Tag Archives: Herne the Hunter

Local Politics 7

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I got to be mission control for a crime. Normally, I’m a hands-on kinda person, but watching and advising turned out to be fairly entertaining, too. Gave me an idea or two for the future, while we’re at it.

So the first part was fairly simple. When I’d talked to Professor Electro, we’d gone over that there were two main ways to start things. Either hit someplace smaller and leave enough of a mark that everyone knows he did it, or get it into position for the big score and perform a demonstration there. The problem is the lack of time. You start throwing lightning bolts around, you either wind up with significant police and hero attention or a bunch of worshipers. I suppose it depends on who you aim at and if anyone wants to base a system of governance on some guy on a mountain handing out lightning bolts.

We opted to try a demonstration first. Everything and everybody fit into a moving truck that stopped outside Global United Trust. The bank, with offices only in the United States, is particularly divisive after losing a lot of people money back during the financial crisis. Like the rest of the people, they got into the mortgage-backed security business.

Not sure if I’ve explained that before. This is going to be one of the more boring, educational sections for y’all, but parts of it are important for understanding the overall scheme.

Basically, big banks started making home loans so they could use the debt as an investment. According to Einstein, compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. Regular interest is pretty strong too. This doesn’t sound that bad so far, but where they really got greedy is when they realized they’d made about all the loans people could afford. So banks began to go after people with worse and worse finances by making the payments look small at first and by telling these people they could afford it. After all, they’re banks. Why would they ever want to lose money by loaning money to people they know can’t pay it back? Well, they did because the mortgage-backed securities were so juicy and could even be sold off to make immediate money.

This only lasted as long as people kept paying their mortgages. I said they made the payments look good at first, remember? Yeah, once a certain amount of time passed, those payments went up. Or giving a loan to people with no ability to pay it back led to the natural consequence of them failing to keep paying it. Either way, that amazing source of income suddenly got cut off. But don’t worry; the banks insured many of those investments.

Of course, as y’all may or may not realize, too many expensive claims coming in at once messes with an insurance company’s ability to actually pay out. Insurers don’t just keep premiums in bank accounts to earn interest for them. Well, some of it they do. They’re required by law to keep at least a certain minimum in there. The rest is invested to make more money. Anyway, the companies who insured these securities weren’t able to pay the claims and started going bankrupt, which suddenly meant that all these banks were going to lose their money after all. On top of that, there’s apparently this thing called a credit default swap where people essentially took out insurance on other people’s debts that would pay out if the other company defaulted, which made a killing for a lot of people, up until they realized that the people who owed them money didn’t have it to pay.

That really exacerbated things. Dear readers, y’all shouldn’t exacerbate so much. You could go blind.

That, FINALLY, is where Global United Trust came in. They made a lot of money in the short term, then lost a lot of money. Global United Trust being quite a bit smaller than some of these banks at the top, they could have lost a lot of people’s lunch money. You earn a fuckton of bad will by telling people “Sorry, you can’t have your money back because the bank needs it to pay off our own debts.”

That’s why runs are so dangerous, and I don’t just mean the sort caused by adding too much Rotel to your taco meat. Banks also only keep some of the money in people’s savings accounts. They reinvest too. That’s one of the ways they actually make money, doing things like investing in bonds, real estate, and mortgage debt.

All of that is why most of the money in the United States doesn’t exist in dollar form. Ones and zeroes, just like the financial stratification of the U.S. And, hey, I know I sound like the Red Menace here, but I wouldn’t have to steal from the megarich if they spread the wealth around a little more. If people could make good money from middle-class people with less risk, they would rob them instead. Simple as that.

That’s why we went after Global United Trust. Prof. Electro hopped out of the van, accompanied by a half dozen men and women wearing black coats, black gloves, black pants, and wearing black Lycra underneath all that to further protect their identities. According to Carl, minions hate being identified working with specific villains. It gets them punched on more often by heroes, or charged as accomplices to actions that would be crimes even during wartime.

