It was Tuesday.
There I was humming along to Quiet Riot’s cover of “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, making my approach toward the Los Angeles County Jail: the current residence of the last Basford on my list. I’d been skipping around anyway, so why not go for the end of the list? It turned out that last fellow was awaiting trial for a variety of charges, including light treason. I didn’t even know such a charge existed. That’s like getting a DUI for riding a drunk horse.
It was composed of a couple of larger buildings with a smaller center for administration. The gang and I, minus Moai and Rattler, flew far overhead on what was supposed to be a skydiving trip. I brought my very unusual group along for a day of fun, relaxation, and jailbreaking. So far, I was the only one having anything to do with the fun and relaxation.
The others were nervous. Part of that was because of the plane flight, part was from the intention to break into jail, and another part of it was because I forgot the parachutes on the ground. Which was fine with me. I had perfect confidence in the mini rockets I’d attached to everyone’s footwear of choice.
It seemed dangerous, but it was really a much safer choice than letting them parachute. After all, you’re only supposed to do a tandem jump your first time and there weren’t enough of the crew left alive to do the jump with us. Or even to fly the plane.
I did that on purpose, too. I needed these guys to help me out and search the other building. Now that I knew magic compelled Venus to somehow show up and interrupt my criminal acts, I needed to search two very large buildings in a short amount of time. I couldn’t just let my minions chicken out of the jump at the last minute. They could either jump and trust in their rocket boots, or they could stay and crash.
Still, for some reason that decision took them way too long to make.
Roberta tapped me on the shoulder, her claw thumping off my armor. “Excuse me, but what if we get turned upside down and can’t get our feet underneath us?” She waved one leg, showing off the boot I’d fixed a rocket to and torn the toes off of so she could claw things.
“Then you splat into the earth, dying a horrible, lonely death. Your corpse will fester and decompositional gasses will erupt from your rectum. You will smell bad. But that’s a risk I’m willing for you to take.”
“Too late, everyone out of the bus!” I grabbed her arm and pushed her out. I turned toward the others in my crew, who stood around gaping like someone just kicked their friend out a plane. What an overreaction. I merely pushed her out the plane. Huge difference.
The others ran as I tried to round them up. More than that, they scattered. So I did what anyone would do in that situation. I charged up the energy sheath around my right hand and punched a hole in the belly of the plane. Then I bowed and jumped out after Roberta. My 360 display showed all four of the laggards took to the open skies rather than sit around on a plane crashing even faster.
Unfortunately, Roberta had a head start on everybody in both jumping and losing her mind. She flailed her legs madly about the air.
I needed to catch up to her, but a small obstacle stood in my way. Physics. The Law of Gravity, I think. One of the few laws I have found difficult to break. I activated my rocket boots early and hurtled through the air, using short bursts to retain fuel while slowly catching up to Roberta. Finally, I grasped her claw and gave her a thumbs up. That calmed her down.
I held her hand until it was time to fire off her rockets. By then, she was oriented the right way for touchdown. I fired off her and my rockets. Hers were staggered to slow her down and drop her safely onto the roof of one of the jail’s towers. Mine kept me in the air long enough to see the others to safety while I flew over to my tower.
Well, I almost made it to my tower. Instead, mine ran out of juice, smashing me against the wall and, eventually, the asphalt exercise yard. Little did you know before today that when someone breaks their rear wide open due to a flight miscalculation, it’s called an asphalt. Doesn’t matter if you’re improvising a jailbreak; the earth’s mass just doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation. What a masshole.
The others tore half their cell block tower apart by the time I turned my head around and everything mended. Alarms shrieked across the exercise yard. I checked over my suit’s systems as well. One of the good things about my armor is how hard it is to damage its capabilities. Another is that I get to run around with my balls free and clear while I commit crimes.
I charged up my arms with every intention of busting through the wall. They built ‘em solid, but very few things were ever made out of which I couldn’t tear a new one. Then I saw the door from the yard to the tower right next to me and all the grit and determination went out the door. I knocked the door off its hinges, though.
