Chapter the Fourth; In Which Our Hero Learns the Dastardly Plot
Pursuit. If tooling around the city by leaps and bounds is my way of relaxing, chasing down some low life in the same way is my daily recommended exercise. The thing is, it’s not just exercise for my body (which, thanks to the nanites probably doesn’t need it), but for my mind as well; calculating distances and angles over scant seconds, judging the stability of a landing point, or whether my static grips will adhere to a given surface.
Of course, I don’t think of all that in the heat of the moment, I mostly think things like ‘god, I hope he doesn’t cross any wide streets I can’t jump across’ or ‘huh, they really do look like ants from up here’. As I chased Tank’s red jeep, trying to keep an eye on Barn Owl above and Stunner’s ridiculous custom painted black and blue coup, I could only think that there was no way Tank couldn’t tell we were following him.
While he’ll never win a Nobel Prize in the sciences, Tank is no fool; he’d notice the blue tinted headlights from Stunner’s car or catch either Barn Owl’s or my own silhouettes against the city lights. So why wasn’t he panicking?
Taking a moment to stabilize myself atop a skywalk, I reached up and switched on the record function on my hat’s head’s up display. I use it mostly when I run up against a new baddie in town so I can review their tactics, or when I run into gangsters to compare their mugs to the FBI and state of New York’s most wanted lists. My ‘anonymous’ video emails have sent at least four top offenders in jail for good. This time, I wanted to get a good image of that jeep’s plates. Tank probably stole it and provided her didn’t throw it at me, I would see that it get back to its rightful owner.
By now it was really bothering me that Tank wasn’t at least showing signs of trying to lose us. In a similar vein, it bothered me that the hot head didn’t take the time to kill us good after he got his little phone call. Occam’s Razor says… trap. Damn, I hate that. That means that whoever was paying Tank now was more patient and less blood thirsty than the Tongs and probably smarter.
Tank kept driving like nothing was the matter all the way into Manhattan, eventually pulling into the underground parking lot of a ten story office building. I noted gravely that the place looked abandoned from the outset. Hello, trap.
I landed on the side wall above the parking entrance and tried to gesture for my erstwhile teammates to stop. Barn Owl complied, coming in for a landing and anchoring himself against the wall with steel hooks that unfolded from the joints of his wings. Stunner, however, gunned the engine and tore down the ramp toward wherever Tank had gone.
Barn and I glanced at one another. If Stunner ended up caught in a trap, we’d never forgive ourselves for hesitating to go in after her. On the other hand, if it wasn’t a trap, she’d give us another earful about the chauvinism of the male heroes coming to save the female. I could live with that.
Without a word, I dropped to the ground before the entrance. Barn did the same.
“You know, coat, I was thinking… there’s no way Tank didn’t know we were following him…”
“Yeah, I know.” I said testily. I’m fine with telling myself that that I’m walking into a trap, but I don’t like others telling me and a certainly don’t like to think I’m leading someone else into one. “He led us here. Maybe you should hang back in case we need someone to save the both of us.”
Barn shook his head. I don’t know if I gained respect or pity for him for that. “Sorry, ‘coat.” He shook his head, “but Ben Cordey, the construction worker these bastards drove berserk; he’s counting on me to exonerate him. I’m not going to let him down.” He didn’t even let me try and talk him out of it again before striking off down the ramp.
The parking garage was unlit, causing me to switch to night vision. I briefly wondered how Barn Owl would cope, but he didn’t seem to notice. Maybe he was a psionic with night vision. Maybe those wings weren’t actually ceramic…
Either way, there wasn’t much to see. Both Tank’s jeep and Stunner’s car were nowhere to be found. I couldn’t hear anything either. That was a bad sign. A worse sign was when the security gate over the entrance dropped behind us.
“Goddamnit.” Barn swore, turning toward the sound of the gate closing. A shrill noise came from his mouth, bringing pain to my ears and causing the gate to vibrate on its tracks.
“And here I was thinking I was lucky getting just one of the Big Apple’s prelates.” A voice so smug I wanted to punch its owner in the face declared over a hidden loudspeaker. “But three is a charm.” He laughed. It was the kind of snorting cackle I don’t usually put with evil masterminds. But then again, crime takes all kinds, right?
The gate came down under Barn Owl’s sonic assault and he took to the air, heading for safety. I was preparing to do the same when the air turned to lightning.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t know what happened next. Afterward, I checked the recording from my heads up and I know Tank came to collect me and I was taken up an elevator where I was carefully chained to a seat in a concrete cell. The next thing I was conscious, I was getting another shock to the body that seemed to jump start my senses.
