Diane Castle / Miasma / A View to a Smell
Peeper complained, “Well, that was just pathetic. Lemme tell you, I’ve seen better combat finals just watching the roaches fighting over crumbs in Greasy’s hair. Who do we have up next? Any chance of some hot girl-on-girl action?”
Greasy looked at the computer panel and said, “Umm, it looks like… Miasma.”
Peeper groaned, “Miasma? Are you kidding me? Why can’t we get something like maybe Fey and Chaka in a big hair-pulling catfight? In mud? With bikinis? Or NO bikinis?”
“Umm, Chaka was one of the lead-offs on Monday, and-”
Peeper cut him off. “So who cares? Nobody wants to see some dork from the Underdogs!”
“Well, Aquerna’s combat final was pret-”
Peeper interrupted, “Aquerna? Oh man, was that funny! Maybe she isn’t a hottie, but man, can she do comedy! When those… heh-heh… Ah-hah-hah-hah! Oh MAN was that funny! And then they came out of the… Hah-hah-hah!”
Greasy tried to fill in while Peeper fell out of his chair laughing. “Let’s look at the MID for Miasma, which they’re putting up on the big screen right now…”
“AH-HAH-HAH!! And then he was running all over the pl… AH-HAH-HAH!!”
Greasy said, “Umm, watch where you’re rolling, there’s cabling there, and you might cu-”
The sound from WARS cut off for the next fifteen seconds.
Nate worked hurriedly on his secret weapons. He downed the rest of the two-liter bottle of soda, while Lucille opened a second can of extra-spicy chili with beans.
Rhiannon handed him the bowl and spoon as Lucille dumped the contents of the can into the bowl. Trish dropped the empty can into the paper bag, next to the first empty can and the empty jar of three bean salad.
Nate asked, “How much more time do I have?” He took a huge bite of chili.
Gary checked the monitors. “Your MID’s up, but they haven’t officially announced your opponent, so you’ve got at least a minute and a half. Maybe as much as three minutes.”
Alan snickered, “And I got your ‘costume’ too. So you’re set.”
Nate wolfed down the bowl of chili as he looked up at his MID. There was his picture, with him looking pretty dorky, even if he said so himself. Nobody looked good when you were surrounded by Exemplars, but that picture was extra bad. He looked like he was having some kind of tic on one side of his face. Or maybe he was cutting the cheese while the MCO guy took that picture. At any rate, he looked lopsided and dopey.
|Techniques:||Gas attack, Sneak attack, Jet blast|
|Weak vs.:||Normal human vulnerabilities|
|Backup / Team||Underdogs, TwainAffiliation:|
Mindy looked up from the text message coming in on her phone. “Laurie says they’re paging Peeper.”
Alan muttered, “That’s stupid. Everyone on campus has to know he’s right up there in the radio booth.”
Gary said, “It’s required. They have to make sure guys can’t duck out and claim they didn’t hear the page.”
Alan complained, “Yeah, we all know that. But he’s in the radio booth!”
Rhiannon said, “Peeper, huh? Anybody got another couple cans of chili?”
Lucille looked over at the Outcast Corner gang, who were sitting with them. Jericho and Razorback were scrambling out of their seats and running down the stairs. “What? They don’t wanna watch this one?”
Diamondback smiled evilly. “Oh, they’re going to do a lot more than just watch.”
Nate said, “Done!”
“Napkin.” Trish handed him a couple large paper towels. He hastily wiped his mouth and chin.
“Costume.” Alan handed him the pillowcase that held his costume.
Nate yanked out the one item in the pillowcase. He jumped to his feet. “Okay, let’s get this show on the road.” He hurried over to the stairs and rushed down to the doorway into the arena.
“-nd we’re back on the air. That’s WARS, the Whateley Area Radio Station.”
“Shut up, Greasy. Gimme your satchel.”
Greasy protested, “Umm, we’re live. And that’s my stuff! I need it!”
“Shut up, Oilcan Harry. I’ll bring back all the stuff I don’t use.”
“No! You can’t have it! I won’t… Oof!”
“Hey cut it out!”
“Ow! My arm!”
