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In the Life

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  • In the Life

    Hi, all. Been away. It's always something: shame, cancer, family issues.

    But I can put a story here without letting anybody down. So here. Have one. It's actually based on ICONS characters.

    In The Life

    “Supervillain looking for foe, possibly nemesis.” That’s what the ad on Craigslist said. I only saw it because I have “supervillain” in my Google alerts. Lets me know what routes not to take home.

    And Craigslist is past its prime. Heck, reddit gets more hero traffic.

    I mean, Craigslist.

    I thought about it all day. Was it a weird sex thing? Like, you answered it and he or she or it showed up in leather and cracked a whip at you, or immobilized you with a strange chemical and did probably-speakable things to you and with you? (This was back when Craigslist did personal ads.)

    That evening, after dinner but before I went out, I made up my mind. I wasn’t dating anyone and I might get a good story out of it.

    I used the anonymized account that didn’t have my real name and wrote an answer.
    * * *

    Oh--I was coy there. I didn’t make it clear. I have no super powers. I like to think I’m not an average guy, but I’m just a guy.
    * * *

    Anyway, the advertiser was a she. We exchanged some emails (her email account was “janedoeremi”) and we both seemed to get along. At this point, I was still thinking that maybe this was a sex thing, but I waited for things to move along. If she didn’t like me, hey, all I’d lose was a couple of emails.

    I learned that the last candidate was too strong, and the one before that wanted some same sex stuff. This was pretty much standard dating fare, albeit on the kinky side.

    After about a week she wanted to meet so we could check each other out, masked but not in costume.

    Like that was a thing?

    But I guess it was. I mean, it was good because I didn’t have a costume.

    Did I know where the Haven Club was? Some fast Googling and I found a single reference to it, and not an ad. It was a private club. The reference I found had the street name but not the address. I knew the area, though.

    “MacDonald near Peterson?”

    “Right,” she responded.

    “Masks available at the door?” I asked.

    “What would the point of that be? You are new at this, aren’t you?”

    “Totally,” I replied.

    “Ten tonight. Still be quiet enough to talk.”

    She gave me the address and I scouted it out on the way home that night, just to get a feel for the dress code. I saw maybe half a dozen people going in and out. Clothes ran the gamut between a tux (at five in the afternoon, no less) and college student (clean jeans, no holes). Couple of odd things:

    Thing one was no parking lot. You had to go in by the back but though the building had a lane way, it had no parking lot.

    Thing two was, damn if they didn’t also wear masks.
    * * *

    I hear you saying to yourself, Oh, you’re so dumb. Like, clearly they were supers of some kind. Except:

    I was still thinking this was some kind of sex thing. People get turned on by clowns, by balloons, by shapes of aluminum containers (look it up), so why not something as innocuous as wearing masks or pretending to be supers?

    People pretending to be supers makes a whole lot of sense. You can go your whole life without ever meeting a super. They’re rare, less than a tenth of a per cent of the population. I had never knowingly met a super. And we live in a small city—about a hundred and fifty thousand. So our city had maybe between fifteen and a hundred and fifty. You can’t run a business that caters to fifteen people in town.

    Also, Craigslist. I figured supers had their own private network, maybe “Super” for their smartphones or whatever.

    Yeah, I was wrong about so much.
    * * *

    We met outside in that narrow alleyway. It looked a bit more intimidating in the dark. She didn’t: Average height, nice jeans, cute top, flat shoes, entry-level job market vibe, so I was a couple of years older but not much. (Another reason not to suspect supers: she didn’t have that double-D display happening, or she dressed to hide it. More athletic bookkeeper than buxom cheerleader.)

    The mask--look, my mask was a dollar-store domino mask. I’d done some work to give myself some peripheral vision, but it was a hurry job. She wore a real mask, the kind that cosplayers obsess over.

    “You’re totalfake?” she asked, using my account name.

    “Yeah. Call me Trevor.” That wasn’t my real name but it had some consonant sounds in common, so I’d answer.

    “Jane.” She looked me up and down. “I’ll just stick with Jane. Couple of things before we go in--you know, etiquette.” She held up fingers as she went in. “No staring at anyone. Even if you think you know them. No displays. They let them happen on the second floor, but we are not going to the second floor. How much money do you have?” I told her half the amount. She wrinkled her brow. “Okay, you’ve never been in before, right?” I nodded. “I’ll tell’em you just had an origin so you can get in as shocking origin rather than a guest star.”

    I nodded. Of course. Private club. Memberships. “You’ve been coming for a while?”

    “Couple of months. Since the origin. I still pay on a per-visit basis, though.” She rubbed her fingers together.

    I nodded again, to show that I understood what this meant. I didn’t, of course, but she was cute and I was still steered by curiosity, with hormones now added to the mix.
    * * *

    It was not cheap to get in and it took most of the money I said I had. I still would have paid for her and been exposed as a liar but I didn’t get a chance. She paid for herself before arguing on my behalf. The guy in the sales booth gave me a look like he was peering into my soul and then he took my money. “Jane” was already at the door, and I got the message clearly: this wasn’t a date. This was some kind of business opportunity.

