Behind me the phone clicked into its receiver. Ted hung there for a moment, no doubt trying to adjust his pants or wonder if he should file a police report. I could tell him the later would do no good.
“Was she really?” his question drifted off into a long silence.
The long full of smoke was let out slowly. My chest threatened to let out a wet cough but I kept it calm like a true professional. “Probably,” I said.
Both eyes closed and I prayed nothing crazier than normal would happen for the rest of today. I could use the rest of the night off. Based on the normal pattern, I should be fairly incident free until tomorrow afternoon. Maybe, depending on the world’s desire for a show anyway. It only took me a few years to get a vague rhythm.
“While on the phone?”
Was he really asking me if a psychic who projected her thoughts was having sex while talking to him? I didn’t really want to know. Jade could have been recalling a prior experience, or sitting at home watching a movie. Anything with her was suspect, but past experiences lead me to believe she had poor control when it came to deliberate perceptions.
I eyed Ted briefly. The man’s hands waved back and forth, gesturing with thumbs between the payphone and me. His voice shook briefly which disturbed the latest London accent. “With three people? I mean, I’ve seen some parties, but her mind played out a porno.”
Probably, I thought, but only nodded. Repeating myself a third time would have ruined my building mellow. Tonight have to be a good night.
“Wow wee, what a gal,” his voice drug out. “What’s her number?”
My eyes closed and I tried not to think about any of it. Another huge intake of weed filled my lungs then was let out slowly. My head felt pleasantly distant and knots between both shoulders drifted away. This wasn’t the best stuff, but it helped.
The other man plopped down next to me. “Drugs, really? I mean drugs, really!” Ted’s face twisted through a few different emotions.
Don’t get me wrong kids. I don’t condone drugs. You might think that smoking pot or having experienced a lot of major pharmaceutical concoctions first hand was enough to be a degenerate. I never thought of myself as that, and half the time I didn’t ask to be stabbed by McCrazyPants’ narcotics mixture. That episode had lasted for three days and I’m fairly sure I ended up eating a squirrel without cooking it, then climbed the Golden Gate. I think.
Stupid stuff like that just happens. When a faerie lord shows up from another realm and bends over some nightmare slug in your face then blasts away, there’s not a lot of room to argue. Be careful out there people, or your poor soul may end up replacing the prior damned person whose spirit finally gave out. I think the guy is still at large somewhere, kidnapping random humans. What I’m really trying to ramble on about here is simple; don’t walk into dark alleys after a twenty dollar bill no matter how much you want a hamburger.
“My life’s shit Ted.” I stared at the half burned through roll then took a deep breath. My awesome abilities apparently considered weed harmless enough. No Smoky Flare Bear heroes showed up to yank the article out of my fingers. “It’s been shit since the day my powers hit. Your experiments, or interview questions, aren’t really going to change that.”
“Are you being sarcastic?” He sounded genuinely confused.
My head shook and I kept talking, “No. Honestly, congratulations for being the first person to offer me a ray of real hope in years.” I coughed and tried not to sound like an asshole. “Working for you would feel like, I don’t know, like I wasn’t just being pushed around. That I had a use beyond being a focal point for comic level shit.”
Ted stared at me and pursed his lips. His head shook then stared off to far side of the road. People were walking by, but they kept to themselves. That was the rule in this world, mind your own goddamned business before some empowered person went on a rampage. I honestly had no clue how we survived the changeover sixty years ago. That peaceful world prior to World War Two and a clear public reveal of super powers would have been nice. I bet I could have gone for an entire month before anything went wrong.
“Your lawyer seems to believe there’s a lot of paperwork involved,” Ted said. “Gave me a firm and everything. Of course I wrote none of it down. Lawyers bother me, I mean you could have soddin’ warned me.”
“Probably. There’s a lot of people who care very much where I go, at least legally. I’m surprised no one’s put a camera on me before.” Would it help Jade on the legal front as insurance? Or just bring more problems to light? “The government is my B.F.F, they’ve got six satellites whose part time job is figuring out where I’ve popped up last. There used to be nine but three of them were destroyed in a-” My fingers went up with air quotations. “-freak accidental gasoline fight.”
