I was so fucking mad I couldn’t even be sarcastic; that’s how upset the whole situation had me. We needed to go back and throttle Ted with his stupid tie until he released Alice and explained the aweful mess he’d navigated me into. Instead we, the hero family trio and an unconscious General, traveled miles to some flying ship with jets.
My fuming paused long enough to be mildly impressed at the site. There were four jets shooting off heat at downward angles. The ship’s top had been flattened with a lookout tower. If I were to guess, some tech based power had retrofit a small carrier to fly around and serve as their mobile base.
We moved fast. The ship flared burners and started turning around we approached. Changing course caused the vessel to tilt but these three fliers navigated into a wide cargo room doorway.
They touched down and Boy Wonder the - I dunno, fourth - set me down. My footing was unstable and only years of practice kept my legs functional.
The magic hat wielding superhero walked straight through a metal doorway with fingers pressed against her ear. “Kid Rick, We’re in! Get us out of here!”
Both teens, who were in front of me, grabbed on to the wall. I notice too late and the ship buckled as some sort of drive kicked in. A surge of force sent me careening into one of the walls. A soft cushion greeted me as I nearly passed out.
I pushed back and put my anger in order. “Where are we-” Okay I lied about it being in order. I was a fucking mess. “He has Alice! They have-” I took a deep breath then flailed my arms like every child having a mental breakdown. “We need to go back and kick him in the nads!”
“No can do Adam!” the teen boy answered. The older lady walked off through the bulkhead without even glancing in my direction. “We had to pull and go. There’s like-” his face was flushed.
“Jeez Louise,” the girl said. She had a pile of floating rocks behind her which cradled General’s body. “That small group already knocked out General, and there’s bigger guns on the way. I don’t know what they did but every villain on the coast is in transit. It’s about to get nasty here.”
“What? No!” My brain couldn’t even formulate a good response. Today put me firmly at zero for like, a billion. Jerks, I hated everyone and wanted to find the nearest parachute.
I turned to see the cargo door we’d entered through close up. The howling wind cut off and our vessel jerked again, traveling even faster. My hand sunk into the padding once more. Obvious plunet of people had slammed into walls as this asshole pilot gunned it.
“Come on! Mom will want to see you in the conference room.”
The two - I don’t know - children left. They weren’t that young but certainly weren’t older heroes. Both of them were too clean. Their costumes didn’t have the wear and tear markings that veterans had. Or maybe their shoulders didn’t fit into the padding right.
I couldn’t figure it out. Even in hindsight their wrongness couldn’t be pinned down. That being said, children shouldn’t be acting at being heroes. I’d seen too many go wrong and their brains were often contained in tights that couldn’t hold their egos.
Both siblings walked off. The rock floater and her green color scheme went left into a medical room of some sort. She plopped down General. Boy Wonder and his blues waved at me to catch up from further down.
This place had all the gadgets. I pitied their impending bills. No one in their right mind should have me in their base. Only Ted and his bio-regradable cores might have an advantage. I went through his words as Boy Wonder got shut me in a large room with a long fancy looking table. The walls were dull gray and padding thick. There were handrails on the ceiling to grab onto.
I shook my head and looked out a porthole. Clouds were rolling by at high speeds. Water down below shimmered a light green then shifted to blue. We were headed out to sea but my powers didn’t come with anything handy like ‘where the fuck am I now?’ senses. Those would have been handy.
It wasn’t Wonderland. We were on Earth and not in space. Mars still existed at least two episodes of Queen of Kings episodes away. I closed both eyes and focused on being better. There were problems to solve which required keeping my resolve firm. I couldn’t let television distract me from standing against this bullshit.
They’d left me in here; which meant I’d been left along with my thoughts and a list of names seven miles long. I pushed that aside and focused on the few things that made sense.
Ted was a part time villain - and more dedicated to the task than I’d ever expected. He worked with others who knew about the scheme and were on board. None of the people in that room had even been remotely upset at seeing Ted call back to Emily and the curly haired chucklehead.
My heartbeat jumped in irritation. Both hands grasped tightly. A fist banged against the padded wall repeatedly. They were all in it together. Curley what’s his face had said five people.