    So...real supers?
    * * *

    Very hard not to stare because the place was full of people I half-recognized. Hell, I might have even known one or two because I caught a couple of barely-damped double-takes as people saw us. Or maybe Jane was famous in some circles; I don’t know.

    We found a table in the corner, away from the dance floor. The music wasn’t loud here but on the floor it had been nice and deafening. The place had good sound dampeners. I started to wonder if maybe they were Mad Scientist tech.

    “Jane” signalled for one of the wait staff to come over. “Beer?” she asked. “Or are you a ginger ale pilot?”

    I had been wondering if I’d actually need my wits here. “I can manage one beer,” I said.

    “High tolerance?” she asked me as the waiter came over. He wore jeans and a blue polo shirt and of course the omnipresent mask. His was a bird mask.

    “Low patience,” I said. “I’ll nurse it.” I ordered a Guinness because there’s not a better beer in the world to nurse. “So,” I said to her. “What now?”

    “I’ll go first.” She crouched on the bench. Relaxed but she could jump across to the dance floor if she needed to. As if I needed reminding that I wasn’t in Kansas any more. “The whole nemesis relationship, it’s fragile at the start. You have to be balanced, you have to be opposites but also the same. We don’t want to know about each other, but I know that I’m not on a level to face guys like the Apex or Gladhand or Anodyne. And I don’t have massive world-destroying plans, either. Grab something with my special abilities, put it up for sale, fight a local hero once in a while.”

    “Obviously I’m a total newbie at this but I’ve never heard of anyone trying out for a nemesis before. I thought they just...happened. Anodyne fights Belial, Belial fights Anodyne, and it gets personal.”

    “You're thinking archfoe. Nemesis takes a lot more managing. See, heroes are territorial, right? If I have a nemesis, other heroes stop me but they don’t work too hard to arrest me. I’m your responsibility.”

    I didn’t say anything because our drinks arrived. She was having something with fruit. She took the stick of fruit out and sucked it clean, then pointed it at me.

    “And you end up with the wrong nemesis, you don’t have that tension about whether you’ll get away, you just end up in prison or as a grease spot on the pavement.” She leaned forward. “This one guy, he thought he was my boyfriend or something. Thank god Paul didn't actually have powers, he was just pretending.”

    “Yeah,” I said.

    Something about the way I said it, she went, “You too?” She leaned back and swore. “Man, I can pick’em.”

    “Hey, it was Craigslist.”

    “Well, forgive me. I haven't contacts to get on the real networks yet. You gotta start somewhere.”

    I started to laugh. She stared at me, offended, and then gave a tiny giggle. “Hey,” she said, “this is important!”

    “Yeah,” I said, “but it’s also silly as hell.” I stood up. “Sorry to have wasted your time, Jane. Don’t worry, I’ll delete that email.”

    “Enh,” she said, “disposable account.”

    “Mine too.” I held out my hand. “Good luck.”

    She took it. “Thanks.”

    And then the violet beam picked me up and threw me into the wall.
    * * *

    For a second I didn’t hear anything. Then I felt the absence of feeling that tells you that you've taken a really solid hit. I heard “No powers! No powers!” and “Who’s he?” and “You know her?” And then a mechanical voice saying, “I have powers now, Kendra. Good powers. We will make a good team.”

    I guessed that Jane’s real name was Kendra. A guy helped me up because my springing to my feet was more like my crawling stiffly to my feet. Jane (Kendra? I'm sticking with Jane) was gone and the emergency exit door was shutting.

    I couldn't see out of one eye because it turned out I’d cut my forehead hitting the wall and blood was oozing down. “You okay?” I nodded because that's what you say.

    He smiled--“Good man”--and pressed something into my hand. I looked down. It was loaf-shaped, maybe the size of my hand. My forehead was suddenly itchy, like the wound was three days old instead of fresh.

    “Thanks?” I said to him.

    “Keep it,” he said. “I lose'em every other fight so they're practically disposable. Thumb wheel switches modes. He carried her out of that door.” He tilted his head toward the emergency exit.

    Clearly he expected that I would burst out that door to rescue her. Was this more of that hero territoriality she had been talking about?

    And the damnable thing is, I burst out the door.
    * * *

    I didn’t intend to rescue her. He had powers, she had powers, I didn’t have powers. I had a mysterious loaf-shaped thing.

    Outside I found myself on the other side of the building and they were right there. He was clomping along, with her on his shoulder. I could see her struggling but whatever her powers were, they weren’t loosening his grip.

    So I thumbed the wheel of the mysterious loaf and pointed it at him.

    Nothing.

    Oh, the end turned a pale red, but that’s about it.

    So I charged them.

    That wasn’t totally suicidal. I’ve studied kung fu since I was twelve and was an offensive tackle in high school. I’ve still got reasonable speed. I didn’t think this was going to go great for me, but she might get free, and she had powers.

    He was solid and I didn’t knock him over: He staggered to one side and I accidentally tore off his arm.

    Yeah. From the elbow down, it slid right out of his sleeve. It was clearly artificial.

    He (it?) was a robot. Not a particularly strong one, if I had ripped off his arm. Maybe Jane had loosened it.

    Jane still wasn't loose. I dropped the arm and crouched for a leg sweep. He weighed a ton: my leg stopped like I had tried to sweep a light pole.

