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Enter the Nemesis [Worm]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Mar 1, 2015.

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  1. esotericist

    esotericist Getting sticky.

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    Well, that... sure went places.

    On the bright side, our protagonist isn't going to be alone against the world now? Maybe? Hopefully?


    ... Meh, it's worm. And this isn't one of your fixfics. I shouldn't be too optimistic.
     
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  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    The Nemesis program is where Cauldron takes commissions from heroes with lots of money to create a foe for them that they can publicly beat in order to look cool in front of the, well, public. They are specifically designed with a weakness that can be exploited by the hero. Also, likely mindwiped and with mental triggers implanted so the hero can keep bringing them to battle.

    The ribbons are his view of electrical current running through wires. His right hand can draw on that to recharge his batteries, so to speak.
     
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  3. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    We shall see :D
     
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  4. doomlord9

    doomlord9 Experienced.

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    It all depends on how to define the term 'fix'.

    Doucheba-err, Flux is going to be 'fixed' quite rapidly and he isn't fooling people as well as he thinks he is.

    Ball-shocker on the other hand will probably have the Chinese interpretation of 'May you have an interesting life' and while not a perfect life is probably going to be not as bad as it could be if his patron wasn't a complete retard with too much money on his hands.
     
  5. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    Ribbons: This is how our protagonist perceives his ability to draw in power from electrical activity in his environment. The "ribbons" mark out areas in space where he can place his right hand to draw in energy which, apparently, both heals his body and fuels his sinister offensive abilities.*

    Nemesis: When a person buys powers from Cauldron, they can pay extra to have Cauldron release a Case-53 who is designed to be a good recurring villain for them. This helps them build rep as a hero and feel good about themselves. To make the whole thing more safe and appealing for their client, Cauldron guarantees that the Nemesis will lose against the paying hero - whether through brainwashing, or by picking a power that interacts with the hero's power in just the right way, or whatever.


    *Yes I did that on purpose.

    Edit: Also I totally missed that there were posts on the second page. Does that even count as being ninja'd?
     
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  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Doesn't have to be a Cauldron cape doing the buying. Just someone with the connections and the cash.
     
  7. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    I stand corrected. Aside from a few favorite sections, I haven't read Worm since it was ending.
     
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  8. Threadmarks: Interlude One: Flux, Part 1
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Enter the Nemesis

    Interlude One: Flux, Part 1

    [Author's Note: I have invented Flux's hometown. If there is such a city, it's not the same one as I have created.]


    2004
    Boston, MA


    "So ladies; ever met a real live superhero before?"

    A couple of the women giggled, and one or two looked interested. Troy Fielding, aka Monopole, took that as a positive sign, and gave them his best charming smile.

    "Actually, yes," one of them replied unexpectedly. "Stardust saved my life a couple of years ago. I was in a car crash, and he got my parents and me out safely. He was nice, too. But he didn't have to try nearly as hard as you are."

    They giggled again, but this time, Monopole didn't think they were giggling at his wit. At that moment, almost to his relief, a hand fell on his shoulder. He looked around to see Bulldozer; the older hero's impassive face revealed nothing of what he was thinking.

    "If you're done chatting up the local talent," Bulldozer told him with no trace of sarcasm in his voice, "it's time we kept moving on the patrol."

    "Right, right," Troy agreed. "Catch you on the flip side, ladies."

    They moved off along the nightclub strip, leaving the young women to their own devices; he wanted to look around, but at the same time didn't want to be seen doing so.

    "Enjoying yourself?" asked Bulldozer abruptly.

    Monopole glanced at him; the Protectorate hero, clad in yellow and black, with metal plates attached to each forearm, would have made up four of Troy in bulk, despite being no taller than the Ward. He moved forward stolidly along the pavement; people got out of his way, mainly due to respect, but at least in part because of his size and heft.

    Bulldozer's special Brute gift, as far as Monopole was able to determine, was that once he started moving along a particular path, nothing would stop him if he didn't want it to. He wasn't particularly fast, but once he started moving, he kept moving. Traction didn't matter; nor did the strength or weight of the opposition.

    "Oh, uh, sure, it's great," Troy replied belatedly.

    "This isn't a job to be enjoyed,"Bulldozer stated flatly. His expression had not changed, and nor had the tone of his voice, but Monopole knew he was being censured. "Instead of chatting up the girls, you should be paying attention. Watching people, instead of just looking at them."

    "I was just socialising," Troy protested. "Being friendly. Approachable."

    "I notice that you were being 'approachable' to the girls, but not the nightclub security, or to the other patrons, the men and older women," the older hero observed bluntly.

    Bulldozer's singlemindedness, Monopole reflected, was not only expressed in his physical actions.

    "But there was nothing going on," he protested.

    "On the contrary, I saw three separate illicit drug deals that were aborted when we arrived on the scene," Bulldozer stated. "Two of the young women you were being 'approachable' to were under the influence of something that wasn't alcohol, and one was underage. I spoke to nightclub security about the matter, and they agreed with my conclusions."

    "Why didn't you tell me, instead of leaving me to make an idiot of myself?" Troy demanded.

    "I was giving you the chance to see it for yourself," Bulldozer replied. "You didn't, mainly because you were looking at their cleavages rather than their faces. Although you were a useful distraction; while they were looking at you, they weren't looking at me."

    Bulldozer's voice, a slow rumble, did not alter its ponderous cadences, nor did it rise in tone or volume. But Monopole knew he was being read out all the same.

    "Fine," he retorted bitterly. "I suck at spotting illegal behaviour. I admit it. Happy now?"

    "No," responded his mentor. "I'll be happy when you decide to learn, instead of complaining that you're not being taught anything."

    Troy felt anger growing. "I didn't -" He cut his words off.

    "Yes?" asked Bulldozer.

    "Nothing," muttered Monopole. "Not important."

    "You were going to say something," Bulldozer pressed. "And it sounded as though it was important to you."

    Troy took a deep, aggravated breath. Does this guy never let up?

    The answer, he strongly suspected, was 'no'.

    But it wouldn't help to snap at Bulldozer; he knew that now. So he took another breath to calm himself. The older hero waited patiently. He did that really, really well.

    “I was going to say, I didn't come to Boston after I got powers in my little dinky home town just to be shown up on exactly how bad at being a superhero I am. I was … “ I was important. I was a hero. I was famous there.

    “Someone who mattered,” finished Bulldozer, finishing the unspoken thought with surprising accuracy. “Here, in the Protectorate, you're just another teenage cape. You're not the leader of the pack any more. But you're part of the pack. We're here to back you up. You're here to back us up. It's a lot safer than going it alone. Do you understand?”

    Monopole noted that Bulldozer hadn't addressed the bit about him being a sucky superhero. He wasn't one to give needless praise.

    And Troy really, really hated to admit it, but the guy had a point. There'd been a couple of sticky situations, back in Bedford, where he could have done with backup.

    But I'm better than that, now. I know what I'm doing.

    He had come to Boston with the full expectation of being recognised for his capabilities straight off the bat; however, these had been dashed, as he was immediately relegated to the position of junior member of the team, despite the fact that he was almost seventeen, and was older than most of them.

    After his team leader had reported 'attitude problems', he had started going out on patrols with Protectorate capes; the latest of these was Bulldozer. His initial impression of the man was someone who moved slowly and thought slowly, but he had learned otherwise; at least to do with the slow thinking. Bulldozer might not talk fast, but he thought deeply, and reached surprising insights.

    The worst part of it, he reflected bitterly, was that his powers weren't even in question here; Bulldozer was more concerned with his attitude, the way he did the job, than what he used to do it. He couldn't shake the idea that the older hero was trying to show him how to be a better superhero.

    But I am a good superhero! I've got the powers, the name, the costume. I'm friendly and courteous to the public, I get the job done.

    But he couldn't say that to Bulldozer's face. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Yeah, I understand.”

    “Good,” responded the older man. “Let's keep going. We've got more area to cover.”

    Which didn't mean that the conversation was over, Monopole knew. Just that Bulldozer was done talking for the moment.

    <><>​

    2005

    “Monopole.”

    Troy stood a little straighter before the desk. “Director Armstrong.”

    “When you came to us, we had high hopes for you. I had high hopes for you.” The greying man behind the desk opened a manila folder.

    Here it comes.

    “But too many problems have arisen. Too many questions without answers.”

    Troy took a deep breath. “Sir. If people are saying things behind my back -”

    There was a brief shake of the head. “No-one is talking behind your back, Mr Fielding. I'm speaking of Bulldozer.”

    I can still salvage this.

    “Sir, I admit that I could have done things better, but to fire me because of his death? Would he even want that?”

    Director Armstrong fixed him with a stern gaze. “Were it just that, I would be strongly inclined to do as you suggest, but there's more to it than that.”

    <><>​

    Monopole. I need to talk to you.”

    Troy turned from his locker. “Oh hey, Bulldozer,” he greeted the Protectorate cape. “I was just going off duty. Can it wait?”

    Bulldozer shook his head ponderously. “Come up to the roof,” he invited the Ward. “Now. Please.”

    Troy paused, but it seemed to him that Bulldozer wasn't so much asking, as telling. Very politely. So he went.

    They emerged on to the roof and headed over to where the statue of Stardust looked out over the city. “Okay, so what is it?” asked Troy.

    I've been hearing things around the city,” Bulldozer told him. “Disturbing things. About you.”

    Troy frowned. “About me? What things?”

    That you've been talking to the drug dealers, the minor criminals. Letting them stay in business, warning them of raids, so they can steer you on to higher-value targets.”

    Troy opened his mouth to answer, but Bulldozer had not finished. “And those that are higher in the food chain are saying that all they need to do is pay off the kid with the magnetic powers, and he leaves you alone.”

    Troy shook his head. “No. That's bullshit. There's no way they could be saying that. Someone's trying to screw with me.”

    If you're doing the former,” Bulldozer continued imperturbably, “that's not something a Ward is supposed to be doing. Turn over your information to the police, and go back to being a superhero. The latter … if you're doing that, it's reprehensible. If you are, then I can only advise that you turn yourself in, and confess what you're doing, and your punishment will be much lighter than if you're caught at it.”

    Troy was still shaking his head. “No,” he protested. “No, it's bullshit. All of it. Someone's pulling something on me.”

    Bulldozer nodded. “I will investigate more fully.”

    Thanks,” Troy told him. “I appreciate it.”

    Do not thank me yet,” Bulldozer told him. “If I find proof, one way or the other, I will be taking it to the Director.”

    Troy nodded. “Got it. You'll find it's all bullshit, you'll see.”

    He headed back to the elevator with Bulldozer, but while he kept his face calm, his thoughts were awhirl.

    Fuck. I only took the one damn bribe. Did they have to fucking spread it around?

    <><>​

    Bulldozer brought his forearms together. The Tinker-built plates attached to his forearms unfolded and locked together, forming a shield before him. He was reasonably durable, but he wasn't totally bulletproof, and so he'd had this accessory built for him. Aside from the steel plates shielding him from the front, it also generated a force field that covered him to the top and sides.

    Ready,” he stated into his radio headset.

    Ready,” the PRT on-site commander replied.

    Along with the rest of the Wards, Monopole waited a little way back. They were there, along with the Protectorate, in case the reports of new capes in Boston turned out to be true. He moved slightly, to keep a viewpoint on Bulldozer.

    The Brute started walking forward, speeding his pace as he went. Gunfire lashed from the windows, sparking from the metal shield before Bulldozer. There were trucks parked side by side before the front doors; when he reached them, he did not slow and did not stop. PRT troops, riot shields held over their heads, moved in behind as the trucks ground sideways, their tyres scraping over the asphalt.

