Mission Imp-probable (Part 1)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
New York, Friday May 11th, 2007
Three villains walk into a bar. That sounds like the start of a joke, but it was actually how my evening began.
The bar in question is the Black Mask, which caters almost exclusively to super villains, so the arrival of three more was barely worth noting. It was a nice place with a fairly relaxed atmosphere, a great liquor selection, and several back rooms where people could conduct business in private. The Black Mask wasn’t a dive bar like Superbad, but neither was it an exclusive club full of snobs like Moriarty’s. In fact, it was a comfortable median, or as Goldilocks might say…just right.
Of course, any place that that catered to professional criminals, especially ones who had advanced technology or special powers, also had to deal with their unique privacy and security concerns. The most notable security feature was the front door, which at first glance, looked like an ordinary wooden door with a sign that had a black domino mask painted on it. However, the place where the door opened up to moved from one week to the next, over a several block area. Today, I’d come here through a door located in an alley behind a Starbucks, but last week, that same door had been located a block away. This helped to keep unwanted pests, such as nosy heroes and the MCO, away from the business.
I was currently sitting at the main bar with a beer in hand when I gestured to Carl, the bartender. “I’ll take a flying monkey butt.“
“Right away,” Carl responded, not even blinking at the name of the drink I’d just made up off the top of my head. Carl and I had a bit of a game, where every time I came in, I’d pull some random drink name out of my butt and order it. He always accepted this as perfectly normal, and never hesitated to make something appropriate for me. I was pretty sure he actually enjoyed the opportunity to experiment and invent new drinks for me, and a few of them have even ended up on the specialty drink menu.
Without a word, Carl placed the finished drink in front of me and waited for my response. I took a sip, not having the faintest idea of what he’d put in it until then. I tasted some rum and banana liqueur, but wasn’t sure what else he’d added. I gave him a nod of approval and he quickly went to the next customer.
Then I turned my attention back to the three newcomers, two of whom I actually knew. The tall, statuesque redhead in the red and white spandex costume was walking straight towards me, while the two men followed close behind her.
“Imp,” the redhead greeted me with a friendly smile.
“Hey, Pinball,” I responded with a grin. “Long time no see.”
Pinball and I had worked together a couple times before, and in spite of our vastly different methods, we actually got along pretty well…mostly due to the fact that she actually had a sense of humor and seemed to appreciate mine. In our line of work, a good sense of humor was often a hard virtue to find.
The last time I’d seen Pinball had been almost two years ago, after we’d just done a job in Vegas. Once the job was over, the two of us had gone out to a strip club in order to celebrate. Of course, I’d gone to see the well-endowed men while she’d been more interested in well-endowed women, but we’d still had a great time.
“You know the Highwayman,” Pinball said, gesturing to one of the men behind her.
The Highwayman was dressed in his usual costume of a long white overcoat with a raised collar that obscured most of his lower face. Between that and the white tricorne hat, they helped to obscure his features enough so that he didn’t really need a mask. The Highwayman was just that…a highway robber and mercenary who specialized in going after moving targets. And in addition to that, he was also a gadgeteer with a real talent for vehicles.
“Milady,” the Highwayman greeted me, removing his hat and giving me a bow. I grinned at that, almost having forgotten that was such a charmer.
“Good sir,” I responded with a grin, hopping off my bar stool and giving a curtsy, which he seemed to find amusing.
“So,” the Highwayman asked me. “How is your motorcycle working?”
He was referring to a motorcycle that he’d custom built for me a couple years ago, one that I’d paid a great deal for but which was probably twenty years ahead of the market. I grinned at that as I answered, “It runs great.” Then I hesitated a moment before admitting, “But it was sitting for a year and could probably use a tune up.”
“Then I shall endeavor to satisfy your needs,” he responded. “When time permits, of course.”
“Of course,” I agreed.
I turned my attention to the other man who’d come in with Pinball, one whom I’d never seen before. He was only an inch or two taller than my height of 5 foot 7, but he was pretty stocky, with a solid seeming build. His dark hair was cut short, and he had a well-trimmed beard. And though the stranger was dressed in civilian clothes, the hard look in his eyes gave clear warning that he was dangerous.
“This is Mauler,” Imp introduced him.
“Hiya,” I greeted Mauler with a somewhat vapid grin as I shook his hand. “I’m Imp.”
This was the first time I’d ever met Mauler, but after Pinball had contacted me in order to set up this meeting, I’d done a little research. Mauler was a power armor jockey, and from what I’d been able to find out, he used to be a member of the Knights of Purity before he handed in his resignation and became a freelance mercenary. And by handing in his resignation, I meant that he stole a cache of weapons and armor that they’d just ‘confiscated’ from some devisor, which meant that the KoP really wanted to get their hands on him.
After this brief introduction, the four of us made our way to one of the back rooms where we sat down and began a nice game of poker, which was the equivalent of making small talk and getting to know each other before we worked our way up to discussing business. I was already familiar with how Pinball and Highwayman operated, but this was an opportunity for Mauler and me to feel each other out.
I kept a grin on my face and cheerfully hummed to myself as we played, earning looks of disgust and annoyance from Mauler. Finally, I looked at my hand, slapped down my cards and proudly exclaimed, “Go fish.”
“We’re playing poker,” Mauler snapped at me.
“Oh,” I responded, giving my best look of wide-eyed-innocence, which wasn’t really very easy to pull off with my devilish good looks. “Sorry.”
Pinball was watching me with a faint smile, obviously realizing what I was up to. Highwayman’s costume obscured his face, making it difficult to make out his expression, which I considered to be quite unfair while playing poker, but I was pretty sure that he knew what I was up to as well. Mauler however, just seemed irritated by my antics, just as I intended. It was much easier to read people’s tells when they were off balance like this.
After another couple minutes, I jumped up and blurted out, “Yahtzee…!”
Mauler glared at me with a look of pure contempt before he snarled at Pinball, “Your friend is a fucking idiot…”
I saw that I might have misjudged Mauler, because he was reaching the limits of his patience and was about to just write me off and walk out of here. I wouldn’t really have minded, but I was still curious about why Pinball had arranged this meeting.
Pinball calmly told Mauler, “You said that you needed a cat burglar, and Imp is the best you’re going to find in this area of the country…at least on such short notice.”
“Ah, the fair lady once snuck into the headquarters of the Empire City Guard,” Highwayman added in a casual tone as he looked over his cards. “I believe she put super glue on their toilet seats…”
I grinned evilly at that and announced, “Now that was a great April Fools Day.” I chuckled wickedly at the memory before adding, “Captain Quantum still hasn’t forgiven me for that one. Talk about no sense of humor.”
Mauler stared at me with a look of surprise, and even a hint of respect. After all, the Empire City Guard was one of the oldest and most respected groups of heroes, and they were well known for having built up some great security for their headquarters. Of course, I didn’t point out that Mimeo had charged into their headquarters and had torn through their defenses a couple days before, and I’d just taken advantage of the opportunity to sneak in before they’d gotten their security back up. In my line of work, patience and timing were critical.
“Oh, by the way,” I said, giving an evil grin as I spread my cards out on the table. “I believe a full house wins me the pot…”
Mauler stared at me with another look of surprise before his eyes narrowed as he realized that I’d been playing him. “Indeed it does,” he responded coldly.
“I have two questions to start with,” I said, letting my tone go serious. “What is this job and why should I help?”
Mauler was silent for a moment, giving me a dirty look but not saying anything. Then he finally asked, “Have you ever heard of Sartek?”
“Should I have?” I asked.
It was Highwayman who answered, “Sartek is a company that supplies raw materials and high tech components…so they are quite popular among those in the gadgeteering and devising professions.”
“And though they don’t advertise it,” Mauler continued, “they also do a side business with certain law enforcement agencies, safely destroying confiscated devises for them in exchange for keeping some of the raw materials.” He paused at that, smirking faintly as he continued, “Some of these raw materials can be quite rare and expensive, so they make a nice profit turning around and selling them. Our target is some of these raw materials…specifically…a supply of ebidium that they have stored in a secure location.”
“Ebidium?” I asked curiously.
“A rare alloy,” Highwayman answered. “Very hard, extremely dense, and it has some unusual properties that make it make it quite valuable.”
“How valuable?” I asked. I could accurately appraise the monetary value of most artwork, but when it came to rare metals, I was a lot less certain.
Highwayman chuckled. “Ounce for ounce, it’s worth just a little more than gold.”
I nodded at that. “And how much are we talking about?”
“A quarter ton worth,” Mauler responded with calculating smile.
