The words echoed in my head for a spell. Con. Sin. Trite.
Afterwards mind became aware of other events, but didn't understand any of it. There were loud voices. A kind of angry exchange that always preluded objects being thrown around.
"You need your head examined!" The female yelled.
I tried to open my eyes and see the surroundings. The chill from earlier had faded, or maybe I was just beyond the ability to tell. There was a huge amount of light now. My neck wouldn't turn right. Based on prior history with unconsciousness, maybe ten minutes would have passed. Go team super power.
"We did what we could," General said.
"What we could? You ran for a hostage I'd already freed!"
"She needed protection." General’s voice went up and down. I bet the man had stupid meaty fists up in a gesture of helplessness. He was probably talking about the demanding blonde from earlier.
"Sure, you could have broken the other two out in the time it took you to protect her." Was he that fast? Well, maybe that strong. A lock for him could have been a simple twist that didn't share the exposure to extreme cold.
"I made a decision." He sounded firm.
"A decision that cost a life where it could have saved them all!" Her voice kicked up again and I almost smiled. There was a harsh snap to the woman’s words which made me giggle.
I didn't have enough control in me to turn my head yet. Sometimes it still surprised me when I woke up alive in the first place. There was a huge pile of dirt on one side, along with rocks and other stuff. My face was caked with mud from the dirt mixing with melting ice.
"Can we not do this here?" General asked.
"No, we'll do this right now!" The heroine said. I still didn't know her name.
"We should get them somewhere safe. You grab those two and we can go." He almost sounded reasonable. My addled mind still prayed for failure.
"Screw this. We're done."
"What? Why Tina?" He said while land shifted around. Tina. I said the name over and over in my mind. Was it short for something?
"I said we're done. You can't keep your head on straight during rescue, and detour to the largest set of tits in the room." She didn't sound like a Tina. Maybe it was short for something. Christina maybe. There was too much attitude in that voice for a name like Tina.
"Now listen." General tried.
There was a rush of cold air again. I strained my neck just to see what was going. They actually weren't that far away. General was bound up in something with a smoky blue color. Was it ice? Had Tina bound him up in frozen water?
"Consider this us breaking up," She said.
I saw the cold material constrict around General. Large chunks of it had been wound between his arms and legs, and now he was forcefully bent over. The ice was so thick even his strength didn't seem to be doing much good.
Though I could see beads of sweat dripping down Tina's face. Her hair dye looked like it was slowly bleeding out and dirt caked one side of her face. Tina put out a hand and a large ice cycle formed. Then she did something that I knew would be impossible to forget. Something that should end up on the front end of every newspaper in the world. The sort of thing that needed to be put on a t-shirt.
She shoved the ice cycle up Generals rear end.
The surprised look on his face was priceless. There were shouts from the hostages seconds after their minds absorbed what had just happened. Tina deserved a standing ovation for that act. An award. A nomination for 'Largest Single Contribution to Mankind' at next year's Heroes Annual.
She touched a hand to her ear and said something. I couldn't make it out over the angry and confused shouts. Much less the elephantine writhing General was doing.
I tried to say something, anything to Tina as she left. To congratulate her, but it was still difficult to move. She had stalked right by me, climbing weakly over the ruined lair. Not that there was much to it to begin with. The only features in the entire place had been the ceiling lights, the throne and dais, and of course the fake lava flow. Which made me wonder where Ted had gotten off to.
My throat swallowed once.
After a few minutes of struggling and the weak attempts of the freed hostages General gave up. He sat there with a flat look. The blond started digging through the dirt. A moment later she had a bent light fixture, she grabbed it and swung at the ice holding General. It didn't even make a dent.
"Don't bother. It'll melt." General said. He didn't even glance at the blond.
Minutes passed and General shook loose from the frozen blocks that had held him in place. Chunks of melt water went everywhere. The inappropriately placed ice had vanished as well. General removed his cape and wrapped it around the waist. I wouldn't want to fly with a hole in my pants either, much less a hole in that location.
He didn't say much of anything else.
Two of the hostages were still bound. One drooled away happily in a drug induced dream. The final hostage, a plump male, simply looked confused.
"I'd like to be let down now. Please," He said.
No one paid any attention to me. I couldn't even chuckle. Everything felt tender, not the worst that had happened to me, so there was no doubt that I'd survive this too. At least, I wasn't under a pile of dirt and rocks anymore.
