations turn you into. A mindless soldier that acts more like a beast than a man is not really what Frost needs as a husband.”

Dr. Glyph returned then, with a new scanner that was much larger than the one he had been using. He had heard what they were saying just before he approached. “Mr. Bark, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. There are probably many explanations as to what is happening to you. Don’t diagnose yourself just yet. Let the doctor do his work please. Now. Lay back and try to hold still.” Tobias approached the bed, while Dr. Ogle’s robot stepped back to let the doctor work.

The African American doctor pulled a small wand like device out of the side of the box he was holding, with a thin cord attaching the two. He set the box on the small table next to Barks Bed. Bark laid down, his tail literally between his legs. His heart was racing so hard that he felt the whole bed shaking with each thump. Tobias ran the scanner up and down his body, he went from the top of his ears to the tip of his toes and back again. Soon, he seemed to be focused on his chest, scanning it over and over.

“ Interesting.” He commented to no one.

Bark had to ask, “What is wrong?’'

Tobias looked at the computer monitor on the wall giving him the readouts. “ I cannot say why, but I am reading a strange energy signature on your chest here. Let me run it through analysis.”

Dr. Ogle’s robot stepped up and let him look at the screen too. “Wait, I recognize that energy signature. That is a delta wave radiation signature.”

Dr. Glyph nodded, “ Yes. But, where did it come from?’

Bark asked, “ Was it from the practice this morning? That radioactive monster you had attack me?”

Dr. Ogle frowned, “ You attacked him with a radioactive monster?”

Dr. Glyph shook his head, “ That is not the signature of the radiation from the simulation this morning. This is entirely different. Your body should have sloughed It off like all the other energies we have experimented with. Let me check something.”

William continued to look at the screen. “Wait. I know where it came from. My armor.”

Dr. Glyph gave William a surprised look. “ Your robotic armor uses delta wave radiation weapons?”

William nodded, “ The energy in the main weapons uses it. It is much less harmful than most other radiations. In fact, it’s only other use that I know of is in cellular mutation experiments.”

Tobias had that ‘ah ha’ look on his face. “That’s it. That is the type of energy used by the scientist who mutated you, Bark. That is probably why your body didn’t respond normally, this radiation is part of the matrix that created you.”

Bark sat up in the bed, a cold cold feeling rushing all over and through him. His eyes were cast down as he quietly asked, “ Does this mean that the mutations are active again? That I am going to finish the process?”

Tobias wanted to make him feel better, but he also would not lie. “ I cannot say. There are a lot of facts about that mutation process that we are uncertain of. “

Dr. Ogle tried to spin a happy note, “ For most of my small experiments, it takes a bathing ray of this radiation to work the mutation process. A few blasts of it wouldn’t suffice.”

Bark looked up to Tobias, “Can you do something?’'

“ Not right now. I will have to run some more tests. Let me take a few samples of your dna.” Dr. Glyph picked up a hypospray and extracted a vial of Barks blood. Then he took a few hair samples and swabbed his mouth. He wanted to be certain of every detail.

Bark rubbed his arm where the blood had been taken. “Can I go now? I am supposed to be seeing Frost tonight.”

Tobias feigned a smile and nodded, “ Yes. If I need anything else, or if I find something, I will contact you immediately. Just, don’t fret about this. It is probably nothing. Dr. Ogle is correct, radiation mutations usually require a much longer, sustained radiation to complete the process. “

Bark returned the faked smile and nodded, “Thanks. Do me a favor, don’t tell anyone who doesn’t have to know. I will try and contain my k-9 antics as best I can. I just don’t want to worry anyone, especially Frost. “

“ Patient confidentiality is your right. I won’t tell anyone.” He watched Bark leave, sad to see this boys tail hardly moving and his ears almost as slumped over as his shoulders.
 
Flag Post
Frost walked through the arboretum, waiting for Bark to arrive for their date. He had been talking about this evening for a while now and she was expecting great things. She didn’t know what exactly he wanted to talk to her about, or do with her, but she had her hopes up.

The arboretum is a beautiful green expanse of nature that is a stark contrast to the metal world of the station. Formally, this area is to help with training, such as those with shapeshifting abilities, or who fly. The room contains a lot of material for imitation, and a very tall ceiling with a nice, natural wind pattern. Informally, it is a good place for the students to relax and get away from the rigorous work of the ULH.

Right now, there weren’t too many people here. A shapeshifter who had been practicing at changing into various plants and a woman here that could turn herself into any sort of falcon, but she finished her flights and retired for the evening. The only others here were a pair of children. The ULH does not have many children, in fact, at this moment, they only have four. Superpowers usually only manifest themselves after puberty, but there are rare exceptions where children are born with them active. It is a scary world to enter, the ULH, when you are young and pulled away from your parents. But, the law is the law.

Frost kindly approached the children, to see what they were doing and learn about them. As a senior student, she felt responsible to help the younger students adapt. The boy was Caucasian with brown hair and freckles. He looked to be about ten. With a comic book tee shirt on, torn shorts, and dirty arms and legs, he looked the part of a child. The little girl was Latino, very pretty, and very young. She was in a cute little pink sundress, and appeared to be very nervous. All she was playing with was a little green tennis ball.

“ Hello.” Frost came over and sat next to them on the grassy ground. They were playing next to the artificial river that ran through the gardens.
The boy smiled at her, “ Hi. Hey, you’re Frost, aren’t you?”

Frost nodded, “Why, yes. I am Frost. Who are you?”

‘’ Kenny Oak.”

Frost smiled at him, “ Hello, Kenny. How long have you been at the ULH?”

Kenny thought about that and then said, “ Five weeks, I think.”

“ What are your superpowers?” she asked, pretending to be excited for him.

Kenny held up his hands, made fists, and then suddenly, from his wrists up through his fingers, his hands became gray as iron. He hit the ground with all his might and created two pretty good craters for a small child. He pulled hard to get his hands back up, and then they returned to normal. “ I have iron fists. I am still learning how to use them.”

Frost smiled at him, “ Very nice.” She then turned her attention to the little child. “ And your powers?”

The little girl frowned and looked down at the small tennis ball she had been playing with.

The boy poked Frost in the shoulder, “ She’s doesn’t speak English well. She’s also shy.“

Frost smiled at her and then sat right next to her, “Watch this.” Looking out over the water, she held up her hand. Frost took a deep breath and then released it with a gentle spray of white particles in the air. The surface of part of the water froze solid. Frost lifted her hand and the ice grew up and up. Then, with a burst of motion, she threw her arm out and the pillar of ice burst and started to snow all over them.

The little girl smiled brightly and tried to catch some of the snowflakes in her hand. Both her and the boy were dancing around, catching and melting snowflakes.

The small girl smiled at Frost and said, “Bonita.” Or beautiful in Spanish.

Frost continued to smile and asked again, “So, what are your abilities?”

The child set the tennis ball down and then looked at it with her eyes. She concentrated so hard that her face turned deep red. Suddenly, the ball lifted up and gently rose to be right in front of Frost. Frost kindly took it out of the air to let the child stop focusing. “Oh, so you have telekinetic abilities.”

“No strong yet.” The girls said.

Frost laughed, “Work hard, train well, and you will be as strong as you want to be.”

The boy, still exhilarated at the brief snowfall, ran up to Frost and asked, “ Can you do it again?”

Frost got that showoff smile and walked over to the edge of the water, she turned so that the water was to her back. Her arms held out, she closed her eyes and showed her level of focus. There was a cracking sound, and the river slowly stopped moving, its surface grew icy white and suddenly there was a spray upward of snow. It arched up and over Frost and rained down upon the children, who were playing in it like a true snowfall.

______________________________________________

Bark walked into the arboretum looking for Frost and trying to think of what to say. He had intended for this evening to be special, to be a wonderful experience. He would propose to her and then take her on a romantic date to celebrate. But, now he didn’t believe that would be wise. She didn’t need a dog, she needs a man.

A soft breeze of very cold air ran all over Barks fur and he shivered. Where on earth was that coming from? Walking around several trees and a boulder, he found Frost playing in the snow with the children. She was crafting a gentle snowfall while the kids jumped around and tried to catch the flakes. The snow glimmered off of the artificial sunlight in the room and sparkled all around Frost and the children. It made her look so beautiful, her blonde hair dancing with the slight breeze she was creating with her powers. Bark stopped walking and just watched her.

It felt foolish, it felt downright childish, but he could get lost just looking at her. She was so beautiful, so elegant, that he could get overwhelmed. A woman of such beauty and honor deserves so much more than he could give her. Yet, a part of him could not imagine a day without her.

Suddenly, his eyes caught sight of the falling flakes, and he could not contain the urge, though he attempted to restrain himself, which was impossible. He burst into a mad dash and ran for the source of the snow. The children both jumped back at the sight of the man running at them, but he was not looking at them, or even Frost. As soon as he got to the snow, he started jumping around and biting at the air, trying to catch the snow in his mouth. He did not know why, but there was something in him that said to do this, and he did.

Frost stopped making it snow and let the last of the flakes gently fall to the ground to melt. She frowned and looked at Bark while he was still excitedly looking around at the last few bits of falling snow.

“Bark? What are you doing?” She stopped him with a hand on his arm.

Bark stopped mid motion and gave her an almost worried look. He couldn’t explain what he was doing, he didn’t quite understand it himself. Gulping, then straightening himself up and giving her a smile he said, “Uh, nothing. Just playing in the snow.”

Frost shrugged, “Well, you reminded me of my old boxer when it would snow. Kind of funny, when you think about it.”

Bark forced himself to find this funny and laughed, “yeah, guess there is more dog in me than you think.”

A woman called out from another part of the arboretum. “Come on children.”

“Thanks Ms. Frost.” The boy ran off in a hurry.

The little girl came over and held out her tennis ball. Frost knelt down and took it. “For me?” she asked. “ I couldn’t.”

“A gift. Gracias Ms. Frost.” She refused to take the ball back and followed the boy over to the caretaker.

Frost stood up with a warm smile, she held the little green ball in her hand. “ I wish we didn’t have to force them to come up here. At least they have the arboretum to play in.”

Bark nodded, “ Sure. I didn’t know we had any children on the station?’'

Frost shrugged and tossed the ball back and forth in her hands. “ Yeah, only four here, but they are required to come up, just like the rest of us.” She turned and walked with Bark in another direction, where there was a large boulder that they liked to sit on to have picnics. “So, what are your plans for us tonight? I have been thinking about it all day.”

Bark cleared his throat and tried not to look nervous. “ Well…uh…I had planned…what I mean is.” He didn’t want to tell her about his mutation problem, or that he had a ring for her. He had to come up with something special to tell her. “I thought we could have a picnic here, and then go and take in a movie in simulator four tonight. I got the controller to get us a romantic movie to watch.”

Frost smiled at him and sort of leaned up against him, “ Something we can smooch in.”

“Yeah. Sure, that kind of movie. “ Bark didn’t sound all that excited about the idea. Which was an odd idea considering how much he liked necking in the movies with her.

Frost turned and looked him over, even rubbing her free hand up against his arm. “ You have been working out.”

Bark looked at his chest and then arms, he had certainly been working out. Mostly with Toshi sensei, but he started a little extra weight training with Thrasher a few weeks back. He was glad she noticed. “ Just making myself more manly for my girl.”

“ I do love having a pet that is easy on the eyes.” She was teasing him.

Bark tried to smile at that, but it brought back the fear. “ Yeah, sure. What do you say about the picnic and a movie?”

Frost tossed the ball against the ground and let it bounce up to her hands, “That sounds like a nice evening. But, you were talking about it being extra special. Did you have something else planned?”

Bark cleared his throat again, buying a few moments to come up with something. “Well, you see, I did have something special planned. But, I, uh, you see, didn’t get it in time. So, well, it will have to wait. I am so sorry. Really, I am truly sorry.”

She didn’t know what he was profusely apologizing for, but it didn’t take a telepath to know that there was more here than he was telling her. “Bark, is there something wrong?” She stopped just as they got to the rock.

Bark felt that urge boiling up in him again, the dog was fighting to get out. “ I…I can’t tell you. Not yet.” Then he whimpered. He actually whimpered like a dog, his body was starting to shake and his eyes were darting around.

Frost was worried, scared sick to be precise. He was not acting right, and this could be a major problem. “ Bark!? You are shaking so hard, and your tail is wagging itself off. Are you having some kind of seizure?”

Bark bit his lower lip and then his eyes trained on the ball in her hands. “ Please, throw it.”

Frost looked down at the ball. Then back at him, “ Throw it? “

“ I don’t have any idea why, but you HAVE to throw it.” He was about to shake all the fur off of his body.

Frost was worried about him and if this would help for some reason, she would oblige. In her mind, she thought that he just wanted her to get rid of it, so she did. With a good pitch, she let the ball fly across the arboretum, hopefully no one would be bonked on the head.

Before she could ask him why he wanted her to get rid of the ball, he was off. He blasted away from her at a pretty good clip, dashing for the ball like it was the Holy Grail. Frosts jaw dropped as she watched her man run, at times with all four limbs trying to hit the ground. He grabbed up the ball with his hands and then ran back to her at almost the same speed that he had run away. He placed the ball forcibly in her hands and stood there with a big smile, his tail wagging crazily, and his tongue actually hanging out.

Frost did not throw it again, which was his obvious request without words. “Bark, what is going on?”

Bark slowly regained his human posture and attitude and the excited puppy in him turned into terrified man. He looked into her eyes with real fear in his. “ I was just…it just…you see there is this…uh…problem.”

Frost took him by the shoulder, “Bark. Tell me what is the matter?”

“I…I…I didn’t want you to see me like this. I have to go.” Without any more explanation, he ran out of the arboretum, leaving her behind as bewildered as she had ever been.