Before anyone could get a good look at everyone, the Professor and his crew headed down an alley next to the bank and popped open an exterior door to the security room. I’d sent out some interns to find the blueprints for the bank. Don’t say Chat Des Combes didn’t get me to listen to at least some advice before the French catburgler in the skintight suit turned on me back in Europe.

I’m already changing everything about how I operate, so I might as well take in the occasional piece of good advice. Keep the good, ignore the bad; “but test/examine everything. Hold fast/on to what is good,” as the Christian holy book says in stark contrast to the bumper sticker that reads “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Once in the security room, the security guard cashed in his life insurance policy and the team plugged a USB drive into the security computer that gave me control over it for my viewing pleasure. They then spread out, some through the connecting hall and some through windows that gave office workers a scenic view of graffitied alley walls. Coming up behind everyone, they forced tellers down at electro-gun point.

Professor Electro’s own creations, the electro-guns are designed to shoot electricity at people in defiance of conventional physics. Tasers have to use those little line things to convince electricity to go through another person before it heads to the ground. Lightning is a notorious hippie like that, always trying to hug the Earth. And no, he wouldn’t tell me how he does it.

The civilians went down also, except for some old guy who pulled his concealed handgun and then dropped it once his heart attack started. Professor Electro, resplendent in his lab goggles, breast plate, and lab gloves, marched the bank manager out in full view. Two of the minions went to work packing up the teller cash while the other four ran out and unpacked the Lightning Rod. I used the capital letters because Electro named it that. It isn’t actually a rod. It looks more like a box with four swirly antennas on the sides and a pump going through the middle.

The minions had to get it out because it needed a straight shot to the sky with its antennae. I told the Professor I could get a chop shop to add a sun roof to the truck if he gave me enough time, but he wanted to hurry on this one.

“Everyone, please file outside into the street!” Prof. Electro announced, waving his electro-pistol around the room.

This is where he and I had a bigger difference of opinion. I’d suggested he just bring out the manager, or even leave them all in there. The Prof. Insisted that we minimize casualties. This from the guy who wanted to threaten the entire city with the machine! When he told me that, I wished I had a metal glove or something to hit him upside the head with. Even though I shut him up in the office by pointing out that he should be willing to carry through with whatever he’s threatening, he called an audible in the field and led them all out. I even heard him mutter over comms, “We could have taken the one in the office if not for that psycho henchwoman.”

Louder, addressing the crowd, he said, “Behold! I will now demonstrate the power of my Lightning Rod!” With that, he ordered the henchmen away, revealing his Rod to the assembled hostages to great gasping. He set to work, adjusting the knobs and levers. The tips of the swirly antennas glowed, then released beams of pale blue light into the air. Almost immediately, lightning crackled across the clear sky and a bolt struck the bank, trashing the electronics.

Professor Electro and his somewhat-stunned gang cleared out of there before anyone knew it caught fire because the police were on their way at that point. Even without alarms, plenty of people had cell phones outside to catch the attack and report it, with videos making it to Youtube before Prof. Electro even escaped.

The next day, Prof. Electro stood atop 30 Park Place, a skyscraper still under construction. A shame we couldn’t use one of the better looking buildings instead of one of these newer monstrosities. I actually like the arches and points of the ones from the early 1900s as compared to the giant glass sticks everyone wants to put into the sky nowadays. It also didn’t help that some of those older ones house financial services. Prof. Electro and I considered some of those, but he accepted my reminder to back up his threats if necessary. And he definitely didn’t want to be on one of those buildings when struck.

So he sat on the roof of 30 Park Place, not passing Go, not collecting $200, and addressed a Giant Screen that featured icons of a dozen major banks and insurers who had interests in the residential and commercial buildings of New York. “Ladies, gentlemen, parasites… what I did to Global United Trust was only the tip of the iceberg. Pay the amount I forwarded to each of you to the accounts I forwarded to you within the hour, or the entirety of the iceberg will fall upon you like the Titanic…which really sunk by aliens, but nevermind that now. You can lose millions each….or this wonderful skyline becomes target practice and you lose everything, just like what the aliens did to the Titanic.”

