Believe it or not, I did think this through. I feel the need to clarify that, considering the school is now under a siege. This current President doesn’t understand subtlety. At this point, I suspect he doesn’t know the meaning of most words in the dictionary. There’s a rumor going around that he can’t actually read, which is at least somewhat consistent with reports that he often just ignores the speeches written out for him.
It didn’t start as a siege so much, actually. The early morning following Valentine’s Day, alarms started going off all over the place, even as I was taking a post-intimacy walk. The Walk of Shame, some call it. I don’t know why they call it that, anyway. I just got laid. Should be the Walk of Standing Ovations. The Academy Award for Best Supporting Fucker for his work in the documentary “Against The Wall: A Deeper Exploration of Her Pink Floyd.”
Or, if the audience isn’t so lucky, the walk of pelting people with rocks. Some people really don’t like to be reminded that other people have someone else.
Nevertheless, I was on the stairwell down when the alarms started going off. I rushed down to find a window and check out what was happening when I heard the discharge of firearms. They tend to have a fiery discharge and leave someone with a sharp burning sensation, quite unlike myself. That doesn’t mean someone outside wasn’t getting fucked, and I was trying to make sense of who it was.
Some of our refugees were trading shots with a group of soldiers. Not a full-on war front, but a group like you’d send in to assassinate someone. Which was stupid. A compound this large, you don’t just send in one team. At the very least, you’d have multiple helicopters to provide support.
That’s when the choppers flew up. I didn’t get a good look in the darkness, but they thumped closer and provided cover fire that sounded like it killed a lot of unarmed civilians. They weren’t all armed, but some naturally felt the need to go around with weapons in case they needed to murder each other. In this case, it worked out a bit and gave us an early warning sign.
So much of an early warning sign, in fact, that somebody activated the school’s defenses. I noticed something rise out of the top of a stone pillar off in the darkness. There were several in the wall around the school. It must have been a rocket launcher of some sort based on the rocket it launched that shot into one of the choppers. It actually took a couple of hits before it crashed, landing on campus. The other one tried to pull out, and then crashed outside school grounds after taking multiple shots from multiple pillars.
Supers were rushing all over the place, and not necessarily in the best state of dress, either. But they were up and running. And I had an idea. I grabbed a couple of them who I didn’t recognize. “Come here, we need medics and doctors and shit.”
“But we aren’t-!” They didn’t answer so much as I pulled them out and we headed out through a door into the back. We ran toward the downed chopper.
“I’m not killing any soldiers!” shouted one of the ones following me.
“That’s the point!” I said. Yes, we were running to help them. We made it to the wreckage. It’s dangerous to just pull stuff off people or pull them out of vehicles in that kind of situation unless you’re a trained emergency responder. On the plus side, I’ve been the cause of so many similar injuries and crashes that I have a pretty good knowledge of what to watch for. And, it turns out, these guys have some basic training for handling all that.
Between the three of us, we managed to pull a few soldiers free and alive. Others had been thrown clear and were knocked out or otherwise so easily injured to be subdued without much problem. In the end, we had a half dozen of them in various stages of distress laid out nearby. I was watching over them as well while the others rushed in to get more manpower to see to the wounded. There was a lot of need for it, though by the time I had a moment to rest on it, I no longer heard gunshots. That could mean something bad, but what I knew of the school’s size and the student body’s capabilities suggested otherwise.
They all just groaned as I searched them over for any information, weapons, or hidden equipment. That included headsets with camera linkups. A quick glance in one showed they had drones and satellite views of the school. The night was alight with chatter, too. They were in retreat, wondering if reinforcements were coming in from the city so they could get their lost guys. Navy guys, from the jargon they used. Not all branches of the military call the same things the same things. Some people get to the choppa; others get to the helo.
When the guys showed up with some stretchers and a few of the more battle-ready supers, I held out one of the headsets for them. “Here ya go. Let’s just get these guys inside to a nice, warm, difficult to penetrate infirmary where they can heal up for awhile.” I looked down to the soldiers, though they might not have liked being called such. Again, more military terminology stuff. “Now remember, you’re patients, not prisoners. Because we’re not at war with you or anybody. So even though you attacked us for some reason, we’ll patch you up to the best of our ability.”
