Cue the monthly break from my boring, over-powered ass to hearing about the lives of other villains. At this point, I’m wondering if I should even bother with my own stuff anymore. I mean, I’m glad nothing’s beating me, but it’s got to be boring.
Anyway, here’s the Outlaw X bunch. Maybe they’ll have something worth paying attention to.
“Hey there folks. Been awhile. Outlaw X, cuttin’ through the air again at long last. It was a hell of a time getting things settled here. I don’t want to go into details, but it’s important for us to remain independent and, more importantly, out of prison. Maybe we’ll give everyone the full story someday, but until then, we’ll be on the air to offer you hot tips, cool tunes, and stories by supervillaiins. Folks, at the end of the hour, we’ve got a special by a fellow from Hephaestus to talk about underground agriculture and tips for improving crop yields on your illicit pot and coca farms. What he has to say about the future of illegal farms may surprise you.
We would have had him in here now, but he’s been held up on his way here. He called us to let us know he was calling in a Hephaestus Acquisition Squad to get his wallet back. Some mugger picked the wrong son of a bitch to pull a gun on. We can shuffle things around. We’ve all had plans go wrong before. So we’re going to bring up one of our stories.
Some people choose to be villains for injustice or greed or infamy. There are more good reasons than there are villains. Some of us don’t get a choice. This is a story about one of those, a fellow I’d heard a thing or two about recently. There are plenty of new people with powers every day. There’s been plenty of misfortune to spawn plenty of us these past few years and the same names can’t grab headlines forever. I look forward to the fresh faces and fresh challenges of the future.”
I was born the child of white, middle-class parents, so of course I never thought Id’ see the day I was hated just for who I am. Just to be clear, I don’t mean that mythical “reverse racism” bullcrap. My parents actually used to mock the idea that I thought MLK was a good guy. They probably love the way things turned out.
I grew up lonely with the closest sibling in age to me being eight years older. It didn’t help that we lived out in the country in a house built by my stepdad with his barns and his horses right there with us. I didn’t like the outdoors and I didn’t like horses. They’re assholes. So once again, there’s irony there.
Being that far out, we didn’t have water lines. We got our water from a well, which meant we didn’t have any utilities if the water went out. There were filters and things to soften the water, but it was good, delicious water from underground. I used to drink it all the time. Hell, I’d drink pool water while swimming. I didn’t mean to do that, and I’ve thrown up from swimming more than once. Been blind more than once from all the chlorine, too. I liked to swim. When I was little, I’d swim in creeks, ponds, wherever. I had a very friendly relationship with water.
There was a prison out there in the country, too. Nobody wanted them in their city. And like a lot of prisons, this one needed to turn a profit and put the prisoners to work. They mixed and bottled chemicals for a petrochemical company that went overseas a few years ago. This is a lot more than I knew at the time. The community had time to learn.
Somehow, the chemicals got into the water table and kids got sick. That was all some of us dealt with. Others grew deformed limbs or had a strange skin condition, but a few died. I thought I got out of it fine until high school. First came the weird rash, then the scales. Then my eyes, my legs, and my arms. I was a warped monster. I had fins and gold scales. It was painful and itchy. I only felt better when I was in the water. That meant baths and swimming. I did so much swimming, and I quickly realized I was faster and could see better.
The doctors got more and more desperate to figure out what was going on with me. One of them, Katchadourian, got my parents to agree to let him study me while I was swimming. We set out for the Gulf of Mexico. I’d gotten a little afraid of the ocean as I got older. It was full of all sorts of strange, scary animals. It even got harder for me to play Subnautica. I was worried stepping out onto the beach. There were stares.
“It’s alright, he just has a medication condition but you can’t catch it!” my mom announced. She fanned herself while calling from the window of the Caddy truck, air conditioner going full blast. Dr. Katchadourian and I trudged across the sandy beach toward the water, him holding a beach towel around my shoulders.
“Do you just want me to swim around here?” I asked, nodding toward the closer water.
He reached over and tapped one of the devices fixed to my wrists. “These, all of these, will allow me to monitor your vitals in the water. Exert yourself, but don’t get into any danger.”
I shrugged off the towel and walked into the water. I felt so weightless. I hadn’t swam in the ocean in years. I remember thinking I’d be worried about those clear jellyfish, or weird fish brushing against me, but I could see incredibly well. So I thought to myself, why not see how far I can go?
I cheered in my head as I picked up speed. The feeling of the water flowing over me was amazing. I really can’t describe it. Cold and exciting. I think that’s what they mean when they call something exhilarating. I read a lot growing up, but I’d never been in a situation where I that word applied before. And I could see through water that had always been too murky. I dove and chased the fish. It wasn’t until I weaved between seaweed that I realized I’d been down for some time and my lungs didn’t burn or hurt or feel strained. That freaked me out, so I surfaced.
