#33

Pads, Paws and Claws!
Part Two: End of the Road

written by Mark Bousquet

THE MS. MARVEL GATEFOLD
Previously ...Ms. Marvel went out for a night on the town with AURORA and TIGRA and ended up being attacked by SABRETOOTH!
CAST OF CHARACTERS
MS. MARVEL - CAROL DANVERS was accidentally irradiated by the Kree built Psyche-Magnitron, giving her powers and turning her into the heroine, MS. MARVEL! Now, after a lifetime that has seen her as a NASA security chief, writer, magazine editor, intelligence operative, Avenger and transformed into the cosmically powered heroine BINARY, Carol has regained her Ms. Marvel identity and powers and is the living embodiment of merged Kree/Human genetic potential.
TIGRA - Greer Nelson is Catwoman. Literally. A human transformed by the Cat People (you can't make this stuff up) into a were-woman, complete with full body fur and tail.
AURORA - classic paranoid - half the time she's the outgoing Aurora, the other half she's the reserved Jeanne-Marie; She is her own arch-nemesis. Beat that.
SABRETOOTH - Victor Creed; a psychotic killer mercenary with ties to Wolverine and the X-Men; once had his rear end handed to him by the Black Cat. Yeah, the Black Cat. But since then he's gotten much, much better at what he does - which is ripping people to shreds.
FRANK GIANELLI - reporter at WOMAN magazine while Carol was it's EIC; still doing investigative work, currently fears for his life; sent Carol a super-secret package.
NORTHERN BEAR PRODUCTIONS

Ms. Marvel and Sabretooth collided!

They leapt through the air with passion and fury, colliding at the apex of their jumps. Sabretooth raked at Ms. Marvel with his claws and the female Avenger dodged, then followed with a roundhouse right-hand punch that connected with the mercenary's nose, sending him sprawling backwards.

Sabretooth growled low and hungry as he slowly rose to his feet. "Round 1 to the knockout." Quicker than Carol had anticipated, he launched himself at her again, this time connecting.

"Ahhh!" Ms. Marvel screamed as her right arm was raked with his claws. She took an involuntary step back and he jumped up from his crouching position to catch her stomach with his shoulder. She couldn't believe how fast he was. She'd been on adventures with Wolverine before and Sabretooth was, at worst, only a half-step slower. He drove her up into the air and then back to the pavement, landing on top of her like a cat playing with it's meal.

As she hit, the pavement cracked.

"Rrrroooooaaaaarrrr!" Sabretooth screamed as the drool from his mouth splattered down on the Female Fury.

"Learn some manners!" she yelled as she brought her powerful legs up to kick him off of her. She rolled backwards,up and over to her feet again, in time to see him crash into a dumpster on the other side of the street. Like a good Buster Keaton movie, the dumpster lid slammed shut, leaving Sabretooth momentarily trapped inside. The rage inside of her wanted to rush immediately across the street, rip open the lid and pummel Sabretooth before he could rise, but she had more immediate concerns.

Tigra and Aurora.

The three of them had just got done with their night of entertainment, exiting from the new and trendy club DAZZLERS, only to be attacked by, at the least, Sabretooth.* Aurora had been attacked by a dark cloud and Tigra had been felled, apparently, by a poison dart of some kind. Neither attack suggested Sabretooth was behind it.

* See last issue for the complete story - Saturday Night Biscuit

Ms. Marvel looked immediately for her fellow heroines and saw that Tigra was laying face down on the ground unconscious, but, she noted with a sigh of relief, breathing. Aurora's hands clutched at her face but the black ball of hard gas that surrounded her kept them from reaching their goal. The ball covered her face completely and by Aurora's body language, Carol was surprised that she wasn't screaming.

She did a quick scan around her to see if there were other attackers present or if Sabretooth was here alone. She found it hard to believe he would be, given the nature of the attack, but she didn't think of Sabretooth as much of a team player. Still, she wasn't totally surprised when she saw two women standing off to the side.

If there was one thing she had learned while a security chief at NASA and during her time as a CIA operative it was that you had to look at the situation first and then the people and not the other way around.