“So?” Ted waved me off while moving onto some other annoying accent. I was starting to lose track. Maybe he would do a little girl impression next, that would be a party trick worth noticing. “I once dated The Princess of Power, the one with that triangle which showed all the cleavage. We had paparazzi everywhere. They were shameless.”
I didn’t rise to his bait. The Princess of Power had died before I was even active. She got into a fight over in the Middle East against some oil barons bodyguard, I think. You can’t really keep track when there’s a few dozen new players every year. She might have been the one who died trying to fight off Polar Bear’s attempt at enlarging the ice caps.
I took a smaller hit then asked the important questions. “Explosions happen around me whether I want them or not. How can I record anything without a camera, or whatever, blowing up? Do you know how many clothes I go through in a month?”
My slowed down brain went through the numbers; five pairs of pants, six shirts, and lots of socks. I gave up on underwear most of the time after a demon became fixated on stealing them. If I was lucky I might make it to the right retail store and pick up a pair of Bermuda Border pants. They give me some for free, and often the only clothing which survived lasers was a sown in business card. They’re not that durable and do nothing to stop the cold.
“I’ve seen worse,” Ted responded.
“I doubt there’s very many who could be worse,” I responded slowly. Words were getting pleasantly slowed down. Part of me wanted to simply lay on the curb while waiting for the next disaster to take me away. An hour or two of relaxation would do me good.
Ted’s finger scratched against stubble. His mouth opened a few times and words almost creaked out before he finally settled on the speech to be delivered. "The problem, with this Hero and Villain game, is that everyone measures others by what they see in the mirror. We set the standards for others based on our own person bars."
"We do that. The world's full of idiots."
"That's exactly what I mean. You look at yourself and see a reasonably intelligent man."
"Compared to some of the other brilliance out there, yes." I had once witness an entire room full of people running at each other like deer fighting for dominance. Only they weren’t super powered or mind controlled, just drunk. One of them had a stop sign he used to finish the losers off with.
"So, others who make different choices are bereft your level of comprehension."
"I base all my life choices on my level of comprehension." I had no clue what the man was going on about. His latest accent reached a high level of mumbling incoherency. A stable person would have blamed the lack of sleep and drugs, but not me. I blamed Ted. It might have been the grey sky overhead. I hated Portland, there was too much ran.
"And you judge everyone else's base on what you understand.” He held out both hands and farmed them around street graffiti. “They do the same thing, and a dozen people staring at artwork can’t truly see the same picture."
"Thank you,” Ted sounded oblivious to my sarcasm. “What I'm trying to say is simple, you shouldn't judge others based on what you see. Judge them on what they see."
"Walk a mile in their shoes."
"Exactly! Well, mostly it’s about ratings. Audience appeal and all that. I was making another point but forgot what-"
I cut him off. "Ted."
"What about my life makes you think I could begin to relate to a normal person? I've been kidnapped, robbed, and victimized by heroes and villains-“ and mole people “-more than anyone else on the planet."
"Well," he sounded like a wise old teacher trying to spout hard earned wisdom. Only I don’t think he understood exactly how far down the barrel my life got. It wasn’t a lack of effort. Honestly parts of my life were pretty awesome, I was theoretically impossible to kill, that counted for something. Plus I had seen a lot of heroes up close.
"No, I'm not being sarcastic or over stating.” I lifted the nearly burned out stump of my drugs. “My lawyer has told me officially that her office goes through more paperwork than the President from me just wandering around. I can't turn it off, I don't get to hide. Once I activated my entire world turned to shit."
"Well," Ted started again.
"I've tried to help other abductees. I've tried to stop robberies and made things worse nearly every time."
"I was just saying," he kept trying to break my rant. It only annoyed me even more.
"And each fucking time, I live through it. I survive.” My body shot up and the other hand tapped on my chest. “Regardless of my own fucking desires. I live and everyone around me gets caught in the crosshairs."
The middle aged man shrugged then smiled with that plastic grin. He said, "I'm still here."
"And clearly a reasonably intelligent man.” I threw his earlier words back at him.
"Why thank you,” Ted responded.
