This town really livened up. Empyreal City has seen its share of new arrivals since my group trickled in. Wildflower’s been somewhat resentful, since she’d been here fighting the good fight. A quick check ruled out the possibility of her being a double agent. She let me do it again, though she did ask me to refrain from snapping her neck this time around.
She gave Girl Robot some particularly hostile looks when the cyborg approached me and ran her hand over my shoulder. The whole jealousy thing would have been over in a hurry if I bothered to crack the armor. Sure, Wildflower and I got a nice shower in the hotel, but I had to spray down the interior to keep it tolerable. With the environmental seals, it’s not really a threat to my stealth, but it’s not very romantic either.
When Wildflower saw the way Girl Robot was touching on me, she asked, “Who’s that?”
Girl Robot narrowed her eyes and asked, “Who is that?”
“Wildflower, this is Girl Robot. She’s one of the Claw’s people. We met on the way up here, talked a bit about cybernetics.” Girl Robot looked at me, surprised by my answer. I then continued to her, “Girl Robot, this is Wildflower. She’s my girlfriend. Unfortunately, she was left behind. I’m glad to have her back, though.”
“You didn’t mention a girlfriend,” Girl Robot said before walking off quickly.
Wildflower looked at me. “Cybernetics?”
“I came back for you, didn’t I?”
“Yeah.” She walked off, too.
I’ll have to give that situation time to cool off, which may be difficult. There’s not a lot of room for it.
It was a spacious bunker, wide open, but it’d already been crammed full of Buzzkills before I brought in the Moonies, Satan’s Poolboys, the Claw’s people, the runaways, and so on. I’d gotten trickles, and little groups, but it sucked to not get more with me. I hoped for more. Like the Rejects, or more from the Master Academy. At the end of the day, people didn’t like me, didn’t trust me. Nope, so I get the dregs and crazies, maybe the odd villain who wanted to kick some ass. Well, and folks like the Claw’s group, who hoped to show up the United States government.
So it was very nice to hook up with the other group I had Forcelight call up. I expected them sooner. I thought we’d meet up outside Empyreal City. I didn’t panic when it didn’t happen. I figured that maybe I’d get someone there. Y’all know how the cavalry is. They show up at the last second to save the day. Might as well rely on them to do what they always do.
So with me getting villains and crazies, it didn’t entirely surprise me to have Beetrice report back on the approach of a group that included a man in a black leather costume and another who almost took a Buzzkill’s head off with a revolver before the man in black could stop the gunslinger.
I grabbed Moai, Max, and a semi-fresh fruit basket. Empyreal City doesn’t have a lot of space for agriculture, so the quality of fruit within it diminished rapidly when the aliens separated the entire place from the rest of the world. Still, everything in the basket remained technically edible, except for the grapes.
I heard footsteps approaching in the darkened hive tunnel and hefted the basket. A glow rounded a corner, which turned out to be Good Doctor’s helmet light. I held the basket out and said, “Heya Doc! Great to see you again!” just before his boot hit the room’s light. He twirled a scalpel in his fingers the way some men knuckle-shuffle a coin, then gripped it in his fist with the blade pointed to the side in time to punch me in the throat.
Bulletproof doesn’t mean padded, by the way. An area like the throat, you can’t exactly fit armor plating on it. And even though a nanomaterial capable of preventing penetration by ballistic projectiles will stop a fist, it doesn’t do jack frickin’ squat about how much kinetic energy transfers through. At least Doc didn’t try it with the blade of the scalpel. It might have hurt more, and his power is very good at finding weak spots to slip a knife.
He made sure I remembered that part while I tried to keep breathing with the help of my suit’s life support. He grabbed one of the jester horns molded onto my helmet and held it, then dragged the scalpel along my visor where I could clearly see it. He moved it down, under the lip of my helmet, making sure I knew that he knew how to unseal the thing and get at my vulnerable face.
Naturally, this didn’t diminish the tension in the room. Gunman had pulled a gun, and more powers lit up the tunnel behind him. The Buzzkills raised their stingers, someone broke a glass bottle, and Festus slipped his shoe off into his hands. Shit was about to go down, yo. I just leaned down, trying to recover through the coughing fit invoked by the blow to my throat.
When I quit coughing enough to speak, I asked, “What’s up, Doc?” After a beat, someone cracked up and a lot of that tension eased up. Gunman holstered his revolver and soon the only ones not relaxed were Doc and myself.
Doc just stared at me. “My daughter!”
“I want to kill him anyway, but this scumbag didn’t have anything to do with Forcelight,” Lone Gunman helpfully provided. “This isn’t the time for this.”
Good Doctor twitched his head to the side and almost turned to look at Gunman. He stopped himself, and returned his gaze fully to me. When he spoke this time, it was with a more wicked, deeper tone to his voice. “She told me what you did.”
When I didn’t say anything, Doc continued, “In a few minutes of freedom, when your thoughts no longer touched hers, she told me the truth. You put those things, those nanomachines, inside her. You trapped her in her own body. Moved her like a puppet. Made her do things, made her say things. Watched through her eyes. Felt with her hands. Lied with her mouth.”
Oh, really. Well, good thing he didn’t know everything I did with her hands.
Doc leaned down and spoke in something of a loud, harsh whisper that carried to those immediately surrounding us. “Do you deny this?”
So, it occured to me my old friend might have been a bit angry at me. It happens sometimes. Still, these setbacks in planning are the cracks through which inspiration shines. Which is probably a quote from somebody, hell if I know. I stood up, looked him right in the glowing visor of his mask, and said, “No. I did it. It was the only way to get even this many here.”
Doc’s hand jerked. It didn’t come all the way to me, but I saw it all the same. He had to restrain himself, and he must have known I saw.
“Surprised?” I went on. “You know me to be shameless, but also a coward. And yet, I’m the one who came to fight. I did that to your daughter, but the Fluidic aliens have done it to eight million other daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, yada yada, in this city alone. And in other cities around the country. Did you hear that the anti-ET rallies in Russia mysteriously dispersed all on their own? The Chinese publicly laud Beijing as a new model for efficiency, but they sent me a contract to fly over and consult with them. Everything your daughter experienced, every one of those people is going through. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the army to save them?” I held out my arms.
I then pointed to Wildflower, who had her claws ready in one hand and a grenade in the other as she contemplated the violence we were close to. “What about her friends?” I switched to Festus then, who stood frozen in mid-shoe replacement by my attention. “What about his family?”
I leaned in close to Doc. My whisper didn’t carry like his did. “You want to be a good man? Sometimes good people have to sacrifice. And sometimes, someone like me has to make people get up off their asses and go save the world.”
Hopefully not often. That’s all kind of wrong.
I noticed Doc’s hand squeeze on his scalpel at the word “sacrifice” and he didn’t let up until the end of my little statement. His gaze drifted down, then back up. “Speaking of sacrifice, Psycho Gecko, I’m curious how you escaped Empyreal City the first time around. You were here, weren’t you?”
I nodded, as did Beetrice and Festus.
“What did you sacrifice to get out?” Doc looked around. “What could you sacrifice? How did you get out on your own, and why did you leave everyone else behind, except your dutiful Moai. No offense meant, Moai.” Moai shrugged. “Or did you strike a deal? You were at their mercy, and it’s obvious you don’t like them. What did you give them?”
You know that feeling, where an entire room turns against you? Yeah, that happened. Like suddenly all the attention turns to you and you know it isn’t good. “That’s not what happened. Technolutionary tried to bargain. He has this weird fantasy about me and him. And I think the Fluidics still feared I had a trick up my sleeve. And I do. I have two of them.”
“Then they could have killed you, or capture you. Do to you what you did to my daughter, all for Technolutionary. They didn’t. They had millions of people. Ordinary people, but they didn’t have what you have here: resistance. Superhuman resistance.” Doc held out his hands.
“I thought of that, but I-” I was cut off.
“You led us into a trap!” Someone threw a tomato. I didn’t even know we had tomatoes. Why is there always someone with a tomato?
I raised my hands and the volume on my speakers. “I disarmed it! I can keep them from doing anything to you! Listen!”
Well, they didn’t listen. I had it all in hand. But, well, then came the tarring and feathering. Or the honeying and spray painting. Then they tossed me outside the bunker, right onto the street. And I had to let them, because their lives were still valuable. Standing up afterward, I shook my hand at the retreating crowd as they started to close up the hive trapdoor and shouted, “Yes, I brought you into a trap! I can deal with it! I’ll show you. I’ll show the entire world! You haven’t seen the last of Psycho Gecko!”
Which was true. One of the things caused by my public messages and the time it took to get here was a larger media presence from the outside, hopefully ones not taken over already. One such chopper even got good footage of me looking like the world’s worst dessert. I let it follow me, publicly broadcasting my whereabouts, as I made a few calls to get even more people in the air.
Of course, I couldn’t let myself be taken out publicly by whatever the aliens have done to take out entire buildings, so I had to stay mobile until I had too many things overhead. I had to improvise. I originally meant to goad them into a big battle, make sure they had to commit a large crowd, show that resistance was futile, all that mess. I wanted as many of them out and about as possible.
I didn’t get that. Instead, I jumped around and ran along the sides of buildings before jumping off again, making my way around the city. Because this isn’t just about whether I look right or wrong. It’s about if the extraterrestrials want to demonstrate the complete failure of resistance by simply wiping me off the map. I figured, hey, maybe getting some cover overhead would work. Like in Central Park. I’ve done so many things there before, too. Killed some campers, stole some penguins. It’s got range.
And I always wanted to stop by and see Thoth. He’s this performer and super, possibly magical. Has a thing about prayer and worship in these musical street performances. Always wanted to see him after he got laughed off some show full of people who dismissed him because he looked unusual and spoke a language he himself invented. But he wasn’t there.
It wasn’t a complete waste. All things considered, the Bethesda Terrace Arcade, where he used to perform, is pretty nice. The camera angles from the news folks allowed me to keep an eye on things, even as I paced around under this terrace. That’s how I saw when they arrived. Venus and several more of the tights brigade who I assumed were known as heroes. I didn’t recognize any particular villains, and I doubt Technolutionary would avoid me.
They brought enough to form a wide perimeter, something I saw well enough myself out in the fountain courtyard. And I heard when Venus descended the steps behind me in her power armor, a hum accompanying each step and sway. It looked less blocky than last time, but like fitted armor plates. Like you could remove one and put another molded piece in its spot. It bulked up around her lower legs and forearms. The legs were wider at the bottom, providing more stability. The forearms built into bigger fists with a surprise or two likely built in. Her helmet didn’t show anything, but I noticed the gold visor formed a rough heart shape.
It always comes back to Venus, doesn’t it?
“It’s time you did the right thing, Gecko,” said whoever controlled her.
I looked out at the fountain of the angel blessing the waters of Bethesda, trusting my heads-up display to keep her in sight. “Facing the music? Facing my fate? Let everyone throw me to the wolves because I’m a bad person. Ah, hell, I’m sure Venus would know I deserve it.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”
I shrugged. “Venus isn’t here. Just you. You’re a puppet, sent to kill me. Venus wouldn’t.”
“I’m not here to kill you, just to stop you. They want to make this place better. I know you hate humanity. We’re flawed. We’re so flawed. But they can change that. They can make us of one mind, wipe away all our petty bickering.”
