“Look at them out there. All snively and thankful. Why should they get to be happy?” I threw a rock off the roof, nailing a happy old guy in the head with it and leaving a happy old body on the ground.
“Boss, why aren’t you happy? You won! You beat one of the most infamous supervillains in the world. You also confronted your demons and learned an important life lesson.” Carl tried to cheer me up using all he’d learned from when I recounted the Spinetingler confrontation to him. It helped fill the time and distract me from all the people trying to go back to normal lives.
I haven’t seen Venus since that day. She’s been spotted here or there, but I think she’s taking a break. I don’t know what she faced, but it’s probably something where the only sane response was to go crazy. After all, if something happens that would drive a person mad and it doesn’t make you go insane, it’s a clear indication that you’re nuts.
I’ve seen other heroes, though. Some of them swing around or fly, working out their patrols. I even noticed one of them stop and just cry to himself for awhile before changing back into civilian clothes. The news erupted with the return of Empyreal City to the real world, covering the airwaves with all sorts of accounts. It sounds like Spinetingler drove most of the city’s supers comatose. Yeah, those fuckers slept it off. Well, it wasn’t all fun and nap time for them. They got stuck in nightmares the entire time. Nice touch.
Of course, most of your regular criminals aren’t all that active now anyway. Selling drugs is a good way to make money, but people want relief supplies more than anything else right now. After all, they had to go cold turkey in a scenario resembling a bad acid trip.
There are camps all over the city, too. The National Guard is here, and Cape Diem, too. Yeah, I watched them arrive in their grey, light blue, and dull yellow outfits. A crackling portal to the Cape Diem base opened and the Titan, the super in charge of the superhuman international aid agency, appeared in human form to spearhead the initial relief effort.
If it wasn’t for his neutrality, the Titan might be counted up there with Captain Lightning. It’s hard to rank him as either a good guy or bad when his response to looting is to take the criminals aside and offer them food and blankets. Then again, he was nine feet tall with dark blue skin and a pair of wings on his back big enough for flight when combined with his strength. The hungry hooligans put the TVs back and decided they’d rather eat food with their teeth than through a straw.
Sounds like a hero, right? Well, they catch some flack for having a portal network, resources, and funding, but only using it to focus on humanitarian missions. And most supervillains aren’t concerned with going after refugee camps. Not so much due to standards. Refugees don’t have crap to steal. In Cape Diem’s case, they’re not above accepting applications from villains either. So the Titan doesn’t exactly hobnob with the U.S.’s paragons of virtue.
In spite of all these interesting changes, the civilians just want to get on with the same lives they had before, as if their lives didn’t suck. As if the old way was so much better than all these new possibilities. I fought Spinetingler to defend myself, but he was right about people being scared of change.
Don’t blame me. I used the aftermath to grab a few more hiding spots and start moving. I had to leave the gas station behind, which I didn’t mind. It wasn’t meant to be permanent, and was a bit too open to perform major remodeling. The bunker was fine for storage, but then I exposed it to everybody, including a pair of heroes. So that was out.
So I own a building now. A very nice building with my own penthouse and a basement that’s about to get a hell of a lot bigger. It’s all very legal-looking, belonging to the Double Cross Medical Supply Company. Because when things look bad, expect Double Cross. Eh, could be a little obvious. Maybe I should call it Double Cross, Double Shield instead.
I thought we got everything out, but I asked Carl and he said he thought maybe we did. I asked him, “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure I think maybe we did,” he replied. His response wasn’t helpful, but it was technically correct. The best kind of correct.
So I stopped by there to make sure. Only thing is, Captain Lightning swooped in when I was inside and blocked the way out. “We need to have a chat, son.”
I feel I should point out, before the inevitable misunderstanding occurs, that he didn’t mean it as any indication of familial relationship. I figured I’d clarify this in part due to my reaction. I ran toward Captain Lightning, arms out, and yelled, “Mommy!”
I jumped up to wrap him in a hug, but he pushed me back to the ground where I landed on my ass. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
I stood up and checked what kind of gap I had to work with if I needed to run. Like that would do any good. I believe we’ve already established that he’s stronger, faster, tougher, able to leap more buildings in a single bound, and all-around my better due to his powers. I think I have him on the hotdog eating contest, though. “Ok, so we need to have a talk. Is it the sort of talk I should have a lawyer involved in? I understand you heroes to be notoriously inflexible morally. You should let your conscience relax sometime. Maybe try yoga. It’s this new thing. Ya know, they even have a bear for a mascot. He’s an evil genius, smarter than the average bear, who travels around stealing picnic baskets with a henchman named Boo Boo. I think the little guy should have named himself after a more threatening term of wounding, like Gash or Cigarette Burn, but that’s how I think.”
Lightning smiled. “You’re really good at stalling. You’re one entertaining actor, like someone who goes around betting people he’ll eat something disgusting for a nickel. I’m not here for a big tickle. I came to talk to you because I make it my business to uphold the laws and the Constitution of the United States.”