_________________________________________________

Bark ran through the station, dodging people and hoping to not be stopped by anyone for any reason. They would see in him something he hated. It was not the dog in him that he hated, it was the tears in his eyes. After dashing through the food court, down a corridor of classrooms and passed several confused teachers and students, Bark found the room he wanted to be in right now.

Toshi was not expecting him, usually Bark was on a date at this time of the day. So, it came as a rather shocking surprise to see him burst through the door and close it quickly behind himself.

“Inu-chan? What is wrong?” Setting down her tea on the table before her, she watched him stop with both hands held against the door, his forehead pressed on it.

Bark didn’t look at her, but she knew he was crying from the hard sniffing. He replied, “I couldn’t tell her. What did I do it for? Why couldn’t I control that urge?” He slammed his fist against the door. Turning to look at her, she could see the fear and sadness in his eyes. His hair was a mess and there were streaks of wet fur running down his face.

Toshi got up and walked over to him, “ My boy, what happened?”

Bark let out a deep breath, turned away from the door to be leaning up against the wall near him. He slid down the wall and sunk to the floor. His arms up on his knees, and his face riddled with sadness, “ She deserves a man, not a pet. I….I chased a ball.” He said this like he had gone out and killed someone.

Toshi smiled and patted him on the head, “ There is nothing wrong with that. It might even have been cute.”

Bark, for the first time ever, actually hit her hand away from him, “ NO! It was stupid. I was practically begging her to throw that damned ball. When she did, I had to chase it, I had to bring it back. My mind was not human then, it was dog.” He wasn’t frightened for having hit the most dangerous person on this station, he was too sad to be. He put his head down as far as it would go and meekly said, “What am I becoming?”

“ Let’s go see the doctor again.” She started to pull on his hand.

Bark resisted her, “ No. I can’t. I just can’t hear him tell me what I already know. I need to think, I need to just get away from everyone and rest.“

Toshi was not willing to push him. She did not believe that his worries would come true, but she also knew when not to argue with a person. “
Okay, you may rest here. I have a few extra futons rolled up in the back. “

Bark looked up to her and spoke to her like a child to his mother, “ What do I tell her? I want to leave her for her own good, but I just can’t bring myself to that. I love her so much.”

Toshi paused and then answered, “ I have been around for a long time. In all the centuries I have seen that there is one power greater than all
others. Love. It sounds corny, and silly, but it is very true. Trust that your love for her will defeat this fear. And, if you would like, I will go and speak with her, explain the situation.”

Bark shook his head, “ No. Please don’t tell her yet. I have to think about what should be said and when.”

“Alright. Come, let’s make up a bed for you.”

__________________________________________

The General turned off the screen at the head of the briefing room. “Is that about all the details from the first attack Frost, Bolt?” He asked the girl sitting at the opposite end of the room and the man next to him.

Frost nodded slowly, “ Looks like you got it all.”

Bolt nodded in agreement. “ That’s about it.”

“ Okay, people, we have a mission at hand. Listen up.” The General gave the floor to Tobias.

Tobias walked to the head of the table where Bolt, Frost, Solstice, and Dr. Ogle were waiting for the mission briefing. He turned on a screen to show one of their security and training bots, “ Here is the plan. The energy ray we are going to use has been installed on this bots arm cannon. It has been programmed with the targeting parameters to hit a fast moving target and take down the armored body.”

Bolt asked, “ How are we going to attract it?”

The General smiled, a smile that most students don’t like to see. “ Well, it seems to like your energy signature.”

Bolt rolled his eyes, “ Great. Getting shot out of the sky again isn’t exactly what I had hoped for.”

Tobias was shaking his head. “Not the plan. I have had our engineers reprogram the shuttles holoshield to block anyone or anything detecting the energy signature until it has landed. Once it lands, you and Solstice will disembark and then turn yourselves into targets.”

Solstice nodded, “Once that thing approaches, the bot will zap it and we will bring it in.”

The General nodded to his fellow commander, “Yes. That is just about it. Nothing too complicated, just get its attention, and take it down.”

“His,” Dr. Ogle replied.

The General frowned, “His?”

“You called him an ‘it’. That body is supposed to be mine, and believe me, it’s a him, not an it.” He took a little pride in that fact.

The General did everything he could not to roll his eyes at that bit of useless information. “ Solstice, Bolt, you have one additional order. If this fails to work, you are to bring that thing down if possible. I do not want it making any more trouble. Got it?”

Bolt nodded, “understood.”

“ Hey, wait a minute!? That’s my body.” Dr. Ogle was offended by that order.

The General gave the head a stern glare, “ That thing is terrorizing a populated city and has the potential to do considerable harm. Even if your head were attached, I would still give that order. “

Dr. Ogle’s eyes widened, “I see. Well, try to save it. It was a lot of work crafting that and I would hate to lose my body. “

“ You have your orders everyone, now get to it. Oh, and Frost, Solstice would like to ask you some questions about fighting that thing. I want to make sure that we are as prepared as possible.” He looked up to the very sad looking girl in the room.

Frost nodded, “Sure.”

“Dismissed.”

Tobias picked up Dr. Ogles head and walked out with him, talking the whole way. He was trying to comfort the poor man, who was worried that he was about to lose another body. Solstice got up with Bolt and began to speak about the bot they were going to bring with them. She knew better than anyone else on the station about how to transport those bulky robots.

“Frost, I will speak to you in ten minutes.” Solstice commanded before leaving the room.

Frost nodded and then slowly stood up.

“ Is everything okay?” The General asked, in a slightly uncharacteristically gentle voice.

Frost looked up to her commanding officer, “ I am not sure. Bark acted strange last night, and I have not been able to get in touch with him this morning.”

The General frowned, “ Did he ask you….” He stopped himself, realizing that it was quite possible that Bark had not popped the question yet. To spoil it would be a bad thing.

Frost gave him a curious look, “Did he ask me….what?”

The General cleared his throat and attained his usual commanding tone, “Nothing. I will check on him and see how he is doing.”

“Thank you. “ Frost smiled at him weakly and then walked out with her arms folded and her brow furrowed.

___________________________________________

Bark stumbled through the corridors of the ULH, his eyes hazy and his legs stumbling. He was naked and panting like a dog. All around him were bodies of students and instructors he knew, bloody and mutilated.

He stumbled over a body of a worker he knew well and fell against a wall. He tried to say something in response, but it came out as a growling bark. He grasped at his throat to find the collar but it was not there. Then he noticed his arms, he was furrier, shaggier than before. His claws were longer and more menacing. He had mutated, he was no longer human, just a mindless killing machine. A dog created to murder innocent people.

Suddenly in the distance he heard a scream. He knew it was Frost. She was running for her life, something was trying to kill her. He ran, jumping over the dead and chasing the sound of her voice. He passed the bodies of Bolt, Thrasher, The General, even Toshi. Someone had killed them all. He had to find who was chasing Frost and stop them, kill them before they took her life too.

He burst through the doors of the arboretum and found one of the dog soldiers from Korea lurching over the broken body of Frost. “NO!” He thought and ran at it intent on destroying it. But, when he got to it, it was not there. He was now lurching over her. She was not dead, but fearfully holding her hands up against the attacker. Her body was covered in blood from the wounds she had already received.

“Do it, you know you want to.” The calm, cold voice of The Dark Suited Man taunted Bark.

Bark looked up with a shot, he was terrified to see this person.

“Yes, my loyal soldier, kill her. Prove yourself worthy as my pet, my guardian, my killer.”

Bark looked away and thought to himself, “I won’t turn into that.”

The Dark Suited man seemed to hear his thoughts, for he responded, “ But, you already have. Look, you are a good dog, you have done what I asked.”

Bark’s face shot forward and he looked to see that Frosts neck had been torn and she was dead against the grass, blood everywhere. “FROST!! I didn’t mean to kill you. I didn’t kill you.”

“ Oh, but you did. Look, her blood is all over your hands.” He pointed to Barks hands.

Barked held up blood stained claws and felt horror as the reality washed all over him. He had done this, he had killed her, killed everyone he cared about or who cared about him.

“Don’t worry. I told you, I didn’t mean to do this to you.” Dr. Ogle’s voice replaced the Dark Suited Man.

Bark looked up to find the evil man gone and the head-box sitting on the ground near Frost. “ You!” Bark jumped to kill this man, he hated him, he wanted to destroy him. If it were not for this man, none of this would happen. He grabbed the head out of the box and meant to crush it like a melon.

Dr. Ogle responded to his assault, “ You can’t kill me, you are already dead.”

Bark was shocked to see that he was now holding his own head, he dropped it and backed away in fear. Suddenly, the head was attached to a body, it was him and he was dead. Frozen all over. Frost was no longer dead but alive and standing next to Bolt.

Bolt consoled her, “ It was the only way to stop him.”

___________________________________________

Bark sat up with a shot, breathing heavily. It was a dream, a horrible dream. Looking around, he found himself lying in the middle of the dojos training hall. He was sick to his stomach and shaking all over. It was probably morning and close to the time he needed to get up for classes, but he was much too distraught to get up now. He didn’t even leave the floor where he had moved, he curled up with his knees practically to his chin and closed his eyes.

The image of Frosts dead body, then her pain at what she had to do to him both danced in his head. He did not wish to go back to sleep and possibly dream this again, but he was so tired he could not help it.
 
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“ I am telling you, it can be fun. Just give it a try.” Bolt, piloting the shuttle, talked endlessly with Solstice.

Solstice, a very professional hero, hardly broke a smile. “ I disagree. Besides it’s against the rules.”

“Oh, I don’t think that it is going to destroy the ULH if you and I have a little fun. Besides, Frost and Bark did it.” Bolt was very insistent, but then again he liked getting his way. He had had enough of women turning him down.

Solstice looked out over Knoxville. The bridge was still being cleaned up from the attack. It was a clear day, with a lot of sun, which made her happy. “ Just because they are romantically linked does not mean that I am going to break any rules with you or anyone. The subject is closed.”

Bolt did not close the subject. “ It’s not like I am asking you to go to Vegas and get a quick marriage. I just want to have a little fun, and I think you could use a little fun now and then.”

Solstice gave him a glare that could melt an iceberg. “ And what do you mean by that?!”

Bolt shrugged and looked away, “It’s just that you are so dedicated to your job that you don’t even smile very often. Loosen up, throw off the socks and live a little.”

Solstice could deck him right now, had she not been focusing on her job. “Look, just because you want to sneak off the station and go have lunch at a special steak house in Texas is not a good reason for me to break the rules with you.”

Bolt let out a harsh sigh, rolled his eyes and finally gave up. “Fine, fine. I just thought that if a couple of students can get away with it, we can certainly make it. Besides, Bark said their steaks are the best he has ever had and coming from a dog that has to mean something.”

Solstice shook her head, “ Just find a good place to set us down. Dr. Ogle said that his armors computer would not allow the body to leave the area of Knoxville, so we are going to have to find a safe place to battle this thing without putting a lot of people in danger.”

Bolt looked out over the city and then smiled, “In for a little football?”

“Huh?”

Bolt pointed down to the large stadium on the UT campus. “I think that we can set down right there. It will give us room to deal with it, and few people are going to be around there right now. Besides, that area is designed for battles, it will be fine.”

Solstice cocked her head and frowned, “ I don’t know, if we have to actually battle it, it could do a lot of damage to that stadium. The last thing I want is to take out a landmark of that size, or bring it down on our heads.”

Bolt shrugged and started bringing the shuttle in, “Don’t worry. Dr. Glyph’s energy beam will take it down and we will just have to drag it onto the shuttle and get back to the station, easy peasy. Prepare for landing.”

The shuttle lowered through the open roof and slowly made its way to the far end of the field, landing the shuttle near a goalpost. The few people in the stadium were completely unaware of their arrival, as the shuttle was cloaked beyond recognition.

“ Okay, let’s get the bot out and summon this thing.” Solstice was ready for this mission to be completed. She unbuckled herself and proceeded to activate the security bot sitting in the passenger seat nearest the exit.

“ SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL.” The bot stated as it’s blinking lights all came on. “ PLEASE STATE THE MISSION?” it requested.

Solstice opened a panel on its chest and typed in a code to allow it to accept her orders. “ Mission 404.”

“ MISSION ACCEPTED. PROCEED.” The bot got up and waited at the door.

“ Certainly ready to leave.” Bolt commented and then pressed the open button for the door.

The bot walked out as soon as the door opened and stationed itself for optimum targeting, moving near to the center of the field where it could see in all directions and have a clear shot. Solstice and Bolt both got out and joined it.

Bolt smiled and looked up, “ Get ready, we have to attract it.”

“I know, I read the briefing. Let’s do it.” She opened up her arms and let the sunlight absorb, Bolt started rubbing his hands together.

All at once, Bolt and Solstice both shot energy right into the sky. Bolt let out a spray of crackling electricity, while Solstice shot a straight beam of solar light. This continued for a few moments until suddenly, the ground near them was penetrated by a green bolt of energy. Bolt and Solstice both stopped firing and watched the armored body fly through the sky heading right for them, its arms held out with the weapons at the ready.

“TARGET AQUIRED.” The security bot immediately recognized the armor from its programming and held up the arm with the energy weapon.
Releasing a blast of similar green energy, the body was hit dead center of the chest and sent down across the ground like a rag doll being tossed aside.

“See, easy peasy.” Bolt exclaimed with a Bolt smile.

Solstice rolled her eyes and started walking toward the body, “Bot, assist me.”

“ UNDERSTOOD.” It followed behind ready to do whatever was requested.

_____________________________________________

“ Bark, wake up.” Toshi pressed on Barks shoulder.

Bark slowly opened his eyes to find that he was still laying on the floor of the dojo, sleeping in nearly a fetal position. “ Sensei?” He looked around, “ I must have been walking in my sleep.”

Toshi nodded, “Yes, you did. You made all sorts of strange noises and I heard you leave and lay in here. How do you feel?”

Bark sat up and felt the fact that he had slept on the floor all night. “ Ow, I feel like my bones all hate me.”