For the next several seconds, there was nothing over the airwaves but the sounds of studio chairs crashing to the floor, lots of whiny yelping, and some confused scuffling.
“Oh! There it is!”
All the Underdogs looked up at the big screen, where the new MID card was on display.
|Ratings:||ESP – 2|
|Techniques:||Suave chat, Manly eye contact, Awesome interview skills|
|Weak vs.:||Really ugly bow-wows|
|Backup / Team||WARS, TwainAffiliation:|
Gary was the first to complain. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Trish fumed, “That’s not an MID card!”
Alan agreed, “Is that supposed to be a joke?”
Lucille muttered, “I totally believe he’d write that shit down. I just don’t believe an MCO guy would let him get away with that crap!”
Mindy said, “Hell, you saw what they let Fractious put down, and that was just nuts.”
Gary said, “Yeah, I’d like to see how much she really wrote down. The screen cut all her stuff off after about 200 characters. I bet she wrote pages of stuff down.”
Trish said, “Well, there’s a reason everyone calls her O.C. Dee.”
Lucille frowned, “Which is really mean, you know.”
Alan said, “It’s not as bad as some of the stuff I’ve heard. Lots of people call her Adrian Monk or Felix Unger or Monica Geller.”
“Yeah,” he explained smugly, since he hardly ever got to explain stuff. “Felix Unger, from this really old teevee show called ‘The Odd Couple.’ And Monica’s from ‘Friends.’”
Trish smirked, “Yep, useless teevee shows, the one thing Alan knows anything about.”
Alan leered, “That’s not what you said Saturday night in the sh-” Trish clamped a hand over his mouth before he could finish.
Gary complained, “Damn it, if you guys are doin’ it in the clubhouse shower again, the least you could do is shut up about it!”
Lucille added, “And clean the shower out afterward!”
“Yeah!” chorused most of the other Underdogs.
Mindy suddenly started laughing. She yanked the earphone out of her left ear and pulled the connector out of her pocket radio. WARS began blaring over the radio’s built-in speaker.
…can’t come in here! I’m going to have to… mmmp! Mmmn! Mmm-mmmp!
“Well, it looks like Greasy isn’t going to be able to handle commentator duties for a few minutes, until he gets that gag off.”
“That’s right, Razorback. He’ll have to find a way to unglue his clothes from the floor first. I can’t imagine who dropped a glue grenade there. Some people have no consideration for others… So, while your announcer Greasy is temporarily indisposed, I’ll be covering for him. I’m Jericho, and my color commentator is the one and only Razorback.”
“Oh, Razorback is signing to me that Peeper’s totally inadequate MID is going down, and the clock is running. The competitors have only thirty seconds to enter the arena. Miasma is in place, and… okay! There goes Peeper. And the match is starting!”
“Mmm mmmn mmp-mm!”
“And it looks like Greasy is saying something about Peeper’s costume. Whadda you think, Razor?”
“Oh, he wants more cleavage? Thank you for sharing, but I think I’ll pass on that one. Not being able to see doesn’t protect me from the hideously scarring mental image, y’know.”
“Mmm mmm mmm mm mmp!”
Nate pulled on his costume. Which was just a mask. Okay, it was a really funny mask. He had no idea which of the guys in the dorm had snuck into his room and laid out a WWI gas mask on his bed, but someone had. And Nate kept it. Not only that, but he found some filters for it and let his roommate use it when people said he was getting too stinky.
Nate tried really hard not to cut the cheese inside his own room, since he had a decent roommate, but sometimes accidents happened. And now there was a fancy vent fan mounted in their window, just for accidents, with a vent hood that hung down over the middle of his bed. He didn’t know which deviser had come up with the automatic sensor that kicked the thing on when it needed to go on, but his roommate had bought Erlenmeyer a huge box of jelly doughnuts, so he was guessing it was Erl. Erl was an enormous butthead most of the time, but he could be a really nice guy when he was happy.
Jobe said Erl was only happy when his chem lab stuff was going well. Jobe also said Erl was so incompetent that he was guaranteed to be facing lab failures ninety percent of the time. But Jobe was, well, Jobe, so you had to take whatever he said about other people with a grain of salt. A grain of salt about the size of Utah.