Okay. I went forward on that assumption. The next questions were simple. What did I want, what did Ted want, and what could I do to make it all work?
Alice was there because of me. She - okay no, Alice was scary as hell in real life too. That brief moment with her on the screen had come with that freakish stalker music that made me think someone was going to be knifed in a shower. I could almost hear it while standing there in the stupid conference room.
So, I felt the need to make sure Alice was okay. Not sane or stable, but at all physically free to go about her days. Even if those days would end with her trying to hump me on a pile of corpses. And let me break from this story to tell you the following.
Alice eventually did pin me on top of a corpse and that’s far from the weirdest thing we’ve done. Ever been double teamed by a crazy girl and her impulse control lacking alter ego? No? Well life gets weird when you survive years of super powers, imaginary lands, and psychotic breaks. I’ll spare you the details on some of the worse ones - but crazy sex has an appeal that most men will never admit. I’ve got nothing to lose anymore or I’d never bother telling you any of this.
Nevermind. Let’s gloss over the next thirty minutes by saying that I stood thinking about all this shit and ended up bruising my hand. I felt like I had a bead on Ted after all our time together. He’d chosen not to kill Alice and instead used her as a hostage. Nothing he’d said should be a lie, but that didn’t stop him from being misleading.
The result of my self searching was a desire to horribly punish Ted but not kill him. He clearly had been using me for his own goal of getting back at Golden Sun for - don’t know, stealing one of his ex wives or something. That I got. Hell, I’d been willing to work with him to feel a sense of self worth. Life involved a lot of using each other.
Don’t judge my cynicism. You’ve got no right to tell me off after everything I’ve been through. If I’d been like Boy Wonder then maybe I could have been a happier person with all that glowing positivity and a potty mouth.
“You’re Adam Millard right?”
I hadn’t noticed the door open. in it stood the woman in a magician’s custom. The dovetail jacket and white undershirt must have been too tight for comfort. Fishnet leggings weren’t standard issue.
She moved over and slammed down a tablet. It’s screen cracked which made the woman scowl. On both hands were identical rings with small popped up hats. They glittered like black diamonds under the ceiling lights.
“Right?” she asked again.
“No. I’m his evil twin. Madam Aleyard.” I rolled my eyes and touched my fingertips together in reverence of nothing - an actual gesture I’d seen in an alternate dimension. I still had no clue what it meant. “Nevermind the name, my mother thought Madam would help build character.”
“You don’t look like a Narret to me,” the glaring woman responded.
Well, shit. I’d never heard of a Narret. It sounded weird. Then it it hit me - Narret was Terran backwards. She’d started this nonsense by asking who I was - like she didn’t have some DMV database in here with all the answers. Don’t let anyone fool you, the DMV’s records are better than the FBI’s by a long shot.
“It’s on my dad’s side. He was a sad man who couldn’t tie his own shoes without ending up in a bondage pose. Mother loved it. Still, I assume most terrans need to use velcro shoes due to fumbling idiocy.”
Unlike Ted, lying was not a super weakness of mine. Being a scrawny man who could barely bench fifty pounds served as detriment enough. And a lack of real sleep. I swooned as exhaustion started to catch up with me. My ass found a chair and I started to fade.
“Are you Adam Millard?”
“What do you think?” I snapped back while fighting sleepiness. “Who else do you know that ends up in shit like this? Who-” I lost my train of thought. The last slip of attitude had been it. As the need to sleep approached, my list of names grew closer.
The magician lady, whose name I didn’t know, turned to the side with a finger pressed in her ear. “Care to repeat that?” she asked. “No. No. Fine.”
My eyes fluttered. None of this helped me. The vessel we were flying in still flew off across the ocean toward destinations unknown. All of it failed to help me, help Alice. The only exits were through a thick wall I couldn’t breach and getting passed the super powered woman.
“Alright Adam. Since you’re in this together with TeleGraph, I need to know what his endgame is.”
