Description Logan and his buddies, along with the hot guy from the bowling alley Logan has a crush on, get pulled into a fight to save the universe from the evil Skorth. If only it didn’t involve wearing color-coded Lycra.
|Part 1 Logan and his buddies, along with the hot guy from the bowling alley Logan has a crush on, get pulled into a fight to save the universe from the evil Skorth. If only it didn’t involve wearing color-coded Lycra.||2017-08-11|
|Part 3 Logan and his friends return home, eager to begin training and learn how to be Planet Champions. Their enemies, however, are not interested in waiting.||2018-05-11|
Ken-1 was doing a routine systems check when an obnoxious, flashing alert window popped up on one of his screens, accompanied by an even more obnoxious braying klaxon. Ken-1’s annoyed grimace melted into an expression of horrified shock as he took in the four stark words on the strobing alert screen, the bold, fuchsia letters bristling with death and danger to come.
“What the zork is that racket?” bellowed Steve-2 from the archway that led to the crew quarters, all the way across the technology-riddled operations deck. Ken-1 barely glanced over his shoulder to see his 99.9%-identical clone striding angrily across the deck, damp from the hydro-shower and naked except for a big stripey bath towel cinched around his waist. He was still rubbing his hair dry with a second towel, exposing a smattering of dark hair under his pits that matched the narrow smudge of short, dark hair between his tight, defined pecs. On any other occasion, Ken-1 would have wondered why Steve-2 bothered with a towel, since they both knew each other’s bodies intimately—they were, after all, 99.9% identical. But now was not the time for that.
“Bad news,” Ken-1 said, switching off the klaxon. “Very, very, mega-bad news.” He nodded with his chin toward the relevant screen while he finished pulling up the associated details and video.
Steve-2 took in the four-word alert with a glance. “Space balls,” he swore. “How?”
Ken-1 finished scrolling through the information the remote monitoring bots had sent through and sat back in his operations chair, feeling a little dazed. “It was UPS,” he said distantly.
“What? Universal Parcel Service? What are you talking about?” Steve-2 asked, an edge of impatience in his voice to mask just how upset he was. He rested a hand on Ken-1’s shoulder, and even through his own thin uniform Ken-1 felt how his skin was still warm from the shower.
Ken-1 rolled his head to look up at his clone-brother. “Someone sent her a package,” he explained, his tone flat and uninflected. Steve-2 glanced up to the main monitor screen where an image capture showed a largish cardboard box, photographed in transit in some shipping cargo hold. Next to it was an image of the associated airbill, which included the address Roma Ridiculous or Current Resident, Fourth Eterni-Sealed Agony Compartment, 666 East Endless Unlife Boulevard, None Shall Return City, Asteroid of Death. Steve-2 frowned, wondering where the sender could have possibly gotten the exact address from, and also what the UPS driver must have done to get himself assigned to the worst route in the four galaxies.
“The delivery guy knocked, knocked again, and then he just bashed open the compartment and waltzed inside,” Ken-1 continued. He turned back to the main screen and started the surveillance video, which showed a figure in an ugly brown space-suit doing just that, leaving the cardboard box momentarily outside.
Steve-2 stared and shook his head in disbelief, astonished at what he was seeing. “Why? Why would he do that?”
“He needed a signature,” Ken-1 explained sadly.
“Space balls,” Steve-2 swore again. They watched the video play out as it remained fixed on the now-open compartment set into a long, steel-gray wall, the box beside the door looking lonely and abandoned. At first nothing happened but the whipping around of little dust devils in the swirling, blue-tinged and poisonous ionic winds endemic to the deadly Asteroid of Death. Then the ugly brown spacesuit was ejected suddenly from the compartment as if hurled from a catapult, slamming into the craggy asteroid surface and skidding out of frame until only its booted feet remained visible and unmoving. Ken-1 and Steve-2 both gasped in unison. Then, a moment later, Roma herself strode slowly out of the yawning entrance to the incarceration cell that was supposed to have been her only home until the final extremities of heat death ended all lives in the universe, hers included. Despite what should have been centuries of enervation, the fiendess seemed to be rapidly regaining her strength. She was fully dressed in a simple mustard dress and matching turban, and even in the grainy video, compressed as it had been for wormhole transmission, it was clear that Roma was surrounded by a faint yellow glow.
“She fed on him,” Ken-1 and Steve-2 said together in horror. They both knew that was the only way the sorceress could have gained strength so quickly.
“Poor dope,” Steve-2 added. “He should have just left it under the mat.”
As they watched, Roma looked around and caught sight of the surveillance bot. She took a step toward it and, staring directly into its lens, began speaking in a strident and unmistakably portentous manner.
After a moment Steve-2 asked, “What’s she saying?”
Ken-1 shook his head. “I don’t know. I guess she assumed the transmission would have audio.”
They watched her rant soundlessly for a moment.
“She’s going to be headed for Earth,” Ken-1 mused.
“And she’ll want revenge on the Unity,” Steve-2 added.
They both mulled this over for a moment, each picturing a variety of potential deaths at the hands of the vindictive vixen, each more gruesome than the last.
“We’d better go wake you-know-who,” Steve-2 said finally.
Ken-1 moaned. “I think I’d rather let Roma rip my nipples off.” Steve-2 patted his shoulder encouragingly, and Ken-1 reluctantly got to his feet in front of his clone-brother. Ken-1 looked him over, from bare feet to messy hair. “Are you going to put on your uniform?” he asked, eyebrow raised. “Or are you hoping to distract the Mighty One from our predicament?”
Steve-2 looked down at his half-naked form in surprise, then tossed Ken-1 a crooked grin. “I forgot,” he said, abashed, his tan cheeks coloring slightly. He took a step back and, closing his eyes, let a tremor carry through him from top to bottom, then again in reverse, bottom to top, all in the blink of an eye. There was a loud wubba-wubba sound, and then Steve-2 was taking a deep breath, now clothed in a gauzy white cotton uniform identical to Ken-1’s.
Ken-1 moved in close and adjusted Steve-2’s collar, which was folded wrong in the back. Then he ruffled his damp, still-messy hair. Steve-2 tousled his in retaliation, causing Ken-1 to let out an aggrieved “Hey!”—his loose black hair had been immaculate.
“Let’s go,” Steve-2 said, smiling wide as Ken-1 tried to comb his silky black hair back in place with his fingers.
Unity-X1 Space Station’s audience chamber was one level below operations, reached by the slowly sinking pedestal in the exact center of the deck. Ken-1 and Steve-2 strode across the wide room, which was packed with equipment to track all of the Unity’s enemies and monitor the safety of all the worlds, like Earth directly below then, that the Unity was pledged to protect without their knowledge. Passing between the railings they positioned their feet on the appropriate squares and stilled, waiting. Reacting immediately with a soft clack, the piston began to slowly lower them from the busy, gleaming operations center into the simple, dark gloom of the level below.
“This always feels like I’m descending into hell,” Ken-1 muttered.
Steve-2 sighed. He’d heard this before. He kind of felt the same way, if he were honest with himself, but he wasn’t going to admit it to Ken-1. “It’s just an elevator,” he said, for the hundredth time.
“Elevator to hell,” Ken-1 groused.
“We need to go down to Earth sometime,” Steve-2 said with affectionate exasperation, “and find you a nice, friendly psychologist.”
At last the pedestal lined up with the deck below, and the sinking stopped with another soft clack. The space they were in was half as big as the operations deck, and the only light came from the round opening directly above them, a gaping hole in the ceiling above them created by the center pedestal lowering from one level to the next. White light shone down on them into the dark space, in a way they both always found more than a little disconcerting.
Their presence in the room activated their master. Once, they had had an extended and rather pointless debate about whether the Mighty One was truly alive. True, his physical form was still preserved and functioning, secreted away in a sealed, opaque crypt directly behind them, and his mind was as sharp and his words as withering as when he’d helped form the Unity eons ago. That mind only woke, however, and the words spewed forth, when his alertness was triggered artificially by the descent of a visitor into the fully mechanized audience chamber.
A large, round head appeared, projected three-dimensionally in the empty, black space before them. Its thin brows drew together immediately in clear annoyance.
“Great Master Crenshaw,” Ken-1 and Steve-2 said together. “We are sorry to disturb you.” That, at least, was the truth. They were always sorry to disturb him. Not only was their master fractious and irritable, smiling so infrequently they weren’t sure he remembered how, but there was also an odd smell in the audience chamber that they’d never been able to identify or track down. They were certain it could not be the Mighty One’s decaying corpse, of course, since both Crenshaw and the station computer insisted he was still alive and healthy inside the sealed, black crypt; and yet, there were so few other possibilities as to what it could possibly be. It always came back up with them when they rode the pedestal back up to the operations deck, and it took a good week to dissipate.
“I gave strict orders that I was not to be disturbed for a hundred years,” Crenshaw intoned dangerously. “I am on a cleansing cycle and I still have forty-three stages before—”
“Roma Ridiculous has escaped,” Ken-1 blurted out, repeating the words of the alert window still flashing on the screens one level above. As the one who’s received the message he felt a strange ownership of this information, and he was sure it was his responsibility to divulge it to their master.
Crenshaw’s round, floating face contorted with rage. “What?!” he howled, and Ken-1 quailed.
Steve-2 put a reassuring hand on his clone-brother’s shoulder. “It’s true,” Steve-2 told the Mighty One. “The UPS guy let her out.”
“The zorking idiot!” Crenshaw fumed. “Why didn’t he just leave it under the mat?”
“What shall we do, master?” Ken-1 asked.
Crenshaw frowned and looked away. Ken-1 and Steve-2 watched his floating, projected face in increasing unease. “Master?” Steve-2 prompted finally, voice quavering slightly.
“I’m thinking!” Crenshaw barked, still glaring into the middle distance. Ken-1 and Steve-2 exchanged glances. It had never occurred to them that their master would not have an answer to the terrible threat Roma posed to Earth and to the Unity. Before, the two of them had been shocked at the idea that Roma had escaped; but only now, in the face of Crenshaw’s indecision, did they truly feel fear start to grip them somewhere deep inside.
“Forethought and prediction, that’s her greatest strength,” Crenshaw said at length, as if speaking to himself. Though their master could not see them, Ken-1 and Steve-2 nodded in agreement. Roma’s gift was to anticipate the actions of any force sent against her, and respond five moves ahead of any attack. Only a sheer fluke—the sudden, absolutely impossible reversal of a pulsar—had made it possible for the Knights Nova of Orlyn to capture her and trap her in stasis for imprisonment by the Unity, though they had all died in the attempt.
“Any normal contingent of soldiers, mercenaries, or spies will be ineffective,” Crenshaw said, still thinking aloud. “She’ll psych them out and in defeating them become stronger than ever.” He turned to look at them at last. “We need a band of fighters she can’t predict.”
“Mental defectives?” Ken-1 suggested.
“Raging berserkers?” offered Steve-2.
“No,” Crenshaw pronounced. “We need … I’ve got it! We need teenagers with attitude.”
Steve-2 tsked. “Master, they tried that,” he said.
Crenshaw’s mighty brow furrowed. “What?”
