Chapter the Third; In Which Our Hero Engages in Fisticuffs with a Ruffian
Being a superhero generally doesn’t pay unless you’re willing to shill for a private security company or a city. No one pays for your costume and gear repairs, your self defense classes, the sick days you have to take when you’re waiting for your broken ribs to heal, or the pizzas you have to pay Nermal in.
More idealistic people would go on and on at this point about the good vibrations they get from helping people and I’m not going to deny that that’s nice. But sometimes, simpler pleasures abound. Like for example, the very act of being ‘super’ itself.
I have to remind myself sometimes that even with the grip boots and gloves I built, a normal person would shatter their legs running sideways across buildings and making those street spanning leaps. After the first few months of it, I can’t imagine how I’d live without it.
It was all the better that night after leaving Nermal’s place though. After days of waiting and worrying that the city would go straight to a computer chip instigated hell, I had a destination; a recently vacated United Custom Fabrication plant right in my home town of Brooklyn. Despite UCF having been evicted over a month before, the fabrication signatures from some of their machines had shown up on the chips.
Night had fallen completely by the time I reached the warehouse. Unlike most of the warehouses I tend to find trouble in, this one was in good repair and looked like there were still people working there. People who would manufacture rage chips or whatever the hell those things were. Unfortunately, Nermal couldn’t determine how the chips actually worked.
The gate in the chainlink fence was firmly closed and locked, but chainlink fences aren’t mean to keep out people with the ability to leap three stories on the vertical. I was skulking my way up the loading dock in no time.
I imagine that this would be one of those situations where other people would try to be stealthy and ninja their way into the place, but let’s face it; I wear the heroic equivalent of a blinking neon sign that says ‘the hero has arrived!’, so stealth would just have been a waste of energy.
Instead, It tipped my hat down and touched the night vision button hidden in the brim. The hat is a knock off Stetson from an outlet mall. Like the coat, it’s been through extensive modifications; most notably, an organic LED display on the inside of the brim, connected to a series button hole cams I bought from army surplus and rigged into the hat. With the touch of a button, I can see in front of me even while the hat covers my eyes, see in night vision or infrared, and see behind my back and above my head.
What can I tell ya? It’s a very fine hat.
Night vision fully in place, I walked up to the loading bay doors. There were two security cameras above, still on in the absence of anything to guard. Whoever was running this operation was both smart enough to use the cameras as an early warning system, but dumb enough not to cover their indicator lights, which gave away the fact that they were still active and watching over a place that was ostensibly abandoned.
Waving to the camera with my usual disregard for proper villain/hero protocol, I made a show of leaning down so as to casually grab the bottom of the bay door and throwing it open. At least, I would have opened it if it hadn’t suddenly hummed to life and began to rise.
The light within spilled out, causing my hat-cam to automatically go back to normal vision. I honestly didn’t want to see what waited for me in any vision. Ugly is ugly in any spectrum.
Standing six foot eight and probably just as wide at the shoulder, Hank ‘the Tank’ Jordan probably looked like the recruitment poster for ‘Hired Goons’ even before his extensive abuse of implants and cybernetics. Now he looks like the cover model for ‘Horrifying Disasters of Science Weekly’
Plastic hoses sprouted from his biceps, looping up to the base of his skull. His right hand had been completely replaced by a metal and ceramic prosthesis two sizes too big for him. A kind of metal eye patch with grating over it covered his left eye and gave off a continuous glow. That night, his long pants covered them, but I’d seen his replacement ceramic legs before. The effect was completed by a black wifebeater and the ridiculous blonde Mohawk he thinks looks good. Since I’d seen him last, he’d had two piercing put in each ear. I guess he finally went so far into body-modding he came out the other side.
He sneered when he saw me crouched on the loading dock before him and flexed his mechanical hand. “You. Hell, If I’da known that, I’d’ve done this shit for free.” Did I mention that Tank is probably one of my most frequent and annoyingly recurring enemies? Because he is. Usually, he’s playing hired muscle for the Tongs, but anyone that’ll pay to help support his hardware habit will do. He’s valuable enough that the Tongs will buy him out of jail most of the time too.
Seeing Tank involved made my fear of Tong involvement with the chip resurface. But that didn’t keep me form doing my job. ‘Job’ here meaning ‘smartass’.
“Good evening, Ma’am.” I said, giving my best door to door salesman routine. “Is the man of the house at home?” Good old predictable Tank. His face turned beat red with rage (And probably the effort to get all the cyberware running) and he swung at me with his right hand of doom. I leapfrogged it and used the momentum to punch him in the face.
Tank stumbled, back, giving me room to bound into the warehouse proper. Proving that just because he’s big doesn’t mean he’s slow, Tank span and caught me with a punch in the back before I was past him.