Nate knew he looked pretty weird wearing his school pants and shirt, and a gasmask. But he didn’t have a real costume. It wasn’t like he could afford the kinds of stuff the Kimbas were showing off. It was one thing to have a billionaire on your team. It was another to get your little billionaire to buy expensive super-uniforms for everybody.
Shit. It was one of those ‘walk through crowds of people to the spindle’ scenarios. And he was walking around wearing a gasmask. Oh well, what the hell. He started walking toward the spindle as casually as he could manage.
Peeper grabbed his paper bag out of his blazer pocket. He had a cheap domino mask for a regular combat finals thing, and a ‘disguise’ mask for a thing with lots of fake people walking around in it. Greasy’s disguise masks tended to look a little too real, since they used his fake skin, but in that kind of combat final, a really good disguise mask was a good thing.
He opened the paper bag, and…
“Shit! Goddammit! Son of a bitch!” His two masks were gone. In their place, some practical joker had left some girly cateye glasses, and a pink domino mask with ‘FAGGOT’ spelled out across the front in glittery pink sequins. There was no way he was wearing either of them!
But he had to have a disguise! “Goddammit!”
Oh. Wait a minute…
“Well, it looks like our two combatants are ready for the scenario, and they’re moving through the crowds toward the spindle. Lovely masks, don’t you think?”
“Oh, I agree totally. In fact, I think most of the women viewing this are really enjoying Peeper’s disguise. It’s so… him.”
Miasma tried not to wince as a couple people on the sidewalk turned and stared at him. He knew he had to look pretty weird, walking along wearing a rubber gasmask. He gave them a big smile they probably couldn’t see because it was inside the gasmask, and he gave them a cheery wave. “Good afternoon! How are you doing?” They turned away from him. Good.
Some old lady waved her umbrella at him and snapped, “You! You there! What do you think you’re doing? Are you some kind of terrorist?”
Peeper gave the paper bag another little tug. It was big enough to fit over his head, but not so big it kept falling off. Plus, with his power he didn’t need to try and tear eyeholes in the stupid thing. When he found out who messed with his masks, he was going to… to…
Well, he’d make Greasy do something to whoever it was, and if Greasy got beat up for it, it would teach the idiot a valuable life lesson.
He just felt so stupid walking along wearing a paper bag over his head! It wasn’t fair. Other kids got to have really fancy uniforms. It was all Greasy’s fault for not making him a really great uniform and really cool gadgets to use.
Which reminded him. He looked through the satchel. Two pistol-like gadgets, one like a futuristic squirtgun and one like a Star Trek phaser. Okay, good so far. Two grenade-like things, one silvery and the other a military green. Ouch. Maybe throwing a real grenade might not be such a good idea. He’d go with the silver one. Let’s see, what else…
“Hey you! Loser! How come you’re walkin’ around with a paper bag over your head?”
Peeper looked up to see three tough-looking teenagers in varsity jackets blocking his way.
“And it looks like our combatants have met their first obstacles. What do you think?”
“Oh, I agree completely. Nothing’s scarier than little old ladies with umbrellas. I guess Miasma is in for it.”
“Mmm mm-mmn mmp!”
“Oh, and I think Greasy is saying that Peeper will try to get a date from one of those football players.”
“Well, maybe not.”
Miasma gave the old lady a cheery smile, which didn’t do any good since he had the gasmask on and she couldn’t see his mouth. He said the first thing that popped into his head. “I’m wearing this for Earth Day! We’re celebrating clean air and clean water today! If you see anyone else wearing a gasmask, be sure to go up to them and say, ‘I support clean air too!’ Because Earth day is part of what makes America great!”
The old lady lowered her umbrella and looked confused. “Today is Earth Day? Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure!” Miasma insisted. “If this wasn’t Earth Day, I’d look pretty stupid walking around wearing a gasmask, wouldn’t I? Remember, celebrate clean air and clean water today!”
“How’s that gasmask supposed to be clean water?”
Oh crap, he needed to keep his mouth closed more often. Umm… “No, the gasmask is just for clean air. The clean water people are walking around wearing snorkels… And flippers.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.
