In my quest to bury the hatchet with horror supervillain Spinetingler, I have returned to Empyreal City with my daughter in an effort to find his. After some stabbing in the dark that involved too few knives, I showed Spinetingler my hand and won his cooperation over our mutual love of murder. Then, I ran into some stupid gang members while out and about with my daughter and was forced to let them live because she was there. But researching them while pursuing musty old records helped me uncover the mysterious lack of death in the area where Spinetingler’s daughter had been sent after her mother’s death.
So, of course, that’s where I needed to check on Halloween Eve. As usual, Halloween is a truce day. A lot of standards have been lost lately, but that’s one I’ve always enjoyed. So many heroes and villains dipped their feet into the bloody waters of lethal force, it makes Halloween even more important. Not holding to the truce may mean death.
As for why I didn’t go before that night, that’s simple. I was enjoying the holiday with Qiang. I’d neglected it too much. Not nearly enough scary movies or stories. I took my kid to a party and then we carved pumpkins. We had a brief pumpkin-innard fight and set the grinning Jack O’Lanterns on the balcony with candles to light their faces while the sun set.
I fixed us a nice dinner, thick-cut pork chops with homemade gravy from the drippings. She wanted to go with me, and I hated having to leave her behind, but this wasn’t something I’d drag her into. Her armor is for protecting herself. It may do that, but dragging her along into what’s most likely a hostile situation isn’t how that works.
The night seemed unusually quiet even before Halloween. Can’t blame anyone for taking it easy. People like their holidays. Sure, regular criminals are exempt, but they don’t have to worry so much about heroes dropping by and some of them offer valuable services to supervillains. Even the money launderers get to take it easy for a short while. Maybe use it for some downtime and maintenance of their money washers and money dryers. Try some new money steam cleaning. A hell of a lot better than the old days of hanging money out to dry on the line, where it could get mixed up with the counterfeiters.
My good mood lessened due to some sort of interference in the city. A little scratchiness in my head, maybe something electromagnetic. It wasn’t far enough to mess with Qiang. I didn’t know if anyone had strange experiments running, which was one idea. Hell, it could have just been some freaky interference from damaged or substandard infrastructure. If any city’s ever been skull-fucked, it’s Empyreal City.
To my growing annoyance, the neighborhood in question was inside the zone of this little crackle.
It wasn’t much. Old, worn stucco on a three-story building. Ugh, one of those awful shades of pale pink that makes you taste the foul medicine it resembles just by seeing it. It surprised me the place seemed so dead. Not the building itself. I was fully prepared to walk into a house of a thousand corpses if I had to make them myself. It was all the rest of the street. Lights out, nobody out and about. No stray dogs or cats, nobody walking around, no cars driving through.
When I stepped through the door, I did not find a house of a thousand corpses. And yes, I used the front door. Whatever else I was there for, violence wasn’t necessarily essential to it. The lights were off in the building. I tried them, no response. A quick check turned up that the place’s utilities were paid up every month on the same day and time like clockwork. The culprits for lost power, as they often are with utilities services, were aliens. They lost power here when the Fluidics invaded. It took awhile to restore service because nobody complained, and it turned out to be spotty. Why didn’t they fix it? Nobody complained.
That alone sends up a huge red flag. People have this stereotype of Empyreal Citiers being more rude. I don’t know about that, other than I probably threw off the average. But I do know that people are bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling. They’re stupid, lazy assholes who would complain about being rubbed raw if they got to spend all day in an orgy with super hot supermodels. Complaining is second nature to humans, unlike us superior Homo Machina.
I hit the light amplification setting first and began moving, then swapped over to infrared. That was another red flag. They weren’t in the entry hall or the stairwell that I could see from it, but there was heat all over this place. Maybe a little colder than heat signatures should have been due to the time of year, but I counted at least 40 people in the place. The closest batch were in a side room, like a foyer or living room.
I pushed the door open a little wider to find a group of give people in there, all standing up and facing inward like a star. They were staring blankly, sometimes turning their heads. To look at a different one of them. It was too sudden to be natural, and occasionally the entire group would turn at once.
Boom, sudden headache. Not from an actual, physical explosion. I was looking at them all when I got an image, like the place was lit up but all dark blue, and the group in front of me weren’t people. They were mannequins or dolls or something. White pieces with blank faces. At the same time, an ice pick of pain stabbed through my head, right above my left eye. Hurt like hell, and I grabbed the door frame nearby to steady myself. As the pain faded, I realized a couple things. First, the crackly feeling had intensified. Second, the five people had all turned to look at me.
They didn’t move right. They came walking toward me, but it wasn’t right. It’s like they didn’t care about weight. Like they didn’t remember how to walk and were just tossing body parts forward. I growled at the pain in my head and reached out to the closest one, a guy. I pulled his head into the door frame, grabbed the door, and slammed it into the frame so hard it cut through the top of his head with a sploot that sprayed brain and bone against the wall of the hallway outside.
I didn’t think they’d actually hurt me, but the ones who grabbed hold of me had surprising strength. The human body is a lot stronger than it lets on, but its full potential isn’t usually realized unless it’s in extreme situation, like a kid is trapped under a car. That’s because the muscles are strong enough to lift the car up, but the bones and ligaments don’t handle it so well. People do that for long, they break themselves. These guys were awfully skinny, but I think they were being forced to tap into that strength.
