So I’m slightly closer to figuring things out. Out on my own, I’ve gone through the Ukrainian connection and don’t have to worry about fighting them unless I want to avenge Michelangelo. I’ll pencil that in for later. I also found Dr. Creeper and his old-fashioned laboratory of mad science. Nice guy. The soup wasn’t much, but I can hardly criticize him for not preparing a grand feast when he didn’t even know I’d be sneaking in. And that covers who the equipment went to and how it got onto the militia assholes.
That leaves me looking for a man with a golden eyeball. That’s a bit tougher, especially without the benefit of something like a gold detector. He’s got to be around here somewhere.
As far as here goes, the city’s not dead yet. Maybe I’m worrying more than I needed to, but construction is just pounding away. There are still tensions. The police don’t like the military being around or the militant heroes. Master Academy, older heroes, and the reformed villains don’t much care for the militant heroes or military. Then again, the reformed villains don’t necessarily get along with all the older heroes, Master Academy, or the police, either. Either way, folks are learning to live and work together, Little by little, they’re blending and merging, until one day they’re all going to be one united people; living and working and dancing together like the news, or Ally McBeal, or the people that work at Saturn! I should stop it before it’s too late.
That’s not a major goal. Really, I just want to interrogate me some militant heroes. Those three who beat me when my battery was less armored should do it. If I can’t get them, then it’ll be time to track down their friends, who I already injured. Like that guy who was moved from the hospital just before the city was bombed!
Hmm. I never found that out. I wonder if that was the Ukrainians? It doesn’t strike me as Creeper’s style. I don’t know. The fact that the President talked as if there were explosions already before they happened makes it seem like it could have been related to the military. I mean, looking back, I don’t know if the Ukrainians just have that good of coordination with the White House, or if it’s exceptionally poor. Chances are good I can stab the answer to that out of the man with the golden eyeball.
Besides, the President has other things to deal with. Investigations, unpopular policies, and his former National Security Advisor turned out to be a foreign agent for Turkey. Out of the frying pan and into the fryer for that guy.
He’s not the only source of instability. While villain attacks are down in Empyreal City, they’re starting to pop up in other places. There’s a lot more social upheaval across the nation than I’d been seeing day to day, and that makes it easier. Agitates people with powers. Making someone with laser eyes feel powerless can be very good in the short term, but it tends to backfire.
Over in Australia, they’ve started fielding soldiers with alien-derived weapons and armor, courtesy of the downed ship there. Here in the United States, they’re still taking bids on which corporation gets to study the pieces and come up with its own private products instead. Meanwhile, the United States has declared it isn’t getting involved with its foreign defense obligations, meaning Europe and Japan are rearming like crazy. Russia’s circumvented most of the Ukraine to launch annexations of Eastern European countries, while Japan has The Claw to worry about in Korea and the Pacific. Poor Estonia’s getting fucked over now. Have some sympathy for all the Estoners out there.
Yep, there’s a lot going on in the world. That’s just what the news has to say on the wider political perspective. That’s not counting specific legislation in the U.S., or scandals, or in-depth economics. Nothing in there about state-level politics. I have enough to keep up with in my own life without focusing on everybody else’s ins-and-outs.
That stuff doesn’t necessarily affect me. I mean, sure, it’s good to know that the President’s businesses keep getting robbed, but that doesn’t do much to help me figure out the things I’m focusing on.
At the moment, that’s these militant heroes. I got bored calling them militia heroes, especially because I haven’t seen the actual militia guys around so much. Which makes me curious. I didn’t kill them all when I hit their camp, nor did the cops round them all up. Hell, the cops probably didn’t hold any of them.
I needed to draw out the militant heroes. And so I did. I just took a few days to work on a special project to welcome them, first.
I made my move by crashing a dump truck into the side of a building on Wall Street. I knew it’d attract attention. The place didn’t look all that impressive on the ground floor, though. A bunch of people in businesswear who had been sitting around at computers began diving and running around. I stepped out in my armor, walked over to one such computer, and stuck a USB drive in it. Behind me, I saw someone huddled under his desk pull out a phone and start recording me.
“There once was a dog with a bone,” I said to the man, without turning around. The computer hadn’t been left quite so open, but basic passwords could be broken into. Then I just had to get into the trading program. “He trotted along, so proud of it. So big and delicious. The best bone in the world. Then, one day, he’s walking along the river and looks down. There he sees another dog with another big, beautiful bone.” And in.
I began scrolling through. Very basic access to only a few accounts. Most stock trading is automated anyway. I didn’t need to do a thing to them. I just needed to access them, and then send an email to everyone in the company with a worm on it. “The dog got jealous and wanted this new bone for itself, too. So it attacked the dog in the water. In the process, it dropped the bone into the water and lost it forever.”
I turned to look right at the cowering person with their forthcoming viral video. “Or perhaps we should discuss the Wendigo. A spirit of greed and hunger that drives man to consume other men, making a man a monster in the process. I know, I sound like a bit of a hippie right now, but have you ever stopped to consider that this is a warning about very practical weaknesses? If a person is obsessed with money, you know they value it and don’t have enough to satisfy themselves, so they’re weaker at obtaining it than they’d like. If a person is obsessed with image, they value it but are bad at maintaining one. That’s why those most secure in something don’t have to worry about it.”
