I sat in the office of Johnny Butterfly in my power armor, stirring a cup of this heathen brew they call tea up here. The warm kind that you have to put sugar into. But I was being polite, so I didn’t inform the crime boss that his tea was wrong and he should be ashamed. “The business opportunities in this city are, as I’m sure you know, contingent upon the city still being here. Considering the extensive damage to its infrastructure, that seems increasingly unlikely. Sure, Empyreal City’s had its problems, but they generally don’t happen quite so soon in succession.”
Sitting on the other side of his desk, Johnny Butterfly tried to look calm as he repeatedly pressed the panic button hidden on his desk. He didn’t go so far as to pull a weapon. I hadn’t told him who I was, but most people would be worried in his position. “If you’re trying to summon your men, I’m afraid I’ve found a high tech way to jam the signal from your little panic button there, and your men are otherwise preoccupied. It shouldn’t matter anyway, as I mean you no harm.”
Butterfly’s eyes narrowed. “What did you do to them?”
“As I said, they are otherwise detained, but unharmed.” I hired several aspiring models of either gender to stand outside in the skimpiest clothing the weather permitted giving away awesome burgers and hot dogs. I may have encouraged some of the models to do their best impression of a deep throat on the hot dogs. It didn’t take very long for the building to empty of gangsters of all sexual preferences. I mean, even the asexuals get a free burger out of the deal. That’s a tough one to resist. Taking advantage of that deal’s as American as potato pie.
I calmly stirred my tea. “As you’ve probably determined by now, I’m more than capable of dealing with you if I wanted to, but I don’t want to. I also apologize for appearing in such a threatening manner, but you wouldn’t meet with me if I gave you notice, either. I understand this is an uncomfortable position for you, and will seem even stranger.”
Johnny Butterfly took his hand off his desk and leaned back, folding his hands in front of him. “Forgive my skepticism. Most supervillains are preoccupied with other things in other cities, so this is most unusual. I certainly hope this isn’t a case of entrapment, mister…?”
“Gecko,” I said. “Psychopomp Gecko. Emperor Gecko, if you want to bring titles into this. Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
“I am not sure I believe you,” said Butterfly. His eyebrows furrowed as he looked at my armor, examining it for any resemblance to my old type. For someone in the same room as the former emperor of the world and a notorious killer of superheroes, he didn’t react too terribly. He crossed his arms, and I noticed a tiny bit of movement against his jacket as he attempted to call out.
I nodded and set my cup of tea down. “That may be, but I really don’t advise you to bring the police into this. If you think about it, I can kill you and get away well before they or the military show up. Same for any reinforcements of your gang. This is a frequent problem with me, the lack of trust. Who knew there was such a downside to trying to kill everyone all the time. I have a couple of ideas for you.”
Butterfly leaned forward and set both hands on top of his desk, “Understand that you have my attention insofar as I hear your proposal.”
I nodded. “Glad to hear the power of fear compels you. It’s quite simple really.”
My first plan was all “crime lord proposal”-worthy. Help him with money or the occasional useful crime as far as funding the city. Essentially, have Empyreal City’s mob connections prop it up and help rebuild it. Focus on the lower level stuff at first so that most of the population won’t flee in search of jobs. While that’s going on, grease plenty of union palms to make sure everything gets built as fast as they can manage.
“That is all well and good, but what about a contribution from the one percent?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I have ways of making them want to donate money.” And so many fun ways they could be. Digging up dirty laundry, planting dirty laundry, even just a threat to kill; there are a lot of ways this could go and they all sound pretty fun to me. “Leave that part up to me so you can’t be implicated. Conspiracy to extort and all that. You’re really better off not knowing too many specifics of what I’m doing, other than that I’m pretty good at breaking and entering. Doesn’t matter if it’s a vault or a person, I break and enter both.”
I leaned forward to grab the saucer of tea again and pretended to sip it through my helmet. “But first, I need to know more about your colleagues, the Ukrainians. I have a personal grudge against them, and I’m sure you could use the growing room.”
