Sunday, November 25, 2012

A World without Heroes: Chapters 8 - 13!

Sorry, folks!  Didn't realize I was this far behind in posting chapters!  To catch up a bit, here's the next four.  These chapters appeared originally in the second issue of Strange Ways back in late '85.  The issue was namely an "all-Animalize issue" as the trio who worked on the fanzine had seen the band several times on that tour.  Still, we had room for some more chapters of the novel and went with it, even if they didn't quite fit the tone of the rest of the issue.

The following chapters all in that issue of Strange Ways.  After this, it would be a decade before I came back to the story to finish it.  But more on that next time.  Enjoy!


            He hated the job.
            That is to say, he liked the idea behind the job, but hated the normal “nine to five” routine of the work.
            “Not for this fun-loving, bed-hopping, man-about-town!”  He expounded to anyone within range . . . so long as they had no connections with his boss.
            When Blackwell had offered him the position of assistant in the ‘wild and crazy’ world of management, he had thought it would be a free ride.  He would be getting paid for just goofing off.
            “Just think,” he had said to some poor sap that was too drunk to get away at the bar.  “The rock and roll world!   Knowing all those crazy guys personally.  Going to their parties.  Having all the great-looking chicks following me around.  Drinking expensive wines, eating the finest meals, and -- after a few years -- writing a bestseller about some down-and-out superstar who’d been in my confidence.  Yeah, that’ll be great!  Right, buddy?  Buddy?  Hey . . . wake up!”
            It should have been the perfect situation, but it was not.  His days were full of paperwork, phone calls, and arguments.  Everyday, he had to deal with the freaks and weirdoes who swarmed through the office doors; all trying to get a contract with the famous Blackwell.
            People asked him all the time what it was that Blackwell did.  As far as Herb Parker could tell, nothing.  Blackwell would come into the building every so often, head for his private office, and slam the door behind him.  He would only show up when the people he wanted to see had an appointment.  Otherwise, not only was he not there, but he was never to be informed of any other business unless he specifically asked for it first.  Parker could not see how Blackwell was able to actually do anything with the way he ran his business.
            But, whatever Blackwell did, he did it well.  All the artists Blackwell pursued had not only signed with him, they had suddenly become extremely successful . . . even the acts that no one else would touch in a million years.  It was almost like magic.
            Still, being a glorified secretary was not Parker’s idea of a good time, although he tried to keep his annoyance to himself.  The one time he had brought it to Blackwell’s attention, Parker had wished he had not.  Blackwell’s face had darkened for a moment, than an evil smile had played on his lips.
            “Do not worry, soon things will change.  You’ll become a very important man in this business.  In fact, I would think that you’ll have more power than you can imagine.”  Blackwell slowly spoke the words as he kept his palms tightly pressed together in front of him.
            “Oh, yeah?”  Parker had retaliated.  “When?”
            “Soon.  Very soon.”
            It may have been good news, but Blackwell’s wording had left Parker with a couple of sleepless nights as the words replayed in his mind.  Parker never brought up the topic again after that.  Instead, he just did his job and tried not to let things get to him.
            Today, however, things were starting to do just that.  The paperwork was piling up, the phone was ringing off the hook and he was exhausted.  He had forgotten his lunch at home and, when he attempted to go back and pick it up, found that his car’s battery was dead due to him leaving the lights on after getting to work that morning.  When Blackwell came in, he immediately locked himself into his office without a word to Parker.
            And now there was some longhaired freak waiting in the lobby for his appointment to begin.
            The “freak” was stretched out on the couch, his black T-shirt getting crumpled and wrinkled as he fidgeted about, trying to find a comfortable position.  The couch was much too short of the man’s rather lanky frame, and his feet dangled over the arm, absent-mindedly tapping an expensive lamp closer and closer to the edge of the end table.
            When the man had arrived, Parker had hoped he had come to the wrong place.  But Blackwell confirmed his appointment, via-intercom, and told his assistant to cater to the man’s needs.
            Parker cringed as the lamp teetered precariously, then righted itself; only to be scooted farther away by a large, sneaker-clad foot.  The man on the couch did not seem to notice his actions as he was busying himself with the book he had read a dozen times before, THE CHARIOTS OF THE GODS?  As it should be, for the book was an important piece of literature.
            At least, he seemed to think so.
            Seeing the lamp begin to wobble again, Parker opened his mouth to call the man’s attention to the situation, but his concern was suddenly directed towards the office’s door as Parker heard it open and close.  He looked up to see three longhaired men dressed in strange concoctions of leather, platform shoes and garish jewelry.  A feeling of hopelessness came over him as he stared at the alien figures.  Drawing in a deep breath, he spoke.
            “Yes.  Can I help you . . . errr . . .Gentlemen?”
            The three men stared at him for several seconds, then the one in the middle -- the apparent leader -- turned to his left and arched one eyebrow questioningly.  The short man on his left began to crack up, trying to stifle his laughter.  Casually, the tall dark figure in the middle stepped forward and held out his hand.
            “I’m Gene Simmons -- “
            Parker stared at him vacantly.  Dropping his hand, Gene rolled his eyes and motioned to his left.
            “This is Peter Criss --”
            Peter stood with his arms folded across his chest, a smile on his face.  Gene pointed his thumb toward the man on his right, who was staring blankly at one corner of the room.
            “ -- And this is Paul Stanley.  We’re all members of the group KISS.  We have an appointment with Mr. Blackwell.”
            “Ah yes,” Parker said, finally recovering from his initial shock.  “I’ve been informed of your appointment, so I’ll tell him you’re all here.”
            Parker rolled his chair away from his desk, stood up and headed for Blackwell’s office.  Just as he reached for the doorknob, Peter called after him.
            “Um, wait a minute.  Ace Frehley, the other guy in the band, isn’t here yet.  He’s late --”
            “As usual,” Paul muttered for the first time since they entered the office.  Peter ignored him.
            “ -- And we’d rather wait for him before talking to Blackwell.”
            Parker stood at the door, a confused look on his face.  “But . . . but, Mr. Frehley is right behind you.”
            The three musicians turned and saw Ace lying on the couch, his nose buried in the pages of his book.  Without looking up, he raised his right hand in greeting.
            “Hallo, Curlies.”
            “Oh,” Peter stammered, feeling rather embarrassed, “okay.  I guess we can go ahead then.”
            Shaking his head, Parker opened the door, not fully comprehending.  As he pulled the door closed, Gene, Paul and Peter walked over to the couch.  Ace put down his book and looked up at the others innocently.
            “What are you doing here?”  Paul demanded.
            “Why do you ask?  Wasn’t I supposed to be here?”
            “Well, yeah,” Gene answered.  “But we just thought . . ..”
            “That I’d be late?”  Ace shot back, shifting his body around so he was now sitting up on the couch.  “Oh, I see.  You just automatically assume that I’ll be late for everything.  That I can’t keep appointments, right?”
            “Yeah.”  The three said in unison.
            “Well, I just want you to know that I can be punctual if necessary.  I know when and where I’m supposed to be at all times.  In fact, I’ve been sitting here for half an hour, just to be sure I was on time.  So there!”
            None of the others spoke.  Ace looked at them in reproof, then a mischievous grin appeared on his face.
            “Actually,” he said quietly, “I thought the meeting was supposed to start a couple of hours ago.”
            There was a brief pause, then the four of them burst into laughter.

            Parker cautiously entered the office.
            The enormous room seemed bare, with only a desk, six chairs, and a small wooden cabinet as its furnishings.  Deep brown carpeting stretched across the floor to meet dark oak-paneled walls, giving the illusion of cave-like surroundings.  It was as if the room was a giant mouth, waiting to swallow up some victim like a tiny morsel of food.
            Blackwell sat at the massive oak desk, shuffling through the papers in front of him.  Directly behind his were deep blue drapes covering the entire wall.  Parker had once been told that the wall was glass, from floor to ceiling, and that one could see the entire city from its view.
            He had never seen Blackwell open the drapes.
            Blackwell wore a navy blue, tailored business suit, which contrasted blatantly with the open shirt, leisure suit, and gold medallions which made up Parker’s “hip” outfit.  He stared at a report on a band he was not interested in, written by someone he did not know.  Tossing the paper aside, he reached for another from the neat stacks on his desk.  Parker cleared his throat in order to get the other man’s attention.
            “Hey, excuse me, Blackwell-baby?”
            Blackwell twitched the corner of his mouth, annoyed by the pest in front of him.  “I was wondering when you’d open that mouth of yours, Parker.”  Blackwell did not look up as he spoke.  “Well, what is it?”
            Parker felt unsure of himself.  Was not “baby” what everyone called each other in this business?
            “Those four guys who call themselves KISS are here.”
            Blackwell glanced up, as he put the file in his hand back on the pile.
            “Good.  Send them right in.”
            Parker exited, then returned with the band.  He took one last look at the scene, shook his head, and left, closing the door behind him.
            Paul and Gene stood close together, surveying the office. Peter studied Blackwell, who returned the gesture.  Just inside the door was Ace, trying to find a place for his paperback book.  After a moment, he shrugged and stuffed it into his back pocket. 
            Finally, Blackwell -- beaming proudly -- rose from his chair and offered his hand to Paul.
            “Gentlemen.  I’m glad you were all able to be here today.  I am Blackwell.”
            He shook each man’s hand, greeting him by name.
            “Well, you seem to know who we are,” Gene said as their host finished his round of salutations.
            Blackwell chuckled.  “I make it my business to know everything possible about prospective clientele.  Oh, but I’m forgetting my manners.  Please, gentlemen, make yourselves comfortable.”
            The band sat down in four chairs arranged in front of Blackwell’s desk as Blackwell moved over to the cabinet.  He took five long-stemmed glasses from it and began to pour champagne.
            “Would you like something to drink?”  He asked.
            “Yes!”  Ace exclaimed.  “I’ll have -- “
            “Nothing for us, thanks,” Paul cut in sharply, looking angrily at his bandmate.
            Ace sunk back in his chair, pouting dejectedly.  Paul ignored him and continued.
            “You said in your letter that you wished to speak with us.”
            “About management.  Yes.”  Blackwell returned to his desk and scooted his chair forward.  He pressed his palms together, resting his chin on his fingertips.  “But before we get into that, I’m sure you’re all interested in knowing exactly what sort of establishment I run.  You’ve heard some of the acts I already manage, haven’t you?”
            “Yes,” Gene answered, sneering unintentionally.  He had heard a few of Blackwell’s hands, and most of them were playing total garbage.  Why they were successful he did not know, but the public was eating it up.  Worse yet, he sometime caught himself humming along when one came on the radio.
            “Good,” Blackwell, continued, noting Gene’s displeasure silently, “then you also know that most of them are becoming extremely popular.”
            Gene and Paul nodded in agreement.  Peter and Ace ignored the proceeding as they stared at each other in order to crack each other up in front of the others. 
            “Frankly, I like your band’s image,” Blackwell put his palms facedown on the table.  “I believe there is a . . . raw power within the group which can be utilized to everyone’s advantage.  You must feel it.  There is more to KISS than music.  Last month, your album ALIVE! went gold, your shows are starting to sell out, etceteras . . . but there could be more.  Much more.
            “Please do not misunderstand me.  I am in no way insinuating that your present management is in error, only understated.  You’re setting your sights much too low.  After you hear my proposal in detail, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
            “Mr. Blackwell,” Gene interrupted.  “Before you go any further, I’d like to speak for everyone here by saying that your interest in KISS is indeed . . . generous.  And your knowledge and contribution to the music world recently has impressed upon us even more that, with your request to speak with us, you are conveying that KISS is of interest to all in the pop world.  However, we already have a management agreement which suits our tastes well, and we do not feel that changing firms would be to our benefit.”
            Blackwell rose from his seat, a cold, menacing glint in his eyes.
            “Mr. Simmons, that’s all very well, but you haven’t heard my proposal yet.  You know of my history with clients, you know I can do a lot for you.  What could possibly deter your decision to move to my management?”
            “I understand what you are saying, Mr. Blackwell,” Gene’s voice rose just slightly in the exchange of words between the two.  “But we have been with a company that stood by us in our lean years when they could have let us go at any time.  We would like to repay that favor to them now that we are finally on our feet.”
            “Mr. Simmons,” Blackwell said in staccatos.  “I feel you are putting the future of the band in jeopardy.”
            Paul was getting uncomfortable.  It seemed to him that Gene was being much too “business-like”, even though it was obvious that Blackwell believed the boys did not know how to handle their business.
            “What do you mean by that?”  Paul blurted.
            “I mean, Mr. Stanley,” Blackwell replied, resenting himself, “what you have now is not one-tenth of what you could achieve if you would just listen to me.”
            Gene was beginning to feel the same anger that Paul was feeling.  “Mr. Blackwell, we are here only as a matter of courtesy.  When we received your letter six months ago, we decided to come here and tell you, as nicely as possible, that we’re not interested in becoming a part of your stable of has-beens and never-weres.  We are being polite.  If you’re going to begin this meeting by bad-mouthing our present management, then I see no point in our staying.  Guys?”
            Gene rose slowly, with the others following his example.  The four walked to the door and Peter reached for the doorknob.
            “Mr. Simmons, you don’t realize what a chance you’re taking,” Blackwell said, getting up from his desk.  “I will not ask again.”
            Peter opened the door and walked out into the lobby, mumbling to himself.
            “Threats, threats, threats.”
            Gene, Paul and Ace followed.  When Ace turned back to close the door, he leaned in and looked up at Blackwell, who was still fuming.
            “Your wine was probably cheap anyway.”
            He cackled and walked out into the lobby, pulling the door shut behind him.
            Blackwell stared vacantly for several minutes, his fury steadily building, then sank back into his chair and took a long breath.  He had to clear his mind in order to rethink the situation.  He had not anticipated any sense of loyalty on the band members’ part for their old record label.  Nor that the suggestions of more power and more control over decision-making would have little effect on them.
            It was frustrating to Blackwell.  Under his management, they would have been in the ideal position for his plans to work within the year.  He had spent months setting up his operation, covering his tracks when needed, getting the background established to make winning over the Talisman holders an easy task.  All for nothing.
            Swiveling his chair to face the curtains, he parted the drapes and gazed at the brightly-lit city below.  The door creaked open, breaking his concentration, as Parker crept into the office.
            Parker had heard most of the commotion.  No one had ever spoken to Blackwell in such a shocking manner.  His employer was obviously upset, so much so that Parker felt he should show his encouragement and get on Blackwell’s good side.
            “Hey, Blackie, what about those freaks?  I’ll bet you’re glad to get rid of them.”
            Blackwell, fingers tightened on the drapes.
            “Come over here, Mr. Parker,” he ordered, not taking his eyes from the view before him.  “I would like to explain something to you.”
            “Um . . . .  Su-sure.”
            Parker walked over to the window and stood silent for several seconds.
            “What was it that they --”
            Blackwell’s free hand was suddenly at this assistant’s throat and beginning to squeeze.  His features showed no emotion as Parker began to gag and choke.   Just enough pressure was being applied without killing.
            “Now, listen carefully, Mr. Parker.”  Blackwell’s voice was steady and smooth.  “Have you ever played chess?”
            Herb’s eyes rolled wildly as he clutched frantically at the offending hand.
            “No, I suppose not.  Then let me explain something.  In the game, you must trap the opponent’s King.  Force him to surrender.  Yet it is not a game won quickly.  Not a game that is won by the fastest pieces, nor the most powerful.
            “Among the pieces are several pawns.  The weakest piece.  Yet, if played wisely and meticulously, they can become the most powerful and destroy the other player’s chances to survive the game.
            “Think about this the next time you refer to those so-called ‘freaks.’  They are the pawns, the most powerful pieces.  You, on the other hand, are not even on the board.”
            Tears streamed down Parker’s crimson cheeks and onto the vise-like hand.  As he continued to struggle, Blackwell tightened his grip and grinned wickedly.
            “I ought to snap your wretched neck, but I need you for my plan.  Oh, and one more thing.  If you say ‘freaks,’ ‘baby,’ or twist my name in such a manner ever again, I shall twist your body until it snaps.  Do you understand?”
            Parker nodded, barely conscious.  Blackwell released him and he collapsed, gasping for air.  Scrambling to his feet, he stumbled toward the door.
            “Of course, Mr. Parker, you realize the consequences should you mention this little incident to anyone.”
            Parker halted, staring nervously at Blackwell, then dropped his eyes to the floor as he clutched blindly at the doorknob.
            Blackwell’s expression suddenly turned dangerously pleasant.
            “Mr. Parker, you look exhausted.  I should think you deserve the rest of the day off.”
            Quickly, Parker opened the door and scurried to safety.  Blackwell’s last words followed him out.
            “Remember, Parker, the pawn can destroy the King.”
            Alone once again, Blackwell sat back, savoring the panic he’s instilled in the little man; then his mind turned back tot he Guardians and his brow furrowed.  He knew that today had not gone according to plan, but it was unimportant.  Just a setback -- a minute detail in the grand scheme.  Parker would be useful still, and so would the management firm.  He would get them.  One way or another.
            At the thought, a smile slowly spread across his face.
            “Yes,” he whispered, “even the pawn can destroy the King.”


