There’s a phrase that’s been attributed to Al Capone, a rather famous gangster, that is incredibly illustrative about how easily villains like myself can do things. “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”
I was also surprised to find out the man possessed a wonderful sense of humor like when he said, in reference to the suburbs of Chicago, “This is virgin territory out here for whorehouses.”
But back to the kind word and a gun, and I didn’t bring this up to knock guns yet again. Guns were an example. Force. Fists with sheaths of energy, knives, extortion, blackmail, political influence, huge wads of cash, gritty cigar-smoking llamas with katanas strapped to their hooves; all of it makes your goals happen more easily.
I think by now you’ve seen that I don’t like Hephaestus and I’ve been working against them. I’ve built up an arsenal of dirty tricks, some of which can be wielded with all the power and authority of a man with a shotgun informing a younger man that he will be doing right by a knocked up daughter. Like the virus. I meant a virus was a dirty trick, not that daughters are viruses. Well, maybe Rhea from King Lear, but only because she was such a goner.
Joking aside, it was more like a Trojan in that it left me a backdoor into the communications network. I dived in with a computer that wasn’t part of my brain and pinged the whole thing. It took a bit of time, but I expected they will eventually catch on to how their businesses got exposed.
The chatter was interesting as well once I spent some time listening. After that, I set up a program to identify various words of interest in different languages, including my name. The computer archives a transcript for me to review later.
“Comms unit” has been established as a catch all term for various methods of wireless communications, but I lucked out stealing this thing from Gorilla Badass. The radios I ran across had too short a range to be useful for this, and the computers sent stuff via the internet. I never would have been able to handle a check of the entire world wide web including the deep and dark webs. Hell, even cell phones were too widespread to be useful, but their network and encryption has been cracked before. This lovely little belt-mounted receiver and earbud setup made things much easier.
If I’d thought about it, I could have done all this sooner and much more effectively.
Monday provided an opportunity to put my speaking and threatening skills to work. Monday, I gave Ouroboros a call. For those who don’t remember, Ouroboros was the guy I briefly worked for back in Paradise City, a party and tourism city on the gulf coast of northwest Florida. Everything went fairly well until a hero I attacked dropped hints about the Wishing Stick. It was a stick that granted wishes, a fairly easy concept to grasp, and Ouroboros kept it in the vault under his casino with other valuable prizes.
Bullshit. After a pitiful attempt to ignite a gang war between the others vying for a piece of Paradise City, I was captured by Ouroboros to be handed over to a super group of heroes called Shieldwall who were up my ass like a condom full of cocaine. A big fight broke out and I escaped, but I broke the Wishing Stick when it turned out that it refused to grant wishes for morally reprehensible people. For his efforts, Ouroboros got an F-bomb dropped on his city in one of the last jobs before those illegal flyers got arrested and convicted of their general flight hooliganry.
Ouroboros and I didn’t have much to talk about, but Hephaestus got on both of our bad sides. I thought that was enough. One problem: I lacked a giant screen. It has been awhile, so I’ll remind y’all that a giant screen is a big monitor that allows two-way visual and audio communication in an impressive and intimidating way. Handy for making demands. Many established villains have been known to make use of them. I heard the UN keeps a few handy as well. I haven’t nailed down whether they have them to just receive demands or if it’s because some of their members like to make the demands. Except North Korea. It was well established, after the latest Kim took power and he tried to threaten the South Koreans, that they don’t let North Korea access their screen. On the plus side, I heard that the Starcraft II multiplayer map the South Koreans painstakingly crafted in his likeness was real popular for a couple of months.
I was too far away to steal a screen from the United Nations in Empyreal City, so I had to improvise. I had to use the tiny little television set set into the wall cabinets of the trailer. I gave it a camera and a receiver to make it useable for my purposes.
I dressed in my armor to actually make the call. It was a formal thing. People like Ouroboros were way too into protocols for my taste, but I wanted him to do what I wanted him to do. Ouroboros didn’t pick up when I called. Instead, there was a woman of Asian ancestry in a black dress that covered her cleavage filing her nails. She didn’t seem to notice the screen at first. She gave her nails a few more good rakes of the file while calling out to someone in Japanese.
“Yo, Tokyo Rose. Yoo hoo. Hi there.” I waved. Her lack of response had me worried that something was up with the camera. My concerns were allayed by a response, finally, as the woman set her file down, crossed her arms, and looked squarely at me.
