Arc 2, Expectations 2

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At least he told the truth about putting agents around the site of the training exercises to keep others out.  It didn’t work that well this time, but he did it.

I stepped over another of Gorgon’s unpowered agents, looking for any leftover pieces of me that were missing.  I knew there was at least one more piece of my upper leg under Badger’s club that he had set across my waist.  I could feel the iron burning it.  I thought that was the last piece.  Well, the last piece other than the twenty-three small, thin strips of my shadow body’s skin that I had clumsily cut off the surface of my upper legs with a sheath knife one of the agents had been carrying.  Each of the agents, as well as Cog, Badger, and Cog’s suit now had a single overhand loop knot tied around each person’s finger like a reminder string.  Even though it hadn’t been very painful, the fact that I had cut pieces of myself off in order to create tools was highly disturbing.

I have got to find a better way to do this.  Cutting myself up to make restraints out of my own skin is… inhuman.

I used Cog’s rifle as a lever again, looking carefully at the bottom of the club as I slowly got it to roll on the driveway.  The rifle was a poor lever, but it was the strongest tool of any significant length that I could wield with giant spongy hands.  The stock allowed me to push with some pressure if I turned it sideways and jammed the end of the barrel into the ground.  I saw a flat black splotch on the club, a little darker than the dark iron.

There it is.  I hope Badger didn’t manage to swallow any of me when he went unconscious.

I scraped what I hoped was the last piece of me off the club with the barrel of the rifle and put it on my leg.

It had been at least two hours, I knew, but when I looked East, I saw false dawn.  Closer to four hours since I teleported in then.

Sleep schedule?  What sleep schedule?

The shadow form didn’t seem to get tired.  I wonder if the other body even had brain function at all wherever it was.  If so, I was going to be terribly tired when I switched back.

Time to figure out what to do with these guys.

Gorgon had kidnapped my family and terrified them, humiliated me, and then sent villains to attack me several days earlier than he said he would.  The thought of giving these people back to him was loathsome, but I wasn’t ready for a serious confrontation yet.  I was becoming more and more certain that I couldn’t be killed, but I could be caused pain, I could be contained and made helpless.  Cut me up with a wood chipper and pour me into liquid acrylic and then activate it to harden it, and I’d be royally screwed.  Drop it in the Marianas Trench and I’d be screwed forever.

Better than dead.  For the first couple years anyway.  Wonder if I can go insane in this body?  The brain certainly doesn’t work the same.

I spent a few more minutes trying to figure out some way to get the twenty-three bodies into hero or law enforcement’s hands without escalating with Gorgon.

Not happening.  Enough thinking.  There’s only one choice for now.

I used the smartphone I had managed to cut out of one guy’s pocket to call my wife’s smartphone.  I had experimented with a couple other pieces of electronics.  My inner pieces disrupted electronics quite effectively, but my surface skin did not.

“Howdy, Strangest!” A terrible, fake Texas accent was the greeting that Gorgon gave me when he answerer my wife’s phone.

I said nothing.  It certainly wasn’t funny.

How did he know it was me calling, from the phone of one of his agents?

I looked around nervously, and up in the air.  Between darkness and superpowers, anything could be anywhere.  Well, except that nothing with a human brain was conscious within a hundred feet of me.  That, I knew.

“I was wondering when you or Cog would get around to calling me.  I was expecting a status report three hours ago from him.  In case you had not yet figured it out, I am not a patient person.”  There was hardness in the voice.

“Badger and Cog jumped me about four hours ago.  I beat them.  Cog apparently called in your security cordon when I caught him in my field effect, so I’ve been dealing with a bunch of people here.”

For now, don’t forget the Sir.

“Sir.” I added, lamely.

Gorgon paused, clearly drawing attention to my failure to address him as sir.  “Cog let himself be caught by you?  That was not supposed to happen.”

“One might say that Badger and Cog shouldn’t have been here at all tonight, sir.”

Saying sir to this creep has gotten old, fast.

