I’m back! Hello from the ghost realm, dear readers. Or was we like to call it, the Nether Region. Or are reports of my death exaggerated? I guess we’ll have to find out. Oooh, spooky! Well, not as spooky as that clown statue right behind you now. Don’t look. It wasn’t there a minute ago, but maybe itll go away on its- wow, that is a big knife.
So when we left off, Reindeer turned to me and yelled, “Move, bitch!” She jumped to get some distance between her and the legion of losers who had taken Herne’s offer to de-antler her for a million dollars per antler. And while the Wolves of Avalon had motorcycles that could keep up with her, they were on rooftop. And I commanded a group of drones flying around on rotors. The main one used its hologram abilities to disguise Reindeer’s location as people fired at her.
“Drop down,” I advised her. “I’ll lead them off.”
Upon landing, she dropped to the ground off the building where the gathered bunch couldn’t see. I made my projection seem to fail and a fake Reindeer appeared suddenly, running off in a different direction.
“Suggestions other than run this out?” I heard Reindeer over her suit’s monitoring systems. “I don’t want to deal with this next month.”
“This shouldn’t be happening here and now. Little jobs defying the truce are nothing in comparison to this. I want to appear in person.” If I’m a devil, then there’s nothing I like more than someone jumping headfirst into my domain.
“Can’t kill them while you’re a hero’s sidekick,” Reindeer reminded me. “How did Herne find me?”
“Don’t know. That round thing he had seemed to do something with those portals. He’s not known for portals on his own.” I had described it as a circlet. That’s what it looked like, a silver ring big enough to fit on a person’s head. He held it in one hand just before summoning a big portal that brought the whole party to the rooftops.
“It’s a shitty plan, but last time we fought, I didn’t have you. If it was just me this time, he’d stand a chance,” Reindeer said. That made me feel a little fuzzy inside, like someone sewed a plush doll into my chest cavity.
“Geez, sorry, I’ll work on some damn power armor for you then,” I told her.
“Shit, portal. He’s dropping them off at intervals. I’m made,” Reindeer warned me.
I’d ended up behind a building that blocked Herne’s view of me. The hunter must have started sending them around in a search pattern. I dropped the hologram and instead hid the drone, heading around the side of the building I was at so I could spy on Herne and his horde. Yep, he had his big portal open, but just one. Same as when he somehow summoned the whole big group up there. “Yeah, he’s sending them out. Can you manage while I steal his portal doohickey?”
The call from Reindeer was interrupted by gunshots, a loud snap, and someone crying out in pain. “Yeah, but hurry the fuck up.”
I flew on, my drones hidden behind the illusion of the city around us. I zipped in and tried to ring it on one of my drones but Herne held on tight. I pulled his arm back, but he held on and whirled, getting a second gloved hand on it. So, plan B then. I watched in the reflection of his biker helmet with its own antler design as the power armor of Psycho Gecko became visible. A holographic facsimile of who I really am but am currently hiding. The thought of how the layers of truth and lie pile up here is confusing to me.
“Psycho Gecko! I heard you were dead,” Herne said, tugging at his big silver ring. It gave a bit, because the drone hooked in it wasn’t as strong as I am with my armor.
“When has being dead ever stopped me from living?” I asked. “Odd time of night to be invading a city with a huge group of minion.”
Just like that, a new shimmering white portal appeared, hanging in the air halfway up my projected armor. If it was real, the top half of me would have fallen through and the bottom half would have been separated. His desire to see me dead shows me disrespect.
“That was not a smart move, Herne,” I said.
“You’re not the Psychopomp, just an illusion!” he yelled. Damn, someone finally gets my first name right, and he’s someone I need to kill. Hmm. I gathered all my free drones in a group above the one trapped in the circlet and brought them down. All of us went through the portal and emerged way the fuck in the sky above the city of Chicago. But since the human arm uses ball and socket joints, we moved downward in a trajectory that swung toward Herne. Herne was not on the same side of the portal as my drones. And once we swung past the lip of the portal, Herne’s hand was no longer attached to the rest of Herne’s arm.