            Torture is the most convenient form of coercion in times of conflict.  If one wishes to gain compliance from one’s enemies, torture has always been efficient.  Mankind has known this for centuries and has used it to great advantage.
            Torture, by definition, is not a “hit and run” technique.  It should be extended over a period of time; should stab at the opponent’s emotions and disrupt the thought processes.  It is a well-known fact that the anticipation of pain is far more agonizing than the actual inducement of it.  One must weaken the enemy, use his weaknesses to slowly tear him down, then move in for the final attack.
            “The most effective victory over one’s enemies is through the slowest of deaths.”
            It was a phrase that Blackwell had coined himself.  One that he was very proud of.  One that he tried to put into use whenever necessary.
            It was hard to believe.  Even the band had a hard time accepting reality.  Just one year ago, KISS had been a struggling young band -- scraping the bottom of the barrel both financially and emotionally.  Now, they were sitting on top of a world filled with gold and platinum albums, sold-out concerts and more money and recognition than most musicians ever dreamed of having.
            As to how much credit for their good fortune they could give to the Talismans, it was hard to say.  After the experience of that one night in Detroit, the band members had not been able to recreate their powers.  Nothing they did, nothing they said, reactivated their abilities as what they had that night.
            For Paul, that was perfectly fine by him.  He was less than thrilled with the idea originally, and anything that would delay another discussion about it was more than welcomed.  Besides, the band was doing well and there were more serious things to worry about than superpowers.  Gene, on the other hand, found it perplexing.  He knew what he had done that night and was sure he could recreate it.  With each new concert after that, Gene tried with no success to at least achieve the fire-spitting stunt he had pulled off in Detroit.  It never happened again.
            Peter understood how Gene felt.  He too was curious as to why the powers never returned.  As for Ace, he just kept to himself about it and never mentioned a word.
            So, their thinking of the Talismans was minimal as their success grew.  For a short time, their sudden success was numbing to them all, but they had quickly realized that it was better to keep working and enjoy it while lasted.
            Because with good, there must be bed.  And bad always makes the headlines.

            1976:  Equipment trucks of the rock band KISS were fired on by unknown assailants earlier today.  No one was injured, and damage to the trucks was minimal.  No suspects have been taken into custody . . . .

            . . . Peter Criss, drummer for the rock and roll band KISS, was in good condition today after an explosion at last night’s concert threw the drummer from his drum-riser.  Criss fell from a height of twenty feet when an M-80 explosive was thrown onto the stage from the audience.  Miraculously, he was not seriously injured, but suffered a temporary loss of hearing.  There are at press time, no suspects . . . .

            . . .Current rumors about that the outrageous musical (?) group KISS are a team of satanic priests in disguise.  Fundamentalist minister, Reverend Herbert Parker, is quoted as saying that the band’s name is an acronym for “Kings In Satan’s Service.”  According to the reverend,  “This band is working for the devil.  Their devil-worshiping lyrics and drug-crazed antics only reinforce my belief that this music is leading our children down the road to Hell.  Every decent citizen should realize this and take part in stopping this threat to our society.” 
            This reporter will refrain from comment.

            “Can you believe this?”  Paul asked, slamming the newspaper down onto the table in the small booth.  He and Gene were there for a late-night studio rehearsal before the start of the new tour.
            “Yes, I can,” said Gene, sipping lukewarm coffee from a Styrofoam cup.  “I’ve seen it before.  It’s the same thing that’s happened to bands before us, and it’ll happen with bands in the future.  People have to blame something for causing the world’s problems.  Rock and Roll is an easy target.”
            “Man, it just gets on my nerves.  One more thing to hurt our reputation.”  Paul pulled a chair over from the mixing board and sat down facing Gene.  “I mean, here we are, finally getting somewhere with this band, and now people seem to be throwing obstacles left and right to trip us up.”
            “Well, you know what they say . . . ‘Rock n’ roll has got to go!’”  Gene snatched a copy of the newest Alice Cooper album -- which had been left there by a technician -- from its sleeve and pretended to break it over his knee.
            Paul chuckled.  “Yeah, right.  It’s no big deal really.  It’s just a little unnerving.”
            “It’s typical, really.  People have to read explanations into things they don’t understand.”  Gene made a face and pushed the coffee across the table.  “What some?”
            “No, thanks.”  Paul sneered at the cloudy gray liquid and moved it back toward Gene, who tossed it in a nearby trash can.  He looked at his watch.
            “When are Ace and Peter coming back?  I’d like to get some more done before we stop for the night.”
            “Anytime now,” Paul answered.  “Wait . . . I think I hear someone now.”
            Ace walked in, his youthful features uncharacteristically somber.  He was the other two and stopped in the doorway, clearing his throat self-consciously.
            “Um . . . I think you’d better close up for the night.  We have to go to the hospital.”
            Paul and Gene looked at each other, not knowing what to say.  Paul figured it was another of Ace’s jokes and decided to play along.
            “Okay, Ace, we give up.  We do we have to go to the hospital?”
            Ace remained strangely quiet.  He looked into Paul’s eyes with real concern.
            “Peter’s been in a car wreck . . . .”

            1977:  Peter Criss, drummer for KISS, suffered minor injuries following a one-car collision late last night.  There is no official word concerning the circumstances surrounding the accident.  Criss was a passenger in the vehicle.  The driver was also injured . . . .

            . . . Ace Frehley of KISS was nearly electrocuted during a performance in Florida last night.  Official sources say that Frehley was ascending a flight of stairs used on the band’s current stage set when he touched the metal railing for support and completed an electrical circuit, sending a high number of volts through his body.  Frehley was carried from the stage, unconscious, by a member of the band’s security team, but recovered and returned to finish the show.

            The four member of KISS sat around a table in a New York restaurant.  It was a popular place with good food, excellent service, and reasonable prices.  It also had a very casual atmosphere, which made it even more appealing to the city’s music crowd.
            Each man had a sizable meal in front of him, but Gene, Peter and Paul had barely eaten anything.  Ace, though, had finished most of his own dinner and was now sneaking bites from the others’ plates if and when they turned away.
            Gene was absorbed in his contemplation of a tall, cool glass of water with beads of condensation running down and dripping onto the plate which held his cheesecake.  Paul was picking through some broiled fish, mainly to see if it was still warm, but partly to make sure Ace had not taken any.  As bored as the others, Peter was staring at the ceiling, his chair tipped onto its two back legs.  Suddenly, he broke the silence by dropping his chair to the floor with a resounding crack.
            “I don’t know . . .” he said.  “What do you want to do?”
            Gene and Paul laughed slightly and glanced at Peter.  The three of them then turned their attention to Ace, who stared back at them innocently -- his cheeks stuffed with food.
            “Mmmph Grrplmph!”
            “Well,” Paul said offhandedly, “we could get a stomach pump for Ace here . . . .”
            The three of them laughed out loud.  Ace swallowed painfully and again attempted to reply.  The only sounds he could manage were muffled grunts, which cause his companions’ laughter to increase.  This scene attracted the attention of other customers, and the band quieted down while Ace tried to gulp down the last of the food.  Peter resumed his original conversation as Ace grabbed Gene’s water.
            “Really, though.  What do you think we should do next?  We’ve already conquered America -- tomorrow the world.”  He chuckled.  “No, we’ve done that too.  We’ve got our own comic book out . . . what’s left?”
            “First rock group in orbit,” Ace mumbled as he washed down the last bit of food.
            Paul broke in, presenting his case with the air of a corporate president address the board.  “I think Peter’s got a point.  Besides the movie coming up in May, what are we going to be doing?  There isn’t much we haven’t tried, and we’ve already decided no album till after the filming is done.  Any suggestions?”
            “Well,” Gene said quietly, “I’ve been saving some material for a solo album.”
            Peter was horrified.  “What?  You don’t mean split up the band?”
            “No, of course not.  But maybe we each need to do our own thing for a change.  You know, instead of a group album, four separate records -- one from each of us.”
            “Yeah!”  Ace exclaimed.
            Paul was still considering the idea.  “I like it, but I don’t know . . . .  You think management will got for it?”
            Gene nodded.  “As a matter of fact, I’ve discussed it with Bill already.  He thinks we’re in a position now where we could get away with something like this.  The fans would love it!  Four albums of new material instead of one!”
            “Yeah,” Peter agreed.  “Do some stuff on our own.  Expand our horizons for the good of the band.  A change of pace might be cool..”
            “This is great!”  Ace said.  “I’ve always wanted to see how I’d do on my own.”
            Paul let the others’ enthusiasm erase his initial caution.  “Okay, okay.  You’ve convinced me.  When do we start?”
            Everyone was silent.  The idea sounded good enough, but they all knew the risks of trying something this radical.  Ace spoke up first.
            “Well, no time like the present.  Why don’t we just set up a time for the albums to be done, then go our own ways?”
            “Wait a sec.”
            “What’s the matter, Peter?”
            “That makes sense.  When have you ever made sense?”
            After the laughter had died down, they agreed on a date for the completion of the solo albums.  All of them felt it would be the perfect way to go from their position.  Perhaps the release of the four albums could coincide with the movie’s completion to add to the publicity.
            “Okay.  Now that that’s settled, we’ve got an even bigger decision to make,” Gene said worriedly.
            “What?”  The others asked in unison.  None of them could imagine what he meant.
            “Who’s paying for dinner?”
            The others smiled.  Paul pointed out the obvious choice.
            “Give it to Ace.  He ate the most.”

            Nothing had changed at the offices of Mr. Blackwell.  Parker was still seated outside, trying to control the massive flow of would-be superstars infiltrating the lobby; the curtains were still drawn; and Blackwell would only appear on rare occasions.  The only difference now was that the office actually seemed darker than it had before.
            As it happened, it was one of the few days that Blackwell was in his office, this time to receive a report from Parker.  At the moment, Parker was giving Blackwell an oral report concerning the development of a certain popular rock and roll band.  It was quite evident from Parker’s voice that he hated giving the report, especially since the band was not under Blackwell’s management.  As it was, he did not understand his employer’s interest; yet, he never mentioned it.
            Blackwell finally stopped his assistant’s droning with the wave of a hand.
            “The overall view, Parker?”
            Parker cleared his throat.  “Well, not much has happened since last month.  Um . . . each of the members has started work on their solo albums, and Criss was involved with another auto accident.”
            “Really?”  Blackwell asked innocently.  “My, how unfortunate.  A man in his position should take better care of himself.”
            Parker wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and continued.
            “Uh . . . the movie’s filming is in progress and on schedule.  I think that’s all that’s happening right now.”
            He waited for Blackwell to acknowledge his report and dismiss him.  After several minutes, the silhouette from behind the desk raised its head and spoke.
            “Very well.  You may go on with your work.”
            Parker trotted over to the door, eager to escape the darkness.  As he reached for the doorknob, he turned back to the black figure.
            “I almost forgot.  Mr. Deveraux called.  He said to tell you that everything is ready on the set.”
            Blackwell rose from his seat and closed the drapes, blocking out the little stream of brightness.  Taking a deep breath, Parker rushed out into the lobby.


