I’ll be honest with y’all, I’ve suffered a few upsets in my plan. After our little date, Venus ran off to go beat up a homeless man courtesy of a trick by me. I liked that one. I wanted to force her to do some of the same things someone like myself would. If I had more time, I would have found a way to hide some vague riddle inside a pregnant lady’s womb, with the only way to free it being a hard punch.
So I wanted to annoy Venus while making her commit to similar actions in the hopes that it would torment her. Part of that was the code. The clue she found in that homeless guy’s new jacket turned out to be a string of numbers from zero to twenty-five. I wrote that simple substitution to prepare her for a later code. It served no other purpose in this one except to conceal the second code I used. Once she translated every number to a letter, they appeared to be gibberish.
She probably mistook it for that idiotic ROT13 cipher, one of the most basic substitution ciphers ever. It’s a simple swap of the last letters of the alphabet with the first letters, and vice versa. I wanted to trip her up more than that, so I used a variation of the cipher where I rotated every letter a different amount depending on the letter before it. It took a little more effort, though an analyst needed the code for the first number. In this case, they only needed to count up the total number of letters to determine how far to shift the first letter.
One of my favorite characteristics of this version is that it threw off the letter combinations. English tends to put certain letters together all the time, like ee, oo, ll, er, th, ch, sh, and so on. Plus, most people use a limited pool of three-, two-, and one-letter words.
Long story belatedly made short, the code was a little harder but definitely not unbreakable. I knew she’d have the resources on her side to get through it with a little help.
What message did I put that much effort into? “You can make me break me wave to me and keep secrets safely deposited in me find me by Monday or boom”. Yes, I had to leave out punctuation. Some niceties had to be sacrificed to hurt the superhero.
It gave me manly giggles to think of forcing Venus to break into a bank to find it. You know how hard it would be to obtain a search warrant for every bank in Empyreal City? She had no legal way to get in and find it in time. Of course, she didn’t know the “boom” would be limited to only the safety deposit vault.
Even if she screwed up disarming it, I wanted her to survive that one. If that happened, I’d have forced her to sit in on another date with me to find out her next target.
While I gave Venus the runaround, not to be confused with giving her the reach-around, I had to have the Rejects help me out on the next target. I don’t recall the origins of running the gauntlet, but most usages I’ve heard involved a person facing multiple foes in quick succession. I planned to make Venus run a gauntlet through a haunted house against the Rejects. I intended to send her after a school bus next, but this is where the plan went to hell.
A three-story house Carl picked out worked perfectly when done up with false walls and passageways. Unfortunately, both F-Uhaul and Michelangelo cut me off from their services. Michelangelo said I “drew too much heat to do business with right now.”
Michelangelo never said that kind of thing. He sold to villains and heroes who hated each other. He did business with street gangs and organized crime. Same with F-Uhaul, though I doubted heroes used them. That meant something big. Federal government big. I haven’t been too politically active on this Earth, but I consider it government overreach for any Federal agency to try and capture me.
I’d bet they tracked me over the past year, but now I initiated another potential disaster for Empyreal City. They couldn’t have predicted what I did to New Orleans, and I didn’t even mean to cause the storms in Paradise City, but now I threatened the city I’d already given a major black eye to.
A quick search through traffic cameras near the local FBI station office showed increased traffic by government cars. They tend to paint them very distinctive colors. Sadly, FBI regulations don’t permit an on-duty vehicle to be painted dark purple with a bright red succubus on the hood
But screw those guys, I had a haunted house to fill with radioactive mutants.
Ten minutes after I sent the Rejects off, I got a call. I stopped welding a canister to spread some BZ from under a schoolbus so I could answer the call in my helmet.
“We need to talk, Gecko.”
“Boopsie! How’d you get this number?” I started running interference in case anyone tried to trace the signal. If anyone other than Venus tried to call in or triangulate my position, they’d find themselves dealing with the phone sex line 1-900-FAT-LOVE.
“You left your number on the messages when you called about going out. You’re lucky I found it. Those things you sent, do they kill people?” I pulled up traffic cameras outside the haunted house. I couldn’t get a clear view because no streets intersected near the house.
I began a search for wi-fi or Bluetooth-enabled devices near there as much as I was able. “They’re people, Venus. Just because they don’t look like most people you encounter doesn’t make them inhuman.”
“That’s real progressive of you, but I really need you to answer me. It could mean life or death for them.”
I couldn’t access anything around there. Worse, it wasn’t just a matter of having no power or a weak signal. It felt…crinkly. I couldn’t describe it to y’all very well since the English language wasn’t designed for technopaths in mind. Shakespeare made up the word “eyeball” but couldn’t even bother coming up with a word for when someone’s brain computer-based hacking gets jammed by the FBI. Lazy son of a bitch.
