As befits the holiday season, I slept soundly, with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Specifically, a couple of dancers at this one strip club, Sugar and Plum. Sugar had the kind of figure that only exists when a man designs a woman, which could mean a lot of plastic surgery in her past. Plum’s not so hourglass-shaped. She tends to fall under that “thicker, but bigger boobs” way of appealing to men. I’d been spending more time away from Master Academy, for reasons ranging from “I just don’t like them,” to “they have a telepath.”
Speaking of which, that’s where this strangely dream, strange in its normalcy, took an odd turn. Because soon, the very person I had been avoiding showed up there. A feminine figure, not so endowed as the strippers, with scales over her skin and feathers where her hair should be. Her face was somewhat warped in structure, more elongated, with the nose not standing out so much from the mouth. Psychsaur just stood there for a moment and I wondered at how she wasn’t dancing on a pole like the rest. All of a sudden, a third pole was there and she walked over to it. As she began to dance, she glared at me and said, “Enough!”
I woke up with a jerk, almost losing my balance on top of one of the bookshelves. Below me, I saw Psychsaur standing with a murderous look in her eyes.
“Aunti Em!” I said to her. “I just had a dream. It wasn’t all nice, but most of it was beautiful. And you were there!”
She tapped her foot on the floor. “Yeah. I was.”
I shot a finger gun at her. “By the way, nice.”
“No, seriously. You might be a bit self-conscious about it, being a bit different from the norm, but the scales look really pretty, and it doesn’t really matter if the boobs aren’t that-”
“STOP TALKING ABOUT MY BODY!”
I turned over onto my belly on top of the shelf.“Fine then. But it’s not like we’ve talked long enough for me to talk about your mind. Perhaps we can change all that over coffee sometime?”
She held a hand out and an invisible force shoved me off the top of the bookshelf. Luckily, I landed on a paperback copy of Atlas Shrugged, making the book useful for once in its existence by softening the landing of my tailbone on the floor.
A bunch of books flew out and started swatting me from all angles. I caught one, Catcher in the Rye, but then Choke smacked me in the throat. “Why did they even buy you? You aren’t educational!” I yelled at it.
“You’re stealing something,” said an angry-sounding Psychsaur as she stepped to the other end of the stack.
“Not at the moment,” I answered.
“You’ve been avoiding me, so I read your mind while you slept.”
Sadly, I can’t bring myself to hole in a motel away from Master Academy. I think it’s the escape clause. But I did point out that, “Have you ever considered that most people avoid you so you can’t read their minds?”
She blinked and her eye went wide. I think I touched a nerve. I know she touched mine when I felt something squeeze my balls out of nowhere, the pressure ramping up until I was sure they should have exploded by now. But what’s having balls of steel for, if not resisting the ball-crushing might of someone with psychic abilities? With a painful twist, I was pulled back to my feet by them. “You went from being the woman of my stripperific dreams to touching my balls with your mind. I sense a bit of sexual tension.” I turned my head and coughed due to the pain.
She let go and I grabbed the shelf to steady myself. “Shut your mouth and keep it shut. You’re in the middle of a heist.”
I raised a finger to tell her this was technically incorrect, but didn’t say anything. When I realized I wasn’t speaking, I raised a different finger to express my opinion on the matter. Instead, I thought it all out, explaining rapidly. “Heistkeepsmeoccupied, Iwantthenanitestohealandgetstrongagainandbemycorrectspecies, pluswe’regoingtobebetrayedbytheguycommissioningussowe’regoingtostiffhim.”
“You can talk, just talk more slowly. Explain everything or I’ll make a woman of you,” she said.
I flashed an image of myself as a woman fooling around with Wildflower. “That’s sweet of you to offer, but someone already made a woman out of me.” I explained what has led up to the current situation, though. Soon, I was sit down in a room with her, Venus, and Victor Mender, repeating that story to them and telling them our plan.