    Bulldozer reached the front wall of the drug house. It was made of reinforced concrete, which fared no better than the trucks. A large chunk cracked away and fell into the building as he kept moving at his own steady pace.

    And then, just before he disappeared from view, he brought his arms apart, separating the halves of the shield. Another storm of gunfire erupted; the PRT troops entered the building, their own weapons returning fire.

    Some of the Protectorate capes were called in to provide cover for the PRT troops; in time, Bulldozer's body was carried out. He had suffered many grievous wounds, some from high-explosive ordnance.

    Despite the best of care, he lapsed into a deep coma after undergoing extensive surgery.

    No explanation was ever reached as to why he dropped his shield at that crucial moment.

    <><>​

    “Shortly before he was killed, Bulldozer came to me,” Armstrong went on. “He confessed that he had doubts about your integrity.”

    “Wait, what?” Troy exclaimed. “The guy had doubts about me, so I'm supposed to have sabotaged him somehow?”

    “Your powers could have caused him to separate the halves of his shield,” Armstrong went on remorselessly.

    “But I didn't!” protested Troy. Oh fuck, I knew it was a bad idea. “I couldn't even see him!” I could, but you don't need to know that.

    Armstrong's lips thinned. “Be that as it may, do you have any idea why he may have said that to me?”

    Troy shook his head. “Beats me. We were getting along pretty good, I thought.” He paused, then caution prompted him to add, “He did say something about some druggies trash-talking about me. I set him straight on the matter.”

    Armstrong rubbed his chin. “Hm. He did say that he'd spoken to you. What were these druggies supposed to have said about you?”

    “Uh, that I was supposedly turning a blind eye, in return for information on the bigger operators,” Troy replied. “Which was not true. Just saying.”

    “Even if you were, it would be merely grounds for a censure, not legal proceedings,” mused Armstrong. “Are you sure that there was nothing else?”

    “Not that I can remember,” Troy hedged.

    Armstrong nodded. “Very well. Carry on. I will let you know if there needs to be a follow-up interview on the matter.”

    Troy nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

    He exited the office, thankful that the cold sweat of fear had gone unnoticed.

    I should never have done that.

    But I didn't have a choice. Bulldozer would have gotten his proof, and gone to Armstrong with it.

    If I stay in the Wards, it'll come out eventually.

    Shit, what do I do? I can't just quit. It'll look suspicious.

    Furiously thinking, he strode upon his way.

    <><>​

    “Mr Fielding.”

    Troy stiffened to attention. “Sir.”

    Director Armstrong eyed him disfavourably. “I believe I saw you last week, about the Bulldozer matter.”

    “Sir.”

    “And now, what's this? A fist-fight with Airdrop?”

    “He wouldn't get off my case, sir.” His tone was carefully selected, to be just short of insolent.

    “Airdrop says otherwise.”

    “He would, sir.” Almost a sneer.

    “The other Wards on site also state that you picked the fight, Mr Fielding.”

    “Yes, sir. They would, sir. I'm the outsider here. I'm automatically in the wrong.” A challenging stare.

    Armstrong clasped his hands over a manila folder on his desk. “I've received troubling accounts of your attitude, but I've let them pass. No more. You can resign from the Wards, or we can institute legal proceedings to have you removed.”

    Troy fought to keep the triumph from his voice, his face. “So you're letting them win. You finally got rid of me. Fucking congratulations.”

    “Mr Fielding - “

    “Don't bother. I quit. I'm gone.”

    Turning, Troy headed for the door. His hand was on the handle when Armstrong's voice cracked out from behind him.

    “Mr Fielding!”

    Slowly, he turned, so as not to appear to be actually obeying the implicit command. “What? I quit. You can't give me orders anymore.”

    Armstrong appeared to be working to keep his temper under control. “You will leave the costume. That was supplied to you by the PRT. Likewise, any equipment. Your clothes and personal effects are all you can take from the building. Also, you may not use the name Monopole in future; that name is registered as that of a Wards cape. Which you are not.”

    Troy's eyes widened. “What the fuck? My costume, my cape name?”

    Our costume, Mr Fielding. Our cape name.” Armstrong pressed a button on his desk. The door opened, to reveal a PRT soldier. “Please escort Mr Fielding to the Wards base. Allow him to take his clothes and personal effects, nothing else. Then escort him from the building.”

    The PRT trooper nodded. “Sir.” He grasped Troy by the elbow. “Come along, sir.”

    Fuming, Troy allowed himself to be led away.

    <><>​

    2006
    Bedford, MA


    Troy opened the email and scanned the text.

    interesting proposal …

    rarely sponsor superheroes …

    spoken with PRT Director …

    our good name …

    not at this time …

    Snarling, he clicked on the next one. It was much the same thing. Since he had returned home from Boston, he had found it hard to maintain a heroic image on the basic pay of a fast-food attendant, and on the hours he was having to work. The only way he was able to survive at all had been to eat humble pie and move into his parents' basement and pay them room and board.

    After about six months of this, with his savings from his stint in the Wards steadily dwindling, he had hit on the idea of corporate sponsorship. If he applied a corporate logo to his costume, they could pay for his superhero career. It was brilliant.

    Except, that it wasn't. His exit from the Wards had been less than stellar, and the connection between Monopole and Flux was well-known enough that savvy PR guys were no doubt asking Armstrong for a quote. He could just imagine what the old bastard was saying about him.

    I must have sent out hundreds of fucking emails in the last month. I'm lucky if one in ten has replied. And they're all the same. Thanks but no fucking thanks. Scared I'll screw up their precious corporate image.

    Upstairs, the phone rang. He ignored it, clicking on another email. This one told the same story, in slightly more flowery prose. He just had to look a little harder to see the 'no thank you' hidden in the wording.

    “Troy!” his mother called out. “Phone!”

    Who the fuck's ringing me?

    Getting up from the computer, he trotted upstairs. “Who is it, Mom?” he asked.

    “I don't know, dear,” she responded, handing him the receiver. “They didn't say.”

    Frowning, he put the phone to his ear as his mother wandered back to the sofa, to continue watching her daytime soaps.

    “Troy Fielding speaking,” he stated.

    Mr Fielding, hello,” a smooth voice on the other end greeted him. “I understand that you are seeking corporate sponsorship, and are so far meeting with less than spectacular success?”

    He jerked the phone away from his ear and stared at it, as if it were a poisonous serpent. Cautiously, he brought it back, and whispered harshly, “Who is this, and how did you know who I was?”

    There was a warm chuckle in his ear. "Rest assured; we do not intend to use this information against you in any way. I merely represent a consortium that wishes to engage your abilities for financial recompense. You will be amply rewarded, I assure you."

    Troy blinked. "You, uh, don't want to sponsor me?"

    "No, Mr Fielding. We want to hire you."

    "Hire me. What, as a super-powered mercenary?"

    There was a sigh on the other end. "Why don't we meet, and discuss it in person."

    "Yeah," Troy agreed. "Why don't we do that? Where do you want to meet?"

    "I can only presume that you're less than trusting of my motives. Personally, I don't blame you. Pick a location, one with privacy but plenty of witnesses."

    Troy considered. "How about ... the Last Drop cafe, over on Broad and Main?"

    "An ideal location. I will meet you there in ... say, one hour?"

    "One hour. Got it." Troy put the phone down. "Mom?"

    His mother looked up. "Yes, dear?"

    "Can I borrow the car? I need to get into the city."

    "All right, dear." She went back to watching her soaps.

    As Troy reversed out of the driveway, he remembered that he'd left the computer on. Oh well, he thought. I'll turn it off when I get back.

    Down in the basement, the computer chimed softly as an email dropped into the inbox. The title read, “Interested in your sponsorship proposal”.

    Three-tenths of a second later, the title vanished, to be replaced by that of a spam email.

    Oblivious of all this, Troy drove off to keep his appointment.

    <><>​

    "Mr Fielding, I presume?"

    Troy looked up as an older man slid into the seat opposite his. The newcomer's age was hard to pin down; his face was unlined, but his hair was a smooth steel-grey. Troy got the immediate impression that this man never smiled, or frowned, without thinking about it first.

    He reached out with his power, taking hold of everything metallic in the area; the man, he noted, only carried a ballpoint pen in the inside pocket of his immaculate suit jacket. No gun, no knife. Not even the slim metal needle of a syringe.

    "That's me," he confirmed. "And you are?"

    A brief smile crossed the man's face. "My name is Charles Holden. I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr Fielding. Shall we dispense with the small talk?"

    Troy nodded curtly. "Okay, fine. What is it you want me to do? And how much are you looking to pay me? Because I'm telling you, if it's anything illegal -"

    The man calling himself Charles Holden chuckled warmly. "So melodramatic. No, the offer I have for you is entirely above board and legal." He reached into his jacket and retrieved a notebook, and the pen that Troy had already noted. Opening the notebook to the first page, he wrote a figure, then passed it over.

    Troy took it and read the figure. In an immaculate copperplate hand, Charles Holden had written '$20,000'.

    "Wow," he noted. "That's a lot of zeroes for a one-time job.”

    Holden shook his head. “No, Mr Fielding, you mistake me. That will be your monthly salary. Your beginning monthly salary.”

    Troy's eyes opened wide. “You're shitting me.”

    “Rest assured, Mr Fielding,” Holden assured him, “I am entirely serious. You have shown, with your abilities, the capability to instill permanent effects in metallic items, yes?”

    “Uh, yeah, sure,” Troy confirmed. “I can give anything metal any sort of magnetic field you like. I don't usually use that side of my powers though; it gets irritating, unless I'm looking to do party tricks. Now, if I could make people magnetic, that would be cool.”

    “Ordinary metal will be fine, Mr Fielding,” Holden replied urbanely. “Now, you're certain that your power effect is permanent?”

    Troy shrugged. “Made a fridge magnet back when I first got my powers. It's still stuck to the fridge.”

    Holden smiled. “Very well, if you're willing to work for us, putting your powers to use for purely industrial purposes, then we're willing to pay you that salary every month. Shall we say … six hours a day?”

    “Uh, sure,” Troy told him. “But I want an official position in the company. Not to just be Joe Schmuck who turns up, uses his powers, then clocks off again. Something like assistant junior vice president, or something. And stock options in the company. I want those too.”

    Charles Holden leaned back in his chair and gazed at Troy for a few moments, his eyelids hooded. Slowly, he nodded. “I see what you are doing, young man,” he mused. “You believe that we have something here, so you want to get in on the ground floor with the profits.”

    “Well, so what if I am?” asked Troy defensively.

    “Oh, I have no problem with that,” Charles replied. “It shows forethought. Better, it shows that you're in this for the long haul, that you want to make the company prosper so that you will also prosper. I do believe that we can accommodate you. Yes, Mr Fielding, I certainly do.”

    Standing, he offered his hand. Troy stood also, and shook it. “Okay, so where do we go from here?”

    Holden proffered a card. “Attend this address, tomorrow. We will have the paperwork ready to sign, and we will be going over your various power capabilities, to see which can be used for industrial purposes. And then, Mr Fielding … “ Another smile briefly crossed his face. “ … and then, we will see about making one another very rich men.”


    End of Interlude One

    Part Four
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2022
  9. Beyogi

    Beyogi I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    So this guy killed his partner and is now the fucker who's beating up the protagonist? Wow... What a nasty asshole.
     
  10. doomlord9

    doomlord9 Experienced.

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    You expected a different personality type for the guy who signed up to a project that will kidnap, mutate, and brainwash a person into your nemesis just so you can look good?
     
  11. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    Technically steps one and two were already done by the time they decided that this person would be a good nemesis.

    Personally, I would also say that steps one and two, by themselves, would actually be at least arguably moral moves. It's everything that follows that makes Cauldron's operations horrible.


