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Astute readers will notice that this chapter references two standalone short stories that came before here at Tales of the Whethermen. One of them is the very recent “Contrivance” and the other is the older “Bad Breakup

Janus heard the clatter of thick, metal links from the office outside his own right after the hurried, unintelligible exchange of words reached his ears—a furious, protracted rattling sound of the man chained to the reception desk that probably meant he was scrambling out of his chair to intercept someone.

And so, to Janus, it seemed a foregone conclusion who it was heading for his office door. The words may have been indistinct, but the voice had been a woman’s. Then a surprised cry, a slamming sound and the resulting shaking of the wall between the two offices.

Underworld entered.

“First, you need to tell your little bondage workplace fantasy out there—” Underworld began.

“You know that I am completely disinterested in BDSM sexplay and thoroughly heterosexual,” Janus said, a scolding look in his eyes, peering out from a mask half gold and half oak, with thin green wire entwined all around in a subtle imitation of creeper vines.

“Maybe you’re playing to Jane’s fantasies, then. Seriously, when are you going to let him off that chain? It’s been weeks since the infraction that got him locked to that desk to begin with.”

“My forgiveness hasn’t caught up with my sadistic streak yet,” Janus answered.

“So, he’ll never be off the chain then,” she retorted. “In any case, tell him that when I come to your office—and we both know I like to avoid that so I must have a good goddamn reason—he is to let me in without hesitation.”

“Done. Would you like me to have him brew compost instead of coffee for his morning beverage needs for the rest of the week?”

“Unlike you, I’m not a sadist. His bruised ribs and head will suffice. The actual reason I’m here personally, though, is we have a problem and I don’t want anyone overhearing it,” Underworld said.

Janus looked toward his office door. Underworld had shut it, but the chain was long enough to allow his receptionist to eavesdrop if he were so inclined.

“He’s unconscious anyway,” Underworld said, noticing his gaze. “That mercenary group you hired to go after Query and then to try to snatch Zoe—you know, the one that’s apparently too good to have a name we can put in our Rolodex?”


“They want our heads. Technically just yours. But, effectively, that mean ‘ours’.”

“They didn’t like the trajectory of those two jobs, I assume.”

Underworld sighed. “Well, they didn’t like the torture session—”

“—aggressive debriefing,” Janus corrected.

“They didn’t like the way you did the two mercs who got away from the botched Query job. They also apparently figured out the Zoe job was in part always intended to be a distraction or a ruse instead of a legit snatch-and-grab. They’re feeling unloved and used, and the head honchos have decided to take you out for it.”

“I thought mercenaries wanted money, not love,” Janus scoffed.

“You’ve cost them more than they were paid is the way they see it. And it’s not like you offered any extra compensation,” Underworld noted.

“Is this reliable intel?” he asked. “Or just gossip around the water cooler?”

“I have a guy inside the operation, Janus. It’s credible and then some.”

Janus clapped his hands twice. “Ahead of schedule. Delightful! I will need you to resolve the situation. Aggressively. Use some of our new transhuman recruits. It will be a good field test. Also, you will be hiring muscle and guns from Hugo Blacke for additional backup.”

“Aggressive as in ‘Make sure the entire leadership of the group is dead’?”

“Aggressive as in ‘Burn their operation to the ground,’ actually,” Janus said. “I want as few people left alive as possible; certainly no one who would try to revive the group or feel any level of loyalty that leads to retribution against us.”

“Done and done. So, you’re helping Blacke Ops Solutions—or at least Hugo’s totally immoral arm of the company—to get rid of its major competition.”

“And to owe us some free work in the short run.”

“Anything in particular against the nameless folks we’ve been using?”

“The fact they refuse to get a name,” Janus said. The smile beneath his mask was toothy and bright.

“My but you’re pleased,” Underworld said. “What did they do to you? Really.”

“I just don’t trust them. I never have; I never will. They have designs. I think that they imagine they can become a criminal empire or take over a small country one day. They are less a large mercenary group than they are a collection of classless and less-talented James Bond villains. Oh, I will need you to ensure that your contact in the group dies as well.”

Underworld sneered. “Whoa, now! That’s one of my resources you’re screwing with. You don’t get to do that.”

Janus paused, templed his fingers together and closed his eyes. “Then he needs to arrange to come into our loving hands before the raid and become one of the indentured employees here. I’m sure he’ll be fantastic in the security crew.”

“This is not going to happen, Janus.”

“He’s going to be useless to you after this. You won’t be able to insert him anywhere safely like this ever again. I’m doing you both a favor.”

“The favor,” Underworld said, “would be letting me handle my resources myself and trust me.”

“I will. If I know about them. This one was secret.”

“Several of my resources are secret. That’s why they’re mine.”

“I’ve already let you keep some secrets. If you don’t let me know about your people in the future, they become expendable. That’s the new rule. As for this resource, he comes to work and live here for the next 12 years like everyone else here or he dies. Oh, and tell Caterwaul she needs to stop trying to seduce everyone around here.”

Underworld raised an eyebrow, partly out of surprise at the sudden shift in topic but more in disbelief that the pronoun “she” had come out of Janus’ mouth without the usual forced undertone. “What?”

“Tell Caterwaul to stop using her vocal powers to make everyone salivate over her,” he said. “Or drip other bodily fluids.”

“The indentured staff here enjoys nearly unlimited access to weed and cocaine and most other hard drugs in more restrained amounts and we have onsite 24/7 sex workers, and you’re worried about people being hot for Caterwaul because of your transgenderphobic tendencies?”

“Yes,” Janus said curtly. “I’m a rather traditional sort aside from the wanton cruelty toward people who displease me.”

Underworld shook her head. “She’s not using her voice on everyone. She doesn’t have enough free time to use it on more than a handful of the staff here and she’s not interested in most of them anyway”

“Well, my impression had been—”

“—your impression is highly influenced by your hang-ups,” Underworld snapped. “I told her she should practice a little with her powers when she has a chance to, both here and outside. That tone that has a few employees walking around with wood or damp panties will serve us well when we start sending Caterwaul out to help shake down the bottom-tier and middle-tier players in New Judah for a cut of their action. You know, between this Caterwaul thing and my guy in with the mercs, you are only making me resent you more and want to kill you sooner.”

“Good,” Janus said. “You’re one of the few forces I can count on to keep me alert and on my toes.”

* * *

Reality wasn’t always faithful to Mad Dash. Not his enemy, though. It wasn’t that he couldn’t relate to it. It wasn’t that he didn’t know the difference between the here-and-now and fantasy. But sometimes really dealing with reality head-on was a massive pain in his ass.

But still, while he could be distracted or scatterbrained much of the time, he wasn’t clueless. He was perceptive when he needed to be. He could detect that subtle difference between a child screaming in play and a child screaming in fear. He could tell the difference between a group of people crying out in surprise and crying out in alarm. You log enough hours as a superhero, that kind of thing becomes second-nature, he had realized some years ago.

The crowd hurrying out of the mall food court clearly wasn’t responding to a fire drill or rushing out for some free promotional giveaway deal here in the parking lot.

Although he was a Speedster, Mad Dash did the ironic thing—and a relatively unfamiliar one. He didn’t rush. He slowly stepped out of the way of the hurried masses, got close to a wall, and shed the trenchcoat he wore to reveal his costume—the unitard and many-colored coat of diverse fabrics. Slowly unzipped his backpack and pulled out his mask with the big yellow goggle lenses. Put it on.

Lately, it seemed reality was more honest with him when he moved slowly. It gave the two of them time to get to know one another better.

When the flow of people out of the food court had slowed to almost nothing, he took a deep breath. Remembered for once to pull out a weapon from the pack—a taser baton. Then thought to grab a couple grenades to stuff in his pockets, though he wasn’t sure at the moment which was the flashbang and which the smoke grenade. Still, it was better than he usually did, given he was even remembering to gear up first with weapons.

Sarah—Ladykiller—my honey bunny badger bear—seems to be a good influx on me. Teaching me that sometimes, I have to be slow.

Oh, yes, a few plastic zip ties, too, he remembered. He reached into the bag for those.

I don’t know how many anemones I’ll have to restrain after I’m done, after all.

He tightened the straps and laces of his boots.

One more deep breath.

And then he ran, straight through the glass of the doors.

The faster I’m moving, the more resistant to harm I am, and a hungry cheater chasing down a Giselle at full speed couldn’t keep up right now.

And then he was in the middle of the now nearly-abandoned food court.

“Can’t a guy get a fresh batch of fries at a fucking McDonald’s?!” a man shouted—though whether to himself or the victim below him or the few people hiding behind counters or tables, Mad Dash wasn’t certain. “It’s the only thing you fucking have worth eating anymore. This wouldn’t have happened if the fries had been hot and crispy! Can’t a guy get some decent service?”

At the man’s feet, the McDonald’s clerk was twitching. His skin was mottled in places. He looked like he was gasping.

Still alive, but maybe not for long. Hard to tell.

“I only hurt one of you fuckers! I could do more! Get me some fresh…”

He trailed off, noticing Mad Dash standing 10 yard away. Stared a few moments, then narrowed his eyes.

“Fuck,” he said. “Oh, well, I’ve never killed a transhuman before. Much less a white hat. Good a day as any.”

Mad Dash stared in turn. Narrowed his own gaze at the pale-skinned man with dark-edged eyes as he slowly moved forward toward him, trying to assess things before the fight started.

Him again? The man with the adjective for a name. What was that—about a year ago that I had to send him packing in my plainclothes mode when my cousin Christine was hooked up with him? Because he was a freaky-sneaky, abuser-user douche-satchel. Name. Name-game. Namesake. What’s his name? Cartoonish? Cantankerous?


“Hi again,” Mad Dash said. “Nice to greet you again. Guess it’s time for a knockoff, drag-queen fight.”

“Again? I’ve never met you before in my life,” Cadaverous said.

“Well, there’s a second time for everything,” Mad Dash said. “Say, could you clear some zits up for me, because I never could tell before or now. Are you trying to look Goth or trying to look Elmo—Alpo—Emo! That’s it.”

“I’m not trying to look Emo or Goth,” Cadaverous sneered.

“Good, because you were doing a bad job anyway. More like death boiled over.”

“I am death!” Cadaverous shouted, and lunged for Mad Dash.

He never should have had a chance. Cadaverous wasn’t a Speedster; Mad Dash was. But as Dash geared up for speed, he felt dizzy. His lungs wouldn’t work right. His heart pounded erratically. His vision blurred. Cadaverous was going to reach him…

Necro! That’s right! He’s a Necro. Touch me and I’m a do-goner.

The pale hands were close. The eyes filled with gleeful rage. Mouth grinning at wreaking pain and death on Mad Dash once he could exert the full force of his powers through physical contact.

And then Cadaverous’ body stiffened. Jerked. Flailed. And his face contorted.

And Mad Dash noticed that he had shoved the taser baton almost right into Cadaverous’ groin. He felt a moment of elation, followed by mortification.

Oh my Cod! I’m so embarrassed! I’m shoving a baton in a man’s crutch. That’s got to be syllabic, right?

Mad Dash withdrew the weapon, flicking it off, and watched Cadaverous drop to a stunned heap.

He took a deep breath.

He bound the man’s hands and feet with zip ties.

He was about to call the police when he saw mall cops approaching, and decided there was already enough evidence and a victim on the ground at the McDonald’s stand and plenty of witnesses probably still in the parking lot, not to mention the few in the food court. No need to stick around. His heart and lungs were feeling fine again.

And hey, now I really, really don’t need to worry about my cousin hooking back up with this abusive assorted nut-mix.

Mad Dash ran to his backpack and then ran toward home, thinking that the battle seemed awfully anticlimactic in hindsight.

And now I’m craving some fries, he thought, keeping an eye out for the nearest Sonic or Popeye’s as he zipped between the commuting cars heading toward their homes.

* * *

“So, how did the clandestine meeting with the really wicked dangerous bad guys go?” Carl asked by way of launching their debriefing meeting via videoconferencing. Thanks to an Internet connection that was heavily encrypted and being routed through several dummy locations, Query had guaranteed they would have at least 10 minutes of privacy even if someone was monitoring Carl’s office. “I take it no one’s people had to shoot anyone else’s people.”

Onscreen, Carl watched Query glance down at his torso, then look at his palms before placing them on the desk. “I seem to be both free of holes and devoid of blood on my hands, Carl. Satisfied?”

“Ah, but did you learn anything?” Carl prodded. “Because if you learned that you’re at war with Marksburgh kingpins and New Judah kingpins at the same time, I may need a huge raise or maybe a letter of recommendation so I can find a new employer.”

“They wanted to tell me personally they didn’t have anything to do with the two evil clowns,” Query said. “I don’t think they’d come all the way from their home ground to tell me that if it wasn’t true. Seems too elaborate even for a long con. But I’ll keep one eye on Pennsylvania all the same for a while.”

“That’s it? I expected something with more bullets and blows and maybe witty repartee.”

“I insulted them a little,” Query said, and when he saw Carl’s grimace, he added, “Just a little. A nose tweak. A verbal wedgie. Hush-a-Bye isn’t the same, though—that was an interesting thing to learn.”

“I didn’t know you two were well-acquainted enough for you to notice a personality or mood shift,” Carl responded.

“No. She’s literally not the same. I have surveillance photos of Hush-a-Bye from a couple years back. This is a different woman. Cosmetic surgery. Really good surgery. I don’t know how many people would notice the differences but me. Keep that between you and me, though. You spread that info around, and I may have to attend a memorial service for you.”

“Not like it would be the first time a villain—or hero for that matter—replaced a sidekick and gave them the same look. Cosmetic surgery is a little beyond the norm, though. Still, why would GoodKnight care enough to kill if that got out?”

“You’re not seeing the big picture, Carl. The use of the sleepy-time and sound-dampening powers hasn’t changed, but the woman has.”

“What are you gett…” Carl began, then whistled. “Oh, that’s right. GoodKnight’s never exhibited powers. It’s always been Hush-a-Bye. Supposedly. But it would be about near impossible to find another woman with those exact powers. Damn. So, he uses a partner to pretend that the powers don’t come from him. That’s sly. He’s a dangerous piece of work. Don’t insult him again, please. It’s hard enough for me to keep my blood pressure down with Janus right in our backyard and gunning for you. So, if not them, who? Janus trying to wind you up, maybe?”

“Could be,” Query said. “I’m running some theories. For now, cut the connection, go home and buy Patsy a nice dinner. We’ll talk more in person at our next regular meeting.”

* * *

Crazy Jane snuggled closer to Janus on the bed, pressing her breasts into his bicep and cooing. She ran a finger along the edge of his demonic Japanese theater-style mask—she struggled mentally for a moment to remember what he had called it—oh yeah, a hannya mask, she recalled. He’d had it painted blood-red on one side and a mottled moss-like textured mix of greens and yellows on the other.

“You gotta wear the mask here in bed, baby?” she pouted. “I know what you look like underneath it already. Lucky-lucky-ducky me, since I’m one of only four folks to have that honor and still be breathing.”

“I like masks,” Janus replied. “They’re more honest.”

“It is an adorable one,” Crazy Jane admitted. “Y’know, I kinda miss how you used to have the security detail wear kabuki masks like this.”

“Noh,” Janus said.

“No, what?” Crazy Jane asked. “I say something wrong?”

“N-O-H,” Janus spelled. “Noh theater. Kabuki actors wear makeup; Noh actors wear masks.”

“Cool. Naked Japanese theater lessons in bed. Almost as good as the sex—when it happens.”

“My dear,” Janus said. “We have sex at least a couple times a month. I’m a busy man. That’s always been the way it is. And even back when our relationship was young, I was always better at hurting you or terrorizing you than making love. It was far more important for our bonding.”

Crazy Jane kissed him on one masked cheek. “I guess that’s what made the sex all the better when it did happen,” she said wistfully. “And when it still does.” He hadn’t hurt her—not much, anyway—in a long time; it wasn’t necessary anymore, she considered. But the echoes of the cruelty and the things he did to change her were still ringing in her mind even after several years. Reminding her of her place.

She knew she should hate him, but she could never seem to keep a grip on those feelings long enough to do anything with them. Fear, though—she could get a good solid feeling for that when he was really angry with someone or something.

