The heroes are a bunch of Grinches. That’s the only excuse for the way they reacted when they found out about the stolen computer. Psychsaur passed by and stuck her brain where it didn’t belong. It feels dirty to say this, but I’m starting to get used to the feel of her reaching in there like that. Sadly, my tinfoil cap didn’t do a thing to keep her out. I’m at least willing to check out some of those crazy theories on avoiding mind control. Just don’t ask the scientologists for any help with that. They charge you thousands of dollars and all you get is inducted into a cult centered around alien ghost possession.
On the plus side, anyone who keeps on after finding out all that is almost guaranteed to be left alone by telepaths. Who would want to look into that mind?
Like I should talk, ha!
Shortly after Psychsaur read my mind and promptly ignored my mental image of better ways for her to spend her time than reading my mind, I got a small horde of heroes in the library, and they were curious. I’m curious too. What do you call a horde of heroes? Like, the actual collective noun? A herd of heroes? A cacophony of capes? A den of do-gooders? A pod of party-poopers?
So this veritable bellowing of heroes descended upon the library like bullfinches while I sat with a drink and read through the thing. Like bullfinches, they sounded loud and too annoying to pay attention to. Some yelled at me, some yelled at each other about preferring if Venus was here to handle me, and some shushed the others so no students would come running. Little did they know the only students they had to worry about coming were this couple in the study room. Bless ’em. They’re teenagers. This is the only time in their lives they’re legally allowed to screw underage partners. Who am I to deny them that opportunity when it doesn’t risk flying all over the books?
Finally, the flock of freakin’ felon fighters calmed down by the appearance of Victor Mender in his handy-dandy assisted living wheelchair thingy. That quieted them down as if he stormed in glaring, though he doesn’t really do much with his face these days. “Bring me up to speed,” his computer said. Psychsaur put a hand on his shoulder, the feather, scaled dino-girl’s eyes going glazed and distant for a moment. And I was back there all of a sudden. Relived the whole thing like a flashback. Neat. The blood, the gore, the disappointing lack of endorphins over the blood and gore, everything.
I blinked as everything came back into focus. According to my HUD clock, one second had passed. Psychsaur removed her hand from Mender’s shoulder and glared at me. Or I assume so. It’s safe to assume that’s the default facial expression from most people around here who know I’m me.
“Is this computer going to compromise my children?” asked Mender.
I shook my head. “I checked it over. No tracking devices. It isn’t connected to any networks of any sort, and I know some places to check. It just took me longer than usual to get in courtesy of your horrible human genetic experimentation, but that’s none of my business.” I helped myself to a sip of tea.
“Everyone except Psychsaur leave.” Mender’s commanded. The heroes listened to the digitized voice of their master, and I stood up to get while the getting was good until he added, “Not you. You do not operate without my approval.”
I raised an eyebrow and looked over to Psychsaur.
Mender spoke up again. “I will have her make it official if you push the issue.”
I do so hate giving them what they want without a fight, but I raised my hands. “Fine. Just thought I’d help. You know, handle some of that dirty work you guys don’t bother with. After all, they didn’t shoot any of you with the gun. They shot me. That kind of impudence deserves some revenge.”
“You are a prisoner. I have been lenient because I want something and because I can control you. Do not get on my bad side unless you enjoy that form of control,” he said. “If you had asked for my permission to hunt down the individuals responsible for harming the student you found, I may have given it freely.”
“Student?” I cocked my head to the side.
“From before the purge over nanites. I have extended invitations to those who would come back now that you are incapable of controlling them, but some have not accepted or responded. This boy was one such student. The evil that men do lives on and on.” After making his little point, Mender rolled on over to look at the screen of the computer. I pulled up a program that looked like it came from the Nineties. It was present on the computer and showed an inventory with coded references in place of the sources. If connected to the internet, it could be instructed to synchronize and update its information.
“This is shows me a little bit. A couple of sources handle heavier weapons and ammunition. Surplus military vehicles and equipment. Another seems to have your more specialized materials for building stuff. There’s a couple here that are chop shops for just regular stuff, and even some drug dealers in case that’s needed. I had an idea along those lines before, actually. I might make it happen now.”
“Psychsaur,” he said. I felt her probe my mind again.
“He’s telling the truth. He has a translator.” She walked over and leaned down over the table. “How do you know what the codes mean about the sources?”
I shrugged and opened another document, a simple note the owner of the computer made. “The greatest flaw of any computer system, of course.” I felt her in my head again, seeing my understanding of the note’s contents that laid out which code equaled what. I turned to Victor. “They will be scrambling to change as much of this as they care to. This is a big undertaking. People will be moving stuff all over the place. We must strike while the iron is hot, lest it be used to brand our asses.”
“He’s imagining a donkey,” Psychsaur mentioned offhandedly to explain the cuss word.
“I know you’re enjoying the mental donkey show, but let’s focus on the important stuff here. Like squeezing these guys until they decide it’s more profitable to give us the information we want. Honestly, if they hadn’t been so zealous to protect it in the first place, I’d have passed them right over and been able to do nothing but twiddle my thumbs. And if they’re just overreacting, then they’ll pay for their stupidity. That should be its own reward, truth be told. Also, they’re a criminal conspiracy, so technically this could be seen as a good deed.”
That’s how, less than two hours later, I crashed in the door of an apartment building riding the body of a whale of a guard who stood at the door. “Hi kids, do you like violence?!” I asked the lounging gangmembers.
They were fun, and good for letting me finally put some ideas into motion. I figured the drug dealers wouldn’t be high on the Ukrainians’ list of people to warn and evacuate, but what they lacked in importance, they made up for by giving me certain unique tools so I could deliver a chalice full of whoop-ass to everyone in attendance.
An hour after making short work of the least important part of the network, I paid that specialized materials warehouse a visit. They were in the middle of packing everything up, with armed guards and everything. Like almost all humans, however, they don’t usually look up as a first instinct. Jumping the fence into the compound wasn’t tough, and from there it was easy to make a vertical leap to grab the edge of the building and pull myself up. It’s probably safe to assume by now that I wore my armor.
I announced my presence on that cold December day by making the snowy day just a little whiter. I punched a hole in the roof and pulled it wide. I tossed out bags I’d taken off the dead dealers and hit a remote, causing them to burst with a minimum of explosive goodness to fill the air with falling white powder. Cocaine rained down. Tony Montana would have had a heart attack, and for so many different reasons. I’d have used pot smoke grenades, but they took too long to whip up. A little treat for another time.
I dropped down onto a shelf, sadly without a cool Batman glide. Think Batman at Ace Chemicals, except I dropped down into something that clearly wasn’t smoke to beat people up. And no cape, either. I’m considering a cape. I think it’d be cool, and it’s not as impractical as people make it seem. At least program one into the rear holodisc.
Also unlike Batman, I know how to have a good time. I put on a nice little song called “Why So Serious,” by Badministrator.
I dropped down and immediately gave someone a joyous Kwanzaa by gifting him with my boot to the back of his neck. Stuck the landing, too.
My laughter echoed through the air like falling yayo, accompanying the joyous sound of necks snapping, bones breaking, and gunfire hitting anything but my soft tissues. Music to my ears, and the reason why some of my soft tissues were temporarily hard tissues. But it just wasn’t the same. Normally, shoving my fists through a man’s belly and lower back until they meet makes me happy.
Any guards or workers who got in my way while I was in there, I took down. One of them dodged over fallen boxes while carrying a case of his own, only for me to slam him against the metal support at the end of the row and grind his face against it until his jaw popped off.
I heard some of the trucks rev up to get out of there with whatever they had. I noticed a contingent of bigger guys near the door, including one fellow with a gun I recognized as a M249 Para SAW. The SAW part stands for either Squad Automatic Weapon, or a literal saw depending on if you’re firing it full-auto at a tree or not. It wouldn’t do much to me, I thought. Then he fired a burst of fireballs from it in my general direction. I disappeared quickly enough, but not before tossing a knife in his direction.
As I believe I’ve stated before, I could be better with throwing weapons. My aim is not the best. My ability to utilize explosives is pretty good though. The grenade-knife exploded, taking the heavy gunner out before he could spit more hot fire than Dr. Dre on Speed.
By the time heroes showed up, tipped off by the destruction and a call from me to the Master Academy, I was gone with my own truck, a trail of bodies in my rear view mirrors. I got some good stuff, including several things on my wishlist, but I had more stops to make. I still had Christmas shopping to do. Just because I’m sticking it to these guys doesn’t mean I can’t get equipped.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s group of storage units full of future dead bodies and military-grade hardware that’s going to go in my library lair and maybe my armor. I’m thinking a nice mobile SAM will be a great Geckomobile against flying heroes. And, ya know what? I think I found a box of nanofiber that’d make a great cape.
Because it’s getting to be a new year. And I’m a new man in many respects. A new man who conveniently didn’t think about how much of this stuff I can put to use on myself when anyone thought to question my motives.
2016 had its highs and lows. Looking on how it ended, a lot of lows. The wrong people died. Someone other than myself is in control. I got turned human. Worst of all, too many people survived.
Time to go out there, nut up, and try to make 2017 a killer year, no matter how many people have to die to make it better.
Happy New Year.
I didn’t feel like doing Jack Squat, or any of the other squats out there. I know, it’s a bit odd for me to actually try and relax for a bit. Especially while surrounded by all kinds of heroes who would like nothing more than to run punting practice on my face until I looked like a kidney stone with a bad wig. So I decided to take it easier and just do a little shopping. Well, shopping at Michelangelo’s House of Negotiable Stuff, with its new Eastern European staff.
“To what do we owe this pleasure, catboy?” asked the sharp-dressed woman who looked like she could have hidden a stiletto in her heel. Not due to walking, understand, just because she positively radiates a desire to stab people. And not just me. Trust me, there’s a difference. In my case, it makes the ones who want to stab everyone slightly more hospitable. They don’t have anything against me specifically. Yet.
I shrugged. “Just doing a little post-Christmas shopping. You know how it is. You sneak out to try and buy up all the discounted candy and take advantage of deals from desperate salespeople.”
She typed into her computer on her desk. “We do not conduct business in that way. Our merchandise is always at a premium for a number of reasons.”
“Eh, so you say. I’d like to do some browsing anyway. I have a couple of things I need. Some rocket propellant. Chemical, preferably. That Russian electrical stuff doesn’t have the kick I need. Most of the things on my wishlist are little odds and ends like that, stuff I can’t make myself.” I leaned on the desk. “I’m sure you’ve got at least some of that laying around somewhere nearby, right? The previous owner used have at least a little bit of that laid out. Call it bad organization, but I liked going through it.”
She looked at me through her dark sunglasses, her expression not particularly friendly. Like one of Robert Palmer’s models from the music video “Simply Irresistible”. Like a stork with an attitude and a submachine gun. “Michelangelo’s is under the same ownership as before and is open for all the regular customers. However, procedures have changed. We will not allow you to rifle through equipment. Give me a list and we will determine if we have it on-site or nearby. We can bring it to you in a short amount of time if we have it nearby. Special items may require longer travel time. These are the rules. If you do not like them, then get used to not liking them.”
I raised my hands. “Nah, I gotcha. Things have changed now that Michelangelo’s no longer seeing people face to face. Alright, hand me something and I’ll write out a list.”
I know, I know. What’s so interesting about me going shopping? I didn’t even check out their selection of high heels. She was able to give me a confirmation on the pieces they had right from there. She even let me know which one would need to be brought in from further afield. At the end of which, I had one last request. “Oh yeah, one last thing. A friend of mine. Well, more like a friend of a friend… of a cousin.. anyway, he wanted me to check on a weapon for him. A very specific, abnormal gun.”
“How specific and abnormal?” asked the serrated saleswoman/secretary before me.
I held up a picture of the weapon that our prisoner used to shoot me. I don’t know if he’s been talking. I’m not allowed to see him. I tried to tell them that honeyboarding is perfectly legal. Plus, it’s perfectly safe as long as the person talks before too much gets in there.
She had to leave to go see about it, leaving my to my thoughts and how I suspect the Master Academy really doesn’t want me looking into this on my own.
If they weren’t going to let me play any of their reindeer games, I figured I’d get a good look at the weapon itself and hunt it down. So that’s what I was doing, checking at the nearest possible source. It sounds lazy, but I think it makes sense when I think about it, too.
I don’t know where these guys are from. Most people think of these militia types as a product of the Southern United States alone, but there are many from the Midwest, West, and all sorts of rural areas. Guns are easy to find in such areas. If anything, it’s even easier for these guys to do what they did in such areas. Cops aren’t around people’s houses so much to notice someone’s modified a gun to be fully automatic or stockpiling grenades. Out in “the country,” it’s not uncommon for people to just not care about that sort of thing. It’s someone else’s problem, at least until someone shoots up a church or a school or a movie theater. Then it’s all “He never gave us anything to suspect him. Not even that time he bought the military grenade launcher for deer hunting.”
Horrible idea, by the way. Instead of making a trophy out of its head and horns, you’d be lucky to get a wind chime.
I could keep going on that particular tangent, but that’d be shooting a dead horse. My point being, normal guns are easy. Now, it’s possible one of them happened to be some super mad genius sort and put together a sophisticated piece of super tech with some nifty materials. I may not be able to massage may way through a weapon straight outta Star Wars anymore, but I know enough about which end is the dangerous one. Also, if anyone ever presents you with an incredible new rifle that far out-values the job used to pay for it, always ask what the little red button on the side does. And I know that it’s possible to put a gun like that together in their bunch, but odds are against it. And asking some questions will help get it all figured out and eliminate possibilities.