Score one for the easy question. “He’s going to retire to an island in South America and tap all the brazilian ass he can find,” I said. Have I mentioned I don’t like heroes? Even villain crowds got far less attitude. Most were less entitled and more crazy. Crazy was my bread and butter.
She slammed both hands onto the table and the floor vibrated. She had more force than expected in her thin arms. “No. You’ve worked with TeleGraph on no less than six occasions. You’ve been witnessed traveling together for days. Even my own children recognized you. You’re working with him, and he’s been organizing a huge gathering.”
“Oh yeah. We’re totally partners in crime. I signed on for the full package. We’re completely legal about it too, ask my lawyer,” I said.
She slammed both hands down again. “A lawyer can’t help you here. We’re in international waters, there’s no country that holds sway.”
My eyes closed as I fought back exhaustion. This wonderful example of all that’s right in the hero world kept focusing on the wrong aspects. I didn’t give a shit about what Jade would do - though I hoped it involved lawsuits and getting money from any and everyone involved.
Jade should be able to sue. Heroes were vetted on by a global agency. That was in the rules - which meant this lady was trying to blow smoke up my ass. Or whatever magicians did. Pull a rabbit out of my nose or something.
“Adam, if you don’t come clean with me,” she started.
I got mustered up energy to unleash my razor wit. “You’ll give me a spanking? Those two kids in super hero diapers need you more than I do.” I waved a hand dismissively, like I’d see so many people do in my direction over the years since my power emerged. “Besides, people who hurt me usually end up dead.”
“Is that a threat?”
My eyes closed for a moment. Once again this idiot had keyed in on the wrong words. I wanted to start bashing my head against a wall until some alternate event took our entire situation and sent it sideways. Kind of like whatever happened to Ted’s theoretical grand plan. He’d expected Golden Sun and gotten General. They both started with G’s but nothing around me went as planned.
She yanked out an ear piece and slammed in onto the table. The two rings she wore shifted colors from their black and white toppers to an ugly sort of green that looked like barf.
“Seven of the most wanted villains in America are converging on the location we just pulled you out of. General is in a coma while he heals. TeleGraph is masterminding a grand scheme and I need to know what their plan is.”
“Their plan? I don’t know, to humiliate heroes and catch it on video? Which is silly. You lot are normally too eager to fumble over each other. Hell, General couldn’t even help a few people without Ice Princess or whatever carrying him.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re focusing on the wrong issue,” I said.
“What?” she asked.
I closed my eyes. This lady was in charge of a team right? You’re all on board with that impression? Here’s what I couldn’t figure out - why would a person who’s in charge be so god damn ignorant? It was like teaching an adult how to adult.
“You should know as well as anyone. Heroes and villains are just people wearing spandex. Their motivations are the same as a normal. Villains are normally upset because they’ve got bills to pay, need diapers for the baby. Maybe their super villain wife porked a hero or some hero grabbed their asses. Maybe they’ve got baby momma drama and need an outlet. You know, normal people reasons for hating someone, but with superpowers.”
“Not world domination?”
“What?” I asked myself, repeatedly, if the magic hats lowered her IQ. Maybe she was perfectly smart or knew how to balance a checkbook - but this gig was clearly over her head. “Look, I’ve met a lot of villains, aliens, demi-gods, faerie princes and evil toasters. Not one of them gave a shit about world domination. Even the crazy ones realize that kind of shit’ll ruin their fun. That kind of nonsense is normally heroes that are tired of fighting and think they can might makes right their way to a better world.”
“Do you think this is a game? Where you can just flippantly answer serious questions and get away with it?” Two points to members of the audience that can guess my answer. She kept ranting, “One of my teammates is in critical condition because of you.” The woman’s jaw locked after speaking, as if she could cage the rest of her attitude by keeping quiet.
“General? I didn’t ask him to get involved. I don’t ask any of you to get involved.” I responded. “And if you’re not going to help me get Alice,” I kind of assumed they wouldn’t. “Then you can’t keep me here. I’m a no go,” I threw out the new status like it mattered. General had known, and she’d said they were team members. How anyone could be a team member with his dumb ass was beyond me.
