It’s surprising how easy it is to find a person by the name Dr. Creeper in Empyreal City. Mostly because I never thought anyone would use that as their legal name. That sucks. Someone needs to punch their mother. Which, if this guy’s documents are accurate, would involve digging her up from a grave. The dude’s old. Anyway, my expectations about his name weren’t reflected in reality. There were a few creepers in Empyreal City, don’t I know it, but only one Darron Creeper who was an old man.
I broke into his home, as anyone would on such a fact-finding mission. Fact-finding… wait a minute, am I working toward peace? That doesn’t sound right. I’m just heading to war through different means, obviously. Like diplomacy. Diplomacy is such a fun way to tell someone to go fuck themselves.
Anyway, I broke into old man Creeper’s place, a small house on the edge of Empyreal City. It would have cost a bit of money, which was circumstantial evidence in favor of the guy indeed being a mad scientist. The sane ones don’t get enough cash. Drives them bonkers. Next thing you know, they’re holding a Bunsen burner to someone’s face, demanding tenure and a sexy lab assistant. After a little time spent in prison, they realize the real money’s in laser miniguns and ice capade launchers.
So he had a nice little peeling green wood siding house with pale pink shutters. The yard was mowed, but with the strands close to the bare picket fence grown up. I circled the place and spotted a door down to a basement. I’m starting to think I need some sort of eye drone or some way of obtaining a visual without using my own eyes or my suit.
Well, I wasn’t likely to find his secret lair in the attic. Too small. Maybe in a mansion. Nah, I had to get into the basement.
The door was locked, a problem I solved through careful use of a fist-sized lock pick. As soon as I did so, a water sprinkler popped up behind me. Except, instead of water, it spurted flames at me. I pulled open the door and closed it shut against the flames. I’d landed on a stairwell that flattened itself, causing me to fall on my ass and slide down into the darkness.
At that point, I figured a stealthy entrance was no longer on the menu. The slide lasted several seconds longer than it would have in a normal house, and then a pair of saw blades emerged, spinning, ready to take a few pounds off me. I pushed myself forward to get my weight over the front of myself and jumped over them. I fell quite a distance, missing the bubbling pit of liquid at the bottom of the slide.
I hit the stealth, my holodiscs cloaking me in their current weak invisibility illusion.
“Who is poking around my lab?” asked a creaky old voice. I soon saw an old man puttering along at a good pace, special braces on his thin legs propelling him along with all the speed of a young man. He held a cane with a silver skull head in one hand. The other held a finned ray gun. Real retro. He had a head of evenly-trimmed, dark grey hair, just a bit curly in front. Longer than buzzcut, but not long enough for gravity to be an issue. His lab coat was a bright white Howie style that buttoned on the left side. A very meticulous mad scientist. They exist. Show me a mad scientist with his hair blown out, and I’ll show you a person who ran with a beaker they shouldn’t have. But then, they probably had more fun, too.
The man checked the bubbling pit, then turned suddenly, pointing the ray gun all over the place. “Come out now! I know what my acid pit looks like when someone falls in it!”
I adjusted the volume on my helmet so my voice could boom a bit and keep him from figuring out my location. “I am the Emperor of Earth, Psycho Gecko!”
The man listened carefully, then perked up and smiled. “Really? I thought you were dead. The explosion and the giant machine men…”
“I know, right? Eat your heart out, Jesus. He only had a crucifixion, a spear, and a boulder to deal with.”
The man squawked out a laugh. “What ever are you doing here, wherever you are? Would you perhaps like a glass of tea? I might have some cake leftover from the neighbor lady’s visit the other day.”
I dropped the illusion right in front of him. His hand came up with surprising dexterity. Even as I stepped to the side, I saw him twist his wrist to the other side so as to avoid aiming at me. He gave me a sheepish expression of apology. “Sorry, reflexes.”
I shrugged it off. “It happens. Truth is, I’m surprised you’re not hostile to me. Very few people are so friendly to me these days.”
Dr. Creeper slipped his ray gun into a special holster on his belt and waved me along. “Great men often make enemies. I am ecstatic to meet such a famous villain. You aren’t here to hurt me, are you?”
“Eh, I’m just here for information. Looking into something that concerns me.”
“You must excuse my accommodations, I operate on a much smaller scale than you do.” He passed me by and led my into his lab and, presumably, toward something other than tea to drink.
He showed me to a stark white lab where robotic arms moved along a criss-crossing network of pillars to assembled an old-fashioned giant robot. He noticed me looking. “Do you like it? It’s based on the old Donnermaschines from Germany. With modern advances in robotics and computers, these old designs are much more effective.” He smiled, proud of his creation even in its incomplete condition. It only had one arm, for instance; a gleaming gunmetal and black limb ending in a pincer.
“You have something of a retro thing going on,” I mused.
He nodded. “I have always wanted to be a supervillain, but I never found the time until after retiring. These old aesthetics remind me so much of my mother. Both of them, I suppose.”
I raised an eyebrow, not that he’d notice. “That must have been difficult to grow up with, given the way people thought about homosexuality.”
