Mr. Mud/Halfway Crooks

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What follows is the full origin story of Mr. Mud, which I tried to write about four times from various perspectives before I decided on this final version which was written in June 2007. There is some violence and gore in places as well as references to fictional drug abuse but nothing that breaches a PG-13 rating. Feel free to leave any comments on the talk page, I'd be happy to hear what you think.

If any of the random side characters in this story happen to grab your attention, you can find small, NPC pages on Spikeman, Jumpsuit, Nightstick and Incognito here on the Wiki. If I ever get around to writing more Mr. Mud stories, chances are one or more of them will feature.

Thanks for reading. - Mr. Mud


Prologue: Zeus' Lightning

Paragon City, 1998.

It had been a pretty routine job until now; the plans he and Spikeman had drawn up for this particular bank had been set in stone for weeks. Spike would walk into the main section of the lobby, costume and all, and alert everyone that he was robbing the place, taking menial cash from the vendors at the front. This, of course, would be the distraction Mud would need to sneak through the side door and into the vault, where he would then use his immense strength to bust open the vault door and take the real cash; the cash they were actually after. Honestly, it was a pretty standard job, the kind Spikeman and he pulled regularly when they were out of work, between bosses or otherwise out of funds. The problem had been that when Statesman arrived, his old buddy bailed, and now he was stuck in a vault room with Paragon’s hardest hitter. He’d figured Spike would screw him over someday.

He stood with the bank vault behind him, and Statesman in front of him. Honestly, he’d never been in a situation quite as dire as this. Usually the guys who turned up to stop him were somewhat easy to take out… Ice Claw, for one, didn’t give him that much trouble on the best of days. True, Mud had to admit that he had trouble dropping him completely, but at least that situation was mutual. He could trade punches with Mr. D and usually come out on top, if feeling a little sick. Charon was a different story. He was harder, faster, and stronger. But nevertheless, Mud usually found a way to escape, and on a good day he might even take some of the money he’d worked so hard to steal with him.

However, today was different. He’d never faced off against Statesman before. Back Alley Brawler? Sure, he’d had a couple of dust ups with that guy, most of them ended in a broken nose or a black eye. He’d even fought Citadel only a couple of weeks ago. He came out a little worse for the wear but he got paid for the job he’d been asked to do, so no matter; but Statesman? Statesman was a different beast, and Mr. Mud could easily see that if he didn’t act fast to find a way out of this then he was either going back to jail, or in the worse case scenario, he was going to accident and emergency. He was pretty sure Statesman’s sense of morals would stop him ending up in the morgue, but even that wasn’t a certainty.

Thinking fast, he quickly armoured himself in a layer of hardened Mud, leaving only his head visible. As he lurched forward towards Statesman, he turned his hand to a giant fist of mud, bringing it crashing down where Statesman had been standing only seconds before. Lightning fast reflexes meant that Statesman, however, was no longer there. As Mud turned to face his enemy, he caught a punch in the face that was so strong he felt a bone in his cheek instantly break as blood poured from his nose. Angrily, he enlarged his hand into a three-foot fist of soil, and smashed it into Statesman, crushing him against the vault wall.

He rallied his senses and moved in for the knockout. After all, the only way he was walking out of the bank door was if Statesman was unconscious or dead; Mud didn’t kill people unless he absolutely had too. He allowed the earth covering his fist to form into a giant mallet, drawing it above his head as he slowly advanced on Statesman, who was coming to his senses. Just as he was about to strike, he saw Statesman’s hand begin to glow with electricity. Looking down, Mud realised a small section of his armour had been chipped away in the battle. This was going to hurt.

He gritted his teeth just as Zeus’ lighting hit his body. He felt the surge of the charge flow through his veins, through his nerves, causing the most immense pain. He lost control of his powers, his body turning back to all too vulnerable blood, skin and bones. He kept his eyes open a second longer as the electricity surged up his spine, and then passed out, hitting the vault floor with a thud.

One: Kevin McKenel

He opened his eyes, not sure how much time had passed. His head pounded, obviously a side effect from the immense jolt of electricity his body had had to deal with earlier. He soon came to realise what had awoken him: The insane whine of a siren. Looking around him, he realised he was in the back of one of Paragon City’s finest vehicles; the heavily armoured trucks they used to transport people like himself to the most dreaded building in all of Paragon, The Ziggurat. His suspicions were only confirmed when he took a look around himself only to see the bright orange energy bars that lined his cell, shifting manically. He let out a heavy sigh; those things could withstand any superpower in Paragon City, there was little point in even trying to escape.

He sighed again, and let his eyelids fall back over his weary eyes; they’d busted him, and after hitting Statesman in the face with a three foot mud fist, there was no way he was avoiding jail time.

Opening his eyes again, he let them wander around the containment cells. In one of them lay his ex-business partner and so-called ‘friend’, Spikeman; still unconscious. He had clearly taken quite a hit, and by the look of the slight burn on the side of his face, he’d have to guess it was one of Citadel’s energy punches that had hit him. It certainly wasn’t anybody with fire powers; he’d seen the kind of burns you got if you tangled with one of those guys. No, this was definitely a mild energy burn, which if you discounted the heavy hitters could have been caused by any of the numerous energy wielding heroes who walked the streets of Paragon back then in the mid nineties. There certainly weren’t as many around then as there are now, after the invasion and then the sudden influx of crime, but there were enough. Certainly enough to put people like Mr. Mud and the Spikeman behind bars every couple of years. Mr. Mud had already done one stretch in the Zig, and he knew for certain Spike had been in and out ever since he started the villain game back in the late eighties. There was no way they weren’t going back again for this latest crime.

“Hey. Hey, buddy,” a voice whispered. “You awake?” Mud lifted his tired eyes to look across the truck into the containment cell opposite his, where another criminal sat slumped on the minimalist chair the PCPD provided, which was quite understandably heavily bolted to the floor. This chump was quite obviously a supervillain, although what exactly his powers were, Mud couldn’t tell. He wore a dark blue spandex costume, with highlights in orange. Mud wasn’t the greatest fan of this chosen attire, as personally he went for the minimalist look; straight black and brown spandex and a simple domino mask to conceal his identity, combat boots on his feet and fingerless gloves on his hands, all of which perfectly designed to accommodate his powers. A old man who lived in his old neighbourhood had put the whole thing together. Back in High Park, or The Basement as it had been known when Mud was a kid, so many people had to turn to supervillainy just to earn a working wage that an average joe could make quite a bit of cash out of villainous costume design.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good.” Mud said, expecting the conversation to end there. Some of the criminals who had been in this truck when he was transported to the Zig the first time back in 1993 had struck up conversation with him, but it had often been short lived. Usually the weaker ones in these trucks were either too frightened to talk in the knowledge they were being transported to a building full of psychopaths and career criminals, or they were too much of a tough guy to want to chat anyway.

“So, uh, whatcha in for?” the villain across the corridor asked. Now this, this was a question he had heard asked often, whether in the transport truck or in the Zig itself. Everybody was interested in exactly what you’d done to end up there, and more importantly they wanted you to ask them back so they could brag about whatever heinous crime they’d put into motion this week.

“Heh, long story. But cut short? Statesman.” Mud rasped, lifting his cuffed hand to his cheek as he realised talking caused immense pain. Something was broken in his face, an ailment he’d had once or twice before.

“Wow! You fought Statesman!?” came the eager voice from across the corridor. This was quite surprising. Other villains usually looked upon you with contempt if any hero had given you a beating, let alone the Boy Scout himself. “How’d you do?”

Mr. Mud put his cuffed hands up to his swollen face and black eye, and then took a very obvious and satirical look at his surroundings. Even with this very obvious display of quite how badly Mud had faired in his dust up with Statesman, the other villain would still not grasp quite how much Mud still felt the pain from Zeus’ lightning; he shot a glance across at the gaudily dressed rogue. “Not too well.”

“This was kinda my first day on the job. I didn’t do too well either. A guy called Ohms caught up with me, electrical guy,” as the other villain spoke, Mr. Mud couldn’t help but think he knew more than enough about ‘electrical guys.’ He knew about Ohms especially. “My name’s Kevin, by the way, Kevin McKenel.”

“David Dirt. Most people know me as Mr. Mud though.” Mud said, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes, trying not dwell too much on his aching body. “I remember the first day on the job too, and don’t worry, I didn’t fare much better. Sure as hell didn’t end up on the way to the Zig, though.”

“What happened?” Kevin asked, inquisitively. Mud wasn’t really in the mood for talking, but he was well aware that the truck hadn’t even started moving yet, they were still filling the back few carriages with criminals, and even when the truck set off it would be an hour or so before they reached Brickstown and even then the truck would have to pass Ziggurat security. He had plenty of time to kill.

“That’s a pretty long story.” Mud said, his instincts getting the better of his bordom.

“I got a long time.” Kevin stated, insistently.

Two: Hard Times

Mud could remember the first robbery he’d ever taken part in just as if it was yesterday. It wasn’t his first crime; that much was for sure, he and his buddies had been mugging and conducting routine breaking and entering for years before the first time they decided to hold up a liquor store. They didn’t have much of a choice, being born in one of Kings Row’s worst neighbourhoods, which was lovingly known back then as The Basement. It was nicknamed such because it was as low as you could go, a pit of poverty and squalor. Back in The Basement there were three ways out; hip hop, basketball and crime. David learnt very quickly as a kid that he couldn’t shoot hoops and he sure as hell couldn’t rap.

His mother had been sick for as long as he could remember. She had never told him what she had done for a living before his birth but by the time he became a teenager he had already wizened up to the life he lead, and as an extension the life his mother lead as well. It was quite clear to him that in order to pay the huge bills she owed to drug lords all over the city, the only option left to her must have been to sell her body. She never told him so and he never asked, but he knew that was what she had been, and even more he knew that he would spend his life making sure that she would never have to go back to such a life. Yes, they lived in one of the worst areas of Paragon City, and yes the streets outside their window were infested with scum and crime, but David had long ago decided that he would never let his mother return to the life she had once lead, and he would find a way to get her the money she needed to get out of that god forsaken place.

That was the line of thinking that eventually lead to his first robbery, but there was much to come before that. David had many friends in the neighbourhood, many of which were dragged into a world similar to his; prostituted mothers, and fathers who were either abusive addicts or who had disappeared long before their birth. David was an example of the latter, but he felt worse for his friends who were the former. They spent their lives in fear for their safety and their very lives from the people who were supposed to care for them and protect them, and this was a truth that was even sadder to him than the life his mother had been forced to lead in order to feed him.

In later years, when people asked David why he chose to be a criminal rather than simply just getting a job, or doing something more worthwhile with his powers, he had to scoff at them. None of these people, clearly, had ever been to the cockroach ridden slum that was the Basement in the 1980s. None of them had battled with the rats for their every meal. None of them had looked out of their window to see nothing but shady guys in alleyways and call girls on street corners, and that was on the best of days when somebody wasn’t getting shot right there on the sidewalk. The people who asked these sorts of questions had obviously never lived the kind of life David had been dragged through. If they had, they’d have been just as determined as he was never to return to the kind of suffering he saw growing up.

The problem at the root of all this, of course, was drugs. Every kind of drug you can think of flowed in and out of the basement freely, from marijuana to morphine. It had been a problem a long time before David was even born and it remained a problem long into his criminal career. The Regulators, lead by Back Alley Brawler, had thought they were doing a great and noble thing with their war on drugs, battling back the drug barons and organised crime who pushed such filth to addicted and afflicted citizens of Paragon City. Even great heroes like Statesman and Xanatos had taken time away from the troubles of the Galaxy to come back to the streets of their home city, to battle back the wash of illegal substances that now infected the stricken of Kings Row and wider Paragon. But little did they know, they were not improving the lives of those caught up in this terrible trade; they were worsening them.

With the disappearance of the drugs that was the backbone of the Basement’s economy, there was no money in the neighbourhood. People began to starve, and were forced to turn to other, more violent crime in order to make ends meat and to stop themselves from going under. The problem was, the people of The Basement couldn’t live with drugs, and they certainly couldn’t live without them. It was during this time, this great depression of the down trodden people of Kings Row, that David and his friends decided that something had to be done to improve their quality of life.

