You know, once when I was a wee lad, they decided to teach us the benefit of taunting opponents. We, as in myself and the rest of the boys, were already somewhat proficient at it. We were kids, after all. We were kidnapped kids being taught the art of murder and mayhem, sure, but that still didn’t stop the taunt war.
It began simply enough. There was an announcement that we’d soon begin the section on psychological warfare beginning with taunting. In anticipation, one of the other boys…Hart maybe?…anyway, one of them decided they’d get a head start by accusing the rest of us of doing all sorts of interesting things involving bodily fluids. We had sniffed this, gargled that, licked something else, at least according to Hart. I would prefer to save y’all a direct transcript because I don’t remember certain things that well, and because you would need a translator to understand who was what sort of wad. You people and your damn English. Go get your own language. Stop stealing from the Germans, French, Italians, Spanish, Romans, Russians, Japanese, Chinese, Greeks, and whoever else I forgot!
Soon, others struck back. It all escalated and took on an art all its own. The program was watching, like they always do. I think the test they laid out for us really cemented the notion that we were all in it for ourselves, though. It was actually a pretty neat concept, I have to admit. I hate their guts and would murder any surviving family members of the people who put me through that, but they sure did know how to fuck with people.
They built a maze and certain sections of it were actually cages. Some of them would shut if anything set foot in them. Others, there was a button on the side. When pushed, we had a five second delay, then the cage would close. Empty cages would always reopen, though. They released some of us, maybe ten or twelve at a time, into that maze. They also released the hunting dogs. They were pretty good about keeping us from bringing weapons to the test, even whatever makeshift crap we’d put together by then. They didn’t want us killing each other or the dogs, not at that point. Nah, the end of the maze would only up if all the cages in the maze had been shut on something.
Needless to say, it didn’t take us long to figure out that the cages didn’t open if we were in them when they closed. No weapons, no way to sneak above or below the maze. We had to do what we could to trick dogs and each other into the cages so that whoever was left could escape and pass the test. That meant baiting a target, getting him mad enough to follow me anywhere, then close the trap on that mangy motherfucker. Sometimes I had to lead someone a good ways and that risked drawing outside attention. Sometimes I stayed quiet and snuck around until I where I needed to be. Or maybe I sneaked around. Sometimes, I had to lead one threat to another, like bringing a dog to another kid or one kid to another.
We were kids, though. We took that kind of stuff personally. Things have changed a lot since those days.
“I’m going to skull fuck your asshole and light it on fire!” I yelled, wearing my helmet with my civilian clothes. The Holly, Sam, and Max just tried to ignore me while they watched TV. I had gotten an email mentioning Hephaestus via my hidden website on the dark net. In it was a contact number in case I felt like surrendering and not hurting myself any further. The joke’s on them. I don’t like not hurting myself!
It was a woman’s voice that answered me. “That is exactly how I expected someone like you to start a call. Hello, Psycho Gecko.”
“What? Psycho Gecko? No, I’m calling from the Firefighters’ Veterans and Family Fund. They’ve got a very aggressive script for us this year because we really need the money. Now, if I may continue…ahem…I’m gonna gut you like a pig and fuck the hole, I’m gonna-“
“You’re still not taking this very seriously, I see.”
“Ma’am, if it would provide for the families of wounded firefighters, I would gladly fuck a thousand gutted stomach cavities. Now, where will I be sending our donation packet?”
“I heard we’re on the right track to stopping you. I’ll be the first to admit I thought it was stupid that the recommendation came down to stop responding to your threats. What’s one song nobody cares about but you? The orders came down anyway and that’s why I’m here as the leader of the task force with the goal of dealing with you.”
“Here at the Firefighters’ Veterans Fund, we don’t personally know this Psycho Gecko, strong and handsome as he must no doubt be. While we wish we could make the acquaintance of such a virile specimen of manhood, we have to concede that no organized group, whether firefighters or supervillains, stands a chance in hell of taking him down.”
“By all means think that. This time, you have to come to us and you can’t blow up all our buildings if you want your friends back, nor do we see any reason to negotiate with you.”
“The Firefighters’ Veterans and Families Fund would like to tell you to go fuck yourselves.”
She laughed at me.
“We’ll see if you can back all that talk up. By the way, did I tell you we never even evacuated Distribution Site Zero-Seven? We fixed the prank you pulled with our water, and you’ve already met some of your associates that came on board to help deal with you. They’re still there, along with whatever you were looking for.”
“Who should we here at the Firefuckers’ Fund make our donation packet out to?”
“My name is Pivot. Thank you for your time, Psycho Gecko. It really helped make this easier on all of us…” she trailed off. Over the city, I saw a missile streak through the sky before angling downward and flying out of view. There was an explosion, then smoke and screaming and all that boring stuff.
Faintly, I heard Pivot talking to someone else. “Do we have it confirmed? Where did it hit? We’re not calling anything off unless I see the body. I want to see a body.”