            A handsome young man sat in a director’s chair next to the clear, blue swimming pool.  His silver robe was drawn tightly around his thin spandex costume to ward off the early-morning chill.  In his lap was a thick, typed manuscript, which he pored over with distaste, mumbling to himself.
            “Easy, Catman, they are serious . . . .  Easy . . . Catman . . . they are serious,” he repeated, looking at the page, then off in the distance.  He tried to ignore the stares of the film crew working nearby.
            He could not understand his inability to concentrate.  Usually, remembering things was the least of his problems, yet something lurked in the back of his mind, wiping out his efforts to memorize his lines.  He felt nervousness in the pit of his stomach as well, as though his body was trying to warn him of some terrible future event.
            “Easy . . . Catman . . . they are -- aarrgh!  I’m going to puke!”  He threw the script into the chair next to him, almost hitting the Demon approaching from the side of the pool.
            “Hey, watch where you throw that, Paul!  Somebody could’ve sat on it.”
            Gene placed the script tenderly on the small card table at his right and sat down.  He had brought with him a small, balding man dressed in jeans, an oxford cloth shirt and pullover sweater.  The stranger remained standing -- looking at the two costumed men with a pleasant smile on his face.
            “Yeah?”  Paul grimaced.  “Well, it might help if someone did sit on it.”
            Gene frowned.  “Don’t be so gloomy.  With our director and Anthony and the special effects alone, this film’ll look great.”
            “I hope so.  Nothing against the scriptwriter, but some of the lines are awfully corny.”
            “Hey,” a voice exclaimed from behind them, “I’m having a great time!”
            They turned and saw Ace with a Dixie Cup in his hand and an enormous grin covering his painted face.
            “Yeah,” Paul said.  “Having a wonderful time.  Wish I were here.”  He turned back in his seat, wishing he had the script again.
            “Hello!  What’s going on?”  In full regalia, Peter walked over to the little gathering and glanced around, looking for another chair.
            “Not much,” Ace answered, taking a sip from the cup.  “Paul’s not having fun yet.”
            “Ah, it’s not that.  I’m just having trouble with some of the lines, that’s all.”
            “Don’t worry about it,” Gene said in a parental tone.  “If you do, you’ll never get it right.”
            Paul knew Gene meant it as advise, but it felt condescending, nevertheless.  “Thanks, Gene.  I’ll manage.”
            Gene shrugged and looked over at the little man, who was still standing apart from the group.  Gene smiled and turned back to Paul.
            “Isn’t anyone going to ask me who that little old man is?”
            Peter found a chair, pulled it over, and sat down.  “If you say it’s Paul’s grandfather, I’m leaving.”
            “Who is he?”  Ace asked.
            “He’s the robotics specialist for the film: Mr. Deveraux.”
            “Uh-huh,” Peter responded sarcastically.  “Who is he really?”
            “I’m serious!  Mr. Deveraux,” Gene said, gesturing toward his companions, “I’d like you to meet the band.”
            Ace came forward and shook Deveraux’s hand.  “You’re kidding?  You have the same name as the bad guy in the movie?”  Ace emitted a high-pitched cackle and shook his head in disbelief.
            Deveraux smiled shyly.  “Well, I know it’s strange, but it’s true.  When the filmmakers were looking for an advisor for the robotic effects, someone mentioned my name.  I guess someone thought the name suited the character as well.”
            “And you should see some of the stuff he’s made for the movie,” Gene interrupted in earnest.  “It’s great!  I still can’t figure some of it out.  You’d love it, Ace.”
            “I’d love to see it sometime!”  Ace said it more as a demand than merely a statement.
            Deveraux chuckled.  “Well, if you gentlemen aren’t busy at the moment, I could show you my workshop.”
            “Yeah!”  Ace said, already getting up from his seat.
            “Thanks,” Paul declined politely, “but it’s not very long until we start shooting.”
            “Oh, c’mon, Paul,” argued Gene.  “It’ll help take your mind off the script.”
            Paul was still unsure.  He could not put his finger on it, but for some reason he did not like this Deveraux character.  After a moment of self-debate, he gave in to his friends.
            “Well, okay . . . but let’s not take too long.”
            The man led the four musicians away from the pool to a large, isolated tent behind one of the amusement park’s office buildings.  There were pieces of scrap metal and wiring hanging from the tent ropes and the tent itself, making the tent look like some sort of bizarre washline.
            Deveraux lifted the flap of canvas from the entrance and waved his hand toward the opening.
            “My workshop, gentlemen.  Inside is a robot that may be used for the final fight-scene.  Would you like to see it?”
            The four men followed their guide into the tent and found themselves face-to-face with a gargantuan figure of steel.  The robot stood at least eight feet tall, and its silver body was composed of twisted cables and wires, which very much resembled the human skeletal and muscular structures.  Its torso was covered with a sheath of clear Lucite containing metallic organs, each breathing with artificial life.  Its head was smooth and shiny, with perfectly symmetrical human features.
            “Wow . . . .”  Ace breathed disbelievingly.
            “That’s what I said,” added Gene, still amazed at his second view of the monster.
            “So, what can the bionic man do?”  Peter asked, moving up for a closer inspection.
            “So far, it can perform several simple functions, including lifting up to four-hundred pounds.”
            “And changing the course of mighty rivers,” Gene joked.
            No one laughed, as they did not quite understand Gene’s comment, but Deveraux continued as he walked over to a complex- looking console in the center of the tent.  “Not yet, but I’m working on it.  I figure I can complete four of these within three weeks and have them fight you in the concert sequence.”
            Peter peered into the robot’s face.  “Geez, are you sure it’s going to be safe?  I mean, this thing looks pretty nasty to me.”
            Deveraux appeared slightly indignant.  “But, of course, it’s safe . . . .  If you like, however, I could give you a demonstration.”
            “Yeah, let’s see what Curly here can do,” Ace said, eager to see technology in action.
            Deveraux smiled.  “Excellent!  Would you gentlemen step outside so as not to get in harm’s way when I activate it.  You should be a perfect view from the entrance.”
            The four started moving back.
            “Um, Mr. Criss?”
            Peter stopped and turned around.
            “If you don’t mind, I’d like you to stay as a test subject.  After all, it seems that you are the one that is the most worried about the robot.  It would be a perfect opportunity to see how safe it is up-close.”
            Peter hesitated.  “Um . . . well, alright.”
            “Pete,” Paul began.  He was beginning to feel something was not quite right, but Gene broke in with words of encouragement.
            “Aw, it’s probably harmless.  Anyway, if something goes wrong, Mr. Deveraux can just stop it with a touch of a button.  Right?”
            “I’ll try to make sure no permanent damage is done to Mr. Criss,” Deveraux answered jokingly.
            There was uneasy laughter from the rest of the group as they walked out of the tent and stationed themselves just outside the entrance.
            “Ready, Mr. Criss?”  Deveraux asked, his hands at the console.
            “No.  But go ahead anyway.”  Actually, Peter felt rather confident.  He was sure that if trouble arose, he could somehow tap into the Talisman powers again like he did a couple of years before.  There had been times when he felt that he could feel the power flowing through him, such as during the car accidents, but he could never be sure.  Now was a chance to see if he could activate it once again.
            Peter stepped back as Deveraux pushed a button on the console.  The robot moved toward Peter, who jumped back in surprise.  After it stopped its advance, Peter moved in for a closer inspection.
            Deveraux flicked a switch, and the robot’s arms encircled Peter’s waist, holding him in place.
            The three outside the tent were laughing.
            “Hey, Peter,” Ace called, “I think it likes you!”
            Peter was not listening.  He was not only upset by his mechanical opponent, but also because he did not feel the burst of energy he had felt before from the Talisman.
            “I should’ve reacted quicker than that, but this thing is fast.  I’ll get out of it.  No problem,” Peter said it to the others, and to himself as well.
            “Don’t be too sure of that, Mr. Criss.”  Mr. Deveraux pressed a series of button.
            The robot tightened its grip, forcing the air out of Peter’s lungs.  He began to blackout as he struggled against the icy steel arms. 
            “Mr. Deveraux,” Gene spoke suddenly, his voice taking on a low, growling tone.  “I think you’re getting a bit carried away.”
            The little man looked up, his face wild with excitement.  “I’m afraid not, Mr. Simmons.  On the contrary, the only one who will be carried away is your friend here . . .” He twisted a series of knobs on the console.   “. . . in a box!”
            The wiring and metal limbs detached themselves from the tent ropes and flew together around the tent, forming a barricade enclosing the event inside the tent from the three men outside.  Through the gaps in the metal, the band could see Peter, still fighting to break free of the robot’s deathgrip.  Deveraux watched triumphantly.
            “The barrier that now surrounds the tent should prove an adequate defense,” he called out.  “Oh, and Mr. Stanley, I suggest that you don’t try using that ‘laser eye’ of yours.  The fence is programmed to explode should force be used.”
            Paul and Gene looked at each other.
            “How does he know about my power?”  Paul whispered.
            “I don’t know,” said Gene, “but if he knows, he can defend himself.”
            With Deveraux’s attention away from Peter for a moment, Peter began to struggle to get a handhold in between his chest and the robot.  As he worked, he suddenly felt more energy going through his limbs as the Talisman’s powers pulsed through his mind.  Now able to pull out his other arm that was pinned against his chest, he starting pushing against the shoulders of the robot and heard the grind of metal again metal as the arms of the robot slowly began to give.
            It was enough to attract Deveraux’s attention.  His jaw dropped slightly in response to the scene before him, but he quickly recovered and moved another switch on the console.
            “He told me that you might be able to compensate for the power of my robot at the capacity I thought would be enough for you, Criss.  I won’t make that mistake again.”
            Renewed power flowed through the robot and the arms once again closed in on Peter.  Peter gave out a scream that seemed more out of anger than pain.
            “Peter!”  Ace cried.  He extended his right thumb like a hitch-hiker and disappeared with a “POP.”  He reappeared inside the tent, ready to rescue his friend from the robot’s clutches.
            “Ah, Mr. Frehley, I’m so glad you could join us.  I knew you’d be the first to break through my shield.”
            Ace whirled around to face Deveraux, his hands raised.  “Really?  Well, what’s going to stop me from turning you and your precious console into dust?”  He almost screamed the question.  He wanted to destroy the man who was hurting his friend.
            “That’s simple.  If you destroy this console, the robot goes on automatic.  The same thing will happen to Mr. Criss -- only sooner.”
            Ace dropped his hands to his side.
            Outside the tent, Gene and Paul inspected the metal barrier.  Frustrated, Paul swung a boot back to give it a good kick, then thought better of it.  Paul could feel the flow of the Talisman in him again, for what little good it was doing him at the moment.
            “Great!  The Talismans finally kick in again after all this time and we can’t do anything.  We’re useless!”
            “Wait.”  Gene said, still studying the tangle of machinery.  “Maybe not.  See where these two pieces are joined?  If we can melt down that joint, we might make a hold big enough to get in.”
            “You heard Deveraux.  It’ll explode.”
            “Yes, if you use your energy laser with your powers.  But, it may not be rigged for heat.  Since the melting of the joint will be a releasing of tension and not the applying of tension, it just might work.”
            “And if it doesn’t?”
            Gene looked up at Paul and smiled.  “Then we go boom.”
            Paul looked at the scene inside of the tent and decided.  “It’s worth a shot.  But where are we supposed to get a flame-torch?”
            Gene backed away from the tent then began to concentrate.  Inside of his mind a fire raged from the anger and frustration he was facing before him.  It raged in his soul and began to boil inside of his skull.  Opening his mouth, the feeling transformed itself into flames, which roared across the air and into the heart of the metal barricade.
            As the fire lit into the metal, Paul backed away from the tent.
            “Pete,” Ace whispered as he stood next to the robot and tried to move one of the arms away from the almost-limp figure caught in its embrace.  “Try to save your energy.”
            Deveraux laughed.
            “What do you say now, ‘hero’?”
            Ace did not reply.
            “What good is your precious Talisman now?  You can’t even save your friend.  Why don’t you hand over the Talisman, and maybe I’ll let the Cat go?”
            Ace spun around to face the man behind the console.
            “I don’t know who you are, or how you know about the Talismans, but I’ll blow you and your console to pieces before I let you win this game!”
            “That won’t be necessary, Ace.”
            Both Deveraux and Ace turned to see Paul standing inside the tent, with Gene climbing through a large gap in the supposedly impenetrable barrier.
            Gene spoke as he climbed in.  “Ace!”  Gene growled.  “Head for that console -- NOW!”
