Venus and I finally had ourselves a ride willing to take us into L.A. We just had to put up with the back of a pickup truck on account of my smell. I was so happy, I hugged Venus. No, wait, allow me to correct that. I have such a creepy little crush on her, I hugged Venus. For her part, she allowed it and didn’t even act all mean to me once we got into the back of the truck and sat down on a tarp to keep from being burned by the metal.
Knowing our salvation was close at hand, it was easier to let ourselves talk, but I didn’t want to make it all about me. Years worth of blogging to another dimension teaches me I’m not afraid to do so, but I figure I talk enough about me around her when I’m properly myself. So instead, I started mentioning meals I’m going to cook when I get back. Cooking is a wholly under-utilized skill, and one that I enjoy for its crossover. After all, I get to use a knife, cut meat, stab things, poke things, set things on fire, even force my meat into people’s mouthes and squirt fluids around.
This time, it was hot sauces, detailing way of doing it, followed by Venus telling me, “I don’t like cooking. I’d rather curl up in the library and work through A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
I wanted to ask if that’s what the kids are calling it these days but I held my tongue. “What’s your favorite part of it?”
“There are a lot of good parts. I could relate to parts of the first one, but the second one, The Reptile Room, reminds me so much of the academy taking me in. It’s nice to find a family.”
We were alerted to something going wrong, or at least not continuing to go right, when the truck rounded a bend and slowed down. “Aw hell!” We heard from the driver’s open window. When we scrambled up to take a look at the road. We’d reached an area with a little bit of tree and sign cover that shielded the presence of a checkpoint.
“Speak of the Fire-Starters. It’s ICE. I don’t suppose you have any ID on you?” Venus asked.
I shook my head. “Nope. Once again, good way to control people. Kinda reminds me of that Christian organization that kidnaps kids and takes them to the Dominican Republic.”
“That’s a hell of a thing to remember now,” Venus said. “Alright, let me do the talking.”
The guys up ahead looked like they were dressed for war more than for hunting down immigrants outside a city. They went from approaching the truck casually to rifles raised when Venus hopped over the edge of the pickup. Even with her hands raised, they maintained a pretty hostile stance.
“Hands over your head! Identify yourself!” called one who seemed to be in charge.
“I’m the superhero called Venus!” she answered back.
“Oh yeah? Superhero? Don’t you normally wear costumes?” asked a guy who stepped out with a skull bandana. More skull bandanas. Are skulls scary? How can they be? They’re so happy, always smiling.
The one closest called back, “She’s that one with no powers.”
“Unless you can kill a person with a twitch of your finger, I’m more super than you now,” said another.
“This is a situation where I couldn’t wear my costume. A lot of things didn’t go right, and this gentleman here was helping me get back to L.A.”
I heard a gun cock behind me and turned to see another ICE agent who decided to chamber a shotgun shell for some reason. He had it pointed in my direction, too. “Sarge, we got another back here!” To me, he added, “Get out.”
I crawled out, falling on my back in a landing most bogus. It took me a few seconds to stand up and straighten out my dress.
“She’s my sidekick,” Venus said.
“She ‘s got four arms,” said the one closest to Venus.
“She’s a dark one, isn’t she?” asked one of them further back. “Doing some human trafficking?”
“Oh, yeah, did y’all ever find those kids y’all sold off?” I asked. The one behind me poked me in the back of the head with the barrel of his shotgun, pushing me along until I was standing beside Venus.
“Get this other asshole out of the truck. I want to see them all lined up,” said the guy in charge. Another ran up as Venus and I moved over. The driver heard everything and was getting out anyway, but this other one yanked him out, then to his feet as the guy fell.
I had a bad feeling about us being lined up.
“Come on, I’m a hero. We should be good,” Venus said.
“Uh huh. You stay put and keep your mouth shut while our consultant gets here,” said the Sarge.
The driver, whose hands were raised anyway, raised one a little higher. “They were walking by the side of the road. I was just giving someone a ride.”
“I bet you were. We take human trafficking very seriously.”
Venus tried to distract. “He picked us up within the state. There’s no way this falls under your jurisdiction. Why are you here instead of checking at the border. Any border, state or federal.”
“This looks like a job for ICE man, Mary Jane,” said the Sarge.
Altogether, I counted up nine of these guys. No, wait. Ten if you count the swaggering guy in the red and silver costume and a red domino mask. The fingerless black gloves didn’t quite match up. The matte-finished 1911s in hip holsters seemed especially un-super, and subtle for a guy in a costume. I got a match, though. Manhunter. Works a lot with the government because of his tracking powers. Literal tracking powers. DEA files state he can see a path people travel, able to follow it back to where they came from, or to where they’ve gone. They even have a pretty good idea how much he likes to skim off drug traffickers. The DEA has an equation to figure up people’s skimming from decades of experience.
Venus gestured to him. “Manhunter? It’s Venus, remember? We worked together that time. Tell these guys we’re legit.”
“I remember Venus,” he said, spitting some chew onto the road. “Total bitch. Accused me of pocketing evidence from a jewel theft.”
“Is this woman the superhero y’all are talking about?” asked Sarge.