Yeah, that’s the plan. Officially, we didn’t take anyone prisoner. We’re not hostile, here. Some guy just ordered a death squad in to kill certain people, apparently without adequate intelligence, and now they’re convalescing as patients. It’s simple, really. Just a failed death squad with me watching them sleep at all hours. With my knowledge of all kinds of ways to kill people, not that they know about that. They don’t know who I am. All they know is they were sent in to secure the school, somehow.
Mender had a pretty good idea what happened, though. “They were after me,” he said to the assembled heroes and myself. “If I were eliminated, this school would fall into disarray,” his digitally-crafted voice spoke. “You would have surrendered with a gun to my head.”
I opened my mouth but about three different people elbowed me in the stomach at the same time. I don’t see what the big deal is. I was just going to say, “Speak for yourselves.” Weird thing is, Venus wasn’t anywhere near me. She was standing off by Psychsaur, holding hands. Psychsaur shot me a look. Was that sheepish, I wondered? I mean, the scales and all made it harder to tell. With the reptile features coming into play, she’s got inhuman lips and a face that extends out a bit.
My line of thought was interrupted by a burst of thoughts into my head, most of which amounted to “Sorry,” in various ways that all talked over each other. I caught a wave of embarrassment from her, which oddly caused my own face to flush.
On the plus side, I totally got a sneak peek at some memories that flashed through her head. So that was fun. Irrelevant to the conversation at hand, but fun.
“Do we know why they attacked now as opposed to any other time?” I asked, leaning over the back of a chair in front of me.
“We have ways of determining that,” Mender said. “You are not included in that for a reason.”
I looked around for Good Doctor, but didn’t see him there.
Mender continued on, “I see no reason why you are included in this meeting at all.”
“Maybe because I took charge and got the prisoners… I mean, patients… out of their wreck and arranged for them to be brought in here. Not the first-”
I didn’t think I could be thrown out a door that fast without taking the door with it. It was all a blur. I don’t know if it was telekinesis, super speed, force fields, super strength, or some combination of it all. It’s impressive, actually. No matter how strong an individual villain, there’s something a little awesome about being so thoroughly smacked around by a combination of strong superpowers. Then you snap to attention in a prison cell with a lot of unexplained bruises in unusual places. Tonsils, for instance. We’ve all been there, whether it’s supervillainy or a trip to Mexico on a drunken bender.
So I didn’t get to find out more about these methods, but they probably involve the psychics of the group. And while they dealt with the soldiers and other wounded from the attack, the bunch in Central Park sent a detachment to guard the main entrance of the school. Considering the size of the school, it would have taken probably the entire bunch to encircle the campus, and they weren’t going to advance with the force they sent. Too few men for the job.
Curious about that, I checked the internet for various things. Reporters, news, all that. The legal problems associated with the initial deployment has held up reinforcements, especially now that this President is having some legal problems. And some scandals related to him and officials in his administration having unusually close ties to Russia. The whole thing’s a mess: Ukrainians mobsters, Russians, the President of the United States, domestic militia superheroes, and the Claw. The fuck is going on here?
To answer that question, I decided to kidnap someone who might have the answer. I knew her as Tricia Tijuana, my ex-fake-wife. She once helped me out of prison on behalf of a guy I know in the media who may or may not still like me. He was under alien control when he turned on me. The kidnapping went easy, too. Just a matter of rolling over in the morning and asking her, “Hey, you want a Pulitzer?” She was freaked out, naturally. She didn’t know who I was, but that’s not the first time I’ve put a bag over a woman’s head in bed. Like most kidnapping victims, she warmed up to me once I dragged her back to my place of residence and explained why she should want to be there. Don’t try it at home. I had lots of hurt teenagers there, too. Made it a lot easier.
So now the news gets a nice view of wounded soldiers being tended to by the dutiful nurses, right alongside the wounded refugees and heroic teenagers who were so brutally attacked by members of the military just like the ones now parked outside a school, threatening displaced refugees from the recent bombings.