Because with it being more likely that someone purchased such a gun, we have to ask where would someone acquire such a thing. Would a seller of super-tech set up shot in the middle of nowhere, with hardly any potential customers and nowhere to hide if things go south? Possibly, for the same reasons as to why regular guns do so well. BUT. Cities have people. And money. Customers. Plus, the people really don’t care so much about anything that doesn’t threaten themselves personally. In many ways, it’s like the rural areas, but with more people, more jobs, and busier cops.
Ya know, both groups are really a lot alike. The difference, I suspect, is that one has better access to jobs and the latest in innovations, and the other adopts some sort of general rural identity involving camo and the naval jack of attempted treason. It’s the camo that really makes me wonder… but I’m wondering and wandering too much.
Super guns and super other stuff is more likely to happen in a big city. Bottom line. Nobody cares about the Super-Avenger of South Dakota, who probably has to fly an hour each way to chase down someone who passed on the wrong stretch of road. Incidentally, that same lack of anything is why both the U.S. Military and villains with good transportation love those areas. The military liked to build underground bunkers and store nukes there. The supervillains… come to think of it, that’s the same reason they like flyover country. They just add teleporters or jets.
Now that y’all have waited so long, just like me, let’s get some answers to my innocent question about guilty weapons. It took awhile before they got back me, but their answer was definitive.
I sat there in the office, my back to one of the doors. She had one behind the office as well. She stepped back in that one. A couple of large bodies stepped through the door behind me. I’d say men, but one of them put a rather hairless hand with painted fingernails on my shoulder. Lots of tattoos, too. I saw them snake up the wrist and on up under the shirt.
“Why do you want to know about this gun specifically?” asked the sharp lady.
I shrugged. “Somebody shot me with it. I’m running down possibilities. Crossing off names. Because if they bought it from you, I’d wonder how they found you and paid for it, and all that. Information you wouldn’t normally share, which I suspect is why you brought your two associates here. This nice lady here with the pretty fingers,” I nodded back over my shoulder toward the owner of the hand. “And this guy here, who was probably hoping for an easy day and an easy paycheck I bet.”
“He thinks you’re a woman,” said the voice of the person who didn’t put a hand on me in another language my implants translated.
From the other side, the one with the nails, the answer came in that same language. “He thinks you’re a man.”
Geez. The voice wasn’t even a giveaway.
“My point is,” I continued. “I suspect you brought them in because you either think I’m a cop or supercop trying to do their stupid job, or because you have something to do with it. Or some other option where you decided to make a show of force. And I can respect making a show of force, but there are problems with all this. I just want the information I want. No repercussions for you. I’ll be discreet.”
“There are several bodies and a blown-up camp that say otherwise,” the dragon lady said.
I winced. “The fact that you know that in connection to this is not a point in your favor. But if you know that, then you know all that information I’m looking for. You made your show of force, so allow me to make mine. Did you know it’s possible to hit person so hard with a fist to the face that you drive a bone up into their brain?”
I heard chuckling behind me on both sides. I grabbed the hand on my shoulder and slipped up, twisting it around. I grabbed two of the fingers and jammed them into the face of a man with a ZZ Top beard and a Lemmy Kilmister face. I grabbed him by the collar and pushed him back against the wall. I took a running start and thrust my knee up into his elbow. One crunch later and I did, indeed, put a bone into his brain.
The other one, an incredibly muscular woman, pulled a rather large handgun, chose for intimidation value rather than practicality, as such big guns are. Putting it that close to my head, a .22 could have done the job. She fired and the impact cocked my head. Whew. The ringing in my head from that one. Let me tell ya, that actually hurt a tiny bit.
“Making you eat that gun is nowhere near as fun as making you crap it instead,” I said. I reached down to my belt and pressed a button, revealing the power armor underneath. I snatched the gun out of her hand and grabbed her by the throat. I picked her up, choking her, and smashing her onto the desk. “Some say guns are phallic. I think no more than swords or spears. Axeholes are a different matter. Others say guns are for pussies. Now that one, there might be something to. Let’s find out.”
I punched that gun on up there, half curious what steroids do to bajingos. They don’t lube it up, that’s for sure. I reached around in there, too, just in case there were any gerbils in need of liberation. Or maybe her last boyfriend just got sucked up and had never been spat out.
I didn’t want to leave empty-handed, so I reached further. She kicked, and punched, and scratched. She grabbed a letter opener and tried to stab in my direction. Funny thing is, if she’d stopped and just let it happen, I might have had to stop. I felt something and grabbed it. “I got one! It’s in there good, too.” I twisted it to the side with a crunch. Huh. My audience had gone missing. Too bad. I think she realized I was no superhero. Or the superheros in the old country are a bit more vicious than the ones around here. I didn’t have time to ponder that. I had to pull aaaaaaaand, “Ta da! You really shouldn’t stick people’s spines up in there, you know? That’s gotta be unhygenic. Glad I didnt pull out a loaf of bread, though. Yeast is an issue in lady parts. Been there, done that.”
I tossed the spine piece away from me and walked around the desk, looking for any handy information. She didn’t have to go very far for information on most of the inventory. It’s likely she had the info on the gun there. And if not, I left her a way to get in contact with me. I left my number on her desk, next to a spine. If she wants to call me just to set things straight since I’m clearly no cop, great. If not, I now have a computer full of info on inventory and so on. I can make it profitable for them to tell me.
Not to get in there, get in the systems, and probably translate it from Ukrainian if the Cyrillic on the lock screen is any indication. I miss my powers. Almost as much as that one lady misses her spine. Or would, if she was still alive. And had the spine to say it to my life.
In the aftermath of messing about the campsite, I returned to the library. The armor performed pretty well, overall. I didn’t build it with disposable plates, but they got a little dented. Hey, that kind of weight is why an exoskeleton is a must. I’ve been working on that, too. Been a problem in between dealing with some of the students staying at the school for the holidays. They have all sorts of circumstances, like the Korean girl scared of all the stuff happening in North Korea, or the guy from Georgia who can’t go home due to discrimination. Not because of being a super, in that case, but because he’s gay and his boyfriend here is a Muslim. That domestic situation doesn’t get much worse unless he was dating an illegal Mexican black guy.
I’m not mentoring people, by the way. It’s just that since the library is my unofficial base of operations, I tend to find people wandering around there looking for books, or making out in the study rooms. Making out puts it mildly. I’d write all the specifics, but I’m pretty sure that’s technically illegal for y’all to read.
Anyway, they hang out and read stuff. I build stuff and put the books in place so they’ll stay out of my way. Word’s starting to get around that I hurt people a bit, which is both making them more polite and offending me slightly. I don’t just hurt people. That’s like saying Leonardo da Vinci likes watercolors. I paint a Sistine Chapel of pain, suffering, dead bodies, and a bit of bukkake. I got a little over-excited. I swear, it usually never happens. I’m the Jimi Hendrix of beating people to death with guitars. The Michael Jordan of bouncing my balls on their pained faces. The Charles Manson of… I got nothing. But people are returning their books and make sure to keep things clean.
For my part, I don’t try to intimidate them. I’m even trying to stay out of their way using an improvised system of pulleys and some grappling hooks I appropriated from the gym. The end result is that I’ve taken to hanging from a rope track, pulling myself around a as I stalk the shelves and do what I do. Rumors that I occasionally sing “Nana nana nana nana, Gexman!” are obviously the exaggeration of a bunch of students with too much time on their hands, and who shouldn’t have been eavesdropping on me anyway.
That’s the context behind when Venus walked in and caught me stocking a shelf with discs. She ahemmed, so I grabbed the rope above me and spun around. “What are you doing upside-down?” she asked.
I folded my arms across my chest against the pull of gravity. “That’s quite a question coming from someone walking on the ceiling.” And who has been out of town and not paying attention to me.
She pulled a bit of hair off the pretty brown skin of her face and rolled her eyes. “So that’s just one of your things. But what’s with the CDs?”
I reached behind me and pulled one out to show her. “I found your lack of educational material disturbing. I have amended some of this in order to retain my sanity. This one’s got Lazy Town on it. Pretty good villain in there, and he even has a song teaching people to be bad guys.” I handed it to her and pulled out another. “Here’s Weird Science. Very educational. There’s remotes that rewind and fast forward time, a supercomputer with an AI that wants to take control of people’s lives and make out with a pretty woman, changing people’s gender to teach them a lesson… really, it’s a must-have for the modern mad scientist.” I whipped another one out.
“And what does ‘Cats’ teach?” she asked. I glanced at the disc and saw that I’d pulled that out. Huh. That should not have been that close to the Ws.
“Makeup, flexibility, and that women really want the villain,” I said. Actually, I got that one for myself.
“Sure. Right. Well, as long as you’re not letting people check out any inappropriate material, I suppose that’s nice of you. Here.” She handed me back the discs, which I slipped into my utility belt to be sorted later. I needed something to hold things while I swing around upside down in the place. “You’ve really taken to the place, haven’t you?”
I narrowed my eyes at her.
She raised her hands defensively. “Sorry. I know, you’re the evil bad guy, and buying a kid’s show about sports and fitness doesn’t change that. I haven’t forgotten all you’ve done to me and those I care about. I just mean, it’s nice that you’re doing something with yourself that instead of something destructive. How have you been holding up?”
I pointed up. “Well, the trick is distributing the weight along different points and not just the legs, though that can be handy if you have too many hard landings.”
“You know that-”
I cut her off. “I know you don’t care about me insofar as you think you can reform me. Real frustrating to not know if all my thoughts and ways of behaving are my own. Also, really frelling frustrating not to be able to cuss. Sometimes, I feel like the movie ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ edited for cable. Just so you know, I wouldn’t go on a wild killing spree here even if I was allowed to, so there’s an astounding chance you’re right about the peculiar inconsistency of my ‘addiction’… and besides, I take that debt seriously. I hate taking things seriously. Do you know how hard it’s been, being serious? I’ve had to pull myself together for so long and it’s tiring. I want to go beat up moon Nazis or kill a superhero themed around pie. Or pi. Either works for me.”
Well, that’s a lot of words people probably glossed over. But seriously, I can see myself fighting Pi Man. Pi Man, with the strength of 3.14 men! Or the Pie-azon, who defeats evil with a little help from her blueberries. Sounds like the type to have a jealous boyfriend, though. I’ve heard you’re never supposed to rub another man’s rhubarb. Ah, that’d all be fun.
Instead, Venus folded her arms. “Too bad. You did the crime and now you’re doing the time. Easy time, too. Do you know how many prisoners in maximum security would kill to be in your place? Suck it up and stop whining. Now, if you can, I need to take you down to your cell or some other place out of sight.”
I held up my hands. “Geez, Boopsie, I didn’t know that’d finally set off all that unresolved sexual tension. There’s a study room nearby some of the students use for that. I’ve been waiting on something to make it easier to clean, actually…”
She shook her head. “Yeah, we got that package, and I don’t know how I feel about the condom dispenser, but that’s not what I meant. We’re having a party at the school. We’ve kept a lot of supers away from areas you were likely to be seen at, and they aren’t the important social areas anyway, but this place will be full of superheroes we don’t want to see you.”
I raised an eyebrow. From that angle, it was more like lowering one. “First you want to jump my bones, then you’re embarrassed to let anyone see me. You have a strange way about relationships.”
She grabbed me by the hair. “Do you really want to let Good Doctor find you after what you did to his daughter?”
I raised a finger and started to speak. This time, she didn’t let me speak. “With you being unable to fight back?”
I suppose she had a point. With that in mind, I had to move my armor machine, which was a pain. At least they didn’t give my room away to the captured militia member. I had a small hiccup at one point, though. I tried to move the x-ray I’d stolen from the infirmary down. Venus found out I was moving it when she caught me wheeling it on reinforced library carts.
She didn’t appear happy, especially in light of the infirmary being short their x-ray machine. “Is that what I think it is?”
I patted the machine. “Yep. My own personal microwave. This baby can heat a burrito like it’s nobody’s business. Which is good, because burritos typically end the digestive cycle as nobody’s business.”
“That looks an awful lot like an x-ray machine. I know, because the nurse wanted me to keep an eye out since theirs mysteriously went missing.”
I blinked, then put my hands behind my back and bowed my head a little. “Ok, you got me.You found me out. My secret is shamefully revealed to the world… I got the school a new x-ray machine. I heard about it going missing and figured I’d get y’all one for Christmas. Thanks a lot, Venus. You ruined the surprise. You ruined Christmas.” I forced myself to tear up and tried to blink it back.
“Pull the other one,” she said. When I reached for one of her boobs, she loudly added. “Leg!” Funny she slapped my hand away when I tried to touch her leg.
So they took the x-ray machine and consigned me to the fluorescent-lighted depths of the school for their Christmas Eve party. Lots of folks having a good time who want me dead. Some traumatized kid in the infirmary being nursed back to health during one of the worst holidays of his life. Another guy down under the school being restrained and probably honey-boarded. What, y’all thought water was the worst thing you could use in torture? I mean, I only did it for a second. It’s just that honey makes for really long seconds.
But I took a break like all of them. Sorta. Maaaaaaybe. I can say for certain that what I chose to do on Christmas Eve was definitely of my usual soundness of mind. I stopped by a place on the outskirts of the city where a family lived. Nice place. Got its own lawn and a little money to it. Well, a family doesn’t live there all the time, but from what I’ve been able to stalkingly pry out of the internet, he gets his kids over a lot more these days. The money helped.
They weren’t home when I got there. The guy about to bust in a side window with a rock noticed that, too. He didn’t see me until it was too late, though.
My entrance was more subtle, and the sack I carried was full before going in. As soon as I set foot, something stirred within the house. Something the burglar wouldn’t have liked to find. Not everyone appreciates an authentic magic moai statue. “Hey there, fella.” I dropped the sack and gave him a hug. “You still getting on ok?”