The original kids who formed the street gang that would become known as The Basement Boyz were all kids from David’s tenement block; Rem was the oldest, and had been the one to spearhead the idea. He was determined to stop his family from suffering; his father had been a drug dealer, and after the crusade of the Regulators, his family no longer had any income whatsoever. Jazz, the second member, lived downstairs, and while he was developing some talents for rap and hip hop, no one would notice for ten years after the formation of the gang of his youth. One day, he would become one of Paragon’s and in fact the world’s most famous hip hop artists, but back in the eighties, he was starving, his mom was dying of HIV; Eric was David’s next door neighbour, and altogether was quite a quiet kid. Unlike the other three kids who made up the core membership of the Basement Boyz, however, his parent was in no way involved in crime. In fact, his single parent father worked spent every hour god sent in the garment district, working his fingers to the bone, and Eric was determined to shoot for a better life; and then there was David James Dirt. Nicknamed ‘D.J.’ by his peers, he was the fourth member, and wanted nothing more than to get his mother out of this place.

Together they made a pact. They would do whatever necessary to get themselves and their families out of the Basement and into better lives. If that meant mugging the fat cats outside their own factories, they’d do it. If it meant robbing liquor stores in the Gish, they’d do it. They’d do whatever they could to get cash for their families, with one exception: They would not, and would never, touch the drug trade. Yes, it had been the backbone of their existence since birth, but it was also a parasite, a disgusting vermin that would lead to their eventual demise. They would do whatever they had to, but they would not touch drugs. As the days and weeks went by their membership grew and grew, until there were twenty three members, all of them kids who wanted nothing more than to break out and have a better life, if not for themselves then for their families, and all of them were willing to do anything that was necessary to get there.

It was 1988, and initially the Basement Boyz did well, managing to bring enough cash to get by to their hideout in the basement of their tenement block. They split it equally, and many of the members gave their cash directly to their parents, pretending they’d managed to secure jobs on the docks, or in convenience stores in Atlas Park. They even managed a few liquor store and convinience store robberies, armed with guns they managed to secure from shady contacts on the streets. David tried to keep himself away from these armed robberies and greater crimes until a few years later, in 1991.

After months of petty muggings, breaking and entering and petty thievery, most of the Boyz hit hard times. They needed another big score, and the plan was pretty simple. They were going to knock over the liquor store in The Gish next to the Aqueduct; Frank would have the engine running outside, and they would hide out in a garage they’d rented in Skyway City until the heat disappeared. Then they would head back to the Basement and split the cash as usual. It was a standard job and they were determined that they would get away with it; after all robberies happened a couple of times a week in Kings Row, and you hardly ever heard about anybody getting caught, let alone getting convicted. It was such a dirty and corrupt place that anyone could get away with virtually anything.

It was a pretty easy, straightforward plan. But just with all straightforward plans, and just as Mr. Mud had told Kevin McKenel years later, it went horribly wrong.

Three: The Bone Breaker

The rumours had circulated for weeks beforehand; there was a vigilante on the street, and he wasn’t exactly averse to breaking a few legs or leaving murderers to swing. He was cruel, he was harsh, and he was most certainly real, and more importantly he seemed to be going after the gangs of Kings Row. This did not deter the Basement Boyz, however. Sure, they’d heard the stories of whole gangs of mafia goons getting wiped out by this one guy, everyone had. They’d also heard the stories that he was eight feet tall and carried an axe, and had come to the general conclusion that either he wasn’t half as strong as people said he was or that he was simply an urban myth.

It had been a long hot summer, and it hadn’t rained in two months. It was true, mobsters and gang members were being found all over town, either dead or in critical condition, and the likelihood was that it was all down to one man, but the Basement Boyz couldn’t help but think of themselves as small fry. After all, the guys this vigilante was going after were big leaguers: Gun runners, pimps, murderers, rapists, these were all things that the Boyz were not. Even more, this guy’s main target seemed to be the guys who were running in the latest designer drug. After the long dry spell Paragon City had gone through, where there had hardly been a gram of cocaine to be found, there was suddenly an influx of this new drug, it made you strong, fast and more importantly it made you feel good. The drug’s name was superadine, and this guy they called ‘Charon’ seemed determined to wipe it out.

So it was perfectly normal for the Boyz to fall into a false sense of security. They hadn’t run an armed robbery in years, but back when they had they’d managed to get away with it pretty easily, hiding out in completely different areas of the city until the heat was off. This time would be no different and the plan was set down to every little detail. They’d get in, they’d get out, and they’d hide until the pressure was off.

Normally, David wouldn’t have gotten involved. After all he’d declined to take part in these sorts of crimes before and he was perfectly prepared to do it again. This time it was different, however. For the first time since he was born, his mother had turned back to drugs. With superadine hitting the streets and washing across the sidewalks like the blood of a drive-by victim, she could get it easily. She’d tried to hide her habit from her son, but he wasn’t stupid and had long figured out that she had turned back to her previous affliction. Terrified that she would fall down the slippery slope of addiction, prostitution and eventual death, he agreed to be involved in the liquor store robbery for one reason and one reason only; he wanted his cut, so he could keep his mom off the ‘dine. They gave him the gun well in advance; an old, rusted Colt 45. 1911. He wasn’t even sure it’d work properly if he pulled the trigger, but he wasn’t sure he even wanted to know, with any luck he wouldn’t have to fire on anyone anyway. On the night it was all set to go down, he was terrified, trembling and absolutely certain he would get caught, but he knew he had to do it, if only to keep his mother from falling ever deeper.

They came to his door at around eleven; the robbery was set to take place at around midnight, right before the place closed for the night. They figured it’d be most empty that way, and police response time would be longer. They pulled up on the other side of the street with around fifteen minutes to go, and waited. They watched as people went in and out; winos, truck drivers, even a cop went in at one point, which lead to Eric asking the others if they could just call it all off. He ended up being called a coward and being told to shut his mouth. The time arrived, and with an almighty rush of adrenaline like David had never felt before, he, Eric, Rem and Jazz walked steadily from the car and through the door of the convenience store.

The owner must have smelled a rat immediately; there was at least five minutes until the place was due to close, but he told them he was shutting up and to get out. David could remember what happened next in the most vivid detail; Rem pulled his gun from the waistline of his pants and pointed it at the guy behind the counter. David and the others pulled theirs only seconds later, but it was too late. The owner pulled a shotgun from beneath the counter and pointed it at Rem’s chest.

In a heartbeat, there was a flash and a bang the likes of which David had never heard before, even when listening to the gang wars outside his window late at night, or even the time the mafia had firebombed old Mr. Tyler’s place down the street. It was the loudest sound he could ever remember hearing, and in slow motion he had watched one of his best friends fall to the floor, a giant, gaping hole in the middle of his chest. His blood splashed across packets of chips and cans of coke. In the blink of an eye, time sped up again and David heard the shopkeeper reload his shotgun, and scream something about protecting his store.

It was then that their saviour and damnation arrived all at once. As David crawled towards the door of the store, trying to get back to the getaway car that could take him far away from here, back to his tenement block in High Park where he could get help for his fallen comrade, a grey boot slammed down in front of his face.

As he looked up, he saw a well-built man, over six feet tall standing in front of him in a black and grey patterned costume, which bulged very slightly with Kevlar padding beneath the outer, lightweight material. In his hand he held a quarterstaff, and on his face was painted a terrifying gaze behind a grey and black mask.

This was the vigilante he had heard so much about, the guy who hung mobsters from fire escapes and broke muggers' legs. This was the guy who was supposedly eight feet tall, carried an axe and killed every criminal he came across. This was the scourge of Kings Row. This was Charon.

David had no idea in which direction to move. Behind him was a madman with a shotgun, and in front of him was an urban legend that would very likely kill him just as easily. Luckily, the decision was made for him when the vigilante fired a grappling hook into the ceiling, flew off the ground and kicked the owner to the floor, catching his shotgun, discharging the cartridges and throwing it from the window which had been smashed by flying shrapnel.

David knew it was just a matter of time until he turned his attention back to the Basement Boyz, who were taking cover in the aisles. He glanced behind him just in time to see Jazz attempt to pistol whip the vigilante, only to have that same grey boot stamp down on his lower leg, snapping it in half in one swift movement. This was the closest Jazz had ever come to real violence; later in life when he became a popular rapper, he would claim that he had been shot sixteen times in his gangbanging youth but the truth was, this was a close as Jazz ever came to action, a fumbling attack on a vigilante which ended in a broken leg.

David darted his head back towards the doorway and realised that it lay strangely open. The vigilante was busy dealing with the others, and he had seen what happened to any who tried to oppose him. He did the only thing that he could think to do. He was sixteen years old and was not yet ready to die. He ran.

He ran for a block, and then another, and then ten. Soon enough, he had run the length of Kings Row, and after that, the city limits. Before he knew it, he was on the outskirts, sitting on the sidewalk, panting and spitting endless streams of saliva onto the road. The adrenaline was causing a terrible twitch, but he had escaped; or so he thought.

As David turned to walk back to the Basement, to find out what had happened to Rem and to get home to his apartment in a downtrodden tenement block, that grey boot stepped out of the shadows, and was followed by the rest of the grim vigilante, holding his staff firmly in hand, which David couldn't help but notice was now stained with a dull reddish blood. Terrified, David turned and again fled. He ran from the suburbs and out into the wilderness, and in his desperate attempts to flee the reaper, he did not notice the sign that read ‘Crey Industries.’

Nor did he notice the sign below it, which quite clearly read ‘DANGER! QUARRY WORKINGS AHEAD.’

Four: Falling Down

He jumped the gate and ran as fast as he could, dust billowing behind him from where his sneakers struck the ground in his hurried, desperate attempts to escape the retribution he knew he would face at the hands of this vigilante. He had already seen one of his friends shot today, and he had seen another’s bone broken in the swift movement of a well placed kick; he was not about to be the next victim, he would do anything to escape. He had seen the outcome of the fight reflex, now was the time for flight.

It became awfully apparent to him exactly where he was when he became close to the cliff face. This was the blasting site that had been set up on the outskirts of Kings Row a few years before. Years later, long after becoming Mr. Mud, David would find documents in a Crey base that would tell him exactly what this place was; apparently, in 1941 after the attack on Independence Port by the Fifth Column, a few of their soldiers had buried a serum here designed to create super soldiers, but as the years went past it was forgotten and in the modern day the remainders of the Column were too busy trying to keep their fascist paramilitary movement alive rather than digging up barrels of green liquid their comrades had buried years before. Countess Crey however had discovered the existence of the serum after recieving some Column documentation sold to her on the black market and had been looking for these barrels since the late 1980s.

Of course in 1991 as David ran for his life he knew none of this. All he knew was that he had to escape, because to be caught very possibly meant his life and he was not willing to give that up quite yet. He sped up, jumping up onto and over heavy pieces of machinery, trying desperately to escape the advance of the ferryman. He came to the foreman’s office and ducked down behind one wall, laying in the mud and clay that lined the floor. He fell silent and listened.

For a while, there was nothing. A slight breeze was blowing and it had begun to lightly rain for the first time in months, but apart from the rustling of the leaves and the sound of raindrops landing in the clay, he could hear nothing. For a moment, just for a small moment, David genuinely thought he might have lost him in the darkness. He thought that perhaps his chance for escape had arrived. He lay for a few more minutes, listening, without realising that the urban legend he was trying to escape was standing simply a meter behind him, and was waiting only for David to turn around.

Lulled into a false sense of security, David slowly rose to his feet, and turned on his heel, just to slam into Charon’s chest and fall to the floor.

Desperately, he scrambled backwards, clawing the floor for something to fight back with. The thought of going to jail was almost as bad as dying at this guy’s hands. It’d kill his mom and he was only sixteen back then, he was entirely sure he couldn’t take prison life. Just as he was moving on to again worrying what would happen if the vigilante decided to simply kill him instead, his hand landed on something hard. He turned his head and realised his palm was resting on a large, iron bar. What it could be used for on a quarry site he couldn’t fathom; he simply snatched it up into his closed fist, and swung it at Charon’s legs, who caught the bar just above the knee and fell to the ground, catching his footing only at the last minute when it was too late; David was running again.

He wasn’t going to waste an opportunity like that. He turned and bolted, until he realised he had come to the side of the pit. Looking down, vertigo kicked in; the world swam and turned upside down. He turned his eyes away from the drop and ran along the cliff face, concentrating as hard as he could on putting every foot in front of the last, trying desperately not to put a step wrong and fall endlessly into the quarry.

He could hear the footsteps behind him. Sure enough, Charon was back on his feet and chasing him. David couldn’t help but think to himself that perhaps it would be better to simply turn himself in now, he could see that this guy was quite clearly relentless; there was no way he was going to stop perusing him until one of them was either dead or in custody. David was too busy thinking about this that he didn’t notice the girder that lay in his path until the last minute; clumsily, he jumped, his right knee landing on the girder and his hand barely grasping the chain that attached it to the crane to his right. He had wanted to jump clean over it, but with only a few seconds to react to the realisation that it was even there, he’d done quite well not to simply run into it.