It’s made such a wonderful narrative, and all the better when soldiers began to die in small groups in their movements around the city. On patrol, while responding to criminal activity, even when just hanging out trying to get lunch at Hibachi Yum Yum.
I had to avoid fancy knifework at that last one. The place is barely staying open as-is; it doesn’t need criminal suspicions on top of it.
It’s not easy for a guy in a torn prison jumpsuit to find fresh clothes. The twisted ankle, broken forearm, and myriad of bruises and cuts didn’t help matters either. At least I didn’t get impaled on a tree branch upon landing. I looked like I got into a lover’s quarrel with a blender. But as I was saying, clothes.
It’s not like I could just march into a local biker bar and beat someone up for their clothes. For one thing, I didn’t even know where to find a biker bar in the little town nearest to the Rubik’s Cube.
Another thing is that this damn jumpsuit made it pretty obvious I escaped. I’d have tossed it, but then I’d have been nude in the middle of Ohio during December. And trust me, being in the middle of Ohio is no way to live. Neither is nuding it up in December, I suppose.
I didn’t have anyone on my tail immediately after the breakout because of all the chaos left in my wake. I worried more about someone clueing in the authorities to my survival and whereabouts. So that’s why I found the back of some cheap dollar store and helped myself to a set of ill-fitting clothes and a jury-rigged sling for my arm.
So while I was stranded about eight hours from any of my equipment, I at least had clothes on my back. A quick visit to the ATM to charm it with my technopathic skills also left me with some money in pocket. I needed a way back to Empyreal City to get my stuff, but it would be a bad time to just steal a car. I stood out and any competent police force would on the lookout for stolen vehicles after a local prison explodes. This was the United States, so the chances of having a competent police force were low, but I couldn’t take the chance.
So while I kept an eye out for anyone selling a junker, I had an important desire to sate. A deep need to fulfill. The need to feed. Which isn’t some metaphor about killing someone. I got well acquainted with the local restaurants to make up for lost time.
I sat in a Huddle House munching on a burger and waffles when a woman ran in and joined me at my booth. I held my burger out in front of me in case I needed to fight her off. “Watch it, lady. I’ve got some serious meat here, and I know where to shove it.”
Despite what some might say, my decision to treat her as potentially hostile had nothing to do with her skin color being dark, but not due to a tan or Hispanic ancestry. Honestly, I wouldn’t have even mentioned it except for who she turned out to be.
She pulled her auburn bangs out of her face and looked me right in the eye. Which got me thinking, maybe I should say she looked me right in the eyes. People with two eyes say “looked me right in the eye” so maybe a person with one eye should say “looked me right in the eyes” instead.
As long as that bit of speculation was, she responded right after moving her bangs. “Calm down, ‘honey’. I’m the one Harlon sent to help you. I’m your wife.”
I looked her over, then sighed. “Huh.”
She did a doubletake. “What, you don’t think I’m pretty enough to be your wife?”
I shook my meat at her. “No, it’s not that. It’s just, prison changes a man. I learned new things about myself and what I like. You’d be surprised what you learn in the showers there.”
“You were in solitary. You couldn’t find out new things in the showers with other guys.”
I smiled. “Good point. But enough joking around here. What is your name and how did you find me?”
She pointed out the window. “Tricia. I was walking by and saw you. A lot of people are in town from the Rubik’s Cube. This isn’t a good spot for you to stay.”
“Why is it called the Rubik’s Cube anyway? I should look that up now.” I went back to eating my meat.
“This supervillain called Rubik built it as his base in the 80s. They put him in prison in the 90s and the government seized it.” She leaned forward for a better look at my eye. “That’s conspicuous. Can you paint it to look normal?”
“Bitch, this eye is fabulous. But I can change the color.” I activated the camoflouge process and made it appear to be a normal eye with plain brown coloring. “So, you got a car?”
She sat a little more stiffly. “Uh, yeah. Do you want to take it from me?”
I shrugged. “I could, or you could drive me. Or we could take turns driving. Either way, your turning up here is pretty convenient for me. After all, you were sent to help me, weren’t you?”