Ken-1 nodded. “It’s true. In Universe HSG-7. The interdimensional bots surveilled the whole thing millennia ago.”
“That was the one where the video got loose down on Earth,” Steve-2 supplied, “and this one television producer—”
“Yes, yes,” Crenshaw said impatiently. “It’s still the most viable option. It’s one of the Thousand Accepted Strategies in the Great Pohhhaxian Book of Interdimensional Warfighting!”
“They also tried it two other universes,” Ken-1 carried on relentlessly. “Both times, everyone died. Twice.”
This seemed to catch their master off-guard. “Everyone … on the team?” Crenshaw asked uncertainly.
“No,” Ken-1 said, meaningfully. No one spoke for a long moment.
Crenshaw grimaced, then shook his head as if he were scattering the objections away like invisible beads of sweat from his immense, floating face. “I’ve decided,” Crenshaw said flatly.
“Master—” Steve-2 began.
“Look, just find me five hot guys that look good in Lycra!” Crenshaw shouted. When the two clone-brothers blinked at him he seemed to sense elaboration was necessary and added, “To fight against Roma!”
“Yes, Great Master Crenshaw,” the two clone-brothers responded quickly, this time trying very hard not to exchange looks with each other and keeping their gazes fixed steadily on Crenshaw.
“Now go!” Crenshaw said, and their pedestal suddenly began to rise. “Wake me only when you’ve found five suitable and carefully vetted candidates and brought them here to me.” With that, the projection of Crenshaw’s face winked out, and the two of them rode the slowly ascending piston in a perplexed and worried silence.
Logan hummed an old pop tune to himself as he pulled his brick-red, not-quite-new but well-maintained SUV out onto Route 83. He never felt quite as … complete as he did when he was out with the gang. The four of them, together. He was just fine on his own, of course. But there was something missing when he wasn’t hanging with the guys, whether it was playing video games, working out their smokin’ hot bods, strolling through the corridors at school soaking up the admiration of their classmates after yet another win on the soccer pitch, or, as now, tooling down the deserted four-lane state highway on a cool, starry night with no more of a plan than to waste a few happy hours bowling at the big new alley in Dry Springs.
“What are you grinning at?” teased Bryant from the passenger seat, though when he looked over at him Bryant was sporting his own huge, white grin. It looked great on him. Bryant was the big guy of the group, but unlike most defense players on a typical football team Bryant was built like a hunk, not a refrigerator. He was a good three inches taller and outweighed Logan by forty pounds, but most of it was packed into the places that made people want to swoon over his clean-cut, boy-next-door beauty, accentuated by the cheekbones and jawlines of his half-Native ancestry, and his divine, if outsized, proportions. Logan was pretty sure that even with his extra height and weight Bryant’s waistline was exactly the same as his own.
Logan turned back to the road scrolling by under his headlights, Bryant’s wide, infectious smile having spread to his own face, too. “Nothin’,” he said. “Just looking forward to beating your ass on the lanes tonight.”
“You guys don’t have a chance,” Donny put in from behind them. “Bowling is all about the math, bitches.”
Logan shook his head, still smiling uncontrollably. Donny was as athletic and buff as the rest of them, as if he’d set out to disprove the old canard that redheads couldn’t build muscle, but everyone knew he was the team geek. He sure was the only person on Earth who could talk Bryant through his physics homework so it made sense to him, though if any of them was likely to be mistaken for the pocket-protector type it was boyish, blond Logan—at least he would have been, before he’d started trailing Bryant and the guys to extra workout sessions after school all the way back in junior high school, just to avoid that very trope. Logan was still the only one of them likely to be seen wearing glasses, if he didn’t feel like wearing his contacts.
“He doesn’t care about any of that,” argued Jamal from where he lounged next to Donny, taking up more than his half of the bench back seat. “He just wants to see the mysterious Nicandro.”
“Oooooo,” crooned Bryant and Donny together. “Logy’s in luuurve,” Bryant taunted.
“Am not,” Logan shot back. “And don’t call me ‘Logy’,” he added out of habit. He bristled inwardly. So what if Nic happened to work at the 83 Lanes? (So named because it was on Route 83, and not because they actually had eighty-three actual lanes. Some idiot from Springfield had tried to sue for false advertising a couple months back, but Judge Connor had laughed him out of court, asking if he was going to sue Seven-11 next for being open all hours instead of just from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
And so what if this was their second time bowling in a week? Maybe he just really liked bowling… and beautiful studs with dark eyebrows, olive skin, smoldering dark eyes, a single stud in his right ear, and a tight, round muscle-ass packed into worn, snug jeans that Logan desperately wanted to squeeze with hungry, roving hands while he kissed that pouty stubble-lined mouth from here to—oh, who the fuck was he kidding?
He tried to adjust himself surreptitiously, but Bryant caught the move. “He’s boning up, guys,” he told the others in a smarmy voice, to much cackling and hooting from the back seat. “He totally can’t wait to throw a few balls, if you know what I mean.”
“Wait, what?” Donny said, laughter dying instantly. Logan could almost hear the scrunched nose and confused expression in Donny’s words.
“Yeah, what does that even mean?” Jamal seconded.
“You are terrible at innuendo, dude,” Donny said.
“Fuck you guys with a spoon,” Bryant said equably, prompting another burst of laughter from everyone else.
They’d passed the halfway point to Dry Springs and were basically in the middle of nowhere when Logan’s headlights glinted on some chrome ahead on the shoulder. Quickly the dark shapes resolved into a tall, broad-shouldered man in a midnight leather jacket leaning nonchalantly against a motorcycle. Logan slowed as they approached, heart pounding even before he recognized him.
“Speak of the devil,” Bryant said as the SUV rolled to a stop in front of the roadside apparition.
Nic pushed onto his feet and walked around the front of the SUV, and Logan rolled down his window.
Before Logan could say anything, a singsong voice came from behind him. “Hi, Nicandro,” Jamal purred. Donny snickered, and Bryant waived gaily at Nic from the passenger seat, a huge grin on his face letting the new arrival know he was the target of much jollity.
Logan ignored his little peanut gallery, and Nic, stoic as ever, did the same. “Bike trouble?” Logan asked pleasantly, drinking him in. Fuck, he was beautiful. He looked like a man who knew that owning his own skin was the most comforting feeling in the world. Logan could not get enough of him. Nic hadn’t shaved in a day or two, it seemed, and all that soft stubble around those full, medium-rare lips, strong jaw, and that long, olive-stained throat was making Logan’s already stirring cock swell and his balls clench in hope and need.
Logan loved being a jock, mostly because he loved pushing his own body and feeling it magnified as he became part of a team of guys all pushing theirs. Out on the field, in the weight room, and even out having a good time, Logan felt a thrill from being part of a group of well-muscled young men, full of energy and hormones, pushing themselves and developing their connections with every shared effort. The guys he knew, Jamal, Donny, Bryant, felt like extensions of his own body. Their muscles were his muscles, and as they got stronger, as they’d filled out and growth in the gym and built their stamina and speed on the field, Logan felt it all, and it was both heady and immensely reassuring. Nic’s body, however, was exotically alien. Strong and lean as a panther, poised as a dancer, hard as a cowboy who’d been ranging his own life and all his past lives before it, Nic was a new stimulation that Logan was fast becoming addicted to.
Nic stood close to the window, inches away and radiating heat in the cool night air, and Logan’s fingers twitched, wanting to touch. He rooted them to the steering wheel to prevent their getting up to any funny business without permission. He could feel all eyes on him, Nic’s dark, green-eyed gaze boring into him from directly in front of him while the guys watched avidly from behind.
“I’m already a half-hour late for my shift,” Nic said apologetically, his voice low and soft. “Can I get a ride?”
“Climb in,” Logan said instantly, dipping his head in the direction of the seat beside him. Logan knew how much of a wrench it would be for a motorcycle guy like Nic to leave his baby by the side of the road like this, even for a few hours until he could come back for her, and Logan’s heart out to him. Nic seemed to see what Logan was thinking, if Logan could read Nic’s own glinting gaze right, but he just nodded and headed back around the front of the vehicle.
Logan turned to Bryant. “Get in back,” he told him.
Bryant’s eyes widened. “What?” the big guy exclaimed, as if Logan were seriously violating the Shotgun Rules or the Bro Code or whatever. Logan thought he might very well be, but he felt a compulsion to take care of Nic. His blood felt like it had heated twenty degrees in the last ten seconds.
“Wuh-oh,” Donny chorused, as if Logan had just provoked a fist-fight.
Logan ignored him. “C’mon,” he said to Bryant. “It’s only a few miles, and he’s been out here a while already.”
Bryant shook his head. “Bros before Joes,” he said with an air of disappointment, as if Logan really should have known better. But he pulled the latch and opened the door, dropping out of the SUV as Nic stood to one side, clearly trying to look like he wasn’t embarrassed. “Shove over,” he told Jamal gruffly, climbing into the back as Nic got into the passenger seat.
Once he was buckled in, Nic turned to smile sheepishly at the three friends now packed into the back seat. “Sorry guys,” he said sincerely. Turning to Logan, he added, “Thanks, Logue.”
Logan knew that if he looked back at the guys they would all be exchanging amused looks and mouthing Nic’s pet name for him, but Logan didn’t care. He was flushed with pleasure and could barely concentrate on keeping between the yellow and white lines as he pulled away from where they’d stopped beside Nic’s motorcycle. “I’ll bring you back to get your bike tomorrow,” he offered nervously. “If you want.”
“Thanks,” Nic said. Behind him there was a barely suppressed snicker. Logan was half-tempted to turn and lay into them for making fun of his attraction to this impossibly hot and very sweet guy when he knew for a fact that Donny and Jamal had both compared notes on how sexy they both thought he was when they thought Logan was still in the bathroom the other night, and could they all just let him be happy and in the throes of lust for once, but he was pretty giddy at the moment and it would probably be too much to juggle driving at speed, chastising his friends, and being consumed with desire for Nic all at the same time.
Maybe it was too much even without the chastising, because they hadn’t gone a half-mile before things went sideways. A glaring bright light filled the vehicle, and Logan, thinking he must have somehow got in the path of a semi that had had its lights off until a second ago, panicked and wrenched the wheel to the right. All the guys in the back were crying out, shouting unintelligible things as the SUV shook and rattled across the shoulder and then dropped over onto the rough land running along the highway, despite still being full of blinding white light. Logan’s stomach fell out of his body, but his fevered brain worked out that it was the light that was giving him wrong information, while his feet and the vibrations around him were telling him he’d driven right off the road. As soon as he understood this he braked, trying to slow the SUV before they crashed into the trees he knew lay beyond the band of weeds and grasses off the side of this stretch of the highway—but when they crashed, it wasn’t against trees, it was against…monitors and equipment and blinking lights? What the hell…?
“Space balls! Zorking space balls! You let them smash up the controls for the Primzok Graviguns! It’ll take us ages to get that working again!”
“I thought you were going to get them while they stopped?”
“They started moving again.”
“But why didn’t you—”
“I forgot it takes a minute to warm up! It’s not like we teleport stuff up from Earth every day.”