The force of his weight caused the girder to swing out violently, carrying him over the edge of the pit and outwards, suspended on a five foot piece of metal over a drop that would surely kill him. Ironically, he thought, it would now not be at the hands of the vigilante to which he would give his life, but to his own foolishness. The girder creaked back and forth under the summer moon, as David desperately shifted his weight around to maintain his balance and footing. Just a single toe wrong, and he would plunge hundreds of feet down into the canyon.

In the darkness, he saw Charon’s silhouette standing on the side of the pit, observing David swinging helplessly; but as quick as he thought he had seen him, Charon disappeared. Panic came over him; he was alone now, and with no way back to the edge. Was he to wait here until morning when the quarry opened? He wasn’t sure he could maintain his balance that long. Was he to jump back to the cliff side? Surely that would be impossible; he had swung out too far to jump back. Maybe he could shift his weight and cause the girder to swing back towards safety, but the problem with that idea was that if he lost his balance, he would simply fly off the end of the girder and down into the pit.

Before David even managed to consider these ideas fully, his whole body was smothered in floodlights. He covered his eyes with one hand, trying to maintain his balance with the other. Was it the cops? No, not the cops, there were no sirens. And then he heard it, the starting of an engine, and the whir of machinery. Before he knew it the girder lurched, and began to move back towards the cliff side.

Charon was in the crane, operating it; bringing him to justice. A foot from the side, and the lights on the crane suddenly went out. David’s eyes were plunged into darkness, and before they had time to adjust to the midnight hour, Charon was in front of him again. David did not know it at the time nor would he ever, but Charon’s hand was outstretched, offering to help him safely back onto earth and soil, but his unrecognised offer to help was only met with a clumsy punch to the face. Fight or flight, and this time the latter wasn’t possible.

David scrambled clumsily away form the vigilante. Charon tried to call out to him, to stop him from putting too much weight on the backside of the girder; he tried to stop the inevitable but it was too late. The girder tipped, David fell, and despite his scrambling attempts to grab the girder and hold on, hold on just a second longer, his fingers slipped and he fell two hundred feet into the blasting pit.

There was a terrible clang as David’s body hit something metal half way down, and then a crumpling sound as his body was crushed on the canyon floor.

Five: Survival

“Wait, you’re telling me you survived Charon?”

This was the immediate reaction of everybody he told this story too. It was irritating, because not only did they firstly neglect the fact that he had survived a two hundred foot drop into a quarry, landing not only on jagged rocks but on the barrel of toxic waste he had managed to dislodge from the side of the cliff as he fell; they also managed to completely fall for the Charon myth, hook line and sinker, just as he had on the night of his 'accident.' Mud had first hand experience from many encounters later that Charon wasn’t the cold murderer everyone made him out to be. In fact, to his knowledge, Charon had only ever been credited with a few murders, most of those were in the early days of his vigilantism and the vast majority were people who had later been discovered to have been involved with the death of some local girl called Maria DeMarco. It didn’t take a genius to work out that he was her husband or boyfriend or something like that. Even David, who was one of the few supervillains in the world who didn’t try to kill every man woman or child he came across, had to admit that if someone offed one of his loved ones, he wouldn’t think twice about hunting them down like a dog. All in all, it wasn’t such a leap of faith to accept that David had encountered Charon at some point in his criminal career and – shock horror – survived. But for Kevin McKenel, who had just been arrested after his first day on the job, this was a really big deal.

“Yeah. Just.” Mr. Mud said, with some degree of sarcasm, and took a look around him to see if he recognised any of the other villains in the cages. Spikeman, his sometimes partner in crime he recognised straight off the bat, obviously. He could only name one or two of the others, and he had to guess that many of them were much like Kevin, inexperienced guys who’d put on a costume and thought they could walk into a bank and leave with thousands of dollars, and frankly it just didn’t work like that. You needed to build up contacts and affiliates, and quite frankly you had to think of some kind of plan. Sure, it didn’t have to be the greatest plan that had ever graced the supervillanous community, and you didn’t have to have the most elaborate escape up your sleeve, but there had to be something about the job you were pulling that would stop a superhero from turning up, knocking you black and blue and putting you in the back of one of these transports on it’s way up to the Zig. Something had to set you apart.

He did recognise a couple of the rogues, though. One was Jumpsuit, a guy Mud had worked with a few times; he had not only an exoskeleton which fitted over his legs and allowed him to leap massive distances and kick with the force of an oncoming truck, but a body suit that allowed him to survive the impact of such jumps, stopping him from being crushed by his own superpowers. Mr. Mud couldn’t help but think the day he met him that it was an ingenious and highly effective method of crime; he could hold his own in a fight with the massive force of his kicks, and his escapes were extremely quick due to the speed and length at which he could leap. As his mind wandered, he could only think that a flying hero must have caught him, Jumpsuit had always been vulnerable to the ones who could snatch him in midair. Cloud Runner, perhaps. One of the other villains was Nightstick; he was pretty creepy, he didn’t talk much and his powers stemmed from one possession, his walking cane which was imbued with the powers of the underworld. Mud liked his attitude though, a lot of those magic kinds of guys became obsessed with taking over the world or ruling some kind of magical realm; Nightstick had always just been interested in the money. Mud had long ago come to the conclusion that he must have found or stolen the stick from somewhere, there was no way he was one of those magical types by birth. He’d have been weirder.

“Yo, buddy, you listening?” He heard Kevin break into his thoughts. He had wandered into his own world, thinking up scenarios in which he thought these associates of his would have been caught. He couldn’t ask them right now anyway, they were both knocked out cold from whatever beating they’d taken. Honestly, as big as some of the guys talked, that’s how most of them ended up, out cold in a containment truck on it’s way to Ziggursky Correctional Facility.

“Huh?” Mud not so much said as simply grunted.

“I said: How the hell did you get out of the pit? And what happened to your buddy? The one the store owner shot?” Even the mention of this made it flash in front of David’s eyes, and echo in his ears; the noise, the eardrum piercing noise that didn’t take any form; the flash of gunpowder. David even swore in his head that he had seen the cloud of pellets leave the shotgun, even though he knew this to be impossible. He saw them hit Rem’s chest, his body convulse backwards; again, he saw the smatterings of blood fly across the store, staining the walls, the shelves and the food. He saw in slow motion as one of his best friend’s bodies fell, hitting the tiles on the shop floor with a sickening thud.

Mud looked to the floor, and considered his reply. He was going to choose his words carefully, but in the end decided to simply come right out with it. Slowly and carefully, David spoke.

“He died.”

How he got out of the pit was a much longer story.

Six: Climbing Out

He woke up the next day lying in the pit. He was reluctant to look down at himself, as despite the fact that he had woken up, he was sure that his body must be mangled and destroyed; he was reluctant to even try to move in case he found that it was impossible, that he was paralysed for life. It was only when he noticed that he was lying in a thick green substance that he decided he might want to move before that killed him, even if the fall hadn't.

To his surprise, he was able to lift his arm, and even climb to his feet. In fact, looking down at himself, he could see absolutely no scratches, bruises or damage to his body in any way. He had expected to see bone jutting out of skin, gallons of blood and surely a dire situation from which he would not be able to escape; after all, he was lying in the bottom of a blasting site, who would hear his screams? No one. Had he truly sustained the kinds of injuries he originally thought he’d be dealing with, there was no question he would have died right there, amidst the rock, dust and dirt. Instead, he slowly clambered to his feet and moved over to the mysterious barrel that lay maybe four feet from where he’d been lying, which was covered with the same green liquid which had now created a little pool on the floor.

He examined the barrel; there was nothing particularly strange about it. It was steel, it looked much like the oil drums he had seen at the docks, and it had obviously been busted open; David could only come to the conclusion that this had been the metal thing he had hit halfway down, which was the last thing he remembered before waking up here. The green liquid, however, he had no idea about. It was sticky, thick and he had been lying in it for… How long? Minutes? Hours? Days? All he knew from his surroundings was that it was sometime around dawn, the sun was coming up over the horizon, bathing the entire site in an orange glow which bounced off the heavy machinery up on the ridge from where he had fallen. No, nothing seemed strange about the barrel itself, until he kicked it over and saw something that confused him greatly; on the side of the barrel he had revealed was a huge symbol, a symbol that every citizen of Paragon City recognised and feared. It was symboling which, truly, should have remained in history books but unfortunately was all too apparent in today’s world. It was the symbol of the Fifth Column.

The Column had remained a problem long since the war, and still had a heavy presence in Paragon City even in the early 1990s. David had known many people mysteriously disappear, only to have it revealed in his local paper months or years later that they had been connected to the Fifth Column, and in fact had joined the ranks of this paramilitary group only because they saw it as a way of making money. David hated them not only because of what they were at their very core, the only thing left of the Nazi menace, fascist and cruel, but because they took advantage of the sort of people David himself was; the no hopers, the down-and-outers who needed some way to make money, somewhere to go.

Just as David was trying to think of everything he knew about the Fifth Column, trying to decipher something about this strange liquid other than somehow it had enabled him to survive a two hundred foot drop into the quarry pit, he heard a loud clang above him. Startled, he looked upwards just in time to see the girder that had been the only thing preserving his life the night before falling down into the pit, directly on top of him. The fall had not killed him, but this surely would.

He had no time to move, the girder was coming too fast; he simply braced for impact, an action that normally would have been completely futile, and only seconds later he surely should have been dead. Instead, however, he heard simply a loud clang, and looked to his side as the girder hit the floor, having bounced straight off of him. It took a few moments for this realisation to get through; after all, for a minute or two he was simply joyous just to be alive, having survived another incident which surely should have killed him. It took a few minutes more for it to register that yes, in fact, this girder had just bounced off of him.

It was then that he realised that in the split second between seeing the girder flying towards him and the impact with his back, his body had shifted itself into something, although at the moment he was not entirely sure what. On closer inspection of his arms, he realised that they had turned to solid earth; not only his arms, but also his whole body, except his head, which seemed to feel exactly as it always did. It took him a while to figure out what exactly had happened here, but eventually it clicked; Paragon City was a world full of accidents that led to amazing powers, and he could only assume that the goo he had landed in had granted him these powers; to morph his body into earth, soil and dirt. At first, he wondered exactly how useful this power was going to be, that was until it once again clicked with him that yes, the girder had bounced off him. It became even more apparent how great this power was when he decided to set about climbing the hell out of this pit.

At first, he wasn’t sure how he was going to go about it. The side of the blasting pit was steep and he couldn’t see any walkway that led to the top. He assumed that not much work went on in the pit itself; they were just blasting, probably looking for the barrel he had accidentally uncovered in his fall. He came to the side, outstretched a hand and before he knew it his hand had morphed into solid earth, took the form of pickaxe, and slammed into the cliff face. He did the same again with his other limb, over and over until he reached the top. When he finally climbed over the top of the cliff and found himself in the quarry, which had last night been the scene of his escape, he had decided that the possibilities for these powers were endless. Surely if he could morph his hands into pickaxes to climb out of blasting pits, he could too form them into weapons to fight the cops the next time they tried to bust him; he could morph his whole body into earth and protect himself from bullets. He could become a nigh invulnerable wrecking machine.

But that was something to think about later, because by this time he had remembered the full events of last night, and more importantly he had remembered what had happened to Rem. The scene flashed in front of his eyes again; noise, gunpowder, blood, tiles. He ran as fast as he could back into the city and finally the neighbourhood of his birth. He arrived on his street to see it absolutely crawling with cops, blue and red lights reflecting off the window of the third storey apartment where Rem’s family lived.

Seven: Boyz' Betrayal

The first thing he did when he got back to his apartment in the Basement was to try and find out what had happened to his friends. After all, the last time he had seen them, one of them had a particularly nasty looking broken leg and another had been shot in the chest. The only one he could even hope wasn’t in hospital or dead right now was Eric, and that was his first port of call; Eric’s apartment four floors up. When he first knocked, there was no answer, but David wasn’t willing to give up that easy. He opened the letterbox and peered in. He knew Eric’s father would already be across town in the Garment District because he worked every hour he possibly could to feed his son, so if anybody was in, it would be Eric. He scanned the apartment and could see no signs of life. He yelled out, saying it was D.J. and that he was here about last night.