I wasn’t sure about letting them know they weren’t the only ones in that boat, but the Professor claimed it would set them at ease to know that they weren’t the only ones in that situation. They got to keep it within the family, with an understanding that they could help each other get out of it.

I invited some others to watch the view from the cameras, satellites, and Giant Screen. Moai pulled up a recliner just in time for Crash to settle into it when Carl walked into the art gallery. “Hey boss, I got the cooler!”

“Good, hand me soda.” I held up my arm, hand in position to hold a bottle. “Hail Hydrate!”

Carl handed me a bottle. “Hail Hydrate, boss.”

“Hail Hydrate?” Crash asked.

“Hail Hydrate.” I told her.

She held up her hand. “Hail Hydrate!”

Carl handed her a drink. “Hail Hydrate.”

We didn’t have much of a view for awhile as the clock ticked down. Prof. Electro got his ass out of there. Then, at about the thirty minute mark, Forcelight flew into view. She glowed white, which matched her long hair and blank eyes. She’d altered her costume, though. She wore clingy black and grey with gold trim.

It figured. As the owner of a medical company with a lot of hospitals and research facilities, she and her board probably had connections with one of these captains of finance. The project that gave Forcelight her ability to fly and manipulate light as if it were solid put a hit in the coffers of Long Life, her company. The resulting loss of money forming a superhero team called Shieldwall actually convinced the Long Life Board of Directors to remove much of the financial decision-making power from her.

They needed the money, in other words, and she could get back in her own people’s good graces by helping out. She wasn’t quite who I expected to fly in and try to save the day. I’d hoped for another sighting of my dear Venus. I’m sure I’ll get over it.

“There’s no one here. Just the screen,” she spoke to a device on her wrist.

I held up my phone and spoke, my voice coming out of the screen. “That’s right. Professor Electro can fire his device from anywhere in the city. Much of this was a deception, I’m afraid. But you don’t shouldn’t worry about that. You have bigger problems.”

She blasted the screen to pieces, then looked around, noticing the situation she’d fallen into when she wasn’t looking. The Oligarch, Terrorjaw, Man-Opener, Giuseppe’s Toy Soldiers, and numerous other villains flew into view from lower floors of the building. Herne the Hunter rode his motorcycle up the side of the building and landed it on the roof, aiming his spear right at Forcelight, his ghost hounds appearing at his heels.

You could almost hear the ding as the lightbulb went off in her head. Maybe that was the ka-ching as the various accounts on my side computer monitor began to fill up with the requested amounts. Or, more likely, it was the microwave announcing that our popcorn was finished right at the best part.

Still, a shame we didn’t fire off that Lightning Rod again, but at least my little Psycho Sanitarium got itself a new tenant.

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Local Politics 5

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Another day, and yet another dollar spent. Of all things, Technolutionary insisted that my genome is too complex to fully map on his own. And then genetically graft to homo sapiens on his own. He claimed the only way he could get things done in time was the brute force method: wave after wave of grad students.

What an idiot. “How the hell do you propose to get grad students, you crazy, research-hungry bastard? They work for the only currency we can’t provide: college credit!”

“Listen to me, this is brilliant! Brilliant, I say! The fools will work for free. All we have to do is call it…an internship.”

That magnificent bastard. I gotta give him credit. It’s brilliant. He sent over the entire business proposal. All we had to do was muscle in on local colleges. I don’t understand why we weren’t getting in on this scam before now. Shit, I should start handing out student loans next and really put the hurt on people.

But enough about destroying the hopes and dreams of human beings. I intended to tell y’all about hunting and caging human beings instead. Or at least, superhuman beings.