Logan felt his head spinning like a centrifuge. His airbag had deployed, and so had Nic’s—that much he could see, and it was just about the sum of his awareness. Then with a pang of fear the information surfaced from somewhere in his dizzy head that the rest of the guys were in the car too, like a jagged plank of wood bobbing up from submersion after a boat crashed over a waterfall. “Guys?” he called back weakly. “You okay?” His neck felt sore and he wasn’t sure he should try to crane around to check them out visually, so he contented himself with looking over Nic while he waited. Nic’s eyes opened and met his. A second later Donny, Jamal, and Bryant all voiced their okayness from the back, and Nic nodded at him as well. Then Nic’s dark eyes widened as he caught sight of something past Logan, out the still-rolled-down driver’s side window to his left.
Logan turned gingerly to see what he was looking at, and took in a strange sight. Around them was a huge, circular space, ringed with machines, monitors, workstations, and other evidence of very advanced technology and saturated with light and color. Nearby were two very cute and completely identical-looking dark-haired men in white, gauzy uniforms that subtly accentuated their well-formed bodies. Logan thought they looked faintly Asian, maybe Japanese, but he couldn’t be sure. They were obviously the source of the bickering he’d been half-listening to as he returned to consciousness. They were presently reviewing something on a computer tablet together and ignoring them completely.
“Look at this,” the angry one said. “The station computer is reading the Gravigun controls as being completely wrecked, and the backup science station as well.”
“I’m sorry, all right?” the second twin said, his embarrassment visibly mixing with some defensive anger of his own. “Next time, you do it!”
“I wouldn’t be doing it,” the first twin said, “because it was a stupid idea. You can’t just grab five random—”
“Of course it’s a stupid idea,” interrupted the second one. “That’s the point. It doesn’t matter which five we choose because they’re just going to die horrible deaths anyway! We just need to get past this ridiculous scheme the Mighty One cooked up, so we can deal properly with—”
“Excuse me,” Logan broke in. His voice sounded unnaturally loud in the suddenly silent room, as the twins left off arguing to stare at him, deer-in-the-headlights style, and the only sound left was a quiet, background humming that was no doubt the normal operational ambience of wherever the hell they were, and the quiet hissing of his SUV’s hot, caved-in front end.
“Excuse me,” he said again, now that he had the twins’ attention. “Um, why are we going to die horrible deaths exactly?”
The twins exchanged looks, then went back to staring at them.
Logan stared back.
The other guys in the car stared back.
Lights flashed. Displays scrolled. Machinery purred and hummed unobtrusively. The twins’ chests expanded slightly and contracted with their breaths. They were almost, Logan noted, but not quite, in unison.
No one moved.
Logan heard Donny whisper to Jamal, “What’s happening right now?” If Jamal made any response it was unspoken.
Something in the crumpled front end of the SUV popped, and Logan had to consciously repress a spasm as his body tried to react to the sudden noise.
He took a deep breath and let it out. This is ridiculous. Very deliberately, he switched the car off, doused the headlights, and then, after only a second’s hesitation, unbuckled his seat belt. The snap of release was so loud in the nearly silent, suspended moment it felt like the crack of a mighty tree being felled in the middle of a vast, hushed forest. Releasing himself from his own literal restraints, however, seemed to have a figurative effect on his companions, and they followed suit, filling the air with the snick-click of seatbelts being unbuckled and the whizz of belts retracting on their spring-loaded spools.
Logan pulled the door release and, reading himself to maneuver around the deflating air bag, pushed the door open. He was taken aback by the ding! ding! ding! that resulted, and it took him a panicked second to understand the alarm was coming not from the strangeness outside the car but from the mundane technology he’d brought with him. Reaching around the steering wheel he twisted the ignition and retrieved his keys. The dinging stopped.
Slowly and methodically, he emerged from the car, closed the door, and started moving toward the two identical man before him. They seemed to be trying to root themselves to the smooth gray floor where they stood in an effort to convince themselves they needed to be right in this very place, holding their ground, and not scampering out the large, shadowed archway behind them like a pair of frightened ferrets.
Car doors clacked shut behind him, telling him the others were behind him. It was so quiet he could hear the soft whoosh of jeans legs brushing against each other. Someone was shuffling, the rubber of his soles shuffling against the unidentified putty-colored floor. That would be Jamal, Logan figured. He never picked up his feet.
He held the gaze of each of the two identical men, switching from one to the other, then back. They seemed to have shifted from dismay and confusion to a look that said their brains were scrambling to salvage their bacon and they were grateful for the extra seconds Logan was giving them to get their shit together. As for Logan? He was the king of letting people get their shit together. He was the watch and plan type. Others on the team, like Bryant and Jamal, loved to rush in and try to drive the ball into the goal through sheet force of will, but Logan wanted to see the whole play in his head even as he moved himself into position. Right now, he couldn’t see it, because he didn’t have the ball yet—hell, he didn’t even have the rule book. He wasn’t worried about that yet, because his two new friends here would let him in on everything he needed to know, one way or another.
He felt his guys assembling around him, their warmth making them a physical, palpable presence in the dry, slightly cool air of the big, round room—some kind of control center, Logan guessed. He might have felt a little underdressed for a confrontation in his dusky pomegranate-red pocket tee, dark slacks, and brand-new running shoes, but in that moment being kitted out in his usual clothes made him feel like he could stand there in this strange place on his terms. He watched as the twins took in Bryant moving up behind Logan and suppressed a smile as they took in his tremendous size with slightly widened eyes. They shifted their gaze almost gratefully to the more normal-sized Logan. He must look pretty unthreatening next to Bryant.
Logan wasn’t worried about that, either. He knew how to look intimidating if the situation called for it.
Logan was almost ready. The twins were, too. He knew Nic had eased into position at his right, and was just about to speak, politely inviting the two identical strangers to explain what was going on. But then Nic unexpectedly placed a warm, strong hand onto his shoulder, and his body’s physical reaction to Nic’s touch—a quick jerk and a shiver that coursed through him like cascading sparks—jump-started him into speech before he was ready. “Okay, guys, what the fuck?” he blurted out at the startled twins, his cheeks heating almost immediately like his hand had jumped up and dope-slapped them both without permission.
The twins just blinked, as taken off guard as Logan. Wrong-footed, Logan felt a responsibility to keep the talk going, but didn’t know how to restabilize the encounter. “Um—” he said, stupidly.
Nic, almost invisible in his peripheral vision as he stared the two strangers down, squeezed his shoulder encouragingly. Logan took an almost involuntary breath. His heart was beating a little too fast. A strident voice in the back of his brain was jittering away at him about how people with the power to teleport an SUV into a strange control room full of weird technology might very possibly not be used to seeing the same constellations in the nighttime sky as he was. He swallowed, but just then Bryant put his hand on Logan’s left shoulder. It felt heavy and familiar. Logan was again momentarily distracted, the sensation of Nic’s and Bryant’s hands pleasant and therefore strange in this surreal, reality-derailed moment. Were they trying to comfort him—or were they drawing comfort from him for themselves?
“Hi,” someone said, but it wasn’t Logan or the twins. It was coming from behind him. Logan felt absurdly grateful to him for recovering the ball after Logan had let it get away. Good teamwork, he coached in his head. Good hustle. “My name’s Jamal,” Jamal said, sounding as pleasant and casual as if they were at a summer lawn party. When this didn’t induce a spontaneous sound-off from the rest of the very disconcerted party from the SUV, Jamal went on, “This handsome redhead here is Donny.”
“Hi,” came Donny’s voice from behind him, sounding rough, like it wasn’t quite ready for use.
“I’m Bryant,” the deeper-voiced behemoth said from just over Logan’s left shoulder.
“My name is Logan,” Logan jumped in finally. He sounded a little loud in his own ears, so he made an effort to modulate his voice back to a more conversational tone as he added, “This is Nic,” with a little tilt to his right. Nic said nothing, but he sensed him nod silently out of the corner of his eye. It came to Logan suddenly, with a frisson of giddy inappropriateness, that what Nic really needed was a Stetson to tip at the unknown, possibly alien matched set of doppelgangers in front of them. He gathered his gumption and went on, “Why don’t you tell us who you are? And maybe a little about why we’re here.”
The twins drew in a deep breath. Logan watched them do it, fascinated. He realized he was watching their chests in their almost-sheet white blouses, but when he snapped his eyes up to their faces his momentary chagrin shifted from his cheeks into his gut as he realized the twins were looking at his chest. Their dark, almost coal-black eyes jumped up to meet his, embarrassed, and Logan stared at them as he realized to his amazement that they might just be attracted to him, or maybe to all of them. Had—had they all been brought here for some sort of weird, interplanetary orgy?
Would he be down with that? Just considering it made Logan’s lips curl a little at the corners, almost uncontrollably. The twins seemed to watch it happen, their eyes fixated on his mouth as they made less and less of an effort to hide their burgeoning interest in him, and perhaps by extension the rest of his very handsome and unusually well-put-together group. It suddenly washed over Logan just how good-looking and nicely buff the twins were, and the fact that there were two of them made Logan’s hefty cock twitch in his snug boxer-briefs under the dark casual slacks he wore on nights out. Even more importantly, the twins’ interest in him shifted Logan’s perspective. This, he realized, made things easier. He didn’t know how to do first contact with incomprehensible aliens, but he knew how to do this.
“What’re your names,” Logan said, keeping the smile in his voice as he flicked his eyes between the two of them.
The twins seemed to draw closer to each other, shoulders and arms brushing, as if they couldn’t help shifting toward a more amorous stance that increased their mutual contact. Their hands seemed to naturally find each other, and they laced their fingers together as if it were a regular thing for them. “I’m …Steve-2,” said the one on the left.
“Ken-1,” the other said, almost overlapping the end of the other’s speech.
“This is Unity-X1 Space Station,” Steve-2 said.
“And you’re here to save the universe,” Ken-1 declared, almost gushing. Steve-2 managed to cut his eyes away from Logan long enough to give Ken-1 a sidelong look, but he didn’t contradict his—brother? friend? clone? Logan still wasn’t sure. They looked absolutely identical, but… if they were twins, why were they numbered like inventory, or lab samples? And if they were clones, why weren’t they Ken-1 and Ken-2, or Steve-1 and Steve-2?
Logan needed to get them all through this. He needed to plane off a layer of bull. “That’s funny,” Logan said, still in the smooth, flirty voice that he’d mastered over years of athletic stardom—the voice he could use to twist the knobs of a gym full of apathetic students until they roared for him and jumped up and down on the bleachers, or turn the crank of a smoldering hunk of few words in a quiet corner between sets at a bowling alley. “When we got here, I was sure I heard something about how we were all going to die.” He let his eyes glint, and ratcheted a corner of his crooked grin up one more little notch, enough to really show the dimple. There was no mistaking it now—the twins’ eyes were dark with lust. He let his eyes flick between them, lifting his eyebrows a fraction as he lowered his voice a notch, inviting confession. “Did you bring us here to kill us, guys?”
“No!” Ken-1 said immediately. He and Steve-2 fell over each other denying the idea. “No! No no no,” they said. “Zork no!” “That’s not it at all!” “We’re the good guys!”