They were surprised. “Johnny Butterfly, notorious crime boss, met with a random thief off the street who pulled one job and put him in a group with a bunch of other people to do this? That sounds ridiculous,” Venus concluded.
Mender’s synthesized voice spoke up. “He will betray you.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, probably. That’s why we’re going to betray him first. We have a plan to swap it out.”
They came to the conclusion they’d like to be a part of it. And I wasn’t allowed to have nanites.
On the day in question, things went beautifully. The disguises and fake identification worked perfectly, as did my fit about recognizing that large container full of fluid that, strangely, the RadioShack people didn’t have paperwork for. I stared right at the nearest guard, almost burning a hole through his glasses with my glare. “You lost the paperwork on this government property?”
Needless to say, they became incredibly amenable to helping us load the contents of the container up. They just no longer had the equipment on site to lift the entire thing out. The lot behind the store opened up to allow such large items to be moved in and out, but that required coordination. This was spur of the moment, and forced us to quickly change our plans as well. Mr. Blue Sky and Billy Jean had to run off and swap out the trailer on the semi from the normal covered type to one of the ones that can hold liquids. It’s the difference between hauling cheese and milk.
That took a bit longer than we’d have liked, especially because we took up so much space in the parking lot. When we finally had sucked as many nanites as we could from the container, we made it a point to leave. The longer we stayed, the longer we could be found out, and the longer we made Johnny Butterfly’s people wait at the drop point.
Oh, we were still heading there. I took over driving the semi. Billy insisted on driving this nice SUV. All black, but a few stains on the interior that made me curious just what Butterfly used it for before handing it over to us.
Billy and I pulled up to a warehouse. When we asked through Butterfly’s manager where it needed to go, he directed us to this address. And this address turned out to be more than just a warehouse. It was a bonded warehouse: a place where imported goods can be stored, repackaged, cleaned, adulterated, misplaced, mislabeled, fall off the back of a truck, and manipulated until a better time to pay duties on the goods inside. It has legitimate business uses, too.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to see one somehow owned by a criminal enterprise. I bet I even owned a few back with Double Cross. The surprising part was that the people at the gate weren’t expecting us. They made a call to the back and let us in, though. Told us to drive around right on in through the big door. There, one of the guards said he had been instructed to have us wait.
“Ok, I got ya. Let me just go let my colleague know that as well,” I told him, then exited the truck to go get in the SUV with Billy. To him, I said, “They want us to wait. You think this thing can crash the gate?”
He put it in gear. “Let’s find out.”
He wheeled us around and made for the door of the warehouse, leaving the semi truck and its large covered trailer to its fate. Before we could find out how good of a battering ram it made, we discovered it made a pretty decent moving target for small arms fire. Semi-automatic, but with enough volume to take out one tire. “You still got it?” I asked as we swerved. We no longer had our right front tire.
“Take more than that to stop us,” Billy said as he held us steady, heading for the gate. Then we heard a shotgun and lost even more control. The SUV swerved to the left suddenly, and flipped, with my side going on bottom. I looked to my right, saw the asphalt screeching by, and pushed the button to roll up my window. I did not want any of that.
When we came to a stop, I spat out pieces of a tooth and turned to check on Billy. “You still here?”
He said what I couldn’t due to censorship. I don’t even usually bother to slip into multiple languages, and that one about our unknown attacker and a goat whose parents weren’t married sounds fun to use myself someday.
“Sounds like you’re still here. Okily dokily. Now we just have to sneak out of here without them noticing, if possible,” I told him. He looked at me, his lip and nose bloody.
From outside, we heard a heavily accented voice. Ukrainian, actually. “We know you’re in there. Tell us who sent you and we will let you live. Was it the Butterfly?”
“Hornswoggling within hornswoggling,” I said. “Well, we were right about Butterfly then. But don’t worry. I got us a way out.” I still reached for my disposable phone and called to the others, as planned.
Sgt. Pepper picked up. “We heard gunshots.”