Ah, hunting sentient beings. It’s an interesting pastime. Some people will even pay to take part in that, so long as it’s not a fair fight. Then again, the same could be said of people fighting regular game. I have yet to see a hunter go after a deer bare-handed. Which reminds me, at some point I should find a way to give deer a fighting chance. Like knifehooves, or perhaps a biological rocket system located in the anus. An internal constipation engine, of sorts.

That’s a gag for another day, though. Wildflower’s the joke of the day today.

It’s been a bit complicated by the lack of knowledge about her powers. Allow me to demonstrate what went wrong.

The first attempt to capture her was pretty straightforward. She perched on my balcony again, so I politely shooed her away with a fire hose, further emphasizing the chilly October day we found ourselves experiencing. In order to justify my use of firefighting equipment, I followed it with a Molotov cocktail. Yeah, that’s the correct order.

It caught her off guard because, as far as she knew, I’d just been carving a Jack O’Lantern, showing off my artistic ability to screw up knifing a pumpkin, when I suddenly pulled a hose on the scantily-clad heroine. Knowing the importance of keeping my hose in line, I left it by the bar and ran out onto the terrace to confirm Wildflower’s fall from grace.

I looked down, expecting to see her either splatted on the road in some degree of distress, or caught in a net that my guys were supposed to string up between Double Cross HQ and the building across the street. It was there to catch her, both by arresting her fall and putting her in captivity.

She slashed through the net. Unless my guys disregarded my very specific orders to buy the good stuff, that should have been kinda tough. But no, she slashed through a portion and used it to swing over to the other building, then dug her claws into the glass and concrete over there. Guess that answers the net question. For good measure, she then jumped out over the distance, caught the Molotov before it hit the ground, and was caught in turn by one of the sidewalk trees that grew and stretched in her direction.

We can safely add sharp claws and plant control to the list of powers. Super strength and agility, too. I sighed, walked back to the bar area, grabbed the pumpkin, and threw that at her too. Better than keeping it around my penthouse. I also send out an email to the entire office that plants, alive or dead, are no longer allowed in the building or any other building we own. Just like the company health plan, though, we were willing to pay out for rubber.

Later that evening, she stopped by during the office party. I looked out by the window to see her poking her head down from above, watching us. Now, the rest of us were all just having some punch and pie to celebrate the end of another successful work week of fleecing people. We actually made some money. Not enough to offset the massive startup costs of creating a corporation from scratch, but we’ll get there. We’ll get there. Like I said, just need to start selling to high rollers and maybe rob a high-value target.

I threw the party for two reasons. The first was morale. I think a lot of the anonymous drones we’d hired got the general sense that this whole effort was slapped together and not at all how these things went. I’d actually mentioned that at the very beginning in a few brief remarks. “I know we aren’t the usual company. We haven’t necessarily worked in this environment before, so there’s a lot of useful stuff we don’t know. Useful stuff that every company like this knows, even the dead ones. But I bet we all know a hell of a lot that those other companies don’t, especially the dead ones. So don’t think of it was a weakness, that we don’t know the established way to do things. Think of it as freedom. We can learn to do it our own way, and with our own special flare, too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m sure you’re all eager to sample some pie!”

And, just as food and drink served as a way to make a community happier and bring it together, such displays of revelry were also accepted as decent times to temporarily bury the hatchet. And the thing about burying the hatchet is, you always want to be the one to do it. That way, you can memorize the location and come back later, when the other guy is sleeping, to dig it up. Now, I find that a hatchet is best for soft tissue damage, somewhat like a knife, except that it requires a swing instead of a thrust or slice. That means you need more room. And while the stomach area is your best bet for stabbing someone, a hatchet can stand a little bit of metal-on-bone action.

Here I am talking about how hatchet someone instead of getting on with things. I had just enjoyed a nice slice of pie and extricated myself from a trio of former credit card identity thieves when I saw Wildflower looking in on the party. I waved and smiled, then motioned for her to come in. She narrowed her eyes and stuck her tongue out at me. I held up a fork in one hand and a plate of apple pie in the other. She crawled down the window, providing an interesting view in the process, and slipped the window open enough to sniff around. Then she pushed it wide open and hopped in, landing on a pair of bare, clawed feet.

