It is Fall, and Halloween approaches. I, the Great and Devious Emperor Psycho Gecko of Ricca and my daughter, Qiang, have visited my old stomping grounds of Empyreal City to negotiate a ceasefire with the powerful horror-themed supervillain Spinetingler. The way to do so? Finding ‘Tingler’s daughter, all without getting Qiang too involved.
So here I am, in Empyreal City once again. A recovering Empyreal City. Recovering quite slowly. The city’s vulnerable, and I am the recently-crowned Emperor of my own nation. With me is my kid, heir to the throne, with her own set of power armor. And what did we do today?
We visited a haunted house. I thought it would stop my little Qiang from talking about all the nice and neat kids she met when given a tour of Master Academy as a prospective student. “The grown-ups wanted to know who you were, but the babysitter said I was not supposed to say,” she said, practicing her English. I try and I try. I’ve never been a parent before, and I got to skip the part where she’s a whining baby keeping me up at night, but I just don’t know how I’ll ever teach her informal English. Unlike me, she didn’t learn the cusswords first.
So we were heading down the street in broad daylight, her without armor and myself well-protected in mine. She had bundled up for the weather, and I just appeared to be in a suit. A nice suit; the hologram featured pinstripes that were just my own name repeated over and over again.
Quang didn’t like wearing her armor a lot yet. Still getting used to it. Growing pains. I keep making little adjustments, but there’s only so much I can do to get her comfortable with the whole kebab. We picked up some kebabs for lunch, so the language was on my mind.
We walked down the street like that, her yammering on about Master Academy seeming so great, when I caught a glimpse of a confrontation about to occur. Two behind us, two in front. Unusual grouping. Most muggers rely on surprise over numbers. I noticed the two behind me pull up bandanas over their faces and pull down hoodies. The bandanas had snarling canine mouths and the hoodies, grey in color, had ears on them. They reached down and pulled out weapons. Hand claws. Sharp, arcing metal with a grip and a small handguard.
“Hon,” I told Qiang. “We are about to have a short fight.”
Qiang looked at the pair walking toward us. The ones in front of me didn’t have the hoodies, but I noticed bandanas around their necks just a second before they pulled them up. One of these guys pulled a knife, the other had a cheap, snub-nosed revolver.
It would have looked like I dramatically put my hands up in recognition of being outgunned. That mistake wouldn’t have lasted for long, not when the rubber chicken suddenly appeared in midair and smacked the gun out of that guy’s hand. While my hands were up there, I grabbed my cape and hit the disconnect button. It also magically appeared from nowhere, though pulling it loose disrupted the projection for a moment.
The guy in front with the knife got my cape thrown on him while I turned to confront our clawed friends behind me. “What’s with the Wal-Mart furry fandom look going on here?” I asked.
They looked at each other, then back to me. The one on my right spoke up. “Who are you, some kind of magician?”
“I am good at sawing people in half and making them disappear. One moment,” I turned back toward the other two. The one had just picked up his gun and the other had gotten the cape off. I grabbed both and threw them at their friends.
Qiang, for her part, had ducked to the side behind cover, drawing her knife out from where she kept it hidden. I let the hologram drop as I stepped between her and them. “Alright, you little gang of pups. Time to answer the age old question…”
They soon learned that question when I had them piled up one on top of each other and sat on top of the pile, holding the hands of one of the hoodie-wearing ones and making him hit himself in the face with a bare fist. “Why you hittin’ yourself? Why you hittin’ yourself?”
“Daddy, let’s go!” Qiang called. I looked over at her, gritting my teeth in my armor. She was the only reason I hadn’t killed them so far.
I leaned down to the guys. “I don’t know what kind of gang shit you’re playing at here, but you’re going to get up and you’re going to thank my daughter before you go. But first…”
I let them up and let them live, but I also held all four of them in the air by their underwear while they thanked Qiang and apologized to her. See, it’s about respect. And about the reveal that one of those guys wore a thong. Past tense is important there, because I suspect he’ll stop after this incident.
And that was the day, one marred in a bit of fun for me that still led to Qiang hugging onto me when we got to the hotel room. I just let her hold me, and keep holding me. She didn’t want me to go, which caused all kinds of issues when I had to pee. When she finally spoke, she asked in her own tongue, “You’re not going to go get hurt, are you daddy?”
A couple minutes later, I managed to get my laughter under control. “It takes more than some idiots with guns and knives to hurt me. I was more worried about you than anything else.”
She sat there and thought about that, then got up. Fifteen minutes later, she came in wearing her armor and hugged onto me. I had to wait until she fell asleep before I could head out for some night time fun. I left a note taped to the front of her armor promising I’d be careful and I’d come back ok.
After all, my big plan of the night involved breaking into this archive used for nothing but off-site records storage for a few different departments of Empyreal City’s government. The boringness of the worn, old brick rectangular cuboid building almost seemed brutalist. In reality, I think someone designed this building to be nothing but a place people consigned mountains of paper to be organized and held in the dark. Most people have heard of the phrase “knowledge is power”; this place held the kind of knowledge that could fuck up being a doorstop.