    That gave him time to hit me with a green ray. It hurt like hell and made my leg tingle. At least it wasn’t a taser.

    Hey--maybe the loaf-thing was set to taser. I rolled over and jabbed it at him.

    There was a soft sighing sound and he fell apart. Jane tumbled to the ground and in front of us was a brain in a flying jar.

    On the plus side, my leg felt fine, like it had never been hurt.

    One weird little loaf thing, that’s what that was.

    “Paul?” she said.

    “Now I have powers, Kendra,” he repeated. “I had them put me in a robotic body with powers.”

    These people were nuts.

    “Crap,” I said, in different words. Because a guy who used to be an offensive tackle is not nearly enough against a telekinetic brain in a flying jar, even with an loaf-shaped thing that makes robots fall apart and heals people.

    “Once you are gone, Kendra and I can be together.” His violet beam missed me and shot into the darkness. I dove behind him.

    This was my thinking: The violet beam was something like telekinesis. If he missed me, it’s because he meant to hit something else. So I was putting him between me and whatever he was throwing at me. He smacked himself in the glass (okay, it was probably plastic) with a dumpster and bounced back against the chain link fence. It ripped and squealed and tore off.

    “Not if I don't want to be with you,” Jane said. Her hands shimmered like they were under rippling water. She reached up and grabbed the glass. The fluid inside the jar started to boil and kept boiling after she pulled her hands away.

    The green ray hit her but she didn’t shake it off like I did. She stood there frozen, as if the pain had robbed her of the ability to move.

    I had been sort of hoping that she would deal with the brain in a jar and I could leave. But if I left, he would carry her off.

    There was a whole building of supers behind me. Why didn’t any of them come out and give me a damn hand?

    All super villains, I guess.

    Okay then. If I couldn’t get him away from her, could I get her away from him?

    I dove under him and grabbed the edge of that chain-link fence and then burst up like doing burpees for coach way back when. I jumped backwards and managed to scoop the edge over Paul.

    Paul. Man, these people needed superhero names.

    The chain link fence curled over him as he flew forward toward us. He was strong enough to rip more of the fence from posts. The fence threatened to wrap him up.

    I shoved the loaf into my pocket and grabbed Jane by the waist. I ran for the front of the building. I had no idea where I would hide her--inside? No, then we’d just have a huge supers battle. Sewer grate? That would work in movies but not here.

    My car.

    If I could reach it without Paul-in-a-jar getting free, I could hide her there. Heck, if I were lucky I could get into the car and drive--

    Nope. I wasn’t lucky. I didn’t even get to my car before Paul burst onto the street trailing fence and a post with a dirty blob of concrete.

    There was no witty banter. The car nearest to me (not mine) was hit by the violet beam and flew at us. I had Jane in my arms; the best I could do was drop down and hope she wasn’t hurt. The car landed upside down and bumped me as it bounced along the pavement.

    A car weighs a lot more than a football player. I was lucky not to be dead.

    “Distract him,” I heard. Jane. “Can’t move yet.”

    Distract him? What did she think I’d been trying to do? Win?

    We were sheltered by the car. I had a second but oh, I ached. Then I remembered: The loaf-shaped thing had helped the last time he hurt me. I pulled it out of my pocket and looked at it.

    Huh. The thumb wheel wasn’t labelled but I could see now that it had three settings besides off. I had only used two of them.

    I set it to the third one and aimed.

    A ball of glowing Star Trek style plasma engulfed Paul…and did nothing.

    Well, that was pointless. I moved it back to the first setting, the one where it healed me and dragged myself up to a crouch. I felt better but not great. Either it needed more time or it was running out of power.

    “I hate jocks,” said Paul as the green beam stabbed at me but missed. He nearly hit me with the trailing chain link.

    “Distract him,” I muttered. I grabbed the fence to pull on him a bit. The fence shifted a bit and I figured it was going to slide off and hit us. Then it caught, and Paul responded by going straight up, and then I was in the air.

    I didn’t have time to swear: I was looking for the other end of the fence and found it. Took me two grabs, but I got it so that Paul was now netted in the fence and I was safe from the fence falling off him.

    Which is good, because we were ten or fifteen storeys up in the air by then. I couldn’t tell exactly.

    Some of you smartasses are wondering why I didn’t climb up the chain link fence and stab him with the loaf. Two reasons: first, do you realize how ridiculous the sentence “stab him with the loaf” is? And second, I was hanging on for my life.

    I had used up my quota of movement for the duration.

    Paul hadn’t. I was in his blind spot or something so he couldn’t hit me with a beam, violet or green, so he started weaving back and forth as he traveled, trying to shake me loose. I held on tighter, swaying like a kid on a rickety swing. So he dropped down to mash me against the buildings.

    As soon as he got low enough, I dropped off onto the roof of one building and rolled until I hit the guard rail.

    Without my weight, Paul suddenly shot up and to the side; he hit the side of the building on the other side with a sound I could hear. Maybe that was enough, or maybe systems were damaged, but he flew off.

    I took off the mask and pounded on the roof door until someone heard me, and then I walked for an hour back to my car. It was there and unharmed, which is good, because I hadn’t paid for acts-of-supers coverage on my insurance. Didn’t think I needed it, right?