General mechanically removed both locks on the remaining two prisoners. Then he shuttled them off one by one. Flying to who knows where maybe we were just outside of a city, maybe he had a ride nearby. He took away the larger woman last and never came back.
I still couldn't feel my arms. Not that it mattered. They were, at least, moving now, albeit very slowly. My fingertips were slightly blue still. Eventually, my body would be back to normal with soreness in spots. No long term damage would be allowed to this body. Stupid powers like mine were gifts that kept right on giving.
The sun was showing late afternoon and the climate felt warm. It took me the better part of fifteen minutes to sit up completely. I'd been hoping that someone would come back to get me but it became increasingly obvious that General and Tina had decided that I was a corpse.
A clean up crew would probably show up by sunset. They had to get out and assess the damages done by both sides, assign blames, gather statistics, put toe tags on the dead. Maybe villains had insurance carriers for accidental casualties.
It didn't matter. Once my legs worked I could find a place to bunk down, contact my lawyer for a wire transfer, then rent a car and drive somewhere new. Montana was still a state open to me though I'd require an escort across a few state lines.
Either way, I was in love.
Okay, maybe I didn't love her, but I was impressed and strangely giddy. Perhaps part of it was my mind adjusting past the pain. I'm willing to bet most of it was due to her shoving a large ice pick up the Generals ass. I'd have to wait for our second date to see how I really felt.
The question then became, would she consider this villain hostage thing a first date?
No. I doubted it.
Even then it'd only be the same way a waitress considers dinner a date. Really, if you want to impress someone you should take them places they don't see every day. What did heroes like to do on a night out? Flowers and a movie would probably pale in comparison to dinner on alien cruisers. Maybe she wasn't an A-list hero.
Tina. I had a name but no alias. Without an alias, it would be nearly impossible to find her. A female ice powered super who wore blue? Probably a dozen of those active, and another twenty in the past. So how would I find her again?
Here I was, dreaming of a happy future together with a girl I'd barely met. It was a pleasant fantasy, and most days, those brief dreams of better times were all I had.
A loud whir of started up near by. Something was burrowing through the dirt. The ground about thirty feet away started shifting around. Could it be mole people? Please let it be anything but mole people. Not again. They smelled so bad.
An escape pod of some sort drilled and shook as it surfaced. There was barely enough room in it for one person. Even then they'd be cramped.
I'd found enough strength to sit up but my legs weren't really responding. TeleGraph stepped out of the tiny machine and stared at me. Then shrugged and started sifting through the rubble. While he dug around I tried to rub some feeling back into my extremities. The sun helped chase some of the chills away.
Every so often TeleGraph would whistle a little tune, and something under the rocks would chirp back at him. He climbed over the large chunks of dirt and pulled off one of those oversized gauntlets. I'd managed to get enough control over my legs to pull myself to a standing position. My body leaned against one of the larger rocks for support.
Ted, TeleGraph, was looking down the gauntlet for something. Finally with a shout of triumph he reached in with a twist pulled out a small core that was barely the size of a golf ball. It glowed a soft red from the inside, not unlike the lava flow.
What was more interesting was the gauntlet collapsing inward, and finally falling apart to dirt like everything surrounding us.
I blinked. That was a new one for me. Then again I didn't hang around for the villain cleanup all that often. Ted shoved the small object under his coat and grabbed another one from a different pocket. He peered into the red core and smiled. With one hand he shoved it into the dirt. Sunlight reflected off of his stupid suit and remaining gauntlet.
The ground stirred. Not the full on rumbling that had happened when he surfaced. No this was like things were sliding around under the mounds of dirt. Ted started whistling again.
His gauntlet wasn't the only thing that could collapse into dirt. The escape pod that he'd emerged in also started to crumble away. In mere moments it was a pile of off colored brown. I watched from my support rock as a red centered core slid out of the newly formed pile of earth and sped across the landscape towards Ted.
Well, it went for where his hand was shoved into the dirt.
He kept up the short whistle for a bit longer. Whatever had been doing the response noise finally stopped chirping back. A moment later he pried his arm out of the dirt to reveal a handful of little cores all attached to some other metal device. He squinted his eyes and counted them. I only knew it was counting because his mouth moved.