I smiled at her, “I know I got you all wet earlier, but feel free to come and enjoy my pie.”

She turned her nose up at me, “Hmph! I think I will, but you better not hose me down anymore!”

I followed along, setting my fork on my plate so I could reach out to trace a finger over her exposed shoulder. She jumped and glared back at me. I shrugged. “You looked…soft. I was curious what moisturizer you used. If you’re not putting lotion on your skin, it would suck to get the hose again.”

She batted my hand away with her tail, perhaps not fulling picking up what I was putting down. Of course, I mean pretending to put down. Unless she can do some plant pheromone thing. Then we can blame that while also advising DC comics to sue her for copyright infringement. Poison Ivy wants her shtick back, and she doesn’t like people taking parts from trees.

“Ah, miss! I was informed if you showed to offer you this very special pie in order to, as our dear President put it, ‘bury the hatchet.’” Said the fellow catering the event. He offered the entire tin of pie to Wildflower, who took it with a smile but sniffed cautiously at it.

“What flavor is this?” she asked.

“Peach, but with extra special seasonings,” said the caterer.

She sniffed at it, dipped a fork in, brought the forkful close to her nose. Then she whirled around and walked right over to me. “Catnip!”

I shrugged. “I thought you’d enjoy it.”

She narrowed her yellow eyes. “You’re trying to drug me.”

“It’s catnip! You’ve got the cat vibe going on. I thought it’d be like, well, catnip toy ou.”

“Stop being nice to me. It’s creepy.” She balanced the pie tin in one hand as she glared at me.

I shrugged yet again. Dealing with Wildflower gave my shoulders a workout. “If you insist.” I palmed a tiny remote and pressed the button on it. Then I stepped back as my personal electronics started to go wonky. The positively-charged electromagnet inside of Wildflower’s pie tin activated, as did the negatively-charged ones in every other pie tin in the room. Even as the pull of magnetic metal on Wildflower alerted her to the danger, ever tin flew at once.

Acting with incredible reflexes, Wildflower threw the catnip peach pie at me, smacking me in the piehole. I saw her throwing herself to the side just before my vision failed due to the pastry and the magnet. I barely had time to even try and pull it loose before pie after pie slammed into me. I swear a pumpkin pie tried to force itself down my ear, while something softer smooshed onto my boobs. Banana cream, maybe? The overwhelming simultaneous impact of dozens of pastries knocked me down.

I was down for awhile. Seven minutes before someone through to pull the tin off my face. I know they had to dig me out, but I can’t be sure what else happened to keep them from rescuing me any sooner.

I was nettled. Super nettled. And I might have to add super reflexes to the list. I’m not sure if you could say she had a danger sense of some sort. Such foreknowledge is ridiculous and unrealistic except for clairvoyants, but reflexes and enhanced speed count for a lot.

So finally, I did indeed call up Herne. “You done wif those Looney Tune tricks, ‘en?”

The next morning, I awoke to a ruckus on the outside of the building and ran out onto one my balconies. You know you’re rich when you have multiple balconies. My fuzzy pink pajamas proved little defense against the cold, but the sight of Wildflower fleeing a man on motorcycle down the side of the building warmed some organ inside of me. The spleen, maybe.

You read right: a man on a motorcycle. He raced down the side of the building on a chrome monstrosity, antlers standing up proudly from his helmet. He held a spear to the side in one hand. Or maybe it was a rifle. He raised it up and shot something from the end. Whatever it is, he missed her. When they hit the street, I called him up. “Hey, send off toward 33rd. Circle her around, then goad her toward 44th. I have a plan.”

“You have a pl-?” I ended the call. I didn’t need no lip.

I raced down to the art gallery and threw on my armor. Moai poked his head around one of the exhibits of a nude Greek guy. “Hey, Moai, you seen my parachute around here somewhere?” He nodded and tossed it over. I slipped it on as I headed over to where the window should be and tore down the drywall we’d covered it over with. Taking a few steps back, I lept…and smacked into the window.

