I’ve had time to realize how glad I am that such an easy task fell into my lap. I thought I could just take it easy after the small war I fought for most of this year. Murder lots of people who are related to each other. It would be simple if it wasn’t for everything else. Getting that suit of armor off Carl and out of his spinal column was simple.
Trying to get the Rejects to move on? That was not so simple.
They stuck around. They all seemed so oblivious to the idea that I had no clue what to do with them. I didn’t sign up to be their babysitter. Didn’t they ever uncover families, friends, and lives to go back to?
I brought that exact thing up at a meeting with all of them on Monday, Labor Day.
“Umm…no,” Steve told me when I confronted the gang about it. “I saw my file. I had a wife and kids, but I have no memory of them and I look like this now.” He spread his arms wide and showed off his clear body and visible skeleton.
I’ve heard worse as far as arguments go. It seemed a common argument for the Rejects, as Steve’s explanation got nods all around.
“I never found out who I am,” Roberta said, her mouth tube and eye stalk drooping. She petted Spike Smooshyface with her claws. Even the pup looked morose.
Mika spoke up next. She rubbed her boney spine forearms against one another, giving the room of our abandoned video store a soundtrack of bone scraping on bone. “Is…is it really so bad to have us around?”
I glanced around at them. Even Moai stood judging me. “This is about me ruining that statue a few days ago, isn’t it?” I asked him. He didn’t answer. “It’s not like you can’t find another. Besides, I saved you a hot piece of ass from that.” I pointed over to the folding table we used for meals. The statue’s broken hip section sat in the middle as the centerpiece.
It worked for a dining area decoration. After all, it showed off the loin and rump.
But back to the question at hand. Moai moved to block my escape before I could go kill someone without giving a straight answer. I answered because of that, in part. The other part was part of the problem. “Yeah, guys. It’s not fun having you around. See, I like y’all.”
“You hardly spend time with us now,” interrupted Larry, who looked like a melted man.
“That’s because of all this. See, I like y’all more than I should. Originally, I had no qualms with dragging y’all to that building to kill Hephaestus Prime. Then they turned out to have the full squad of anti-me villains hanging around. I could have won. Most or all of y’all would have died, probably, but I would have won. But because I like y’all too much, I gave you an out and sent Moai to make sure y’all took it. This is not who I am, and it’s annoying the hell out of me.”
“Maybe you have a conscience,” said Zane, the pointy-faced one.
My hand made a loud slapping sound as it slammed into my forehead. “See?! Most people would die for saying something like that to me. Even if I spare y’all, though, you have to see the other major problem in all this. I saved y’all. I was beat up, captured, stripped naked, and was given a full dental removal and replacement in short order. That’s how the real world rewards selfless gesture, especially when running in the circles I do.”
As usual, it didn’t take me long to derail the conversation. “Like that damn Venus. I didn’t kill her. I had a few chances to kill her and instead I let her live. Now she and her buddies are obsessed with locking me up to the extent that they may have had something to do with all that Hephaestus crap. Heh.” I actually began to laugh then. “You know, I’m supposed to be the evil one, but I never planned to keep Venus locked up in a tiny cage for the rest of her life. Unlike what she wants to do to me! Hahahahahaha! Phenomenal cosmic power; itty, bitty, tiny living space.”
I guess you had to be there to enjoy the humor. Then again, no one else laughed at the time. In fact, things got real quiet until I held out my arms and said, “I can’t let you stay with me unless you’re willing to be criminals.”
Steve spoke up. “We have no money.”
“I can fix that,” I said.
“We have no family connections or friends,” said Mika, bowing her head.
“We don’t have any high school or college degrees,” added Larry.
“I don’t have a driver’s license or Social Security number,” Zane chimed in.
Roberta scuttled over to me. She rose up on her back four legs and stretched the front two and her mouth tube toward me. “Do you think anyone’s going to want me to work a register?”
I looked her over. “Maybe if you wore a tube top?”
She crossed those upraised arms and tapped one of her other claws on the floor.
“Alright, fine.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “But first thing’s first: you’re gonna need codenames.”
And there was much rejoicing.
The Basford job even provided an excellent opportunity to show them off.
An excellent opportunity indeed seeing as one of Basfords tried to make it as a stage magician. He had a children’s birthday party on Tuesday. Zane found him for me easily. Turns out he shared my sense of humor about how amusing it was for people to post everything about themselves online. The same crowd that’ll complain about wiretapping and email interception will go out and proudly proclaim what they’re doing every day on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
In the midst of all that, it’s a wonder that any government needs to spy on their own citizens. At this point, I imagine most intelligence agencies would rather have another sister agency that specializes in hiding all the really freaky online stuff from them.