As soon as the limb sheared off, the portal closed. Down below, other bright white areas from the hunting party disappeared as well. I let the weight carry us down. I needed to get to Reindeer, and I didn’t know how to use this damn circlet-thingy. Maybe she’d be able to. It might require hands. “I got it and Herne’s now one hand short of a one-person orgy.”
“Send it my way. They still have numbers and they’re herding me. It’s getting hard not to kill them. Oh come the fuck on! Hup! They tried to get me into an open square, but they forgot I can jump.”
Indeed, I spied through Reindeer’s suit as she used her higher position on top of a gas station roof to kick the crap out of a climbing hunter in a bowler hat. A spray of blood shot out of his broken nose as he fell onto the crowd before. She ducked when the gunfire started up again. “Shit! I’m fine, didn’t penetrate.”
She went to goad them, but bottles flew through the air at her with burning rags poking out of the top. She instinctively raised her gauntlets and blasted them with soundwaves, then thought better of it and jumped back. The roof she left behind went up in a blaze. She landed on a truck parked on a street behind the gas station, bouncing off it with a “Whoof!”
I was still coming in for her, but it was taking time. At least Reindeer had a moment to recover the air that got knocked out of her. There was just enough bushes blocking the view that she could add some confusion to the mix. If she could lose them now, the hunters didn’t have a way to portal out into a search grid.
Her time disappeared with the roar of motorcycles speeding around that street. The Wolves of Avalon biker gang sped around the corner and were coming right for her. A few had shotguns and submachine guns. Bullets and pellets bounced off Reindeer’s costume, but she had a vulnerable head she raised her arms to protect.
“Fuck this nice guy shit!” she said, turning and grabbing the truck she’d landed on. She grunted as she dragged it around, tearing off a chunk as its weight had an uncivil disagreement with the strength of its construction. Reindeer threw the left side of the truck at the speeding biker gang, knocking most of them down like a bowling ball. Others went down as they tried to avoid the toss or panicked.
The roar got louder all of a sudden but nothing approached from that direction. Reindeer turned and caught Herne’s spear just behind the head. The tip pushed into her belly part way, piercing below her ribcage. The only reason it didn’t fully shishkebab her was her own super strength holding it back enough. But Herne was on his bike there, and he wasn’t done with just a light spearing. He kept going, one severed forearm wrapped around the handles of his motorcycle to keep it in line while his good hand held the spear. Reindeer screamed as she was pushed to the road and dragged by the spear she couldn’t afford to let go of.
I swooped in to the rescue, my drones pummeling Herne’s helmeted head heroically. The hunter fell on the opposite side of his bike, skidding along and throwing up sparks as he came to rest against the half-truck occupying the road.
Reindeer tossed the spear away and stood up, holding a hand to her gut. With her other, she held out her hand for the circlet. I flew it into her hand, but the second its silvery surface touched her, the flesh of that hand began to burn and she wailed in pain. I pulled away and she panted. “Fuck, it’s silver. Quick, hide me.”
I threw up an illusion, hiding her in place in time for the mismatched group of minions who had forced her off the gas station roof. She’s lucky the bunch were too noisy to hear her panting. Most of the chunk looked around for her, then started spreading out to search. A few stopped over to help Herne out and none really cared about the Wolves, who by now had mostly found their feet.
“Find her!” Herne called out. “I need that tiara back! She can’t have gone far.” He walked slowly over to his own spear, a bit worse for the wear from the crash from what I could tell. His leather pants were partially-shredded.
One of the Wolves limped over, adjusting his wolf mask. “How do you reckon? She can go anywhere in the world with it.”
Herne shook his head and let out a pained laugh. “It’s pure silver, bane to werewolves and weredeer.”
Great, the fairytales and movies were right about something for once. Why couldn’t this be a porn instead of a werewolf movie?
Herne went on. “More than that… just find it.”
Looks like biker boy’s got a soft spot for his tiara. He turned toward his spear and held a hand out. He said something I didn’t understand that caused his voice to reverberate and echo, and the spear flew toward him on its own. He planted it blade-first in the road and rolled up his sleeve to where thin, skin-thick computer rested, the same sort that I made widely available upon the creation of VillaiNet.
Ouroboros, lord of Paradise City and one of the villains trusted with judging violations against supervillains as group, spoke from the computer. “Herne, this is a major violation of the truce.”