            Ace rushed toward the confused Deveraux as Paul unleashed his power.  A glow encircled his right eye, and a strong crimson beam hit his opponent squarely in the chest.
            “I think it’s time for you to go to sleep,” Paul said casually.
            Deveraux dropped to the floor, unconscious, as Ace scanned the control panel.  His mind worked quickly, and within a matter of seconds he had hit a sequence of switches and knobs that would terminate the robot’s orders.
            Peter fell to the ground, clutching his ribs and gasping for air.  The other three ran to his side.
            “Oh . . . man . . .” Peter groaned.
            “Peter,” Paul said, kneeling down and placing his hand under the drummer’s head, “are you alright.”
            “Y-yeah, I think so.”  He looked at the robot and felt sick.  “Just get me out of here.”
            Paul supported Peter as he stumbled out of the tent.  They climbed through the hole and moved a few yards away.  As they reached a nearby tree, Paul slipped out from under Peter’s arm and lowered him to rest against the tree trunk.
            Ace looked at Gene.  “How did you guys manage to get through that fence?”
            “Pyrotechnics,” Gene smirked.  “I’ve got flame-breath, remember?”
            “I thought that only worked when you were around fire,” Peter said, staring up through half-closed eyes.
            “Nope, I can use it anytime -- I just never had a chance to before.  Just like none of us have ever had the chance before to really experiment with our powers.  Anyway, I just melted through the bars and hoped for the best.”
            “But, Deveraux said the thing was rigged to explode!”  Ace exclaimed.
            “We took the precaution of standing back.”
            “But WE were inside!”
            “It was a chance we had to take.”  Gene absent-mindedly shrugged his shoulders.
            “Thanks loads. . . .”
            Ace was interrupted by a voice from behind.
            “Do not think you will get away with this, robbers!  I will have what is rightfully mine!”  The band looked up to see Deveraux approaching, a gun in his right hand.
            “I thought you took care of him,” Peter whispered to Paul.
            “So did I,” Paul mumbled, feeling a bit embarrassed about his carelessness.
            “Well, it shouldn’t be any problem tagging him before he tags us,” said Gene.  His voice resumed the strange metallic growl it always did when the Talisman was at work.
            “You idiots!”  Deveraux screamed.  “You can’t even use the power you have been given properly.  You don’t even know where it came from.  You are not worthy of the Talismans -- It was sheer luck that you were able to save your pitiful comrade!”
            Deveraux kept the gun trained on the four and reached into his pocket, producing a small, silver cylinder.  His thumb hovered over a red button at one end of the object.
            “But it isn’t over.  There are others who will come after you.  Once I press this button, our leader will home in on this spot.  Then you will surrender the Talismans . . . or die!”
            “Ace.  Now!”  Gene ordered.
            Ace extended his thumb and disappeared as Gene lunged toward the crazed scientist.
            Deveraux hit the button as Ace reappeared next to him.  He and Gene tackled the man, sending him sprawling to the ground.  The gun sailed through the air and landed in a nearby grove of trees.
            “Ha!”  Deveraux cheered.  “It’s too late!”
            Deveraux was happy.  He may have failed in his attempt to get the Talisman from the band members by means of blackmail -- Peter’s life for that of the Talismans -- but he did not fail in alerting his leader.  He had been given the small cylinder several weeks ago with the order that, if he should not be able to obtain the Talismans himself, to use it and others would come. 
            Deveraux waited for what was to come, only knowing that something amazing was about to happen.  Perhaps his leader would descend from the sky to finish off the band, or even a whole army.  The thought of such a turnabout excited Deveraux and he did not even care about the two men pinning him down; he knew things would be in his favor once again very quickly.
            He was so absorbed in his thoughts, in fact, that he did not notice the blue-white glow slowly enveloping the hand that held the homing device.
            Ace did, and as his eyes grew wide, he let go of Deveraux and jumped back.
            “Gene,” Ace cried as he backed further away from the other two.  “Let got of him.”
             “What are you talking about?”  Gene struggled with Deveraux.  “I can’t do that.”
            There was no time left to argue.  Ace leapt through the air and knocked Gene away form Deveraux as the glow crept up his arm.  They tumbled to the ground a few feet away.
            Finally, Deveraux noticed the strange light, which was now over all of his lower torso and legs.
            “Wh-what is happening to me?”  Deveraux screamed.  “What did you do to me?”
            The glow grew whiter as his legs faded from view.
            “No.”  Deveraux turned to face the four musicians, his eyes full of pain.  “He told me that I would win!  I was supposed to have the power!”
            The glow had finally engulfed his entire body, its brightness forcing all but Ace to look away.  Deveraux’s form staggered toward the two men on the ground.
            “He lied to me.  Black --”
            Gone.  The afterglow faded, leaving only a small patch of scarred grass behind.  Ace untangled himself from his band mate and stood up, helping Gene to his feet.  Paul and Peter rushed over.
            “What happened to him?”  Gene asked, with the distinct feeling that Ace knew already.
            “Limbo.”  Ace said, more to himself than the others.
            “What?”  Peter asked.
            “Yeah,” continued Paul, “what are you talking about?”
            Ace seemed to be shaken awake from deep thoughts as the others questioned him. 
            “You know when I teleport?”
            The others nodded.
            “Well, I don’t just move from one spot to another instantly.  I pass through another dimensional space between the beginning and ending points on this plane.”
            “Huh?”  Peter said, holding his ribcage tightly.
            “It’s hard to explain . . . but it has to do with the time and space continuum.  When I teleport, I open the door to a passageway, travel to the spot I want in time and space, and open the door to get out.  It’s like hopping on a subway that doesn’t stop and jumping off at the right place.  But, you have to be exact when you jump off -- because once you pass your stop, it’s too late.  You also need the right key to get in and out of the passage.”
            Ace held up his hands.
            “This is my key.  I -- and anyone I take with me -- can get in and out of the doors with no problem.”
            Paul was a little puzzled.  “But what does all this have to do with Deveraux?”
            “The glow we saw . . . that was Limbo.  The passageway.  I’ve seen it enough times to recognize it.”
            Gene had read enough comics to get the gist of what Ace was saying.  “So, that device allowed him to open the door to Limbo.”
            “Right,” Ace agreed.  “Actually, he was letting Limbo into this dimension.  If it hadn’t been contained by the device, we’d all be in big trouble.  Luckily, the person who designed the device knew what he or she was doing.”
            Peter looked at his friend in amazement.  To him, Ace suddenly did not sound like the same street kid that he always knew, but like a scholar from another planet.
            Gene was fascinated by the concept and pressed on.  “And you knocked me away so that I wouldn’t be taken with him.”
            “So, when is he coming back into this dimension?”  Paul looked at the charred grass.
            “He’s not.”
            Paul shot a look back up to Ace.  “What?”
            Ace stared at the ground, kicking a bit of dirt with his moonboot.  “That’s the thing.  Limbo came in and went back out, taking him along for the ride.  Someone gave him the key to get in, but I really don’t think he was ever meant to be able to get back out.  They wanted to lose him and fast.”
            “He’s trapped in the passage,” Gene said quietly, more as a statement than a question.
            “Uh - huh.”
            “Can you get him back?”  Peter asked.
            “No.  Limbo is a never-ending place.  He could be anywhere by now.  Even if I could find him, he didn’t enter with my key, so my key couldn’t get him out.  I could try another one, like a skeleton key, but one wrong move and -- Boom -- that’s it.”
            That four men fell silent as the full impact of what had happened sank in.
            “I’m sorry,” Ace said after a time.
            Gene tried to reassure him.  “It’s not your fault.  You couldn’t have done anything to stop the door’s opening . . . could you?”
            Paul jerked his head to look at Gene.  It was an odd question and sounded even a bit menacing in the tone of Gene’s voice.
            Gene had his own reasons for asking.  Mainly one that had bothered him since he saw Ace immediately use his powers after all this time.  Why, Gene asked himself, was Ace able to use his powers so readily when it seemed to take a minute or two for the others to have their powers kick in?  More importantly, how did Ace learn so much about Limbo when he only saw it that one time back in 1975?
            “Ace, it’s about time --”
            “Ah, there you are!”
            Shocked back to reality, the four turned in their heels and saw one of the movie crew’s gaffers approaching from the direction of the tent opening.  At least, where the tent had been.  As with Deveraux, the tent was now gone and all that was left as a reminder was a scar on the ground.
            “We’ve been looking all over for you guys.  You were scheduled to start filming the pool scene twenty minutes ago.”
            Paul stared at the young man and tried to decide how to explain the situation without jeopardizing the secret of the Talismans.
            “Um, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.”
            The gaffer beamed.  It was not often that someone cared enough to confide in him.
            “Really?  What?”       
            “It’s about Mr. Deveraux.”
            The boy looked confused.  “Deveraux?  You mean the bad guy in the movie? What about him?”
            Paul frowned.  “No, I mean Mr. Deveraux.  The robotics consultant for the movie.”
            “You’re pulling my leg, right?”  The gaffer was getting a real kick out of being on the receiving end of one of the stars’ jokes.
            It was Paul’s turn to be confused.  “No, I’m not.  Deveraux was working on the robots for the finale and --”
            “What robots?  We’re using your stunt doubles as stand-ins.  We don’t have any robots.”
            Gene stepped forward, breaking in on the conversation.  “Could I see who’s working today?”
            “Sure, here you go.”  The gaffer handed Gene a clipboard.  He scanned the pages and handed it back.
            “Thanks.  We’ll be at the pool in a few minutes.”
            “Okay.  I’ll tell the director you’re on your way.”  He wandered off, grinning, trying to figure out what the whole practical joke was that just happened to him.
            Peter looked at Gene questioningly.
            “What is it, Gene?”
            “I just took a quick look through the list of workers for today.  Deveraux’s name wasn’t there.”
            “Maybe it was a mistake,” Paul said.
            Gene shook his head.  “He wasn’t listed for any days.  According to that list, there was never any robotics specialist working on this movie.”
            “You mean, it was a trap?”
            “Sure looks like it.”
            Ace spoke up.  “Deveraux mentioned the Talismans.  He knew how they worked.  Nobody but us knows about them.”
            Gene nodded.  “And he said there were others that knew as well.”
            “So,” Paul said, “we’ve just been attacked by a guy who never existed, and now he’s vanished into Limbo for no apparent reason.  To top it all off, he knew about our powers, and we still have no idea what it’s all about.  That’s just wonderful.”
            “Yeah, I know,” Gene felt the same as Paul.  None of it made any sense.
            “You don’t suppose this is connected with all the accidents we’ve had crop up in the last couple of years?”  Peter asked suspiciously.
            “It could be,” Ace responded.  “It could also be why Peter is usually the victim.  His powers would be the biggest threat to anyone trying to catch us off-guard, since he was that instinctive ‘sixth-sense.’  Whoever’s behind this might to be trying to weaken him in order to get to the rest of us.”
            There it was again, Gene thought.  Ace knowing something about the powers that has never come up before. 
            Before Gene could say anything, Peter looked up at the other uneasily. 
            “I’m afraid it might be working.”
            “What do you mean,” Paul asked.
            “I’ve been meaning to tell you all something.  Each time I’ve gotten hurt, whether it be in an accident or like today, I’ve felt my Talisman’s powers kick in.  At first I just thought they were helping me out and that was it.  Since I never could do much else after the danger had passed, I just thought it was helping me and then going away again.  But the strange thing was I could tell that the powers were getting weaker each time something happened to me.  And if my powers were working right, I probably would have anticipated Deveraux’s attack today.  I didn’t.”
            Gene thought about Peter’s response for a moment.  “Well, since we don’t know who is after us, there’s not much we can do to retaliate.  Obviously, he’s after the Talismans.  I suggest we stick close together and wait for this next move.”
            “And if we’re sitting ducks?”  Peter asked.
            “Have you got any better ideas?  This is the first time since Detroit that we’ve been able to get the powers to work and already I can feel the powers subsiding again.  Who knows how they are activated?”
            Gene talked to the other three, but looked mainly at Ace for his reaction.  There was none.  Seeing there was not going to be a response from Ace, Gene continued.
            “We’ll just have to see what happens and with a bit of luck, maybe we can find out how these powers are supposed to work.”
            There was silence in the group.  Paul looked intently at the charred grass where Deveraux had once stood.  “Man, what kind of game are they playing?”
            “I don’t know, Paul,” Ace said soberly.  “But I’ve got the strangest feeling that it’s not a game to them.”