“What do you want?” asked the person.
I smiled. “Overall? To be free, I guess.”
“Does that mean you aren’t?” he asked.
“You’re catching on.” I smiled. “But I’m not here to worry myself over questions of philosophy overly much. Worry y’all, perhaps, but not myself. And free both of us. Also, there may be something about a giant chicken and a hidden agenda, but that’s just to be expected at this point.”
“Giant chickens are to be expected?” he asked.
“Of course. It’s unexpected chocolate that’s embarrassing. You don’t want that to happen to you.”
“Unexpected chocolate?” he asked.
I said nothing more as I went around, calmly pretending to do stuff on the computers. I’d already done all I actually needed to do, so instead I waited for a certain sort of attention to come my way.
The police showing up wasn’t an issue until they made a move for my dump truck. I sent those packing with bruises so bad, they were going to move in with their mothers and file for a restraining order against me.
I didn’t do much as hostage rescue teams cleared out other floors and otherwise got people to safety. Hell, I doubt very many of the higher-ups in the place wanted to leave me with their precious undefended computers. I wasn’t interested in the usual preachiness toward stockbrokers today, though. I just knew this was a target that would be defended.
Thirty minutes after I first careened down the road, cars onto the sidewalk, and then smashed through the wall, I heard the red, white, and blue chrome monstrosity they call a truck roar up to the place and come to a screeching stop. I’d been worried someone else would show up and attempt to stop me beforehand, actually. Maybe Master Academy peeked in somehow. All I know is, I got the number one thing on my Christmas list delivered. Now, it was time to get naughty.
I stepped out through the hole. “Greetings and salutations, jerkwads!”
They flashy-thingied me again. My eyes were compensating, but it was all part of the plan. While I pretended to be unable to see, I knew they’d advance. I grabbed a remote off my belt and pushed a button. The dump truck’s rear opened its door and lifted up, dropping the largest chicken grenade I’ve ever made into the street.
I heard the fire shoot out and scrambled around to hide in front of the truck. I overheard someone yell ,”Is that thing glowing?” “Hit it again!”
I made it just before the explosion. Not the biggest explosion, and it sounded rather wet. My vision cleared by the time I looked out and saw hot liquid chocolate covering the three heroes and a portion of the street out there.
Flamethrower was trying to pick himself up from the scorching hot chocolate that gunked up the arm that prompted me to give him that name. The one with a helmet and a pair of eyes that shot lasers wasn’t doing so hot either, also knocked down. The gooey gunk covered the eye lenses. As he stood up, a device rose from his spine, covered in more deliciously evil sweetness and unable to flash me again. Hit-Man stood, still. His giant piston fists had protected his face, and something rose from the ground behind his ankles as he started walking forward.
“You’re gonna pay for that, boy!”
I gently punched my own fist as I walked toward him. “Geez, asshole, loosen up. It’ll make this next part go easier.”
I think someone got a picture as we approached all Rocky 3 style, about to lay a beatdown on each other. Except this ending wasn’t going to be ambiguous. I telegraphed a punch, then spun my upper body and ducked, throwing my cape onto him. I detached it as I continued spinning. I jumped at the end of it, launching a kick against his head that sent him against the side of the dump truck. I slid a little trying to get my balance, but so did he. And he had to do it with a cape on his head after smacking against a truck.
Flamethrower stood there, trying to clear his arm. I smirked under my helmet as I approached. He took a few steps back, but I was on him in an instant, lifting him up and throwing him back against Hit-Man.
These guys weren’t so tough with their teamwork negated, let alone something to screw up their abilities. While Hit-Man turned and punched Flamethrower, I tore the flashbanger off Laser Eye’s spine and batted him in the head with it a few times. The first blows broke his lenses; the third knocked him down.
“Geez, and to think, you call yourselves superheroes. Then again, I suppose y’all are the only ones to do so, right?”
“Shut up, criminal!” Flamethrower yelled at me.
“Actually, talking is why I called this little meeting today. I’d been hoping to have a little chat with you. But first, let’s have some privacy.” I threw Laser Eye at them both and took off running. They caught their friend, but were unprepared for my jumping drop kick that took all of us into the building. I kipped up even as they had to stand back up. Dusting myself off, I put a little distance between myself and them.
“Okily dokily. Now that we’re in here, let’s fill in some blanks in the story. Ukrainian mob, Russian military, man with golden eyeball, a militia, and Dr. Creeper.”
“Fuck,” said Laser Eye. He stood up, trying to look around with his damaged and dirty cybernetic eyes.
“Language, language.” I sat down on one of the cushy office chairs. I rolled close to Hit-Man, who had removed my cape from his head. “I’ll take that.” When he raised a fist, I rolled back over to Laser Eye, who tripped into my lap. I held him like a baby, except with more neck support that could easily turn into neck damage if my hands twisted the wrong way.