I heard surprisingly little noise aside from the alarms. Then again, the alarms were loud enough to make Hellen Keller sign “Shut the fuck up already!”
I stalked down the corridor, hoping to thin humanity’s near-infinite supply of dumbasses. How would I know they were dumbasses? For starters, they’d try to stop me. For fools like myself, that method has provided all the proof I’d ever need. Fool proof, you might call it.
The guards here were not as foolish as I had hoped. They had locked down the interior of the jail and kept their distance from me. It also meant they abandoned the prisoners to my attentions, whatever those may be.
“How we doin’ over there?” I radioed over to the other team.
Ray X answered me. “We met resistance initially. They’re no longer resisting. Now they have the jail on lockdown. We’re calling for Emilio Basford every time we reach living quarters. There’s been no luck, but a lot of people want to come along with us. That’s not surprising.”
“Just make sure whoever takes you up on being Emilio matches the description they gave us. A picture would have been easier, but you know these mages. Everything’s got to be a mystery, oooo, aaaah. Anyway, I’m in on this side now, so maybe I’ll catch him over here.”
“Right. We’ll see how it goes. Ray X out.”
“You know, Ray X, if you think about it, this is kinda fitting. A guy with a minority skin tone in a prison, having renamed himself and taken the last name X. You might see if your friends in the Nation of Islam can help you out. Pretend to be related to that Malcolm X guy.”
“Actually, Gecko, I’m of Asian ancestry. There’s so much messed up about what you just suggested that I can’t figure out if it offended me more about race or religion.”
“Maybe it’s because I hate everyone or because I don’t respect anyone, but I wasn’t thinking about it that way at all.”
I smiled as I made my way through a cafeteria area, scanning the prisoners. My HUD immediately dismissed most of them. The Basfords were of varying levels of intelligence and career ambition, but they were also as pasty as an Olympic bobsled team, excepting the Jamaicans.
I held out hope though. I believe in Jamaica.
“Is there an Emilio Basford in here? Rich, white collar type. Anyone know Emilio?”
It was a jail, though, not a prison. Few people took any real advantage of the chaos, and nobody gave up Emilio Basford’s whereabouts. My search proved fruitless until I got to the cell blocks. Then I found some fruit.
That’s unfair to say, actually. Steve, or Ray X as he renamed himself, would have a field day with my using that statement to describe walking in on a large, hairy fellow about to cornhole Emilio. I could tell it was the right cell by how familiar Emilio looked.
“Ahem,” I said as I peeked in their little dorm room. Emilio was bent over the bottom of a bunk bed, pants around his ankles. The other guy still hadn’t gotten his pants down, fortunately. “Is this a private function, or can anybody join in?”
“The hell are you?” asked the big guy with facial hair that would have made an American Civil War general proud. Probably a Confederate general, since we were in Los Angeles. Those Southern secessionists loved stars and bars.
“I’m here for that rat Basford right there.” I pointed to the man’s unwilling cellmate.
“Oh thank the gods you’re here,” the Basford said as he ran over and gave me a hug. “He was just about to do something horrible to me. I’ll give you anything: money, fame, the love of a beautiful woman.”
“Don’t offer me love with your pants down, buddy.” I told him.
The big guy stepped close, balling up his fists. “Now listen here-!”
He didn’t say much once I reached in and got rid of that pesky tongue of his. Mumbled a hell of a lot, though. I couldn’t make it out, but I believe he said a lot of cuss words.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” said Emilio as he hugged onto me. I pushed him away. Then I noticed something about his face and features. He looked a lot like my employer. Except he didn’t have hair or a beard. He didn’t have just the same vague family resemblance you always see. They looked like they were close in age.
“You know, you look a lot like the guy who hired me…”
“Emilio!” he declared, flaring in anger.