            Parker entered Blackwell’s office and approached the desk, fumbling his words.
            “Uh . . . er . . . Deveraux was unsuccessful in his efforts.”
            Blackwell sat stoneface, not looking up.  “A shame.  I had real hopes for him.  The usual outcome?”
            “Um, yes.  He has been terminated and his existence wiped clean from the minds of those who came in contact with him on the set.  The only ones who remember him are the members of KISS themselves.”
            Blackwell smiled.  “Excellent.  Anything else?”
            “That’s all for the moment.  But, Mr. Criss should be in the position you want him.”
            Blackwell looked up at Parker.  “Thank you, Mr. Parker.  That will be all.”
            After Parker had left the room, Blackwell stood and moved across the room to a chessboard set up in one corner of the office.  He had brought the board in after his initial meeting with the band, just two short years before.  He found it was an amusing way to keep track of his strategy.
            Picking up a black pawn off the board, he replaced it with a white knight.  He examined the discarded piece and smiled to himself.
            “You have to lose an occasional piece to keep the game interesting.”
            He placed the pawn off to the side of the board and returned to his desk -- leaving the white knight in direct line with a black bishop.


            Paul came into the studio in an unusually cheerful mood.  Unusual, as recording a new album was something he was known to take an almost stone-cold attitude towards.  Recording taxed his abilities and he accepted it as the most difficult part of his job.  It was a controlled, tedious process, but he welcomed the pressure.  It was a chance to have control of a project and shape it the way he saw fit.  To do so, he had to concentrate and take the work as seriously as possible.  Otherwise, if the atmosphere became too relaxed, the work was undermined and would not be at the peak of performance as it should have been.  Let the fans have the fun listening to the album, Paul thought, but let the band be dead serious in getting that fun across on the albums.
            So, to see Paul walking into the studio with a smile on his face and humming to himself was rather odd to those there that day.  Yet, he had his reasons.  Today was going to be the first day for the four members to get back together after too many months apart working on their solo albums and the movie.  Now it was time to get back into the studio and see how the chances over the past few months had affected their styles and creative ideas. 
            It was just the thought alone of being able to bring new ideas into the band for the new album that excited Paul, and for once, he was willing to share that thought with the people around him as he entered a corridor leading to one of the recording booths.
            “You can trust your car,” he sang audibly as he walked down the hall, “to the man who wears the --”
            “Paul,” a voice called from behind him.
            “What?”  He turned and saw Gene, leaning against the corridor’s wall and with his arms folded across his chest.
            “Where are you going?  We’ve got an interview to do in the ‘yak-box’.”  Gene gestured toward a plain door across the hallway.
            Paul’s cheerfulness broke like a sudden cloudburst.  He sighed, letting the jacket he had draped over his shoulder fall to the floor.  He had forgotten about the interview, and knowing that he would have to wait before hitting the recording studio and getting to work was like a sudden slap to the face.  Still, as Paul considered it, the interview was to be the last major interview the band would have to do before they really kicked into the sessions for the new album.  It was enough to bring some of the sunshine back into Paul’s personality.  Yet, only a little.
            “Sorry.  Forgot,” Paul mumbled as he turned and followed Gene into the small room.  It was a room that had once been considered as an additional office for one of the regular mixers at the studio, but when it was completed, none of the employers or regulars would use it due to the size of the room.  At the most it could contain one desk, two chairs, a file cabinet and a potted plant -- People optional.  Anyone who saw the room normally just shook their head and walked away.  For awhile, after there were no takers, the room was used for storage, but even then, there was nothing to store in the room due to its size.  Also, with the furnace for the building right behind the room, the heat in the room made it an extremely poor place to store anything of recordable value anyway.
            It was finally decided after much yelling and screaming that the room would be used for small meetings or interviews with the musicians done on the premises.  The thinking was that, with the uncomfortable nature of the room with its size and the heat, that any meeting would be handled as quickly as possible and everyone would be able to get back to work instead of letting a meeting get out of control and have it turn into a party of some sort, as some meetings in the entertainment industry were apt to do.
            It was this room that Paul and Gene walked into, only to find that Ace and Peter were seated at the small table in the room with a woman who was taking notes on a small pad.  Although both musicians seemed slightly bored, they were answering her questions at a steady pace, aware that she wrote for one of the major monthly rock magazines.  A notice in it was good for them and good for business as well.  Even Ace and Peter knew that it was not a time to get too crazy, for there would be plenty of time for that later on.
            The woman was dressed rather conservatively, considering the reputation of the magazine which had sent her to do the interview, but that did not detract from her undeniably beautiful face.  That face, and the fact that she was obviously no more than 24 or 25, held the interest of those being interviewed, as her appearance held a bewitching spell over men that none of them could quite explain.
            Gene and Paul grabbed the only other chairs in the room and sat down.  After some small talk and formal introductions, Paul spoke.
            “Sorry about being late, Miss . . . ?”
            Paul paused and felt a wave of foolishness come over him.  Two second after sitting down and he had already forgotten her name from when he was told the previous night about the interview.
            “Lisa Jameson, but just call me Lisa.  It looks better on the written page.”  She smiled at Paul, who nodded his head in affirmation.  Peter’s eyes rolled upward.  Ace yawned and stretched his legs, knocking them into Gene’s legs under the table.  Rubbing his shins from Ace’s direct hit; Gene cleared his throat to bring the interview back to order.
            “Where were we?”  Gene asked innocently.
            “Detroit,” Peter said.  No one responded.
            “Well,” Ace said, leaning back toward the table.  “As a matter of fact, she was asking about this.”
            He casually tossed his Talisman on the table.  It skipped a couple of times and came to rest in front of Lisa.
            Paul was too busy staring at the interviewer, but Gene spoke immediately.
            “Why are you showing her that?”  After saying the questions, Gene reeled in his emotions and shot a glance at the woman before lowering his voice.  “I mean, it’s only a prop from the movie . . . .”
            “Yeah,” Ace replied.  “She’d seen it in the movie and was curious.  I just ‘happened’ to have mine around.”
            “It’s not his fault.”  Peter came to his friend’s defense.
            “It’s my fault,” Lisa said, watching Gene’s reaction closely.  “I’ve always had a fondness for talismans, occult objects, things of that nature.  It’s always been a fascinating subject for me, and when I saw the movie. . . well, it just caught my interest.  I mean, to use such a powerful ideal as talismans in a kid’s program is very unusual.”
            Ace gave Gene a lot that said “so there.”
            Gene ignored Ace.  “Well, Ms. Jameson, first off, it’s not a kid’s program.  It was a full-length feature film that will be playing in theaters around the world.  And, secondly, I’m glad you liked the talisman concept, but it was only a dramatic device used to explain the origin of the four characters’ powers.  That’s it.  No black magic or anything like that.”
            Peter saw where Gene was headed.  “Yeah, in fact, we were going on the idea that the Talismans were actually from some kind of space-guy, you know.”
            “Yeah,” Ace agreed, “with sunglasses and --”
            Paul spoke rapidly to cut Ace off.  “So, talismans are an interest of yours?”
            “Definitely.”  Lisa smiled sweetly and Paul felt as if a hot knife had sliced through his mind as her eyes made contact with his.  “I’ve always felt that such objects are real.  In fact, in the example of the NECRONOMICON, there are nine different talismans that, when collected, form one that can be used to summon the powers of the Elder gods.  And when . . .”
            The four musicians listened with rapt attention.  She saw their intense stares and blushed slightly.
            “But let’s get back to the interview, shall we?”
            Paul wanted to stay on the subject of the Talismans -- although he knew better.  For some reasons he felt compelled to talk about them with Lisa.  He pulled his own small silver star from his pants’ pocket.  “As a matter of fact, I have my Talisman from the movie, too.  Since the filming, I’ve used it as jewelry.”
            He handed the object to Lisa.  A gleam appeared in her eyes, but quickly disappeared.
            “This is very beautiful,” she whispered.
            Gene was anxious to get on with the interview.   “Anyhow . . .”
            “Oh, yes.”  She turned back to the table.  “Um . . . can you please wait a minute?  I seemed to have left my cassette recorder in the car, and I want to use it for the remainder of the interview since you are all here now.”
            “Yeah, okay.”  Paul said, a wave of emotion flooding through him as he looked at her.
            Gene parted his hands in a show of reluctant obligement and lean back in his chair slightly. 
            As Lisa got up, Ace stood up and tried to maneuver around Gene so that he could hold the door open for Lisa as she walked out.
            “I’ll be right back.”
            “We’ll be right here,” Ace crackled as Lisa walked out.  Ace closed the door and sat back down next to Peter.
            Peter looked at Ace for a couple of moments.
            “That’s the best you could come up with, Ace?  ‘We’ll be right here?’”
            Ace knew Peter meant his comment as a put-down.  “Hey, I was just trying to be nice.  Nothing wrong with that.”
            There was silence in the room.  At least, no one was speaking to the others in the room.  Peter, however, was making noise by fidgeting in his seat.  He mumbled something, but it came out more like a growl than words.  Gene looked at him.
            “What did you say?”
            “I said that I don’t like her.  She was taking too much interest in the Talismans, if you ask me.  I just have this guy feeling about her.”
            “Ah,” Gene smiled, “she’s just some flake.  I mean, can you believe her with that story about the NECRONOMICON?  Anyone that reads that piece of junk knows it’s just some stuff put together by some guys who wanted to make some money off of some of the gullible out there.  She can’t be serious about that.”
            “I don’t know anything about that, Gene.  I just know what I feel.”  Peter began tapping his fingers on the table as he spoke.
            “You’re just jealous ‘coz she’s got a thing for Paul.  Right, Paul?”
            Gene glanced over at Paul and his smile faded.
            Ace was slumped over in his chair, and Paul’s eyes were becoming glassy as the eyelids closed -- although it was obvious to Gene that Paul was trying to fit the physical movement.  Gene leaned over the table and looked into Paul’s eyes.
            “What’s wrong?”
            Paul was having a hard time collecting his thoughts.  “The Talismans . . . power draining . . . I can’t explain . . . .”
            Peter leaped out of his chair so violently that the chair bounced up into the air with him, hit the wall behind him and banged into the back of his legs.
            “The Talismans!  Ace’s and Paul’s Talismans are gone!”
            Gene’s face grew savage as he raced from the room to the lobby of the studio.  He stopped as he hit the sidewalk outside, Peter almost colliding into the back of him.  They watched as Lisa pulled out of the parking lot.  She smiled and waved, the Talismans in her hand.
            Peter ran toward the vehicle and leapt from one side of the road to the other without hesitation.  He landed on all fours in the gravel along the side of the main road as the car sped away, missing him by inches.  Gene rushed over to Peter’s side as the girl disappeared around the corner.
            “Ouch.  Ouch.  Pain.  Pain,” Peter muttered as he picked the sharp pieces of gravel from his palms.  He looked up at Gene.  “I’m not used to doing things like that.”
            Gene stared down the street, his fists clenched.
            They hurried back tot he studio and reentered the reception area.  A small brunette girl sat behind an office desk.  Gene addressed her.
            “Excuse me, the interviewer who just left . . . ?”
            “What?”  The girl asked, confused.
            “Do you know anything about the woman who just left?”  Gene raised his voice with each word he spoke.
            “N-no . . .” the girl answered nervously.
            “Did she give a home address?”  Gene was becoming impatient, and the girl was frightened by his menacing glare.
            “I-I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
            “She had to check in!  I’m talking about the interviewer from --”
            “Forget it, Gene,” Peter said quietly.
            “Why?”  Gene turned and stared at Peter.
            “It’s just like what happened with Deveraux.  She doesn’t remember.”
            Gene sneered at the shaken receptionist for a moment, then turned and slowly walked back down the hall.

*      *      *

            It was two hours before Ace and Paul recovered.  Both had stabilized, yet still felt as though they were going to be sick at any moment.  With the studio-day blown, they had remained in the interview room, while Gene and Peter stayed close by.  Eventually, Paul was feeling well enough to attempt explaining what happened.
            “I don’t know,” he said.  “When she looked at me, I couldn’t think.  Like she was hypnotizing me.”
            “Yeah,” Ace exclaimed.  “I felt the same thing!”
            Gene nodded.  “Which is why you gave her the Talismans.  She wanted you to.  She just made the suggestion in such a way that you did not take any notice of it.  Neither did we, for that matter.”
            Peter looked over at Paul.  “But how?  Your powers should have been able to counter hers.”
            “I was confused, Peter.  I’ve never had anyone use that sort of things against me before.  I didn’t know how to defend myself.”
            Gene was disgusted.  “That’s because none of us know how to really use these powers.  It’s all guesswork.  The only thing I can figure out is that the powers were -- are -- still active within us and, once the Talismans were gone, we reacted as if we had suddenly lost a lot of physical strength.”
            “Great, just great.”  Paul felt the same way as Gene, although for a different reason.  “So now you’re saying that we’re having withdrawal symptoms?  Like we’re junkies?  Another nice trait to have with these stupid Talismans.”
            Ace felt insulted by Paul’s remark.  “Hey, the guy gave us these powers to help out mankind.”
            “Yeah?”  Paul almost laughed.  “How?  He didn’t tell us what to do with them, what they were for, who we are to protect or even how to turn the powers on.  A lot of good he did.”
            “Look,” Peter spoke up to try and regain some order to the conversation.  “This is getting us nowhere.  There’s no point in yelling about it.  If Ace and Paul still feel some of the powers, then that means they haven’t been destroyed.  If that’s the case, we’ve got to get those Talismans back.  If we don’t, who knows what she and whoever she’s working for can do with them.”
            “How, Peter?”  Gene inquired.  “We don’t know who she is or where she’s from.”
            “What about the magazine,” Paul asked.  “Don’t they --”
            “I already called them.  Never heard of her.”
            “Uh, guys,” Peter mumbled.
            “And I doubt Jameson is her real name,” Gene continued.
            “Guys?”  Peter was holding up a white business card and smiling.  “I thought you might be interested in this.  There was a whole stack of them in her purse, and I snatched one while she wasn’t looking.”
            He started to hand the card to Paul, but Gene grabbed it.
            “Go ahead, Gene.  I didn’t want to see it,” Paul said curtly.
            Gene ignored him and read the card out loud.  “Mary J. Robinson, designer.  Apartments decorated.  Houses restyled.  In the business of turning heads.  Business address . . . home address . . . .”
            Gene raised his eyebrows and glowered at the smiling Peter.   “When did you get this?”
            Peter smiled.  “When she was looking at Paul’s Talisman.  I told you I didn’t trust her.”
            Gene snapped.  “Why didn’t you show us this before?”
            Peter realized his bandmate was not happy and frowned.  “I’m sorry.  I was worried about Ace and Paul, and it slipped my mind . . . .  Jeez.”
            “Sorry,” Gene said, not too convincingly.
            “Well,” Paul interjected.  “Shall we go?”
            “Yeah!”  Ace stood up and curled his right hand into a hitchhiker’s position.
            Nothing happened.
            “Uh, let’s grab a cab,” he muttered as he walked slowly out of the home.