“She means more to me than your rules,” Herne said. “I have to take her, especially now.”
As expected, Ouroboros gave not one fuck. “If you call off your dogs now, we can arrange something. You know what calling down a Judgment on you means.”
“You have your rules, and I have mine. The rules of the She,” he said, then hung up. Weird. The She? I put out a search for any group by that name, then figured I might have heard wrong and started running the vocal file on its own.
Sidhe. That’s like one of those groups of gods or faeries. Probably even ones who were just early superhumans masquerading as mythological beings like the Three Hares. I’m not convinced they were actual gods, though some of the magic users among them might as well be. The Barons don’t strike me as folks worth playing with. This tiara is probably some magical artifact from some of these Hares, who are one of the few groups who could probably give Herne sanctuary now that I’m thought to be dead. They’d be pissed if he broke their toy, though.
I relayed all this to Reindeer as quietly as I could. I thought I saw Herne’s head cock to the side a little despite my lowered volume.
“Make me look like Gecko and prepare to tase him,” is all Reindeer said before she snatched the tiara off the drone that held onto it. It smoked in her hands and she screamed. Like, wish she’d warned me before doing that to my body.
Herne realized what was up and lunged with his spear. It stuck into the drone that had held onto the tiara, which sputtered and twisted to the side as it died. The others all surrounded him and shot him full of enough electricity to stun a particularly angry horse or a real punk of a hippo. I hope Reindeer’s plan was going as she wanted with as little as she said, because I made her suddenly reappear, except it was Psycho Gecko’s armor again. Gecko held the tiara in both hands, tearing. It snapped apart with a loud ring. Then Reindeer walked over to Herne. I stopped tasing him so as not to catch her with any of the voltage, which seemed to be a good call for when she tossed the broken tiara aside, snatched the spear out of his good hand, and shoved it through his remaining wrist. She grabbed that hand, the tearing sound barely audible over the sound of Herne the Hunter’s screams, and used the wound and her own super strength to tear it free.
Herne fell to his knees, crying, but that still left a lot of his guys milling around, gawking at the supposed Psycho Gecko. Some of them might have even tested the idea that this wasn’t the real Gecko, but some of them checked their own arms for the VillaiNet interface. Even my old connection, still active despite my death, received the message. “Herne the Hunter is officially subject to Judgment, as are all henchmen who stay with him from this moment forward.”
They scattered, except maybe for this beat-up, broken nose Brit in a bowler hat who asked all nasally, “How do I bloody well get home now?!”
Reindeer tossed him the two halves of the tiara. “Put your hands together and hope real hard,” she told him. Then she turned back to Herne. “And Happy Fucking Halloween.” Boom! She took him down with one knee to the helmet.
Made for a hell of a hangover the next day when I woke up having to recover from Reindeer’s injuries. And got really fucking weird when some of the heroes in the neighborhood dropped off some food for me as “Get Well” gifts for a fellow “hero.” Hurt about as bad as taking a spear to the gut.
You won’t believe how nice it is sometimes to stretch my legs, especially when you’ve been traveling by mailed casket. They don’t treat those boxes well, I’ll tell you that much. I scared the crap out of some airline guys once after they jostled me too much. I banged on the lid and yelled at them to have a little respect for the dead.
I kept having mechanical breakdowns and so on, such that my “quick” method of travel turned out to be slower than if I’d driven back. Finally, once I got near enough at Chicago, I made sure to send myself some money and a backup costume. With the mail moving so low, I’d decided to stay in Chicago and let my alter ego play there come the full moon. The blue moon, in fact, which happens once in a blue moon. But I still took the time to groom myself, stretch, and enjoy some real food. It’s a complicated relationship, sharing my body with a heroic weredeer who shares my knowledge and skills. If she dies, I die.
But, hey, we were now well away from Atlanta, where Herne the Hunter declared his intent to hunt down and kill Reindeer. I still sent along some improvements this time, along with some drones for me to help out from. One in particular was the main unit, an armored and upgraded four-bladed hover drone. I’m no hero, and I’m definitely no sidekick. But it’s my body too, even if I can somehow remain conscious by operating through another body. Besides, the full moon fell on Halloween. Things have gotten strained from time to time, but not so bad that heroes and villains continue to fight while Americans walk around in their own masks and costumes.