“What are you going to do, kill them?” I tried to stop the van or call the Rejects up, but neither worked; they were within the radius of the jammer.
“Here’s the situation: I’m here ahead of schedule. Your henchmen are walking into a trap set by the Feds. They’re going to die or they’re going to jail. Work with me. I don’t want anyone to get killed because you want to play with me.”
“Oh? And just what do you want me to do about all this?” Something didn’t feel right. I pulled up the view of the neighborhood around the house. There looked fairly calm for a city street in the middle of the day. And Venus really was the sort to minimize the amount of death going on. I doubted she’d let the Rejects walk into whatever the FBI had in store for them.
“When you show up somewhere, things get confusing. If you come here, we should be able to get them out.” Awww, she sounded so sincere.
“I get it, Venus baby. You want some more hot Gecko chocolate. You can’t live without me and your fly is practically unzipping itself due to slickness. Well, I’m not falling for your Venus fly trap. It’ll take more than that to get me to expose myself in public!” I mean, come on. The FBI jammed everything in or out of the place, but somehow Venus called me from within the zone to offer me a deal?
Just because I didn’t know exactly what was going on doesn’t mean I couldn’t tell a trap. Venus and the FBI were working together on this one
“I- listen, this is about helping people I thought you cared about a little. These are the same people you worked with in California.” As if that would convince me.
Still, this made a good new game. Maybe I could still get her to beat up the agents. “Well, I’m kinda busy right now. You ruined things by jumping ahead so quickly, you know. But I suppose the game can continue if you-“
“Shut up, Gecko. Shut your goddamn mouth. Maybe they aren’t your friends, but they’re your teammates. I’m not playing the game anymore. I’ve got friends. Friends like Dame. Remember that thief who helped us last year? The one with a knack for finding you? She’s not bad at getting into banks. The FBI isn’t bad at cracking codes. Altogether, we can beat you without playing along. Game over, Gecko. We’re coming for you.”
She ended the call. I scrambled my number so she couldn’t call back or trace it, then jumped up. “Yo! Carl, Moai! We need to load some stuff up!”
Carl ran downstairs. “Is there a problem?”
“We’re moving again, my good man. Grab the explosives and the Cheetos. Oh, and we’re going to need lots of string…”
Carl scratched his head. “Alright. You want me to call up the others, let them know where we’re going?”
“No, Carl. I’ve got that covered. It’s a shame, you know. This place had potential. On the plus side, it’s going to make a hell of a boom.”
I didn’t know if Venus really knew where I was. I didn’t know if she’d interrogate the Rejects when they were caught. I figured that no matter what she said and no matter how gung ho the Feds were, they weren’t going to shoot up my mutated acquaintances.
As for Big Top’s Restaurant, it did indeed make a great explosion. It started with Carl, Moai, and me, all wearing shades. I had my own, of course, and brought extras for Carl and Moai on this occasion. Carl had his own car stuffed with gear, while Moai sat behind the wheel of a pickup hauling the travel trailer behind it. We packed the trailer full, too.
Attached to the back of my car were multiple wires, because string would have been too flimsy. The wires ran through the restaurant and around the necks of dozens of spare chicken grenades lay trapped under various heavy objects.
“Alright, boys, let’s yank these cocks off and get out of the way while they blow.” I said through the radios of their trucks
Carl flinched, and I picked up what he said through his phone, “Boss, somehow you make blowing up a building sound wrong.”
I stomped on the gas, accelerating us and whipping the heads off the chickens. “Let’s do this. For those about to cock…we salute you!” It took a second before Moai and Carl started following my sudden departure, but they got clear in time as the entire restaurant went up in a great gout of flames. I soon pulled over to get out and enjoy the view. The others stopped, too, and Carl got out to join me. He held Spike Smooshyface in his hands. The puppy barked enthusiastically and gnawed on Carl’s watch. “Wow, you see that? Pretty, huh?”
Carl just stood there, looking at the scene and opening his mouth as if to speak, then closing it. He resembled a fish.
“Anyway, Carl, you said you had the perfect hideout spot in mind for us out of the real estate you purchased for us. Where did you have in mind?”
“Boss, I had a good apartment building with an old air raid bunker underneath it from the Cold War.” Carl had to shift Spike into one hand so he could lay his forehead in his palm.
I leaned on the car as I looked him over. “Carrrrrrl…”
He pointed across the street from Big Top’s Restaurant, to one of the many buildings that caught fire from the explosion. “I figured no one would look for us across the street from the place we just left.”
I looked between the burning wreckage of the Big Top and the soon-to-be wreckage of the buildings around it. I turned back to Carl. “Good thinking, buddy! I hope you had a runner-up too. Something with a little less fire.”