*     *      *

            Night had already fallen as they stood in the shadows outside the Manhattan high-rise where Miss Robinson lived.  Ace stepped into the light of a streetlamp and placed his hands on his hips.
            “Okay, men.  Now what?”
            Gene spoke, a dark metallic voice filling the blackness where the shadows of the night covered his features.
            “Peter and I will go in ahead of you two, just to be on the safe side.”
            Peter turned to gene, his head tilted slightly as if to catch any sounds that would warn him of danger.  “Hey, c’mon.  It’s an apartment building.  Expecting the maintenance man to give us a fight?”
            “I don’t know what to expect,” Gene sighed.  “If she had enough power to control Paul and Ace, who knows what else she can do.”
            Peter agreed by staying silent and moving towards the building.
            Following Peter’s move up the front steps, Gene was first at the building’s doors and moved quietly to the inside staircase.  Paul looked up to say something and saw that, now in the light, Gene’s demon makeup had appeared on his face.  Startled, he turned to Peter and saw the same thing had happened to him.  The image of the makeup with their normal street clothes would have been almost comical if Paul had not known that less than two minutes before no makeup had been on the two members’ faces.
            “ . . . Nothing.”
            They climbed the stairs to the seventh floor, Peter and Gene padding silently to the door of Mary Robinson’s apartment.  Gene stood to one side as Peter knelt in front of the door and looked up.
            “Do we knock?”
            Before the question could be answered, the door clicked and slowly swung open.  Inside the room was dark.  Peter scurried over to the wall and motioned for Paul and Ace to come forward.  They left the staircase and approached quietly as Gene started toward the entrance.
            “It could be a trap,” Paul whispered.
            Gene turned back, an evil grin on his face.
            Gene entered the room and froze as the lights suddenly came on.  He gazed around and saw a huge room filled with antiques and paintings that were probably worth a fortune.  There was also a brightly-lit hallway at the far right-hand corner of the room that led back into the apartment.  The others followed him into the apartment.
            “Nice place,” Ace said.
            “I don’t like this,” Peter growled.  His body was tensed to explode at the slightest provocation.
            “Is she here?”  Paul asked Gene.
            “I don’t know,” he answered, still studying his surroundings.
            “Are the Talismans here?”  Ace asked.
            “They are,” Paul said.  “I can feel them.  They’re calling.”  He moved across the carpet in a trance.
            Ace followed him nervously.  “Be careful, Paul.  We’re still not sure --”
            “They’re in here.”  Paul pointed into the room at the end of the hallway.  He stepped in the hall and towards the room as Ace tugged on his sleeve to hold him back.
            “Paul!”  Ace said as they entered the room together.  “Snap out of it!”
            The door slammed behind them, and the room went black.
            Gene and Peter started toward the room, then heard the front door slam as well.  When they turned, they saw Robinson standing against the door.  She was wearing the same clothes as from earlier in the day, but her face had changed.  A bizarre conglomeration of Ace’s and Paul’s makeup designs now covered her pretty features.  She began laughing as they stared in disbelief.
            “Ouch!”  Ace yelped, feeling his way along one wall of the room.  “Darn it!  There’s got to be a lightswitch around here somewhere.  Ah!”
            He flicked the switch and light flooded the room.  “Now, where are the Talismans, Paul?”
            Ace saw Paul standing in the middle of the room.  Besides the two of them, there was nothing else in the room except a small safe that Paul was standing in front of.  On the floor of the room was a strange painted symbol, encircling the safe and Paul.
            “So,” Robinson said, her voice taking on a disconcerting quality, as if two people were speaking in unison.  “You want to do a follow-up on the interview?”
            “Why are you doing this?”  Peter asked.  With Gene slightly pushing on Peter’s shoulder, the two split up and began circling the room, approaching the woman slowly.
            “Why?”  She laughed.  “Because you do not deserve this.  You don’t understand the powers inside you.  I understand.  I can control them.  I can control more than one, in fact.  Just as I told them I could!  And with the Talismans I can control Blackwell!  I can control the Elder!”
            “What are you talking about?”  Gene said as he moved ever more closely.
            Although Robinson noticed their movements, she did nothing to protect her position.  “You don’t understand because you are ignorant of the powers!  I shall prove myself to my leader, and when he does not expect it, I will destroy him!”
            Peter leapt toward her.  A dark light shot from her eyes and struck him down.  He crashed in a glass coffee table as Gene looked on silently.
            “And I will destroy you as a gift to him,” she hissed.
            “Paul, snap out of it, will you?”
            Ace shook Paul’s shoulders violently.  Finally, Paul’s eyes focused on Ace.
            “What happened,” Paul stumbled on the word, confused.
            “Man, it was weird!  It’s like you were drawn to this room.  And when we got inside the door closed.  We can’t get out.”
            Paul looked down at the safe.  Ace followed his gaze.  “Are the Talismans . . . ?”
            “. . . in there?”  Paul finished.  “Yes.”
            Peter rose from amidst the wreckage as Gene spoke.
            “You’ll never win,” he said coldly.  His words cut through the silence like a knife.
            “You forget, Demon . . . .”  Her voice fluttered on the last word.  “I have the power of two of the Talismans.  Nothing can stop me.  Certainly not you and that animal.”
            Peer snarled as he got to his feet.
            “And then I’ll have the pleasure of cutting your friends’ throats at my leisure,” she purred.
            “Never!”  Peter ran toward her and again, the dark beams caught him full force, knocking him to the floor.
            Robinson felt a hand on her shoulder and spun around to see Gene looming over her.  A small stream of blood oozed from between his lips as he bared his teeth.  His right hand curled into a fist and drew back.
            “You should have been paying attention, Miss Robinon.”
            Peter shook his head and looked up, only to duck his head in order to miss the flying figure of Robinson.  With a thud she crumpled to the floor near the bewildered Peter. 
            As she struggled to stand, Gene stomped toward her.
            “Gene?”  Peter raised a hand to get Gene’s attention, which went unnoticed. 
            “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
            Ace had his ear against the safe’s door, his right hand turning the combination lock as he listened. 
            “Hey, c’mon!”  He grinned as he held up his hands for inspection.  “With these hands, I could -- dare I say it? -- rule the world!” 
            He crackled as Paul lowered his head.
            “Hoo boy.  Sorry I asked,” Paul mumbled as Ace began humming the theme from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.
            “Gene?”  Peter gasped, crawling out of the pieces of broken furniture.  “Is she alright?”
            Gene stopped, turning to Peter and looking at him as if it was for the very first time in his life.  “Alright?  She threatens our lives and you ask if she’s alright?”
            Suddenly, his legs were kicked out from under him and he landed with a crack as his head hits the corner of a table.  His eyes focused on Robinson’s shadowy figure above him, Blood dripped from her face onto Gene’s clothes.
            “You should have been paying attention, Mr. Simmons.”
            As she brought her hands forward, two fiery lasers blast Gene’s body.
            “What the Hell was that?”  Paul left Ace’s side and stared at the door.
            “Can’t you tell?”  Ace said, still fiddling with the safe’s combination.  “There’s a fight going on in the next room.”
            “How do you know?”
            “Let’s say I have a hunch.”
            Paul moved back to Ace and crouched next to him.  He pounded his fist against the safe, rattling Ace with the noise.
            “Well, hurry it up.  We need to get out there and help them.”
            Ace paused for a moment, sticking a finger in his ear as if to poke the deafening noise from Paul’s fist out of his head.  “What are you worried about?  Gene and Peter still have their powers.  They’ve gotta have whoever it is on the run.  Right?”
            Paul shook his head.
            “That was Gene screaming.”
            She could feel the power as it flowed through her fingers and caused Gene’s body to shudder intensely on the ground.  She could feel him dying at her feet. 
            So absorbed was she in her ecstasy that she did not see the Cat stalking toward her.  Approaching cautiously this time, Peter suddenly and swiftly kicked his boot into her face.
            The force of the blow knocked her backward, but she recovered and flipped into the air, landing unsteadily on her feet.  Peter was on her immediately, driving his boot into her stomach and grabbing her hair as she doubled over in pain.
            In doing so, she could feel a force in her head.  The terror.  The gnawing in the pit of her stomach as well as in her mind.  The power that had fed through her hands just a few seconds ago were now leaving her exhausted.  She was losing.  She was lost.
            “No!”  She screamed, wrenching free of Peter’s grip.  He clutched her left shoulder, his fingers digging into her skin.  She raised her right hand and screamed again.
            Power surged through her open palm and hit Peter squarely in the chest.  His body was flung through the air as he and Robinson cried out in unison.
            Waiting for the impact that was to follow, Peter landed on a pure white couch in the room with barely a sound.
            “W-what?”  He stammered quietly.  She must have done something wrong, he thought.  The jolt should have hit his hard enough to knock him through a wall, but it was as though she was holding back . . . or losing power.
            He spotted her huddling in the corner of the room, blood flowing from the open wound on her shoulder.  At the moment was when he noticed the warm, wet sensation in his hand.
            He did not want to look down.  He knew what he would find, and he did not want to see it.  Yet, his eyes were drawn to it.  He stared.
            “ . . . Oh my god . . . .”
            Crimson liquid smeared the snow-white upholstery beneath his fingers.
            “I think I got it,” Ace said, leaning back and tugging on the handle of the safe.
            The door creaked open and the two men peered inside.  The Talismans lay there, softly glowing and pulsing.
            “Mr. Frehley,” Paul said with a smile, “go to the head of the class.”
            Peter sat motionless, staring at his hands with fear and repulsion.  He could hear Gene’s heavy footsteps as Gene got to his feet and headed for Robinson.
            “ . . . it is lost . . . .”  Robinson muttered, rolling herself in a ball.  She held her wounded shoulder, trying to control the pain.  “It’s all gone . . . .”
            “Why you slimy piece of --” Gene sneered, reaching down and grabbing her by the throat.
            Peter looked up and saw Gene lifting the woman with one hand.  She did not struggle.
            “Gene!  Stop!”
            “You’re not stopping me this time, Cat!”
            Gene began to tighten his grip.  There was a slight release of air from her throat that blew against Gene’s face.  Gene’s expression grew darker from the personal touch of her breath and he spat blood in her face.
            Peter jumped up from the couch and ran to Gene’s side.
            “Stop, man!  You’ll kill her!”
            “That’s what she wanted for us.  An eye for an eye!”
            “Gene, she’s not responding!  She’s giving up!  It’s over!”  Peter’s voice was pleading, his eyes ping-ponging back and forth between Gene and Robinson.
            Gene chuckled. 
            Peter reached up and ripped Gene’s hand away from Robinson.  The woman fell to the floor as Peter grabbed the surprised Gene by the shirt and flung him against a wall.
            “Goddammit, Gene!  I said, STOP!”
            No one moved.  Robinson had once again curled into a fetal position and was murmuring to herself.
            Peter searched for the right words.  “Gene . . . I . . . I . . . .”
            The moment had been lost, and Peter could not find the words to say.  Instead, he felt sick.  He could still feel the anger, the frustration.  He knew.  If the situation had been reversed, he would have shared Gene’s bloodlust.  He would have been driven to repay Robinson with the same fate she had intended for him.  Knowing this, Peter felt betrayal.  Not to the Talismans, or to the group, or even Gene.
            “P-peter?”  Gene said.
            Gene was cut off from saying anything further as a bluish-white glow filled the room.  The two men watched in silence as Robinson was enveloped and disappeared in the glow just as Deveraux had done so long ago.  The room returned to normal, and the men remained silent.
            Immediately, the door to the room at the end of the hall crashed open, its hinges shattering.  Paul and Ace, now in makeup, stormed through the doorway and into the room.
            “Okay,” Ace said.  “What’s going on?”
            Peter faced Ace for several seconds, then turned to Gene.  Knowledge of their shared horror was clear in both men’s eyes.  Peter lowered his gaze and turned away from the others, walking toward the door.
            “What happened in here?”  Paul asked Gene as he noticed the blood on his friend’s clothes.
            “Nothing,” Gene answered.  “Let’s get out of here.  It’s over.”