"Who are you supposed to be?" Ms. Marvel asked, starting to walk towards the mysterious women. Carol saw that they were dressed in tight fitting dark crimson outfits. Their upper arms and legs were bare, but they wore gloves on their hands that extended almost to the elbow and leg boots that traveled up their thighs. 'They look,' Carol thought, 'like they went to my tailor.' The older female had long flowing blonde hair, and the younger's was jet black and cropped short. Their skin was tan. Around their waists were a small belt, containing pouches.

"My name," the woman spoke confidently, "is PARAMOUR and the one next to me is VELVET!"

"Rrrrrrraaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggghhhh!!!"

Ms. Marvel was blindsided by Sabretooth. 'Stupid,' she scolded herself, as she rolled with the beast across the pavement and into a parked car. Carol could feel the hot stank of his breath on her neck.

"Enough Sabretooth!" Paramour ordered. "We have captured our target. It is time to leave, so cease your frivolous attack."

"Frivolous?" Sabretooth growled, picking his head up to stare at Paramour. "Lady, this big cat don't like taking orders! We kill this broad and we don't have to worry about her following us!" He turned to look back at Ms. Marvel. "'Sides, we've tangled before and I owe her some payback!"

Paramour didn't back down, "No, then we'll have all of the Avengers after us. Don't be stupid." She turned her back to the mercenary. "For once."

Sabretooth's growl was low and guttural. "Lady, don't you ever turn your back on--oomph!"

Ms. Marvel's fist connected with Sabretooth's ribs. "Good advice. Try using it yourself some time." Carol hopped to her feet, turning to look for Paramour. She was standing by Tigra, who still lay on the ground. Aurora was to her left, still lay on the ground. Aurora was to her left, still clutching at the black cloud about her face. Sabretooth was already rising to his feet, his wild eyes darting from Paramour to Carol and back. Velvet hung behind Paramour, watching everything with wide eyes, but making no moves of her own.

Paramour made a motion with her left hand and the dark cloud blew away from Aurora's face and back to Paramour's hand, where it vanished down into a pouch on her belt. Before she had snapped the pouch closed, her right hand was raised above her head, making small circles with her wrist. Bubblea of light began pouring down from the fist and Ms. Marvel heard Sabretooth swear under his breath. He leapt at Paramour, but instead of mauling her, he landed obiediently at her feet.

The bubble of light spread around Paramour, Velvet, Sabretooth and the unconscious Tigra, glowing bright enough that Carol had to shield her eyes. The light suddenly flashed down to a pinpoint. Small bubbles of light floatted harmlessly into the air.

They were gone, leaving an angry Ms. Marvel and a shaking Aurora.

"Z-z-z-z-z-z-e dark … it izzzzzz zz-z-zo c-cold …"


AVENGERS MANSION

"What? No, 'Oh my stars and garters'? No snappy alliteration? No big words that I can't understand? You're slipping in your old age, McCoy," Carol grinned.

"!#$%# slipping, it's 4 in the !#%@##%^*# morning," Henry McCoy, better known to the world as Beast, the long time member of the Avengers and X-Men, grumbled as he tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. "I'll give you stars and grumblemumblegrumblegrumble garters …"

Carol let out a chuckle despite the seriousness of the situation, "Think you can help Aurora here?"

Beast sighed looking at the wide-eyed and shaking heroine that lay in the medical bed before him. "Aurora, or Jeanne-Marie?" he asked, referring to Aurora's split personality.

"Don't know, but she's been like this since the black cloud came off of her."

"Hrm, must be Aurora then," Hank answered, completely locked in on his patient. "She's the one that has a problem with the dark, a holdover from her days with the Sisters at the DuPont school."

"Well, do what you can for her. I'm going out," Carol announced, turning to leave.

"You're leaving?" the Beast asked incredulously, and a little upset.