That’s when I run from him for a little while. But I always run back. He’s my man, after all. I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for him. And that would be a shame. I owe him so much. I hope I can make someone as deliciously twisted-up someday. Maybe Dr. Mark. Maybe one of the members of a Madness to My Method.

“Baaaaaaaaaby?” Crazy Jane queried in a sing-song tone. “Can I aaaaaaask a faaaaaaaavor?”

“I’m feeling indulgent. Ask away.”

“Could you pretty please with sugar and gunpowder and cocaine and a cherry bomb on top stop purposefully pissing off Undie?”

Janus groaned. “I should have realized this would happen when you got ‘attached’ to Underworld. Really, Jane, you need to let this work itself out. Or not work itself out. I rather enjoy tweaking her. It’s almost impossible to keep a woman like that in her place—whatever that place might be. My pokes and jabs and threats are the cattle prod I need to keep her doing her part of the work while I do mine.”

“Baby, sometimes you do stupid things,” Crazy Jane said, and felt him tense. “Hey, hey, it’s nothing you haven’t said before, so don’t go getting someone to waterboard me—three days straight of that a few years ago was quite enough. Anyway, what I mean is it’s like those kabuki—I mean, Noh—masks. You realized pretty soon it was too over-the-top for simple security folks. Not to mention kind of an insult to The Fates. I mean, your bodyguard girlie squad already has a Japanese theater/ninja thing going. So you changed course.”

“And?” he prompted, slight irritation in his tone but his body relaxing against hers again.

“Well,” she said with slight hesitation, “this thing with Undie is stupid, too. And disrespectful. I mean, she’s the only person who’s really a peer for you. The Fates protect you. I’m your creation. She’s president to your CEO. You need her and, well…”


“Babycakes, if you don’t lay off a little on reminding her of all the ways you’ve manipulated her and threatened her and inconvenienced her and used her and start letting her enjoy being a criminal mastermind again, she’s gonna kill you.”

“I can handle myself,” Janus said soothingly. “Trust me.”

“You need her, and that might make you hesitate enough that she’ll be able to kill you. I don’t want that,” Crazy Jane said. “How can I properly be monstrous me if my Dr. Frankenstein is gone? And, well, you might manage to kill her and stay alive, and I don’t like that, either. She’s my only real gal-pal. You’re my two sweet things.”

Crazy Jane traced a path up and down Janus’ arm with her fingertip. Looked at him with puppy-dog eyes.

Janus sighed.

“The Noh masks for the staff really were a bit overly theatrical,” he admitted. “Do you really think I could make two stupid mistakes in the same year?”

Crazy Jane didn’t answer; just smiled sweetly. She knew a trick question when she heard one.

“I suppose it’s possible,” Janus admitted eventually, when it was clear she was ignoring the bait. “I’m allowed an off year when I’m setting up a whole new criminal empire in a whole new part of the country, right? Perhaps I am pushing my luck a bit with Underworld. But it’s so…fun. However will I compensate for the loss of those little cruelties? That fun.

Crazy Jane snorted. “All right. You can waterboard me again or put me in the sensory deprivation tank or whatever. Like old times,” she said. “But only as many times a month as I get laid—and I mean the good stuff. Not quickies.”

“Are you trying to trick me into giving you more sex or just minimize how often I might be cruel to you?” Janus asked.

Crazy Jane smiled. Her stomach knotted, but her tattooed face beamed. “Does it matter?”

“No, my dear; no, it does not. You drive a hard bargain, but I will—tone down—my pushing of the envelope with Underworld.”



Posted: 14th May 2015 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories
Tags: , , , ,

“C’mon! Let’s do it!”

The eager hiss of enthusiasm in his tone—the yearning and desire—felt palpable. Almost unbearably intense. Pressuring. Intimidating.

“I don’t know…” I responded uncomfortably.

“C’mon! You know you want to. It’ll be good. I promise,” he urged. “Pleeeeease? For me?”

I fidgeted. “This doesn’t feel right. We’ve been friends. We met in the group. We’ve shared so much in sessions. I mean, I like you. We get along well. But this? This seems like…too much. I think you’re getting too caught up in the stuff we used to talk about in group sessions. You’re attaching too much significance. I don’t think I can do that with you.”

“Why not?” he asked, a hurt wavering just under the surface of his words. A little flutter of offense.

“You’re asking too much.”

“No, I’m asking for what’s right between us.”

“How is this the ‘right’ thing, Josh? How? How is it any more right than just being what we are now? Friends. Why do things have to change?”

“Because we’d be better this way,” he said firmly. “It’s the next level.”

“I dunno…” I whined.

“C’mon! Let’s do it!” he urged once more, the passion in his voice again. “Let’s be arch-nemeses!”

* * *

We’d known each other for a little over a year now; given a shit about each other as friends for the past six or seven. The support group for transhumans had about a dozen regulars who hit almost every session among the 30 or 40 who moved in and out of the group in our time there. Josh and I had started going to the group about the same time—well, he started coming about a week after me. Both of us were regulars.

Neither of us had issues as serious as most of the other regulars. Leslie was a Morphic with scaly green skin. Not a single power that she had ever been able to discover—not that she wanted any. She just wanted to fit in, but puberty brought her lizard flesh right after breasts, pubic hair and pimples. She was 16 and would never be able to fit in again. It was rough on her; she was not only our youngest member but easily our most cluster-fucked. As if 16 wasn’t already hard enough.

A few others like Sean, Janie and Theo also had physical changes that marked them as transhuman. Nothing as dramatic as Leslie’s and they also some powers. Mostly useless, except in Janie’s case—she had an Interfacer ability that could make you feel like ants were crawling all over you. Great if you wanted to get rid of a creepy or annoying date or something, but she didn’t much like having hair the texture of wet spaghetti noodles—and pastel blue at that. She wore wigs most of the time, but they didn’t fit well on her and you could just see the lumpiness underneath them if you were paying attention.

Several others looked perfectly normal but had powers that they couldn’t hide or couldn’t control, thus interfering with daily living or causing them to become objects of ridicule or discrimination.

Josh and me—we were lucky. Our powers were mildly cool and significant; it’s just that neither of us felt like we fit in anywhere in life. We weren’t sure we wanted powers and we knew we weren’t going to fit in with hardcore transhumans most likely, and we also weren’t norms. That kind of fucked with both of us. Group helped us sort things out. Gave us a sense of belonging.

We weren’t misfits there. Or at least we were misfits among other misfits. Away from sessions, we bonded over not just being more than human and less than amazingly transhuman but also over music, junk food, movies—and tennis, of all things.

But shit. Arch-nemeses? Josh wanted us to costume up. Not just costume up, but for one of us to be a hero and one of us to be a villain. What. The. Fuck.

* * *

“How is this supposed to work,” I sighed heavily. “And what possible benefit can this be to us—to me, for that matter?”

“What do you mean: How is it supposed to work?” Josh responded, throwing a question to my questions. “We get costumes. I be the bad buy; you be the hero. We mix it up occasionally.”

“We’re friends, Josh. This would mean ending our friendship.”

He laughed so suddenly and harshly it caught me off-guard. I think it did the same for him, as the guffaws quickly turned to a coughing fit. Once he got himself back together, he dabbed tears from the corner of each eye.

“You don’t get it, do you? Really. You don’t get it,” he said in his best-worst imitation of an exasperated schoolteacher. “Look. I do some crimes. Small stuff, medium stuff—but nobody gets hurt stuff. From time to time, you show up. Sometimes I win, and get away with the loot. Sometimes you win, and I don’t, or I don’t get away with much. But I always get away. You never actually catch me. You thwart me. We give people a show. I give you a cut of the action.”

“Ahhhhhh,” I sighed lightly. “Now I see what you’re driving at. OK. But, aside from a lot of risks and dangers I see here, why you the villain and me the hero? If anything, I’m the more morally fluid of the two of us. You’re more the nice guy.”

“Exactly. I’m kinda sick of being the nice guy and would like a break from that shit sometimes. I’d also like some extra money. And your…moral fluidity…means you won’t just turn your nose up at this kind of venture. I can already see the wheels turning in your head.”

“Allright. I admit you have me thinking,” I answered, “but I’m also thinking about the risks. You commit crimes, you attract cops. Worse yet, you attract white-hat transhumans who might seriously hurt you or at least get you taken into custody by the police.”

“And that’s where you come in,” he countered. “I do a few little nothing jobs that don’t attract much attention and don’t put me at much risk. Then you come on the scene to become my nemesis. You keep showing up every few times I pull a job, the cops are going to just let it be for the most part because they have enough to do. If you’re sitting on my ass—or so they think—they’re going to get complacent and spend time on the bigger, more important fish. Other transhumans have enough on their plates as well and if you and I already have a confrontational thing going, they let us continue it.”

“What makes you figure that?”

“A psych class I took in college on transhuman psychology. A lot of the costumes who are most touched in the head dig on nemesis relationships and establish them early and stay loyal to the few enemies they have. They don’t stray much. And a lot of heroes are fixated on certain types of crime, especially people at risk or being hurt.”

“I think,” I said, drawing out my words slowly, “that you may be oversimplifying things a bit. Transhumans aren’t cookie-cutter people any more than norms are—or low-level trans folks like us.”

“And that’s why we plan this shit out carefully and keep it so that it’s not attractive to white hats and not imperative for cops to respond to. And you make it clear that you’re working hard to keep me from criminal success and eventually take me in. Hell, I even have names for us. I’ll be Id and you’ll be SuperEgo.”

* * *

Clearly Josh had done the Cliff’s Notes version of his psych classes. Hell, I wasn’t even all that confident enough people would have enough rudimentary knowledge of Freud’s theories to even know what the id and super-ego were.

People weren’t going to have a clue what Josh was and a lot of them were going to assume I was SuperConceitedPerson instead of the embodiment of morality serving as the foil to the embodiment of self-gratification.

But hey, he had some good points, and I guess after being in group for a while, I was getting kind of tired of whining about how I didn’t fit into the norm world or the transhuman one. Why not just do both?

As for fighting, Josh was a Morph. He could make these spiky protrusions that looked wicked as hell but mostly were harmless. I mean, he could make them be sharp and potentially harmful, but that took a lot of concentration and he couldn’t make as many pop up. He could make it look like he was dangerous as hell, we could fight, and his “spikes” could bend and break against my skin, making it look like I was a Brute—when in fact all I had were mild empathic powers.

However, those empathic powers could help me sense if there was any malice directed our way, so we could hopefully avoid getting ambushed by cops, transhumans or over-eager civilians.

SuperEgo, though? Man, that sounded almost as stupid as Id. But hell, if this worked, it meant some extra spending money. And no one got hurt.

* * *

“You don’t think it’s a little—contrived?” I challenged Josh. “Id and SuperEgo? A little…I dunno…convenient?

“Well, that’s the beauty of me doing a few crimes and getting just enough attention for myself,” he offered. “And I’ll call the media; make myself known. No one will give much of a crap about a newbie with no street cred, but it will be enough to make it plausible you fixated on me and named yourself to match my name—or counter it, as it were.”

“There are so many ways this could go wrong,” I moaned. But it was a half-hearted moan, and Josh knew me too well.

“Yeah, but it will be fun as hell, won’t it?”

* * *

It went so well for three months it was almost scary.

No, scratch that. It was scary. Josh’s theories all played out with perfect precision. Hell, I started to wonder if he might have some Psi precognitive powers or was a Brain or something.

We weren’t getting rich by any means, thanks to our “keep it under the radar” policy and our lack of desire to actually hurt anyone. But we were making decent bank in addition to our regular jobs. And this extra stuff was all tax-free. And, for the most part, thefts that were covered by insurance policies. Victimless crimes—or as close as we could manage, anyway.

I was even starting to like my aqua-and-sage bodysuit with the all-white full-head mask. Made me feel cool. Empowered. Sexy, even. Josh didn’t look half-bad in his Id costume, either. Red bodysuit, forest-green vest with “Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll” stenciled on it in white, with an all-black full head mask. We weren’t visual mirror images of each other, but in a way, it kind of felt that way.

And all the while, seeming to be adversaries and working like a well-oiled machine. Like we’d been doing it for years.

So well. So smooth. So perfect.

Of course it would have to go to hell, right?

* * *

Id and I had finished yet another job. We’d “fought” and he’d run off with a little under half the ill-gotten gains he’d been going for. I’d surreptitiously snatched up a few leftovers that, of course, everyone would assume had went with him. But overall, it looked like I’d foiled him at least in part.

And now we were meeting in a dark alley to split the proceeds and get ready to go our separate ways. For a little while at least; we’d meet up later for a bite at the Caped Cuisiner, wearing different costumes like so many of the fanboys and fangirls who hung out there hoping to rub elbows with a few real costumed transhumans, whether heroes or villains. You could never be sure who was real or wasn’t in a restaurant like that. It was part of the allure.

Neither Josh nor I expected to have an audience of one at the end of the alley. I had sensed something—predatory—in my mind. We both froze when we saw her and I figured that Josh’s heart rate was at least as overhyped as mine was. Id and SuperEgo seen together. We might actually have to fight a costumed hero.

Or was it a hero?

The woman calmly appraising us was someone I didn’t recognize. I shot a quick glance at Josh and he seemed to understand my intent—maybe it was a little of my empathic powers transmitting my worries to him. He gave me a look that screamed: I don’t know who the hell this is, either.

Our observer smiled and stepped into the alley. Put up her hands in a way that suggested I mean you no harm. But her red eyes seemed to hold some kind of vague threat all the same.

She looked all the part of a Goth wet dream, with powder or foundation that gave her face a very pale look, with heavily kohl-lined eyes—those red, red eyes. A demon crimson that I wasn’t sure was Morphic in nature or colored contacts. Two black circles on each cheek and glossy black lips. From the neck up, looking all the world like some Goth doll or puppet. From the neck down, an outfit that seemed part Catholic schoolgirl from hell and half succubus going to a rave.

The woman tapped one high-heeled red pump-sheathed foot attached to a mesh-nyloned leg. She smiled a smile both warm and cold.

“A bit contrived, don’t you think?” she asked, and that voice seemed to fill not only my ears but every open crevice in my brain. “SuperEgo and Id. Didn’t you think someone might catch on?”

Josh’s mouth hung slack and he managed an “Um” before he said lamely, “What do you mean?”

We couldn’t look weak; not now. “Who are you?” I demanded, though I realized my voice was sluggish and low. Much like my thoughts. But those at least were beginning to clear now.

“Now, now,” the strange woman chided, and I felt that clarity shatter as her voice hit all the right notes to make me do nothing but listen attentively. “Let’s not play dumb, Id. And SuperEgo, that’s all right. My name is Caterwaul. I’m an associate of Janus and Underworld, and I just want to get to know you both a little better.”

I saw Josh lick his lips and blink almost sleepily. At the “a little better” part, I swore I saw his eyes light up with desire.

“Man, you’re hot, Caterwaul,” he said in a near-stutter. “Oh, God, I’m sorry. I don’t want to offend someone who…”

“No offense taken,” came the silken reply. “I might let a costumed guy of a certain persuasion buy me a drink sometime. But I wonder if the surprise under my costume might be too much for him to handle.” At that, Caterwaul thrust her pelvis just a little, but lewdly all the same, and I wondered if I saw a bulge there. I wondered what she—or he?—really wanted with us.

“Why would we warrant your attention?” I asked. “Are we stepping on your bosses’ territory? Are you here to…”

“…hurt you?” Caterwaul offered. “Do I need to?”

Josh and I both shook our heads, though I wasn’t certain if she did need to. Or wanted to. Or what we could do to avoid something like that. She oozed menace even as her voice made me want to sit down in front of her and ask her to just talk to me forever. I wanted to have her whisper sweet-anythings in my ear—and I’m not even into women.

“Territory,” Caterwaul said. “Well, one could say that all of New Judah is the territory of Janus and my lovely boss Underworld. One could say you owe us a cut of your action.”

It all clicked into place. Then again, Caterwaul had made it pretty obvious even to my semi-addled brain.

“We don’t make all that much,” I said unsteadily. “I mean, maybe you think we do, but I’m afraid—and I mean literally afraid—that even if we handed the whole amount of tonight’s take you’d be offended.”