            “So, while Ace and I were in the other room trying to get our Talismans out of the safe, you two were fighting Miss Robinson,” Paul said.  He leaned back in the chair and looked at Ace and Gene, who were slouching on the overstuffed couch.  They had come back to Paul’s apartment to sort out the details of that evening.  Peter stood away from the others, watching the night sky through the window of the Manhattan penthouse.
            “Right,” Gene answered.
            “So, what happened?”
            “We won . . . but she was able to get away before we could stop her.”  Gene concentrated on Paul when speaking, never once leaving eye contact with him.
            Peter stared out the window and said nothing.
            “But, how did she steal our powers in the first place?” 
            Ace chirped in.  “Probably had something to do with that symbol painted on the floor.”
            Gene looked at him quizzically.  “How do you know so much?”
            Taken aback by Gene’s tone, Ace fumbled for the words.  “Are you kidding?  They always stick that mystical mumbo-jumbo stuff next to the space stuff in the bookstores.  You can’t help seeing it and becoming a little familiar with it.  Probably some magic spell or something.”
            “But,” Paul latched on to Gene’s question, “how did she know that stuff would work?  How did she do it?  Frankly I’m a little fed up with not knowing what’s going on.”
            “I agree,” Gene said, glad that the topic at hand had switched to something other than the fight with Robinson.  He allowed him to concentrate less on his answers.  “I think we need to find out exactly who’s running things here, and fast.”
            “If only there was some way for us to contact the guy who give us the Talismans.”
            “There is.”
            Paul, Gene and Peter stared at Ace in amazement.
            “What’s wrong with you guys?”  Ace asked.
            Peter walked over to the others and spoke for the firs time since they had left Robinson’s apartment.  “You just said something, Ace, but it didn’t sound like you.”
            Ace looked behind him, as if expecting to find the ventriloquist controlling him.  He turned back to Peter.  “You’re nuts.  I didn’t say anything.”
            “Yes you did,” Paul threw his hands up in the air.  “I asked about the old man, and you suddenly started talking like Linda Blair in the EXORCIST --”
            “There is a way.  In his mind is the way . . . .”  The voice spoke again through the confused Ace’s mouth.
            “I didn’t say that, guys.”
            “Maybe,” Gene frowned in contemplation.  “Maybe it was a post-hypnotic suggestion planted in your mind when you received your Talisman.”
            Peter looked at Gene incredulously.
            “Well, Peter, anything’s possible at this point.  It would also help explain a question I’ve had running through my mind for ages.  Ace always seemed to be able to use his powers more readily than the rest of us when they kicked in.  If buried in that head of his are the instructions manuals for our powers, than that would explain it.”
            Ace felt insulted.  “No way!  Nobody could get into my mind and mess with it!”
            “Mister Rogers could get into your mind, Ace,” Paul rolled his eyes upward.
            “Well, it’s not coming back.  I guess that’s it.”
            “Not if I can reach it.”  Paul knelt down in front of the couch and placed his hands on Ace’s shoulders.
            “What are you doing?”  Ace asked nervously.
            “I’m going to look into your mind and try to locate that message you have in your head.  If I concentrate, I might be able to bring up my powers and use the telepathic abilities to see into your mind.”  Paul closed his eyes and tilted his face to the ceiling.
            “Great.  Can you plant another suggestion to make me pick up some burgers on the way home?”
            “Shut up, Ace.”
            The others watched as the two men sat motionless.  A few seconds later, Ace’s eyes closed and his head tilted back as Paul’s had.
            After just a couple of minutes, both men opened their eyes at the same moment.  Paul groaned and stood up as Ace began to giggle hysterically.
            “No -- oh brother,” Paul collapsed back into his chair.
            “What’s wrong?”  Gene asked with real worry.
            “Nothing.  I just can’t believe what we have to do in order to contact the Talisman guy.  Jeez.”  Paul shook his head in disbelief.
            Ace was practically rolling with laughter by this time.  Peter grabbed him by the shoulders and gave his a shake.
            “Well?  What do we have to do?”
            Ace calmed down and took a deep breath.  He spoke between bursts of muffled chuckles.
            “Nothing for you guys to do.  I just have to do a little chant of my own creation in order to summon him to us.  Evidently, by discovering how to summon the guy was supposed to be the next step for us in learning about the Talismans, but we just never bothered to do it, so he’s been sitting on his duffs for the past several years waiting for us.  Which is why we don’t know more about our powers.”
            “Swell,” Peter said, “so there really is no direction sheet for these powers.  Nice to know that three years down the line.”
            Ace stood up and stumbled to a cross-legged position on the floor, his arms resting at his sides.  He eyes closed and he began humming.
            Gene’s response was to let his jaw practically drop to the floor.  He turned to Paul who was staring at the ceiling.
            “What’s he doing?”
            “I can’t bear to tell you,” Paul kept his sight on the ceiling.  “Just get on with it will you, Ace?”
            The humming turned to a chant as the others listened.
            “Da . . . da . . . da . . . da” Ace opened one eye and a wicked grin appeared on his face.  “. . . Day-o . . . Da-a-a-a-ay-o . . . Daylight come and me want to go home . . . “
            If Gene’s jaw could have dropped any farther, it would have.
            “Hey, Mr. Talisman, tell us what to do now.  Daylight come and me want to go home . . . .”  At that point, Ace rolled onto the floor with uncontrollable laughter as the others groaned along with Paul.
            “You called?”
            The noise ceased abruptly as the four men turned and saw the old man standing next to the window.  His appearance had changed slightly.  The beard and sunglasses were still in place, but now he wore blue jeans, cowboy boots, a plain white T-shirt and a beat-up leather jacket.  He looked more like an aging biker than some otherworldly stranger.
            “It really is him,” Gene said.
            “Of course, it’s me,” Morpheus replied with mock indignation.  “Mr. Frehley finally gave the call and so I came.  I am Morpheus.”
            “Well, Morpheus,” Paul cut in, “why didn’t you ever come to us before?”
            Morpheus smiled as if talking to a child.  “I could not appear until you called, so you had to find out how to contact me on your own.  Everything must be learned about your powers on your own; otherwise, there is nothing taught, only emulated.  The suggestion I put into the first Talisman, which your friend Mr. Frehley received, was to come to the surface when the time came.  No sooner.”
            “That’s ridiculous,” Gene stated.  “What if it had never surfaced?”
            “Mr. Simmons, that is part of the lesson.  If the suggestion had not come to his consciousness, then I would never have returned, except to retrieve the Talismans at some point and locate other, more worthy, guardians.  And you would all be up the creek, as they say.”
            “Look,” Ace’s voice was apologetic.  “Sorry about our reactions.  We do need your help now.
            “Someone, or some group, has been trying to steal the Talismans.  They’ve been hitting us at various times during the past year and tonight they managed to get two of the Talismans.  Luckily we got them back.  Now, the only people who know about our powers are the people right here in this room.  Or so we thought.”
            “So,” Gene added, “why don’t you fill us in on some of the blank areas.  Especially how our powers work and how someone could so easily take Paul’s and Ace’s Talismans using ‘magic,’ when the powers are supposedly bond to us.”
            Morpheus’ brow furrowed with concern at the second part of Gene’s inquisition.  “What kind of magic?”
            “Um . . . it was some sort of weird symbol -- like this,” Ace took a sheet of paper from a notepad on the coffee table and drew the symbol he had seen at Robinson’s apartment under the safe.  Morpheus grimaced as he saw the drawing.
            “The fool.  He’s taken everything into risk with this sort of shenanigans.  Just as I thought he would.”
            “Who?”  Gene shouted with enough force that Morpheus gave Gene a cold stare.
            Morpheus walked over to the couch and sat down as if he had suddenly aged a thousand years.  “Let me start at the beginning.  Have any of you heard of the NECRONOMICON or the Elder gods?”
            Both Gene and Ace nodded with more vigor than Paul and Peter.  Gene launched into a rather informed explanation.
            “The NECRONOMICON was a non-existent book supposedly written by the ‘Mad Monk’ who used its spells to reach into another dimension that separates the known world from another one.  In this other dimension were two races: The Elder gods and the Ancient Ones.  The Elders ruled and created order, while the Ancient Ones created chaos for the most part.  They knew of our world, but humans knew nothing of theirs.
            “If I remember correctly, the only thing they had in common -- besides powers beyond belief -- was that they both despised the human race.  In fact, the only thing that helped us was that they hated each other more than they hated us.
            “That was one of the reasons we finally found out about them.  The Ancient Ones felt that, by gaining control of this world, they could get the upper hand and control their own dimension.  Thus, they began to use members of the human race as their ‘tickets’ into our world.  When this happened, the Elders combated the Ancient Ones’ plan.  Again, using humans as pawns.”
            “Very good, Mr. Simmons.  Your knowledge of our history surprises me.”
            Gene frowned.  “I just know my H. P. Lovecraft.  I don’t necessarily believe it.  I don’t believe the Elders, if they existed, were gods.”
            “And well you shouldn’t,” Morpheus turned to Ace.  “What do you know, Mr. Frehley?”
            “Uh, actually, Gene seems to know more about it than I do.”
            “Well, I’ll take care of the rest then.  The Elders are real . . . and so were the Ancient Ones.  However, we were never gods.  Thinking so was our undoing.”
            Morpheus rose from the couch and began to pace around the room.
            “We were a powerful race.  We controlled our dimension much as you control your simple motor skills.  Because of that ability, we began to believe we were more than an exceptional race of beings.  We believe that we were gods.
            “The Ancient Ones were our children.  The renegades of our race.  They felt we were too slow, too shortsighted.  They wanted to move beyond their existence and control other dimensions.  We knew of their plans to use your race for their own glory, and we knew we had to stop them.  Some way.  Some how.
            “The passage to Earth was virtually impossible.  It took most of an Elder’s power to visit this world, and it still does.  To stay here and fight was inconceivable.  Thus, we had to find another way.  That is when the Talismans came to be.
            “There were nine, at first.  Given to humans we felt would be the most helpful in our battles against the Ancient Ones.  With the Talismans, each individual received powers that were adequate for one-on-one contact with the enemy.  That was how the war was fought for many years.  A victory here, a loss there.  A new champion to carry on.  That is, until this century.
            “The Ancient Ones were planning a final assault.  Since their power had grown weak due to sloppy tactics, they gathered all their agents together and planned to wipe out our forces.  That way they could seize the Talismans and gain control of our own powers.
            “So, in the early part of this century, in what you call the USSR, the stage was set for the final confrontation.  Our nine agents faced the Ancient Ones’ masses.”
            Morpheus paused and bowed his head.  “We won.  The Ancient Ones were destroyed.  But at such a cost.  Such a cost.
            “Five of our agents were killed in the battle, and their Talismans destroyed.  The price had been too high for us as well.  In fighting for so long, we lost our souls as well as half our power.  Our age-long war with the rebels took its toll on our minds as well as our bodies.  The war became our obsession.  It was what we lived for, what we existed for.”
            Morpheus turned to the window and stared at the new moon.
            “When it was over . . . finally over, we thought it was a new beginning.  It wasn’t.  Because of the war, we had lost sight of what we were or what we could become.”
            The others listen as Morpheus’ gaze fell.
            “We had stopped our children.  We were dying.  There was nowhere for us to go.  No advancement to be made for a dead race.”  Morpheus smiled to himself.  “As you can imagine, it was all downhill for there.  Our only hope, we soon realized, was that perhaps we could teach what we had learned to our fellow beings.
            “The four remaining Talismans were returned to your race’s possession.  The Elders felt that through the Talismans we could help humans realize the potential they had.  Be it for good or evil.”
            “For good or evil?”  Gene smirked.
            “Good or even, black or white, salvation or damnation.”  Morpheus looked straight into Gene’s eyes in the reflection of the glass.  “There are always two paths.  The potential for either is within every individual, at any time.  The decision must be made by that individual in order for justice to remain supreme.”
            Morpheus saw Gene’s skeptical expression.
            “You don’t believe me, Mr. Simmons?”
            “No,” Gene answered.  “You certainly don’t look like an Elder to me.”
            “And what should I look like?”
            “Well, according to Lovecraft --”
            “ -- Who was not a well man at the time,” Morpheus interrupted.  “You see, he was in possession of the power as you are.  It had begun to affect his mind, and he began to fantasize on what we were, who we were, and why we were.  He knew only the basics and added his own world to create the stories.”
            Gene had no reply.
            “Which was fine with us.  People believe it to be a fine piece of fiction, and that was that.”  He shuffled around and winked at Gene.  “Though I never liked it that people didn’t realize what a handsome guy I was.”
            Gene grinned slightly as Morpheus turned back to the window.
            “We decided to choose four individuals from Earth to represent our cause, and then distribute the Talismans for them to use in whatever fashion they saw fit.
            “However, they have to learn about the powers in their own way.  If we pushed the powers upon you too early, you would not be able to handle it.  If we told you too much, you might not have been willing to allow the powers to become a part of you.  Or that the powers would take over you.  Too much risk involved.  It had to be over time.  But when the time came, you began to understand the powers.  That is what is important.”
            “But how do we know when they work?”  Paul asked.
            “When you need them.”
            “Not much of an answer, Morpheus.  Just another riddle.”  Gene crossed his arms.
            “The truth is called a riddle when it isn’t understood, Mr. Simmons,” Morpheus meant it as a slap to Gene’s ego and from Gene’s expression, it had worked.  “Think back.  When you needed the powers of the Talismans they came readily available to you.  Oh, maybe it took you some time to activate them properly, but they did come to you.  The time when you caught your hand in the fire in Detroit; the time Mr. Criss was captured on the set of the movie.  Before then, there was never a need for them to be activated as you were never in a position to do anything with them.”

            “If we had known we could use them when we wanted, we would have tried to use them more,” Gene said in exasperation.
            “Why?  What would be the point of that?  As I stated, Mr. Simmons, the Talismans are for your use as a learning experience.  You have really only now taken the first step towards understanding them, and that was by sending for me.  There is still much to learn before you will be able to just call upon the powers at will.”
            Ace decided to change the subject.  “You mentioned something about telling us why Paul’s and mine powers were so easy to take away.”
            “The sign you saw underneath the safe in Robinson’s apartment is one of the numerous signs used by the Ancient Ones.”
            “Whoa,” Paul held up a hand as he spoke, “you said that you defeated the Ancient Ones, not like two minutes ago.”
            “We did.  But defeating them does not mean that we killed them.  We just merely locked them away until the time comes for them to rejoin us.  They are our own kind.  They are our children.  We could not just let them die for their mistakes, no matter what the ultimate cost was to our race.”
            “So Robinson got hold of this symbol by using the NECRONIMICON?”  Ace asked.
            Both Morpheus and Gene shook their heads in unison.  Morpheus was about to say something when he noted Gene’s movement, paused, then went on.
            “As Gene already knows, the book that Robinson referred to as the NECRONOMICON is not the real book of spells.  It is a fake.  Only those who died at the time battle in the USSR knew anything remotely related to the spells.”
            “Then how did Robinson know about the symbol?”  Paul asked.
            “She is one of the many servants of a . . . man . . . you might know as Blackwell.”
            “Blackwell?”  Gene turned to Peter, who was leaning up again the wall by the window with his back to the others.  “Peter, didn’t Robinson mention someone by the name of Blackwell?”
            “I don’t remember,” Peter mumbled without turning around.
            “I do,” Gene continued thoughtfully.
            “Y’know,” Ace stated, “that’s weird.  About five years ago, some guy by that name was trying to sign us up with his record company.  We turned him down, which seemed to really tick him off.”
            “Yes,” Paul said.  “Now that you mention it, his name was Blackwell.  He seemed to be a bit crazy.  I remember that he got really angry with us and began threatening us.”
            “Do you think . . . ?”  Ace turned to Morpheus.
            “It’s the same man?  Oh, yes.  I know it is.”
            “Well,” Gene fought his way back into the conversation, “who is he?”
            “When the final battle came into play on Earth, we had used the majority of our energy to send one of the Elders from our Council here to help fight against the Ancient Ones.  When the battle was over, he collected what remained of the Talismans and returned to us as a hero.  He became a right-hand-man to the President of the Council, and was looked upon with great respect.
            “For a time, his role in the Council was adequate for him, and he ruled strongly but fairly.  Then things began to change.  You see, the battle with the Ancient Ones had gone on much longer than just the involvement of humans.  It has been around since before your race was even born.  Blackwell was there from the start.  He understood that, in order to preserve order, chaos must be contained.  He was the first to expose the Ancient Ones and the first to fight them.
            “With the war over, there was nothing left for Blackwell to command, nothing for us to pursue.  He grew restless and agitated.
            “Yet, the worst was when we discovered that our path down through the ages had lead us to a cliff and nowhere else to go.  Blackwell could not stand to see our victory turn so shallow.  Plus, the continuation of releasing our energy to power the Talismans for the Human Race just frustrated him even more.   When Blackwell found out the --” Morpheus noticed that Ace was shaking his head in a negative manner, “ -- found out that he could gain control of the Talismans be choosing who would be the next Guardians, he decided to do just that.  I suspected his motives at the time and exposed him before he had a chance to give the Talismans to others, including Mr. Deveraux and Ms. Robinson.
            “He was banished from our ranks.  He also disappeared shortly thereafter.  I thought he might come here and try to gain your loyalties, but so far I had seen no reason to intervene.”
            “So what are the Elders going to do now that you know how dangerous this is?”  Paul asked.
            “Us?  We can do nothing.  It is against our beliefs for your race, and we couldn’t do anything even if we wanted to.”
            “Why not?”
            “It takes a tremendous amount of energy just to bring me here to explain what little I can.  We can do nothing more ourselves physically on this plane.”
            “But,” Ace wondered, “if that’s true, how does Blackwell continue staying on Earth?”
            Somehow Morpheus’ facial features turned darken than it had before.  “The symbol under the safe was one devised by the Ancient Ones.  If Blackwell is involved, he may have turned to his own past enemy for help in remaining on Earth.  Probably saw their cooperation as a means to get what he wants.  He knew he had to stay here in order to gain control of the Talismans.  He found a way.  And a darker, more dangerous way I cannot think of.”
            “So, if the Elders don’t help, we have to save the world on our own?”  Gene questioned.
            For the first time, Peter moved from the window and into the center of the group, clearing his throat.
            “You’ll have to do it without me.”
            “What do you mean?”  Ace’s voice was mixed with worry and recognition.
            “I’m leaving the band.”
            “Do you mean it?”  Gene asked calmly, not looking at Peter.
            “Yeah . . . I’ve thought about it for a while, and I think it’s time for me to head out on my own.  You guys are special to me -- and always will be -- but my instincts are to branch out.  I want to do things, musically and otherwise, that I can’t do within the framework of KISS.”
            “B-but, we need you,” Ace stammered anxiously.  “Right, Morpheus?”
            The old man shook his head.  “It is better this way, actually.  The powers that rule through Mr. Criss’ Talisman are far too weak to be effective for very much longer.”
            “I don’t understand,” Paul said, scooting to the edge of his chair.
            “The Talismans as an activator of powers from within and without.  It is not the source of power itself, but a nexus point to allow the powers of the holder to be harnessed and shaped.  Mr. Criss has faced more danger than the rest of you.  Only the Talisman saved him from death those many times, but the nature of his powers is of flesh and blood.  If it is passed on it will regenerate, but held by the same man it will run out eventually.  In other words, the cat only has nine lives.  It would be best for all of you if he turned the Talisman over to someone else.”
            Peter saw Morpheus’ outstretched palm reach out to him.  He took his Talisman and laid it in the man’s hand.  Once doing so, Peter could feel the change, though it felt nothing more than like a soft breeze on his shoulders and chest.  With its passing, relief flooded him, and he laughed.
            “If you give this to some geek, I’ll really be mad.”  Peter laughed again and started to gather his things.  No one else spoke.  He walked back to the group and looked at each of them.
            “Look, I’m going to go away for a few days, and then we’ll worry about how to end it all up.  I just want some time to think.  I’ll see you later.”
            Peter walked toward the door slowly, giving his friends a final glance.  Without another word, he left the apartment. 
            Ace was the first to speak.
            “Wow . . . I can’t believe it . . . wow . . . .”
            “So what do we do now?”  Paul asked the group.
            “Don’t worry,” Morpheus assured them.  “The person who will take Mr. Criss’ place will come soon.  Just be ready for him.”
            “And how will we know?”  Gene asked him.
            “Trust me.”  Morpheus winked and started to fade from the room.  The others were shocked.
            “What are you doing?”  Ace said.
            “The time has come for me to go.  I cannot do any more right now.  Just watch out for Blackwell.”
            Only a voice remained in the room.
            “And make sure that Talismans never reach his hands.  Should he gain control of all four, it could be the end for all.”
            Then there was silence.  The three sat stunned at not only Morpheus’ warning, but also at the suddenness of Peter’s quitting.  Finally, Paul turned to face Gene.
            “Well,” Paul said, “that’s another studio day down the toilet.”