Damn. I remembered too late that I DID order these things to be made strong enough to handle human bodies being thrown into them with some force. From the floor, I called out, “Moai! A little help, please?”

He nodded, then bounced over and headbutted a hole in the window for me. I gave him a thumbs up. Then he picked me up and threw me out. A little less thumbs-worthy, but I appreciated the effort. Unfortunately, I really should have thought about the weight difference of a parachute loaded down with me in my armor. Oh, sure, y’all think of that now. I didn’t think about it until the ground looked considerably closer. At that point, I adopted a holographic disguise as a woman in all-black clothing and a ski mask, then tried the parachute. When it didn’t slow me down enough, I also considered panicking. I started drawing up a panic plan and everything.

9:05:53 AM, start waving arms frantically.

9:05:55 AM, scream.

9:05:56 AM, urinate.

9:05:58 AM, land hard on Crash’s new car, which softened the blow. Injuries minimal.

Ignoring Crash’s crying on the sidewalk, rolled off the messed-up vehicle, shooting an email to Crash’s inbox informing her that she can take some paid leave to get another new car. Meanwhile, I jacked a taxi. No passengers, unfortunately.

Now, the reason why I requested the pursuit head down 33rd is because 33rd dead ends into 44th. Well, technically it dead ends into the foundation of the higher road that is 44th, but either way, it’s one big wall. It’s one of those things you learn if you flee the cops enough times. I hoped Wildlfower didn’t have it down yet, given her relatively short career as a heroine. When I got within sight of the 44th wall, I texted Herne to go ahead and bring her on.

Four minutes later, I heard them coming. Wildflower snarled and panted as she pounded down the road on all fours. Behind her ran glowing translucent hounds. Ghosts? Spirits? Magic? Don’t know. I know that every time Wildflower attempted to flee down a side road or alley, they cut her off and tried to nip her. Herne herded her as well, aiming his shots with the spear-rifle thing to also keep her from escaping.

The only way left to Wildflower was forward, through a dark tunnel under 44th. SMACK! Oh wait, there’s no tunnel under 44th, is there?

Herne skidded to a stop next to her and clamped a pair of handcuffs on her wrists and ankles. Then ropes. Zip-ties. More ropes. Duct tape. He looked up at me when I tossed a pair of fuzzy pink handcuffs over for him to use on her.

I projected pulling off the ski mask and grinning at him, then held up my cellphone and pressed a button. The hologram of the tunnel disappeared, though the phone and button were for appearance only. “How do you like that Looney Tune trick?”

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Local Politics 4

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Ah, finally. A couple weeks into this endeavor and I was graced with an audience. The Oligarch got around to visiting with me. He pretty much decided he’s the leader of this “Order” group, which is to be expected. He is the arrogant son of a bitch who called us all together and decided we could take over a city. And then, the world! Of course, it’s all doomed to failure.

I got an email from him. “Are your affairs in order?” is all it said, though the sender said “O”.

Looking at it, I figured it was either Oligarch attempting to get a hold of me, or someone threatening me. Turns out it was just an invitation from Oligarch to another meeting, this time to be held in slightly less swanky conditions. A shame, really. The fancy room at Rothstein’s was much better than I thought it’d be last time.

This time, we all met in some old community center in one of the bad neighborhoods. Naturally, it meant we dressed down for the occasion, but I still kept a mask on me for when I walked through a foyer with coloring best described as various shades of depressing yellow and brown. I didn’t think “kill me now” was a color, or at least I figured it was a sort of pink.

I found a circle of chairs, some of them occupied. I didn’t show up last this time.Oligarch reserved that honor for himself, barging in and tapping his cane on the floor. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to see all of you again!”

“A step down from Rothstein’s,” mentioned Man-Opener through the vocalizer on his helmet. Excellent point.

