A few things changed since I’ve been gone. I half expected to come back and see another crisis going on that needs me to fix it. It’s October. A zombie uprising wouldn’t be out of place, especially with the High Technolutionary working with the U.S. Government. Or maybe evil clowns. Those are slightly less used, and I probably wouldn’t get some obscure Romanian or Sumerian version that barely resembles the fun ones.
Heck, even when I save a bunch of aliens, the only reward I get is being dropped on a cow patty with a new mask for my suit and a long-ass hike back to almost-civilization. But the air smells right. The animals sound familiar. And the food is made of less crap. Ah, I’m hardly back and I’m already complaining. I don’t know if that means I’m glad to be back, or I’m just an asshole. A bit of column A and a bit of column B. If the only thing people at that diner have to worry about is me being a grouch after so long without my meds or knowing anything about my family.
I think she’s doing ok. There’s stuff about me being deposed, me gaining godlike powers, and me invading my own country that was trying to establish a Constitutional Monarchy. It’s foreign affairs, so most of the world’s coverage was sketchy, but at least the BBC had some articles and video on the big fight and the effects show of Omega being banished. I got to watch as I got tossed through the same hole in reality. Captain Lightning tried to fetch me before it could happen, but it was closing while I went through. At least it’s clear I’m in the correct universe.
Afterwards, it went pretty smoothly. No talk about my heir, though. Ricca decided it’s going to drop the monarchy part and trust in democracy. Bold choice after the past few years. Queen Beetrice of North Korea formally separated from Ricca and relations with South Korea are friendlier than ever. Most of the colonies on Mu are friendly, but a community of supers and aliens has sprung up calling itself Godland. That’d be the Three Hares colony. The Bronze City recalled its soldiers peacefully and has also separated while they explore options related to more distant relatives of the king I replaced. All of it handled relatively peacefully.
It’s hardly a utopia. There’s lots of rebuilding to be done, and that portal that sucked Omega and me up was followed intermittently by smaller portals all over the world that dropped off junk and creatures that had been lost between universes. Nothing too disruptive, it seems. Nothing like the White House coming back.
In fact, the government under their current asshole is throwing together some Department of ExtraNormal Affairs to handle any of that transdimensional detritus and special superhuman threats to “the country”. I’ll guarantee that last part’s going to be abused. This is the guy who assembled his own gang of faceless superhero bodyguards, then ignored California. Which is in all kinds of interesting legal shape after that mess.
With an ok burger and fries down the gullet, I sat back and let it digest while I looked into Medusa specifically. She seemed like the most obvious one to look for. A quick search later and I found I was right. She’s been busy. She pulled a jailbreak in Hong Kong, stole a bunch of oil from a pipeline in Canada, and destroying a bunch of land-clearing equipment in Brazil. She didn’t do it alone. Some of the soldiers were in repainted Riccan power armor, or costumes. She’s got herself a team.
The latest thing they pulled was wrecking a bank IT center, with some stories saying she stole from it and others claiming she just data. And after that, she left a message that was quickly taken down off Youtube, but not before various news agencies reported on it.
“My name is Medusa. I was a hero. I still am,” it started with her wearing her mask but not her armor. She made eye contact with the camera, which is something her armor’s visor prevented. “I realized the world needs saving in a way most superheroes can’t. You can’t punch climate change. Dirty cops protect each other and put heroes in jail. The rich and powerful take what they want, and sometimes the criminal organization is our government. I thought I did more good as an exemplar for the world to come around to. I was trained to be that model hero, but I can’t do it anymore. I have to save the world. Sometimes, I have to save it from itself. I’m still a hero, but now, I am Medusa. Some call me a terrorist. Now, we are Exemplar.”
Eh, not the name I’d have gone with. I would have picked something like Nox or Dusk, personally. It was a solid piece of monologuing, though. And the name did lead to a handy bit of wordplay when she was referred to as an ex-hero turned exemplar. It gave me a name to search for, too.
On VillaiNet, I was glad to see my old access still worked. I was old news by now. That happens in such a fast-paced news cycle, though there was something of a betting pool on wondering when I’d return. Their logic was sound. I’ve either faked my own death or nearly died enough times before that it’s not confirmed until the body is seen publicly. Others thing it’s a waste of time because I might change my appearance completely and hide as someone else.
Medusa’s not on there. Mix N’Max has an account, but it says he hasn’t logged in for a couple months. But a little look-see revealed that some villains claim to be working for Exemplar. My lead came from one named Core who supposedly got arrested.
Core got nabbed in Louisiana. Some town called Belle Blanc. The Freedom Legion had been there, and he’s currently being held in some specialized super jail in Shreveport. I ordered some applie pie to go as I made up my mind to help him with bail. I didn’t know if his talk of working with Medusa was just boasting, but I’d figure it out a lot more quickly after I got him out. He was a lead, one I knew how to find.