In English touched by boredom and a hint of an accent, she asked, “How can I help you?”
“I’m calling for Ouroboros if he’s still alive. Tell him it’s Psycho Gecko and we have something to discuss.”
That got a little bit of urgency out of her. Muttering something with the vitriol of a cuss word under her breath, she stood and walked out of view. I didn’t see her again, but it wasn’t long before Ouroboros appeared. His black-scaled bodysuit looked untouched by the brawl that occurred last time I was in his city. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the portion that covered them and much of his face before curving down into two large fang portions on either side of his mouth. He had his curved ivory knives looped through his belt on either side of his hips. He didn’t bother taking them out as he sat in front of the screen.
“Oury! How good to see you again. New secretary?”
“My organization had room for growth and advancement. She dislikes you enough without you calling her a secretary. You didn’t call to discuss my job openings. We left each other on too bad of terms to go into that again. Does this call pertain to recent news of you going to war with the people who made me what I am today?”
I couldn’t read much emotion off him with only the mouth to go by, and he kept that stoic. I thought he was amused, but he could have been annoyed at the same time.
“It does, in fact. I’m sure you’re aware that I’ve done more than kick them out of just one city. It’s their own fault, really. Even with you trying to turn me over to a gang of heroes that probably would have stuck me in a hole deep underground, you still paid me for my work. As well you should have, considering how Black Raptor, your errant do-gooder, flew off to go help my enemies. Well, Hephaestus didn’t pay, so now they’re gonna pay.”
Ouroboros held up a finger on one hand. “Well said. What does this have to do with me and my business ventures?”
I clasped my hands together under my chin. “Weeeeeeeeeell, I don’t know how much it affects your business at this point, but it may affect your diet if the presence of Hephaestus facilities in Paradise City leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.”
He leaned forward, lip twitching. “You can confirm this?”
“Hey, Anaconda Part Infinite, I’m nowhere near your city. I can’t go up and do the recon, but what is it going to cost you to have some people check into a couple of businesses?”
He leaned back. “I’m not chasing wild geese because you want to be a jackass.”
“You will, my good man, you certainly will. I know that they have something on the grounds of the Paradise City Aviation Airport, which appears to be a private airfield. I would guess they were testing planes there or teaching some flying, but oddly enough that appears to be it as far as bases go. What’s stranger are the transmissions off a number of buoys in the water that get routed through some sort of local weather station. Aside from that, it’s mostly just individual chatter from a few well-placed individuals, including some pain in the ass called Shryer who has been monitoring you.”
Ouroboros steepled his fingers. “That is a lot of specific information that can be checked. If they are here, they are mine to deal with.”
I maintained a jovial tone as I spoke. “They’d better be, or I’ll pay you a visit and wipe them out. It’ll be a surgical strike, like when someone removes an entire limb to get rid of gangrene. Really, all I want is Hephaestus to get their teeth kicked in wherever possible. I think we’re of like mind about that.”
That was the gun to my “kind word and a gun” approach. Ouroboros definitely didn’t want me visiting again.
He nodded slowly. “For now, at this time, yes. I will have my people look into this. You stay away and do whatever else you do. Go bother them elsewhere?”
“Any recommendations?” I asked, projecting eyelashes and torn-out puppydog eyes over my visor. I blinked them a few times.
“You are so good at tracking them, I doubt you need my help. Make sure you visit Three Mile Island soon, though I hear they’ve gone Hollywood to bilk celebrities out of their money. I can not imagine what they do out there unless they found a way to provide inconspicuous abilities to people with more money than sense. It suits the style of the head of Hephaestus, anyway. He had a lot of ambition and a desire to know important people.”
I shot finger guns his way. “Bang bang! That’s what happened to the old boss, I hear. Don’t know if that’s who you meant, but they have some new guy in charge who likes to pick on poor, defenseless supervillains like myself. Oh well, think of me as karma’s bitch-whippin’ stick on this one.”
“Hmm,” was all Ouroboros said about that.
“Anyway, y’all have your fun down there and I’ll find my own fun up here. And remember: put your boot on, then insert it into a rectum. Unless you like having dirty feet. Not my fetish.”