“Last time, I spoke on where we can be. After that, we broke for mutual cooperation but little direction of how to achieve that goal. Our meeting place today reflects where we are now, a word choice including both our group and the world itself. Look-”

I interrupted here. “Last time I checked, the world had donuts. Danishes maybe.”

“Look around.” Oligarch started up again.

One of the others, a man in a rainbow costume, spoke up, “What about coffee? Even AA has coffee, and they’re required to give their lives to God.”

Terrorjaw chuckled. “Oligarch, I mean this in a good way, but you’re not my higher power.”

Oligarch slammed the bottom of his cane against the floor and raised his voice. “Look around! This is a humble state, but this is where we are now. If you don’t like it, work!” he slammed the cane again for emphasis on the final word.

“On what project?” asked Giuseppe.

Oligarch smiled warmly. “I think you are all going to enjoy this idea. We begin by driving out the heroes.” He tossed a stack of files onto the floor in the middle of us all. “The Saurus. Captain Lightning. The Lone Gunman. Forcelight. Vixen. I have other names in there. If we topple this ‘tower of justice’ from the top down, the bottom floors will pull themselves out.” He gave the base of the pile a poke with his cane. “You get the point.”

I raised a hand. “I’m trying to keep myself from being publicly known as a villain, something that’s become somewhat difficult with Venus and Wildflower linking my identities. I can help a lot, though. We have lab space for rent, a moving service, chop shop, transport resale, and temporary hiding places in our various Double Cross businesses.”

Oligarch nodded before dismissing my concerns. “You bring a lot to our organization. I have others more qualified for beating our fellow superhumans in a fight. Barring a change of mind from the current Rubik, you can assist us by working on containment of superpowered threats. A prison or laboratory would work best for holding the heroes we defeat. Perhaps Giuseppe can assist you?”

Giuseppe nodded, but then another of the villains I’d yet to look up announced his urge to speak with a knock on the side of his metal chair. If I remembered correctly from introductions, he was Herne the Hunter. He wore the same mask as last time, a luchador-style that exposed his mouth, chin, nose, and eyes. He wore an antlers design on the forehead as his symbol, apparently. He pointed to me. “I c’n whip up some traps ye’ll find useful.”

I shrugged, then nodded. “If you have anything particularly useful against Wildflower, that might help. Kind of a human-plant-catgirl hybrid. I think she’s reporting to Venus on me. It’s real annoying having her around company headquarters. Last I heard, Security’s started using burning pitch.”

A little bit of an exaggeration. Pitch would do terrible things to the windows, sidewalk, and passerby. Instead, they’ve taken to using large barrels of boiling water to dislodge Wildflower when they catch her hanging around. It doesn’t work as well when she’s at the very top, for obvious reasons. Worse, she’s delaying installation of more defenses for the building. The cannon was just the tip of the iceberg. I have rockets and a surface-to-air missile emplacement sitting in storage until we put them in. If a more permanent solution isn’t found soon, I’ll just have to authorize my guys to start launching cattle at her. It’ll be messy, but it’s a lot more effective than hurling insults.

So that’s how the meeting went. Oligarch’s keeping the long game under wraps, but a conspiracy to expel or capture heroes from the city is a fairly solid start. He’s right in that once you get rid of the big threats, the smaller ones won’t be able to pick up the slack. Sun Tzu would be shitting bricks over it, though. The old Chinese fellow was a firm believer in winning the fight first, then starting it.

As far as the company goes, things are starting to get on track. Our more basic prosthetics are blowing people away. The big bucks, though, will be in celebrities. Once a famous enough person loses a limb and their career, we’ll be there to offer a premium prosthetic with full range of motion for extremely high cost.

Also of note is that the food and coffee division of the company will be releasing a new candy bar for public consumption. The Asylum Bar. I was quite firm on the name of our little wrapped-up stick of peanut brittle, but Marketing is still debating on a slogan. Most of the team is pushing for “When life gets stressful, seek Asylum Bar.” Of all the other suggestions in the pipeline, nobody but me wants to go with “Asylum Bar: it’s packed full of nuts.”