“Oh, Zeke, you call me ‘sir’ and yet you think you get to make decisions, or have some say in them?  Time for a few more lessons in the whole employee / employer relationship here.”  He paused.  “I know your family was taken to the Enclave’s Savannah facility.  They are safer there.  I will take the opportunity to point out that safer is not safe.  Right now, you are more useful to me as a tool to train my people, as opposed to an example that I can use to keep others in line.  The more problems you cause for me, the more cost effective it begins to be for me to go after your family as an example.”

Fuck me very much.

Say nothing unless asked to say something.

Gorgon continued after a pause.  “We have had surveillance assets at your house, watching you for weeks.  Octagon, Mirage, and Mindblade certainly knew you were being watched.  They know how things work.”

Remember the source.  Gorgon is not reliable.

Are the heroes?

Another pause from Gorgon.  “Ah, so pleasant to speak with an underling who doesn’t ask a question every other time I give them a chance to say something stupid.  Some people have this insatiable need to fill silence with their own words, don’t you agree, Zeke?”

Direct question.  Don’t forget sir.

“Yes, sir.” I said, while considering that, at least in his last sentence, he was certainly right.

“Good.  You probably got the whole spiel about rainbow hero super groups, the Enclave, villain groups, and how everyone pulls together when there’s an E-class threat?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then they drop you back at your house where I can get you, without any support, after taking your family away.  You tell me how this adds up.  I require more than a simple answer.”  Gorgon waited.

“I don’t see how it adds up.  This does not surprise me, as I’m new and have yet to understand all the synergies.”  I replied.

“I will tell you how it adds up, because they did it to me.  Different people in a different decade, but the end result was the same.  They separated me from my family to ‘keep my family safe’.  To be fair, as far as I know, my family is still safe, but it’s been a lot of years since I heard anything from them.  They gave me a little teleporter thing they could yank me around with, but I had to ask permission to teleport back to the base.  It worked a couple times.  Tell me if any of this seems familiar?”  There was bitterness in his voice.

He lost track of his own family within the Enclave, but he claims to be able to find mine?  Which is true, if either?

“A lot of it seems familiar, which would be critical when trying to undermine the confidence of someone.  Trying to convince another person of something using entirely lies is a rather difficult task, especially when there is no trust between parties, and the one being convinced is moderately intelligent, as I’d like to think I am, sir.”

Gorgon responded, and I could feel the malevolent smile in his voice.  “A complex thought, and you didn’t forget the sir.  You’re definitely learning.”  He paused.  “Relearning how to be subordinate takes a while after you’ve been at the top of your own organization for a while, I recognize that, I’ve had to teach a few like you over the years that I am in charge.”  He paused again.  “None of the heroes trust you.  Your power is actively disruptive, and very powerful.  You are very intelligent.  You have a proven track record of running a large organization.  The heroes took your family away to protect them from you.  You were dropped back into my lap in the hopes of one of two things happening.  What do you think those two things are?  I require an answer.  I hope for an intelligent answer.”

My mind was wheeling.  What he was saying was certainly matching a lot of what I had observed, but there were a lot of his own personal, unverified, statements mixed in as well.

It’s not hard to figure out what he’s thinking.

I wasn’t going to give him obvious reason number one, so I gave him obvious reasons number two and three. “They want me to either join your organization or they hope your organization will pin me in place unless they really need me for something like a dimensional rift invasion or alien attack, sir.”

It’s also not hard to see that he might be right.

“An admirable attempt to sidestep a potential challenge to my authority.  The first significant subterfuge I’ve seen from you yet.  At least I hope it is, because the other possibility is that you just had a fleeting moment of stupidity.  They want you to either join me, or displace me.  In either case they expect that my organization will become less violent with your influence.”

Yes, this makes sense.  Does it make enough sense?

“Has your organization become more violent recently?  Are you losing control?  Is this some sort of golden parachute program for evil villain masterminds who can’t hack it any more, sponsored by the heroes?”

Silence for two seconds.

“Sir.” I added.

Silence for a couple more seconds. “Tread cautiously.  When I go, it won’t be a golden parachute, it’ll be cement overshoes in the river, and I keep a close eye on people that appear to be mixing cement.  I also cannot allow challenges like that to go unanswered in public.  Fortunately everyone around you right now is unconscious in a nice neat line, with ribbons on their fingers.  That’s a nice touch by the way, a bit macabre, but well done.”