I supposed so, but then, look what they’d use them for? I leaned against one of the pillars of the arcade while Venus approached. “Yeah, as mindless and uniform as a gun. You’ll just be a weapon, Venus. Nothing more. So are you? Especially now, knowing they can’t swoop in and convert me and all the rest?” I turned toward her and held my hands out, wrists turned upward. “It’d be easy. I’m Psychopomp Gecko. It tends to end in death when I’m around. Your masters will get what they want. You know nobody else will mind, since that’s why I’m here alone. Unless you are Venus.”
She screamed, which I could probably depict here as “Raaaagh!” or something like that, but it’d take away from the drama. Then again, so did this. Whoops. Either way, she screamed, then punched me. I flew back, my flight path altered with a bounce off the column nearby and landed on the edge of the fountain where I rolled into it.
I stood up, slowly. Not for drama’s sake. It really hurt. “Venus…you leave me so wet sometimes.” And disoriented. That armor got quite a bit stronger than I remember. I needed to fight this one as the physical inferior, looked like.
“If you want to do the right thing for once, close your eyes. I’ll make it quick,” Venus called out, walking into the courtyard.
“Quick? You want to make me dead, but I’m not going to just lie back and think of England.” I responded, then charged.
She broke out into a run as well. Just before we reached each other, two things happened. I dived into a roll so I could kick up. She jumped into the air, a metal spike punching out from her armor’s right gauntlet. In the resulting clash, she didn’t get any on me, but I didn’t get as much of a good kick under her ribs as I meant to. It stopped her, left her dazed, but it also left me on the ground.
By the time I stood up again, we were back on equal footing. Cue the simultaneous appearance of the health bars and appearance of dramatic music, ala Metal Gear Solid IV. I laughed as we squared off. “Memes, Snake! Doge and trollface! Plank me, baby, plank me hard.”
Venus threw her spiked right again, but dodged back, shifted my weight, and rolled to the side. The enhanced pseudomuscles of my armor lifted me into the air to land on short wall nearby.
“You got into a fight just to run again?” Venus asked. “You’re good at stalling, dodging around it all. Why don’t you ever fight? Stop boring people.”
Under my helmet, I grinned. “Well, no one had to die today, dear. But, if you insist…” I knew the Fluidics were playing me. I knew it meant I still had the upper hand. Including the ability to hide my hand perfectly. Sure, all the gunk on my armor disabled the systems that allowed me to project complete holograms or hide myself, but even a partial disappearance, such as my left arm and right leg, helped.
I jumped. She caught my waist, where my invisible leg used hers as a nice step for leverage while I rained fists down on her helmet. She tried to let go and drive that spike into my belly, but I grabbed her wrist with my left to keep it from digging in and gave her a hard haymaker that stumbled her and dropped me to the ground.
“Where the head goes, the body must follow,” I commented, then dropkicked her. It didn’t send her flying, but it knocked her on her ass, and I bounced back up a lot quicker than her. I knelt by her and went for her helmet, scrabbling for an opening or seal, punching it to try and loosen it.
Venus grabbed me by the neck and threw me over her. She maintained her grip as she rolled over to straddle my chest and keep me pinned. Her punch, spike and all, barely missed its mark. And by barely, I mean it put a gash in my cheek. It’s not because of anything fancy, like Venus pulling her punch. I had cocked my head to the side. A couple inches over, and that’s all she wrote.
Her next attempt would have been on the mark until I caught it in my hand, losing my left palm to divert it. My other hand gripped her throat. Having a good grip with both hands, I at least managed to get her off me. I swear, so hard to keep the ladies off me lately.
I charged up the energy sheath in my right fist, ignoring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or at least Venus’s headbutts and other punches. My fist drove her head back against the courtyard and cracked her helmet. “One to one,” I taunted, chuckling. Then she stuck my side with a spike. Not the one in my hand, either.
“Laugh too much and you’ll split your sides,” she replied.
“Nice one,” I told her, and dug my glove into the crack of her helmet. She loosened her other hand from my other hand even as I did so, sliding the metal spike between a pair of my ribs. This gave me the opportunity to bring my other hand to bear and finally pull it off, exposing Venus’s face, surprisingly bloody. Then I noticed the way the neck of her armor merged right into her skin. “You’ve been upgraded, haven’t you? You’re like me now?”
I couldn’t take advantage of the exposure because she drove the sides of those spikes against my armpits and threw me off. My newly-ventilated body didn’t feel like standing up as quick as I meant it to, and the addition of Venus’s boot on my chest didn’t help matters. “You’ve lost. You just don’t know it yet.” The thing controlling her made her smirk down at me.
“I got that helmet off, didn’t I?”
“Look around. Punch my face in and you still would’ve faced the others united in our cause.” She didn’t bother to look up. “Just look.”
I did. There weren’t just a few heroes there anymore. Heroes, villains, civilians. Obviously, the entire city couldn’t have been there with me, but a hell of a lot showed up just to really grind in the futility of what I did. I picked Carl out of the crowd, looking down at me. Leah, who I’d briefly mentored, also appeared there, ready to be thrown against me in a wave of human fodder. And above them, various flying supers, news helicopters, and small planes saw it all. Heh, chemtrails over Empyreal City. None of the aliens had stopped by, though, nor Technolutionary. Ah well.
And then the riot broke out. Buzzkills flitted in. Moai stormed through a crowd. I even saw Ethan Basford carried by a glowing red lattice of magical energy that flipped bodies away. One of the converted began to crackle with electricity stopped dead when a scalpel appeared in her throat. The Good Doctor pulled it out before she could fall and looked down on the fountain courtyard as the sky darkened. A haze in the air blocked direct sunlight.
The bater had become the bate. Which could have described my sex change too, but that ship already sailed awhile back and took my penis along with it.
“This is your plan?” Venus asked, “You still don’t have enough to win.”
I laughed, spitting up a bit of blood in the process. “Nah, can’t say it is. But funny thing is, soon you won’t have enough either.”
She cut off my laughter by stomping on my chest, then plunging her spike through my throat. Then a green, tailed, barely clothed mess of a woman landed on her and got tossed against the angel on top of Bethesda fountain. Venus glared down at me with contempt, but at least I knew it wasn’t all hers. “You finally die, and there’s no deus ex machina to save you. No nanites for me to heal you with.” She knelt on my body, giving me a feel for more of that lovely weight before withdrawing her right-hand spike with a “shunk!” sound and reached into my chest wound. I felt her fingers wiggle around in my lung and then tear something off.
Ow. Lungs. I need those. I’d have told her, but she was doing things with one of my lungs. I looked into her triumphant eyes and coughed. She joined in as a mist drifted down from the air. I managed to smile through the coughing and tried my best to breathe deep. Just a few calls is all it took. Just a few messages back and forth. Long Life Corporation’s nanite reserves. Cropdusters. A few calls I had to make because my plan to goad them into one big battle didn’t work out. It wouldn’t be as effective this way, but it’d still do most of the work for us. Now I’ll get to see just how much those Fluidic aliens will piss their pants at someone combining my nanites with their rain idea.
Venus tried to cover her mouth. “What’s going on? What did you do?”
The fights around us ended with almost everyone coughing, even the lightning lady with the scalpel hole in her throat. The converted certainly lost their urge to fight, that’s for sure. For Venus, whose helmet I only needed to remove, I decided to clear something up. “Tends to…end in…death,” I repeated. “Except today. Everybody lives…Venus. Just…this once…everybody lives!”
Still not a hero, by the way. And if y’all tell anyone I did something good, I swear I’ll cut ya.
And that’d be a shame, because we aren’t nearly finished yet.
I can’t steal all the presents meant for Christmas. But, I soon realized I could do the next best thing. I could destroy the toys.
Like the Kelly Kaiju action figure with semi trailer club, or the Little Heros brand Venus mask. It tickled me to find they even had one of me. It has arms that stick up in the air until you press a button on the back, when they swing down. It comes with a toilet, a trash can, and a WW2-looking bomb as throwable objects, but the back says you can throw all sorts of things. Neat.
I tossed that one down on the piled up toys in the aisle and finished pouring gasoline on them. I got a decent distance to avoid the smoke, which tends to screw with the minicameras necessary for my armor’s holographic functions. There, I felt the vibrations from a giant approaching and smiled to myself. I waved to Moai, signalling him to drop a flare and finish burning the toys. I had to go see if Kelly Kaiju was as great as his toy claimed.
I left him a little note at the first of these attacks. I wanted him to respond, and just him. If he met me alone, I’d stop, no matter what happened. From the rumblings outside, he finally caught up to me. I figured I’d need something beyond my hands and feet to take on the sixty-foot tall man, though. I stopped off by the sports aisle and grabbed a baseball bat before I headed out.
The giant foot of Kelly Kaiju faced me, clad in one of those shoes that has the toes. Ew. That’s not right. There are some things even I won’t do, like wear those travesties. I can’t blame him for his parents giving him a name mostly used by women these days, but I can blame him for daring to bring those things out in public.
“I’m here, Misrule. Is that all you want from me?” his voiced boomed.
Yep, I was the Lord of Misrule again, that shadowy figure overturning holiday conventions and wrecking things to everyone’s delight. “Nah, I’d like one more thing.” My armor’s pseudomuscles powered my jump so that landed on Kaiju’s shoulder. His giant hand swiped at me, but I dove against his head. He missed that time, but I doubted his next one would. Instead of a horizontal swing, he raised it up to smack me.
Funny thing about Q-tips. They’re not supposed to be used to clean out a person’s ear. It’s a matter of safety. If someone does shove a Q-tip too far into their ear, well, it goes a bit like what happened to Kaiju when I pushed the baseball bat deep into his ear canal. He yelped and brought his hand down, but I already threw myself down, still clutching the bat. As I passed between his legs, I swung for the fences.
Kaiju’s eyes crossed, and he saw stars. That part wasn’t my amazing homerun shot, but instead from the fireworks. Just because I told Kaiju to come alone doesn’t mean I ordered the minions away. Buzzkills fired off Roman candles and fireworks mortars at Kaiju’s face. While they distracted him, I found myself a car out of the parking lot and went for a little drive into the base of Kelly’s Achilles tendon. The combination of ear damage, fireworks, and getting hit by a car finally threw him off enough that he fell. He threw out his hands to catch his balance, like anyone would, except he’s a bit heavier than most people.
The hero dealt the final blow to the store, wrecking it with his falling body.
That’s one of the three amigos out of the way.
As for Thrill Seeker, he received an invitation stuck in the middle of Times Square by a sharpened boomerang. I next planned an attack on the Salvation Army, ya see. True to my word, though, I no longer hit the major store chains. See? I’m not that bad of a guy, even if I lined up a small army of Buzzkills outside, stomping their feet like orcs preparing to take Helm’s Deep as night began to fall. They dragged along a pair of catapults behind them, showing more sense than those orcs. Then we showed a little less sense by packing snow in, building dense snowballs.
Thanks to Hero Net, Thrill Seeker had plenty of people willing to keep an eye on various Salvation Army buildings. Not that they’re much to look at. This one was a hole in the wall, though the Chinese restaurant across the street helped the army’s logistics. One of Sun Tzu’s major concerns for warfare was the maintaining and feeding of armies, which is one reason why generals should avoid protracted warfare. And the Buzzkills really love sweet and sour chicken.
