Shit did not hit the fan. That would have been too small. Ladies and gentlemen, shit has hit the stratosphere. Things are worse than when Captain Lightning killed that wizard in Washington D.C. last year. That was high profile because Captain Lightning is a big deal. Or maybe was a big deal. He’s still missing in action. But he was a major hero. That wizard was really powerful, too. We’re talking about a situation where someone could make the case that things got out of control.
The media made that claim, of course. It turned out to be good practice for when all those cops went wild shooting people.
In the same vein, people didn’t take kindly to the idea that a superhero may have fatally injured a villain. They don’t like the idea of villains killing heroes, either, but we’re the bad guys. We’re assholes. They expect us to be low on morals. They expect us to be murderous psychopaths, dirty druggies, and even Nazis. Which accounts for me, Mix N’Max, and that Hitler Clone I met in New Orleans, but you can’t judge everybody based on those examples.
But what really caused the current shitstorm is the death of Urban Croc, apparently by a police officer finishing what Pink Pixie started.
I found myself discussing the recent events with an older gentleman at a charity event. Something about providing eyeglasses, shoes, and food to impoverished children. They invited major donors over to this hotel ballroom as a sort of thanks. It allowed a bit of mingling between the middle and upper classes, which made a good impression on the middle class donors. They also had an area to allow someone to pledge donations for the upcoming year. Very convenient.
“I agree, these violent incidents have gotten out of hand, but what can you do? If you get into a fight with either the police or vigilantes, it’s your own fault for getting hurt, isn’t it?” he asked. We were in a group. Some of them nodded, but one couple looked more like they had sucked on a lemon.
My projection resembled Matatoa as he’d have looked in his twenties. Matty had come with me, though people mistook him for my father like this. We hadn’t shown up with any intention of committing crimes. Not with Venus watching me. “You say that, but the people enforcing the laws shouldn’t be killing unless they absolutely have to. They’re supposed to de-escalate situations. Try for a peaceful solution if possible. Look at all the demonstrations and riots that have happened when they didn’t. Second, murder is a crime. Can’t have people uphold the law by breaking it. Third, it denies the criminal the right to a trial. There’s a reason we say people are ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Otherwise, just rename the city ‘Mega City One’ and call the cops ‘Judges’ and don’t even bother about rights of the accused. Make sense?”
They didn’t get the reference. Instead, a woman in a gleaming golden gown added her two cents. Of course she did. It’s for charity, isn’t it? “I think a hero should do whatever they can to stop a fight quickly. Those villains get dangerous normal people. Remember that man who destroyed the Empyre State Building? They had the chance to kill him just before he did it.”
I shook my head. “It’ll just make things worse, and I got a whole ‘nother reason why. Escalation. Not just a lack of de-escalation. It’s like with burglars. They tend to be non-violent and they don’t carry guns. Get caught breaking and entering with a gun or attacking someone for no reason, you get a harsher sentence. But if it’s ok for cops to shoot burglars just because they’re committing a crime, they won’t stop. Most crime is driven by need. They’ll still rob, but they’ll start carrying guns and shooting first at cops and witnesses. Sun Tzu recognized the value in leaving an enemy an apparent means of escape. If you don’t, they fight harder and they fight to the death. After all, even crooks worry about self defense.”
That last sentence coaxed a guffaw from the older man I’d been talking to first. “I’m afraid you’ll find yourself in an uphill battle convincing anyone here. You’re in the minority on this one.”
“Well then, let me go from Sun Tzu to Marcus Aurelius, who said ‘The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.’ Personally, I prefer to think of it with a comma after ‘escape.’ But perhaps it’s time for me to leave this little discussion and try to convince that heroine over there to dance with me.” I nodded toward Venus.
She started following Matty and I on the way over once her underlings reported we had been on the move. When we entered, my display showed her questioning the man at the door. Joke’s on her. The invitation was legitimate, though it named one of my aliases instead, George Denis Patrick.
It pays to give to charity if you like to steal stuff. It provides great shopping opportunities, and government agencies generally dislike taking back stolen money from hungry orphans with club feet, cleft palettes, and hunger pangs.
I looked across the dance floor to Venus where she stood guard against a wall. No need to panic I couldn’t read her eyes behind that visor of hers. That was power, of a sort. I hadn’t given her any reason to move on me, other than every other thing I’ve done in my life. Just nothing here. I dipped my head and flourished my hand in her direction. Then I stepped out onto the floor. She stepped out as well. People cleared out of her path a lot more quickly than they did mine, but that’s the benefit of looking like you’re wearing power armor.
Yes, I’m immature. Yes, I generally dislike society, and any parts of it formal enough to involve wearing a suit. But I have been drilled to blend in with a variety of different situations until they beat me for it. The good thing about that is, when you’re spitting up blood and your belly is covered with bruises, it’s very easy to blend in as someone who just got beat. I could have won an award for that performance, though I heard the pants-crapping was a bit much. I heard it from their boots as they started up again.
Soldiers make surprisingly good tutors on acting. I bet if the Senators in Julius Caesar had real knives under their togas, no one would be flubbing any more lines.
Venus and I met up for a bit of dancing. The armor affected her gracefulness; my general ineptitude affected mine. It’s good to know my limits. It’s good to know her limits. “That armor seems to have left you a bit stiff, but I’m glad you’re morally flexible enough to allow me to attend. You know how charitable I am.”
“You hand out a lot of stolen money. There’s probably a case to be made for holding up your contributions, but I’m being lenient with you. I don’t know what you’re up to, but at least you haven’t blown up anymore buildings lately.” The visor didn’t extend all the way down her face, so I saw her smile.