“Ten percent will be fine,” Caterwaul said. “Now and in the future. Here’s a card. You can call it to get more instructions on where to put the current and future tributes to Janus and Underworld. We’ll do the honor system—for now. Hopefully we can keep it that way. You’d be surprised how much money adds up when you have enough small-timers in a giving mood.”

I took the card with a trembling hand, and shivered in I don’t know what kind of emotion as Caterwaul’s fingers lightly grazed mine.

“Ta-ta now,” she said, and turned sharply on one scarlet heel to stride away, hips swaying languidly.

I looked at Josh. He stared back helplessly, the nerdy good boy at the fore. Confused and uncertain now.

“We can’t go back now,” I said. “I don’t think that not producing income for them is going to be good for our health.”

* * *

It was scary, those next three jobs, even if they were lower-key and safer than the three before. We were shaken to the core. Uneasy. Nervous. Bad combination for pulling off flawless crimes and performances.

But we got our rhythm back. We found the joy. And ten percent wasn’t the worst thing in the world. We stepped up our game for the next couple jobs. We were back.

But, you know, some things aren’t meant to last.

* * *

“A bit contrived, don’t you think?”

The words sent a chill up my spine. Exactly the ones Caterwaul had said before. Burned into my mind. But this time a man’s voice.

A man all in black. Black mask that was almost a helmet, with no eye holes and no features except a red question mark over his mouth. His leather duster billowed slightly with a gust of wind.

One of the heroes you least wanted to be known by. Not the most violent, but the one who seemed to have eyes everywhere in the city and have agendas mostly his own.

“Oh, God,” I moaned.

“Relax,” he said. “Or try to. You two are stupid as hell doing this, and it’s going to end in tears one day. Frankly, I don’t have time or inclination to bust you for your small-time shit. You keep not hurting people, I keep not caring much. Except for one little thing. Your work is going to put you in contact with information and people. I’m going to expect to hear some of that information from you. That will keep you out of jail—at least as far as I’m concerned. Here’s a card with a number. Use it. If not often, at least enough to let me know you’re serious about remaining free birds.”

I took yet another card, with fingers just as jittery.

And yet another costumed transhuman walked away from us leaving nothing behind but demands and ultimatums.

I looked at Josh—at Id. He looked at me—SuperEgo.

We were now on the hook to the toughest villains in the city and to the most mysterious hero in it. Two fake nemeses who had to produce assets for some very real ones.

How long before those interests collided?

How long before one or the other knew we were working for the enemy?

It was going to be a while before we found our rhythm again. We would. I was sure of it. We were survivors now. Veterans.

We were also well and truly screwed.

Sick Leave

Posted: 2nd May 2015 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories
Tags: , ,

This story may be completely understandable as a standalone tale, but as it take place as part of series events following what happens in the stories “Dividing by Zero,”Ill Wind” and “Spreading the Love,” so I highly suggest you read those tales first to better understand Larry/Malady and Gustavo/Patient Zero. There will be at least one more story featuring Patient Zero, maybe even two or three more, following from these three chronologically.


Sick Leave

Dividing his life into eras had become one of the key sanity-preserving hobbies of Larry Blanchard lately. The time before he had a largely scarred body and now the time after, where he looked like he’d been trampled by a stampede of vegetable peelers and steak knives and then trod on by the spurs of the cowboys trying to wrangle them. The time when he was a correctional officer and then the time he was a henchman for the world’s only known serial mass-murderer (and transhuman) Patient Zero.

Or, the time of his life he thought of B.C. (before coach) and now A.D. (automobile dominated).

There was a time when, if he needed to go a long distance, the challenge wasn’t how to get there fast but how to find the cheapest airfare. Now, as scarred as he was and considering that he was working for the most-wanted psycho in the world—well, certainly North America—he couldn’t just hop on a plane. His all-black ensemble, complete with sky mask and sunglasses, would pretty much advertise to those in the know that Malady was on board—and going in civilian mode would draw attention to him thanks to his ravaged visage, and thus still pose a risk.

And Gustavo Dobbins, otherwise known as Patient Zero, might be filthy rich from his career of killing off neighborhood, enclaves and sometimes whole towns for drug lords and other scum but he certainly wasn’t trying to blow his wealth on a private or chartered plane for his henchman.

So, lot of chauffeured car rides for Larry. Gustavo didn’t want him falling asleep at the wheel or arriving to carry out business affairs exhausted, and a good sedan or even limo was way cheaper than a plane or helicopter.

Today was yet another long ride, this time a rare one back from far north for a morally deficient land developer client in Canada who apparently wanted a small indigenous Indian tribe removed from the map.

Considering Gustavo’s nearest home these days was outside Mexico City, Malady—

No, I can’t let myself start calling myself that in my head; I have to be Malady for Patient Zero and in the grander scheme for my children’s future, but I have to remain who I was—who I am—for myself.

—Larry was ready for a long shower and a soft bed. Only minutes to go to get there, and as much as it strained his peace of mind, conscience and sanity to be in the same house as Patient Zero serving as henchman more intimately and directly than he had been for several days now, those were minutes of relief.

Soon, an end to my latest travel and maybe a rest for a bit before I either accompany Gustavo to lay waste to our latest target or carry a virus there myself that he’s created in his body and transferred to mine.

That sense of relief didn’t last long, though, when Larry noticed a man in costume clearly attending to Gustavo.

Clearly henching for him.

* * *

It took more than two hours of awkward silence and more awkward looks between Larry and the new guy before Gustavo addressed the elephant in the room. He’d clearly been relishing the many uncomfortable moments during that time.

“Malady,” Gustavo said to Larry, “meet Vector. I know it has been a great strain for you to be my henchman. I know you have had to make so many adjustments and compromises hunching for me. And all those lives you’ve helped me take cannot have made it easier. So I’ve employed new blood, Malady. So that you can go back to being Larry.”

“You never mentioned…” Larry began hesitantly, a tremor in his voice.

“…I wanted to surprise you,” Malady, said Gustavo, a glint in his eyes not unlike before he was getting ready to begin a job as Patient Zero. “You have done so much for me and been so patient. I want to reward that. And if you could devote yourself for the next few days before my next task to train Vector in your duties and my preferences, that would be lovely.”

The more the talk of henching and mass-murder assassination jobs went on, the less Larry saw Gustavo and the more he saw Patient Zero coming forth—the same man, of course, but the intensity and demeanor just slightly different in a way few others would notice. And that made Larry notice Patient Zero’s new henchman—his replacement—more closely. A costume so different from his own, in part because it didn’t need to hide scarring caused by carrying the virus that helped Patient Zero escape prison and imminent execution. A costume that was, in essence, a high-end suit with a biohazard symbol on one lapel of the coat, with a stylized lower-face mask that resembled a cross between a muzzle and a surgical mask.

“Sure,” Larry said finally. “Sure, boss, I can train him up for you. Um…thanks.”

* * *

That night, Larry awoke in a cold sweat with one thought: He’s gonna kill me.

What else could this be about? Why the sudden need for a new henchman?

Because you keep making it clear how unhappy you are to be one, dipshit. You’re not fully committed to your job.

True, he told himself. But then his thoughts went afield again. Patient Zero couldn’t let him go free as a potential witness.

But then again, if he wanted Larry dead, that would be easy. Patient Zero could concoct a wildly deadly virus with his transhuman powers, introduce it into Larry and then lock him in his bedroom for a few hours—a couple days at most—until he was dead. Or, more efficient yet, have one of the people in his employ simply shoot Larry in the back of the head. Larry hadn’t gotten any training; why would Gustavo have him train Vector unless he saw value in Larry’s experience and skills?

Gustavo was a sociopath to be sure. And creepy as hell. And both to the Nth degree when he was in full Patient Zero mode. But he wasn’t sadistic. He didn’t drag out pain and suffering for some deviant joy in playing with his prey like a cat with a mouse.

And besides, letting Larry go wasn’t, as far as risks went, all that risky for Patient Zero. Larry couldn’t afford to rat on Gustavo because then he’d draw attention to himself. If he did that, people would know Larry Blanchard was still alive. That would mean being named as a direct accessory in not only Patient Zero’s escape but the virus-initiated murders of hundreds of people in and near the prison. That would mean the almost-certain uncovering of the accounts into which Larry’s payment for the prison break had been deposited. That would mean his children never getting the security in adulthood that the money had been intended for. It would mean failing his children and losing to his ex-wife.

But if he doesn’t want to kill me, what? Or is there any kind of angle? Can I finally be free?

* * *

The next day was much less awkward. Gustavo was in good humor and Vector seemed to be taking Larry’s training in stride. The two henchman—current and future—even traded a couple jokes.

Gustavo took lunch with Vector alone and left Larry to his own devices. Not that it meant any lack of sustenance; Larry simply had the live-in housekeeper cook up a nice plate of tortillas, rice and carnitas. But he felt a little twinge of being out of the loop. No doubt the two would be talking details of the upcoming job.

But still, Larry reminded himself, this meant being free. No more carrying viruses inside his body to be a willing Typhoid Mary-like murderer. No more assaults and plotting and violations of women’s bodies and dozens or hundreds of deaths on his conscience.

Because he didn’t enjoy any of that. Didn’t enjoy the power—well, the sense of power; he wasn’t choosing these paths, after all.

It’s not like I sought out the pleasure of rape or killing. I mean, I don’t really like it. It’s not that much of a rush.

And those four words echoing in his head: I can be free.

* * *

Another fitful night of sleep. Another early-morning epiphany.

What would I be returning to?

Larry couldn’t re-enter his children’s lives. And a personal life? The way he looked, he’d never attract a woman worth having until he literally paid for her regular services or burned up the money meant for his kids to have a truly kept woman who knew how to pretend he wasn’t hideous.

He couldn’t live where he wanted. He’d have to hole up in backwater towns in Mexico and Central America, probably. He could do that comfortably enough for years without much denting the money meant for his kids, but it wouldn’t be as comfortable as his life now. And he’d have to be looking over his shoulder wondering if someone who was attached to one of Patient Zero’s targets or an enemy of one his clients might recognize and kill him.

Where would I go? What would I do? Who would care about me?

* * *

The next day, Vector was sitting in front of one of Gustavo’s computers while Larry ran him through some of the daily and weekly tasks of scheduling, procurement and the like.

Gustavo walked in, smiling at both of them.

“How goes the training, Larry,” Patient Zero asked him. “Is Vector coming along nicely? Are you looking forward to a normal life again?”

Normal? There could never be “normal” again.

“And Vector, are you looking forward to the job? So many things to show you.”

A future. Where is my future? What is my future?

“I’ll leave you two boys to it, then,” said Patient Zero. He smiled more broadly at Larry.

Larry pulled the Bowie knife that he kept on his belt. He plunged it deep. Deep into Vector’s throat. Blood sprayed across the computer monitor and keyboard. Splattered the desk. Wetted Larry’s black clothes, leaving them stick and shiny but, of course, the red nearly invisible against the black.

Larry plunged the knife again and again. Listened to Vector’s cries as they turned to gasps and as they turned to barely hitching breaths and then to low, tortured moans.

Malady kept stabbing when Vector wasn’t even making any sounds anymore. He did it two dozen more times before he stopped.

Before Malady looked into the eyes of Patient Zero. His only benefactor. His only ally. The only one who understood him. Who understood the Malady that had taken the place of Larry. The only one who understood Malady’s place.

My place.

“You don’t need a replacement, boss,” Malady said, with no tremor. “I’ve got you covered.”

Patient Zero regarded him calmly, intently for a few moments. Then he smiled again. That smile Malady had seen so often. One that might be called seductive if there were anything sexual or even the hint of it between the men.

“Very good, Malady. I’ll leave you to clean up the loose ends, then.”


The Gathering Storm, Part 40

Posted: 27th April 2015 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in The Gathering Storm series
Tags: , , , , ,

[ – To view a list of all current chapters, click here – ]

I would recommend that before you read this chapter, whether you’re a long-term fan of this storyline or not, that you go to the link above and read at least the previous chapter and perhaps better yet, both previous chapters (after all, it’s been nearly a year since I wrote the previous chapter…*sigh*). Assuming, of course, you didn’t just do that in the past few days or weeks, in which case it is probably a moot point. However, I did take a very long break at kind of a weird point in the story, and this chapter picks up directly from the last one. The stuff about Cole/Quantum may be particularly confusing if you’re not fresh on the previous chapters. Things are quickly coming to a head, and I figure there are only between five and eight chapters left before this comes to a conclusion and I move on to the next series.

The closer he got to the Guardian Corps headquarters, the more Cole wished his vision would just return to normal so he wouldn’t have to talk about it with anyone. It didn’t matter that he knew how stupid that sounded even saying it silently in his brain. This was a serious problem and if it just “went away” he was still going to have to dread it might return.

He needed a friend right now, and he had precious few of them in the world of costumed transhumans. Desperado knew his worth and knew his loyalty and still poisoned the hearts of most the guys in the Guardian Corps to see Cole not as Quantum but as some overeducated, know-it-all asshole.

Key word: Guys.

Desperado is even more dedicated to being a male chauvinist pig and borderline misogynist than he is to making my life miserable and trying to undermine my efforts to become a costumed crimefighter, Cole considered. I have friends among the relatively few women in the Guardian Corps, and two stand out more than the others.

As it happened, both were there when he arrived, lounging just outside the room “assigned” to the women in the Corps—trying to hear and know as much as possible and refusing to be shut out, even though they knew they could rarely penetrate the inner circle that Desperado and his lieutenants had so carefully fortified.

PrinSass’ deep brown eyes caught his before Sweet Talker’s did, and it struck Cole as ironic that the brawny one of the two of them—the ass kicker—would be the one with more sensitivity to the fact he has a predicament than would the one who was tasked with most of the interrogation duties around here.

She tapped Sweet Talker on the shoulder, nodded toward Cole and then jerked her head in the direction of the door to the “ladies’ area.”

Once behind the pink door, PrinSass wasted no time. “What’s the matter, Quantum?” she asked Cole. “Ya look like you’re gonna pass out or like you’ve seen a ghost or some shit.”

In a mostly coherent but still jumbled and frantic stream, Cole told them both about his sudden vision changes—how all the colors he saw were wrong now. He was shaking and occasionally mumbling things like “Oh God is it cancer?” or “I feel like I’m going crazy.”

PrinSass laid her broad, strong hand on his shoulder. “Calm the shit down, Quantum,” she said softly and with no small amount of sympathy despite the choice of words. He shuddered once, then twice in succession, then took a deep breath and seemed to center himself. “Y’ain’t gonna die, home-slice,” she told him gently but firmly. “Y’ain’t gonna like it, either, but y’aint gonna die. And crazy ain’t on the list either.”

Cole paused, looked at Sweet Talker—who simply smiled and shrugged and nodded toward PrinSass—and then looked PriSass right in the eyes. “What, then? What’s happening to me?”

“I don’t know no one who’s had it happen to them, but I know some folks who know about some Warpsmiths and shift-running Speedsters and Ectos who’ve had to deal with weird shit ’long the same lines,” she said. “Apparently people who connect to hyperspatial realms like y’all do sometimes get this weird shift where the whole world turns into like a color negative or something—inverted colors, I think it is. And usually it don’t get better. Sorry. But at least it ain’t the end of the world. Kind of like dyslexia, though; you’re gonna have to relearn the colors all over now to make the world make sense again.”

“I don’t wanna relearn all the colors, PrinSass,” Cole whined, hating himself for the pathetic sound. “I mean, you look light blue instead of brown; Sweet Talker looks dark blue instead of white. This is like the visual equivalent of bugs crawling all over me. It’s freaking me out,” he finished, his voice almost hysterical.

Unexpectedly, PrinSass caught him up in a hug. She squeezed hard, but not nearly has hard as she could have. Cole considered that if she had, he’d be headed for the emergency room for a few cracked ribs.

“C’mon,” she urged with a lighthearted tone, “now you’ll hardly be able to tell the Black people from the whitefolk; might get rid of any lingering racial bias and white privilege shit you mighta been packing still. Hey, dontch’a worry. Sweet Talker and me can find someone who can help you out soon, and we won’t say shit to Desperado. Fuck him. He’s just looking for a reason to boot ya, Quantum, and we ain’t havin’ none’a that. We’re gonna make sure if you leave here, you leave on your terms.”

Cole hugged PrinSass back, and felt a little guilty wishing it were Sweet Talker instead.