    I put the mask back on and went in, hoping to find Jane or the guy who loaned me the loaf. No luck, but a guy bought me a drink and told me that now I was “in the life.” I smiled politely and refused the drink.

    When I got home, there was a message from Jane. Well, Kendra, but I knew her as Jane.

    “Guess you have an archfoe now. He'll be back.”

    And that’s why I have this SendMeCash page. Because superhero training?

    It’s not cheap.

    Some M&M stuff at my blog, [URL="http://jhmcmullen.blogspot.ca"][i]Iconic Energy[/i][/URL], but mostly [i]ICONS[/i]

  • #2
    Characters So Far

    Mynah (Kendra Wahl)

    Prowess 3 Coordination 6 Strength 4 Intellect 4 Awareness 5 Willpower 6

    Determination 2 Stamina 10

    Specialties Athletics (+1), Power (Sonic Control) Expert (+2)

    Powers
    • She has Poor (2) Sonic Control with a basic power of Images. She can also discomfit someone (an Affliction) or distract them so that she can give them suggestions, like Mind Control/Hypnosis.
    • she can emit a subsonic that messes with someone's visual center and makes them unable to see her, a kind of Average (3) Invisiblity. Machines will still see her, and it's tiring.

    Qualities:
    • Bad luck in picking partners and nemeses
    • Doesn't understand the whole dating thing
    • Precision over power


    Brainpower (Paul Anoretti)

    Prowess 2 Coordination 6 Strength 3 Intellect 5 Awareness 5 Willpower 6

    Determination – Stamina 9

    Specialties Science (+1), Technology (+1)

    Powers
    • His flying jar has Average (3) Flight and Armor. Brainpower wears robotic bodies that pass casual inspection, but which fall apart on combat. The robotic bodies tend to be slow and heavy, but they provide him with fine manipulation and other skills.
    • The jar has Good (5) Life Support (doesn't need to eat, sleep, pressure, vacuum, disease) but it is oxygenated, so he does need air and toxins will affect him.
    • The jar has Great (6) Telekinesis. It manifests as a violet beam.
    • The jar can also trigger nerve centers, causing pain strong enough to immobilize someone (Extra: Great (6) Stunning vs. Will), with the green beam.

    Qualities
    • He is an inveterate mansplainer.
    • He is obsessed with Kendra/Jane/Mynah and knows many details of her real life.
    • He is certainly an expression of white (brain-in-a-jar) privilege.
    • For future game purposes, he is probably in debt to whomever put him in a jar.

    Some M&M stuff at my blog, [URL="http://jhmcmullen.blogspot.ca"][i]Iconic Energy[/i][/URL], but mostly [i]ICONS[/i]

    Comment


    • #3
      The Sound and the Fury


      So I’m in this museum, hiding in the Florentine room after hours, to steal the Albright Amulet because I want to be a supervillain, right? Because of the origin and me being fired from Faceless Corporation. My attempts to ease into it with a nemesis and all have totally failed, so I'm jumping right in with a commission to steal this amulet. I found the job on Craigslist, that being the least-reputable online place I know.

      And right at this second I’m sitting in a blind spot and looking at the high-security display stand that wasn’t there yesterday when I cased the place. And what I’m doing will be totally visible to security cameras because I need the credit: I haven’t disabled the museum’s security. People are going to be watching, and I don't want to have to do this again. It just looks bad, you know?

      And there’s a flash of light in the next room.

      I have not been in the supervillain game a long time, but I’ve been reading. There are a couple of possibilities when there’s a sudden flash of light. Maybe an incandescent light bulb blew. Maybe a bolt of lightning suddenly struck indoors. Or maybe another supervillain just wandered into the building despite the anti-teleport tech.

      (I don’t have fancy teleportation: I have a kind of invisibility, for short periods. I was going to hide and leave with the first batch of tourists in the morning. That's how I entered in costume.)

      I can hear him-her-it moving around, without any regard for the internal cameras.

      Now, museums don’t have great security; it’s not cost-effective for them, because the artwork can usually be ransomed back. But this guy (because statistically it’s a guy) is ignorant or powerful enough not to care, and he has triggered some alarms for sure.

      If he steals something and leaves, I will probably get blamed. Blame goes to the lowest on the ladder, credit to the highest. Supervillainy: it’s like a corporation that way. (Clearly I traded one corporation for another.) Will that be good? Depends on what he steals, but even if I get the credit, I won't get the money.

      And he strides into this room, muttering about key lines and magic and crap like that. It’s Merlin Furioso, who is powerful.

      I have some crappy sonic powers that frankly are most effective against toddlers, and he’s an honest-to-goodness sorcerer.

      There’s a chance that he might be here for something else. After all, the Florentines were big on magic. Probably. I don’t really know.

      Of course he walks right over to the Albright Amulet and looks at it.

      The amulet doesn’t look like much. I did some research on it when I took the job. Meteoric iron cunningly wrought, with a gold inset making the shape of an eye, and an onyx pupil. It’s been in the museum for about twenty years. Hell, it’s been travelling on loan for twelve. Slight magic aura but nothing more than you’d expect from something that was in an alchemist’s place for years.