He snorted. “Goodness! No, I was adopted. My adoptive mother fought crime as Miss Fury. I am a little old to chase after muggers in a panther-skin costume, though. On the other hand, my mother was none other than Baroness von Kampf.”
That rung a bell. “German aristocrat and Nazi saboteur in the United States during World War II. Some misadventure ended with her getting branded with a swastika on her forehead. Operated out of Brazil for awhile there, which is the last place she was publicly spotted.”
“You have heard of her!” He clapped his hands together. “Having been abandoned in Brazil, I did not know her myself. There were problems, you see. It was in Brazil where someone branded her. She left me while fleeing her enemies. I was rescued by Marla Drake, who the public knew as Miss Fury.” He turned to indicate a room we had been headed toward. “Would you mind joining me for a meal? I was about to eat.”
“Sure, sounds good.” I nodded and began to follow after as we walked into a room that could have been mistaken for an office break room. “Dr. Drake would have a nice ring to it. So would Doctor von Kampf, though you’re a Baron, so Doctor Baron von Kampf? That’s a mouthful. Why be a Creeper?”
He set about getting everything set for us. “I have a granddaughter going into the supervillainy who wants to be the next Baroness von Kampf. I didn’t want to confuse anyone with our names. I named myself after one of my biological mother’s friends who I learned about her from. He was also a Nazi saboteur. Now I am the scientist Dr. Creeper and my granddaughter, Baroness von Kampf, uses his costume and daggers.”
“So there was a different Creeper?” I asked.
He shook his head as he poured out a bowl of some sort of chicken soup. “He was a very private man, so I keep his real full name to myself, and he did not have a codename like so many of the others. Names like Hyena, The Red Death, Captain Swastika, Hun. There were so many active in America. Now I am not a Nazi, and neither is my daughter, but it brings attention and makes us distinct.”
I shrugged. “True. Plus, you aren’t going around being called Baron Darron. That name doesn’t work at all. Anything to drink?”
“Beer, bourbon, whiskey, a little rum, and I think I still have vodka left upstairs.”
“Eh, I meant more like coke.”
He shook his head. “Oh no. I tried it once in college, but I preferred LSD.”
“Soft drinks,” I clarified, “Or perhaps sweet iced tea. Just something to drink, not something to get drunk off. Just something for the meal. Before we get distracted any further, though, I also want to ask if you know anything about any good ol’ boys getting turned into jet cyborgs, or being given superspeed legs.”
The doctor pulled some of the glass bottle Cokes out of the refrigerator and turned to reveal his face lit up. “You have seen my work?”
“I have. Not bad, though there are some weaknesses, if you don’t mind me saying.”
He shrugged and handed over a bottle. “The bones? I don’t care. I told them it would cost more to do it properly, but they accused me of trying to jack up the price of surgery. They weren’t even paying for what they were getting, but they still complained. I don’t care what it does to them.”
“Who was paying?” I asked. I tried the soup. Pretty good, if a bit less salt than I’d prefer.
“That is a good question,” he said between spoonfuls of soup. “The man who arranged for their outfitting provided money in place of affiliation or ID. He did not wear a uniform or costume. He did have a golden eye, though.”
“Like, just something gold-plated, or was it an actual golden false eye?” I asked to clarify.
“The latter. A man with a golden eye hired me to turn a small team of men into cyborg superheroes. I normally wouldn’t do this, but it was a lot of money.” He shrugged. “I heard a couple of them were beaten and the parts removed. They have not come back to me for re-installation.”
“Superhumans are only as strong as the person beneath it all. When your metal parts are bolted to bone, that’s doubly true,” I said. “I beat the one with the legs and the jet guy. If I don’t find this gold eye first, I might have to reap the rest. He was responsible for getting the parts to you?”
“Darn. I was going to ask you about Michelangelo, because the other guys would have lied to me on that, but I’m guessing you don’t know anymore on that.”
“I really don’t. I think they killed him and took over.”
“Probably. I liked Michelangelo, too. I might have to come back and finish them off when I get the chance.”
So I enjoyed my brief lunch with him and prepared to leave. Just like that. No fuss, no fight.
“Is there anything else you wanted?” he asked when he’d shown me to the front door. The early afternoon sun reflected off a shiny metal robot, its boxy frame looking like something out of the Jetsons mixed with a lawnmower. It rolled lazily across the lawn, moving at sharp angles to cut the grass.
“Nah, I think that’s it. Besides, if I need any more information on these guys, I can just call you, right?”
“Oh, of course! It was great to meet you. I would love to hear from you again. We could exchange methods and techniques, perhaps?”
“That’d be fun. Hey, thanks for having me. I owe you one, how about that? It’s not as easy to get ahold of me these days, but if you need a favor, know you can call one in on me, got it?” I shot him finger guns.
The old man practically bounced. “Thank you! I hope I’m never in that dire a situation, no offense, but I’m honored. Please, drop in again any time you’re in the neighborhood.”
See? Nice and smooth infiltration of a villain’s underground lair. I’d like to see a hero pull that off. No, really, I’m curious to see the ray gun in action. Some of that retro stuff’s coming back.