In spite of how much more fun this nonsensical little side job is, my thoughts keep returning to the situation with The Claw and Master Academy. It’d be easier to take seriously if his ally in the United States wasn’t a nincompoop in addition to being a fascist puppet of a foreign power. To be fair, that’s not mutually exclusive in any sense. Lenin was a puppet of a foreign power. Mussolini was a fascist moron. Contrary to popular perception, dictators in general, and fascists in particular, are terribly inefficient at getting anything done.
That’s holding stuff up in the United States, since now he can’t get pretty much anything pushed through in terms of legislation, and his own party just spent eight straight years arguing that executive orders aren’t legitimate. And while he’s running around like that, the only thing he’s not doing is projecting power overseas to halt any advances by hostile countries, like the Russians, North Koreans, and the Claw.
Technically, we’re a bit closer now that we’re now close to the Pacific, but the Claw’s been going for smaller targets than Canada. I’m fairly certain the U.S. military won’t sit around on their hands if anyone goes after their closest northern neighbor. I’m not worried about him coming after me. The guy probably doesn’t even know I’m alive, though I still have at least one loose end to chase down at some point when I get back to interrogating Master Academy. So I don’t know why I felt like checking in on everything.
There’s not a whole lot going on. The Claw’s been pretty good at preventing information from leaking out from within his regime, and North Korea doesn’t have a free press.
But there’s still stuff to note. Captain Lightning hasn’t been seen in weeks. People don’t know if it’s due to retirement or something a bit more sinister, because there’s been nothing released about him. I know the guy was old, but the timing is suspicious.In light of that, I checked on some more of the big names.
War Man had been meant to ship out to Germany. And that’s the last they have about him. And here I am without an easy way to access Department of Defense records to see what he’s doing over there. Something about mole men almost collapsing Germany into a giant sinkhole. They were a Soviet-era super soldier project that got shut down, put into cold storage, and lost in the shuffle, allegedly. That’s the Russians’ story and they’re sticking to it. Frozen Russian mole man-pops. Knowing the Russians, they’d be polonium-flavored.
Eschaton, that fantastic flaming man, saved the Philippines from being swallowed by the sea due to some aquatic villain called Silver Shark. From the picture, it looks like a human cyborg with shark pieces. I hope he survived, because that sounds awesome. That’s the last the news has on Eschaton, but that was just a couple weeks back.
I know I’m not the type to fanboy over superheroes. I’m probably the last person to hope they’re doing well. I just feel better knowing they’re around to deal with The Claw. But if The Claw’s targeting Master Academy, I still feel a nagging urge to do something about that for the way they took me in. I’d rather the heroes do the good deed so I can avoid it. And I don’t trust The Claw. He’s slippery, wily. He’s got a brain on him, and surrounds himself with a shroud of mystery.
The Claw lives in a palace. No, he stays in a bunker. He tours his nation every day dressed as a normal person. He rules from a tower that allows him to see over the whole of his country. Who knows what the truth is? For all I know, he’s fighting on the front lines and killing anyone who sees him.
He has long, sharp claws. He has laser claws. He can grow giant. He’s super-intelligent. He’s actually an alien, or a fae, or some mutated human. I know that at least two of those are true. I’ve seen the documents and photos about him growing to 100 feet tall and throwing a train at someone. He’s yellow, with large eyes, a mouth full of fangs, pointy ears, and claws. I wonder what color he bleeds?
I had too much time for such speculation while building my rocket boots, which I still haven’t finished. In addition to being totally cool, they will give me much greater mobility. A villain on the go needs to be able to move quickly, and vertical movement is always a plus in an urban environment. Or against an enemy who can’t fly. Just watch for thrown rocks, unless the opponent is Gorilla Awesome. Stuff still gets thrown… just not rocks. Not really, but he would hate that joke.
Between cyber stalking superheroes and strapping explosives to my feet, I also took the time to figure out what I’d do for weapons. I felt I needed at least one as Hussar, and I’m not much of a spear guy. I’ll keep one in reserve, but I need a new one of those, too. Lucky me, the same people I got my armor pieces and hussar wings from had some legitimate weapons and knew where to find any others I might want to try out.
I brought along some of the new gang to help with that. Creeper’s hold-up of the armored transport wasn’t just about warming up; he’s been using the cash for cars, hired help, and whatever equipment he can get to arm his new minions. After the run-in with the gangs and police, I think it’s safe to say he doesn’t mind some lethal ordinance. He’s not giving them anything too powerful, though. He settled on rifles that look like long, smooth canisters except for a barrel with a fin sticking up. They fire lasers of adjustable strength. The lowest range will heat someone up and leave them with light burns. The highest puts a hole in people. They’ll need them. They sure as shit aren’t swordsmen.