He nodded slowly. From my spying, he doesn’t seem as spry as he used to be. A bit less active. It’s the cracks, including one big one running through the center of his head. It probably works better to keep him with Carl, instead of out fighting more things that could destroy him. “Yeah, that’s right. I’m still here. Just don’t let people know,” I explained. “I don’t believe I ever found out whether you were Jewish, and it’s Hanukkah starting tonight. Kwanzaa’s almost here, too. Always Saturnalia if you’re a fan of the classics. Anyway, big guy, happy holidays from a supervillain bearing presents and epoxy. And just a little quick concrete.
At last, it is time to send me into battle! Just not yet with my armor complete. The main body’s fine, and the helmet’s where it should be. Gloves, too. The boots aren’t anything too special. Nah, the main hold-up is the power source and exoskeleton. I have an idea on both, it’s just a matter of making one less powerful and the other more powerful.
Since I’m not going to be merged with a power core, it would be tougher to regulate that thing. The last thing I want to do is end up dying at all, let alone because my enemies could just stick their hand in and tell the power source for my armor to go blow itself up. I’ve solved the problem in the short term with a jury-rigged system using a supercapacitor and a motorcycle battery. In order to hide the obvious weak point of the battery, I put together a round armored covering. I’ve got my armor machine working on a cape to cover it up better, as well as a more lightweight covering, but I should be good with the weight for now.
That’s because of the exoskeleton. My version isn’t done just yet, but Master Academy had several spares laying around. I stole one of those and upgraded it a bit. Not enough to be wholly adequate for my future purposes, but it’s at least enough to get by. Just a big cobbled-together Frankenstein’s monster here. I’m not sure if that’s just the armor or the armor with me in it, either. Eh, who am I kidding? I’m the guy killing people, robbing their graves, and stitching together a human centipede to bring back to life. Then I’d coat it with flame retardant and send it after the villagers’ children when they stormed the castle.
I’m not a nice person. And that’s terrible.
So on the day of my big return to action, I stood in my new armor, helmet off. The Emperor Gecko armor, I dubbed it. It just didn’t feel right. Before, the armor was a part of me. It wasn’t some high-tech, overly-complicated jet wannabe-with half the armor and double the weaknesses. But it was still a part of me. This is a dead shell I wear. I guess the name of the armor fits that assessment. Something, something boohoo angsty pants. I forgot what I was going to put there originally. It doesn’t feel right, but that’s how it goes. Time to lace up my corset, pull up my stockings, tighten my frilly panties, and face the music like a man.
Now, that last sentence might lead people to suspect I made quite a sight, but I didn’t have all that on under my armor, and I only had on the boots, pants, and top.
“So this is what you’ve been making in here,” said Venus. She was there. Leah, too. I’m guessing Psychsaur told them.
“As if you didn’t know already,” I said. “You guys going to keep this stupid collar and pair of ears on me, or what?” I briefly pointed to the ears that served as part of their tracking and alarm system. “I think I’ve proven by now that I do have to keep coming back now.” I didn’t mean to get angry over it, but hint of righteous indignation flared up inside over the idea that they’ve made me used to it by now.
She stepped over with something that looked like a curling iron in hand. “We might as well. You’re going out there for us now.” She lowered her eyes as she slipped a prong between my throat and the collar. She lowered her voice as well. “I don’t approve of using you, by the way.”
“Remind you a bit too much of using the copy of me? Whose idea was that, by the way?” I asked. When I felt the collar slip off, I breathed deep and rolled my neck around. I haven’t been free of that thing in some time.
“Victor took personal responsibility for that situation,” she answered.
That’s the problem with some people.They never want to give a straight answer because they’re horrible liars. The correct answer is the one that works best for you. Like if someone ever asks me if I raped Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I can honestly answer that one, “No,” but nonconsensual bestiality is no time to grow an honest streak if he guided my long wooden ride with a sack at the back of it. A boner, maybe, but not an honest streak.
“Lie some more,” I said and stepped back to grab my gloves. The fitted into place and sealed with a turn. “These are my friends. See how they glisten. See this one shine, how he smiles in the light, my friend! My faithful friend! Speak to me friend, whisper, I’ll listen. I know, I know you’ve been locked out of sight all these years, like me my friend. Well I’ve come home to find you waiting!”
I hopped up on a table and cut to the chase, holding one fist in the air. “At last my arm is complete again!” With my other hand, I reached down and adjusted a switch on my belt, manually powering up that gauntlet. This time, the glowing energy formed up and held itself two inches over a plate which protected the wiring and mechanisms of that allowed it to concentrate power. I jumped over and turned, bringing my hand down lightly on the table. The stored energy dispersed as kinetic energy, breaking through the table and scorching the surface.
Next was the helmet. I reached up and screwed something in a little tighter on my eye. Just a little replacement for my laser that I didn’t use in case some people got a bit scared. When I set my triangular-eyed helmet on my head, my laser eye flashed an activation signal. The system turned on and presented me with a slightly less complete view. The cameras were entirely on the helmet and couldn’t give me a view of what was immediately underneath my head. On the plus side, I’ll have bigger problems if the answer is anything other than “my body.” It also provides a way to control the gauntlet charge and allows me to adjust the exoskeleton’s output manually.
“Did anyone else just get chills?” Leah asked. Most of the other students around her nodded. It’s not every day the question is answered “What is black and blue and orange all over?”
Emperor Gecko, that’s what.
Venus stepped up and put her hands on my shoulders. She shouldn’t get much that way. The helmet and belt’s where all the action’s at. She looked where my eyes should be and said, “No matter what you do, you can be forgiven. You just have to ask. Maybe not by man, but by God.” She removed her hands and held up an earpiece for me to stay in communication.
My response to that was filtered through the helmet, which deepened the voice somewhat. “Never forgive. Never forget.”
At least I remembered to steal some of the kitchen knives ahead of time so I didn’t spoil my big departure with a side trip to the kitchens. Aside from that, I had a pair of holodiscs on my belt to get me through. I wanted chicken grenades, but I had enough on my plate with the rest of this project, along with all the other stuff I’ve done. I’m lucky I got a belt with holodiscs at all. I’d have even stuck some swords in the battery plate if I had any.
Besides, armor like this, I didn’t need much more than my fists and some rears to shove them up.
An hour later, I drove a truck up to the gap in the chain link fence that formed the closest to an entrance these tossers had. They had sandbags there, but well out of the way to let in much bigger vehicles than the small pickup truck I brought with me. Being a bunch of paranoids who didn’t know me, a half dozen of them surrounded the vehicle, pointing rifles and shouting at me to get out of the truck. Granted, I looked like a normal human being thanks to the disc on my belt projecting that image over me.
I’ve seen soldiers in a war zone who were more polite. They fired either a warning shot or a smoke grenade or something to warn people off they saw coming ahead of time. Part of that’s to let people know ahead of time not to come close, and part of that’s because they wanted to make sure nobody got close with a car rigged to blow up. Waiting until I pulled up and then surrounding me wasn’t as effective a solution for either of those problems. I could have been anybody. I could have been some crazy person coming to kill them all!
Oh right. I was. I kicked the door open, knocking one guy back and diverting the barrel of another couple of guns. The nearest one who could have had a shot fired, but I bent his barrel, then reached between his leg to give the other one a new turn as well. I picked him up by that and threw him at the one I knocked back, sending them both to the ground.
One of the two I’d screwed up the aim for shot at my chest. When nothing happened to me, I grabbed the rifle and jammed the butt against his throat, then reached for his finger. I broke it, then pushed it against the trigger. Turns out some naughty boy had an illegal automatic. That wouldn’t have been a pleasant shot with just the kick from a semi-auto. Karma like that’s part of why I do it, folks. Someone’s gotta handle the universe’s dirty business. And business is good.
The guy on the ground who didn’t get his body yanked around by his nuts struggled to try and stand until I punted his nose. My back armor stopped a lot of rifle fire, but plenty of it went past because more than one of these guys had an automatic weapon they didn’t know how to handle. They call it “spray and pray” because it takes divine intervention to consistently hit something when you let ‘er rip. I turned around and dipped low, teabagging the guy whose face I just remodeled before front flipping to land on the shoulders of the other one who I initially knocked around. He went down under my weight, and I quickly back flipped to land knee first into his crotch. He sang like the famous Appalachian Nutless Cock Swallow. I stood up and kicked him in the taint, sending him skidding and probably rupturing some colon in the process.
Another rushed up and tried to put one in what he thought was an ordinary human skull. Behind him, his friend clutched at his face and fell down. I didn’t even plan on that one. I turned and headbutted the gun, which kind of blew up in his face. His reflexes needed work. I grabbed the partially-dismantled gun from him and beat him over the head once, twice, three times a lady. The fourth shot went underhand. “Nut check!” Yep, he had ’em.
The last one, who was now trying to crawl away while holding his bleeding face, didn’t put up anymore of a fight, not even when I grabbed him for a bit of parley.
See, my little incident at the gate didn’t go unnoticed. Several of them were gathering up, including a guy with a light machine gun of some sort. But I figured I’d give them a shot, just to pay lip service to the people sending me on this errand.
I hefted the wounded guard up, supporting him anally via my fist. My helmet made sure I was heard properly over his groans of pain. “Attention donkey show enthusiasts and elephant show hopefuls: seeing as there are some people who care about this sort of thing, I am giving you this opportunity to walk away with an unbruised anus. Lay down your arms and surrender, and I promise you I will not be allowed to do to you what your dad used to do to you after getting drunk and making you wear a little dress. I warn you now that should you fail to do so, well, things will get messy. You’ll be missing fluids you didn’t even know your body had. What do you say?”
“You’ll take our guns when you pry them from our cold dead hands!” one of them called out, but I couldn’t see who. I was holding up my wee little puppet man. Then it got loud. Guns are like that, and these folks weren’t using silencers, not that those things work as well as the movies. I weathered the storm fairly well, between my armor and the unfortunate guard who seemed to go out of his way to attract all the bullets. Or maybe that was me waving him around.
“That could have gone better, but thank you for giving them a chance,” said Venus in my ear. “What are you going to do next, ‘make the chimichangas’ like that one movie?”
“Chimichangas aren’t my style, Boopsie.” I queued up some music for the impending spine bending. Hearing the fire die off as people ran out of ammo, I told her. “Since I’m going up against these types, how about some Blues?” Blues Saraceno specifically, “Pumpin’ Irony.”
I lept to it while they reloaded, dropping the hologram and bodies. This time, the exoskeleton was cranked up to break bones on simple punches, and not mine. Charged gauntlets pulped faces. I caught LMG guy before he could get anything reloaded in the middle of all this. “Hello, my name’s ‘The Broad Side of a Barn’. Didja miss me? Nice gun you have there. Some people claim those things are just replacement phalluses, but everyone knows a REAL phallic object has to be able to glide up an ass. Let’s put the matter to bed, shall we?”
Turns out his gun was compensating for something.
The initial fun was broken up when one of them ran out of a tent with an RPG and took aim at me. Well, tried to take aim. I don’t think he got a lot of practice in at the shooting range, because the only thing he hit was someone’s mud-splattered truck behind me. I jumped back up to my feet and pulled a knife that proved that if I ever find a god, it’ll probably be the one the Aztecs worshiped with sacrifices.
Turned out, that was the explosives tent, too. I took a minute to explore it and give people a chance to catch their breathes outside. Some of them fled, but a dozen survivors had pulled up someone’s homemade monster truck to use as cover, and because someone got the idea to mount another LMG on the back of it. As if they needed cover, as if I’d shoot back. Yeah right. I brought knives to this gun fight. I twirled a couple in my hands, getting used to the weight of the attached grenades. I pulled the pins and threw the kitchen knives, not having particularly good aim. But, as they say, close enough only counts with horse shoes and hand grenades. In this case, they landed close enough, given how many of them decided not to stand back up from those explosions.
“That was a bit extreme,” Venus said. I noticed movement in the air and turned with another knife in hand to throw at the drone. “That’s me!”
“So, you like to watch?” I asked in a sleazy tone.
In the background of her, I heard, “Remind me to never check a book out.”
She ignored that bit of commentary. “We were curious.”
“I don’t know why. Mender knew how this was going to end when he sent me,” I responded as I began to search over the place for explosives, information, and maybe even survivors. What I found, I like to think justified Mender’s decision. Inside one of those prefabricated sheds was boy tied to a metal cot wearing dirty pajamas. Not dirty as in “I wore these a week in a row to sleep in,” but dirty as in, “This guy has been forced to crap in these for a month.”
Another guy in camo stepped toward me from the right, a pistol in hand. I swung a knife with my right hand. He fired the gun, which zapped me against the wall of the shed with a burst of red lightning that left my ears ringing. I grabbed my head and shook my head a bit before focusing on the man, who stared down at the knife in his belly and tried to hold onto his guts.
By the time he looked back up, I had his arm in my hands. One twist and crack for his wrist, another the opposite direction for his elbow, and then a third one popped his arm out of his shoulder. He didn’t keep hold of that gun, which looked to me like a blocky sci-fi type of gun, a pair of red glowing lines running along the length of the barrel and stopping at a red cube sticking through the rear of the gun above the handle. I then pulled the knife out of him and tapped the paling figure on the nose with the blade. “It’s your lucky day. You just surrendered, whether you like it or not.”
The drone floated in and I heard Venus gasp. “I know him. He used to be a student before the purge.”
I cocked my head to the side and laughed at my prisoner. I put the knife up and put him out with brief pressure to his carotid artery. “Too bad for this guy then. I have a feeling it won’t be his lucky day. Y’all better send an ambulance to meet me, though. I’ve gotta get both these guys out of here in a stolen truck, and it’s not the best ride, medically speaking.
The former student didn’t react, either due to sedation or shock, as I untied him and carried him across one shoulder, along with the wounded prisoner on the other. I felt unusually concerned for their health, probably a result of Psychsaur’s mental invasion, otherwise I could have jumped them out of there. Instead, I tossed the former guard in the back and set the student up front with me for the drive to meet what turned out to be a van that Master Academy had converted for private medical use. They took over from there, though I noted both got a small application of medical nanites before the doors closed.