He’s just proved he’s watching.  Intentionally demonstrating that I have little if any privacy.

If he was watching closely enough to know how I was keeping everyone unconscious, he probably saw the whole thing.

“Was the popcorn good, sir?”

“Indeed.  Badger was obviously underutilizing his powers.  Using geokinetics only for digging was a waste.  I was hoping you would jar him into learning something new.”  I could hear a measure of disappointment in his voice, aimed at Badger.  I had a feeling that if I could see Gorgon at that moment, he’d be shaking his head like I frequently did when my staff tinker, Miss Perfect, sent sharply worded emails to people that she was technically subordinate to.

Why am I bantering with him?

“We’re going to need to start talking about how to fold Exactitude into my organization soon, by the way.  I’ve had some people looking at it very closely, and there would be a lot of synergies with a couple of my own organizations.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck.  I’m not ready yet.  Too many things happening in too short a time.  I’m going to have to pull a bunch of strings and call in favors.

I was very glad to be in my shadow form.  The emotions running through me were muted drastically, but they were still enough that Gorgon probably noticed me react to his statement about Exactitude through whatever he was watching me with.  “If what you are saying is true about the motivations of the heroes, then why are you apparently doing what they want you to, and trying to force me into your organization, sir?”

“Two reasons.  First, because one of the most delicious things that one can do to the plans of enemies is to co-opt them.  Second, you actually do have a lot to offer my organization.  I’ll probably end up having to kill you in a couple years on the outside, but there’s always the chance that I might be wrong, and you might become a powerful force of improvement and change within my organization.”

Gorgon’s voice carried a lot of certainty with it.  He seemed awful confident he could kill me.  Bluffing, or did he think he knew a way?

After that moment’s thought.  “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a letter of commendation with a death threat in it before, sir.”

“Welcome to the world of villains, Zeke.  Enough chatter.  I’m sending someone to collect my people in five minutes, so you need to remove the strings on their fingers and get yourself back to human.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go ahead and call up the heroes after my people are out of there.  They have treated you so well, I’m sure they will give you all the answers you need to prove me wrong, right?  Surely after you have spoken to the big, bad villain and he has tried to corrupt you, they will speak more plainly about their plans for you and your family.  I’ll be in touch.”  As soon as he finished the last syllable, he hung up.

Move now, think later.

I dropped the agent’s smartphone on her chest and started collecting all the little strings of shadow skin from the fingers of the unconscious bodies.  I left Badger’s and Cog’s strings for last.

After all the strings had been removed and stuck back on my upper legs, I shifted back into human shape.

Ohfuck!

I screamed as I shifted back again, instantly, as the spike of pain and adrenaline hit me.  The pain in my lower right side had been excruciating.  Apparently I hadn’t found all the pieces, and my biological body objected.

My body regenerates though.  Doesn’t it?  Are there weird rules?

I started looking around on the ground for any other parts of me.

My left arm didn’t hurt, it was my right side.  The arm had regenerated.

I cautiously shifted again.  My left arm and lower right side ached, but no sharp pain this time.  It seemed pretty clear that if the shadow body took significant damage and was not fully healed when I shifted to human, the wound would transfer to the human body, somehow, but the wounds would be healed if I flipped back and forth again.

I’m glad I didn’t shift with the monoblade in my neck the other day.

I shuddered and stood next to Badger and Cog, ready to shift again if they woke.  A minute or so later, I heard the sounds of a heavy vehicle on the road.  I saw headlights turn into my driveway, and a minute later, a large moving company truck appeared.  The truck had a double cab, and five guys jumped out.  One jogged up to talk to me and the other four jogged around the truck and grabbed devices from storage lockers below the cargo box body of the truck.

Looks like the teleporting ship with AI pilot, stasis beams, and lifting beams isn’t an everyday dispatch.

Or that operative was busy doing something else.

At least I thought he was coming to talk to me.  He nodded at me as he passed, and said “One second.  No time to waste.”  Then he pulled a device on a harness out of his coat pocket and strapped it onto Badger’s head.  “There.  He’ll stay asleep until we can get him somewhere we can wake him up safely.  Badger is about the worst morning person imaginable.”