Who do the CIA, FBI, NSA, ATF, and DEA call when they find out about your secret moray eel teabagging fetish? The TMI, of course.
While Zane dug up that info, Steve secured us transportation. His skill in grabbing someone and screaming in their face contributed heavily to this. The new van even featured a classy mural on its side: an anthropomorphic female dragon in a chainmail bikini holding a sword out as she’s attacked by a fire-breathing nude human man.
Roberta and Larry scouted the place the night before. Moai and Mika picked up some simple and generic domino masks for the group. Tom sat around and made bags of potato chips disappear. I’d look away, hear something crinkle, then turn to find an entire bag gone except for a few shreds of the bag itself.
When the day came about, we were ready. We sped into the park area, bouncing over hills. ZZ Top’s “Tush” boomed from the stereo, and a few of us couldn’t help but join in. I turned the wheel and pressed on the brake along with the gas as we approached the playground area. While we drifted, I briefly wondered if we would tip. I also wondered if I knew what I was doing.
In the end, we skidded all the way around in a loop, broke through the fence, and then skidded again so the rear of the van bumped against Marion Basford. I never knew Marion could be a guy’s name. Ah well, my new home dimension has taught me many things, so what’s one more?
Marion Basford, the stage illusionist of the family, fell flat on his face in front of a gaggle of giggly girls and boys. The doors burst open and the team piled out, all in masks. I went first, wearing a sequined purple suit with a top hat and a cane with a microphone built into it.
I really wore that thing. Mika claimed it was Moai’s idea, but Moai fingered Mika. I meant he pointed the finger at her. Probably not the middle finger, as they pointed that in my direction by getting me the outfit.
I tapped the cane against the floor, then glanced down and tapped it on Marion’s head. That got some laughter from the kiddies, who were all dressed in little masks and capes of their own. Superhero theme. Serendipitous. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, we are proud to present your entertainment! I’ll be your Master of Ceremonies and the ringleader of this little squad of the strange: Psycho Gecko! And this is my lovely assistant Moai!”
Moai hopped out, landing on Marion’s legs with a crunch. Marion’s very real screams coaxed more laughter from the kids. Looking past them, I could see parents outside the fence. Like the kids, they reacted like it was all part of the show, something to break up the terrible cacophony of a children’s party. Some of them wore kid-sized masks or miniature capes of their own, and I thought I even saw a cosplayer before she ducked behind someone else.
Before I could step to the side, Moai dropped to his side behind me and rolled toward me. I managed to hop on top of him and kept up as he rolled forward and back, and even to the side so the others had more room.
“And here’s the rest of the gang of Rejects!” They all filed out, with me announcing them in turn. Headgame waved and stretched out his arm. It narrowed like his head as he reached over to high five me. Bonedancer dropped out behind him and did what she explained to me as a “fouetté en tournant” thingy. It’s normally where a dancer kinda stays in one place, loups their arms in front of them, and rotates with one leg outstretched a bit. In her case, her boney leg carved a hole in stage just below Marion’s groin.
Marion concerned himself more with crawling toward the edge of the stage.
Bonedancer leapt to the side. Despite her appearance, she was quite graceful. In contrast, Meltman waddled out. Those parents disturbed by Bonedancer’s appearance didn’t much care for the droopy, melty person in front of them, but the kids loved it as he took a breath and spat fire into the air. They giggled even more as he followed it up with a burp and then a modest “Sorry” to the crowd. He went for another burst of flame, but it was interrupted by a blast of wind and a bang.
That caused Marion to go “Eep!” and pull himself the rest of the way off his stage, where he thumped to the rubber playground floor covering below.
Both the bang and wind issued from a tube snaking out from Meltman’s back. He stepped aside to show the crowd the leggy, alien appearance of Winsect. She wanted to call herself Blowberta, but every guy in the building vetoed that by shaking our heads and saying “Nooooo,” in perfect harmony. I convinced her to go with something that played on her strange appearance, her ability to spit those little sonic boom air blasts, and her natural affinity for winning.
Hence the name Winsect.
The last two came out at once. By now, parents were dragging their kids away. They tried, at least. The parents were scared, but the kids were big enough to find this cool as shit. They looked to be eight or nine, maybe even ten. As bad as I’ve been at estimating distances and size, I’ve never been all that good at ages either.
Ray X dragged Rattler out with him. The clear-skinned skeleton man shook his hollow-headed partner like a magic eight ball, eliticing more laughter from the young members of the audience. Ray bounced Rattler’s head from hand to hand as he activated his own abilities. Violet and pink strings of plasma arced from his bones to his clear skin. The filaments illuminated patches of see-through skin as they stopped there. He let one filament escape one eye and formed an arch to his other eye.
