“No, no, no, this is all wrong!” I said. As part of my collaboration with Master Academy, I’d been staying there and wandering the grounds. I’ve been letting Qiang attend the classes, while I have been turning the library into a small armory. Knowledge truly is power. Especially knowledge of high explosives and carbon fiber bomb casings.
Now, the wrong thing wasn’t in the library. It was actually in a classroom. I’d heard through one of my virus-infected phones that the teacher had to run out and had left them to some busy work. So I ran up there and set about correcting the lesson plan. “Rushing into a bank? Are y’all serious?” I asked, erasing marker off the board about potential entries.
“Ok, let’s get it straight… you don’t want this to be a hostage situation and you don’t want fighting in there with the hostages. Damn civvies don’t know what’s good for them anyway,” I drew arrows of the robbers exiting. “You want them to leave. Sure, it’s public, but even fighting them just outside is better than inside. More open, too. Less cover. But more than that, if they’re in and out, no body apparently stopping them, where do y’all think they’ll go?”
I got no answer from the class this time, either. The kids seemed surprised to see a random, purple haired woman with bells in her hair take over the class. I rolled my eyes. “Safehouse! They’ll want to lay low for a bit. Tail them there and you can nab them with relatively little fuss.” I punched one hand into the palm of the other. “Either get them right then and there or wait a few hours until the adrenaline’s worn off and they’re tired, and they’re yours.”
A girl with really long hair and an old-fashioned floral dress raised her hand. “What if it’s a supervillain base?”
I shrugged. “The only change you might do then is send in a reconnaissance drone to check the place over.”
“We get drones?” a boy in the back of the class asked. He had a neon lime mohawk. It hurt to look at his hair.
“Who are you?” asked someone else.
The girl in the floral dress raised her hand again, but asked a question without being called on, “Are drones going to be on the test?”
“All good questions,” I said, pointing to all of them. “I don’t know, I won’t say, and who cares about tests? You got a hell of a lot more than a test to worry about if you’re in a class learning how to foil a bank robbery. You do the wrong thing and people die.”
That shut them up.
“What are you doing in here?” asked someone. This time, I realized it wasn’t one of the people sitting in front of me. It was Psychsaur instead. The reptilian-looking humanoid with feathers for hair was maybe the only hero in the place without a frown just for me. Well, Mender might count too, but I don’t know how much of his face he controls anymore. The guy’s like Stephen Hawking but with less firepower built into the chair. Side note: be careful accusing Stephen Hawking of cheating at poker unless you want to see him try to choke a bitch with a mechanical arm.
I held out my hands toward the students. “I heard someone giving bad lessons. I had to correct it. You’re heroes, for Norse gods’ sakes. You don’t just rush in and turn a robbery into collateral civilian casualties if you’re doing it right.”
“Come on, let’s talk,” she said. She motioned for me to follow her. And, since she was the only cool one, I did. I think I made my point to the students anyway.
“How are you doing?” I asked, catching up to her in the hallway.
She shot me a small smile. “It’s odd not falling into your head as soon as you’re around. I got comfortable there.”
“You poor girl,” I said. “Who knows what you took out of it? I bet that’s why you and Venus started making the beast with a billion backs together.”
She stuck her tongue out. It was human, actually. “You were just teaching teenagers how to be better heroes. Maybe I left some of myself in there.”
“Ew, me as a do-gooder? That’s just wrong,” I screwed up my face in disgust.
“You threw yourself in front of a rocket to protect people,” she commented.
I shook my head. “Uh uh, I did that for my daughter.”
“Yeah, you did,” she added, giving me some side eye. “How did you get a kid?”
“The same way anyone does,” I said. “Banged a fly, swallowed it so it couldn’t have a kid who would beat me up and castrate me, then got a headache one day. Dunked my head in a pile of headache powder that’d make Tony Montana jealous and she popped out, roughly five years old.”
“No, I snort bullshit to help with impotence. I’ve never been impotent, but the cure works. Feel free to suggest it to all your friends.”
“Did you kidnap her?” The smile was gone. She wasn’t frowning or angry, just concerned.
“No, no, she was given to me. The Riccans thought giving me a kid for whatever things I might do would sweeten the deal when they wanted my ability to make weapons of mass destruction.”
“Jesus Christ!” She stopped and grabbed my shoulder to halt me as well. “You didn’t give her back?”
I expected an accusation, but then I’m not used to someone like Psychsaur. The telepathic dinosaur-lady has spent enough time in my head that she kinda gets me now. And she’s one of the few people I’m instinctively cool with as well. I actually got a sinking feeling considering her reaction and wondering if there really was some mental stuff going both ways back when she could get in my head.
“Her mother’s dead,” I said.