Nothing. He was about ready to give up, turn on his heel and go and see what somebody down on the street could tell him, despite knowing that anything anybody down there told him was probably little more than rumour and hearsay, the door opened behind him. David turned around to see what was left of Eric standing in the frame. He was not physically injured from what he could see; just vastly mentally traumatised. He was not the kid he had been the night before, minutes before they had entered the liquor store. Now he was a shell, a shell that had seen far too much for his tender age. He had bags under his dormant eyes, and his hands still trembled now, hours after the incident had happened. David realised very quickly that he was clearly having immense trouble dealing with what he had seen in the store that night, but before he could deal with that he had to find out one thing. He had to find out what had happened to Rem.

It turned out Rem had been taken to hospital almost immediately; the ambulance had turned up just before the cops. Who had called for it, nobody was sure. Whoever had called for it, Daivd was certain of one thing; Charon had left him to die on that shop floor just as he’d chased down David and almost killed him too. He appreciated the fact that of course, they had been committing a crime, but who screwed up their priorities so badly that they left a nineteen year old kid dying from a gunshot wound, bleeding slowly to death?

Jazz had done nothing more after having his leg broken. He had sunk down to the shop floor and passed out a few moments later. He had been taken to the hospital soon after Rem and from what Eric had heard around the Basement, he was in pretty good shape apart from the leg and would be out of the ward in a couple of days. He was probably going to go straight into police custody when he came out though. Rem was a different story. He was critical, and Eric had heard that he would be spending the next couple of days in surgery, trying to dig the buckshot out of his body and repair his collapsed lung. He was barely alive, and may as well have been a ghost, simply lingering for the time being.

Frank? Well, Frank, their getaway driver was actually the first of the gang to end up in custody. He’d just been sitting, engine blaring, waiting for the moment to slam his foot on the accelerator when a foot had slammed into him, smashing the window and crashing straight into the side of his head. He had been knocked out cold and stayed there until the cops turned up a while later, where he was immediately arrested and taken downtown.

Eric himself had laid low in the aisles, and could only come to the conclusion that both the storeowner and Charon had not noticed him. After David had fled, Charon had secured the owner to make sure he didn’t scramble for his shotgun again, had stopped to do something outside; and then had taken off into Kings Row. Eric had lain low for a few minutes, listening to the shopkeeper sob quietly, observing Rem’s twitching body until he finally passed out in shock. Eric took his opportunity, scrambled to his feet and left through the service door at the back of the counter. Immediately he sprinted to the nearest payphone and called for an ambulance; but no sooner had he placed the receiver back on the hook had one turned up.

He watched from a distance as they secured Rem and carefully carried him out of the store on a stretcher. Just as they were heading back in for Jazz, a second ambulance arrived on the scene; an ambulance Eric could only assume was the one he called for. After a short conversation between the two drivers, the first took off into the night and the second set about trying to get Jazz to hospital before he too bled to death from his mangled lower leg. It was just as they had closed the doors on this second ambulance that the cops turned up; Eric turned heel and fled into The Gish.

It was then that Eric told David of the strangest aspect of the night. Having arrived back in the Basement, around half an hour after the botched robbery had taken place, the first thing Eric did was go up to his apartment to see if his father was home. He was not, and the only other place he could think to go was down into the Basement of his tenement block, to tell the rest of the Basement Boyz exactly what had happened and to forewarn them that Charon was out for the Boyz; that their days may be numbered. By now, it was an hour later, and down in the Basement Eric saw a familiar face he did not expect to see; standing amongst Eric’s friends and comrades in the Basement Boyz was Charon. Eric did nothing to announce himself; instead, he simply sat on the staircase and listened.

Charon did Eric’s job well enough for him. In his droning, monotone voice he told them all exactly what had happened to Rem, Jazz and D.J. He told them that he could see the kind of conditions they lived in, and even that he could see how they thought crime was the only answer. He had been watching them for weeks and he was aware of the fact that they were at least somewhat honourable even if they were petty criminals. He told them that he had decided to give them a chance to survive, and so he gave them two choices. Either they could cease their lives of crime and become informants for Charon, his eyes and ears on the street that would report anything they heard to him so that he may stop the swarm of crime that was creeping across Kings Row’s streets; they could become hated informants, or they could go to jail, and Charon was quite clear in saying he couldn’t promise they would arrive there in one piece after the inevitable battle with him and the PPD.

The inevitable question was raised; if they became his informants how would they survive? Their only form of income was from the crimes they committed, and without that income both they and their families would fall back into squalor and eventually would starve to death. This of course was an extremely good question, after all the Basement Boyz had only been founded because the members themselves sought a better life through crime. Even for this Charon seemingly had an answer. He told the Boyz that he could give them whatever cash he recovered from criminals, and he would give them food and supplies; although he freely admitted that they would earn significantly less than they did now, but he was quick to remind them what the alternative to becoming his informants was; jail time.

David was enraged; not only had Charon left two of his best friends to bleed to death, but he had turned the rest of them against him. The first question David had was who exactly had agreed to this ridiculous ultimatum. When he found out that Eric had been one of the first to agree, he stormed out of his apartment, being followed by yells that it was the only way they could survive now; that their criminal careers were over.

For David, though, his criminal career was just starting. He had already been thinking about becoming a supervillain the moment he discovered his powers; this idea had been further solidified when Eric had told him about the end of the Basement Boyz, and that his friends had betrayed him. It became even clearer to him that crime was the only way when he arrived home that day to find his mother asleep on the couch, an empty vial of superadine lying on the floor.

A few days later, it spread through the neighbourhood that the worst had happened; the surgeons had been unable to save Rem. He died a painful death on a sunny Tuesday morning, and the whole of the Basement entered into grief for him. He had been a good kid, and everybody knew that his life of crime was only a product of hard times.

The final straw came a few weeks later. The shopkeeper, a Mr. Gregory Hume, was put on trial for manslaughter the moment the news of Rem’s death had arrived at the district attorney’s office. After a short trial, he was acquitted on grounds of self-defence and the defence of his property. After killing one of David’s best friends, he walked free. It was then that David decided once and for all that justice was a façade, that Charon was as much a murderer as Gregory Hume, and that the only way he could care for himself and his afflicted mother was to become Kings Row’s newest career criminal.

Eight: Questions

“So your buddies just betrayed you?” Kevin asked, wide eyed. It was as if this was the greatest story he had ever been told. He was hanging on Mr. Mud’s every word, anxious to hear what came next. Mud remembered the days when he had been like him. Fresh faced, cocky, pulling bank jobs with no regrets.

“Yeah. My buddies have a way of doing that.” As Mr. Mud said this, he sighed slightly and looked over to Spikeman, who still lay unconscious in his cage, looking extremely weak and feeble for a man who was able to push barbed, metal spikes through his skin. He couldn’t help but wonder, if Spike had decided not to bail on him and instead had teamed up on Statesman, would he still be heading back to Ziggursky right now? Probably not; they may have been able to subdue Statesman long enough to make an escape. There was no way they could have taken him, whole armies could fight Statesman and come out for the worst. But they certainly would have been able to serve up some kind of distraction and made it back out onto the streets of the Row. He was a disgrace, and Mud had already made up in his mind that he would never be working with him again. He had plenty of other villains he could call on to do jobs with, and all of them more reliable than this chump.

Mindswipe for one was a pretty good partner. They’d managed a successful string of robberies in 1994, and there was certainly nothing better than knowing that no one would even remember they’d been robbed long enough to file a crime report with the PPD. Mindswipe was a psychic, and they made the perfect combination; Mindswipe the brains, and Mr. Mud the brawn. Mindswipe was particularly talented in wiping people’s minds and concealing his presence, an invaluable talent to someone who attracted as much police attention as Mr. Mud did. He certainly made a better partner in crime than Spikeman, who apparently ran away at the first sign of trouble. Mr. Mud learnt a long time ago when to run and when to stand and fight, and Spike could certainly have stood to stay a little longer and help him out with the heaviest hitter in Paragon City. He and Mindswipe actually had a job in the works; they’d discovered something about the Clockwork King’s army that they could most certainly twist to their benefit. Being on the way to the Zig though, he supposed, meant that that plan would either never come to be or would go ahead without him.

Mindswipe was one of a rare breed. He wasn’t as fickle as the buddies he had once considered his comrades in The Basement Boyz, and he didn’t run out on a fight like Spikeman did. It was at this moment that Mud decided if he ever got out of this, he’d make a point of only drawing up plans for crimes with villains he knew would stick around to see them through, not run out the front door simply to catch a punch in the face from some other hero and end up in a Ziggursky transport.

“So what happened next? I mean… Your first real job can’t have gone as badly as mine, right?” Kevin said, wide eyed. This threw Mud off for two reasons. Firstly, Kevin was in an extremely good mood for a person who was on their way to their first detainment in Ziggursky Correctional Facility. There was no way he hadn’t heard about how bad things were up there, so why he wasn’t depressed or angry he wasn’t sure. Perhaps he was just in a complete state of denial, trying to convince himself that perhaps this truck wasn’t going to take him to a land of hardened criminals, brutal beatings and warring factions. Secondly, after how Mud had just so horribly described the robbery in which one of his friends was injured and another killed, how could Kevin not consider that robbery ‘real’? Had he not been listening to the ‘real’ tragedy that followed soon after? Did he only consider a robbery real if one was wearing a costume and wielding superpowers? Either way, Mud decided to humour him rather than berate him. He seemed like a nice enough kid and he was going to get enough of a shock when he landed up in the Zig, he didn’t need someone to chew him out right now, he needed a distraction. “Where did your costume come from? Did your pull your first job on your own?”

Mud came to the conclusion that unless he started talking again, these questions were going to become so never-ending that he wasn’t going to be able to answer them all before some imbecile in a warden’s uniform wrenched him out of his seat. Plus, telling these stories was keeping his mind off of landing up in the Zig as much as it was Kevin’s. So, he supposed he’d start at where he got the costume.

Nine: Preparation

The heat for the robbery died down after a few weeks. Jazz kept his mouth shut and didn’t sell his buddies out, and due to the trauma he experienced during the robbery was only given community service for a crime that could have seen him on the inside of a jail cell for several years. Eric became an informant with many of the rest of the Boyz, and David didn’t speak to him again properly until many years later and in very surreal circumstances. Rem’s funeral came and past, and David finally set about in starting his criminal career to provide for his mother, who was still trying to keep her addiction to superadine from her son.

The first step was finding out exactly what he could do, and to do this he would have to go somewhere secluded and where he wouldn’t be seen. He chose a building site in The Gish. Some mysterious benefactor had sponsored the building of this new orphanage for Kings Row back sometime in the late eighties, but had abandoned the project when it was half completed in 1990. Ever since, the site had lay half built, part house part building site, held up by scaffolding and temporary foundations. Most importantly however, it was completely deserted, with no visitors and no neighbours for a few blocks.

In his days there he managed to figure out a few things he was glad he hadn’t learnt in practice; if he shifted his whole body into mud and completely armoured himself, then he lost a large amount of his mobility and speed; he was nigh invulnerable but he was completely unable to move and his attacks were slow and sluggish. He learnt quickly to only armour certain areas of his body to retain mobility and dexterity. He was also very fast in picking up the limitations of his powers; he could only morph his limbs into crude weapons. Complicated structures were beyond his reach. Soon he mastered forming clubs, hammers and enlarged fists, as well as other blunt objects quickly and with ease, but it was at this point that it became clear to him that swinging his hands around while formed into these objects would effect his balance. After some testing, he found that by armouring his legs in thick layers of earth he was able to maintain his footing no matter how much he enlarged his arms, or how bigger or unwieldy weapon he morphed his fist into. He had started to master optimal ways to use his powers for both defence and offence.

Escape was his next milestone; how could he use these powers to get away, if he had to do so? Running was fine when you were being chased by cops or an unpowered vigilante, but he knew that when he started committing crimes as a costumed supervillain he was going to attract the attention of the big leaguers, the ones who could fly and leap tall buildings. Of course at this point he hadn’t tried leaping tall buildings himself; something he realised he could do only days later after posing this question to himself. He had extremely powerful legs, which allowed him to leap great distances. Surely if he had developed super strength enough to be able to leap buildings, he had developed enough to be able to lift things beyond the limitations of the average human?

He should have realised his strength sooner, being able to lift his limbs while morphed into three-foot hammers of solid earth and being able to stand the strain of the armour he was carrying on his body were both immense feats. With some experimentation, he found out that it was within his power to lift a ton, maybe a little more, but anything more than that caused him great physical strain. So he wasn’t on the same level as Statesman, but with the amazing powers he’d developed, who cared if his super strength wasn’t exactly up to scratch?

