I needed a lot of subtlety to handle the supervillain situation. At least a hero can be somewhat cooperative with me cutting their neck open to check for weird alien talk tumors, or whatever those things are. With heroes, I can just knock their asses out and check against their will. But I actually have to talk to villains afterward, and that can be awkward when you’ve penetrated them from behind like that.
Actually, I think it has more to do with villains trusting me even less than heroes. They’re not the trusting sort. Not like heroes. Well, most of the heroes. I guess they haven’t had as much experience with people. In general, at least. I have to admit that Captain Lightning has had plenty of experience. I’d been trying to talk to him at Double Cross Tower’s executive meeting room again about screening some villains for me and I made the same point above, about the difference between most heroes and villains.
“I’m going to have to say I’m a product of my time and many of these heroes are products of theirs. Heroes from my day were the line of defense against fascism that threatened our existence. War forged us, so we became warriors. Later heroes were spies, punishers, crusaders of rights, or guardians concerned with the balance in the world. Times change, I’ve come to understand, and roles change based on the past and its mistakes. Heroes today are protectors. It has pros and cons.” He looked me over, then shook his hand.
“Well, they have a heck of a lot more respect for more people’s rights, but the same damn lack of self-awareness. Plunging into the future, so caught up in thinking it makes them better that they still don’t recognize how tied down they are to the past, how much they carry the exact same prejudices. The moment you step over that line, though, they hate you with such intensity, same as anyone else.”
Lightning squinted at me. “Horsefeathers. They hate you because you’re a jerk, and all the fuddy-duddies always hated that intensely. Every last one. In my book, the events matter. They didn’t grow up having to make the sacrifices we did in World War II, or the people we were in cahoots with to fight the Soviets. I’ll work with you, but you are a creep.”
“Comparing me to Operation Paperclip’s pet Nazi scientists? Not exactly an apt analogy, is it?”
Lightning “ahem”ed and nodded down to my hands, where I sat assembling a rocket.
I shrugged. “I’m criminally understocked on rockets. This little baby’s going to help me with some diplomacy later.” It was a bit shorter than my usual rideable rockets, because it isn’t meant to be ridden. It’s also wide at the base. More of a booster than anything else. I just need a place to keep spares. These things are going to be great!
“Be that as it may, do you have anything to tell me about the alien growth?”
Touching the table’s new holographic display, I informed him I had, actually. A dissection showed a little bit more than just skin and muscle. It looked like some nerve tissue was there, along with several smaller packets of brain tissue. I suppose if someone wanted to build a solid state drive out of brain chunklets, it would work. Just a very small one. But I couldn’t figure out how the hell this thing transmitted. I doubted it could get a signal out of the bunker, but I’d never noticed anything in particular from Senator Powers. I could have missed something, since I wasn’t probing him, but I can normally at least tell there’s all these damn signals flying through the air. Don’t even get me started on cosmic background radiation.
Another issue with this is that, essentially, it limited my options for destroying the stuff. I could test various nerve gases and so on, but any such usage of them would risk permanent harm. Same with applying blunt force, and stabbing is risky. That’s why I broke Wildflower’s neck. That, and I didn’t trust her. I’m still not completely sure, but it does say a lot that she was willing to let me stick that into her, and that she’s not a kinky alien using sex to ingratiate herself with me. If anything, she’s likely just a heroic infiltrator using sexy feelings to betray me. While wrong, it’s also completely human.
The combination of solid state drive and brain matter gave me the idea to turn up the heat. Heat can cause steady damage to an SSD over time, but things don’t start to get bad until the 90s Fahrenheit, and really catastrophic around the 130s. The human body is much the same, actually. Over 105 or so, things get back, but I think 107 is where the brain damage starts. To be fair, unless you stick a thermometer into a brain, it’s difficult to keep track of things in the field. Unfortunately, testing an application of localized heat on the dead one was useless. I needed a live specimen. And making things worse, I need a specimen without any appreciable resistance to heat.
“I will get back to you on that when I know more. That is 107 Fahrenheit, right?”
I nodded. “And while you’re doing that, I’m going to go be diplomatic.”
Lightning put a hand on my shoulder as I turned to go. When I glanced back at him, he put his other hand on my other shoulder. “Please, Gecko…don’t fuck this up.”
I rolled my eyes. “I will be the very model of a diplomat, like Winston Churchill.”
Winston Churchill in power armor, that is.
Later that day, I entered Rothstein’s Sports Bar bouncer-first. It was this giant centipede thing this time. I might have been nice to the guy, but something about him bugged me. I followed after, smoking a cigarette, emptying a Tommy gun of ammo, and tossing a bowler hat on what turned out to be a person standing near where a hat rack would go. “Howdy, folks!”
Hat rack person, a tall, brown, skinny thing, turned and growled at me. His hands grew out into claws, like some sort of evil stick. I threw the Tommy gun into his face, smacking him back momentarily, then pulled the hat down over his face to blind him. While he swiped at the air, I stepped up to the bar. “Hello everybody, it’s me! The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be! His Excellence of Execution, Psycho Gecko!”
