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.
A mask unlike his own, though. Well, both of them helmets, really. His own a full-head affair of cobalt blue metal roughly the 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.
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.