I helped myself out of the office with some key criminal information. I passed a fellow on the way who ran in and yelled out, “Hey boss, you have to come see what this girl can do with a foot long!”
I started my one man anti-crime spree later that night. I knocked on a specific door down a specific alley in a specific way. A slot in the top part opened to reveal the eyes of the lookout, who took a cold cup of tea, two cubes of sugar, no milk. “Ah, wait, it’s not hot,” he yelled.
I kicked the door in, knocking him on his ass. I stepped in with my armor, a fedora on my head and an umbrella in my hand. “I’m singing in the rain! Just singing in the rain!” I kicked the man in the face, leaving him sprawled chest down on the floor. I lined up a nice thrust with my umbrella and got brown hole in one. “What a glorious feelin, I’m happy again.” One press of the release and a little help from my power armor and the umbrella expanded inside him. It didn’t look fun for him. Was great for me.
I sung and danced my way down a short, dirty hallway where the din of a crowd grew in volume and intensity. They had music playing over it all, but I couldn’t catch much of it over the cheering crowd. There was a big room with people crowded all around a cage holding two barely-clothed men with their guards up, dancing around each other.
As soon as I exited the door, a large man stepped out from my right with a pistol in hand. I grabbed his hand and easily overpowered him, giving him a better target. “You’ve got balls,” I said to him. I squeezes his hand. The gunshot didn’t panic anyone due to the noise of the crowd and music. “Ball,” I said.
I gave it another squeeze. “Dick.” Another squeeze. “Asshole.” He fell to his knees, squeaking in high-pitched pain. I ejected the magazine and round in the chamber, then tossed the gun off to the side.
“Coming through!” I yelled, kicking people out of my way. I cleared a short opening that left me facing a young waitress with dark hair and two blonde braids on either side of her face. She looked at me, eyes wide, then smacked her tit. A small holdout pistol popped out into the air, like on a spring, and she caught it out of the air. Before she could take aim, I grabbed her wrist with one hand, he waist in the other, and spun. The gun went flying, hitting some guy standing up in the corner with askew glasses and an empty pistol in his hand. He went down. I dipped the waitress and pulled my helmet up to steal a kiss. “Je t’aime ma puce,” I told her. It’s more romantic in French.
“I’m not into men,” she whispered back.
She broke my heart, so I broke her arm, picked her up over my shoulder, and began spinning her around like my own personal nunchaku. I knocked the shit out of other people, clearing even more room. With a mighty heave, I threw my flooze-chaku and cleared the way to the cage. She bounced off it with a shrill cry. Surprised the hell out of me. I thought I killed her by then, or at least knocked her out. It would have been a bad time to be conscious. The fighters in the cage had by now stopped their petty squabble to look at me.
“You call that a fight? This is a fight!” I jumped on the side of the cage with no small amount of force or weight. The side came down and landed on both of them, squashing both of them underneath the chain links. Not, sadly, with enough force to cause them to spurt through the empty spaces as blood and flesh. I had to resort to stomping my way through them both, screwing the betting pool way the fuck up. Did they bet on who would lose, or who would win?
By then, people were naturally ready to run, except for security. They were also ready to run, but they were headed for an office with a window that looked out over the whole place. Someone sat there, one of the Ukrainian higher ups with a closely-shaved head and a soul patch.
I freed myself from the cage and ran right for it. A fat, bald security guy tried to stop me. I grabbed him by the throat and didn’t stop. He went right through the glass in one heave. One of the other guards opened the door to rush to their aid and splattered all over the place from a massive burst of shotgun pellets. I jumped through the window instead, catching a quad-barreled shotgun before the boss of the fight club could swing it around toward me.
“Don’t do it, you crazy bastard! You have so much to live for!” I yelled. Instead of even questioning the statements, he just screamed. I pulled the shotgun free of his hands and stuck it up against his throat. I joined in on the screaming.
Boom. Poor bastard committed suicide by being in my way. I looked up to find a couple more disposable mooks standing at the door, and one smart one running his ass toward the door. He knocked over some guy standing up with a pair of guns in his hand, but abandoned him to his colleagues’ fate.