After a few weeks of discovering the exact workings and limitations of his powers, David decided it was finally time to start planning his first job. After all, times were getting desperate; his mother was taking more superadine than ever now, and an eviction notice had been served on their apartment. He needed the money not only to wean his mother off the drugs she had become so frightfully addicted to, but also to stop the pair of them from being thrown out on the street. There had been no steady income in their household for months, and the money he had left from his days in the Basement Boyz was all but gone. Now that he had come to get a feel for his powers, he felt it was about time to use them.

Except, there was one problem. His powers had a way of destroying his clothes. After all, they did not shift and morph with him, and they were very often simply ripped away from his body or destroyed. There was hope though. His neighbourhood was one that was home to many career criminals, both of the average and superpowered kind. For the super variety there was a great trade in costumes; after all every superpowered criminal in all of Paragon City wanted to protect their identity, if not only to hide their lives from loved ones then to keep the PPD from breaking their door down at three in the morning and dragging them off to Police HQ. There were shady joints all over Paragon where a guy could buy a costume to conceal his identity, but none more reputable or respected than ‘Incognito’.

The store was actually named after its owner. Back in the fifties, Tony Delsante had been the supervillain known as Incognito, a master of disguise and a paragon of deception. He had had no powers whatsoever, instead relying on his ability to impersonate, blend in and infiltrate. He was also a great scientist, able to create synthetic masks that could change shape, allowing him to shift identity without even returning to his HQ. Truly, he had been one of the great villains of his time, and now he dedicated his retirement to creating costumes and disguises for the next generation of Paragon’s villains. If anyone could come up with something for David’s new life as Mr. Mud, Tony could.

He went to see him the next day, and spelled out his predicament. Tony had an answer David knew was the most obvious, but all the same he never would have thought of it. He sent David back to the site of his accident to retrieve some more of the goo that had granted him his powers, and a sample of the rock from the bottom of the pit. After all, if this stuff could cause a human to be able to shift into earth and mud, surely it could be spliced with material to create the same effect in Mr. Mud’s costume? David went back to the quarry the next day, determined to come back with the stuff Mr. Delsante needed.

What he found was not the fully functional quarry he had fallen into only weeks earlier. Instead, he discovered a barren wasteland. The ‘Crey Industries’ sign he had failed to notice the first time he had passed it was the only thing that remained of the site, and even that swung on a single nail, as if someone had hastily tried to wrench it free from the board it was attached to in their desperation to leave. The machinery, the materials, everything except the vast canyon in the dusty floor had disappeared. David’s immediate thoughts were of course that the barrels may well have simply disappeared and it seemed as if this assumption may have been correct.

When he reached the edge of the pit and stared downwards as he had done those weeks ago, the barrel that had been lying next to him had completely disappeared. The pit itself however had grown larger. The gaping hole he had formed in the canyon wall when he had pulled the barrel free was now huge; he could only assume that he had uncovered what they were looking for and now that they’d found it they had no use for the site anymore. David wasn’t one to give up so easily.

Morphing his hands into pickaxes just as he had done those weeks ago, he slowly lowered himself into the pit, being careful not to take the great fall he had suffered before; he was sure it had been the liquid that had saved him before, but he wasn’t sure that he could survive such a drop again. He arrived safely at the bottom of the quarry to find nothing. He was almost ready to turn and leave when the sun caught it; a small pool of the mysterious serum that lay exactly where he had landed. Victorious, he gathered a sample into one of the test tubes Tony had given him, and a rock sample into the other.

From there everything went pretty fast. Tony had made his costume up within a week; a straight forward black and brown body suit, domino mask, fingerless gloves and combat boots as well as a utility belt that held many things he may need for escape and emergency; a medical kit, flashlight and radio tuned to police frequency were it’s first inhabitants. All of these vital costume pieces had been constructed from a material spliced with the serum recovered from the quarry site, and just as his body shifted into earth and reformed into flesh and blood, they returned to the durable material they had been constructed from. He was now completely prepared for his first job.

By the mid-fall of 1991, Mr. Mud found himself standing across the street from the National Bank in the Gish, psyching himself up to walk in the front door and walk out with thousands in cold, hard cash.

Ten: The Job

The answers to Kevin’s other two questions were fairly easy to answer. Yes, regrettably, he had embarked on his first job on his own, and with yet more regret he had to admit that it had almost gone as horribly wrong as Kevin’s. So much so, in fact, that he mentally scalded himself for having condemned Kevin for his lack of a plan; seven years ago as he walked towards that bank door, he hadn’t had much of a plan either.

His mud fist connected with the outside wall of the bank with such force that the very foundations of the building shook as his hand disappeared through hole he had created in the bricks. He drew his fist back and slammed it into the side of the building again, a little higher this time, creating a hole big enough for him to step into the main bank. Sure, the door was only a few feet away but he loved to make an entrance.

As his foot hit the solid marble floor on the inside of the bank, it suddenly occurred to him how many people were afraid of him. Screams rose from the people who had thrown themselves to the floor; others were scrambling for the revolving door and running across the street, screaming for help. At the time, he was on too much of an adrenaline rush to realise that he was in the middle of Paragon City, a metropolis that was literally swarming with superheroes. It didn’t occur to him that if people were running down the streets screaming for help, help probably wasn’t that far away.

Just as he was morphing his fist back into simple flesh and blood, he was morphing other areas of his body, armouring himself in jagged earth, making himself look bigger, stronger and altogether as if he was to be feared. As areas of his body turned to hardened earth and rock, more screams rose from the crowd; it was as if now the people could see his power, they were even more afraid than they were when a huge fist slammed through the wall of an ordinary bank on an otherwise ordinary day.

It was strange in a way; sad that many of the older customers were already lying on their chests, hands on the back of their heads with their valuables laid out in front of them. Paragon City, and more specifically Kings Row was so crime ridden, that these people had mastered the procedure to go through if they didn’t want to get hurt. Stay down, shut up, and hand over your valuables. Luckily for them, Mr. Mud was after the big score, he wasn’t interested in taking their watches or their pocket change.

He yelled for the patrons to shut up; in all this chaos he was trying to consider the next move of his very vague plan. To his surprise, the whole place fell silent, and he realised just how much power his abilities gave him. Remembering he was on a schedule, he walked quickly to the cashiers’ counter, mud dropping from his armour and bouncing off of the marble floor. In a switch moment he lifted his hand over his head, morphing it into crude earth hammerhead as he did so, and brought it smashing down, splintering wood and metal, and clearing enough room under the bullet proof glass for him to drag one of the employees from their hiding place.

Of course, they immediately asked him who he was; this was a question he heard for a few years until his face became recognisable enough to link to the name. His answer appeared in all the local newspapers the next day, despite being not particularly intelligent or witty. He supposed they spelled out exactly what kind of criminal he was, though. ‘Mr. Mud. Where’s the vault?’

He soon found that this random cashier he’d pulled from beneath the counter was in fact the manager, and was even more surprised when he pointed out exactly where Mud needed to go. Satisfied, he dropped the manager to the floor and rammed the reinforced door that led to the vault, his shoulder encased in hardened soil. The door came clean away from its hinges, and Mud stumbled into the room beyond. He was now standing only four feet from his prize and with only one thing standing in his way; the vault door.

It took all of his strength, and a fist that was almost as big as he was, but he finally managed to put so much pressure on the door that it bent, leaving an opening at one side. Forming his hands into thin wedges, he slipped them into the gap and broke the door open, using his hands as makeshift crowbars, applying all the pressure he could to bend a big enough gap for him to step through. It took only seconds before he had created a gap big enough, and there it was, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. This was more money than he had ever seen, let alone ever had in his possession.

Hastily, he opened one of the pockets on his utility belt and pulled out a sack. Adrenaline pumping, he began to shovel bundles of notes into it, thousands and thousands of dollars. All he could think about was the new apartment he could move into, the new car he could buy, but most importantly he could wean his mother away from drugs, he could book her into rehab and he could pay for her to have a better life. Just as he was lost in this fantasy world of what could have been, he heard horrible screech of metal as the vault door was ripped from it’s hinges and a deafening clang as it was thrown to the floor.

He turned around just in time to feel the metal fist connect with his face, busting his nose for the first time in what he assumed would be many. Standing in front of him, of course, was one of the reasons he had to do this in the first place. He had just caught a punch from Back Alley Brawler. He was quite proud of himself for managing to stay conscious.

This wasn’t the first time he’d been caught by the Brawler. Back in 1986, before the Basement Boyz and long before there had been a Mr. Mud, he’d started mugging on the streets to pay rent. It was the day he mugged some old lady that the Brawler had caught him. He had been scared out of his wits, thinking he’d go to jail for sure. Just as the leader of the Regulators was about to launch into some speech on the evils of crime and how to make a better life and yadda yadda yadda, he had heard gunshots a few blocks away. When the hero had returned to check on David, he had disappeared.

And with any luck, he could pull the same disappearing act this time. The Brawler said something about nobody getting away with anything in this neighbourhood, but Mr. Mud barely heard him as he launched his attack, armouring his shoulders in jagged earth and tackling the hero to the floor in desperation. As the Brawler slid across the vault floor, scrambling to regain his footing, Mud armoured himself up, leaving only his head and utility belt uncovered.

The Brawler came in fast, fists flying. Before he could react, Mud had taken several shots to the midsection, and was actually surprised at how much he could feel the blows despite the armouring. Ducking to the side, Mud returned fire by forming his fist into a mud mallet and bringing it crashing down on the back of the Brawler’s head as he attempted a tackle, and then again on his back as he crashed to his knees.

Just as he swung it around his head in time to bring down a final crushing blow on the Brawler’s head in an attempt to knock him out cold, an uppercut hit him in the chin with the force of a truck, sending him flying through the open door and back onto the marble floor of the bank.

Sirens were whirring outside as the Brawler rampaged towards him through the open doorway. David lifted his legs as flesh and bone, but by the time they connected with the Back Alley Brawler’s stomach and sent him stumbling back, they had become earth as hard as concrete.

Scrambling to his feet, Mud shifted his whole body back to it’s human state and dived through the hole he had made during his entrance, only to be met on the outside by a fleet of squad cars and dozens of cops; guns drawn, looks of concentration lay perfectly on their faces.

Looking back through the hole he had created in the bank wall, he saw the Brawler bolting towards him again. Desperate, he went the only way there was to go; Down.

Shifting his fist to be at least three feet wide, he slammed it into the sidewalk creating a shockwave that momentarily threw off both the aim of the police officers and the advance of the Brawler. Another smash of his fist into the city street and he had created a hole big enough for him to jump down into; straight into the city sewer system.

From there, he ran. Fight or flight, and now the latter was the better option. At times, he had thought he’d heard the Brawler behind him, but if the superhero had ascended below the city streets to follow him, he had never caught up. By the time he was sure he had put a few miles between himself, the law and the Brawler, he switched on his flashlight and searched for an exit.

The manhole cover slid to the side, and Mud raised his head above ground to see where he was; a back alley in Skyway City. He listened. There were no sirens that he could hear, no commotion, just the usual movement of people through city streets and cars across elevated highways.

He opened the sack, which he had managed to keep hold of throughout the fight with the Brawler. Bundles of notes had fallen out as he’d been thrown around, but he was sure there was still a significant amount in there. He counted it slowly in the back alley, and found that he had walked away with twenty thousand dollars. Some villains would have called this haul a failure, but for David this was a life-changing amount of cash.

Almost better than the money was the buzz; not only had he gotten away with robbing one of the biggest banks in Kings Row, but he had stood toe to toe with Back Alley Brawler, traded punches and had even escaped to tell the tale. He had made a fool out of the PPD, the adrenaline was still pumping, and yes, he was twenty thousand dollars richer. He had a broken nose and a swollen face to show for it, too.

As a squad car slowly passed by the end of the alleyway, he ducked behind a wall, and after it had finally passed he jumped back through the manhole he had come from. It was about time he found an exit closer to home.

Eleven: The Road to Ziggursky

“You know, I tried that.” Kevin said. “I got caught because the damn manhole was stuck.”

Honestly, he’d heard plenty of stories like that before. Either the manhole was stuck on the fire escape wouldn’t budge when they pulled it, or the door was locked or something. It was always the fault of some inanimate object as to why the guys he was talking to hadn’t been caught; not that he hadn’t been guilty of using this excuse once or twice, but at least when he said it, it was almost always true.

“Yeah, I hear that a lot.” Mud said, and couldn’t help but laugh. No one ever wanted to admit that it was there own damn fault they ended up in the Zig. Always the cop or some hero who never got off their ass or, god forbid, the manhole that wouldn’t open. Kevin laughed with him, and soon enough they were in fits of laughter. Mud wasn’t even sure what he was laughing at, but just like telling the story of his life, this was keeping his mind off of the destination of his journey.