The other heroes stayed out of it, and I got off a couple volleys that knocked out the windows of the store and caused superficial damage to the exterior. It’d take more pounding to bust it wide open. While they worked on that, I took advantage of the sperm bank tanker and hose to spray down the nearby buildings. I had an idea. Really more of a plan.
When he showed, the Seeker himself ran along the upper sides of the buildings we faced away from. Predictable unpredictability, the obvious oxymoron. Unfortunately, catapults don’t rotate all that easily, so I took matters into my own hands and surprised him with a snowball.
The hero’s reflexes served him well and he skipped past it, throwing a pair of quad-armed boomerangs. They slammed into the ropes of one catapult, releasing it early and assaulting the thrift store with only loosely-packed snow. Another pair of boomerangs disabled the second catapult before we could move it.
Unfortunately for Seeker, he hadn’t accounted for the slick, cold building faces. Sure, he could walk on other building faces, but I figured he still needed his footing to defy gravity. Just because something defies physics doesn’t mean it can’t defy physics consistently. Seeker went for a tumble, and that did involve falling prey to gravity’s swift embrace. Some of the more enthusiastic Buzzkills got a few snowballs off at him. He landed hard in a snowbank on the sidewalk. The man with the power to walk on walls undone by a little water and gravity.
Undone, but not killed. I took a step toward the downed hero, but then the wind kicked up and carried so much snow into the air that I lost site of him. Oddly enough, it carried with it the sound of ringing bells. When it passed, I couldn’t find hide nor hair of Thrill Seeker. I put my hands on my hips and looked over to a little Santa decoration hanging in the window of a barbershop nearby. “Deus ex machina, much?” I asked it. It just grinned back at me with its bright cheeks and nose so red and merry.
At least Santa’s staying out of most of the scheme. It could have been a lot worse. The guy I fought the last time I saw him hasn’t been seen since, and that thing was some sort of humanoid abomination with a face full of mouths. I doubt he put Thrill Seeker on the Naughty List, so it’s probably good I’m only seeing that from the big red guy.
Still, I ain’t arguing with him. From what I know of holiday-based entities, he’s only going to get stronger as Christmas approaches. Plus, there’s the Christmas truce. I didn’t have much time to finish wrecking things. But the first two parts were done for, and the heroes were playing by the rules.
But I didn’t have much more to do anyway. Just handle a bit of a logistics problem. Not for me. Just for the toys that were coming in by cargo ship. A bit of background showed the shipping company is a subsidiary of a corporation that works on electrical systems for the United States Military. Not only making and installing parts, but maintenance on ships and bases. Believe it or not, some systems used by the military are so complicated that the military hires civilian contractors to operate them.
The real icing on the cake is that said corporation’s majority stockholder attended a showing of The Nutcracker recently. He paid for a couple of seats using his personal credit card. During the ballet, the Lord of Misrule showed up and Ionman stood up from his seat. I know that because I saw the seat Ionman was at with my own eyes. And they wouldn’t lie to me, for I am their creator. I am an angry creator, and would smite them like they’ve never been smited before.
The only problem for me was my lack of a boat. Last time I had to do something like this, I just created my own iceberg. I wanted a different way out there, until I talked to Carl about helicopters. It’s been awhile since I mentioned him, so I’ll remind everyone that he’s a henchman I picked up and worked with for a long time. I “fired” him so he’d be less likely to get hurt, but then I arranged to have him be the Vice President of my corporation. It kept the money coming in for him, and I trust him not to betray me. And he asked the imminently reasonable question: “Why don’t you wait until it’s docking?”
We did one better. I cobbled together some mines and set out to booby trap the docks. It helped that we used fake breasts to house some of the explosives. Hell, people once housed mines in wooden barrels. These did well enough to down a couple of the ships that came in thirty minutes apart. It was the third on, an hour later, when a hero intervened. The Idiotic Ionman swooped in to scout the crowd on in the docks, carried on his small jetpacks. Well, rocket packs. There is a difference between jets and rockets, after all.
So he flew in, took one look at me… and bailed. That turned out to be somewhat less satisfying a confrontation than I intended. Still, I got footage of him turning to flee and letting a cargo ship hit mines. I even added music to the package and uploaded it to Youtube for everyone to see. So everyone gets to see a nice replay of the video while “If It Has To Be Christmas” plays. Good song for the holiday season.
I originally intended to go ahead and knock Giuseppe out, but the incident with Thrill Seeker made me back off. He’s probably on the Naughty List anyway, but I don’t think Père Noël would let me get away with it anyway. So that’s one in the loss column.
On the plus side, I’ve been invited to two major parties. Both Hero Net and The Order have featured an effort by the heroes and villains to consolidate their minor parties into a couple of big ones, partially out of fear of attack.
Plus, with so many toys being destroyed, the Salvation Army took the initiative and organized some sort of Play-A-Thon at Rockefeller Center, where the giant tree used to be. They began by holding hands in a big circle around the improvised playground and began to sing the song from How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The one at the end, that makes the Grinch’s heart grow two sizes that day, thus leading to his eventual death from cardiomegaly. “Welcome Christmas,” I believe it’s called.
Don’t get any ideas. My heart didn’t grow. But maybe it was nice to see that I did succeed in bringing people together for the holidays after all.
Now, I hope everyone who celebrates it enjoys the evening and day when a costumed being with superhuman abilities and themed minions breaks into your dwelling late at night, leaves clues, and then vows to return.
And to all a good night!
Empyreal City is quickly becoming a darker place to live in. I see it now on the faces of people scurrying about their day both in the office and on the street. Fear. They’re on guard from whatever might happen next. I think they can sense the inclement weather on the way. My forecast calls for a shitstorm.
It’s not from the bombings. I’ve decided to take a break from those as we approach Halloween. I’d prefer people to be festive. I spend the rest of the year tricking; I have no problem letting people have a treat.
Double Cross has been having a real treat, as well. With heroes outmanned, regular criminals and villains alike are pulling in more and bigger takes than ever before. There’s always something, after all. Gold. Bearer bonds. Electronics. Even fashion. My personal favorite is the shipment for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. They had cutting edge body armor and weapons capable of taking on supers. Not a lot of them, of course, but still the kind of stuff the military or would deploy. They had a few pieces of loot with them, spoils recovered from lairs and villains. Don’t know what I’m going to put in this Ming vase. A peace lily, perhaps?
I can’t discuss rising profits for Double Cross without also giving credit to Financial. I got a call from this guy with a Russian name, claimed to be fairly high up in a brotherhood of some sort. That’s a way of implying he’s in the Russian Mafia. The Bratva. They’d probably be more subtle about it if they thought I had any idea what was going on. This fellow, a bookie out of Vegas, told me I should look into my Head of Finance. He’d been playing around with my money.
“Really? Why tell me all that?” I asked.
“Hey, you deserve to know when your employees risk your money betting on college sports.”
I snorted in laughter. “How much did he win off you?”
I got silence from the line.
“You wouldn’t be trying to get him fired if he lost to you, because then he couldn’t pay you. Don’t let the company’s name fool you. I stand behind him and the huge amount of money he made me. And that you now owe me, I’m guessing, or maybe that you’ve already paid me?”
“You will get your money,” he told me, bitterness in his voice.
Woohoo, more money. I put called up Finance and told them to throw themselves a party over the sports betting. “And make sure to get the little paper cone hats.”
Ah, cone hats. The cheapest way to give someone a hat. Decent way to blind someone, too.
It gave me an idea: party! With people so down in the dumps, why not have a big bash? No, seriously, why not? Sure, it’s short notice, but it turned out I have plenty of volunteers to handle security. The only other thing I needed to do was refreshments and entertainment. Easy peasy, what with the overall bad mood of the place. Open party at Double Cross! Drunk white women for everybody!
I did have some actual work to deal with before that. The situation down at the docks required more of my attention. I’d had my guys lock down the whole place. Yeah, that went over well. I had conspiracy theorists all over the place, too. Apparently, it was all part of the U.S. President’s attempt to take over the country by martial law, which was secretly orchestrated by Big Oil working together with Big Tobacco and the NRA at the behest of the Illuminati, which took its orders from the invisible reptilian aliens running Scientology, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and the Roman Catholic Church as part of a conservative plan to turn the country into a fascist dictatorship.
Or something like that. The particulars are different, but it’s always the same kind of stuff. I’m sure I could add JFK and the moon landing in there, too.
I had to do something about that, and fast. So I wasted a few days having consulting entomologists work up a reason they turned hostile. They answered that for me: the queen. The hive likely operated under the control of a queen that the others protect and take direction from. When I separated them from their old hive, they allowed a new queen to mature and take over. She must not have liked me.
They said my options were to get on her good side, take her place, or become male. Which might answer why they liked me in the first place. I was a male wearing an orange and dark grey exoskeleton. All I needed was wings. I already had the giant stinger, ladies. I mean, I don’t have it at the moment, but still…ladies.
Clearly, I needed to assert my dominance over the queen. Normally, that process involves latex and a whip. This time, it’ll require a more subtle hand. Less latex…more short yellow and black dress and a deely bobber headband.
Carl and Moai insisted on following me at least as far as the quarantine line. Crash didn’t insist on it, but I made her drive the rest of us, with Moai sitting in the trunk. Still, she seemed generally worried at the possible loss of her paycheck. I bet she hasn’t been able to spend much of it on anything other than cars.
The dark didn’t bother me, nor did the humming mass of hostile bee people hidden throughout the shadowy dockyard. One of them jumped out at me, stinger sword at the ready. I held out my hand in the Vulcan salute. “Greetings! I come in peace. Take me to your leader.”
The inhuman life form reacted with hostility, making me reconsider leaving behind Crash and her red blouse.
The Buzzkill thrust at me, aiming to impale me through the belly. Wearing flats this time, I dodged easily to the side and grabbed the arm at the elbow. “Now, now, this is a weapon, not a toy. If you’re not going to treat it with respect, I’ll just take it away from you.”
The Buzzkill smacked its bulgy forearm into my face, causing me to release the appendage. Then it slashed at my head. I ducked under and waited for it to try and regain control. While inertia left it vulnerable, I took hold of its arm and twisted it around by the forearm in a hammerlock. “You know, it just occurred to me that limb removal is much easier with a sharpened object, like a knife, or a shovel, or even bone. Hey, do y’all have bones?”
I twisted further, and further, and further. I stepped back, then drove my knee into the anthropomorphic insectoid’s upper arm as hard as I could.
Nothing seemed to break, but the blow caused the Buzzkill to escape.
I raised my fist again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear an answer. I said, ‘Hey, do y’all have bones?’” I pulled back as if to punch the Buzzkill in the face. When it brought it arms up to block, I insteaded ran to my left of it. Hooking its arm, I jumped and pulled myself across its shoulders so that I came down on its other side, grabbing its head in a facelock. My momentum carried me down to plant its face into the ground.
With it down, I held its non-blade arm up behind it. “Now, point me in the direction of your queen. Is she this way?” I pointed in one direction with the captured limb. The Buzzkill shook its head. “What about this way?” I pointed the opposite way. Again it shook its head. “Ok, what about THIS way?” I tugged its arm at an unnatural angle with the assistance of my foot, hearing a cracking sound. Beneath me, the Buzzkill raised its head like someone doing yoga and released a high pitch squealing buzz like someone doing radio. After what seemed like a literal minute, it collapsed back against the ground.