Walking out of there later with my new quad-barrel as a souvenir, I spoke to myself. “I thought being that depressed was for Russians only. Poor suicidal bastards.”
So there I was, flat on my back in the academy gymnasium, barely able to breath, with a face bound to bruise up as soon as it had time, the song “That’s Not My Name” playing through my head and into the gym. I was sweaty. I was hurt. My shorts had ridden up into my crack just enough to annoy me. I rolled over with a groan to fetch them out of the crack of Mt. Doom before they poked against my one ring.
As soon as I could, I rolled over and cut the volume on the song. I looked over at a stopped obstacle course that caused this. I’d wandered out of the library one of these days, well, been forced out. The official school year is closing up, and Master Academy is trying to be a normal school where possible. Parents are visiting the school a lot, and the heroes are trying their best to look responsible. Seeing as I’m officially dead, and the school would have every reason to toss me to the wolves if my identity got found out, I am reluctantly having to go along with it. So I wandered a bit and saw students using this thing. It beats getting dragged into some school concert by that pigtail-girl Chloe, or to a dance by Leah, or having Quincy ask for some combat tutoring.
This magnificent monstrosity rises from the floor in the gym if the proper settings are entered into a panel on the wall. It’s got rollers, pistons, swinging arms, and floors that seesaw. It’s a compressed Japanese obstacle course game show, with less padding. I just had to give it a go. I can’t use nanites to just whip my muscles and tendons into shape anymore. I used to have those things work on my body until I was as strong and flexible as Gumbie and Hercules combined.
The obstacle course had stopped when it felt a strong impact indicating it had potentially injured me. I know this because this wasn’t the first time. But then the floor opened back up and it began to lower. I looked up at the young boy who stood by the wall, looking at me with some concern. I stood up, coughed up some metallic-tasting spit, and told him, “No. Again!”
“You sure, mister?”
I nodded. He turned the knob, causing it to stop, then reverse until the entire course settled back into place. He stepped away from the controls and said, “Most people don’t sing while they’re trying to do it. And they start at an easier difficulty. You had it set to hard.”
“Make sure it’s still there. I want it hard.” Probably not the best thing to say to someone who might have made it to middle school at the most, but the heroes had already caught the predator in this case. And the added difficulty is why I once again started singing along to the song. My singing’s still horrible, but at least other people can tolerate being in the same room as me now. They threatened to use the fire hose on me when “Cotton-Eye Joe” came up on my playlist.
I didn’t wait to get all nice and comfy and be able to breathe perfectly again before circling around and diving in again. I rolled to my feet jumped over a swinging arm, ducked under a piston that shot out from my right, then heard the tell-tale sound of the machine swinging something at me from higher up and behind. I rolled forward again. They seemed to have a certain amount of time they kept going for, a distance limit. When I got to where it should have stopped, I launched myself into the air. The arm bopped me on the head and knocked me toward the mat, which shot upward as some sort of launcher. It should have splatted me into the ceiling of the course, but the ceiling opened up to let me fly out and land on the laminate floor of the gymnasium.
“It wasn’t necessarily smart of me to assume when the thingy would stop, but what really surprised me was the floor shooting me out. It never did that before,” I said to no one in particular, raising an arm up. I was about to bring it down to help me get some leverage when a large hand grabbed it. Minotaur dragged me squeaking along the floor.
“It changes a lot of things between tries. Now come on. You got a meeting with the Headmaster.”
“The Headmaster, Hagrid? Surely this won’t be yet another angsty adventure where I don’t do a lot of interesting tricks with my ability to warp the fabric of reality itself. Quick, get me a ginger and a hot nerd. Oooh, can we get Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton for this one?”
He didn’t have to be so rough about picking me up or pulling my shorts back up. He should have known the natural consequences of dragging someone in workout clothes along a floor. Didn’t have to pull them up quite so far, though. What is it with these Master Academy capes and my balls? I think it’s cover for them trying to vigilante a feel.
The way he tossed me down into a chair in front of Victor Mender and put his hands on my shoulder didn’t help matters. Made it much harder to squirm and free my balls from the tyranny of clothing.