Thank god I was in the air. Instead of having my armor seriously tested, I was instead thrown across the room, onto a wooden crate. The crate wasn’t as lucky; becoming reduced to kindling under me. A small cloud of headbands, each wrapped up in plastic, flew in all directions around me. Good to know I was in the right place.
“So, Tank, who’s tossing you cash this week? Zhang?” I kipped up and put my back to the conveyor belt leading back into the warehouse proper.”
“Like I’m gonna tell you.” Tank snorted. Predictable as ever, he charged me, big right hand cocked to punch my head off my shoulders.
I happen to like the feng shui my head and shoulders have going on, so I jumped back and let my boots adhere to the wall. Tank corrected for my dodge, forcing me to jump away again as he punched through the wall. Concrete dust went everywhere as the spark jockey behemoth stumbled into the room beyond.
Not being able to resist an opening, I drop kicked him in the back before he could regain his balance, sending him head over heels on the floor. Through the dust, I could see that the room was dominated by several pieces of machinery. I’m no expert on warehouses, but I know that you don’t normally find manufacturing equipment in a warehouse.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ on Zhang.” I taunted, keeping just out of his reach. “How about the O’leary clan? I heard they’ve been trying to move up in the underworld. Maybe they think some schizoid tech can make it happen?”
“Piss off!” Tank roared, getting to his feet. For a split second, both of his hands were on the floor and his chest was exposed. I took the opportunity.
Both of my feet connected with his chest in another drop kick, but this time, I let my boots adhere to him. While he reeled from that and before he realized what was happening, I leaned backward, and anchored my gloves to the floor. Another perks of my powers; I’m very flexible and strong enough to pull crazy stunts like the following off.
With some serious effort on my part, I did a back flip – with my hands stuck to the floor and my feet stuck to Tank. At the top, I shut off my static grips, letting Tank enjoy a one way trip into the side of the nearest machine while I completed what I like to think was an Olympic level tumble, landing on my feet.
At this point, Tank wasn’t even using words to curse me, just a series of snarls and animal noises. As he vented his frustration on smashing the machinery to unrecognizable bits, I became aware of someone else in the room. The good vibrations I’d gotten from kicking Tank to the curb faded.
“Freeze, both of you!” I looked up at the speaker. Admittedly, she was beautiful; petite, shapely, busty… all packed into a skin tight, black cat suit with matching stiletto heeled boots and a cowl that let her blonde hair hand free. A bandoleer of faintly blue glowing bullets crisscrossed her chest and silver bracers adorned her arms. The two custom firearms she held glowed the same shade as the bullets from the barrels.
“I’ve got this one, Stunner.” I said, trying to at least sound professional. I didn’t know Stunner personally, but what I saw on the news and heard from Nermal wasn’t pretty. Stunner was the worst kind of prelate; the kind in it for fortune and glory. Mostly fortune, as last I heard, she was working as a bounty hunter specializing in bringing in super powered bail jumpers.
“No, you don’t whoever you are.” Stunner said, “The state of New York says I’ve got this one. Now stand down.” One of her guns was trained on me.
“You can’t be serious.” I shook my head. “You don’t know who I am? I’m the Whitecoat, and this is local lowlife Hank Jord—“
Tank bellowed and charged me at the same time as Stunner took a shot at both of us. Blue streaks came at me and Tank through the air and a big; flesh colored locomotive bore down on me from the ground. I took a third option; tucking and rolling. Tank went over me much like an eighteen wheeler goes over a turtle, but I angled between his legs and got to my feet on the other side.
There was an electrical crackle and l saw an inch long piece of glass sticking out of Tank’s shoulder. He didn’t even seem to notice. “Oh, I get it, ‘Stunner’ because you dress like eye candy and carry non-lethals.” I said as Stunner turned both guns on Tank.
I’ve seen rhinos more affected by mosquitoes. Tank didn’t even notice the growing collection of glowing, blue canisters jabbed into his skin at odd angles. Instead, he pressed his attack on me, swinging that heavy hand like a club. Between leaping and dodging away from the berserk thug, I saw Stunner slam another clip in one of her gun and fiddle with something on her belt. A low, electronic whine.
“How about you try something effective?” I shouted at her as I leapfrogged over Tank and delivered a swift kick to the back of his head. The whine grew in pitch.
Tank bum rushed me, arm flailing. I rolled under him, but instead of trying to roll past him, I anchored my hands and put all my strength between planting my heels in his crotch. Hey, heroes don’t kill, but it doesn’t say anywhere that they have to fight fair.
I was a little horrified when my heels struck metal, but at least that seemed to put Tank in the requisite amount of pain in addition to pushing him back a few steps. He was purple with rage now and I kind of worried about his heart – assuming he hadn’t replaced it with a pump or something.