Dammit! he thought, Sweet Talker said all those weeks back I was crushing on her, and I denied it to her and to myself. And if there ever was a chance for me with her, now I look like a pathetic, blubbering idiot. I’m acting like I went blind. Some hero.

* * *

A few hours later, with Cole calmed down and having been left under Sweet Talker’s watchful eye, PrinSass asked around and got a general idea where Epitaph had last been spotted today. A couple hours later, she finally found him and asked him to join her in a nearby diner.

“Look, I like you but I don’t have time and patience for your weird-ass quotes and trying to figure out what you’re really saying, so don’t talk. Or, better yet, write the shit down since at least you can write normal,” she said once they had been seated at a booth. “I know you do more than just watch out for us Guardian Corps types and help us out like one of our own. I know you’re reporting back to someone. A supporter or something. Someone with resources, I’m guessin’. Well, I’m tellin’ ya on the down-low, because I know you’ve a soft spot for him, that Quantum’s got that crazy thing with his vision some Ectos get. If you don’t know what I’m talkin’ about, hit the Internet like Quantum didn’t because he was too freaked out to think about doin’ the obvious. While you’re at it, think about how much Desperado doesn’t like him and how he’d be much better somewhere where people other than just me, Sweet Talker and a few of the other gals are giving a shit about him. I bet the person you report to can help with that. Now, I’ve said my piece, you can start talking crazy now if you wanna, and let’s order some food. I’m starving.”

Epitaph frowned. He’d already known and made it clear to Query that Cole needed to be out the Corps if he was going to do any good as Quantum and survive the streets. This new information kicked things up a notch. And it pushed him into a corner. He’d just gotten a job offer from Fortunato that morning to join up on the man’s fledgling team, and even though Query wanted him to be his eyes and ears there just like he was with the Guardian Corps, he hadn’t been sure he liked the idea of being part of any operation the billionaire former crimefighter was running.

I know Query gave Fortunato Cole’s name already as a potential team member, but that was before this latest twist for the young man, Epitaph fretted. Now I feel like I have to join to keep an eye on him, because there’s no doubt Fortunato will use Cole’s physical woes for leverage on him.

“If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character, would you slow down? Or speed up? We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will. You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be,” Epitaph said, his brain calling up some writings of freelance journalist, satirist and novelist Chuck Palahniuk and earning a frown from PrinSass, who was probably regretting her offer to let him speak. He smiled at her sympathetically and added, hoping to comfort her but realizing it would only mean more confusion, “Youth lives on hope, old age on remembrance.”

PrinSass frowned and pulled a pad and pen out of her purse, pushing both across the table. “Mind clearing that all up for me?” she asked.

Epitaph smiled, took up the pen and wrote: Cole can’t change anything happening to him except to give up his new costumed life. He won’t. I’ll look after him. Least I can do as an “old guy.”

PrinSass smiled. “Not just as an ‘old guy’,” she noted. “A friend. One thing less for me to worry about. ‘Cept maybe to wonder when I’ll finally just open-hand smack Desperado across the face and knock half the teeth out of his head.”

* * *

Feral raised one clawed glove above the prone man whose chest he was currently straddling. He licked his lips in anticipation of the feel of flesh splitting. The spray of blood. The dimming of life in the criminal’s eyes.

These were the things he lived for.

His arm tensed. His mind settled on its goal. Claws flashed downward.

And then a sudden wrenching thought of What? as there was a very real physical wrenching of his arm. As he heard something snap and as he was flung into the nearby wall of a building. His arm was in agony, but he summoned his Primal powers and began to feel the berserker rage fill him. He stood up and faced…

A gun. Aiming right at his face.

A gun. Only inches away.

A gun. Held by Query.

“Tamp down the Primal powers, Feral, or these will be the last few seconds of your life.”

Feral clenched his teeth. Clenched his fists. Forced down the animal rage and let normal, human rage suffice. His lips curled into a snarl. “Stay out of my business. I’m dealing with human scum here.” He glanced past Query to see that the man on the ground wasn’t going anywhere, caught up in myriad tangler grenade tendrils.

How the fuck did Query manage to get the drop on me, break my arm, point a gun at me and toss a tangler at my perp? My prey.

“Good motherfucking boy,” Query taunted with a ragged edge to his voice. “So, what’s this one’s crime? What makes him deserve death like the two Peregrine was fighting didn’t?”

“Leave me to my business,” Feral said. “He fucks up women, all right? Ain’t that enough?”

“Yeah, I recall you being quite the feminist,” Query snapped sarcastically. “I’ll ask you again: What crime did he do that deserves death?”

“Like you haven’t killed anyone, Query,” Feral snarled. “He beats the fuck out of women, OK? Good enough for you?”

Query cocked back the hammer of the .357 magnum he had trained on Feral. He’d chose the revolver for effect and exactly so he could cock back the hammer at some point in this conversation. “I’m only going to ask one more motherfucking time, and if I don’t get an honest answer, I might just paint that wall behind you with what passes for a brain inside your dense goddamn skull. What did he do?

“He hit his girlfriend.”

Query slowly lowered the hammer of the .357 back down just so that he could cock it back again—which he did. “That’s all?” he asked in perfect sync with the click of the pistol’s hammer.

“He hit her a few times, OK? Leave me to handle this. I don’t tell you how to do your job.”

“Did he break anything really serious? Is she in the hospital? Is she disfigured? Dead?”

Feral hesitated, and he knew in that pause he’d told Query too much already. “No,” he admitted sullenly.

“I think I was very clear on telling you to restrain yourself. I’m a really big fan of women, Feral, but even I don’t think simple assault, even man-on-woman, deserves a death sentence. One might argue your actions do, though, given the body count you’ve generated in just a few days.”

“Great. You gonna kill me, Query? Is that gonna make you feel better? I thought you saved that for self-defense and shit like that. You gonna become an executioner now?”

Query stepped forward and pressed the barrel of the gun against the pale skin of Feral’s forehead, contrasting with his dark, unkempt hair. Humiliatingly and against his deepest desires, Feral flinched and squeezed his eyes shut. He could think of no one in the world he had ever hated more than Query right now.

The impassive black mask—more a light helmet than a mask, really, and bearing no visible lenses or eye holes—remained fixed on Feral. The gun did not waver. Neither did it discharge.

“Even Ladykiller wouldn’t gut someone just for a couple slaps or punches against a woman; even she has more sense and restraint than you,” Query sneered. “You are no longer welcome in my city.”

“Hey! It’s my city, too!” Feral protested.

Query’s left hand, holding the .357, had never wavered. Now, out of nowhere, his right hand joined the game, pressing a Desert Eagle pistol against Feral’s throat.

“No, it isn’t. You no longer have any New Judah privileges. If you are still here 24 hours from now, Feral, even if you’re hiding out in the woods far from most of the people, I will put bullets in every part of you that isn’t fatal. I will cripple you and I will laugh at you when I am done. I told you the rules; you broke them. You’re only a couple encounters away from killing a jaywalker or a shoplifter at this point. This city deserves better than you. You are evicted.”

Feral opened his mouth; Query pressed the Desert Eagle firmly into his Adam’s apple, making him gag.

“If you say one damn word that sounds remotely like a retort, I may kill you instead of crippling you. This isn’t a debate. This is a mandate. You will leave town. Or I will have no mercy. Take it or leave it.”

Feral said nothing for a few seconds, and then he closed his eyes and nodded shallowly. “All right. I’m gone in 24 hours or less.”

“No body count in that time, Feral. You savvy?”

“I won’t kill anyone before I leave,” Feral said.

“You won’t so much as break someone’s nail or give them a charley horse. Clear?”

“Yeah. Crystal clear.”

“I’m going to lower my guns now and trust your word for at least the next 24 hours, Feral. If you so much as sneeze before I leave here, you had better by God have your soul sorted out before you do because I will end you on the assumption you’re about to jump me. When you are out of Lark County you can remove the tracker I made you wear. Don’t ever come back to this city. Or this county. In fact, I would highly recommend that you never set foot in Connecticut again just to be on the safe side.”

Feral nodded; Query lowered the guns.

For a split-second, Feral considered taking Query out. The featureless black mask staring back at him, though, seemed like the eye of God. He could almost imagine the face behind the mask watching for the slightest misstep.

I’m thinking Marksburgh is more my speed anyway, Feral thought irritably but with a growing sense of purpose and hope. I can have my dignity back. Fuck New Judah and everyone in it. Time to go a city that appreciates violence and where I can be a real hero.

* * *

“I’m here,” Query said to the villainous pair of Hush-a-Bye and GoodKnight as he stepped into the mostly empty lot ringed by streetlamps that seemed only half committed to their job. “ As agreed, we both have shooters watching for any shenanigans and, if there are any, all three of us are dead. Let’s hope they didn’t all pick the same rooftop and are currently trying to kill each other. Bear in mind that I’ve just had to deal with an unpleasant situation and that my life has been threatened quite a lot more than normal lately, and you would be well-advised to get to the point—fast.”

On all fours with a leash attached to his neck, GoodKnight looked up at Hush-a-Bye, dressed in full-on dominatrix mode, and cocked his leather-hooded head toward Query.

“Oh, and by the way, great job on her cosmetic surgery; she almost looks like the original,” Query added to GoodKnight and then turned his gaze to Hush-a-Bye. “Almost could have fooled me—if I wasn’t me. I hope the two of you are at least as happy together in BDSM bliss as he and the first Hush-a-Bye were.”

Hush-a-Bye sighed, and looked at the black-clad vigilante with naked condescension.

“Is there some reason that you need to be quite so personal and hurtful, Query?” she asked. She stroked the back of GoodKnight’s hooded head to soothe him as she felt him tense to strike.

“You sent a pair of killers after me,” Query said. “And, as I said, it’s already been a bad night and the two of you are bad news. I don’t like the Marksburgh stink of you smelling up New Judah.”

“We sent no one to kill you, Query,” Hush-a-Bye said coolly. “I think you know that.”

“Well, the insulting part of my retort still applies,” he responded. “You wanted this meeting. Why?”

“To tell you in person that we have no designs against you and no hand in any attacks upon your person,” she answered, as she turned to lead GoodKnight away by his leash. The knives and guns sheathed and holstered on his torso glittered in the lights of the streetlamps. “No matter how much your crude behavior would make me wish otherwise. We simply thought you should know that other criminal elements care what you do here. We do not. Kindly do not darken our door in Marksburgh, and we shall extend the same courtesy here in New Judah.”
[ – To view the next chapter, click here – ]

Change Is Hard

Posted: 13th July 2014 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories

This story is a direct sequel to (taking place mere weeks after) the story “A Farewell to Blue.” So, I recommend you click on the title of that story in the previous sentence to read (or re-read) it and have some context as to the character of Mr. Indigo and the situation he is dealing with.

He faced a mask across the table from him.

Déjà vu.

A mask unlike his own, though. Well, both of them helmets, really. His own a full-head affair of cobalt blue metal roughly Mr-Indigo-fistthe same shape as that of DC Comics hero Doctor Fate; hers a golden helmet in the likeness of a woman’s face, with green lenses over the eyes, full bronze-colored lips and designs that suggested something of ancient Babylonian themes or some similar Mesopotamian culture.

So much like last time, yet so different.

Before, he had been at this same table in this same restaurant squaring off against a man dressed all in blue with a large domino mask covering nearly half his face and a fedora atop his head. A man named Blue Deacon. A man he’d been convinced to compete against for the right to keep his own costumed name, the similar Deacon Blue.

He’d lost.

Now he was Mr. Indigo, and Blue Deacon had taken great pains a few times over the past few weeks to drop his own name—the one he’d won the right to keep—with emphasis in Mr. Indigo’s presence.

Salt in the wound.

But there was still a score to settle, and a second bet they had agreed to right after Mr. Indigo had lost their first one. This one he intended to win.

And that was the key difference between this meeting of himself and another transhuman, aside from the costume and gender differences, and the previous meeting.

Last time, I was facing an adversary and an asshole. This time I’m looking for an ally.

* * *

Babylon Sister laughed behind her golden mask as she pulled the fur-trimmed cloak from her shoulders, revealing a costume of metal and material that seemed to combine the best aspects of both a formal woman’s dress and combat armor.

As the sound faded, Mr. Indigo realized what his own laughs must sound like to others through his helmet. Metallic and rasping. Guffaws caught in a tin can. Chuckles trying to escape echo chambers.

“What’s so funny?” he asked amiably with his own tinny voice through his own headgear.

“The sight of you sticking that straw up under your helmet and sucking down that iced coffee,” Babylon Sister said, sipping at her own. “I have a hole in my fake metal lips, so I look normal. You just look silly. Hard to be threatening like that.”

“Ah, but a hole in the middle of the bottom of my helmet would look silly in my case, and I don’t have iced coffees with me out on the street, so I can look as threatening as I want to be. Right now I just need to cool off, before I head back out to the mean streets. Even in early November, it gets sweaty under all this costume.”

“I hear that,” Babylon Sister answered, taking another swallow of her own drink. She paused for a while, and neither said anything, until she finally ventured, “You know, it really is an honor to meet you, Deacon Blue. You may not be the most high-profile hero in the city, but you have a good reputation.”

“Thanks, but it’s not Deacon Blue anymore,” he answered. “It’s Mr. Indigo.”

“Too bad. Why? Did the members of Steely Dan threaten to sue you? I assume your name came inspired from their song ‘Deacon Blues.’ Saw them in their Think Fast tour last year. I was raised on their music, along with Stevie Wonder, the Jackson family and America. Cool to see them live for the first time, even as old-timers; didn’t strike me as the kind of guys who would freak because your name is close to one of their songs.”

“They didn’t have anything to do with it,” Mr. Indigo said. “Hell, I was always more worried that the Scottish band Deacon Blue would sue me since our names were identical. I actually approached Steely Dan at one point to see about some cross-promotion, given my name, but they weren’t interested. They mentioned they dug the fact I named myself out of inspiration from one their songs, though. No, I lost my name in a bet to a jerkwad named Blue Deacon, who objected to our names being so similar. That’s actually why I contacted you.”

“And not because we’re both Steely Dan fans?”

Mr. Indigo unleashed his own metallic laugh, more base-toned than her earlier one but just as mechanical-sounding.

“That too, but mainly because I’m hoping for some help. Blue Deacon and I agreed on another bet: Who can take down the Change Gang first. Winner gets to stay in New Judah; loser has to leave town.”

“So, you want to drag me into your testosterone-fest, Deac? Sorry, I’m gonna call you Deac even if you aren’t Deacon Blue anymore. I like the ring to it.”

“Quite all right with me, especially since I really am a deacon at my church. No, I’m not trying to drag you into anything, really. The night I lost the bet, the transhuman who was refereeing the whole bet mentioned a woman called Babylon Sister was working the South Side. You, of course. It was more about the idea of teaming up with a person who also was named after a Steely Dan song that appealed to me. ‘Babylon Sisters’ is my favorite along with ‘Deacon Blues.’ Nothing in my wager with Blue Deacon says I can’t have help. I thought maybe this could be a test run to see if we work well together; if so, maybe we hook up sometimes.”

“Hook up? Why, Deac…I’m a married woman,” Babylon Sister teased, pointing at the wedding ring on her left hand, the brown skin of it visible since she was wearing fingerless gloves. Mr. Indigo noted a bulge along the knuckles and figured she probably had metal weights in there to give her punches more oomph even beyond her higher-than-normal strength.

“No worries; I don’t want to make that kind of time with you. Well, I wouldn’t want to without getting to know a person a lot better first, at least.”

“So, no one-night stands for you. And you’re not a sleazy, promiscuous, sexually-harassing dick. That’s all good; I don’t really go for white guys like that anyway, and based on what I see of your neck you’re about as pale as they come short of a Nordic guy or a ginger. Nothing personal; just preference.”

“No offense taken. Look, you’re new to the hero scene; I know. I like the thematic idea of us teaming up sometimes, I figure you could use a boost to your rep and—to be brutally honest—I want help on this.”

Babylon Sister considered for a minute, then asked, “What’s with this ‘Change Gang,’ then? Who are they?”