My eyes lit up at that since a quarter ton of gold would be quite a nice haul, and if this stuff had the same kind of value… Normally, I focused on stealing art since I could practice my profession and my passion at the same time, but this was definitely making my greedy side perk up a little.
After a few seconds of consideration, I asked, “Do you have a buyer lined up?” I wasn’t used to dealing with ebidium, so I wondered just how difficult it would be to move.
“I have a buyer lined up,” Mauler told me, then admitted. “Anonymous. But the White Lady is acting as the go-between…for a percentage off the top.”
I nodded as I considered that. Having a buyer lined up ahead of time added certain complications, but also provided a level of security since it meant that you didn’t need to take the risk of holding onto the goods any longer than necessary. I never liked dealing with anonymous buyers, because in my experience, they often thought that their anonymity meant they could screw you over without consequence. However, if the White Lady was acting as a go-between, then that also added some legitimacy.
Though I’d never met the White Lady, I had dealt with her…indirectly. She was an old school criminal, the kind who ran a crime family and had her fingers in a lot of pies, but who was never actually seen doing anything illegal. From what I’d heard, the White Lady had done the costumed villain thing back in the 30’s or 40’s, and she’d even fought the original Champion a few times, but she’d been a lot more careful since then. It said something about the woman, that she’d been able to operate right under the noses of the Chicago Crusaders and the Windy City Guardians for decades, but they didn’t have enough evidence to even lay so much as a finger on her.
“We have a limited window of opportunity for the ebidium,” Mauler explained. “At the moment, Sartek’s entire supply is in one place, but in one week, they’re going to split it up and send it to a half dozen different buyers and storage locations.”
I absently tapped my nails on the table as I considered this, already having mixed feelings about this job. On one hand, it sounded like it had the potential to be very good for my bank account, but on the other hand, it wasn’t my usual kind of job. And of course, a week wasn’t long enough to research and plan a proper heist.
I looked at Pinball and Mauler, both of whom were more the ‘break the door down’ rather than the ‘sneak in and out’ type. “This sounds like you’re planning a smash and grab. That isn’t really my thing.”
Just as I was starting to get up to leave, Pinball said, “Wait… Mauler hasn’t gotten to your part.”
“Oooh,” I exclaimed, rubbing my hands together in a greedy fashion. “You need my help spending the money? I’m really good at that…”
Mauler snorted, giving me another glare and probably wondering how difficult it would be to find another sneak thief on such short notice. “I’ve been planning this job for weeks,” he said gruffly, picking up his beer and taking a long drink. “Then at the last minute, the White Lady demanded we throw in a bonus.”
“It seems the lady requires a small token of our esteem,” Highwayman mused. “A modest gift, which she will pay rather well for.”
“Sartek has a certain computer chip stored in the same facility as the ebidium,” Mauler explained.
“On the other side,” Pinball added with a sigh, taking a long drink from her beer, which she emptied in a single gulp. “We won’t have the time to grab the ebidium and force our way through to the other side of the building.”
“So you want to do a two prong operation,” I stated with a nod of understanding. “You guys go for the ebidium and kick up a bit of noise, while I use the distraction to slip in and grab the chip.”
“Exactly,” Mauler agreed.
I considered what I’d been told for a moment before asking, “Where is this facility at? Or more accurately, are there any local heroes who are likely to show up?”
There was a moment of hesitation before Mauler admitted, “The Shielders.”
“Jersey,” I said with the same snort of disdain that any good New Yorker would give.
I’d never run into the Shielders, but I made a point of being familiar with all the super groups on this side of the country, and any of the nosey buttinskis who might interfere with one of my jobs. The Shielders were based out of New Jersey, and they didn’t operate like most hero groups I’d heard of. In fact, they were a bit more like a private security company…with powers. They billed themselves as ‘heroes for hire’ and had contracts with various businesses and cities…including Atlantic City. If any of their clients were faced with superhuman or paranormal threats, the Shielders would come running to protect them. And ironically enough, since their clients actually had the Shielders on retainer and were paying them, they actually seemed to trust these mercenary heroes more than the free ones.
“At least we won’t have to deal with the Liberty League,” Pinball commented with a shrug. When we all looked to her, she just shrugged again and responded, “Those guys are like hemorrhoids…a real pain in my ass.”
“Oooh,” I exclaimed, turning to Pinball with an eager grin. “My Imp senses detect a story… Personal issues?”
Pinball gave me an amused look, then admitted, “Only with one of them…”
“Archenemy time,” I announced with an even bigger grin. “Do tell…”
“Ladies,” Highwayman said, reminding me that we’d been in the middle of business before we’d become distracted. “I believe we were discussing the job…”
I let out a sigh and made a show of rolling my eyes. “You owe me a story,” I told Pinball, before turning my attention back to Mauler. “If we’re going to risk dealing with the Shielders, we’ll need someone who can deal with magic. They’ve got a finger wiggler on their team.”
“Northern New Jersey is the Witch Queen’s territory,” Highwayman pointed out, apparently thinking that we’d be able to recruit her to help with the magic angle.
I shook my head. “This isn’t Witchie Poo’s kind of operation, so I doubt she’ll get involved in either side…unless we mess with one of her covens.”
“So, are you in?” Mauler asked me with an intense look.
I hesitated a moment, wondering if I really wanted to get involved in this job. There were a number of reasons why I should pass it up, but at the same time, I’d been out of the game for awhile. After a year-long sabbatical and that thing with Hexagoner last month, it would be good for me to do a nice simple job that was about nothing but the money.
“Tell me more,” I answered.
However, Pinball abruptly stood up and announced, “Before we get in this too deep…I need to grab some food.” She gave an apologetic look before explaining, “Energizer metabolism.”
As Pinball left the back room to order a snack, I went with her, calling out, “Hey Carl… Give me a big flaming cock…”
Nearly every customer in the bar turned to stare at me in surprise, but Carl reacted the same as if I’d just asked him about the weather, and casually responded, “On the rocks, or without?”
“Go ahead and put ice in the glass,” I responded with a smirk. “I like to get the rocks off myself…” That time, he actually chuckled.
Just then, someone called out, “Hey babe, I can give you a real flaming cock…” I looked to the speaker, who was a customer in a red and yellow costume. He stared at me with a smirk, holding out his hand and having a ball of fire appear in his palm.
“Sorry for the misunderstanding,” I said in my best sweet and polite voice. “But I wasn’t referring to the clap…” That got several of the other villains present to start laughing at him, much to his obvious embarrassment.
A few minutes later, Pinball and I sat back down at the poker table to continue our discussion. She now had a plate that contained a steak, two hamburgers, and a large pile of fries. All I had was a new beer, and a strong drink that seemed to contain jalapeno flavored vodka, among some other things.
For the next two hours, the four of us played poker while we discussed the job, talking about such things as how we would enter the facility, our exit plan, and of course, critical details such as what my cut would be. And once we were done with the planning, at least for the moment, we turned all our attention to the twin tasks of playing poker and drinking.
It was in the early hours of the morning when the four of us finally decided that we’d had enough and that it was time to leave. Pinball and I were arm in arm as we left the Black Mask together, cheerfully singing, “What do you do with a drunken villain? What do you do with a drunken villain? What do you do with a drunken villain earl-eye in the morning…?” Of course, we both had regeneration so neither of us was actually drunk, but we were having way too much fun to worry about a little detail like that.
New York, Sunday May 13th, 2007
Every super villain must have a secret lair where they can safely plot their evil deeds. It clearly says so in chapter four of the villain handbook, right between the chapters on monologing and building easily escaped death traps. I was currently entrenched deep in the bowels of my Imp Lair, or as I preferred to call it…my condo.
I was sitting down at my desk with a glass of wine in my hand as I looked over the pile of photos, reports, and other bits of information related to Sartek and the upcoming job. Much of this information had been provided by Mauler, but I hadn’t become the successful professional I am today by taking things for granted. So far, most of my own research matched what he’d given me, and the few details that didn’t were pretty minor. All in all, I had enough information to work with.
Mauler had already set up a plan for us all to get past the initial physical security and into the facility, but from there, I’d be on my own. Fortunately, I’d already figured out a way for a clever and talented Imp to get her hands on the computer chip, which was the entire reason I’d been brought on board. And even more importantly, I’d identified several likely exit routes. After all, what good was being able to steal the chip if I couldn’t get away with it afterwards?
I leaned back and finished off my glass of wine, then decided it was time to take a break. I’d already finished all my planning, though I’d still look everything over again before the job. In spite of my reputation for being reckless and impulsive, I actually took my work very seriously. But for now, there was nothing more to do.