Carol turned to face him, fastening her mask back onto her face. "Tigra's been kidnapped. Someone's got to do something. She was lost on my watch so that means it's up to me." She relaxed a bit, seeing the anger in the Beast's face, "I'll make it up to you, Hank, promise. I know this cute little salesgirl that would just love to be bounced by the blue-eyed Beast."

Hank's face curled into an amused grin, "Oh my stars and garters indeed. That's a tantalizing tidbit of tomfoolery if there ever was one."


HOUSTON, TEXAS

Suzie Swenson came to the United States when she was six.

She grew up with plenty of friends in a decent neighborhood in rural Iowa. Upon graduation she enrolled in college at the University of Texas, where she studied to be an aerospace engineer. A fling with a visiting professor from France left her pregnant. A naοve sense of what love really was left her alone after the semester was over.

Suzie had to drop out of college - her parents had disowned her when they heard she was pregnant - and in the ten years since then her life had been rough, but also fulfilling. Every night when she tucked little Charlie into bed she knew that there was nothing in the world that would make her go back and do anything differently.

She bounced from job to job, eventually landing a nice, steady job as a secretary with the government at the Johnson Space Center.

It was nine o'clock on a Tuesday evening and little Charlie was at the baby-sitter's house playing video games, blissfully unaware of his mother's absence. His babysitter didn't share his ease of mind, however, and worried endlessly at her inability to contact Charlie's mom, a woman who had not been late once in the three years the little boy had been coming to this house after school.

Neither the babysitter nor Charlie had any idea that Suzie Swenson, at this moment, was lying dead in the back of a United States government minivan.

Her crime? Saying the wrong thing to Frank Gianelli, investigative reporter.


SOMEWHERE EXOTIC

"Toss the cat in the cage," Paramour ordered.

"Do it yourself," Sabretooth grumbled.

"Fine," Paramour sighed heavily, as she spun behind her. "Velvet, do it." The younger woman complied, bending down to grab Tigra up in her arms, then placed her into a large, metal-barred cage. "Good girl."

Velvet nodded and bowed low.

"I need to get me one of you." Sabretooth grinned at Velvet as they walked down a long, exotic, high-ceilinged corridor. "You seem to be pretty well trained to serve the guy who hired us, always doing his errands. Maybe I'll ask him to give me one of you as payment."

"You wouldn't know how to handle a Grellian Assassin, much less her squire," Paramour snapped back, not bothering to hide her disgust for Sabretooth. "As it is, you can barely control yourself."

"Ha!" Sabretooth laughed. "I am in complete control of what I do, Paramour. Never forget that. I know the X-Men won't."

"Is that why you're here? Because you're in control of yourself?"

"I'm here because of what I've been promised. Soon as we deliver the cat and I get my information, I'm gone."

"And that information would be?" Paramour asked.

"None of your damn business, assassin," Sabretooth growled back, smiling. "Though that's a funny title for someone who doesn't kill an easy prey."

They continued their insults, Velvet following behind them, saying nothing, all but forgotten. They reached the end of the corridor and exited into a large round room, filled almost to full capacity with some of the wealthiest men in the world.

"We have arrived!" Paramour yelled as she threw her hands in the air, walking with the purpose of a conquering hero. The crowd cheered and parted as the three walked to the center of the room. Sabretooth made certain to snarl at as many people as he could as he walked by, enjoying how their faces went from joy to terror in less than a heartbeat. Paramour strode to the center and stopped. She looked around, pleased to see the lust filled eyes that fell on her form. "Alert central command, Tigra is ours!"

The crowd went beserk.


END OF THE ROAD BAR

Carol Danvers had been in her share of dives over the years, and END OF THE ROAD ranked right up there with the worst of them. END OF THE ROAD was the place, she had learned, that had become the number one place for mercs to hang out and wait for jobs - at least until a superhero dropped by. Then the business taking place here would move to another part of the city.

Carol had started at a bar she was familiar with and worked her way down, eventually coming to END OF THE ROAD. She had spent enough time in dives like this - espionage work was invaluable to a superhero, she had learned - to know how to act. This was no biker bar. END OF THE ROAD was packed with assassins, crime bosses, sellers for AIM equipment, black market dealers, weapons manufacturers … it was the place to be if you wanted to buy or sell something illegal - including getting heroes killed.

