Yes, like it or not, I have allied myself with Master Academy due to pragmatism and the sight of my impaled chest. Not that everyone’s heard. Most of them don’t even know who I am, after all.
I half expected more people to recognize me, but it makes some sense. I mostly ever appeared in public wearing my armor. When I didn’t, I tended to change my physical appearance all the time. Even my bra size a time or two. Even when I adopted the face I currently wear, I used makeup. Subtract the makeup, some hair, and a little meat on my bones, then add in a bit of head trauma for an equation that justifies when people appear to be 80085.
That’s a good thing at the moment. There’s nothing but scab between the outside world and my chest cavity in spots, and I’ve been left physically diminished in my recovery. Plus, that little calculation I like to rely on clearly shows me at a disadvantage. The one that goes, “I don’t know how many of them it was gonna take to whoop my rear (cursed cuss censorship!) but I knew how many they were gonna use.” In this case, about seven billion people. Adjusted for inflation, I might give Hitler a run for his money as the World’s Most Hated Person, all without deliberately targeting a single Jew. Ironically, that probably means the Nazis over at Stormfront think I was secretly a Jew.
I miss the internet. Nothing reinforces the reasonableness of exterminating humanity quite like the internet.
I missed having armor, too, so I’m doing something about it while learning something interesting about my thought processes. Yep, just another man to learn new things about himself in the big city. Because that’s where I went. Set foot off campus and took a bus into the city proper. The people at the bus stop didn’t even blink when someone wanted to get on with a bell and cat ears on his head, but it is right by Master Academy. I wasn’t sure if the rules they imposed on me would let me, but it turned out my suspicion that it was worth a try turned out to be true.
I walked right off Master Academy’s campus, though not through trickery or bribery or resistance to mental compulsion. I was able to leave because I had been compelled not to escape. I wasn’t escaping. I was heading out to buy a few things, then coming back. I’ve also been known to borrow something important, like a diamond or the bullets out of a sleeping target’s gun, but I don’t always give those back. People don’t always like when I give things like that back, more because of little factors like how hard I give them back, and where.
When the bus dropped me off in an area I knew, I set off. Utilizing my completely non-violent ability to rob people blind, and at least one blind person, I soon amassed enough money to afford a shopping spree at a hardware store and electronics store. Finding a junkyard was harder, and I had enough trouble remembering where I was going. I’m used to GPS.
If I needed any help getting back to Master Academy with my purchases, you wouldn’t know it. I walked along, thinking of the best place to acquire armor plating, when Master Academy heroes descended upon me like a Biblical plague of Egypt. The lesser known Fourth-And-A-Half Plague, the plague of cameltoes. The Bible missed that part because of all the tunics and loincloths they wore back then instead. I’d where a loincloth too, if it wasn’t so impractical.
I get in too many fights for that. At least if I were completely nude, the sight of my towering manhood could dissuade any limp-wristed attempts to punch me in the crotch. Cover it with a loincloth, and people are less fussy about it. The things you learn in Bangkok, eh? There’s a reason Murray Head’s song brings back memories of swordfighting with a secret order of nationalists who hate foreigners and paying foreign hitmen. They called themselves the Kokblockers.
Since I’m horrible at foreshadowing, they didn’t have anything to do with my trip. Instead, some guy stepped out of an alley and tried to stick a knife against my throat. I blocked it with a bag and stared him down, the two of us eyeing each other. Him, some random mugger; me, a mass murdering serial killer super villain hiding in plain sight with some mind wammy on me stopping me from hurting people. Clearly, there was only one course left to me.
“Gimme your money!” the guy said, edging around.
I dropped my bags and tore at my shirt, screaming while revealing my nasty-looking chest. Then I reached down and yanked my pants open, letting my Lynyrd Skynyrd enjoy the brisk Fall air, free as a bird now. I pushed them down and kicked them off, then waved them around over my head by the leg, yelling all the while. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabugoffaaaaaaaahhhhh!”
“Pluck this,” he said, and turned to run back down the alley.
I stopped to take a breath, shoved my pants into a bag next to some of my purchases, and gathered them up to go. I didn’t go far.
Quicker than you can say “Watch out, that Thai hooker’s actually a woman!” I found myself surrounded by Master Academy capes. They were more than happy to escort me back, though they kept distracting me from my work afterword by bringing in Psychsaur and some other telepaths to examine me. I tried to ignore them rooting around my brain, but it wasn’t easy. I mean, at least I’m used to hearing other voices in my head from time to time. The little room we were all in was crowded, and not the best spot to build stuff, but I had bought tools of my own and could work off the floor if need be.