I could almost hear the mockery flying right over his head at ninety miles an hour. Did Ted simply not understand my tone of voice? Had I really learned to be completely deadpan? I imagined that if the cynicism had been tangible, it might have hit the lady walking her toy dog across the way. Bam! Right in arm. Then the dog would break down yipping in a panic, and two heroes would collide overhead in a rush to figure out who had done it.
"That last part," I twisted the words "was sarcasm."
"Oh." Ted shrugged. "I hate sarcasm."
“Bully for you.” My eyes rolled slowly. I wanted to be more relaxed and simply enjoy the quiet between hurricanes. How I had stayed sane through all this was beyond me. Maybe I had finally cracked.
He coughed briefly and looked down. “As for the other stuff, I have a plan.”
My mellow mood shook slightly. Ted talked a big game but so far we had gone flying out over the whatever whatever river, then pretended to rob a store at gunpoint. I couldn’t bring myself to really trust him. Would you?
“What?” I asked.
“I have a plan.” Ted stood up and brushed off dirt from his backside. The concrete we were on did have a high level of grime to it.
I took a breath and prepared myself to reject his offer at long last. Then I thought about it again and found no real reason to say no. It wasn’t like Ted could get me killed over this. Confused, lost, maybe even slightly frightened or drugged, but not killed. None of those statuses were new to me. God dammit. He had my attention once more.
“Go on,” I said.
He started pacing back and forth. I watched as other people passing by raised their eyebrows in mute worry, but most kept moving. They always did, except for the heroes and villains in disguise. For some reason they always sat around to watch. I frowned briefly upon seeing another lady walk by with a different tiny dog.
“Honestly you’re perfect for the job. A walking catastrophe is exactly what we want we need.” Ted paused his rambling and looked up for a moment. His head shook and pacing resumed. “A one hundred percent, exclusive, in the field reporter that isn’t risking someone’s life. There when the big stuff happens, before it happens, while it happens. Live, if we can keep a steady signal.”
None of that actually explained what his grand plan was to make me cost effective. I could only imagine the heat that might be brought down if I tried to actually work for a living. Would alien overlords arrive and claim breach of contract? Did I have a contract?
“Okay.” I felt used and we hadn’t even started. “What now?”
“So we need you to meet the other two staff members. They’ll yay or nay you in. After that we go get you outfitted, and turn you lose. If we do it right, I can work with you remotely just like a real producer in any news station.”
“That’s your plan? Vet me, throw me a microphone, and film the walking disaster magnate?”
“Well, yes. That about sums it up.”
“And you think people will really watch this?”
“Have you looked at the television recently? You Americans will watch anything.” His accent shifted again and I think he was offended. If it weren’t’ for his theoretical curse of telling the truth, I might suspect he was mocking me. Or at least America, but patriotism was for people with too much free time. The real heroes actually tried to do stuff instead of spout nonsense.
I blow out a small puff of smoke then took a huge sigh of clean air. My words had slowed down considerably. “Where do we meet your staff members at, and are you sure it’s safe?”
“New York. The New, New, New York. Their outskirts really.” Ted’s clarifications could have been well meant, or compulsive. “The property prices are still absolutely insane there despite all the downtown destruction. We have to sublet a few apartments outside of the first central park.”
“And is it safe?”
“Probably,” his voice went squeaky like the Telegraph persona.
“Ted? You’re not lying right?”
“It could be safe. I have an idea.” He smiled.
I wasn’t up on recent history, at least not so far as aftermath of insane fights counted. Most of my life consisted of living in the Midwest, then ending up everywhere and anywhere without much clue. Ted could have told me we were headed to Narnia and it wouldn’t have fazed me much.
I mean, I had been to a twisted version of at least three fictional kingdoms. They weren’t even remotely exciting. Everything edible talked and that fell firmly under disturbing.
Getting to New York sounded a tad bit more complicated than ted implied. We were six hours away by air, but when you’re the source of frequent kidnappings and hostage situations, no one lets you on a plane. Trains were out for much the same reason. Plus a lot of them went through Kansas, and they paid me good money to never darken their doorstep.
I went for another big question. “How do we get there?” Targeting specific landing points in a sea of crazy wasn’t my forte. At least New York didn’t have a ban on my presence.