“Gecko, we need to have a talk,” said Mender’s computer, digitizing the voice from the front of his wheelchair.
“Ok, ok… so when a man and a woman both love covering her face with baby-makin’ juice…” Minotaur’s thick fingers dug into my shoulders. I arched my back. “Ooh, a little lower?”
“Please stop provoking him and speak respectfully to me. We are owed this much for the liberties you have taken with your confinement,” Mender said. “By the way, I heard you found the obstacle course. How do you like it?”
“I’ll beat it yet, front and back. Then, I shall disembowel it, reach into its oily innards, and rip out its still-beating heart of steel and circuitry. After that, I shall consume it to gain its power. But since power has a lot of calories, I’ll probably stick a finger down my throat and purge it in the bathroom. I got some body issues I gotta work out. These thighs don’t need more fat on them.”
“It’s a machine, it doesn’t have fat,” Minotaur growled.
I rolled my eyes and, without looking at him, responded, “It’s got oil, right? Lipids, same as fat.” It should be noted that I don’t particularly care about the accuracy of some statements I make. “Now that you’ve led us off on a tangent, though, I think it’s about time we get back to the meeting at hand.” I looked to Mender. “I’m not meeting them.”
“Are you afraid?” he asked.
“Nah. But you just want me to go so you can raid the meeting and catch everyone red-handed. Except you already know the when, where, what, who, and even why. You could go all on your own, and I don’t feel like doing any extra work for my captors along these lines. You don’t need me there. If the only darn thing I can do to show my dislike for this course of action is to stay clear of it, then I will. It’s despicable the way you’re going after them just for a little bit of theft. I mean, come on, theft is what Christmas is all about!”
“I can not think of one single, solitary way in which Christmas is about theft.”
I didn’t even need to think. “Guy in a costume breaks into people’s houses all night and helps himself to their food. Plus, I think there’s a story of him having a helper who kidnapped naughty kids. Probably made them work as slaves in his secret fortress in the Arctic, where he spies on everyone and assembles a secret list based on whether he thinks people acted right. Ow, big guy.” Minotaur’s fingers had dug into my shoulders a bit there. Since I figured I was annoying him, I also threw in, “Also, this chick got knocked up by a dude who totally said he was a god, then used someone’s barn as a maternity ward without permission or payment. Like, ‘there’s not much room in my apartment, but I have a storage shed, just don’t get afterbirth, blood, poop, and placenta all over the place. Aww, Mary. You had ONE job.’”
“Stop,” Mender said to both myself and Minotaur, who had raised one hand and balled it up threateningly next to my head. I saw it, but I had kept on talking regardless. I was going to go into detail, too. A hologram would have worked even better. Watching a woman give birth is an easy way to promote abstinence, at least for anyone sexually attracted to women.
He went on. “We can not make you do this, but we hope to avoid violence while recovering the nanites you stole. You would be doing a lot of good for more than just us.”
“Blah blah, getting dangerous substances off the street. Save the speech for drug cops. I am a dangerous substance. I bleed dangerous substances. I do other things to produce dangerous substances. Wanna see?”
“There are always men, women, and children who will need the advanced medical aid your nanotechnology can provide. When you first told us the goal of your theft, I knew we could use it to provide several Christmas miracles for people you missed before you used them to take over the world. People do not trust them now, but we can still use them.”
“Appealing to my sense of goodness will never work. I want to be changed back from human. Human sucks. Human blows. Human works the shaft,” I told him.
“You will be human for the rest of your life if I have any say. Instead, your cooperation with us will prove we do not need to keep you on a psychic leash.” Now that got my attention. It’s not as good as turning back, but even turning back without getting rid of those compulsions would only do me so much good. Plus, it’d be harder to clear those out.
He knew he had me, I think, when I leaned forward and asked, “I do this, and you get Psychsaur to let me out of it?”
“Among other things,” he said. “I want you to listen to our plan. You will be surprised.”