“Snorkels and flippers?”
“Right. Snorkels and flippers. When you see them, remember to go up to them and tell ‘em you support clean water too.”
“Ohh. If you say so…”
Miasma slipped past the old lady and hurried down the sidewalk before the old bat realized that none of what he’d been saying made a lick of sense.
Peeper gulped. He slid his hand into the satchel and grabbed one of the pistols. It didn’t matter which, as long as he had something that made him feel safer.
Only he wasn’t supposed to attack civilians. He’d get in trouble for that. Shit. Even if these jerks reminded him of some junior high asshats who totally deserved to get shot with a deviser gun that paralyzed you or made you wet your pants or whatever the hell Greasy’s gun was supposed to do.
He kept his hand in the satchel. He said, Sorry, what’d you say?”
The meanest looking jock stepped forward and growled, “I said, how come you’re walking around with a stupid fucking paper bag over your face?”
Oh shit oh shit oh shit! He lied, “It’s this rash thing I got. It’s really awful. You wouldn’t want to see how awful it is.”
The second-meanest jock stepped forward and said, “Why don’t ya take the bag off so’s we can see if you’re lying?”
Peeper choked, “Oh, you wouldn’t want to look. It’s all full of pus and weeping sores and really gross…” He had a brainstorm. “And it’s contagious! Yeah, that’s why I got it all covered up like this. So I don’t give this yucky shit to anybody else. Can you help me get to the doctor’s office? I’m lost. They told me it was over by some big spindle-looking thing, but I haven’t seen it yet.”
“Back that way, loser,” sneered one of the jocks while pointing back over his shoulder with a thumb.
“Oh, gee, thanks! Thanks a lot!” Peeper said. Then he scooted around the three jocks, giving them a wide berth. He hurried down the sidewalk, hoping they wouldn’t start throwing stuff at him or anything.
“Incredible! It looks like Funky Winkerbutt and Paper Boy have both talked their way out of their sticky situations. You think they can talk their way to victory next?”
“Oh yeah, neither of these guys can even talk a girl into going on a date with ‘em, so things aren’t looking all that promising.”
“Although, Peeper couldn’t be much more repulsive even if he was telling the truth about his face.”
“MMMM! MMMP-MMM MMM!”
“I hear the last girl he talked to gave him such a wedgie that he was talking in a squeaky voice for the rest of the day.”
“Oh, he was thirty feet in the air, held up by his underwear? Ouch. Now that’s what I call a super-wedgie. Who was it? Fey? Poise? Mega-Girl? Gloriana?”
“Generator? Generator gave him a wedgie? Wow, now that’s humiliating. If you’re getting wedgies from kids like Generator, then you have to figure you’re so far down the ratings that even the Number 325 and 326 kids are laughing at you.”
Miasma tried to walk along like he was supposed to be there. Like he was supposed to be wearing a gasmask. But he was sweating. The stupid thing wasn’t at all comfortable to wear for any length of time. If his lenses fogged up, he was going to have a serious problem.
That made him think about Christmas break. His folks weren’t too bad about the whole ‘turning into a mutant’ thing, even if his Uncle Tommy was pretty much of a dick about it back during the summer. The whole Lawrence family was pretty good about it, really. If Uncle Tommy was as bad as it got, he was in good shape. Anna didn’t like talking about it, but everyone knew her folks had been pretty horrible to her, and it wasn’t like she was ripping buildings apart and attacking nuns. And a lot of people were saying that Phase got kicked out of her family for turning into a mutant, but what do you expect from a bunch of Goodkinds?
Man, if he could just keep the gas under control for a couple weeks, Christmas would be pretty cool. Maybe he could cut down on the beans, and maybe air himself out a couple times a day. Yeah, that was it. He could volunteer to take the dogs on a walk every morning and evening, and let ‘er rip while he walked through the woods. And past Old Man Gleason’s house, because that old fart deserved to have the paint blister off his picket fence. And maybe in front of Jeremy Harris’s house, since Harris thought he was such a big, super-cool football star. And…
Uh-oh. He peered around the corner, and there was Peeper at the other side of the town square, staring at the spindle.