As I looked over the mess on my desk, I mused that once this job was done and over with, maybe I’d arrange a trip and go visit the Louvre. And maybe, if I was feeling particularly inspired, I might even come home with an especially nice souvenir.
“I’ve always wanted to steal something from the Louvre,” I mused to myself with a faint smile. For an art thief, that was the equivalent of being able to say you’d played at Carnegie Hall or got a lead role on Broadway.”
A moment later, I stood up and began to stretch. I even snapped my tail back and forth a few times for good measure to make sure it got stretched out as well. There was very little as uncomfortable as a kink in the tail, except perhaps for sitting on it wrong.
I went over to turn on my stereo, and as soon as the soothing sounds of N’Sync filled the room, I began to dance, shaking my booty and my tail along with it. After a refill on my wine and another minute of just dancing to the beat, I finally made my way to the back room that served as my art studio.
My studio was set up with a cabinet and set of shelves against the far wall, containing most of the supplies I used for painting. There were several painting easels set up around the room, all of which contained paintings of different levels of completion. The first one my eyes went to was nearly completed replica of a little something from Margaret Keane. It was a damn good forgery and would come in really useful when it came time to switch it out for the original. However, my real interest wasn’t in this forgery, but in the painting beside it, one that was one of my own original pieces. When it was finished it, I’d sign it with the name Candice Kade, and no one besides myself would ever know it had been painted by the infamous art thief known as the Imp.
As a professional thief, I was justifiably proud of my skills and accomplishments, but my real passion was art. And as exciting as it was to sneak past impregnable security and steal a beautiful masterpiece, that still didn’t match the sense of satisfaction I received when someone sincerely complimented an original piece that I myself had created. It was that special kind of warm fuzzy that came from pulling off the perfect heist or having really great sex.
After putting on a smock to keep paint off my clothes, I went to work. After all, my muse was calling and it was time to answer. Though I was no longer dancing, I continued to hum and sing along as I painted, losing myself in both the music and the dictates of my muse.
I had been painting for nearly an hour and was in the middle of dabbing on some blue paint while singing along with Christina Aguilera, when I heard the phone start ringing from the next room. With a muttered curse, I put down my brush and paints and hurried to go see who it was. Considering the fact that I had a big job coming up, it wouldn’t be a good idea to ignore the phone. But to my surprise, it wasn’t my Imp phone that was ringing, but the one I had dedicated to Candice Kade business.
“Hello, David,” I answered the phone, recognizing the number on my caller ID as belonging to David Herman, the manager of the art gallery I did business with, and who currently had a couple of my paintings on commission. I kind of liked the guy, but I doubted that he’d return the feeling if he had any idea of who I really was. After all, art gallery managers usually weren’t big fans of art thieves…especially ones who’d robbed them before. I grinned, letting my tail swish back and forth as I said, “Let me guess, you sold Reflected Secret for me…”
“Um…not exactly,” David responded from the other end, not sounding happy.
Warning bells went off in my head, so I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“We had a robbery,” David blurted out, obviously trying to be professional, but from the tone of his voice, he sounded as though he was barely holding it together. “Someone broke in and stole several paintings from the gallery…including one of yours…”
“What?” I gasped, feeling stunned at that. I blinked several times, sure that this had to be some kind of joke. “Which one?”
There was a pause, one which told me exactly which painting had been taken. Reflected Secret was one I was quite proud of, and the one I was asking the most for. A few seconds later, David confirmed my guess, quickly adding, “I’m so sorry… I assure you, our insurance will take care of it…”
I talked to David for another half minute, then hung up the phone. For a moment, I just stood there, not sure of what to think about this. Then I burst out laughing at the irony of it, a professional art thief getting robbed of her painting. This had to be some kind of weird karma thing.
“So this is what it feels like,” I said with a shake of my head.
I could have just shrugged it off, then sat and let the police handle the matter, but there were a couple problems with that. First, I didn’t trust the police to find their butts on a toilet, and secondly, I was curious. If nothing else, I wanted a look at the crime scene so I could get a feel for who the thieves were and how they operated. After all, if I got robbed by some sloppy amateur, I was really going to be upset.
After a quick change of clothes, I picked my magic medallion off the desk where I kept it when I was at home. This little piece of jewelry might not look especially fancy, but it was actually the most valuable thing I owned…except perhaps for an art piece or two that had been created by masters. After all, it was the medallion that made my identity as Candice Kade possible, and which allowed me the opportunity to pursue this secondary career as an actual artist and not just a thief.
I went and stood in front of the mirror, stopping and striking a bit of a pose. I had to admit that with my devilish good looks, I struck quite a figure. Sure, the brunette hair going down almost to the middle of my back was nice, but that wasn’t one of my more striking features. Those would include my long black tail, with the barbed, flat triangular tip that earned it the description of being a ‘devil’s tail’, and of course, the short black horns that grew out of my forehead. I had some other odd features as well, such as my yellow eyes, pointed ears, black clawlike nails, and the small black scales that covered my forehead and cheeks, though my horns and tail were definitely the most noticeable. But if you were able to somehow overlook all these oddities, I probably would have been called fairly attractive.
“Good-bye gorgeous,” I announced as I slipped the medallion over my head, activating the magic that would cover me in an illusion and hide my odd features. “Hello boring.”
With that, I turned away from the mirror and started on my way. It was pretty late out, so I actually considered taking my car, though I quickly discounted it. I was never comfortable inside a car, and this situation wasn’t urgent enough to demand I put myself through that discomfort. Of course, there was my motorcycle, but I reserved that for Imp business instead of Candice business. Even at this late hour, public transportation would work just fine.
When I finally arrived at the gallery, I was annoyed though not surprised to find the cops there, keeping anyone from going inside. I would just have to wait for the cops to leave before I went in for a look, which meant that there would be more time for the cops to screw things up. Then I grinned and twitched my tail back and forth as I considered sneaking past the cops and checking the place out while they were still there. It would be a bit more risky, but it kind of appealed to me as well.
Just then, David came out the front door, talking to some detective. He saw me standing a short distance away and called out, “Candice? What are you doing here?”
“You know her?” the detective asked David.
“Yes,” David quickly responded. “This is Candice Kade…one of our artists. I’d called her a short time ago to let her know that one of her paintings was stolen.”
“I just had to see for myself,” I said, trying to look completely shocked and broken up over the robbery.
The detective let out a snort and rolled his eyes. “Why not? We’ve already got someone else doing the same thing…” With that, David and the detective led me into the gallery, which had half a dozen cops looking things over, then stopped in a large open area that was well back from any of the actual paintings or cops. “Now, stay back here so you don’t get in the way.”
“Thank you,” I said, trying not to grin at how easy that had been. Then again, that may have gotten me into the gallery, but had also gotten me noticed so I couldn’t go looking around like I wanted. I’d outsmarted myself this time.
A man was already standing in the open area where I’d been left, one who was rather handsome as well as familiar looking. It took me a moment to place him, but I smiled when I did. This was Ryan Chambers, a man who’d once complimented one of my paintings. A lady doesn’t forget something like that.
“Ms. Kade,” Ryan greeted me with a forced smile. “I suspect you’re here for the same reason I am.”
“You’re here trick-or-treating too?” I asked with a grin, earning a chuckle in response.
“No,” Ryan assured me. “The thieves stole several of my paintings.”
I gave Ryan a curious look, feeling a little surprised by his answer. “I didn’t know you were an artist.”
He shrugged, responding, “I’m not. I’m a buyer.” Then, as if I didn’t know what a buyer was, he explained, “My clients hire me to buy artwork for them. I’d purchased several paintings for one client’s lobby, but the gallery hadn’t delivered them yet before this happened.” He shook his head and let out a sigh. “Fortunately, I have a friend in the police department who arranged for me to be let in…just as long as I stay back and don’t interfere.”
I nodded at that, looking over the gallery and spotting several blank spaces along the walls where I knew the paintings had been. My eyes went to the spot where Reflected Secret had been, but which was now empty as well. I felt vaguely annoyed at that.
“That reminds me,” Ryan mused. “I had been planning to contact you soon about getting one of your pieces for a client’s office…” Then he paused before apologizing. “Sorry, I know this isn’t a good time.”
I absently nodded at that since most of my attention was focused on the missing paintings. I tried to picture what had been in each of those spaces, wanting to create a mental list of what had been taken in case there was a pattern. Of course, once the police were finished, I’d have to get a copy of the police report…and do a thorough search of all the potential points of entry. I’d cased this gallery quite well and knew exactly where each of them was.