I broke in, “You and me both, sister. I don’t know about you, but I’ve gone way too long without some sausage in my diet, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“What?” she asked me. Then she was talking to the other person on her side again. “Call off the search. We missed.”
Mumble mumble “y again?” mumble.
There was a shushing sound, then she was back to talking to me. “That had nothing to do with you. We didn’t like that place.”
“Understandable enough. Fucking pet shops, am I right?”
“A guy’s got to be wary for traces, you hear me? I figured you would spy on the place and plant some bugs to see if that was where I am hiding. So now you’re the guys known for blowing up a store of cuddly baby puppies. Wow. Puppies, popped. Kitties, crushed. Bunnies, blown up. Just beautiful work on that one, really, I love what you did there. Making friends and influencing people. It’s obvious your people researched some of my recent fights, by the way. Y’all got me all figured out, don’t you? That’s alright. You can’t win them all, Pivot.”
I hung up on her and scrambled the number. I’ve got all cloned numbers to burn when it comes to contacting me, even though I also bounced that call through a few other choice targets. A hospital, an army recruiting office, a gun store. If that weapon was blatantly tied to Hephaestus and it had hit any of those, it would have been a PR disaster. PR was still important, especially if that PR involves the army wondering why somebody blew up their building in the middle of the day.
So I made a new enemy named Pivot. I also made a new ally.
That occurred after a couple more days. I researched the guy I was pulling in to all this. Gastrolord. Small time crook with a big time ego. I think he pretty much pawned or sold everything to build his first Super Snail tank. That’s what he named that thing he passed by the trailer park in. All his work was like that. Packed with defenses, slow, and not very offensive. Good stuff, in its own way, he had somehow managed to obtain more advanced results with less advanced technology.
With a little bit of trial and error, I found his hideout. The EZ Cargo Company. EZ Cargo. I have long had an appreciation for theme villains who know how to make it work for them like that. I didn’t know how he kept ahead of his debts, though. In a manner of speaking, that was my avenue of attack.
“So here’s the score. You, me, and a couple of others. We go back in. You might be thinking ‘But didn’t they kick you out of there?’ Yes, they did, back before we knew what they had in there. It was also back before Generation Flex got involved. My understanding is that they’ve got a hate boner for you, correct?”
I wasn’t there to intimidate much. I was in my civilian clothing. My helmet was ready, but the rest of my armor took longer, especially with all the added complexity since the redesign.
Across from me, a very nervous Gastrolord sat on a lumpy pink sofa that was propped up by a phone book in place of one of the legs. He was wearing his armor, the same shiny metallic look as his Super Snail. His helmet included a portion on top that resembled a crown made of metallic stalks like you see on the head of a slug or snail. The armor as a whole was rounded to account for Gastrolord not being the thinnest of fellows. Even worse, it didn’t look like power armor. It was probably fairly thin, save for the shell-shaped backpack portion. From the snail shell-looking backpack ran hoses that connected to his gauntlets. From what I had seen of news reports, the barrels on his gauntlets were how he fired off his slug slime. His hands were busy holding a nice cup of tea I had made him. He sipped at it, his brown mustache twitching as he tried the cold tea.
“A-aren’t you supposed to serve tea hot?”
“Not when it’s sweet tea, full of vitamins and minerals like tea, sugar, and ice. Now, sip your damn tea and pay attention. Max Muscles and Bulletproof Brian love to take you on. I think if you’re there with us at the warehouse, they will respond. They’ll provide an additional distraction for the supervillains and guards on the premises. At a minimum, we just need to get in and check their records. If this goes better than that, you can expect to walk away with loot that would be worth some serious dough. Weapons, armor, gadgetry, stuff people are looking to buy for more than you can steal from the local credit unions in a bag.”
I would rather not attack there again, but Pivot didn’t give me many options. She might have lied to me. There may be nothing there at all of use to me. Problem is, it’s difficult for me to tell for sure before we go in there. The first time around, I didn’t care as much about sneaking around the place, but I still didn’t find out where the records room was or what security they had. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Hephaestus had something there to find me when I was invisible. Caution wasn’t a bad idea, I figured, and I had already shot myself in the foot once.
“Generation Flex tends to do a lot of damage to my Super Snail. Max uses his strength and throws Brian right through the armor. Once when my booster rockets were recharging, he broke through the shell and stole back my loot. They’ll make mincemeat of me if I stay in one place too long.”
I stood up and grabbed onto him by the shoulder, lifting him up and causing the teacup to fall and shatter on the floor. I pulled him over to the window of this little den of his. Outside that window, in an underground hanger, was the Super Snail. It had a stalk off and the mouth ramp was torn off.
“I think with a few of my upgrades added to this Super Snail, they’ll be more concerned with getting the shell out of there.”
“You’re new to mollusk-based puns, aren’t you?” Gastrolord asked me.
“Slug and snail based-puns, yes.”
“If you can do what you say you can, then soon the world will cowry before us!”
Then the pair of us engaged in epic evil laughter.
For the record, I didn’t have a fucking clue what a cowry was.