Probably staring at the spindle. It was pretty hard to tell where Peeper was looking, since he had a paper bag over his head. A paper bag over his head? After some of the crap Peeper had said to some of the other Underdogs, that was just too perfect.
And why weren’t there any eyeholes in the thing?
Peeper used the ‘going to the doctor’ excuse again, and got better directions to the spindle. He looked around as soon as he could see it. He didn’t see Nate anywhere, but maybe Nate was wearing a good disguise instead of a mask, and…
Nope. Nobody but Miasma was going to be walking around in this combat final while wearing a freaking old-timey gasmask. He looked like a lunatic. Why didn’t Nate get the grouchy civilians giving him shit about his mask, instead of an upstanding citizen and famous radio personality like Peeper? Or maybe he did get some grief, but he just farted and claimed there was a toxic waste dump leaking all over the place and that was why he was wearing that gasmask.
Toxic waste dump up his butt, was more like it. Sometimes Peeper had to send Greasy into the room first, just to check whether Miasma had gasbombed the room again. Some people were ridiculously touchy about stuff Peeper said to their friends.
Okay, Miasma pretty much tied him on the ‘getting to the spindle’ part. So now he just had to let the little gasbomb have it with a couple of Greasy’s gizmos, then win. And give Greasy the satchel back. Some people were so whiny about their stuff.
Miasma started moving for the spindle as soon as Peeper turned his way. Damn, and Peeper had a satchel of stuff.
Wait a minute, Peeper didn’t carry a satchel of stuff around with him! That was cheating!
Miasma strode right at Peeper. “Hey! Paperface! You’re cheating! No hauling stuff into the combat finals unless you carry it around with you normally!”
Peeper yelled, “Eat shit! Oh wait, you probably do. How else can you stink so bad?”
Miasma got within a few yards of the spindle, and started laying down a barrage of gas. Even if Peeper had all kinds of weapons in that satchel, he probably didn’t have a gasmask, or he’d be wearing it already.
“Well, it looks like we’ve gotten to the insults and banter part of the battle, Razorback.”
“I agree. This is the lamest banter since the Flying Bulldozer squared off against the White Mute.”
“Mmm mmp mmm-nmm!”
“Well, Greasy says that Peeper’s conversation is usually this weak, and he has to pay a ghost writer for the jokes we hear him crack.”
“Oh, and Greasy has just added that Peeper’s underwear is dirty and full of holes, so we’d better hope they don’t have to call an ambulance for him.”
“MMM! Mmm-mmp mmm!”
Miasma yelled, “Hey Baghead! There’s no way they’re gonna let you get away with using the stuff in that satchel, so you might as well forget it.”
Peeper pulled out the thing that looked like a George Jetson squirtgun. He smirked, “Why don’t YOU just forget it? If you take off now, I won’t have to blast you into the next century.”
Miasma stared at the gun. He didn’t know if it was even real. Or maybe it was Greasy’s, and it was a devise, and so it just might not work for Peeper. Or maybe Peeper couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with the thing.
On the other hand, it might put out a big cone of… something that nobody could miss with. Or it might put out a thin stream of stuff that Peeper could just keep squirting until he finally hit something he wanted to hit. Or maybe it would explode the street, hurling fragments of brick and concrete everywhere, so it wouldn’t matter if Peeper missed. Or even worse.
He was about to duck behind the spindle, when Peeper suddenly reacted to the gas attack.
“Oh my GOD!” Peeper tried to grab his nose through the paper bag, and the gun went off.
Miasma tried to dive behind a parked car, but fell down and scraped up his hands. He released yet another potent blast.
Peeper missed his target by a mile. Since he was jerking his hand toward his face, his other hand – the one holding the gun – went twitching upward and to the side. He blasted the spindle.
“And Peeper gets off the second shot, since I think we have to count Miasma’s gas attack as the first shot in this little battle. And it’s a miss. A really awful miss. He hit the door of the spindle, and… Eww.”
“MMMMM!” squealed Greasy wretchedly.
“Uh-oh. Peeper just fired off Greasy’s skin-repair system. I don’t know if these two yutzes are gonna be able to get that spindle door open again.”