“I’m not hearing a yes or no,” I reminded it. It shook its head, so I let it go. I wouldn’t have trusted that information, but I figured I could always find another one to ask for directions.
Turns out, I couldn’t trust that Buzzkill. I could, however, trust the building overflowing with hive guarded by a pair of really big Buzzkills holding spears made from salvaged metal. Once I spotted that, I abandoned my direction of exploration and made what I can only describe as a beeline for it. Shivering, I stopped right in front of the guards and instructed them in my most commanding chattering. “Well? You gonna get that damn door for me or what?”
And now for a brief educational moment from Psycho Gecko. When in a place you’re not supposed to be, one of the things that helps is to act as if you belong there. Having proper or faked credentials helps, too, but you’d still look weird acting nervous. It’s just like how the best way to lie is to believe a lie. That, and clench your butt cheeks, but that’s mainly if you’re hooked up to a polygraph.
They walked me inside the warmer formal hive area and presented me at spearpoint to the Queen, whose throne looked more like a cup. She also looked bigger, in terms of height, width, and even a bit of girth. Also, she had extra arms and legs, at least compared to a human. She didn’t seem happy with me, but I had to figure that out based on subtle context clues. Like the way she pointed at the guards and they pointed their spears at me.
“Queeny!” I said with faux-happiness painted on my face. “So good to see you!”
With a voice that kinda grated on my head, “You smell like the one who brought us here but female. You are kin of the kidnapper, or a mate. Either way, the kidnapper is weak. He left us with no one to care for us. He ran when he saw we lacked blind obedience.”
She stopped talking as if waiting. Was there a question in there, or does she just really like giving exposition? I decided to speak up. “I am Psycho Gecko, the one who took you from Japan! But I am changed. I am now the queen of my own hive. I have been busy. Seriously, it’s hard running your own hive. You should try it sometime.”
Still just lookin’ at me, Queeny.
“Listen, I want you back. I liked working with y’all in Japan. What will it take to work out a deal?”
“No deal!” She says forcefully and stomps three of her legs.
I looked around, trying to see if they had a need for anything I could offer. My gaze settled on another, much smaller cup seat off to the side. “Aww, is that your heir in there?”
“You stay away!” She pointed at me.
The guards pointed their spears at me. The one to my right thrust, but I stepped back and pushed it upward into the throat of the other guard. That one dropped her spear for me to grab and poke out the first guard’s eye with it. Then I remembered bees had lots more eyes than humans and began poking it a lot more times in the head to be sure. With guns, Zombieland recommended a double tap. When it comes to stabbing weapons, I prefer to take my inspiration from Jack the Ripper. His victims sure as hell didn’t stand back up and make a full recovery, that’s for sure. I then spun to the side, took a stance, and hurled the spear at the Queen Buzzkill.
She caught it and let out a furious smell to alert the rest of the hive. I grabbed the other spear out of the throat I stuck it in and ran at the Queen, leaping to impale her with it like Buffy with a wood strap-on and a vampire girlfriend.
The Queen caught me. Damn her extra arms! She pulled the spear out of my grasp and tossed it away, then held my arms close together. She brought me closer. Whatever she said, she said it while chittering and humming.
I didn’t have a lot of ways out, but I did have at least two. I twisted and smacked her in the head with my boobs and the metal weights hidden on my bust underneath my dress. Brass knuckles would have been noticed, but not brass nipples.
Still, it hurt the Queen at least as much as it hurt me, because her grip loosened. I pulled an arm loose and yanked the spear out of her other arms, then drove it into her head. I kept going until I had her pinned to the floor like a bug collector.
When the rest of the hive guards swarmed in, they found me sitting on the throne, rocking a royal grub in my arms and cooing. And holding a spearhead awfully close to the heir.
“Hi there, everyone! Guess what? The old queen had a bit of an accident, but luckily I’m here to take care of this queen grub. Don’t worry, as long as she’s with me, nothing bad will happen. Be an awful shame if y’all didn’t obey me and divided my attention. That’s how accidents happen…fires start…grubs get fed to giant birds. But y’all wouldn’t do that to me, would y’all?”
With my new bouncing baby grub ensuring the loyalty of the Buzzkills, the quarantine was lifted and everybody went about their normal, totally-not-covered up days. Nope, no bee people here. Bee people in a dockyard…ridiculous. Next, someone will tell me they saw bee people in the sewers or at an old, unused candy factory in the industrial sector.
Absurd, and I urge them to prove me wrong, no matter how great the risk to their own life!
Freaked the hell out of Crash when she saw it, too. If not for the fact that I needed the grub alive, I’d have tossed it to her while saying, “Here, look after this.”
That matter taken care of, I was ready to party come Halloween night. A good time was being had by all on the ground floor, with the lobby and plaza open for all who wanted to attend and enjoy the music, sweets, and booze. I’d have thrown a parade, but there’s only so much I can arrange last minute without threatening people’s lives.
Even Venus came. “Venus! You’re here. So good to see you out and about tonight and not thinking I’m some sort of suspicious criminal.” Perhaps I played up the innocence a bit much when I noticed her by the candy bar.
She brushed her hair out from in front of her mask and face, grabbing a caramel apple lollipop out of a bowl. “It’s Halloween. Everyone takes a break on Halloween. Besides, I may have bigger problems than a dirty businesswoman.”
“You do indeed,” said Oligarch as he slipped out from behind the chocolate fountain. In contrast to Venus, he wore a crisp, tailored business suit instead of a costume.
Venus narrowed her eyes and tensed. I’d swear she almost threw a punch then and there. Good for her. There’s so few guaranteed breaks from the fight, she managed to make sure there’d still be one. “I knew you weren’t dead.”
The Oligarch smirked, “So good to see the Master Academy taught you that much. It is not the same institution as in my day.”
Perhaps that was the wrong time for the DJ to start playing “Brand New Day” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
“Now, now. No fighting, whatever this is,” I chided, laughing in my head at that one.
“It’s just a friendly warning, Venus. You don’t want to stay in town, or what happened to Forcelight will happen to you.”
I unwrapped a Warhead and popped it into Oligarch’s mouth so this wouldn’t escalate and so he couldn’t reveal my part in things. “That’s enough out of you.” His eyes opened wide as the intensely sour sensation restrained him.
Then I grabbed Venus and swept her off to the dance floor to make a fool of myself. Ya know, no matter how much people say you’ll never amount to anything, you can always still make a fool of yourself on a dance floor.
Still, it took a few seconds to notice she was trying to talk to me. “What’d you say?” I asked over the sound of Neil Patrick Harris declaring his desire to kill Captain Hammer.
“I know you’re involved in all this, Ms. Mortenson. You’re going to help me find out what happened.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do.” She stepped closer, lowering her voice. “You owe me.”
I owe her? Well, I do…but I only said that as Gecko. “What do you mean?”
“I know you killed that mafioso. I bet you used the cannon. I have more on you, but they’re not as important to me.”
Whew. Still an interesting development, but whew.
Not that she stuck around to give me a Happy Halloween, if you know what I’m saying. Sadly, I think any chance of us having a relationship is more like the next holidays: The Day of the Dead.
Work, work, work. Too many things to do and not enough time to discuss it all. According to Technolutionary, his work is still taking time. To think I was ever concerned he’d pull this off on his own. He assured me that the delay was merely a normal part of the scientific process. I told Moai to sneak over there and get a glimpse of what Technolutionary’s doing.
I also haven’t heard from Fortune Cookie in awhile. I always thought seers blabbered all over the place. I know I wouldn’t be able to resist. I’d also have been banned from state lotteries and Las Vegas. Not that Vegas would be all that happy to see me anyway, I suspect. I’m beginning to suspect that other villains really don’t like me. Maybe I should ask her more about that. I just figured that if she’s willing to actually help me given her obvious discomfort for me and my methods, she’d prefer to have more input. Then again, maybe that’s the only way she can stand it.
It’s important to get a sense of people like that. Deep down, through all their differences, people are fundamentally the same. They want the same things. They react the same ways. Everyone bleeds the same color. I should know. I have lots of experience among a wide range of people.
I left her a message at her number, which claimed to be a psychic hotline. I told her I wanted her to get back to me about this Order of supervillains seen around.
Kinda important to keep a handle on this. While my stuff is working on profitability, I have to juggle this Order mess and somehow make them further my goals. At first glance, capturing heroes doesn’t necessarily work with that. I haven’t been the most clear to y’all, so here’s what I need: more superhumans. I need more heroes, more villains, more neutrals, and more defenses in general. I might even need a specific way to draw the foreseen alien invaders to this city. Sure, in the movies, they love to stop by Empyreal City. But how do I know these aliens don’t like rural America? After all, people out in the middle of nowhere always complain about waking up with probed asses. Personally, I’d blame the moonshine and the horny neighbor, but they went with aliens and there might be a hint of truth to that.
Ok, so I need to lure in the ass-probers and make sure I have a large group of men and women in spandex costumes to beat them off.
That’s why I requested the guys making the prosthetics create a few sets with room for weapons. Gotta fix those up and get them into the right hands. Well, not the right hands. If they had hands, they wouldn’t be getting the cybernetic parts, unless I wanted to be as much a dick as OCP and amputate someone’s limbs to give them that stuff. The question is: who do I upgrade? It’s reasonable to assume I wouldn’t want to give all that power to some cop who’d just turn around, barge up into the boardroom, and shoot me through a window. Buuut, if I gave it all to a career criminal, there’s really no reason he or she wouldn’t try the same. Or just take off and run.
I need someone with a sense of duty, and some loyalty wouldn’t hurt either. Like the Buzzkills. Well, hell, the Buzzkills. I’d forgotten about them. Ok, let’s table the cyborg discussion. I called up Carl and asked him about the Buzzkills.
“We put them up at the docks, paid up. They have a whole warehouse to themselves,” he informed me. “The people who deliver the sugar never said anything.”
“Just humor me and go have a check. Make sure they know you work for me. Make sure they’re getting enough food or whatever.”
Let’s see, what else…I checked on Wildflower and Forcelight, too. With Forcelight’s powers being what they were, we had to keep stuck in a cement block. I hear they had a hell of a time getting the catheter set in there so she could use the restroom. That’s not the sort of medical care you can just hide in a scoop of ice cream. They also keep the room dark. I don’t know if that helps, but it couldn’t hurt. I mean, might drive her insane with fear, but you kinda expect someone in an asylum to be mentally ill.
Then again, that Rosenhan guy would take issue with that. Famous psychiatric experiment. A guy and a few helpers claimed they heard a voice saying stuff and got admitted. Then they acted normally and told people they stopped hearing any voices, even started taking notes. The staff didn’t believe them and would only let people go if they took medicine and admitted they were still mentally ill, though some of the other patients did guess they were actually sane researchers. As for the staff, they decided that all this note-taking and claiming to be sane were more symptoms of insanity. The guy himself, Rosenhan, was stuck in there for two months.
When some other institution heard about this, they claimed it would never happen there, so Rosenhan told them that over a period of three months, one or more fake patients would try to get in, and that the institution had to guess. During that time period about half of the patients who came to the institution were suspected of being fakes. Rosenhan never sent anyone.
The study had a nice name, too. “On being sane in insane places.”