“A bunch of guys, mostly with science degrees and a serious lack of ethical standards, who have access to some chemicals that can induce transhuman changes in norm humans,” Mr. Indigo responded. “They want to turn the whole world trans if they can. Apparently, they’ve already changed a fair number of people against their will or without their knowledge and consent. Considering what kind of effect transhuman changes in adulthood have on most people’s psyches, I don’t like the idea of having a sudden influx of newly minted, suddenly altered people. We could end up with so many psychos from something like that. So, aside from wanting to beat Blue Deacon in this wager, I just want to stop the Change Gang as soon as possible.”

“What makes you think you can find these guys before him?”

“Because I’m in the good graces of Query, and he isn’t—on account of him being a smarmy dickhead. So, I asked Query for some assistance. I realized the Change Gang was even worse news than I thought when Query not only gave me some intel to help narrow down their location—based on some info I already had in hand—but also offered to help me out in the raid. He’s not known for liking to team up.”

“I’m guessing from your tone you turned down that offer. Why?”

“I like what Query does and mostly what he stands for, but he has agendas within schemes within plots all the time. I don’t want to potentially find myself caught up in all that, and letting him inside my personal circle on something like this might do that.”

“But he must not be worried about them as much as you are, since…clearly…if he’s giving you information that would help you find them, he could start tracking them down, too.”

“Oh, he’s concerned. At least as much as I am. Maybe more so. He’s given me a few days to see what I can do, since he might not have been able to do so well homing in on them if I didn’t have some data already from Cheshire—who was the referee for that first bet, by the way. After another 72 hours or so, though, Query says it’s open season on the Change Gang and he goes after them in a big way.”

“So, you hang out with not just Query but the mysterious and elusive Cheshire? Seems you could do better than a newbie like me.”

Mr. Indigo took a long drink of the dwindling iced coffee through his straw, then pushed the cup aside with a flourish clearly meant to be ironically melodramatic. “I wouldn’t say I ‘hang out’ with them, but I’ve had the chance to make some connections. Also, I don’t think you’re nearly as green as you’re making yourself out to be, even if you’re pretty new to wearing a costume. In or out, Babylon Sister? I’m not into the hard sell and I’m not pushy; I just don’t have the luxury of time, and I need to know if I have a Steely Dan aficionado watching my back or not.”

Babylon Sister laughed again, louder than before, and pushed her own drink aside in as ridiculously overwrought a fashion as he had. “What the hell—I’m in.”

* * *

In for a penny, in for a pound. Isn’t that what Dad always said?

Except that right now, Babylon Sister considered, she was in for a penny and in for a pounding.

She was lucky to even be conscious, she realized. She was a Brute but not a Tank. Strength only, plus Regenerator powers to speed her healing, but no Brute-related resistance to harm. If not for the armor on her body and the helmet on her head, being knocked clear across the room like that by her opponent would have been the end of her. Thank God he wasn’t especially fast, so she just barely had time to collect herself enough to gain some distance from him in this large room. Gain some more time to clear her head.

He’s not fast, but hell he’s strong.

Brute vs. Brute—a situation that might have been fine for her if not for that other little tidbit she’d realized only recently: This guy literally felt no pain.

She felt like an idiot only just realizing that now. Hadn’t that Change Gang asshole in the chartreuse lab coat telegraphed the fact clearly enough?

“Meet Numb-nut,” the nerdy looking creep had said when she had entered the room a couple minutes earlier. “He’s stupid as hell but very obedient. And very good at his job. Good luck getting him to notice whatever you’ve got to hand out to him. And good luck in the afterlife—if there is one.”

And then the little shit was gone and she was facing—alone—nearly seven feet of broad-shoulder, large-muscled transhuman henchman. Bald head and grayish skin. Even when she’d launched a kick to his balls and gotten no reaction she hadn’t put two and two together. Only after she had been slammed against a wall from Numb-nut’s roundhouse punch just now had she figured it out. Nearly knocked out but also some sense knocked into her. Not only was he a Brute but he had some transhuman genetic tweak that made him totally insensitive to pain. Even if he was a Tank, and he probably was, testicles should always be a weak point. And given that he was clearly stronger than her physically—and she was at least three times as strong as an average-sized athletic man—that was going to make beating him awfully tough.

Especially since Mr. Indigo—the former Deacon Blue—is nowhere to be seen right now. Shit. What the fuck did I get myself into?

* * *

It had taken nearly 40 hours from the moment Babylon Sister agreed to join him for the two of them to track down the Change Gang and find the group’s secret headquarters. And then less than 40 seconds for it all to go to hell.

They’d tripped some sort of alarm right after entering, despite their precautions, and there was little time to make anything resembling a plan. There were two doors and two of them—and precious little time.

“Babs,” Mr. Indigo said without hesitation, using the nickname he’d coined for Babylon Sister not just out of friendly affection but for when moments like this arose—when there was no time for a whole name, “take left door. I got right. Gotta shut ‘em down fast.”

It had seemed like a good plan. As far as they’d been able to discern so far, while the Change Gang was eager to turn everyone else transhuman if they could, they still seemed too skittish to take any of those chemical compounds that might trigger latent superhuman potential within their own bodies. They might be armed, but both he and Babylon Sister had combat experience—she’d revealed to him the previous day that she’d briefly been a cop—and both of them had costumes that incorporated tactical armor.

What could go wrong? Mr. Indigo recalled thinking just a few minutes ago. Apparently, everything.

Mr. Indigo had barely gotten through his door when he encountered a woman in a candy-apple-red lab coat wearing equally red eyeglasses, accompanied by a short, thin transhuman whose skin bristled with spines—some flexible and dripping fluid from their tips and others thicker and harder like huge thorns with razor-like protrusions.

“Sic him, Spiney,” the Change Gang woman said, and then fled as the transhuman lackey did just that and launched himself—herself? itself?—at him.

Mr. Indigo figured his costume would provide enough protection for him from those spines—whether the potentially poisonous ones or the potentially torso-piercing ones—to get an edge over his opponent, but this was a delay that might let the members of the Change Gang here escape. And worse yet, possibly escape with their supply of chemicals and start their work again elsewhere.

Unacceptable. Regardless of beating Blue Deacon in this bet, my conscience won’t stand for letting these assholes get away.

“Boss woman says I gotta get you, hero,” Spiney hissed maniacally in what seemed a feminine voice to Mr. Indigo. “Guess that means I get to kill you. Party time!”

“Guess sanity didn’t come with the package when you got your powers,” Mr. Indigo said, harassing and distracting his opponent from a distance with a multitude of pokes and pinches using his telekinesis, as he tried to buy a few more seconds to form a plan. “But you sure got the whipped-doggy obedience thing.”

“Shut up,” Spiney said, swatting at the air as she tried to figure out what was causing the irritating sensations all over her body. “I get paid well. Numb-nut is the brainless moron around here. Not me.”

Keep talking, psycho, Mr. Indigo thought. The more info I have about this place, the better.

“Did he get the good looks when he got turned transhuman? Unlike you?”

Spiney spat on the floor. “Oh, he’s got a body to die for—or die by—seven feet of lethal, chiseled body strong enough to break you in half with one hand.”

“Great!” Mr. Indigo enthused, still circling his opponent warily. “When does he join our little party?”

“You’re stuck alone with me for a while, big boy,” Spiney taunted. “He guards the other half of the building.”

Shit. And that means Babylon Sister is facing a guy who might very well be stronger than she is—all alone. And the Change Gang brains are all running for the doors. Got to wrap this up fast.

Mr. Indigo feigned a stumble, and Spiney lunged for him. As she did, he turned his feint into a roll and knocked her legs out from under her. Before she hit the ground, he was reaching for one of his tasers. As she got onto her hands and knees to rise from the floor, he shocked her into submission and then bound her wrists and ankles with plastic ties, then rolled her onto her belly and locked those two restraints together with another tie so she was hogtied, with no way to use her body’s spines to cut through the plastic.

Heading quickly through a new door, Mr. Indigo entered to see Spiney’s handler tossing gear onto a cart and two male associates—one in a lemon yellow lab coat and the other in a pastel blue one—doing the same with carts of their own.

They froze when they saw Mr. Indigo. After surveying the room and seeing how many bottles and chemicals there were in the place, he played a hunch and waved one hand theatrically as he used his telekinesis to knock an empty Erlenmeyer flask to the floor. As the glass shattered, he said, “I don’t have time to waste. I see a lot of shit around here I could break, and I imagine a lot of it would make toxic fumes really fast. I don’t think your lungs would like that, but I have a respirator in my helmet,” he lied, “so I don’t give a damn. So, before I lose my shit, you all stick your hands out so I can tie your wrists and then lock you all together to a heavy table.”

“No,” said the red-coated woman who’d ordered Spiney to attack him, as she looked toward a box from which protruded the butts of several shotguns. “Think you can stop all three of us from getting guns and unloading on you?”

In response, Mr. Indigo used his telekinesis to topple a large and heavy piece of lab equipment he couldn’t identify from a shelf above her head, which was the kind of mental exertion that would guarantee him at least half a dozen migraines over the next several days. As it struck with a dull thump and she crumpled to the ground—alive still, I hope, Mr. Indigo thought—the costumed hero said, “Any more dissenters?”

The other two Change Gang members stuck out their hands immediately.

* * *

Keeping out of Numb-nut’s reach was getting harder and harder, despite his lack of speed, as he seemed to have no end of endurance. Babylon Sister had managed to launch several punches and kicks at him and then spin away unharmed or only suffering glancing blows from him, but she seemed to be doing no damage to him whatsoever.

I can’t believe I came into this stupidly assuming I’d just be dealing with a bunch of psychotic geeks with a creepy agenda and not much else. If I were wearing my bulkier gear I’d have tac gauntlets on or at least concussion gloves, and I might be getting somewhere by now.

She went in for another attack, but this time Numb-nut was prepared. Even as imbecilic as he seemed to be, he had instincts and animal reflexes if nothing else, and he landed a blow to her midsection, knocking her backward and all the air out of her lungs.

She dropped to her knees, and knew her enemy was going to beat her to death or crush her head, and there was nothing she could do about it.

Then there was a shower of glass shards raining down on her helmeted face as a multitude of flasks and vials flew against Numb-nut and shattered. Into that cloud of glittering slivers whirled a blur of blue, yellow and black that Babylon Sister realized even in her disorientation was Mr. Indigo.

Numb-nut was confused, but no more hurt than he had been before.

Babylon sister knew Mr. Indigo had no idea what he was facing, and she had no voice. She struggled for a full chest of air. Struggled for coherency. Struggled to speak as Mr. Indigo continued his assault and as more clarity and resolve began to show in the eyes of Numb-nut.

“He can’t…” she wheezed. “He…” She sucked in air hard, focused and shouted, “He doesn’t feel pain, Deac! Any! And he’s a Tank!”

Mr. Indigo didn’t react to her words at all, and she knew she must not have shouted at all. Only thought she had managed the feat. He hadn’t heard her and they were both probably going to die here.

Then he spun away from Numb-nut, gave Babylon Sister a ‘thumbs up’ sign and reached behind his back and under his cape to pull out a baton with a metallic-looking tip.

The glass all over the floor suddenly lifted up in a wave toward Numb-nut’s head, and Mr. Indigo used that moment of confusion to rush forward, stick the metal end of his baton between where Numb-nut’s jaws met his neck, and thumbed a button. There was a flash and Numb-nut went rigid. He shook for several seconds as Mr. Indigo held the baton there, and then he fell backward and into a heap on the floor.

Then Mr. Indigo was rushing through a door at the other end of the room.

Babylon Sister heard a brief scuffle and twin thumps, and Mr. Indigo emerged 30 second later back into the room where she was finally recovering her equilibrium and rising to her feet. Mr. Indigo glanced at the prone body of Numb-nut.

“Well, feeling no pain is all well and good,” he said to Babylon Sister, “except for the fact you still need a nervous system to function, and a cattle prod-level blast to the head is a sure sleep aid.” He handed her the baton. “Do me a favor and watch him. This is good for at least two more good, brief shocks. He moves, you zap him right between his eyes, OK? I’ve gotta find something more sturdy than some plastic ties to hold this guy.”

* * *

When Numb-nut was properly bound and the police notified and on the way, Babylon Sister sighed heavily through her helmet and put her head in her hands.

“What a disaster,” she said.

“Huh? How so?” Mr. Indigo inquired. “We won. There can’t be more than 10 or 12 psycho genius nerds with a gene-altering agenda who could find each other and like each other enough to work together, and we just nabbed five of them and a couple of their transhuman henchmen. Given how much equipment and chemicals there are here, this is probably their major stash of transhuman-creating compounds. We did good.”

You did good, Deac,” Babylon Sister groaned. “I got my ass handed to me. We teamed up, and I ended up the damsel in distress.”

Mr. Indigo laughed, and she suddenly wanted to punch his helmeted head until it caved in on his face.

As if sensing her anger, he waved his hands back and forth several times. “I’m not laughing at you, Babs. Shit, the first bet with Blue Deacon—and by the way, thanks for helping me win this one, because it means that dipshit will be moving to New York now—I ended up the ‘damsel in distress.’ I not only almost got killed but I got sliced up and tortured for a little while by a guy named Red Devil. Blue Deacon had to save my ass. We all have bad days. If we’re lucky, we survive them.”

“You just telling me a tale to make me feel better, Deac?”

“Babylon Sister, I have my pride. I would never lie to make myself look bad so someone else could feel better. Want to see the knife scars where the psycho was making designs on my torso like I was a sketch pad?”

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

“I hope you won’t pass on teaming up from time to time. I like having a Brute at my side. And I mean at my side. A partner, not a sidekick. You lasted several minutes with that giant before you got into trouble. You are not to be fucked with, and I would be honored to call you a friend in the field.”


“As a heart attack.”

“A’ight, Deac,” she conceded. “I think we could make a good pair from time to time. But I do like my alone time, too, with the bad guys.”

“Fair enough,” Mr. Indigo said, and held out his hand.

Babylon Sister took it, shook it and smiled behind her golden face. “You know, all we have to do now is find some heroes named Kid Charlemagne, Gaucho, The Fez and Cousin Dupree—or convince a few to change their names to that—and we could form a kick-ass team called the Steely Dans.”

Mr. Indigo laughed, and squeezed her hand hard before releasing it. “Dream big, Babs. Always dream big.”

Image of Mr. Indigo above comes from the image “Dual Fates” by Valerie, which can be found here (a thumbnail of the original image is below). I copy-pasted one small section of the photo, inverted the colors, and then applied a poster edges filter in Adobe Photoshop. The image is used under the Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license. The original artist is not aware of the image’s use here (to my knowledge) and my use should not be assumed to imply any kind of endorsement of or even tolerance of my own work or use of her images here. You may use or modify my image based on the same Creative Commons license.

Original photo:

Dual Fate by Valerie

Spreading the Love

Posted: 20th June 2014 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories
Tags: ,

This story may be completely understandable as a standalone tale, but as it takes place a couple months after the events of the stories “Dividing by Zero and “Ill Wind,” so I highly suggest you read those tales first. There will be at least one or two more stories featuring Patient Zero,  following from these three chronologically. I will say that this story involves some fairly notable acts of sexual assault (though I don’t get overly graphic about it), so if you’ve got serious trigger issues around that topic, be warned.


Spreading the Love

Breathless. Shaking. A pounding in his head and chest at the sight before him.

A crow straight out of hell and shaped like a man. Stepping into the room without warning.

“Jesus, boss!” Larry Blanchard gasped, still uncomfortable with being a henchman to someone so infamous as this. “You scared the hell outta me.”

My heart’s still going like wild; maybe I’ll be lucky enough to die of a heart attack.

Except he had already learned he was too cowardly to die quickly or cleanly; he’d fight for his last breath no matter how pathetic his existence became. He’d struggle against the tumors growing inside him, even as a part of him prayed they’d release him from Patient Zero’s service. And he was too fearful to run away from the vile man he’d sworn to serve, either. So instead, he steeled himself and tried to get used to what he was seeing.

Patient Zero was decked out in a heavy black fabric overcoat and hood that made his body both shapeless and menacing like some grim reaper, topped with a leather mask that covered his entire face—a pale brown monstrosity with a pair of tinted round glass lenses and a large conical nose extending around 12 inches from the face, shaped vaguely like the beak of a crow. Above that was a wide-brimmed hat of much darker leather that might have given a comical note to the ensemble for some onlookers. But it merely made the look all the more unreal and creepy to Larry.

