Imagine, if you will, a couple speaking on a phone while a negotiator from the ECPD sits nearby, listening in on his own phone.
“I have your little boy Matthew. If you want to see him again, you will need to pay.”
The mother shouts into the headset, “We’ll pay! We don’t have much, but we’ll find the money.”
“You don’t have a lot of money, you say?”
The father answers the voice this time, “No, you demented son of a bitch. I’m a mechanic.”
“What about your wife?”
“She stays at home to look after our son. What do we have to pay to get him back?”
“Can she cook?”
“Well, yes. Fairly well, I think.”
“Can I get a chocolate chip cheesecake…no, wait, hold on a moment,” the voice yells to someone away from the receiver, “Hey, you guys want some cheesecake? You’re not allergic to chocolate chips or anything, are you?” Then it speaks to the worried parents again, “Two chocolate chip cheesecakes, and a gallon of milk with that. Can you afford that?”
There would be a pause, presumably as the parents and negotiator think this is an odd request. Then an answer from the mother, “We can do it, of course, anything for Matthew.”
“Good, good. Yes, keep this up and you’ll see your bouncing, blond-haired boy again in no time flat.”
“Yes, your son is blonde, correct?”
“Not unless someone dyed it. He’s naturally brown-haired.”
“Just to clarify, we’re talking a blonde-haired, hazel-eyed baby?”
“No, Matthew’s got brown hair, green eyes, and he’s Asian too. We adopted him from China.”
The owner of the distorted voice would then glance at the kid he had in his possession that definitely didn’t match that description.
“Pardon me, folks, wrong kidnapping. Um, good luck?” Click.
Picture, if you will, that was me. I’m sure that was difficult for you.
“Moai, go mark the Collins down. Looks like we’re going to be rescuing another baby in all this,” I ordered Moai. He nodded, some chalk dust flying off the piece of chalk he had mounted to a headband. “And no more sweets for you! I know it’s the holiday, but you don’t see anyone else writing with their head out of laziness.”
I don’t even know if he is capable of eating, but I figured I’d say something. Don’t want him half-assing on me or I won’t be able to half-ass too.
He hopped over to a blackboard full of names. Some were crossed off, some were circled, but none were plain at that point. He circled the name “Matthew Collins.”
“Another kid I get to rescue because of this mess,” I said aloud to no one in particular. “You know, sometimes even I feel like a dick.”
“You’ve been sad about a lot of things lately, boss,” said Carl from under the van. It worked fine for a couple days after that crash, then we hit a pothole. The Check Engine light came on and the muffler fell off. Carl’s experienced with automotive stuff, though, so he’s working on it. We knocked out a wall of our cozy former nightclub base so he could bring it in further to work on it away from the cold. Chances are we’ll need it for something. You know how these things go.
I took the headset I used in the ransom calls off my head and dropped it on the desk as I leaned back in my chair. “I suppose I have been a little on the moody side since hearing I needed to lay low. You signed on and I haven’t done much more than try to destroy the city and its protectors. And I only managed half of that. What a failure.”
“I thought it mighta been because of the kids. I think it sucks, sir. All these kids lost during the holidays.”
“Yes, that kind of sentimentality is often why it’s so easy for supervillains to take a break this time of year. Not that I need to. I can handle full-scale heroic reprisal if I didn’t respect the truces. Sad but predictable commentary that no one’s bothered for Hanukkah, though eight days in a row is a lot to ask from people like me. Less successful people like me, that is.”
Carl slid out from under the bottom of the van. “That’s cold, boss. If you don’t mind me saying so, that is.”
I waved off the concerns over his speech. People like me aren’t the type to take criticism gracefully. “Relax, you have permission to speak freely. Lack of communication breeds resentment and mistrust in intentions.”
“That’s what this therapist said about me and my wife,” he said with a scratch of his head.
“Easy, fellow. We’re just friends, you and I, okay?”
“I don’t swing that way. Now’s a good time to work some more,” he said and rolled himself back under the van.
I stood up and walked over to check on the status of my armor fabrication. “Don’t worry, Carl. You give me a case of the limpies.”
“Hey!” Bong! Carl sounded like a stoner as he bonked his head on the underside of the van trying to protest. “Ow, ow, ow.”