Which is how I wound up in that office with a bunch of other nervous criminals, getting my pay. I think I was the only one without a gun or knife in the room. To try and set us all at ease, Butterfly had offered some wine, and I was even the only one to take that. I only pretended to drink it, though. I don’t trust him. I just don’t get that much of a say in how I react to him.
“I did what I did for a reason. You were going to betray me, so I betrayed you. Now, the Ukrainians are out of the import/export business thanks to the heroes, I have the goods, and you are all alive. It worked out for all of us, and I want it to keep working out.” He gave a sly smile and stood up from his comfy leather chair to indicate a table to the side of the room. It had five open cardboard boxes and five large thermal canisters. “Feel free to inspect them and make sure I am not shorting you.”
Nobody else jumped up to it, so I stepped over first. As expected nothing blew up in my face when I opened any of the boxes. Each one was the same: packed with $100,000 in cash. When I survived looking, Mr. Blue Sky hurried over to grab a box and head for the passageway out. Hail Mary, Billy Jean, and especially Sgt. Pepper took their sweet time. They checked the cash over themselves while I unscrewed one of the canisters and reached in.Yep, nanites. But, I figured I’d prove it.
I held my hand out. “Anyone got a knife on ’em? Just nick a finger for me.”
Billy Jean pulled out a switchblade. “You sure?”
I nodded. He shrugged and grabbed the middle of my pointer finger, opening up the tip with a slice. I put my thumb over it and applied pressure while reaching that hand into the fluid below that I knew consisted of harmless filler and useful nanomachines. It felt different, feeling them seek out the injury and close it off as a human would. I normally get more of a connection to some of them. When I pulled my hand out, the finger was healed back up, which confirmed that method of payment to the group. I held on to that canister as Hail Mary and Sgt. Pepper both went over to check on some of the others.
Billy Jean took the cash, nodded to us, and left. Hail Mary got herself some nanites. Pepper looked at the cash for a long time, then shook his head. He said something to himself that I couldn’t catch, then grabbed his own thing of the nanites. When I saw he’d done that, I palmed a pebble-sized tracker that wouldn’t show up as anything to consume or destroy to the nanites and dropped it in. I closed the lid and instead grabbed a box of cash before leaving.
Yeah, it actually went well. No double-crossing, at least on Butterfly’s side. And no raid by the heroes. That was explained to me by Mender when I agreed to listen to their plan. Because, instead of raiding the place and potentially not finding where the rest of the goods are, they want all of them. They did make me turn over the $50,000 I was paid for the job though, wink wink. But I have a great deal of leeway in helping them come up with the specific plan to manage the next step.
They used to have someone they could rely on to help with this sort of thing, but she’s out of the country on holiday at the moment. And while the Master Academy’s hero education is supposedly top-notch, they don’t necessarily train their people to be thieves and burglars.
So, in a turn of events, I get to plan a heist with some of the heroes as my crew. And this isn’t just some job stealing from a warehouse or meth lab or something. Uh uh. According to that tracker, I get to use heroes to break into a bank. Ha! Serves ’em right. They want to make me do good deeds, I get to make them rob a place. Something tells me this one’s going to get loud.
Hmm. And they’re going to have a Santa show up there. Time for a little ho-ho-hold up, I think.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” These were the words of Johnny Butterfly, who deigned to speak with me personally. A most unusual way of doing business. “These are desperate times for many people. That desperation breeds opportunity. Let’s change the phrase around then: opportunistic times call for opportunistic people.”
“These must be unusual times to be giving us this speech like this,” said one of the others in the room. An older man, with grey hair and plenty of lines. “We’re here for work.”
“He wants to pay us to sit around and listen, that’s fine with me,” said a pot-bellied fellow in the grips of middle-age. He almost had a mullet the way his curly black hair hung down the back of his head. He smelled like he’d been drinking, though this was ten in the morning. A bit early for me to be up, let alone drunk.
Butterfly took it in stride. He sat, a thin man in a pinstripe suit, clean shaven, with hair just a little gelled up. Late twenties. His tie was deep purple purple, almost black. For all his boldness, that was the extent of his unusual visual affectations. It was more than enough, especially meeting us like this. Basement or not, secret passage to the neighboring buildings or not, it’s not normal for a crimeboss to meet with some random collection of independent contracting thieves in person.