Her mouth was open, and she set her jaw as if impressed at the balls or the presumption that she’d help me. Or so I took it. Y’all draw your own conclusions here. Haven’t y’all heard the author’s not that important anymore? After a moment, she shook her head and said, “I didn’t expect to have to help you that way. I’m just a reporter. Freedom of the press is one thing, but this could get me in trouble anyway.”
I waved her off as I chewed up another bite. When the waitress next passed by, she inquired if my lady friend would like something to eat. I pointed to the waitress and raised my eyebrows, but Tricia shook her head and declined. I asked for another burger and a drink to go.
“It’s really that good compared to prison food?” asked Tricia.
“I barely even tasted the food in there. They spent half the month trying to drug me with it. One day, I got halfway through what I thought was a biscuit, then realized it was mashed potatoes. What’s really odd is that it tasted like pepperoni.”
“Eh, I like pepperoni. Which car’s yours?” I turned to look out the window, then stopped and turned back to the table. “Nevermind, don’t point, don’t even look out there.”
Tricia reached down to her purse and her head twitched toward the window, but she stopped herself. “What is it?”
I reached up and stretched as if I had nothing more urgent to do. Then my arm reminded me it was broken. “Oh, just a man in a black suit in a black sedan with a phone to his ear. If I’m wrong, we’re avoiding meeting the eyes of the local funeral home director. If I’m right, we have a Federal agent on our tail who might be calling in someone to stuff me back down the rabbit hole. I ain’t going back in some rabbit’s hole again. Uh uh. I don’t do beastiality.”
“What should we do?” asked Tricia as she tried to look like a woman simply searching through her purse. Or maybe she just searched her purse for something.
I wiped at my face and hands thoroughly, then used the condensation off my cup to help moisten my hands for another wipe. “We sit here until we get the rest of my order, then we walk calmly out with me holding your arm and get into your car. You’ll have to drive unless I can force a confrontation.”
When the waitress brought me my stuff, I asked for the check and dropped a couple hundred dollars on the table in twenties, then escorted a shocked Tricia outside by the arm. “Now remember,” I told her as we stepped outside, “If you scream, I’ll kill you.”
“You will?” she asked, looking at me wide-eyed. Then I saw her eyes flick past me, to the black car and the man within.
“Relax.” I rolled my eye. It felt weird with just the one eye. “It was just cover. See, now if anyone asks about all this, you’ll be able to say you were coerced and legally you’re free and clear.”
She blew out a breathe, “Whew. You didn’t mean that. God, you scared me for a minute. This is my car, by the way.”
We stopped at a pale green two-door from last decade while she looked for her keys. “Well, I will kill you if you scream or otherwise let someone know it’s me, but my primary intent was to make sure you didn’t wind up in jail too. See, I’m helping!”
She almost dropped her keys and her skin lightened up a shade, but Tricia unlocked the car and said quietly, “That’s some help.”
I helped myself in on the other side and took a swig of my drink. “Sometimes my help hurts. Don’t worry. In prison, someone told me ‘you’ll go through a little bit of suffering, but it’ll make things better in the long run.’
Tricia scrunched her eyebrows at me as she started the car. “You’re going to tell me that dying is going to make things better for me in the long run?”
I pulled down the passenger side makeup mirror to check my teeth. “Nah, but that’s what she thought. Didn’t know if you’d be dumb enough to fall for it. I’m glad you didn’t, but we really must be off.”
“For someone who just broke out of one of the most secure prisons on Earth, you are taking things in stride. Did you expect to be out so soon?” My fake wife showed her credentials as a true reporter, asking away even then.
“The way my life is, I half expected a Thanksgiving turkey to break me out. No, don’t laugh. That wasn’t a joke. Last year, I had to save Baby New Year. The year before, I had to save Santa. Yes, Santa Claus. The way things are going for me, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if a hundred foot tall turkey rampaged around and unearthed my cell to help it fight off a giant pilgrim in Tokyo. Something like that.“
She went quiet as she found the highway with the aid of her GPS navigator and myself. Then she blurted out, “Oh! I know who the guy is from the parking lot. Agent Chester. He’s talked to me about letting them cut you open. He said he’s been talking with you some.”