Unfortunately for the pair who had my arms, I had the power of robotics on my side. I grabbed them both and pulled them in front of me, then took their heads and pushed them together. One of the spares jumped on my back, but couldn’t do anything to stop me smashing their skulls together until they were left a pulpy, bloody mess on the floor. It was then that the fifth and final one tried to chop block my leg out from under me.
No go. I kicked that one off onto the floor, then jumped and landed with my boot grinding the puppet person’s brain into the old wooden floor. Another jump and I landed with the considerable weight of my armor on my back. Or, more precisely, on the person on my back. It didn’t kill her, but it certainly didn’t make her stronger. Left her writhing like a bug, except for her legs. I left her impotently reaching up to me with her wheezing, gurgling breathes.
Above me, I found more of these puppet people filling the stairwell. They’d all had time to empty out of the hallways to try and obstruct my path, but it also helped me. I stepped away from the stairwell to check the building. There. On the top floor, naturally, those who couldn’t fit in the stairwell littered the hall leading to a single room where one body lay.
I stepped back into the stairwell and ramped up the muscle amplifiers on the leg portions of my armor. I didn’t have to use the stairs. Puppet people tripped down the stairs after me. As I jumped, more threw themselves off stairs and landings to try and grab me. They weren’t the most coordinated lot and they missed. I gripped onto a pair of wall light fixtures on the third story stairwell wall and swung myself onto the landing before they could completely give out on me. A quartet of puppets stood before me, looking downright undead. They might as well have been skeletons with a thin covering of skin. It was amazing they could stand upright, and pitifully easy to just knock them on their asses as I passed.
I’d noticed then that the crackly, itchy pain in my head had been growing. Worse than that, time started playing some funny tricks on me. Minutes flew by and more of those puppets from below grabbed at me from behind. They shouldn’t have been up there so fast. I realized that whatever was doing this, which almost certainly was Spinetingler’s daughter, was fucking with my perception of time. I pulled a chicken grenade from my belt and tossed it back. It went off real soon after leaving my hands, throwing me forward and clearing some of the hallway behind me.
It also caught the place on fire, so that was an issue. It seemed like it took forever to get to my feet. More like twenty minutes while the flames grew around me and weakened the building. This was an issue. I pushed forward, overclocking the computerized part of my brain to try and compensate. Now I was the one throwing body parts forward like I couldn’t hardly walk.
Just before I reached the door to the last room on the top floor, more psychic pain struck me. It felt like a bear trap had closed on my head. Then it began to grind from side to side. I gritted my teeth and walked through the door, scattering splinters everywhere. It was a bedroom, the master bedroom I think. It had its own bathroom, unlike probably every other room here. That’s where I found her, shivering in the bath. She was in her twenties. She was skinny, and blonde, and peered up at me with giant eyes of light brown. I could see bones. Well, I could see a lot more than that. It was a bath, after all.
I grabbed her under her arm and pulled her to her feet, then stuck her with the paternalizer. “I can’t play with you,” she said to me, looking me in the eye. I noticed smaller spikes of psychic pain hit me.
“Nope. A benefit of my particular biology,” I said. I looked her over. Skinny, yeah, but she could have been pretty. The nose was a little big and pointed. Combined with the way her wild hair hung down over her back, I thought she looked vaguely rat-like.
The paternalizer let off a victory tune that made me feel like swinging a giant sword over my head. Confirmed, this young woman had Spinetingler’s DNA.
Good thing, too. Shit was falling back in the hallway and smoke was getting everywhere. “Looks like I need to get this princess to another castle,” I said. I grabbed her throat and applied just enough of a sleeper to put her out, then put her over my shoulder. I threw the tub through a nearby window to make an opening, then jumped free.
Of course, then I had to find a good place to steal a mirror from while a minor crimewave of tumorous mutants ran through the streets, overturning cars and wrecking shit. There were going to be a lot of pissed heroes and villains dealing with that one mad scientist I interrogated days earlier, that’s for sure. But for now, I just set the mirror on the ground and said Spinetingler’s name three times.
An enormous eyeball looked up at me from the mirror, and almost seemed to squint in eyeball-y satisfaction upon seeing the girl in my arms. “Gecko tested, DNA approved. I had to knock her out to save her from a burning building. I recommend some good food.”
A pain in my head indicated she’d woken up. So did the kicking feet. “Let me go. I don’t want to play. I don’t want to play!”
“This is no time for child’s play,” I said. This woman wasn’t right in her head, I figured. Maybe it was her powers and relying on them from an early age, maybe it was what she’d done to people to avoid education. Either way, she wasn’t my problem.
The image shifted to an older, fatherly actor with blood around his face. “Come to daddy,” said Spinetingler. He laughed as I tossed her down into the mirror. She disappeared into its reflective surface, the shattering of the mirror cutting off her screams.
I slept just fine. Got up, made breakfast for Qiang, and we set about planning her trick-or-treating. She decided she wanted to go as Venus. Since she’s my daughter, she did. And since she’s my daughter, I made sure she got plenty of candy even if I had to sneak into the house through the back door and steal it while she was at the front door. She also got a few credit cards, wallets, and a nice purse or two.
Happy Halloween, dear readers.