He’d never seen it, neither in pictures nor in person.

Oh, Larry had heard about the costume before—most recently from Patient Zero himself shortly after Larry helped him escape, but first from other guards while he was working at the Janszen Correctional Institution. Apparently Patient Zero wore it only for special occasions, and Larry had been told by people at the prison who knew more history than he did that the ensemble had something to do with guys called plague doctors a few hundred years earlier who wandered around dealing with people affected by the Black Plague or other epidemics.

Except my boss—the transhuman man for whom I’m doomed to hench—doesn’t peddle cures, bogus or otherwise. He doesn’t deal with burning contagious corpses. He doesn’t offer comfort or relief to the sick. He spreads the diseases. Creates them inside himself and passes them along. The world’s most famous—maybe its only—serial mass murderer.
Patient-Zero_modifiedCreativeCommonsPhoto“I’m so sorry,” Patient Zero said in his usual smooth, slightly smoky tones. A very slight accent belied his U.S. birth by emphasizing his many years within Colombian and Mexican communities. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I have a meeting to arrange for a new job with new clients. I need to look the right part for this one. Oh, and Larry? No need to call me boss. You can call me Patient Zero. Really, you can even call me Zero if you like. Or Gustavo, for that matter. We’re going to be working closely for a good time to come. No need to set up such a formal division between us.”

The attempt at camaraderie—whether genuine or calculated—just made Larry shiver and made his heart rate pick up again.

Trapped with this man. Trapped. Trapped in a snare I helped to make.

“Nah, that’s OK. I like ‘boss.’ Not so much formal as it just rolls off my tongue better. If I start calling you ‘Mr. Dobbins’ you’ll know I’ve gone formal on you.”

“As you wish, Larry—as you wish, Malady,” Patient Zero said as he made a dramatic half turn and strode out of the room. Larry had no doubt the use of his henchman name, which the villain had used rarely since minting it last month and introducing Larry’s work uniform, was entirely calculated. A reminder of who he was now. How far he had fallen.

A reminder that he was a tool for a madman who could create the most lethal viruses if he so desired.

And more than a mere tool—once already, Larry had been the willing weapon to deliver one of those pathogens.

But I did it for my children, not to help Gustavo Dobbins. Not out of honest loyalty to Patient Zero.

Still, though, he couldn’t deny that he had been the man to deliver a virus to slay nearly everyone at Janszen—guard and convict alike—and the Texas town nearest to it, all to release Patient Zero back into the world at large.

* * *

The day before: Panic at the first sight of his boss in uniform.

Today: Teetering on the brink of heat exhaustion from his own.

Larry already wasn’t sure how Patient Zero had managed to wear that plague-doctor-inspired costume yesterday—even in January it could get pretty warm at midday in this part of Mexico—or how he did it again today. And now here Larry was himself, in his official henchman outfit as Patient Zero’s lackey: All black, with a ski mask/dark goggle combo and neck scarf hiding his heavily scarred features, as did his long-sleeved shirt, cargo pants, trench coat, shoes and leather gloves.

Hiding his scars but making him sticky and damp. Making it hard for him to breathe. Patient Zero hadn’t had much in the way of official henchman tasks for Larry until now, so the former guard was unused to the ensemble. He hadn’t worn it since he’d been told to try it on for the first time last month.

I have a feeling I’ll be wearing it more and more often now.

Today was the same client as yesterday, apparently—represented by an American man in a linen suit and two Mexican bodyguards dressed like they had just stepped away from a beachside cabana bar. A second meeting with Patient Zero, and Larry wasn’t sure why he was along for the ride.

Except maybe that Gustavo just wants to parade me about in my “costume” to remind me he can demand I do anything, no matter how weird or uncomfortable.

“A pleasure to meet you again and set our deal in stone with the first half of the payment,” Patient Zero said, holding out his hand as if to shake, though the man with the briefcase simply nodded heavily and deeply, almost a shallow bow, rather than risk touching the transhuman.

Larry could feel the smug smile that his boss was sporting under the mask, behind the leather beak and goggle-like lenses.

What does it feel like to be so fundamentally feared, Larry wondered.

“Oh, and forgive my rudeness,” Patient Zero said. “This man with me is my associate, Malady.”

“I’ve never heard of you travelling with a costumed henchman before,” the American man said. “Why now?”

“I sometimes like to have someone carry my weapons for me,” Patient Zero said. “And my money. You can hand the case to him, and we’ll be on our way to start our work.”

The American man paled, then stepped halfway to Larry and dropped the briefcase, quickly stepping back, a hand covering his mouth and nose.

‘Carry my weapons’ indeed, Larry thought. Gustavo’s weapons are contagious. And this guy rightly worries about whether I’m loaded.

And then the clenching of his gut as Larry realized why he was along for this ride—why he had been officially trotted out now after nearly two months of being with Gustavo.

Just like the prison break. Patient Zero’s gonna make me carry a virus for him on this job.

* * *

“You’ve always passed along your viruses on your own before. At least I assume so. Before me working for you,” Larry said, a near-whine in his voice. “Why change now? The prison I understand; it was the only way to do the job. But you don’t need me to do this.”

“But I want you to, Malady,” Patient Zero said. “What’s the use of having you hench for me if I don’t actually put you to use?”

“You’ve had henchmen before me, and they didn’t carry for you. Not viruses, I mean. Maybe they carried other…”

“But none have been so…intimately…linked to me before, Malady,” Patient Zero said. There was something sultry in his voice, but it wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t seduction. It was something deeper and worse. A reminder that he had put something so fundamentally life-altering as a deadly virus into Larry once before.

Something that, while it hadn’t killed him, had riven his body with scars from his head to his waist.

Something that had made him complicit in the murder of at least a couple thousand people and probably more—every time he went to a computer to look at how many the prison break scheme had killed, Larry felt faint, and decided that ignorance was, if not bliss, at least a good set of blinders to keep him on a path that wouldn’t drive him insane.

“What do you want me to do?” Larry warbled.

“Our target is a drug lord,” Patient Zero said. “So is our client—the employer of the nice man with the briefcase that we met with. Our client drug lord wants the rival drug lord murdered, and many of his crew, in a very frightening, personal, infectious and humiliating way. Our target lives in a well-guarded compound in the middle of a somewhat remote town. His men like to frequent a brothel there. You will pass along a very contagious and very lethal sexually transmitted disease—to which you will be immune—to the women in the brothel. They will give it to most of our target’s best men—who are frequent customers—and many others in the town as well. You will spread the love, Malady. And our target will get to watch so many of his people and his town die from that love.”

Larry shuddered. “A whorehouse isn’t about love, and what I’m supposed to do’s not spreading love. That’s spreading a disease.”

“Oh, but it is love, Malady,” Patient Zero insisted. “My viruses love to infiltrate healthy human cells. I love to see them do their work. And you love your children. If you don’t do this, what will happen to them when everyone finds out you’re still alive, and that secret trust fund you set up for them is located and seized? You will show your love to them in the brothel. Through what you will do to those women. You will go there for a week. Every night. You will get there early and linger long, so that you can visit two or three women each night and all of the sex staff there more than once—just to make sure the virus takes.”

“And how am I supposed to infect them through a condom?”

“Condoms!” Patient Zero scoffed. “Really, Malady. Really? If these women don’t make enough money, they’re out on the street, Larry. Offer enough money and almost all of them will forgo the condom, if they even have any in their little nightstands to forgo.”

“And they’ll sleep with a guy dressed all in black in a ski mask and goggles? You think they’ll even let me in looking that way?”

“No, you’ll go in like Larry Blanchard.”

“And that won’t look odd. An American in a backwater Mexican town?”

“As scarred as you are, Malady, they’ll probably assume you think you can only get laid in a backwater Mexican brothel or that you’re on the run from someone or both. You wouldn’t be the first. As long as you don’t have any guns on you but have plenty of money and keep spending it, they won’t care at all about your nationality.”

“Yes, the scars. About that. I’m sure those will make me popular with the ladies.”

“Ladies of the night, Malady. If you have money, they’ll look past anything your face may have to offer. No matter how hideous.”

Larry winced at the slight. Especially since those scars were intentionally inflicted on him. To mark him and trap him. Patient Zero’s property. Forever.

Or at least until that cancer finally kills me, Larry thought hopefully.

“Why this way? Why…sexual as…sex?” He moaned, unable to finish the pair of words that spoke the truth of what his act would be, aside from murderous. “Why are you making me do this? This…this…way?”

“Because I can, Malady, and because I want to make sure you know your place. Because it means something in the grander scheme of things. This is…educational. Trust me. You’ll learn from it. We both will.”

Trust. As if. I have to obey. But trust will never enter the equation.

“And what about the big, bad drug lord? Isn’t he supposed to die, too? How can you be sure he’ll go to the brothel?”

“I can’t, and he hardly ever does. But his fate, dear Malady, is a surprise. First, spread the love for me, Larry. Spread the love. And then we’ll move on to phase two.”

* * *

Larry was impressed that the prostitute on the bed before him didn’t flinch at the sight of his face or his hands. No look of disgust in her eyes, though certainly she must have felt it in her mind.

It made him feel bad about what he was about to do.

Pay her. Fuck her. Infect her.

He wondered if his actions were worse than mere murder or worse than a straightforward rape.

Or both.

His pants slid to the floor.

The woman didn’t even bother to speak to him in mangled English or get him to say anything in equally botched Spanish. She just beckoned him over.

It didn’t take her long to make him hard.

Larry was glad for that. Because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to have done it on his own.

He entered her, and slid in and out quickly and firmly. He needed to be done with this before he lost his nerve.

Patient Zero making him do this. The woman whose name he didn’t know making him hot and erect and ready to explode.

Making him.

It’s not my fault.

Thrusting above her faked moans.

Filling her. Taking her fully. Her making me hard. Take. Make. Taking. Making.

“Uuuuuuunnnhhh!” Larry groaned, as he delivered his infected seed.

Made me.

The first of three women that night. The first of six women over the course of a week—well, eight, really, if you counted the two who insisted on condoms each time. But they had escaped Patient Zero’s plans—they didn’t matter.

In any case, all eight of them made Larry hard, he thought, thank God.

Made me.

* * *

“I’m so proud of you, Malady,” Patient Zero said. “You’ve done so well. People have started to show symptoms, now. Just a few; just the start. And I doubt anyone’s made the connection to the brothel yet. But we must move fast to complete phase two. To get our real target, so that he can watch his people sicken and die even as he begins to just barely sicken himself. And then have most of his most-trusted gone from his life as he dies painfully as well.”

“I’ll be glad to have this over with,” Larry said.

“Oh, I’m not so sure you will be, Malady. Methinks the henchman doth protest too much.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I think you liked having power over those women. Power over their bodies. Over their lives. Admit it.”

“No, I didn’t ra…I didn’t want to have sex with them. You made me. And they’re just…”

“Sexy? Soft? Helpless? Whores?” Patient Zero prodded. “You know, Larry, I have a theory about you.”

I don’t want to know. I don’t want. I don’t…

“What?” Larry said instead, a whispered croak.

“You were a correctional officer, Malady. You chose a career of being a law enforcement officer in a prison. Not a patrol car or a walking beat where you might deal mostly with giving tickets and only maybe see an actual scuffle once a month at best. There isn’t a more concentrated den of potential violence and brutality, and along with that opportunities to abuse people, than a prison. Deep down, you want to use others. Hurt others. Assault others. Overpower others. Hence your career choice. You just never admitted it to yourself.”

“No. I did it as a duty. The prison work, I mean…not the women…I wasn’t a guard to use prisoners. Or anyone else. I didn’t…”

“Didn’t get hard to fuck those women, Malady? Even a man as handsome as me knows about performance anxiety. Yet you got hard every time. Even knowing you were killing them by doing so. Every time. You were curious. And then you liked it. You even got to love it. Spreading your love of what you were doing. I told you this task I set you to in the brothel would be educational.”


“Yes, Malady. Yessssss. Loving it. And time to do it once more,” Patient Zero said, and led Larry to an adjoining room, where a woman lay on the bed, seemingly asleep. Limp and unresponsive to the presence of the two men. “I told you I was moving fast on phase two. Meet the girlfriend of our true target. Well, his most treasured girlfriend, and one I am almost certain he will fuck within the next few days and complete our job before he has a chance to figure out the danger he’s in—though, of course, we’ll stick around to make sure. To watch the lovely, ailing carnage.”

“You want me to…”

“Spread the love, Malady. To her. Quickly, though, before the drug wears off, so we can get her back to her home and cleaned up and none the wiser that she was ever anywhere but alone in bed.”

“I can’t. I can’t do this again.”

“Oh, yes you can. You will. If you have to imagine her being your ex-wife, whom you hate. If you have to imagine her as the hottest of supermodels. You can and you will. Remember, Malady, if you don’t do what I say—if you stop me or disobey me—everyone will find out you’re still alive. And if you don’t obey me, your children won’t get that money. Everyone will know. Either I’ll tell, or one of my associates will if you kill me. And your children will know what kind of a monster you are. They’ll live and die with that knowledge, and they’ll probably do it in poverty, too.”

Patient Zero paused.

“Mostly, though,” the transhuman villain continued. “You’ll do it because deep down, you really want to.”

Without argument, Larry pulled down his pants and approached the bed.

“You’ve gotten very good at this. I may have you do it again sometime, Malady, for some other job. Or just because. Since you’re getting such a taste for it. And you’ll be with me for a long time.”

“Only as long as the cancer lets me. Remember?” Larry spat out. “You figured that out from the start. That I was doing the prison break for you and letting myself risk being infected by you because I knew I was dying anyway. Henching for you to provide for my kids. I have an expiration date.”

Patient Zero smiled, and Larry paused atop the woman, wondering why his employer was so smugly gleeful. Slowly entered his victim. A victim making him hard.

Not my fault. It’s her…it’s…it’s not my fault.

“Oh, the cancer, Malady? The cancer that I launched a viral attack against weeks ago? The tumor cells that are being killed one by one by little viral friends of mine? The cancer that will soon be gone, so that you can stay with me a long, long time? That cancer, my dear, dear henchman?”

And Larry wept. Wept as he carried out his task. Never flagging. Never failing. In control of this task at least. This woman. He didn’t notice when the tears stopped and the grunts began. Take her. Do the deed. Finish the job. Do it!

Spreading Patient Zero’s love. Making his own mark. Asserting his own small measure of power.

Wondering when the next chance like this would come.

And before he’d even finished with this task—this woman—he was already waiting.

For the next time.
Image used above to represent Patient Zero in costume is based on the photo “Medico della peste (Plague Doctor) – Venice, Italy” by Thomas Leplus, which is presented below as a thumbnail and can be seen on Flickr here (at least as of June 17, 2014 – if the link takes you to Flickr’s home page, you can copy-paste this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lethalpossum/12949898365/in/photostream/). Use of the image on my site is based on Creative Commons license “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)” The original image was modified by me in Photoshop, applying color to the “beak” and changing the brightness and contrast, as well as applying the poster edges filter twice. Use of this image does NOT imply the author’s knowledge of my use nor suggests any endorsement of my site, this story or their contents.




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Cole awoke, groggily, mentally calculating how much more sleep he could snag before having to put on his uniform as Quantum and check in with the Guardian Corps. Then he remembered it was one of his days off, and smiled to himself. No patrols today. He turned onto his other side; opened his eyes just a crack to see what time it was.

Nothing was right.

The colors were wrong all around him, and he wondered why the lighting would be so off. This was late morning. It didn’t seem particularly dim; the view outside his window didn’t seem overcast.

And yet every hue around him was wrong. Everything was still sharp and in focus, but nothing was right. There seemed to be more brown tones than there should be. Blues and violets where there should be reds, oranges and yellows.

He rubbed his eyes, only to get a momentarily blurry version of his now-distorted view of the world. When his focus returned, the grotesque mockery of reality remained. He recalled his earlier bouts of visual distortion, and wondered if this was related. Closed his eyes for a while and reopened them, hoping things would shift back to normal. They didn’t. More waiting, and more disappointment.

And that disappointment beginning to turn into a churning dread in his belly.

What the hell is wrong with me?