She laughed, “ I don’t think they are too happy with a hard floor to sleep on.”

“ What time is it?”

“ Eleven hundred hours.” She said quite matter-of-factly.

Bark gasped, “ I have missed my classes!”

“ Do not worry. I have excused you from your classes today. You are not well and need some time to get better.”

“ You can excuse me of my classes?” Bark was astonished, he did not believe anyone had that ability.

Toshi smiled confidently, “ Oh, the staff listens to me, they know better than to argue.” No one argues with mom, especially this mom.

Bark looked at his arms, and legs, and then at his sensei, “Do I look any different?’’

Toshi shook her head, “ Not that I can tell, and I do pride myself on observation.”

Bark sat up a little more and stretched his arms over his head, “ I had a nightmare, I was a wolf, my body had changed to be like a horrible monster. I had killed everyone, I even killed Frost….how could I have killed her?” He was starting to panic.

Toshi took him by the shoulders and forced him to look into her face. “Inu-chan, calm down. You have not killed anyone this night, and I do not believe that you are turning into a wolf, or even more of a dog. You are more human that you want to believe. The fact that you felt so horrible for what you did proves that your heart remains human.”

“I’m so scared sensei.” There was real fear in his eyes.

Toshi let out a sigh and shook her head, “ Come with me. We will go see Dr. Glyph again and he will tell you that you are fine. “

Bark did not argue. He was afraid of seeing the doctor, but he had to listen to this. He had to know if he was still mutating.

_______________________________________________________

“ Dr. Ogle, have you finished analyzing that data?” Tobias walked around the infirmary with a computer tablet in his hands.

Dr. Ogle nodded, “ Take the card from my box and you can plug that into the computer and see what I came up with.” His eyes looked over to a small slot on the side of his box that opened and pushed out a small s.d. card that held the information he had analyzed.

Dr. Glyph smiled and took the card. “ I can see some benefits to that head box thing. You can process data like a computer.”

Dr. Ogle shook his head, “ The box may have a valuable connection with my head and brain, but It’s not as good as you might think.”

Dr. Glyph plugged the card into the computer and watched the data come onto the screen. “ What do you mean?”

“ I can’t stay in here forever. If I don’t get a body soon, I will die.” His tone was very frank, but serious.

Tobias was honestly shocked, “ But, why would you do that?’'

William laughed, “ I had not planned on losing control of my body. This was only temporary. Now, unless they can get my body back, I may be looking at my end.”

Tobias smiled and shook his head, “No, I won’t allow it. I will help you fix this. “

William smiled, but was not convinced, “ I hope you can. I seem to have run out of options.” He wanted to change the subject, “ What do you think of the results?”

Tobias looked at the screen. There, in front of him, were several digital representations of D.N.A. strands and biological cells. The African American doctor rubbed his chin, “ It doesn’t look good. But, I also don’t see what I feared.”

“ I know. The cellular alterations are very good. Whoever designed this mutation process was a genius.” Ogle looked at the screen, seeing his thoughts literally translated into specs.

Dr. Glyph was about to say something when the door to his infirmary opened. Toshi and Bark came in. Toshi appeared calm and collected as always, but Bark looked as a puppy being brought in for his shots. The doctor approached Bark with a professional smile. “ Bark, what a coincidence. We were just looking at some data for you.”

Bark was breathing shallowly, he gulped and asked in a dry voice, “ Am I going to be okay?’'

Toshi walked him around to a table and made him sit on it, “ I will go and get you a glass of water, you listen to the doctor.”

Tobias retained that doctor’s smile, the one where he is trying to soften a pretty harsh blow. “ Bark, your body is undergoing some mutations. We have found new levels of alterations to your DNA that weren’t there the last time I checked.”

Bark frowned and slightly whimpered. Since he only wore a pair of briefs, it was quite apparent that he was shaking. “ Am I going to lose my mind?” He looked like he was about to cry.

Tobias continued to smile, “ Son, listen to me. The changes are not that drastic yet, and it is very likely that they won’t get that far. Right now, all we can find are minor changes to the mutations that make you stronger, and more resistant to energy weapons.”

Dr. Ogle spoke up, “ The dog attributes could easily be just a minor side effect of being hit by the ray. Most likely they will be temporary. And even if they do stay, they probably won’t get worse.” He was not used to dealing with patients.

Bark sort of flashed a snarl in Dr. Ogles direction and harshly stated, “ No thanks to you.”

Dr. Ogle just about replied to that but he saw Dr. Glyphs hand held up. Tobias looked back at the head, “ Let me, please.”

“Sorry, just trying to help.”

Tobias returned to the scared young man, “ Bark, we don’t know enough yet. Let me take a few more samples and run some more tests. “

“ Can you tell me anything good?” Bark asked quietly.

Dr. Ogle piped in, “ We found extremely high levels of hormones, adrenaline, melatonin and dopamine in your system. It is quite possible that these chemicals are playing a role in your attitude changes.”

Bark did not see the good in that statement, “ Doesn’t that mean that my body is changing to be even more animal like?”

“ No.” Dr. Glyph replied, then corrected himself “Well, not entirely. We aren’t sure the cause of these increases.”

Dr. Ogle piped in again with a humorous tone, “ Maybe it’s like some kind of puberty, you aren’t really human.”

Bark growled at William and shouted, “ I don’t need to hear jokes from you!”

Tobias stepped in between Bark and William, “ Hey, calm down. “

“ I am sorry. I guess I am feeling a little angry about this. I know that it wasn’t your fault, Dr. Ogle.”

Dr. Ogle let out a sigh, “ I know that you can harbor anger toward me and my work, but please understand that I never meant to hurt you or anyone. That suit of armor was supposed to save lives.”

Bark snarled, “ I hope you don’t take this wrong, but I really want to tear the arms off of that thing you created. It might make me feel better.”

William smiled, “ I know. I spent a lot of years wanting to find the man who crippled me and make him pay. But, let me tell you something, hurting the body won’t make you feel better. In fact, it might make you feel worse. ”

Bark let out a sigh, “ I just wish there was some good news right about now.”

Tobias smiled and worked hard to find something to say. “ Well, at least the mutations aren’t as bad as I expected.” As if that was good news.

“What mutations? What is going on here?” Frost was standing in the doorway, her eyes wide and her arms still folded.

Bark looked up, the fear in his eyes turned to dire panic. “Frost.”

She walked up and looked at him, “ Bark, what is wrong? What are you hiding from me? I deserve to know.”

Tobias cleared his throat, “ Ms. Frost, what are you doing here?”

Frost looked at the doctor without any respect for his authority right now, for he was part of the conspiracy to keep vital information about her man from her. “ I came in for a stomach aid. After Bark ran out on our date last night, I haven’t felt good.”

Bark frowned and looked down, “ I am sorry.”

She came over to him and took his hand, “ Bark, I need to know what is wrong? I am not just a friend, I love you. I want to know that you are okay, or if you need any help.”

Toshi came in with the glass of water. “Oh, Ms. Frost. When did you come in?”

Frost looked at Toshi with the same expression she gave Tobias, “ Just now. And I want some answers.”

Toshi handed Bark the glass of water and smiled at him, “ I think she is right. Give her answers. Remember, Inu-chan, when we are with someone we love, we have a responsibility to help them when they hurt. That is her responsibility and right.”

Bark let out a deep sigh and then decided to oblige. He nodded at Tobias, “ You can tell them. They deserve to know.”

Toshi, Frost and Bark all looked at Tobias. He cleared his throat and then stood aside to show them the data simulations on the computer screen. “ It seems that Barks DNA has undergone some mutations due to exposure to the same radiation used to initiate the mutations that first changed him.”

Frost took Barks free hand, “ Is he going to be alright?”

Tobias did not want to say this, no doctor does, but he had to be honest. “ I don’t know. We still have tests to run.”

Everyone frowned at the sound of loud lapping of water. Looking back at Bark, they found him face down in the glass using his tongue to lap up the water. He stopped and looked up, having only just realized what he was doing. Lifting his wet muzzle he closed his eyes and said to Frost, “ I am becoming a dog. That is why I ran, I couldn’t let you see me changing like this.”

Frost held his hand up against her chest, “ Please, don’t face this alone. I love you, that means more than anything in this universe.”

“Aww!” William stated at the romantic scene. After everyone gave him a ‘seriously?!’ look, he said, “Sorry. Go on.”

“ I don’t know what to do.” Bark set the glass of water down and let go of her hand.

Tobias came over with a hypo for more blood. “ That is where I come in. Leave it to me.” He reached around and pressed it up against Barks arm. After he finished, he returned to the diagnostic station and put in the vial. “Have a little faith Bark, you have two of the smartest geneticist on earth working on this. We will find a solution.”

Dr. Ogle smiled at that compliment, “ Thanks. I will do whatever I can, Mr. Bark, to help you.”

Bark cleared his throat, closed his eyes and pushed down the seething anger he had for this person and his suit of armor. With a nod he accepted.
Just then the doors of the Infirmary opened and Bolt came in, battered and bruised, with Solstice in his arms. She was out cold and covered in burnt places on her uniform.

“ Bolt, what happened?” Tobias asked.

He walked over and laid her on one of the emergency care beds. “ We failed.”
 
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“ Her injuries aren’t fatal, she will survive. “ Dr. Glyph reported to The General.

The General, Dr. Glyph, Dr. Ogle, Bolt, Frost, and Bark were all in the infirmary. The General having just arrived after the first news reports started to trickle in.

The General closed his eyes and let out a sigh, “ Good. Now, Bolt, care to explain what happened?”

Bolt looked at everyone and felt like a kid at the front of class giving a report. Bolt Cleared his throat and explained, “ We thought we had it. The mission went exactly as planned, the bot shot the body, and it went down. All we had to do was retrieve the body and bring it back. That is where it got crazy.”. . . .

¯

“ Okay, take it by the arms. Bolt, you and I will get the legs.” Solstice commanded both the bot and Bolt as they approached the body.

Solstice was the first one there, and the first to see that the arm was moving. She jumped back, but not quick enough. The body lifted its arm quickly and shot her dead center of her chest with a blast of green energy. Solstice was sent tumbling across the field in almost the same fashion as the body had been brought down.

“SOLSTICE !” Bolt burst out at top speed to get between her and the now standing body.

The body got to its feet and turned to them, the speaker on it announced. “ I am Ichabod, the destroyer! Dr. Ogle’s masterpiece of destruction! This town will fall to my power. “ It lifted its arm and shot a blast at Bolt, which of course was dodged by the extremely fast man.

Bolt dashed off at the body and intended to grab the arm and release a massive jolt of electricity. When Bolt moves like this, it is as though everyone else is slowing down. He saw the arm and reached out for it, but with incredible speed, the arm moved away and the body caught him off guard. It jutted out a foot and tripped Bolt in a childish, but effective fashion. Bolt was sent tumbling over and over past the bot.

“ STAND DOWN!” The security bot went right into action. It lifted its arm and trained its energy weapon on the body. It did not consider the fact that this energy weapon was not the normal laser attached to it, and it wouldn’t have any effect on the body.

“ Oh shut up you stupid automaton.” The body ran right at the bot, clotheslining it one direction, and just before the bot fell backwards, it came back and hit it again coming the other direction. The bot fell face first into the ground, two enormous dents on its surface.

Bolt got back to his feet and took in a great breath. He concentrated to charge himself up to maximum power. The more energy, the faster he moves. The armored body turned to train its own arm lasers on Bolt when suddenly, the blonde haired speed master rushed right at him. He moved so fast that all anything could see was a yellowish blur with sparks flying on the ground. Bolt got it by the arm and spun around and around with it, using centrifugal force to lift it off the ground. With a sudden stop, he threw it clear past the field and into the stadium seats. It crashed through the seats, through the concrete, and into the women’s bathroom.

Happy with his success, Bolt returned to Solstice and knelt down to her. She was coming around, “ Oh, my head. What happened?”

Bolt shook his head, “ I don’t think we succeeded. It seems to have a mind of its own.”

Solstice took his hand and got back to her feet. Her uniform was torn, and she was a mess, but that mattered very little right now. “ Looks like we are going to have to destroy it. Where is it?”

“ I threw it pretty hard, it is….COMING!!” The body burst up through the seats near the hole it had previously made. It was flying right at them.

“ INCOMING DANGER!” The security bot stood back up.

“ No kidding.” Bolt replied.

Solstice glared at the body and stood her ground. She held up both hands and focused the sunlight that was feeding into her. With a clear shot, she created a solar beam that sent the flying armored body out of control, crashing through the far goal post, and once again slamming into the seats. This time, it did not break through the ground, but it was dealt a pretty hard blow.

Bolt’s eyes were wide, “Wow, now that was a blast.”

She wasn’t one to brag, but she did enjoy this. “ When I get a good, clear shot, I can do real damage. “

Bolt frowned as he looked at the far end of the stadium. “ Did we get it?”

“ DANGER, ACTIVE WEAPONS!!” The bot announced, its sensors at work.

“ I guess not. Here it comes!” Solstice called out. The body lifted up from the stadium and flew right at them.

“ You foolish people. I cannot be destroyed. I am Ichabod.” It announced in a strangely egotistical tone.

Solstice glared at it, “ You are under arrest for the willful damage of public property, the endangerment and deaths of civilians, and…”

“HA! Stupid girl, I have barely begun. When I am done, this whole town will be nothing but ruins. Starting with this stadium.” The body lifted both arms and started spraying the stadium with energy blasts.

“ ENOUGH!” Solstice had heard and seen enough of this thing, she released another blast of solar energy, only this time it missed its target. The body was much too fast for her.

“ Die!” The body dodged blast after blast with unimaginable speed. It got Solstice with one blow, and then another, much like it had the security bot. Only, Solstice did not dent, she went down. The body hovered over her to give the final blast that would leave her with a sizeable hole in the chest.