I was…. way the fuck out there. There was no way a person swims that far underwater. Not unless you’re a magician that trains for it. I started swimming back to shore on the surface. That’s how I realized how fast I was swimming. I could have been in the Olympics. I wouldn’t, though.
As I got closer, I saw people on the shore noticed me. None of them were my mom or Dr. Katchadourian. Instead, I saw little kids screaming and running around. A man with too much body hair jogged over to a truck parked close to the beach and grabbed a shotgun out of the back. When I could get my feet under me, I waved my hands in the air and called out. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
The man raised the shotgun and pointed it at me. I stopped. “What are you doing? I don’t want any trouble.” I started to back off, but he started running forward. He shot at me! I dove into the water, but I could see he kept coming. It was lucky he missed me. I tried to get away, but he kept coming and kept firing, so instead I circled around real quick and grabbed his leg. I only meant to get the gun away from him and hold him under enough to make him stop. I pulled him up onto the beach, but then I realized he wasn’t breathing. I called for help but no one was around.
I tried CPR for, I don’t know. It felt like minutes. Then Dr. Katchadourian was there and he took over. By that point, the cops were showing up, pointing guns, pushing me down. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I thought it would be fine if I went along with it. They didn’t believe me. They kept saying I was a monster. I didn’t know what they meant until they put me in the interrogation room.
My eyes were larger somehow, like the skin had pulled back from around them. Mouth was bigger. The webbing between my fingers was more consistent and my feet were kind of flippers. I had gold… well, I had yellow and orange scales everywhere, but some were pushed up a little. I ran my hand over them and buckshot fell down onto the floor. The guy hadn’t missed, but I was some shotgun-proof gold fish monster.
I freaked out again. I tore the handcuff chain off the table and started banging on the door. I tried pulling, straining, pressing my foot against the wall, and the door opened. I ran down the hallway and jumped out of the first window I came to, landing on a sheriff’s truck. I pulled myself out of the dent in the windshield and ran for it. I didn’t realize I was running to the ocean until I was headed down a hill and saw it in the distance. Gulf of Mexico in front of me, wailing sirens behind, I sprinted for the water. I’d played football and was pretty fast in a sprint, but I never would have had the lung capacity.
Cop cars came around the corner. One of them tried to hit me and missed, plowing into a woman and her daughter coming out of a gas station. A deputy shot out of the other. I don’t know if it hit me or missed. He pulled up beside me and kept trying. I bodychecked his door and dented it in. The driver’s side window shattered and he swerved off, hitting a parked car. After that, I didn’t see much of them until I got to the water. Some of them were there already, trying to put up tape. Dr. Katchadourian was with them. I slowed to a stop, puffing at the air. “Doctor…”
He raised his hands. “Son, you’re going to be alright. This is all a big misunderstanding, but I need you to calm down.”
“Tell them to calm down, they’re shooting up the town trying to get me!” I said, motioning to the nearby deputies. They had shotguns and rifles aimed at me.
“I know, but you have to calm down. If you calm down, I can get them to put the guns away and we can try to figure things out from here.”
He took a step toward me. A radio crackled. The cops fired. I screamed, because I could feel it when the slugs bounced off my scales. I ran for it, knocking Dr. Katchadourian over, and bounded onto the cruiser he’d been in front of. I jumped forty, fifty feet into the ocean.
I’ve been home before, but they still want me for murder. They want me for a lot more now. I stole clothes, stole money, stole boats and stuff to have a place to live. I tried to sink a house once, but it didn’t hold together.
Dr. Katchadourian got weird. I didn’t have the devices on me anymore. The cops took those off when they first got me into custody, but somehow the guy keeps finding me. He always figures out where I am before long. Last time I spoke with him, there’s no way he should have figured it out. I was just about to sink cargo ship full of sealed containers from the company that made the fishman I am today, when he stepped out of the shadows.
“It’s not too late to stop this, Goldfish,” he said, using my alias.
“Undercuts the point when you bring those along,” I said to the others who stepped out. One super wore a white and purple costume that had an arrow pointing down. Another was in green and silver, with bulging armor pads under the tights. He had three green pyramids that rose poking out of his chest.
“You’ve become an infamous pirate. I don’t know if you’ve gotten to like what you’ve become,” he said.
I shook my head. “Doesn’t matter, does it? I’ve been treated like a monster from the moment I changed. You can’t fix people once you break them, doctor.”