He looked at a picture his cousin Emily—his favorite relative and as close to him as a little sister—had done for him a couple years ago when she was ten and that he had pinned to the wall to keep himself grounded in his new living space and new life. It was a big, beautiful, painted rainbow with all the hues in their proper order. Bold, wide strokes of color. The spectrum laid bare before him, on a light-blue background. Or what he used to see as blue. But that blue was a Cole_zombie-rainbowyellowish tan now—sepia-toned—and the rainbow itself darker and perverted. More deep violets and light blues in it than there should be, and in the wrong places. A swath of dark, rusty red and another of a pale orange that bordered on tan.

Like some sort of zombie rainbow. Deadened and dim and full of dismay.

He fretted internally for nearly an hour before he decided he needed to go into the Guardian Corps headquarters today after all.

And hope that he could find one or two of the few people who were honestly friends there.

* * *

Hush-a-Bye’s perfectly manicured merlot-colored nails drummed lazily atop the equally glossy black-leather-hooded head of GoodKnight, kneeling at her feet and waiting, his eyes cast downward to her feet on the floor.

Ten minutes of this, having followed 15 minutes of him being wordlessly but noisily flogged. Sweat still glistened on his throat and his bared torso, highlighting the red welts so nicely. Finally, she broke the verbal silence for him.


“Ya want me t’give ya a complete thought dump? Or am I answering only what’s asked of me, Mistress?”

“Let it all out,” she said with a haughty air, exuding a magnanimity that sounded just slightly more like indulgence than it did condescension. Rule his personality with strict authority, but remember to let him know I respect and need his input.

“Are our sources totally sure those clown asshats were after Query on someone else’s orders and they fingered us honestly thinkin’ it was us who hired ‘em?”

“As close to certainty as one can have. Let’s say 99-percent assurance,” she offered.

“Clear as day someone’s settin’ us up. The question’s why would they? And who are they? We’re over here in Marksburgh; Query’s over there in New Judah. Lotsa cushion between us. Probably not tryin’ to sic Query on us, because he’s not likely to come barrelin’ into a city this dicey and war-torn, ‘specially when it’d be doin’ so on our turf. We’d have home-field advantage and Query would have nothin’ ta gain”

“And?” she prodded, knowing there was more boiling under the surface, ready to be released. A top-notch mind in an unrefined, violent, masochistic and submissive package—such a mass of contradictions her GoodKnight was.

“It also ain’t likely Query’s gonna understand why we’d wanna go after him. So it stands to reason he’s gonna doubt we would,” GoodKnight responded, his words picking up speed. “Makes sense, because he’s a sharp tack and I can’t think of a single good goddamn reason to launch an unprovoked attack on him. So, we’re sitting here confused why someone’s framing us, Query’s sitting there wonderin’ what’s really going on, and we’re all of us trying to see who the real shithead is.”

“Who do you think it is?”

“Janus,” GoodKnight said without emotion, his slight exuberance muted to a dull, lifeless edge now. “And Underworld. They’ve got beef with him and a connection to us that he don’t know about and they’d never let on about.”

Hush-a-Bye had considered that Janus might be behind it, but couldn’t figure an angle on it. They had been forced into an alliance of sorts with Janus’ crew. He and Underworld knew that it was uncomfortable for Hush-a-Bye and GoodKnight, and therefore ultimately unstable, but it was awfully early to be disrupting something the two teamed-up New Judah kingpins had worked so hard to create.

“Why?” she asked, not doubting GoodKnight’s insight but needing to understand.

“They need Query off-guard,” he said. “Or at least they need him looking in too many directions and too many scenarios. They want him off the scent of something they’re up to. They need patsies, and we’re good because they know Query won’t be eager to come over here and stomp us any new mudholes, ‘specially since we have no openly declared beef against him. They confuse him, but know there ain’t much chance he’d damage us and thus our connection with them.”

“What are they hiding?” she asked.

“I ain’t psychic, Mistress,” GoodKnight said to Hush-a-Bye in an apologetic tone, lowering his gaze to the mirror-like gloss of her black-booted feet, his own leather-clad head a distorted reflection in it. “Frankly, I’m still thinkin’ the best thing we can do is figure out how to sever our alliance with those fucks in New Judah. I’d rather not be part of anything they’re up to. I don’t like bein’ used, even if it’s not likely to bring shit to our doorstep.”

“Good boy,” she said, stroking his ebony hood like he was a house pet. “Good boy. Now put that slave brain to work figuring out how we can make that happen as soon as possible, while you put your tongue to another use for the next hour or two.”

* * *

The “Hey, Query” that issued from Carl’s mouth had the signature tone that something ominous was about to be shared; the black-clad hero braced for the likely ruination of what had been a pretty decent day so far.

“Spit it out,” Query sighed.

“Hush-a-Bye and GoodKnight are trying to arrange a meet with you. Super clandestine. Which makes me more than a little suspicious after them sending a couple goons after you.”

“Set it up.”

“Yeah, I thought…wait! What? Set it up?”


“Query, how many traps and potential traps are you planning to walk into with your eyes wide open these days?”

“As many as it takes, Carl. And for the record, I haven’t walked into many that actually were traps except when I didn’t know they were traps. This probably isn’t. So stop worrying.”

“It’s my job.”

“It’s your hobby,” Query countered. “And you enjoy it too much. I’ll give you details on how to set it up. Don’t fret. Provisions for mutually assured destruction if either side steps over the line will be in place and obvious to everyone. Which means neither me nor they will do shit except discuss whatever it is they want to talk about. Which should be really interesting.”

* * *

Every day began the same way. He never left the bedroom upon waking up without picking up the framed 5×7 of himself in the gold unitard and full-head mask of shimmering golden spandex. Posed heroically with all the blustery cockiness in which he had wallowed, once upon a time.

Deserved to wallow in, he thought. The image he had earned and once profited from. And these days, only able to walk with braces thanks to Underworld crushing his legs and even top-notch Regenerators unable to restore them fully, he subsisted on a life of public speaking. Living off the good old days and depending on the money of strangers who still remembered him fondly enough to want to hear him talk on stage.

A costumed crimefighting career cut short by that bitch in 1998 but still shoring up his income-making ability in 2010. Well, that and the residual income from merchandising, trademarks, film and television appearances and more.

It wouldn’t pay for a mansion, but it all kept the roof of a decent, mortgage-free, six-bedroom house over his head, along with a new RAV4 in the driveway and a 60s-era Mustang in the garage. And a condo in Hawaii he could retreat to from time to time.

A shrill tone broke his reverie, and he answered the ringing telephone reluctantly; it was too early to be taking calls. But he answered all the same.

“Helllllllo, stranger,” came the sultry feminine greeting. A voice he’d never forget, particularly since she’d been on his mind mere moments before.

“What do you want, Underworld?” he asked, wondering how she had gotten hold of his personal phone number. Again. It had been nearly four years since the last time he’d heard her voice, and that was still too soon.

“Just wondering if your legs still ache like a sonofabitch when you get up,” she answered. “Just wondering if the accumulated pain is enough yet to equal me having been in prison twice because of you, me being humiliated by you in public so many times, me being beaten by you like a scene out of Ike and Tina Turner’s married life long after I was down for the count. Wondering if it’s enough to make up for all the fantasies I’m sure you had about raping me. But most of all, wondering if your sham of a life is still pathetic enough compared to the one you used to enjoy with all that attention as Glory Boy. Still feeling glorious, Kevin? I’m still active, and I’m free. I’m still getting attention for doing notable things and pulling on a slinky costume almost every day; you’re still talking about the old days and trying to motivate losers. But y’know, let me know if you ever need me to come over and rub some Ben-Gay on those achy legs and reminisce about the last time we met face-to-face.”

She hung up swiftly, feeling a bit better. The memory of Janus slapping her the other day during their row had still hardly faded in her mind, and its continuing psychic sting certainly had put her in mind of her previous nemesis. Put her mind to the notion that she could take some of the lingering hurt away by hurting someone else.

Sometimes, it’s good to be needlessly cruel just to keep your mind from flying apart, Underworld mused. I may have to make these calls to Glory Boy a weekly thing. Far better form of self-medication than booze or drugs.

She felt a lot better after the call but she also realized that, if anything, her desire to kill Janus had only been sharpened when she had hoped to dull it briefly.

So much for removing all of my distractions at the start of the workday.

* * *

Well into enjoying their second round of drinks at a bar near Fortunato’s building, Zoe, Michele and Isabella unleashed a volley of jeers and mild taunts at the 40-minute-late arrival of Vanessa.

“It’s not my fault!” she protested loudly over the music and conversation around them. “Blame Fortunato! One of you get me two of whatever you’re having while I hit the lady’s room.”

By the time she returned, there were two margaritas waiting for her courtesy of Isabella. As she picked up her first glass and drank deeply, Zoe arched an eyebrow, noticing something skin-tight and translucent—nearly transparent, actually—over the woman’s hands and asked, “What’s with the gloves, Vanessa? Forget to take off the entire Allison Wonderland costume today?”

“Again, blame Fortunato. As usual, he’s got me field-testing things, and I think he’s enjoying the thought of me being embarrassed in public for several days with people around me assuming I’m compulsively fearful of germs or that I have a medical fetish. They’re smartgloves. After Bluetooths, smartwatches and smartspecs, they’ll be the next new thing, I guess. Don’t even know what company—probably Apple or Android or both—Fortunato sweet-talked to get his hands on the tech early to make these, but he plans to use them as a backup and/or a replacement for any mask- or helmet-mounted cellphone interfaces we have when we’re in costume…and he plans to use us and the rest of this new team of his to help promote the things and get some extra kickbacks when they go commercial next year.”

“What do they do?” Michele asked.

“Just like a Bluetooth, mostly. You talk into them and listen with them when you have calls or messages, and you can use them for phone voice commands.”

“Why, pray tell, do you have two of them?” Zoe prodded. “The company couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to make one for listening and one for talking, could they?”

“Different styles,” Vanessa said. “One you cup your hand against the side of your face and talk into your palm and listen from your fingertips; the other one you hold in the ‘call me later’ gesture and talk into your pinky-tip and listen from the thumb-tip.”

“Cool!” Isabella giggled. “Can’t wait for those to hit the market. Then I can signal a guy to call me later at the same time I’m actually calling up some other dude to meet up with.”

“Forget that,” Zoe said. “This is gonna replace sexting and be huge with the webcam porn folks. You can talk dirty to a guy and he can hear you squishing while you jill yourself off at the same time.”

“Ohmigod,” Vanessa moaned, swallowing down half of her first margarita as Isabella burst out in a laughing fit and Michele barely stifled her own. “Your mind is so filthy, Zoe. I’d better catch up fast with these drinks or I’m never going to survive this evening.”

“Especially after I start telling guys in here that you have a thing for latex gloves and then give them your phone number,” Isabella said with a wink.

* * *

“I am surprised at you, Query,” Fortunato said, smirking.

“Oh?” Query asked dispassionately.

“You have actually been helpful,” Fortunato continued. “Sending me in the direction of Solstice was actually a good call. I thought you might have been trying to cause me problems. Instead, I have someone who is independent enough to have the initiative I need in a costumed field operative, and who has just the right-sized sliver of insecurity to make her somewhat malleable.”

“Well, you know how much I like to bring joy to people’s lives,” Query countered dryly. “Let’s get this over with, so I can get on to doing other things.”

“You have the four names you promised me? Please tell me they are men; I love women, but this team is all estrogen thus far, and I need some friendly gender support.”

“The fact you see women as potential adversaries tells me all I need to know about why neither of your marriages lasted,” Query said. “Yes, having anticipated your desire for testosterone, they are all men. Also, I didn’t have any other women I thought would fit your needs. My recommendations—and as you’ll see in the dossiers, I’ve already felt out three of them and the other one will likely be interested just to be in a more cordial environment than his current one—are a mix of experience and potential, but all of them stand-up personalities and as sane and level-headed as they come: Quantum, Epitaph, Good War and Mr. Indigo.”

“Epitaph? You are suggesting someone who cannot speak in a manner that people will be able to understand him. That is rather counterproductive to team-based field work.”

“Hardly,” Query sneered. “He can text with crazy speed and accuracy on his smartwatch, and his writing doesn’t suffer from the same limitations as his speech. I’m sure you have some technology that can turn his texts into audio for the communication devices the team members will have. Also, good field operations rely on non-verbal signals as well, and Epitaph has that kind of thing down pat after all his work with kids in the Guardian Corps. Man’s damn-near bulletproof and strong as an ox. Morally grounded, too, and highly protective of teammates,” Query said, leaving out the part about the man potentially being his eyes and ears inside Fortunato’s operations. “How can you not take him? His only limitation is he won’t likely work for you on a full-time basis; likely three-quarters or half-time.”

“You make a strong case, and the time availability is not a huge factor. We will not have to patrol like police; I do not need them all full-time,” Fortunato said. “Good War is a pleasant surprise, but why would he join? He seems to be running around the country a lot.”

“I asked him for a favor, and that was to give a job offer from you serious consideration. My sense is he’ll take it for the income boost. Like Epitaph, he’d probably be part-time, though—he does get around a lot sniffing out corruption in law enforcement and the military and all that.”

“I hope the others—“

“—are both likely available for full-time work, yes,” Query answered, “though I’m sure Mr. Indigo will still want to have some solo work on the side, too, so you’re not going to get him exclusively. I doubt he’ll stop providing part-time security for White Cross.”

“Mr. Indigo’s telekinesis would be a useful addition,” Fortunato admitted. “And he has a good track record of apprehensions with a minimum of hospital visits for himself. Who is this Quantum?”

“There’s where you get some very young, new talent,” Query said. “He’s with the Guardian Corps right now but not happy there. He’s a Warpsmith and an Ecto. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve got reliable people to vet him, Epitaph among them. His powers are coming along nicely, and if you want malleable, it doesn’t get any more so than an eager young man new to a costume. He’s a college grad and he’s no loose cannon by any means.”

“I like the mix, Query, now that it is all settling into my mind, and I think they will mesh well with Peregrine and Buttress—did you know they were dating? But of course you would; you know everything—as I already approached them about part-time work on the team. I think the only person left to consider whom I had in mind for the initial roster is Mad Dash. I haven’t spoken with him yet, though. What do you think of my idea there, Query?”

Behind his mask, Query frowned; he didn’t like Fortunato having any kind of influence on Mad Dash at all. He bit back the urge to argue against the inclusion of his friend, feeling like this was a test. Fortunato was hiding his intentions and feelings well right now, but Query had a sense something was afoot.

I already have to worry about Dash’s brief but odd breaks with reality and the fact he’s dating Ladykiller, Query fretted. Having him beholden to Fortunato in any way…

That was all a mere second of time, though, as Fortunato awaited an answer. The kind of time one takes for a very brief rumination, and Query answered in a thoughtful but neutral tone: “I think he’d be a good fit. He might be a bit hard to manage sometimes as his…quirks…can distract him. But Mad Dash’s moral compass is true north and he’s a competent crimefighter.”

Sorry, Dash. I don’t want to get you tossed into the wolf’s fold—and if I’m lucky, you’ll turn the job offer down—but in the end I need to make sure Fortunato doesn’t know how much you mean to me and use you against me. And I can’t afford to have him think me entirely antagonistic to him or I won’t get the people I need in place here who are loyal to me.

Fortunato still seemed to be searching Query for some kind of additional response, looking at him intently as if he could read the man’s face behind the black mask and red question mark.

“Something else, Fortunato?” Query asked blandly.

“No, I think our business is done for now, Query. I know you do not like me, but I do appreciate your consultations and recommendations in this endeavor.”

But will you still feel that way, Fortunato, when you realize one day how much it’s actually been myendeavor all along?

* * *

Bippety boopety sugary serendipity, thought Crazy Jane as she skipped toward the man she’d been told to arrange a meeting with, ostensibly to pass along a case file for a job he was to do for Janus and Underworld. As if… Jane’s mind teased silently.

Odium stood so statue-still in his black outfit and featureless red full-head mask and emanated such an air of inapproachability that he seemed very tall to Crazy Jane, even though he stood only four inches taller than her own 5’6” stature.

I’ve softened up tougher and bigger than you, though.

His only movement was to reach out one gloved hand for the large manila envelope Crazy Jane bore.

It would be better without the glove, but I work with what I have, Jane mused, and handed it to him, touching her fingers to his and letting them linger for a second or two, “accidentally” fumbling with the envelope a bit and making it harder for him to get a good grip on it and take it from her hand.

