It’s been a rough couple of days. I had doubts soon after starting my search, because it seemed so bizarre that he didn’t try to kill me. He wants it, so why didn’t he do it? I mean, I killed his daughter, so why wouldn’t he go for the kill? He’d never been one to just send threats when he could go in for the kill. My first instinct was to double check all the footage of The Claw’s death and make absolutely sure. I even begrudgingly called Beetrice, though I had to put up with a nigh-unbearable squealing as she realized it was me. The thumbs-ups from the Buzzkills on the island didn’t alleviate my annoyance.
Not only had The Claw been confirmed dead, they locked his remains in a lead coffin and were preparing to launch him into space over in Russia. Yeah, probably after they examine his remains a bunch of times hoping to make their own Claw.
So that just left me with a former friend uncharacteristically targeting my daughter. He’s wanted to kill me, just me, ever since finding out I murdered his daughter. And therein lay the problem. I killed his daughter. He threatened mine. That’s the fucked up thing about letting yourself care about someone, too. When I realized that, I actually found myself wishing he’d go after me instead.
I suppose it’s not that weird, though. I’ve often preferred people to try and kill me. Except, I guess I feel a bit less like dying nowadays. And a bit less willing to martyr someone else upon the altar of my own safety. Rather than focus on confusing feelings, I figured I’d focus on the ones I know all about: homicide and avoiding being its victim.
It’s not like I had an army to swarm the island. I had a few Buzzkills and a couple squads of guys who used to be police or military. I could barely field a football team, let alone scour the entire island. I had only myself to rely on, and that also meant keeping Qiang with me. Anyone I left her with would likely be killed.
I know Good Doctor doesn’t seem that intimidating. A little older now, his power is x-ray vision, except without x-rays. It’s just the ability to see through things up to a certain depth. Pretty good little trick if you’re trying to hide something for obvious reasons, and because he has brains enough to check in places he can’t see through. He’s got a canny power, he’s smart, and he’s willing to kill.
Humanity is quite a bipolar animal, and I mean that in the same sense as including myself this time around. Simultaneously incredibly fragile and difficult to kill, humans are also ill-equipped psychologically to murder each other, and yet do so with ease over the littlest of reasons. Look at skin color. Some people are killed for having a shade of skin achievable by their murderer staying outside in the sun a few minutes. Despite the numerous horrible wars humanity has gone through, it was only relatively recently on this Earth that people learned to train soldiers to ignore humanity and become better killers. Too many in the World Wars weren’t shooting at people intentionally.
There are few times when superheroes are willing to kill, and few have gone through with it. Or had, up until this business with The Claw. I could actually take credit for corrupting them, I suppose, but his crimes were quite severe. Between him and the alien invasion, we might be looking at a time when far more of the heroes are comfortable taking life as a solution. There used to be unwritten rules. Villains don’t kill heroes, heroes don’t kill villains.
Doc is more than comfortable breaking those rules. He’s killed several other superpowered people before. Worse, he was doing it for a good reason. I can get distracted, or go easy on someone, or let them live on a whim. Someone who thinks they have a good reason is already prepared to force themselves to do what must be done.
So, now it should be clear why I’m worried about him. But what have I done about it? After confirming that announcements of the Claw’s demise weren’t premature, I warned Citra and Silver Shark that they needed to get off the island. I’m not entirely sure I want to put all my egg-layers in one basket, and I’d prefer being there to defend Qiang myself, so I kept her around.
I checked over my armor, too. It’s a strength, and also a weakness. I couldn’t help but think of the Oligarch, grand old supervillain of the Master Academy, who kept his armor out of enemy hands by installing a self-destruct sequence. I turned it on while he wore the thing.
I don’t include that function in my armor, which explains why life-support and power armor technology has advanced in recent years. Instead, I now have big batteries to rely on and an exoskeleton built into it that exerts enough force to break my own bones. It took more time than I wanted to spend making sure he hadn’t left any surprises for me there. A poisoned needle in my pants, a blade in a biceps, a cut wire in the crotch, a pile of shit in my boots.
Only once I was sure to be clean did I run off with Qiang. Despite the reason behind our search, it was fun jumping with her. She liked seeing the world from so high up and knowing it was with me. One stop, she asked me, “Daddy, can I jump like you?”
I patted her hair and said, “I’ll teach you how some day once we’re done finding this man.”
“I don’t want to see him!” she said, pouting.
“Are you scared?” I asked, sitting down so I could talk to her on her level. She nodded. “I get that. Big guy, a grown-up, who could hurt you. He already snuck into your room, like a monster in the night.” She nodded again. I reached out and pulled her knife out from where she had it hidden on her. “Monsters don’t like being stabbed, and neither do men. You can always stab a monster. Now, show me how you stab.”