I’m all for someone doing things in unusual ways, and that’s also why I’m paying attention. I think we all are, except for the drunk. It’s me, old guy, drunk guy, a Hispanic teen trying in vain to grow a mustache, and a husky black woman with her hair dyed bright red and pulled back in a ponytail. A regular bunch of reservoir dogs are we. And utterly expendable.
“This is an unusual meeting because this is an unusual job. I am not tasking my usual men for this because the situation is so unorthodox, but at the same time I am not paying in the usual way. I wanted you to believe this is serious, because it will sound like a joke.”
“What’s the punchline?” asked our dark-skinned double-minority. She counts for double for our affirmative criminal action. Actually, she almost balances out, the way crime works. Her being black, she’d normally draw far more heat than the rest of us. But she’s a woman. Part of that whole storyline about women being fragile things that can’t work and must stay in the kitchen while the men do manly things also says women are weaker than men and therefore cannot compete. Not as fast, strong, nor can they dare to best the mighty menfolk. It tends to mean that women don’t get picked up as often, and they get shorter sentences. When men say they want women in that damn kitchen, they damn well mean they want them there instead of prison.
That means the only person we can rely on dumping all the blame on is the Hispanic guy. And I hear this latest president-elect guy’s trying to get rid of them. It just isn’t right. If they get rid of all the Hispanic criminals, white people might start getting arrested instead!
“The punchline is that this city has the biggest hidden reserve of medical nanotechnology in black storage,” he said.
“Excuse me?” the black lady butted in.
Butterfly held up his hand. “It is a secret repository for sensitive materials being used as part of black projects for the military or the intelligence agencies. This one is a private facility. Privatization is the future, so they hired a private military company to maintain and guard a site for them. These honest capitalists love to make money on the side and someone lost the paperwork for a large shipment of medical nanotech purchased by the government and so secret that this was the only set of paperwork in existence. The person who knew all this and informed me of it has passed away, meaning the company does not even know what it has in storage.”
I raised a hand. Butterfly pointed over at me. “Yes?”
“Ok, so I’m getting something of an understanding here. You want us to break into a private black site hidden somewhere in this city, guarded by mercenaries, and somehow escape with the entire thing. Because I was told my part in this would be non-violent.” Oh how I regretted not being allowed to hurt people outside of name-calling. Sticks and stones break their bones, but words aren’t a very good response to a squad full of mercs going Rambo ape-titties on me. I can do amazing things with all sorts of everyday stuff and a human body, but it’s harder to talk someone to death. Not impossible, but I’m not a little kid.
“You’re right, that plan would never work,” he said. I wouldn’t say never, but I’d have to be myself again to make it work. “Instead, we need to find a way to alter the shipping information so that the container is transported. We quietly divert that shipment and everyone goes home a winner.” Butterfly finished and flashed a smile I could almost hear ding.
“Not everyone,” said the Hispanic youth, looking around at us. “Not the people expecting that shipment.”
The older fellow guffawed. “Cocky little guy, aren’t you?”
Butterfly showed us to one of his other properties through one of the basement tunnels. We came out in the back room of a bar. It looked like the sort of worn old room they’d use for private functions, with more than an ample table for our little party. “Everything you want will be provided for here. Maps, computers, equipment. Inform Lindon the manager and he will get it for you on my tab. After this, you have no more contact with me in any way, but you also do not discuss this with any of my men. Lindon is here to provide you space and equipment. I will have everything my people know complied and sent over in the morning. Until then, enjoy your new book club or anonymous group. Whatever you call yourselves to the public.”
He shot us another sharp smile that belonged in a dentist’s commercial and pulled the wall closed behind us, leaving us milling around there. “That’s not a bad idea about the anonymous. We could pretend we’re an AA group,” said the black woman.
“Yeah right,” said the drunk. “I am not quitting for this.”
“You think you would for the sake of… this,” responded the older guy, trying to beat around the bush.
The youngest man of our bunch still preferred being open about what he did to the bush. “This isn’t right. He’s going to set us up or something.”