I was taking my daughter trick or treating. Radium’s growing pains meant both safety from the pandemic, and a bunch more children and houses. It was going to be a good night. Kids stopping by my home would either get another spare body at the door, or a bowl of candy left on an armed-looking bear trap if I found it too difficult to spread my attention three ways. I even ran into Marianne while we were out. A former hero and now one of my neighbors in Radium, she left her husband at home to hand out candy while she ran the kids around as Mario and Luigi.
“And look at you!” Marianne said, the empathic heroine making a cheerful witch in her black hat and dress. She was fawning over my daughter’s costume. Qiang enjoyed the excuse to dress up and wanted me to fancy her up again as Western-style princess. “You look like a doll!” the ex-hero said as she examined my kid. Then she turned to look at me and her smile changed to one that looked like it was holding back a laugh. “Wonder Woman.”
“Truly, one of the most frightening costumes: a badass woman who likes bondage,” I explained. I checked on the moon. Yep, Reindeer would definitely be waking up. A teenager dressed as a werewolf stopped by and howled at the moon.
“I better check in on a friend,” I said, holding up a phone as if I was calling someone.
Over in Chicago, the land of mystery and mayhem, I brought a drone lower to address the weredeer who had taken over my body. She was just finishing checking over her costume. “Hello Reindeer. Welcome to Chicago, Halloween night. It’s a tid bit nipply, so I’ve included some additional layers you can wear. As requested last full moon, I’m awake to assist.”
“Good. Let’s get out there and see who needs help,” Reindeer declared.
“Ugh, why is heroic-me such a dork?” I asked through the drone. I pulled up the other drones, all smaller versions with less armor and functionality that were set to hover around behind my main drone in a circle until needed.
She laughed and left the cheap motel room I’d been staying at and launched herself at the nearby roof of a Burrito Bell. “All of us is a dork, Wonder Woman.”
“That’s different. That’s a costume,” I told Reindeer.
She snorted. “Remember when you looked at yourself in the mirror and fantasized about a car losing control so you could grab a kid out of the way and save them?”
“Nope. Completely untrue. Not a thing I’d ever think about, and you can’t prove it,” I answered. “We should probably shut up and not talk while we stalk the night on wings of justice.”
“Dork,” Reindeer said before moving on both literally and by not discussing any daydreams that totally didn’t happen when I put on my Wonder Woman costume earlier. Which I showed off on my other body as I walked around with Qiang, carrying a spare candy bag on my belt right next to the lasso of truth.
It wasn’t an action-packed night in Chicago. We greeted some trick or treaters and signed stuff for kids. There were a few weres among those kids. They were especially happy to see a superhero like them, someone else who had recently gained such an condition as a result of some shenanigans last year by an ecoterrorist group playing with magic. The teen girls were already used to their bodies going through a change that frightened people once a month, but there was further othering and sometimes demonization of people who aren’t entirely human once a month. I don’t even have to look up the relevant porn sites to know it’s already fetish material.
After that, we checked on some Halloween parties. “Whatcha gonna do, narc on people partaking of the peace pipe?” I asked. “Tell them to keep the noise down?”
Reindeer peered across the street from the shadows, ears flicking as she listened in. “If you weren’t so focused on being a contrarian, you’d know why. See there?” she pointed to a girl leaving the party, stumbling in a diagonal line and missing a shoe. You could practically smell how easy a target she was for anybody with ill intentions. A pair of guys broke away from the party to follow after her. Neither Reindeer or I believed they were doing so to help.
“You should pick a body with hands next time,” Reindeer whispered to me. “Ideally, you’d go down there, pretend to be someone she knows, pickpocket her license, and guide her home.”
“I’m not your sidekick,” I said.
“Fine. I’ll do it then. You hang back and keep an eye on those two,” she said. Reindeer dropped down, landing behind the girl. The guys following after came to a stop and began talking. The girl didn’t even notice Reindeer until the weredeer jogged up to her, “Hey, oh my god, I just want to say thanks for coming to the party tonight.”