“Hey. Hey! Shut the hell up in there.” Came the scream, and Mud turned his head just in time to see Officer Francis in the doorway. Every criminal on the street knew Francis; he had once been a hot shot Detective until he was put on the DeMarco case, the one Mr. Mud was determined must have somehow been linked to Charon. Anyway, he’d failed to find out anything about the case, let alone who killed her due to his main witnesses and all his leads being killed in the fire that had consumed the Cloud 9 bar in 1989. Since then he’d been ridiculed, shifted onto lower priority cases and finally demoted to guard duty. Now he spent every night sitting in one of the Ziggursky trucks, yelling at any villains who happened to get out of line. Mr. Mud had never met him back when he was a homicide detective, but now that he was little more than a glorified prison guard he wasn’t the nicest of guys. Mud kept laughing in the hope that Francis would come over, open his cell and try to make something of it. Unfortunately, all he got was a disgusted sneer, and then Francis disappeared to go and check one of the other trucks.

“Man,” Kevin rasped between breaths. “That guy seems like an asshole.”

“Yeah, he is. You’ll see a lot worse when we get up to Ziggursky, though.” Mud replied, finally regaining his composure and realising that the whole of his body now ached a lot more than it had done before he burst into fits of laughter. Holding his head, he sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. It was a pretty obvious statement to make in his own head, but he couldn’t help but think about how much he hated being electrocuted.

“You’ve, um,” Kevin stalled for his words, probably thinking about the most tactical way to ask a villain about what were probably the worst times of his life, “ You’ve been up there before?”

The answer was yes. David had been to Ziggurksy Correctional Facility. In fact he had only just gotten out of prison earlier that year in the spring of 1998. In total he’d done two stretches, one back in 1993 and another from 1996 until a couple of months before this latest capture, and the truth was being there wasn’t almost as bad as coming out and trying to pick up what was left of your life. That said, being up there was still a terrible thing in itself. Those were two pretty good reasons as to why he wasn’t exactly looking forward to going back.

“Yeah. Couple of times.” Mud said, without opening his eyes and trying to concentrate on dulling the throbbing that coursed throughout his entire body, starting in his abdomen where he had been shocked, surging up to his head and then back down to his feet. Even with his eyes closed, he could see Kevin grimace. Even a guy who was on his first day as a supervillain knew how bad the Zig was if only by reputation and he could already tell Kevin was feeling sorry for him.

What was still strange though is that the only time Kevin had shown fear or shock was in reaction to what Mud told him. Was he not afraid of being locked up himself? Living in a four foot by four foot cell, getting a few hours of exercise a day and listening to your friends and contacts being kicked around by wardens and other inmates alike? Was he not absolutely terrified of wasting away for the next few years? Mud could still only come to one conclusion; he was in denial, trying not to think about the life that lay ahead of him, trying not to admit to himself that he’d gotten involved in a mug’s game and that truly, crime didn’t pay.

“How did you land up in there? You seem like a pretty resourceful guy, I mean, you escaped Charon, Back Alley Brawler even!” Kevin said, as if he was now Mr. Mud’s biggest fan. In a slightly more solemn tone, he asked another question, this one without quite so much excitement or enthusiasm. “What’s it like?”

“It sucks.” This frank and somewhat unintelligent assessment hadn’t come from Mud, and he turned his head to see that Jumpsuit had finally awoken from the apparent coma he’d been lying in for the last forty-five minutes or so.

“Cloud Runner?” was Mud’s immediate question.

“Xanatos.” Jumpsuit replied, rubbing his head and trying to get to his feet.

“Tough break.” Mr. Mud said, remembering the few times he had come into contact with Xanatos. Every time he’d escaped, but it usually took a long time to smash all the ice off, and that was without even mentioning the annoying and far too cheesy boy scoutish chatter he spouted as he tried to ‘bring you to justice.’

“Anyway, I didn’t end up there for a while,” Mud continued, turning back to Kevin, “I guess I just aimed a little high…”

Twelve: One More Score

For a while, things had been great. David appeared in all the local newspapers the day after his first robbery, and was even featured on page 13 of the Paragon Times with the headline ‘Who is Mr. Mud?’

After that, a string of robberies followed, all over Paragon City. Within months he had made thousands, and by the time early 1992 rolled around, his mother was in rehab and he was looking at apartments in Atlas Park to move her into. It had taken a while to get her to admit that she had a problem but as soon as she had broken down in tears and told him the extent of her addiction, she was ready to try and beat the disease she was stricken with. The first step was admitting her problem, and now she had set about beating it.

David himself had moved into a new apartment down in the Kings Garment District. It was hardly the Ritz, but it was certainly much better than the flee and cockroach ridden apartment he had shared with his mother back in the Basement. Plus, he needed a base of operations that wasn’t too high profile; he could move his mother into a nice apartment in a nice part of town, there was no way they were going to suspect a woman in her fifties of being the supervillain known as Mr. Mud. David himself though, he had to keep his spending down just in case the cops came knocking one day.

Of course, his mother had questions; she became suspicious extremely quickly when he came home after the first robbery with a thousand bucks in his back pocket. That suspicion had only grown when he had moved into his own apartment and started looking for another, for when she left rehab. She knew better than to trust her son off the bat, and had interrogated him quite thoroughly. He’d thought quickly on his feet and told her he’d secured a job on the docks, even going so far as to invent a promotion and claim he’d recently been bumped up to a supervisor’s position. She trusted him. In her mind, the money David was throwing around was perfectly legitimate; she had no reason to suspect her son after that.

Life was good. Not only had Mr. Mud pulled off several successful jobs of his own but also he’d begun to make contacts in the underworld to plan more ambitious robberies with. He had even been noticed by some of Kings Row’s crimelords, who had noted his vast strength and invulnerability. Before he knew it he was acting as bodyguard for Vegas, a Sicilian Mafia boss who had somehow rose from the dead back in the seventies. Mr. Mud thought it pretty weird, but he didn’t ask, he just did what he was paid to do.

His talents as a bodyguard and enforcer spread through Kings Row quickly. Soon he was not only taking jobs from the undead mafia, but from such high profile criminals as The General, a Russian gun runner who was now more machine than he was human, and even ‘Knuckles’ LaRusso, one of the most high profile crime bosses in the Row. Mud’s reputation didn’t span much beyond the Row itself, but in his hometown he was living the high life.

But even with such great career prospects, a criminal life style and cash-in-hand payments every month from bosses all over town, David soon grew bored. Sure, in his life as Mr. Mud he got to protect plenty of notorious criminals, and was involved in numerous fights with vigilantes and superheroes. It was just that after a while he began to miss that buzz, the adrenaline rush he got from his robberies. Many a time he would recall his first job, fighting Back Alley Brawler and barely escaping into the sewers, and with the memory of the events came the memory of the rush, which seemed even better in retrospect. All this dirty work for mob bosses was well and good but he missed the thrill of a real job.

1993 rolled around, and just as David was beginning to have pangs for those first few jobs, a priceless diamond was moved to the one and only museum that Kings Row had ever been able to boast. The arrival of this diamond was all over the newspapers, and the choice to place it in one of the most rundown museums in not only Paragon City but on the entirety of the East Coast was a controversial one amongst collectors and intellectuals.

Just as this diamond was on the lips of every lover of high culture in Paragon City, it was on the lips of every criminal. As Mr. Mud, David had begun to frequent many of the underground bars that littered Kings Row, only because they were good places to find leads on crimelords who were hiring or vulnerable vaults to steal from, but all he ever heard these days was that someone ought to steal this diamond; it was ripe for the picking, just no one had the guts to pull it from the tree.

A couple of guys tried and failed; The Reflector tried to enter the museum through a priceless mirror, only to take one step out of the dimension he had used to travel there and put his foot straight through an invisible laser, triggering the silent alarm.

Bulldozer had already tried doing things the way Mr. Mud usually worked, running straight through the wall of the bank, punching out any rent-a-cops that got in his way and trying to simply walk out the front door, diamond in hand. He had almost succeeded it was baffling to admit. As stupid and ill thought out as his plan was, Bulldozer was very good at living up to his name and simply ploughed everyone that got in his way into unconsciousness. That was, of course, until the Freedom Phalanx had turned up.

Murmurings continued to spread long after Bulldozer was given a three-year sentence; only days after The Reflector had gone down for a similar amount of time. But even seeing these acquaintances of his on the stand, something within Mr. Mud was pulling at him to give this a try. Someone had to steal that diamond, and why couldn’t he be the man to do it?

Of course, at this point in his career, Mr. Mud had been young and naïve, and had not yet learned the mantra Mud would live by in later life, ‘Only steal it if you need it.’ At the time, Mr. Mud not only hungered for the money he could sell the diamond for, especially if he went to someone like The Trader or Blackjack, but for the rush he would surely get leaving that museum with the priceless diamond clasped in his hand.

For a few weeks, he planned and schemed and finally came up with a brilliant but extremely simple plan, so simple in fact that it might just be crazy enough to work. He staked out the building and learnt the shifts of the various patrolmen who worked the graveyard hours, and more importantly he plotted the locations of the security cameras. When he was finally prepared on a cold night in the late January of 1993, he put his plan into action.

Thirteen: Ohms

The trash can hit the camera with such force that it actually came off of the wall. That was something he hadn’t planned; he just wanted to make enough of a commotion outside that the security guard would come outside to investigate, but not enough that he’d call the cops straight off the bat. Luckily, even in destroying the camera completely he achieved his objective.

A couple of minutes later some dopey looking kid cautiously tip toed into the alleyway, adjusting the tie on his uniform out of simple and unhidden fear. Suspiciously, he shone his flashlight in every corner and hiding place he could think of, and when he was finally satisfied that maybe a cat jumped from the roof and landed on the camera or maybe a strong gust of wind had simply pulled it off the wall and sent it crashing to the floor, he turned around to go back to his warm, comfortable office chair behind the security desk, stopping to pick up the broken camera and take it with him.

Of course, he never got there. The man that the security camera over the inside doorway saw walk back into the museum wearing the security guard’s uniform was not Fred, nor was he anyone on the museum’s payroll. The man wearing Fred’s uniform was of course David Dirt, better known as Mr. Mud, and more importantly, he had Fred’s security keycard held firmly in his hand. The real Fred was unconscious; the real Fred was lying in the same trashcan that had only minutes before caused the disturbance he had gone to investigate.

Mud had discerned in the few weeks he had spent staking the place out that the security room was, rather stupidly he felt, completely controlled by a keycard. Each security guard had a copy of this keycard, and only one security guard was on duty between the hours of 2-4am on a Thursday. Every other day, there were two of them; a slight security hole, and a hole that Mud was perfectly willing to exploit.

The main security room was right behind the main reception desk, and consisted of three panels. One controlled the security cameras, another controlled the silent alarms and a third controlled the lockdown system, which was only to be activated if a robbery was in progress. Luckily for Mr. Mud, there was now nobody around to switch on the lockdown, and he’d already secured the measures needed to shut down the silent alarms. The only problem was the cameras, which he had learnt could be remotely viewed by a security firm who handled the museum’s systems. He wasn’t willing to switch the cameras off and have someone at their office call the cops; he was just going to have to hope that if anybody was watching him, the uniform would lure them into thinking he was Fred, at least until it was too late for them to stop him and the diamond was securely in his hand.

The silent alarms, at least, were a completely on-site installation, meaning he could switch them off without any third party ever having known he had done so. He slid the keycard into its position on the panel. He was sweating now, the adrenaline he had longed for finally kicking in. The panel didn’t even ask him for a password, something he hadn’t been sure about; he’d managed to pick up most of the information he knew about the security systems by reading the newspapers and listening to the security guards talk as they had their late night cigarette breaks, but this was one detail they hadn’t mentioned. Luckily it wasn’t a problem and he was immediately prompted to select the alarms he wished to disable.

With the security measures out of the way, all there was left to do was go and take the diamond itself. He was very aware of the fact that he may have been being watched from some security company’s headquarters somewhere in Founders Falls or Steel Canyon, one of those rich places in town, and as such he took care to tread very carefully and look as if he was patrolling for thieves; he was just trying as hard as he could not to act like one himself.

As he neared the main exhibit room, he began to hear noises everywhere. The echoing of his own footsteps on the marble floors prompted him to look around and make sure a cop or a hero or anything else for that matter wasn’t following him. There was nothing though, and soon enough he was standing in the doorway of a room that seemed to positively glow with the light that beamed from the centre of the priceless diamond within. He took a step forward and found it within arms length, encaged in a glass case, just begging to be taken.

