I finally talked Oligarch into the field. I suspect the Seals managed to wound him, or at least cause serious maintenance on at least one portion of his armor.
No more stalling. No more getting things into position. No more “let’s see what’s behind curtains one and two,” just curtains.
It all began with a curtain call that finally linked all of The Order up to one another. There, I explained just enough for them to be useful in wrecking me shit: the docks are overcrowded with hostile bee people led by a group of queens. Expect super strength, organic armor, and stinger swords. I ended the brief briefing with an appeal directly to Oligarch, “Your people need you.”
They didn’t spend a whole lot of time getting organized. While supervillains don’t make that good of an army when it comes to working together, it also means they don’t need a lot of time getting organized before a sortie. The two are kinda connected.
It also meant that we didn’t hit the docks as one body. It was more like waves. Roadkill skidded along in a steamroller as one of the first guys in, probably having one hell of a time. I didn’t pay attention to how far he went. I was curious what would happen when he hit the water, but I was too busy landing from on a crane and watching the attack go down.
Once again, my armor protected me physically and provided me with a convenient disguise. For some reason, I just don’t feel like settling for the marginal offensive and defensive capabilities of the Banshee costume. Besides, it helped me feel more like myself again.
So I looked down, laughing, as Buzzkills took to the sky in small clouds to pursue individual flyers. I had to catch my breath before I could call back to the bunker that it was go time. I’d also briefed the heroes on what was going on before I visited the villains. I’d admitted that I had some connection to The Order necessitated by being outed as a superhuman and as a need to maintain contact with the heroes themselves. I was surprised Wildflower didn’t vouch for me there, but she’d been distant lately. Enough of the heroes remembered my help releasing them that I made a good case without a character witness.
I gave them the same information about the Buzzkills. They are a menace, I tell ya! A horrible menace that threatens to destroy everything good in the world. But they were still my best bet against the swarm of bee people. Eh? I bet y’all see what I did there.
I revealed that I’d set up The Order to go after the Buzzkills. I’d had the plan in waiting ever since my people were the first to lock down the docks following the discovery of the insectoids. I know people say that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but sometimes lying about there being sugar in the spoon works just as well, because they swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
And I implored them, with every acting bone in my body, that though they may not all trust me, “Your people need you.”
So while I watched shit hit the fan at the docks, heroes departed from the base of Double Cross Tower and started hitching rides with each other to make it to the battle. This was their time for revenge. Being cooped up made them antsy and ready for a bit of action. I can’t even take credit for that level of enthusiasm. I’d gotten so paranoid about them all over the past couple days, I seriously almost pushed the button to fill the whole bunker with gas. Once, I stopped when I remembered I really shouldn’t do that. Another time, I didn’t go through with it because I couldn’t remember if I’d loaded Arsine, which is toxic, or Sexahol, which creates feelings of love, goodwill, and physical lust.
That one might be a missed opportunity there.
Knowing they were on the way and feeling about a half-ton lighter, I celebrated by jumping into the fray. I leaped off the crane and wrapped my legs around the torso of a Buzzkill humming by in hot pursuit of a man in a duster and bowler with a pair of bunny ears trailing back as he flew. He didn’t take kindly to my presence and attempted to throw me off by swinging around in a circle. I dug my fingers into his shoulderblades and clawed my way up to a standing position. With a back flip, I clubbed his head. This time, he calmed down a lot more when I held onto him with my legs. I liked his change in behavior so much, that I kept right at it. Hammerin’ away. I could barely pull myself away, it was so much fun.
Unfortunately, it also left me and the Buzzkill plummeting. I grabbed him by the shoulders long enough to get my feet on his chest, then pushed off into an incomplete back flip. It separated me from the Buzzkill, but didn’t really get me close enough to the crane or anything else.
And yet, I felt oddly at peace. No, seriously. It was being ok with falling that freaked me out. That got me flailing, which is probably why Forcelight chose that moment to grab my arm and save me from cracking open like a mussel dropped by a bird. The jolt felt like it pulled something out of the socket, though. Probably my arm. I couldn’t check until after she slowed down a little and dumped me on top of a rusty old warehouse roof. After rolling, I was able to take inventory of my physical state. Yep. It was the arm.