I guess it doesn’t really have a lot to do with actually having locked heroes up. I just find it interesting how easily the sane can be trapped in that situation. And now heroes are in that situation. Plus, with the staff taken to wearing clown masks, it looks like the inmates are running the asylum. In a lot of cases, their just monster masks painted to look like clowns. I like ’em, and the guards like that they’re staying anonymous in style.
I gave Wildflower some more decent food and a stack of books. I gave Forcelight a ridiculous hairdo.
My little Pyscho Sanitarium, as I’ve personally nicknamed it, is a little too thick for cell phones, so I didn’t get Carl’s messages until after I got out. He sounded worried. “They’re taking people! Get down here! I’m callin’ security to get guns!”
Oh great. Now we got a fucking horror story on our hands. I called him back once I hopped in my car and got no answer. Repeatedly. I called up Double Cross Security, too, wondering who and what they had on the way to the warehouse. All I got from the man on the line was a “Huh?”
“VP Carl said he’d call in. Something happened at a warehouse by the docks, he said he’d bring in backup.”
“We don’t have any record of anything like that, ma’am.”
“I’ll get back to you,” I told him, then checked in with Accounting. I had them trace where we were renting a warehouse and delivering huge quantities of sugar. I also had Crash go down, find that armor in the art gallery, and bring it in her car. “And no wasting time looking for someone else’s car to bring it! Lives could be at stake.”
Which was true. Even if the Buzzkills or other folks around the docks had already ended Carl, their lives would still be at stake.
Then it was back to Security to arrange for my own personal army to invade a small section of Empyreal City. They would move in from the south with our own fleet of vehicles, including Tacticals and armored cars with turrets. I’d head in from the north. I met Crash at the gate there to get my armor. Yes, she saw me don it. If she didn’t explicitly know it before, now she does.
The only thing she asked me was, “You don’t want me to take my car in there, do you?” She pointed toward the north gate.
I shook my head even as I noticed a few husks of beehive in the fence. Little pieces, like from normal insects. “No, this is something I have to do alone, with a private army. Your car will only end up totaled, somehow. I’d find a way. While this is the season for people to explicitly not split up, I think you’ll probably be ok if you’re nowhere near this place.”
I chose stealth when heading in this time. I crashed in through the gates riding on the roof of somebody’s modified station wagon. Its front doors formed an angled bulldozer blade on the front of it, and I controlled the wheel and speed with a pair of ropes.
I charged off through the docks, blaring out Two Minutes to Midnight from my suit while navigating around cargo containers, equipment, cranes, and all that. My HUD couldn’t tell me where Carl called from, and I don’t know what he’s driving now. Maybe the very station wagon I commandeered.
You know, I figured there’d still be some workers wandering around. Something, anything that reacted more readily to all the noise and movement. That’s one of the things about hunting. It’s easy to see a moving target, since most of the environment doesn’t move. And when there is a lot of movement, still targets stand out a lot more. That’s why you flush things. That, and it makes the bathroom smell better.
Rather than take the scenic route, I figured I’d just pop in the nearest warehouse for a quick look-see. I had to jump down and hang off the rear. It was that or get knocked flat on my ass. I don’t go around getting my ass kicked for y’all’s entertainment. I do it because asses have needs to. Fetishes, even. Listen, my ass is a consenting adult and I stay out of its business, so y’all should too.
That building didn’t have much. Just huge, ominous hives. The wheels of the station dozer crunched over it. I pulled to a stop and waited as the Buzzkills buzzed out in miniature form, then grew into anthropomorphic, androgyne black and yellow bee people. They looked a lot brighter back in Tokyo, and their angles were rounder and curved. Here, the black didn’t reflect anything and the yellow was darker. They had spines sticking off their bodies now.
I waved at them and hopped on top of the car. “Hey guys!”
I couldn’t make out their buzzings, but some of them knelt.
“Yes, good. I deserve it. But can anyone tell me what’s going on? I hear something about people getting taken, and then my friend Carl disappeared around here earlier today. Anyone got any answers for me?”
They all stopped and turned toward a larger section of the hive where a bit of human flesh stuck out. I jogged over and pulled out…some random person. “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much-” I shoved her back in when it turned out she wasn’t Carl.
“Guys, Carl isn’t a woman. Don’t y’all know the first thing about human gender?”
The nearest Buzzkill glanced at me, then around at its buddies. Then its hand morphed into a curved mixture of stinger and blade. It took a swipe at me. I grabbed its blade easily.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to attack me! I’m your boss. I’m your god. I give you sugar! Sweet, sweet Colombian sugar!”
Just then, I got a call in on my secret identity’s line. “Boss! It’s me. Security got me out, but they had to fight for it. Are you around here too? They had to burn one of the nests. The bugs are goin’ nuts!”
That explained some of the hostility, like how two more of the Buzzkills stepped up in front of me to try and free their friend. The others maintained their distance. I let go of the one I had, trying to see if I could salvage things. “I understand the other guys did something wrong. We’ll fix it. More sugar, right? After all, you’re a growing species. I brought you over in a single crate.”
The three Buzzkills seemed to consider it, buzzing back and forth between each other. I thought I remembered something about colony insects using smell, or even interpretive dance, in order to communicate. Unfortunately, the only smells I naturally produce make people want to kill me, so instead I settled on shaking my hips like Bombalurina during Macavity the Mystery Cat.
When they went quiet, I had a feeling negotiations didn’t go favorably. I reached into the hive and pulled out the captive woman just in time to catch the three stinger blades they shoved at me. What else was I going to do? Dodge? That’d require mild effort on my part.
“Ah, fuck it.”
I turned invisible and escaped, making sure not to make a smell that would give away my position. Getting out wasn’t difficult. The difficult part will be taming the Buzzkills all over again. I’ve put my top entomologists on it, which required hiring some top entomologists. In the meantime, the docks of Empyreal City are currently under quarantine by sufficiently bribed police under orders from sufficiently bribed agents from Customs.
I got to be mission control for a crime. Normally, I’m a hands-on kinda person, but watching and advising turned out to be fairly entertaining, too. Gave me an idea or two for the future, while we’re at it.
So the first part was fairly simple. When I’d talked to Professor Electro, we’d gone over that there were two main ways to start things. Either hit someplace smaller and leave enough of a mark that everyone knows he did it, or get it into position for the big score and perform a demonstration there. The problem is the lack of time. You start throwing lightning bolts around, you either wind up with significant police and hero attention or a bunch of worshipers. I suppose it depends on who you aim at and if anyone wants to base a system of governance on some guy on a mountain handing out lightning bolts.
We opted to try a demonstration first. Everything and everybody fit into a moving truck that stopped outside Global United Trust. The bank, with offices only in the United States, is particularly divisive after losing a lot of people money back during the financial crisis. Like the rest of the people, they got into the mortgage-backed security business.
Not sure if I’ve explained that before. This is going to be one of the more boring, educational sections for y’all, but parts of it are important for understanding the overall scheme.
Basically, big banks started making home loans so they could use the debt as an investment. According to Einstein, compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. Regular interest is pretty strong too. This doesn’t sound that bad so far, but where they really got greedy is when they realized they’d made about all the loans people could afford. So banks began to go after people with worse and worse finances by making the payments look small at first and by telling these people they could afford it. After all, they’re banks. Why would they ever want to lose money by loaning money to people they know can’t pay it back? Well, they did because the mortgage-backed securities were so juicy and could even be sold off to make immediate money.
This only lasted as long as people kept paying their mortgages. I said they made the payments look good at first, remember? Yeah, once a certain amount of time passed, those payments went up. Or giving a loan to people with no ability to pay it back led to the natural consequence of them failing to keep paying it. Either way, that amazing source of income suddenly got cut off. But don’t worry; the banks insured many of those investments.
Of course, as y’all may or may not realize, too many expensive claims coming in at once messes with an insurance company’s ability to actually pay out. Insurers don’t just keep premiums in bank accounts to earn interest for them. Well, some of it they do. They’re required by law to keep at least a certain minimum in there. The rest is invested to make more money. Anyway, the companies who insured these securities weren’t able to pay the claims and started going bankrupt, which suddenly meant that all these banks were going to lose their money after all. On top of that, there’s apparently this thing called a credit default swap where people essentially took out insurance on other people’s debts that would pay out if the other company defaulted, which made a killing for a lot of people, up until they realized that the people who owed them money didn’t have it to pay.
That really exacerbated things. Dear readers, y’all shouldn’t exacerbate so much. You could go blind.
That, FINALLY, is where Global United Trust came in. They made a lot of money in the short term, then lost a lot of money. Global United Trust being quite a bit smaller than some of these banks at the top, they could have lost a lot of people’s lunch money. You earn a fuckton of bad will by telling people “Sorry, you can’t have your money back because the bank needs it to pay off our own debts.”
That’s why runs are so dangerous, and I don’t just mean the sort caused by adding too much Rotel to your taco meat. Banks also only keep some of the money in people’s savings accounts. They reinvest too. That’s one of the ways they actually make money, doing things like investing in bonds, real estate, and mortgage debt.
All of that is why most of the money in the United States doesn’t exist in dollar form. Ones and zeroes, just like the financial stratification of the U.S. And, hey, I know I sound like the Red Menace here, but I wouldn’t have to steal from the megarich if they spread the wealth around a little more. If people could make good money from middle-class people with less risk, they would rob them instead. Simple as that.
That’s why we went after Global United Trust. Prof. Electro hopped out of the van, accompanied by a half dozen men and women wearing black coats, black gloves, black pants, and wearing black Lycra underneath all that to further protect their identities. According to Carl, minions hate being identified working with specific villains. It gets them punched on more often by heroes, or charged as accomplices to actions that would be crimes even during wartime.
Before anyone could get a good look at everyone, the Professor and his crew headed down an alley next to the bank and popped open an exterior door to the security room. I’d sent out some interns to find the blueprints for the bank. Don’t say Chat Des Combes didn’t get me to listen to at least some advice before the French catburgler in the skintight suit turned on me back in Europe.
I’m already changing everything about how I operate, so I might as well take in the occasional piece of good advice. Keep the good, ignore the bad; “but test/examine everything. Hold fast/on to what is good,” as the Christian holy book says in stark contrast to the bumper sticker that reads “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”
Once in the security room, the security guard cashed in his life insurance policy and the team plugged a USB drive into the security computer that gave me control over it for my viewing pleasure. They then spread out, some through the connecting hall and some through windows that gave office workers a scenic view of graffitied alley walls. Coming up behind everyone, they forced tellers down at electro-gun point.
Professor Electro’s own creations, the electro-guns are designed to shoot electricity at people in defiance of conventional physics. Tasers have to use those little line things to convince electricity to go through another person before it heads to the ground. Lightning is a notorious hippie like that, always trying to hug the Earth. And no, he wouldn’t tell me how he does it.
The civilians went down also, except for some old guy who pulled his concealed handgun and then dropped it once his heart attack started. Professor Electro, resplendent in his lab goggles, breast plate, and lab gloves, marched the bank manager out in full view. Two of the minions went to work packing up the teller cash while the other four ran out and unpacked the Lightning Rod. I used the capital letters because Electro named it that. It isn’t actually a rod. It looks more like a box with four swirly antennas on the sides and a pump going through the middle.
The minions had to get it out because it needed a straight shot to the sky with its antennae. I told the Professor I could get a chop shop to add a sun roof to the truck if he gave me enough time, but he wanted to hurry on this one.
“Everyone, please file outside into the street!” Prof. Electro announced, waving his electro-pistol around the room.