            Of the three remaining members of the band, Ace was the first to leave the apartment
            He had climbed into his car and was driving along the highway at a speed that was very unusually for him -- the speed limit.  His mind filled with haze from the events of the night, and he had continued for close to twenty minutes when a voice rang out from the right of him.
            “Why were you surprised with Mr. Criss’ answer, Mr. Frehley?”
            The voice surprised Ace so much that he momentarily lost control of the wheel and slammed on the brakes, putting the car into a spin.  The car managed to avoid two tractor-trailers that had been coming up from behind as it spun around and slammed into a guardrail.
            Shaking his head and breathing rapidly, Ace turned to the figure in the passenger’s seat.
            “DON’T . . .” Ace paused for breath between each word, “DO . . . THAT!”
            Morpheus smiled.  “Ah, for once, you actually seem to be surprised by something.”
            “By something?”  Ace managed to put the words together as he calmed down from the shock of just moments ago.  “By everything tonight!”
            “It was bound to happen,” Morpheus consoled.
            “But why Peter?  Why did they pick him?”
            “Because of his instinctive powers. Because he was the weakest of the four of you.  Because Blackwell had more in mind tonight than just the taking of your powers.”
            Ace closed his eyes.  “I know.  It just seems wrong.”
            “It is for the best.  At least, Blackwell has lost another round.”
            Ace looked at Morpheus with surprise.  “That’s not going to last forever.  You know what is going to happen.  You had told me that something will happen to all of you.”
            Morpheus agreed with a shake of his head.  “We know what will happen to us.  But to you and the others?  No.  That comes later.”
            There was silence in the car.  Ace finally noticed that his car lights were still on and turned them off.
            “Now,” Morpheus finally retorted, “since I have answered a question for you, you must answer one for me.”
            “Go ahead.”
            “Why did you stop me from telling the others the real reason for Blackwell’s determination to get the Talismans?  In my quest to help your friends you seemed to believe that I almost told them too much.”
            Ace shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t know.  If what you had told me is true, I don’t think they’ll be ready for it.  I don’t think I’m ready for it.”
            Morpheus looked at Ace once again and smiled.  “Mr. Frehley, I think that is exactly why you were chosen.  You know, of the four, you picked up on your abilities completely almost from the beginning.  It has been very much appreciated that you have kept this fact from the others for the time being.  It is best that they learn about the powers at their own pace.  When the time comes, you and them and everyone else will be ready for what is to be.”
            “But how much longer?  I don’t like lying to the guys.  I especially didn’t like having to do that whole Obi-Wan-Kenobi bit earlier tonight.”  Ace held the steering wheel for support.
            “You had been begging the Council to help you get the others involved with their powers.  It was best to make it look as if it was all part of the inner learnings of the Talismans, otherwise they may have given up for good.  Besides, you’re the one that came up with that whole Harry Belefonte bit.  A bit undignified, even for a council member of the Elder like myself.”
            Ace held back a laugh after hearing the huffiness of Morpheus’ voice.  Yet, it soon was replaced by his questioning stare again.
            “But when?”
            “It will be soon, Mr. Frehley.  It will be soon.”
            “I wish I didn’t know all of this,” Ace mumbled.
            “Don’t worry, Mr. Frehley.  There are several things that even you are not privileged to know.  At least, not yet.”
            Morpheus had meant the words as a comfort.  Ace stared at Morpheus for a moment; then he laughed once and shook his head.
            “Ah, Morpheus?  You’ve got to work on that bedside manner of yours, okay?”
            Morpheus was puzzled by Ace’s response, but let the remark go by without comment.
            “Mr. Frehley,” Morpheus said, “Blackwell has a plan in mind for the Talismans.  If things go the way he really wants them to occur, he will use the members of the band in his plans.  Otherwise, he will kill you and the others, then simply find others to do his binding.  It is better this way.  It is safer this way.”
            There was no response from Ace, who turned back to the highway outside the car’s windshield.
            “My time is nearly gone, Mr. Frehley, and there is still a lesson to be learned.  If you need me, just call for me.  Most importantly, stick with the others.  Without you, they will be lost.  Just as the Talismans are lost without their base.”
            “I’ll do what I can, Morpheus, but without Peter, I feel that I’m missing an arm.”
            “Don’t worry.  Things have a habit of coming back around.  You’ll see.”
            Ace turned back to Morpheus, but he was gone.  All that was left was the last riddle Morpheus had spoken, which played around in Ace’s head.
            Looking out the windshield again, Ace thought about what Morpheus had said earlier in the evening.
            “The truth is called a riddle when it isn’t understood.”
            Ace could think of nothing else had he turned on his headlights, started the car and pulled back out on the highway.

*      *      *

            Blackwell stood before the chessboard, delicately picking the knight off its square.  Parker watched nearby, the report held tightly in his hands, as Blackwell chuckled.
            “You see, Mr. Parker?  Slowly and cautiously.  Every move planned.  With Robinson in place, the Talismans and their bearers will soon be mine.”
            Parker smiled briefly as Blackwell looked up at him and shuffled through his report.
            “Now, Mr. Parker, what is the news on our little surprise attack?”  Blackwell had moved back over to his desk and sat down.  Feeling in a good move for once, he had even leaned back in his chair as he motioned Parker to begin speaking.
            Parker coughed.  “Well, it does appear that Robinson was able to succeed with the first part of the plan in obtaining the two Talismans that belong to Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley.”
            Blackwell’s smile disappeared right after Parker mentioned only the first part of the plan.
            “Go on, Parker.”
            “Well, it appears that Robinson had tried to activate the powers herself.  I-I warned her about trying that.  You warned her --” Parker voice cut short as he realized that he just implicated Blackwell into the problem as well.
            Blackwell did nothing.  “Continue, Mr. Parker.”
            “I don’t know how she was able to accomplish it, but she gained access to the combined powers of the two Talismans.  She then try to fight Gene Simmons and Peter Criss in her apartment using these powers instead of following through with the original plan.”
            “What was the conclusion, Parker?”
            “She failed, Mr. Blackwell.  She-she . . . failed.  As you told me, the combination of any of the two Talismans lead to a short spurt of power, but burnt her out within minutes.  She lost the powers very early in the fight and then was pretty much gone before I was able to activate the switch from across the street and she disappeared.  Disappeared in a ball of blue light, just as you said she would.”
            Blackwell was silent for a moment.  “Thank you, Mr. Parker.  That’ll be all.”
            “Um,” Parker said quickly, “there’s more.”
            “Yes, Peter Criss has decided to leave the band for reasons we are not sure of.  There was also a visitor to Mr. Stanley’s apartment last night.  An older guy dressed up like a biker.  The strange thing was, we knew he was there, but there was no way he could’ve gotten in or out of the building without being seen.  It was like he just appeared and disappeared.”
            “Morpheus.”  Blackwell hissed as he closed his fist tightly around the knight in his hand.  “Must he plague me now?  Destroy the dreams I have worked for?”
            The knight in his hand turned to powder.  Opening his hand, Blackwell wiped his hands and stared into the distance.  Finally he looked back up at Parker.
            “Thank you for the report, Mr. Parker.  You may go.  I have some thinking to do.”
            Parker, happy in being asked to leave, turned on his heels and closed the door behind him as he left the office.
            Blackwell stood up and walked slowly to the chessboard.  With a sweep of one arm, he scattered the chess set to the floor.
            “Pathetic,” he said to himself in a low voice.  “To think I could have trusted a human to do what needed to be done.  That symbol was supposed to draw all four members into the room, and once there, the incarnation would have been enough to free them there until I was ready to receive them.
            “Instead, Robinson tried to cross me as well.  She paid for her insolence.  But at the cost of signaling Morpheus in the process.  Not to mention that Criss was ripe for his death.  Now we have to start all over again.”
            Blackwell tried to put the blame on Robinson, but he knew he himself was responsible for the battle being lost.  He had been spending too much time in treating the war like a chessboard -- like a game.  In doing so, he hadn’t thought about the illogical progression war sometime takes.
            Blackwell sat back down at his desk.
            There was still time, he thought to himself.  Plus, with Criss out of the way, the three others will be vulnerable.  It was just a change in plan.  A plan where he would not make the same mistake again.
            “No matter,” he said out loud.  “The plan is in motion.  Just the schedule and the players have changed.”
            A smile returned to his face as he thought about his next step.

*      *      *

            It was late at night as Peter was about to put the key into the door when he heard something moving in the distance.  He stepped back from his house and circled toward the sound.  Seeing a figure rustling around by the trees, he tiptoed toward it.
            “Hello, Peter,” Gene said from behind him, his body and face shadowed in the trees.
            Peter jumped back and turned around to face Gene.  “What do you want?  Besides giving me a heart attack.”
            “Just wanted to talk about tonight.”  Gene walked toward Peter, but stopped as the drummer back away.
            “Okay, talk.”  Peter crossed his arms.
            “I just want to know if the battle with Robinson is your reason for leaving the band.”
            Peter paused as he collected his thoughts.
            “No.  I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while now.  Ask Ace . . . He’ll tell you.  I’ve talked to him about it before, but he never took me seriously.”
            “He seemed as surprised as the rest of us.”
            Peter laughed.  “Yeah, well . . . that’s Ace.”
            “You could still be a part of the Talismans, Pete--”
            Peter’s arm flew up into the air.  “Don’t give me that!  You saw what happened!  You wanted to kill her as much as I did!  This Talisman garbage is affecting us --”
            “But there are reasons for that,” Gene shouted, matching Peter’s anger.
            “Yeah?  Like what?”
            “Like we didn’t know why we had these powers or what they could do.  Like, we never tried to understand the Talismans and control them.  Like, that night was a life or death situation --”
            Peter raised his hands helplessly.  “Ah, man, I don’t believe you.  You’re trying to rationalize ripping her apart.  Another human being.”
            “Who was trying to kill us!”
            “There could have been another way to stop her.”
            “What?  Tell me, Peter.  What would you have done?”
            “Forget it, man, forget it.  If this is what we’re turning into, I want out.  If we start carving people up, then I want nothing to do with it.  Don’t stand there and lie to me like you lied to Paul and Ace that night.”
            “They didn’t need to know.  It’ll be better if they think --”
            “Oh, right,” Peter cut in sarcastically.  “And tell me, Gene, what would you have told them if we had killed her?  In fact, if I hadn’t pulled you off Robinson, would you have killed her?”
            A breeze rustled through the leaves in the nearby trees.  Peter turned and walked back toward his house.
            “Just think on that one, Gene.  I’m going home to get some sleep.”
            Gene watched as the door slammed behind Peter at the house.  Gene looked at the trees, the grass, then the house again.  He felt like collapsing, although he was not tired.
            He knew he had no answer to Peter’s question.

*      *      *     

            His head shot up from the pillow as the alarm clock screamed in his ears.
            “Ah . . . shut up,” he mumbled throwing the clock against the wall.  He snuggled further under the blankets.  “Just five more minutes . . . .”
            The second alarm clock blared loudly.
            “Aaargh!”  His hand slapped out and silenced the bell.
            Before his hand could even slip away from the clock, a third alarm went off from across the room.
            He threw his pillow and accurately hit the clock off the table and into a rumpled pile of clothes.  He sat up and looked around the room, blinking his bleary eyes.  His curly hair was matted down against his head, and a small growth of beard covered his chin.  He rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on a dream he had before waking.
            “Something . . .” he said, staring down at the blankets, “about me having superpowers and fighting alongside those guy in KISS.  Weird.  Like in that movie they made a couple of years ago.”
            As his head started to clear, the dream began to fade away.
            “. . . and some old biker guy . . . gave me a piece of jewelry . . . .”
            The phone rang, bringing him back to reality.  He grabbed a pair of pants and pulled them on as he picked up the receiver.
            “Hullo,” he muttered.
            “Hey, it’s me!  Glad I caught you before you left for work.  Listen.  We’ve decided to have the band practice tonight.  I’ll talk to ya later.  Bye!”
            “Wait!  What’s going on?  What’s --?”
            The phone clicked on the other end of the line.
            “What?  What?”
            His hand dropped to his side and finally placed the receiver back in its cradle.
            “What?”  He asked the room.
            He looked at the time and saw he was late for work.
            “Oh, great.”
            Quickly, he put on his clothes, and rushed down the hallway from his bedroom.
            I’ve got to give this up, he thought to himself.  Working during the day and being in a band at night is killing me.
            It was already a quarter till nine; and Eric Carr ran out of his home . . . leaving his bizarre dream behind him.