They let me keep the explosives I found, which I put to good use after examining my armor. I found no faults in it except that I lacked one of my most powerful weapons, the chicken grenade. And thanks to the stash I recovered from our friends on their little snipe hunt, I have plenty of materials to work with. Yippy-ki-yay, mothercluckers.
I jumped out the back of the obstacle course, untouched, singing a nice little tune to myself. “Shovel and Bone,” from a musical about Hell invading Heaven, not that that’s relevant to any of this. Though it did time up perfectly for when I smacked my hand on the floor and yelled out, “Again!” Then I got up and headed right back into it from the rear.
If only my armor was finished by the time I’d gotten through there. If not for the fact that I’d like to keep some secrets from the heroes, this new little quest of mine offers a fine opportunity to test it out. Of course, the best opportunity I’ve been given is the opportunity to crack some skulls, break some necks, and bust me some arms and legs. Preferably not my own, though I’ve got an idea or two about if I get hurt.
At least this time they didn’t stick me with some crew of unmentionables. Sadly, it doesn’t look like there’s a lot to deal with. A member of a crime syndicate might have a front of some sort. Maybe a surreptitiously-fortified compound or penthouse. Supervillain would have a lair; a hero a hideout or home. My point is that different groups set up in different places, partially due to means and partially because they’re all drawn to different things. Those can each present unique challenges. One of the depressing things about militias, aside from their tendency to want to save their country by destroying the government and citizens that make up said country, is that they don’t have an awesome base location. It’s a camp out in the wilderness northwest of the city. A stretch of woods with tents and a cheap chain link fence. The chain link is how you know they’re in for the long haul. Odd how improving their country never involves building things.
Ah, but that’s just my particular way of turning the knife. I hate all people equally, but according to their unique quirks. If I had one of those animal liberation people in front of me, I’d probably shove the impossibility of applying a vague concept like humanity to non-sapient animals in their face, just before slathering them in jelly and tossing them into a pit of starving raccoons. Which is something I technically could use in court. Oh, wait. Not inhuman anymore. Oh the humanity!
This bunch is equipped for raccoons, though. They have plenty of rifles, even if their beer supplies threatening any marksmanship that wormed its way into their brains by now. Hell, they’re probably hoping to take a shot at the racial meaning of that term, the way they fly the Confederate flag. And before anyone gets started, Cornerstone Speech.
They’re only showing small arms, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a few big guns stores away. Something that goes boom. Well-documented history of that, especially in their fetishization of that Waco bunch. This cult leader got it into his head that his god told him to build a religious army and prepare to wage war on the unrighteous of the United States, so the guy started prepping in his compound. The kids of the cult didn’t know what warm food was, but the group had more than 2,000,000 rounds of ammunition, grenades, and automatic weapons. Priorities. This bunch here doesn’t have a proper toilet, unless they’re hiding something in those big toilets or that prefabicated shed, but I bet someone’s got an RPG laying around.
I could always recon the place more, but it’s so limited I might as well just kill them all when I’m there. Assuming I can kill them. Psychsaur’s skirting around that. I decided to stop somewhere and test things out on my way back. If they’re hoping my own personal definition of “the wrong people” are my only allowable targets, they’re going to quickly find out how low an opinion I have of people. Hint: they are like unto ants, and I am their destroyer, mwahaha!
So I headed back into the city proper, riding around in my new Geckomobile! Sadly, I lost track of my lovely car, Black Sunshine, in everything. Instead, one of those Uber driver guys brought me back and graciously allowed me to pay him to take me around to certain neighborhoods.
“Are you supposed to be a superhero, or do you really like wearing those cat ears?” the driver asked.
“Just call me Behemoth. I’m no hero. Just a guy who likes kicking evil in the crotch. Save your thanks, citizen. I need to make a call.”
Sadly, the reduction in my networking capabilities left me unable to hear all the voices in my head that I needed to. I had to dial up Master Academy on this number I had. I’m sure Psychsaur just loves the thought of me having her number, but that’s what she gets for being stuck as my handler. “Hello Gecko.”
She wasn’t supposed to be calling me that, though I’m pretty sure the driver couldn’t hear. I could be lots of people with a name like that. I could be that Gordon guy who believes greed is good, or an insurance salesman, or even a videogame character whose levels were TV channels he entered. “Y’all are pretty crappy about keeping identities secret for a bunch of superheroes. This is a cellphone. They keep records. They won’t let you see the records, but they keep them. Also, they’re probably lying to you about any deal where you get a free device, so keep that in mind. I imagine y’all buy in bulk.”
“What do you want, Puss?”
“I’m looking for any crimes coming over the police radios. I don’t have one with me. I just need a heads up,” I looked out the window. Gun store, liquor store, pawn shop, liquor store. This looked like a decent spot. “Especially if they’re anywhere near… let’s see… looks like we’re on… seriously, Rotten Road? They’re not even trying with these street names anymore. Must have been destroyed a lot of times.”
“I hear they’re trying to rename this area after a kid’s show,” my driver volunteered.
“Right, kid’s show name. While we’re at it, maybe I can get a section of the city renamed ‘Angel Grove,’ but until then, I need some crime to fight.”
“Oh, are you talking to me again?” Psychsaur asked.
“Yes, sugar lumps, I most certainly am. Before I go through with Operation Fire Cobra Claw, I need to know all my bits and pieces function just fine.” I adjusted the crotch of my pants at that. I needed to do that anyway. My boxers were trying to turn into a reverse thong on me. Don’t split the wishbone.
“You want to make sure we’re not sending you in to get beat up,” she said.
“You know me so well. It’s like you can read my thoughts. Now find me someone I’m allowed to beat up.”
“Sure. Hold please.”
“Son of a Biz Markie!” I yelled, almost throwing the phone. When the driver looked at me, I told him, “She put me on hold. And she said he’s just a friend. She says he’s just a friend.”
“She your sidekick?” he asked, no doubt hoping to preempt my singing.
I nodded. “Yeah. She’s like my Robin the Boy Wonder, except with shorter shorts, and slightly less sexual tension. Probably because we’re banging. Hard. It’s part of her endurance training.”
“I’ll make you completely asexual if you keep this up. Worse, how would you like to puke every time you had a sexual thought?” Psychsaur spoke, having apparently taken me off hold.
“There are hookers who specialize in that sort of thing, I assume. If not, I can corner the market. But before we put you to work making people puke for a living, do you have a crime for me to stop yet?”
“Sure thing, I’ll send you the address now in text.”
And so I got my chance to once again inflict violence upon the hapless citizens of Empyreal City, starting with… Busy Bee Bookkeepers. I’d gotten out, paid the driver, and sent him on his way before checking in on the specifics of the place. I expected a robbery, a trespassing, or even beating the snot out of a jaywalker. Instead, I got a relatively peaceful-looking accountant’s office.
I called up Psychsaur again. “What, exactly, is the problem at this place now?”
“Embezzlement and fraud,” she answered. “The cops got the call to bring in Mr. Rick Faircloth. I thought you would like to start off easy as a superhero.”
“Not a hero.”
She kept up her teasing. “Were you wanting your own individual spandex, or can we stick you in a Master Academy uniform? Those are usually reserved for graduates. You might be able to get into a remedial course.”
“I’ll die first,” I said. I probably wouldn’t. I have to leave myself open to possibly infiltrating the place in the future, but why tell her that? “Is there a magic word I need to use or some special dance? Or can I just go in there and start busting heads?”
“You can just go on in, but there are some conditions to your ability to fight people now.” I kept listening, waiting for her to go on as I entered the place.
“Can I help you sir?” asked the secretary behind a window. Middle-aged, but not bad looking. A bit on the pale side, with a brunette bob.
“I’m here to see Rick Faircloth… and bring him to injustice!” I pointed my hand up in the sky. With my other hand, I held my phone to my ear.
Through the phone, Psychsaur mentioned, “Good luck. You can only use violence in response to violence right now, and deadly violence only if you are threatened at that moment by lethal force. Try not to chip a nail with the beancounter.”
The secretary ignored the dramatic pose and my conversation, looking down instead. “I’ll let him know someone’s here to speak to him. Do you have an account with us?”
“I’m here to bring in your boss on charges of embezzlement and fraud. I suspect your boss won’t go easy. I might have to punch him a few dozen times. Does he have any handy facial hair? I only ask because you never know when you’re going to need to swing someone around by the mustache and-”
I was cut off by the sound of a shotgun firing and blasting the air between myself and the secretary. I dove through the window on top of her. She turned out to have at least a little curve to her, enough that me landing on her probably didn’t break anything. My hands on her chest, I looked down at her. “Are you ok?”
“Let me up!” she said, trying to knock my hands off her boobs while sitting up.
I pushed her back down. “No, I can’t. It’s too dangerous. You stay here and, uh…” I raised one hand up to my chin as if to think, then put it back down, running my thumb over her shirt to feel her bra status. “Wait for safety. And to keep from fainting due to the trauma, take off your bra. I’ll be back to check on you momentarily.”
“You’ll never take me alive!” yelled Faircloth from down the hall.
“Fine by me!” I yelled back. Another shot rang out, then I heard the gun opening up. Figuring it was a two-shotter, I stood up and launched myself feet-first back through the window. Back in the reception area, a look down the hall showed Faircloth reloading an over-under shotgun. He must not have been well-practiced since it took him so long. I was more than happy to take advantage of the time it took and ran for him. By the time he raised the shotgun up, it was almost in my face, except for the part where I ducked under it and threw myself forward with my fist held out in front of me like Superman.
I aimed a bit lower than Superman, though. The big blue boy scout doesn’t normally use a flying punch on his opponents’ balls and grab onto one of their nuts while they both fall in the same direction. I did, though. I think I got Mr. Faircloth’s lefty in hand, too. He didn’t enjoy it. Unfortunately, he dropped the shotgun. Even though I had him down and moved up to straddle and pin him down, I couldn’t bring myself to punch the unarmed man.
Until he reached inside his suit coat and pulled out a papier-mâché knife. He sliced downward, opening me up on my left brow and cheek. Probably gave me an awesome scar. I grabbed his wrist in one hand and his nose in the other, twisting it hard. His head tried to twist with it, but in the end he laid there, screaming. What finally shut him up was when I yanked his head forward by the twisted nose and then slammed the back of it into the floor, albeit weaker than I think I’d have normally done. It just dazed him, not killed him, so that’s why I think Psychsaur’s work had me pull my punches. Same goes for my hesitation in jumping up and landing knee first between his legs.
A SWAT team burst through the door a moment later. They took one look at me over the downed and pacified accountant before the one in the lead held up his fist. “It’s clear! Good job, citizen. You’re a real hero. These accountants are always a feisty bunch.” I got an ovation from the SWAT team, which surprised me. There’s usually an entirely different situation going on when there’s me, a SWAT team, and the sound of hands hitting flesh.
They lead him out in cuffs, while patting me on the back. Psychsaur hung up on me sometime in the middle of all that to call in and advise them all that I was to be called Puss in Boots. The leader of the SWAT team thanked me again, especially since I’d come so lightly armed and armored. “That’s crazy. These accountants are the quiet ones. You always have to beware the quiet ones. They get caught, they try to take people with them. It’s a mess ever time. A major headache to deal with.”
“Really?” I asked. “Didn’t seem that tough to me. But then again, it takes a little more to beat me than strength in numbers.”
At least we know my ability to inflict pun damage is unrestricted. I think I’m ready.
“Ok, so when I’m done playing Santa, I pull a bomb out of the bag and yell, ‘Now let’s deal with that naughty list, shall we?’ and that’s when y’all pull out the guns and take down the guards,” I said to a group of shocked heroes.
I’d gotten somewhat bored with the meeting, where they put way too much emphasis on not being seen or hurting anyone at all. This bunch is completely risk averse and acts like having to put on a mask will make them all pariahs. And Venus has been gone from the meeting, so I can’t even tease her. Something about important hero business to deal with. This is important enough to stick me with, but somehow not important enough for her to call in all her various law enforcement friends. Which is odd, since they’d like to know about the nanites these goody-goodies are after, too.
And I don’t appreciate her not having time to threaten me or try and keep me in line. As if I’m less important just because I’m captured. Not like I need her to visit me all the time anyway. I’m just fine without her. I’m awesome. Just like I’ll be awesome when she’s dead and buried.
Anyway, these scrubs are under the impression my suggestions are completely ridiculous and will do nothing but get people caught, since the vault is the first thing to get locked down in any situation like that.
They didn’t take the first draft very well. They threw me out of the room. Eh, it gave me time to check on the armor. If they didn’t want me doing all that heisting business, I didn’t have to. They were the ones who decided they needed to liberate the nanites after all. If they’d just let me take them as payment, they’d at least have some by now.
As for the armor, it’s still going. The torso armor is almost finished. That’ll leave the legs for the machine, while I handle the other pieces I’ve been working on. The gloves and boots are done. I’ve been assembling an exoskeleton, testing some pieces of it, but the biggest challenge will be the helmet. Think a samurai, but jagged and straight, with a grinning fanged mouth. Ok, so very much like a samurai’s armor. They liked to add on stuff like fangs and mouths for intimidation value. Above that, the face is covered by metal, with a raised circle on it. On that circle, there are three formal “eyes” in an upside-down triangle shape. No armored jester hat this time. I’ve grown tired of bells lately.
With as much of the costume as there is now, I’ve relocated the reference section in front of it, and changed the sign up. Now, it announces to the world that it is an auto-castration machine that wakes up on touch.
These days, only the hardcore students dare enter, anyway. The system’s set up for self-checkout and students volunteer to put books back up, but word’s gotten around about the crazy librarian who charges the obstacle course like a drunk and strings up late returns by their intestines. The fear is nice. But it doesn’t sustain me.