It’s the file folders, you see. They slide.
I had a name, but it had been a bit more than that. A name, an age, even an image in a mirror. Empyreal City has a population greater than some countries. If you count all the people who lived there in the past, pretty much any name repeats, starting right at the front with Aaron A. Aaronson.
So I broke on into the dull old building whose most exciting accomplishment had been briefly having an alien shuttle crashed on top of it, and set about looking for the records. I had a few key areas to hit on. Old birth certificates, foster care paperwork, adoption papers; I could find this. Eventually.
So I had a lot of digging ahead of me. Unsexy, boring digging. Sometimes being a supervillain means lots of preparation, at least if you want to be good. There have always been hacks, mucking about, only to end up dead. Or in jail, never able to put it together again. It helps if they have an easy gimmick to cling to, like the Nazi stuff. Sure, it’s making a revival nowadays, but Son of the Hun had enough working against him even before the Third Reich got curbstomped by the Red Army.
That reminded me, in light of the gang of wolves I spotted earlier, to put out feelers for the local gang activity. While I was physically busy looking through records nobody had ever had time to scan onto computers, I ran an automatic search of local news through my head. It wouldn’t be as effective as hitting up bars and shaking people down for information, but those required I be elsewhere.
At least there I found something interesting. An article showed the local Reds gaining in power after recent catastrophes, pushing their message of a universal basic income, a more progressive tax system, and equal treatment under the law for men and women of any color or creed. “Nobody ever blew up a city fighting over their next meal!” they quote one of the Reds saying at a protest. He has a point. I’ve had the occasional sale on my services, but most hitmen prefer to work a job that’ll make them some good money for the risk. Just like how most thieves prefer to steal from someone who has valuables. You don’t see a lot of corporate sabotage work offered by the hot dog cart against that damn bodega.
So I can sympathize, except for the times they’ve burnt down bank branches completely. “Reds Run Scorched Earth Campaign,” stated the headline on a story. It showed them standing around with some fairly heavy weaponry for a street gang. A flamethrower, several AKs, and a guy carrying a light machine gun. Rumors, at least the ones fit to print, say they run the dockyards.
The Greens, another gang in the area, had changed a bit as well. Bad weed. That’s no joke. Something, some chemical or drug, got into the water supply. The cops managed to seize some plants from one of their grow houses before they got too bad, but the stuff in the water affected a strain of their pot. At first, it was thought they just couldn’t feel pain anymore when high. Then there’s a story about a guy who got super baked and took a few shotguns blasts to the chest and back without a problem. The Greens had been pushed to the outskirts of the city, but now they’re pushing back, with some of them looking a lot bigger and hairier, with antlers.
Whatever drugs they sell now seem to have more an edge to them. They’re stronger, maybe because the Greens are resistant, but people risk it because some of it is still doped with stuff to give people very weak enhancements. The only ones who get the good stuff are the Greens themselves. They’ve also taken to wrecking the city’s water purification systems.
Finally, the idiots I ran into. I don’t think they’re an offshoot of the old Yurples gang from around here. They call themselves the Wolfpack. A reporter who embedded with them for awhile painted a picture of them being the city’s regular folks who just want the protection of law and order that the city, state, and federal government let lapse. Interviews with people on the street instead paint a picture of extortion, theft, and murder. They’re a little more spread out because of that, and the one with the pettiest crimes. Some of them have been seen running as fast as cars and leaping small buildings in a couple bounds, but authorities are baffled by that.
Can’t say I mind the gangs getting more colorful in my absence, so long as they leave me and mine alone. The interesting thing is that they have some notable clashes in the northeast of the city, where their territories all butt up against one another. They have fights all over the place, except for one neighborhood. If not for looking up the gang stuff, I may not have noticed the oddity there. For years now, a street there has had no crime whatsoever. No domestic violence, no noise complaints, nothing. It wouldn’t stand out much, since people don’t file reports about crimes not happening, but for the lack of gang violence by the shifting gang situation.
And what really makes that odd is I found a file on the mother and her daughter. The mother had some psych issues, got CPS called on her, and ended up taking a long, moonlit walk off the side of her apartment complex, leaving the girl to be taken to a group home. No records of her ever having left, despite the fact that she’s older than eighteen by now. Jamie Scrimm, her last name taken from her mother’s side, has no other records on the internet that I’ve found. Nothing hidden in any government conspiracy files right next to Khrushchev thinking Dallas cops murdered JFK. The trail for Spinetingler’s daughter ends, as far as I can tell, at that group home in the same neighborhood whose last reported criminal complaint dates to the day before Jamie Scrimm arrived.
Pingback: Seasons Change 5 | World Domination in Retrospect
Pingback: Seasons Change 7 | World Domination in Retrospect