Forcelight’s presence created quite the buzz, and not just among the bees. Villains were all over the comms.
“Is that Forcelight?”
“What’s she doing here?”
“Alive? Not possible!”
And so they spoke, and so they spoke, those lords of Empyreal. But then heroes joined in the fray, with everyone clear they’re here.
No, I didn’t actually go with The Rains of Castamere as a way to announce their arrival. I didn’t think about that until later. What came to mind instead was a song from an album where a bunch of inmates break out and start killing their captors in order to obtain freedom.
That’s why some unspecified person, wink wink, played a short piece announcing, “Hell is empty… and all the devils are here!” Plus, I knew it’d piss a few of them off. I’m pretty sure Venus is some sort of Christian. And even if she isn’t, chances are good most of the other heroes are.
I guess it’s worth pointing out since it’s about time for the War on Christmas to start up again, but America is about 70% to 83% Christian depending on what poll you’re looking at. Then again, they screw up their definitions all the time. I saw one that asked people to identify themselves and discuss their beliefs, which is how they have a percent of atheists who believe in a god, a bunch of people who say they don’t believe in any gods but who aren’t atheists, and agnostics as separate group. It’s like saying that people with red hair are considered a separate skin color.
But that’s a tender subject that many people would prefer to treat gingerly.
Of course, these heroes were too busy fighting real enemies to worry about imagined ones. They swept up behind villain battle lines that were facing the wrong direction, and they were generally more inclined to teamwork than their enemies.
Of course, I say that like someone looking back on things. At the time, I just tried to get my arm back in and subtly apply my miracle-working super machines. That, and having fun. A line of about four Buzzkills came at me, bro. I ducked to the left and grabbed the shoulder of the one on that end. I whipped around and got that one in a facelock as I kicked off one of its buddies, then swung it down and planted its face into the roof. I immediately sat up and rammed my head into the belly of a Buzzkill that tried to impale my downed chest with a stinger sword. Another sword glanced off my back, showing that I wasn’t as unarmored as I appeared. The last one took a swipe at my throat from the side, though. Not cool.
I caught that one and twisted it, then used it to fend off another blow from the one behind me. I pulled her close and got her in a triangle choke. The parried Buzzkill took a step back and aimed its stinger sword at me, shooting out a flash of yellow energy that exploded against me and its comrade, scorcing some of the hologram system’s microcameras and creating a minor power surge. Needing a projectile of my own, I smashed my hand in the top of the captured Buzzkill’s exoskeleton and pulled out what could have been a brain, which I then tossed at its compadre. The Buzzkill knocked it aside, but took a moment to ponder in disgust what she just did.
The one I headbutted had recovered then, and I was tired of handling all of them on my back, so I jumped up and took a punch from it just so I could grab her arm. “Hey, doll. Ever been roofied?” Then I threw her off the roof.
When I turned, I saw the one standing up who I’d introduced to the roof. I also saw the one who shot me taking aim for a second shot. I walked forward and clapped the wobbly one on her shoulders. “Good to see you’re alive!” I told her, then ducked behind her for a moment. A good punch stumbled her back in the way of the shooter, but I didn’t stick around to see them get into a fight. Nor did I stick around to see the shooter discover the headless rubber chicken tied around the lower arm of the off-balance Buzzkill or the subsequent explosion as the chicken grenade went off.
It’s like Sweeney Todd’s joy over finding his old straight razors to be able to use those again.
I jumped from that roof to the next and then stopped a moment to survey the battlefield. It was beautiful. Lights of all different colors lit up the sky as supers fought with themselves and the bees. The bees themselves were dropping like flies, which made me wonder for a moment about how vague the line is on who supers do and don’t kill. At this point in the fight, everyone was so worried about life and limb that I don’t think it mattered. The royal Buzzkills could have easily counted as too “super” to kill, but I saw one of them kneeling beside another downed one, doing something. She shook, so maybe the trauma of our little fight had gotten to her.