And he started over a few times.
There seemed to be one missing. It was the only thing that could explain why he frowned each time he counted to a certain point. Then he smacked his head and made a duh face. A moment later he'd collapsed his other gauntlet and come up with one more core.
Finally, he smiled and pried them off the homing thing one by one to put into a pocket. I tried to stand up from the rock but my body still wasn't functioning that well. Tina's frost powers likely went away as she left the area. Otherwise, my fingers would be too brittle to move without snapping. Even the formally muddy area around me was drying up quicker than it should have.
TeleGraph looked back around and saw me standing there. There was no hesitation in his step as he approached me. Three feet away he stopped and started digging around in his pocket for a specific item. One of those little cores might contain anything. A death ray, and transformation beam, teleportation device, a mind control cap. I didn't have the energy to make a face or care much.
I'd survive those too.
Once he finally found the two he wanted it was shoved into the dirt. What came out a few moments later was nothing like I expected.
One item was a microphone that he held up to his face. The other a slightly larger orb with some sort of lens on it. It, the large orb, shook and whirred. A moment later it was hovering mid-air just behind TeleGraphs shoulder. He'd turned dirt into a camera? Was he filming us?
Then he reached under an armpit and turned something. His clothes flickered and reshaped themselves. Gone was the black and white alphabet soup. Now he wore a suit that was free of dirt and mud. His mask had removed the former features and revealed a sort of goofy face with a nearly plastic smile.
"Welcome everyone to another edition of Hero Watch! For those just joining us," Hell, he was filming us, and worse, it was under a different name. "TeleGraph just survived a fight with General and the Ice Princess," Was that Tina's name? "and has emerged unscathed. General was unable to land one blow on TeleGraph due to the sound scrambler two point three, and Ice Princess was too distracted by the prisoners. I think we know where her priorities are don't we?"
TeleGraph wasn't even looking at me. In fact, his eyes were focused straight on the floating camera. Even his accent had switched to a deep announcer's voice. The smile on his face was nearly plastic beneath his mask.
"Here with me, today I have the one and only Adam Millard. If anyone can be considered an expert on Capes and Cowls it would be this man." He finally turned to me and the camera shifted to take in both of our faces.
I was barely functional and this was just too weird, even for me.
"Adam, do you mind if I call you Adam?" I didn't even get a chance to nod. "Give us your opinion on today's showdown. General, how'd he do?"
"Stellar." My voice was flat.
"Succinctly put. General and Ice Princess did manage to save all the hostages, minus yourself of course." His smile had only flickered for a moment at my sarcasm. "What about Ice Princess? It she really all the rumors says?"
"Which part?" I tried to step away from my support rock but failed. My fingers almost felt back to normal, but both legs were too weak to do much of anything.
"That outfit did wonders for her assets didn't it?" He emphasized the word assets.
I paused. Saying yes might mess up my chances with Tina in the future. Not that we had a future, but a guy can dream. Commenting on a girl's assets probably wouldn't help me in the long run.
"I liked what happened after the battle better."
"Oh? Do tell!"
I explained how Tina had bent over General and the surprise she introduced to his backside. My teeth only chattered a few times during the story.
"That is too rich! However, we can't confirm this story here at Hero Watch! Between Generals superb resilience and the melting point of ice, we wouldn't ever be able to tell. Still, given recent rumors about their relationship, it isn't beyond reason."
"There's a pole on the website for this event, Hero Watches asks the viewers if they'd believe this story! Chime in now!" That grin annoyed me. Too fake. Almost plastered on and half mad.
"Before we get too much further let's see the highlights reel from today's fight."
The camera flickered off for a moment and back on. TeleGraph, Ted, Hero Watch, whatever the hell he was, tapped a foot on the ground.
"Hold on, got to put in cuts or we'll never be able to introduce the other footage later." His voice shifted away from the reporter vibe.
"This makes more sense than normal," I said. None of it made an ounce of sense. Still, given the choice between trying to irritate him and sitting here barely functional, well, words were about the only thing I had. "Right Ted?"
"Don't call me that. And really Mister Mallard, you'd think being on the Tele was something you enjoyed."
"I love it."
"And we're back! There were sure a few interesting moments in there. We'll be breaking them down piece by piece over the remainder of our show, but first we'd best review a few other gaps."