I worried more when the whine reached crescendo and Tank was suddenly engulfed in a hail of blue sparks. He screamed in pain and rage, convulsing under the electrical assault for less than a few seconds before the sparks stopped and he crashed to the floor thunderously. For a moment, I considered taking back my crack about Stunner’s effectiveness.
Of course, I stopped considering it when she jumped down from her perch atop some crates and walked toward me with guns aimed squarely at my chest. “Stay away from him, Whitecoat. He’s my bounty.”
“Look, I don’t care about the bounty, Stun.” I kept my hands up only to avoid a fight. “But big boy here is my only lead on this thing I’m following. You hear about the chips?”
“Yeah, note form Sister Sacred.”
“Not may problem.” She shrugged. She kept her guns trained on me while she looked Tank over. “Hmm… maybe a little too much…”
“Goddamn it, Stunner, you’re supposed to stop bad guys, not put them in a coma. He’s in a coma, isn’t he?” I asked, “I swear to god, if you put my only lead into a coma… Wait, did you just say someone spreading anarchy in the city isn’t your problem?”
“Hey, I’ve got a job to do.” Stunner sniffed, “And you stay put.” She leaned closer to Tank. “No, he’s still breathing okay. Anyway, like I said, I’ve got my mission. You’re on your own with yours.”
“Are you a moron or something?” I asked, taking a step forward.
In a move that I have to admit was slick, Stunner made the gun in her right hand vanish. A second later, the top of her bracer opened to extrude a pair of tines, crackling with electricity. “I said don’t move. I know about you and your ‘bulletproof’.”
“You said stay put.” I corrected her, “And didn’t you have to ask who I was a second ago?”
“In front of the bounty, duh. I’ve got to show that I’m above common prelates.”
“You’re a strange, strange little woman, Stun, really. But there is no way I’m going to let your taser happy, bounty hunting ass stand between me and stopping this chip thing.”
“You and what army is going to keep me from taking him?” Stunner taunted.
“No army.” I say again, for a big man, Tank is quick. Stunner didn’t even get time to run around before that big hand was around her waste. “Just a Tank.” To her credit, Stunner managed to give him a jolt with her wrist mounted weapon even as he flung her hard toward some more machinery.
Damn my chivalry, I couldn’t risk her not being powered and going splat, so I leapt to intercept.
At this point, I have a confession to make. My coat? I originally, came up with the badass long coat thing specifically for the fact that even as weighed down with armor plates and things as it is, it billows out when I do my jumping thing. Never, in all of my permutations of the costume did I consider I might have to jump up to catch what was essentially a live wire.
Note to self: An insulated undershirt is in order.
Stunner hit me right in the chest with her wrist-taser. Needless to say, I couldn’t concentrate on guiding our landing and we ended up hitting what looked like an oversized bread maker anyway. The sides cracked, allowing the top to come down on us. All the while, I heard Tank laughing and a tinny version of the theme song from Wrestle America.
Evidently, that last part was the ringing tone for Tank’s phone because the next thing I heard was a “’Lo?’” and “Got it boss, on the way.” Followed by footsteps.
It’s bad enough getting electrocuted and smashed around, but damned if some villain – not even a boss, but a goddamn minion just walk away from a fight with me. Pushing the very stunned Stunner off me, I planted my feet on the floor and did my best Atlas impression with the top of the machine that landed on me.
“Hold on there, sparky!” I roared, shifting the thing for leverage. “We’re not done here!” I had to anchor my feet to the ground to pull it off, but I sent the piece of debris hurtling through the air at Tank, following it up with a leap of my own.
Tank ducked the thrown object and scooped up a crate with his right hand in the same motion. Physics being the hideous bitch that it is, there was nothing I could do to avoid it and got batted back into a stack of cardboard boxes filled with paperweights of all things for my trouble.
By this time, I was really seeing red. Despite the ton or so of lead weights on top of me, I thrashed furiously to force myself to the top. When I finally made it, a gloved hand reached down to help me get to standing atop the stack.
I looked up into a grey and gold mask set with a dark yellow beak of a predatory bird over the nose. The rest of the costume was mottled grey with ceramic wings rising from the back. This close, I could see the mechanisms hidden in the false feathers.
“Barn Owl.” My sudden assistant introduced himself, “You’re the Whitecoat, right?”
I glanced down to make sure my blatant white coat was still in place and decided not to bother. “Where’s Tank?” I asked.
“Took off in a jeep, headed for the bridge.” Barn Owl said, “But I heard noises in here and came to see if I could help.”
“Good man.” I nodded to him, “But aren’t you a little far from Manhattan?”