Logan nodded, accepting their protestations. “So then, you can just send us back, right?” He smiled a little wider, reassuringly. “No harm, no foul, and we all forget this whole thing ever happened.” He nodded again, meeting the gaze of first Ken-1, then Steve-2. Logan felt certain this was the right play. Extraction. Get the guys out safe, before the mysterious Ken/Steve twin-clones shook off the little flirt spell Logan had tossed over them and started flipping switches on one of these control panels and siccing a swarm of space-pterodactyls on them or something. To his surprise, though, he felt Nic’s warm hand shift uneasily on his shoulder. Even more unexpectedly, on the other side Bryant’s slab of a hand did the same thing. What were they trying to tell him?
The twins wavered. They’d drawn even closer to each other. “We…” Ken-1 began uncertainly. “…could,” finished Steve-2, giving Ken-1 another quick look, and Ken-1 reluctantly admitted, “We could.”
Logan nodded, feeling the goal was in reach. He was about to secure their safe return to Earth, and a life of knowing they’d had a close call with something much bigger than them, when Nic suddenly spoke up for the first time.
“Why does the universe need saving?” he asked, in a voice that was at once calm and reticent, a humble, confident man of few words.
Logan turned his head slightly, enough to see Nic’s strong profile. The strange light of room, its cool ambience seeming to come from every direction and no direction, made his olive skin look exotic, accentuating that soft brush of stubble that Logan very much wanted to slide his cheek across. His thick, wavy walnut-dark hair looked better in slight disarray, as if his locks had been liberated from stifling confinement, and Logan needed, actually needed, as he had since he’d first seen Nic, to feel it sliding between his fingers.
Without moving his head Nic’s green gaze met his from the corners of his eyes. At the same time, he felt Bryant, Donny, and Jamal shift behind him, and he knew that Nic’s question was the one the rest of the guys also wanted an answer to.
Logan thought he didn’t want to know. His impulse was to protect them and get them out of this unknown and potentially threatening situation in one piece. That would be the win, he’d thought, and he was still pretty sure of that. But he stood with his boys. He turned to face the twins and waited.
The twins exchanged another quick glance, then the one on the left, the one called Steve-2, said simply, “Bad guys. Bad guys who do very bad things.”
“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Ken-1 objected.
“Not really,” Steve-2 said smoothly. “They are the Skorth. They destroy planets. We—” He gestured at himself, his twin/clone, and the control center around him “—are the Unity. We protect planets.”
“Planets like Earth,” Donny said. He’d stepped forward, and was standing at Logan’s left shoulder, the slightly taller and lankier Jamal just behind him and to his left. Bryant remained close behind Logan, his heavy, reassuring hand still clasping Logan’s shoulder.
Logan drew in a breath. The threat to the universe from a monolithic evil, confronted by a monolithic good, seemed too remote to involve them. The connection suddenly became obvious. “Earth is in danger,” he said slowly, watching the twins closely. “Not just the way everyone’s in danger from these creeps.” He fixed his gaze first on Steve-2, then on Ken-1. “We’re the ones on the chopping block, aren’t we?” he said. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
Ken-1 shook his head. “You’re not wrong. Earth is totally zorked.”
“One of their leaders just escaped,” Steve-2 explained. “She’s the worst of them. Cunning and absolutely ruthless.”
“She has control over a warphole,” his twin went on. “She can use it to manifest unlimited quantities of huge, indestructible monsters from the Poisonous Realm. Anytime, anywhere. She’s virtually unstoppable.”
“So… why does she have it in for Earth?” Jamal asked.
The twins shrugged uneasily, once again in unison. “Something happened to her on Earth a long time ago,” said Ken-1. “No one knows what, but it must have been pretty bad.”
“You know evil sorceresses,” Steve-2 added philosophically, as if he were discussing sudden summer storms, or the terrible food at bus stations. “They can really bear a grudge.” Ken-1 nodded in agreement.
A brash alarm started blaring from one of the controls at the back of the room, and the twins jumped. At the same time, the floor of a large round pedestal at the center of the room surrounded by a broken circle of steel railings suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree, its surface covered with brightly illuminated colored squares like a Mondrian painting. Steve-2 jabbed at the tablet they were holding, and the alarm abruptly cut out, though the platform continued flashing. “What’s going on?” Logan asked. Was the space station under attack? Was he going to die in space without ever having felt the dizzying burn of Nic’s no-doubt impressive manhood shoving deep inside him, they way he’d imagined it in his bed every night for the last three and a half weeks?
“It’s just our boss,” Ken-1 grumped, though the nervous glance he cast at his clone/twin told Logan something more was going on that a simple summons from the head cheese. “He woke up early and I guess he wants an update on… the… activity we were working on. Before,” he finished lamely. He turned away and moved over to the nearest set of controls, comparing information on the screens there to reading from his tablet and very carefully not looking at anyone.
Logan wasn’t fooled. Everyone here knew what Thing 1 and Thing 2 had been busy doing immediately before the present conversation. “He’s checking in about the boys you kidnapped, eh?” he said.
“Which would be us,” Donny added from beside him.
“He’s going to love how your stuff got all smashed up,” Bryant put in.
“Hey, you’re the ones that did that!” Ken-1 said abruptly, turning from his pretense of button-pushing and window-dragging in consternation. “You did that, not us!”
“Oh yeah, my bad,” Logan said sarcastically. “I’m usually so good about keeping an eye out for phaser banks leaping into the highway while I’m driving.”
“Graviguns,” Ken-1 muttered petulantly.
“I’m sorry, what?” Logan said, hand to his ear.
“Why us?” Nic broke in, once again cutting to the chase.
The twins were momentarily wrong-footed. “What?” Steve-2 said, though Logan was sure he’d heard. Ken-1, perhaps seeking the protection of solidarity, moved back over toward him.
Logan was starting to get fed up. “It wasn’t us, particularly,” he told his friends. “I heard that much. We’re just five random guys. And that one—” He nodded his chin toward Ken-1. “—that one thinks we don’t stand a chance at… whatever they have planned for us.”
Ken-1 blushed. “It’s not—” he began, but his clone-brother quickly stepped in.
“Our boss,” Steve-2 said, nodding toward the still-flashing pedestal, “has this idea. See, the Skorth are really good at figuring out our plans. Really good. Any army, any general, any company of spies, even bands of secret mercenary mages—the Skorth just psyche out whatever we throw at them, pretty much every time.”
“And Roma is the worst of them,” Ken-1 added. “Brilliant and devious. She’s terrifying,” he added with a shudder.
“So the Mighty One wanted to try something… unexpected,” Steve-2 resumed. “A force Roma won’t be able to anticipate because she can’t understand them. A force whose actions she won’t able to predict. A force she won’t see coming.” He paused meaningfully.
Logan stared at the two of them. “Us?” he said incredulously.
“A Hail Mary,” said Bryant unexpectedly from behind him.
Logan turned his head to glare up at his thickly muscled friend. Bryant had a very annoying habit of using football analogies, thanks to years spent playing the game before he’d switched to soccer. He seemed to enjoy slipping one in whenever he could, and Logan suspected he kept it up mostly because it bugged his captain. He raised an eyebrow at Bryant as if to say, Really? You’re going to do this now?, but Bryant just grinned at him.
Logan turned back around and faced the twins. “So your plan,” he summarized, in the steady, slow voice he used to convey the most dubious skepticism, “is to pit five kids you don’t know, whom you randomly abducted on the way to a bowling alley, against the most evil and destructive menace in the universe.”
Steve-2 took a step toward them and said simply, “You might be Earth’s only hope.” Ken-1 bit his lip, Logan noticed, but said nothing.
Logan nodded, aware his own, personal universe was about to shift. He knew, with a sinking feeling, that extraction was no longer an option, not because they were trapped up here at the mercy of whoever the Unity was, but because he knew his guys—and he was starting to understand Nic, too, at least a little. He didn’t have to turn around and poll his friends to gather their reactions to what they’d just heard. He could feel it. He knew it. Protecting them no longer meant getting them back to Earth. Protecting them meant standing together, at all costs. Nic was looking at him, waiting to see what he would do, though he guessed Nic probably already knew.
“All right,” he said finally. “Let’s go have a chat with the Mighty One.”
“Wait, wait!” Jamal said suddenly, breaking the moment. The others all looked at him. He reddened a little under the collective scrutiny, but pushed on. “Um, before we go meet your boss,” he asked the twins, “can you guys just—you know, kiss a little?” He even made little motions with his hands, like he was pushing the two hot clone-bros together.
Donny barked out a laugh. Logan groaned. “Seriously, buddy?” Bryant said. Nic looked down and shook his head, but Logan could see a small smile on those medium-rare lips.
“C’mon, we’re all thinking it!” Jamal protested. He turned back to their abductors. “Please? You kind of owe us, sort of.”
The twins stared at them in what looked like amazed exasperation for a moment. Then Steve-2 sighed theatrically. “Very well,” he said, and snatched up his doppelganger into a tight clinch and planted a deep and very serious kiss on his unsuspecting clone-brother. Their tablet, which Ken-1 had been holding, clattered loudly to the floor, and then Ken-1 snapped his arms around his identical colleague in a tight bear hug and kissed him back for all he was worth, their bodies pressed together from face to ankle and everywhere in between.
“Whoa,” Jamal said, as if he’d unleashed something a lot more potent than he’d expected.
“That’s so hot,” Bryant said, moving closer to Logan.
“Shiiiiit,” Nic said, and the way his low exclamation sounded almost like a moan went straight to Logan’s balls and curled up there like it was never going to leave.
Down below in the audience chamber was where things started to get out of control.
No sooner had the super-slow descent on the sinking pedestal finished and the platform aligned with the darkened lower deck with a thunk than a huge, round floating head appeared before them. Logan stared up at the blue-tinged floating face in utter astonishment.
“You are the ones?” the face demanded.
They were all crowded together in the circle—the pedestal was a decent-sized circle but they were five pretty big guys, plus the two twins in white, who’d come down with them. They were in front of Logan on either side, their loose black hair a little disordered from their colossally awesome and all-too-brief make-out session above. Donny and Nic were again at his shoulders, solid and reassuring, and Jamal and Bryant, the two tallest members of the group, stood behind. All of them were close enough together that Logan could feel their heat, almost like he could feel their hearts pounding and their blood pumping through their strong, muscled bodies. His position front and center, with the twins ahead of him left and right like pillars, made him feel like the giant floating head was focused on him and him alone. Perhaps it was. At any rate, the twins were keeping mum for some reason, so Logan felt a need to respond. “Apparently,” he said, with a sense of resignation.
The floating face seemed satisfied. “I am Great Master Crenshaw,” it announced grandly. “You are brave to accept your new commission as—the Super Hard Planet Champions!”
Jamal snorted behind him. “I’m sorry, that what?” Logan asked. He must have heard that wrong.
“It’s translated,” said Ken-1 out of the side of his mouth. He sounded apologetic.
“It sounds a lot better in the original Pohhhaxian,” added Steve-2, in a similar embarrassed undertone.