“It must be the computer somehow,” one of them said.
Another suggested, “Maybe it wore off. Sometimes compulsions can do that.”
A third voice spoke, “Has he been under any unusual stress?”
“Don’t talk about wearing off, and it wouldn’t have been that. The computer shouldn’t mess with anything. And finally, don’t you know who that is? Stress, really?” Psychsaur fielded all the questions in one burst.
I just stripped a little wiring that I’d worked into a glove. “Hey!” I said in my mind. “Y’all are the psychics, shouldn’t you have it figured out by now?”
“Stop talking about us in there,” said one of them. “We don’t speak that language.”
“That explains a few things,” I said. “But I figured y’all would have Occam’s Razored your way to a solution by now.” I brought up the list in my HUD, in English, and concentrated on it.
1. Cause no physical violence
2. Make no attempt to escape or convince others to help me escape
3. No bleeping cussing
4. Do not use poison, allergies, or medication in an attempt to cause physical harm.
5. Never oppose an OCP officer
“Who’s the OCP officer?” someone asked. “Is someone on duty?”
I pointed in the direction of that voice, behind my back. “Your lack of appreciation for the finer arts disgusts me. That is one of the classics of cyborg cinema. How dare you denigrate my people, you fleshist.”
“It’s a pop culture thing,” said a guy with three eyes.
I pointed at him next, “Right you are, Tien. You’ve won a Zeni, as soon as I find a way to counterfeit them. But what I meant before is that I didn’t violate the rule about attempting to escape because I wasn’t attempting to escape. Turns out, there really is a difference between, say, stealing and borrowing.”
“There’s a loophole?” asked Psychsaur. “I guess your intentions matter.”
I started running wires up a sleeve. “You know, your completely separate observation matches up perfectly with my ideas about morality through some odd coincidence. Good response time, too. Was getting chilly out there.”
Triclops said, “No one wants you loose. We’re taking a lot of risks as-is. Mender and Venus must have been crazy to think we could keep you a secret to the rest of the school.”
That reminded me. “By the way, there was a student here who I think is on hero duty sometimes. I haven’t seen her around, but I know she was here at one point. She’s an old friend. In a good way, not in that way that made y’all look at each other.” Keep in mind, I didn’t look up when I said this, so they were shocked I noticed. They’d have been shocked I knew they were shocked, too. “I’ve been chalking it up to timing, but with almost everybody dropping in on me today, I have to wonder where my old trainee Leah has gotten to.”
“That’s not for us to say,” said the person staying behind me. “Stop doing whatever you’re doing. That’s a weapon.”
“A weapon? No, no… it’s just a glove designed to channel energy to the fists to be discharged in a physical blow. There are a ton of civilian uses for it, like smashing watermelons and breaking cinderblocks. Besides, I can’t use it as a weapon. And I might be inclined to check for more loopholes if nobody wants to tell me what happened to her. She looks like this.” I remembered back to Leah as I last saw her without her mask. A misfit teen, or at least a runaway who feared for her life after a hero wound up killing a villain in a fight. She accidentally used her powers in a crime and fled, not being sure about the reasonableness of the people on the lawful good side of the D&D table.
“I told you, we can’t say,” said the one behind me. In retaliation, I remembered that Shia Lebouf meme where the actor stands around shouting stuff like “Do it!” and “Just do it!” in between yelling at people to follow their dreams. My brief stint as Emperor of the World gave me some insight into that; the CIA was testing an experimental mind control device on him that had to be primed with a chemical in LSD. The mindchanger didn’t work, but the added chemical led to a lingering high.
The door to our little room opened and Mender rolled in. “Well?” he asked.
Psychsaur looked at him for a moment. Mender then rolled around to observe what I was making. “This is a form of your armor.”
“Yepperoony. Figured it’ll come in handy if the safety gloves are ever taken off me. Kinda wishing that was the case since they’re all being evasive.” I nodded to Psychsaur and Triclops, then back in the general direction of the other voice.
Mender said, “That is not your concern. You should get better.”
I tossed the glove carelessly behind me, where I heard it slap someone. “Didn’t know you were there,” I said in way of explanation, then addressed Mender. “If you want me to give a dam about you and your school, it’d be a good idea to start by telling me what’s up with the only friendly person around here. Did you do something to her because of me? Did someone else? I think I’d have seen her around by now unless you sent her to the West Coast, in which case you’d have just told me she’s over there. I will ride your ass on this if you don’t. Level with me here.”
