On Wednesday, somebody walked up to me as I was leaving my store and tried to mug me. I grabbed his gun, tossed him high enough that he could have landed on the roof, and had the barrel of his gun waiting when he landed. I’m sure other people around here haven’t fully given up their days in costume, so the Radium Clinic has quickly gotten experience with all sorts of unusual injuries since they opened their doors. I dumped the mugger off there.
With the Sheriff’s Department greatly downsized as part of police abolition efforts, there weren’t so many cops to respond to a mugger with a pistol in his colon. I just had to hope that the firearm in his fart flute would dissuade him from further attempts to mess with me. As I left, I called out that he could enjoy a hospital dinner on me. “Oh, it’s too late for dinner tonight,” a nurse said.
I stopped and sighed. One of those moments where all Medusa’s attempts to reform me might be paying dividends. I looked to the nurse. “What about your lunch? You got anything good going on for that?”
She was probably in her early fifties, so she laughed, “I’m flattered, but no. I have some leftovers from home.”
I shook my head. “Not what I meant. I’ll be back, I guess.”
It took me awhile, especially with restaurants a little understaffed. We don’t have the problems with childcare or worker safety here, so there have been fewer shortages. Still, it’s not easy on people while the town’s growing so rapidly. I brought back a selection of foods, including vegan pizza, from a place that’s started up calling itself Mafia Garden.
Mafia Garden: when you’re family, you’re here. It MIGHT be just a theme. Still, they make good Italian food. The nurses, doctors, and other people around the clinic were happy for the samplers and pizzas. The nurse even said a couple of overnight patients could have some. “Like the one I brought in?”
She winced. “He ran out of here as soon as he was physically able. It looked painful.”
That left me with extra spaghetti and a host of questions, questions I could solve thanks to the surveillance state. “Yeah, the camera out front’s for show,” the nurse said when I asked. “It looked like he got into the backseat of a car and someone drove away with him, but I didn’t see who.”
“Color of the car?” I asked.
“Looked grey. I didn’t see the plates, either. Sorry,” she answered.
“Can I see that sheet the guy filled out?” I asked her.
“No,” she said. “And thank you for the food, but this is something I can’t do you a favor for.”
Eh, probably nonsense anyway. I thanked her and went on my way.
The next morning, I on my way to work, I was attacked by a gaggle of ninjas. I think that’s the correct plural noun. A gaggle of ninjas, an unkindness of hooligans, a street gang of grannies; you have to stay up on the terminology. I hadn’t been certain about a pattern before, but this got me there. Muggers happen; ninjas do not. Ninjas are not a natural phenomenon like rain or anal sex, but I’m just as prepared for them as I am the other two.
It began with a garbage truck out of place. It stopped nearby me even though it wasn’t garbage day. Two guys hanging on the back pulled out jumpsuits. One grabbed a staff out of the rear of the truck while another pulled out a kunai and a handscythe. Four more hopped off the buildings on the other side of me. Two of those bunch had bladed sticks and two had swords. Finally, the driver came jogging up, slipping a mask over his face and holding a pair of tiger claws in his hands.
I held up my hands, “You ever get the feeling you’re an expendable tool sent to die just so someone else could study your killer?”
The answer I got was a simple stab to the gut by one of the bladed sticks. A naginata, I believe. The wielder of it expressed some confusion when it only went in so far. Instead of gutting me, he’s given me a flesh wound. Another person tried the same by swinging a sword at my neck and found out their sword wasn’t going to cut it.
“You’re embarrassing yourselves now,” I told them while the whole bunch took turns trying to poke me or cut parts of me off. I just let them, noting where they damaged my dress. After a minute, they petered out.
“Why isn’t she dying?” asked one of them.
“Because you’re shit at killing people,” I said.
A couple of them hung their heads at that.
I shooed them all away. “Go on, get out of here. Tell your boss to stop trying this shit. Skitwell, right? Guy who keeps showing up, looking all smug, but hires other people to get hurt on his behalf? Literally all he’s doing is trying to get y’all hurt so his spies can make robots fight like I do. He probably hoped I’d kill you so his little cop robots would be better at that in the future.”
“Can we at least say we thought you were dead when we left?” asked one of them, looking down at his sword and the little bit of blood on the end.
