Leverage is when someone uses an object as a force multiplier to exert greater influence over an object or person. Children make excellent leverage. I know I’ve saved a few before in my adventures, and some of y’all may be doubting my villain cred because of it. You know, just in case the murdering hasn’t convinced y’all yet.
Hear me out: people will lose their fucking minds if you take their kids. Parental instincts tend to rearrange people’s fears. Anything you can do to remove an opponent’s ability to think rationally in a conflict with you is handy. Like groping them, making sexist comments, yada yada. In the case of hostages, random people create an obligation for a hero. For a villain, they create a shield. But whatever person Spinetingler seems to be after, he’s showing a hell of a lot of interest in them. Maybe it’s not his kid; maybe he wants to murder that person.
He’s still sending me nightmares, so I don’t understand why he hasn’t been able to find the mind of whoever he’s after. This last one involved undead heroes I killed, like Pink Pixie and Miss Tycism. A crowd of them surrounding me and dragging me down. He’s starting to cost me sleep, all to get me to do his dirty work for him.
Either way, I figured I needed to get a hold of this person and tell ‘Tingler to get the hell out of my city. He’s showing me up, and he can’t even bother being more stylish about it.
Carl, as a parent himself, objected. We got into a very handy argument about it. There he was, on Sunday, pointing his finger right in my chest. “You don’t go after a man’s kids!”
I looked down at the finger. I felt like breaking the finger. I gave Carl the finger. “You think he doesn’t? You think every time there’s a massacre or explosion, the kids are magically left out of things? There hasn’t been a war yet that doesn’t drag children into it.”
To keep from doing what I wanted to do to Carl for poking me like that, I turned and walked over to the refrigerator to rustle up a drink. Carl didn’t follow and poke me from behind or anything, just talk. “Boss, this isn’t war. You don’t have to fight him. We could just pack up and leave. Just don’t target a kid.”
I turned and took a sip of my drink. Good stuff. Some sort of Mexican fruit punch soda. Try Generic Hispano-Pop today! “This is what I do. A villain never stops. Hell, if Spinetingler spent any time whatsoever looking me up, he’d-.” I stopped, pondering. Then I stopped pondering and let out a laugh. I took another swig of my drink, shaking my head.
Carl just looked at me, waiting on me to finish. I held out my hand. “So that’s what he did. Son of a bitch, that guy’s a glorious bastard. Or I think he is. I could just be wrong about this.”
Carl ran his hand over his stubbly cheeks and kept watching me expectantly.
“He waited a couple of months before heading here. He showed up just in time to keep me from leaving, though that timing could just be coincidental. Then this conflict between us. On the one hand, ruining a plan sounds like something he’d do, but he said some crap about not liking the body I left him with. So I think he tried to provoke me in the hopes I’d oppose him. Then he just had to keep on looking until I caught on to what he was doing, so I could search in ways he can’t and lead him right to her.”
Carl pinched his nose. “That sounds like a stretch. He’s been looking really hard, too. Why do that?”
I shrugged. “Hell, it may have gotten him some decent information on his own.”
“But he’s got the heroes after him, right?” Carl asked. Good point.
“Not all of them. He’s done something to a lot of ’em. Still got Venus. So she’s looking, too. Hell, she’s probably ahead of me on it. So I’m the backup. Or she’s the backup. Or we’re both the backup.” I took another sip. Carl didn’t look convinced. “Well, it’s less of a stretch than being pissed at me for destroying a body he could just fix in a second. Guy didn’t die, after all.”
“Boss, what about the kid?” he asked, going back to the root of our conversation.
I shrugged and tossed the bottle in the trash from across the room. “Not going after Spinetingler Junior if Spinetingler Senior wants me to. Think we can head out on that vacation again?” I called out to Moai, who laid on the couch. “Yo, Moai, get my bags! The luggage, not the bodybags!”
“We’re just leaving?”
I facepalmed. “Dammit, Carl! Make up your mind! I say stay, you wanna go, I say go, you wanna stay.
Problem was, we couldn’t book anything. Some sort of outbreak at the airport, when we got someone on the phone. “Are you sure?” I asked. It was hard to hear the person on the other end. Lots of screaming.
“Problem, boss?” Carl asked, loaded down with all the essentials I decided to bring along at the last minute, including a set of dumbbells.
“Zombies, from the sound of things. Probably an outbreak with the TSA. It was only a matter of time before they started looking for some brains of their own. Boats, maybe? A car trip, perhaps?” I headed into my sleeping area for a little special project of mine. I scooped up my eye-in-progress and slipped it into a little box with lots of padding. So fucking close, my little eye. When I walked back out, I found out why everyone had shut up all of a sudden.
A shiny silver, pink, and gold superheroine in a suit of powered armor greeted me, because of course she did. Why not? What time does Venus show up? The worst time. She looked at me carrying my eyebox and remarked, “I hope you’re not proposing, Gecko.”
“Oh, dearest Venus. I dream of the day when only at death do we part. Lucky for you, that day is today!” I reached over and grabbed some ball bearings off a workbench, throwing them at her feet. “Eat chemical doom!”
