Some torturous son of a gun brought me a guitar to see if I could tune it. Stared at that thing for a minute or two before pushing it back over the counter and telling him he needs to go elsewhere. I don’t know if it’s because this place looks like some sort of sci fi pawnshop, but I am not the one to involve in music. I think the local music store’s been revitalized by the growing community of supers. Sometimes people retire and want a hobby.
But that was never the extent of my problems. Not with Skitwell sending an Office of Superhuman Resources auditor to take a fine tooth comb through my colon. It’s just a bit of harassment at this point over the fact that I didn’t join his little club and teach his robots how to better kill people like myself. That quickly erased any goodwill he might have built up confronting ICE remnants. I don’t think they’re all secretly on the same side. It’s important to remember that sort of thing in a harsh and complicated world. This time, I look not to The Art of War or The Rules of Acquisition, but to The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries: the enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. Nothing more. Nothing less.
It’s a saying I choose to apply depending on how I want to justify my suspicions. I don’t like Skitwell. And, as I said when he walked into my shop yet again, “Isn’t it kind of counterproductive to your job to spend so much time here, harassing a small business owner like myself?”
Skitwell, that rather innocuous agent of the Office of Superhuman Resources, was here today absent his suit jacket and in a more mundane pair of brown slacks. He brought a couple bags of Grease Garage food for me. “I brought lunch.”
I waved him over to the counter. It’s difficult for me to pass up food that someone else paid for. I went for the fries first, even if I was suddenly loathe to confirm for him again that I like them.
“Relocating all these people here is a waste of talent,” he started in on. I gave him some eye, so he held his hands up as if conceding defeat, then reached into the bag for his own burger.
“You made that point. It’s boring, and it’s wrong to force people into serving others like that. This country’s had enough of compelling a class of people to work for others based on their physical attributes, hasn’t it?”
That got a pause in his eating. Dare I say, I think he looked a bit guilty at that. We ate for a couple of seconds before he started in again. “If you were only Delilah or Lady Guardian, I wouldn’t be so worried about you. If so, I would love your help on the technical aspects of the Enforcer. That armor is something else, and I saw what you did to that ICE APC. If you wanted to, you could have taken them all out.”
He wiped his hands off with a napkin. “Relocating all these people isn’t just a waste of talent, it’s a nightmare as far as tax forms. I mentioned we have people to help folks with their taxes. They took a look at the documents that got you set up in town. They’re a joke, a useful one. Some people don’t know not to mention your real identity.”
I shrugged and stopped eating, setting aside the food. This guy started at enslaving people for folks he didn’t dislike. Poisoning me would be fruitless, but he’d still try. Speaking of fruitless, I reached over and pushed a button. A four-pronged robotic manipulator lowered from the ceiling, then slid over to hang above a bowl of fruit by the wall. It selected an apple and brought it over to me.
Skitwell watched all of this with nothing but a small shift to readiness when I pressed the button and the limb came into view. “Do you know what this is?” I asked him.
“Through some sort of misunderstanding or translation or something, some say this is what the fruit looked like on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But since this isn’t one of those lying Red Delicious motherfuckers, it’s actually just a delicious fruit. Knowledge brings obligations. You might have certain obligations now if you really know what you claim to know.” It was much more philosophical and elaborate than I meant to say, but it sounds kinda cool. I like being dramatic. It helps to moderate my desire to snap Skitwell’s neck and hide the body in my garden. That would solve some problems, but also create others and jeopardize the whole town. Then again, if he actually knows who I am, the town’s already in jeopardy. I think he’d be pretty much obligated to bomb this place to smithereens. He already knows his Enforcers can’t beat me in a fight even without my armor.
He relaxed and leaned against the counter to eat. A power move, which tells me he’s in a weak position. “If I had my way, you wouldn’t be here. It’s not up to me and Medusa is serious about this town being a haven. I don’t know what you’re planning as Lady Guardian, but I know you’re not reformed with your criminal doctor office.”
I cocked my head, then smiled. “Well, do whatever you’re going to do then.”
He finished his burger and then he left. Guess he didn’t have anything left to say or anything to really threaten me with, or so I thought at the time. I still figured I’d pay attention. I don’t know what depths Skitwell will sink to, I just know the ones he can sink to. That’s why I was actually happy to see him run into a few problems of his own.