You wouldn't find the Kingpin in a place like this, but you would see his second in command. It was the kind of place where you were treated by how well you did your job - whether that job was as an assassin or an accountant.

It was also the kind of place where you could ask questions … so long as they weren't the wrong ones. Asking the wrong question in a place like this was a sure way to get yourself killed.

Carol wore denim jeans and a navy peacaot with her long, blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail and walked directly to the bar, not bothering to look or speak to anyone. "What'll it be sister?" the bartender asked.

She had wondered how to play this and now the time to decide was at hand. Ordering a drink in a place like this said a lot about a person to the regulars who made their living inside these grimy walls.

"I'll have … uh … a … uh … Cape Codder, I, uh, guess," she mumbled, slipping a crisp twenty on the counter and instantly she could feel the eyes of the crowd start to focus in on her. 'That's right, Carol,' she told herself, 'play the stupid innocent who's desperation has led her here. Let them come to you.'

The bartender smiled as he handed her the drink and went back to his other patrons. She kept her ears open and her eyes peeled on the drink in front of her, watching everything and everyone through her periphery vision. After ten minutes she started to look around, trying her best to put an innocent, confused, desperate look on her face. She sat there for a half-hour, never doing anything more than sipping at the drink, never making eye-contact with anyone for more than a half-second.

The bartender worked his way back to her and leaned in close, "Looks like you're out of your neighborhood tonight, sister."

"Uh … yeah," Carol looked at him with her eyes as wide as she could get them.

"Nice girl like you in a place like this is liable to get herself hurt. Lot of bad people in my bar, there is."

"You, uh, own this place?" He nodded. "Well, uh, than I'm sure you can, uh, keep these bad people away from me should anyone get the, uh, wrong idea or anything."

"Why would I want to do a thing like that?" he grinned and Carol had to lean back because of his breath. "Maybe I'm one of the guys who's interested in hurting you." She turned her nose in disgust as the man grabbed at his crotch. It wasn't an act.

"I have money," she said quickly, really wanting to do nothing more at this point than rip this guy's face off.

"That's not a good thing to say, sister, especially after you go flashing crisp twenties around."

"I need a job done," Carol said, "letting" herself gain a little confidence. "My husband … has been having an, uh, affair." She let her voice drift off, playing the hurt wife to perfection.

"Oh, what, and you're maybe looking for someone to take care of him? Gonna offer someone a few grand?" he laughed. "So's you can collect some big insurance policy? Stupid trophy wives, you're all the same." He turned to go.

"I'm looking for someone to kill the little … tramp he's been sleeping with."

"Oh yeah?" the bartender shouted to her from halfway down the dirty bar. "Let me guess, his secretary? Some third rate model? Get out of here, sister."

Carol stood to go and spoke loudly, "Well, if no one in here has the guts to kill an Avenger, I guess I better go somewhere else." Most of the eyes in the room spun to her at that moment. "It's not even like it's someone tough, like the Scarlet Witch or Mantis." Pause. "It's only Tigra."

A table at the back of the room crashed as it was knocked over and a man rose quickly to his feet. Carol couldn't see who it was because the back was shrouded in shadows. "Tigra? Lady, you got some funny sense of humor. Second set of legs in a week looking to snag that pretty kitty. You gonna offer me the job and then give it to that psycho Sabretooth? Huh? That guy's a chump. Totally unprofessional psychopathic drooling, stinky fur wearing nutcase. I got half a mind to cut you up just because he ain't here to take what's coming to him. But make no mistake, Sabretooth is a dead man. Nobody, and I mean nobody, steals a client away from …" the man walked out of the shadows and into the light, " … BULLSEYE!"

to be continued …

comments to mariner2@tiac.net



NEXT ISSUE: The conclusion to PADS, PAWS & CLAWS! Guest stars galore! Discover who's behind the kidnapping of Tigra as Ms. Marvel teams up with two unexpected allies to save the feline Avenger!


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