“Like I said, spies. Not gonna work on him.” I pushed past the group and headed into work. The cuts were annoying, but enough people know who I am that it won’t really scare off anyone if they see me having gotten into some sort of altercation. Just like when I got hit by that car, the rest of the town was content to let me handle the driver.
One of them behind me decided to try jumping on my back with a cloth in hand. I jumped and rolled so that I landed hard on his back, then broke his arm pulling it away from my face. I got on top of him and pressed that cloth to his face until his eyes rolled back and he fell unconscious. “And that includes trying to capture me. I’m trying to be nice here, guys.”
The ninjas shuffled their feet a bit, then one said, “We’re sorry.”
“Good. Now get out of here. Shoo.” The ninjas picked up their knocked-out friend and stuck him in the back of the dump truck and drove off in it.
I had the fabricators at the store patch my dress while the robot tended shop. It was lunchtime when a new threat presented itself. Skitwell walked in with a picnic basket. “Ding dong!”
“You don’t have to announce yourself, I know your name,” I mentioned as I finished checking out a farmer named Buck who was buying an exoskeleton back and knee assist. Excellent choice for anyone doing a lot of bending. He eyed Skitwell but just nodded to him as he walked out wearing his new purchase. It’ll slow him down a bit until he’s used to it, but his truck’s right outside.
“I’m impressed. You haven’t given me a lot to go on,” he said.
I shrugged. “I don’t know, you’re saying it’s not good PR for your robocops to shove a gun up someone’s intestines?”
“Not just that. I’ve checked and nobody has your name. They did a good job setting you up anonymously here. But I know you’re someone dangerous, and I know you got a town full of regular people and superheroes to not only be comfortable with you, but to protect you.”
I scoffed at that one. I don’t know where “protect” came from there, but I wasn’t going to give this guy any more than a scoff.
He brought the basket to the counter. “This is lunch. I got some burgers. They’re from here in town.” He set the basket down on the counter and pulled out a couple of bags from The Grease Garage. They have regular people food, but rumor has it they try to build unhealthy stuff specifically for people whose physiques can handle it. I love their fries. Aside from that, it’s got a car and biker motif. They like to put on demolition derbies, races, and old biker movies if possible. It attracts a more conservative patronage than some of the newer places around. Great fries, though.
“I’m getting mixed signals here,” I said as I went for a fry first.
Skitwell shrugged. “It makes sense from my perspective. I’m getting a read on you and enhancing the capabilities of my assets. They’re learning because of you.”
“Or they would have died trying,” I said. “You’re a very cold man, willing to throw others’ lives like that away.”
He had an small smile on his face as he unwrapped a burger and took a bite out of it. Skitwell swallowed after a few seconds before answer, “Funny. I’ve been told I’m too optimistic, that I believe in the best of people too much.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah right.”
“The past few years, the darkness I see in other countries and individuals showed itself in tens of millions of people. A lot of people could have helped and didn’t. Some of those I least expected to stand up and fight back, did. I hear the criticisms of the Enforcers and I intend to rework them. I don’t want the helpless to be hurt because people with the power to help stand by and refuse to do anything again.”
I shook my head, sniffing at the burger I was about to bite into. “Protecting them from who? The peace officers of the government won’t protect people from the abuses of the peace officers. That’s not how the laws and protections are set up. Instead, what you’ve built are machines that will go after trans kids.”
“The Exemplars were supposed to help with that, but they pulled their support. Everyone who could help me is refusing.”
“Maybe that should be a sign,” I said.
“What would it take to convince you to help me?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I’m not for sale.”
“Why?” he asked. “I’ve seen what you have in the back. You’re still in the game. There’s some degree of hurting people you’re fine with. I just want your help training the Enforcers how to fight superpowered threats. You can hurt people for a good cause.”
I smiled. “No.”
I grinned like a jackass. “Because it’s my choice and my life. I’m no one’s weapon anymore. This isn’t some libertarian nonsense about taxation, this is just the fact that I have the option to not help you hurt people and I’m taking it. Sorry, not sorry.”
“Alright,” he responded. “I hope you’re prepared for the consequences of your decision.”
“Oh buddy, if you’re hoping to threaten me, you’re seriously not prepared,” I told him with a wink. He took the basket, but left a couple bags of burgers and fries along with his hopes.