This is where he and I had a bigger difference of opinion. I’d suggested he just bring out the manager, or even leave them all in there. The Prof. Insisted that we minimize casualties. This from the guy who wanted to threaten the entire city with the machine! When he told me that, I wished I had a metal glove or something to hit him upside the head with. Even though I shut him up in the office by pointing out that he should be willing to carry through with whatever he’s threatening, he called an audible in the field and led them all out. I even heard him mutter over comms, “We could have taken the one in the office if not for that psycho henchwoman.”
Louder, addressing the crowd, he said, “Behold! I will now demonstrate the power of my Lightning Rod!” With that, he ordered the henchmen away, revealing his Rod to the assembled hostages to great gasping. He set to work, adjusting the knobs and levers. The tips of the swirly antennas glowed, then released beams of pale blue light into the air. Almost immediately, lightning crackled across the clear sky and a bolt struck the bank, trashing the electronics.
Professor Electro and his somewhat-stunned gang cleared out of there before anyone knew it caught fire because the police were on their way at that point. Even without alarms, plenty of people had cell phones outside to catch the attack and report it, with videos making it to Youtube before Prof. Electro even escaped.
The next day, Prof. Electro stood atop 30 Park Place, a skyscraper still under construction. A shame we couldn’t use one of the better looking buildings instead of one of these newer monstrosities. I actually like the arches and points of the ones from the early 1900s as compared to the giant glass sticks everyone wants to put into the sky nowadays. It also didn’t help that some of those older ones house financial services. Prof. Electro and I considered some of those, but he accepted my reminder to back up his threats if necessary. And he definitely didn’t want to be on one of those buildings when struck.
So he sat on the roof of 30 Park Place, not passing Go, not collecting $200, and addressed a Giant Screen that featured icons of a dozen major banks and insurers who had interests in the residential and commercial buildings of New York. “Ladies, gentlemen, parasites… what I did to Global United Trust was only the tip of the iceberg. Pay the amount I forwarded to each of you to the accounts I forwarded to you within the hour, or the entirety of the iceberg will fall upon you like the Titanic…which really sunk by aliens, but nevermind that now. You can lose millions each….or this wonderful skyline becomes target practice and you lose everything, just like what the aliens did to the Titanic.”
I wasn’t sure about letting them know they weren’t the only ones in that boat, but the Professor claimed it would set them at ease to know that they weren’t the only ones in that situation. They got to keep it within the family, with an understanding that they could help each other get out of it.
I invited some others to watch the view from the cameras, satellites, and Giant Screen. Moai pulled up a recliner just in time for Crash to settle into it when Carl walked into the art gallery. “Hey boss, I got the cooler!”
“Good, hand me soda.” I held up my arm, hand in position to hold a bottle. “Hail Hydrate!”
Carl handed me a bottle. “Hail Hydrate, boss.”
“Hail Hydrate?” Crash asked.
“Hail Hydrate.” I told her.
She held up her hand. “Hail Hydrate!”
Carl handed her a drink. “Hail Hydrate.”
We didn’t have much of a view for awhile as the clock ticked down. Prof. Electro got his ass out of there. Then, at about the thirty minute mark, Forcelight flew into view. She glowed white, which matched her long hair and blank eyes. She’d altered her costume, though. She wore clingy black and grey with gold trim.
It figured. As the owner of a medical company with a lot of hospitals and research facilities, she and her board probably had connections with one of these captains of finance. The project that gave Forcelight her ability to fly and manipulate light as if it were solid put a hit in the coffers of Long Life, her company. The resulting loss of money forming a superhero team called Shieldwall actually convinced the Long Life Board of Directors to remove much of the financial decision-making power from her.
They needed the money, in other words, and she could get back in her own people’s good graces by helping out. She wasn’t quite who I expected to fly in and try to save the day. I’d hoped for another sighting of my dear Venus. I’m sure I’ll get over it.
“There’s no one here. Just the screen,” she spoke to a device on her wrist.
I held up my phone and spoke, my voice coming out of the screen. “That’s right. Professor Electro can fire his device from anywhere in the city. Much of this was a deception, I’m afraid. But you don’t shouldn’t worry about that. You have bigger problems.”
She blasted the screen to pieces, then looked around, noticing the situation she’d fallen into when she wasn’t looking. The Oligarch, Terrorjaw, Man-Opener, Giuseppe’s Toy Soldiers, and numerous other villains flew into view from lower floors of the building. Herne the Hunter rode his motorcycle up the side of the building and landed it on the roof, aiming his spear right at Forcelight, his ghost hounds appearing at his heels.
You could almost hear the ding as the lightbulb went off in her head. Maybe that was the ka-ching as the various accounts on my side computer monitor began to fill up with the requested amounts. Or, more likely, it was the microwave announcing that our popcorn was finished right at the best part.
Still, a shame we didn’t fire off that Lightning Rod again, but at least my little Psycho Sanitarium got itself a new tenant.
You know, I figured this business with Stang was over, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’d have liked to ask the idiots from the van how much he had to pay to make them so something so stupid. Then again, I have to assume the price is lowered when I’ve gone out of my way to recruit from ex-criminals. Doesn’t matter anyway. Thanks to Giuseppe’s model of the Enola Gay, I don’t have them to kick around for some answers, nor do I have my van. Oh, and Crash’s new car exploded. I gave her some time off to pick a new one.
I spent awhile thinking through retaliation while servicing some of my equipment. Given my abilities, I’ll clarify that I mean maintenance. It’s a trifling job that I’ve tried to minimize, but it still requires a personal touch from time to time. So I barricaded myself in the art gallery and pulled out the nanite machine. While I fiddled around with the material intake and assembly manipulators, I thought over my problem.
I can’t just go running to The Order. I figure my impressive revenge on Stang last time is what made me look like a good candidate. As much as we’re all supposed to more or less work together, I doubt they’d be sympathetic to that. So that leaves me on my own again.
Let’s deconstruct the target. Strip club catering to superhumans, therefore highly guarded by patrons and bouncers. Organized crime connections. If I go in violently, I’ll have to go in extremely violently.
Cash-based business. Lots of anonymous customers. Extremely good for money laundering.
Entertainment. It’s a social environment where people can pretend that beautiful women are attracted to them and rub their naked bodies against them. Champagne room. There’s no champagne in the champagne room. Well, correction. There is champagne. And a cover charge. But the real appeal is getting one of the aforementioned beauties into a private environment with a lot of cash. The champagne room sells sex.
Business practices. Strippers pay a fee to dance. The rent the stage and the DJ. The club gets a cut. Extra income from drug sales to the strippers AND to customers, preferably in the champagne room. That explains the appeal of the stolen drugs.
It became clear what I needed to do. Perfectly clear. Crystal clear. Then the thought was interrupted by a phone call from Carl, who had gotten a call from security about a superhero on the premises. “Where’s Venus now?” I asked.
“She and Wildflower left the lobby. The men don’t see them around the sidewalk, boss.”
“Get a dozen armed men up to the penthouse and have, I don’t know, Human Resources send out for someone who can repair the hole they’re going to leave in my terrace. I’ll meet them up there. Oh, and grab one of our lawyers from the Legal Department on the way.”
I got there first, though I didn’t take the trapdoor between the penthouse and art gallery. As expected, I found the heroes in my living room. Wildflower lounged on my sofa, vine tail slowly shifting back and forth. Venus turned away from looking at the place to settle her gaze on me. Lots of gaze settling around the penthouse, especially with Wildflower’s plant-feline-human physiology. It’s October. You’d think she’d cover up.
I mean, it wasn’t a bikini, but you could mistake it for tiger-striped workout clothes. Either way, my smile wasn’t entirely faked as I looked at the pair of heroes. “Well hello, heroes. Come on. Make yourselves at home. Care for a seat, tigerlily?”
“That’s good,” Wildflower said, hopping to her feet. “I should have thought of that.”
“You’re under arrest, Banshee,” Venus said, whipping out a pair of cuffs. Rawr. I took a picture of that.
“My name is Norma Mortenson.” I settled my hands on my hips. “And exactly why are you trying to arrest me?”
“Going by the alias Banshee, you engaged in a high speed chase, breaking several traffic laws. You were involved in a gunfight. The incident ended with a small-scale nuclear explosion. Are you going to cooperage?”
I rolled my eyes. “So let me get this straight. You broke into my home…again. You did it because you suspect I was involved in a high speed chase.”
“You were seen standing on the hood of a car,” Wildflower added.
“Thank you. So I clearly wouldn’t have been driving if indeed this is me we’re talking about.”
Venus sized me up and stepped forward. “You were spotted in the same costume you wore to the Mask and Garter.”
I stepped back and held my palm out. Talk to the hand. “So an unidentified person in a costume wasn’t driving a car. And…she had a gun?”
Venus shook her head.
“No gun. So by being involved in a gunfight, someone shot at her. And, what, do you think I carry nuclear bombs on me?”
Venus held up her hand to forestall Wildflower joining in again. “Witnesses report seeing a drone of some sort deliver the weapon to the scene.”
I feigned confusion. “So some woman in a costume wasn’t driving a car, got shot at, and then someone else tried to bomb her. And that justifies you assuming this person is me and breaking into my penthouse? I’m beginning to think this superhero registration thing is a good idea. Did you already rifle through my clothes while you were here, or do I need to let you do that now to demonstrate that I don’t have that costume anymore. I never intended to go out and be some ridiculous costumed meddler. Not everyone with abilities has to be a hero or a villain, you know. Now put those damn handcuffs away.”
Venus looked like she would object, but then I heard the elevator ding and open behind me. “Not another word!” I glanced back and saw a suited thirty-something leading a squad of six guards, who wore bulletproof vests and had submachine guns ready. After much stomping, another six of Double Cross security flowed in from the stairwell with handguns and lacking the vests, Carl bringing up the rear. The lawyer walked right up to Venus and pointed his finger in her face. “Unless you have a warrant, and I’m inclined to believe you don’t since you are not a member of any law enforcement agency at either the state or national level, you have no right to be in here right now. You have no legal authority to be conducting an investigation at all. Leave and maybe we won’t sue you so hard, you’ll have to give us your costume to cover part of the fees.”
Now that’s an image I hadn’t thought of. I wonder if that hints at some subconscious psychological crap going on.
Carl walked up beside me as Venus and Wildflower left in a hurry, by the terrace, courtesy of Venus’s grappling rods. “We’ll bill you for that!” the company lawyer yelled out.
“Wow, pretty damn impressive. Think we can sue them anyway?” I asked as he turned around and walked past me and the spread-out guards.
“Good day, Miss Mortenson. Expect my bill,” he called back as he stepped into the elevator.
I leaned over to Carl and whispered, “I don’t suppose we can have the guards just…” I made finger guns.
Carl shook his head. “I don’t advise it, boss. Bad for morale.”
He had a point. And I had an attack to make on a strip club. Still, it was good to be an asshole corporate executive for once. It’s very satisfying in its own way.
That night, I suited up again in my armor. A bit snug in the chest area, it nonetheless still hid my identity behind armor plates and holographic camouflage technology. I remain a high-tech low-life, even if said high-tech armor only works because it merges with my physiology and my internal power core.
I didn’t show up at the strip club as myself, though. To them, I looked like a cyborg, to explain if any metal detectors went off. It also hid the gas tank and squirming backpack I wore.