“I know the rules for a no-go. Otherwise I’d be shoving my foot up your ass. We’re not forcing you to make a choice here, and any lawyer in the world will be on our side.”
“Yeah, any lawyer in the world, except earlier you said no lawyer could help me here. Which is it lady? They would agree that you’re being a pushy bitch asking for answers I don’t have? Or that you're beyond reproach?” I said while pacing. This room wasn’t big enough. The walls were too tight. Between that and the amped up anger that refused to die down - I felt trapped.
“You know what? I’m going to force you to talk. Even if I had to risk activating your powers.”
My eyes rolled enough to make me dizzy. I hated heroes. I’m sure they're people too, somewhere under all that glam and self righteous attitude - but for fucks sake if I knew what TeleGraph was up to for sure, I’d tell them. They could go punch each other in their codpieces for all the shits I would give.
“Yeah? Good luck with that,” I said to her. “Last guy who tried to harm me ended up being punched through walls by Stretch. And no, that’s not sarcasm. You can threaten me, hurt me, hang me out a window by my heals or disconnect my soul from the rest of its mortal shell. I’ll survive. But the worse you do, the worse it’ll get. You think seven villains coming together is bad? I’ve seen worse. I’ve been the cause for worse. I have to live with that. That’s why I’m a no-go.”
What’s her face stood up straight. I stalked closer while pointing a finger back and kept talking. “If I knew your god damn answer I’d tell you because listening to your half baked threats is annoying. If I could stop Ted, I would, because he’s holding hostage a bat shit crazy loon who she wants to clean my whistle in every position known to man. Or maybe she just really wants to meet me and prove she isn’t insane. I don’t know how to help her because I’m stuck here. In your stupid flying boat full of padded walls. Listening to you be an idiot.”
Her face blanched for a moment. Maybe she was simply talking big - but that didn’t excuse her from being rude. She asked if I knew how Ted’s plan went together and clearly I didn’t.
An intercom clicked on. “Show Stopper? We need you at the bridge.”
“Why don’t you go talk to someone sane. Hell, call up the folks at Hero Watch. I hear they know the magical formula on how long it’ll be before the next shitstorm finds me. Want to take bets?”
I didn’t tell them TeleGraph and the others were
Show Stopper - which was a stupid hero name but whatever - stood up shakily, pivoted perfectly then stormed out the door. I crossed my arms and stared at the ear bud she’d left behind. Touching it and putting it in my own ear wouldn’t be the grossest thing ever, and might help me figure out what was going on.
Screw it. I didn’t care about this fucking ship. I cared more about the mess of people Ted was calling in somehow. There couldn’t be that many people working with Ted at the company. Maybe he’d called in favors or build a super villain network. He’d worked with teams before.
I turned around then shouted, “How the fuck did you get in here?”
In the room’s rear hovered Flux. The head sized camera pointed it’s red glowing lense in my direction. The stupid thing could clearly go through walls or teleport or something. I still didn’t have a complete grasp because it always just appeared.
It didn’t answer. Flux never made any sense.
“Don’t you have a users guide or something? Anything that explains this?”
It clicked once. The red light flickered to green and a beam of light shot out of it’s eye. It looked exactly like the copying machine effect from before - but this time a small book appeared. I picked it up. There were ten pages with pictures of a dumb looking man with drool running down his face and a heroically drawn robot eye.
“Really?” I asked.
Flux didn’t respond.
I read through the first few lines. They were in pure gibberish, the kind found on alien spaceships or written by mad scientists to explain while kiwis were eggs from a creature of nightmares. Brief aside, kiwis are eggs from a creature of nightmares. Don’t eat them - but if you have, you probably won’t notice the problem unless I’m around. I detest kiwis. I might have also been high as a kite during that event.
Okay. Now that I’ve covered up the ten minutes I sat there reading with another amusing anecdote, it’s time to explain what I did to try and figure out this users guide. I tilted the words sideways, crossed my eyes to try and get three dimensional images, and folded pieces of paper together. The pictures were the only useful part.