“And I weep for the boy you were and the monster you’ve become, but you need to be stopped,” he said. Claws dug into my shoulder as I was yanked up. I looked up at a guy in a blue an gold costume with wings and the metal claws he was using to lift me up off the boat. I grabbed the claws, which were some sort of boots he wore, and pulled them apart enough to make him do the splits. He let go with me way up in the air. I had survived higher falls by that point.
I almost didn’t sink the boat because the doctor was there. I know he made it off because he showed up a month later in Ricca when I was enjoying some noodles with some of the money I made robbing the wrecked ship. I didn’t have to get onto it to sink it, and I didn’t have to steal from it while it was above water. I suppose with what I’ve found down there, I don’t really need to steal anymore, but then how would I go around calling myself a pirate?
It’s better than when I was a powerless monster.
I don’t feel like it, ok? I’m allowed to have a downer episode, aren’t I? Alright, so it’s my pills. I’m on something new for my mental health instead of relying on Mix N’Max’s mysterious meds. I feel like I’ve been up for awhile and impossible to drag down, but something about the change of prescription has killed my motivation. And I’m not very motivated on my own. Feels like I’ve done nothing but react for awhile now. I’m actually looking forward to loafing around the house and just taking care of my daughter. Ugh, but I should probably clean more around here.
New plan, and it might distract me from the funk I’m in. Step one, play a Parliament album. The best way to get funk out of your brain is to put some funk into your soul. Step two, invent robots with a limited learning AI capable of simple cleaning tasks around the house. Oh, wait, I have some of those from the store. Well then, step two is to eat Cheez-Its and binge Murder She Wrote. Note to self, ask therapist about pot gummies.
Oh, yeah, I’m sure there’ll be something entertaining from Outlaw X.
“Folks, we’re in the shit right now. I’m not saying our moving pirate broadcast station was caught in the sewers during some flooding, or that we’re up literal shit creek without a paddle, because that would be embarrassing and potentially give away our location to the people who want to shut us down.
We lost a few files, but we have back ups. We just need to dry those out and spray them down so we can be in the same room as the back ups for more than thirty seconds without our noses burning off. Heading down these sewers was the worst idea ever, and I can’t wait to find someone else to blame it on.
Listeners, while I handle that and find someone to swab the poop deck, we’ve got a recent submission that we’re going to put on for you. So here’s one we got recently with a different perspective to it. It’s the story of science, and the mad science assistants that make it all possible.
The Igor View
“Ready the Critterator, Branson!” yelled the doctor. I lost track of this one’s name and checked my clipboard.
“Yes sir, Dr. Designer!” I called. I shuffled over to the Critterator’s control panel. Most of the machine was a block that took up the wall. A rainbow of different-colored wires snaked from the top of the block to the saucer-shaped mechanism hanging down from steel ceiling supports. The saucer made it look like an enormous showerhead that topped a round enclosure of transparent aluminum and reinforced steel walls.
A man lay drugged unconscious in the cell with a goat chewing on his jacket collar.
I’m Branson, professional mad science assistant. I have a background in conventional science, but my passion is history and archeology. I got into mad science after college because I had student loans. One of my professors’ fired colleagues needed some help with a personal project. He wanted to build a device that would convert people into bees. He even had a captured bee woman. I felt bad about helping out, but then these bee people broke it up. They got back their woman and the guy, leaving me with nothing but a bunch of scientific equipment. I wiped out some of my debt. I figured the first time made me so much easy money, I’d put myself out there. Bee guy left me a phone with a connection to VillaiNet. The rest isn’t history. It’s mad science.
I want to say real quick, there just aren’t enough mad Historians worth working for. I mean, sure, this guy invented a device that combines humans and other species into a horrifying abomination that shares a single body, but it’s better than working for someone like Dinesh D’Souza. Dr. Designer is less murderous. I’d love to do mad archeology, but I hear there are snakes and poison darts involved. I’m allergic to poison, so I stay where there’s air conditioning. Mad scientists love climate control. Quite a few of them plot to control the world’s climate.
So I’m comfy, I’m paid, and I’m not the poor sap and goat in the containment cell.
Dr. Designer paced back and forth, a grin underneath his tinted lab goggles. “I can hear the generator powering it up. The hum of progress, a beautiful symphony that society wished to strangle and mute. Soon, the pioneering spirit within this chamber shall become the first success of my project, combining the intelligence and tenacity of humanity with animals for our benefit. Imagine, Ig- I mean Branson, imagine the possibilities. A human with the speed of a cheetah, the strength of a gorilla, the senses of a wolf, and the immortality of jellyfish. It is devoutly to be wished!”