“Let’s see,” Ted looked down while pressing a finger to his cheek. His head bobbed while I looked at the last bit of my reefer. Having a second one would have been a way better usage of my time. He flashed his teeth in a large grin then asked, “Road trip? Unless you have a pair of wings tucked back there?”
“I left them at my last apartment.” I had no confidence in making it three thousand miles without being assaulted by something.
That stupid woman walking a dog went by again. This time she had a large Doberman looking creature. I glared at her passing form while trying to figure out how on earth anyone could walk a dog in three minutes.
Coincidences in my life often meant that bad things were about to happen.
“What are you doing?
“Something stupid.” I flipped around and waved goodbye to Ted. “It’s best if you stay far away from me!”
“But I need to get you ready!” Ted didn’t’ move but instead shouted after me.
“If you’re serious about this, find my lawyer Jade Heartland, sort out the paperwork, and drop a contact number. When I’m in New York next, I’ll call and try to arrange something. I can probably fit you in between the next giant bug attack and a possessed football stadium! ” New York, or at least some part of the state, was a frequent stop in my life. I ended up there for at least a few days every other month.
“But that may take forever!” Ted yelled after me. He started walking quickly while a slightly panicked look crossed his face. He waved to one lady he cut off and tried to give that fake friendly smile. “We can’t miss a minute! What if the next giant bug attack is tomorrow?”
I had been joking about the giant bug attack. No one ever did giant bugs. That was just silly. Rats, yes. Rats could be trained. Bugs, especially bees, were not a good idea.
Two large men became apparent as I walked forward. One grabbed me but was intercepted by the other one. I had no idea what they were after. They started swinging each other into the nearby building and knocking over other people.
“Hey!” I shouted at them. “Can one of you fine gentlemen get me to New York?”
They ignored me and kept tussling. I had no idea what they were saying. Their clothes didn’t resemble any known heroes. It looked like two giant men had randomly decided to tussle in broad daylight.
“We should be filming this!” Ted shuffled up rapidly. He had one hand under his armpit and clothes started flicking into being. I shook my head and refused to watch him pick out a proper suit for the street fight.
“Screw it,” I muttered then started walking again. The dog walking woman across the street had to be here because of my powers. If I could disrupt her, maybe she might get me to New York. Or trigger, I don’t know, anything. Ted was right, sooner was better.
My foot hit the actual street and four vaguely related events happened in rapid succession. To anyone else it would have been nerve wracking, but I almost expected it. Being proactive with my power set was like knocking on the president’s door with an axe then wondering what caused the secret service to get so bent out of shape.
First, I stepped out towards the lady walking by with a dog of a different color. Second, she looked up at me in horror then started screaming. Third, a truck, already in motion, started slamming on its horn while brakes screeched. Fourth, the ground beneath my forward stepping foot vanished and I fell abruptly into an interdimensional portal.
“Fuck!” y wail traveled upwards as the world turned chaotic. Gravity still worked. Branches, or roots passed by. The fading light swirled into techno color. Small creatures appeared from nowhere and started chasing each other through the space I had just passed. Symbols for spades and hearts marched by on leaves. I closed both eyes before the sensation drove me to retching.
Hitting bottom knocked the wind out of me. I rolled to one side then held very still. My eyes refused to open. My fingers grasped around slowly to get a feel for which nightmare land I had transported to this time. It felt like events were happening far faster than they normally should. At the very least I expected time to walk calmly to a hotel and sleep for the night. One simple night before ninjas burst in because they thought my room was the one ten floors up with a movie star or something.
Dirt lined the floor. Long rope-like strands hung to one side and rustled as I grabbed them. There was a mad sort of laughter that echoed softly like a television from the next hotel room over.
“Please not wonderland, please not wonderland, please not wonderland.” My chant turned high pitched as a worse scenario occurred to me. “Please not mole people, please not mole people, please not mole people.”
Mole people were bad because they simply didn’t get it. I swear someone sat in a basement all day like genetically altering billions of them in one go but forgetting to add anything but a vague desire to topple the surface world. Every single one of them had been brilliant but vaguely autistic. Were they human I might have felt awkward for my callous observation, but mole people were biters with rabies.