Based on the illustrations I could infer the following. Flux, or whoever designed him, expected me and the robot eye to hook up. My name was written in small letters under each bumbling idiot’s caption. Next, Flux could do lots of stuff. Page six showed a picture of Flux skiing along while I drowned helplessly nearby.
And how did I know Flux was a he? There was this really, really, really awkward picture of Flux probing the hell out of a blushing toaster that wore a bikini. I shit you not. Floating robot camera on toaster action right on page two - and I wish I could say I’d never seen anything like it.
He copied things. He followed me. He recorded everything that happened and provided video to anyone approved. The small picture of Flux handing over tape reels to people holding up shining rolls that reminded me of cartoon bills on capitol hill implied legal approval. There was a red x over a homeless man on page eight. Hobos got no sneak peeks into the recordings of my life - but congress apparently did.
Since I couldn’t actually read the words, I didn’t get much further than a wall of inferred ideas.
“Flux? How long do you retain stuff you can copy?” Some of these pictures were really confusing. One had like four clocks next to each other. They didn’t even point to hours. Warhol would have been proud of this pamphlet.
The machine bobbled at me. Do you guys know how to parse a bobble? If so, should I assume that two mid air bounces means yes? Does a complete three sixty mean he wants more motor oil? What if I accidently drop kick Flux into space, does that mean I’m annoyed? Hint, the answer is yes.
So I focused on recent events.
“Look, that lady who somehow missed you-” Which had to be a magic trick. Or maybe Flux was off somewhere taking scenic pictures. “-Show Stopper. Can you copy her rings now that she’s gone?”
Flux tilted to face the wall. It swung back toward me, then looked at the wall again. Then Flux calmly flew right through it. Like the goddamn wall didn’t exist. It also explained that he needed to copy physically copy the object - or maybe there was a hot toaster in a nearby breakroom.
I blinked slowly and refused to put more thought into that nonsense. Flux arrived back in the room twenty seconds later and that beam fluttered across the table. Soon enough, a ring exactly like the ones from Show Stopper’s costum sat on the table. Next to that was a bow tie, and some red lace panties.
Scratching sounds filled my ear. I dug at the noise with a pinky finger and felt grains of dust forming. My pinky came out and the grains were already fading away. The communication plug had turned to dust. Flux’s instruction manual vanished as well. I shook my head.
“I want the earbud back. I don’t need panties and a bowtie.”
The machine ignored me. Maybe we were passed the time frame which he could copy Ted’s equipment. Maybe Flux really wanted me to be stuck with the panties.
I put on the ring and ignored the other two items. Copied equipment might not work without her super powers. My bet was this would do something useful - or else they wouldn’t have been part of the costume. Magic items were fun like that.
“Now what?” I asked.
The ring, it did nothing.
“Got a user’s manual for this one?”
Flux looked anywhere but me. His gaze had probably locked onto some high tech device in another room that needed a hard core Fluxing. The mental image popped up unbidden and I put my hands over my face to block out all conscious thought.
The ring, complete with it’s board game piece topper, tapped my forehead. The was a pop of noise and a hat appeared on my head. I rolled with it, lifting the hat away like that had been the grand plan all along and spun it around.
Darkness inside looked deeper than it should have. Silk siding on the edges went down for miles when the hat itself was only a few inches tall. I spun it again and still the bottomless pit inside worked. A sudden thought made me shiver. Flux had somehow copied magical powers and part of me simply expected that to work. That could be really freaking awesome, or a god awful disaster waiting to happen.
I almost asked the floating eyeball if he could copy me - just to see. But the last time anyone had cloned me it was a mess. Clones only attracted disasters, they didn’t live through them. It’s disconcerting to see yourself die repeatedly.
Nevermind, it was show time. I worked to get into the role.
“Alright. Nothing up this sleeve, or my other sleeve,” I was wearing a short sleeve shirt anyway. One hand pushed deep into the hat’s depths. “And, mumbo jumbo, daddy says find me a portal, thing!”
I prayed for luck to work with me for once.
There were objects floating around inside the hat’s depths. None of them were one hundred percent recognizable from my fingers. Fur could have belonged to a fox or a rabbit. I went passed a thick rod which might have been a wand or cups, or a really thick sex toy. There was a pile of goo that left slime on my hands which I wiped back onto the fur. Nothing felt like a portal, besides the hat’s rim.