“I’m not sure. She had a mask on. Emotions were running high from her false accusations. Messes with my memories.”
“I know how that feels,” I said. “Both the emotions and the memory issues. It’s like we’re oddly in sync.” I stepped toward him, transitioning from my hands up to curling fingers through my hair. “Hi, my name’s Tripura.”
“Somebody get this dirty Indian bitch away from me before I throw up. God, wash your cootch.” I stepped back into line as a couple of the guys advanced.
“I’ll have you know the formal term is Native American,” I said.
“You don’t look native. You don’t even smell human.” Manhunter pulled out one of his pistols and twirled it around. “You smell like a dead dog by the side of the road.”
Some of the ICE agents checked around. I got a bad feeling about all this.
“That reminds me of something…” I said, then looked over to Venus. “Hey, you still have those ear plugs in?”
“Ear plugs?” she asked, then reached for her ears. She stuck her fingers in there as I opened my mouth.
What I’d remembered was that frequency I so liked. I learned it from my imprisonment in The Cube, where it was used to induce paralysis in the human body. I figured out how to make my own enhanced vocal cords make that noise, and allow my own enhanced ears to block it out. I released a scream at that frequency and watched them fall. All of them, including our driver and Venus.
I ended it with a cough. “Now that I’ve cleared my throat, I think you’ll agree our papers are in order. So I’ll leave you guys to sleep this off.” I grabbed Venus and our driver, helped them into the back, and slid behind the driver’s seat. I cranked it up, looked at the ICE guys laying there in the road, and smiled. “Speed bump.”
I suppose I should feel bad. Not as bad as Manhunter felt when I drove over his crotch. “Oh wait,” I said to myself and put the car in reverse. I got out, stepped down onto Manhunter and another ICE agent, and began rifling through their pants for wallets. “Your money and your life. Oh, wait, you’re the guys who stopped us. Anyway…” I took the 1911s off the guy. Just in case.
Venus wasn’t happy with my little speed bump, but I didn’t get much of a chance to talk it over with her before the driver politely screamed at us to get out and leave him alone before he gets arrested for helping us. He was nice enough to drops us off in a suburb of the city where Venus insisted on separate rooms. Which got real contradictory when she called out to me asking “What the hell are you doing over there?”
“Jealous? Mmm, if you cleaned me off in that shower, then was as soft as this bed, you could help me make these noises, too.”
We were both interrupted by a concierge stopping by to bring the clothes I ordered. Manhunter skimmed on a lot more than drugs. He even had some gold teeth in there.
Venus didn’t talk to me much after that. A lot of bad history there, and I think she’s realized that even though I’m not me, I’m still me. But in the night, someone else did. The projection of the Denim Dude, the alien member of the Three Hares who has been helping me along as part of his own agenda. One moment he wants me caught, another he wants me out.
I heard “Wake up, Gecko,” and found him leering over me with the projection that looked human. “Good. I thought you should know the others have found you. They know Venus has you now. Now that everyone’s asleep, I wanted to let you know Centeotl’s got a plan. He’s genocidal at the best of times. Now, he wants to clear out the City of Angels and your girlfriend’s sad excuse for an X-Men school.”
“Is he here?” I asked, then yawned.
“Not yet, sweetheart.”
I sat up. “No rest for the wicked then. Good news is, if he’s paying attention to a city, he won’t see me coming.”
“He’s not even sure you are an enemy,” Denim Dude said.
I smiled. “Good. I’ll take a confused mass killer over one who knows to try and kill me any day.”
When I stepped out of the door, Denim Dude whistled. “Short shorts aren’t very tactical, are they?” Not even a comment on the plaid shirt? It’s literally a target on my back, and front, and sides underneath the extra arm holes.
I checked the pair of 1911s and slid them into the back pockets, which I’d cut the bottoms out of to better act as holsters. “Depends on the tactics. A shame we’re back to walkin’, but these boots were made for that. Now, I think I’ll have words with Centoetl.” And a big shame after all this running, I’m heading back just because a few million people’s lives are at stake. But, at least for now, I’m not as much like my real self as Venus thinks.
“Would any of those words be ‘die motherfucker, die?’” he asked with a smile.
“Eventually. But…” I looked back to the door of Venus’s room, where she slept, then off to the bright lights of Los Angeles even in the pre-dawn dark. “Probably anyone who knows the real me won’t fucking believe I’m doing this. But this guy’s definitely got the power to kill a whole city if he attacks.” Plus that debt I have to the Master Academy, not that I’d let Denim Dude in on that.
“Better follow the yellow brick road then,” Denim Dude said. He swept his arm out into the distance, a lighted path appearing in my view.
“Guess I’m the manhunter now,” I said as I started walking, picking a nice tune to accompany my journey toward that growing cloud in the distance that spread out and covered the air from the end of the path ahead of me. He was coming straight on, from the southeast, and at least I wouldn’t run into that particular group of assholes from ICE. I took out the guns and tried spinning them, familiarizing myself with the weight, sights, and mechanisms. And I spoke along to the music this time, so as not to drive off my guide. “A bullet is on its way. Tell the whole world that I’m comin’ home. Someone’s gonna need a grave.”