“Have you heard the police say anything about possible suspects?” I asked curiously.
Ryan gave me a wry smile before answering, “You could say that.”
Ryan gestured for me to follow as he walked a short distance, then he stopped and gestured to a wall, one I hadn’t seen from where I’d been standing previously. The blank section of wall had been vandalized and a picture had been drawn on it in black, a picture that looked like a circle with a pair of horns on the top and a squiggly devil’s tail coming out of the bottom. My mouth dropped open at the sight and I blurted out, “You’ve got to be kidding me…” That was MY logo.
“It seems the thief signed her work,” Ryan pointed out wryly.
All I could do was stare at the wall in stunned silence. If I’d thought the idea of someone stealing art from me was ironic, being framed as the one doing it was a hell of a lot more so. For the last month, someone had been going around town, spray painting my logo on various walls as graffiti, and because of this, at least one gang thought I was trying to move in on their territory. But now, someone had actually pulled off an art theft and blamed me for it…framing me for robbing myself. For one of the few times in my life, I was not amused.
I was annoyed that Reflected Secret had been stolen, but I certainly didn’t take it personally. That was just the way the game was played. In fact, I actually took it as a compliment since the thief thought my painting was good enough to be worth stealing. However, the thief had used MY logo…had framed ME for it. Now that was something I took personally and wasn’t about to let stand.
New Jersey, Thursday May 17th, 2007
It was in the early hours of the morning, but instead of being at home in bed, I was hanging around a warehouse in New Jersey, playing cards with a group of people who almost looked like they were on their way to a costume party. Most people probably would have thought the whole situation was weird, but in my line of work, there wasn’t anything about this that was really unusual.
I was currently dressed up in my work uniform, a sleek and sexy red and black catsuit that hugged my body like an amorous lover. Around my waist, I wore a belt with a few pouches containing my various tricks and tools of the trade. My utility belt might take away from the sleek lines of my costume, but like my credit card, I don’t leave home without it.
Pinball sat across from me, dressed up in her red costume with the white trim. She looked at the cards in her hand and then absently took a drink from the large mug of coffee that was sitting in front of her. Her coffee was actually straight espresso, which made the whole thing strong enough that most people would explode from caffeine overdose after drinking the whole cup. However, Pinball was a regenerator which meant that the caffeine had to be extremely potent if it was going to have any effect on her at all.
Mauler was dressed in a black jumpsuit instead of a real costume. Of course, his ‘costume’ was actually the 8 foot tall suit of black power armor that was standing motionless a short distance away. I had no doubt that he could get into the thing pretty fast when he needed to, but for the moment, he was trying not to drain the power. After all, everyone knew that when it came to fuel efficiency, power armor was like an SUV on steroids.
A boy in a green and white costume was sitting at the table with us, a fresh faced kid who couldn’t have been much more than eighteen. Monkeywrench was a rookie, and I was pretty sure that this was actually his first professional job. I hated working with rookies and amateurs, but Mauler had brought him in without warning, springing him on us less than an hour ago. From what I understood, the kid was some kind of dynahost or avatar with a gremlin spirit, able to screw up machinery, which would make him useful for dealing with security.
Monkeywrench gave me a nervous glance then quickly looked away. The kid was a bit scared of me, obviously due to my appearance since my reputation wasn’t that fearsome. This both amused and annoyed me, and if it wasn’t for the fact that we were on the job, I probably would have taken advantage of the opportunity to mess with him.
The last person present was Hexfire, who was an exotic looking woman with grey skin, black hair, and glowing green eyes. She was wearing a black costume that included a green cloak. Mauler had brought Hexfire in after our planning session at the Black Mask, following my advice to bring in some magical firepower. I wasn’t very fond of magic, but I figured that if we ran into any kind of magical security or interference, it would be nice to have a finger wiggler of our own on hand.
Hexfire was standing back away from the table, watching our card game with silent disdain. Hexfire was like most of the magic types I knew, and they were almost always arrogant and full of themselves, acting as though knowing magic somehow made them superior to everyone who didn’t. Of course, most of the mad scientist types I knew were almost exactly the same.
“I did not agree to this venture in order to merely stand witness to games,” Hexfire finally said, obviously impatient over how long we’d been waiting.
“No,” Mauler responded with a scowl. “You joined us for a share of the take…just like everyone here.”
“I have little interest in material gain,” Hexfire stated, sounding almost offended by Mauler’s words, “save what can afford me the resources I require to advance in my craft.”
“After this job, you’ll be able to afford a lot of resources,” Pinball assured her. “None of us likes having to wait, but it is necessary.”
“I don’t know,” Monkeywrench said with grin, giving Pinball an appreciative look. “I don’t mind waiting here at all.”
I smirked at that, feeling tempted to tell the rookie that Pinball was way out of his league. And not only that, but she also had no interest in anyone of the male gender. In fact, I suspected that I could have a lot of fun watching him make a fool of himself, chasing after her when he didn’t have any chance at all. Then I chuckled to myself, deciding that I could have even more fun with this if I pulled the kid aside and encouraged him to go for it.
Just then, Mauler got a call on his cell phone, and when the ten second call was over, he stated, “It looks like we won’t have to wait much longer. He’s here.” And with that, Mauler got up and went to climb into his power armor.
A minute later, Highwayman arrived, driving a large armored car into the warehouse. When he climbed out of the vehicle, I stared at him for a few seconds since instead of wearing his normal costume, he was wearing a Sartek uniform. Highwayman was lean and athletic, with dark brown hair and the kind of unassuming looks that would have let him vanish into a crowd without anyone noticing him.
“What did you do with the drivers?” Pinball asked in a casual tone that hid the edge behind it. I knew exactly what Pinball was really asking, because like me, she didn’t like the idea of anyone getting hurt or killed when she pulled a job.
“Oh, those fellas?” Highwayman responded with a grin, speaking with a faint southern twang that was normally absent. “They’re a bit tied up right now so I figured I’d help them out.”
“Where there any problems?” Mauler asked from his power armor, which made him look MUCH more intimidating.
“Neither problem nor challenge,” Highwayman answered, dropping the accent and speaking in his normal tone. “I’ve overridden the black box and GPS units, so if any of their people are watching, they’ll merely see the vehicle stopped in traffic about a mile away.” Then he bowed and gestured towards the back of the vehicle. “Ladies first.”
“Such a gentleman,” I exclaimed, making a show of stopping to curtsy, which made Pinball start chuckling.
“I always endeavor to be one,” Highwayman said pleasantly as he went and held the door open for us.
Pinball and Hexfire went into the back right away, though Hexfire had a sour look on her face. I stood back and watched in amusement as Mauler tried getting in, which wasn’t nearly as easy. His bulky power armor took up a lot of space, even with him crouched down onto his knees.
“You’re next Monkeybutt,” I cheerfully told the rookie, who gave me a dirty look. I was pretty sure he was going to call me on the nickname, but then he decided against it. That was too bad, because if he was worried about offending me, he probably wouldn’t make it in the business.
Monkeybutt got in along with everyone else, and when I started to close the door, he blurted out, “Aren’t you coming back here too?”
“Nope,” I responded with a grin, waving my tail back and forth. “I called shotgun.”
The kid’s eyes went wide at that, probably due to the fact that we were attempting to sneak into Sartek through the back loading docks. With my devilish good looks, I tended to stand out and be quite noticeable, which might conceivably work against the whole sneaking in thing. I just gave Monkeybutt my best innocent look as I closed the door, locking him and the rest of my compatriots inside.
“Don’t hit any pot holes,” I told Highwayman with a grin as I scrambled up onto the top of the armored car. “I don’t want to get stoned.”
“I’ll attempt to make your ride as smooth as possible,” Highwayman promised me with a chuckle as he started back towards the front of the truck. “I’ll see you at the rendezvous.”
Once I was on top of the armored car, I laid down and then spread myself flat. As soon as I was fairly comfortable, I activated my PK aura, clinging to the surface the same way I did when I used my power to climb walls. For all practical purposes, I was effectively glued to the metal until I decided to let go. After that, I altered the appearance of my aura so that I blended into my environment better than any chameleon, becoming invisible as long as I didn’t move.
Highwayman pulled the armored car out of the warehouse and we were on our way. This wasn’t the first time I’d traveled on a moving vehicle by catching a ride on top, though it was one of the few times that the driver actually knew I was there. For most people, the idea of riding on top of a moving vehicle would be considered insane, but for me, I found it rather refreshing. It might be a bit uncomfortable, but I was still happier than I would have been trapped in the back with everyone else. I shuddered at the thought of being stuck in such a confined space.