“That’s your name.” I projected a similar beard and hair onto Emilio. “Huh, spitting image.”
Emilio swiped at the images on his head. “No, Emilio is my brother’s name. My twin brother. That bastard swapped places with me. They locked me up thinking I was him. I don’t know why he sent you after me, but you can’t give me to him.”
I cleared the projection away and grabbed him by the arm. He hopped alongside me, pants still at his ankles. I called up the others. “I found him. Break off and rendezvous at the van with Moai and Rattler. We’ll be one heavy.”
“You have to let me go! I have money. I’m a big man in this world. I have connections with the vampires in Santa Monica!” He pleaded and pleaded until I backhanded him a couple of times.
“Relax,” I told the guy I just slapped. “I’m not handing you over to him. It’s probably the last thing I would do. Instead, you’re coming with me. Now either kick those pants off or pull them up. You’re slowing me down.”
Ethan Basford pulled up his pants. After a few seconds, I remembered that was his name. I had to review the conversation from when I met the honcho who hired me. This guy’s story seemed plausible, unless he had scrying abilities powered by anal rape. I hadn’t entirely discounted that.
Basford chose to pull his pants up. To each his own. “I knew he’d make a move. He sent you to kill me, didn’t he?”
I didn’t answer. I wanted to see where he went with this. Even if he turned out to be lying to me about everything, including being Ethan Basford, he probably had more answers than any other family member I could drag out of this.
“He said he was close to something. He taunted me with it when he replaced me.”
“The power?” I suggested.
“He wants it all to himself, but members of the Trust can’t kill each other. We can only act through intermediaries.”
“The Trust?” I tugged him along. Over the comms, I heard sounds of struggle.
“That’s what we were called at first. We are part of a line of practitioners stretching back 200 years, when the cabal first made their deal here. The lore says they were demons, but some of it has been exaggerated over time. We were gifted with greater magical ability and artifacts in order to help facilitate their arrival on our planet. The Trust would be spared. Then we would be left to rule what was left of everything.”
He slowed up while reminiscing, so I just tossed him over my shoulder. “Keep talking. It’s about time I got some answers about this whole mess. Like, what, all the others got wiped out?”
I caught him shaking his head in my display. “No. We’re like European royalty. The Trust intermarried to make sure the power wouldn’t spread too far beyond us, at least at first.”
“200 years…what, y’all couldn’t read the instructions to open the door?” I kicked out another door to the outside, ending up by the track out in the exercise yard again.
“It’s complicated. Most of us never wanted to destroy the world. We live the good life.”
I leapt. Advanced artificial musculature in my suit carried me to my destination in bounds beyond baseline humans. “Yo, guys, I’ve been hearing fighting. What’s going down?”
“Heroes.” It was Headgame, who I used to call Microencephalic Man. “This woman kicked Steve’s ass!” I heard a smacking sound. “Ow, I’m sorry. She kicked Ray X’s ass!” Another smacking sound, louder this time.
Then Meltman spoke up. “We got away, but they’re heading through the building into the other tower. Are you out?”
“I’m as free as a bird now, everyone. They just let you go?” I flapped my arms, and a screaming Ethan, as I fell to the ground. The pseudo muscles took some of the strain as weight reasserted itself, but my bones handled most of it.
“They said you were more important. Hey, did you kill the guy?”
Ethan squirmed at that.
“Nope, I got him here as a source of information. Get this, he’s the twin brother of the guy who hired us. Not only that, he says the other guy’s Emilio. Emilio swapped places with him to live his brother’s life while Ethan went to jail.”
Bonedancer added her two cents. “What about your contract? Isn’t that wrong for you to kill the guy who hired you?”
“Even if contracts and promises were sacred to me, what’s so wrong about killing Emilio Basford when that’s who I was hired to kill?”
And if the guy I carried out of jail to freedom turns out to be lying to me, what then? If I don’t like the story told to me about his attempts to cause an apocalypse, then he might just be Emilio Basford anyway.