She ran through some techniques I’d taught her, with me gently correcting her. After ten minutes of quick practice, she was giggling and adding little flourishes for fun. With her mind off Doc being some bogeyman for her, I stood up and we resumed our search. The first spot that took us to was the Cape Diem camp. I didn’t wait at the edges this time. I headed right for the medical tent, keeping Qiang close enough to hide under my cape for some protection. I had my eyes on point, overclocked, ready to identify Doc in a seconds. No dice.
Several doctors looked up, many showing signs of superpowers. “What is going on here?!” demanded what looked to be a short nurse with bark-like skin.
“I am Emperor Gecko of Ricca. I demand Good Doctor be brought before me.” I kept my eyes on a swivel, making damn sure no one snuck up using my helmet’s 360 display.
A buzzing from behind me accompanied the arrival of that drone with the hologram projection. “You have demands of us?” the translucent androgyne asked.
I turned, making sure to keep Qiang behind me. “Where is the Titan?”
“Away on other business. I am in command of this camp as of the current time,” answered the hologram.
“Fine, let’s find a corner to discuss this in away from everyone’s eyes,” I said, toning down my voice.
The hologram zipped on over to what could have been a storage shed, especially with a door big enough to allow Titan entrance. The sign on the door read “Administration,” in various languages. “What is this and why do you need Good Doctor?” asked the hologram. I didn’t answer for a moment as I cleared everything for Qiang’s entrance. “And who is she?”
“This is my daughter, Qiang. And this occurred Sunday,” I projected a hologram of what my eye had seen in her room, with Good Doctor stepping in, threatening her, and then leaving his message on the wall. “You’re on the short list of groups I expect could have brought Good Doctor here, since we’re not seeing a lot of other traffic to the island.”
The hologram froze, a projected belt appearing that read “One moment, please.” When it started back up, it said, “The Good Doctor joined our organization soon after our arrival on the island. Upon completion of certification, he asked for and was given assignment here due to his surgical abilities. Records show he went missing on the day in question. His actions do not represent Cape Diem policy in any way.”
I raised a hand. “I figured. Your famous neutrality has withstood worse dictators than me. I don’t want to have to call it into question publicly. I just want him found and delivered to me so he doesn’t harm my daughter. This isn’t about making Cape Diem my armor or anything like that. This is just about bringing Good Doctor before me, and this will have been made right.”
“I will communicate your request to the Director of Operations with the highest priority. Cape Diem would like to apologize for the actions of the Good Doctor in violating our neutrality.” The hologram almost sounded contrite. It had to know they’d be in some shit. A lot of people would see that neutrality as a restriction on an organization to act against oppression, but it also served as the shield allowing them to help people even in countries otherwise hostile to any foreign intervention.
It took half an hour before the hologram directed me over to a large circular metal framework. One moment, I saw right through it. The next, I saw the Titan standing in a large room. He stepped through and unfurled his wings, then came to stand in front of me. “Emperor Gecko, I would like to convey my sincerest apologies for the actions of this rogue agent in violation of our neutrality. The Security Division is coming through now and they will help you find him. There are a lot of men and women who come to us to escape their past, and this threatens that deal.”
With my blessing, they spread out. I briefly entertained the thought that this might be some ploy to take over the island, but that’d be it for these guys. No more Cape Diem. Best to keep my paranoia on a leash in that circumstance.
With them safely swarming out, I found Qiang tugging on my cape. “What about the train?”
“Train?” I asked, trying to figure out what she meant. Oh, the maglev. The one underground. Underneath the palace. That’d be a handy place to hide a person. “Right, the maglev.” It seemed perfect. While the Cape Diem supers spread out looking for their former colleague, I carried Qiang to the palace and set to work finding the way down. It turned out to be below some light rubble in the same crater that housed the legislature. If I hadn’t been down there already, I likely wouldn’t have noticed it at all. And the fact that it didn’t have that much blocking the entrance suggested Qiang had been right. We both slipped down there, Qiang using some of those lessons I gave her to pad almost as silently as myself down there.
We didn’t have to go too far to find MRE wrappers and more. I swear, he left that pile right in the middle of the way down just so I’d step in it. Ugh, going to take forever to clean that out from under my boot. And yet, no Doc. Nothing in the platform, and the doors to the rest of the track were firmly shut.
The hologram found us on our way up, the drone not having to worry about stepping in any slick, stinky piles left by my old friend. “Emperor Gecko, there is a situation.”
The hologram intendant led me to where they were dragging Silver Shark out of the water. She was missing a foot, a fin, and she had a scalpel jammed through her throat. More than that, she had coordinates carved on her back with the note, “Come alone or the girl dies.”
I mean, I could bring people along. It’s only Citra. He didn’t even get Qiang. Maybe he expected to send her off the island. See, it’s those paternal instincts why my kid’s still alive and his is dead. But soon, oh so soon, I’ll have to arrange a reunion for them. Because I am going to find him, and I’ll find him a grave man.