As a fan of women with swinging titties, I slipped backstage, my hologram changing to look like just another one of the girls. My first idea was “Hey, if there’s drugs being sold, maybe we should mess with the drugs.” But then I realized that’s not the best way to go about this. So, when it comes to messing with drugs, I had to think about what Mix N’Max, my super chemist ally, would do.
That’s why sprayed a pleasant LSD mist into the air of the dressing room while the women got ready for their sets. As an added bonus, it would stay in the air enough to affect whoever enters in the future. Not all the strippers were back there, after all. I got in, unloaded, and got out, feeling manlier already. I stopped by the bathroom after I got out of there to swap back to my cyborg guise.
After that, I stopped by the bar and pulled out the laser potato peeler. Ah, my trust laser potato peeler. Instead of peeling potatoes, I boiled some spirits, put holes in glasses, and wrecked the ice machine. Dialing it up a bit, I also walked along the bar cutting into the legs of the stools. Just after I did the last one, a man in a bird costume sat down on it and fell to the ground when it collapsed. He shot back to his feet, embarrassed. “What was that?” he asked.
“No clue, stool pigeon,” I said.
Next, the champagne room! I had to grab some skinny young woman with what looked like a bite mark on her ass from the table she was dancing for.
She hit me on the shoulder until I showed her the roll of cash. Then she stopped and waved off the approaching bouncers. “Looking for a lap dance?”
“How about a trip to the champagne room, beautiful?”
“Aww, that’s sweet, but that’s not-…” she sighed. “Ok, but I don’t do anything for less than $300.”
“I have the money, but have not been fully repaired.” I pulled her off my shoulder and held her in front of me, looking at her barely-clothed frame. “I would like to cuddle.”
Crash! Another one bites the dust over at the bar while customers get agitated. “I wonder what’s going on over there,” I casually mentioned.
“Oh god! The spiders! They’re everywhere! I’ll fly away from them!” A loud thud and lots of gasps came from the main stage.
“And over there.” I smirked as I carried my alibi into the champagne room.
Fun fact: don’t drink the champagne in the champagne room. Well, you can, but buckets full of icey water are sometimes used for other things in an area known where people get their hands dirty. If only we knew of some action people might do in those private rooms that got their hands dirty. Ah well, a mystery for another time. I did cuddle my captured pet stripper for a bit, not that I felt anything. “You are malnourished,” I told her.
“Some guys like that. You did,” she murmured.
“You are beautiful in your own way, for there are many forms of beauty. It is in your being so slight, and also in that you look like the woman who could be fucked against a wall so long you reach the roof.”
“That’s almost poetry,” she said, trying to earn more money. I slipped her an extra hundred for the effort.
“Well, gotta go. You might want to leave fairly soon,” I told her as I stood up.
“You could get the crabs. It would be unpleasant.”
“I, um, I still have the shampoo for those at home, and I’m fully shaved down there, babe.”
“Not those sort of crabs,” I told her, then left the room before she noticed all the shellfish I’d been surreptitiously pulling out and dumping on the floor. A lot of people were going to have a crabby night. If Stang takes anything away from this, it might be the nature of claws and effect. As the only person to have a good time from all this, I guess you could say it was shellfish of me.
“Uh huh. Yeah, I get that it happened, I’m just a bit curious on a few aspects of how it happened. You say they stole the van?” I grinned wide, looking over at Carl, Moai, and Crash in my office. They listened in on speakerphone along with me.
“Well, you see, we, uh, we picked up the van like you said we could for the heist. Then we stopped for some burgers and Mikey needed to pick up some laundry his girlfriend, well his ex, she dumped him because she thought he was cheating. He’s been helping us instead, so we figured ‘Fuck her’ you know, like ‘You can buy a dozen just like her,’ but she threw out his favorite shirt. Then we parked it outside Mikey’s mom’s place for the night and someone musta took it because he said it was gone when he woke up. There’s glass on the street and everything.”
“That’s really too bad,” I told him, hiding my urge to laugh. “So that’s half the score and the cost of a new van. Wow. You’d better be able to carry a lot of cash in your bike handlebars.”
Crash snorted and I quickly took the phone off speaker so the unfortunate would-be robbers wouldn’t hear her and then Carl start laughing at them. “What’s going on over there?” asked the voice on the phone.
Too late on that part. “I just have a show on in the background. They just had a really funny moment, so the laugh track was especially loud.”
“Oh? What’s the joke?” he asked. Either the person on the phone was dumber or smarter than I expected from someone whose plan to rob an armored car had been foiled by not having transportation. Luckily, I know a few jokes.
“Oh, you know. They had this child predator walking with a little boy through the woods at night. The boy said ‘This is so spooky!’ So then the older guy’s like ‘You think you’re scared, I’m the one who has to walk back alone!’ Anyway, I’ll expect to hear from y’all when the job is through. Ta ta now, boys.”
I hung up quickly, because I figured there was only so long before they realized no tv show on the planet would include that joke and because the two humans in front of me were laughing a lot more than any laugh track. Also, Crash’s color was beginning to worry me. It’s important to stop and occasionally take a breath when laughing. I’ve been in that situation before, though that’s now how I’ve heard people died from laughing. One old guy suffered something like a seizure or heart failure or something while laughing too much. His widow sent the TV show a letter thanking them. Now, I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger…
I pointed at Crash. “You laughed first. Moai, pay Carl.” Moai handed over the money from the betting pool. Carl bet that Crash would laugh first. Crash bet on me. I bet on Carl. I would have bet on Crash, but Carl got to pick before me and I didn’t want to split the pot with him. “By the way, you busted out the window getting it back?”
Carl shook his head. “No, I dropped a beer bottle. They left it unlocked.” Yes, we stole the van we let that bunch of incompetents borrow.
“That’s so mean!” Crash said, eyeing the twenties Carl pocketed from our little wager. “I almost feel sorry for them.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t. It’s like a test. If they get caught, they should realize they aren’t cut out to do this. If they succeed, I’ll know they’re worth putting money and time into. You got tested too, remember?”
She grimaced, tilting her head back just a little. “Don’t remind me. I get nightmares about that.”
“You know, there’s stuff you can take for that,” I told her. “I think the van’s moving some of it right now.”
She raised an eyebrow, so I continued explaining. “I’m not sure what it means, but I’ve been introduced to some people, a little fraternity you might say. I’ll do some favors for them, they’ll do some favors for me. We’ll see how far they go. Supervillains. Right now, we’re helping this guy move who makes…well…toys.Very advanced toys.”
If it sounds like I’m using baby speak to avoid going in depth, that’s not exactly the case. The crazy-haired man in the suit turned out to be an eccentric named Giuseppe. “This guy Giuseppe isn’t making robots or steampunk creations, nothing like that. And as far as I can tell, he’s not a bad guy. He’s just really passionate. Obsessed, even. So he crosses lines that others wouldn’t.”
“How does someone get too obsessed to know wrong from right?” Crash asked.
I shrugged and pointed at her, then Carl, then Moai. “That’s the easy part. Just a matter of deciding that the driving force in your decision-making is making the best toys ever, instead of what’s right or wrong. You, I, and everyone else do it. Buddha, Jesus, and Zeus all have it in common. Animals, too. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.” I slapped my hand on the desk before jumping up on it. “Let’s do it! Let’s fall in looooooove!”
Carl threw a couple dollar bills on the desk. I glared down at him. “Easy there. And cut that you.” Still looking at Carl, I pointed at Moai, who held up a phone. I erased the little picture he’d taken before it could spread. Then I sat down on the edge of the desk and looked back to Crash. “Anyway, we’re helping him move, except he has a bunch of drugs he’s stolen. We’re going to sell them out of the cafes and chop shops. In fact, get me Ms. Jackson on the phone. Tell her, ‘I’m sorry, Ms. Jackson, but I am for real.’ I need her Wonder boy to help me figure out what we’re working with.”
I jumped up from the desk and walked over to my door, kicking it open! Actually, just hurting my toes a bit. Damn you, open-toed heels! Whether seeing them on the womenfolk or wearing them myself, you remain my nemesis! Well, one of them, anyway.
“It opens the other way, boss,” Carl informed me after I kept kicking at it.
I pulled it open wide and pointed through the threshold. “Thank you Carl. Now, allons-y!”
Crash remained seated, but looked up from her phone. “I just texted Shasta Jackson. She says Wonder’s in the middle of a project and a little high, so we’ll have to meet with him tomorrow.”
I walked over to the calendar on my wall which showed a bit of artwork. Just a classy nude of a young lady with big boobs and this red fishnet thing on. I pointed to the next day, Tuesday, and said, “Allons-y!”
The next day, Crash drove me in her new car to get some coffee. Sure. Let’s say that’s all it was, both for the purposes of lying about my actual purpose and because that’s all it turned out to be. We got there to find out van never showed up the day prior.
The cheeky bastards in charge of moving for Giuseppe must really like their drugs. They’d have to be on something to think it would turn out ok for them.
Still, Crash insisted on making some calls in order to prevent any deaths due to miscommunication. I put in a call to Giuseppe while she saw to that.
“Hey there, old fellow. This is is the person who helped you with that thing yesterday. The moving. Yesterday. With the van and the guys. It’s Banshee. Yeah, should have just said so, but I’m in public. Just curious, the last van out of there yesterday, the one with the products. You know, the special stuff. The drugs, man! Did they take anything else with them? Any of your equipment, anything like that? Oh yeah? Hey, think I can borrow a few toys to make sure you get them back?”
The old man may have a pretty bad grasp of inference and implication, but he was more than willing to lend me a hand finding his drugs and his favorite set of tools. I noticed Crash was still talking, so I took a seat in her car and connected to the company’s network. I would swear we left in a tracer of some sort. Aha! Carl! I had him meet us somewhere with my costume and the tracer. I used the opportunity to teach Crash some basics of self defense. She practiced holding Carl in a full nelson while I changed. Then I jumped in the passenger seat of her car and pointed ahead. “Quit playing around, Crash. You want to keep this car forever?”
Crash asked as she took us to our destination with a lot less speed than I expected. It’s hard to feel badass in a car only going regular speed. We found the van just leaving the Mask and Garter, as if they were warned. “You know, I totally forgot to pick up anything from Giuseppe. And gadgets.” I glanced over at Crash, then popped open the glove compartment. “I don’t suppose you have a grappling hook in here.”
“Nope.” She said. I noticed she wasn’t really gaining on the van.
“You know, if you want to get into a high speed chase, we’ll have to go faster.”
“This is my new car! I don’t want to wreck it!”
“Well, I hope you can afford to fix the hood,” I told her, then rolled the window down. I crawled out onto the hood, which is probably why Crash’s driving got real erratic when we had to weave around some traffic. Slowly, she inched up on the van until I could jump…and then scramble to hold onto something. I thought the gap on top of the rear doors would be enough.
The rear doors opened, which almost knocked me off. I held onto the top of one of the doors as the guy who opened it and fired at Crash’s little car. The door reached the end of its range of motion and I put my weight into its return swing. The shooting stopped when it slammed close. The other side stayed open, so I jumped in there and landed on my ass against a bag of cash, one elbow up on it. “Hey there, handsome. Is that a gun in your hands, or did you get tired of waiting for me?”