I settled on a thin Jian sword, a type of Chinese sword that doesn’t look particularly out of place. I like how it moves, and I don’t need anything too fancy. I tossed in another couple blades, too. Like a shorter sword, a butterfly sword, in a sheath under the hussar wings. And a trench knife in a boot sheath. Knives are fun. But apparently not fun enough for people to hang out and be my stabbin’ dummies.
Before I could head to the nearest grocery store meat department to test my new blades out on the pork, I received a call from Dr. Creeper. “I need to plan my debut at the bank. It would be a shame not to utilize your experience. Are you available to meet me back at the lab?”
“Sure, I’ll come down to the lab and see what’s on the slab,” I said. At least with a bank job, I stand a good chance of being able to test these out on a different sort of pig.
Dr. Creeper had a detailed map of the interior courtesy. “I must credit you with that. Your zeppelin drone gave me many ideas. I thought, ‘Why not use a normal balloon like someone delivers to a loved one for their birthday or anniversary?’ and that is how I we have these pictures.”
“Good thinking. The tellers will have a bunch of cash, but nothing groundbreaking. Most of a bank’s money is electronic. There’s also whatever the vault’s packing, but you have to prevent anyone from closing it.”
He smiled behind a pair of thick lab goggles. “I have just the thing!”
We showed up bright and early to make our withdrawal. Eight AM, a time when no reasonable human being should be awake. Lucky for me, bank’s aren’t human. They’re not even mammals. A single red balloon wafted into the bank ahead of us with the word “It” in white lettering on the side so as to convince people it is some sort of marketing ploy related to that movie.
There are trailers for it online. A clown in a sewer, a bunch of kids; it must be some sort of comedy or drama about a punch of children finding and befriending a clown. Clowns are nice. I don’t understand why some people get creeped out by them. I’ve even fucked a woman in clown makeup. Y’all might be wondering, based on the ambiguity of that sentence, who was wearing the makeup? The answer is: yes.
But enough about my sex life. It was time to penetrate this bank vault and pop its Gecko-robbing cherry.
Dr. Creeper maneuver the balloon into place from the back of a van, landing it against the inside crack of the open vault door. He had a way to use it to jam open the vault if need be. At that, he tapped a microphone sticking out of the console he worked at. “Listen to me, listen. It is time to act. This is a stick-up.”
As the minions exited the cars with us, he turned to me, rubbing his hands. “That is fun. I want to say it inside, like in the movies.”
“By all means,” I said. “You better enjoy yourself. I mean, we got costumes and ray guns and swords. There’s no reason for people in spandex to take themselves too seriously.”
“I prefer pants. They hide the braces better. Now, you should make your entrance. Good luck, Gecko!” He gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up, grinning like a jackass. It was infections, and I smiled as I pulled my hood on, adjusted the eyeholes, and clamped the collar on around my neck.
As I stepped through the door of the bank, I drew my sword and took in the situation. The henchmen and -women had the tellers and manager down on the carpet. There were a couple of oldtimers on the ground, but they didn’t appear to be roughed up or in the midst of heart attacks.
“Any problems?” I asked, going for a gruff tone. Not “Batman,” gruff, where it sounds like someone’s jacking off in front of their neighbor’s sprinkler at 3:32 AM every third Tuesday of the month. Just gruff. Gruff enough to kick a troll’s ass off a bridge. Ugh. Seems I’m overindulging a bit on this trip. I’ve become drunk on bad similes and metaphors.
One of the men shook his head. I nodded to him. “You and…” I picked one of our henchwomen. “You. See to the drawers.”
I walked over to a little counter with brochures and hopped up on it. I looked to the tellers. “Unless you’re enamored with dying, I suggest you all use inside voices and stay calm. It would be impolite to ask your coworkers to clean up any messes you leave behind.” I swung my sword and threw it down into the wood between my feet. A few of the tellers jumped where they lay as it hit the wood. I hopped down, letting my gauntleted hand slide down the blade. It seemed to stick enough, so I left it there and walked back to the door to open it for Dr. Creeper.
He rushed in, a wide smile across his face. His black pants and large white lab coat hid the leg and back braces well. “I am Dr. Creeper, and this is a stick-up! We will be taking all the money in your vault now.”
The men cheered at his enthusiasm, and the remaining bunch who weren’t busy emptying cash drawers ran to the back.
“We will have a meeting about that later,” Dr. Creeper whispered to me.