I trying to frown. With the side of my face still somewhat numb it hard to tell. If I was following all of this right, TeleGraph was also some sort of reporter for a show I'd never heard of. Granted televisions didn't last long around me. Nothing really did.
"Adam, can you fill in the viewers on how everyone survived? Video feeds cut out shortly before that."
"General saved the blond, big surprise. Ice Princess," If we ever did manage to establish a relationship the first thing I'd ask is that she change that stupid name. "rescued everyone else with some sort of ice dome." Even talking about her powers made the name seem silly.
"Oh? She supported tons of dirt with a wall of ice?"
"That's what she said." I winced and shifted my body. There was a little bit of feeling in my toes now.
"Well viewers, I think that puts her powers in rank three categories at least. Mind you none of this is verifiable due to video footage, but our eye witness has provided compelling testimony." Ted sounded slightly wounded but kept up a professional looking smile. His camera flickered off and on for just a second.
"As you can see by the footage she was using only rank one powers for most of the actual event. Now that she's broken away from General we might see a much more aggressive Ice Princess." She did have that whole support vibe going on the entire fight. Ted must be pretty familiar with the whole heroes and villains thing too if he noticed.
"Anything else Adam?" Ted turned back towards me.
"No." I kept the sarcasm to a minimum. My body was finally warm enough to stand without using the rock pile as a crutch. Now wasn't a good time to tempt fate.
"Well viewers, as always there will be a Q&A session at the beginning of our next show. Perhaps we can convince Adam to return as a guest speaker. What do you say to that Adam?" Ted was all smiles. They were very well practiced and nearly unflappable.
"Sure." My word slipped out without inflection.
You could tell from his brief pause that Ted had no idea if I was being sarcastic or not. Neither did I.
The camera flickered off and settled to the ground. Ted grabbed those little red cores out of both devices and flicked the dial under his arm again. This time, the news caster vibe went away and was replaced by a pair of jeans and a simple t-shirt.
His fake for the camera smile was gone as well.
"Well, that could have gone better." He sighed.
"Probably." I wasn’t sure how.
"Are you always so sarcastic?"
"It's a defense mechanism."
"Against what?" He asked with squinting one eye at me.For the first time since I'd talked to Ted, there was no trace of an accent in his words.
"Everything." A rush of cold washed over me and I chattered out the loan word.
Ted blinked a few times then shrugged. Once again he was looking through the pocket full of little red cores. There had to be something weird about the fabric it was made of as well. The container seemed to hold a huge amount of items but it never changed size.
"What are those?" I risked asking a real question while pointing at the small pile.
"The secret of my success." He frowned and squinted into another core. "You can buy them at any Annual Market. Expensive comes with a burden most people hate, but well worth it for me."
I tired to move a few feet and figure out where the hell we'd ended up. My legs weren't quite working right though. A few steps later and my ass fell to the ground again. Ted ignored me and kept flipping through those stupid objects. I was surprised my mouth hadn't stopped working along with the rest of me. Probably had to do with the proximity to my brain.
"So the whole survives anything bit is true then?" He said with a different accent. This one was a bit southern. It didn't fit his face at all.
"Unfortunately," I said.
"Care to elaborate?"
"Man of few words eh? Well, understandable. Mental trauma I'd expect." He spoke the new words with a halfhearted puff of his chest. You might call it some imitation safari hunter. I called it a sign of craziness. What the hell was with all the voices?
Well, to be masquerading as a news reporter and villain he couldn't be entirely sane. Or to be digging through a pocket looking for one of those transforming items. At least, he finally found one that was satisfactory.
"Magnate for both sides of the board, survives, has an attitude. You're like the luckiest bleeding fanboy alive." Ted held up the gem and squinted into it.
"Well, I have a very important question for you Adam Millard." He held onto the gem tightly then stared at me. His eyes blinked once.
"Fire away," I said trying not to be too sarcastic. The man was seriously deranged.
"Did you want a job?" He asked.
Air shot out of me with a laugh. That hadn’t happened in a long time. Even my television shows were only barely amusing anymore. Finally, I asked, "What?"
"Go ahead, think it over. This one takes a few minutes to set up anyway." Ted shoved the latest red core into the ground and hummed. Dirt shuffled and flowed. Under the ground, something was shaping up. Something a lot bigger than any gauntlets or floating camera.