Bolt darted across the ground with his knees slightly bent. With an enormous leap, he shot into the air and used his momentum to shove the body away from its target. It tumbled through the air while Bolt landed perfectly. He dashed back to Solstice and checked her. She was still alive, but unable to move on her own. “ Come on, we can’t defeat this thing alone.” He scooped her up in his arms and ran with her.

“ YOU WON’T GET AWAY THAT EASILY!” Ichabod shot at them, huge energy beams broke the ground and made the field sink into the basements below.

Bolt dodged blast after blast, his intention was to get back to the shuttle. “SECURITY BOT, DEFEND US!” it was his only hope.

The security bot adjusted its parameters to combat this device and the jets in its feet lifted it into the sky. “ DESIST, VILLAIN.” The bot announced and flew right at Ichabod.

Ichabod did not see it coming and was hit midsection by the bot, both flying through the air. Ichabod punched, shot, and kicked the bot, the bot returned the fight in kind. Both crashed into seats, walls, and other places. Ichabods energy weapons blasted more and more of Neyland stadium. The walls started to fall, the concrete levels of seats cracked and crumbled. The field below was collapsing under the strain. The bot would not survive this battle long, but it was just a distraction.

Bolt placed Solstice on the floor of the shuttle and then jumped into the pilots seat. They had to lift off soon, or the ground beneath them was going to give way. He prayed that their shielding would protect them, if not, this was going to be a short trip. To his relief, the shuttle lifted off just as the ground below failed..

“ Computer, alert status one. Scan for any pursuant enemies.” Bolt ordered.

The computer announced, “ Enemies on radar. No pursuit pattern detected.”

Bolt programmed in the navigation to take them back to the ULH. “ Computer, alert the police, state troopers, and national guard in and around Knoxville Tennesse, there is a class 10 enemy within the city limits.”

“ Acknowledged, messages sent.” The computer stated.

Bolt looked out the window and watched the famous Neyland stadium crumble into a pile of debris. Then, to his dismay, he could see Ichabod fly away from the rubble, the security bot nowhere to be seen. It was a long shot.

¯

“If that thing is just running on its own computer, that computer has gone berserk.” Bolt exclaimed in the infirmary.
The General looked back at Dr. Ogle, “ It said it was fighting FOR him?” he asked Bolt.

Bolt nodded, “ Yes. It said something about being Dr. Ogles masterpiece of destruction.”

Dr. Olge frowned, “ I never programmed it to do anything like that. “

The General wasn’t buying this. “ Tell me, doctor, why would it suddenly make such an obviously megalomaniacal statement?”

“ I…I don’t know. “ William was beginning to see where this was going. “ I don’t want to hurt anyone. I am a researcher, not a destroyer.”

The General shook his head, “ Then why build such a powerful suit of armor, clone a powerful body. This doesn’t sound like the normal activity of a researcher. “

“ Hold on, wait a minute. I know Doctor Ogle, he isn’t an enemy.” Tobias stepped in.

“ Have you read his mind yet?” The General asked.

Dr. Glyph looked at Dr. Ogle, “No. But, I can tell you that I have not sensed any lie in him.”

“ Wait, wait, I think I have something.” Dr. Ogle exclaimed.

“ What?” The General asked, rather harshly.

“ The body called itself Ichabod, right?” he looked at Bolt.

Bolt nodded, “ Several times. It even referred to itself as Ichabod the destroyer.”

“ Ichabod was a nickname for the project, and a possible hero identity, but we never programmed it into the armors computer. There is no way that it could know that.”

“ We? Who else worked on this with you?” Dr. Glyph asked.

“ Well, at the first stages of this project, I had a student who showed incredible talent at cloning and genetic manipulation. He was very imaginative and kept calling my body, Ichabod. “

The General asked, “ Who was this person? Did he have a reason to alter your project?”

“ His name was Torren Wild, man I haven’t thought about him for a couple years now. I guess he might be angry at me, but I was just one of the professors who kicked him out.”

Bolt said, “ Kicked him out. Sounds like a good motive. What happened? Illegal genetic research? Selling weapons to foreign governments?”

Dr. Ogle shook his head, “ Plagiarism.”

“ Plagiarism?” Dr. Glyph asked.

“ Yes. It was discovered that half of the papers he turned in were bought online instead of being his own work.”

Frost now asked, “ Is that serious?”

Dr. Ogle nodded, “ Oh yes. Plagiarism can cost a student all of his credits as well as being kicked out. If it is bad enough, he or she can be banned from going back to school. We take that very seriously.”

The General responded to this, “ Sounds kind of flimsy to me. I can see where he might be angry, but to do this kind of damage, I am not buying it.”

Dr. Ogle looked right at The General, “ Last I heard, he was still in Knoxville. Find him and see if I am right. If not, then you are right, I am the only suspect. “

The General looked at Dr. Glyph, “ Doctor Ogle is under arrest, place him in a holding cell and get all the information about this armor that you can. Bolt, you get the teams ready, we are going down to take that thing out. “
Bark piped up, “ What can I do?”

The General came over to Bark with a less serious look, “ Son, you are going to sit this one out. You need to recover from whatever is wrong with you. I am sorry, but that is my final word. Toshi, take care of him, Frost, you will work with Bolt and myself on team alpha. We are at full alert people, this is a class 10 situation, move.” He left the infirmary to get in touch with the local authorities around East Tennessee.

Bolt came over to Frost, “ Come on, we don’t have a lot of time.”

Frost looked to Bark, his puppy eyes pleading to be taken with them, to fight this enemy. “ Get better. I will be back in no time.”

Bark took her by the shoulder and pulled her in for a deep kiss, the first they have shared in days. While their lips were embraced, his collar said, “ I love you. Please, be careful.”

Frost separated herself from Bark, “ I love you too.” With that, she and Bolt left.

Bark watched them leave then snarled and slammed his fist on the medical tray next to the bed. He broke the arm off of the station holding the tray and when the tray itself hit the ground there was a sizeable dent in it. “Damnit, I should be out there. No one hates that stupid thing more than I. I deserve to destroy it!” His anger was seething.

Dr. Ogle sighed, “ It was not designed to do this, I swear. “

Bark snarled and was growling in his chest. His finger pointing at the head, “ If that thing even touches Frost, you will be floating outside in space.”

Tobias stepped in-between them, “Bark, cool down.” This kind of outburst was not common for Bark, and Tobias could sense that it was deep seated and a touch primal.

Bark took in a slow breath and calmed down, “I am sorry. It’s like there is a fire in my belly and I cannot get it under control.”

Toshi took Barks hand and directed him down from the table, “ Come on, let’s have something to eat, I am sure you are hungry.”

Tobias had Dr. Ogles box in his arms waiting to leave with him for the security office, Dr. Glyph stopped near Bark, “ Bark, I will still be working on your problem. Don’t worry about it, just focus on feeling better.”

Bark nodded at them and then followed his sensei out of the infirmary. How can they say ‘feel better’? He wasn’t sick, he was changing. No amount of aspirin could stop him from mutating.
¯
All around the downtown area, Knoxville was watching the smoke rise from where Neyland stadium used to be. Cars stopped right in the middle of the street while people were standing everywhere, not sure what was happening.

Then a new sound was heard. A siren blared in the distance. This was a siren that had not been used in Knoxville in decades. Designed to warn them of disaster at the Oak Ridge Nuclear facility, now it was being used to get everyone’s attention.

All the radios, televisions, and speakers on top of emergency vehicles began to announce, “ All citizens of Knox County are warned that there is an evacuation order in progress. Everyone is advised to stay calm and leave the county in an orderly fashion. Police, National Guard, and State troopers will be assisting in this mandatory evacuation. I repeat….”

Panic ensued.

¯

The General stood in the middle of the hanger bay of the ULH spacestation. Around him were the students, instructors, and other heroes that were under the command of the ULH. The first year students and those who had not passed their field exams, were not there.

High above them, the hangers grasping arms lifted shuttles out of holding bays and set them down for launch. The General spoke to the group to give his orders out.

“Okay, here is the situation. We have a rogue enemy that is intent on destroying a metropolitan area. He has high level weapons, speed, and tactical skill. He is also willing to put himself in danger. Students, your responsibility is to help with the evacuation. Do not engage the enemy unless it is threatening that task. Instructors with flight capability, you are to distract and attack the enemy. Keep it away from the population as best as you can. Bolt, Frost and I will be searching for who or what is in control of this and stopping it. This is a priority one mission, many lives are at stake.” The room nodded in agreement. “ Those are your orders. Communicate with your team leaders and don’t fill the line with chatter. Get to your shuttles, dismissed.”

Bolt came over to The General. “ I have been in touch with the authorities, they cannot find this Torren Wild. His last known address is abandoned, and there aren’t any records of his move or where he might be right now.”

“ My guess is that he is still in the city. Most likely in an area that has not been hit, and most likely won’t be hit.” The General looked over to a short woman with a red and black polka dotted cape on. “Ladybug.”

The girl came over and stood at attention. “Yes, General?”

“ We must assume that the person controlling this thing is using some sort of advanced communications link.”

“That would be my guess.” She stated plainly.

“ I want you to get back to the control center and see if you can track it. We need to find a way to trace this person, or we will be on a wild goose chase.”

Ladybug nodded, “At once.” She left them for the command center of the station, where some of the most advanced communications equipment was located.

The General looked at Bolt, “ If anyone can trace a com signal, its Ladybug. Right now we have to protect that city. Let’s move!”

“Right away, sir.” Bolt saluted, which was not customary, but it was for this joker, and then he ran off toward his designated shuttle.

The General walked over to Bastion, “ Bastion, I need you to stay behind and command the back ups”

Bastion, the oldest hero of the ULH, frowned, “ You don’t want me down there fighting alongside you? This could be one hell of a battle.”

“No, if this goes south, you will bring whoever you can from here down to Knoxville.” The General sounded grim.

Bastion smiled, “ You can’t possibly be that worried about this. “

The General was not smiling, “ That thing just took down one of our best superheroes. So far, we have thrown a lot at it and it continues to go. It has no fear of death and is certain of its power. Trust me Bastion, the most dangerous enemy is one with nothing to lose. I am just making sure that we have a backup plan.”

Bastion nodded, “ Yeah, I taught you that, didn’t I?”

“ Yup.” Now The General smiled.

Bastion waved him off, “ Good luck down there.”

“Same to you.” The General left for his shuttle.

¯

Dr. Ogles head box was sitting on the bed in the holding cell he was assigned by security. Tobias had both of his hands on Williams head, both of their eyes closed. It was a quiet few moments while Dr. Glyph scanned his friends memories.

Tobias backed up and opened his eyes, “ There, I have them all.”

William smiled, “ Satisfied?”

Tobias nodded, “ You are innocent. I am sorry I had to do that.”

“It’s okay. I would rather be proven right than questioned about this for the rest of my life. Can you take me back to the infirmary?” Though William was always confined to this box, he still did not want to be sitting in a holding cell.

Tobias let out a slow breath, “ I can’t do that. Only The General can sign off on your innocence. When he returns, I will make sure he does. For now, just…be patient and read a book or something.”

“Sure, I’ll use my tongue to turn the pages.” William was always a little bit of a smartass.

Dr. Glyph laughed, “Yeah, well, I…wait, I know what you can do. Here.” He pulled out the data chip that held all the newly compiled data on Barks condition. He reached over and plugged it into the slot on the side of the box. “ You can review the data and see what you find. I am sure I can always use the extra help.”

Dr. Ogle smiled, “Sure. I don’t mind. “

The computer announced, “ Tobias Glyph, your presence is required in the monitoring room. Mission orders alpha one.”

Tobias looked up and then let out a sigh. He would be commanding the station while The General was on the ground. “ Looks like I am on duty. If there is anything I can do for you, please tell the guard. I am truly sorry that you are stuck here.”

“It is I who is sorry. This is all my fault. Why did I have to build that armor? What was I thinking? All I needed was a good body, but I just had to make it powerful. Now, I have caused death and destruction all over Knoxville.” William could not hold this in any longer.

Tobias knelt down so he was eye to eye with the doctor on the bed, “ Do not blame yourself. Villains have a way of taking something good and turning it bad. You may have built the bomb, but you did not detonate it.”

“Might as well have.” William lamented.

Dr. Glyph shook his head, “ It will be alright. You will not be blamed. Trust me. Now, if there is anything you need, contact me. I have to go.”

William nodded and then watched his old friend step outside of the barrier. The security drone activated the force field and Tobias was off to the stations command center. William closed his eyes and tried to push his guilt out of his mind again. He had hidden this well over the past few days, but it was so hard to face right now. Especially with Bark screaming at him in anger because of what it did to him.

What was his body doing? Who was cowering in fear at the sight of the headless thing destroying them? Fortunate for him, he activated the chip that Tobias plugged in. The data started streaming into his mind and it took his thoughts away from the pointless worrying.

¯

“ The People of Knoxville are in a panic this afternoon. Henley Street Bridge and Neyland Stadium have both been leveled by an unnamed super villain. An evacuation order has been issued to all civilians. News Channel Ten has been informed that the ULH is sending down support to help us with……OH MY GOD!” The news anchor broke his demeanor as the whole studio shook. All around him people were rushing to see what was happening. “Hey, Henry, can you get this?” The anchor behind the desk got up and the camera changed from the normal view to another camera that was shaking and moving with the cameraman.

The image changed to look outside, down to the main highway that bi-sects Knoxville. Three places along the highway were demolished with burning craters where the road used to be. Semi trucks were upended having gone over the edge, and cars were crashing into each other trying to not fall in.

“OH MY GOD!” The anchor screamed and then tried to regain his composure, “ Uh, people, what we are looking at here are three massive holes in what used to be I-40. WHAT IS THAT?! GET UP THERE, LOOK!” One could see the newsman’s arm thrust upward through the shot, then the camera followed.