Before I could see how that one went, an angry roar got my attention. As opposed to a sleepy roar or a casual bored roar, I suppose. Another of the royals threw a dumpster at Oligarch. A burst of his boot jets sent him to the side while micromunitions from his raised left arm caught the dumpster and knocked it to the side with a detonation. A pair of tubes then pushed out of the side of his gauntlet and spewed a cone of flame in her direction. Then she let out more of a crispy roar.
I let myself fade into invisibility so I could make a call. “Hello, this is Beetrice,” said a happy, buzzing voice on the other end.
“That’s what you went with?” I asked my pet royal Buzzkill. When she didn’t say anything for a second, I reminded her, “I can’t see you when you talk over the phone. Say yes or no.”
“Yes. Who is speaking?”
“It’s me. Gecko. The one who rescued you.”
“Oh! Hi boyfriend. How is your day going?”
“This is a bad time to do whatever it is you think you’re doing right now. You know how I told you you would soon take your place at the head of your people after their numbers had been whittled down and your evil sisters were defeated?”
“We talked about it before you left. Yes. Is it time?”
“That’s a big ten-four, sweet bee. Get that shiny hiney on down here and try to keep yourself and some Buzzkills alive. Come on, your people need you.”
Lot of damn people needing a lot of other people today.
While she was busy on her way, I let myself live in the moment. Nearby, I saw someone wearing a goat’s head as a mask sweep an FN MAG machinegun across the sky. I don’t even know what side they were on, but I knocked them the fuck out with a punch. Then I saw Roadkill climbing up a ladder out of the water. I grabbed the machinegun and slung it at him. He ducked behind the ladder, which blocked the gun, but the noise attracted Buzzkills. Then, some giant rolling ball sped in next to me and separated into panels that folded up into a much smaller ball held in the hand of one of the heroes. I think that asshole punched me back at the asylum, in fact. He stuck that ball to his belt, then pulled off a blue one and a yellow one. The blue one he threw at crowd of Buzzkills. It hit one, then bounced off another’s head, ricocheting around the group until they all fell to the ground. While that ball did its trick, this big baller dropped the yellow one and kicked it over to where a bloody-mawed wolfman fought with what looked like a prepubescent girl in a red cloak and hood. She contorted out of the way of a slash from the wolfman, who then seized up as electricity arced out of the ball and formed a sort of cage around him. I put the ball guy out of business by hitting him in his weak spot from behind. You know the one. His balls.
It saddened me that I couldn’t go completely wild there, but I had a job to do. I looked around, scanning for Oligarch. I found him overhead, pushing his suit to stay out of Forcelight’s grasp while they dodged around buildings and the crane. He used his munitions to try and divert the heroine into the crane as a means of weakening her. I needed a chance to get close and jumped onto the crane itself. That’s when he chose to dive down and lead her over the water.
She was in chase mode, following him out there, but staying a little higher. It didn’t help her much when Terrorjaw flew out of the waves and chomped on her. Oligarch changed course, heading back to shore while she fell below the waters with the sharkman.
It gave me an idea. I unsealed one gauntlet and began charging up the other. Oligarch soared closer, leaving a wake as he passed over the water. I jumped out, hoping he didn’t decide to juke to the side for some reason at the last minute. He would have seen a small glow in the air until the hologram changed from showing the environment around me to showing Forcelight.
I’d timed it right. My glowing fit hit him in the back, the charged energy driving him into the ground. He bounced, even. Yeah, a bad part of having armor that’s so small and fits so tight against the body is it may not leave a lot of room for padding. That’s an issue miniaturization just can’t fix. I rolled and skidded as I came to a stop, throwing up a few sparks that I hoped no one noticed.
My facade as Forcelight continued as I stepped up to him and reached down to grab hold of the stunned villain’s neck with my bare hand.
One of the reasons the neck is so vulnerable is that it’s the only way things get between the head and the rest of the body. Brain signals, food, air, alcohol; you gotta go through the neck. It’s a literal chokepoint. Me, I implanted the equivalent of bodily wifi at the base of my head that lets me bypass that weakness in case my neck is broken or even severed. Oligarch didn’t have that on his side.