He didn’t have a lot of room to turn what turned out to be an SMG on me, especially once I kicked him in the nuts and throat. Then I kicked him in the nuts some more. And then I kicked him there again. You know, once you don’t have a pair yourself anymore, it’s a lot easier to hit someone there and not feel the phantom pain.
I stood up and grabbed the gun, training it on him. “You know, it’d be a really mean person to kick someone when they’re down, so I just want you to know…” And then I kicked him in the balls again.
I pushed the gun against the temple of our driver to bring the van to a halt, nearly getting us hit by Crash, who FINALLY got into the spirit of the chase. I had him grab his friend and the money and led them out to shove the bags of cash into Crash’s trunk. “Now, get in with them,” I ordered.
The driver supported his limping friend and gestured to the trunk. Since it was a smaller car, the money took up most of the room. “There’s no room.”
“Yeah? The fuck you want me to do about that? The money’s more important than you two. Maybe you should both…anyone else hear that?” I looked up, attempting to discern the sound of an odd little buzzing sound. A small airplane zoomed closer, a model B-29 Superfortress bomber.
No longer caring about the gun, I threw Crash over my shoulder and ran surprisingly fast in those platformy shoes. It’s a challenge. I seriously don’t know how hos do it. Ho-ing ain’t easy.
And neither is outrunning the blast from the miniature nuclear bomb that dropped out of the Enola Gay toy onto the thieving employees.
After standing back up and clearing my throat with one hell of a coughing fit, I said to no one in particular, “Thanks a lot, Giuseppe.” The combination of tinnitus and EMP didn’t help matters. “Ah, this fucking headache! This is horrible.”
“My car!” Crash screamed.
“Crash, geez, quiet the fuck down! My head is feeling bad enough as is. Have some compassion, please.”
“That’s why we need registration! These are dangerous people, dangerous beings. They aren’t human. Clearly they don’t hold themselves to human laws. The law I’m discussing isn’t meant for every ma and pa, their children, their neighbors. It won’t affect the rights of normal folks, but it will make your lives safer!”
I switched off the TV with a blink. The election cycle had fired back up the registration crowd. I’m actually considering supporting it, just to make things more difficult for the heroes. It’d help if I didn’t do that whole Banshee thing. Prior to that incident at the Mask & Garter, I’d have been a perfect spokeswoman for an innocent, hard-working business owner hassled by superhumans.
Now, I settled for wearing a fake sling and doing business out of my penthouse because I was supposed to be wounded as far as the general public knew. Secret identity problems, except it’s worse. Now my secret identity has a secret identity. All that’s left now is for me to secretly be Marilyn Monroe having found the fountain of youth and now a supervillain. Perhaps I’ll arrange for someone to discover that about me so my secret identity’s secret identity has a secret identity.
So I sat in my penthouse, avoiding the news because they can’t stop talking about the latest clown car of candidates. I had more important things to do. If I want to pick who is president, I’ll go make it happen. Kidnapping, mind control, evil clones, assassination. There’s a thousand different ways for supervillains to participate in politics. Still, the lack of good television had me irritable. I had hoped we’d be on to showing horror movies. It’s October now, after all.
One of the things I was working through was personally overseeing some major operations. We’ve burned through a shitload of money and taken a lot of losses lately. Luckily, we’re insured for meddling superheroes. Now Wildflower is actually wanted for breaking and entering, theft, assault, and maybe corporate espionage. I’m not sure if that one’s a legal matter, but I told them that all the same. Either way, I called the cops on the hero who broke into my hidden secret lab where Technolutionary was turning hobos into robots and growing a cloned T-rex. Then I filed an insurance claim and bribed the adjuster. That stolen lab equipment can get real expensive.
I did something similar with the telepath. There, public prejudice is on my side. People are uncomfortable with someone reading their thoughts. I don’t have to deal with that problem, I type as I share my inner thoughts with almost tens of people in another dimension. Also, the security guys are playing ball and claiming she forced them.
I stand by my poor, deluded guards and paid their bail. They’ll fit right in, working for Carl.
I showed mercy to the poor girl, too. The District Attorney’s going to try and get her treatment for her obvious mental issues. I spoke with him about it personally. It means a lot, you know, when the near-victim makes an effort to get their assailant some help. Good guy, that DA. I’ll have to make sure he gets reelected. I’m sure that’s nothing money can’t solve. It’s a shame Venus is probably going to be harder on the poor woman.
Hey, there’s an idea. I fired off an email to Marketing and Sales to have someone manufacture a link between Venus and the Super Registration crowd. Ain’t I a stinker?
I think I’ve mentioned I’m getting proposals from some villains? Not the marriage kind. Those go to the spam folder. These are people looking for investors. Some people just need a bit of funding to make their dreams into other people’s nightmares. Mad scientists, homegrown inventors, and thieves; all need just a little bit of help to get things started. It’s not just money. A centrifuge. Work space. A getaway van. I’m not funding that one. Anyone who can’t steal their own van for a plan to rob an armored car hasn’t earned a lot of confidence in their abilities. Even the ones I turned down, I still informed them they were welcome to make use of other services like the hideaways and secret medical care.
Hospitals ask questions if you get shot. Imagine how many more questions they ask if you come to them with one of The Saurus’s teeth sticking out of your leg. With my labs undergoing extensive renovation, it won’t be that unusual for my people to operate out of unusual facilities with strange equipment. It’s not perfect, and I really should acquire my own hospital, but it’s not a bad alternative to seeing someone whose license was removed. Or a vet. Then again, some superhuman physiologies have so many other species mixed in that a vet is entirely appropriate. Just look at Urban Croc, Terrorjaw, or Venus’s late boyfriend, the Human Sloth.
Add in the tendency for equipment mishaps and cybernetics, you might as well bring a car mechanic and a computer programmer into the hospital visit.
One curious little thing I received: an invitation. I was invited to bring along one armed guard to meet in Rothstein’s Executive Dining Room. Ah, Rothstein’s Executive Dining Room. The perfect place for a bunch of supervillains to meet in fancy dress without having to openly admit that they lack the influence or money to avoid fancy dining at other places.
I know I haven’t made this argument very well, but super crime doesn’t often pay that well. I don’t care about money, but I had to steal from pretty much every bank in this city to be able to burn through all the cash I’m spending now, and others usually have it worse. I already mentioned problems finding healthcare, and that also means that most villains pay a bit more. Factor in costumes, gadgets, special tools and equipment to build gadgets, materials, programmers, henchmen, lairs, and the possibility of losing all that with one badly-timed raid. It can be hard for even a frugal supervillain to hold onto money.
Won’t anyone think of the starving villains? For just eighty cents a day, you could provide clean water and good food to a grown man who wants to tear down civilization with his army of mutated flying scorpions.
Why do it if not for the money? Now that’s a good question.
I arrived at Rothstein’s in a limo with Carl at my side. I’m letting Crash stay innocent. Well, innocent of this supervillain stuff. Not saying anything about anything else she may or may not be innocent of. When it comes to criminal records, Double Cross is “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Carl got out first, adjusting his suit before helping me out. The bouncer, a short but wide man with glowing purple skin, actually opened the door for me. While I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of Rothstein’s many times as Psycho Gecko, rarely have they been so welcome to me. Nobody even cussed at the sight of me. Wait, scratch that, I do remember somebody saying “Damn, would you look at the legs on her.”
I walked those fine legs of mine past the bar and normal dining area where some of the patrons enjoyed their sports shows. One floor up, I came to the Executive Dining Room and found a few other costumed or suited men and women milling around. Some were watching it, but none objected as I entered. Carl peeked his head in long enough to see nothing but a crowd of costumes and decided to wait outside.
The room was nice; lit by a chandelier with antique wallpaper. I know, you wouldn’t think wallpaper could be antique, but I actually recognized this one from the Louvre. The Grande Chasse, and one of less than ten remaining from the 1850s. Old wallpaper, old paneling, old wood flooring, and an old table in the middle of the room. I suspected the tablecloth probably wasn’t as old. I’m just guessing that part based on basic human nature. Specifically, human eating habits.
The inhabitants painted quite a contrast to the setting. I recognized Terrorjaw, the sharkman. He sat across from Man-Opener, who left his normal white and black walker at home on this trip. Surprisingly, he’d popped a section of his black faceless helmet off so he could eat. There were others, including a wild-haired, bespectacled old man in an ill-fitting suit. He sat at one end of the table. Didn’t recognize him. I just mentioned him because it worked well with pointing out the other end of the table: The Oligarch. That oldtimer’s hair wasn’t wild at all, and his suit looked custom. Nice vest, too. Diamond stud, ruby ring on platinum. Money, but not gaudy.
You’d never know it if you’d ever seen his armor. The guy favors purple and gold.
So let’s see who all I’ve accounted for…four, along with me. There were more, but I could spend up the entire interdimensional data ration describing costumes on people of little to no importance. So how about we move things along?
Oligarch stood up and raised his hand. “Wonderful to see you, Banshee. I apologize if we get right to our meal, but we are eager to start the meeting, though your presence truly blesses and enchants our gathering. Please, sit and enjoy the hospitality of Rothstein’s.”
Perhaps if I was George R.R. Martin or Brian Jacques, I’d waste a lot of time describing food in intimate, almost sensual detail. As the humble Psycho Gecko, I can merely say that it was pretty good. The rice was a little cold, and the gravy could have been thicker on the chicken. It’s just that some of us have better things to do than pad our autobiographies with all the meals we eye-fucked. That’s fucking with the eyes, not in the eyes.
Unfortunately, since no one talked about why we were all there until after dinner, it didn’t leave us with a lot to talk about during dinner, though Terrorjaw and Man-Opener looked chummy. They should be. The bastards were part of that team once to kill me. Didn’t I disembowel Terrorjaw? Ah hell, everyone kept coming back to life from that mess anyway. Why should it be a surprise he’s back now? Can’t ask them about it anyway. Damn secret identity problems.
“It’s a nice meal, and all,” I started once staff began clearing dishes. “I’m sure y’all understand that I’m a busy woman in my position, so please enlighten me and anyone else not in the know. Why are we here, Oligarch?”
He smiled the brightest smile I ever saw on a human being. Damn, he can afford lots of dental work. “I am here in order to prevent my old wayward friends at the Master Academy from extending their good works to the east coast. They believe I am dead.” Come to think of it, I’d heard that rumor too. See, this is why someone like me is so valuable. I’m really good at making sure people stay dead, Terrorjaw notwithstanding. “This city is different after Spinetingler’s visit. Much is up in the air in the largest city under the eagle’s wing. Conventional order is tenuous and the Master Academy moves in to take replace it. Captain Lightning patrols on occasion. Organized crime has become unorganized. Ironically, the anarchist Psycho Gecko is no longer present to frighten away those who would bring order when the city needs it most. Ladies and gentlemen, we can be that order. We can take this city, and hold the largest city population in the United States hostage against any attempts to oust us from power. You hear the politicians. They preach against us, afraid, uncertain. The human species is becoming obsolete. It’s time we hasten their end. My dear friends, let us join forces and we can rule this city. We can forge a new nation. We can forge a new…world.”
This has got to be the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard. Eh, I might as well see how this plays out. Who knows, maybe I can get a bronze statue in my likeness before we all inevitably turn on each other. It’s like this one cop explained when talking about this high speed chase he joined in: how often do you get to be part of a thirty-two-cop-car-pileup?
And that’s how Banshee became a member of The Order.