    Anyway, thanks for the chapter, Ack. How much of his deciding that murder was the best solution was because of his shard messing with him and how much because he was a callous moron even before then? It's a really, REALLY stupid plan, after all, especially with how much of an escalation in crimes and suspiciousness it is.

    Better (stupid) plan: Hire somebody to forge "secret orders from Armstrong" that tell Monopole to start taking bribes and give the information to Armstrong via a dead-drop at (certain location) every third week. However, Monopole is also ordered to deny it if anybody asks and to never verbally admit it to anyone, even Armstrong himself.

    Then he just comes off as a gullible idiot who thinks he's in a spy movie rather than a murderer.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2015
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  12. GSpectre

    GSpectre Lurker

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    This is a very interesting story, thank you for writeing it. I'm enjoying that you have moved the story into the general verse instead of sticking it in Brockton Bay... gives everything a new feel.
     
  13. Sheaman3773

    Sheaman3773 (Unverified Writer)

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    I do really like this story. It seems like an interesting premise, and I'd like to see how it works out.

    I do find it terribly unlikely that they would fire Monopole for borderline insubordination and a single fistfight, especially with the specter of Bulldozer's death looming over him (unless that makes you think they would want to get rid of him, rather than keeping him close while they investigate).

    I don't have any canon examples that can't be waived as "Extraordinary Circumstances," because basically all of Worm can be claimed as such, but I do have a WoG that talks about how once the Protectorate gets their claws into you, even as a Ward, you don't get to just walk away.

    One quick thing. That's not quite right, they just weren't allowed higher positions.
    To be fair, we don't really see this literally anywhere else that I can recall. But this is Chevalier, who's high-ranked Protectorate and sees powers, so he would know.

    Perhaps the Thinkers that just analyze without going out into combat are the typical PRT parahuman employee?


    That said, I really do like Nemesis--you're stepping further outside of your normal "voice" than usual, which is great--and would be happy to see more :)
     
  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    They investigated, but as most of the proof was in Bulldozer's head ...

    Armstrong felt it wiser to remove him from among the Wards, and keep an eye on him from a distance, than keep a potential problem too close.

    I find it hard to believe that if a Ward really, really wants to quit, they can stop him.

    Good point. Accord was one such.

    Which raises the question. How has he not seen that Rebecca Costa-Brown is Alexandria?

    Probably.


    More will come.
     
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  15. Sheaman3773

    Sheaman3773 (Unverified Writer)

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    Fair enough.
    WoG disagrees /shrug Probably a facet of WB's opinions on authority.
    Oh, you're right, Interlude 20 says that outright. I had forgotten that.
    He was the leader of Philadelphia before this, if he had no reason to go see the Chief Director in person, manipulated by "both" Costa-Brown and Alexandria...I could see it.
    Glad to hear it :D
     
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  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    If nothing else - Youth Guard!

    Ward: "I wanna leave."

    PRT: "We'd really rather you didn't."

    Ward: "But I wanna leave."

    PRT: "You have to jump through these hoops."

    Youth Guard: "This Ward says he wants to leave. Are you infringing his rights?"

    PRT: "Uh, sign here."

    Ward: "Actually, I don't want to leave any more. But can I have a pony?"

    PRT: "Umm ..."

    Youth Guard: "Ahem."

    PRT: "What colour?"

    Worse, I had forgotten that.

    Actually, to be honest, I don't think Chevalier sees powers, exactly. He sees more like ... potentialities. Destinies.

    :D
     
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  17. Threadmarks: Part Four: Wake-Up Call
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Enter the Nemesis

    Part Four: Wake-Up Call



    To this point, if I recalled correctly (and something told me that I did) this was my fourth wake-up since I started remembering again. All three of the previous ones had been experiences that I would have been better off forgetting, if I was at all capable of doing so. So yeah, near-perfect memory, great stuff. A truckload of utterly fucking horrible memories to populate it … yeah, currently a great fan of amnesia. Just saying.

    The first time, I'd horked up the contents of my stomach, to the tune of 'fuck my arm hurts', then promptly passed out again. The second time, I'd been getting close and personal attention from a rat, which ran off when I woke up. Of course, my life had then taken a turn for the worse (not for the last time, just in case I'm not being clear here) when I promptly managed to murder a cop. In front of another cop and a superhero. And possibly in front of a reporter, too (though I didn't notice him in the alley) given that my face was all over the papers the next morning. Fuck my life.

    The third time I woke up, it was because some little teenage delinquent had decided to take advantage of my currently shitty life, and make it more shitty, by going through my pockets. Which meant that, when I got up, hungry as fuck, I was inclined to take the food that I would otherwise have paid for. Which, for my pains, I got shot for. But hey, I blew up the asshole's cash register, so I guess we were even.

    In any case, what I'm saying is that when I finally managed to claw myself out of the nightmare-filled depths of sleep this time, I had every reason to expect more of the same.

    To my absolute astonishment, this time around, I was lying on something soft. There was even something warm covering me. Experimentally, I sniffed; the all-pervading odour of garbage, urine, puke, human crap, burnt garbage and crap, and above all, me, was no longer a close and personal neighbour. In fact, it seemed to have wandered off somewhere, without leaving a forwarding address.

    I was obviously hallucinating. Off my tree. This sort of shit didn't happen to me. According to the totality of my conscious life experience to date, I was the designated butt-monkey for what was probably most of the eastern seaboard of the United States. More specifically, for that pretentious bag of rancid buffalo turd squeezings that called itself Flux.

    And so, this couldn't be real. I was probably in some sort of concussive daze, and any minute now, all my problems would all come back on me like a ton-weight of frozen dogshit to the back of the neck.

    Any minute now.

    I sniffed again. My sense of smell, which had returned from its holiday feeling much refreshed, thank you very much, reported chirpily that there was food cooking nearby. Actual food. Actually cooking.

    I didn't believe it for a second.

    I had to wonder what was under me; it didn't feel hard enough to be concrete, or lumpy enough to be a garbage bag. It almost felt like an inflatable mattress. I didn't wonder how I knew what an inflatable mattress was, or how one felt, while at the same time having fuck-all knowledge of such important data as; my own name, where I was from, anything of my life before waking up in that alley, or how the fuck I ended up with powers. Some things, I was just learning to accept. Small mercies (or irritations) and all that.

    Some more of my memories, apparently having waited until right now to finish compiling (or whatever memories do) decided to jump up and down to get my attention. I scrolled through them, eliding past the oh-so-wonderful dip in the sewer, the bang on the head from the truck, and … wait. The really big guy and the girl. She'd screamed for help; he'd tried to hit me.

    And I'd killed him. Roasted his chestnuts.

    I was a murderer all over again.

    Fuck my life.

    <><>​

    I could move. I knew I could move. I just didn't want to. If I didn't move, the concussive headache, or whatever it was that was currently causing the hallucination of delicious cooking smells, wouldn't come back with a vengeance – because, let's look at this seriously, when has Murphy ever taken a day off when it came to me – and leave me asking myself why didn't I just fucking lie still?

    So I just lay still. It wasn't unpleasant, it wasn't uncomfortable, and whoever was in charge of the imaginary-cooking-smells department certainly knew their beans (geddit?); I wouldn't have been able to pick it from real cooking smells in a million years. The trouble was, it also impacted other parts of my body; my stomach, for one. Which, when faced with cooking smells like that, sent me a sternly worded note by registered mail that threatened strike action if I didn't eat something soon. As a consequence of this very real threat, it was my job to find whatever was smelling so good and inhale it as fast as humanly possible. In summary; feed me!

    This wouldn't have been so bad, but then it decided to ensure a response by throwing in a vocal complaint. It wasn't a quiet one; I was pretty sure that I heard windows rattling as a result. Which was all well and good, so long as I was alone -

    “Hey,” someone said, quite nearby. “I think he's waking up.”

    I froze. Fuck.

    Footsteps started in my direction. Double fuck.

    I jerked my eyelids open and sat up abruptly, scanning my surroundings.

    And, in the process, I scared the absolute living bejeezus out of a chubby teenage boy who was crouching next to me; he flailed backward, landed on his butt and scrambled backward across the wooden floor. A little bit farther away was a kid in a hoodie; she had jumped a little bit and let out a tiny yelp when I sat up, but was now pretending that she'd done neither. She looked just a little bit familiar, and I filed her face away for later checking.

    The last person in the room – wooden floor, brick walls, sagging plaster ceiling – was the one walking toward me; she barely even flinched as I sat up. In her hand was a metal bowl or cup or something, from which white steam curled. It framed her face; she was delicately pretty, currently composed, with an overlay of concern. I seemed to recall that she'd been the big guy's prospective victim.

    Which begged the question: where was the big guy and, more to the point, where was I? And where were my clothes? Because as far as I could tell, the only things covering me were the blanket and a pair of briefs.

    Wait, back up. Blanket?

    I looked again. Yes, I was mostly covered by a blanket; old, worn, but still warm.

    This concept intrigued me. A part of my hallucination had come true; as the girl with the bowl came closer, the steam reached me, and it certainly smelled like someone had cooked actual food in it. And when I looked at what I was lying on, it certainly looked and felt like an inflatable mattress.

    I was confused. For a hallucination, this one seemed to be remarkably insistent.

    “Uh … hi?”

    I looked at the girl holding the bowl. She had stopped a couple of yards away from the half-naked crazy-looking man with the blue lines on his face and the wild look in his eyes. That is, me; I had to commend her grasp of common sense.

    Okay, she could see me, she wasn't hostile, she had addressed me, and she was holding food. I couldn't actually complain about any of that. I cleared my throat. Time to humour my subconscious and talk back to the voices in my head.

    “Um, yeah, hi,” I responded, feeling remarkably witty. “Where am I?”

    “It's a condemned building,” she replied. “We moved you here after … “

    “After I killed that guy and passed out,” I finished for her. “Uh, he wasn't, uh, just playing around or something, was he? Because I'd feel really bad if -”

    She shook her head convulsively. “No. No, Troll was bad. He – he would have -” She shuddered. “That is, if you hadn't stopped him.” She gave me a somewhat watery smile. “Thank you for that.”

    I shrugged, a little awkwardly. If my hallucinations weren't going to hold this against me, then I wasn't going to worry overmuch about it. “Eh. Didn't strike me as someone I'd want to introduce to my daughter. If I had one.”

    “Yeah, no,” she agreed. She took a step forward. “Would you like some stew?”

    “Hungry, yes,” I agreed. This was kind of an understatement; my stomach, up to that point a passive plaintiff in the matter of I'm Hungry vs Why Aren't You Feeding Me Now, took direct control of my hands, and I reached out to take the bowl off of her. Which brought my attention to the fact that while my right hand was fine, my left hand was lightly wrapped in bandages, preventing it from opening.

    I frowned at the bandages. “Did I hurt my hand?”

    The girl shook her head. “No. But I didn't want you accidentally opening your hand while Justin was carrying you here.”

    “Justin?” I blinked, looking around. “Someone else here?”

    “No,” the street kid replied, from where she'd moved with the pudgy teen, back to what looked like a little gas barbecue. “This is Justin.” She indicated the overweight teenager, who smiled and waved at me. The look on his face did not give me great hopes as to his mental acuity. I had a vague memory of that kid growing a rocky exterior and being smacked out by the big guy.

    “Huh,” I grunted. “You carried me? Good going, kid.” Awkwardly, I tucked the bowl in between my left forearm and my chest, and took a spoonful of stew. It was good. No, scratch that. It was fuckin' heavenly. I could just feel it doing me good. The hot metal was a little uncomfortable against the bare skin of my chest; I couldn't have cared less.

    The pudgy teen smiled again and ducked his head; the street kid put her arm around his shoulders. “Justin's one of us. Don't you tease him.”