I tapped my foot on the floor. “If you’re all geared up to write a sob story and apologize before beating me up and arresting me, don’t even bother. You owe me. And that doesn’t mean you’ll give me a reward if I serve out my 1,000 year prison sentence.”
Lightning nodded. “You’re right.” He landed on the floor and stepped to the side of the hole out of the bunker. “I owe you that much.”
“Yeah, that’s one for releasing you from Spinetingler’s mind control. Doesn’t do so much for that part where you nearly killed me in the process…or helping to go after Spinetingler and nearly dying from that…or actually killing Spinetingler for you and Venus. Wouldn’t want to soil that nice cape of yours, would we?”
“You expect favors from me?” he asked. Good point. He owed me a lot more than just one escape, but it’s not like I could push the guy to break into some place for me.
“Eh, we’ll work something out, I’m sure. Nothing too illegal. But I’m sure I can figure out four useful things for one of the strongest beings on the planet to do for me.” I rubbed my hands together, gleefully smiling.
Captain Lightning looked up, raising one hand and the fingers on it one after the other. “Three if you count letting you go.”
I clucked. “Damn, you caught that one. Alright, if you insist on counting this as one of them, I suppose I can accept only three favors. It was only you being controlled by a horrible villain who wanted to rule the world. I guess that’s all it means to you.”
That got a chuckle from him. “Your full name must be Psychopomp Geckoberg, Esquire.”
“Berg? What are Jew talkin’ about? Get your head out of olden times and catch up. This is no time for cringe-worthy stereotypes, you fedora-wearing neckbeard. This is no longer a day and age when it’s ok to be prejudiced, you soulless ginger.” I paused for a moment. “So, did you just show up to announce you weren’t going to arrest me even though you found me? If so, my compliments on your amateur dicketry.”
“No. When I said I’ll let you go, I mean you should leave for awhile. Let things clear up around here. I’m helping clean the city up. You’d run through the rest of your favors in a hurry. That said, I came by to cast an eyeball and check up on you. Venus suggested it, only she don’t want to see you herself. She’s a bright one, good instincts. After what we went through in there, you mighta gone kookie.”
I shook my head. “Nah, I’m fine. As for letting me go…gimme about a week to get a few things in order. I tend to set off metal detector alarms…and fire alarms…burglary alarms. For some reason, nobody’s ever happy to see me.”
He narrowed his eyes and peered at me. “Are you sure? A lot of people couldn’t handle what they went through, then Spinetingler messed with us personally.”
I walked over and leaned against a portion of the wall. “Well, I faced my mortality, along with a lot of hard truths about my past that called into question my very mental state. Twice now I’ve plunged headlong into the void after life and been pulled back, as if being given an incredibly stretched wedgie. So nothing really out of the ordinary for me, nope.” I shook my head.
He did as well. “Alright, you’re good to go. Try not to cause too much trouble out there.” I started to walk out when he said, “Wait. Has anyone thanked you yet?”
I waved him off. “Don’t bother. My favorite stripclub’s closed.”
The next night, Tuesday, it did open, which is how I ended up dancing on stage between a pair of Thai twins to Inside Out by Eve 6. That, and I bribed the DJ.
“Thank me, baby! Thank me hard! Thank my fucking brains out!” I yelled, sticking a fistful of dollars and a credit card into the garter one of them held out for me. My dancing was interrupted by a bouncer trying to poke me in the junk with a broom. “Hey, cut that out, dammit!” I told him. “I’m not getting off this stage for anything less than five hundred dollars! Now, somebody catch my shirt!”
As a man holding the stage hostage and stripping until people threw money up, I earned a lot of money much faster than the twins did, so soon I sat back down amidst Moai and Carl with Chaisee and Catchy on my lap. Well, Catchy was off to the side. I think her stage name was a pune, or a play on words, but it also could have been the result of too many plays on worms instead. They sipped watered-down beer from the bar, quite happy that I’d earned them an extra two-fifty apiece. A piece of what? I didn’t know yet, but I had Thai hopes.
“I bet you’re happy things are gettin’ back to normal, eh boss?” Carl asked. An older stripper with bad teeth and a list of men tattooed on her back bounced her bazongas against the back of his head. Moai just shook his head back and forth, then went back to admiring a sculpture of a naked woman by the stage.
“Actually, I’m not, Carl. But I think Empyreal City’s a bit depleted. Remember, we were trying to head out on vacation. We got Captain Lightning and Cape Diem pinned down for awhile…I’m sure we can think up a short world tour. Let’s wrap a few loose ends here and go see what we can see. Maybe get an Eiffel Tower for the penthouse.”
“You mean a little souvenir trinket copy?”
“Only if someone beats me to it first, Carl. Only if someone beats me to it.”