Wonderland often varied between insanity, lots of hallucinogens, and murderous little girls named Alice. I only needed to avoid the Jabberwocky and never touch drink from the small bottles. Pastries in general were traps in other dimensions. I racked my brain for other bits of information from past encounters.
Oh, right, someone would be nearby. Let that be a warning for you, if you’re teleported to a strange place, there’s always someone observing. Always. Every single time. Even if it’ s a giant eyeball for a sun.
At least two distinct nasally sounding creatures were breathing heavily nearby. Cracking my eyelids a little revealed a soft glow. Two sets of hair looking feet were close by.
“Please not wonderland. Please not mole people. Please, god, for once send me a beach with bikini babes. An underground lake,” my mumbling did no good.
So, as you might imagine, when I opened my eyes to see two hairy round brown looking versions of the White Rabbit and what had to be the Red Queen, I went a little bit crazier than normal. There’s only so many events a man can remain calm through.
“God dammmittttt! Noooooooooooo!” I shouted upwards while banging my hands upon the ground. My screaming echoed down the halls. The tantrum scared the White Rabbit, he sort of shuffled, or hopped, whatever moles do, behind the second ugliest Red Queen I had ever seen.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow,” another person next to me started mumbling.
The Red Queen’s nose flared wide. Snot hung down along with brown material that was hopefully dirt. She pointed out one hand with a root shaped scepter. Adorning its tip sat a half chewed turnip. Her mouth opened to proclaim our fates.
“Of with my head,” I mumbled in time with her declaration of ‘off with their heads.’
I tried to hold hope that this Alice might not be batshit insane, but it seemed unlikely. Then it hit me, she had said ‘their’ heads, as in plural. I looked for the source of noise next to me that had been complaining of pain. Maybe Alice sat nearby already. A shudder passed through me as the last Alice to cross my path came to mind. She hadn’t bathed in weeks and wielded a comically large knife.
No such luck. Ted’s dirt covered face sat upside down. He lay there rubbing at a damaged forehead where a lump started forming. Heavy bags and lighting made his eyes look like twin smiles.
“Fuck a duck,” I muttered while looking up.
“Where are we?” he mumbled. Footsteps were marching up the wide open tunnel we sat in.
“Does it matter? I would suggest you start running,” I said dryly.
“Is that sarcasm?”
“Stop your chattering you pink worms! Why are their heads still on!” the Red Queen yelled at us. Gobs of grossness flew out and splattered nearby. I swallowed back bile and shook my head. It smelled like raw sewage mixed with kimchi.
“Oh,” Ted said calmly. He stopped to dust off his suit before even getting upright. “This is new.”
“Maybe for you,” I muttered in reply. The pleasant buzz was completely ruined leaving me with a headache and unsteady vision.
|Life Expectancy:||5-7 Years|
|Generalized range as follows|
|Attitude:||Angry, Hungry, Hates Most Humans|
|Other items of note|
|Hates all concrete, natural enemies are giant birds and dogs, most are trapped underground fighting superbugs, have royalty caste, mostly blind, poor sense of smell and hygiene, omnivorous|
|Mole people all have affenfies for dirt. They can communicate across great distances through vibrations. If there’s more than two, one is always in charge. They breed in litters of ten and often only six or seven make it through their first six months to adulthood.
For unknown reasons, they are able to make items comparable to complex machinery using underground ores and plants. Their designs often don’t function anyone else’s hands and are considered Rank 4 Technomancer devices. A few earth based origins are able to make sure of their items without a ‘Mole Person’ present.
Science, or magic, or general insanity has proven that all mole people share the same basic drive. They wish to surface to the upper world and destroy humanity, specifically their cities. Something about loud noises, jackhammers, and ruined planting fields where not enough roots grow.
|We’re pretty sure these were summoned from another dimension by a doddering old man with alzheimer's and reality warping powers. It’s hard to say for sure since they first appeared shortly after World War Two. They could have been created in super solider experiment, but even the German government denies ever trying to make such an insane creature.
They would have worked well, if mole people didn’t breed so fast and spread under the earth’s crust at high speeds. They’re often classified as a plague in most major cities. As such, smart citizens investing in long term property values, will purchase small sonic devices which are known to drive them away.