      The fact that two of us are here tonight to get it means that now the stars are right or someone has just unearthed the secret incantation that opens the gate with this or yadda-yadda; the point is that he’s going to take the thing that I’ve been hired to steal, and even if I stop him but have to leave without the amulet, some other mystically-inclined dorkwad is going to show up tomorrow, and so on. Time is limited.

      Also: I have probably been set up by the guy who hired me. Bonus for him if I succeed and no loss of money if Furioso gets the amulet. Memo: don't trust jobs from Craigslist. I gotta get access to the supervillain deep web. TL;DR: grab the amulet now or never, because multiple folks want it.

      Here’s my plan: grab it, survive for four minutes (police response time), let Furioso fight them when they come in and slip out. Yes, the cameras will see me but the police won’t.

      It’s a crappy plan, but momma needs rent money and this is the way to do it that doesn’t involve crawling back to Faceless Corporation.

      I check the room for mannequins and statues (Furioso’s MO involves animating statues and his spell du jour, whatever he’s been reading up on) and spot the two that I should avoid. They’re flanking the doorway that Furioso didn’t come in, displaying arms and armor. One mannequin has a lance, kind of lopsided armor, and a gold helm that looks like a snarling lion; the other has a sword and chest armor with exaggerated musculature like a superhero.

      I tense, waiting for him to break the case, because he’s going to. The man has the patience of a St. Bernard puppy. (I speak from experience.)

      He taps the wand and the glass shatters. It doesn’t fall to pieces because it’s more like windshield glass. He frowns, mutters a phrase that sounds like “Come,” and pulls the wand up. His wand is suddenly sticky and the case comes up and off. I hope that in the security office something lights.

      It’s not just the Albright Amulet that’s in the case: there are a couple of other examples of goldsmithing in the Florentine era but all have provenance and aren’t mystical.

      Hours of gymnastics when I was a kid pay off as I dive over the pedestal while I grab the amulet. “Uh-uh-uh,” I say. “No touch.”

      The banter is deliberate. The other thing I read about Furioso is that he loves to talk. So if I can get him talking, I have a better chance of surviving the next four minutes. “Insolent swine!” He has a nice voice, a tenor. I wonder if he sings at all. “That amulet belongs with Merlin Furioso, Master of the Mystic Art!”

      Yeah. He talks like that.

      “Sorry, didn’t hear you. I was looking at my amulet,” I say as I roll backwards. I wish I could fly; I call myself Mynah but because of the crappy sonic powers, not flight.

      By staying low, I can keep out of his view. Pedestals for display cases keep me hidden. So far, it is working.

      “My mystic blasts will incinerate you!” Guess he found mystic blasts in his cereal box this morning. We spend a little while with him firing and me dodging out of sight. A rapid barrage of pale blue bolts light up the darkness, like flames from a Bunsen burner, each one shaped like a tiny ghost. They hit the display bases and sizzle. One base, just one, catches on fire.

      That’s enough. It sets off the fire alarm.

      Unlike security systems, museums have great fire alarm systems. Almost all of the valuables are in display cases so they are perfectly protected as the fire-retardant gas starts pouring out. The gas is heavier than air. It pools on the floor.

      Where I am.

      I have to get up or suffocate, and I have to get up before I breathe any of it in, because once this stuff gets in your lungs, it stays there, smothering you.

      He doesn’t seem to be bothered. “There you are, rabid pup!”

      Big on the animal insults, our Merlin Furioso. I expect more little blue burning ghosts but I guess even they dislike fire suppressant gas. Instead he says to the mannequins, “You, block her exit and you...skewer her.” The mannequin with a lance blocks its exit and stands motionless.

      The other one comes for me, sword drawn and raised. Fortunately it hasn’t got a lot of finesse. I dodge to one side but that puts me closer to Merlin. He responds by saying, “She must let go,” and flicking his wand at me. My hand falls open, pried apart by something.

      “Guard her,” he tells the mannequin. “No need to skewer her now.” He looks at me. He’s creepily old…maybe forty. “So long as she behaves.”

      I’m still holding my breath, so I can’t say anything. My chest is starting to burn. The police haven’t shown up yet, so I have to stall for more time.

      I kick the amulet and it skitters across the floor, bounces off something and scrapes along. I have no idea where it went. If this were my apartment, we wouldn’t find it for years.

      My apartment with the rent due and the secret puppy. Sigh.

      “Spirits, find it and bring it to me.” Oh, he’s so poetical in victory. It just ticks me off while my lungs burn. Then Merlin says something odd, conversationally and not to me. “You can feast on her blood.”

      In the space between one painful heartbeat and the next, I suddenly realize that the spirits are literal: he’s commanding something. He’s telling it or them what to do. He might love to talk, but he needs to talk.

      I don’t grin, because my chest hurts too much, but crappy sonic powers can deal with this. Except I’m going to have to breathe.

      I only ever saw two effects at once: two spirits. I think. Two mystical fire blasts at a time, two mannequins animated. If there are two spirits, there’s nothing animating the mannequins...the spirits are off looking for the amulet.

      Crap: I see the amulet bobbing along, so only one spirit is occupied, and I’m apparently the buffet. I try and close my hand, and I can. So the spirit isn’t there any more, though it might be anywhere else. One of them can hold me while the other does blood-draining-spirit things.