While I waited for us to arrive at our destination, I mentally went over all the details for this heist, though my thoughts wandered and I found myself thinking about the theft at the art gallery a few days ago instead. To my surprise, the cops had actually found all the stolen paintings much faster than I ever would have imagined possible. In fact, they found the paintings just ten minutes after I’d arrived at the gallery…safely tucked away in David’s office. The paintings hadn’t even left the building. And what was just as surprising was the fact that it turned out my logo had been drawn on the wall in dry erase marker, and had wiped right off. It seemed that the robbery had just been some kind of practical joke, though I still had no idea if the perpetrator was targeting the Imp, Candice Kade, David, or someone else entirely.
There had been a lot of odd things about the gallery heist, and not just the fact that it hadn’t been a real heist at all. The police hadn’t been able to find any indications of how the prankster had gotten in or out, nor had the surveillance video shown anything. After the police had left, I’d done a little snooping of my own, and I hadn’t found how they’d gotten in or out either. Whoever had played that little joke was either very good, or they had some kind of paranormal ability to help them out.
I was still thinking about the gallery heist when we finally arrived at Sartek’s facility. There was a large fence around the entire property, which would be a bit harder to get over than a single glance would suggest. Sartek did a lot of work with gadgeteers and devisors, so they had some of the best security equipment available. Fortunately, we didn’t need to worry about the fence that was both electrified and lined with force field generators that would kick in if anything was breached. Instead, we went through the front gate, stopping to give the guards a bunch of forged paperwork and then being waved through.
I was extremely careful not to move an inch since security cameras had been watching the armored car and were probably still locked on us. However, I did take advantage of the opportunity to look at the compound as we drove past it. Though it wasn’t immediately noticeable, the open field between the fence and the building itself actually had several automated gun turrets hidden beneath the surface, ready to pop and start shooting in case of an intrusion. Sartek took their security VERY seriously.
In spite of all the security so far, I had no doubt that my crew could have made it past the outer fence and the automated turrets, especially with Monkeybutt on our side. However, that would have taken time, which would have let Sartek lock down the building itself, making it almost completely impenetrable. And on top of that, trying to attack security head on would have immediately alerted the Shielders and any other capes in the vicinity. Our plan let us bypass those levels of security so we really only had to deal with the ones inside the building.
Once we reached the building and entered through the loading dock entrance, it was time for me to take my leave of the others. They had their own vault doors and such they needed to break through while I had a somewhat more subtle game to play. I grinned with excitement as I leapt from the roof of the truck and used my PK aura to cling to the ceiling. It only took me a few more seconds to find an opening into the ventilation system, then to let myself inside.
The air ducts were tight and enclosed, but that wasn’t much of a problem for me. I just used my aura to reduce my friction, making me like a greased pig so I could move through the shaft more easily.
“Like covering my whole body in KY jelly,” I joked as I slowly moved along. “And why do they have air ducts big enough for people to climb around through anyway?”
I hadn’t gone very far before I heard the explosions and sirens that announced the others had gone to work. We’d all snuck through the outer security together, but they were going to use force to bust through the rest of the way to the vault holding the ebidium while I used them as a distraction to continue sneaking the rest of the way. And if everything went according to plan, Monkeybutt’s powers would screw up the alarms and security systems enough to confuse things even more.
“Now, where was I before I was so rudely distracted,” I mused to myself.
As I continued creeping through the air ducts, I hummed the theme song from Mission Impossible, keeping myself amused. Of course, I was a professional and didn’t let that distract me while I was working. I ran into a couple grates that some inconsiderate jerk had placed in the ducts, and I had to cut through them with my PK claws. I also found some pressure sensors, to detect if anything was sneaking around up there. That seemed rather paranoid to me, but I used a little devisor goody to disable each of these sensors before they could go off and give me away.
It would have been convenient if the air ducts went right to the top secret secure vault where they were holding that computer chip, but I wasn’t so lucky. I used the vents to get pretty close, then I had to drop out and use the hallway. Fortunately, most of the doors were locked down due to the intrusion on the other side of the facility, and there weren’t people wandering the hallways. Still, I used my powers to hide myself from sight and moved slowly enough so that I didn’t break the effect. Eventually, I reached a vault door, a large thick one with all sorts of security features.
“Let’s see,” I mused as I looked over the door and the video camera that was locked on it. I could have taken out the video camera, but that might have given me away prematurely. This was definitely going to be a challenge, at least for my patience. “Nice and slow…”
I moved as slowly as I could, trusting my aura to keep me hidden…at least as long as I didn’t move faster than it could adapt to my movements. I pulled a small devise the size of a golf ball out a pouch on my utility pouch and placed it on the side of the door, right next to the DNA scanner. After a few seconds, the lock opened, just as if I’d actually been an authorized user. I was glad that it worked because it would have been really embarrassing if it hadn’t, not to mention frustrating since I’d spent a lot of money on that doodad.
Once I was past the vault door, there was a hallway I had to go through, one that still had security systems active in it. And unfortunately, there was no way to deactivate the security systems. They’d been designed to alert security anytime that ANYONE went through this hallway, authorized or not. There was even a security camera watching the hallway so they could see who tripped the sensors.
For a brief moment, I just stood there, looking down the hallway and wishing it was one of those ones with all the laser sensors set up. Those were always fun to get around, and I couldn’t help but silently chanting “How low can you go,” to myself. Then I shook it off, knowing that I had to focus.
The entire floor of the hallway was set up with pressure sensors, so if I stepped on the floor…or even so much as let a penny touch the floor…it would trigger. Similar sensors were all over the ceiling, which showed just how paranoid these people were. And then of course, there were the motion and thermal sensors which would catch any movement or body heat. These people REALLY took their security seriously.
This wasn’t the kind of job I normally liked to take, and there wasn’t some beautiful painting for me to ‘rescue’ at the end of it. However, I was glad I’d accepted this job, and not just for the nice paycheck it would give me. This was the kind of security that I didn’t get to deal with every day, and it was fun working my way through it.
With that, I jumped into action…very very VERY slowly. I moved at a pace that would have made a snail impatient, not wanting to risk what would happen if I moved even the tiniest bit too fast. My aura adapted to my surroundings, but when I moved quickly, it could take a second or two to catch up…creating a blur effect that left me somewhat visible. I had to continue going slowly enough that this didn’t happen, because if it did, not only would I be visible to the security cameras that were watching the hall…but I’d also trigger the motion detector.
When it came to the thermal sensors, my aura was the answer to that as well. As long as I concentrated, I could use my aura to insulate me from heat as well as light, so the thermal sensors wouldn’t see any difference between my body temperature and the rest of the room. However, that meant that I was using my stealth, my thermal shielding effect, and my wall climbing abilities at the same time. This took an immense amount of concentration to keep it all going at once.
Pressure sensors covered the floor and ceiling, but none of them were on the walls. I used the walls as my path, inching along and even crossing several doorways before I reached the other end of the hall and the door I wanted. Still clinging to the wall, I repeated what I’d done on the last doorway, using a very expensive little devise to unlock it so that I could slip inside.
The vault was barely larger than a closet, but it didn’t need to be any larger because the only thing it contained was a small black box that sat on a shelf. I carefully looked over the shelf and box, making sure there were no other alarms or nasty surprises. I even pulled out my magic marble to make sure there was no sign of magic before I opened the box. Inside the box was the computer chip I’d come for. It was about the size of a silver dollar, mostly black, and had a red crystal set in the middle of it. It looked exactly like the fake one that Mauler had given me to switch it out for.
“Let’s see,” I mused, reaching into a pouch and pulling out a small box of my own, one that had originally contained a pendant from a jewelry store. I opened it up and pulled out the replacement that I’d brought with. This wasn’t the fake computer chip that Mauler had given me, but a little something to add my own personal touch to this heist. The box contained a single potato chip that had made the journey undamaged. “A chip for a chip,” I said as I switched out the potato chip for the computer chip, smirking as I did so. “A fair exchange.”
Even as I did this, I knew it wasn’t really the smartest move. After all, if I left the decoy chip that Mauler had given me, it would take them a bit longer to realize exactly what I’d stolen, while the potato chip would not only give that away…but would give a hint about who’d done this. However, what was the point of beating such a security system if you couldn’t rub it in their noses a bit afterwards?
Then I turned my attention to leaving, and the other vault doors that I’d be passing on the way out. Considering the security, there had to be something valuable behind each of those other doors as well, though I had no idea what. I was curious and tempted to try taking a look, but that hadn’t been in the plan. I didn’t have time to go looking for extra goodies, so I focused on just getting out of here instead.