“No, really?  From what I saw of him, I would have expected him to leap out of bed with a smiling grin and rainbows coming out of his ass.”  I said, with a grin.

He just stared at me.  “If you took down Badger, Cog, and the rest here, and are letting us take them away, it’s a story we don’t need to know.  We do not want to know it.  Don’t tell us anything, please.”  He turned away from me and ran to the truck, grabbing another device like the ones the other four were already using to move unconscious agents with.

They were standing in a line, the one closest to the line of agents was using their device to lift and drop the agents one at a time, putting them in front of the second person in line.  The second in line did the same, lifting and moving the body to the third in line.  A simple relay line, with antigravity beams or something.  Definitely tinker tech.  In two minutes all the unconscious agents were in the moving van, and a minute later, Badger was too.  One minute after that, Cog and his remote suit were in his van, and an agent was sitting in his wheelchair, locking it in place so they could drive the van.

I walked up to the leader, who was double checking the device on Badger’s head, and said.  “Thank you.”

The driver looked at me like I had grown a second head. “What?”

“I said thank you.  I’m allowed to do say that, right?”

“I suppose so.” He looked very nervous.

I took two steps back.  He relaxed a bit.

“Is this equipment yours, or do you have any responsibility for it?”

“Not mine.  I have responsibility for it though.”

“How many of the lifting devices do you need to offload Badger?”

“Ah, one will do the job, but if you are taking them from me, I would appreciate it if you would leave me two.  If one fails, I’ll lose the truck when Badger wakes up, if I can’t get someone else to pull him out.”  He looked nervous again.

“Understood.  How many lifting devices do you have?”

“Six.  One for each of us and a spare.”

“I’ll take four.  Put them in the bed of that pickup truck.” I pointed at my truck. “If there is an instruction manual for them, leave me one.”

“No instruction manual.  Point at something, press green button, it grabs the first thing in the way of the beam, and you move it.  Let go of button, it lets go of what you grabbed.”

“OK.  Charging cables too, please.  They charge off standard twenty-four volt diesel vehicle electrical systems, right?”

“Twelve or twenty-four volt DC, yes.  Switcher on the recharge cable is well marked.”  He paused.  “We really need to move.  Being late is very, very bad.”

“OK.  As soon as the four lifters are in the bed of my truck with four recharging cables, you can go.”

All five of the movers were listening.  The driver pointed to one of them, who nodded, and then ran wordlessly to Cog’s van.  That mover nodded and ran to the van, started it, and then turned it around in the driveway as the others ran to the equipment locker under the truck and ran back to my truck carrying four of the lifters with cables and carefully set them in the bed of my truck.  I waved them at their truck and watched them run.

Thirty seconds after that, they were all in the two vehicles, Cog’s van leading the moving van back to the road.  I stared after them for a moment, and almost collapsed in the driveway as they left my sight.  The last time I had stayed up over twenty-four hours straight was at least a decade ago, and the emotional roller coaster of the last day had been draining.  I got in my truck and drove it to the barn, and then removed the lifters from the bed of the truck and put them on one of the counters in my work area.  I didn’t want to leave them out where they might get rained on.

I was in no condition to think, so I didn’t.  The first thing I did was turn off my phone, and then I locked up the truck and the barn before going up the stairs to the loft apartment.  Once in the apartment, I set the bedside alarm for four hours, and chugged four of the high gravity beers, one after the other in about five minutes time total, barely tasting them, before following them with a big glass of water and two aspirin.

When did I last eat something?

I hit the restroom before the beer hit me.  Even if the alarm didn’t wake me, the beer would want out in a few hours, and that would wake me.

I walked back to my bed, sat on the edge of it, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up with a headache, and a painfully full bladder.

Someone was knocking loudly on the wall of the barn, twice every three seconds, and a female voice I knew was loudly saying “Mr. Collins!  Are you in there?  Are you OK?” between each set of bangs.

Miss Perfect?  What the hell is she doing here?

First things first.

Need to get the beer out before I make a puddle.