They were looking at Ichabod flying through the air as it unleashed yet another volley of green energy blasts that destroyed more of I-40. Then, without warning, Ichabod flew right at the window where the news people were standing. It stopped only inches away from the glass. The people inside had fallen to the ground at the sight of him coming; they expected him to blast them too.

The camera man stood up along with the anchor. “ I.i.i.i.it seems to be…”

“I AM ICHABOD, CREATION OF DR. WILLIAM OGLE. IN TEN MINUTES I AM GOING TO RAZE U.T. TO THE GROUND!! KEEP THOSE CAMERAS ROLLING!!” it seemed to take delight in this destruction.

Suddenly, something or someone crashed right into Ichabod, shoving him through the air.

“Wait a minute, what is that?” The anchor asked.

One could hear the camera man state, “ Is that Rocket from the ULH?”

“Yes, Yes it is!” The whole newsroom cheered. Papers flew up into the air, people clapped and hugged each other.

The camera moved to look up into the sky at the sight of four shuttles coming down and three other flying superheroes following along.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the ULH has arrived.”

¯

“ I don’t want to watch anymore.” Bark said crassly.

Toshi switched off the monitor in the back room of the dojo. She had brought Bark back here to comfort him, and try and get his mind off of his troubles. “ It is hard to watch your friends go into battle. Especially when you cannot join them.”

Bark frowned, “ I don’t understand why I can’t go. I am still able to fight. Believe me, no one hates that damned body more than I.”

Toshi smiled, “ You know something, hate is a bad thing to hold onto.”

Bark snarled and did not respond to that.

“ You need to focus on good things, love, hope, friendship, your training. Hate should be let go of.” Toshi calmly poured some tea.

Bark got up and walked out of the small room heading for the dojo room. “ I only know of the hate. What that thing did to me has left me inhuman. I want revenge. I want satisfaction.”

Toshi quietly set down the teapot and then took something off of a shelf and followed her student out. “ Perhaps you do need some satisfaction, but not through hate or revenge.”

Bark stopped in the middle of the dojo. “ What?”

Toshi came up to him and pulled up his hand. She carefully placed a small box in it. “Consider your choices, Inu-chan. Even the smallest choices affect your entire life. Choose to focus on what is good and not what angers you.” After that, she left him.

Bark opened up his hand and looked at the box, it was the ring that he had bought to propose to Frost. Opening it, he looked at the ring and the hatred in his heart began to melt. How he imagined that moment, asking her the question, putting the ring on her finger, embracing her in gratitude and love. For a moment, a brief moment, he forgot about his troubles. The universe seemed a better place.

Closing his eyes, he thought about all the scenarios he had considered upon how he might go about asking her this question. He wanted it to be special. He did not have any fear that she would turn him down, but he wanted to show her how much she meant to him by the amount of effort he put into the moment. Then, the moment moved from that question all the way to the wedding. He thought about standing before everyone and making vows to the love of his life, and having her vow to him. He would put a ring on her finger and she would put one on his.

Bark opened his eyes, his left hand held out like she was placing the ring on his hand. The smile and elation faded in him. He wasn't looking at a strong man’s hand, but a paw with claws and fur. It was hideous, a monsters hand. Gripping his fingers into a fist, he wanted to hit something. Hatred again surged through his body.

He looked away from his hand and walked over to a floor length mirror that Toshi used to properly dress in her kimono’s. He looked at himself, his whole body. In a way he started to feel better, he didn’t look any different. In his mind he felt like he had changed on the outside, but he hadn’t. Then, he started to see the reflection of the monster from his dreams. The thing that he became and killed Frost was standing in front of him. He slammed his fist through the glass and shattered the mirror. This cut his hand, but he didn’t even feel it. He was angry, he was beyond angry. There was no logic left in his mind, only loathing.

Yet, through all of this, a tear fell from his eye. Not from pain of the glass burrowed into his flesh, but the knowledge that Frost would never love a monster like him. He was no longer good enough for her. He would become a danger to her and everyone else.

“Bark, is everything alright?” Toshi called from the other room after hearing the glass shatter.

Opening his non-bloody hand, he let the ring box tumble out of it and fall to the ground of the dojo.

“Everything is fine. I am going back to my quarters to rest.”

Toshi responded, “ Good, rest will help. I will come and find you if anything changes with the mission.”

“ Thank you, Sensei.” He said this with real meaning behind it, for he expected to never see her again. Without looking back, Bark left the dojo, leaving Frost’s ring and his life behind.
 
Flag Post
Coach Thrasher stood in the middle of a usually busy road near campus, with all four arms carrying a broken down old jeep. He waited and waited, suddenly Rocket came through with Ichabod right behind him. Thrasher launched the vehicle into the air, smashing it against Ichabod.

“ HA, GOTCHA!” Thrasher yelled out.

Rocket landed near Thrasher and looked at the brutish four armed hero, “ That was certainly creative. I thought the General only ordered the flight capable heroes to take this thing on?”

Thrasher pulled out a cigar and started to light it, “ I am in charge of making sure that the students are evacuating. Stopping that stupid headless thing is a part of that.”

Rocket laughed, “ I guess, if you look at it like….WATCHOUT!” He shoved Thrasher over just as that same jeep came tumbling by them, having been re-launched by Ichabod. The only victim was the cigar that hadn’t even been lit yet.

“THAT DAMNED BODY! THAT WAS A CUBAN!” Thrasher was mad, something that no one should aspire for.

Rocket blasted back into flight and headed right for the body, Thrasher started running at it. Though his orders were to clear the university, he was mad now. When Thrasher gets really angry, he lets his temper be his guide.

Rocket met Ichabod in the sky with a fist to its chest. His hand hurt like hell, and the body seemed unfazed by the attack. Suddenly, Ichabod turned on Rocket with intent to kill. The hero wanted to get its attention like this, that way he could lead it on a chase that would keep it from doing any actual harm. Rocket turned and darted away, leaving a trail of fire and smoke behind him.

Ichabod followed, flying at incredible speeds. Rocket jockeyed between buildings, under bridges, and high into the sky. He was having fun. He thought Ichabod was too far behind to do any actual harm.

Without warning, Rockets feet were caught by two hands. Ichabod had caught up with him and was now gripping him. With a mighty throw, Ichabod caused Rocket to lose control and slam right through the front windows of the art building.

Rocket sat up, holding his head, “ Ow.” He found himself being held up by the unusual arms of a sculpted piece of modern art.

“ You stupid heroes think you are anything compared to me!” Ichabod announced from the broken window. He held up a hand and shot Rocket, slamming him through the sculpture and into a cement block wall.

Rocket fell to the ground and hardly had enough strength to lift his head. He looked up in time to see Ichabod readying another shot to finish him off. Just as the blast was about to be released, a park bench hit Ichabod in the side and knocked him down, the green energy blast was deflected harmlessly into the sky.

Thrasher came stomping through, his teeth bared and all four fists clinched. “ You arrogant jerk!”

Ichabod got to his feet and started to run at Thrasher. He wasn’t going to blast him, Thrasher was famous for being resistant to energy weapons. No, he was going to break his jaw. Thrasher was a strength hero, how demoralizing would it be to lose a strength battle. Just as Ichabods fist was about to make contact with Thrashers face, Thrasher literally punched Ichabods fist with his own. Both people fell back from the shockwave of that contact.

Ichabod wagged his hand around after that powerful impact and then turned back to Thrasher. “ Let’s see you fly.” Ichabod announced and then started to take off, not willing to go fist on fist again with this man.

“ HA!” Thrasher ran with more speed than a musclebound brute normally displays. He caught Ichabod by the ankles and slammed him to the ground. Kneeling forward, holding the armored body with his lower arms, he used his upper arms to repeatedly punch the armor over and over, hoping to break it. “LETS SEE HOW STRONG YOU REALLY ARE WITHOUT THIS DAMNED ARMOR!” Thrasher was really mad now.

“Hey, look. Isn’t that Thrasher!” A pair of students came upon them. They had decided to take the opportunity to advance their student reporting class by getting real footage of today’s battle. One held a camera while the other directed and talked.

Unfortunately, this distracted Thrasher for a moment. Just when he was going to yell at these students for not evacuating, he was blasted away with an energy beam.

Ichabod got back to his feet. His armor was dented in several places. The worst place was on his shoulder, which was cracking. Looking at Thrasher he smugly said, “ Well, I guess the mighty Thrasher is indeed harmed by my energy weapons.” He held out a hand and shot Thrasher again, tumbling the four armed hero across the ground.

“Oh my God!” The reporter yelled out and started to back away.

Ichabod turned to them, “ Remember this day, the day that the University of Tennesse was destroyed, by me, Ichabod, the mightiest creation of Dr. William Ogle. In five minutes, I will start with Ayers Hall. Be sure to get plenty of footage, I would hate for anyone to miss this.” With that, he blasted off, out of sight.



Toshi had found the broken mirror and the ring box in the middle of the dojo and decided to bring it to Bark. She wasn’t stupid, she knew he felt he could no longer ask the love of his life to marry him. Now it was a mother’s time to work. She would convince him he did not need to give up, that he was being foolish. And if he decided to back out of this, he would not only face the disappointment of Frost, but the wrath of Mom.

Coming to his room, she pressed the door buzzer. Since Bark saved the station, he was promoted in rooms to a single for more privacy. This meant there would be no one else here right now and she could go in without worry of bothering a roommate. So, when he did not answer, she went on in.

“ Inu-chan, we need to talk.” She came into the small, dorm style room to find it empty. “Inu-chan? Where are you?” Looking around, she wanted to be certain he wasn’t sleeping on the floor again or sitting against a wall. But, he wasn’t here. Turning to leave, she glanced at his desk and found a letter with her name written on it.

There was a sinking, cold feeling in her as she opened the letter. It was short and direct. It read, “ Dear Toshi Sensei. Thank you for believing in me when I did not. But, I know that I cannot go on like this. I cannot leave Frost, so I will do the next best thing. Please give her the ring when you feel it is right. Bark.”

Grabbing the letter and running, Toshi hardly let the door open before she was on her way to the shuttle bay.



Bastion waited patiently in the shuttle bay for the possibility of having to organize the rest of the station for a second wave attack. He didn’t mind waiting, but he hated sitting around while the others fought. He wasn’t a spry young man anymore, but he could still hold his own in battle, barring a little arthritis, and a bad knee, and there was that stomach issue.

Just then Bark walked through the shuttle bay. He seemed fixed on something. Bastion looked at him, “ Good afternoon, Mr. Bark. Can I help you?”

Bark looked at him and shook his head, “ Just out for a walk.”

“ It’s always nice to stretch your legs. Of course, that is when your bursitis isn’t acting up, and…” he was used to students sort of walking away when he started talking about health. So, he let this go and got back to watching the little view screen with the news reports going.

Not two minutes later Toshi came in looking around frantically. “ Bark!” She yelled out.

“ Toshi sensei. What are you doing here? I thought that all the other instructors were ordered down to the planet.” Bastion was surprised.

Toshi frowned at him, “ The General does not order me around. Besides, I was asked to look after Bark. Have you seen him?”

“ As a matter of fact I….what the hell?” Just then the shuttle lifted off from the platform and started heading for the force field. “WHAT IS HE DOING?!” Bastion got up and ran for the shuttle.

It was too late. The shuttle buzzed through the forcefield and left the station. “ Oh Inu-chan, don’t do this. ” Toshi lamented as she watched the shuttle head for the planet.

Bastion looked at her with a worried expression. “ Should I contact the General?”

Toshi nodded, “ Yes, we must find a way to stop him. I can’t lose him like I lost my first son.”



The General ran through the crowds of escaping people. The Knoxville Police, Knox County Sheriff department, and the ULH student corps worked to make sure that everyone was getting out safely without too much hysteria. Of course, there was always a level of panic, but that was understandable.

“ Red, status report !?” The General found Red Fury in charge of the ULH support.

In his usual gruff, loud tone Red Fury responded, “ Interstate 40 is out of commission. The Hospital, media, and tour helicopters are lifting wounded out of the danger zone. I have the students escorting as many of the walking people to the buses as they can. I am going to have our two strongest telekinetics lift the buses out with the helicopters. The two available ULH shuttles are going into areas to check for anyone still behind. You make sure that that stupid Ichabod doesn’t come over and make this mess worse!”

The General nodded, “We’re doing our best.”

“ General! We have a call from HQ!” Bolt ran over with his communicator open.

The General took it, “ What do you have?”



Ladybug stood in the middle of the command center with a headset on, five of the best communication droids sat behind her, tracking every last signal in Knoxville. The view screen was covered with the news reports showing the situation. The little windows were open over a satellite image of Knoxville from Space.

“ We have tracked every signal in and around Knox county Tennessee. There is one signal that is ten times stronger than a standard cell phone. The signal is sent and received within the county. Also, it is linked with something that is mobile. “



The General looked up, “ Okay, that must be our signal. Do you have a source?” He listened and nodded, “ Good work. Keep monitoring the situation. See if you can disrupt the signal from your location. We will go in and stop it at the source.” He closed the phone sized communicator.

Bolt took the communicator and looked at the General, “ Well?”

“ We have a destination. Let’s move.” Without need for any other orders, The General walked back over to the shuttle they had landed in.



Bark watched out the front window of the shuttle he had stolen. There were tears in his eyes while he tried to focus on his objective.
He hated his life more than ever right now. So many things were running around his head that he had a hard time concentrating. The idea of mutating into a mindless dog was horrible enough, but then he thought about those soldiers who attacked them in Korea. Would the ULH have to kill him? He was so resistant to weapons that he could be very deadly. Energy weapons would not stop him, bullets would hurt, but he would still keep going with his mind gone like that. But, even Tobias had told him that he could still be frozen. Would Frost have to kill him? He would not put her through that torment. He would end his life how he wanted to end it, as a hero. Not only would he save Knoxville, he would get revenge for what happened to him.
Was he thinking clearly? No. But, sometimes the heart makes choices that are not logical, or even reasonable.