Finally, there’s the issue of Technolutionary. I try to keep tabs on the guy since I don’t like him. It’s gotten harder because he’s holed himself up in a sub-basement to Sigma Labs that does’t even show up on the blueprints. Despite the successful recovery of most of his research, he no longer has the files needed to continue on the T-rex cloning project. Looks like we’ll just have to kidnap the fresh new dinosaur back sometime in the middle of all this “taking over the world” business.

Technolutionary also apologized for all the heat Wildflower’s invasion caused, but he’s going to turn the corner on human-computer bonding any day now. Yeah, right. In my experience, most people say “any day now” when they aren’t even sure what year something will get done. I finally gave this guy what he’d been masturbating to, a sample of my DNA, and he still resorts to scooping the brains out of homeless people and putting in slave computer units.

He has fewer of those, too, and mainly serving as lab assistants since he doesn’t trust anybody else to work with him.

I suppose he has a point when it comes to Wonder, our resident R&D drug guru who tells me that Stang’s been selling a lot of Boneless ever since a series of odd accidents caused most of his business to do their titty oggling elsewhere. It’s one of the drugs Giuseppe had, and I think it’s pretty funny what people will come up with. Boneless is, to put it mildly, a muscle relaxer. Except it doesn’t just relax muscles. It relaxes muscles, tendons, and even the bones themselves. There’s some rumor floating around that somebody did so much of it his bones completely disappeared.

Regardless of that exaggeration, it does relax people more than any other drug out there, and the bones are affected. Whatever the drug is made of renders bone soft and malleable to relax the fuck out of people. I’m not likely to try it until they figure out how to pack a Chinese masseuse into a pill so she pops out and steps on your back wherever you are.

Wonder suggested we get some ourselves and put it in the herbal tea, then charge double per cup. I like his thinking. That’s one use for Boneless that wouldn’t extend to masseuse-in-a-pill. I know from personal experience how hard it is to hide a pair of women in a bunch of tea after this one infuriating incident involving Wheel of Fortune.

Becoming a non-action villain sure has been boring, though. Sure, you’ll get tired at a desk, but it’s not the same thing as being out in the field, knocking heads. Seriously, if you coop me up, I start to go a bit crazy. And I needed to go find a place qualified to hold violent people.

Naturally, I shopped for an asylum. If only they still had one of those classy old places where people abused the patients. They’d be very well equipped for dealing with supers. I wonder what Venus looks like strapped to rusty bed springs?

You’d think a neighborhood with an abandoned, creepy old asylum would be a safe place for a woman to walk by herself nowadays, but then I was accosted by a mugger. A mugger! Me! He walked up and pulled a knife out like that’d do something. “Give me your purse.”

I giggled. “Is that all you got, that dinky little knife?”

“It’s a knife, bitch. I’ll cut you!” Combined with the hoodie and the loose jeans, I was reminded why cliches are sometimes created in the first place.

“With that? I can understand if someone’s got performance issues. Can’t quite bring a big weapon to the table. If that’s all you’ve got to work with, maybe you ought to get someone else and doubleteam me.”

The fellow cussed and grabbed for my purse. I kicked my heel right into his crotch. The mugger dropped to one knee, holding his wounded crotch. I grabbed the knife from his hand and walked around behind him. “Now then, let’s give the emergency room doctors a funny story.”

Ya know, it really sounds like it hurts to get a knife shoved up your ass.

It’s also rather odd that Venus didn’t show up. The one time I need a hero and one doesn’t show? She better not show up whining about me hurting someone. That was clearly a reasonable self-defense response.

Look at me. I’ve toppled supers with godlike powers, and I’m so starved for personal conflict I’m settling for muggers. I mean, it was hilarious, but still. That’s it. I’ve got to call up Herne and set up a hunt. I’m thinking big catgirl, preferably with plants.

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