It was all over the news because of the aftermath. Someone was outside a bank, cutting open the ATMs with a sword while an accomplice stuffed money into bags. An Enforcer responded and demanded the pair toss aside weapons and money, and get down on their knees. Video shows the guy with the sword tossed the grey-green blade aside and put his hands behind his hooded head. Looked like he had big grey-green bracers as well.
The Enforcer approached to cuff the swordsman. It got real close and the guy reached hand out suddenly. The Enforcer grabbed it, but the sword shot up from the ground and cut through the Enforcer’s arm. The swordsman grabbed it and jumped up, cutting the Enforcer in half at the waist. The Enforcer grabbed for the guy’s sword arm, but the swordsman stepped back and took the other hand off. They left the damaged robot fumbling around there and took off with the money.
I toyed with the idea of seeing if I could steal a piece of the Enforcer, but that was more an instinct to annoy Skitwell. I preferred to have him off tending to other stuff. He’s annoyed me too much. Maybe if he spent more time seeing to his job than to me.
I didn’t want to get involved. And then, walking home after work, a semi decided to run over me. It was my original body, too. That meant it hurt and it meant it was the real me they tossed in some extra-reinforced metal box in the back of the thing. They were out of town before I had my proper senses back.
Fuck me getting hit by vehicles lately. The strain of thought that kept repeating in my head for the first ten minutes there was “I wish my brain doctor was still here.” I didn’t shake off the daze of having dented an eighteen-wheeler until I passed out and then woke up. Bonking my head on the casket they had me in didn’t help!
I just fixed this brain!
I tried cutting my way out with my eye lasers. Didn’t do the trick. I couldn’t get a signal out through conventional means. The thing was like a Faraday cage, which might have messed with me getting my brain working right. Even my laser claws, that nifty superpower I copied from a refugee kid, didn’t make it through the container they stuck me in. And as much as I hated that, I also realized I needed to study this thing for tips in case I need to hold someone like me prisoner.
It was hours later that my sarcophagus was raised up into a standing position. Something opened up at the bottom, just a thin strip. The coffin was too narrow for me to bend down and the opening too small for me to squeeze through.
“Hello in there,” called a voice.
“Fuck you, asshole. Let me out so I can drill you like a long haul trucker who carries viagra delivering a load to your momma personally.”
“Damn, Skitwell’s superhero girlfriend’s got a mouth on her!” someone called to laughter.
The fuck?! “Who’s fucking girlfriend?!”
“We’ve been watching the tight-ass. We’ve seen your lunch dates. The way he keeps visiting you in your weird town. You’re our leverage over him if he thinks he can shut us down.”
I didn’t have to worry about keeping myself calm anymore. I had surpassed my anger to become calmly furious and told them, “You’re all going to die.”
“You’d better hope we don’t before we slip you some diapers and food. And if you try anything, we’ll still feed you. We just won’t give you the diapers!” That got a bunch more laughter from the walking dead men outside.
This was no time to pull a “Do you know who you’re messing with?” on them. For all I know, they had me dangling over a volcano with this surprisingly-thorough trap. They didn’t underestimate me, unless I was really good at hiding the ability to fly, and I wish I was.
At least they dropped in a diaper first. There wasn’t a lot of room to wiggle into it, but it was better than pissing all over myself inside that container. Dinner was a pair of hot dogs that I ate in silence.
“That enough for you, princess?” someone asked. I’d have loved to ask for them to shut off the Faraday cage and give me more of an opening. Instead, I ate in silence and activated the dimensional transceiver.
I awoke back at my house, in one of the spare bodies. I felt a little fuzzy around the edges because of the Faraday Cage, but technically I wasn’t sending a signal outside of it. I was sending a signal through a gap in time-space. I can’t say whether it was that or the fact that someone successfully kidnapped me after mistaking me for Skitwell’s girlfriend.
I called up my ex instead. Medusa, head of the Exemplars, and person who is now helping out Skitwell after he demonstrated a willingness to go after the police and remnants of the fascist organization known as ICE.
She was kind enough to avoid letting me hear her laugh when I explained the situation. But then she said the words I knew but still didn’t want to hear: “You know we have to tell Skitwell, right? He’s going to have a better idea than either of us who his enemies are.”
I let out an irritated growl.
“Look at it this way,” Medusa tried comforting me. “He’s going to finally see why it would have been a terrible idea to recruit you.”
“I will tear their souls apart,” I interrupted.
She snorted. “You don’t even believe in souls.”
“I’m going to invent them, then rend them into pieces. Then I’m going to swallow them with a dinner of Waffle House eggs and baked beans.”