Yeah, that slip of the tongue there is where he meant to call me Igor. That’s a nickname for people like me, and I’m not the only one. We’ve got our own community and union of sorts, which is why nobody puts us in that cell unless they want to wire their own Critterator. I devoutly do not wish it, and neither did the blowhard doctor since he called for other people to have all the honor of getting zapped instead of him.
“Uh huh,” I said. Dr. Designer cackled as if I made a great quip. I turned to pull out my vape and noticed someone moving around in the dark. I stepped aside as a woman in a black catsuit stepped past, flicking onyx-black claws in my direction as a warning. I held up my hands to let her know I wasn’t getting in the way. I make sure my contract includes a part about not fighting. That’s what the minions were for. They’re a separate guild. Designer had some cheaper guys, more of a group of goons than proper mercenaries. They wore harnesses over black shirts that would hold the batons now in their hands or the zip ties they hoped to put on the infiltrator’s hands.
The person in the catsuit was a blur of limbs and claws, slicing goons across the forehead to blind them with their own blood.
“Throw the switch, Branson!” Dr. Designer called. I’d just as soon not, but he was paying the bills and hadn’t lost yet. I used the activation lever and the room lit up with a bright flash of lightning from the showerhead. The transparent aluminum front of the containment cell lit up. When the light faded, goons littered the floor and the cat woman was approaching the cell. We could all see the results inside: a goat man, standing on two hooves, with a goat’s head and horns, but human eyes and hands, draped in thick fur. Dr. Designer opened the door from his remote.
The goat man stumbled, then exploded into chunks of goo and blood. A bunch of it got on the cat woman, who then got tackled by a bunch more goons.
“Branson, pressure wash the chamber and prepare to run the experiment again at 95% power.”
I sighed. This is why I told him we needed to build a drain in the bottom of the cell. But no, now I have to dry everything out once I get it washed. “Yes, doctor.”
I awoke the next morning to the sound of alarms. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and pulled it free of the charger. I had bluetooth access to the camera system and saw the catsuit woman free, fighting alongside a man in black fighting with a saber. They had the goons handled pretty well.
I stuck around long enough to see Dr. Designer get tied up with a sore, clicking jaw, and I started grabbing my contingency fee in the form of copper wiring and an armored case the doctor said could power a larger version of the Critterator. He always emphasized that it was obscenely valuable, so I thought it’d make an obscenely good thing to steal when things went belly-up. It didn’t have any decals on it about biohazards or nuclear stuff, but I knew better by then to trust a mad scientist to put up warning labels.
A couple weeks later, I was in a new laboratory hideaway. A swankier one. I was put in contact with this guy, calling himself Nucleosis, when I asked the rest of the Igors about getting this power source evaluated and valued. A woman named Mary Sue mentioned Nucleosis. She knew him as someone who 1. pays, 2. needed exotic power sources and 3. dabbled in nuclear energy with lots of lead shielding.
Nucleosis greeted me at the door of his forest lodge with a brown turtleneck and a pair of cargo khakis over brown shoes. He looked boring, an excellent disguise for a mad scientist. Having had to sneak up behind people talking to mad scientists, it’s way easier to whack them in the head if they think the only threat around is a middle school teacher with dad bod. “Come inside,” he greeted me. “Let’s see what you got.”
His lab was built into a cave underneath the lodge with its own proper walls, ceilings, and floors. “Your fellow Igor, Mary Sue, helped me so much with the walls and insulation. I didn’t want to rely on the caves alone. Call it a habit of working with nuclear materials, but I like a lot of control over my environment.”
“I can tell,” I commented while enjoying a breeze from a vent. He showed me to a room labeled “hazardous material testing chamber.” A man in a radiation suit exited and mumbled something.
“I’m sorry?” Nucleosis asked.
I leaned over to Nucleosis, “He said he’s prepared to run the test.”
Nucleosis looked impressed. I shrugged, “I’ve worked with a lot of protective helmets.”
“Brilliant,” Nucleosis said. He indicated the man. “Lets see your case.”
“It’s pretty light,” the man in the suit said.
Nucleosis led me down the corridor to the control room, manned by a single minion. “Raymond, where’s Kevin?”
“He’s out sick, sir,” the minion said. “I can’t get him on the phone to get that left monitor fixed.”
It was stuck in monochrome. I glanced at the system, then leaned down and messed around with the system. “It’s a common problem when the system updates,” I explained. The left monitor came into focus on the testing chamber where three guys in those lead-lined suits. They had a box they put it in with a robot before opening it up to reveal a red glow.
“What is that?” I asked.