Venus backed off and pressed something on her helmet. Rather than wait for her to realize nothing would come out of the balls I threw at her, I set the eye box down and dove for the minifridge. I had to unzip this one. I needed a weapon. I got beer instead.
I felt Venus’s hand on my shoulder as I shook it. Turning, I popped the top and sprayed foam in her face. The battle bukkake blinding her, I spun out of her grip and back to my feet, then up to throw a kick at the back of her neck. It caused her to stumble forward slightly and it made my shin hurt like a motherfucker just fucked me instead of my mother.
I landed on my side and rolled to get some distance and my feet under me. I glanced at Moai and pointed at Venus. He charged her and smashed her into the bathroom.
I cheered after him. “Come on, Moai! Swirly time! Don’t forget the chainsaw!” I barely spoke before the bathroom sink crashed through the door and knocked me down with a glancing blow to the belly. Before I could catch my breath, Venus slid along the floor toward me.
She slammed her fist into my back, then pulled me up by my shirt. She held the knuckles of her other gauntlet against my face. “Are you done fighting, or do I zap you?”
“I hate you, Venus,” I told her. She used the hand on my shirt to pound me into the ground real quick, then lift me up again.
“Who’s my bitch?” she asked.
I shut my damn mouth. Then Carl tapped on her helmet with his minipistol. “Let him go.”
“We talked about this already, remember?” she asked Carl, then snatched the gun away from him with the hand she had held to my cheek. I lunged to escape her grasp, but she picked me up, spun me belly up, and then dropped me hard on the floor again. She straddled me and spun the gun around to train it on Carl. “Are you under arrest, or can we talk like civilized adults for once? What are you doing?”
Against all my instincts, I laid back and tried to relax. Hard to do that with a threat right there, practically sitting on my lap. Hard, I tell you. Joking aside, my entire body screamed “Danger!”
Well, except for the part of me between the legs that went, “Help a brother out. Come on; a hug, a kiss, a handshake, anything.”
I rested on the floor and crossed my fingers, laying my hands on my belly. “I’m getting out of town, Venus. You were about to have yourself a holiday from me.”
Venus poked me in the chest. “Bullshit. You’re not scared of Spinetingler. Are you working for him?”
I rolled my eye. “Yeah right. Like he’s got anything I want. Wait, does he have anything I want?”
Venus brought her leg over so she could kneel next to me. “No, he doesn’t. I know he’s looking for something. You know it too. The kid in the apartment. Thanks for saving him, by the way.”
I waved off her thanks. “Ok, so he’s looking for something. Or someone. Probably his kid, the way all this works. That’s why I’m leaving, and why you should come with me. Because I bet your first instinct was to run your own search using more modern methods, right?”
Venus nodded. “You think he’s using us.”
“Yup. And now that we know it, we don’t have to go through with it. So go screw yourself, I mean to go on vacation. Stir up trouble in North Korea maybe.” I sat up and scooted away from her. While we’d been talking peacefully, Carl and Moai gathered up our scattered bags.
“I can’t do that, Gecko. I can’t take the chance. I have to do it, even if it’s a trap.” She stood up and offered me a hand. I took it.
“Stupid hero,” I muttered.
“Apathetic villain,” she told me. “I’ve never seen you look the same for so long. You still look like that guy with the cane.”
I didn’t like her talking about him, for some reason. “I’m going,” I said shortly, turning away from her. “Since the airport’s got some sort of zombie thing going on, I’ll just have to see about a car or maybe we’ll head to one outside the city…”
Venus stiffened. “Zombies at the airport?”
I could have offered her the package I got from Max, but that would have been helpful. Even though a zombie Venus hit way too close to my dream, I’d still rather risk her death by zombification. Unless they were the sort of zombies who could still think. I might be screwed, then. “Yeah, that’s what they were screaming about when I called them.”
She whirled and walked to the door. “I still have people to save. A hero never quits.” She threw open the door and stopped suddenly. “Fuck!” She turned back to me, “Nobody’s going anywhere, Gecko.”
I walked over to take a look at what she meant, then stepped out with her and started walking all around the lair to get a better view. At some point in all that, Venus disappeared. Probably off to try and save some days.
I had to throw on the armor to get a better view, by jumping to higher and higher buildings until I could clearly see it. The sky wasn’t right. Rather than, ya know, sky, it was a twisted mass of…I don’t know. It looked like another world over us. A world of too many angles in too small a space, with mouths and eyes in the architecture. Off at the edges of the city, a wall grew up.
I got a chance to see it in person when we got close. I wondered if the whole mess might have been some sort of illusion. I know a thing or two about illusions. What I found instead was that Empyreal City was trapped with in a wall of solid bone under a twisted sky.
Which would be great if I wasn’t here. Since I’m stuck here, looks like Spinetingler really wants me to find that person for him.
That’s why, when it looked like Venus and a bloody band of traumatized survivors were facing their last stand, I dropped in front of them and opened the package from Max. From inside, a couple of brains jumped out, growling. Gooey brain juice saliva dripped from their fangs. Then they pounced on their prey, burrowing into the zombies’ heads and emerging with a new fangy brain in tow.
I turned around and tilted my head as I asked Venus, “Here’s some food for thought. Why do you think the city got cut off right after I decided to stop looking and leave?”