The shuttle bucked as it entered the atmosphere. The air currents needed to be accommodated for. Bark was good as a student pilot, but not experienced. He was fighting the controls as much as he was fighting emotions. He typed in a command which told the computer to search for the armored body.

Suddenly, the city of Knoxville came into view. The river was gleaming with the sunlight shining up into his eyes, there were large plumes of smoke where the interstate had been destroyed, and he could see people massing at the exits in attempts to get to safety.

The computer beeped that it could not locate the body. But, that was not necessary. Bark looked out to see it flying through the sky. He recognized it immediately. Without any hesitation in him, he directed the shuttle to land.


The shuttle slowly lowered onto the empty parking lot of a shopping center that had been vacant of shops long before anyone called for evacuation. The dirt and leaves of the late winter blew aside as the ship made contact with the pavement.

The door to the shuttle opened and The General stepped out. He looked around to see where their culprit might be, followed by Frost and then Bolt.

“ Okay, Ladybug located the signal coming from a shop in this place.”

Frost frowned and looked around. There was a McDaniels hamburger joint that was evacuated, and the only operating business here. Along the strip were several small shops, two large locations that had been an outdoor garden place and a fabric store. Last was a single old movie theater. “ So, which one?” She asked.

The General scanned the shops with his eyes, “ I don’t know. She could not pinpoint it that closely. The power signature is coming from the main lines that run this whole place, we really don’t have anything to go on. We will just have to search.”

Bolt pointed at the Theater, “ It’s gotta be the old theater.”

“Why?” Frost asked.

The General turned around, “ What reason do you have?”

“ It’s creepy, cliché’ and obvious. The villain always chooses the old theater.”

The General couldn’t explain why, but that actually made sense. “ Okay, we’ll check there first. Come on.” They didn’t have time to consider more options. The ten minutes were almost up.



Bark was about to land near The Hill, one of Knoxville’s most famous landmarks, and the location of the first building that Ichabod had declared he would destroy.

“ That’s enough, Bark. “ Suddenly Bastions voice came through the com system.

Bark pressed the com button, “ Leave me alone.”

“Nope, the computer will now return that shuttle.” Without any further warning, the autopilot activated and the shuttles decent stopped. It hovered for a second while the sensors plotted a return course.

“ NO!” Bark slammed his fists against the controls, breaking a few of the surfaces. It didn’t stop the shuttle, but it did open the door. He looked over and knew what he had to do.



The General, gun at the ready, Bolt, fully charged, and Frost walked through the deathly dark theater. It was creepier than expected. The place had had several of its windows broken and nature had blown in making the floor wet and moldy in a lot of places. The movie posters from five years ago were still in the mounts, though ragged and faded almost beyond recognition.

Frost jumped at the sight of a large spider web that she almost made contact with, “Creepy was an understatement. This is like a bad horror movie.”

Bolt smiled like a 13 year old, “ Cool, isn’t it.”

“Focus people.” The General held out a hand, “ Do you hear that?” he craned his head.

Bolt and Frost both stopped moving and listened. Bolt nodded, “ Yes, it’s coming from the theater with the Grindhouse poster.”

Frost shuddered, “ Figures.”

They made their way down the hall as quietly as possible. It was more and more apparent that someone was there. Light was flickering out the door and sounds were getting louder as they approached.

The General stopped the other two at the door giving them the ‘hush’ sign with one finger and then directed them with his eyes to stand on either side of the door. It was obvious that he would go in first.

The General slowly entered the room, hoping to catch this person off guard. The room was devoid of the normal theater chairs and filled with computer equipment, a holding chamber for the armored body, and several large screens with information running on them. The main theater screen had the images of what Ichabod was seeing plastered all across it, the projector having been replaced by a digital system. A man was sitting in a chair at the front holding all the controls. He was speaking into a mic that was the voice of Ichabod. After he spoke into the mic, the body would translate it into its own voice and repeat what he said. It was like a horrific Wizard of Oz.

“THAT’S ENOUGH, FREEZE!” The General got the attention of the man at the controls.

Torren Wild turned around in his office chair, a smile on his face. He was a very, very heavy man who had spent too many hours behind a computer screen and not enough on a treadmill. But, for his less than imposing appearance, he certainly didn’t look like a man with a gun pointed at his head.

“ So, the famous General has come to arrest me. How did you find me?” He wasn’t showing an ounce of fear.

The General glared at him, “ I don’t have time for this. Turn off your systems and shut down that Ichabod, or I will shut it down for you.”

Torren stood up, still not afraid, “ You and what army?”

The General rolled his eyes at that cliché, “ Enough, “ he shot at the man’s shoulder to take him down. The bullet bounced off.

Torren smiled victoriously, “you don’t think that I would not protect myself. I did help Dr. Ogle design that armor afterall.”

“I don’t have time for this.” The General pointed the gun at Torrens head, intent on ending this threat now. He shot, but Torren moved at the same speed as Ichabod, dodging the bullet. The cape he had wrapped around his body against the cold theater fell off, revealing a sloppy version of the armor that Ichabod wore. Sloppy, but effective.

“Frost! Bolt!”

Frost and Bolt came through the door, Frost with her hand held up. She shot a blast of cold energy at Torren. The man smiled and let it hit him. He shivered but then ran right at her, punching her in the jaw. She went down with blood coming out of the side of her mouth.

“ GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF HER!” Bolt ran at Torren with his hands out, ready to grab and fling just as he had with Ichabod at the stadium. Torren caught him by the arms, his armored hands holding Bolts wrists and trying to crush bone.

Torren glared down at Bolt, “ I am going to win, you are going to lose, and Dr. Ogle will be blamed.” His tone was arrogant and without fear.

The General held up his gun, but was met by a small blast of red energy.

Torren, looming over three defeated heroes, continued crushing Bolts hand, “ You are all going to die, everyone in Knoxville is going to die, and I will fly off with all this tech to sell to the highest bidder. And, you want to know what is the best part, the oh so smart Dr. William Ogle will be blamed.”

Bolt gritted his teeth, but smiled. “ You know, Dr. Ogle did design a good suit of armor, but he also designed a special body to wear it.’’

“Huh?” Torren did not see this coming.

Bolt arched his back and let out a massive jolt of electricity from his deepest parts, having it come through his hands. Torren shook harshly with the electricity spiking all over him. Parts of his own armor burst and shattered while he screamed in pain. He finally let go of Bolt and fell down. He wasn’t dead, his armor had saved him. But, it was worthless now.

The General walked over and pointed his gun at Torrens head again, “ Now, tell me how to turn this off.”

Torren coughed and shook, then he smiled and laughed, “ It’s too late. I have programmed it with the sequence to destroy all of U.T. then it will take out Knoxville. You can’t stop it, you have failed every time you tried. Even if you do, the power cell will explode and take out as much as it can.”

The General knew that he would be reprimanded for killing this man, but he really, really wanted to. Fortunately for Torren, The General had morals. “ Keep him quite. “ He grabbed his communicator, “ ULH this is The General, I……oh my God.”

Frost, who was still gathering herself, stood up to look at the largest Screen. She gasped and then held her mouth. “NO!!”

On the screen: Ichabod was hovering near Ayres Hall, his arm out and ready to destroy it. Only feet away from Ichabod, standing on the very top of the tower was Bark. He was glaring at the Body, his teeth showing through a snarl. Just as the arm shot the blast to destroy the iconic hall, Bark leapt off the building, tackling the body mid-air. Its arm was thrust upward and the blast was sent skyward.

They watched as Bark punched and punched at the body, riding much the same way he had when they first encountered this thing. Only this time there was an animal’s ferocity seething with anger.

Frost ran over to Torren, “TURN IT OFF!!”

Torren laughed, “ Say please first.”

Bolt walked over to the computers and held his hands out, “ I am betting a good shock should do the trick.”

“ Ha! Nothing can stop it now. If it does not complete its mission, the power cell that runs that armor will self-destruct. Do you have any idea what kind of damage a type forty subnuclear energy cell can do? Knoxville will be a smoking crater. “

Frost pulled him up so she was nearly face to face with this creep, “ TURN IT OFF NOW!!!”

Torren sneered at Frost, “ Even if I don’t take out the University, at least I will take one of your stupid heroes down today.”

Frost punched him so hard that he was knocked clean out of his senses.



Bark was carried high into the sky, and then plunged downward toward he ground. The body was trying to shake him loose. Just as they were about to crash into the ground, Bark ripped at the armor and pulled the body upward, forcing it to fly straight at a building.

“Release me, villain.” The bodies voice had returned to its preprogrammed setting.

They flew fast through the University and into the old city. Bark was clinging to the front of the body, holding on with his legs and one hand, he used the other to repeatedly punch it. His punches were hard enough to deflect its path. The body persistently tried to ram Bark into a building, but Bark would deflect the path with a well-placed slam.

“Desist, villain or I will have to destroy you.”

Bark punched the vocal processor so hard that his fist punctured the armor and broke its voice system. It would not be speaking anymore. “THAT’S FOR TAKING AWAY THE LAST SHRED OF MY HUMANITY!”

Suddenly they crashed through the windows of an office building, destroyed five desks and then crashed out of that same building as they headed for the river they had first fought over. Bark held on, but he was a little dazed by the encounter with so much stuff.

The body gripped Bark by the shoulders and pulled him in closer. It was going to slam them both into the ground with Bark sandwiched between the body and the pavement. Shaking off the dazed feeling, Bark realized that he would not survive unless he did something drastic. He wrapped his legs around its waist and thrust his heels up into the things knees. This caused the feet jets to go off course and send them out of control. The body slammed into a light pole, flew sporadically around, then slammed Barks back against a wooden telephone pole. Neither bounces dislodged Bark. The body let go of Barks left side to use its hand jet to stabilize its flight.

Bark grabbed at the other hand with his now freed left hand and painfully ripped its fingers off of him, his own claws digging into his flesh to dislodge Ichabod’s grip. Just then the body was able to straighten out his legs, which forced Barks legs to let go. Bark had to grab it by the collar to stay on it with both of its arms free and his legs no longer having any control.

The body registered that slamming Bark around was not accomplishing anything and was causing too much damage to its own systems, so it’s tactical systems changed plans.

Bark was about to continue ripping at this things armor when his ears picked up the distinct sound of a charging beam. It was about to give Bark a full blast of its green energy weapon. Even though he trusted he could withstand it at a distance, he wasn’t so sure of it right next to his head, and he wasn’t done killing this thing. He grabbed the arm with one of his and pushed it so that its beam would not hit him. It was shooting into the sky like a spot light, only this spotlight could slice a plane in half. Had the shoulder armor not been damaged by Thrasher, Bark would not have been able to keep this things arm at bay, though it was still a struggle.



“BARK! STOP!” Frost was yelling into the mic at the front of the theater. The computer showed a small window that stated, ‘vocal processor has been damaged, recall for repair.’ She did not pay attention, and continued to yell into it, “BARK! PLEASE DON’T!”

The General pulled her back, and looked into her teary eyes, “ He can’t hear you.”

Frost broke down and started crying, “Bark, please don’t do this.” She was so terrified right now that she could not even think of anything else. Would she witness his death? She could not bear the idea of seeing that, so she turned and buried her face in Bolts chest and cried hard. Bolt gently put his arms around her while he too held back tears.

The General grabbed up his communicator, “ Ladybug! Come in!”

“ ULH here?”

“Tell me you have something?” He watched the screen while they got a dizzying view of this battle.

Ladybug replied through the com, “ We linked into his computers and hacked all the codes. I am afraid there is nothing we can do.”

“ Can you turn off its systems.?”

Ladybug answered, “ No, if we do its subnuclear core will be set off. If we don’t let it finish its mission, it is set to go off. It’s a catch 22. And, if that core goes critical near the ground, it will make Hiroshima look like a firecracker. ”

The General closed his eyes, “ Continue analyzing, see if you can figure out anything on your end.” It was a hope, not an order.

Ladybug answered solemnly, “ Yes, sir.”

The General closed the communicator, “ It looks like we have to hope that Bark can stop that thing, or at least get it far enough away to minimize the destruction.”

Frost gripped Bolt tightly, “ But, that would kill him.”

The General could not look at her, “ I know. I can only hope that he knows that.”



Bark and Ichabod flew higher and higher while they both arm wrestled. Icahbods arm was still firing its green blast while it tried to kill the man attached to him. Bark was not going down until he knew for certain that this damned thing was going to be utterly destroyed.

Bark was losing the battle, but this was not his end yet. He mustered all the canine power in his heart and pulled the weapon arm over, breaking bones, ripping off pieces of the armor and nearly killing himself in the process. With a bend in the arm that would have broken the shoulder of any man, Bark forced the body to slice off its own appendage. The green energy beam cut through the armor and bodies shoulder. Bark, now holding the bloodied arm, threw it away.

The final attempt to kill Bark was to choke him out. The body flew upward with Bark still sitting on him. Soon, they would break through the breathable layers of the atmosphere and Bark would suffocate. Bark realized this was the plan and knew he had little time to deal with this thing. With his free hand, he grabbed at the broken parts of the armor where the arm was cut off. He ripped and tore to get the armor off of the body, his hand was covered in blood from the sharp metal he was tearing and from Ichabods own blood where his arm was removed.

They passed clouds, and the earth was a distant planet below them as they ascended into the heavens. Ripping and ripping at the armor, Bark was like a hungry animal tearing flesh from a killed carcass. He was losing the ability to breath, yet it was likely the cold would get him first. He wasn’t sure, nor did he care. With one final pull, he ripped a plate of armor that was attached to some cords that ran right into the body. Feeling this would do the trick, he ripped with all the strength he had left. He pulled a mechanical sphere from where the heart should be. The orb was attached to several cords and glowing a green color. It was a delta wave radiator operated with subnulcear reactions. Only five exist and this one was about to go critical. He ripped it out, pulling half of this cloned bodies chest with it. It was disgusting, but it was the death of Ichabod. The green heart dangled by a few cords and veins against its broken body.