“Who? Yeah, sure,” the girl said. I noticed the lift when Reindeer plucked the girl’s wallet out and then pulled out her driver’s license. She returned the wallet, then held up the license. “You left this back there. I thought I’d better come up and return it, and make sure you got home ok. Can I get you a cab?”
I tapped into the local taxi network and redirected one to them. Crisis averted, the night was saved. I floated my little drone self down to her. “I’d have waited until they made a move and beat the crap out of them. I’m not sure they learned a lesson this way.”
Reindeer eyed the direction the two guys had went off in. Back to the party. “This is preemptive. Less risk of her getting hurt or traumatized. Think you can catch up to them?”
“Already there,” I said. A smaller pair of my drones swooped in behind the pair and tased them until they dropped. Then they tased them some more. That wasn’t necessary, but it was enjoyable. The main drone projected a marker with distance to the pair. Reindeer jumped most of the distance, leaving me to play catchup with the Queen Bee drone while the others hovered around.
“Hey,” she said, nudging one of the pair’s arms with her hoof. “You two try that again, you’ll get worse. Learn some fucking manners, you filthy animals. And stop picking on people just because they’re drunker than you.”
The attempt at a lesson was interrupted by a brilliant white light in the sky and the gasping of the party nearby. “Oh hell,” Reindeer said, a second before I heard the roar of a motorcycle. I spread the drones out at a higher elevation to spot for Herne. I found where a loop of white had appeared in the street. Someone was in front of it on a motorcycle. Instead of Herne, I saw a biker in a leather jacket with a patchwork wood and fur mask on. The insignia on the back of the jacket read “Wolves Of Avalon.” Not one of the gangs I’m familiar with, but there’s a shit-ton of biker gangs out there. Most of them are old guys pretending at rebellion while wearing patches on their jackets about how much they love the cops and other authority figures.
The Wolf howled, and more bikers came through the portal. Then another opened nearby. “Time for a rumble, my darling dears,” said a man in a bowler, smacking a billy club into one hand. He tossed a cigarette down and stomped on it with his boot. I tased him with a drone while others pushed him back through his portal before it closed up.
By then, the street was filling up with more ne’er do wells from wherever they dwell. I recognized some of them. No Greens or Reds from Empyreal City, for instance, but some wore old Wolf gear from up there or the Q masks. Others didn’t have any fancy masks and just looked like gangs or militia jackoffs. These were all small-timers.
They were all coming for Reindeer, too. One swung a chain overhead and charged Reindeer. He got a sonic-assisted punch to the guy that put him down. Another one, in a Q mask, had a pool cue. He got a spinkick that’ll leave a hoofprint under that mask.
I moved in to cover Reindeer’s rear with the drones, catching and tasing some of this bunch. The main drone soon arrived and took to the sky. I warned Reindeer ahead of time. “Bright flash in 3, 2, 1.” It wasn’t a full flashbang, but it was a flash alright. A blinding white image of one of my favorite porn model’s showing off her tits lit up the night and covered for Reindeer’s graceful exit.
Nearby, another portal was closing on a roof. Herne propped up his bike there, clapping. “You brought toys.”
“You are a toy,” she told him.
“Fine,” he said, not entirely getting the dork’s insult. “But this toy brought friends.”
“Dregs,” I corrected.
He looked at me. “A robotic sidekick, how family-friendly.”
“I’m not a sidekick!” I insisted.
“What you are is outnumbered,” Herne explained. “I’ll have that trophy before the night is out. The one of them who brings them back gets two million, one per antler.”
“There’s a truce!” Reindeer declared. That reminded me, I should be angry.
Herne laughed and held up a circlet of silver. The portal behind him vanished, then was replaced with a much larger one. I could see the street down there, and a horde made up of the least of the worst ran through, led by the Wolves of Avalon baying for Reindeer’s blood.
Reindeer turned to me and yelled.
To be continued. I know, tense right? I wonder if I survived.
We were still in Atlanta when the full moon hit. I’d already called Reindeer’s costume to me and contemplated taking a rest. I could have concentrated my consciousness to another body to monitor things or do other things, but I just didn’t feel like it. So I said goodbye to the crew, headed off on my own with Reindeer’s costume and gadgets, and waited for the full moon to catch my eye. As usual, my awareness ended before I realized it. Everything that follows is based on the cameras and other sensors on Reindeer’s costume.