Enough to make the connection. Enough to soften up the wall between them even though his transhuman nature would likely dull the effect of her powers. Enough to do what Janus wanted doing. Enough to set up the groundwork for the long game.

“Got a little while to hang out? A girl gets bored around the same folks all the time,” Crazy Jane said sweetly. “I can’t get out much being as conspicuous as I am with a completely tatted-up face. Hardly any of my fanboys and fangirls have the guts to go all in and get their faces done like me, so if I go out, everyone knows it’s really me. Not like you,” she pouted cutely. “Lot of people’ll dress in black and throw on a red hood or helmet.”

“Not much a socializer,” Odium said. Jane’s experience in this dance of hers and her practiced ear picked up on the ever-so-slight note of reluctance to deny her.

“Too bad,” she said. “Maybe sometime soon?”

Maybe sometime after my influence has had a night or two to settle into your neurons…

“Probably not,” Odium said tightly. “Maybe. Dunno.”

“I hope you will,” she said, her Psi powers and Interfacer powers playing their subtle notes across the strings of his mind—forging a mild addiction to her. “Something about you makes me think of the big brother I never had.”

“Uh, OK,” Odium said. For someone so notoriously antisocial and threatening, the vague, mildly confused dismissal of her was almost adorable.

“Seeya, bro,” Jane said with a smile, then pirouetted and strode away.

Enjoy that simple, token, totally bogus job I gave you, she thought, and welcome to our cozy little family.
[ – To view the next chapter, click here – ]

The Gathering Storm, Part 38

Posted: 23rd April 2014 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in The Gathering Storm series

[ – To view a list of all current chapters, click here – ]

At the sound of the half-snarl, half-primal-scream outburst behind her, Peregrine’s grip on her twin batons tightened and she spun her upper torso sharply toward the noise. The two remaining thugs of the three she had pounced upon less than two minutes ago had been of little consequence—she had possessed no fear that they could take her down. But now she was exposing her back to them, and that changed everything. Not to mention the new calculus of an added opponent who sounded like he was hyped up on skeez or something.

Except that it wasn’t an enemy entering the fray, she realized suddenly.

Not that he was, strictly speaking, a friend either—but in any case, she was 90-percent certain she wasn’t his target.

Not that I’m planning to loosen the grip on my weapons, though, Peregrine considered in that split-second.

As she had guessed, she wasn’t Feral’s prey—his angle was all wrong for that. But it was perfect to lunge past her, toward the men she had been fighting. She turned back to finish dealing with them—realizing as she did that she was more concerned about potential damage to the expensive high-tech glider pack on her back from them than to actual bodily damage—but Feral was already tearing into them with his clawed gloves. No sooner had he laid open the abdomen of one man than he was slashing the throat of the second one. He didn’t stop there, though, raking his claws simultaneously up and down each man’s torso several times to turn their chests into shredded meat before their bodies fell limply and wetly to the ground.

It was over so fast that the men had been incapacitated before the final few drops of blood and bits of gore that had flown straight up into the air managed to hit the ground.

Peregrine kept her limbs taut for combat, her grip sure on her batons and her eyes on the vigilante in his primal rage. Just in case he forgot in his bloodlust who she was, or simply decided he didn’t care.

The glint of streetlights off the small steel mace-head on the end of her right-hand baton caught Feral’s eye. Peregrine noticed and flipped the weapon around nimbly to display the other end—a sharp steel rake in the shape of a hawk’s talon—just to ensure her status as a predator herself was clear. His head rose slowly, eyes meeting hers through his fur mask. Madness peering into icy coolness.

Or was it madness at all? Or calculation instead?

She could hear his panting. She could hear the thump of her own heart. Truth be told, there was precious little else to hear. One man unconscious from before Feral arrived. Another dead almost immediately after his arrival. The third with his guts spilling out, making muted, barely audible wheezing and sputtering noises, his windpipe apparently damaged at the tail end of Feral’s unnecessary slashing frenzy.

Peregrine swallowed slowly but firmly to push down her bile, her eyes never leaving Feral’s.

“I didn’t need any help,” Peregrine said stonily. “In fact, you distracted me. And that,” she added disgustedly, easing her stance and sweeping one baton slowly in the direction of the dead man and the dying one, “was totally over-the-top uncalled-for freakin’ gratuitous.”

Feral smiled. There was, Peregrine thought, something clearly mad in that grin.

But calculated, too.

“If Query should ask about this incident,” Feral said, “you just tell him your life was in danger and I did this to save you and there just wasn’t time for finesse.”

“Except that’s not what happened,” Peregrine pointed out.

“Sure it is, Peregrine. Just keep telling yourself it is. Make yourself believe. And tell others if you need to. Otherwise, I might mistake you for a black hat one night and slash open your throat before I realize my mistake.”

Peregrine’s eyes narrowed to slits, and she shifted calmly into a combat stance once again

Feral simply smiled more broadly, and walked back past Peregrine, giving her a wide birth.

Never taking his eyes off her until he was well out of reach of her and readily within reach of the shadows.

* * *

Query’s digital phone trilled out a digital rendition of composer Louis-Claude Daquin’s “Le Coucou,” and he answered it immediately via the wireless interface in his mask. Every transhuman who had ever possessed his number had his or her own uniquely assigned musical ringtone, and each was indelibly burned into Query’s memory—even the ringtones for the former heroes and vigilantes now among the fallen, whether because of death, crippling injuries or psychological scars.

Or, perhaps, especially those of the fallen were lodged in his head, he considered.

“Peregrine,” Query said. “What’s up?”

“I’m just letting you know that if you happen to correlate Feral’s movements tonight with the murder of a couple low-lifes, I can say with complete first-hand assurance that he was way out of line and out of control,” she answered.

“No innocents dead, though, at least?”

“None,” she said, “…yet. Not that I think he’ll go that far, but it seems to be take less guilt on people’s parts these days to get the death penalty from him.”

“I appreciate the heads-up, Peregrine.”

“Don’t mention it. And I mean that literally. Don’t mention it to anyone; don’t mention it again even to me. I’m not really proud of tattling on someone in costume working the streets. And I didn’t like it when you forced Feral to wear that tracker 24/7. However justified it might have been, it still didn’t sit right with me. Still doesn’t. And if you ever pull some shit like that with me, be prepared to fight me to the death over it.”

“Fair enough,” Query said. “So why are you calling me to let me know about him, then?”

“Because he threatened me to provide an excuse for his little killing spree in case you should ask about it,” she answered, “and that sits even less well with me than what you did.”

“Well, may the rest of your evening be calm, then,” Query said.

“Going home early and going to bed early to try to erase that bloody scene,” she sighed. “I’ve got a shoot for a United Airlines commercial tomorrow.”

“Break a leg, but not a wing,” Query told her.

“Oh, don’t try to charm me; stick to being a brooding, menacing, shadowy figure,” she chided him, and disconnected the call.

Behind his mask, Query frowned, then decided he might as well make a phone call of his own while he had some conversational momentum to ride.

Cheshire answered the call almost immediately and said, “Yes, Query?” He wondered if she gave everyone with her number their own ringtone—undoubtedly the list of people she’d trust with that was far shorter than his own list.

“Remember that favor you owe me? For not crashing that debaucherous villain cruise party several weeks ago?”

“You’re not going to try to call in that favor to have me deal with Feral, are you?” she groaned. “I don’t like rough stuff.”

“How the hell do you already know about…” Query sputtered. “Never mind that. No, there’s something else I need you to do. I have to pass on some knowledge to you and you need to keep it in strictest confidence. You can only spill it to certain people under certain circumstances that I will lay out for you, and I might need some light intel for a period of time, too, related to the same matter. Gotta tell you in person, though, not over the phone.”

“Deal. I love secrets,” she purred. “Love getting and keeping them. Only thing I like better is discovering them on my own.”

* * *

As her stepsister gazed wide-eyed at the apartment, Michele tried to remember any other time in her life when Isabella had been speechless.

“Michele,” Isabella said in something barely above a whisper. “This is bigger than three of our old apartment.”

“Yes. Yes, it is,” Michele agreed, nodding and puffing out her chest a little. “We have arrived.”

“I love you Michele,” Isabella said suddenly. She paused and blew a loud puff from pursed lips. “Understand that’s just the shock talking. You’ll probably never hear me say that again.”

“Sure, sure,” Michele said. “Go look at the bathroom. Two doors past the kitchen area.”

Isabella did, and after a couple minutes, poked her head out the door. “It’s amazing.”

“Yes, and there is another one just like it right across the hall. We don’t have to share.”

“I love you,” Isabella blurted, then pouted dramatically. “This lovefest will wear off; mark my words.”

“So I’ll revel in it while it lasts, for all its weirdness,” Michele said. “Does the lovefest extend to putting in equal time unpacking all our boxes?”

“Sure. We didn’t have to move any of the furniture in, so I can manage some boxes,” she answered, then looked past Michele’s shoulder, eyes widening in surprise. “Uh. Hi! Um…”

“Welcoming committee,” answered Zoe, just stepping through the open door with Vanessa right behind her. “I’m Zoe, otherwise known as Loc-Down. This is Vanessa, otherwise known as Allison Wonderland. We live on this floor, too.” She put her hand out for Michele to shake.

“We’re teammates. So far, it’s just us girls, but we’re pretty sure some men will eventually show up as new hires,” Vanessa added, holding out her own hand. She looked past Michele toward Isabella. “We’ve been told you have experience keeping secret identities secret, so Zoe and I decided that we’d pass on wearing masks when you’re around, Isabella.”

“I make no promises that I can keep such secrets if I am ever captured and faced with the possibility of torture,” Isabella called jauntily from the second bathroom right after entering it to confirm it was a twin to the one she had just explored.

“Totally understandable,” Zoe called out to her, striding over to Isabella to introduce herself. “I like the civilian already,” she said over her shoulder to Vanessa.

Michele turned toward Vanessa. “I’m Solstice, by the way, though I guess you already knew that, right? So, uh, is Zoe kind of a little bit of a trouble-maker? Rabble-rouser? I mean, I like to party, but is she a bit more…um…push-the-envelope type?”

“Yup,” Vanessa answered. “Isabella, too?”


“And I can already tell they’re going to hit it off,” Vanessa said.

“We’re both so screwed,” Michele moaned half-jokingly.

“At least I don’t have to live with Zoe; I feel sorry for you,” Vanessa said, chuckling. “But yeah, we’re both probably doomed.”

* * *

First a hit squad hired by Janus that tried to kill him and Carl, Query considered. Then a trio of men who’d followed Carl more recently in hopes of being led to Query, who said they’d been hired by Rancor—a transhuman who himself was now dead at the hands of Underworld for apparently offending her and Janus.

And now this.

Following a lead on a missing person case had led him to this small warehouse. He knew what the missing woman smelled like from the clothing her husband had given him—neither of the two people in here somewhere smelled like her.

For a brief moment, Query wondered if the missing wife was a piece of bait just like the fake kidnapping Janus had concocted to help track down Query’s office and send in assassins five months ago. But he’d checked out this client’s story and reviewed police records and other evidence too thoroughly. This case was legitimate, he was certain.

Which probably means I need to sweep Carl’s office soon—someone’s likely bugged him there to figure out what cases I’m working.

“I have a question, Query,” came a manically warbling voice from the other side of the building.

“Just you?” Query asked loudly. “Or does your friend have the same question?”

The pregnant silence made Query smile beneath his mask. The antagonist hadn’t expected Query to know there were two of them.

Now if only my sense of smell were just a little more honed so that I could get a fix on either or both of them by scent, because they’re far more sweaty than they are noisy; my ears are way better at pinpoint tracking than my nose is.

In fact, Query realized, they were far too quiet, suggesting that perhaps some kind of transhuman sound-dampening power was at work.

Time to end this now, before I get a bullet in my head.

“My question, Query,” the man continued, having apparently finally collected himself, his tone hinting at hysterical giddiness, “is whether you’re ready to meet your maker.”

The same voice, Query noted, but from a wholly different place. And yet he hadn’t heard the man himself move.

“You seriously need to work on your villainous repartee, because that was some weak shit,” Query mocked, and dropped a smoke bomb at his feet. Quickly obscured from view, he tossed out the other five in his possession in all directions around him and sprinted for the building’s electrical box. He’d already reviewed architectural blueprints and schematics of the warehouse before coming here, and knew where it was; in his brief time inside he’d already memorized the positions of most of the obstacles between him and that destination.

He miscalculated slightly and slammed his left knee into a crate a few yards away, stifling a series of swear words as he spun away and continued his run with a light limp. Query pulled open the door to the electrical box, realizing the haze in the warehouse from his smoke bombs was probably thinning fast, and slammed all the circuits to the “off” position.

As the interior of the building was plunged into darkness, the infrared sensors kicked on in the lenses of Query’s mask, and his hunt began.

One of his opponents came into view as a heat signature within seconds. Query watched the man’s head and torso twist and turn to try to figure out where anything was in the darkness, and he felt a bit of savage glee at the enemy’s predicament. Once he was within a few yards, and with a clean line between the two of them, Query tossed a tangler grenade toward the man and smiled when he heard the swearing begin; smiled even more at the sounds of the struggles against the polymer threads now entwining him.

Finding the second man took more time, as he was likely behind crates on the other side of the warehouse, and hadn’t spoken at all to give Query a clue as to his position. When the man stumbled—probably well aware of his ally’s dilemma given how loud the man was cursing, and likely eager to get out of the building as fast as possible in the darkness—he caused a couple wooden boxes to sway and creak, giving away his position.

Then it was just a matter of seconds, and another tangler grenade, and Query could meander back to the electrical box to restore the lighting.

And I still have one tangler in case there’s a friend outside waiting for them.

Query wrapped a long cord he found along the way around the first man’s neck, and cheerfully dragged him across the concrete floor to his companion’s side, the tangler-enmeshed man sputtering and gagging all the way.

Both men’s faces were adorned in gaudy clown makeup, and their costumes were black-and-white checked harlequin suits. Each also had several knives and two guns at his belt.

“You should have used those guns early on, shithead,” Query said, kicking the second man in the head once, just enough to rattle his skull—eager to spread the pain and humiliation around as equally as possible and soften both of them up for their imminent interrogation. “Also, I don’t find clowns aesthetically pleasing. So I’m really going to be motivated to fuck both of you up, and I highly recommend you get right with me and answer my questions if you don’t want to end up in the critical care wing of the hospital under armed guard for the next few weeks.”

After that speech, Query hardly had to even muss their makeup to get answers, and the process was over in six minutes.

Now, though, I have a whole lot more unanswered questions that these two can’t answer, Query fumed. Like, why the hell would Hush-a-Bye and GoodKnight over in Marksburgh want to hire anyone to take me out, and why two losers like this?

[ – To view the next chapter, click here – ]

Working Around the “Work” Thing

Posted: 16th March 2014 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Announcements / General

Are you still with me, here? Are my fans still checking in despite my absence? I hope so.

Although I haven’t had my schedule and discretionary time quite as hard-slammed by my new (well, new as of January) job as chief editor as my predecessor seemed to have (i.e. I don’t think I’m putting in the same kind of overtime hours she was)…it has taken more of my time than I’d like, and that has been reflected in the suffering of my three blogs here at BouCoup Media (as well as my more undercover blogs).

The coming week will, while not any kind of time off or cakewalk, will be one of my less busy ones for the next month. So, my plan is to churn out at least three chapters of The Gathering Storm (if nothing else, though I hope to do more) at least in rough-draft form, so that I can more easily get material up, once a week or more, during even the busy periods. How I’ll get posts up at the other blogs is something I haven’t quite worked out yet,  but I’m stubborn, so there’s that.

Can’t guarantee my plan will work, but let’s hope, eh? Keep on checking back in; I’ll try hard not to let y’all down…

Fiction is a’coming…

Posted: 24th February 2014 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Announcements / General

I came off closing out the February issue of the magazine I’m now heading up as chief editor to go into a week of vacation (does anyplace other than New England subject parents to a weeklong vacation between the Christmas-time break and Spring Break?) with my daughter in the house a lot, so my fiction writing got held up.

Expect a new chapter of “The Gathering Storm” soon, though, hopefully before the weekend.