I slowly made my way out of the vault and hallway, going back the way I’d come in. It didn’t take me nearly as long to get out as it had to get in, and a short time later, I was outside the building. However, the moment I was in the open, I heard explosions, which told me that the rest of my team hadn’t escaped yet.
“Damn,” I muttered, making my way towards the noise.
While I’d been retrieving the chip, the others were supposed to just break through to the vault holding the ebidium, grab it, then get out as fast as they could. I was supposed to sneak out on my own and then meet up again with them afterwards. Unfortunately, it looked like the Shielders had arrived. We’d expected that might happen, which was the entire reason we’d added Hexfire to the crew.
When I was close enough to make out all the details of the fight, I dropped down and remained hidden, taking the opportunity to look everything over. Automated gun turrets had popped up from the ground, but none of them were firing at all. I suspected that Monkeybutt was behind that, proving that even as a rookie, he could still be useful. However, my crew still had to deal with the Shielders, and Monkeybutt couldn’t shut them down the same way.
My eyes went to Pinball, who was inside a giant force field bubble that resembled a soap bubble…or a hamster ball. She rolled across the ground, slamming into a costumed man and sending him flying. I watched in silence, immediately recognizing Pinball’s opponent as the Emerald Avenger.
The Emerald Avenger went for the ‘classic’ hero look, or as I referred to it, ‘the overblown cliché’ look. He had green spandex costume that included a cowl that covered his entire head, except for the lower half of his face. And if the bright green wasn’t bad enough, he also had dark green boots, gloves, a cape…and shorts on the outside of his spandex costume. Personally, I thought that his fashion consultant should be taken out and severely beaten.
It only took the Emerald Avenger a few seconds to recover from Pinball’s attack, due mostly to the glowing green force field that covered his body. He turned and fired a blast of green energy at Pinball, but it hit her force field bubble without actually harming her.
I turned my attention to Hexfire, who was busy dealing with her own opponent. Hexfire’s dance partner was Miss Magic, who was obviously the magic using member of the Shielders. She was an attractive woman with shoulder length auburn hair, and unfortunately, she was dressed in a blue sequined tuxedo which would have looked more appropriate for a Vegas show than a fight.
“What is it with these guys and their horrible costumes?” I asked with a shake of my head.
“I am pleased to find a fellow practitioner to test my powers against,” Hexfire announced, right before throwing a ball of green fire at Miss Magic.
Miss Magic waved her stick cane and suddenly the ball of fire vanished. “Then we’ll see if you’re still pleased when you’re behind bars.”
A short distance away, Mauler was busy fighting with his own opponent, a woman with short white hair and a violet costume that seemed to be comprised mostly of some kind of lightweight armor. The style of her armor actually looked familiar, though this was the first time I’d ever seen Brandywine in person. From what I’d read about her, she was a telekinetic and some kind of low level gadgeteer. I suspect that her being a gadgeteer of any level may have had some influence on why Mauler had recruited Monkeybutt for the mission.
At the moment, Brandywine was floating in the air, staying out of Mauler’s reach. He raised his arm and fired a pulse of energy at her from his arm cannon, but Brandywine tore one of the gun turrets out of the ground with her telekinesis and positioned it in the air between the two of them, using that as a shield. Mauler’s attack destroyed most of Brandywine’s makeshift shield, but she then flung the rest of it right at him, hitting him hard enough to knock him back. She followed that up by sending more debris flying in his direction.
The last two members of our crew, Highwayman and Monkeybutt, were fighting the last member of the Shielders. Polarstorm looked like an anthropomorphic polar bear, standing seven and a half feet tall and wearing a pair of pants and nothing else. His file suggested that he might be an avatar with an ice elemental or polar bear spirit, but the records weren’t sure.
Highwayman was back in his normal costume and had a high tech looking pistol in each hand, both of which he was firing at the hero. Flashes of light caught Polarstorm in the chest but didn’t seem to do anything besides pissing him off. Highwayman pulled out some kind of grenade and threw it, but Polarstorm let out a loud roar and a strange ripple came out along with it, causing the ground and everything else in front of him to become coated in ice, including the grenade which exploded in mid-air.
“I know that this is not your forte,” Highwayman told Monkeybutt, who stood back staring at the polar bear in fear, “but it would be nice if you found some way to make yourself useful.”
As I finished looking over the area, I shook my head in annoyance and muttered, “Shazbot.”
The plan had been for me to sneak out without anyone knowing, and then to meet up with everyone else again afterwards. Of course, the Shielders had no idea I was here yet, so I could still sneak away…however…that would mean leaving behind my team and the ebidium they’d come here for. And though I didn’t mind cutting my losses and getting out with just my tail intact, I wasn’t about to leave the others to get caught.
I immediately knew who I had to help. Highwayman and Monkeybutt might outnumber their opponent, but the two of them were doing far worse than any of the others. Monkeybutt would probably be great against a devisor or someone in power armor, but against someone like Polarstorm, he was pretty much useless. And unfortunately, Highwayman wasn’t doing much better.
With my decision made, I ran towards Polarstorm as quickly as I could. “He’s so FLUFFY,” I yelled out, right before I jumped on the hero’s back and clutched him tight. “I’m gonna love him and hug him and call him George…”
“What the hell?” Polarstorm demanded, trying to shake me loose.
“Imp,” Monkeybutt called out in surprise.
“I thank you for your timely assistance,” Highwayman said.
“Get off me,” Polarstorm snarled, so distracted by me that he was no longer paying attention to Highwayman or Monkeybutt, just like I’d intended.
“But you’re so soft and fuzzy,” I exclaimed.
“Alas, it seems you have a devil on your back,” Highwayman taunted Polarstorm as he pulled out some other kind of weapon and took aim. “Quite a lovely one though, I must admit…”
I grinned at that. “Flattery will get you everywhere…”
Polarstorm seemed to have had enough of me, because he called out, “Brandywine… I could use a little help here…”
Suddenly, I was yanked away from Polarstorm by invisible hands, only to find myself hovering in the air a short distance in front of Brandywine. I realized that she’d positioned me between herself and Mauler, and she was now using me as a human shield.
“So, you’re the Imp,” Brandywine said, giving me a curious look. “I’ve heard of you…”
“So, you’re named after two kinds of booze,” I teased her with a broad grin. “You must be a real alcoholic… You know, they have programs to help people like you… The first step is to admit that you have a problem...”
“I heard you never shut up,” Brandywine responded with a look of annoyance.
“There’s no need to project,” I continued cheerfully, not even bothering to struggle against her telekinetic hold on me. “Just accept that you are responsible for your own choices…and you can choose not to drink.”
While Brandywine was holding me up like this, she was also giving me the opportunity to look her over a little more closely. At this range, I was even more sure than before that I’d seen this armor style before, though it took me a few seconds before I realized where.
“Hey,” I exclaimed. “You and Chickenhawk have the same tailor… Does he wear your lingerie too? Oh, you might want to let your armor out a bit. It looks like it’s shrunk in the wash a bit. Too much booze I guess…”
Brandywine’s eyes narrowed as she stared at me. “My brother said you usually go after artwork…so why are you breaking into a place like Sartek?”
“A girl has bills to pay,” I responded with a cheerful grin. “And secret volcano lairs don’t come cheap.” Then I shrugged and added, “Besides, I wasn’t breaking in… I was breaking out.”
I was really starting to get on Brandywine’s nerves. It was a gift. She glared at me and demanded, “Why are you still smiling?”
“Because I know something you don’t know,” I responded in a sing-song tone that was really starting to piss her off.
I just smirked as I focused on my aura and concentrated on what I wanted it to do. Brandywine was holding me in place with her telekinesis, but a moment later, my aura jammed that hold…preventing her power from touching me at all. I suddenly slipped free from her grip, much to her obvious surprise. As soon as I hit the ground and rolled, Mauler was taking advantage of the opportunity to attack her again. Brandywine was so busy having to dodge out of the way and defend herself that there was nothing she could do as I slipped away.
Next, I turned my attention to Pinball, who’d gotten herself in trouble. The Emerald Avenger had trapped her force field bubble inside a glowing green force field bubble of his own, and was now holding her a foot off the ground where she had no traction to escape. He’d removed her from action in about the same way that Brandywine had thought she’d removed me.
“Here I come to save the day,” I sang out as I ran towards them. “Mighty Imp is on her way…”
“What…?” the Emerald Avenger gasped, starting to turn just as I reached him.