Because, even as I assembled the optical display of my new helmet and built in non-digital controls to handle some of the functions I used to be able to pull off myself, I felt as though something was missing in my life. It flared up when I saw happy young couples walking around, wondering who stole their baby’s candy. I noticed it when I saw today’s youth running around, doing triple frontflips off walls and calling it parkour. It came to mind when I watched TV, where apparently the new President caused a stir by declaring “Hail HYDRA,” or something. With the wave of sentiment that caused people to protest and attack superheroes, I guess it just makes sense.
I hate people. That is one of the driving forces of my murderous impulses, along with just a general desire to kill stuff. I really hate people. Big people. Little people. People who are too dumb to know they’re dumb and people who are purposefully the worst. Bad people, of course, but also good people who let them do it and neutral people who think both sides are equal for some reason. I think the next time someone tells me that, I’ll dump gasoline on them and tell them that dying of old age and dying because I lit them on fire are both basically the same thing.
Not being able to do anything about that? It makes me angry with rage. And a little sick at times. Or it would have, I think, if I hadn’t been so busy. I’ve had shit to get done, no matter how sad the world gets without me being allowed to tear it apart. I am the dealer of death, the god-emperor of mankind, the harbinger of mankind’s well-deserved apocalypse… and they stuck a bell and cat ears on me to keep track of my comings and goings.
So, after a bit of work on the armor and another attempt at the obstacle course where I ALMOST got it while singing “Umbrella,” I headed back into the meeting, where the bunch were just getting done brewing a bunch of coffee. They looked pretty tired in there, with one costumed nobody sitting back in his chair asleep. Even brought my helmet with me and dropped it onto the table.
I sat down and took a look at what they came up with. Have someone pretend to be a janitor and loosen ventilation ducts. Someone else sneaks through the ducts and crawls down to the hallway in front of the vault. They somehow jam the vault door so it can’t swing closed. Meanwhile, janitor person lays down lots of thermite on the floor above the vault. Lots of thermite. This is covered up by the rest of the team caroling. When the floor is completely cut through into the vault, the problems with which I will have to ignore to discuss the errors in the rest of this strategy, then the person inside the vault can hook up cables that go up and out of the hole in the floor to where a helicopter or tank or something can haul it out.
“Not going to work for so many reasons,” I told them all as I looked over it. “Too many problems. You’re focusing on brute force and architecture too much.”
“What would you focus on? Santa threatening to blow people up?” asked the guy who had been sleeping.
“You got a little drool on your shirt,” I told him. He actually looked. I smiled when he realized he’d been had. “I think most people would focus on Santa threatening to blow a place up. The part with the guns was a bit far fetched, but I was trying to have some fun while you guys play Mission: Impossible and scribble about crashing an APC into the wall.” And so I began to explain the entirety of my plan.
“We’re doing the best we know how,” said one of them, a woman with a muscular physique and small boobs. “We’re normally not on the planning side of this.”
“You’re not on the planning side of anything most of the time,” I responded, then quickly tried to deflect this from becoming an insult-fest. “A good villain has to plan things out better. I can do it, but I have to work with y’all, and nobody expects heroes to have much to do with breaking into a bank to steal something.”
“What can we do about that?” asked a cornrowed young man with skin as black as something dark brown in color. Wood, maybe? Coffee? Certain types of chocolate? Why does skin color so often turn into a discussion of food? One of his mayo-skinned colleagues chimed in as well.
“We have to keep from using our powers a lot too. Villains don’t have to worry about that, because you don’t care so much if you’re caught,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Believe me, we care. We just don’t have to worry about publicity so much. But I think we can do something about it. I’ve had some time to think and get hit in the face by a metal piston. This may be a lingering head injury talking, but I think we can turn the weakness of this bunch into a strength. So here’s what we do…”
The next day, I filled in for Kris Kringle. It hadn’t been that hard. The heroes wanted to get all overly complicated and hack the bank’s security to figure out who they hired. I wanted to wait in the parking lot, where they tied up Santa, gagged him, and stuck him in the trunk of his car. I may have done a little dancing around in the parking lot as I adjusted the pillow under the coat of my costume. “Kidnap the Sandy Claws, lock him up real tight, throw away the key, and then turn off all the lights!”
“You don’t have to be so happy about this,” said one of my accomplices. I never bothered to learn his name. Let’s call him Thing 1.
“Listen, person I don’t care about, I’m the Santa now. Being jolly is part of the job. Now, don’t you have a bank to rob? Careful, I might have to put you on a list for that kind of behavior.”
He shook his head and adjusted his jumpsuit. I smiled to myself as I fixed my beard on nice and tight. I anticipated he’d run into a couple of hiccups with his addition to the plan. Mine originally only called for me to go in at this point. He felt they needed to have even more people in to really sell what I wanted to sell, so Thing 1 volunteered to dress up as a member of the cleaning staff. I just got to play Santa and take photos with little boys and girls.
“I wanna motorbike, and I want football pads, and I want a new NFL game, and I want…” the enthusiastic youngster in my lap was saying at the time.
I didn’t care for children, especially one wasting my time so much, but then I heard from the other guy. “So, it turns out the janitors come in after hours and don’t wear this kind of jumpsuit. We might have to abort.”
“Stop him!” someone yelled. I only heard it through the comms, so it was someone near the other guy. Not ten seconds later, a door to the rear of the bank flew open and out ran Thing 1, being chased by security.
I gave it another fifteen minutes, mainly because I figured the heroes had to be betting on me and I wanted to screw it up for at least one of them, before I grabbed the Santa sack I brought with me and pulled out a plastic ball pit ball with silly putty and wires stuck to it. That’s a tough fake bomb to make there. The silly putty was the tricky part. “Now let’s deal with that naughty list, shall we?”
Despite their misgivings from the plan, the heroes sure looked happy at how hurt I looked from a little security guard brutality. The one who smacked my nose with his baton went further than necessary, especially because my pretty face can’t heal as easily now. Security was all too eager to hand over the Mad Santa Bomber to this group of Master Academy heroes who had been out on patrol. I just laughed at them. “Look at this sorry bunch of spandex-wearing losers. Nothing says courage like bicycle shorts. By the way, miss, you need to tape those balls back down. They make an unseemly bulge.”
“Quiet, you!” said Thing 1, his face covered by a mask. I think he enjoyed punching me in the belly, even though it was not the kind of improvising I’d have preferred. I saw his eyes widen a little as the air whooshed out of me.
“You can take him now, unless there’s anything else you need,” said one of the Security guards holding me by a ziptied arm.
“Is there any chance we can get a copy of the camera footage?” asked one of the heroes.
“That’s not really necessary, is it? He pulled out the bomb, it’s a fake it turns out, and we stopped him. We’ll hand the footage over to the police if they ask for it.”
Thing 1 stepped forward. “Can we see the fake bomb at least?”
“Is something going on here?” A man in a suit asked as he stepped forward. “He’s caught, right? Take him and go.”
“Ha!” I said upon regaining the ability to speak. “You may have captured me, but my accomplice already did what he needed to the vault. Soon, Empyreal City will rue the day. You hear me? Get your ruing practice in early, because the day of ruining is nearly at hand!”
Cheesy? Yes. Something you’d expect from a dirty Santa standing by the freeway? Definitely. Probable cause for vigilantes to ask to examine the vault? Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!
After being escorted out by part of the group, Thing 1 and another hero went back inside to see to that vault thing. The security tapes indeed showed someone fleeing who, according to witnesses, tried to pass as a janitor. He didn’t seem to have gone anywhere near the vault, but from what I heard on the comms they just claimed we’d looped the cameras. Anybody in with any real background in that would know that one stunk from being full of BS.
Then out came the gizmos. In this case, they pretended a tracking device attuned to the signal from the nanites was being used to track down the location of explosives. It was found to be in a special container on its own pallet in the vault. The bank had agreed to store said container for a client. It shouldn’t have been anything harmful.
“Then why is it sloshing?” asked Thing 1 as he opened a cap on the top and gave the container a push. The bank manager went into full-on panic mode, talking about calling in bomb squads and all that. The heroes assured him they could handle this without drawing quite so much public attention. They’d just have to carry it out and take it elsewhere to determine what it was and try to determine what had happened. The bank manager quickly agreed.
And so Master Academy robbed a bank, all under the guise of protecting it. So easy, it should be against the law. Oh wait, it is.
“Well done,” said Mender as he watched one of his students slow down. The lawn behind the school building opened up and he hovered down with the container. I tried to step over and peer down after him, but I didn’t get a real good look before the lawn closed up again on the hideout underneath the school.
“Hurray. Now instead of calling the cops on a mob boss having stolen goods, you can call them here instead. That’ll surely help me escape scrutiny,” I mentioned.
“It’s not that simple,” said Psychsaur as she stepped out of the back door of the school as well. “We’re not supposed to have those either. No one is allowed to have nanites after what you pulled.”
“Yeah,” I nodded, trying to emphasize with my tone the stupidity of her statement. “That’s what I said. They’re illegal, you took them from someone who had them illegally, now you can do your turning them over thing and let them go to waste.”
“They will not be put to waste. There are still too many hurt in this world who need your tainted gift to survive,” said Victor Mender. “You have helped us to achieve a Christmas Miracle, Psycho Gecko. You should feel proud of yourself. I fear we will need this soon. Until we do, it is safe in our protection, where no one of ill-intention can get to it.”
Why not rub it in my face some more? “Eh, not the first time I’ve pulled off a Christmas Miracle. Or New Years. At least the Hanukkah Zombie didn’t show up to request my help. Mayhap I’m finally done being the plaything of the universe…”
I pondered that to the point of ignoring as everyone finished getting things loaded and headed back into the building. Everyone but Mender, that is, whose digitized voice said, “Cough cough.”
So much for not being a plaything. “You were saying?” I turned to him again.
“You have had to be dragged kicking and screaming along with our plans. I do not hope to reform you like Venus. I think you can be a valuable wetwork asset for the school beyond when I deploy you against The Claw. That is why I have a request for you. A test.”
I felt Psychsaur step up behind me and root around in my head. “Stop that,” I said back to her.
“I am adjusting your parole. My people have investigated the men who attacked my school recently. They failed, but I have learned they are planning to try again. They have money, they have weapons, and they have an unknown source of information. I want you to deny them these things.” It was tough reading anything into Mender’s stare considering how he always looks now. The guy can’t exactly emote a lot.
I reached up and scratched the back of my head. Psychsaur’s telepathic intrusion tickled back there. “That’s going to be tough, considering what she put in my head.”
“I took something out, too,” she said from behind me.
I glanced back, but then Mender spoke and really got my attention. “This next robbery would be dangerous. You have to be able to hurt people.” I looked at him for a moment, then turned and tried to punch Psychsaur. I stopped nowhere near her, prompting Mender to continue: “The right people. More to the point, the wrong people.”
I pouted and turned back to him. “Fine, but no hero costume. I’m still a villain.”
“Sure you are,” Psychsaur said, patting my head.
Funny person, that Psychsaur. That’s why I’ll kill her second.
“Ok,” I told Mender. “This time, in the spirit of the season… I will crush your enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women. It’s gonna be a red Christmas this year.”
So there I was, flat on my back in the academy gymnasium, barely able to breath, with a face bound to bruise up as soon as it had time, the song “That’s Not My Name” playing through my head and into the gym. I was sweaty. I was hurt. My shorts had ridden up into my crack just enough to annoy me. I rolled over with a groan to fetch them out of the crack of Mt. Doom before they poked against my one ring.
As soon as I could, I rolled over and cut the volume on the song. I looked over at a stopped obstacle course that caused this. I’d wandered out of the library one of these days, well, been forced out. The official school year is closing up, and Master Academy is trying to be a normal school where possible. Parents are visiting the school a lot, and the heroes are trying their best to look responsible. Seeing as I’m officially dead, and the school would have every reason to toss me to the wolves if my identity got found out, I am reluctantly having to go along with it. So I wandered a bit and saw students using this thing. It beats getting dragged into some school concert by that pigtail-girl Chloe, or to a dance by Leah, or having Quincy ask for some combat tutoring.
This magnificent monstrosity rises from the floor in the gym if the proper settings are entered into a panel on the wall. It’s got rollers, pistons, swinging arms, and floors that seesaw. It’s a compressed Japanese obstacle course game show, with less padding. I just had to give it a go. I can’t use nanites to just whip my muscles and tendons into shape anymore. I used to have those things work on my body until I was as strong and flexible as Gumbie and Hercules combined.
The obstacle course had stopped when it felt a strong impact indicating it had potentially injured me. I know this because this wasn’t the first time. But then the floor opened back up and it began to lower. I looked up at the young boy who stood by the wall, looking at me with some concern. I stood up, coughed up some metallic-tasting spit, and told him, “No. Again!”
“You sure, mister?”
I nodded. He turned the knob, causing it to stop, then reverse until the entire course settled back into place. He stepped away from the controls and said, “Most people don’t sing while they’re trying to do it. And they start at an easier difficulty. You had it set to hard.”
“Make sure it’s still there. I want it hard.” Probably not the best thing to say to someone who might have made it to middle school at the most, but the heroes had already caught the predator in this case. And the added difficulty is why I once again started singing along to the song. My singing’s still horrible, but at least other people can tolerate being in the same room as me now. They threatened to use the fire hose on me when “Cotton-Eye Joe” came up on my playlist.
I didn’t wait to get all nice and comfy and be able to breathe perfectly again before circling around and diving in again. I rolled to my feet jumped over a swinging arm, ducked under a piston that shot out from my right, then heard the tell-tale sound of the machine swinging something at me from higher up and behind. I rolled forward again. They seemed to have a certain amount of time they kept going for, a distance limit. When I got to where it should have stopped, I launched myself into the air. The arm bopped me on the head and knocked me toward the mat, which shot upward as some sort of launcher. It should have splatted me into the ceiling of the course, but the ceiling opened up to let me fly out and land on the laminate floor of the gymnasium.