    “Wasn't teasing,” I assured her. “I – “ I paused. Her face suddenly clicked into my memories, and I was back in the alley, as a skinny street kid in a hoodie ran away from me. “You! You're the one who robbed me. And tied my goddamn shoelaces together!”

    The kid looked suddenly scared. “Uh … “

    “Cleo.” The girl, who had sat down on the end of the mattress, turned to glare at the street kid. “Seriously? You robbed him?”

    “I was looking for money!” the kid replied defensively. “He had money! I didn't know who he was, or what he could do! I just knew if I didn't bring back money, Troll would get mad, so … “

    The girl sighed and turned back to me. “Look, I'm sorry about that. We'll give it back.”

    I wasn't actually listening too closely, being too interested in shovelling that amazingly tasty stew into my mouth. But I followed far enough to understand what was going on.

    “Don't sweat it,” I told her, waving the spoon briefly. “Troll was a shit who made you go out and steal, I got it.” I went back to spooning stew; this was a really great hallucination. I hoped it lasted a while longer.

    She nodded, looking relieved. “So, uh, introductions. I'm Rhia. That's Cleo and Justin.”

    I nodded, and kept eating. Eating was good. The only problem with eating was that the bottom of the bowl was coming up fast, and I'd have to stop eating then. I wasn't looking forward to that.

    After a few more spoonfuls, I realised that the other three were looking at me expectantly. I blinked, rewound the conversation, and played it through again. Oh, duh. Introductions.

    “Sorry,” I told her, after swallowing the last of the stew. “I have no idea who I am, where I'm from, or even what I was doing forty-eight hours ago.”

    She looked somewhat taken aback. “Oh. That's … not great for you.”

    I snorted. “Nah, that's just a minor fucking inconvenience. What's not great for me is everything that's happened since. Including, mind you, waking up with this.” I put the bowl down, and indicated my left hand with my right. “Oh, and apparently having incurred the close and personal enmity of number one in the airborne asshole stakes.”

    She nodded, apparently unsurprised. “Flux, yeah.”

    “Wait.” I stared at her. “You've had problems with Flux?”

    She rolled her eyes. “Are you actually surprised? We've all had problems with Flux. Which is why we're living here, instead of, say, in a real house with electricity and running water.”

    Hoodie kid – Cleo – raised her hand slightly. “Don't forget Troll.”

    Rhia grimaced. “Yeah, Troll. He was big enough and strong enough that he could actually go toe to toe with Flux. Trouble was, he was also an asshole. Didn't tolerate anyone with powers not being part of his little group. He was obsessed with us being his money makers.”

    “Sounds like a real stand-up guy,” I observed sarcastically.

    “Well, he kept us safe from Flux,” she allowed. “Trouble was, there was no-one keeping us safe from Troll.”

    “So what's with that, anyway?” I asked. “You look normal enough. What's wrong with you just, you know, living in society normally? Even the Pickpocket Kid over there?”

    Rhia shook her head. “Flux. That's what's wrong with that.”

    I frowned. “What, he's got it in for you guys too? What the hell's with that? And could I have more stew? If there's any?”

    Rhia passed the bowl back to Cleo, who started refilling it. “Three things you need to know about Flux. First thing is, he used to be in the Wards. But he left, due to undisclosed circumstances. No-one talks about it, no-one knows, but it was bad enough for him to quit or get fired. Second thing is, he's got money behind him. Big money. They pay for his costume and his PR, and the local PD and newspapers basically cater to his every need. Any news story about him treats him like the second coming of Scion.”

    I accepted the bowl back, and began eating again. It was still just as good. “So what's the third thing?”

    She shrugged. “He's a dick.”

    “No,” Cleo retorted. “He's a one hundred per cent douchenozzle. With cherries on top.”

    I nodded to the kid. “Yeah, I think I got that already.”

    “But there's more to it than that,” Rhia put in. “He doesn't accept any other capes in town. Established heroes come in, they get made unwelcome. Anyone who's not an established hero, they either get shoved out of town or made into a villain. Any actual villains show up, he goes at them hard. No holds barred. He's powerful enough to pull it off, and any property damage is their fault. When you can tell the papers what to say, that's not hard to achieve.”

    I paused, and stared at her. “So basically, he says who's a hero and who's a villain, and people go along with it?”

    She shrugged. “The locals love him. As far as they're concerned, he's keeping the town safe from all the villains. And what they don't know doesn't hurt them; he's killed more than one villain, unwritten rules or no.”

    “Christ.” I stared at her again. “So why are you even still here? And what's he got on you?”

    “I'm still here because of Cleo and Justin.” She gestured at the other two. “Justin has special needs. We can't get out of town because he's got our faces out there; or rather, Justin's face. Cleo or I could slide by, but we can't abandon Justin.”

    “Slide by.”

    She nodded. “I'm kind of a Master. I can make people see me as their ultimate perfect lover. Or as someone that they know and trust. Cleo's a Stranger; she can make people ignore her if they're not really thinking about her.”

    “And the kid's a Brute,” I finished, waving at him with my spoon. “I saw him growing that rocky hide, earlier.”

    “Justin's a Brute, yeah,” she agreed. “And he did kind of cause a bit of property damage when he first got his powers, so Flux immediately had him tagged as a villain. Cleo's a runaway from an abusive home, and Flux caught her stealing so she could buy food.”

    She stopped talking; I looked at her. “And you; what happened with you?”

    She grimaced. “I was his secretary. Right up until he discovered that I had powers.”

    “Ah.” I could see where that was going. “Crap.”

    She nodded. “Yeah. The thing is, what Flux wants is recognition, validation, as a hero. But he doesn't care what he has to do to get it. Troll tended to keep on the down-low, only engaging him when he couldn't avoid it. The rest of us, we've got no chance of facing him, and we don't want to. So when you came along, you must have been a godsend. Flashy powers, public battle, someone who could almost stand up to him.”

    “Yeah,” I muttered. “I'm starting to wonder if it isn't a little too much of a godsend.”

    “How do you mean?” she asked.

    “Well, I woke up, and he was right there, along with some cops,” I told her. “And he called me 'villain' straight away. In fact, every time we've met, he's called me 'villain'. Like he's reinforcing the idea. And to be honest, I find it remarkably easy to think of myself as a villain. Doing villainous things. Almost like it's something I've been programmed to do. Brainwashed, maybe.”

    Rhia grimaced and shook her head. “I find that hard to believe. Flux has money and resources, sure, but on that level? Having a supervillain to order just delivered to the city? I can't see that.”

    I could see her point. “Yeah, maybe. Just saying, it's kind of a tall order to believe that it's all a coincidence.”

    “Well, in any case,” she told me briskly, “you're here now, and so are we. And, as you can see, it's not the best of situations.”

    I frowned. “Not great for you, or for me,” I admitted. “And probably worse for you; I killed Troll, which lets Fluckface focus on you guys. And I'll probably draw attention to you, just by being here.”

    “No,” Rhia told me firmly. “No, you don't get to walk away from us. What Troll was about to do to me …. “ She shuddered. “I owe you for that. For stopping him.” She reached out a hand, put it on my arm. “Please, stay.”

    I paused, spoon halfway to my mouth. She was looking more and more attractive to me by the second. “Wait. Are you using your power on me?”

    She blinked, and suddenly, she was just normally pretty again. “Oh. Shit. Sorry. I didn't mean to. I -”

    I waved the spoon. “Never mind. Just don't make any assumptions about me, all right? You don't know what sort of a guy I am. I don't know what sort of a guy I am.”

    “You killed Troll to save me -”

    I raised my voice to cut her off. “Yeah, I killed Troll. That's actually not a good thing. I chose to kill a man. Why I did it is another matter. Yeah, maybe it was to help you out. Or maybe that's just the excuse I gave myself. Maybe I just wanted to kill someone?”

    She eyed me. “Don't you know?”

    “No,” I told her. “I don't. I've got less than a day of conscious memory. I don't know why I do shit. I might end up being a bigger danger than Flux. Or Troll. Just saying.” Taking hold of the bowl with my right hand, I waved my bandaged left hand. “And that's not even counting this. I open my hand by accident at the wrong time, people die. It's happened before.”

    “No.”

    Rhia and I looked around. It was the kid, Cleo, who had spoken. I frowned. “What?”

    “No.” Her voice shook a little, but she stood her ground. “No, Rhia's right. You're just making up excuses so you don't have to do this. So you don't have to care.

    I made my voice harder. “I've killed people, kid. I'm fuckin' dangerous. You really sure you want to be around me?”

    “Yeah. I am.” She took a deep breath. “I saw the look on your face when you killed Troll.”

    What look?” I didn't have to pretend to be confused.

    She rolled her eyes. “The sort of look that said 'Oh, for fuck's sake. I've got to do this now?' You didn't have to step in. He wasn't any danger to you. We didn't mean anything to you. You coulda just kept walking. But he was gonna hurt Rhia, so you stopped him. Not because you wanted to look cool and heroic. Not because you wanted to impress us. But because Troll needed stopping.”

    I didn't want to admit that she was right. But she was, kinda. I'd been put through so much shit that seeing someone else in trouble just put my back up.

    Did that make me a hero? Hardly; I'd killed the guy. I didn't feel heroic. No costume for me, no adoring public. Not unless you counted two kids and a young woman. But a man was still dead.

    Somewhere along the way, I had lost my appetite. But that was okay, because the bowl was empty. I put it down on the floor next to the mattress. “Yeah, maybe. But I've killed someone else, too. Maybe you need to think about that.”

    Rhia spread her hands. “So tell us about it.” Cleo stirred, but didn't say anything.

    Where had I gone from 'wanting to leave' to 'wanting to stay'? I looked away, trying to regain control of the situation. “It's not a good thing.”

    Again, Rhia put her hand on my arm. This time, she seemed to keep control of her power, as it was just a hand on my arm. “Killing people is never good. Even when it's justified.”

    “Trust me, this time it wasn't.” I took a deep breath. “Couple cops found me. I didn't know about my powers then. When they shone a light on me, I held up my hand. Fried them. Killed one, not sure about the other. That's when Flux showed up for the first time, told me to run or he'd kill me.”

    “Shit.” That was Cleo. “I saw the story in the paper. According to them, you're a flat-out stone killer. But you're not. That sounded more like an accident than anything.”

    I shrugged. “A cop's still dead. Wrong place, wrong time.”

    “No. No, it wasn't an accident.” Rhia's voice was sharp. “You happen to use your powers for the first time and kill a cop, and Flux is right there? And someone gets a photo to use in the paper the very next morning? Doesn't that strike you as being just a tiny bit coincidental?”

    “Wait. The fuck?” I could see where she was going, but I didn't want to believe it. If only because it would prove that I'd been jerked around like a muppet for the last twelve hours and change. “You're saying I was set up?”

    Her gaze didn't waver from mine for an instant. “To look like a villain, yes. Flux kept calling you a villain. You're someone who's obviously dangerous, but you can't beat him because magnetism apparently trumps electricity.”

    Her logic was inescapable. “Yeah, I got it, I got it. I'm his perfect opponent. But are we really doing this? Are we really going back to the idea that he was able to arrange for this? For me?”

    “My dad was a lawyer.” She shrugged. “He'd say that we discarded the idea because of a lack of corroborating evidence. But now we have that evidence. If only circumstantial.”

    “Whoa, hey,” Cleo broke in. “Does it really matter? Either way, Flux is a massive asshat, and he needs to go down in the worst way. We can figure it out after the fact. Or, you know, beat it out of Flux once we've made him our bitch.”

    Justin stirred. “Flux is bad,” he agreed. “He made me look bad. I don't want to be bad.” He looked at me. “Can you help?”

    I sighed. I'm going to do this, aren't I? “Fuck my life.”

