Like most people, I’d gone my entire life avoiding Alabama. I’d been to Paradise City, FL before, but I tried to go there through Georgia. Not much better, though Georgia does have marginally fewer pedophile politicians. I would know. I have all their FBI files. That’s why nobody in the state ever reported an unregistered jet flying in with a power-armored visitor onboard. I wanted to save some of the information for later, so I slipped them some counterfeit money instead. They’re just Alabamans. No need to spend the good money on them.
I had various contacts in the criminal air travel industry, some old, many new. One of them flew in on his very own black, unregistered helicopter. Again, I know shit about Alabama politicians you wouldn’t believe. This state has a problem.
It was the black helicopter that flew me out to Abnormal, Alabama. I didn’t name the fucking place. They have a place called Normal, Alabama in the northern end of the state. Turns out they have an Abnormal, Alabama in the south. Abnormal, Alabama has finally lived up to its name. Somehow Ricca’s Special Intelligence Service was the first to figure out there were a shitload of unusual incidents. It became a freaky intersection of magic, extraterrestrials, and superhumans, all warded off by a plucky team of teenagers with attitude.
I read through Ricca’s specific dossier on the whole thing. Interesting adventures, if not really world-threatening. I’m sure they had lots of drama of their own, but the part I was most interested in involved the Riccan agent’s own child being the team’s sidekick. I’m sure it’s all fascinating, but I’m here to help pull him out of a risky situation. The situational briefing said he’d been working to try and turn or sabotage the team while maintaining cover and manipulating events from behind the scenes as a prominent member of the community.
I had Hu let the agent know I was on my way. He included a postscript revealing that I’m cool and unlikely to murder him for failure. I didn’t even have to tell him to put it, either. He activated an emergency transponder to lead myself and my freelance pilot right to him. When smoke drifted up from the location off in the woods, we knew we were close. And fashionably late.
We came to a stop above a clearing with a log cabin in it. A large and formerly expensive truck sat nearby. On fire. Hence the “formerly expensive” designation. Out in the yard, a teenage boy stood looking back at the cabin from near the truck. In the cabin doorway stood our man, rifle in hand. By the clearing stood four people in makeshift costumes. That’d be the teens’ team. The boy by the truck started to walk toward them, but our agent fired a beam that swept across the ground in front of him and left a line of fire for a brief second.
I couldn’t make out all the things shouted back and forth among tears and flames, so I figured I’d drop down and give a listen. I landed with a lot of give, hitting my knee briefly before popping up onto my feet. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’m looking for a good time.” I cracked the knuckles on my gauntlets here for emphasis. “Have I found it?”
“This must be the freak your dad works for,” said whatever teen heartthrob died and made his own self leader of the group. “Step.”
Before I could figure out the brass balls on some teenager trying to tell me to step, I saw one of them in a blue and white spandex suit blur.
Now, my cybernetically enhanced brain can easily overclock to think fast enough to handle super speed, and my eyes can even keep track of it, but my all too fleshy reflexes and muscles just aren’t designed for that sort of thing. That’s why they were back in Ricca, pinned down by a sleeping Qiang who I didn’t want to move in case she woke up and stopped making such a funny and cute face.
Fun thing is, a robotic body can be much more responsive. The three “eyes” on the helmet of the Dudebot I sent fired lasers. I like lasers. They’re colorful, there’s less lead exposure, and they move pretty darn fast. Fast enough, in fact, that the nubile teen… boy, I guess? Let’s go with that. The boy skidded to a slow stop, holding his smoking shoulder. “I thought that was spot on. I’ll have to get that adjusted when I have time for it. Should have plenty of time to do that here in a minute or two.”
The main one looked to the other two in the group, a black girl with headphones on, and a white girl in more spandex. With the black bottoms on, the latter looked more like a ballet dancer. He called out to them, “Pop and Lock time.”
The ballet girl held her arms out to the side and my Dudebot did the same despite me not telling it to. The motors in its arms struggled against whatever force held it in the girl’s position. The hands could still move, but the arms wouldn’t lower no matter how much I tried. The other girl put her hands on her headphones and tapped a button on the side. The resulting cacophony of sound jolted me into nearly waking up Qiang until I had the Dudebot mute it. It was like a bunch of little sonic booms going off next to the Dudebot’s head, at least as far as sound is concerned.
The guy said something I couldn’t make out without sound. I could read his lips a little since his mask was basically a red bandana, but something about “Dime to show us all.” He leaned forward and sent dirt flying as he sprinted toward me with all the speed of a horny teenager.
I fired off the rockets in the gauntlets. They separated from the Dudebot’s arms and flew around, curving to smack Pop and Lock in their heads. They both fell, putting an end to my arm raisings, but still left me with a charging teen. With full motor control once again possible, I slammed the Dudebot’s head down in a headbutt… to the groin. I unmuted the situation in time to hear him mutter something about. “My one weakness,” before he clutched them and bent over.