Bang. Bang. “Mr. Collins!  Are you in there?  Are you OK?”

Oh, my head.

I almost fell flat on my face as I threw my legs off the bed and stood.  I had one boot on, and my slacks were around my ankles.  I had managed to get my shirt off.  The other boot had the shirt stuffed in it, and was sitting on my office chair next to my turned-off phone.  I grabbed the phone as I headed to the restroom, taking short waddling steps due to my ankles being restricted by my slacks.  I couldn’t pull up my pants or pull them off – an attempt to do either would almost certainly result in an explosive used-beer release.

Bang. Bang. “Mr. Collins!  Are you in there?  Are you OK?”

I’m going to strangle her.

Of course, because my head hurt, my bladder was about to explode, and I was still drunk with someone banging on the wall of where I lived, I had a hard-on.  I couldn’t even remember the dream responsible for it.

Bang. Bang. “Mr. Collins!  Are you in there?  Are you OK?”

Stop it.  Stop it.

I stood in front of the toilet, trying to relax for a few seconds before realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to relax enough to hit the bowl of the toilet, without relaxing enough that I’d make a mess on the wall or toilet tank first.

Bang. Bang. “Mr. Collins!  Are you in there?  Are you OK?”

Fucking hell.

I turned to the shower as I turned on my phone and saw thirty missed calls from Miss Perfect in the last three hours.  Every one six minutes from the call before it.

Bang. Bang. “Mr. Collins!  Are you in there?  Are you OK?”

Shut the fuck up.

I stood next to the shower, carefully letting the beer out as I texted Miss Perfect.  “Fuck Off. Hangover. Trying to piss.”  My finger hung over the send button.

Do not bite the extremely helpful, but infuriating person.  Yet.

I erased the first text, and started again.  “Am OK.  Hear you.  Dressing.  Is important?”

There was no more banging.  An incoming text from Miss Perfect.  “Important.  Waiting.”

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14 comments

  1. farmerbob1

    Something Extremely terrible has happened to the WordPress interface. I am attempting to fix this Charlie Foxtrot now. All italics and all bolding went away, and so did paragraph spacing.

    Whatever WordPress broke, I hope they fix it.

  2. syphax1

    I find it disturbing that Gorgon’s the only one who is remotely straight with our protagonist. That being said, I haven’t found a flimsy character yet. And kudos for making me want to punch Gorgon’s face with his every utterance. That kind of character development takes no small amount of skill.

  3. farmerbob1

    I put Zeke in a very terrible hangover morning moment but may have gone a little TMI. I was definitely going for a little drunk/potty/hangover humor, but was also trying to introduce Miss Perfect appropriately.

    How did you folks feel about the story after Miss Perfect wakes him up? I’m very confident that I got her right, I’m more concerned about Zeke’s actions/reactions.

    • AvidFan

      You’re worried about the story where potty humour is involved? -_-‘
      I thought it was fine.

      I realise now that you’re a sadist. GIVE HIM A BREAK! The poor guy finally thought his family was safe, now this. Poor guy…. 😦

  4. thomas

    Okay, I really did not expect the switch to a training exercise but you did a great job folding in the time-lapse and glossing the gore.

    The first text might have upset Miss P, but damn, he was busy peeing. Is she type A or what? IMO, you portrayed this scene Perfectly with a humors segue.

    Errata
    • the twenty-three small, thin strips of myself
    me instead of myself
    • Is this some sort golden parachute program
    Missing of: Is this some sort of golden parachute program
    • I dropped the agent’s smartphone on their chest
    His or her instead of their
    • The driver pointed to one of them, then wordlessly
    And missing here

    • farmerbob1

      Fixed the Errata and I think I even used ‘myself’ properly once after I read up on how it’s supposed to work.

      As for Miss Perfect… More next chapter. I just deleted a whole paragraph explaining tinker psychology after realizing that descriptions like that need to be in the writing, not in the comments!

  5. Lankhmar

    Must admit, of the characters I like Gorgon the most. He’s….direct and unsubtle. Probably does very bad things, but he’s not fucking with someones mind like the others seem to be doing and trying to pretend it’s all normal and ok and you shouldn’t be freaked out by this.

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