    <><>​

    Three Days Later

    “So, how are you feeling?”

    I looked up as Rhia settled herself on to the dilapidated sofa beside me. “Better,” I admitted. To be perfectly honest, I felt a good deal more than 'better'. It was absolutely amazing what a bit of rest and food could do for my outlook. I'd been doing basically nothing but sleep and eat for the last couple of days.

    My regret over killing Troll was even starting to fade, a little. The guy had been an absolute paragon of assholery, after all. Plus, I sincerely doubted that a kind word over a cup of coffee would have swayed him from his path of stealing shit and hurting people.

    On the other hand, he had protected Rhia and the kids from Flux. Just goes to show how bad the superhero is when the sadistic would-be rapist might be seen as a nicer guy by comparison. Mind you, at this point, the apples and oranges we're comparing are the rotten and mouldy ones that you don't even want to touch with gloves on.

    “I have a theory on those ribbons you told me about,” she ventured.

    “Yeah, so do I,” I replied. “Electricity, right? I can pull it to me, so I guess it kind of makes sense that I can see it.”

    She looked a little put out that I'd spoiled her big reveal. “Okay, smart guy,” she retorted. “How about the other half of it? From what you told me, you should've been a hospital case when I first saw you.”

    “Yeah, well. There you've got me,” I admitted. “I'm still a bit sore, but nothing like what I should be.”

    Her grin was triumphant. “Electricity heals you and makes you tougher.”

    I looked at her as though she'd just sprouted a second head. “Say that again without the crazy?”

    “You said you were shot,” she pointed out. “No bullet hole. Only a faint scar. Very few bruises from falling down into a sewer. No broken bones from any of what happened to you. I'm guessing you've got a Brute rating that gets better when you're all charged up.”

    “Okay, not something I was ready for,” I admitted. “Not saying you're wrong, but do you have anything to support that?”

    Her grin widened. “Sure. You said you felt better when you absorbed all that charge? There's your proof. It healed your gunshot wound and all the stuff that Flux had done to you. And the leftover charge made you tough enough that you didn't get hurt in the sewer.”

    Once I decided to ignore things like logic and common sense, it actually began to sound like she had a point. And after all, I could shoot lightning out of my hand; logic and common sense didn't have much to say about that either.

    “Kind of sounds reasonable,” I decided. “Let's go with that idea till we find a better one.”

    “Good,” she agreed. “Now on to the real mystery. Why did whoever dumped you in that alley leave two grand in your pocket in the process? I mean, if it was Flux, why give you money? If it wasn't, why dump you there?”

    “Ah.” I realised that I hadn't told her everything. “I think I was supposed to get a costume made up. There was an address and a list of names in my pocket. I guess it kind of got destroyed when I went for a swim in the sewer. Fortunately, Cleo stole this from me first.” I pulled the wad out of my pocket and flicked through it. The kid had even apologised when she gave it back.

    “Oh.” Rhia paused. “That makes a certain kind of sense. What sort of names were they?”

    My grin was wry. “Supervillain names, of course. Dark Sinister. Electromaster. Stuff like that.”

    “Hm.” She looked thoughtful. “You realise that we're going to have to do something about your lack of a name. We can't call you 'hey you' all the time.”

    I raised an eyebrow. “You didn't know? The kids have been calling me 'Joe'. Well, Justin's been calling me 'Uncle Joe', but yeah. It's kind of cute. He's a sweet kid. What I don't know is where they got 'Joe' from.”

    “Ah, that might've been me.” Rhia looked a little embarrassed. “I sort of referred to you as 'John Doe' a couple of times, while you were asleep. It looks like they ran it together to make 'Joe'.”

    “Well, it's as good a name as any,” I noted.

    “Are you going to pick a cape name, too?” She gave me a quizzical look. “Something that sounds better than 'Electro-Killer'. Because trust me, that name's gonna be real hard to spin with PR. As it is, we're changing our names.”

    “What, really?” Boy, was I on fire with the witty repartee. “Why?”

    She shuddered slightly. “Troll picked our names. He was going with a fantasy creature theme: Troll, Changeling, Gargoyle, Sprite. I don't want to keep anything from that man. Cleo's going with Hide and Seek, I'm going to call myself Charmer, and I think Justin likes Stoneface.”

    I snorted. “That sounds about right.” It was a good name, to be honest. The kid might not have much going on in the top storey, but he had a good heart, and I'd kinda taken to him. “So what's next? Costumes?”

    “No, just clothes. And shoes.” She looked serious now. “Life on the run is hard on clothing, and both Cleo and Justin are still growing. So we need to get hold of something in their size. Also, food. We need to replenish.”

    “So we go buy stuff,” I suggested. “Or you go buy it, anyway. Pretty sure my face'll bring down the forces of law and disorder pretty quickly.”

    “Actually, that's something else we could get,” she noted. “Foundation to hide those marks on your face. Maybe a wig to cover the hair.”

    “Priorities,” I pointed out. “Food and clothing takes precedence.” I held up the wad of cash. “Need a loan?”

    “I'd prefer to save the cash for when we don't have time to do it the sneaky way,” Rhia suggested. “But you were right in that your face would attract too much negative attention. Unfortunately, Flux has been combing the city for you, and if he sees any of us, he'll recognise us.”

    I frowned. “Seriously? He's got your faces memorised?”

    “Seriously, I suspect that he's got the faces of everyone he's turned into a villain memorised,” she sighed. “And there's posters up of our faces in most public places anyway.”

    “Okay, then.” I tucked the money away again. “Something tells me that you've got a plan to get around this.”

    “Yeah, well, I've got a sort-of plan.” She eyed me warily. “Not sure if you'll like it or not.”

    I stretched my legs out and tucked my hands behind my head. “Only one way to find out.”

    <><>​

    One Day Later

    Are you sure you want to do this?”

    “Never more sure in my life.” My grin was kind of cocky, to match my tone.

    Rhia's voice held a certain amount of sarcasm. “That's easy to say when your total life experience consists of four days and an odd number of hours.”

    I blew a raspberry. Beside me, Justin giggled. Rhia was less impressed. “Just don't think you need to hold out any longer than you have to.”

    “Trust me, Mom, this little piggy's gonna go wee-wee-wee all the way home just as soon as I can disengage from the big bad wolf.”

    Now you're mixing your nursery rhymes.”

    “And? You and the Pickpocket Kid ready to roll?”

    You're never gonna let her live that down, are you?”

    “Nope. Let's do this.”

    <><>​

    To Rhia's surprise, I had jumped at the plan she was proposing; specifically, that I run interference for her and Cleo while they had their little 'shopping' trip. In short, I would go out and make a public spectacle, with the full intent of bringing Flux down on my head. I'd kind of pissed him off in our last encounter, so he was likely to come after me hard and fast, to the exclusion of all else.

    In fact, I was rather counting on it.

    The one thing I hadn't allowed for was the idea of Justin coming along with me. The kid was nice enough but he didn't have a lot going on in his upper storey. Mind you, he wasn't a fan of pro wrestling, so he had to have some IQ points. However, this in no way prepared him for a potential face-off against Flux.

    I had argued against his inclusion in my part of the mission. My experience of this sort of thing wavered on the scale at about a tenth of a point above 'zero', but to take a kid with mental problems into the field against a sadistic asshole like Flux was tantamount to getting on your knees and begging for trouble.

    Are you going to be looking for trouble? Rhia had asked.

    No, but I'm pretty damn sure that it'll find us, I had replied.

    Justin can take care of himself. And he'll be good as a lookout. She had given me a hard stare. And I'm counting on you to not let him get hurt.

    It had then occurred to me that letting Justin come along made me unhappy with the situation. I was actually okay with being unhappy. It was a state of affairs that I'd learned to get used to, over the last few days.

    I turned to look at him now. He was holding his phone in his hand, the one thing I couldn't do. Mine was tucked into my pocket, with a bluetooth gizmo in my ear. We had found out the hard way that if I held a cell phone in my right hand, I automatically sucked all electrical charge out of it. I could no more turn that power off than I could turn off the ability to spray my area with arcs of high-powered electricity. We lost three cell-phones that way before Rhia figured out what was going on.

    “So, you good to go, kid?” I asked.

    He nodded earnestly. “Yes, Uncle Joe.”

    I still wasn't sure exactly how to respond to the 'uncle' title, but it seemed to please him, so I let it go. “Okay, let's do this. Put the phone away.”

    Obediently he tucked it into his pocket, then concentrated. As he seemed to flex, grey stony plates appeared from nowhere, overlaying his clothes and building him up into a hulking golem of a monster.

    As he completed his alteration, I was already walking out of the alley. I took the baseball cap from my head and tucked it into my pocket, then moved over to stand next to a street-light pole. Now that I had a good idea of what the ribbon was, I had no hesitation in grabbing hold of it with my right hand.

    Once more, power surged into me. I was already rested and well-fed, but this made me feel a thousand percent better, in ways that food just could not match. I was ten feet tall and bulletproof, able to take on the world. Even Flux would fall before me … whoa.

    “Okay,” I muttered to myself. “Keep an eye on the megalomania there.” Still, even knowing that the feeling was artificial, I had a hard time focusing past it to the job at hand. I felt a grin splitting my face, and I knew what my cape name was going to be.

    With Justin – now Stoneface – flanking me, I strode down the pavement toward my first destination. Specifically, the convenience store that had suffered so badly from my previous visit. There were a few people around; not as many as I'd seen on my last time here, but enough for our purposes. I saw heads turn, the expressions of worry and fear blossoming across one face after another. More than one phone came out, as they started backing away from us. Which suited me just fine.

    The bell on the door dinged as we entered; I looked around with interest at the interior of the store. There were still signs of the damage that I had caused. These mainly consisted of scorch-marks that hadn't yet been painted over, along with the odd damaged shelf. The cash register that I'd nuked had been replaced with something that I was pretty sure had been tossed off the Ark when Noah invested in a newer model.

    The guy standing behind the counter wasn't Shotgun Billy. I spent a moment wondering where Billy was, and hoping that I hadn't actually hurt him too badly, before striding up to face the new guy. He also looked vaguely Asian in his features – look, I'm not good at picking that sort of thing – but he was also about twenty years younger than the previous guy. Maybe he was the Number One Son, or nephew, or something like that.

    “Hey,” I greeted him warmly before he could pull out the old man's shotgun and start blasting away. As charged up as I was, I wasn't even sure that it would hurt me, and it probably wouldn't do much to Stoneface, either. But I didn't want this to devolve into violence, because I was actually interested in maintaining a meaningful dialogue, or whatever it is that real people do when they don't want to fight. While a fight would be fun and all, I was saving it for Fluckface. This was part of the other plan.

    Caught on the back foot, Number One Son stared at me like a rabbit in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler. “Uh …”

    “Yeah, it's me,” I went on cheerfully. “I came in to say sorry about the other day. I wasn't in a good place, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Now, I know this won't even begin to help, but I want to make the gesture, so here's something to put toward getting yourself a new cash register. Or at least a second-hand one that doesn't run on coal or something.” With my right hand, I slapped a hundred dollar note down on the counter.

    I'm not a telepath – I'll fry the shit out of someone's mind, but I can't read it – and I'm normally no great shakes at analysing expressions. But it didn't matter in this case, as Number One Son might as well have been drawing signs on a huge whiteboard to explain what he was thinking:

    Oh shit oh shit oh shit it's that supervillain, he's gonna electromogrify me into a crispy paste.

    He's not zapping me, not dead yet. He's talking to me. Why is he talking to me?

    Wait. Waaiitt. Back up. I missed something. Why is the supervillain apologising to me?

    Holy fuckballs, he did not just put money down on the counter.

    He did put money down on the counter.

    What the fuck?