“It wasn’t necessarily smart of me to assume when the thingy would stop, but what really surprised me was the floor shooting me out. It never did that before,” I said to no one in particular, raising an arm up. I was about to bring it down to help me get some leverage when a large hand grabbed it. Minotaur dragged me squeaking along the floor.
“It changes a lot of things between tries. Now come on. You got a meeting with the Headmaster.”
“The Headmaster, Hagrid? Surely this won’t be yet another angsty adventure where I don’t do a lot of interesting tricks with my ability to warp the fabric of reality itself. Quick, get me a ginger and a hot nerd. Oooh, can we get Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton for this one?”
He didn’t have to be so rough about picking me up or pulling my shorts back up. He should have known the natural consequences of dragging someone in workout clothes along a floor. Didn’t have to pull them up quite so far, though. What is it with these Master Academy capes and my balls? I think it’s cover for them trying to vigilante a feel.
The way he tossed me down into a chair in front of Victor Mender and put his hands on my shoulder didn’t help matters. Made it much harder to squirm and free my balls from the tyranny of clothing.
“Gecko, we need to have a talk,” said Mender’s computer, digitizing the voice from the front of his wheelchair.
“Ok, ok… so when a man and a woman both love covering her face with baby-makin’ juice…” Minotaur’s thick fingers dug into my shoulders. I arched my back. “Ooh, a little lower?”
“Please stop provoking him and speak respectfully to me. We are owed this much for the liberties you have taken with your confinement,” Mender said. “By the way, I heard you found the obstacle course. How do you like it?”
“I’ll beat it yet, front and back. Then, I shall disembowel it, reach into its oily innards, and rip out its still-beating heart of steel and circuitry. After that, I shall consume it to gain its power. But since power has a lot of calories, I’ll probably stick a finger down my throat and purge it in the bathroom. I got some body issues I gotta work out. These thighs don’t need more fat on them.”
“It’s a machine, it doesn’t have fat,” Minotaur growled.
I rolled my eyes and, without looking at him, responded, “It’s got oil, right? Lipids, same as fat.” It should be noted that I don’t particularly care about the accuracy of some statements I make. “Now that you’ve led us off on a tangent, though, I think it’s about time we get back to the meeting at hand.” I looked to Mender. “I’m not meeting them.”
“Are you afraid?” he asked.
“Nah. But you just want me to go so you can raid the meeting and catch everyone red-handed. Except you already know the when, where, what, who, and even why. You could go all on your own, and I don’t feel like doing any extra work for my captors along these lines. You don’t need me there. If the only darn thing I can do to show my dislike for this course of action is to stay clear of it, then I will. It’s despicable the way you’re going after them just for a little bit of theft. I mean, come on, theft is what Christmas is all about!”
“I can not think of one single, solitary way in which Christmas is about theft.”
I didn’t even need to think. “Guy in a costume breaks into people’s houses all night and helps himself to their food. Plus, I think there’s a story of him having a helper who kidnapped naughty kids. Probably made them work as slaves in his secret fortress in the Arctic, where he spies on everyone and assembles a secret list based on whether he thinks people acted right. Ow, big guy.” Minotaur’s fingers had dug into my shoulders a bit there. Since I figured I was annoying him, I also threw in, “Also, this chick got knocked up by a dude who totally said he was a god, then used someone’s barn as a maternity ward without permission or payment. Like, ‘there’s not much room in my apartment, but I have a storage shed, just don’t get afterbirth, blood, poop, and placenta all over the place. Aww, Mary. You had ONE job.’”
“Stop,” Mender said to both myself and Minotaur, who had raised one hand and balled it up threateningly next to my head. I saw it, but I had kept on talking regardless. I was going to go into detail, too. A hologram would have worked even better. Watching a woman give birth is an easy way to promote abstinence, at least for anyone sexually attracted to women.
He went on. “We can not make you do this, but we hope to avoid violence while recovering the nanites you stole. You would be doing a lot of good for more than just us.”
“Blah blah, getting dangerous substances off the street. Save the speech for drug cops. I am a dangerous substance. I bleed dangerous substances. I do other things to produce dangerous substances. Wanna see?”
“There are always men, women, and children who will need the advanced medical aid your nanotechnology can provide. When you first told us the goal of your theft, I knew we could use it to provide several Christmas miracles for people you missed before you used them to take over the world. People do not trust them now, but we can still use them.”
“Appealing to my sense of goodness will never work. I want to be changed back from human. Human sucks. Human blows. Human works the shaft,” I told him.
“You will be human for the rest of your life if I have any say. Instead, your cooperation with us will prove we do not need to keep you on a psychic leash.” Now that got my attention. It’s not as good as turning back, but even turning back without getting rid of those compulsions would only do me so much good. Plus, it’d be harder to clear those out.
He knew he had me, I think, when I leaned forward and asked, “I do this, and you get Psychsaur to let me out of it?”
“Among other things,” he said. “I want you to listen to our plan. You will be surprised.”
Which is how I wound up in that office with a bunch of other nervous criminals, getting my pay. I think I was the only one without a gun or knife in the room. To try and set us all at ease, Butterfly had offered some wine, and I was even the only one to take that. I only pretended to drink it, though. I don’t trust him. I just don’t get that much of a say in how I react to him.
“I did what I did for a reason. You were going to betray me, so I betrayed you. Now, the Ukrainians are out of the import/export business thanks to the heroes, I have the goods, and you are all alive. It worked out for all of us, and I want it to keep working out.” He gave a sly smile and stood up from his comfy leather chair to indicate a table to the side of the room. It had five open cardboard boxes and five large thermal canisters. “Feel free to inspect them and make sure I am not shorting you.”
Nobody else jumped up to it, so I stepped over first. As expected nothing blew up in my face when I opened any of the boxes. Each one was the same: packed with $100,000 in cash. When I survived looking, Mr. Blue Sky hurried over to grab a box and head for the passageway out. Hail Mary, Billy Jean, and especially Sgt. Pepper took their sweet time. They checked the cash over themselves while I unscrewed one of the canisters and reached in.Yep, nanites. But, I figured I’d prove it.
I held my hand out. “Anyone got a knife on ’em? Just nick a finger for me.”
Billy Jean pulled out a switchblade. “You sure?”
I nodded. He shrugged and grabbed the middle of my pointer finger, opening up the tip with a slice. I put my thumb over it and applied pressure while reaching that hand into the fluid below that I knew consisted of harmless filler and useful nanomachines. It felt different, feeling them seek out the injury and close it off as a human would. I normally get more of a connection to some of them. When I pulled my hand out, the finger was healed back up, which confirmed that method of payment to the group. I held on to that canister as Hail Mary and Sgt. Pepper both went over to check on some of the others.
Billy Jean took the cash, nodded to us, and left. Hail Mary got herself some nanites. Pepper looked at the cash for a long time, then shook his head. He said something to himself that I couldn’t catch, then grabbed his own thing of the nanites. When I saw he’d done that, I palmed a pebble-sized tracker that wouldn’t show up as anything to consume or destroy to the nanites and dropped it in. I closed the lid and instead grabbed a box of cash before leaving.
Yeah, it actually went well. No double-crossing, at least on Butterfly’s side. And no raid by the heroes. That was explained to me by Mender when I agreed to listen to their plan. Because, instead of raiding the place and potentially not finding where the rest of the goods are, they want all of them. They did make me turn over the $50,000 I was paid for the job though, wink wink. But I have a great deal of leeway in helping them come up with the specific plan to manage the next step.
They used to have someone they could rely on to help with this sort of thing, but she’s out of the country on holiday at the moment. And while the Master Academy’s hero education is supposedly top-notch, they don’t necessarily train their people to be thieves and burglars.
So, in a turn of events, I get to plan a heist with some of the heroes as my crew. And this isn’t just some job stealing from a warehouse or meth lab or something. Uh uh. According to that tracker, I get to use heroes to break into a bank. Ha! Serves ’em right. They want to make me do good deeds, I get to make them rob a place. Something tells me this one’s going to get loud.
Hmm. And they’re going to have a Santa show up there. Time for a little ho-ho-hold up, I think.
As befits the holiday season, I slept soundly, with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Specifically, a couple of dancers at this one strip club, Sugar and Plum. Sugar had the kind of figure that only exists when a man designs a woman, which could mean a lot of plastic surgery in her past. Plum’s not so hourglass-shaped. She tends to fall under that “thicker, but bigger boobs” way of appealing to men. I’d been spending more time away from Master Academy, for reasons ranging from “I just don’t like them,” to “they have a telepath.”
Speaking of which, that’s where this strangely dream, strange in its normalcy, took an odd turn. Because soon, the very person I had been avoiding showed up there. A feminine figure, not so endowed as the strippers, with scales over her skin and feathers where her hair should be. Her face was somewhat warped in structure, more elongated, with the nose not standing out so much from the mouth. Psychsaur just stood there for a moment and I wondered at how she wasn’t dancing on a pole like the rest. All of a sudden, a third pole was there and she walked over to it. As she began to dance, she glared at me and said, “Enough!”
I woke up with a jerk, almost losing my balance on top of one of the bookshelves. Below me, I saw Psychsaur standing with a murderous look in her eyes.
“Aunti Em!” I said to her. “I just had a dream. It wasn’t all nice, but most of it was beautiful. And you were there!”
She tapped her foot on the floor. “Yeah. I was.”
I shot a finger gun at her. “By the way, nice.”
“No, seriously. You might be a bit self-conscious about it, being a bit different from the norm, but the scales look really pretty, and it doesn’t really matter if the boobs aren’t that-”
“STOP TALKING ABOUT MY BODY!”
I turned over onto my belly on top of the shelf.“Fine then. But it’s not like we’ve talked long enough for me to talk about your mind. Perhaps we can change all that over coffee sometime?”
She held a hand out and an invisible force shoved me off the top of the bookshelf. Luckily, I landed on a paperback copy of Atlas Shrugged, making the book useful for once in its existence by softening the landing of my tailbone on the floor.
A bunch of books flew out and started swatting me from all angles. I caught one, Catcher in the Rye, but then Choke smacked me in the throat. “Why did they even buy you? You aren’t educational!” I yelled at it.
“You’re stealing something,” said an angry-sounding Psychsaur as she stepped to the other end of the stack.
“Not at the moment,” I answered.
“You’ve been avoiding me, so I read your mind while you slept.”
Sadly, I can’t bring myself to hole in a motel away from Master Academy. I think it’s the escape clause. But I did point out that, “Have you ever considered that most people avoid you so you can’t read their minds?”
She blinked and her eye went wide. I think I touched a nerve. I know she touched mine when I felt something squeeze my balls out of nowhere, the pressure ramping up until I was sure they should have exploded by now. But what’s having balls of steel for, if not resisting the ball-crushing might of someone with psychic abilities? With a painful twist, I was pulled back to my feet by them. “You went from being the woman of my stripperific dreams to touching my balls with your mind. I sense a bit of sexual tension.” I turned my head and coughed due to the pain.
She let go and I grabbed the shelf to steady myself. “Shut your mouth and keep it shut. You’re in the middle of a heist.”
I raised a finger to tell her this was technically incorrect, but didn’t say anything. When I realized I wasn’t speaking, I raised a different finger to express my opinion on the matter. Instead, I thought it all out, explaining rapidly. “Heistkeepsmeoccupied, Iwantthenanitestohealandgetstrongagainandbemycorrectspecies, pluswe’regoingtobebetrayedbytheguycommissioningussowe’regoingtostiffhim.”
“You can talk, just talk more slowly. Explain everything or I’ll make a woman of you,” she said.
I flashed an image of myself as a woman fooling around with Wildflower. “That’s sweet of you to offer, but someone already made a woman out of me.” I explained what has led up to the current situation, though. Soon, I was sit down in a room with her, Venus, and Victor Mender, repeating that story to them and telling them our plan.
They were surprised. “Johnny Butterfly, notorious crime boss, met with a random thief off the street who pulled one job and put him in a group with a bunch of other people to do this? That sounds ridiculous,” Venus concluded.
Mender’s synthesized voice spoke up. “He will betray you.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, probably. That’s why we’re going to betray him first. We have a plan to swap it out.”
They came to the conclusion they’d like to be a part of it. And I wasn’t allowed to have nanites.
On the day in question, things went beautifully. The disguises and fake identification worked perfectly, as did my fit about recognizing that large container full of fluid that, strangely, the RadioShack people didn’t have paperwork for. I stared right at the nearest guard, almost burning a hole through his glasses with my glare. “You lost the paperwork on this government property?”
Needless to say, they became incredibly amenable to helping us load the contents of the container up. They just no longer had the equipment on site to lift the entire thing out. The lot behind the store opened up to allow such large items to be moved in and out, but that required coordination. This was spur of the moment, and forced us to quickly change our plans as well. Mr. Blue Sky and Billy Jean had to run off and swap out the trailer on the semi from the normal covered type to one of the ones that can hold liquids. It’s the difference between hauling cheese and milk.
That took a bit longer than we’d have liked, especially because we took up so much space in the parking lot. When we finally had sucked as many nanites as we could from the container, we made it a point to leave. The longer we stayed, the longer we could be found out, and the longer we made Johnny Butterfly’s people wait at the drop point.
Oh, we were still heading there. I took over driving the semi. Billy insisted on driving this nice SUV. All black, but a few stains on the interior that made me curious just what Butterfly used it for before handing it over to us.