“Wake up, Mr. Whitecoat!” The smug voice from before said cheerfully. He sounded like the guy from those old twentieth century game shows that told you that you just won a version of the home game. “You’re going to be the first prelate TV star!” He laughed that stupid laugh again. “CruelTV, that is.”
I ignored him and tested the chains against my strength. They didn’t budge.
“Sorry, but those chains were ordered based specifically on surveillance video of your fights. I deduced that you’re no stronger than the half ton range from watching you battle Tank.”
“I finally made the big time.” I slipped into my usual tactic of baiting the bad guy into making a mistake that can save my ass, “My very own stalker. I’d sort of hoped you’d be a woman though.”
“Oh, come on, Whitecoat.” My captor finally stepped into view. He was in his late twenties, with tall, blonde hair, a scrubby soul patch, and an Adam’s apple that looked like it protruded further than his chin. He was dressed in a blazer and purple tinted sunglasses. Yup, not your typical evil mastermind. But then again, he did manage to capture me, at least for the time being… “I’m not Tank. I’m not some numbskull that’s going to be dumb enough to give you an opening because you made a joke at my expense.”
“Yeah? Then who are you? Disgruntled tech support?” Just because he can lampshade my tact doesn’t mean he can resist it.
He didn’t take the bait. In fact, he cracked a smile at that. Oh, how I wanted to plant a fist in that smile. “I can see why you think that.” He removed his glasses and started cleaning them on his shirt, revealing deep bags under his eyes.
I rethought my pegging him as the boss. Bosses tend to have guys on payroll to stay up nights.
Unaware of my thought processes, he continued. “But would you believe I’m a millionaire? A millionaire and a certified genius.” Of course he was. Certified at least. “In fact, I made those breadcrumbs you and the others followed; the rage chips.”
Speaking of the others, I wondered how they’d fared. I voiced this concern.
“Sadly, the Barn Owl flew the coop.” He laughed at his own incredibly bad pun, “But Stunner is here. I just think I should save unmasking her for later. Promising a female prelate will probably pump up my subscriptions.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I demanded, still testing the chains covertly. My only hope might be finding a weak link.
“Like I said,” he shrugged, “CruelTV, my own little start up business.” He pulled a chair up from somewhere outside of my view and took a seat. “See, I used to work on information services for City Hall,” Ding, ding, ding, I guessed right, “When I realized two things; one, no one ever watches the city wide security camera network until they can help solve a crime. And two, now that everyone is using Internet2, the very monitoring that made them leave more or less doesn’t exist.”
“So I started posting the things I found on the cam network; petty thefts, couples who don’t think anyone’s watching when they do their do, and more gang fights and other violence than you’d believe. Another thing you wouldn’t believe? How much I make monthly on subscriptions.”
I gave up looking for week links. Mr. CruelTV had chosen a chain that really could hold me. I had to think of something else. Luckily, he was giving me all the time in the world. “So if you make so much money showing cam footage, what’s with making those little bugs that make kids fight?”
He laughed again. “You’re not a dumb guy, WC. Can I call you WC? I guess you can’t stop me, heh. So I don’t need to tell you how the masses, deep down want to see these kinds of things. Nine out o ten people would at least want to see a sample if they knew about it. But the really twisted ones? They’ll pay a LOT to see things to reconfirm their belief that they’re better than the average human – man, woman or child.”
He cracked his knuckles one by one. He was trying to annoy me back. Cute. “You think you deal with the worst humanity has to offer? I’m here to tell you that you haven’t even scratched the surface. There’s people out there that revel in the pain and discomfort of others and the only thing keeping them from going into serial killer mode is sixty dollars a month to yours truly.”
I fixed him with a glare that he couldn’t see for the hat. “So you’re not the one who loves watching kids fight and innocent men go to jail, it’s your customers.”
“First rule of show business.” That big, cheesy smile was pissing me off. “Give the people what they want, right? Though I did come up with the best idea with the construction worker though.” Holding his fingers up like he was framing a camera shot, he exclaimed like he thought it was the best idea he’d ever seen, “Framed by CruelTV. A whole series based on a little help from my little rage chips.”
“Just so you know, smart guy, I’m going to come for your clients after I put you away.” I growled.
“I seriously doubt that.” He shook his head. “I doubt you could even put me away, considering that my client list serves as delicious black mail material to some very high up people. You would soil your little white coat if you knew who was a fan of CruelTV. And they look just like you and me.” Giving me another cheesy smile, he pulled a flat format drive out of his pocket. “I call it my retirement fund. Once I’m done playing New York, I’m thinking of auctioning this off to the highest bidder.”