      I’m holding my breath so I duck down low and move for the doorway blocked by one mannequin, the one with the lance. The mannequin starts to move but I manage to get under its feet and slide into the other hall—uh, crap, it’s full of dinosaur models.

      If I were designing a museum, I wouldn’t put big dinosaur skeletons right next to Florentine metalwork of the 1500s.

      Not my call, though. Two dinosaurs start to move toward me, nasty things like velociraptors in that movie but only about waist height.

      My theory is, that’s all the spirits. So I pop up and breathe and use my crappy sonic powers like ventriloquism. His voice comes from him and says:

      “Attend to me! Return and I shall feed you myself!”

      Because an appeal to hunger works with a St. Bernard puppy.

      And then I hear “What?” So I add him saying, “Ignore my words and I shall feed you, my faithful servitors! Then begone, for I release you from your servitude!”

      I am assuming that they don’t want to be servants. If they have some weird co-dependent relationship, I’m hosed.

      I'm not hosed.

      After that, it’s mostly screaming and some wet slapping sounds that I don’t like to think about. He’s not gonna die, because the police are coming.

      At least, I hope he’s not gonna die.

      Maybe thirty seconds later the wet sounds stop.

      I finally hear the police coming. Typical.

      I dash into the Florentine room and have to look at him because, well, he’s got the amulet that I’m here to steal. He looks awful. He looks like an explosion in an abattoir. He looks like he just spilled a motorcycle while riding naked. He looks like a giant-size economy pack of lean ground chuck stuffed into a costume.

      But—I check—he’s breathing.

      The amulet is on the floor beside him. I pick it up, wave at the security camera and walk out. Just as the police show up, I turn functionally invisible and walk out.

      And that’s how I really started my life of crime.

      Some M&M stuff at my blog, [URL="http://jhmcmullen.blogspot.ca"][i]Iconic Energy[/i][/URL], but mostly [i]ICONS[/i]

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      • #4
        For Whom the Bell Tolls



        I have everything planned and then something screws it up. As usual.
        About a thousand people are in the public square waiting for me and this idiot to duel to the death. The stolen bell is on the platform along with a shrewish sharp-featured guy and another guy in a white-and-red outfit who I assume is Klaxon. And me: I’m functionally invisible, skulking along because I have a plan, right?

        I hear Klaxon say loudly behind me, “"She'’s here. It’'s her.”"

        I do not get to equalize the odds before his sonic blast hits the bell and makes it vibrate in sympathy--

        “"Kill her!”" he shouts.

        The crowd turns into a thousand bloodthirsty mind-controlled hooligans with an appetite for moi.

        The life of a supervillain wannabe is not without its problems.
        #

        After defeating Merlin Furioso and getting the amulet, you would think my rep would be assured and I would be swimming Scrooge McDuck-like in a vault of money and felonious contracts.

        You would be wrong.

        Oh, I got some nice press out of it, but that was offset by the facts that (a) I still had no way other than Craigslist (blech) to find jobs and (b) my performance in that job got criticized and minimized at every turn.

        So far as (a) went, I actually considered getting jailed at one point just so that I could hob-nob with supervillains. Then my St. Bernard puppy Slobberkin would ask to go out and I realized that I couldn’t go to prison.

        And (b)? I mean, hello? There was no one else in the museum but me and him, and it was all on security cams. (Okay, I had to leak the security footage but the footage was unaltered.)

        But no: I had to contend with people claiming that some man did the real work, whether it was a partner or that I just waltzed in and took the amulet from Merlin. Some nights, fuelled by too many Long Island Iced Teas, I got on the Internet under an alias and argued with my detractors. (I ignored the ones who claimed I was a vigilante out to stop Merlin Furioso; that level of self-deception you cannot argue with.)

        It was on one of those occasions that I encountered him. He had posted a list of “proof” that the security cam footage was a fake, and I was just drunk enough to respond. I demolished most of his points. He was online and patronizing, and I challenged him to do better.

        His smug response? “"Watch the news over the next couple of days. See how a man handles it.”"

        In the morning, I was hungover and in the process of deleting my browser history (I do it every morning, just before Slobberkin'’s first walk) when I found the postings.

        So I kept an eye out.

        Damned if the Confederate Bell didn'’t disappear from the same museum that night.

        The Confederate Bell, according to the news sites, was a rarity: an actual Southern bell donated to be melted down to make cannons in 1862. Most of the bells were made by northern manufacturers, but this one had been from the south, and was spared only by the fact that it was sent to New Orleans to be melted; the city was captured in April of that year and only the clapper had been removed.

        It wasn'’t a subtle job: the bell was a good 700 pounds and on a stand. He disabled the security cameras and every guard was found unconscious. I presumed he had a buyer for it, because it wasn’t worth that much. Spanish bells of the same vintage go for more.

        The annoying thing was that the reward offered for his capture was higher than the one offered for mine.

        I posted a brief congratulations (because, hey, always networking) and figured that would be the end of it.

        Okay, maybe I said something about how Mynah had done better because she had to deal with a supervillain and still got the job done.

        Man, I suck at networking.
        #
        The shrew-like guy on the platform grabs for me. I dive through the bell stand but my heels graze the bell with a gonk. That ruins my dive and instead of rolling off the platform and under it to a safe place to turn visible, I am still on it.

