“You know, I have to say I admire your style in all this, Lonereeno. Knocking out one tooth or a few teeth, that’s fairly standard. Working over some of the others with pliers, that’s not going to impress anybody. Now, making sure the entire mouthful is ripped out, that part started to get me horny. That bit with the salt and the Sriracha hot sauce, now that was kinky. But what really set this whole thing apart, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, is that you then brought in some dentists to drill in there and attach some new teeth. Bravo, man, that was a nice touch. You’re making a good villain.”
Rather than having one of his goons do it, Lone Gunman himself stepped up to where I was chained and pistol whipped my jaw. After days spent full of beatings, a little jaw knocked out of place was only annoying in as much as I had to ease it back into place without my arms. They were chained taut to two opposite walls in this bright white octagonal room Gunman had me locked in. I was held there in the middle of the room, chains winding over my chest and holding me firmly in place.
At least they stopped the bleeding of my knee. Didn’t want me dying early, for some reason.
My little room had all the amenities. A nice bed for me to sleep if I wasn’t chained up. Fine dining laid before me very day to eat if I wasn’t chained up. Even a radio playing nothing but the latest kiddie pop hits. The guards even said I could change, but then we’re back to the chained up part of our little program here. At least they gave me a hole to squat in.
If it was me designing the room, I’d have set it up so the squat hole looped around and exited on top of the prisoner.
Plus, there was all the chatter I could stand to listen to. Whatever they had going on in that room, I could only use my dimsnensional tracker or listen in on Hephaestus chatter thanks to my stolen communications encryption.
After I was done setting my jaw back in place, I wiggled it around a bit. Felt some popping that hurt a little bit. In the process, some of my teeth felt a bit loose already. I smiled my new teeth up at Lone Gunman. “For someone who hates me a whole lot, you sure are keeping me alive longer than you need to. I thought you were smarter than that.”
Gunman pulled out his revolver and spun it around. It was black and drank in the light, no shine to it whatsoever. He held the barrel just in front of my face by a couple of feet. “Are you so eager to die?”
I shrugged as much as I was able. “Not particularly. But you have to have some reason for it. Even for being an asshole, this is getting excessive. Look at you, you even made a special visit to see me today.” After imprisoning me that first day, Lone Gunman had been absent from my cell. He just showed up, knocked out my teeth, and then watched as a bunch of scientists probed me.
Yeah, I got probed. They went in dermally. They went in orally. They went in urethrally.
They went in anally.
I’ve had better. The real pain in my ass was this big needle they stuck in the back of my neck. All that and no kiss. No visits. He didn’t even write me. I was beginning to feel neglected until Gunman showed up that day.
Gunman holstered his scoped revolver and snapped his fingers. The guards left the room, leaving us alone. That seemed dumb. To his credit, he stood way back from me. Ah well, it let me hang my head and wiggle my loose chompers with my tongue.
“Don’t fall pass out yet,” Gunman said. “You’re about to get your answer. All thoses tests I had performed on you served an important purpose. Man-Opener has been begging me to get his hands on you. Does he send you hate mail or something? For some reason, he acts like you have been insulting him.”
I shook my head. “Never met the guy.”
“Huh. I found out how much Man-Opener despises you during this whole operation, and I learned how he interfaces with his armor. He has cables that attach to small conductive spikes. He sticks them in the spine and they allow him full range of motion. Well I got to thinking. Brainstorming. I had the science team join in. Next thing you know, we’ve done it. A suit of armor that works the other way around.”
I glanced up. “You’re going to have to clarify that for me. In what way do you have armor that works the other way around. You surgically implant it inside of a person?”
Gunman chuckled. “No, the armor has similar harness, but allows a foreign signal to control the movements of the person and armor. I don’t like you, but I liked the idea of using you as even more of a tool than you already are.”
“Capturing me, torturing me, and then using me to kill people for you. Remind me about how you’re supposed to be one of the good guys again?” I asked, baiting him. I wanted another good hit in the head. Something to knock a tooth out. I was getting tired of all the waiting and a tooth would solve that.
He sighed. “Sadly, it won’t happen. I could have marched you through death, hell, and the grave, but your abilities interfere with that.”
“You sure you don’t want to try it anyway?” I shot him a big, wide grin.
“Not with you.” Gunman held up a finger as if in warning. Then he lifted his hand to his collar and plucked an earbud from where he kept it. He put it back in and ordered, “Repeat that.”
I eavesdropped on the Hephaestus channel. “I said we’re bringing up the slave armor.”
Lone Gunman nodded and removed the earbud again. “I still had the armor made in the likeness of your old style, but ours doesn’t require your friend to fit it exactly.”
With that, the door opened and they wheeled in a dolly with someone I hadn’t seen in a long time clad in a knockoff suit of my armor, carrying a hat box.
“Carl?” I asked.
“Boss?” Carl asked.
“Wow. Carl…I was expecting someone else. No offense. Hey, nice to see you alive and un-liquidated.”
“It’s great to see you, but I wish I didn’t have to see you here.”