“I shall now issue you all uniforms,” Crenshaw plowed on, either not noticing or ignoring the byplay below him. A loud wubba wubba sound filled the room, and suddenly Logan’s pomegranate pocket tee, slacks, and runners were gone, replaced with a deep red Lycra body suit that hugged him from neck to heel a lot like the twins had held each other a few moments earlier. He looked around in confusion, only to see the rest of the guys doing the same, all of them suddenly packed into body-hugging Lycra outfits that revealed every bulge and every sensual contour of their very fit bodies. “They are of course color coded according to your personalities,” Crenshaw added blandly, and Logan took in that they were indeed wearing different colors, all of them rich and saturated, tending darker rather than brighter. Already turning to see how Bryant looked in these outfits, Logan saw Bryant decked out in deep green first, then Jamal, giggle-eyed in a shade of dark yellow that looked really good on him. Donny was wearing a navy blue that clashed rather disturbingly with his ginger coloring. Turning the other way, Logan took in Nic clad head to toe in snug, contoured rogue-cowboy black, and Logan had to suck in a breath to steady himself.
Something else was strange, too, and Logan’s spinning brain was just putting his finger on it when Crenshaw spoke again. “Your suits are designed to boost your size, strength and speed while you wear them,” the floating head said, even as Logan understood that what he was staring at was not just the strangeness of seeing Nic packed into tight Lycra. Nic was bigger. Taller, broader, more built. It looked—Logan had to still his hand to keep from groping his new friend’s round muscular ass with one hand and his long, top-heavy torso with the other. Crenshaw was saying something about animal-themed helmets, but Logan wasn’t listening.
“Jesus, Logan,” Donny was saying. “You’re fucking huge.”
Logan looked up at him, startled, then down at himself. “Fuck,” he said. He was huge. He seemed to tower over his own body. His pecs had always been defined and in recent years had started to thicken in a way that he thought was very, very gratifying, but now he was positively swole, and well on the way to an actual pec shelf. He almost turned around again to take in how big Bryant could have gotten, but Crenshaw was already moving on.
“You will be given motorcycles that turn into cars and a truck that turns into a tank or a spaceship,” Crenshaw rattled off, as if he was working his way down a list of Things Every Teenage Band of Evil-Fighters Must Have as quickly as possible. “I’ll also reconstitute a Ken and a Steve from cold storage and assign them to you as liaisons with the Unity and myself.”
“Wait,” Jamal broke in, and already Logan felt his lips quirking. He looked over his shoulder to see Logan had his hand up, as if he were at school. “So… if you’re going to cook up new ones anyway,” Jamal asked hopefully, “couldn’t we just have these two?” Ken-1 and Steve-2 looked around in surprise, then at each other, their expressions undecipherable. Jamal pressed, “You could then just, you know, keep the new ones.”
Logan turned back around to catch the master’s reaction. Crenshaw’s floating face blinked at them for a moment, as if not understanding the motivation for such a question, then said brusquely, “It doesn’t matter.” Jamal let out a quiet “Yes!”, no doubt, Logan thought, accompanied by the fist-pull gesture. Logan’s smile widened. This was all starting to seem very, very silly.
Crenshaw had reached the climax of his little speech. “Under-Master Buggabo will come to you in three days,” Crenshaw pronounced, and Logan had to suppress a snicker. Jamal wasn’t as circumspect, but Crenshaw carried on as usual. “He will then begin your training in martial arts and instruct you in your individual special powers.” Logan started to query this, shaking his head at the escalating bizzaritude, but Crenshaw’s declamations could not be stopped. “Until then you are to go about your normal lives. When the Earth is in danger,” the floating face concluded portentously, “when you are called upon to defend humanity, gather yourselves together and power up with these words: Champions—get hard!”
Logan couldn’t hold back anymore. He burst out laughing. “Whaaaat?” he exclaimed incredulously, but he was talking to empty air. The floating face was gone—in fact the whole space station was gone. They were back on Earth, standing in the middle of the empty four-lane highway. It was night, and the world around them was lit only by an explosion of gazillions of bright, pinpoint stars in the inky night sky arching over them. He was with his guys, a designation that now included the two clone-brothers. They were all in the mundane outfits they’d been wearing earlier, which Logan was already thinking of as their “civvies”—except, Logan noticed as he looked around at his dumbfounded and gaping friends, that their clothes all looked tighter across the chest and shoulders and around the thighs then before, as if they’d retained some of the size that came with their color-coded uniforms. Logan was no exception—his old pocket tee was stretched almost to the point of straining across his chest, his pants felt very tight in the thighs, back and, unexpectedly, in the crotch; and like the others he was showing a couple inches of sock (or, in Bryant’s case, bare ankle—the guy hated pulling socks over his big feet).
Logan took a step and winced—he’d have to get new shoes, too. He shook his head. The fact that he was miffed at having to replace runners he’d just bought because he was a little bigger than he’d been before thanks to having been made one of the champion defenders of the planet Earth struck him as quite possibly the most ludicrous thing that had ever happened in all of human history.
Ken-1 and Steve-2 were as before, only their white gauzy outfits had turned into crisp white button-down Oxford-cloth shirts, very flattering dark-blue jeans, and understated boots in brown leather. They checked each other over, then looked up past the five guys to something by the side of the road behind him. “That must be the vehicle,” one of them said—Logan had lost track momentarily of which was which, and would have to train himself to make sure he could tell them apart. He turned to see a large dark red oversized passenger truck, the front half like a pickup and the back end long and squared off like a van. Logan remembered it was supposed to turn into a tank… and a spaceship. He shook his head.
The twins were already moving toward it. “What about the motorcycles?” he asked, aware he sounded more than a little snarky after all the reeling his brain had been subjected to. “You know—the ones that morph into cars?”
One if the twins grinned over his shoulder at him. “They’re in the back, silly!” he said.
“Parked in the garage compartment where they should be,” the other elaborated.
“Of course they are,” Logan said.
The others were moving toward the truck too. Logan reached for Nic and gently grabbed his newly thickened upper arm. Nic turned toward him, one brow slightly cocked.
“Listen, Nic,” he said, then found himself starting again. Nic watched him patiently. Logan didn’t move his hand, but kept it wrapped around Nic’s strong triceps. “The guys and me—Jamal, Bryant, Donny, and I, we’ve known each other a long time,” he said diffidently. “We…get into stuff together. Do things, hang out. It feels like one thing for the four of us to get involved in this, and another thing for you to be sucked in, too.”
Nic didn’t say anything, just watching him, eyes glinting. His beautiful stubbled face looked like a charcoal drawing in the starlight. “I guess I just want to make sure… you’re okay. With all this.” Logan licked the insides of his lips, waiting.
Nic took a step closer to him, and Logan felt his heart speed up just from the simple proximity. He fixed his gaze on Logan’s, so close now that Logan could see a hint of the emerald green in them even in this light. “Logue,” he said, using the private name for him that no one else could ever possibly be allowed to use ever, “I am very much looking forward to saving the universe with you.”
And then, for the first time Logan had ever seen, he smiled wide, and Logan’s heart almost burst. He could not hold back anymore. He moved in and kissed him, hard at first and then soft and sensual, and Nic, god bless him, kissed him back, and not all the hooting and catcalls in the world could have made them ever want to stop.
Jamal was explaining the concept of bowling to the twins. Logan, lounging in one of the surprisingly comfortable molded plastic chairs at the head of their lane, watched him with a bemused smile. Jamal looked like he had been waiting his whole life to teach the art of good old American tenpin bowling to a pair of cute, faintly east-Asian bioengineered replicant liaisons to a secret galactic world-protection syndicate. His face was alight and his eyes bright, glinting in the flat fluorescent overhead lights that made even Jamal’s warm bronze skin look pallid, and the twins, who were almost as pale as their resident ginger, Donny, were so washed out in this light they looked overexposed, the crisp white shirts of their undercover, Earth-side duds almost blinding. For their part the twins were absorbing everything Jamal was telling them with identical sober expressions, as if Jamal were detailing the tactics for an upcoming battle. Perhaps he was, in a way, Logan mused. As long as they were saddled with babysitting the five of them—the Unity’s new so-called “planet champions”—the twins would have figure out how to fit in here on Earth. Bowling might be a good start.
They’d sure gather a lot of attention. Eyes would be on them—Logan had noticed it already, stray glances drifting over from the various families and clumps of bowling buddies that were still there even this late on a drab autumn night. Their high-cheekboned, silky-haired adorability would get them a lot of second glances even individually, not to mention how nicely defined their bodies were, like young men born to easy athleticism but who hadn’t tapped their potentials yet. They were tall, too. Jamal was the tallest of them apart from the walking mountain that was Bryant Gill, a good 6’2” even before their brief “suiting up” during the bizarre meeting with Great Master Crenshaw had somehow left them all with a noticeable and slightly unnerving residual increase in size and strength; and even with Jamal a couple inches taller (and looking even lankier), the limber-looking, compactly muscled twins were almost looking him in the eyes. Yeah, they’d drag a few stares behind them wherever they went. By themselves they were more than attractive, almost in a literal sense, but together their combined energy and resonance seemed like it might be too much, like the twins were just shy of advertising their… unconventional origins.
Logan felt a twinge of unease. He’d pushed away a looming future of fighting against impossible odds to save the Earth, a fluke having put him and his boys in the path of risking almost certain death. About that Logan felt a calm equanimity, like he did before a championship game against unbeatable opponents: panic didn’t help before a game no matter how important it was, only training, research, planning, and the poise and confidence to know that plans were only a starting point. He couldn’t help but see the contest ahead against Roma in terms long familiar to him from years spent on the soccer pitch, especially when he had a team behind him that felt like extensions of himself. But off the pitch, the milling crowds of ordinary humanity were unpredictable. For the first time he considered that trouble might await them from their fellow humans, now that they’d brought strangeness back to Earth with them.
Logan watched as Jamal turned with his ball and demonstrated the starting stance, then slowly mimed a full wind-up and release without actually letting go of his ball. The twins watched closely, standing tall and erect a couple feet away. Jamal had pretty good form—he had an uncle who’d briefly bowled professional after college, Logan knew, and proficiency in bowling was as much a base-line expectation in the Alaoui family as excellence on the soccer field was in Logan’s.
One of the twins—Logan thought it was Ken—solemnly took the bowling ball from Jamal. He took a moment to carefully adjust his fingering, then took up the starting stance at the top of the lane. With perfect form he drew back, cocked, and released a perfect strike on the unsuspecting pins. Logan let out a long whistle, impressed, and Ken and Steve both glanced back at him, grinning wide. Jamal gaped, then dropped his chin to his chest, shaking his head, but he looked up to watch attentively as the twins threw their arms around each other and jumped up and down in a tight celebratory hug.
Logan felt a concentration of warmth behind him, perceptible in the over-air-conditioned chill of 83 Lanes that made his nipples push uncomfortably against his suddenly too-tight pomegranate pocket tee. Without turning around he knew somehow that it was Nic standing there, silently taking in the scene. “Think they’re playing us?” Logan asked quietly with a soft smile, without turning around.