Nucleosis leaned forward. “I’ll take it. Whatever you want.”
“Fine, but you have to tell me what it is,” I told him. If this is really so valuable, I need to look into stealing more of it in the future.
“That is a concentrated remnant of the unique bioenergy from an ineffably powerful being known as Mr. Omega.”
“It looks like a big… pearl,” I noted. I get tired of everything being an orb or a sphere. I consider it part of my job to help people come up with better names.
“Yes,” Nucleosis said, voice lowering to a whisper. “An Omega Pearl. It may well be the secret to phenomenal cosmic power. They say someone imbued with that would have immense power, reality-warping power all to themselves.”
“$100 million, no checks,” I told him.
Igor’s getting the fuck out of this, unless anyone wants to buy the location of an Omega Pearl. The bidding starts at $100 million, no checks.
Alright, folks, I’m still recovering from some strokes and having my mind sucked out of my body. Thought I’d take a minute to get my brain checked out. Might do me some good to avoid ethical dilemmas that make it look like I’ve become a joke while delaying the exciting climax of a situation.
“Outlaw X here fam. I think I’m using that right. I recently visited the Piazza in New Jersey. I’m glad that unpleasant logistical business was cleared up. I enjoy the variety of vendors. Be careful starting a bidding war. I think I got a man killed over a coffee mug that doubles as a grapple gun. Fantastic stuff and helps me rob cafes on my morning commute. It’s not my fault. Starbucks coffee is so good, it’s criminal.
Now you folks didn’t tune in just to hear about shopping and coffee. You came here for a show. Now I’ve got one here that makes for an amusing and enlightening tale. I don’t have children myself, but many villain and vigilante has to juggle their costumed career with ponderous problems of parenthood. At the Piazza, I found a bulletin board of support services including babysitters. A number of people had vandalized the babysitter notices except for one. One name stood out above the rest. Sandy Silver, the Super Sitter. If you’ve got alliteration, I suppose you’re better off going four ‘S’es rather than a pair. They vandalized that as well, but with compliments. Folks, I did some looking, and I had a story here from that very same person, submitted some time after the lockdown.”
So, hey, my name is Sandy. My mom is some lukewarm, crystal-hugging woo person. Like, you’d think those people are all old and crusty and using walkers, but my grandma went to Woodstock and then then became a die-hard “Just Say No” Republican. Mom rebelled against her by becoming just like her when she was younger, but with Gwyneth Paltrow and the puss eggs. I thought she was memeing the first time she told me she lost the rent money on investing in her boyfriend’s rental grill business. By the way, Jerry, if you’re hearing this somehow, I know you spent it all on weed! Nobody rents grills!
That first time, I did what I had to do. I put on an outfit, I went down the hall to this couple that had been fighting because they couldn’t go out together, and I offered to babysit for money. They weren’t sure but they left. It went fine and I pretended not to notice that she had a cut lip and he had a black eye because I needed the money. The third time, their baby Broxson tried to fly out the window. I knew I’d need more money, so I tied the baby to his crib and his crib to the dresser and his dresser to the door bathtub. Problem solved and I got a bonus that night.
The couple were superheroes and their baby got powers like they did. I started charging them extra after that.
My name didn’t start getting around until the couple had me watch their kid while they went to an important meeting. I bet it had a bunch of superheroes. Their son caught the toilet on fire. I got it out before the smoke ruined everything. I started getting calls the next day with job offers. I needed it. Mom’s rent was covered, but she had been dating someone who borrowed her car to use in a demolition derby but wrecked on the way. She needed a couple new tires, and those cost money. Instead of calling us to tell us what happened, Terry tried to back the car into a cop who stopped, then ran off. They caught him trying to run into a river to escape, a ziploc bag of pain pills in his pocket.
I watched superhero children for like two years before I had my first super villain job. Don’t go there, I mean I worked for supervillains. I didn’t commit any crime. You can’t arrest me for anything, piggies. ACAB. Like, you wouldn’t tell either side was more or less middle-class bougie, but the villains had a lot more rules about what to do if the police show up and phone numbers for multiple lawyers. Even when they were arrested, they still left enough cash to cover my services for the night.
I covered the car, prom, and started to pay for college in Austin.
This is a lot of backstory for and you lot love action. So let me tell you about the most money I ever made on a sitting job.
I was out of college by a couple of years. My mom was staying at my place for the weekend. She’d been dating this guy named Larry who needed the house for something. He was being cagey. Mom said he was doing an in-house yoga retreat, then she said he was selling subscriptions to a cheap legal consultation service. I didn’t trust Larry, but I could put mom up long enough for the cops to raid it and her to get the house back out of evidence whenever something happens.