“Where’d I get the word ‘yutz’? What? I don’t look Jewish to you?”
“Okay, let’s not be rude. There are ladies listening in. Okay, I confess, I heard it from Rabbinic. I heard some way better words from him, but I don’t think the FCC would let me say them on the air.”
Miasma looked at the gross, flesh-colored blob plastered all over the spindle door. “Jeez! And you complain about me being nasty! What the heck is that?”
Peeper was busy holding one hand over the paper bag where his nose ought to be, and rummaging through the satchel with the other. He suddenly stood up. “Oh yeah?” And he hurled a silver sphere.
He was probably aiming for Miasma, but his aim was lousy. It hit the pavement three feet to Nate’s left and a dozen feet in front of him. It went off with a furious flash.
“Uh-oh. That looked like one of Greasy’s EMP bombs. Excellent against power armor, many Energizers, and people toting around unshielded gizmos. Not too helpful against an Avatar who doesn’t carry electronic holdouts.”
“I agree. On the upside, it might’ve fried Miasma’s watch.”
“Mmmm,” moaned Greasy.
“Hmm, sounds like Greasy really wanted to save that one for HIS combat final. Oh well…”
Miasma stared in shock. The lights on the streetlights around the square all exploded. The neon signs in the store windows flashed and died. The traffic light burned out, and its control box caught on fire. Cables on utility poles started smoking.
And every other person in the square dropped dead.
Miasma gasped, “What the HELL did you do?”
Peeper stared in shock. What happened? And… “Ow! Ow ow oww!” He struggled to get his watchband unbuckled, as his watch began burning his skin.
He looked at all the bodies lying motionless on the ground. “I don’t know! I just threw it! It’s all Greasy’s fault!”
Gunnery Sergeant Oscar Bardue stared at the damage in the arena. An EMP blast wouldn’t have taken out shielded units like all those ANTs, unless… He looked over at Wilson.
Sergeant Wilson smirked at him, “I did it. I’ve seen Greasy testing those on the ranges, so I knew what it would do.”
Bardue smirked, “Eggggggg-cellent, Smithers. Release the hounds.”
Wilson laughed and said, “Already on it.” He pushed another couple buttons.
When Bardue realized which programs Wilson had just initiated, he started laughing.
Two patrol cars roared into the town square. Two cops leapt out of each car, ducking behind the open car doors for cover. “Freeze! Nobody move!”
An old lady swung open one of the cars’ rear doors and waved an angry umbrella. “They’re terrorists! See? I told you!”
Two dozen people armed with everything from baseball bats to pitchforks came running around the corner, screaming, “Murderers!”
Peeper took one look at the mob and squealed, “RUN!!!” He took off as fast as his feet could move.
Miasma ran after him, laying down a protective cloud of gas that swiftly had the mob choking and gagging.
Miasma caught up to Peeper two blocks later. Peeper was leaning against a concrete wall, trying to catch his breath. “Didn’t… know… I… could… run… that… fast… huh…”
Miasma looked around. “What do we do now?”
“Hands in the air and up against the wall!” shouted a cop wearing a gasmask.
A guy dressed like a clerk stepped around the cop and opened fire with a big handgun. BLAM! BLAM!
Bullets spanged off the wall beside them. They ducked around the corner and ran.
“What now? What now?”
“How… the… hell… should… I… know?” Peeper panted desperately.
“It’s your fault!” Miasma yelled back.
“Ruh-roh, it looks bad for Scooby and Shaggy.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Peeper does look more like Velma. Maybe that’s why Greasy likes him.”
“This mob looks pretty good, but you know what they’re missing?”
“Right. Torches. Nothing says ‘angry mob’ like some torches to go with those pitchforks.”
The two combatants ran past several detached houses. The houses were all small, two-story houses with wide porches and probably a two-by-two room arrangement inside. Plus some low basement windows showing at the sides.
Peeper grabbed Miasma’s arm. Miasma instinctively released yet another toxic blast. “I got an idea… Oh my God! Cut it out, will ya?”
“What’s your idea?” Miasma asked.