It went pretty smoothly from there on out. A man in a mask is just as good as an “Out to lunch,” for convincing most people to stay away. So is a gaggle of masked goons carrying bags of money out to a bunch of cars.
It went well until one of them ran back in without his laser rifle. “Doctor, sir! There’s a hero!”
“Funny,” I said. “I didn’t hear self-righteous posturing and inflating ego…”
“Deal with it, Hussar,” ordered Creeper. Yay, fun.
I turned, grabbed my sword, and walked over to the door. When I stepped outside, I saw a man in black. Dark red pants, red long-sleeve shirt, black boots, and a red cloth strip with eye slits tied across his eyes and upper head. He wore a black cowboy hat atop his head. A pair of henchmen were trying to take him on hand-to-hand and failing badly. He was jumping all over the cars and van, easily keeping his distance, and slowly undressing them with careful swipes of his rapier. He held a gleaming silver revolver in his left hand, which probably belonged in the holster on his right hip with a red rose icon on it.
“I see your boss has come to check on your progress. Don’t worry, there is always another job out there somewhere,” he said it with a cynical lack of enthusiasm as he eyed me.
One of the minions turned around and got a swipe across his butt that sent him running toward me. “Get out of here!” the red fellow yelled at his backside.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I asked, readying my blade for a fight.
The man stepped down off the hood of a car. After a moment, he slid his revolver back into its holster and brought his own sword up to tap against the edge of mine. “I am Rouge. When someone has a problem around this city, I fix it. Your friends were barely worth my time. For your sake, you had better be more substantial.”
I pulled the butt-swiped minion back behind me and caught the other one’s eye who stood behind Rouge. I nodded off to the side. He got the idea and got out of the way of any brewing fight between myself and this swashbuckler.
I’m not what anyone would call an expert. I’ve been trained, but I’ve spent more time practicing how to fight with potted plants than I have with a sword lately. So when he feinted the first time, I took the bait just a little. The second time, not so much. When he tried a third time, to play around with me, I didn’t react at all, even as he took an extra step to avoid a counter attack. People like to think in threes, myself included. It was while he moved that I thrust with my sword toward where his left leg would have to end up to maintain good balance.
He pulled off some tango spin and came around to sweep my sword to the side. And so we went for a tense minute. He would try to play with me and show off his obvious skill, forcing me rush to ward off series of lighting-quick slices that he didn’t mean to land. If he wanted my sword out of my hands, he could have done it and killed me. I hated the restriction and hoped I could lure him in close enough to pull out the butterfly sword real quick and open his throat, but he did and excellent job keeping his distance. It worked pretty well for him until I circled around to a trash can by the road. I turned away for a moment to throw it at him. He had to move back to avoid it, and then further still to dodge my thrown sword. I’m not one for jumping kicks, but his sword didn’t deflect steel toes so well and I knocked him back with a dropkick.
“You are holding back on me!” he said as he recovered too quickly for my taste. At least he let me get back to my feet. He even let me retrieve my sword from were it lay. “Are you afraid for my feelings? Rest assured, I think I can take it.”
“This is a distraction!” called Dr. Creeper from the doorway. He raised his raygun and fired at Rouge. The masked man rolled to the side, then again to avoid my swing. When he stood, it was with his back to a wall making up the front exterior of the bank. He pulled a bullwhip out from behind his back. It swung out and lashed around a streetlight. He ran up the wall and away from where my sword could cut his whip, allowing him to swing free to land on a black motorcycle. It roared to life, raising him up on its rear tire. I think I saw him salute me with his sword. A blast from Dr. Creeper’s ray gun missed, striking where the front of Rouge’s motorcycle should have been. Instead, the vigilante sped off doing a wheelie.
I looked to the cars to see if we could pursue or even if the money was loaded up and noticed what Creeper meant. The tires on the vehicles the minions had been moving money to had been slashed.
“Quickly, get everyone out. Load what we can fit. There is more room in the van,” ordered Creeper. He stepped walked over to check on me. “How are you?”
“I’m not slashed or anything. He’s called Rouge, and he’s going to be trouble if we run into him again. He’s much better than I am with a sword, I know that much; just playing with me. He won’t be so much trouble if I can handle him more permanently,” I said, trying to hint that it’d be easier to just kill a guy like that rather than fight him.
Creeper clapped me on the shoulder. “I refuse your offer as frustrating as he will be. I want my own hero, Hussar. Now, we must be going. It is a shame we have to leave some of the money, but we have far to go and a lot of people to crowd in with.”
I raised my sword in the air. “I call shotgun!”
Creeper raised his gun. “And next time, Rouge will not stop us. You hear that, Rouge?” He made a show of looking around. “Next time!”