I came back from an afternoon sitting for a local crime boss’s wife to find her passed out on the couch and the house smelling like the incense she uses to cover up her pot smoking. I don’t care as long as she doesn’t touch my stash. My business phone had a message: a villain named Disaster Master got a job last-minute. I think someone got arrested.
It’s great money, so I left for Disaster Master’s house and called in a food delivery for mom. Forty-five minutes later, I was rushing Disaster Master out the door of his house in the suburbs. Disaster Master was a man in his late 30s with dad bod and a costume of black and yellow with knee and shoulder patches resembling iron plates. He spent a little time after I got there going back and forth on wearing his costume before I convinced him to wear his costume under a layer of clothes and take the mask with him.
“Thank you, thank you!” he said. He pulled a hoodie over his head and tugged his mask off to hide it in the pockets. “I’m sorry for being a burden. I have been waiting so long to work with these guys and they always turn me down, but Pop-Man got the shits real bad. Uh. Too much information, I’ll just go.”
I nodded and gestured him to the door. “Yeah, sure. Anything unusual I need to know? Special numbers, a lawyer, all that?”
Disaster Master tapped a note he’d taped to the inside of the door. “That’s all there, the money is on the kitchen table plus an extra fifty for the short notice. Lacey’s in her room playing Fortnite. She can’t eat peanuts.”
“Good luck!” I called with a smile plastered on my face. If only the heroes knew. I don’t share. That’s why if this goes out on Outlaw X, I’m not including the dirty details of superhero housing. It’s not even that funny after the first dozen skid-marked tights.
I checked in on the kid, a ten year old videogame sniper, and checked on what she wanted for dinner. Pizza, as usual. I took courses in college to cook because I thought it might help with my business, but most kids just want pizza and a lot of the tights brigade don’t keep a good pantry. Like, get your act together.
It’s an easy job. At this age, kids are self-feeding, self-cleaning, and self-entertaining. Ten is too young for me to get surprised by awkward questions about bleeding and boners. If she doesn’t end the night pregnant, injured, or killed, I’ve done my job. That’s more than my mom’s babysitter can say.
The night went smooth until a quarter after eight. It was too early for Disaster Master to be home or he wouldn’t have hired me. I checked the window next to the door. I didn’t get a good look, before they backed away down the front walk. I didn’t like that they did that, so I took out my phone with one hand and grabbed a sleek, modern-style lamp off a coffee table with the other. The thing that slowed me down is remembering I’m probably not supposed to call the cops. No one’s tried to break into a house I was sitting at. What if I call the cops and Disaster Master drives up in his costume?
I activated the microphone to text Disaster Master, backing away from the window. “Someone’s here in a black outfit. They’re acting weird.”
A man in black leather crashed through the window, swinging something overhead. I fell back, dropping my phone. I didn’t know if I hit send. I tripped over the couch and rolled off it.
“Who are you?” he asked in a gravely growl he affected.
“Who the hell do you think you are?!” I asked right back. I threw the lamp at him and watched as the cord swung it against the floor.
“My name’s Andy. Vigil-Andy,” he answered. He swung a pair of fighting sticks around in his hands and raised them up. “I’m here for the kid.”
“Well she’s ten. She’s way too young to go out,” I said. I checked for my phone. On the floor, message sent. I hear humors about what happens to people in costumes who go after family members.
Vigil-Andy pointed at me. “Stay at of my way.” Then he turned his cute leather butt toward the hallway and the little girl poking her head out of the room with her headset on.
I didn’t get in his way. I grabbed a greasy pair of pizza slices and slapped them against his leather mask from behind, trying to cover his eyes. “Like, eat it, you leather-bound bitch.”
He knocked me down with his arm. Whack, upside my head. He turned to me, pizza falling off his face, rubbing at the eyes of his mask with his forearm. “Bitch!” he called, raising his fighting stick. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small pepper spray. He thwacked me on my head and collar with his stick before I sprayed as much of it into his face as I could.
Vigil-Andy screamed and stumbled off, trying to find the kitchen. I winced and moaned, trying to work my way to my knees. Lacey was staring. I waved her over. “Come on. Let’s go.” I stood up slowly, hunted for my phone, and shoved it into my pocket. Lacey ran over and looked to the door, past a bunch of broken glass on the carpet. She didn’t have her shoes on. My shoulder hurt as I carried her out through the broken window. Vigil-Andy’s black muscle car blocked my Mazda. I found my keys, then told Lacey to go stand by the side of the house. I hopped in the car, buckled up, and backed my car right into the front of Andy’s. “Just giving it a little nudge,” as my mother said once or twice. I pulled up, put in reverse, and came back harder.
