Eschaton arrived today. In all the internal injuries, I hadn’t noticed. That, and checking on the news from Ricca. The Directory’s gone and divided up into two main groups, and I had to keep up with all the political news. Political parties like that tend to be fairly different, and only a fool would stick their head in the sand and decide they’re the exact same. After all, if they were, you’d think they’d just make themselves one big group instead of dividing up like that.
Regardless, I’m keeping an eye on it. Wouldn’t want these humans wrecking things for everyone. If it goes too far, I may look all the better to everyone else for stepping in to save them from the evils of democracy. And there are evils there. For all the crappiness of World War I, it was mostly a morally-neutral affair. Then the people swept the Russian Czar out of power, Germany went democratic, and the Italians decided to elect a guy running on traditional Roman values. The democratic United States decided that was a fine time to start instituting restrictions on Jewish immigration from Europe as well.
Government by the people assumes an awful lot about the competency of the people. The same people, it should be noted, who made that annoying Youtube idiot a star. I’m not even saying who, because anybody reading has someone in mind for that label.
That’s why the people need more than just whatever the majority of them decides is a government. If they want to be safe and have their rights protected, they need something higher. Something like institutions or ideals, so that when the people are collectively tricked or extorted into sinking into their own worst selves, it stands there to protect them from themselves. And if there’s anyone better suited to kill people because they’re too stupid to do what’s best for themselves, it’s me.
So, back to the in-person side of things, I was helping hang up decorations around the school when outside the school there arose such a clatter. I stepped down from this box of wholesale soap I’d been using as a small ladder and went to go see what was the matter.
New arrivals! Some showed up with vehicles and luggage, but others just flew on in. Eschaton was one of the latter. For the talk of people not inviting him, I expected some outrage. Nope. People generally acted ok around him, so maybe it was more like that uncle you invite over who tells jokes about how fun it’d be to own a black person. I thought I’d have to smooth it all over and make a case. It’s just nice when things go right for once. Problem is, that probably means it went wrong.
So they let Eschaton in and gave him quarters like any of these other visiting heroes. They didn’t bother with masks most of the time, either. Then again, Master Academy’s been lax about that around me. Idiots, all of them. They shouldn’t trust me, even with that self-imposed notion that I owe them.
It bothered me even more than the notion that Psychsaur’s psychic bond with me caused me to take some habits from her. I get the sense in my head that they’re falling for me pretending to be turning over a new leaf. Really falling for it. It ticks me off a bit they’d think I could turn so easily, but I can’t correct them. I have to play this game. And part of playing this game is playing fewer games. I sighed looking down and went to go find Venus.
I passed a classroom along the way where some of the supers were entertaining the kids. There weren’t as many roaming around during the holidays, not that this is any kind of formal school system. Master Academy’s doors were open for all its students during the holiday if they had no place to go. I expect it has to do with how many heroes used to be orphans themselves, or come from bad homes. Better check in on the orphans back home, by the way.
I’d say Venus was expecting me, but I think she pretty much always expects me. The really weird part is I knocked on the door of her room to draw her out. When she opened it, she looked around and then right up where I was hanging onto the wall above the door. She sighed. “Hello Gecko.”
I dropped down next to her and started slipping off the climbing claws from my hands. “Heya Venus.”
“We put a lot of work into this place. Try not to destroy it,” she said.
“Properly done, an act of destruction can be just as beautiful as a creation,” I said. “By the way, y’all should have spent more on wood. That stuff’s a little cheaper than I expected from the fancy hero school so nice it has a school on both ends of a country.”
She crossed her arms over in front of her chest, “What do you want?”
“Just to confirm what you’ll soon suspect when you hear he’s here: I invited Eschaton.” I put on a big grin. Nothing disarms people like the baring of teeth. Ok, scratch that. I tried to play it up as awkward.
For her part, Venus gritted her teeth and bluntly asked, “Why?”
I held up my hands. “It’s kinda stupid, but these things after me are seasonal. They aren’t camping out with Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. It’s all cold and winter and snow, because that’s part of what created them. I figured it might help to have a really hot guy around.”
She raised her eyebrow. “You’ve really embraced your feminine side.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fire powers, and he’s got more fire than any of the rest. I’m kinda grasping at straws here, Venus. It isn’t usually a problem when I don’t know what to do.”
“Just be good for goodness sake,” she said. From her smile, I think she suspected I didn’t care for Christmas music that much. It’d probably be just fine if people didn’t play the same repetitive songs for two months straight on the radio and in public places. We get it, you like your bells and your dingaling!
I winced a little. Now it was my turn to glare at Venus. “Last time I did that, you gave up on me for stealing from a church. You have a head injury lately? You’re forgetting recent stuff.”
Her grin grew wider. “If you really wanted to help, you could join us tonight for carols and other songs in the cafeteria.”
I shook my head. “Sorry, but my singing abilities are as legendary as my knife skills, and for the same reason. It’s like my mouth is the Ark of the Covenant, only the Nazis throw me out of the bar before I melt everyone’s faces off. So that’s settled and I’ll not be attending. Buh bye now.” I turned to walk away, but she put her hand on my shoulder.