I had to work quickly as I felt my system merge with the cables and wiring in Oligarch’s armor’s neck. Armor stability could have been better. Running a bit low on ammo. That’s a problem with kinetic and missile weapons. A few heat vents were cracked, though. I could work with that. I ordered more to shut down. He had a self-destruct in the suit, too. Probably remotely activated, I would hope. A way to keep people from jacking his stuff like they did with mine. I stole the frequency, then backed off when I saw him making more purposeful movements.
I became invisible again and slipped on my glove just before water exploded out of the ocean nearby and Forcelight shot into the air with Terrorjaw riding her back. You don’t see that everyday.
She spun around, and I saw Terrorjaw fall off, then go flying as she kicked him out to see. Off in the distance, I think I saw him skip a few times. Well, he’s England’s problem now.
Back on land, Oligarch wrestled with his suit. Over the villainside comms, I heard him call out for anyone with ice powers. “My suit has a malfunction. The heat is building up. This is critical. Anyone?” He pulled his helmet off, looking like a sweaty old man with a bad case of helmet hair. He took a deep breath, then Venus swung down and clobbered him in the face so hard, I swear I heard a bong sound from her armored fist.
Isn’t that some shit? Forcelight had been on his case, then I put in the real work of beating him down, but Venus shows up at the last second to get all the credit?
I let her bask in the glory while I jumped for it. That’s about the time I noticed that the living Buzzkills had already made a run for it. Nothing left but the bodies. I saw some of them bees fleeing into the city from the vantage point I took further away from Oligarch. I didn’t know how big of a self-destruct Oligarch put in his armor, but I hoped it was smaller than city-wide.
Oh well, not worth asking him at this point.
“Look out, he’s going critical!” I yelled into everyone’s comms, then counted to three and sent the signal. The explosion disappointed. I expected a nice fireball, maybe some rocking. You know, maybe bend the crane a bit. I saw fire leap into the sky and heard people scream, but a closer inspection showed very few people actually hurt. The main one I focused on after confirming Oligarch was nothing but a crispy critter was Venus. She laid off to the side, clutching her arm and smoking a little.
Well, if she didn’t know smoking was bad for her health before, she probably learned her lesson getting blown up like that. A part of me felt bad, seeing her like that. I wanted to go down there, walk over to her, hold her in my hands…and squeeze her throat until she crapped her tights.
Sadly, this was not a day for star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet. You know, a couple that winds up killing each other.
I had a window there, where everyone had stopped and wasn’t entirely sure what to do. To the villains, I said, “Retreat. We’ll have a meeting about this later. The Order is not done, but I think it’s clear we don’t own the city anymore.”
To the heroes, I said, “Let them go. We don’t need any more fighting than is necessary. We’ve won.”
Then I called up Harlon, my guy in the news. He’s an executive who climbed to that position in part because I killed the right people and feed him the occasional red hot story. He wasn’t in Empyreal City, but he was very happy he could have his people report that a fight left the Oligarch dead and the city no longer under villain control.
And, finally, I called up Beetrice the Queen Bee and told her she did good getting her hive out. That, and “You better not watch Deep Space 9 without me!”
I’m not too keen on knocking her up with a colony full of my illegitimate insectoid monstrosi-babies, but a job this well done makes me feel like regrowing my balls for a celebratory nut scratch.
I settled for a victorious glare on top of Double Cross HQ while bells rang happily through the streets.
You see, I learned something from all this. Having any one ego in charge can work for certain group, like Double Cross. The company wouldn’t exist without me. It is a manifestation of my will, acting in my name to accomplish my goals. They are my drones, my workers. But they have to work toward a goal. Without one, they turn out about as cooperative and focused as the Buzzkills. And even if I wanted a group of equals based on cooperation, someone’s going to wind up the figurehead in charge, like Oligarch and The Order. And getting that many powerful individuals together and trying to force my goals on them would probably turn out just as bad for him as it would for me. And I don’t need a gang of enemies. I have enough of that as is. You need some sort of crisis or change in the paradigm to control them. The most basic way is a threat.
Yeah, I learned something. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power, power corrupts; study hard and be evil.”
And since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving for those in the U.S., let me add a cheerful: “Party on, dudes!”