It didn’t push the muscle car far enough to let me get free, but I stumbled out and waved Lacey over again. Together, the pair of us ran out into the neighborhood and away from the house. As soon as we found a nice pair of bushes to hide in, I called Disaster Master and watched as Vigil-Andy walked out of the house covered in milk and water. With sirens approaching, he decided to just give up and hop in his broke car to drive off with a tire going flat.
They didn’t catch Vigil-Andy, but they did catch his car. It wasn’t in any shape to outrun the cops, but he still got away. For now.
I woke up sore as all get out the next day, but received a few bouquets of flowers from villain clients. The biggest included with a few thousand dollars cash and a card that read, “For medical and auto expenses,” and signed with an infinite symbol.
I don’t know what’s happened to Vigil-Andy, but every single one of my villain contacts told me I didn’t have to worry about that guy again. Mom was concerned about me, but she wound up more concerned about her house after Larry got arrested for dealing coke to the mayor’s wife. Who he was banging. They raided the place and caught him in my mom’s bed with the mayor’s daughter.
You can’t always trust who you let in your homes, especially if you’re a superhero or a super villain. But you can trust me.
It’s Outlaw X, coming at you with another, did I say another? I mean another story of ne’er do wells doing well for themselves. We know times are tight and boring in the middle of the pandemic, so we’ve got a story to warm your dark souls.
Not everyone wins the superpower lottery. Flight and superstrength are great. Superspeed is amazing. But what happens when you get a truckload of radioactive dust dumped on you and your ability is to make people suffer the symptoms of allergies? Well, then you get powers like AllerJen or Anna Phylaxis. Not the worst of abilities, but not the sort of thing that puts you on top of the pecking order, not until someone figures out how to make Psycho Gecko allergic to metal.
Well, this story’s about someone whose life dealt them a small pair of cards, and they turned that into a jackpot. I know I’m mixing my games here, but the real casinos are shut down right now. I can say whatever I want. Hey Harrah’s, bite me!
This, ladies, gents, and nonconformists, is a story I like to call the “Sneeze Snatch,”-
No, hold up. I’m not calling this the Sneeze Snatch. Are you serious? I sometimes get some help putting word to paper so I can tell a coherent tale, but Sneeze Snatch isn’t good enough. Sounds like a cryptid or a freaky STD. “Sorry, I’d love to come back to your place for coffee, but my last boyfriend gave me Sneeze Snatch and it’s flaring up again.” That’s the kind of disease someone makes up to get out of a bad date. Nevermind that name, I’m going to call this one… I got it! I got the name.
Gesundheist. You’re welcome.
Nicholas had powers. He’d had them for awhile, but they weren’t that impressive. He can’t use his willpower to create light constructs or toss around planets. He made people sneeze.
It started soon after he entered high school. He could feel it, a sense of the impending. He would feel a wave of pressure building and look to find someone sneeze. Achoo. Bless you. There was an occasional distraction, one that built slowly over time. He didn’t realize how strong his powers had grown until he returned to school for his senior year and was overwhelmed with the sheer number of growing sneezes. It gave him a headache. It flared up bad enough to make him stumble on the way to his second class. He stumbled into a junior on the wrestling team who pushed him hard against lockers on the other side of the hallway. That made the headache worse, but the wrestler left him alone to go talk to a girl whose body I’m not going to comment on because I’m not a horny teenager. Nicholas felt a release building, and not the usual one teenage boys are often plagued by. He willed it out and the wrestler went full-on, snot down the face, fucking sneezing so hard he stumbled. The girl ran off to the bathroom to wash her cheeks off, and Nicholas realized he had a superpower.
A lame superpower.
Nicholas didn’t find much use for his powers outside juvenile pranks. Tests were fun to mess with. Someone who used to pick on him in middle school had their name interrupted in every class they shared until teachers and students alike refused to say his name. He screwed up the principal’s speeches at gatherings. I guess the bit where he accidentally made the School Resource Officer shit himself was kinda funny, but the rest of this is pretty juvenile and I don’t think anyone will mind me skipping over some of this.
Nicholas knew he wasn’t going to be a superhero or villain, so he went to college. Somehow, this was a worse mistake than running around in public wearing a spandex outfit that hides nothing. You hear me out there? Nothing. I know some of you don’t think we see. We see. We see EVERYTHING. We see you when you’re sleeping and, God help me, we know when you’re awake, fellas.