I recalled the bot’s hands to their proper places, then raised raised his chin up with the left one. “A little higher, just a little more. There, perfect.” I wound up and clocked him one in the jaw that sent him flying. He embedded in a tree that then fell over in this direction, pinning him there. But the robot’s fist and head were registering significant blunt damage to the internals, so I suspect he’d live through it all. I figured the leader of this bunch as a brick. With my help, he briefly became a flying brick.
“Hussle!” shouted the black girl and the uncostumed kid still standing around. They both rushed to the other guy’s side.
As for me, I turned to my agent. “It’s time to go. Will it just be you joining me on this flight?” I cocked the bot’s head back toward the teens. “It sounds like you’re expecting at least one guest.”
“I’ll never go with you!” yelled the man’s son.
The man appeared more sheepish now, in his dress pants and his longsleeve shirt and holding his laser fire rifle. “He and his mother don’t understand. They were part of my cover,” I looked back to them. Perceiving a threat there, the father hurriedly added, “And I love them both.”
“They are loose ends,” I pointed out.
“Who are they going to tell? Who would believe them?” he asked. Stupid questions, but I noticed the way his hold on the rifle twitched. He wanted to point it at my back.
I whirled on him and approached. He bowed quickly and held it. Quietly, so only the pair of us could here, I said, “Pst. Beg me to spare them loud enough so they can hear.”
“Your Imperial Augustness?” Oooh, Augustness. Don’t hear that one often. Maybe I should keep a tally on each new form of address.
“No, trust me, go with it,” I assured him. Louder, I asked, “What was that?”
“No- My-… Emperor, if my service has been of any value to you, I ask you a kindness just this once. Spare them. He’s my son, and they are his friends. They just… misguided.” He never rose from the bow, though.
I let those words hang in there are for a couple of seconds, then placed the robot’s hand on his head. “Fine then, whatever your name is. Just this once. Now hurry up and into the chopper.” I signaled the pilot, who began to descend. I turned to the teenage hero team. “But just this once. Pray you don’t encounter me twice,” I told them. Then I grabbed the agent and hopped into the chopper with him.
The flight out of there was much more pleasant, I thought. After closing the doors, I pushed a cooler over to the man trying to figure out what to do now that the life he built collapsed. “Here, have a cold one. Have as many cold ones as you need right now. The debriefing can wait until after your hangover.”
He took me up on it. I like to think I’m not that bad of a boss.
He was still sleeping the whole thing over when I loaded him into the jet and we stopped off at Paradise City International Airport. I left him behind on the jet and passed some cash to the luggage people. “If anyone gets the drug sniffing dogs out, I’d appreciate it if y’all could get some of whatever they find and send it to this guy in here, especially if it’s pot. He’s had a hell of a week.”
The baggage handlers smiled and pocketed the money.
The Dudebot was welcomed through the oh-so-conspicuous front door of the Paradise City Casino, for lack of a formal name, the seat of power for Ouroboros. Ouroboros isn’t the biggest or strongest, but he managed to become the crime lord, and de facto boss, of Paradise City. His casino is a major source of revenue for a beach-front tourist city that lacks any other major source of income. As I found out from the last time I was in Paradise City, he’s adept at handling a major drug cartel and the Yakuza.
Also, he locked me in a vault to hand over to the superheroes chasing me. My visit could have gone better.
I didn’t actually enter the lavish temple of cash and chance this time. I couldn’t get any signals coming in or out of the place, so I didn’t risk sending the Dudebot in and handing over a deactivated robot with a bunch of fancy stuff attached to it.
I stopped the Dudebot in front of the place and waited patiently. My table would be arriving shortly. That wasn’t some expectation of being served by the guy, either. I had a table loaded in a rocket and shot across the world. The thing drifted in carried by a quartet of drones. Another two carried a reinforced chair strong enough to hold the Dudebot, and I sat it down there, waiting with fingers folded. He knew I was in town, and he had to have some inkling I wanted to talk. I’d left him a drunken voicemail, after all.
Ouroboros is not stupid, which led to a couple contradictory courses of action. I’m still the best assassin around, so it’d be smart to not meet me outside. I’m also a world leader making my nation a one stop shop for illicit everything. I heard we even have a store that sells both exotic snakes and exotic snakeskin boots. They sell hats and belts, too. They’d never get through the anacondas otherwise. Great jerky place next door. I took Qiang out for some, seeing what she likes. She had fun playing with some of the animals, too.
But that was in Ricca. In Paradise City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, I sat near the dead grass and stared at a woman made hideous by lack of sleep and surplus of booze. I didn’t wait all night. I was willing to wait pat of the time, as a show of good faith, but I did leave before he got there. I even included a little note on the table, courtesy of the Dudebot’s lasers.
“Keep the table, and this lovely chair. It is the only seat you will have at the table.”
Minor backfire there, him not seeing me. I meant to pick a big name here to legitimize the whole thing, like when someone who knows their stuff endorses something. But it’s not all for naught. I got an RSVP in the affirmative for Mix N’Max, a lot of interest from some others, and a yes from Spinetingler. I didn’t even know I knew his email address. I didn’t even know there were still bellsouth.net addresses active.
I also received emails from villains leading crews for the Yakuza and the local cartel. They sense an opportunity, so I’ll stick around. After all, I’ve got a spare seat to fill.