“Spare keys.” Peeper ran around to the back of the house, where there was a small, covered concrete patio. He stared at the flowerpots on the patio. Then he backed up and stared at the ground. He walked around the fishpond, staring at more ground. Finally, he flipped over a rock that turned out to be a plaster fake rock. Underneath was a spare housekey.
Miasma muttered, “I totally do not wanna know how you knew this trick.”
“Shut up.” Peeper hastily unlocked the back door, and they ran inside.
Miasma whispered, “Shit. Check if there’s anyone in here!”
“Or a big dog,” Peeper whispered back.
Suddenly, an angry growling began coming from a door that probably led to the basement. The door had a large doggy door at the bottom, so they couldn’t lock whatever it was in the basement.
Miasma rushed over to the door, opened it a crack, and backed up to the opening. Then he cut loose. Within seconds, there was a horrific odor, and a series of scared yips. They could hear the sound of dog paws scrambling back down the stairs.
Peeper groaned, “Oh God, you’re not supposed to make the place uninhabitable for us too, you idiot!” He ran back outside.
Miasma tiptoed to the front room and watched as a police car roared down the street, followed closely by three dozen angry citizens waving baseball bats and pointy garden tools. “Whew.”
He slipped over to the back door and peeked out to see what Peeper was up to.
“Somehow, it looks like our Terrible Twosome has given the cops the slip. And I guess we’ve all learned not to leave emergency housekeys out where Peeper can find them.”
“Oh yeah. And put lead foil over all our homework papers… So now, how are our combatants going to get back to the spindle and get that goo off the door?”
Peeper waited impatiently for that dumb gasbag to come back out.
Finally, Miasma slipped out quietly and closed the back door behind him. “They’re gone. I think. I saw ‘em go past that way.” He pointed down the street.
Peeper nodded. “Take a peek around the side of the house and check, okay?”
Peeper watched as Miasma put a hand in his pants pocket, and bent forward to peer around the side of the house. That was just what he was waiting for. He picked up the heavy stick in both hands and slipped up behind Miasma. One solid whack, and Miasma would be out for the count. Then it would be victory time for the Peeper!
He stepped closer. He raised the club over his head.
Miasma took his hand out of his pocket and held it behind him. He quietly said, “By the way, Peeper. This is for when you grabbed Lucille’s butt.”
Miasma flicked the tiny butane lighter that he had taken out of his pocket. The whoosh could be heard a block away.
“Yeow! That’s gotta sting!”
“I agree. I’ve never seen a flamethrower blast a guy five yards through the air before. It’s a good thing that fishpond was back there.”
“Yeah. Maybe Miasma just has really good aim.”
Miasma sat in the metal chair. The cold metal chair. The crack of his pants had burned off, so he was really feeling just how cold that chair really was. He was glad he was going to be able to stick to the tunnels to get back to Twain, because walking all the way back to Twain outside like this would give him a frostbitten buttcrack.
Sergeant Bardue sat opposite him, flanked by Sergeant Wilson and Anna’s sensei guy, who really looked like he ought to be in one of those Chinese kung-fu movies. Bardue said, “Well Miasma, anything you’d like to say before you hear your grade?”
He shrugged. “Well, I guess Aquerna and Fixx were right. I ought to take that Survival course or the martial arts stuff. And I ought to carry some more holdouts.”
“Is Peeper okay?” he checked.
Sergeant Wilson answered that one with a smile. “Yep. Okay, and already whining like crazy. He had some first-degree burns and a couple spots of second-degree burns, but you planted him right in that fishpond, so he only needed a visit from a Healer. And Banned Aids was in the clinic, so he’s all healed up. Still a little sore in a number of places, and his clothes are trashed. But he’s okay.”
The Oriental guy quietly said, “I would recommend against using such a technique when confronting anyone with normal human weaknesses. Without that fishpond there, Peeper could have burned to death.”
“Umm, yeah,” Nate cringed. “But when I was still inside, I saw him picking up that big ol’ club and then hiding it, so I knew just what he was gonna try. And I did line things up with that fishpond right behind me. I’ve never done that before, so I didn’t know my fire blast would push me right over onto my face. Jet propulsion! Sorta.” He grinned at the instructors.