Slowly, he lifted the glass, taking a glance behind him to see if the camera was watching him. It was. If anyone was keeping an eye on the monitors all those miles away, the game would be up if he didn’t get out of here soon.

Hastily, he snatched up the diamond and half expected to turn and find Back Alley Brawler’s fist buried in his face again, but there was no one there, no one but the marble floors, the ancient pots and the empty suits of armour. He had thought he’d gotten away with it, until he walked from the exhibit room and saw a superhero blocking his exit back onto the streets of the Row.

He didn’t announce himself, which was extremely strange for the heroes of Paragon City. Usually they liked you to know exactly who was busting you. This guy stood at ease with the silence and patience of a military man, waiting for his prey to arrive. He wore black spandex with blue highlights in places, most prominently over one eye. On his chest was a symbol Mud recognised from one of the days when he’d been bothered to turn up to High School physics class; it was a letter from the Greek alphabet, and from what he could remember, it had something to do with electricity.

For a moment, the hero’s silence threw him. So much so that he couldn’t even make up his mind whether this guy even was a hero; maybe he was another villain trying to take his score? Either way, he wasn’t going to find out. The patrol guard’s uniform ripped and fell to the floor to reveal Mud’s costume as he armoured his body and formed his hand into a club of solid earth, bringing it crashing down where the hero stood.

He had moved in seconds, diving to the right and rolling effortlessly across the stainless floor. Mud turned just in time to see the hero’s hands begin to glow a light hue of blue. A nexus swirled around his fist, lighting up the room. In a flash, an arc of electricity flew from his hand and connected with Mud’s armour, jolting his body backwards before fizzling out.

Angry that he had felt the shock, Mud rampaged forward, both of his hands formed into huge mallets of soil, clumsily trying to squash the hero to the floor; his hands connected with nothing but marble, leaving huge potholes in the pristine design.

This guy was too fast to catch, he was quick and agile; not only could he throw lightning itself from his hands but he had lightning reflexes to boot.

As the hero ducked under another violent swing of the earth hammer, his hands began to crackle with charged static, created a snapping sound that could barely be heard over the sound of Mud’s fist slamming into the lobby wall.

Within seconds, he was battering at Mud’s armour with hands that glowed a brilliant blue, sending shocks through Mud’s very bones; the attacks were dulled by the solid earth that lined his body, but the punches were so highly charged that these jolts were still excruciating.

Just as smoke began to rise from the cracks in his armour from flesh beginning to sear, Mr. Mud finally regained his composure. He scooped the hero up in a huge morphed hand and with a roar from the pain that swelled in his abdomen, slammed him to the floor.

Years later, Mud realised he should have quit while he was ahead; he had temporarily stalled the hero, he still had the diamond in his hand and the door was literally feet away. But no, the pain of the electrical burn on his chest spurned his rage. He shifted his foot into earth as hard as brick, and brought it crashing down towards the hero’s head. A second lesson he would learn later in life, ‘Never stay just to settle a score.’

Two blue and black gloves rose in a flash and grabbed Mud’s foot in mid-air. A surge of electricity began to flow through the hero’s body, through his chest, washing over his shoulders and through his arms, crackling and snapping as it entered Mud’s foot and electrified his armour. The earth dulled the massive shock, but Mud still stumbled backwards, screaming out in pain as the charge surged relentlessly through his central nervous system.

Another arc of electricity hit his body as he struggled to push himself up from one knee and continue fighting. A second flash and clap; this blast had hit him in the shoulder, jolting his body backwards and disorientating him further.

In a flash, he saw the supercharged punch flying for his head, a final shot perfectly designed to knock him unconscious, a blow to end the battle. It took all the energy he had left to lift his armoured hand and grab it. He twisted the closed fist violently to one side, causing the blue and black defender to grimace and yell out in pain as something inside his lower arm snapped. With the only energy he had left, Mud lifted the hero off the ground and threw him to one side; it was time he left.

Stumbling towards the door in a dazed stupor that could only be caused by chain electrocutions, Mud held firmly onto the diamond he had worked so hard to steal. He needed a doctor, but there were plenty of guys back in the Basement who catered specifically to supervillains and could treat electrical burns. He had no worries about his health, as long as he escaped.

Just as he was stretching out his hand to pull open the door that lead into the main lobby, he heard the words that made him abandon all hope. ‘Lockdown initiated.’

He turned his head to see Fred standing in the security room, the keycard firmly placed in the slot in the panel. Of course, he understood now. This hero had been flying past when he saw Fred passed out in a dumpster. Fred had revealed all, and set about calling the cops and initiating lockdown while the hero distracted him. It was a simple plan, almost as simple as his own, which had just failed miserably.

Four feet of solid steel dropped down over the door in front of him, locking him into the museum. Just as he was raising his fist to try and smash his way through the iron shutters, he felt the hand on his lower back. Not on his armour, a realisation Mud came to entirely too late. This hand had managed to find flesh and bone, not only that, but it had managed to find the base of his spinal cord.

A thousand volts shot through his spine, causing his muscles to go into spasms. The mud dropped away from his body, returning him again to flesh, blood and tissue. His eyes rolled back into his head before he made an attempt to grab for something to keep him on his feet. There was nothing; the world span and crashed to black.

Fourteen: Trial

He woke up where he had passed out, on the museum floor. Except now it was day, and cops surrounded him, dozens and dozens of cops. On his wrists were the heavy-duty cuffs he would come to know a lot about in his criminal career. Somehow they had a way of disabling most if not all superpowers, making any attempt at escape a futile exercise. He doubted he could have escaped even if the cuffs had been taken off. His whole body ached and throbbed. He really hated being electrocuted.

He hadn’t known who the guy had been that attacked him, and nor would he for a long time after. Years later, around 2001 long after his conversation with Kevin McKenel, Mud would come to know the hero as Ohms, the self proclaimed Defender of the Resistance; he would even make the connection between the guy that had sent him for his first six months behind bars and the 'Ohms' who had busted Kevin in 1998. But for now he would have no idea who had sent him up to the big house; something that made his hatred of those ‘electrical guys’ even more fierce.

Despite his relatively low level of infamy as far as supervillains went in Paragon City, Mr. Mud had still managed to find some friends in high places. The moment he arrived at the Paragon Police Department Headquarters in mid-Kings Row, a lawyer had already arrived there from the office of Frank LaRusso. Before David knew it, Frank himself had pulled some strings and he wasn’t even facing charges for the theft of the diamond anymore; somehow Frank had managed to get the commissioner of police to forget that minor detail as a discrepancy. By the time he stood in the dock in late January, he was only facing charges of assault against Frederick Tyler, who was determined to press charges for the blow he had taken to the back of the head.

David Dirt of course protested his innocence in front of a jury of his peers. He lied to his mother and told her that he was being framed, stitched up; the charge for the diamond theft had been dropped, so surely there couldn’t have been anything in this at all?

David was amazed at Frank’s power within the community. Not only had he managed to ‘convince’ the commissioner to drop the main charge, which could have seen David on the inside of a cell for several years, but all evidence of David being Mr. Mud disappeared from police HQ. This fact was never raised in the trial; David Dirt was instead charged and tried as himself with no superhuman alias.

Frank even managed to pull some strings and keep the papers from reporting the fact that David was in fact the supervillain Mr. Mud, despite the fact that all the major press offices had managed to catch a shot of him in the Mr. Mud costume without his domino mask. It was a small saving grace, as for a while he was able to keep his double life from his mother.

She turned up to his trial everyday to support him, to watch this terrible injustice unfold, completely oblivious to the fact that her son was becoming a hardened career criminal and was hoping beyond hope that his murderous gangster employer and his team of lawyers would be able to get him off to steal another day.

Unfortunately, even with help from higher places and a team of crack lawyers, the fact remained that David’s likeness had been caught on the security cameras in the museum, evidence too damning for the jury not to convict him. On a cold February 2nd, he was found guilty and was detained in the cells in Police Headquarters to await being transferred to Ziggursky Correctional Facility to serve a year’s worth of jail time for his attack on Tyler.

His mother met with Frank’s lawyers, and they made plans for an appeal. She told David herself that she was going to get him out of jail, free him of the injustice he had faced at his trial. She was utterly convinced that her son was incapable of the crimes he had been convicted for. He was just a humble dockworker, slogging away every day for the wages he brought home. That was, until the media frenzy started.

It just took one newspaper to break the silence before all of them did the same. On the front of The Court laid the headline ‘Convicted Criminal is Mr. Mud’, with one of the forbidden shots of a maskless Mr. Mud being carried out of the museum by two police officers. His likeness was undeniable. Soon enough it was on the local news; David revealed, telling the reporter to ‘get that damn camera out of my face’. It spread to the other papers and news channels like wildfire.

Soon enough, The Court ran an article on Mr. Mud’s career so far, an article that Ms. Dirt read with absolute horror. Bank robberies, muggings, assault, battery, breaking and entering. She read about his links to crime bosses. The General, Vegas, even Frank LaRusso. She stared hard into the steely gaze of the man being dragged out of the museum, and she knew in that instant that this was her son. This was the man she had raised to become a petty thief, a criminal.

He had not been able to contact his mother in the last few weeks, since the media began to report his double life as Mr. Mud. He wanted to talk to her, to explain that he had done it all for them, to keep them away from the terrible life they had been dragged through. He wanted to tell her that he had done it to keep her away from the drugs and him from becoming just another nobody. He wanted to tell her that he was sorry.

He was told the news by one of his lawyers the day before he was due to be transferred to the Ziggurat. She had died early on a Wednesday morning. The cause of her death was an overdose of superadine, which had been washed down with the best half of a bottle of vodka. She had choked on her own vomit at sometime around three in the morning, and her body was found in their old apartment building back in the Basement, sometime the next day.

He immediately told his lawyers to cancel any appeals or retrials, and that he would no longer have any need of their services. This was the last time he spoke for the next few days. He simply sat in his cell and stared at the wall.

They had allowed him compassionate leave before he was taken to the Ziggurat to attend her funeral, deciding that it was better to detain him in Police Headquarters for a few more days rather than transport him to Brickstown. He was strangely silent as his police escort lead him to the church, and said not a word during the funeral. When he was invited to speak he declined to do so.

He knew, no matter what cause of death his lawyers cited to him, or what technicalities her doctors explained to him; he knew that no matter what the priest said as they committed her body to the ground, she had not died from the lethal doses of superadine she had ingested; she had not died of the alcohol with which she had washed it down; she had not died of the fall she took when she passed out; she had not even died from the vomit that had blocked her airway, starving her brain of oxygen. David knew as her coffin hit the cold hard soil, the cause of her death had been shame.

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Fifteen: Cellmates

David never spoke of the details surrounding his mother’s death again. Even when he was retelling the tale to Kevin McKenel, he kept particulars brief and didn’t mention the cause of death, where her body had been found or why she had died exactly as she had. She was a footnote, a side plot; she was little more than an insignificant detail that had to be mentioned for the sake of completeness. The guilt he had repressed was not even present subconsciously; it was buried so deep that he was able to mention off hand that his mother had died without even the slightest flicker of emotion.

He served six months on the inside of the year he had been imprisoned for. One hundred and eighty four days. Four thousand, four hundred and sixteen hours, and he counted down every single one of them in his head as the time dragged by, waiting for the day when he could walk the streets of his neighbourhood again; eat real food and get exercise that didn’t involve just endlessly running around the same old yard, being eyed by the same old hoods in the same old dark corners. He longed for the day when his time amongst madmen and murderers was up.

He had a couple of cellmates during his time inside, and all of them illustrated the ins and outs of prison life to him in different ways. His first cellmate had been completely insane. By night he had been a supercriminal by the name of the Miner, and specialised in infiltration, but unlike the spies and espionage experts that littered Paragon City, he wasn’t exactly a master of stealth. Instead, he tunnelled into bank vaults and disappeared into his never ending tunnels, or dug his way into government facilities and stole carefully guarded information he could ransom back to them. He was quite the professional criminal in his time.

He had been a nice enough guy, but his eccentricities shined through from the moment David arrived at Ziggursky four days after his mother had been buried. He seemed normal, sane enough and very talkative, but he was extremely vengeful towards a person he called ‘Joe’, who he claimed had been watching him in the days before his arrest. He went so far as to claim that Joe had been the one to sell him out; somehow this mysterious figure had discovered his real name and his real address with his wife and three children and had delivered it to the authorities. This, David was willing to accept. It was when he began to claim that his cell was bugged, and that Joe was listening to their conversations that he grew worried. It got worse when he used to spend whole nights staring from bars on their cell window, babbling about a black van that was parked across the street from the prison. He fully believed that this ‘Joe’ character was watching him through super powerful binoculars, plotting his every movement and word.