“Yes, you’re certainly a man with a plan.” I said. “And I’m guessing trapping me and Stunner and leaving at least me with all my gear is also part of that plan?”
“Well no one would believe you were the Whitecoat if I just showed you out of costume, now would they? No, I want your unmasking to be on camera with you awake so my viewers can get their jollies from seeing you broken.”
Broken, eh? “I don’t break that easy, Mr. Showbiz.” I spat. “And you may have done some homework to figure out how strong I am, but you don’t know jack about me. I WILL get out of this. And then CruelTV is going off the web for good.” Tough talk, I wish I wasn’t starting to doubt it.
He stood, laughing. “Please. Maybe the guys you fight can’t tell in the heat of battle, but my little videos have told me everything. You don’t have any power – it’s all the suit. The bullet proofing, the wall crawling devices, the strength – without the white coat, you just aren’t the Whitecoat, are you?”
Not so smart after all, I realized, thanking any god that could hear that apparently no hidden cameras caught the incident that made me who I am today. He thought it was all tech. So he didn’t know about the nanites or all the other hidden benefits that granted me.
That’s when it hit me. I looked down at the chains that bound me. Smart guy that he was, he’d bound me by looping the chains tightly across my chest, shoulders and arms. The only thing keeping me from getting my arms out and undoing that iron cat’s cradle were my big, chunky gauntlets. This was going to hurt and I needed to buy just a little more time.
“That’s not true.” I croaked, mouth having gone dry. “You forgot my hat.”
Snorting, the would be villain looked me up and down with a curled upper lip. “True, you know on the internet, they think keeping that stupid thing on your head is part of your powers.”
“So is keeping this white coat clean even though I run into slime like you all the time is.” I retorted. I was throwing insults off the rack now. Excuse me, but I was concentrating. The nanites accept my nervous system as their command node; they take their instructions from whatever background survival instinct all our minds enact. But sometimes, I can make them go the extra mile – boosting my strength for a bit, cutting off pain so I can push on for a little while longer. This time I was telling them not to do their job; not to reinforce my muscles and bone to compensate for my strength. Oh, god, this was going to hurt…
The epitome of the trope ‘evil TV executive’ gave me a worried look. I doubt it was because he was empathizing with my pain. “Maybe I gave you too strong a shock in the garage. Your insults are a little weak. Maybe I can wait another hour for you to come to your senses. I wouldn’t want to taint the horror on your face when I out you, post your home address and do a search of your phone records to find out who your friends are.” He started to walk away.
“You know,” I said, bracing myself for what I knew was going to be agony. “That provoke your enemy thing doesn’t always work.”
“That a fact? I’m getting to like it – I see why you do it so much.”
“You have to pick your target.” I explained. Here came the moment of truth. “Some guys will get sloppy. But some guys… some guys, get a—Lot.” I pulled, dislocating my thumb in an explosion of pain, “More.” I pulled my self mangled hand out of my gauntlet. The chains around the rest of my body loosened. “Focused.”
My captor reached for a remote clamped to his left arm like a watch, but I had already leapt clear of the chains by the time they started sparking with electricity. With my good hand and both legs, I attached myself to opposite walls, hanging above the sparking chains.
By now, my vision was swimming from the pain, but I couldn’t let myself lose the element of surprise. With acrobatics I normally reserve for showing off for the commuters, I detached form the wall and did a rather impressive cartwheel to avoid the electrical hazard on the floor, finally landing in front of the bars. My good hand clamped over a bar so tightly that it bent. It was time to share my pain.
The psychotic twit smirked at me as he hit another button on his remote. The bars instantly hummed with current.
If he could have seen under the hat, he would have seen my exasperation with him. “Something for you to share with the internet, geek.” I snarled, unable to keep my usual calm tones with the nanites trying very hard to fix what I’d done to myself. With a heave, I ripped the bar out of its moorings, sending out a shower of sparks. “The gloves are non-conductive.”
Wisdom finally touched the rapidly failing villain’s brain and he bolted down the corridor my cell was set in. Yeah, good luck with that. I reared back and kicked the bars, knocking them completely out of the wall.
Cradling my thumb under one arm, I strode into the hall amid a shower of pulverized cinderblock. My quarry was already out of the door leading to the cellblock and giving me a malevolent smile as he hit another button on his remote. There was an electronic hum and a woman’s scream from one of the cells near him. That son of a bitch. The screams continued as he disappeared through the door, which locked behind him.
I ran to the other cell to find Stunner, bound by chains built for a normal person. Her guns and belt were carefully arranged nearby. Looked like this guy was serious about us being in full costume when he unmasked us, even if It gave Stunner a chance to shoot him.