The hat’s rim shrunk. Pressure tightened on my arm squeezing tightly. Time must be running out. I grabbed a box like object then yanked my arm out of the hat’s depths. My prize? A deck of cards. The recreation of Show Stopper’s hat turned to dust.
I opened the top then turned them over quickly and grew confused as a joker became apparent on each one small card. The pictures were moving. Their faces shifted on the background to face me. A jingle of bells lingered in the air as I flipped through the deck. Flux slowly spun around the table catching all my confusion for its video feed.
The door opened. My face paled and quickly the other two objects were shoved into my ratty pockets.
Show Stopper didn’t notice while walking back into the room. She stared down at a tablet while frowning tightly. I casually studied the stack of cards by flipping them over one at a time, trying to figure out what made them work. Based on the earlier counter, her cards each did something. But those had been diamonds forming the barricade. These were clearly wildcards. Jokers were never good.
I guess she looked up because suddenly there was a scream followed by, “How did you? What the fuck? No! No! Put that back! You have no idea what you’re playing with!” and other frothing rants as she stumbled into chairs. The tablet clattered to the ground.
“It’s a deck of cards,” I said dryly. Inside, I felt pleased.
“How in god’s name?” She pulled back and raised a hand to her head then tapped the ring. A hat appeared, completely with blue glow. Show Stopper dug rapidly while cursing.
The mother was just as foul mouthed as her children. It didn’t surprise me. Being a hero meant high levels of stress. There were too many things to do, people to save, and assholes like me to deal with. I said like me because what happened next was kind of a dick move.
“Well, I don’t want to be here anymore, and common sense has never stopped me before,” I said, then threw a card straight at a wall. It slammed into the padding covered metal and a ripple of black spiderwebbed through the material.
The joker face appeared then raised an eyebrow and glanced in either direction. It laughed, a mechanical sound with bells jingling and two smaller jokers poofed into being. Show Stopper’s face paled. Both her arms came up to use some ability on them. The jokers moved faster as both grabbed part of the ship then ran in opposite directions. Space distorted and it looked like a huge portion of the ship had simply ceased to exist. Sirens went off. The intercom played as a very panicked man demanded answers.
Their ship had been ruined. I didn’t feel guilty. I swear. They could fly.
I shouted over the noise, “You should have left me alone!”
Her face wrinkled from anger. I hoped Flux was around somewhere to capture a picture - but the floating camera had pulled a better vanishing act than even Show Stopper might be able to do.
Meanwhile, I did what any sane person would do - I ran for the freshly made exit to the vessel and leapt straight out. Worst case scenario, I’d survive and end up somewhere else. From there, I planned on spending every waking moment of my life hunting Ted down until something bad happened to him.
I mean, what could go wrong with such a brilliant plan?
39 Earth Standard Years
Generalized Ratings as follows
4.5 [Above Average] - Associate's Degree in Art
5 [Entry Level Athlete]
Tired, Moody, Easily Frustrated
Other items of note
Mother of two. Fiercely devoted to her husband. Has a magical invisible eye watching his every move in case he needs backup. Connie has been through four hero teams, a vigilante group, and solo for at least a decade. Her latest assignment with the Coastal Guardians has been the most stressful.
She hates cats. Loves rabbits, and thinks dogs are made of slobber. She smokes when no one is looking and magics away the smell.
During her early twenties, when Connie’s powers were kicking into full gear, she didn’t have a focus. Random acts happened around her without much focus. Eventually her father passed down a set of magical artifacts used as focal points for the powers.
Since then she’s used stage magic, illusions, and minor reality warping to ensure no steps out of line. These acts include removing hair of people that insult her daughter, removing her daughter’s hair too, destroying her son’s toys, and magically removing her husband's clothes at a moment's notice.
Show Stopper accidentally performed this last trick, removing her husband's clothes, while he was giving a boardroom presentation to a new client. This proved to be as impressive to the new clients as it is to a frisky Show Stopper.