“Ditto, man. Nice to have you alive. I guess it should have occurred to me they kept you around once I found out how much of this was set up in advance. How have you been?”
“My ass hurts, boss.”
“I feel your pain, Carl. I feel your pain. We’ll go out later and have some mudslides to celebrate.”
Gunman cut in then. “Carl, hand me the box.” Carl obeyed, his movements stiff. “Carl, jump on one foot.” Carl raised a leg and began to hop, but became unbalanced and fell over. “Carl, pick yourself up and slap Gecko.”
My loose tooth was on the top, so I dragged it against the bottom row. Carl got to his feet, walked over, and gave me a smack that didn’t help as much as I wanted. “Sorry Boss,” he said.
“It’s ok, Carl. Apparently this is all part of some overly-complicated plan to kill me and then frame me for some reason.”
“Not exactly,” said Gunman. “We built the suit, then we found out you wouldn’t fit, so everything about that plan is scrapped. I’m just going to have your henchman kill you. In fact, he’s going to squash you like a bug, thanks to this guy.” He opened the hat box and pulled out a head stuck in a harness.
“And this is…?” I asked, trying to get a good view of the person under all the life-sustaining equipment.
Gunman shook the head. “This is Amplitude. He’ll be shrinking you today. Again.”
“Motherfucker, does anybody stay dead around here?!” It was hard to show outrage while chained up. “I killed Dr. Typhoon, Quick Sand, Amplitude, they’re all alive. Carl was dead, he’s alive. Do you have JFK and Tupac in the back somewhere competing in a contest to see who can get laid the most? What next, is Honky Tonk Hero really Elvis? Seriously man, how have you lasted this long? You didn’t even finish high school yet! You brought all these people back to life, provoked me into blowing up half your company, even wasted time on elaborate plans with copies of my armor…why? What good is all this doing Hephaestus?”
That caused my captor to smile. He leaned down close, but not within lunging and biting distance. He also pressed something on the earbud at his collar. “It makes a lot more sense if you realize you’re not the target. You’re a target. A secondary target, in fact.” He paused, probably for dramatic effect.
I made a big show out of gasping in surprise. “Now THAT was hurtful. A secondary target? Me? How dare you?”
He rolled his eyes. “I liked hurting you, but that wasn’t my main goal. I infiltrated this group. My reputation from our last encounter helped with that, and I did good work as an enforcer. I got further than I ever thought I would, but how could I topple the organization? I wasn’t prepared to lead any sort of business. I had reason to believe they would find some way to remove me or work around me if it seemed like I was too incompetent. I needed an external threat.”
“That’s where the boss came in?” asked Carl as twisted his head.
“Exactly,” Gunman answered. “Psycho Gecko attacked Hephaestus from the east coast to the west, not Lone Gunman. As far as others will know, I’m a hero who became a villain. I’m no villain. I am the greatest single hero on this planet. But now you and I know that I crippled Hephaestus and got rid of a few supervillains permanently. Now I’m about to kill you.”
“You must be pretty confident about that part to admit that,” I said to him with a grin. I recorded all of it, of course.
He stood back up and kicked me in the mouth, finally knocking a tooth out. I kept it from falling out of my mouth. “You’ll be squashed like a bug in a few seconds. I can say whatever I want.”
I took aim and spat my tooth into his mouth. Gunman backed away and started coughing, trying to get rid of it. While he was bothered with that, I turned to my master plan for getting out: magic.
Specifically, a spell to make any restraints fall off a person. One of those things I paged over in my time with the same magic book that gave me the Boogeyman summoning ritual. I had recorded the words separately, piecemeal, over the past few days. Now I replayed them all, feeling slivers of power wind through me and the chains. Except when they touched me, something went wrong. It felt like I was burning where I was touched, and the slivers that I felt with some vague sense instead became frayed. It felt like some of the nerves in my body were on fire.
As the spell reached its climax, everything in the room was thrown back away from me, including me. I flew back only a short distance. The chains stopped me, but they didn’t stop me when they should have.
It was a bust. A bust that dislocated my arms. On the plus side, it knocked Lone Gunman off his feet, sent Amplitude rolling, and caused Carl to fall against the wall behind him.
Gunman motioned to Carl, but he couldn’t say anything. He was too busy vomiting up my tooth. A shame it didn’t get caught in his throat when he did that, but people swallow teeth all the time. He put in his earbud and turned it on. “I need men in Psycho Gecko’s cell. He just tried to kill me and he did something that blew up the room kinda. I don’t know what it was.” He slipped his gun out and trained it on me in case I tried that again.
Good luck. Felt like my vocal chords were made of magma, and not just the cybernetic parts.
The reponse over the Hephaestus channels wasn’t what he was looking for. “This is Security Chief Rollins. Take the former Hephaestus Prime into custody, if at all convenient. If he makes it difficult for you, shoot to kill.”
“Oooh, bad luck for you, lil guy,” I said, my voice gravely like I’d been yelling for an hour straight. I chuckled at Gunman’s surprised expression. He looked like that painting “The Scream” when he realized I said that because I was listening in.