“Ah, so that’s a face and a name to the voice. For obvious reasons, I didn’t get a good look at him in the Cube. Agent Chester, eh? What kind of FBI agent goes by his first name?”
“No, his first name’s Lester. I thought it was strange too, so I looked him up. You’re right about him being FBI.” If she hadn’t kept her eyes on the road, I’d have thought she made that up. I stared at her to see if she’d crack. When she glanced over, she didn’t break into a smile or anything. She just asked, “What?”
“Agent Lester Chester. I hope he got to kill his parents for that. Only way that gets worse is if his middle name is Fester.” That broke through the tension and brought the beginnings of a smile to Tricia’s lips and cheeks.
Agent Chester must have known we were talking about him, because he followed us and got right on our ass about twenty miles outside of town. Then he swerved over and cut in front of us. “Should I pull over?” asked Tricia.
“May as well. Let’s see what he’s got to say to us before he drives us off the road and wrecks our transportation.”
So we all stopped to have ourselves a little chat. A truncated palaver, if such a thing was possible. I got out and leaned on the hood while Agent Chester slammed his car door and headed for me. I waved and gave him a big smile. “Hey there, secret agent man.”
“You bastard! You’ve ruined everything. Do you know what you set free back there? Do you know how much you cost everybody? You got me suspended, you asshole!” He raged at me, but kept himself from walking right up to grab my collar or get in my face. Lucky him.
“How dare I try to survive, right? It’s not like people typically react badly to being cornered.” I held up a hand my good hand as Tricia stepped around the car. “Don’t come closer, honeybunny.”
Lester Chester pointed at her, “And you were in on it somehow! I’ll have you thrown in a cell with this…this…ragh!” In all his angry ranting, the man’s coat opened enough to expose his sidearm.
“Yo, dude, chill. You lost. Better luck next time.” I eased closer in case I needed to disarm him.
He pulled it on me. “Back off! Dead or alive, you’re coming with me and you’re going to sing and you’re going to make up for everything. I don’t care if we have to send you after Spinetingler, you’re going to be our pet gecko now.”
“Now, I know I’m a little wounded, but are you sure a gun’s going to be enough to put me down? I thought the FBI had better tricks than that.” I waved Tricia off again, but couldn’t see where she went to.
He reached into his coat and pulled out a metallic sphere with a blue glow showing through an opening. “No, the CIA has better tricks.” He crushed it in his hands and a similarly-colored glow shot through his body, racing just beneath his skin. He dropped the remains of the sphere and removed his coat.
The bones of his hands tore their way out of his skin, forming claws. His head warped and grew taller, a second pair of eyes forming underneath the originals. His skin turned a light blue and he grew taller.
Yeah, in my current state, that would have done it. Not that good of a trick, though. The FBI’s version was red. “Honey,” I called back to Tricia, “I’m going to need my meat for this one.”
I’m sure there would have been even more changes, but that’s when a brilliant yellow light burned its way through his head and moved downward to split his chest. That certainly truncated the palaver. I’m glad it stopped before it truncated me.
When the late Lester Chester fell down and stayed there, I looked up to see another man in a suit. This one wore a bolo tie with a feather on each end. He shoved a gnarled stick of wood in his coat and smiled at me. “Hello, Psycho Gecko.”
I bowed. “Nice to meet you. Faustus, right?”
He cleared his throat. “I’m with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but I’ve heard vague rumors of an organization by that name.”
I crossed my good arm over my bad one. “Right…I guess I have something in my head that could be valuable, right? Hephaestus, possibly, if you’ve heard something about that organization too. Thanks for the save, by the way.”
The man nodded. “You’re welcome. As for this other business…might be we have ourselves a deal. Let’s head up the road a ways, get clear of this nasty piece of buzzard feed right here ‘fore someone comes asking ‘round.”
Looks like my offer of information for help worked for me after all. I’m getting to be more of a genius by the day.