About two months after David had arrived at Ziggursky the Miner was dragged away in the middle of the night by wardens, screaming that Joe had found him and that he would probably never come back. Sure enough, David never saw him again.

Just as David received a new cellmate, a career criminal named Ray Litman who had operated under the name ‘Lightmare’ until his capture, a new inmate was moved into the cell next to his. As was customary, the other prisoners on the block had immediately jumped to the doors of their cells to snarl threats and insults at the new blood, screaming that they were going to gut him, and reminding him that his momma couldn’t save him now. David hadn’t joined in because he remembered quite vividly how unpleasant it had been when he arrived. Admittedly, none of the threats that were thrown at him had ever come to pass, but he wasn’t going to make some other schmuck’s life hard just because that’s what the other guys had done to him.

That night, screams rang through the block, but they didn’t come from the inmates trying to scare the new kid. Instead, they came from the new kid trying to scare the inmates. He screamed that they were all scum, criminals and psychopaths. As the night trudged by, he described brutal ways in which he was going to kill them all, and continued to do so until the early hours of the morning. The threats of the inmates thrown back at him had no effect; he continued to rant and rave.

David had asked Ray who this guy was as he tried to sleep, and the only answer he’d gotten was that he was some guy who’d been an informer for a couple of the vigilantes in Kings Row who’d gotten a little obsessed with the crime fighting thing. Ray had heard he’d fallen in with some cult who wanted to run the country like a police state, and had eventually been picked up for strangling a hooker to death. He’d been over on B-Wing until the prisoners there tried to kill him, hence his move to A-Wing.

David thought nothing of it, and even managed to drop off to sleep amidst the threats against his life for being criminal scum. It didn’t even cross his mind until later that day when he walked out onto the exercise yard to do those same old five laps around the concrete, when the guy from last night was dragged onto the yard, kicking and screaming. The wardens dumped him to the floor violently, and laughed at him as he kicked to his feet.

It was then as David tried to recognise his face that the mystery inmate swung a fist at one of the wardens who’d thrown him to the hard floor. David rushed over to the scene, and pulled him away. He had finally realised where he’d heard that voice, and as he got closer he instantly recognised the face. Now there was only one question left as he dragged Eric away from the guard he was attacking like a rabid dog; what the hell was he doing here?

Little Eric, the kid from four floors up just had time to tell David to take his dirty, criminal hands off of him before the warden’s baton crashed across the back of his head, sending him spiralling into unconsciousness. David stood in horror as they dragged his old friend from the Basement back into the main building to spend time in solitary confinement.

It all clicked with David in an instant. This guy was an informer in Kings Row; what was left of the Basement Boyz, Eric included had become informers for Charon after he busted up their HQ back in the summer of 1991. Had Eric really managed to fall in with some vigilante cult and end up in jail for murder within two years? Had life working under Charon corrupted him that much? All David knew was that the Eric he saw before him now was surely not the quiet, polite Eric he had known as a kid, who’d only gotten involved with David’s criminal activities to stop his dad from having to work all day in the Garment district. What the hell had happened to him?

David never got the chance to ask. Eric was kept in solitary confinement for two weeks, and when he came out there was no chance to speak to him between the time it took for him to be returned to his cell and the fateful day when he was stabbed twelve times in the prison laundry room. He was immediately taken to the infirmary and was transferred to a private wing for trouble inmates, where they could be sure he would not attack or be attacked for the foreseeable future. David heard years later that some cult leader named The Evangelist had busted him and a bunch of others out of jail. By the time David saw Eric again he was such a corrupted soul that he didn’t even recognise his old friend from the block.

David spent the rest of his prison life being a model prisoner. He exercised when he was told to exercise, he did his job in the prison kitchen as if he was being paid for it and he didn’t complain at a single order he was given by the wardens. Just as he had requested, there were no appeals and no retrials, not even a flicker from his lawyers. As far as all were concerned David had accepted his guilt for the assault on Fred Tyler and was perfectly willing to do the time for the crime. He was just grateful he hadn’t faced charges on the diamond theft as well.

David only went through one more cellmate after Lightmare got involved in a fight and was moved into solitary confinement until further notice. His next cellmate was a guy named Dominic Yates, another supercriminal who had operated mainly in Brickstown under the name ‘Slime’. He was a scary guy due to his skin, which had turned green after exposure to the same toxic chemical he used in committing his crimes, a compound lovingly named ‘Slime I’, which was perfectly capable of making those exposed to it extremely ill, and could even cause death in large doses.

Due to the reputation that preceded Slime, and the friendship David had managed to strike up with him, he no longer had any trouble with the other inmates in the Zig. Before the arrival of Slime he’d had the odd threat against his life, but now he was doing fine. It was only a few months with Yates as a cellmate until his case was put before the District Attorney, who gave the okay for David James Dirt, alias Mr. Mud to be released early on grounds of good behaviour.

David walked free on a sunny August 2nd, and caught a cab from Brickstown back to his apartment in the Garment district. Just as he was fumbling around in the possessions that had been returned to him by the prison governor, a limo stalled it’s engine behind him and almost knocked over a parking meter as it mounted the sidewalk. The window wound down to reveal Bruiser, one of Frank LaRusso's - Knuckles' - lap dogs.

David briefly considered the offer to go and see Mr. LaRusso, remembering some of the terrible things he had witnessed in his employ. He wasn't sure why but in that instant, he remembered Rem's blank expression as he fell to the floor in the liquor store; he remembered the look on his mother’s face at his trial, when she had truly believed in him.

By the time the limo pulled up in front of Frank’s mansion on the outskirts of the Row, those thoughts had been expelled from his mind and replaced with thoughts of cash and casinos. An hour later, he walked down the steps outside of Frank’s front door with a smile on his face, having just accepted a job to drive a new vigilante away from LaRusso turf. He was back in the game.

Soon enough he would be living the high life again. All he needed was one more big score, one more job to set him up for life. All he had to do was come up with a plan and take a chance, and why not?

After all, he had nothing left to lose.

Sixteen: Legion

“A criminal ever since, huh?” Kevin enthusiastically exclaimed, positively satisfied with the story he’d been told. Mr. Mud could scarcely believe how much he had enjoyed the story of his spiral into a life of crime. If Kevin liked stories like that, he’d hear plenty more of them up at the Zig. Everybody loved to tell the twists and turns that had led to their tragic incarceration. Mud just hoped Kevin ended up with one of those cellmates who loved to talk. If not, and he ended up with one of the psychopaths or tough guys, he could see Kevin being dead by the morning.

“Yeah. I pulled some pretty big scores after that, but don’t think we got time.” Mud said, stretching his legs and trying to shake off the last bit of ache that was surging through his body from this latest encounter with electricity, something that was becoming his nemesis more than any of the heroes in Paragon City. “Truck’ll pull into Ziggursky soon enough.”

Kevin smiled. It was a knowing smile, the likes of which David had only ever seen before on the faces of criminals with a plan swirling around in their brain. It had been on Mindswipe’s face right before he revealed his plan for their string of robberies in 94. It had been on Incognito’s face when he convinced Mud to help him with one last score, right before he’d set about making a synthetic mask that would make him look exactly like the mayor. He’d seen it on a hundred different faces, and in usual circumstances it was a good thing. In this one, he didn’t know what to think.

“Okay, what the hell you got to smile about?” he finally asked the blunt question which had been circling around in his head the last hour. What the hell had this kid got to smile about? Prison food? Exercise yards? From what Mud could tell he wasn’t going to have anything to smile about for a long time when they pulled up to the clearance gate at Ziggursky.

Just as Kevin opened his mouth to reply, he hesitated. A second later, a smirk formed on the side of his lips, and before Mr. Mud could repeat his question and ask him what the hell he was smiling about, the transport lurched forward violently; Jumpsuit was thrown off his feet, crashing into the side of his cell and grimacing in pain. Mud managed to just put his foot out to balance himself when he heard the explosion, then the yells of the guards as they grabbed weapons and headed out; gunshots, more shouting, then silence.

“I introduced myself as Kevin,” McKenel began, the smirk swapping sides between sentences, “But, well, I think we know each other well enough now.”

There was a loud crash as a body hit the door on the side of their containment truck. There was a small yelp in pain as whoever’s head it was banged violently against the metal of the door. The rattling of keys, and suddenly the door was lurched open.

Standing in the doorway, holding a set of keys that had undoubtedly been stolen from one of the fallen guards was Kevin McKenel.

“You can call us Legion,” the Kevin in the doorway said, prompting the first to begin smirking uncontrollably. “If you hadn’t guessed yet, I’ve got pretty special powers of my own.”

In an instant, Kevin again divided in two. There were now three of them. The one in the doorway passed a set of keys to the others, and they set about unlocking the cages in the transport, freeing villains who were only now rising from their unconsciousness. As Jumpsuit left his cell, he looked from one Kevin, to the other, and then to the third. Mr. Mud was expecting a question; perhaps one of the hundreds he had running around his head right now. Instead, Jumpsuit simply shrugged and ran from the doorway. As Mr. Mud moved over to the hatch that led to the outside world, he not only saw Jumpsuit jump an iron gate and disappear into a back alley, he also saw the carnage outside.

Dozens of guards lay unconscious on the cold road, a light drizzle falling onto their faces in the Brickstown air. One of the trucks near the front of the convoy was on fire, and prisoners were jumping from it and wandering out into the night, eager to escape before the cops, or worse the Freedom Phalanx arrived on the scene. What was most shocking about the scenes he saw was that in addition to the three copies of Kevin McKenel who were busy at work behind him, freeing inmates-to-be, there were literally dozens of others out in the rain, busting open truck doors and freeing criminals, pointing them in the direction of the best escape routes, or telling them where they could find the nearest sewer exit. From what he could see, these clones of Kevin McKenel had created a huge blockade, and had simply outnumbered the cops that had unloaded from the trucks to move them.

“You planned all this since they locked you in this truck?” Mud said, turning back to the three copies of Legion that stood behind him. He asked the question to them all; he wasn’t sure which one had been the Kevin he’d been talking to this whole time, and he knew he didn’t have time to sort out details. This guy’s powers were obvious; he could duplicate himself. But the question still had to be begged, how the hell had he managed to duplicate himself while being trapped in a Zig truck?

“Are you kidding? My copies were already on the outside. I only pulled the robbery so I could land up in here,” Legion said, his smile beaming. “Nothing’s going to make me more infamous in the underworld than letting loose most of Paragon’s criminal element back onto the streets.”

All three Legions dusted their hands off as Nightstick, the last criminal to be freed, took care to retrieve the stick that was his namesake from under the guard’s seat. With it clasped in his hand, he shot Mr. Mud a wayward grin and fled from the truck into the darkness.

“Not bad for my first day on the job, huh?” One of the Legions said. He was pretty sure it had been the original Kevin McKenel he’d been talking to in the truck, but he couldn’t tell for sure. “Listen, it’s about time I got out of here,” he said, as Legion after Legion piled into the truck and steadily dissolved back into one person; a strange thing to watch, since Mud had seen the villain Gemini split himself in two before, but never put himself back together again.

“Listen, thanks for giving me something to do while I waited for us to reach my little blockade. Your origin story was great! Here,” Legion passed Mr. Mud a small card which read ‘Legion – Criminal for Hire’ in small black print. “You ever wanna team up? Look me up. But be quick, I’m gonna be rising in reputation pretty quick after this. Wouldn’t want you to miss the boat.”

Legion’s last few clones dissolved into their host body, and Kevin McKenel was once again a singular man. Sirens began to whir in the distance, and Kevin hurried to the door, but stopped in the doorway.

“Hey, I left Spikeman locked in his cage for you. Figure he deserves it,” he turned and flashed that smile one more time. “Thanks again for the entertainment. I’ll see you later, no doubt.” And with that, he ran out onto the cold, wet streets of Brickstown and disappeared.

Mr. Mud took two steps out of the transport and saw the flashing lights of police cars coming over the hill. Just before he followed Jumpsuit, Nightstick and Legion back into the dark underworld of Paragon City, he took a moment to look up to the skies as they turned grey with the smoke that billowed from the lead transport. With a hefty sigh, he lowered his head and muttered into the wind.

“Yeah. See you around.”

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