So Nicholas got into trouble. He owed too much money to the worst of people… banks and the debt collectors they sell to. He might have solved his problems with a run at the tables and horse races until Johnny Butterfly’s guys found out powers were afoot and threatened to stick their feet up his ass over it. Jesus, the backstory on this guy.
That’s why Nicholas, a guy with superpowers comparable to a large amount of dust, ended up walking into a police station to pretend to be looking for a detective who sometimes does favors for Uncle Butterfly. Their meeting was absolutely inconsequential as far as the rest of the force would see. Nicholas came in to talk about a case Sgt. Dunsworth was working.
The precinct as busy. Sure, some people could afford to stay six feet from the nearest person, but there’s a lot of police work that doesn’t work like that. You can’t wear gloves for all of it, or masks. Anyone with half a brain knows an outbreak is inevitable. The day Nicholas walked in there, inevitable would become actual. He needed cool phrases like that to calm his nerves. In retrospect, the iced coffee he picked up from the store was a bad idea.
Nicholas wasn’t a confrontational type. He’d known that ever since his days in high school, solving his problems with his powers from afar. He was so eager to get started on this job, this salvation of a job. He’d made a simple deal. He had used his powers to cheat at one of Butterfly’s fighting pits. A sneeze here or there and everyone betting on the underdog has a nice day. It wasn’t the first night Nick had used his powers in the fights. Even seeing the bloody and bruised faces of the losers couldn’t convince him it was less humane than when he’d fixed horse races using his powers. That last time, a horse broke a leg. Everyone knows what that means for a race horse. A person going into a cage to punch another person knows the risks. A horse is just an animal.
But they nabbed him. And beat him, rapidly changing his opinion on the ethics of making someone else get beat up. That lesson came at the hands of two of the fighters who lost because of him. They brought him before a local boss working for Butterfly, who ordered them to escort him until he’d paid back as much of the money he still had. This day in the precinct would cover the remainder and reimburse the local Butterfly boss for the time and energy he had to spend solving the problem.
Nervous Nick caused the cop at the desk to sneeze three times before he even got up there to ask for directions. “Oh, shit, sorry!” he said at first.
The officer was busy looking for a napkin or paper towel. With Nick’s poker face, it’s a good thing the cop didn’t ask why the new visitor to the station had apologized. Our intrepid new villain knew better than to stick around when he got the directions he was looking for. Instead, he walked down the hallway, rounded a corner, and jumped when he saw a woman approaching around the corner. Not even a cop. He made her sneeze and told her “Bless you,” then shook his head as he walked off. He had to calm down before cops start looking into him and why he was there. They didn’t have to be smart to figure it out. Not when the criminal they’re dealing with is literally something to sneeze at.
He spaced it out. When he got off the elevator, one of the people who got on had a sneeze. Someone leading a suspect around did too. When he reached Dunsworth’s desk, he said what he needed to say. “Hi. My friend said I needed to come see you about a case involving his stolen family heirloom.”
Dunsworth looked Nick over and sighed. The detective motioned for Nick to sit down. “Let’s talk.” Nick joined him across from his desk, but was surprised when the detective actually wanted to talk. “Get mixed up in something you shouldn’t?”
Nick didn’t want to talk about it. He had enough judgment from family. He didn’t need to seek out bad feelings from a dirty detective with a mustard stain on his suspenders. He concentrated on what he was there for, giving a big achoo to a chunky fellow with a flat top who had just grabbed a cup of coffee.
Now, cops are not the brightest. If they were, their problem solving abilities would extent beyond beating and shooting. Even they can understand that if everyone is sneezing for reasons having nothing to do with allergies, then something’s up. The latent fear people have of the pandemic, which is a good and useful fear to have, did the rest. You couldn’t keep people in there, and they didn’t have enough tests for everyone.
Dunsworth noticed the change in atmosphere and grabbed Nick’s arm. “I guess our visit’s over.” He leaned in to talk more privately. “I don’t know what your deal is, but you you should get out as soon as possible. Don’t let them get hooks in you.”
Nick yanked his arm away. Dunsworth grabbed it again. “Listen to me! It’s fixed. The house always wins, even when you think you’re done- choo!” Nick pulled away and ducked through the crowd while Dunsworth sneezed.
He waited until he got a block away before texting the Butterfly boss. “Just got back from a friend’s house. We had a productive conversation.”
The reply came a few minutes later. “We’re going to have a party later. You should come to it. I know how much you need money.”
Nick looked at the text and thought back to the detective. Then he thought about the debt collectors, calling every day.
“I’m in,” he texted back.
Will Nick escape unharmed, or will he be caught by the long kerchief of the law?
Who nose? Find out next time on Outlaw X.