        I swear and I go visible anyway.

        My “invisibility” is sonic: I make a sound that people don’t want to look at. It lasts as long as my breath does. I have good lungs but a minute, maybe two is tops.

        The crowd is somewhere beyond hooligans. They are chanting “Kill Mynah!” in a disorganized way and the platform is shaking as they charge it.

        The platform is not safe. Not for me, what with the guy trying to blast me, and not for the people around the platform. The second-last thing I want is for a seven hundred pound bell to fall and crush a bunch of people. (The last thing I want is to be killed by a mob…well, anything.) I get to a crouch and then sprint down the length of the platform off it. I make a beautiful leap over the railing and it’s kind of like crowd-surfing except where the crowd has their arms raised in fists to crush you. By ignoring who I poke and prod and pummel, I manage to get to the edge of the local knot of the crowd and hit the ground.

        I don’t have any plan at this point: I’'m just running with them following behind me like a pack of imprinted ducklings.

        Murderous spittle-flecked rage-filled killer ducklings.
        #

        The online abuse was torrential, especially considering how I had never mentioned the exceedingly small and flaccid dicks these guys must have had. I shut down the account and went on with my life, which was mostly about the next score. I wasn’'t terribly worried: when you decide to pursue the whole supervillain thing, you start bouncing messages through a couple of anonymizing servers and maintaining as clean a separation between identities as possible.

        But I am not a hacker.

        Then I got this email, sent to Mynah but addressed to the ID that I had closed. I’'m not going to quote it because it called me obscene names. But it called for a showdown the next day to “prove” that I wasn’t as good as Klaxon.

        Yeah. That’'s what he called himself. Given the other obscenities in the note, I was surprised it wasn’t KKKlaxon. (That at least you could trademark.)

        I made a T chart of the pros and cons of actually showing up. On the pro side, he knew how to contact Mynah. At least that part was working.

        Lots of cons if I lost: I’'d be unconscious and possibly arrested. The work trying to build my brand would be wasted. Win or lose, I'’d probably get doxxed because the guy had connected one identity with Mynah.

        My fingers trembled as I wrote the reply.

        No win in a public contest. Mynah doesn’t see any reason to show up.

        I saved it as a draft because experience has taught me that I will not see the embarrassing typo right away, and ten minutes wouldn’t hurt.

        I switched computers and started researching the place where he wanted to duel. It was mentioned a lot today.

        Because Klaxon had shared his challenge with media and they picked it up. The place was going to be a circus: the sketchy one-ring-no-sideshow kind.

        Why did he want a lot of people around? There was a PR benefit, sure, and maybe that’'s all it was. But maybe not. What would he gain from the audience?

        Too many possibilities: he could have any power.

        I took Slobberkin for a walk and tied him up outside the police station while I went in and stole the police report. (I can turn sort-of invisible and I take advantage: sue me.)

        Then I checked to see if Shelley, the drag queen across the hall, was free at the right time.

        Someone had to claim the reward for me (or bail me out of jail), because I was going to be busy as Mynah.
        #

        I’'m busy, all right: There’'s a knot of people ahead of me, so I dodge to the right. That gets me another dozen yards so I dodge right again.

        Dodging right turns out to be a bad idea so I have to go left…. which is away from the bell.

        The bell is important. I have to get back to the bell.

        Klaxon screams at me again. Unlike me, he can focus his screams and he doesn’t care if people get hurt. A guy is pulling at my carrier bag (please don’'t call it a purse) and Klaxon’s scream hits him and my bag. Through the earplugs I hear something in the bag rupture and I know I have to get rid of it.

        My bag has six aerosol cans of foam insulation. I was going to fill the bell with insulation so it couldn’t ring but I have no time to find and discard the leaky can--which means that the other five cans are going to be embedded in foam. I duck my head and let the bag slide off my shoulder. There’s a sssss-Whump and insulation starts leaking out the bag.

        I dodge left because there'’s no point in getting back to the bell if I can'’t silence it.
        #

        My working hypothesis was that Klaxon had my powers but turned up to eleven. I hadn’t seen any evidence that he was bullet proof or could teleport or fly. In fact, the way that he stole the bell indicated that he couldn'’t do any of those things.

        Control minds? Sure. Evidence suggested that the guards knocked each other out. Blast things? There were a couple of broken things that suggested it. (Okay, I couldn’t blast things, but the principle is the same.)

        But I figured that he just had more raw power than I had. He was different in quantity rather than quality.

        Plus he used the name “Klaxon.” Kinda hinted at sound powers.

        By this thinking, the bell wasn’t a symbol for his abilities, but rather a necessity. Like Merlin Furioso’s habit of talking, the bell was a necessity disguised as a quirk.

        So I figured that the bell and sound were involved. I went to the hardware store and got myself some spray cans of foam insulation.

        All I had to do was show up early, go sort-of invisible, and fill the bell with spray insulation so it couldn’t make sounds.

        I also brought a set of filtering earphones that rendered me immune to his mind control. I hoped.

        Such a good plan.
        #


        First things first. The bell is still ringing. People are still crazy-mad.