She spent a little bit appreciating the night. The South is cooling down a little, and she seemed excited to look up at that big, yellow moon, then suited up to in her costume to go for a run. She was in the middle of Atlanta, though, so it wasn’t the sort of place used to seeing a critter with antlers gallop through. She moved like she was so naturally light, almost like flying. Before long, the needs of those poor, unfortunate souls called to her. A car crashed ahead of her at an intersection and Reindeer made right for it. The guy inside is going to be fine.
It was a quieter night. There were protests, but the cops were finally slacking off. Most of what she dealt with for about an hour was more mundane. She snatched someone up out of the road before they got hit by an inattentive driver. She found some blankets for a homeless guy and his pals who were sleeping under an overpass. She even helped find someone’s lost cat.
Then, shortly after handing it back over, a pale green star of light shimmered in the air down the road, then opened up to reveal a single headlight. The motorcycle that approached did so with the growl of a hungry beast, and the rider appeared to be holding a spear. I recognized the horn design on the helmet when Herne The Hunter got close, skidding to a stop. He didn’t even flip open the helmet to address me. “You’re outside your normal playground, Reindeer.”
“You got a problem with it, Herne?” Reindeer asked.
“I’m thinking I need a new trophy.. A special one, like antlers from a female reindeer that’s managed to keep them an entire year. Those would be special and rare. Know where I can find some like that?” the biker supervillain asked.
Reindeer gave him the “shove it” gesture. “That direction, keep going until you hit permafrost.”
“Funny. I bet my friend there thinks the same thing,” Herne said, pointing behind Reindeer. The other me turned to look behind her, then turned back toward a small bang that preceded her being wrapped in a weighted net. I’m not mad, Reindeer, I’m disappointed!
My heroic alter ego tried to toss it off but it caught in her horns. She tried to tear it open, but it was reinforced. She tried to jump over the spear when Herne rode at her on his bike, and she accomplished that one. The landing looked off a bit with the net caught all on her.
Herne skidded the bike to a stop and wheeled it around for another pass, taking the time to to move the netgun from the hand guiding the cycle to magnetically clip onto the bike’s body. Reindeer raised the arms of her costume and the sonic weapons, giving Herne a full blast. It knocked the hunter off, but Herne raised a hand as if to call for mercy. Instead, a pair of hounds made of light appeared and rushed toward Reindeer.
Reindeer jumped, using the assistance of the other sonic devices affixed to her legs, and landed on top of a nearby building. Figured she’d get the net off herself in peace, a notion that lasted only until the lighthounds started up the wall of the building after her. Reindeer took off, jumping from building to building, sometimes helping herself along with soundwaves. The hounds couldn’t keep up, or maybe they have some sort of range.
The net had gotten on her good, but it was still just a net. With a little bit of time to actually thing about it, she tossed it off and began contemplating her next move. I know because she narrated to me, “I haven’t heard from you, Gecko, so I guess you took the night off. I’d like to work with you, if you’re up to it. Trying to decide if I need to sneak around and get the drop on this guy, or leave him alone. I think he’s only here for me, so he probably won’t target anyone else. If he’s anything like you, he might get the idea to start hurting people until I turn around and show up. I think that means I have to go back. Good talk.”
She turned and headed back, circling around somewhat in case Herne was following straight behind her. She caught a glimpse of moving lights through some trees in the yards of a residential neighborhood and stopped to look around. After a couple of seconds, she dropped down to ground level and tried to stick to grass. She tried to stay close to a tree, but with the branches and then a swing, she had to take a bit of a detour around it. At least she had the advantage of sound to warn her if Herne was on his motorcycle. She turned the corner around the house and saw one of the lighthounds. The other didn’t seem to be there. She looked around, then saw the garbage and recycling bins.
She ran up on the hound. It detected her somehow, I don’t fucking know if those things can hear, and turned. It latched onto her arm while she swung the bin down behind it, lid open. It then lost its hold on her arm when she kicked it full-on in the chest into the bin and slammed the top closed. With a snort, she turned and swung the bin, smacking the second hound into the side of the house. “Sorry!” she called out, voices inside raising as people wondered at the ruckus.