Bark gasped one last time. The air was gone and he was freezing to death. The world faded around him and he slipped off the body, falling straight down towards the earth.



Frost turned to look at the screen. The General had gone quiet and Bolt had slowed in breathing, something terrible was happening. Time seemed to stop. She could see the entire planet from where Ichabod was located, but she could also see blood, and broken armor, as well as its green glowing heart. But, worst of all, she was watching the lifeless Bark fall from the heavens. He was slipping away, through the clouds and down to his death. Then, as a horrible last chord of this symphony, the image was engulfed in a massive green explosion that ended the signal. The news reports showing on the other screens revealed what had just happened. The bodies energy supply had erupted and exploded in the upper atmosphere. It was a spectacular sight, had it not accompanied such a sad moment.

The General was choked up, like he had never been before. “ he did it.” He whispered.

Bolt held Frost closer to him, tears in his eyes too, “ He saved all of Knoxville.”

On the news, everyone could be heard cheering as the reporters announced the demise of the enemy that had done so much damage and threatened so many lives. It was a cruel, bittersweet moment.

Frost closed her eyes and sunk to the ground, as her heart broke.
 
Flag Post
In the operations center of the ULH spacestation the news broadcast was playing on the screen. Every eye in the room was watching diligently.

“The scene here right now is the aftermath cloud of a massive explosion in the atmosphere over Knoxville. It is not apparent if anyone was killed in the blast, but…wait….yes, our eyes in the sky are seeing something fall. We aren’t sure, but it is believed to be the hero who was tracked attacking the strange villain only moments before its intended destruction of the Campus of the University of Tennessee. “ The Channel 10 news followed the spec on their screen that was Bark falling down through the sky.

“Oh no.” Ladybug went white in the face as she watched Bark lifelessly fall back to earth.

Bastion watched the multiple screens showing the many different news casts, “Can we do something about this?”

Ladybug slowly shook her head, “ No.”

Bastion closed his eyes, “ Why does this have to happen? I have seen so many heroes die saving the earth, it just isn’t fair. He was so young.”

Ladybug nodded, “Frost is going to be crushed. We will have to be there for her.” Suddenly she recalled that a person was in the room that was as close to Bark as Frost, perhaps more. This person had not said anything since they started following Barks attack, “Toshi Sensei, I am so sorry. Are you alright?” she turned around, but Toshi was not there. “Toshi?”

Bastion frowned, “ I could swear that she was right here a moment ago. Toshi?”

Ladybug looked over to one of the drones, “Locate Instructor Toshi.”

The drone accessed the internal sensors, then replied, “Instructor Toshi is not within the parameters of the ULH space station at this time.”

Ladybug looked at Bastion, “What the hell?”

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“ I can’t watch this, I have to find him. “ Frost ran out of the room.

The General put away his gun and started out, “ Come on, we can’t let her find his remains alone. It would not be good.” They went after Frost before they had finished watching the news follow Barks decent to earth.

The news reporters were following the speck, hoping to see where it landed. They weren’t sure if it was the hero, or if it was the enemy coming back. Though, they could tell that it was not falling like something set on attack, but like something that was dead.

The reporter on the news suddenly spoke up, “Wait, did we lose it?”

The camera man following the spec answered, “no, it just disappeared. I thought I saw something up there for a second and now it’s gone.”

The reporter returned to the camera, “ People of Knoxville, do not return to your homes until the all clear has been signaled. The enemy might still be out there, we have no confirmed body yet. I repeat….”

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A shuttle flew through the air, following its sensors. It passed over the destroyed parts of I-40, Neyland stadium, and Henley Street Bridge. The town was a ghost town. No one was on the streets, cars were abandoned where they were evacuated from the danger zone.

“ I have him.” The General announced from the co-pilots seat, with Bolt piloting. The General would not allow Frost to sit up here where she could see.

Frost gulped, “ How do you know?”

The General took in a slow breath and said, “ I tracked his collar. It might be…well.”

Frost closed her eyes and nodded, “ It might be only part of him. I know. Just take us there.”

Bolt did not want to look out of the window. If he had to see what could possibly be the remains of a close friend, it would be too hard. He had trained for this situation, yet he was not prepared.

“What the hell!?” The General sat forward and even stood up slightly from his seat, looking down at the ground.

Frost immediately asked, “What? What is it?”

“ It can’t be.” The General was already unbuckling his belt before Bolt had the ship set down on the street in the old town.

“Please tell me, what is it?” Frost was unable to process anything but sorrow right now. Yet, his tone wasn’t sorrowful at all.

“ Come on, you are permitted.” The General hit the door button and literally pushed it open.

The General, Bolt, and Frost all came out of the shuttle to something they had not expected to see. Bark was laying on the ground, in one piece, with his head in Toshi Sensei’s lap.

Frost came running over to them, “On my God, Bark, are you okay!? “ She fell to her knees beside him and put her hand on his chest.

Toshi put her hand on Frosts and smiled, “ He is breathing.”

Frost broke into tears again, putting her head down on Bark. He was certainly breathing, though it was shallow. His right hand was mangled and bloody, his legs looked like he had been attacked by a weed whacker, and it was obvious that his bones were broken in places. His fur was burnt, in some places the hair was gone and only blackened skin was showing through. But, the fact was that he was breathing.

The General stood there with the most flabbergasted frown on his face, “ Toshi how did…when did you…what did you…you were…weren’t you just…” A rare occasion was finding The General at a loss for words.

Toshi gave The General a very calm face, “Later. We must get him to the infirmary at once, he is not well.”

Bolt ran into the shuttle and retrieved the emergency stretcher. He and The General gingerly placed Bark on it and carried him back to the shuttle, returning to the station with the hero.

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“ Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to say that I am proud of Knoxville. In the past two weeks since the attack, the citizens of this fine city have proven that southern hospitality is not lost here. “ Mayor Travis spoke on the news, “ The City of Knoxville owes much to the men and women of the ULH, especially their commander The General, Instructor Bolt, Frost, and Bark. These brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way to save us from a menace that has been taken down. I will personally award each of them the key of the city in an upcoming ceremony. Now, I will take questions.”

The report returned to the news desk at Channel 10, “ That was Mayor Travis earlier this morning at the News Conference at Ayers Hall. Now, in further News, Torren Wild has been apprehended by the World Alliance and will face their courts as a terrorist. We have been unable to get in touch with Dr. Ogle about this incident, but a spokesman for him has stated that the doctor is willing to testify against Wild for stealing his technology and using it for terrorist actions. On to the rebuilding. The army corps of engineers has successfully cleared away most of the debris of the destroyed parts of interstate 40. Soon, a large team of workers will come in and get the highway back in working order. Neyland Stadium and Henley street bridge will also…”

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Frost turned off the little television next to Barks bed in the infirmary. Pushing away the small arm that held the television and small personal computer, she looked down at Bark. He had been laying here ever since they returned to the station with him two weeks ago.

He had bandages on his chest, legs, hands, and face. There were tubes running into him to supply him with medicine and other necessary fluids. The fur on his body was growing back quickly while under the influence of a special ointment that Tobias had created for Bark. He was doing much better, save the fact that he had not woken up yet.

“ Ms. Frost.” Dr. Ogle came over, with the help of the security bot that carried his headbox around.

Frost looked over to him, her eyes always a little misty. “ Oh, I didn’t see you come in.”

“ I was in the back, working out some calculations for the stasis chamber that will house me.”

Frost nodded, “ Oh, that’s right, you are going into stasis until Dr. Glyph can clone a new body for you.”

“Yeah. It isn’t ideal, but then again, at least I won’t die.” He smiled and then looked down at Bark, “ I sure hope this works.”

Frost nodded, “ Me too. Oh, why did he have to be so stupid.”

Just then the General and Toshi came into the infirmary. The General answered her, “Because, if he hadn’t been so stupid, most of Knoxville Tennessee would be dead right now, along with you and I.”

Toshi came around to the other side of Bark and took up his other hand, “ Say what you will, General, but he put himself in too much danger. “

The General looked at her with a cocked head, “ I am still trying to figure out how you got down to the planet, and saved him from that massive freefall?”

Toshi gave off one of her famous smiles, “ The clever eagle does not reveal his claws.” Was her only response to that.

Tobias came through the crowd, “ Uh, can we make a little room.” He was fighting to get to the patient.

The General and Dr. Ogle’s bot moved back, Frost and Toshi remained at Barks side. Tobias put a hand on Toshi’s shoulder and guided her to stand back a little so he could do what he came here to do.

Everyone became terribly silent while they watched. Dr. Glyph administered a drug to Bark so that he would wake up. It wasn’t a sure thing. If Bark was brain-dead, then this would do nothing. It took a few minutes for the drug to disperse through his system, and then the waiting started.

Frost was hardly breathing. She leaned over and looked into his face and watched him breath. Would he wake? Was he dead? She was so scared right now that her own breath was about to stop. Suddenly, she saw something. His eyes moved under the lids. His breathing got a little stronger and his mouth slowly moved, he gulped the dryness down his throat and then his eyes started to open up.

It felt like being woken up from a deep, deep sleep. The world was blurry, and he really wanted to go back to sleep. But he could make out shapes, someone was standing over him, there was a light above him, and there was another person sitting beside him. She had a glorious halo of golden light surrounding her head. Was he dead? Was this heaven? Her hand was cold against his.

His collar said, “Frost?”

She leaned in and nodded, “Yes, yes, it’s me.”

“Did you die too?” he asked, not sure how she got here.

Frost laughed and then wiped a tear off of her cheek, “No, and you aren’t dead either.”

Then the deeper voice of Tobias came through, “You are lucky to be alive. We weren’t sure if you would pull through.”

“Doctor….” He tried to sit up, but could not. “Oooh, wow, I hurt all over.”

Tobias nodded, “ You should, you nearly got yourself killed.”

Bark blinked a few times and the world started to clear up. He saw that the golden halo was the beautiful blonde hair around Frosts head, and that the heavenly light was nothing more than the light over his bed. Dr. Glyph was standing next to him and so was Toshi.

“What happened? I can remember falling a long ways down, there was this terrible explosion and…I don’t remember anything else.” He leaned his head forward to see the General.

The General glared at him, though he was honestly happy to see him survive. “ You stole a shuttle, attacked a powerful enemy, and nearly got yourself killed. You broke about six dozen rules, most of which could mean serious punishment. But…”

“But?” Bark was frowning.

“ But, young man, you saved us all….again. Your stupid actions were foolish and headstrong, but they were not without merit. So, you are not going to prison. In fact the Mayor of Knoxville wants to give you an award.”

Bark smiled, “An award?”

The General leaned in a little, “Yup. As for the ULH, my present to you will be thirty days of maintenance duty.”

Bark looked at everyone and then frowned harder, “ I still don’t remember a lot. I can recall being very angry, and…wanting to …uh…die.” He was afraid to say that with Frost next to him.

Frost gasped, “ You wanted to die? Why?”

Bark closed his eyes, “ It’s complicated. I am not even sure if I can explain it now. My head feels clearer somehow.”

Tobias spoke to everyone, “ We can all talk about this later. I think he needs his rest.” This was the doctor in him telling everyone to get the heck out and give his patient recovery time.

Frost leaned over and kissed him, and then walked out with The General. She immediately started to nag about the fact that the first thing he does is punish Bark. Dr. Ogle’s bot walked off, heading back to his work. Tobias waited while Toshi came over and took up Barks hand.

“ Inu-chan, do not do this again. Come to me, or Frost, or the General when you are so afraid or angry. This will not happen again, not while you have more important things to worry with.” She silently placed a small box in his hand and then left.

Tobias smiled and pulled on the curtain. “ Get some rest, I will be back to check on you in a little while.”

Bark smiled, “Thanks.” He waited until the curtain was pulled around his bed and then he opened his hand. He found the box with the ring in it that he had bought to propose to Frost.

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Torren Wild, dressed in a blue ULH prisoner jumpsuit, lay on his bed waiting for midday meal. He was in a holding cell not unlike the one that Dr. Ogle spent one night in.

“Why did you do it?” Dr. Ogles voice caught his attention.

Torren didn’t sit up, he just turned is head to the side, “ What do you care?”

Dr. Ogle glared at him, “Care? You stole my body and armor, destroyed parts of Knoxville, killed innocent people with it, put several of the ULH heroes in the infirmary, and tried to lay the blame on me. You better believe I care! I just want to know why?”

“ I really thought you were better than those stupid professors. I came to you in hopes that you would keep me from being expelled from the University. Instead, you threw me under the bus.”

Dr. Ogle was beginning to understand this, “ You wanted me to protect you from what you did wrong. There is a zero tolerance policy for plagiarism and I adhere to that. It wasn’t personal, it is just part of the job. That didn’t mean that you could go off and do what you did.”

Torren now sat up, “You don’t know what happened to me. I left Tennessee and tried to apply to other colleges. They all rejected me. They would show me that file and tell me that I was not allowed because of some stupid papers I copied. Those papers weren’t even in my field, just the ridiculous gen ed crap, history, politics, art. I was…am a scientist. I never plagiarized the work in my field. I never plagiarized anything in your class. But, that didn’t matter. I couldn’t even get into an online college with that hanging around my neck. It wasn’t fair.”

Dr. Ogle frowned at him, “ So, killing innocent people is fair?”

Torren shook his head, “ I never intended for it to get so out of control. I just wanted to punish you. I set the armor to destroy UT and then attack Knoxville. All the while blaming you. When the news and police called for your arrest, I would’ve turned it off. But the stupid ULH had to get involved and it got out of hand.”