“What about her father?”
“I’m her father.”
“I doubt that.”
“I am.” I hissed it and turned to her, looking her dead in the eyes. “They killed her mother and put her in an institution mean to train her up as nothing but a tool to help them get what they want, guarded by men with guns. I’m not letting that happen anymore if I can help it. That’s not reforming. That’s just being better than the backwards, ignorant humans who do shit like that.” I had to calm myself down from that. Cheeks had gotten a bit flushed. I rubbed at them.
She hugged me. I pushed her away after a second. She winked at me. “You try to sound racist, but you keep caring about humans. Even your daughter’s human.”
I pointed at her. “Hey, she’s only half human now. First time I ever saw that, actually. Wasn’t sure she’d get the abilities from my side.”
We started walking again. “What do you mean, ‘now’?”
I shrugged and lowered my voice. “I put some of my DNA in her. Wait, bad wording. Real bad.” I swear, I’m starting to sound like that conservative guy in politics who got caught with all the pedophilia. He caused a big fracas about something, either speaking at a college, or attending some convention in Milwaukee, or running for governor. Either way, this was an unproductive area of inquiry. “She wasn’t, strictly speaking, my child in the biological sense. Now, she is.”
“That part’s creepy.”
“Well, don’t tell anyone. She doesn’t know and I think it’s just as well. Say, where are we going, anyway?” I’d noticed we didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular. I thought she’d deposit me back in the library, but nope.
Instead, she stopped at that question. “We were walking while catching up. They wanted me to check on you. Venus thinks you finally lost it. Everyone else wondered why she said ‘finally’. Everyone but me. I can tell Qiang means a lot to you. We’ll keep her safe, but we have no reason to believe you about the other stuff. You really believe in Santa?” She held her hands up, palms to the sky at that.
“Of course I don’t believe in him. I met the guy. That’d be like asking if I believe you exist. Granted, I think he’s got some sort of Jungian thing going on, but nothing causes collective unconsciousness quite like spit-balling on psychotherapy.”
“More bullshit, but the important thing is that at least you believe. I just hope that it helps you in some small way. Now gimme a hug,” She didn’t give me a chance to respond, just forcing herself and her affection on me, right there in public. Like Psycho Gecko is just some huggable person who won’t attack or grope a superhero. I felt so violated and… clean. As she broke the hug, she added. “I have to go to a meeting. We’re going to have a lot of heroes here for a holiday party, so you don’t need to worry about anyone showing up to kidnap your daughter.”
I had the idea even before she started walking away. A holiday party, eh?
Luckily, I’d already settled into their systems comfortably and was able to get a look at the goods. Yep, Christmas Eve, so they can accommodate students staying over the holidays. Still pretty dangerous at home, with groups like EAGLE existing now.
When I’d initially arrived here, I hadn’t been entirely sure how to lure Eschaton to the Christmas creatures. I just knew that heroes know other heroes. After all, most villains know other villains. I’m sure Rothstein’s is going to have a holiday party too. I’ve crashed it before, back when they didn’t invite me, which isn’t to say they invite me now. But, hey, not nearly the first event I haven’t been invited to. People just don’t like having me at special events for some reason. Y’all should have seen the look I got from the CIA when I told them I might show up to a presidential inauguration that time. Pretty sure Langley’s entire plumbing system clogged up from all the bricks.
But, vague undefined 2017 dickisness aside, Eschaton probably had an invite, right? Nope. His name was explicitly on a list of people to not invite or even tell there was a party. A minor setback, because they had a section where they divided up the work duties. The three people signed up for invite duty were Artiste, Wildcard, and our old friend Ball Boy. Thought he’d have changed the name by now. Must be how people know him, like how this one bunch in Africa insists on calling me Equinsu Ocha. It means White Devil, but I don’t take offense. It’s how they know me.
So my mission was simple.. change the guest list. Truly, it would require cunning, guile, Ken, Ryu, maybe even Balrog. M. Bison too? Of course!
Instead, I stole a glance at their design and rushed one out myself. Then, it was just a matter of shipping over a few packages of my own. It just so happened that the bank foiling class got hijacked that day as an evil supervillain started teaching them how to play with drones, complete with races. We had enough extra, they could even try to shoot each other out of the sky. They looked a bit uneasy when I suggested that instead of a race and a war, we have a race war!
Crickets, crickets all around.
It was that mess into which three superheroes walked, including one I’d seen before when he and Venus and another person beat me. One of the racers swerved out of control and knocked him in the head. The invitations went flying.
They hardly noticed when they picked up an extra one. Of course, I could have done it with much less of a spectacle, but this way let me give someone a concussion. And, in the end, isn’t this season supposed to be about giving?