He would have shot me then, but the door slid open to reveal his security team. He whirled and fired at them instead, shooting through one to hit another. They retreated in short order and the door slid shut again.
Cussing to himself, the vigilante reloaded his revolver. He swept the gun past me and to the back wall, then fired. Whatever he loaded in there must have had a hell of a lot of kick, because it slammed him into the wall. I heard wind blowing past.
Gunman turned and scrambled around, looking for Amplitude’s head. It was rolled over with him facing the floor. Gunman grabbed him by the headgear and turned him over. “Amplitude, I need you to make me grow. I need to get out of this place.”
“No deal,” said the head.
Gunman stuck his gun in Amplitude’s face, which was easy. There wasn’t really anywhere else to stick a gun on him.
Amplitude showed a lot of balls for only having a head. “Kill me or give me a body. It sounds like you can’t give me a body anymore. You want to shoot, shoot. At least I know you’ll die soon.”
“Fuck!” growled Gunman. Instead of finishing off the head, he swapped out his ammo and stuck something on the end of his barrel. Then he ran for the hole out of my sight, fired at something, and then I heard the sound of a line or a cable or something.
I figured it was time for me to make my grand escape. “Yo, Amplitude. I need a hand.”
“Ha ha. Go to hell,” was his reply. After that, security swarmed into the room and past me.
According to the chatter, Gunman was somehow repelling down the side of the building using some weird gun modification. They glanced at Amplitude, Carl, and me, but filed out of the room. We weren’t going anywhere, as far as they knew.
It was time to reopen negotiations. “I’m serious, Amplitude. You want a body? I’m the guy who can give it to you. I have the stuff to fix up any wound. I’ll just need to rewrite some parameters on the nanites and you’ll be fine. All you have to do is shrink me out of these chains and regrow me once I’m free.”
“I’m probably going to regret this…it wasn’t that long ago we tried to kill each other…but what the heck. Ummmmm, one problem. I can’t see you.”
“Leave that to Carl.” I loaded up the audio from my conversation with Gunman and tweaked my voice a little. Bet y’all didn’t see that coming back when I served as a telephone for Venus, did you? When I spoke again, it was with Lone Gunman’s voice. “Carl, get up, grab the head, and point his face toward me. I swear, the things I do to get a head.”
“Yeah, go boss! Show this armor who’s boss, boss.” He stood up and walked over to Amplitude, obeying my orders. When Amplitude was held at chest height, the decapitated villain’s eyes glowed.
Then I was shrinking amidst falling chains, like a bondage version of Alice falling down the rabbit’s hole. Good thing he shrunk me to about the same size as last time, four inches. Four inches of pure Gecko pleasure, ladies. Heh.
I clambered out and waved both arms up at Amplitude. “After 10,000 years I’m free! It’s time to conquer earth!” I turned and pointed to the hole in the wall and noticed everything changing perspective again. I was back to my regular size again.
I stepped away from the chains and checked out the armor on Carl. “They had to have put in some sort of quick release or something…”
Carl shook his head. “No good, Boss. They welded it on me.”
“Well, then, this is going to make escape more difficult and extraction more painful…but I have an idea.” I ran over to the hole in the wall and glanced down.
I couldn’t see Lone Gunman. I noticed that his lines ended about where there was a new hole in the outside of the building.
We were pants-wettingly far in the air. Too bad for anyone rooting against me, I wasn’t wearing pants. I turned to Amplitude and Carl with a wide grin. I ran over, grabbed Amplitude’s head, and brought him back to the edge to look out. “Magic Amplitude, make my monster grow!”
“Alright, set me down on the ground.”
After setting him down, he zapped me with his eye beams and I felt my body growing. Then my head crashed into the ceiling. “Jump out there, you idiot!” Amplitude yelled at me.
I did so, going for a full frontal leap of faith. Along the way, I noticed everything getting way too close, way too quick. When I brought my hand down to brace my fall, I crushed a convenience store, and was still growing.
Hephaestus had me imprisoned about halfway up a 725 foot tall building. I finished growing as I stood up. “Wow, been awhile since I saw a city like that. Mwahaha, if only the Justice Rangers could see me now.”
I heard a whistle from my left. Turning my head, there was Amplitude and Carl in my old prison. Right. I reached in and gently grabbed both of them. Amplitude was trying to say something, so I lowered my ear to my cupped hands. “Hold on! I’m going to do a controlled shrinking!”
I didn’t know what that meant, but apparently it meant zapping me to a shorter size in fits and starts so I didn’t drop anything.
Fuck that shit, I wasn’t shrinking down by that fucking building. I took a step away, smashing up a shoe store. Huge strides took me far away in no time, even as I left a few destroyed buildings in my wake.
And thus my freedom was secured once again. Naked, with a shot knee, and in debt to a head, but the rest of our escape was as easy as stealing clothes, including a hat for Amplitude, and a car.
As we drove off to find my car and allies, I watched Amplitude bobbing back and forth on the dashboard. He glared at me. “Relax,” I said. “I’ll have you a new body in no time. You know what would loosen you up? A joke. You ever hear the one about Ed the Head?”