I grabbed the Emerald Avenger’s shorts and yanked up as hard as I could, yelling out, “SUPER WEDGIE!”
The Emerald Avenger howled in pain and dropped to the ground, losing his concentration and freeing Pinball. His force field vanished from around her, so she dropped her own force field bubble as well and gave me a thumbs up.
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you how to dress yourself?” I taunted the hero. “Underwear goes on the INSIDE.”
Pinball came over and looked at the hero with a chuckle. “He was really riding my ass until you showed up. You got here just in the crack of time…”
I grinned at that and was about to respond when I looked over and noticed that Hexfire was still holding her own against Miss Magic, but that the cute and fuzzy polar bear once again had Highwayman and Monkeybutt on the ropes. I rolled my eyes, then started running over to help them out again. I might not be one of the most powerful mutants around, but I’m sneaky, annoying, and great at providing a distraction.
I pulled out a four inch long metal throwing spike and was just about to use it when Polarstorm snapped around and let out a roar, sending a wave of cold in my direction. The ground in front of me frosted over and became coated with ice, and to my frustration, I’d been running too fast and my feet shot out from beneath me. I hit the ground hard and quickly scrambled to get back to my feet. Unfortunately, the hero moved faster than I ever would have imagined possible for someone of his size, and he lunged at me. I had nearly slipped away from him, but then I felt his large hang grab hold of my tail. Then I felt a sharp pain all through my tail and lower spine as he not only yanked my tail, but used it to lift me up off the ground.
I screamed in pain while the supposed hero just laughed and announced, “I don’t think the ugly bitch likes this…”
If I’d been thinking clearly and had been able to focus, I could have used my aura to protect my tail and escape, but I was in too much agony for that. All I could do was flail around in a panic, desperate to get free.
“Release the lady,” Highwayman yelled, charging forward and shooting Polarstorm nearly point blank. “Stand and deliver.” The hero swung me around by my tail, using me as a weapon and forcing the rogue to jump back.
Suddenly, Pinball charged in, slamming into Polarstorm with her force field bubble, sending him flying from the impact and making him release me in the process. I hit the ground and instinctively curled up into the fetal position. My eyes burned as tears of pain and humiliation leaked out of them, and though I tried to move, I couldn’t even do that right, which only made it worse.
“Hey, Asshole…leave the Imp alone,” Pinball exclaimed in a tone that made me think she was paraphrasing a line from the Pink Floyd song Another Brick in the Wall…though that was probably just my pain filled overactive imagination.
“Imp,” Highwayman demanded, dropping down beside me. “Are you all right…”
“F…f…fine,” I responded, managing to sit up a bit with Highwayman’s help. “H…h…he only tried to tear my spine out from the back end… I think he dislocated my vertebrae…”
“Holy shit,” Monekybutt exclaimed.
I looked over at Pinball, who’d dropped her force field bubble and was now fighting Polarstorm hand to hand. She picked up the massive bear and body slammed him onto the ground, though as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t nearly hard enough. He got back up.
I glared furiously at the so called hero and demanded, “How would you like it of someone picked you up by your schlong and swung you around?”
Highwayman and Monkeybutt helped me back to my feet, though it wasn’t easy for me. My regeneration was already taking care of the worst damage, but the pain hadn’t gone away yet, making it difficult to put any pressure on my lower spine…which included standing.
“Come on, you ugly little bitch,” Polarstorm called to me, sounding rather smug. “I’ll take you again…”
“Ugly?” I demanded coldly. I might be brilliant, talented, and unbelievably fabulous…but even I had feelings that could be hurt. No woman liked to be ugly, especially one who might conceivably be just a tiny bit sensitive about her appearance anyway. “Insult on top of injury…”
Pinball wasn’t finished with Polarstorm and hit him again, then formed her force field bubble and slammed into him, running him over several times. While she was doing that, Highwayman left me in Monkeybutt’s care and wandered over to pick a weapon off the ground from where he’d dropped it earlier. He calmly walked over to Polarstorm, who was still lying flat on the ground, and then shot him right in the face. Polarstorm spasmed a bit as though he was having a seizure…or perhaps just getting tazered in the face.
“You should NEVER treat a lady in such fashion,” he stated firmly.
“Hey Fuzzy Wuzzy,” I called out to Polarstorm, who was still alive and awake, just not moving much. With Monkeybutt’s help, I went over to him and then gave him a playful smile, one that was forced and probably a little manic looking at the moment. “Guess what, Fuzzy Wuzzy…” Polarstorm…Fuzzy Wuzzy just snarled at me, which made my grin a little more real but no less hostile. “You’re my new special friend.”
“Come on,” Mauler called out. “We’re done here.”
That drew my attention to the others, and I saw that Hexfire had taken care of Miss Magic, who was surrounded by a circle of green flames that were trying to get in. Miss Magic was keeping the flames away from her, but it seemed that this was taking all her concentration, leaving her unable to deal with the rest of us.
Brandywine was on the ground, crouched down with the Emerald Avenger, both of whom were shaken up but alive. They were covered with a glowing green force field, which was protecting them, but neither seemed ready to go back on the offensive. I suspected that it wouldn’t take long before the Shielders would recover enough to continue the fight, but there was no reason we had to stay here long enough for that to happen.
Mauler picked up a large metal suitcase that had been left nearby, and which probably contained the ebidium. I was both surprised and concerned, because I wasn’t sure a quarter ton of metal would fit in a container that small. However, I wasn’t in any condition or mood to hang around questioning it either. I wanted out of here…NOW.
Highwayman held up his hand, and I was startled to realize that he was gesturing towards something. I looked towards the outer fence where he was gesturing, and was surprised to see his motorcycle coming right towards us…without a driver. It was extremely high tech, a lot more than the one he’d made for me, which hadn’t come with remote control. The bike stopped in front of him, barely making a sound.
After climbing onto the bike, Highwayman turned to Monkeywrench and said, “Climb on…”
“You can ride with me,” Pinball said, giving me a concerned look.
When I nodded, Pinball came over and gave me an arm to lean against. My legs started to collapse from beneath me, but she caught me and picked me up, holding me with ease. Of course, with her exemplar strength, I might as well weigh next to nothing.
“I can provide my own transportation,” Hexfire stated in the tone of voice that suggested there was no way she’d even consider riding with any of us again. With that, she muttered some spell under her breath and a black disk appeared beneath her feet, rising up off the ground and carrying her with it.
Pinball formed one of her transparent force field bubbles around the two of us, then we took off, rolling away from the Sartek facility and smashing through the fence as we left. Of course, we were leaving a pretty easy trail to follow, but Pinball had a lot of experience in losing followers and disappearing anyway.
“Don’t worry,” Pinball assured me, still holding me tight. “They won’t catch us.”
“What, me worry?” I asked her with a weak grin before closing my eyes to rest them…for just a moment.
New Jersey, Thursday May 17th, 2007
It had been nearly two hours since we’d escaped the Shielders at the Sartek facility, and most of my crew had met up again back at our rendezvous point, the warehouse where we’d gathered before the heist. The only one who’d yet to arrive was Mauler, who was a bit slower moving than anyone else.
I was currently sitting in a chair…very carefully. An ice pack that Pinball had found was pressed up against my lower back, right above my tail, while I was holding another bag onto the tail itself.
Even after two hours, my tail and lower back still hurt pretty badly. Of course, that was to be expected considering just how badly Fuzzy Wuzzy had hurt me. I was pretty sure he’d dislocated some of my lower vertebrae and all of my tailbones, and swinging me around by my tail had probably also torn my tail muscles up pretty badly.
This whole situation served as a clear reminder of why I usually avoided these super powered dust-ups. Sneaking in and out while avoiding a fight entirely was much preferable than this kind of painful nonsense.
“I should have done the ninja vanish trick when I had the chance,” I muttered to myself, thinking of my usual tactic when a fight got too rough. Unfortunately, this one had turned south faster than I’d expected.
After letting out a sigh, I looked around the warehouse and at the rest of the crew who were gathered there, impatiently waiting for Mauler. Hexfire was standing well away from everyone else, reading through a book and pretending that the rest of us didn’t exist. Pinball sat across the table from me, occasionally giving me worried looks but not really saying anything.
Highwayman and Monkeybutt were off to the side, having a conversation. I listened in as Highwayman told the rookie, “Though your abilities are admirable, you require a weapon for when they are not enough…”
“Yeah, I got that,” Monkeybutt agreed, looking depressed. Though his first job had been a success, it had also forced him to face his weaknesses.
A minute later, Monkeybutt and Highwayman finished up and came over to join Pinball and me at the table. “How are you feeling?” Highwayman asked me, sounding concerned.