I cut the feed. That went surprisingly well. I needed to inform Moai of our new destination. It, though I often think of it as a he, was outside, trying to rustle up some grub and grilling. I kicked the door open to find him by the cheap grill that Holly had picked up for the trailer way back near the beginning of this roguish road trip. He grabbed a plate and threw it at me like a frisbee. The burger on it flew apart but I caught the patty. Slipping off my helmet with my other hand, I began to chow down on the cheese-covered meat disk. “Thanks, Moai. So, how’s the grilling going?”
He turned back toward the grill, over which an Indian man was tied to a rotating spit. No one was likely to complain about the sight as we were parked inside this old building that had never been completed. It was a solid, imposing edifice of concrete and rebar. It was also mostly private, save for kids and the occasional graffiti artist.
The man on the spit mumbled for attention through the whoopee cushion covering his mouth. I stepped over to him and looked him over. He was a new arrival to the city that had been transferred to work at the urinalysis clinic’s lab at a bad time. Upon arriving in Memphis and driving by his new place of work, he found it cordoned off by the police. It was his call in to ask for further instructions that tipped me off to him. Nobody else could have known he was around.
Now, he spun around, picking up a nice tan as the heat from the flames streamed over his body. I set my helmet down and pulled a cooler over. I took a bottle of water from it and poured it out over the prisoner’s face to help keep him awake, then sat back on the cooler. “Well, look at you. You’re certainly a rare find in captives. Don’t worry, you’ll be well done before long. Maybe even buffalo style. Moai, remove the gag.”
Moai shuffled by between me and the unfortunate scientist. When I next saw the other man’s face, his mouth was free of the whoopee cushion. “What do you want?” he groaned.
“My own pet Tyrannosaurus Rex and world peace. I’ll settle for information about Hephaestus.”
“I don’t…” he started to say, then trailed off. “Fuck. You-you already know. I’m just a research technician, but I’ll tell you as much as I can.”
“They have a base in California?”
He dropped his head as if to nod, but he was at the lower part of his rotation and didn’t bother to raise it again. “Yeah, they have a huge operation in Hollywood providing powers on the down low. Things that won’t be noticed like great bodies or high drug tolerances. They even stopped some movie stars from aging.”
I had been enjoying the hot beef in my hand, but I stopped to question him. “Got an address for me?”
His head dipped from side to side. “No. Never worked there.”
I splashed some more water on him in thanks.“How about this Three Mile Island place I heard about?”
He closed his eyes as he was turned with his face toward the sky. “You’re good. The complex under that nuclear plant is secret, with some of the highest protocols to keep people from finding out. People stay away on their own after the meltdown in Generator Two back in ‘79, but the other is still functional. It provides energy and a spot where nobody wants to wander around.”
I walked over to the grill and turned the heat down. “What’s the place studying? If I walk in there, what will try and bite my head off?”
“Radiation and how it’s used in combination with catalysts to create mutations and superpowers in people and animals. I don’t know about security. They have the test subjects, I guess, but they’re inconsistent. Sometimes they turn out bad. Real bad. I can’t get you in. I’m not cleared for it anymore and they change passwords all the time!”
I patted him on the head, then lifted up the spit and set him on the ground. “I believe you. Moai, help our friend here out of those handcuffs and help him stand up.”
“Thank you, thank you, oh thank you. I won’t tell anyone about this. God bless you.” He was real chatty as Moai released him, but then he stood there, eyeing both of us and rubbing at his wrists. “Can I go?”
I waved him off. “Yeah, go ahead. Enjoy the rest of your life.”
His eyes grew wide and he almost skipped as he ran away.
“Alright, Moai, let’s get this stuff packed up. We’re heading to the site of a nuclear meltdown.”
He helped me toss the ice and water from the cooler out onto the grill to put it out, then we picked it into the trailer. He took the back as I slid into the driver’s seat. With a flick of a switch and the selection of a program, the car shifted in appearance thanks to the its own adaptive camouflage.
Before, it looked like a black ‘51 Hudson Hornet with orange trim. Now, I appeared to be driving my own pimptastic, gold 1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a single deep purple stripe down the center of the vehicle. The trailer looked the same, but that couldn’t be helped.
I drove out of there, checked around, and found what I was looking for. The released technician, running to freedom. I turned and sped for him. He never even knew what hit him. Just made a thumping noise, rolled along the hood and up the windshield. Then he smacked against the trailer, fell under it, and acted as a minor speed bump for the trailer’s right side tires.
I turned to Moai and shrugged. “That didn’t take long. He probably enjoyed it.”
Three Mile Island, here we come; out of the grill and into the nuclear reactor.