Nic grunted noncommittally. Logan twisted around to look at him, his smile widening. Nic had exchanged his bad-boy outfit of dark collared shirt and midnight leather jacket for the loose, turquoise-colored uniform of the bowling alley, complete with the retro, googie-inspired “83 Lanes!” logo stitched over his left breast. The unflattering shirt was not only metaphorically square, it also seemed designed to look literally as square as possible, its right-angle lines seemingly designed to defy and obliterate all but the vaguest hints of round, bulging muscles. Its loose drape made Nic look like a clothes hanger with a head. Everything else about Nic, though—the snug, black jeans, the tousled hair, the earring stud, the strokable stubble along his perfect olive jaw—was one hundred percent bad-ass hunk, and Logan’s heavy cock shifted in his own jeans even as his heart sped up with the knowledge that this man was his. It didn’t matter that they’d only known each other a matter of weeks, or even that they hadn’t so much as kissed before that night by the highway, after they’d returned from the space station. None of it mattered, because no truth had ever been clearer to him. Nicandro Rojas was so patently his destiny that even Logan being suddenly and unexpectedly called upon by extraterrestrial protectors to save the damn world hadn’t managed to separate them from each other.
Nic finally glanced down and caught Logan staring up at him, and his lips curved just enough to let Logan know he was thinking along similar lines. They drank each other in for a moment, then Logan cocked his head. “Anything we can do about the lights?” he asked, nodding up at the harsh ranks of fluorescents mounted in the concrete ceiling high overhead. “I feel like a hamburger waiting for a customer to walk in.”
Nic glanced around the alley. Most of the other parties had gone home. A few families had come out, and there were a couple of groups of middle-aged regulars and a bevy of mixed-aged women that met up there every week, all clustered around their lanes or loitering around the concessions counter; but it was late already when they’d gotten there, and Logan and his crew had spent an hour bowling before the twins had finally emerged from a long, intense, and almost silent discussion off toward the end of the lanes and rejoined them, asking to be included. By that point most of the other groups had finished up and headed out, with only a group of thick-set, balding guys Logan didn’t recognize still happily tossing balls several lanes down from them.
Nic returned his dark green eyes to Logan. “You want something more… sultry?” he responded, arching an eyebrow.
“Maybe later,” Logan purred. “For now I’m looking for a setting a notch or two below ‘unbearably brutal’.”
“Wuss,” Nic said, turning away with a wink and heading toward the front desk.
Logan watched him go, his pulse a steady thrum and his dick half-hard and straining in the confined space of his crotch. They’d taken Master Crenshaw’s instructions to pursue their regular lives as the practical way forward out of the disorienting confusion of returning to Earth after having been very rapidly transformed into superheroes in waiting; and picking up the threads of normality had meant addressing the most immediate reality first: Nic had been on his way to work, and was already late. So they’d loaded up Nic’s bike into the “garage compartment” of their fantastic transforming truck, ignoring the impossible vista of an array of motorbikes and other more esoteric equipment already stowed in a space that somehow opened up like a small aircraft hangar ten times the size of the truck itself. And also trying not to take too much notice of how Logan alone was able to heft Nic’s motorcycle and load it into the truck like it was made of cheap plastic. They’d piled quietly into the truck and tooled down the empty, desolate four-laner the rest of the way to Dry Springs, each of them immersed in their own thoughts.
Piling into the bowling alley, exiting the dark, cool night for the bright, meat-locker-cold interior, felt like a transition back to some semblance of reality. For one thing, there were other people there, the other bowlers using the lanes and the two or three employees who worked with Nic; and the act of entering the space together, coming into the presence of all of these ordinary people who were completely, blissfully oblivious to the existence of Roma Ridiculous, and the planet-destroying Skorth, and the Unity and the Planet Champions and everything else, that had given them all a frisson of connection—not just the five boys, but the twins too, bound up as they were with the sudden twist of fate that had befallen them. Logan was already having trouble imagining being ignorant of everything he now knew. He felt like someone had lifted away a dome he’d been living under his whole life, limiting his world to everything contained by the scrub-covered horizons, and the constant presence of the twins meant he couldn’t even pretend it hadn’t happened, or that the real shit was all yet to come.
Bryant and Donny came bustling up with sodas and armloads of boneless wings, pretzel bites and cheese, popcorn chicken, and other colossally unhealthy snacks. They managed to get it all onto the little table between their lane’s two half-rings of sets just as half the lights overhead started going off with a loud kthunk-thunk-thunk, and Logan looked up to see every other row of the ceiling-mounted fluorescents go dark. The blue-collar guys at the other lane were ribbing each other like the place was suddenly going NC-17, and Logan laughed. He turned back toward the main desk in time to see Nic come down the short run of steps into the bowling area with a big smirk. Logan applauded, and Bryant and Donny followed suit. “This is more like it,” he cheered.
“Fuck yeah,” Donny seconded. “It was so bright in here I felt like I was at the frickin’ beach. I was going to get Bryant here to smear me with SPF-50.”
“Now all we need is a rockin’ playlist,” Bryant said. He was fishing his phone out of his jeans as Nic rejoined them, but he shook his head, still smirking.
“Maybe once the other customers leave,” he said, lifting his chin in the direction of the guys in the other lane. They were a few beers in and were cheering on one of their number who’d just stepped up to bowl.
Logan turned and looked his man over. Nic was standing really close, and it was doing a real number on him. Logan had been very aware of the shape and presence of Nic for weeks now, and the palpable fact of Nic’s subtly increased size was flooding every sensory apparatus he had. He remembered the suiting up, and how Nic had burst out to a totally new and yet exquisitely defined muscular massiveness in a tight, midnight-black, form-hugging fabric skin, of which this new size was only a delicious echo, and he shivered. His half hard-on hadn’t gone away—hell, he felt like it was now his permanent companion now, not counting moments like this where his tool was threatening to swell big and huge… just like Nic had done back on the space station.
He grabbed Nic by one of his thick biceps and started tugging him away. “You guys keep playing,” he said hoarsely to the others. “We’ll… be right back.”
His buddies grinned after him, the twins comically wide-eyed in the midst of Logan’s laughing and hooting crew. “Logy’s in luuurve,” Bryant crooned for the second time that night.
“Hey, cap, I got a condom in my wallet if you need it,” Donny jeered, patting his back pocket.
“No way, those things have expiration dates,” Logan shot back with a grin, earning him an appreciative “ooooo” from the others at the burn. Logan turned and hauled an unprotesting Nic after him, and before long they were well out of sight in the corridor behind the main desk that led to the bathrooms and the staff-only areas.
As soon as they were sure they were on their own Logan grabbed Nic’s silly shirt and hauled him close, covering Nic’s lips with his in a searing kiss. Logan had never been the kind of randy horndog to crave the grinding of bodies together the way he did with Nic, and part of him wondered if this was because his libido had been ramped up along with his strength and size—but no. No! All of these feelings had been boiling up in him for a while, since he’d first met Nic’s smoldering gaze across the 83 Lanes lane-reservation counter. It had been building to this since that moment. He needed Nic, and he knew Nic needed him too. Sure enough Nic responded eagerly as soon as their lips touched, curling strong arms around Logan’s thick, broad torso as he opened for Logan, the kiss deepening as their tongues stroked and slid against each other.
Logan moved his hands out from between them, reveling in the press of their pecs and legs and groins against each other, their raging erections pressed mercilessly against each other’s flesh. He wrapped his arms around Nic’s body, mashing them even closer, one hand slipping down to cup Nic’s hard, perfect ass through those worn, snug jeans, while the other moved up to curl around Nic’s warm neck under the ends of his dark, wavy hair.
Nic moaned into his mouth, and Logan thought he might lose it. They made out hard and hungry. Shivers of arousal shot up Logan’s spine at the feeling of Nic’s rigid, thick cock pushing hard against Logan’s hip, even as his own bucked against Nic on the other side. Fuck! They’d been joking about the condom, but Logan suddenly felt like it would be literally impossible for him not to rip Nic’s clothes off him and bring them both to a stunning, stratospheric orgasm. The couldn’t fuck, not here, though Logan as suddenly almost mindless with a need to feel that rock-hard cock of Nic’s deep inside him. Maybe, just for now, it would be enough to drop to his knees, tear open Nic’s jeans, and wrap his need mouth around—
Before Logan’s train of though could go any further the whole building shook around them and there was a loud KABOOM, like a hurtling meteor had smashed violently into the bowling alley parking lot, rocking the very ground under their feet. Logan and Nic pulled apart, staring into each other’s eyes for a second before separating and hauling ass back to the lanes. Before they’d gotten out of the hallway another explosion tossed them to the ground. This time Logan could tell where it was coming from, and his stomach dropped as he realized it was the same direction as where his friends were. He and Nic shared another quick look and scrambled rapidly to their feet, pelting as fast as they could into the main area of the building.
They skidded to a stop near the half-flight of steps down into the lanes and took in the damage. From where they stood the whole right-hand wall of the alley was blown to rubble. Beyond it, amidst the wreckage of smashed cars and crumpled masonry, loomed something Logan couldn’t quite process: it looked like a boulder or a block of stone, round, dark and rough-hewn; but it had four enormously massive arms, bigger collectively than its central core, like a stone tarantula, only the colossal arms also looked like rough, solid rock, and ended in gigantic fists. It had no legs, its stone thorax raised off the ground as it stood on its four terrible fists. On top, mashed into middle of the thorax-slab, was a head without a neck or mouth, only orange, glowing, utterly hostile eyes. Logan’s heart quailed. Whatever force motivated these creatures knew only destruction, violence, and death.
Behind the stone creature, Logan realized, his heart trip-hammering in his chest, were six more rock creatures just like it.
He twisted to check the concessions counter, but the girl who’d been working it when he and Nic had headed for their savage make-out session was apparently long-gone. The others weren’t so luck. A quick glance to the opposite end of the lanes made his heart sink. Logan’s friends—Bryant, Donny, Jamal, and the twins—had backed away from the destruction. Instinctively they’d formed a protective barrier between themselves and the party of middle-aged men who’d been bowling a few lanes down from them, who were cowering against the opposite wall. It only took Logan a second to realize that both the bowlers and his friends were trapped: there was no way out of their end of the lanes other than up the steps where Logan and Nic stood and out the main exit behind them.
The foremost rock creature walked ponderously forward on its fists through the opening it had created, until it stood fully within the building. As it moved it kicked up rocks and debris, filling the far end of the building with drifting clouds of dust.
Logan didn’t have to think. This was game-time. For him, once the match started there was no turning back, and no room for anything but full commitment. He took the steps down into the lanes and took up a position, legs square, between the rock creatures and the stairs that were the only way out. As he stared down the blazing, evil eyes he felt Nic take up a position beside him. His heart faltered, but only for a second. The thought of Nic being in harm’s way threatened to make him sick, but there was no way he could ask anyone not to be as brave as Nic was being. More than anything, though, having Nic at his side gave him hope. The rest of his crew he knew he could could on. Bryant, Donny, and Jamal were like a part of him. But Nic—it was like getting a wholly unexpected ability, like Superman, after a lifetime of running, discovering that he could fly.
“Ken! Steve!” he called out to the knot of people behind him. “Get up here!”