I was going to check on Moai, but he was busy over by the baby bed. He had the baby out and riding on his head. Folks, babies make terrible hairpieces.
“Hey, what have you two been feeding that kid anyway?”
As usual, I got nothing but a blank stare from Moai. Hell of a poker face, but not much of a talker.
“Well, you said not to go anywhere alone right now, and with the van down I’ve been making do by giving him some of my lunch stuff I’ve brought,” volunteered Carl from under the van.
“Sandwiches and beer?”
“For the baby’s sake, I’ve been bringing applesauce and grape juice for lunch.”
“Yeah, maybe you should have stuck to the sandwiches and beer…I want us in a group as far as watching for that Spider guy I warned you about, but I guess we need to pick up baby supplies whenever we go out next. Do I want to ask what you’ve been using for diapers?”
“Ok,” I told him, and didn’t ask.
The armor’s coming along. The fabricator worked somewhat more slowly due to improvements. It always takes longer handling the intricacies of new parts and systems, even minor ones, because we’re talking an entire system here.
In a major reversal, I chose to keep the jump enhancers and spread those systems all over the armor. The layer that generally increases my strength is good and all, but these are artificial muscle systems that bond with real local ones. They detect the signals from my real muscles and act accordingly.
It leaves me with a problem, though. How I fight, I tend to throw kicks rarely enough that I can remember to dial back the strength settings. Adding these sorts of systems to my arms, shoulders, and lower torso means potential problems if I activate it full-strength in the heat of battle. The enemy will be red paste, but I could start breaking my own bones. That’s the problem with unlocking more of a body’s full potential: the body can’t always handle it.
To throw yet another analogy out here, it’s like a woman seeing a car overturned on her baby. She can lift that car up off the baby and get it out of there. That’s not superhuman strength, not really. The human body is perfectly capable of doing that at all times, but there are biological and psychological limiters on it doing so because the body breaks itself when it does this. Muscles rip, bones fracture, fluid bursts out of support structures.
At times I wonder if the superpowers have a similar effect on the human mind. Then I get distracted trying to make the purple butterflies swarming around me stop singing.
I don’t have to worry about electricals on the suit to compensate for the change. I said way at the beginning that I didn’t want to talk about the power source, but the cat is out of the bag. I have a reactor deep in my body, not far from my heart. Advanced stuff, far more than this world should have. I don’t keep it away from people to protect them from themselves. I do it because I don’t want tanks and planes powered by this stuff hunting me. It’s to my benefit to keep this world ignorant.
But enough about motivations and recapping the lessons you learned in my vendetta against Shieldwall. I had another new idea I wanted to implement on this suit.
I set to work programming the appropriate details and hooking up the nanite fabricator. I started throwing together the design for smaller quilted packets of nanites that would be the innermost layer of the whole suit.
I can’t have it be a complete layer, or it’d be difficult to bond to the suit. There’s also the difficulty in finding a material sensitive enough to shock to release the nanites upon sufficient damage, but which won’t embed shards into my wounds to make the situation a little worse.
I began to sing to myself as I worked on the problems of this additional layer. “…live the smartest boy, you’ve ever seen! But Dee Dee blows his experiments to smithereens! There is doom and gloom while things go boom!”
I stopped there because I had this feeling like someone was right behind me. I turned to find Moai standing there. The baby was still on his head. In fact, it was doodling on him with the chalk from Moai’s headband.
“What, not a fan of my singing?”
Moai gave me a light headbutt. He hopped off while I was busy rubbing my forehead. “You know there are more polite ways to tell me to shut the hell up!” I yelled after him, then realized he didn’t have the baby on his head anymore. The baby was on my head instead, dragging a piece of chalk across my hair.
I grabbed him and pulled him off. While I held him in front of me, Carl clapped his hands together. I turned to find him rolling out from under the van again and toweling off his hands. “Good to go.”
“Moai!” I called for him, “Take this little stinker off my hands. We are going shopping!”
So it was that the van flew through the air to the sound of Sixx AM’s “This is Gonna Hurt”, smashed the loading ramp’s rolling door off into the side street, and sped for the grocery store with the four of us within. I pulled out a garage door opener and pressed the button, causing a secondary door on the rollers to close behind us while the traps activated.
We made a wild bunch hauling ass down the road up until I interrupted the din to ask, “Hey, did somebody remember the coupons?”