“Watch too many movies, kid?” asked the lush.
“Kid,” the elderly crook raised a hand. “I’m not saying anyone’s setting anyone up, but even if someone was, I wouldn’t talk about it in the man’s own bar, in a room he has a secret door to, where we’re probably being listened to.”
“Retarded.” Our token woman shook her head, looking at the youth.
I just rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Our little Foot Fetish Support Group can call itself whatever we want, even meet where we want. But there’s nothing to worry about unless we’re successful. Let’s focus on that first. And figure out why what we can all do so we can make this happen.”
Right off the bat, though, I figured myself, the young guy, and the old one definitely knew our odds of an easy walk-away on this one. Two of us just weren’t dumb enough to talk about it in a room so full of ears, the walls might as well be made of corn. This situation stank, and not just because the last group in this room loved their lutefisk.
The folks back at Master Academy didn’t even ask where I’d been this time. They were busy, and had a way to track me. Besides, they’ve gotten used to my wandering about without causing too much trouble or exposing myself. I don’t think it’s stupidity so much as the problem with constant vigilance. People always lapse.
Instead, I was just heading to the cafeteria when Venus stepped out of a side room, dressed for working out. “Hey!” she said. “You’re just in time!”
“For what? Taco Tuesday?” Like Fried-Chicken Friday, Spaghetti Saturday, and Sundae Monday, it’s one of the special meal days staggered so that they aren’t every week.
She grabbed my arm and started walking me back down the hallway toward the gym. “Nope. I need a partner for a demonstration. You’re volunteering.
I turned and walked with her. “Ah, I was wondering if y’all taught Sex Ed.”
“Keep wondering. This is for Phys Ed.”
“Right. Instead of doggy style, we’ll go downward-facing dog style, right?”
“This is going to be fun.”
What turned out to be so fun was us walking into a gym with several students of all ages sitting around on the bench. Mats were laid out on the floor, and Psychsaur stood holding some gloves. I kicked off my shoes, then pulled off my Behemoth jacket and t-shirt, the latter of which had “Harder!” written on its back.
Venus smiled up at them. “I found someone who agreed to my demonstration. Maybe you’ve seen our guest here, Puss in Boots.”
“Remember to keep the pants on,” Psychsaur said, holding out some gloves.
I took them and slipped them on. “Remember to let me fight back.”
She rolled her eyes and stepped aside, a smirk across her scaley face.
Venus called out to me as she circled around to the opposite side of the mat. “You’re fit, right? I don’t have to handle you with baby gloves?”
I pointed to the scar on my chest. Just a scar. I’m not entirely familiar with the amount of time it takes to heal from everything they’d done to me, but a trip through the arcade machine did me some good in that regard. I doubt I’m quite as fit as when all the muscle would be repaired and maintained by nanites, but there’s no need to let Venus in on that one. “When it comes to me, we aren’t talking baby anything. But if you’re ever looking for baby gloves, I might know a guy who can get them nice and authentic. None of that faux-baby pleather.”
I pounded away at my chest, making sure I didn’t have anything loose on the inside. Body by arcade machine doesn’t normally mean good health, so it’s best to check that sort of thing before strenuous activity with my nemesis. I smiled at Venus as I did it, who returned one that had less good humor in it. “And there’s the dead baby joke. It’s going to feel good shutting you up again, even just like this.”
Based on the calls coming from the stands, some of the students clearly enjoyed out back and forth. I saw money pulled out for bets. I also saw Venus stretching. She noticed me watching. “Are you going to stare and get your butt kicked, or are you going to limber up too?”
“I think a part of me’s already lumber… I mean limber… but okily dokily.” I began a kata, which I knew she’d know was unusual for me. I even through in a couple of ridiculous spin kicks just to play around. When I saw she’d finished and stepped onto the mat, I stopped, got my feet under me, and attempted a backflip. I landed on my face and stumbled up and onto the mat, apparently still unbalanced.