Dr. Ogle shook his head, “Everything gets out of hand with you. You start with a simple idea, but when it gets out of hand, you just let it go crazy hoping that the ends will justify the means. It was the same with your copied work. You stole one paper, and then another, and just kept it going, hoping to make it work in the end. If you had just come to me after the first time you realized that you couldn’t do the work, I would’ve helped. But, you let it get out of control. Now look where you are. Facing murder and terrorism charges, you will be lucky if they don’t serve you the death penalty. “

Torren gritted his teeth and sneered at William, “ I just wanted to punish you. I wanted revenge.”

“ Was it worth it?”

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Bark was set up in his bed, the back having been raised for him to lay comfortably while he recovered. He had a lot of school work to catch up on, which included hours of reading and some paperwork to finish. Frost had come in every day to bring him more work, and to sit with him. Toshi-sensei was there often as well, she would bring him homemade food and talk to him about wisdom and trust. Bark was quiet, not mute but quiet. He wasn’t clear about what had happened to him before, why he was so foolish. Dr. Glyph promised to explain that to him later. Well, later had come and Bark was waiting for a visit from his doctor.

Tobias pulled a chair over and sat next to Bark. He had with him a computer tablet with the scientific details of what he wanted to tell him. “ So, Bark, how are you feeling?”

Bark cleared his throat and his vocal processor replied, “Okay, I guess.”

“Good, then the pain medicine is working.” Dr. Glyph made a note on his computer.

Bark looked at Tobias and asked, “ What did you want to wait so long to talk to me about?”

Tobias looked up, “ Well, I wanted to be sure before I told you this. It is about your mutations.”

Bark became visibly nervous. He had feared this for a long time, “ How bad is it?”

“ I have good news and I have bad news.”

“Tell me the bad news first.”

Tobias hated to do that, but it was Bark’s wish, “ With the mutations setting in, your system has changed to be very different from a human. I cannot repair your voice box, or even graft an artificial or cloned one on. It appears that your voice is forever lost. We might find a way to implant a biotic voice box with a larger emotional range and tone quality, but it will never truly be yours.”

Bark had not expected that to be the bad news, he looked at Tobias and asked, “Then, what is the good news?”

Tobias looked at his tablet then showed Bark something that he didn’t quite understand. It was a DNA chain simulation, only it was much more complex than a standard humans. “ It appears that your DNA has changed, but for the better. The mutations gave you an even higher tolerance for energy weapons, radiation, and healing. You are highly resistant to viruses, infections, or just about any illness. But, most important, they have stopped. The mutations are completed and finished. As far as I can tell, you cannot mutate any further.”

Bark was more than pleased with that report, but he had to ask, “ Those dog soldiers I met in Korea. They were like me, except further along and mindless. How come I am not like them?”

Tobias smiled, “ My best guess; they were more than mutated, they had other changes added to the mix. You didn’t receive all of the changes in the primary encounter.” He could see that this wasn’t making a lot of sense to Bark, so he simplified it, “It is like making a cake without eggs. No matter how long you stick it in the oven and bake it, the eggs won’t suddenly appear, they have to be added. Whoever was mutating you initially did not finish adding all the components before you broke free. In Korea, the scientist there must have added that into the mixture when he created the other mutants. You did not receive that at all. Thus, you can never reach the state those soldiers were in.”

Bark smiled, “ Then I won’t act like a dog anymore? I won’t start being so irrational?”

“ Hopefully. I have tracked dangerously high levels of adrenaline, testosterone, and melatonin in your system.” Tobias showed him a chart with the stats on it.

Bark frowned while looking at the chart, “ How are they dangerous? I thought all of those were natural to the body?”

Tobias nodded, “Yes, they are. And they are needed to make sure that the body does what it is supposed to do. But, when your body was undergoing the mutation process and dealing with the energy beams, it suddenly flooded your system with these chemicals, and in high amounts they can have a major impact to your whole system. Melatonin will cause hallucinations, Adrenaline will lower your pain reception, and Testoserone will cause your logic and common sense to be warped.”

Bark had that ‘ah-ha’ look on his face, “ The night mares, the visions of me as a beast in the mirror, the fear of losing Frost, everything.”

Tobias nodded, “ Those were all real. You had a part of you that was always afraid of turning into one of those soldiers. You are afraid of losing the woman you love. And you have a courageous heart. Pump a ton of excess hormones into the mix and all of these emotions take a whole new role in your mind. Of course it didn’t help that your nervousness about proposing to Frost hyped up your hormones to begin with. ”

“ Then, my fears were already there, just amplified and controlling me.”

“That is what I just said. Fortunately, I have given you some medicine that has lowered the amount of these chemicals back to what is common to a person about to pop the question. The excess caused by the mutations are going away and you will be back to your normal self soon enough.”

Bark thought about that for a moment, it started to make more sense. “ I do feel more clear headed.” Then he snarled and pounded his forehead with his fist, “What was I thinking? Trying to get myself killed. How could I have let it get so out of control.”

Tobias laughed. “ I already explained this to Frost and the General. You were not yourself. They understood, though the General has not relented on your punishment.”

Bark smiled at Tobias, “ Thanks. I guess the best thing for me to do is to propose and get that over with.” His face changed as he had a sudden revelation, “ Hey! How did you know I was going to propose to Frost?”

Tobias tried to look innocent, “ I just…uh…heard a rumor. Well, it looks like I have to go check on Dr. Ogles stasis chamber.” Without explaining that Toshi and The General spilled the beans to just about everyone, save Frost, Tobias was off to get out of the line of fire.

Bark rolled his eyes. He hoped that Frost did not know. Reaching over he moved a cloth napkin from the tray that was used to serve him his food, underneath was the ring box. Opening it and looking at the beautiful antique ring inside, he started to smile. He was ready.
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“ Am I late? Did I miss it?” Ladybug ran up to the others.

The General, Bolt, Toshi, Tobias, Solstice, Red Fury, Thrasher, Rocket, and Ladybug were all staring through a set of windows that were in the upper part of the arboretum, about two stories above where they could see the only two occupants walking around.

The General smiled and shook his head, “ Nope. I bet he asks soon though.”

Solstice leaned over to Bolt, “ Still giving odds?”

“Sure.”

She handed him a five dollar bill, “ I say left knee.”

Bolt took the money and tucked it in with a wad of cash from everyone else. “ I sure hope he doesn’t kneel at all, I am going to be a rich man. “

“ Quiet, they might hear us.” Toshi jabbed Bolt in the ribs.

He rolled his eyes. No one could hear them through this kind of Plexiglas. But, he did quiet down. Everyone leaned in a little further and watched carefully at the show below.

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Bark felt the side of his briefs, where there was a small pocket holding a very special ring. “ So, what has happened in class since I have been away?”

“Nothing much. I brought you most of the homework. Coach Thrasher will need to put you through a fitness course test, and Red Fury is waiting for you to complete the exam I brought to you.”

Bark, nervous as hell, kicked at the ground. “ Oh, well, being out of class for four weeks can really mess up my work.”

Frost walked along the river she had used to make snow before and looked at Barks reflection in the water’s edge. “ Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“ Why did you want to die?” she had been wanting to ask this for weeks, but could not bring herself to ask while he lay in the hospital bed, with the doctors listening in.

“ It was hormones and…”

Frost shook her head, “The hormones only amplified your preexisting feelings. They didn’t give you anything new. Tobias was very clear. “

Bark walked over and looked at her in the reflection as well. He had given this a lot of thought and had pushed through the foggy memories to realize what he was going through. “ I was afraid.”

“And that is a reason to commit suicide?”

Bark shook his head, “ It was more than that. I thought I was mutating into one of the dog things we met in Korea. I saw how lifeless they were, just drones doing their masters work. I was afraid that I would be one of them, maybe even a danger to this station and everyone in it. I was afraid that you would have to be the one who put me out of my misery.”

Frost held her arms against herself at the thought of that horrible notion, “I couldn’t do that.”

Bark nodded, “ I thought that if I was going down, I would do it in my own way. I would die in battle as a hero, not just a mindless dog.”

Frost turned around and slapped Bark so hard that it made him stumble. She pointed at him with a sharp finger and stated, loudly, “ I never want you to think that you are in this alone! We are here to help! If you EVER put me through that kind of heartache again, I am going to freeze your balls off.”
Bark stepped back and held his face, “ OW! That hurt.”

Frost shook her head, “ I don’t care. You are only lucky that both of your doctors said that this emotional state you were in was partly due to the hormones and…other things. If you had done this with a clear mind, I might not have held back.’’

Bark let out a sigh and then smiled, “ I promise, the next time I feel like chasing a tennis ball, I will come to you before I get all angry and run away.”

Frost walked over to him and put a finger on his chest, “ You had better. “

Bark walked her over to the large boulder that they often sat on. He helped her up and then jumped up himself to sit next to her. “ There is something that I want to know.”

Frost frowned at him, “What?”

“ Do you really want a man who is part dog? From what Dr. Glyph told me, I can never be changed back, my mutations are so solid that even with the serum that kept Bolt from being mutated, I would not change. I am half dog.”

Frost ran her hand down his furry arm, and then reached up and rubbed him beside one of his tall ears. “ I fell in love with you just the way you are. I know this man from his heart to his mind. I don’t care if you aren’t entirely human, nothing about what you are scares me, sickens me, or embarrasses me.” She smiled at the way he was enjoying the rubbing of his ear, “ If you wanted to chase a ball, I would throw it for you. If you wanted to gnaw on steak bones, I would bring one to you every day. If you can accept that I have the ability to freeze a man solid, then I can accept that my love is a dog and a man. As long as your heart toward me does not change.”

Bark took her hand off of his head, “ It never will. But, there is one change that I must ask of you.”

Frost was smiling but curious, “And what would that be.’'

Bark smiled sneakily, “ I am tired of calling you my girlfriend. That sounds so childish.”

“Well, it’s what I am.”

He took her hand and slowly pulled out the ring, “ No, I want something more of you.” He opened his hand to show her the ring.

She gasped and a great smile crossed her features. “ Oh, Bark, is this what I think it is?”

He nodded, “ I want a wife. Frost, will you marry me?”

Frost looked into his puppy dog eyes and nodded, “ Of course I will.”

Bark took her hand up and placed the ring on her finger. Her eyes were dazzled by its beauty and by his love. After he finished ringing her finger, she grabbed him around the neck with her arms and gave him the best kiss she knew how to give. His tail was wagging so hard that it was causing his butt to move around.


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Everyone in the observatory cheered and clapped. Bolt grudgingly handed The General the wad of cash and then started laughing. Solstice and Ladybug were already talking about how they would help plan the wedding, and Tobias was thinking about the consequences of Frost and Bark having a baby.

Toshi put her hand on the window while she looked at them kiss in the garden. She smiled as a mother should right now. He had finally done it and she could not be more proud of him.

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For the first time ever, the ULH station was filled with celebration over something other than a military victory. Almost everyone onboard was crammed into the arboretum for the ceremony. The arboretum was decorated like Prince Harry was having a wedding. Perhaps they had gone a little overboard, but this was not a normal occasion and it was alright to go a little over the top. The students all helped in decorating and setting up the chairs and tables. The instructors helped both Bark and Frost prepare themselves. The City of Knoxville sent enough food to feed a legion, and the ULH command staff prepared all the paperwork to make this legal. The day had finally come.

Bark stood at the front, near The General in his finniest dress uniform. Bark was decked out in a nice suit, with a little hole for his tail. Bolt stood next to him as his best man, Tobias stood next to him as the only other groomsman. Solstice stood up for Frost, with Ladybug beside her. Appropriately, Toshi sat where Barks mother would sit during this ceremony. She was decked out in a kimono fit for a queen, and a handkerchief to dab at tears.

With the Cannon in D. by Pachelbel finished, everyone stood and looked back to see the most beautiful thing they had seen. Frost was in an elegant dress with a 20 foot long train flowing behind her. In her hands was a bouquet of delicate white roses. As the wedding march played, she came down the aisle and stood next to her bridegroom.

“ It is the pleasure and responsibility of the commanding officer to oversee the ceremony that bonds two in holy matrimony. Today, I get this opportunity as I stand before Bark and Frost, two people who have come through fire and ice together and will this day forge a much stronger bond than any villain can ever imagine possible.” With that little prepared speech out of the way, The General proceeded to conduct the ceremony with the traditions that are proper for any military wedding.

On this day, the entirety of the ULH bore witness to the union of Bark and Frost, now husband and wife, the first married couple of the ULH program.

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“ Why did we have to rush off so quickly, I wanted to see more of my friends before we headed off on hour honeymoon.” Bark protested while he piloted the shuttle that Bolt had decked out in ‘’Newly Wed’’ white shoe polish.

Frost patted him on the arm, “ If The General had not allowed the media to come, I might have been more interested in sticking around, but I was getting flashburn in my eyes. Besides, I am ready to spend some time with my husband.” She almost blushed saying that.

Bark grinned, “ I guess that’s okay. Hey, what’s that?” he noticed the box on the floor near Frosts feet.

She picked it up and looked at it. It was a neatly wrapped wedding gift with a large tag on it. She pulled it up, “ Oh, it’s from Bolt. It says, ‘for a good honeymoon. You lucky dog.’ What do you suppose he put in here?”

“Open it.” Bark had an idea that this would be a very Bolt gift, something that should not be opened with the other wedding guests around.

Frost untied the ribbon and pulled off the lid. She picked up a book, after reading the title she rolled her eyes, “ Dog breeding tips and tricks. There is a leash, a spray bottle, and….a tube of lipstick?” She found another little tag tied around the tube of lipstick, she read it aloud, “ ‘The leash is for him to wear on your wedding night, the lipstick is for her. And the spray bottle is so that she can get some rest in between. Enjoy.’ That dirty minded boy.”

Bark was biting his lower lip while his eyes were giving her the most seductive look she had ever seen in his face. His collar replied, “Woof.”

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A dark room held a darkly dressed man with an evil glare on his face. He turned off the news, which was nothing but stories from that horrible ULH station and the wedding held there this morning. He threw the remote at the television, busting the screen on impact.

“ Have fun while you can, Dog. I am not done with you.”
 
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