The bartender leaned across toward me and motioned me closer. “Sir, some would consider that disrespectful now that Bret Hart has announced he has prostate cancer.”
“Poor Hitman…on the plus side, I’ll have sole rights to all that soon…yes, very soon, indeed.”
“Sir, please refrain from attacking the bouncer or any other guests. I believe we briefed the latest one on you.” He nodded in the direction of the centipede, who was pulling himself to his feet. For a centipede-thingy, that takes a long time.
I shrugged. “I’ll try. By the way, I’m looking for someone respectable. They have those sorts around here nowadays, right? That whole ‘Order’ thing that rolled through here?”
I knew very well about The Order, but here’s a recap: The Oligarch claimed to be creating an organization of equals in the supervillain community who would imprison or run off all the heroes and then take over the city. Except Oligarch quickly asserted himself over everyone else, tried to kill the heroes, and was an alien-controlled infiltrator probably intending to wipe the rest of us out. Thanks to my quick-thinking, The Order now exists as a social network for villains.
The bartender glanced at someone else at the bar, then grabbed a glass and a bottle of whiskey to fill the order. After finishing up with that one, he returned to me, presumably under orders not to let me get too bored. “If you’d like, I can contact someone for you to meet on a neutral ground, but the only crime bosses are with smaller gangs. The Reds, the Greens, and the Nurples.”
“Nurples? I thought it was Reds, Greens, and Yurples.”
“They settled on the color purple, and a unique method of marking their victims. It is my understanding they are small time players in the city.”
I knew some of this. Other parts, I just didn’t give a crap. There’s a lot going on. I can barely keep up with things relevant to me, let alone those idiots. I nodded along like I cared, though. “So, how about that Man-Opener jackass? He’s hanging out nowadays, right? Probably brags a lot about being part of a group to temporarily beat me.”
The bartender was quiet for a long time then. So were some of the closer tables who overheard. Sometimes, saying nothing can say everything at all.
My heads-up display also gave me a heads-up about the stick figure guy, who had pulled the hat off and approached me from behind. Not wanting a stick to get me from behind, I slipped around in front of a stool. When he got close enough, I lashed out with one foot and kicked his shin out from under him. He fell head-first on the stool. His head bounced off, then he slid down and hit the support between the legs closer to the floor. Without looking down, I lifted up the stool and shifted it, trapping his head under it and sitting down. “So, I was thinking of having a fancy dinner, away from everyone else, and I have cash. How’s the executive dining room looking tonight?” I started to stand, to the relief of the guy with his head trapped under me.
“No!…sir, no sir. Um, it is occupied.” The bartender quickly waved his hands, then leaned against the bar, one hand slipping a little lower. Someone just got warned about me.
“Really? Awww.” I sat back down, forcing down the hopeful stick dude. “I was hoping to talk to him while he was there.”
Meh, I could take Man-Opener.
The bartender withered under my stare. “With all due respect, sir, management wishes me to p-pass on that further hostile behavior is grounds for a contract…um…against you.”
I chuckled at that one. “Oh yeah? What army’s going to take that one?”
Almost as one, every single person stood and faced me except myself, the bartender, and the skinny guy caught under my stool. That’s right, he was so weak, I could keep him down with nothing but my stool.
More than that, I heard chairs scrape above the bar area. Which, to me, implied a lot more people standing up. I casually turned around to address the various rapscallions and rogues who had been enjoying their frosty beverages, and immediately noticed the bartender pull out some sort of glowing gun. I could have grabbed him or the guy whose head I sat on for a hostage, but that only matters if the people threatening you care about harming the hostage.
So, it seemed my tendency to violate the neutrality of various villain bars backfired. I don’t know how many of them it would have taken to whoop my ass, but I knew roughly how many they were going to use.
“Psh. That all you got? Like you’d all want to share the bounty. Ya know what? If anyone wants a word with me, I’ll be right outside.”
Once outside, I went invisible and got out of there, not stopping to see if anyone followed. The plan was a wash. Truly, ’twas a sad day for diplomacy and peaceful negotiation. They didn’t actually take out a contract on my life, though. That, I would have found out about. But it proved quite a setup.
Curses! I hate it when the villain is foiled. Some men just want to shoot parts of the earth with a giant space laser. Others want to kidnap the firstborn sons of an entire city and dump them in toxic runoff. Still others want to trick nations into nuking each other. Say what you will about our morality, but at least we’re more ambitious. But nooooo, me wanting to beat up a man in a giant walker armed with rotating axeheads for hands is just too far!
Think of the action! Think of the fun! Think of the merchandising! Seriously, China’s toy sweatshops would have an econogasm over the action figure deal.
Sadly, I’ll have to handle informing villains another way. Perhaps I can work something out with my Banshee persona, but it won’t be perfect. No epic fights. Sniff.