“A bit better,” I admitted. I could actually move my tail again, though it still hurt to do so. “In another hour or so, I should be as good as new.”
“I’m kind of surprised that pulling your tail would hurt you so much,” Monkeybutt said, giving me a curious look. He was clearly no longer intimidated by me, which wasn’t surprising considering my current condition. In fact, he was probably thinking that I was really some kind of wimp.
“This isn’t just some random growth coming out of my butt,” I pointed out wryly as I held up my tail. “It’s an extension of my spine.”
“Ouch,” Monkeybutt said, looking sympathetic.
“You can’t be this perfect without having some downside,” I said with a smirk while Pinball rolled her eyes.
A few minutes later, Mauler returned, stomping into the warehouse in his big suit of power armor. How he got past the police without being seen in that thing, I had no idea.
Without a word, Mauler held out his arm and set the large metal briefcase onto the poker table. The table split in half and collapsed under the weight, which suddenly made me even more curious about the target of our heist.
“Our primary objective,” Mauler stated, not bothering to get out of his armor. “The ebidium.”
Highwayman shoved away the wreckage of the table and opened the case, revealing that it contained only eight bars of glossy black metal. The bars weren’t even very big, which confused me a bit considering how heavy the case was.
“Ebidium,” Highwayman stated.
I climbed out of my chair, wincing a bit in discomfort, and then I tried to pick up a bar for a better look. But to my surprise, that single bar was even heavier than I’d suspected.
“Each bar weighs approximately sixty pounds,” Highwayman explained. “This alloy is quite dense, and even this small amount will be worth quite a fortune.”
“It is kind of pretty,” I said with a grin. “Imagine trying to make a necklace out of it.”
“And I am certain it would look quite fetching on you,” Highwayman told me. “But I fear, you would have to be a brick to wear jewelry made of ebidium.”
Pinball grinned at that, reminding me again of just how strong she was. She probably could get away with wearing jewelry made of the stuff, but I didn’t think the black metal went well with her coloring. Still, that wasn’t really even a choice since we already had a buyer for this load.
“Imp,” Mauler said, catching my attention. “Did you accomplish your task?”
“Of course,” I responded, reaching into one of my pouches and pulling out a small jewelry box that contained the chip. As I handed the chip over to Mauler, I asked, “So, when is the meet with your go-between?”
“Tonight,” Mauler responded. “But before then, there is one more piece of business we need to take care of first.”
“What’s that?” I joked. “You have to pay your tab with the pimp down the street?”
Without warning, Mauler suddenly raised his hand and fired a single shot from his arm canon, hitting Monkeybutt right in the chest. A pulse of energy hit the rookie and exploded out through his back, creating a hole large enough for a cantaloupe to go through. In an instant, everyone else was in motion.
Mauler didn’t say a word as he opened fire on the rest of us, shooting blasts of energy in every direction. I suddenly found that the threat of imminent death was enough to help me move properly again, at least enough to dodge a blast that would have killed me.
“TRAITOR,” Hexfire yelled, forming a ball of green flames in one hand and a swirling ball of darkness in the other.
Mauler fired some kind of small missile at Hexfire, but she held out her hand and the ball of darkness formed into a disk. The small missile hit the shield end exploded, sending Hexfire flying back. He fired a second missile, one which missed her and exploded a distance behind her instead. This time, she was flung forward and hit the ground face first.
“I hate that magic crap,” Mauler stated as he raised his arm to fire at Hexfire again.
Suddenly, Pinball jumped at Hexfire, forming her force field bubble around them both just in time to protect them from one of Mauler’s energy blasts. Mauler fired several more shots, but Pinball’s shield was holding.
“Faithless cur,” Highwayman exclaimed, throwing a grenade at Mauler, though it didn’t do much against the power armor.
Mauler froze where he was and looked like he was going to keep blasting, but then he bent over and grabbed the metal case containing the ebidium. “Consider your lives payment for your services.”
“The agreed upon payment was in cash,” Highwayman responded grimly. “We had an agreement, and I hold you to it.”
“Now might not be the best time for you to taunt the asshat,” I called out to Highwayman. “That’s my job.”
Mauler fired two more of his small missiles, one at Highwayman and one at me. Both of us dove for cover, though I focused all the energy in my aura to my legs as I jumped, letting me leap out of range much more easily. However, as I hit the ground and rolled, I nearly screamed in pain from my still not fully healed tail and lower back.
Before the missiles had even exploded, Mauler began to lift into the air, courtesy of the jets on his back and legs. I’d heard he could do short flights, but this was the first time I’d seen him demonstrate that ability. He fired blasts of energy at the ceiling, then took off through the hole, flying out of the warehouse and leaving us.
I got back to my feet, wincing in pain as I did so. After that hit, I’d probably undone a half hour to an hour worth of healing. Fortunately, I hadn’t undone it all or I wouldn’t be able to walk over and check on Highwayman, who was spread out on the ground with blood on his costume.
“I’ll live,” Highwayman told me, holding his thigh which had been punctured by shrapnel. “But between the wound and the bruises, I doubt I’ll be moving very quickly for awhile.”
“You know what they say,” I said, giving him a weak grin. “Any explosion you can walk away from...”
“Monkeywrench won’t be walking away from this,” Pinball pointed out grimly.
I looked over to the rookie and felt a surge of guilt for his death, and of anger for the one who’d caused it. You’d think that as professional criminals…as super villains…that we would just shrug off a little death. However, you never just shrugged off a death…especially a cold blooded murder like this…at least not without losing some of your humanity.
“Poor kid,” I said sadly.
Obviously, Mauler had taken Monkeywrench out first, because out of all of us, he’d been the biggest threat. Monkeywrench could have shut that armor down in seconds.
While I helped Highwayman back to his feet, at least enough to get him into a chair so we could get him patched up, I looked over and saw that Pinball was helping Hexfire up as well. Like Highwayman, she’d been caught by shrapnel from an explosion, though she’d been caught in the side.
“Mauler would have killed me with his next strike,” Hexfire told Pinball, pulling away from the redhead in order to stand on her own. “You saved me from death and I shall not forget the debt I owe you.” She scowled as she spoke, looking almost like it pained her to admit that she owed Pinball anything.
“It was nothing,” Pinball tried to shrug it off.
“My life is not nothing,” Hexfire said coldly. “I owe you a debt, and I detest owing anyone. You may call upon me for one favor.”
Pinball nodded at that. “I’ll remember.”
“I owe Mauler a debt as well,” Hexfire announced. “He shall pay for his betrayal with his blood and soul.”
With that, Hexfire turned her back to us and began walking away, limping a bit from her own injuries though obviously trying to act as though they didn’t bother her. A black disk formed beneath her feet, lifting her up into the air. And then, apparently deciding that she was done with the rest of us, she flew away through the hole in the roof that Mauler had created without another word.
“Mauler betrayed us,” Highwayman snarled with a cold anger. “He took the ebidium and the chip…leaving us with nothing.”
I hesitated a moment, then admitted, “Not exactly…”
“What do you mean?” Pinball asked me with a suspicious look.
I reached into one of my pouches and pulled out the small jewelry box which contained the chip. “I was a little distracted earlier,” I admitted with a grin, “and accidentally gave Mauler the wrong chip.”
“The wrong chip?” Highwayman asked with interest.
I grinned at that. “He has the decoy that I was supposed to leave in the vault. This is the real one. I don’t know how much this thing is worth, but if he brought me in just to snatch it, then it’s obviously worth something.”
Pinball nodded at that, still not looking happy. “Then at least we won’t leave completely empty-handed.”
“Agreed,” Highwayman responded. “Hexfire has a point. We all owe Mauler for this betrayal, but vengeance is rarely profitable and I am in no condition to confront him anytime soon. I for one will bide my time, then find a way to extract my share from him at a later date.”
“Agreed,” Pinball said with another nod.
I was definitely pissed at Mauler, more for the way he’d killed Monkeywrench than for stealing the goods, though I certainly wasn’t happy about that either. But like Highwayman said, vengeance wasn’t profitable and it wasn’t really my usually style either.
“I’ll see if I can get hold of the White Lady,” I finally said. “If she wants this chip enough to make it a condition of the ebidium deal, then she’ll want it enough to pay us.”
After this, the three of us decided that it wouldn’t be smart to hang around the warehouse any longer, not after all the explosions might have drawn the attention of any neighbors. Pinball grabbed Monkeywrench’s body, promising that she’d get it back to his family, then the three of us took off, heading our separate ways.