    No, seriously, what the living fuck?

    I waited till he had almost finished goggling, then slapped another ten down on top of the hundred. “And I'd like to buy something, too.” Turning toward Justin, I gestured toward the fridge. “Can you get me a chocolate milk, please? And something for yourself, too.”

    Stoneface grunted; he was very good at that. In fact, he could articulate quite well even in his stone-covered form, but pretending to be the big dumb Brute was something he did really well. Turning, he tromped toward the fridge; Number One Son watched him go, probably expecting him to rip the door clean off of its hinges. Which was something that he could quite easily do, but on this occasion I had impressed on him the need to not break things. Until the time came to start breaking stuff, in which case I would pass on the word and then get ready to award points for style.

    The fridge door opened as Justin delicately pulled on the handle; he didn't even bend it, which impressed me considerably. Pretending nonchalance, I leaned on the counter, keeping one eye on Number One Son. “He's a nice kid,” I confided. “Means well. But if he gets pissed … well, watch out, is all I can say. Not even I want to see him upset.”

    Mainly because Justin didn't get angry. The closest I'd seen him to that state was when he jumped Troll to try to help Rhia. But if he did lose control of his emotions, he basically started bawling, which nobody wanted to see.

    Justin returned, holding a super-sized chocolate milk in one hand – I actually started salivating upon seeing the bottle – and a banana milk in the other. Well, to each his own, I guess.

    He put the cold drinks on the counter; Number One Son stared at them and then at me, as if unsure as to what to do next. I coughed meaningfully, indicating the ancient and dilapidated cash register. “We, uh, want to, you know, buy them?”

    “Oh!” Jolting into action, he snatched up the money; I watched with interest as he began hitting buttons on the cash register. Clockwork twanged and gears ground as he entered the required amounts, then pulled a small lever on the side. Metal tabs inside the display section popped up, with the amount of our change on them. The cash drawer shot open with a musical ding, and he dug out some coins. I was so fascinated by the display of pre-electronic technology that I almost forgot to take the change from him. Almost, but not quite.

    “Thank you,” I told him cheerfully. “I hope you've had a pleasant and fulfilling supervillain experience today. My name is Surge, and my colleague here is Stoneface. Have a nice day.”

    Number One Son went back to goggling at us, which was fine; we didn't need to interact with him any more. Turning, I led the way from the convenience store, twisting the cap from the chocolate milk and tossing it on to the floor – after all, I was a supervillain. If littering was the worst crime I was going to commit that day, I would commit it in style.

    When I stepped out of the convenience store with Justin behind me, Flux had not yet made an appearance. Neither had the local constabulary, possibly because they were still getting their cars repaired. The crowd had gathered a little, but they were keeping their distance. Every single person had a phone out and recording, probably so as to present as much damaging evidence toward my activities as possible. Flux had no doubt sworn them all in as junior assistant superheroes or something.

    I stopped, and took a drink from my chocolate milk. The long-awaited rich chocolatey goodness gurgled down my throat, causing a minor explosion of joy in my stomach. I'd been waiting for this.

    Beside me, Stoneface did the same with the banana milk, after more or less ripping the cap off. It appeared that he didn't have any feeling in his stony 'skin', which made him clumsy unless he was watching what he was doing. But where finesse failed, brute strength dealt with minor matters such as the plastic cap on a plastic bottle just fine.

    Were I a betting man, I would have wagered that the consumption of artificially-flavoured reconstituted milk drinks had rarely, if ever, been the subject of so much intent interest. I enjoyed the attention, drawing out the moment. This was an indulgence, and I damn well intended to indulge.

    I finished my drink just a few moments ahead of Justin. With a well-deserved belch, I tossed the bottle toward a nearby bin. The angle was bad, and I'm not that great a shot; the bottle caromed off of the rim and clattered on to the pavement. I looked at the surrounding audience and shrugged, as if to say, Well, what did you expect? I'm a supervillain, not a basketball player.

    Justin did the same as me, tossing his now-empty bottle toward the trash can. Whether by fluke or skill, he nailed it perfectly. Then he added insult to injury by picking up my discarded bottle, which had rolled back toward him, and tossing that in as well. Smartass.

    “Well, that was nice,” I declared. “Shall we take a stroll?”

    Justin, in his role as Stoneface, didn't answer verbally; instead, he just grunted. When I headed off down the pavement, the people before us pulling back out of the way, he followed. In what was possibly the most boring supervillain attack that this town had ever experienced, we strolled along the side of the street, ignoring the phone-cameras pointed at us from all angles.

    Just for a moment, one man in the crowd caught my eye. He was a bit older than me, and considerably wider in the shoulders. The look on his face wasn't fear or defiance, but … speculation. As if I factored into his calculations, but I wasn't the main aspect of them. I wondered if he was a cape, but he made no move to interfere.

    At last, sirens began sounding in the distance. For a moment, I entertained the thought that the police would actually beat my least favourite superhero ever to the punch. But alas, this was not to be. Justin pointed; I turned, just in time to see the brightly-clad heroic figure drop out of the sky and land a little way in front of us.

    “Morning, Fluckface,” I called out cheerfully before he could speak. “Come to make an idiot out of yourself again?” As I spoke, I trailed my right hand against the post of a street-light; the charge I had picked up earlier hadn't dwindled much, but I felt the rush as it replenished anyway.

    “I'd be careful if I were you, villain,” he retorted. “You're keeping unsavoury company there. That's Gargoyle, Troll's cohort.” Behind me, almost too faint to be audible, I heard the scrape of metal on metal. From the tilt of Justin's head, he'd heard it too.

    “No, it actually isn't,” I corrected him. “This is Stoneface. He's my cohort. Troll's out of the picture as far as he's concerned.”

    He frowned, as if trying to work out what I meant by that. Justin turned his head, then stepped behind me; I heard the clang of metal on stone. Glancing around, I saw that Justin had hold of a manhole cover. It was jerking erratically from side to side; he had to hang on tightly to prevent it from escaping his grip.

    “Naughty, naughty,” I chided, stepping forward and shaking my finger at Flux. “Attacking me from behind? That's something a villain might do, not a hero.”

    “Against murderers and inhuman freaks, I have somewhat more leeway,” Flux countered. “You need to be taken down, villain. Your record makes that clear.”

    “You need to be told to shut the fluck up more often,” I said. “Your mouth makes that clear.” It was pretty weak as a comeback, but a few people in the crowd seemed to think it was funny.

    Flux did not. He reached into a pouch at his belt and brought out a handful of shiny ball-bearings, each about half an inch across. When he tossed them into the air, they stayed there, hovering in a loose group just above his hand.

    Okay, I thought. This could get nasty. “Get ready for plan B, kid,” I muttered, just loud enough for Justin to hear me.

    “What was that?” Flux asked. “Are you planning something? Do you think you can beat me?” He tensed; the ball-bearings began to quiver in midair. I knew that sign; in another second or so, he would launch them at me. I was tougher than I was used to being, but I didn't want to see if he could push them at bullet speed or not.

    Flux actually laughed out loud when I opened my left hand, directing a stream of lightning toward him; specifically, toward his face. It splashed against his magnetic field, of course; I had expected it to do nothing less. But the lightning was more than just electricity. It was also very bright, dazzling him briefly.

    Briefly was long enough; it gave me the time to close the distance and to pull my secret weapon out from under the long-coat. I'd thought of going with aluminum, but there was the outside chance that his magnetism was of the bullshit kind that affected all metal. So the baseball bat that I swung at his ribs was made out of good old American hickory.

    Someone shouted a warning and he began to lift off, but I still managed to get one good swing in; he went oof and doubled over, even as he gained altitude. I hadn't felt any ribs go, but I figured that he'd have a nice bruise there in the morning. Even better, the loss of concentration meant that the ball-bearings were scattered to hell and gone on the pavement.

    By the time he recovered enough to glare at me, he was twenty feet in the air and effectively untouchable. Rhia and I had debated the idea of Justin throwing something at him, but there existed the problem of 'what goes up must come down'. I didn't want to hurt an innocent out of my line of sight. In fact, I didn't want to hurt any innocents at all.

    It was time for Plan B.

    <><>​

    Flux scowled as his vision cleared. He didn't have the ball-bearings any more, and picking them up one at a time would be as tedious as hell. The idea of being dazzled by the electrical discharge hadn't occurred to him before now. It hadn't harmed him in the slightest, of course, but his ribs were still hurting from whatever the electrical villain had done as a follow-up.

    When he saw what it was, his eyes widened slightly. The guy had used a baseball bat on him? Who the hell even did that any more?

    And then he realised that the electric villain was retreating, along with the stone-clad Gargoyle, or Stoneface, or whatever he was called these days. What did he mean when he said that Troll was out of the picture? “You can't get away!” he called out, swooping down to parallel their course. Having learned his lesson, he didn't come within arm's reach of either one as he used his metal-sense to search for anything he could use as ammunition.

    I'll have to watch out for that dazzling move. This guy's trickier than I thought he'd be. At the back of his mind, a tiny kernel of worry unfolded. Maybe this was a bad idea.

    No. Mentally, he squared his shoulders. His powers were set up so that I could always beat him. He's going down.

    <><>​

    The store lights flickered; Rhia didn't look around as she pushed the shopping cart, well-laden with tinned food, toward the store exit. One of the store employees stepped out to meet her.

    “Can I help you -?” he began, then stopped as she exerted her power slightly. “Oh, sorry, honey. Didn't recognise you for a minute.”

    “That's okay,” she replied with a wide smile that she didn't feel. “I just need to run this out to the car. I'll be right back, mmkay?”

    “Sure thing,” he agreed. “Let me get the door for you.”

    She held the smile as she went out through the doors, almost gritting her teeth until she was out of sight. It was only then that she let herself indulge in a full-body shudder.

    “I hate doing that,” she muttered.

    “Don't blame you,” Cleo said cheerfully from right beside her. The teenager wore a backpack which bulged heavily with stolen goods. “So, you think they'll be okay?”

    “We can only hope so,” Rhia told her. “I don't know if this particular trick'll work again. If we'd hung around there much longer, someone would have pinged me.”

    “Eh, we made out like bandits,” Cleo declared. “Because, you know, that's basically what we are. Geddit?”

    Rhia sighed. “Yes. I get it.”

    But she couldn't help worrying about Justin and Surge. Which reminded her. Pulling out her phone, she made a call. When it went through, she spoke one word.

    <><>​

    “Mailbox!” I shouted; Justin ducked and the flying post office box caromed off of his raised forearm with a crash. A metal bumper tore from a car parked at the curb and swung at me, its silvery chromed length reflecting my face oddly. I evaded it, but then it struck Justin, wrapping its length around his body. Pinning his arms to his sides.

    We retreated down the pavement, doing our best to evade all of Flux's attacks. He was good but he wasn't great; I suspected that he hadn't faced off against more than one opponent for quite some time. For the sake of appearances, I let off the occasional burst of electricity, aiming to miss everything except Flux.

    Justin flexed, tearing the car bumper like cardboard. He was still holding the manhole cover, and he brought it up just in time to deflect another one away from me. Flux had sent it flying toward me at a speed that would have almost certainly injured me badly, if not fatally. My ears were still ringing from the clash of steel on steel as I followed the track of the projectile.

    I watched as the manhole cover, still moving at a very high speed, began to curve back toward us. Almost directly overhead was a set of power lines. If the cover had kept on its path, it would have missed them. However, Flux wanted it back, so it altered course … and sheared straight through two of the cables.

    Everything seemed to slow down as the cables began to fall, the ends already sparking. The impact of the manhole cover had imparted a great deal of kinetic energy to the cables; they whipped and twanged erratically even as they dropped free of the pole. Below the severed ends of the cables, where they were most likely to fall, there was a large bunch of people, all either filming the action or just plain rubbernecking. And the cables were live.