My own enjoyment of the light show was interrupted by a voice that called out, “Gecko!”
I slumped as I turned to the woman standing between us and the bulk of the crowd. Venus had joined the evacuation. Her costume was complimented by a child’s cape. Of all the superhero birthday parties for everyone to converge on, eh? “Damn, woman, you’re like Visa: everywhere I want to be.”
“What are you here for?” she asked, busy pulling kids behind her. It appeared they were of the utmost importance to her. I realized I could use that.
“Well, you know me, lovely Venus. I live to rampage and cause collateral damage, but today I’m here for one man.” I pointed down at the stage magician who had been left behind by everybody. “Now, if I kill him, I suppose I’ll just pack up and leave. But it’d be a bad idea for anyone to be too close, so maybe you ought to see those folks off. You wouldn’t want the kiddes to see what comes next, would you? Exposure to murder like that can do interesting things to a young and malleable mind, can’t it?”
I smiled at that. Venus gently pushed the kids hiding behind her back so that they would hopefully run for it. Two of them did, but a girl stayed behind, silently watching. Venus didn’t notice her and instead slid into her fighting stance. Her fists were ready for another date with my face. Too bad for them that my intention was to stand Venus up this time.
“Yes, fighting, that’s an option too. You know, except for the part where our fight spills over into the huddled masses. That’s a great judgment call to make.”
Venus said something to herself. She spoke too softly for me to hear, but the girl standing behind her spoke up and said, “I didn’t think heroes were allowed to say that word.”
The heroine’s eyes went wide and she froze. She spun ninety degrees and grabbed the girl. She kept one eye on us as she ran with her to join the rest of the escapees.
“Did you see the look on her face?” I asked Moai. That did it. We all had ourselves a good chuckle on stage there. Unfortunately, I played the bad guy and shushed them all. “Ok, guys. Someone fire up the van. Let’s make sure it works. The rest of you form a picket line so Venus doesn’t double back. Stay close enough to help one another. We have to look like y’all could potentially go after those children if she came after me. We clear?”
I got nods all around, even from Winsect’s tube.
I gave them time to get away before I dropped down and approached the splayed-out magician. I wanted the others away for the reasons I gave them. I also knew enough about desperate people and the Basfords to be wary of them stepping between me and a trickster with access to the kinds of relics this family had.
I stuck the cane under him and levered him over onto his back. He blinked as he looked up at me, shaking his head. “Why?”
“M, C, A. Any last words?” I asked the imperiled prestidigitator, spinning my cane around in circles. My only regret, I knew, was not getting a chance to defenestrate the prestidigitator. I’ve wanted to do that since I first learned English.
“Yeah,” he said, fighting throught the pain to present determination through clenched teeth. “Achtung, motherfucker.” Out of nowhere, an old Luger appeared in his hand. I grabbed for it and turned my body away. At the moment I would have touched it, two things occurred. He fired and the gun disappeared. Technically, you could say that him missing was a third event, but that’s semantics. The old weapon appeared in his other hand. He took a moment to wave it and show off the swastika with four eagles around it. Damn Nazi occultists. I went to backhand it away, but it disappeared again.
The annoying Luger legerdemain continued, as did four more misses. Getting fed up, held up both hands, then took the cane in both. With my left hand, I wiggled the microphone head as if trying to pull it off for a trick. With my right, I gribbed lower down on the shaft. That made it easier when I swung the cane down and caught Marion with an audible ball shot just as the Luger appeared.
I took it out of his hands and waved it myself this time. “Doesn’t matter how fancy a toy you have if you don’t know how to play with it.”
I aimed it directly at him. He threw his hands over his face and clenched his eyes tight.
I lowered my aim and fired three times. He cupped his groin and tried to scream. The pain was actually so intense that it choked the scream into something much quieter. He put up no real resistance then as I made the world’s most disappointing lollipop out of him and my cane. His objections quieted even more as I lifted him like that, and they went completely silent as I dropped him and kicked upward.
When he landed, I threw my arms wide. “Ta da! It’s gone!”
I missed the cane almost immediately, but no way would I talk into that mic again. I didn’t particularly care for the gun either. I’d tried to unload it, but the magazine slide didn’t work. A closer examination showed absolutely no seam. None whatsoever, like the manufacturer made it that way. I took a seat in the back of the truck as I examined it.
Ray X, aka Steve, looked back from the driver’s seat. “Cool gun.”
“Hey,” I told him, “go round up the others. We’re done here.”
“How did we do?” he asked before sliding out of his seat.
“Not too bad, Ray X. We upstaged the main act, and as far Venus is concerned, I’d say we stole the show.”