“Yeah, we’re stuck at the moment. This is a rival gang’s warehouse. Guy had a Ukrainian accent if that means anything. You get the tanker away?”
“Yeah, we got it. I’m waitin’ nearby. If you want me to go and save myself, just say the word.”
“Uh uh. You wait until we’re out of here,” I told him.
Billy spoke up. “Feelgood, they got assault rifles out there.”
“Pepper, did you know that the term ‘assault rifle’ was invented by the Nazis? They made this gun called the Sturmgewehr- hold on, they’re going full auto on us.” I had to cut it short because somebody had indeed opened up on us.
“How we gettin’ out of here, man? I don’t have a gun!” Billy panicked, trying to get himself untangled from his seat belt. “The car’s gonna explode!”
“Get a hold of yourself!” I wanted to slap him across the face, but couldn’t due to my constraints.
“What are you going to do then?!” he asked in a panic. I reached over and clicked to release his belt. He fell on top of me.
“Well, sadly, it’s not an option for me to insult one of them, hop out, and kill everyone armed with nothing but two handguns, a pair of swords, and maximum effort, but I’ll go one better. I’m going to put no effort in.”
“What are you even talkin’ man?”
“No effort!” I yelled.
From outside, I heard the Ukrainian yell. “Look, up in the sky!”
“It’s a drone!”
“It’s a plane!”
“It’s a distraction. Also a superhero, or at least one,” I told Billy.
“We’re gonna catch on fire. The car’s gonna explode!” He grabbed onto me, nails digging into my suit.
I just rolled my eyes. “Car’s don’t just explode most of the time, even when they’re shot. That’s not how it works. You can toss a grenade into one and it wouldn’t go blow up. The grenade would, but not the car.”
“They got grenades?!”
I shook my head. “You do not do well under pressure. They’re not even shooting at us. Now come on, move your rear. We gotta get the driver’s side doors open.
I had to shimmy past him to open the door, then sat straddling the side of the car above the door, reaching down to give Billy a hand up. Outside, we slid down and made a hasty exit for the gate and our waiting escape vehicle that’d be nearby while a number of Master Academy capes busied themselves fighting resistance and securing the warehouse. They didn’t pay much attention to me, except for one particularly scaly one I caught glaring at me. I blew her a kiss before we skedaddled.
Just as we got into the car, though, I held out my phone to Billy. “Here, press the call button.” I didn’t get this little idea until after the talk with Master Academy’s people.
He looked at it, looked at me, then looked at it again and pressed the button. Back in the warehouse, the semi and the trailer behind it blew. Billy freaked out when he heard it and realized what it was. “Jesus! You said cars didn’t just explode!”
“Nope, but trucks do, when you get the idea to stuff some C4 into them. Relax, that way no one can say for sure that we didn’t have the goods in it, and it could have been heroes or whoever was back there alike,” I smiled at him, and at Sgt. Pepper in the driver’s seat.
Sgt. Pepper chewed on a toothpick and told us, “Buckle your seatbelts,” before driving off.
Except when we went to meet Mary and Blue Sky in the parking lot of a defunct mall, we found no truck and trailer in sight. They were still there, of course, zip-tied in the back seat of the car.
“Heya,” said Blue Sky, ignoring a glaring Mary. “Turns out Butterfly planned to screw us.”
“He found us and took the tanker,” added Mary.
“He left a note, though,” said Billy, looking much calmer after a little drive. He pointed to an envelope underneath the windshield wiper.
After we got Mary and Blue loose, Pepper read the letter to us. “Dear team, if you’re reading this, congratulations. You have met my expectations. I know this looks bad, but I fully intend to honor my part of our deal. Please meet with me in the room this Friday if you wish to get your just rewards for such an excellent job. You can choose not to get paid if you want. Thank you for all of your hard work, J.”
We all looked at each other, and at the letter, contemplating the intelligence, or lack thereof, that would be involved in meeting that date.
Mary was the one who spoke up. “You know he’s going to betray us, right?”