“That’s fine,” she assured me. “You can listen along. It’ll be great. I’d really love to have your support there. We’re piping it into the PA system so everyone on campus can hear.”
And that’s how I ended up taking Qiang with me to go skating that night. That’s also why we were in position when a group of Reds showed up with a flamethrower. “This is not the time for frozen water!” declared man in a shiny foil suit with a red hammers and sickles painted over it. “This is time for scorched earth!”
He was flanked by a couple of compatriots who pulled out AK knockoffs. “We don’t care about the ice. We’re actually here for your jewelry, cash, credit cards, telephones, and any other valuables. Share the wealth, comra-ack!”
Ice skates are one of the few circumstances where I am liberal with the jump kicks. Something like that is usually a pretty stupid move, unless you’re wearing sharpened metal on your feet. They’re gonna need a lot of zambonis for what I left on that ice that night. The crowd still applauded me as a hero, even if some of them lost their dinners on the ice as well.
Just great, even when I kill people, civilians think I’m one of the good guys. Eh, considering how I often try to justify my actions, it’s just a bit of the holiday blues. It was easy to put out of mind once I took Qiang by a donut shop to make up for her ice skating being cut almost as short as the guy with the flamethrower ended up. They’re gonna have to fuse his shinbones up there above his knees the way I left him. On the plus side, walking around with my very own flamethrower meant the donut people gave me a hefty discount. On top of that, it was steaming hot.
We stopped when I saw a man in an anachronistic outfit. Old fashioned, with poofy things all over. Like if Prince came back to life, I suppose, but with black grease all over his face and crazily curled hair. He smiled at me from across the street, which is when I noticed the bright red lipstick.
I moved Qiang behind me. “Pete,” I said. “I expected I’d run into you at some point.”
“Call me Black Pete,” he said in a Dutch accent.
“I haven’t heard people like you before,” Qiang said in her formal learned English. “Where are you from?”
“The Nether Regions,” I answered her.
“The Nether Lands,” Pete corrected me.
I looked subtly around and saw we’d stopped next to a fruit vendor who was in the middle of packing up. I kept my eyes on Pete, though, while readying to reach out and grab the first fruit I could get my hands on. I swear, I could hear that Western harmonica thing, “Waaa, waaa, waaa.” The wind picked up briefly and a frozen piece of newspaper coated with snow rolled past. If only it’d been high noon. As soon as the wind stopped, I grabbed the fruit and raised it to throw. I didn’t realize until I’d released how heavy it was. I’d thrown a watermelon.
“Who sells watermelon in December?” I wondered to myself. I reached out the other direction, looking for anything loose to send at Pete, who dodged the fruit and raised a painted eyebrow.
“Here, toss this,” said a voice from behind me. I gripped something, like a bucket. This time, I checked to see what it was first and found myself holding a bucket of fried chicken. I turned to give some side eye to my anonymous helper and found Pete standing there with a trollish smile on his face. I turned back to look across the street and that Pete was gone.
“You don’t have to be mean, baby,” said Pete. “I’m just here to check on you. We’re getting impatient and now you have your man here. Oh, and you still have your lovely daughter, of course.” He smiled bright white teeth at Qiang and leaned down to offer her a lollipop he pulled out of thin air. “Sweets for the sweet?”
Qiang took it from him. I took it from her and tossed it behind my back. “I’ll get you all the sweets you might need, hon. Just don’t accept anything from this guy.”
“Why? Is he bad?” she asked.
“Your momma here does not like black people,” he said.
“I like black people just fine. Hell, some of my favorite victims were black!” I noticed some people looking out of windows at us disapprovingly. I calmed and quieted my tone before addressing Pete again. “Ok, so you’ve made your reminder quite clear. It’s halfway through the month and now he’s in town. I’ll deal with this my way, you got it? It’s tough, though. There’s a high possibility of failure, and I doubt you want all these heroes knowing about y’all. It’d be better if I had a way to just call y’all in so he’d see for himself.”
Pete shook his head. “No go, Gecko. This is your project and your responsibility. We want nothing to do with anything else until it’s time for someone to be delivered to us. We trust you. No, to be precise, we trust you know what will happen should you fail. Now, I must go. My yearly duties are nearly begun.”
He bent down and picked up a large basket that I hadn’t noticed was there. It may not have been. The thing looked big enough to hold a small person or a child in it, and it was his, so this was for show. He picked it up and put his arm through a strap on it so he could easily carry it on his shoulder. Then he gave Qiang a wink and said, “See you around, darling. Merry Christmas.”
He disappeared then in snowflakes that dispersed on a wind that whipped up on us suddenly.
On the plus side, I’m glad he didn’t have any suggestion. One occurred to me that I should have thought of earlier, and I’m well on my way to it. I do, indeed, need to be bad hero. The heroes only trust me so far, too. So I need to look desperate. I need them to take the threat seriously. Then, I’ll show them absolute proof of their existence, proof I had the entire time.
After all, I thought while looking Qiang over. She was a left confused by the entire exchange, seeing is believing. No, scratch that. Seeing is the end of belief and the beginning of knowledge. And the Companions of Kringle themselves admitted that knowledge is stronger than belief any day.