A moment later he sensed the twins behind him. The others, he knew, would stay put, waiting for him to tell them the play. Nic kept his eyes trained on the creatures, as if he faced down alien monsters in his bowling alley every day. Logan was starting to have serious feelings for this man. After all this was over, there would be fucking. “What are we dealing with?” he asked the twins over his shoulder in a low voice. He had no doubt they could tell him. It was impossible that these creatures were anything but enemies of the Unity and of Earth, or that they were here for any reason other than to destroy Logan and his friends.
“Gur-Orgath,” one of the twins said quickly, keeping his voice quiet, as if he didn’t want the creatures to hear. “Rock creatures animated by the Skorth.”
Logan nodded. Knowing what they were called didn’t help him much, and he could’ve guessed the rest. “How do we fight them?” he hissed, still without taking his eyes off the lead creature.
“Th-the Gur-Orgath are controlled remotely,” the other twin said. Logan realized he sounded scared. Logan wondered if these liaison-clones ever experienced battle, or were used only to observing from as distance. “There has to be a servo-robot operating as a relay.”
“It’ll be close, but keeping out the fight,” the first twin supplied. “Probably behind them.”
“What does it look like?” Logan growled.
“Small black box on legs,” one of the twins said. “No more than four feet tall.”
Sounds like it would get under foot, Logan thought. It’s a wonder the creatures don’t step on it and smash it to bits. “Get the civilians out,” he ordered the twins quietly over his shoulder. “We’ll hold this position.” His stomach fluttered at that. They hadn’t even started their training. They were supposed to have weeks of lead time, or at least days, before they’d have to fight the Skorth, time in which he and his team would learn how to use whatever enhancements their new status gave them against whatever horrors from the Poisonous Realm Roma had ready to begin the enslavement and/or destruction of Earth. But somehow—
Logan blinked. Somehow, the Skorth had found out about Logan and his friends.
Logan knew he couldn’t spare any thought for that unnerving revelation just now. But he would not forget. Whether the security of the Unity was compromised, or for some other reason, they were all in a lot more danger than they’d thought.
The twins were already gone. He needed to distract the Gur-Orgath so that the twins could get the others to safety. “Bryant, Donny, Jamal, with me!” he called back behind him. He took one step forward, challenging the rock creature, wondering why it had not already moved forward on its massive fists and smashed him into jam. What was it waiting for? Nic kept his position at Logan’s side, and Logan spared him a rapid glance. His jaw was set, his eyes flinty. Logan almost snorted a laugh: he looked like he ate Gur-Orgath for breakfast. Logan knew, though, that he must be as terrified as Logan was, but he was determined to be there for Logan, to let Logan know he wasn’t fighting alone.
As Logan turned his eyes back to the creature he felt the other three form up behind him. Well, if they were going to die horrible deaths, Logan thought wryly, this was probably the moment. He needed the enemy’s attention fixed on him. “Roma Ridiculous!” he bellowed. He didn’t know for sure that she could hear him, but he figured her for being the kind of bad guy to watch everything on a big wall-mounted screen in her villainous lair, gloating the whole time. “You have committed an act of war against the planet Earth!” The preposterousness of his words struck him as funny as soon as he said them, but all he had to do was look at the destructive power of the rock creatures’ mighty fists, they way it had flattened the cars in the parking lot and taken out the wall of the building like it was paper, and he sobered immediately. Shit, had they destroyed their new transforming truck? Somehow he suspected that a truck like that wasn’t so easily made a casualty. It did give him a couple ideas, though.
“The Earth is a protected world!” he carried on loudly, wondering how long he could give the others to get clear of this war zone. “Surrender yourself, or…” Suddenly his supply of bombast failed him, though, and his words faltered.
“Or… what?” boomed a sneering female voice. It seemed to come from nowhere, but it filled the large space as if coming through speakers the size of Mack truck.
He couldn’t show weakness. If he had been alone, he didn’t know what he would have done. But he had his boys, and that always gave him the strength and courage to face any opponent on the soccer fields, and for this, too. And now… now he had not just his boys, but Nic, too. His resolve hardened. “Or face the consequences,” he intoned into the silence, as grimly as he could make it.
Roma laughed. It was a laugh full of hate and scorn for a universe that had betrayed her and would never, ever be forgiven. A sick shiver slid down Logan’s spine.
“Come and get me… Logan,” Roma’s voice said, leaning on Logan’s name with sadistic pleasure. Logan’s heart almost stopped. He felt Nic glance at him. Behind him, Donny’s breath caught.
It was one thing to stand anonymously for justice against violence and evil. But they weren’t anonymous. Roma didn’t just know that the Unity had recruited a bunch of guys to fight against her. She knew who he was. Who they all were, probably.
And now Logan understood why the rock creatures had paused their attack. So that Roma could toy with him. So that she could let him know that they had been laid bare before her unguessable, hate-fueled power.
Logan swallowed. He turned his head to look at Nic. Nic, stoic as ever, only nodded once. Logan nodded back.
He turned to face the rock creatures. The Gur-Orgath took a step forward, walking almost like a gorilla, its hellish eyes glaring at them. Logan bared his teeth. He was ready. In a loud, clear voice he shouted three words he thought he would never be able to say with a straight face. Three words that now meant the different between life and death for himself, his friends, and who knew who else. Three words that he hoped would someday spell the defeat of Roma and everything she stood for.
“Champions,” he roared, “get hard!”
Behind him… Jamal snickered.
The silly wubba wubba sound surrounded them. Unexpectedly, Logan felt himself stifling a laugh. They were already getting big and swole and hard as fuck, impossibly fast, blowing up in size and brawn and mass and power in a matter of mere seconds. They were transforming like lightning into eight-foot-tall, six-hundred-pound stone-hard muscle giants, but Logan was barely noticing—the ridiculousness of his call to transformation, amidst all the over-the-top good and evil drama, was just too much.
Behind him, Jamal was still sniggering. “Man, get serious!” he heard Donny admonish Jamal, though he sounded like he was barely containing giggles. “We’re the Super Hard Planet Champions! Show some respect!”
Logan let out snort. Nic tossed him a quick glance, eyes glinting, lips quirking at the corners. A thrill of unanticipated power surged through Logan as his new red-clad form stabilized, and maybe that helped make him giddy. The change was already over, strength was coursing through every bone and muscle. All five of them were brimming enough energy to fight a thousand Gur-Orgath, it felt like—and they’d all missed the thrill of their first real suit-up because it was just… so… ludicrous. “Yeah, c’mon, guys!” Bryant chastised his friends. “This is serious! As serious as a priest at a prom!”
Laughter burst out of Logan. He couldn’t help it. He opened his mouth wide and laughed out loud, and the guys behind him busted out laughing with him. Even the stoic Nic was grinning. He was watching the Gur-Orgath, too, and so was Logan, and it made him laugh harder that the lead creature took a half-step back from the team’s unanticipated behavior. And since the rock creatures were apparently remote-animated mindless brutes, that meant that somewhere Roma the hateful was discomposed at their brazen, irreverent mirth.
Logan was laughing on purpose now, staring down the monster, and when he stopped, he was still grinning ferally at it. “Bryant, Donny, Jamal,” he instructed over his shoulder. He knew they were listening as they mopped up their giggles. “You guys keep those things busy,” he said. God, he hoped at some point they’d be able to actually train enough so he could give his team the plays without spelling it out for anyone else listening. “Bring the building down on them if you need to—just don’t get dead. Got it?”
“Got it,” Jamal said, still sounding amused. “Got it,” Donny and Bryant chimed in.
Logan half turned to Nic, still watching the lead creature. “Get past them and head for the servo-robot,” he told him, as quietly as he could. “Destroy it first chance you get.”
Nic nodded. “And you?”
Logan met his gaze. “I’m going to check on the truck,” he said. “It’s our only ticket out of here.” Nic bit his lip, then nodded.
Logan held his gaze a moment longer. “Goes for you too,” he told his man. “Don’t get dead.”
Nic gave him a quick smile. “Back atcha.”
Logan nodded, then turned to face the creatures. They were all suddenly on the move, their baleful, glowing gaze fixed on the five newly grown giants. Their time was up. Logan tried to think of a clever catch phrase for them to join battle with, but it was too late for that, too. Instead he just called out, “Let’s go!” and charged full tilt at the gap between the two monsters right behind the lead Gur-Orgath, making not for the enemy but for the open space beyond. Nic kept close, but as soon as they got near the creatures one of them raised a fist to smash down on them, and they split in different directions, Logan left and Nic right, and he almost instantly lost track of the black-clad, perfectly assed muscle hunk.
Logan knew he was huge now, and he couldn’t believe the strength and potency he could feel concentrated in every sinew. It wasn’t just that his muscles were massive now in his red skintight suit—he felt as powerful as ten men, a hundred even. He knew this made him a great deal heavier than he was used to, and it seemed like he should be weighed down by all of his extra muscle and mass, so it was with a feeling of almost euphoric exhilaration that he discovered he was so impossibly light on his feet it was like gravity had given him a reprieve, and so fast he thought bystanders would have trouble even keeping their eyes on him. He’d counted on being fast to avoid the earth-shuddering fists of the rock creatures, but he hadn’t guessed just how fast—or how good it would feel. Not only was he strong and full of energy, he felt like he was made of stamina. Shit, his dick was trying to swell up and get hard inside the cup that was subtly built into the suit, and he felt like his tool was so strong his suit might not contain it if he didn’t stop thinking about how much he wanted to fuck Nic’s amazing, round muscle ass in to the goddamned ground while they were both powered up—and have Nic turn around and drill him right back with that incredible cock he’d only felt and hadn’t yet seen. Was the powered-up cock even bigger, better, and harder? Logan’s anus twitched with a craving more powerful than anything he’d ever imagined.
Smash!—another fist crashed hard into the ground, and Logan had swerved aside just in time. Head in the game, Serrano, he coached himself. Time enough for the other head later.
He ducked and weaved through the creatures like they were all oversized middle-fielders. They were fast—faster than he would have guessed, but Logan was so much faster. Behind him he could hear the others engaging the monsters, which involved smashing and destruction that was almost deafening loud. He glanced behind him in time to see Bryant, now looking even more like a behemoth in his deep-green skintight suit, as he ran forward and grabbed one of the rock creatures—a monster easily four times his size—and lifted it off its feet, hurling it against one of its brethren so then both of them went hurtling head over fists down the alley, smashing against the already much-dented far wall. They clambered quickly to their fists and didn’t look much damaged, but they were shaken and wary.
Jamal, meanwhile, tall and powerful in dark yellow, was taunting another one of the creatures, getting it to chase after him, only to leap out of the way twenty feet into the air onto the roof while the creature smashed into one of the building’s still-intact walls, helped by a hard shove from behind by the blue-Lycra’ed Donny. The building shook so much at the impact that Jamal lost his footing, but Jamal had always been the most physically agile of them all, and he managed to turn his fall into a deft somersault and landed beside the building more or less on his feet.