Billy and I pulled up to a warehouse. When we asked through Butterfly’s manager where it needed to go, he directed us to this address. And this address turned out to be more than just a warehouse. It was a bonded warehouse: a place where imported goods can be stored, repackaged, cleaned, adulterated, misplaced, mislabeled, fall off the back of a truck, and manipulated until a better time to pay duties on the goods inside. It has legitimate business uses, too.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to see one somehow owned by a criminal enterprise. I bet I even owned a few back with Double Cross. The surprising part was that the people at the gate weren’t expecting us. They made a call to the back and let us in, though. Told us to drive around right on in through the big door. There, one of the guards said he had been instructed to have us wait.
“Ok, I got ya. Let me just go let my colleague know that as well,” I told him, then exited the truck to go get in the SUV with Billy. To him, I said, “They want us to wait. You think this thing can crash the gate?”
He put it in gear. “Let’s find out.”
He wheeled us around and made for the door of the warehouse, leaving the semi truck and its large covered trailer to its fate. Before we could find out how good of a battering ram it made, we discovered it made a pretty decent moving target for small arms fire. Semi-automatic, but with enough volume to take out one tire. “You still got it?” I asked as we swerved. We no longer had our right front tire.
“Take more than that to stop us,” Billy said as he held us steady, heading for the gate. Then we heard a shotgun and lost even more control. The SUV swerved to the left suddenly, and flipped, with my side going on bottom. I looked to my right, saw the asphalt screeching by, and pushed the button to roll up my window. I did not want any of that.
When we came to a stop, I spat out pieces of a tooth and turned to check on Billy. “You still here?”
He said what I couldn’t due to censorship. I don’t even usually bother to slip into multiple languages, and that one about our unknown attacker and a goat whose parents weren’t married sounds fun to use myself someday.
“Sounds like you’re still here. Okily dokily. Now we just have to sneak out of here without them noticing, if possible,” I told him. He looked at me, his lip and nose bloody.
From outside, we heard a heavily accented voice. Ukrainian, actually. “We know you’re in there. Tell us who sent you and we will let you live. Was it the Butterfly?”
“Hornswoggling within hornswoggling,” I said. “Well, we were right about Butterfly then. But don’t worry. I got us a way out.” I still reached for my disposable phone and called to the others, as planned.
Sgt. Pepper picked up. “We heard gunshots.”
“Yeah, we’re stuck at the moment. This is a rival gang’s warehouse. Guy had a Ukrainian accent if that means anything. You get the tanker away?”
“Yeah, we got it. I’m waitin’ nearby. If you want me to go and save myself, just say the word.”
“Uh uh. You wait until we’re out of here,” I told him.
Billy spoke up. “Feelgood, they got assault rifles out there.”
“Pepper, did you know that the term ‘assault rifle’ was invented by the Nazis? They made this gun called the Sturmgewehr- hold on, they’re going full auto on us.” I had to cut it short because somebody had indeed opened up on us.
“How we gettin’ out of here, man? I don’t have a gun!” Billy panicked, trying to get himself untangled from his seat belt. “The car’s gonna explode!”
“Get a hold of yourself!” I wanted to slap him across the face, but couldn’t due to my constraints.
“What are you going to do then?!” he asked in a panic. I reached over and clicked to release his belt. He fell on top of me.
“Well, sadly, it’s not an option for me to insult one of them, hop out, and kill everyone armed with nothing but two handguns, a pair of swords, and maximum effort, but I’ll go one better. I’m going to put no effort in.”
“What are you even talkin’ man?”
“No effort!” I yelled.
From outside, I heard the Ukrainian yell. “Look, up in the sky!”
“It’s a drone!”
“It’s a plane!”
“It’s a distraction. Also a superhero, or at least one,” I told Billy.
“We’re gonna catch on fire. The car’s gonna explode!” He grabbed onto me, nails digging into my suit.
I just rolled my eyes. “Car’s don’t just explode most of the time, even when they’re shot. That’s not how it works. You can toss a grenade into one and it wouldn’t go blow up. The grenade would, but not the car.”
“They got grenades?!”
I shook my head. “You do not do well under pressure. They’re not even shooting at us. Now come on, move your rear. We gotta get the driver’s side doors open.
I had to shimmy past him to open the door, then sat straddling the side of the car above the door, reaching down to give Billy a hand up. Outside, we slid down and made a hasty exit for the gate and our waiting escape vehicle that’d be nearby while a number of Master Academy capes busied themselves fighting resistance and securing the warehouse. They didn’t pay much attention to me, except for one particularly scaly one I caught glaring at me. I blew her a kiss before we skedaddled.
Just as we got into the car, though, I held out my phone to Billy. “Here, press the call button.” I didn’t get this little idea until after the talk with Master Academy’s people.
He looked at it, looked at me, then looked at it again and pressed the button. Back in the warehouse, the semi and the trailer behind it blew. Billy freaked out when he heard it and realized what it was. “Jesus! You said cars didn’t just explode!”
“Nope, but trucks do, when you get the idea to stuff some C4 into them. Relax, that way no one can say for sure that we didn’t have the goods in it, and it could have been heroes or whoever was back there alike,” I smiled at him, and at Sgt. Pepper in the driver’s seat.
Sgt. Pepper chewed on a toothpick and told us, “Buckle your seatbelts,” before driving off.
Except when we went to meet Mary and Blue Sky in the parking lot of a defunct mall, we found no truck and trailer in sight. They were still there, of course, zip-tied in the back seat of the car.
“Heya,” said Blue Sky, ignoring a glaring Mary. “Turns out Butterfly planned to screw us.”
“He found us and took the tanker,” added Mary.
“He left a note, though,” said Billy, looking much calmer after a little drive. He pointed to an envelope underneath the windshield wiper.
After we got Mary and Blue loose, Pepper read the letter to us. “Dear team, if you’re reading this, congratulations. You have met my expectations. I know this looks bad, but I fully intend to honor my part of our deal. Please meet with me in the room this Friday if you wish to get your just rewards for such an excellent job. You can choose not to get paid if you want. Thank you for all of your hard work, J.”
We all looked at each other, and at the letter, contemplating the intelligence, or lack thereof, that would be involved in meeting that date.
Mary was the one who spoke up. “You know he’s going to betray us, right?”
So, where would a company of mercenaries hide a black project dump site? Where does someone stuff an Avrocar or flechette machine guns? I’m curious. I need to know, in case I grab something while I’m there. It’s not that I need a flechette machine gun, and I don’t really care to use guns in general, but come on, people. Flechette. Machine gun.
At one point, the U.S. Military realized that emphasizing spray and pray had reduced the accuracy of their soldiers just a bit, so they asked some companies to put together guns that fired ammo which would split apart into multiple sharp flechettes. They didn’t just go with shotguns, presumably due to limited range. Then again, if you’re having trouble shooting junk with a rifle, moving closer and using a shotgun isn’t a bad idea.
That part’s all well and good, with the project getting abandoned and some companies that participated even showing off their prototypes nowadays. What I found out at one point during my tenure as Leader of the Not-Free World was that another part of the project was for heavier guns with flechette capability.They wanted something that could be fired from a .50 caliber rifle and take out an entire squad in one shot.
I didn’t have time to delve into that kind of stuff as much as I wanted, or save it all to memory. Sadly, I don’t know if they ever considered combining flechette rounds with miniguns. I just know that if that gun is in there, I would do some really naughty things to the barrel that would mess with its ability to fire.
Maybe I’m getting my hopes up. Maybe the place is stacked with MREs laced with aggression enhancing drugs that also lower inhibitions. Maybe they cloned a giant war dodo for urban cavalry engagements. Maybe THAT is where they are keeping Gary Coleman cryogenically frozen after faking his death. It’s not for an experiment or anything. The dude’s just really got a lot of anger management problems. Some say his fury grows inversely proportional to how much he shrinks.
Whether or not we unearth the resting place of Gary Coleman and suffer the midget’s curse, we still have to get in. Luckily for us, that was one of the handy pieces of info our friend Johnny Butterfly could provide. So where did they decide to hide this potentially-amazing repository of government secrets?
“Ok, it’s under a RadioShack,” said the old fellow.
“You sure, old man?” asked the young Latino.
The older crook turned to glare at him. “Call me Sgt. Pepper and his friggin’ Lonely Hearts Club band before you call me old man again, punk.”
“You got it, Sgt. Pepper,” I said, throwing out a mock salute. He didn’t glare so much at me.
Behind me, a snort revealed that our team sot had finished taking a sip and was now joining in the conversation. “Who am I supposed to be, Mr. Blue Sky?”
“Hail Mary!” said the black woman. When Sky and the Latino looked to her, she said, “It’s by ‘Pac. That or you call me California Love.”
“Probably best to stick with first impressions so we aren’t changing everything all the time, Mary,” I said.
“Who are you supposed to be then?” asked the only other unnamed person besides me.
I shrugged. “I’m the one they call Dr. Feelgood. I’m the one who makes you feel alright.”
That one did not get a lot of approval. Blue Sky immediately blew out beer. “I call bull. I am not going to call you Feelgood for this whole thing.”
It was Sgt. Pepper who came to my defense. “Then call him Doctor, Christ.”
“Hey, I only answer to Christ on Sundays. Otherwise, it’s Feelgood,” I turned to the remaining unnamed member of our group. “The world wants to know: what poorly-thought out name do we get to call you for the extent of this relationship?”
He looked between all of us and took a moment to roll his shoulders and try to put on a tough front for a second before muttering. “Billy. Billie Jean.”
I shrugged. “Well, you’re not my lover, just a boy who says that I am the one.”
“Knock it off already,” said Sgt. Pepper. “We officially called this meeting t’order, or don’t you remember?” He stabbed a finger down at the printout of the photos showing the RadioShack in question. “This is where they hid it.”
Mr. Blue Sky wandered over. “Makes sense. People expect to see a bunch of useless old junk there, but nobody ever goes in. Perfect.”
It certainly fit. I don’t know anyone who has ever gone into a RadioShack, and the stories they tell of the company’s employees suggest you could put an entire stockpile of military experiments right underneath them with no one the wiser. Or they’re just mercenaries literally being paid to act like that. Come to think of it, I don’t think this was the first time RadioShack’s name came up in relation to United States black projects. No wonder that company somehow manages to keep surviving.
“It wouldn’t matter if they go in,” Sgt. Pepper explained. “It’s all unnerground. Look at the annotations here; this guy says you pull that lever inside the toilet to get in.”
“Isn’t that the fill valve?” asked Mary. “That thing’s gotta go off anytime someones uses the bathroom. They have to all be guards.”
Billie shook his head. “Naw. My cousin, he once worked in one of these. The bathroom was out of order constantly. They never called a plumber. He said some other guy he knew moved to Tucson, got a job at a store down there. They had the same problem there. I bet those are all like this one.”
“That’s not going to be a good way in,” I said. “We can’t just waltz in, unless they’re expecting military-grade waltzers. Maybe a Waltzer PPK. Nah. We need blueprints for this place. Some better scouting around for anything. Pipes, vents, another entrance. It’s a really bad idea to only have one entrance to a hidden underground anything. Makes it too easy to lock ’em in and flood the place until they aren’t a problem.”
“Flood the place,” asked Mary. “You’re a little sick, aren’t you?”
“It doesn’t have to be water,” I said, trying to ease the dirty looks the group was giving me. “Could be urine or blood, or even a gas. Like mustard gas. Tends to accumulate lower down, so it’s perfect.”
Muttering to himself, Pepper took out a pack of cigarettes. He smacked it a couple times to wake up the cancer, then pulled out one to light. “If, by the humor of God, we take a prisoner during all this, you,” he pointed to me and took a deep drag of his cigarette, “Are not allowed to dance around and take a razor to his ear, y’hear?”
I rolled my eyes, which looked perfectly human thanks to all the hard work spent making sure they had limited ability to blend in. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I was young. I needed the money. Besides, I warned the guy to keep his hands off me. ‘Dad,’ I said, ‘I’m pretty sure nobody else’s explanation of the birds and the bees involved their dad taking them to the champagne room of a strip club looking for the student discount.’”
Apparently they didn’t appreciate my sense of humor, but I like to think I laid the groundwork to let all kinds of stuff slip and not be paid any particular attention unless it’s about the job in question. I took a closer look over some of the invoices for maintenance that Butterfly had dropped off. “Recent installation of an elevator with cameras and wireless ID access. Special maintenance of pressure sensor floors that log where someone goes. Replacement retinal scanners. This place is going to be one tough nut to crack. I wish we had more to go on than just these. If we knew how frequently they have to do all this, maybe we could get in. Or exploit a potential weakness if something really needs that maintenance.”
Mary shoved me out of the way and read something, then poked at a line item. “No. The software needs patching, but there’s no other reason this needs personal maintenance unless something is damaging it.”
Curmudgeonly old Sgt. Pepper stated the obvious conclusion. “They’re runnin’ up the costs for the govment. The system’s fine. We gotta getta ’round it.”
If not for that darn block. Retinal scans are not very secure. Neither are DNA scans, fingerprints, or hand prints. It’s not like body parts are that hard to rip off. But still pretty funny that they’re ripping people off. I wonder who, if anyone, paid the bills when I was in charge.
Geez, I’m starting to feel like an idiot.
“I don’t know why we were all picked, if there are certain skills the big Butter saw in us, but I happen to have some knowledge that’ll help us on this one. So I got some ideas. We could show up to audit the place. Suits, ties, a bunch of proper identification.”
“We’d never get in.” That came from Mr. Blue Sky. “They’ll do everything they can to hold us out and keep us from seeing things aren’t up to snuff for an audit. I’ve worked for a company before. Not this company.”
That got some interested looks from the rest of our bunch. He ignored them by pulling out another beer from the interior of his jacket and popping it open. “Before you ask, I wasn’t field operations.”
“Then forget an audit, we play agents bringing them a new thing to store,” I said.
“You got some experimental military hardware hidden somewhere we can drag in?” asked Pepper.