If he was put off by my mention of a method for blocking water and a domesticated animal, he didn’t show it. He couldn’t show much with his face. “We are handling the situation.”
I’ll take “Phrases that never end well for $800, Alex!”
“Unless the situation is a kitten, I don’t know that that’s true.”
Pyschsaur grabbed her ear, and I wondered if she had a normal earlobe. She turned to Mender and whispered something in his ear.
“Aha!” I pointed at him. Then, whoever in the room was a telepath lifted me up and I found myself floating upside down, probably giving some of them a view of my barely-clothed rectum to varying degrees of their enjoyability. I crossed my arms over my chest as I floated around like that, slowly rotating. “You know I’m right. Something went wrong, and I bet the person I was conveniently talking about is now in trouble. Am I right? The Law of Narrative Causality is a fickle mistress.”
“Yes it is,” Mender said, “But not for the reason you think.”
The door burst open and a spandexed-up Master Academy hero started to run in, but stopped abruptly. I couldn’t quite placer until she spoke. “Uh, hello,” she said and began to circle around.
“Speak of the devil!” I said. I tried to keep her in sight as I spoke. “Or should I say the girl who once had me as a devil on her shoulder. Hey there, Leah.”
“Oh my god, Gecko?! Is that Gecko?”
I felt her hug onto me from behind, putting her face somewhere near my other pair of cheeks. All at once, everyone started coughing. Mender’s computer-generated voice even said, “Ahem. Ahem. Ahem. Cough cough.”
“Leah, I’m a little detained at the moment. Think you can get all your friends a lozenge? Also, stay away from my chest. It’s a little tender.”
“I thought you were dead!” She let go and I floated where I could see her again, smiling.
I couldn’t help but smile back. “As always, rumors of my death precede me to the grave. Apparently, Mender decided I was worth salvaging instead of letting me die. But I don’t think you came here for me. By the pricking of my thumbs, bad news this way comes.”
Her elation faded and she turned to Mender. “We have a problem.”
“There is its,” I said.
“That’s it, you shut up now,” said Psychsaur. She backed it up, too. Couldn’t say a thing after that, just keep rotating around in the air.
“Sir, we ran into problems. We were watching him like you said, and followed him to Vermont, to a town called Dartmoor. He holed up in Angerhorn Manor. It’s got a repuation for being haunted.”
“I received the updates. Please, what went wrong?” Mender asked.
Leah stopped and took a deep breath. “The observation team sent me out for groceries near dusk. By the time I got back, the hotel was overrun. They looked like vampires; pale with fangs and claws. They flew and had super strength. I watched for awhile and saw them carry the others off, then got back as soon as possible.”
“Why didn’t you call?” asked Triclops.
I raised a hand and waved it around.
“I left my phone in the room but it wouldn’t matter because the phones weren’t working anywhere I checked. It’s like the entire town was cut off,” she answered.
I pointed finger guns at her. She got it in one. Classic horror trope, phones not working, both because the vast majority of horror stories have taken place in pre-cell phone times, and because the ability to call for help with them renders it necessary for modern horror stories to find a way to screw up the phones.
“We will get them back. Thank you for letting us know. Go, write it up for everyone, then get some rest,” Mender said. Leah nodded and turned to wave at me before rushing out of the room. Mender looked to Psychsaur, “Let him down, and let him talk if he wants.”
Surprisingly, they didn’t just dump me on the ground. Probably because Psychsaur remembered that time she caught me and my chest popped open. I bet I’d smell good to vampires. And as I drifted gently to the floor, I finally got to say, “I’ll do it!”
“Do what?” asked Triclops.
“I’ll help! Spinetingler and vampires in rural New England, with a small town and a manor? Sounds like fun!”
Psychsaur had something to say about that. “This isn’t about your fun. These are our friends’ lives.”
I grabbed the glove I’d been working on. “Right, and I just so happen to owe people some lives here.”
“No way. You just want to kill and escape,” she argued.
Mender hadn’t spoken yet up to this point, so I ignored her and looked to him instead. “Come on, drop the idealism stuff. THIS is what you kept me around for.”
Mender just said, “Yes, it is, but you are not getting out yet. We have the resources to help ourselves. You have a glove and a hole in your chest. You stay here.”
With that, Mender and his retinue left me alone to work, though I did eventually find a decent spot in the library to keep at it while looking up that Dartmoor place.
Oh, I am going, no doubt about that. This has been too much of a disappointing October, and I deserve vampires! And a manor!
I don’t care what those heroes say, I’m going to save their lives whether they like it or not.
Wow, put that under “list of phrases I didn’t expect to say.”