I had no idea what kind of job Ted was talking about. In fact, Ted had tried to kill me indirectly, at least, three times that I could remember. Why would he shift things around now and ask me about future employment?
One mystery at a time.
"What are those?" I pointed at it again. Maybe this time, he would answer.
"Bio-gradable." The man’s answer was completely useless and the look on my face said as much. Ted clarified with a slump of his shoulders. "They make things. Transferable, portable, Technomancer constructions."
"Okay." I got the Technomancer part. For those playing the home game, it meant that some super that was a technical whiz had created these items. Transferable must have meant that the typical limitation, where only the Technomancer could actually use their crazy devices, was avoided.
"Weird," I said without actual sarcasm. It was weird. The likelihood of a techy letting their goodies go was slim. Maybe I could get some of those toys for myself and find one that made a television, or a cable box. Then again it might be lost in a second during my next kidnapping. "What was the burden?"
"Well, it's a curse. In order to use all these little devices I have to be truthful." He said.
"How do you kidnap people then?" I asked. Ted was unusually forthcoming. Maybe that was part of his truthful curse. Of course, someone could say they had to tell the whole truth and then just say whatever they wanted.
"Why would it stop me?"
"Don't be silly. It's just the truth." He sighed and switched accents. "Truth doesn't require a good person, just a factual one. No lies. You really should learn your own bleeding language a better." This new accent sounded like the cleanest gutter snipe I'd ever heard.
"Okay." I was confused. Why was he answering all these questions in the first place? Was not answering a form of lying? "Which item, the pouch or the red things."
"Does it matter?" He smiled. "I'm not offering all my secrets, just a chance at some money. Or more importantly, to be a part of something interesting."
We were back to the job thing. Anyone offering me an actual job felt strange. My dreams during high school of gaining a power to make something of myself weren’t that unique. Gaining this stupid ability and being stuck running from place to place or trying to hide out in rural areas had ruined me. There had to be at least seven sorts of catches.
"Why me?" I asked while holding both hands together in front of me. He certainly had my attention, more so than the last person to try and harness my powers. That man had strapped me to a chair and attempted to drill holes in my head. That was until everything metal melted and a courier busted in delivering lawsuit papers to the psychopath.
"With your handy immunity to lasting harm, I think we can take this to the next level."
"What did you do for a living again?" I wasn’t sure if the man was a part-time villain, hero, or a news anchor. One of those customs might have been a candy stripper for all I knew.
Still, Ted, TeleGraph was someone who thought my 'super power' might be useful. That was an interesting idea on it's own. For years, I'd be hearing how my very existence was a plague to the good people of wherever. I'd be forced out my senior year of high school. Never made it to college. Couldn't hold a real job or have any sort of life. My income came from being paid to stay away.
"Thank goodness. I'm getting too old for this shit." He said in yet another annoying accent like I had already accepted. "Let's talk details."
Then he started to explain his grand scheme to me. God help me, I listened. I listened with more hope than I'd had in a long, long, time.
|Age:||45 Earth Standard Years|
|Generalized Ratings as follows|
|Strength:||2.5 – Depending on Red Power Cores [Slightly below average]|
|Intelligence:||4.5 [High Education]|
|Agility:||3.2 [Slightly above average]|
|Luck:||4 [Above average]|
|Attitude:||Plotting, Shameless, Reckless|
|Other items of note|
Can't remember his original accent. Drinks like a fish when no one is looking. Has been present in three of the four 'Power Clashes' in the 1990s. Only one of his children still talks to him. Often wishes he could get back together with wife number three. Does not look his age at all.
Ted doesn't have any of his own direct powers. His abilities are borrowed, stolen, or bought.
Most visible is his stack of Red Power Cores. They allow him to turn dirt into technological wonders and be carried around. When removed from their construction the item will fall back into dirt. Don't worry about the science
In addition he has another gadget called a 'Quick Custom Matrix' which allows him to change clothes rapidly and repair broken ones. This involved a minor surgery and awkward explanations to his one son who still talks to him.
Ted has other tricks up his sleeve, and only time will tell what they are.
This man has been married more times than then Hell has frozen over. In a world where super powers are common, Hell freezes over a lot. Most of them have claims for child support or alimony. Oddly there are no reports of him being a terrible lover, just an absent one.