    I lunged sideways toward the roadway – thankfully, the police were blocking off the road at each end, which meant no traffic – reaching out toward the falling cables. When I had first learned this trick, I'd had to touch the light-pole physically in order to drain off power. I knew that I'd never reach the cables in time. My only chance was to gamble that my power in that regard wasn't touch-only.

    A split-second before the cables fell into the group, it happened. The ribbons which had been paralleling the power lines, cut off when the physical cables were severed, re-established themselves. However, this time, they stretched from the power lines to my right hand; a visible electrical arc followed their path. All the way into yours truly.

    Were I one to use bad puns, I might say that it was a shocking experience. However, I am not, and it was not. A more apt word would be 'enlightening'; my previous experiences with drawing on outside sources of electricity had involved my power skimming off of the top, whereas this time I was mainlining the stuff straight up.

    I felt energised beyond belief; the blue lines on my face, Justin told me later, lit up like a neon sign. However, I couldn't hold that much electricity. I had the idea of blasting the excess into the sky, but electricity wants to ground out. It wants to arc to something conductive. Looking around wildly, I spotted a lightning-rod on a nearby building. My left hand shot out, the fingers opened, and a crackling bolt of lightning arced over to the rod and grounded out.

    But this wasn't the end of it. There was more current – thousands of volts – pouring through the cables; if I lost concentration even for an instant, it would surge down to ground level and electrocute anyone who happened to be touching the downed powerlines. I had to hold on, drawing the electricity away, until they were clear. And that meant ignoring Flux for the moment. Hopefully, he would see what I was doing and hold off further attacks until the danger was over.

    Justin's bulk moved between me and the hovering cape; dimly, over the roaring crackle in my ears, I heard clangs as metal deflected from metal, along with duller crunches as his stone body took other hits.

    Having firmly earned his place in the ranks of flying douchebags, Flux kept up his attacks on me; it was only due to Justin's strength and reflexes that none of them got through. I was pretty sure that the lightning-rod was starting to glow red at the tip by the time the last civilians were out of harm's way. Then I turned my attention in Flux's direction.

    Not only was he a jerk and an asshole, but he'd deliberately attempted to make use of my distraction to attack me, knowing that this would endanger civilians. My feelings toward him escalated from irritated dislike all the way to serious hatred. However, before I could see if unleashing the town's entire power grid on him would overcome his magnetic shielding, my bluetooth earpiece beeped.

    Pulling back my right hand, I released the hold on the 'ribbon', allowing current to flow through the power-lines once more. With a tap on the earpiece, I accepted the call.

    It was Rhia on the other end. “Done.”

    That was the signal that she and Cleo had made full use of the distraction, and had gotten the food and clothing that we needed. The agreement was that we should now disengage.

    I was tempted to ignore it. Flux was right there, and I was charged up like never before. But Justin was depending on me not to screw things up, and if he got hurt because I wanted to press the fight, I'd never forgive myself. Besides, I had ideas for how to kick Flux's ass later on.

    Sending a burst of electricity to splash against Flux's shields, I turned to Stoneface. “Go go go,” I told him.

    He didn't need telling twice; his rocky exterior was chipped and cracked, mute testimony to the ferocity of the attacks he had weathered while protecting me. I made a mental note to get the kid as much banana-flavoured milk as he could drink, once we were in a position to do so. He'd come through, in spades.

    <><>​

    The broad-shouldered man frowned. This was not how cape battles normally went. Usually, the villain endangered civilians while the hero saved them. As it was, this battle seemed to have been ultimately pointless; there were no banks or other such places nearby where a quick profit might be made. In fact, the pair hadn't even tried to rob the convenience store.

    And now, they were sidling over to one of the several open manholes on the street. Before Flux could react, the stone golem disappeared down the hole. The man in the long-coat, the lines on his face still glowing a vivid blue, went next; as he vanished from sight, his hands were the last things in view, each offering Flux a raised middle finger.

    About half a second later, a cover slammed into place over the hole, but it was too late. They had escaped.

    Flux drifted down to ground level and began to accept the adulation of the crowd for driving off the villains, but the broad-shouldered man didn't join them. Rubbing his chin, he looked first at the downed power-lines and then at the convenience store. Something definitely didn't make sense, and he intended to get to the bottom of the matter.

    It was, after all, why he had come to Bedford in the first place.



    End of Part Four

    Part Five
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2022
  18. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    Excellent chapter. I like Surge, he's good enough people.
     
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  19. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    I completely forgot I had followed this story. I am deeply curious about how someone like Flux managed to either afford a Nemesis from Cauldron, or what Cauldron hoped to accomplish from providing him with one.
    Greatly interested to see more about what Surge does in the future, and who that guy at the end there who has decided to look into Flux.

    Ack this isn't the same town that Flux was in when he was a Ward, is it? Doesn't seem like he would be able to do this if it is.
     
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  20. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    Yesssssss.

    And is it my imagination, or is this chapter considerably longer than those preceding?

    Remember his lucrative industrial job? Yes, it was definitely offered under shady and suspicious circumstances, but it came with an initial offer of a $20,000 monthly salary which he immediately bargained up to include stock options. So, I'm not terribly surprised that he eventually accumulated some wealth.
     
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  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    His employers bought one for him.
    He was in Boston.
    Yes, it's about twice as long.

    They really, really want the cape with the extremely profitable power working for them.
     
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  22. Pyro Hawk

    Pyro Hawk Unsure if Phoenix or Kitsune

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    Looks like Bulldozer's awake, and he's investigating Monopole/Flux again...
     
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  23. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    Had not thought of that at all. Are we sure that's not too contrived to be real?
     
  24. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Contrived how?
     
  25. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    Contrived is probably the wrong word; I'd need to go back re-read to see how well that might have been set-up. (I'd vaguely remembered Bulldozer as having died, but upon prompting I seem to remember he was just in critical condition or a coma or something and expected to die?) I guess... cliched? That's not quite right either. I can't seem to find the right adjective, but my initial reaction to that idea being floated was, "really? Is that ... really where we're going with this?"

    I expected more something along the lines of something shadowy from Cauldron or from Flux's shady employers, not person-Flux-killed-not-dead-after-all. Like I said, I'd have to read through from the beginning again and see if it struck me differently afterward.
     
  26. Threadmarks: Part Five: Many Happy Returns
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Enter the Nemesis

    Part Five: Many Happy Returns

    Flux, Part Two

    Holden heard the swearing before he even got close to Fielding's office. He did not quicken his pace, because a man who is in control of the situation never hurries. And Charles Holden prided himself on always being in control of the situation.

    Fielding's 'secretary', Mandi, was a vapid little blonde who had never taken a word of dictation in her life. But then, that wasn't what she was there for. Her job requirements were to look pretty, wear low-cut tops and short skirts, and do whatever Mr Fielding told her to do. After the Rhia Sanders fiasco, Holden had personally taken charge of this aspect of Fielding's work environment, and he had yet to hear a complaint.

    She looked up at Holden now as he entered the outer office, and shot him a terrified glance. “I don't know what happened, I really don't,” she babbled before he even had a chance to speak. “I took him his morning coffee and paper, and then I came out here to wait for him to call me back in, and then I heard him start yelling. I don't know why he's angry, I really don't. It wasn't anything I did, I don't think -”

    That's right, he didn't say. You don't think. “It's fine,” he said soothingly. “I'll take care of it. Did you look at the paper when you took it to him?”

    She stared blankly at him. “No. Why?”

    Because if you had, you stupid little whore, we might not be in this situation. “Never mind.”

    “Am – am I fired?”

    Charles Holden never made a promise he couldn't keep. “We'll see.”

    Putting Mandi and her problems out of his mind – he would decide whether or not to fire her later – he stepped forward, bypassing her desk. Pausing at Fielding's office door, he knocked gently.

    There was no response for a moment or two, then Fielding called from inside, “Who is it?”

    “It's Charles,” Holden replied. “May I come in?”

    The question was a mere formality. Holden had personally brought Flux into the company, shepherding him through the red tape to set him up in this office, along with all the perks that the company could afford to give him. Fielding owed everything to Holden, and both men knew it.

    “Sure.” Flux still sounded pissed, but he wasn't about to take it out on the guy who held more power over him than his putative boss. “Come on in.”

    Holden opened the door to find Fielding's office in disarray. A paperweight lay on the carpet, atop two sheets from what Holden easily identified as a newspaper. More sheets were scattered about the floor, as if the paper had been flung away from the desk. He paused, looking around. There, on the wall, was a drying spray-pattern of coffee; more had soaked into the carpet below, amid the shattered remains of the mug. He was pleased to see that Fielding had at least refrained from smashing his computer monitor; those things were on the expensive side.

    Stepping into the office, he closed the door behind him. “Mr Fielding,” he observed, his voice neutral. “You appear to be out of sorts.”

    “Well, I've got a right to be.” Fielding waved one of the few remaining sheets from the newspaper. “Have you seen the shit they've been printing?”

    Holden knew why he was angry; had known, in fact, since before stepping into the office. There were three newspapers in the city of Bedford; two followed the party line, printing whatever the mayor's office wanted them to say. The third one was the Bedford Bulletin.

    The Bulletin was a privately-owned independent paper with a history of tweaking the noses of those in power. The editors of the paper also had the habit of arranging their front page to resemble those of their rivals, so that anyone not paying attention might accidentally pick up the wrong paper. Maree had never impressed Holden as being someone who paid attention at the best of times, so it didn't surprise him that she had made this mistake.

    Moving across to the desk, he took the sheet from Fielding's hand. It was the front page of the Bulletin, as he had suspected. Spreading it out, he took in what it said.

    The headline read: WANTED CAPES SAVE THE DAY. Beneath it was a picture of Troy's Nemesis cape alongside the stone-clad Changer. Flux wasn't even shown.

    The writers of the article had obviously interviewed many of the witnesses to the event, including the proprietor of the convenience store; in doing so, they had learned the current names of the two capes involved. The Times and the Herald-Age were still using the names 'Electro-killer' and 'Gargoyle', but the Bulletin was using the correct names and the article took care to humanise them. Moreover, they were painting Surge in a positive light, emphasising his feat in drawing power from the downed electricity lines while Stoneface fended off attacks from Flux. Nor had they stinted in buying up phone pictures of the incident, carefully picking those which supported the tone of the article.

    Not that they had to try very hard. Holden would never criticise Flux directly, at least where anyone could hear him, but it was clear to him that the ex-Ward had well and truly dropped the ball on this occasion. At least our local TV stations know not to broadcast anything that shows Flux in a negative light. The last thing he needed was footage of Flux acting so irresponsibly on the evening news.

    “I see,” he murmured, folding the sheet carefully. “Is this going to be a problem?”

    “Hell, yes, it's going to be a problem!” snapped Flux. Holden felt the pen in his inside pocket vibrate as Flux's magnetic aura fluctuated. “Those assholes think they can print anything about me and get away with it. What are we going to do about it?”

    Holden assumed his most serious expression. “We are going to 'do' nothing about it, Mr Fielding. You are going to continue going about your work as a public superhero, getting cats out of trees and keeping the streets safe. After all, you have years of goodwill built up in the community. You've legitimately saved lives and brought criminals to justice. When this has blown over, when people have forgotten the details, they will still remember you as Bedford's own. This other one?” He made a throwaway gesture. “Once he's gone, they won't even remember him.”

    “But what do we do about the fucking paper?” Fielding pointed at the incriminating headline. “They're gonna just keep printing shit like this. Aren't they?”

    Holden felt his irritation rising, but he carefully kept any indication of this out of his voice. “Perhaps. We will run spin control. It's your job to ensure that you don't give them any ammunition to use against you.” Any more ammunition, to be precise.