I walked out, across the street to a two-story motel, and looked at my options. On the one hand, there was a trio of motorcycles crowding a parking space. Tempting. Another had an autumn red Plymouth fury in it. I’m kinda sick of that color at the moment. The only other occupied space held an RV. That really narrowed my options down.
I made great time, like many people do when traveling through the early hours of the night and ignore all those pesky signs about speed limits. That meant the guards at the William J. Lepetomane Correctional Facility For The Differently Criminal got one hell of a surprise when, a little after noon, an “Aoooga!” horn heralded the RV crashing through the fence and then wall of the facility.
At first, I thought I landed in some forsaken and forgotten series of back rooms they use for the hidden torture, but the supply closet and printing room clued me in to having crashed the Administrative section. It wasn’t a full-blown prison, and it was shockingly cozy. Everything was some shade of sickly yellow or shit brown. But not the kind of rich brown you think could grow a mighty oak from it. The kind of pale brown where you wonder if you’re getting sick. Listen, I normally keep a weapon handy in the bathroom. Of course I’m going to check to make sure nobody’s trying to assassinate me up the shit shute.
Speaking of shit shutes, the people who responded did not look like they’d seen their best days. The first one bounced off of me, made easier by me being invisible. The one after him skidded to a stop to help their comrade up. They left themselves wide open and their shirt untucked. I’ve heard the sounds of the dead on the battlefield and the rattle of murder victims in damp alleyways. The ripping noise of grabbing somebody’s underwear and tugging it up onto his head is one of my favorites. Throwing him onto his back and hearing his head bounce off the linoleum is a bit of a letdown by comparison.
I tried to have fun with it. I mean, if I can’t, it’d make this miserable work. Medusa has to like beating people up, too, otherwise it’d be really miserable for her and any other heroes pretending to be villains. Like, take this one woman who rounded the corner and smacked into me. She didn’t go down like the other guy, but did bounce back slightly. I grabbed her chest and the bra underneath her shirt and undershirt. Setting a boot on her belly, I kicked her, knocking her into another couple of guards and bowling them over even as I removed her bra right through her tops.
Nah, guards and the desk workers were easy. I made it into the holding area before too long, and the doors seemed to be built to mundane security specifications. The reason why became apparent when I got into the main holding area and found the rooms there where people were stacked four deep. Each one had a power dampening collar on. I became visible again, looking like an indistinct figure in a black robe and hood that completely hid my face. I tore began tearing open doors, asking, “Anybody seen Core around here?”
The first bunch stayed where they were. The second group scurried out without bothering to answer, but this guy with a teardrop tattoo under his eye nodded his head toward a second-story room across the cell block. “He’s in A27.”
I flourished a bow. “Thank you, my good dude.”
I still tore open a few more doors on my way over there. Not all of them would try to escape. Most had to realize they couldn’t get too far with their powers turned off. Maybe some weren’t thinking, or some had plans in case something like this happened. But enough of them began running for it that I thought made for useful chaos.
I tore open the door indicated by teardrop tattoo. “Hey, y’all? Is this 2B or not 2B?”
“This is A27,” said a guy in a radiation suit. Couldn’t get a look at his face through the blue glow from inside.
“I’m looking for Core,” I said.
Behind him, the other three inmates silently pointed at the guy in the radiation suit, who raised his hand and pointed at himself with a thumb. “That’s me. Did Medusa send you?”
“Not exactly, but I’m a friend,” I said. “Do you need that suit? I didn’t have a plan for that much conspicuousness.”
“I can’t control the nuclear core without my powers. I have to have it with the collar on.” He pointed at his neck. I felt around through that section of the suit and found a bulge. I got both hands on it. “I’m going to need you to tone down the glowing and irradiating as soon as I tear this off. You ready for this?”
Core nodded. The other three inmates behind him shook their heads in rapid disagreement. I tore the collar apart, tearing Core’s suit open in the process. The blue light quickly faded and he pulled off the suit to reveal a man in pale, sickly brown poo-colored pants and a chest with shifting metal armor plates built into it that closed over a core.
I stepped back so he could follow me out, catching the sounds of fighting and the crackle of electrical discharge. Core followed me out. “Do you have a way to get us out?”
Behind me, somebody who had gotten their collar off let out a trumpet as he transformed into a bipedal elephant man and jumped through what had been a reinforced window just prior to his impact with it.
“Depends,” I responded. “You need to recover anything they took from you?” When he shook his head, I pointed up to the hole. “Then that’s how we’re getting out.”
He actually paused to raise his face to the sky and smell the air. The guy got caught like a week ago. I had to grab him and drag him along with me. “Escape now, sniff later.”
In the paraphrased words of deceased cyborg president Richard Nixon: “Gecko’s back!”