Logan left his teammates to their work, knowing they could fend for themselves, and focused on his own task. He was now clear of the creatures, though the two that had been at the rear were already turning to bear down on him. He ran wide, spotting the dark-red truck they’d been provided as he did so. It stood to the far side of the parking lot, pertly pristine and unharmed amidst the carnage of smashed, flattened cars and pickups and the rubble of torn down walls and broken asphalt. How had the rock creatures not pounded it to the ground with their formidable fists? It was almost like… Like there’s a mental thingy that keeps the bad guys from paying attention to it, Logan thought to himself, highly amused. He bet it wasn’t something strong enough to keep the truck actually, properly invisible to the monsters, especially if it were put through the transformations Crenshaw had mentioned into a tank or a spaceship (or whatever) and started firing on them, but it was good enough to keep it no more than subliminally present for anyone not on the team. Useful, Logan thought. Very useful.
Logan now banked away from the truck, leading the two creatures on his tail in the opposite direction. As the lumbering monsters corrected their course Logan suddenly swerved and grabbed the back end of an almost completely flattened sedan of some sort—it was hard to guess what it had been at this point. It was heavy, but not too heavy for what he planned. He hefted the smashed car up and around as he spun himself, timing his maneuver so that he crashed the side ofd the car directly into the flank of one of the creatures, throwing him right off his feet and careening into the other one. The second creature saw what was coming much too late, and its attempt to adjust its lope only ensured it was tumbled off its feet as they were hurled ass-over-teakettle straight into a third monster, sending all three of them into a tumbling heap. Donny, who’d been racing toward the third creature like he was going to attack it head on—Logan hoped in some kind of feint—looked up and spread his hands wide in mock consternation, like Logan had deliberately cheated the blue Champion out of a hit. Logan grinned and shrugged.
With the few seconds’ breathing room momentarily throwing his two pursuers off their fists had given him, Logan now looked around and took stock, searching in the light of the parking lot street lamps for the two things he cared about right now: Nic, and the servo robot. He found both about five hundred feet away on the side of the parking lot closest to the main street. The servo robot was exactly as described—basically a black box on spindly black legs, capable of moving to retain proximity and preserve its safety but otherwise nonoffensive. But it looked like Roma had indeed heard Logan’s instructions, because Nic was now triple-teamed—three of the rock creatures were facing him down, keeping themselves between him and the robot. Nic was on his feet and unharmed, for now, but he didn’t like the odds of three of these creatures against the man he cared about more than anything on Earth.
Stick to the plan. Logan pelted at double speed for the back of the truck and the storage compartment installed there. He reached it and quickly opened it up, just in time for the two creatures that had been after him before to right themselves on their four fists and start galloping rapidly toward him. He cast a quick look in the compartment, checking that everything he’d seen there before was still there, then in one swift move hauled out Nic’s motorcycle and straight-up clocked the nearest creature upside the head on one swift, powerful move. The creature once again crashed right into the other one and both of them went down. “Jeez, ya big dopes,” he taunted them, “when are you going to learn to stop attacking in pairs?”
In a few fast heartbeats the nightmares were both up on their fists again and moving toward him undeterred. With the motorcycle still in his hands Logan pivoted and swung around low, cutting their support out from under them and send them both tumbling down to the ground. Logan almost laughed. He glanced up to check on Nic and the amusement vanished—he looked over just in time to see Nic take a major hit from a man-sized fist that sent him careening fifty feet across the smashed and broken asphalt. He landed hard against a half-flattened SUV and he and the car both skidded a few more feet from the momentum before Nic fell forward like a rag doll hurled aside in disgust.
Rage filled Logan. It was time to stop fronting. He threw the motorcycle with all his might against his two creatures, sending them flying just as they had been regaining their fists. Then he reached into the compartment and grabbed what he’d really come here for—the thing that could only be a laser rifle. He positioned himself, aimed directly for the servo robot, and pulled the trigger, hoping like hell it worked like it looked like it worked.
Nothing happened for a second. His heart fell out of his chest. He looked down—a panel on the back of the rifle was blinking yellow. Yellow. Realization dawned on him—it had to charge! Fuck, fuck, fuck! He glanced up—the servo robot was on the move, walking away from him on its spindly legs. The three rock creatures protecting it, meanwhile, now turned their blazing hellfire gaze on him and started moving toward him.
Beyond them, on the horizon, Logan could see flashing red and blue lights, and the sound of sirens was carried to him on the cold, still night air. Fuck! He could just guess what would happen when the cops showed up and started opening fire on the impervious extraterrestrial monsters.
Logan glanced the other way. His two playmates from before were also moving toward him, joined by the third. That meant all six were converging on him. His teammates were running behind and trying to engage them, to no avail. The creatures were fixated—all they saw was Logan.
Logan glanced back down in a panic. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Fuck, he was a dead man. Yellow yellow GREEN! With a low, buzzing fwoosh the rifle released a blindingly bright red death ray for a second, until Logan released the trigger in surprise. Quickly he looked up, hoping there was still time. He was sure it wouldn’t work on the rock creatures themselves, or Ken and Steve would have mentioned it. He had one chance, and one chance only. Fuck where was the stupid—hah, there it was! Logan aimed at the servo robot, having to crouch low so that he could aim between the monsters currently lumbering right toward him. He fired, letting loose a long surge of energy on the walking relay, until suddenly it crackled and then violently exploded, spreading its remains over a hundred-foot radius.
Logan ducked and rolled once, twice, three times, coming out of his maneuver and running as fast as he could away from the impact zone he’d been at ground zero before seconds before. He craned to look over his shoulder in time to see six massive rock creatures, now devoid of their malicious animation but still possessed of all the momentum of their charge. The six creatures smashed spectacularly into each other with a loud boom, recoiling backwards with all the force of their impact and smashing hard into the parking lot surface. The world seemed to reverberate, knocking Logan off his feet as bits of rock pelted him and everything else in a wide impact zone around the impact site. Logan couldn’t get his bearings for a second, but slowly everything solidified and stilled. Dust settled around him as the creatures that had threatened the lives of his friends and innocent civilians lay inert, lifeless, and impossible in the middle of the parking lot of the best and newest bowling alley in Dry Springs, Arizona.
Logan spared the monsters no more thought. He was on his feet, running with all the speed he had in him. The sirens were loud now, the cops almost to the site of all the mayhem and destruction. Logan didn’t care about them either. He was racing to where he’d seen Nic fall, hoping beyond hope that he hadn’t just watched the man he thought could be his other half crumple in death against a half-smashed SUV.
In seconds he was beside him, kneeling at his side. He looked hurt. His face and uniform were smudged, though the latter was unsurprisingly intact (it was probably impossible to damage) and his face only a little bruised under a couple smears of dirt (he was sure it was a lot harder for them to get injured in this form); but Nic still looked pale compared to his usual olive complexion, and for once his mussed hair betrayed exertion and extremity rather than his usual roguish sexiness.
Logan was afraid to touch him, not sure about spinal damage or internal injuries, and he suddenly felt profoundly useless. Nic’s eyes were closed, and he couldn’t tell if his was breathing. Logan stroked Nic’s beautiful, stubbly cheek. Was he—? No, he couldn’t be.
Nic smiled slowly, and Logan felt his heart swell. Then Nic’s eyes opened and met Logan’s. They were clear and bright. “I’m not dead,” his man said, gruffly.
Logan’s cheeks were wet. He brushed at them impatiently. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Nic assured him. He looked Logan up and down in his giant-sized, red-Lycra-clad form. “Which is a good thing, because I kind of need you to fuck me like that, and I can’t do it dead.”
Logan nodded, grinning. He was going to lose it—too many emotions. Far too many. “Yeah. Plus… we need to get you out of that suit,” Logan said. “I didn’t see any openings back there.”
Nic was eyeing him. He lifted a hand and caressed Logan’s cheek, thumbing away more tears. “Naw, let’s do it with the suits,” he said hoarsely. “I bet… if you pushed real hard with your steel hard prick, you could make a hole—” He smiled wide and raunchy at this. “—and do me right.” His smudged and bruised face look heartbreakingly endearing, but his dark green eyes were alight with meaning.
Logan snorted a laugh. “Sweet talker!” he barked. “Is that what it takes to get you talking dirty to me—throwing you against a car?”
Nic grinned. “Try it and find out,” he said.
The others were hurrying over: Jamal, Donny, and Bryant, all looking tired and worried but miraculously unharmed from the brief but destructive engagement. Jamal looked fierce, ready to take on more monsters, but Donny was a bit wide-eyed, the scope of what they’d fallen into opening up before him. Bryant’s attention was all on Nic, like he was upset that he hadn’t been there to keep one of their team from taking a hit on the field. Logan wasn’t sure what he himself was feeling, but it was all of that and more.
Behind them Ken and Steve, pristine—their mission had been to keep the civilians safe and out of the way—but with their distress written on their faces. Maybe the “dying horrible deaths” thing was a little less abstract, Logan thought, now that the two men had gotten to know their accidental victims—er, that is to say, their “carefully chosen defenders of Earth”. He noted with bemusement that they were drifting over the settle around Jamal, who laid protective hands on both their shoulders, asking quietly if they were both okay. Maybe Jamal’s pervy interest in Ken-1 and Steve-2 was something more—something that had found a resonance in the twins themselves. Well, they had kissed when he’d asked.
Logan called over to his pair of handlers, mindful of the approaching phalanx of first responders. “Hey, guys,” he said, “what’s the command to power us down? Master Crenshaw never said.” Logan thought Nic should get checked out in a hospital, but probably not as an eight-foot, black-stretchy-uniformed muscle giant.
The twins shrugged in unison. “It’s up to you,” one of them told him. “It’s all up to you,” said the other.
Logan grimaced. Probably that meant he didn’t really have to say the ridiculous power up invocation Crenshaw had given them. Though maybe that had helped them in the end. The call—or, more accurately, their own giggling response to it—had certainly wrong-footed their opponents at a crucial moment.
Logan looked around at his team. He could not be more proud. Untrained, without having chosen this path, they had rushed in without hesitation and attacked unbeatable monsters, trusting in Logan’s ability to get them out. That trust had almost cost Nic his life, and Logan would make damn sure from now on that the five of them would never be that vulnerable again.
He spared a glance for the cold stars overhead. Somewhere up there was a powerful villain who hated the Unity, hated Earth, and maybe, now, would be focusing all her poisonous despite on him, Logan Serrano, and the friends who meant more to him than anything. He sneered up at her. Bring it on, asshole, he thought silently. Next time, we’ll be ready. And when you least expect it… I’ll be in. Your. Face.
The sirens were upon them. The front of the building was swarming with cops and troopers piling out of their cruisers, the squawks of radios filling the air as the sirens switched off. Logan spotted at least one ambulance and even a fire truck, presumably responding to reports of an explosion. Logan’s group was off in the main parking lot near where the building got hit worst, plainly visible but not yet noticed, though he knew the officers would be on top of them any minute.
Logan smiled at his friends. He made eye contact with each of them, the twins included. “Champions,” he said, “stand down.”
The wubba wubba sound surrounded them once more, almost lost in the commotion. Logan met Nic’s eyes and shared a wistful grin. Powered up sex would have to wait.
Description Logan and his buddies, along with the hot guy from the bowling alley Logan has a crush on, get pulled into a fight to save the universe from the evil Skorth. If only it didn’t involve wearing color-coded Lycra.
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