    “But in the meantime, they're printing bullshit about me and getting away with it.” Fielding's voice was sullen now, as opposed to argumentative.

    “As much as we would like it to be against the law to print unfavourable articles about you, this is unfortunately not the case,” Holden pointed out. “So they are not so much 'getting away with it' as they are exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech.”

    “But printing something that's not true, that's grounds for a lawsuit, right? Slander or libel or something like that?”

    “Yes, it would be, if they printed something damaging about you, that also happened to be untrue,” agreed Holden. “However, the only thing they printed which could be construed as untrue was to portray the Electro-Killer and Gargoyle in a favourable position, rather than unrepentant villains.”

    “And murderers,” Fielding reminded him. “People need to remember that he's a murderer.”

    “Very true. However, you will note that the article does not deny that. It merely emphasises that he took care to save the lives of those bystanders.”

    “After trying to kill me with that baseball bat.” So, he was still upset about that. Holden had suspected as much.

    “Well, that is assault with a deadly weapon,” Holden said. “As the Times and the Herald-Age both pointed out.”

    “But the fucking Bulletin made him look clever!” Fielding complained. “Like he deserves praise for getting past my magnetic field!”

    “So, the next time you meet him, you prove that you are the clever one, by capturing him.” Holden made his tone reasonable, where he really wanted to grab the boy and shake some sense into him.

    “Or I can just fucking kill him,” muttered Fielding.

    “While that is an option,” Holden conceded, “it would be best to keep it in reserve until everything else has been exhausted. The best outcome would be for him to be taken down publicly, in the middle of committing a crime. That would negate the Robin-Hood image that he seems to be gathering among some members of the public, and re-cement your status as Bedford's protector and superhero.”

    “So, I have to wait around until he commits a crime and hope to catch him red-handed?” demanded Fielding. “Or, can we …” His tone became crafty. “ … well, you know, 'arrange' matters?”

    Holden suppressed a grimace. He had set in motion just such 'arrangements' before, in order to frame independent capes in Bedford for crimes when Flux could not drive them out of town any other way. However, such undertakings had to be planned with the utmost of care and forethought, following extensive research. They were most certainly not to be attempted at a moment's notice against a group of parahumans exhibiting the level of capability shown by Surge and his gang.

    “I would much rather we didn't jump in at the deep end quite yet,” he said smoothly. “They are, after all, criminals. Sooner or later, they will commit a felony, and you'll catch them at it. Subdue the Electro-killer, and the others will be without a guiding force.”

    “So I've gotta wait till he screws up, is what you're saying.” Fielding's tone was almost sulky.

    Holden nodded. “That is, indeed, what I am saying.”

    Fielding rolled his eyes. “This was supposed to be a lot easier. He gets a costume and starts stealing shit, I beat him up, he goes to jail and escapes, I beat him up again. He looks bad, I look good. Why couldn't it happen that way?”

    Repressing a sigh of irritation, Holden instead clasped his hands behind his back. It was preferable to carrying out his first impulse, which involved attempting to strangle the young idiot. “I believe that you requested that he retain partial memories of how things work. If I recall correctly, your words were 'make sure he can give me a challenge'. Is that about right?”

    “Yeah, but I didn't want this much of a challenge,” whined Fielding.

    “Unfortunately, I do not believe that our benefactors are in the business of issuing refunds,” Holden said firmly. “So we have to deal with what we have.” He checked his watch. “And now, I believe that it's time for you to report to the factory floor.”

    “Okay, sure.” Fielding rose to leave.

    “One more thing.” Holden stopped him with a glance. “You'll be going out on patrol afterward. If you encounter the Electro-killer or his gang, do not engage without contacting me first. Yesterday's incident smells like a setup to me. We do not want a repeat performance.”

    Fielding nodded. “Okay, sure thing.” He stepped around the desk and slipped past Holden.

    The older man followed more slowly. When he reached the outer office, he paused, reminded of Mandi's question.

    The damage was done before he ever read it, and I got the opportunity to explain where he was going wrong. I'll take that as a win. She can stay.

    His mind already on other matters, Holden kept walking. He was a busy man, after all.

    <><>​

    “Look, Justin! You're in the newspaper!”

    I couldn't help a proud smile as Rhia showed Justin the picture on the front page of the Bedford Bulletin. Unlike the other two rags, it actually gave a fair and balanced description of the altercation between me and Justin and Fluckface. And to be fair, the kid had come through in absolute spades.

    “Uncle Joe's there too,” Justin pointed out. “Look, he's saving all those people, like I said!”

    The Pickpocket Kid – I mean Cleo – stared at the picture. I had to admit, it was one of those awesome once-in-a-lifetime photos. There I was like Thor or Hercules or one of those classical gods on a mountaintop, being smited … smoted? Smitten? Whatever, being zapped by about ten zillion volts of pure electrical goodness, and taking it like a boss.

    She looked over at me, her eyes wide. “I didn't know you could pull electricity to yourself.”

    I couldn't help myself. She'd handed that line to me on a plate, after all. “Well, I have to admit, I was kind of shocked myself.”

    Cleo got it about one second after Rhia burst out laughing; the kid looked like she was in pain. Justin looked at Rhia, apparently puzzled. “What's so funny?” he asked.

    “Nothing, really,” I assured him. “I just made a bad joke.”

    “That joke was terrible,” Cleo corrected me. “Just for that, I'm gonna steal your money again, and not tell you where I put it.”

    To be honest, I was kind of more comfortable with that attitude than with hero-worship. I couldn't really help it with Justin; after the praise I'd given him after getting back the previous day, he probably thought I walked on water. Of course, compared to Troll, I basically did.

    “That's fine,” I said cheerfully. “I'll just ask Justin where you put it. He'll tell me, won't you, Justin?”

    “Uh huh,” he said eagerly. “And you shouldn't take Uncle Joe's stuff, Cleo. He's really cool.”

    Cleo looked betrayed. “Justin, I thought you were on my side.”

    “Yeah, but he bought me banana milk,” Justin said. “I like banana milk.”

    “Wow, so you'll sell me out for banana milk?” Cleo shook her head.

    I shrugged, trying not to grin too broadly in case I hurt my face or something. “Hey, kid's got his price. At least he's up front about it.”

    The girl shook her head, but I could tell that she was trying not to grin as well. “I'll sell you out for banana milk.”

    “But …” Justin looked distressed. “It's my banana milk.”

    “It's all right,” Rhia soothed him. “Nobody's taking your banana milk. It's still in the fridge.”

    “Still think that was a stupid joke,” Cleo muttered.

    “Well, yeah.” I grinned at her. “They're the best ones. But we need to talk.”

    Rhia tilted her head, and gestured around at the room. We were currently holed up in an abandoned living area over a warehouse. “What do we need to talk about? With the food and clothes we got from that heist, we're not going to need to steal anything for at least a week.”

    “Yeah, I got that.” I sagged into the armchair behind me; a little dust arose, but it didn't bother me. “But we gotta think long-term.”

    Rhia took a seat on the dilapidated sofa opposite me; Justin sat beside her. Cleo perched on the arm of the sofa. Sitting forward, Rhia spoke. “Long-term how? We've got to get a proper nest egg, then move anywhere that Flux isn't. He's not a hero. He's a murderer.”

    So am I, I thought, but didn't say. “No,” I said instead. “We don't move. He'll just spread his poison about us. Before we know it, we're face to face with someone who's actually got a clue, and thinks we're dangerous criminals. Here and now, Flux won't let any other heroes operate in Bedford, so we've got an opposition of one.”

    “But he's likely to go after us with everything he's got,” she protested. “And he doesn't pull his punches. You know that.”

    “And your electricity doesn't work against his magnetic shit,” Cleo added.

    “Yeah, he's an asshole,” I agreed. “To be honest, I don't even know why he's got it in for me. But that doesn't matter. What matters is what we do about him.”

    “Wait … do about him?” repeated Cleo. “What can we do about him? He's Flux. He's a superhero. The cops love him, City Hall loves him, even the papers love him. If we try to say anything bad about him, they'll arrest us, ignore us, or both.”

    “We take him down,” I said. “We take him out. And we do it in a way that shows up what an asshole he is. That's what we do about him.”

    “So how do we take him down?” Rhia looked honestly concerned. “He's got experience in using his powers in combat. If either of you'd been alone yesterday, he would've beaten you.”

    “But he didn't,” I pointed out. “In fact, we showed up a weakness. And we proved to the public that he's willing to kill innocents to get at me. If we can do that again, and take him down in the process, I figure the Bulletin will be happy to print an expose on Flux. Nail his ass to the wall.”

    “I'd like to see that,” Rhia admitted. “But I can't really figure out how we're going to do it.”

    “Well, the plan's still in the early stages,” I said. In fact, I still hadn't figured it out for myself. But I was sure that something would come to me. All we needed was a few days of rest and relaxation, and I figured that I'd come up with something. “I'll fill you in -”

    A loud banging came from the door downstairs that led out of the warehouse. Someone was thumping on it, with quite a bit of force. We all stood up.

    “Oh, shit,” I muttered. “Please don't tell me that the magnetic moron managed to luck on to our hideout.”

    “No, he would've come in through the window if he had,” Cleo said. “With an I-beam or something following right behind.”

    She had a point, which left an important question. “Okay, so if it's not him, who the hell is it?”

    “Someone who knows we're here?” hazarded Rhia.

    “Or maybe they're just guessing,” I said. “Stay quiet, everyone.” For my part, I headed over to where I could see current passing through the wall. Slapping my hand on to the ribbon, I started sucking up power like a coke-head starting a fresh key.

    With a rending crash, the door down below gave way. Rhia and I met each others' eyes. Hers were wide with shock and surprise; I had no idea what mine looked like.

    “That door was steel-reinforced!” Cleo blurted. “How the hell -”

    “Shh,” I murmured. “I'll go check it out. Justin, be ready to come and back me up. The rest of you, if you have to run for it, do it.”

    Justin didn't argue; stone began to appear out of nowhere, covering him from head to toe. But Cleo looked pissed. “My clothes! I just stole that shit!”

    “Grab what you can. We'll steal more later.” Rhia nodded at me. “Go.”

    I gave her a quick smile and headed for the exit to the living area. Justin followed, the last pieces of stone sliding into place on his body.

    Down below, the warehouse was ill-lit except for where the door had been busted in. A broad-shouldered figure was silhouetted against the light from outside as it moved farther into the building.

    I stopped at the top of the stairs and called out, “Hey! You're trespassing!”

    The figure stopped; I still couldn't get a good look, but I was pretty sure that it was a guy. His voice, when he replied, was deep and resonant. “I'm looking for Surge and his crew. Have I come to the right place?”

    “What the hell? Who the hell are you?”

    His next statement was one I never thought I'd hear … nor did I want to.

    “The name's Bulldozer. I'm with the Protectorate. Son, we need to talk.”

    Well, that's the record for the shortest criminal career in history.

    Fuck. My. Life.



    End of Part Five
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2022
  27. ShadowStepper1300

    ShadowStepper1300 I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I thought the whole reason Flux got into trouble was that Bulldozer died. Just
     
  28. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    No, Flux got in trouble because he tried to kill Bulldozer, but they couldn't quite prove it. He was told Bulldozer was dead so that he wouldn't try again, while Dozer was sent off to a long-term care facility. Where he's just recently woken up.
     
  29. ShadowStepper1300

    ShadowStepper1300 I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Makes sense. I was going to ask who knew his death was faked, but keyboard troubles.
     
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  30. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Medical staff knew he's alive, as did Armstrong and everyone in the higher echelons. Anyone who might communicate with Monopole was told Bulldozer was dead, or sworn to secrecy.
     
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