“Let him go,” said Hit Man. He glared at me through a mask that was mainly white and red this time. His fists clenched, pistons shooting out and then easing back in along each knuckle.
“First, I want to know about your friend with the golden eyeball. Who he is, who he works for, and his goals are.”
“We can’t tell you that,” Hit-Man said. I noticed his eyes checking around to see if any cops or news crews had followed us in. He actually wasn’t paying attention to the correct direction. He missed the staffer with the phone hiding under his desk. The guy had stuck around to get more footage of everything and was busy recording again.
I shrugged. “Ok, you could refuse to tell me. But then I go out there and let everyone know all about the stuff I do know and how to check it. Some fellow with a golden eye hires y’all to come up here and pays the Ukrainian mob to give y’all special weapons to fight supers. Y’all managed to get a teen boy super hostage at some point, too. Then, when that base gets broken up, Goldy buys parts from the Ukrainians and hires Dr. Creeper to turn some of you into a little boy band of wannabe supers who are conveniently placed for when the city is bombed and the President sends in the military to force supers to register. Here y’all are, just ready to be his shining example of good, loyal heroes. So, ya see, there’s not much left I need to know, but I can always kill or cripple y’all to find out, which will likely raise some questions from your employer as to why he ever should have invested money into you in the first place.”
“Ha! We’re all prepared to die as patriots to this great nation,” Flamethrower said defiantly.
“Can I get a say in that?” asked Laser Eye with a trembling voice.
I leaned close to himand whispered in his year. “Shh. Let’s just both pretend that’s chocolate down there, ok?”
Hit-Man looked at Laser Eye, then turned to Flamethrower. He hit the other militant on the arm. “Keep a look out. We don’t want cameras following us in.”
Flamethrower huffed, but went to stand a bit closer to the hole in the wall, keeping an eye on the exterior.
Hit-Man looked to me and Laser Eye. “You’re not a real good hero, are you?”
I shook my head. “I’m not a hero. That’s why I don’t have to go to the police. I can drop off severed heads as easily as I can evidence. It also means I don’t care one bit about sending y’all to prison. I’m just quite curious, because I’ve gotten caught in the middle of all this. I want to understand it, determine if it’s a threat to me and my interests, and deal with it accordingly.”
“So this isn’t some anti-hero bullshit?” Hit-Man asked.
I shook my head in the negative again. “If you think the real superheroes would be here threatening to snap your friend’s neck after wrecking this place, you haven’t been paying attention. Just tell me, and I leave. Peacefully. No one’s here to say you didn’t fight me off only for me to escape through trickery. People will believe it. You’re stupid.”
“Hey!” called Flamethrower from the wall.
Hit-Man waved off his buddy’s complaint. “Fine. The man’s name is Arthur Union. He said he was part of a group trying to restore America to its rightful place in the world. I mean, at first the guys didn’t trust him, but he had so much money. Plus, he got us a meeting with someone important. He knew big people in politics. Someone would actually pay attention to what we wanted for once.”
Ah yes, for once the rich white men would in control. I let him go on. “Nobody said anything about Russians and Ukrainians. We just had to take some money and work with the President. We were going to be a big help. We’d be patriots. We didn’t know anything about the bombings.”
“Now here’s where I correct your memory, because it’s changing slightly to make you feel better. I know for a fact that one of your colleagues I’d hospitalized was removed from the building shortly before one of the bombs blew that place up.” I started stroking Laser Eye’s hair. He jerked at first, then tried to settle down.
“We didn’t know there would be a bomb. Union called up and said we needed to get our friend out of there. He would be in danger. We were supposed to get him and get out of the city, because something big was going to happen.”
I nodded. It could fit. He could still be lying to me, but it could fit, too. “So, Arthur Union. You know if that’s his real name?”
“Not for sure. He used a different one around us once. Arthur Urum. The guy’s connected. He knows people all over the world. Ukraine and Russia, true, but I once heard the guy speaking Japanese into his phone. That help any?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. How do I find him?”
He sighed. “You trying to get a guy killed?”
“I don’t care necessarily, but I also don’t care to tell him how I heard of him. Sound nice?” I crossed my arms.
He took a second to chew that over in his head before looking around. He grabbed a pen and a stack of sticky notes and jotted down an address. He held out it out for me. I took it and dropped Laser Eye, telling them, “If this is wrong, I’ll be back. There’s always further to fall, you know. I’m sure your friends know that personally.”
“Just get out of here,” he said.
I looked over the address and saved it to my hard drive before stuffing it into a pouch on my belt. As the ’90s proved, you can never have enough pouches. I stood up and gave them a mock bow. “Y’all head out the hole. I’ll disappear my way.”
“What’s your way?” he asked. I ignored it and cranked up my gauntlets. After a second of charging, I had bright blue glowing around my fists. I took a good look around the room, then stepped over to the spot I’d looked up. One good punch collapsed the floor and sent me into the sewer. Good thing I couldn’t smell it.
No, in my helmet, I smelled the sweet smell of victory. Victory, and unexpected chocolate in an explosive chicken package.