        There’s a clear patch so I’m moving in a big circle, but that gives Klaxon the opportunity: his next shot hits me and I feel like my guts are water. My knees buckle and I fall but manage to roll twice before getting up. Dammit. I need a minute. Five seconds, even.

        And the filters in the earplugs are not quite good enough. That damned bell is giving me a headache.

        Someone has lost a shoe. I grab it (it'’s not mine) and pitch it at the bell.

        And hit. The sound is muffled and fuzzy, but it’s not that damned mind control sound. One or two of the crowd that I can see come up for self-awareness before Klaxon zonks the bell again.

        Conceive replacement plan: achievement unlocked.

        Some of the killer duckings have sticks; I'’m looking for something metal with a hole in it so I can fasten a rope to it. I don’t have a rope, but baby steps.

        Ah: heavy-set guy with muttonchops and a T-shirt with a Confederate flag. His gut is too big for me to be sure that a punch to the solar plexus will do it so I deliver a foot to his crotch and catch the pipe as he drops it. Then the ducklings are nearly on me, so I start sprinting again.

        My lungs are burning. If I survive, I’'m adding running to my workout.

        Rope, rope, rope.… Nothing but an obvious answer comes to me. Sometimes you need to clip things on, so my costume has a belt with no other function. I can sacrifice the smart belt.

        So I’'m running, dodging, and threading my belt through this T-junction at the end of the pipe.

        This is not easy.

        The buckle keeps the pipe on the belt, so I swing the belt like a mace so I can get back to the platform.

        Of course, even if I can silence the bell, I still have to deal with Klaxon.
        #

        I planned for the bell--did you think I wouldn’'t plan for Klaxon?

        No, the plan was not to have Shelley hit him with a tranquilizer dart. If I were just trying to get past him, that would be fine. No, I had to defeat him and do it publicly without a man’s help. Despite Shelley’'s many virtues, he still identifies as male.

        No, my plan had been inspired by Slobberkin: I had two dog anti-bark collars that gave a little shock every time they felt the vibration of the vocal cords. Each was taped to a big adhesive pad so I just had to get them onto his neck and then presumably I could fasten them. (I’'d replaced the actual nylon collars with the pads and some zip-ties so I could close them and tighten them without a lot of extra fuss.)

        Those collars were not in my bag but in the pockets I have under the epaulet-thingies on my shoulders.

        You don’'t think I’'d design a costume without pockets, do you? The belt didn'’t have pouches because that was too obvious, but I had to have a place for lockpicks, zip ties, emergency cash, and electric shock dog collars.

        Do not underestimate me. I'’m a working thief, not one of your runway femme fatales.

        That was the message I was trying to get across to Klaxon, but he didn'’t seem to be picking up what I was laying down.
        #

        Even killer duckings avoid being bashed in the head by a whirling pipe so momentum gets me onto the platform. The weaselly guy is gone but Klaxon is right there. This is a problem.

        I need a second to look up inside the bell and figure out if I can attach my makeshift clapper. Then I need five or ten seconds to actually do it.

        The clapper is usually held on by a bolt through a hole. I can thread the belt through the hole and run a zip tie through piercings in the belt. If Klaxon isn'’t shooting at me.

        I can'’t fix the bell until I deal with Klaxon and I can'’t deal with Klaxon until I fix the bell.

        Well, crap. He inhales to zap me a good one--

        So I grab him and run him head-first into the bell.

        The sound is deafening, even with my filter ear-plugs. It’'s gotta be worse for him.

        Except he'’s still moving. I only used one arm because I'’m still holding my makeshift clapper.

        He twists and grabs at me but only gets some Spandex where my belt would be. I try to clock him with the pipe but I just end up gently baffing him with the belt and the pipe hits me on the shoulder.

        He opens his mouth and screams at me.

        I drop the belt, I drop him. One more of those is going to take me out. Because I'm going to fall down I put my hand on the bell to steady myself and it rocks.

        So I give it a hard shove.

        He’'s starting to get up again when seven hundred pounds of swinging bell comes up and whacks him in the head. He drops back to the platform.

        I slap my first dog collar on his neck and tighten the zip tie. I don’'t want to choke him but I make it snug. I'm in a hurry because there are people trying to get to us.

        I scream invisibility so they won't look at us. I hope.

        The bell reverberates with it so that even I don'’t want to look.

        The bell keeps ringing as I talk to him as urgently and memorably as I can.

        “"I don't want you to even think about who I really am or you will be in a world of shame and anguish. I know you worked for Faceless Corporation, Klaxon.”"

        Except I said their real name. And his.

        Because I was just at the edge of the “accident” the company caused.

        He was the one in the accident--at least the one who lived.

        Who knew he had such loathsome attitudes?

        (Besides every woman who worked in his department, I mean.)

        #


        Me beating his ass was on camera. Shelley turned him in but we haven't seen dime one of the reward money.

        I felt sort of bad returning the bell--it could be useful, but it was too unwieldy.

        Still, I got two jobs out of it.

        I think I'’m starting to get the hang of this supervillain thing.
        Last edited by kipling; 07-01-2019, 09:24 AM.
        Some M&M stuff at my blog, [URL="http://jhmcmullen.blogspot.ca"][i]Iconic Energy[/i][/URL], but mostly [i]ICONS[/i]

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