Sergeant Bardue nodded a little bit. “So your mask was pretty funny, but not really a good choice. You didn’t have a plan in place to deal with an opponent, not even a low-level opponent like Peeper, except your standard gas attack. You dealt with the situation as it unfolded. You had at least one holdout no one knew about, which is good. You handled Peeper’s backstab well. You couldn’t get the spindle door open afterward, even with your flamethrower trick. So you couldn’t win. But you didn’t lose, either. We’re giving you a ‘C-’. Understand?”
Nate admitted, “Gee, I figured all us Underdogs would automatically lose and get F’s.”
The Oriental guy quietly said, “It does not work that way. You are graded based on the best that you should be able to do, given your powers and those of your opponent. You need to talk to Aquerna about her grade. Being able to crush a much weaker opponent does not in itself earn you an ‘A’. Being unable to win against someone like Tennyo or Slab would not necessarily earn you an ‘F’. You must consider your own capabilities, and try to improve yourself.”
Sergeant Wilson added, “That little lighter’s good. Small, inconspicuous, and the kind of thing anybody might carry around. But it’s not enough. If you can’t figure out other things you can do with your powers, ask around. Take the Powers Theory and Power Lab courses, and learn what else you can do. Take that Survival course, and learn how to get out of jams, and how to avoid getting into a jam in the first place. If you hadn’t walked right up to Peeper when you could see he was carrying a bag of tricks, you would’ve been a lot better off.”
“Well, I’m still happy with a C minus.”
The Oriental guy said, “You should not be content with anything less than your best.”
But hey, Miasma figured as an Underdog he was already doing his best with something better than a ‘D’. He wrapped a towel around his waist and walked off toward Twain, singing an old Johnny Cash tune.
“An’ it burned, burned, burned, that ring of fahr, that ring of faaaaaaahr…”
Peeper was sitting on the hospital bed in the stupid hospital gown. His skin was still really pink all over his face and on a lot of his skin elsewhere. And his hair was scorched. He was going to have to get a haircut really soon, or beg one of the school Wizards to fix it. He yelled at Greasy, “So where are my clothes, you idiot?”
Just then, the door swung open and three men walked in. Two of them were almost marching. The other slid in smoothly like he was practicing martial arts as he walked.
The big black guy with the ‘Smokey the Bear’ hat snapped, “Peeper, we’re here to give you your grade on your combat final. I’m Gunnery Sergeant Bardue. This is Sergeant Wilson, and this is sensei Ito.”
Wilson said, “And your name is mud, kid.”
Bardue said, “You used gear that you don’t normally carry around. That’s an automatic ‘F’. Do you understand me?”
Peeper whimpered, “It’s not my fault! Greasy carries that stuff around for me!”
Wilson sneered, “That’s the third worst excuse I’ve heard this week. You had no idea what any of that gear DID! That’s criminal!”
Bardue practically bellowed, “Did you know what that gun did before you pointed it at someone and pulled the trigger? NO! You could’ve blown his head off! Did you know what that bomb would do before you threw it at someone? NO! You could’ve killed him, yourself, and maybe another five thousand people depending on what that thing was!”
Wilson tag-teamed the boy. “Peeper! You WILL take a gun safety course AND the Intro to the Ranges course NEXT TERM! Regardless of whatever you WANTED to take next term! DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!”
“Y-yes sir,” whimpered Peeper.
In the painful silence, sensei Ito insisted, “Peeper. You used weapons you did not understand or know how to use. You had no plan. You had no backup plan. You did not consider strategy or tactics or even safety. Your best tactic was running away, which you are not fit enough or trained enough to do well. And you destroyed most of your friend’s weaponry for his combat final, along with his personal devises. You are very fortunate that we are not allowed to assign a grade lower than ‘F’, because you certainly deserve it for your actions today.”
The two sergeants marched out, while Ito smoothly slid out behind them. The door swung shut and clicked shut in the awful silence.
Peeper turned to Greasy. "It's all your fault! You didn't have anything good!" He grabbed the stack of papers out of Greasy’s hands, and started beating the smaller boy with them.