“What you don’t know won’t kill you, Venus.” Pink Pixie, maybe, but not Venus. Not yet. “You and I seem drawn together, somehow, for better or worse, even by my impulses. I hate it, you know.”
“I hated it too,” she said.
“Hated?” I asked.
“You’re my project. I want to stop you, permanently, with as little bloodshed as possible.” I laughed at that, though she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t like to laugh at her own jokes.
“You don’t want to kill me and you can’t stand what jailing me means. The only option left for you to hope for is reforming me. Which, by the way, is as good a time as any to have a rimshot. I do have to thank you for taking me in last time, you know. You reminded me how good it feels to end a life.”
We were in our own little world there on the dance floor. That kind of thing happens when an armored hero is twirling around in public. “Hush,” she told me. “You can’t be all bad if you feel you need to die-”
I sighed dramatically, “Ugh, I knew this would come up again,”
“-for what you’ve done. Yes, it’s coming up again,” she continued through my interruption.
“It’s disrespectful, Venus. All the people I’ve killed, and here you are wanting to deny them their due justice. Some hero you are.”
She let out an exasperated sigh. Well, weren’t we all just sighing tonight? “Making someone kill you isn’t any better. But you’re too big a coward to commit suicide? It goes without saying you’re confusing.”
“And an ass.”
“A confusing ass.”
“A nice ass,” I said.
“I meant me,” I clarified.
“It’s about time you accepted a compliment from someone. You don’t strike me as a coward. I don’t like what you do when you come after me and my friends, but that takes courage.” I tried to break away, but she had quite a grip in that armor. She kept me close to her by force. “I want an answer, even if it doesn’t make sense.”
“Venus, I am a coward. I killed people because bigger men, with hard boots and guns, threatened to kill me. I traded their lives for mine. Those men, women, and children deserve a little better than me giving up. I intend to leave this world the same way I entered it: pissing myself in the middle of explosion. Which, by the way, is a refreshing thing to survive, thank you. You should try it sometime. I’ll help you with the explosion part. You’ll have to take care of the urination and survival.”
I pulled away. She tried to hold me, so I tipped my hand and pushed her away hard enough to tip my hand. I wanted to leave. I should have gone before telling her all that. I turned to go, sweeping my 360 display for her any surprises.
“Don’t go,” She pleaded. For a half second, I almost believed the lie I felt in her voice. That she might actually care. Not in any romantic sense. Let’s not kid ourselves there. But that’s not what I do. I don’t give up because a pretty face wants to imagine she cares for me. I’ve faced hard decisions before. You either lay there and take a turkey leg up your ass, or you let yourself turn away.
A man had approached me. “Sir, is something wrong? Is the hero bothering you?”
I chuckled and turned around. “Don’t get close to him,” Venus said.
I looked her over, checking out the armor a little better. A line from a song came to mind. Just Another Machine, by The Megas. I started humming it, then a few pertinent lyrics came to mind. “Your light is going out on me. It was you who built this uncertainty. This is your answer, just another machine.” I gestured toward her and her armor, then back to myself. “I’m just another machine.”
I disappeared. I didn’t leave, though. The crowd that had gathered around the scene Venus and I made murmured in confusion. Venus swept the area with her gaze, trying to find any sign of me or perhaps trying out vision modes. I passed by right behind her and whispered, loud enough for her to hear over the hub bub. “Will you tell her that her mother died?”
I pulled a woman from the crowd as I said it, which worked out nicely when turned and punched. The armor slowed her a little, but she nonetheless managed to knock the ugly off a woman in her mid forties and apply an entirely new coat, all in one swift motion. Paint on, paint off, Daniel-San.
Luckily, Matatoa was waiting for me by the car. “This would have been awkward if you had to wait for me to leave before storming off after your tantrum, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh yeah? Well, so much for you not knowing everything like when you were in charge of the year. You’re holding out on me, aren’t you? If I rub your belly, do I get a wish?” I asked as I slid into the driver’s side of my customized ’51 Hudson Hornet.
“Gecko, if you rub any part of me, I’m going to break this cane in half and clear your digestion with it.” He said, eyeing me sternly from the passenger seat.
That made me feel proud, actually. You could tell I raised him.
Then I was out. I had shit to do. I had devices to finish up, like the thing I worked on for Pink Pixie. I didn’t have to worry about her mother, though.
About the same time I had myself a tantrum at the ball, the police received an anonymous phone call reporting gunshots at an apartment building. Dutiful, loyal Carl didn’t enjoy killing, but who doesn’t enjoy speaking on the phone? And anyway, police aren’t that different from phone sex operators. Sure, one is 1-900 and the other is 911, but both of them want you to stay on the line, both of them get excited at the prospect of using handcuffs, and both are more than happy to hear about all the dirty things you’ve done wrong.
I already have the name worked out of the police ever want to go ahead and make it official. I was thinking 1-900-Blue Balls. Crap, too many numbers. 1-900-Catch Me. Wait, no, that sounds like an STD hotline. 1-900-Luv Cuff. I don’t like spelling it that way.
I’m no Grammar Nazi, though. He fights The Saurus, not Venus.
No, Carl didn’t kill anyone. As far as anyone was supposed to know, a burglar entered, found a woman in her apartment, panicked, and opened fire. They even found part of the torn ski mask. I congratulated Moai on his thinking there. My magically-animated minion did a fine job. The victim seemed to be no one special: a widow whose daughter sneaks out in a pink and black costume with fairy wings attached.
But I changed the plan slightly. Now I just need to see how long until Pink Pixie flits around to call me out.