Reindeer turned to glimpse a single headlight and hear an unusual roar and bolted. She stuck close to obstacles while she could; keeping trees in the way, staying on grass, leaping fences. Herne’s ride wasn’t a dirtbike, so it slowed him down a little to navigate these. He could head out onto the streets, but his hounds had been left behind and he must not have reloaded the net launcher. Surprisingly, Reindeer to the streets again briefly. She jumped, shooting up like a bullet over Herne’s tossed spear. She landed on a highway overpass and barely avoided getting squashed by a garbage truck.
Watching her running down the median of this highway made me tired afterward. The werereindeer has amazing stamina. Pretty good speed for someone on foot. But only she was on foot. It wasn’t ten minutes later a single headlight raced up the highway behind her, and the only obstacles Herne needed to avoid this time were cars going fifty miles an hour. Seemingly worse for Reindeer, she stopped and turned to face it, her breathing calming down.
Herne had his spear riding on his back, but his hands weren’t focused solely on driving. He did something, then reached back. He pulled out a pair of irregular rifles. Oh, wait, one of those is a grenade launcher. Reindeer spotted it first with her superior vision. That’s what gave her enough of a heads-up to jump the median when she saw something. Unfortunately, the cameras gave me an eye- and earful of a huge flashbang going off that probably did a lot more to her than it would a regular person. She stumbled around a bit, regaining her sense of direction within seconds and running out into the other half of the highway literally blind and deaf to the danger. Luckily, enough drivers had seen what had happened that people slowed down rather than risk hitting her. It sounded like some might have even been yelling at Herne, but I couldn’t get a good enough listen.
Something else lashed out at her from direction of Herne. A bola as near as I could make out, it wrapped around Reindeer’s legs. The hero faltered and tripped, but I think she’d had just about enough by then. This time, she tore through rope and cable like a male model through any shirt that might hide his abs. Herne launched another flashbang, but this time Reindeer got an assist from a semi. It slowed down and rolled right beside her, the driver popping his door open as he passed by. It hit and caught Reindeer at first before the effects of the second flashbang let her see someone has risked his livelihood to help her out. She climbed the open door to the top of the cab, calling down, “Sorry!” while stepping on the roof.
Herne jumped the concrete barriers of the median and started heading right for her, spear in hand this time. He came up next to a tow truck and struck, hitting something that forced the rear of the bed down to skid against the road. The truck and Herne both braked, Herne going up on his front wheel to slow down.
Reindeer started adjusting the output on her sonic gauntlets. Herne circled around, dodging a car that honked its way through the lane he’d been in, and gunned it as the truck neared the semi. Reindeer fired and cussed when she saw it wasn’t going to cut the motorcycle’s jump short. It knocked Herne off, though. Reindeer quickly lowered her arms and dug in, moving to the side as she grabbed the hand grips of the bike. She spun and jumped off the semi, whirling motorcycle in hand, bearing down on the villain who was still skidding on the road. Herne saw it and reached behind him for his spear, bending.
The spearhead punched through. Reindeer juked to avoid it. She also pulled hard on the bike, tearing off the seat and the whole steering column. Meanwhile, Herne tried pulling the spear back through but barbed edges of the head caught on the bike. Seeing an opening, Reindeer gripped the motorcycle and strained, tearing the remains in half. Herne caught her in the side of her chest with the spear, but she grabbed onto it and swung, tossing him and the weapon off the highway and down below.
The suit had a small first aid and trauma kit in the belt. Reindeer raised a thumb to hitch a ride and caught onto a truck that honked at her, swinging up onto the bed without it ever stopping. There, she tended her wounds, the hunter unable to follow if he was even willing at this point.
Two messages waited for me when I awoke back at the motel. One was from Reindeer reiterating that she wants me to transfer to something to help her out next time. The other was on VillaiNet’s forums and caught my attention because Herne was calling out Reindeer. “This isn’t over, Reindeer. In one month, it’s open season on you. I will have those antlers!!!!”
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.
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?”
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.