I shrugged. “Actually, yeah. I just might. This can work.”
And so we set about getting what we need. We all need to pick up a suit. Blue Sky and Billie Jean are seeing to transport. We need a semi truck and trailer, and some good wheels to pass as a government car. Pepper knows someone who can print up the fake ID cards. I had to take a moment with him and Hail Mary to check through information I had stored from my time in control. Information on cover agents. Hail Mary says she should be able to spoof the wireless identification if it comes down to that. Between the two of them, we’ll have conventional and digital methods of impersonation covered. She even claimed she thought she knew how to get past the retinal scanners even without anyone’s eyeballs. She’s sure, somehow, it’ll be necessary.
Who knows? Maybe it will be. Not like I can just tear out a merc’s eyes for it. I have to figure out our advanced technology. Well, not figure out. More like, steal Venus’s exoskeleton and paint it so it looks like something a soldier would possibly wear.
The best way to get something I technically should own is to just walk in like we pay for the place.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” These were the words of Johnny Butterfly, who deigned to speak with me personally. A most unusual way of doing business. “These are desperate times for many people. That desperation breeds opportunity. Let’s change the phrase around then: opportunistic times call for opportunistic people.”
“These must be unusual times to be giving us this speech like this,” said one of the others in the room. An older man, with grey hair and plenty of lines. “We’re here for work.”
“He wants to pay us to sit around and listen, that’s fine with me,” said a pot-bellied fellow in the grips of middle-age. He almost had a mullet the way his curly black hair hung down the back of his head. He smelled like he’d been drinking, though this was ten in the morning. A bit early for me to be up, let alone drunk.
Butterfly took it in stride. He sat, a thin man in a pinstripe suit, clean shaven, with hair just a little gelled up. Late twenties. His tie was deep purple purple, almost black. For all his boldness, that was the extent of his unusual visual affectations. It was more than enough, especially meeting us like this. Basement or not, secret passage to the neighboring buildings or not, it’s not normal for a crimeboss to meet with some random collection of independent contracting thieves in person.
I’m all for someone doing things in unusual ways, and that’s also why I’m paying attention. I think we all are, except for the drunk. It’s me, old guy, drunk guy, a Hispanic teen trying in vain to grow a mustache, and a husky black woman with her hair dyed bright red and pulled back in a ponytail. A regular bunch of reservoir dogs are we. And utterly expendable.
“This is an unusual meeting because this is an unusual job. I am not tasking my usual men for this because the situation is so unorthodox, but at the same time I am not paying in the usual way. I wanted you to believe this is serious, because it will sound like a joke.”
“What’s the punchline?” asked our dark-skinned double-minority. She counts for double for our affirmative criminal action. Actually, she almost balances out, the way crime works. Her being black, she’d normally draw far more heat than the rest of us. But she’s a woman. Part of that whole storyline about women being fragile things that can’t work and must stay in the kitchen while the men do manly things also says women are weaker than men and therefore cannot compete. Not as fast, strong, nor can they dare to best the mighty menfolk. It tends to mean that women don’t get picked up as often, and they get shorter sentences. When men say they want women in that damn kitchen, they damn well mean they want them there instead of prison.
That means the only person we can rely on dumping all the blame on is the Hispanic guy. And I hear this latest president-elect guy’s trying to get rid of them. It just isn’t right. If they get rid of all the Hispanic criminals, white people might start getting arrested instead!
“The punchline is that this city has the biggest hidden reserve of medical nanotechnology in black storage,” he said.
“Excuse me?” the black lady butted in.
Butterfly held up his hand. “It is a secret repository for sensitive materials being used as part of black projects for the military or the intelligence agencies. This one is a private facility. Privatization is the future, so they hired a private military company to maintain and guard a site for them. These honest capitalists love to make money on the side and someone lost the paperwork for a large shipment of medical nanotech purchased by the government and so secret that this was the only set of paperwork in existence. The person who knew all this and informed me of it has passed away, meaning the company does not even know what it has in storage.”
I raised a hand. Butterfly pointed over at me. “Yes?”
“Ok, so I’m getting something of an understanding here. You want us to break into a private black site hidden somewhere in this city, guarded by mercenaries, and somehow escape with the entire thing. Because I was told my part in this would be non-violent.” Oh how I regretted not being allowed to hurt people outside of name-calling. Sticks and stones break their bones, but words aren’t a very good response to a squad full of mercs going Rambo ape-titties on me. I can do amazing things with all sorts of everyday stuff and a human body, but it’s harder to talk someone to death. Not impossible, but I’m not a little kid.
“You’re right, that plan would never work,” he said. I wouldn’t say never, but I’d have to be myself again to make it work. “Instead, we need to find a way to alter the shipping information so that the container is transported. We quietly divert that shipment and everyone goes home a winner.” Butterfly finished and flashed a smile I could almost hear ding.
“Not everyone,” said the Hispanic youth, looking around at us. “Not the people expecting that shipment.”
The older fellow guffawed. “Cocky little guy, aren’t you?”
Butterfly showed us to one of his other properties through one of the basement tunnels. We came out in the back room of a bar. It looked like the sort of worn old room they’d use for private functions, with more than an ample table for our little party. “Everything you want will be provided for here. Maps, computers, equipment. Inform Lindon the manager and he will get it for you on my tab. After this, you have no more contact with me in any way, but you also do not discuss this with any of my men. Lindon is here to provide you space and equipment. I will have everything my people know complied and sent over in the morning. Until then, enjoy your new book club or anonymous group. Whatever you call yourselves to the public.”
He shot us another sharp smile that belonged in a dentist’s commercial and pulled the wall closed behind us, leaving us milling around there. “That’s not a bad idea about the anonymous. We could pretend we’re an AA group,” said the black woman.
“Yeah right,” said the drunk. “I am not quitting for this.”
“You think you would for the sake of… this,” responded the older guy, trying to beat around the bush.
The youngest man of our bunch still preferred being open about what he did to the bush. “This isn’t right. He’s going to set us up or something.”
“Watch too many movies, kid?” asked the lush.
“Kid,” the elderly crook raised a hand. “I’m not saying anyone’s setting anyone up, but even if someone was, I wouldn’t talk about it in the man’s own bar, in a room he has a secret door to, where we’re probably being listened to.”
“Retarded.” Our token woman shook her head, looking at the youth.
I just rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Our little Foot Fetish Support Group can call itself whatever we want, even meet where we want. But there’s nothing to worry about unless we’re successful. Let’s focus on that first. And figure out why what we can all do so we can make this happen.”
Right off the bat, though, I figured myself, the young guy, and the old one definitely knew our odds of an easy walk-away on this one. Two of us just weren’t dumb enough to talk about it in a room so full of ears, the walls might as well be made of corn. This situation stank, and not just because the last group in this room loved their lutefisk.
The folks back at Master Academy didn’t even ask where I’d been this time. They were busy, and had a way to track me. Besides, they’ve gotten used to my wandering about without causing too much trouble or exposing myself. I don’t think it’s stupidity so much as the problem with constant vigilance. People always lapse.
Instead, I was just heading to the cafeteria when Venus stepped out of a side room, dressed for working out. “Hey!” she said. “You’re just in time!”
“For what? Taco Tuesday?” Like Fried-Chicken Friday, Spaghetti Saturday, and Sundae Monday, it’s one of the special meal days staggered so that they aren’t every week.
She grabbed my arm and started walking me back down the hallway toward the gym. “Nope. I need a partner for a demonstration. You’re volunteering.
I turned and walked with her. “Ah, I was wondering if y’all taught Sex Ed.”
“Keep wondering. This is for Phys Ed.”
“Right. Instead of doggy style, we’ll go downward-facing dog style, right?”
“This is going to be fun.”
What turned out to be so fun was us walking into a gym with several students of all ages sitting around on the bench. Mats were laid out on the floor, and Psychsaur stood holding some gloves. I kicked off my shoes, then pulled off my Behemoth jacket and t-shirt, the latter of which had “Harder!” written on its back.
Venus smiled up at them. “I found someone who agreed to my demonstration. Maybe you’ve seen our guest here, Puss in Boots.”
“Remember to keep the pants on,” Psychsaur said, holding out some gloves.
I took them and slipped them on. “Remember to let me fight back.”
She rolled her eyes and stepped aside, a smirk across her scaley face.
Venus called out to me as she circled around to the opposite side of the mat. “You’re fit, right? I don’t have to handle you with baby gloves?”
I pointed to the scar on my chest. Just a scar. I’m not entirely familiar with the amount of time it takes to heal from everything they’d done to me, but a trip through the arcade machine did me some good in that regard. I doubt I’m quite as fit as when all the muscle would be repaired and maintained by nanites, but there’s no need to let Venus in on that one. “When it comes to me, we aren’t talking baby anything. But if you’re ever looking for baby gloves, I might know a guy who can get them nice and authentic. None of that faux-baby pleather.”
I pounded away at my chest, making sure I didn’t have anything loose on the inside. Body by arcade machine doesn’t normally mean good health, so it’s best to check that sort of thing before strenuous activity with my nemesis. I smiled at Venus as I did it, who returned one that had less good humor in it. “And there’s the dead baby joke. It’s going to feel good shutting you up again, even just like this.”
Based on the calls coming from the stands, some of the students clearly enjoyed out back and forth. I saw money pulled out for bets. I also saw Venus stretching. She noticed me watching. “Are you going to stare and get your butt kicked, or are you going to limber up too?”
“I think a part of me’s already lumber… I mean limber… but okily dokily.” I began a kata, which I knew she’d know was unusual for me. I even through in a couple of ridiculous spin kicks just to play around. When I saw she’d finished and stepped onto the mat, I stopped, got my feet under me, and attempted a backflip. I landed on my face and stumbled up and onto the mat, apparently still unbalanced.
I heard Venus approaching by her laughter and running. I whipped around and caught a leg that she tried to put through my back. I dropped her to the ground and got a couple of good punches in before she slid loose and rolled back. I kept throwing punches, hitting the mat as she evaded each time. Still not quite balanced, I brought both hands down where I hoped to catch the back of her head, but she got onto her knees. So I leaned toward her and put my weight on my forearms. I brought my bare feet up to kick at her face with the bottoms. That time I made contact, though the constant attacking left me in an awkward position. Probably something you’d see in yoga, actually.
We both had to take a moment, though. After the impact, I swung my feet forward and twisted around into a crouch. A few feet out of reach, I saw Venus rubbing her cheek. “That’s why you never underestimate an opponent, even one who doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing.”
I stood up and smiled at her. “If I don’t know what I’m doing, how are you going to figure it out?”
“Maybe I’ll brute force it,” she said. She moved closer and threw a couple punches toward my head to scout my reaction. Not too fast. She wanted me to dodge them. When she tried it a third time and I dodged, she brought her leg up and caught me in the side with her shin. I grabbed the leg with both hands, though. Not a good position for her to be in. So she just jumped up and caught me under the chin with her other foot while doing a backflip.
It’d been awhile since I tasted blood. Can’t say I prefer my own flavor. I like my bodily fluids either where they belong or where I put them. “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood,” I said as I got to my feet. I saw she hadn’t completed her little flip either. Rather than wait for either of us to get up, I threw my weight forward and straightened up by thrusting my knee upward about where her face was. She moved her head to the side just enough, grabbed my thigh, and lifted. I went down with her on top of me and an audience of eager schoolchildren. I still wished this as Sex Ed, but she grabbed my arm and shifted to try and put my in an armbar.
She tried to extend my arm, but I grabbed hold of it and got my feet under me. When I pulled up, she let go and stayed on the ground. I, meanwhile, shot right up and off balance. Then someone, presumably Venus, decided I needed to be back on the ground. She grabbed my ankles out from under me, sending me back to the ground but with a bit less air. Instead of my arm, she went for my leg, wrapping hers around my right leg and twisting it at the knee and ankle.
I just growled and kicked at her, trying to find a face or boob or anywhere painful to hit. “Tap out!” she called to me, followed quickly by, “Ugh!” since I found her face from the sound. She didn’t let go, though. I sat up to throw a fist into her face, but found she beat me to the punch.
Things got a bit fuzzy there for a few minutes until the nice doctor lady gave me something that made me feel real nice and started putting me through all kinds of tests. Not an MRI, but there was an x-ray machine and several needles involved. It’s like they had it all ready. When I got out of the school infirmary an hour later, Venus was even there to help give me a hand, and my clothes. “How was it?” she asked.
“I’m surprised at the rapidididity of the response,” I answered. “And why did she give me a colonoscopy?” I saw her offered arm and grudgingly took her up on the offer. The drugs were wearing off, and I’d acquired a limp. Not the sort of limp a little blue pill could fix, either.
“After all the fuss you gave the other doctors, we thought it would work better to do a work-up while you were otherwise preoccupied.” She sounded all nice and cheerful.
I’d have stopped, but at that point I wanted to get back to the library and find a nice pile of paperbacks to lay down on. “Did you just beat me up to make me go to the doctor?”
“Congratulations, your colon is clean,” she said.
“Oh? Got your foot out of there already, you unethical bastige?” So going to kill her. Gonna kill her dead.
“You can always ask for a rematch.”
I tried to take one right there, but my hand stopped in midair. She pushed it away and said, “Ask for one, with a please and a thank you.”
Screw it. Set-up or not, I’m gonna crime so hard, everything’s gonna be stolen. I’m gonna be walking around with three watches on my arm, and another two in my pocket, all stolen. Next time I see a baby with candy? Better give it over. And they better not ask me to be in some sort of school baseball team. Never mind the danger, it’s time to rip some people off like they’re Band-Aids.
The first step was finding a nice place in the library for all these lovely medical supplies I seem to have tripped over and found. I can sell the pain pills at least, but I’m not yet sure what I can use this X-ray for. Maybe reheating leftovers.