I heard Venus approaching by her laughter and running. I whipped around and caught a leg that she tried to put through my back. I dropped her to the ground and got a couple of good punches in before she slid loose and rolled back. I kept throwing punches, hitting the mat as she evaded each time. Still not quite balanced, I brought both hands down where I hoped to catch the back of her head, but she got onto her knees. So I leaned toward her and put my weight on my forearms. I brought my bare feet up to kick at her face with the bottoms. That time I made contact, though the constant attacking left me in an awkward position. Probably something you’d see in yoga, actually.
We both had to take a moment, though. After the impact, I swung my feet forward and twisted around into a crouch. A few feet out of reach, I saw Venus rubbing her cheek. “That’s why you never underestimate an opponent, even one who doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing.”
I stood up and smiled at her. “If I don’t know what I’m doing, how are you going to figure it out?”
“Maybe I’ll brute force it,” she said. She moved closer and threw a couple punches toward my head to scout my reaction. Not too fast. She wanted me to dodge them. When she tried it a third time and I dodged, she brought her leg up and caught me in the side with her shin. I grabbed the leg with both hands, though. Not a good position for her to be in. So she just jumped up and caught me under the chin with her other foot while doing a backflip.
It’d been awhile since I tasted blood. Can’t say I prefer my own flavor. I like my bodily fluids either where they belong or where I put them. “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood,” I said as I got to my feet. I saw she hadn’t completed her little flip either. Rather than wait for either of us to get up, I threw my weight forward and straightened up by thrusting my knee upward about where her face was. She moved her head to the side just enough, grabbed my thigh, and lifted. I went down with her on top of me and an audience of eager schoolchildren. I still wished this as Sex Ed, but she grabbed my arm and shifted to try and put my in an armbar.
She tried to extend my arm, but I grabbed hold of it and got my feet under me. When I pulled up, she let go and stayed on the ground. I, meanwhile, shot right up and off balance. Then someone, presumably Venus, decided I needed to be back on the ground. She grabbed my ankles out from under me, sending me back to the ground but with a bit less air. Instead of my arm, she went for my leg, wrapping hers around my right leg and twisting it at the knee and ankle.
I just growled and kicked at her, trying to find a face or boob or anywhere painful to hit. “Tap out!” she called to me, followed quickly by, “Ugh!” since I found her face from the sound. She didn’t let go, though. I sat up to throw a fist into her face, but found she beat me to the punch.
Things got a bit fuzzy there for a few minutes until the nice doctor lady gave me something that made me feel real nice and started putting me through all kinds of tests. Not an MRI, but there was an x-ray machine and several needles involved. It’s like they had it all ready. When I got out of the school infirmary an hour later, Venus was even there to help give me a hand, and my clothes. “How was it?” she asked.
“I’m surprised at the rapidididity of the response,” I answered. “And why did she give me a colonoscopy?” I saw her offered arm and grudgingly took her up on the offer. The drugs were wearing off, and I’d acquired a limp. Not the sort of limp a little blue pill could fix, either.
“After all the fuss you gave the other doctors, we thought it would work better to do a work-up while you were otherwise preoccupied.” She sounded all nice and cheerful.
I’d have stopped, but at that point I wanted to get back to the library and find a nice pile of paperbacks to lay down on. “Did you just beat me up to make me go to the doctor?”
“Congratulations, your colon is clean,” she said.
“Oh? Got your foot out of there already, you unethical bastige?” So going to kill her. Gonna kill her dead.
“You can always ask for a rematch.”
I tried to take one right there, but my hand stopped in midair. She pushed it away and said, “Ask for one, with a please and a thank you.”
Screw it. Set-up or not, I’m gonna crime so hard, everything’s gonna be stolen. I’m gonna be walking around with three watches on my arm, and another two in my pocket, all stolen. Next time I see a baby with candy? Better give it over. And they better not ask me to be in some sort of school baseball team. Never mind the danger, it’s time to rip some people off like they’re Band-Aids.
The first step was finding a nice place in the library for all these lovely medical supplies I seem to have tripped over and found. I can sell the pain pills at least, but I’m not yet sure what I can use this X-ray for. Maybe reheating leftovers.