I have to look up Erik’s landline number on my PDA. His mobile phone is still lying on the kitchen tile where he tossed it. Flipped halfway open; its faceplate cracked in the shape of a star or a spider web. I scroll through the names of acquaintances, attorneys, investors and old adversaries until I find him. N for Nakata-Jones. The number glows blue. I dial.

“Hi! This is Erik. I’m out of town for a couple of days, and I didn’t take my cell phone with me. Leave a message at the tone and I’ll give you a call when I’m back. Thanks!”

I hang up.

***

The dining room is in shambles. Chunks of plaster cover everything. The curves of the mahogany parquet have been made meaningless by a random dusting of ivory powder. Blackened chunks of wood lie uselessly among shards of Lalique champagne flutes. The Chippendale table is pitted and scarred from their passage.

My mother sits calmly at the table, unmindful of the rubble, nibbling on a croissant and sipping café con leche out of a hopelessly chipped Limoges demi-tasse. “Good morning, querido.” She says without looking up.

“Mother--”

“You know, Julian mijo, if you wanted a skylight,” she glances up at the sky that peeks through the jagged hole in the roof, “there are probably easier ways of re-decorating than making your boyfriend angry.” She dips a bit of croissant into her coffee. Her glossy, raven black hair ripples down her face like a waterfall. A few strands of gray are like spume.

“I didn’t think he’d fly through the roof.”

My mother laughs. It’s like the chuckle of a brook. “You asked him to kill your father and me. He’s a superhero. What did you think would happen?”

“You both deserved it.”

My mother shrugs. Licks a crumb from one of her long fingers. “Your problem is you’re too much like your father.”

I scowl. “When have I ever used giant robots for anything?”

She shakes her head, “Not that. You don’t understand people. They are not pawns to move around the chessboard you create in your head.”

“It should have worked,” I mumble.

Mother gets up from the table. She wraps her trenchcoat around her. “You have mail.” She throws a stack of envelopes bound with a rubber band onto the table. Broken glass tinkles.

Bills. More Bills. A letter addressed to Erik. I slice it open with my dagger. An invitation on cheap card stock falls out. It isn’t embossed or even gold stamped. Yellow-gold ink from a deskjet. I run my finger over the surface. The ink smears. Tacky.

The cards reads: Erik Nakata-Jones is cordially invited by the Recruitment Council of the Illustrious Iota Chapter of Psi Omega-- The World’s Foremost Fraternal Order of Meta-Humans – to present himself for consideration of inclusion in our illustrious ranks.

The card flops out of my hand and hits the floor with smack.

My boyfriend will not become some beer-swilling superhero frat boy.

***

The casual observer would not notice anything out of the ordinary about Psi Omega house. The steel-reinforced concrete walls are carefully hidden beneath an ivy-laden brick and mortar façade. The quaint diamond patterns on the windows help hide the fact that they’re constructed of titanium and seaquarium-grade Plexiglas. The green shutters are also a nice touch.

The camera hidden inside the garden gnome would be less obvious if the gnome didn’t swivel as I make my way up the front walk. I stand in front of the door for a minute. They know I’m here. But the only sound I can hear is the incessant chirping of the robins nesting nearby. Funny, the frat boys aren’t normally this quiet.

I knock. Thwock, thwock, thwock resounds the six inches of steel between me and the Psi Omega foyer. The door swivels open. A sallow, dishwater blond boy with bad acne pokes his greasy head out.

“Can I help you?” He wipes a dirty shirt sleeve across his mouth.

I turn on my most insincere smile. Push my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “Yes! I’m very interested in becoming a member of your fine establishment.”

He grimaces. One of the ripe pustules on his forehead leaks a thin trail of yellow-orange fluid. “Uh yeah. We’re actually invite-only. To join Psi Omega you have to be special.”

My lip quivers as I eye his Lee knock-off jeans. “Special like you?”

He glares. “You don’t understand.” He moves to swing the door shut.

“Wait a moment!”

I’m not sure if he understands the words or is just conditioned to obey certain voice tones, but he stops mid-swing.

“I am special.” I flash the inkjet invitation bearing Erik’s name. “I know what you mean. I know what you do. It’s admirable really.”

He’s suspicious, but he stops and leans over. “If you know what we do why did you--”

I flick my fingers back against my cufflinks. The propellant hidden up my sleeve hits him full in the face. It’s a gamble, but apparently they didn’t choose their doorman for his immunity to chloroform. I press my sleeve over my nose and mouth, step over blondie and walk into the house.

I wasn’t expecting cleanliness, but I am not quite prepared for this sort of squalor. Beer bottles lie scattered across the rust-colored wall-to-wall shag. The smell of urine, sweat and stale alcohol permeate the air. So many initials are enscribed into the banister of the grand staircase that it resembles scrimshaw.

I edge into a parlor off the main entrance. I wince at the wreckage of what appears to have once been a perfectly serviceable Shaker table. Hanging slightly askew over a fireplace is a large photograph with oval pictures of the current initiates. I hear voices and the ungainly clomp of feet. I creep towards the picture. Names and offices are printed beneath each oval.

“I dunno. We should throw a party. We got beer.” A slurred voice echoes down the stairwell. I take quick pictures. Snap.

“Yeah, but the Council of Heroes for Justice is holding a thingie”

Snap.

“Dude, you said thingie! That’s gay.”

Snap.

“Fuck you. It’s not—what the hell!” They’re in the entryway, looking at blondie’s prone form.

No one notices me yet. The window latches from the inside. I pull it open and slip out into the front yard. Calls for help echo into the street behind me.

***

“Hi! This is Erik. I’m out of town for a couple of days, and I didn’t take my cell phone with me. Leave a message at the tone and I’ll give you a call when I’m back. Thanks!”

“It’s Julian. I know you’re not answering. And maybe you’re not checking your messages, and you have every right to be mad at me, but still I need—I want to talk to you.”

***

I sit in the bleachers holding two bottles of Gatorade in the crook of my arm. A hot, gritty wind stirs the dust on the track below. I shield my eyes against the sun. A shirtless runner presses on in the afternoon heat. Evan Lowell. Psi Omega’s Director of Member Education. I tap the stylus against the screen of my PDA and scan the information one last time. It reads: 98.563% Probability of Match to Metahuman Codenamed Rodrock. Known Metahuman abilities: enhanced strength, agility and endurance, greatly increased thermal tolerance, unique epidermal structure provides imperviousness to most conventional weapons, including firearms. I pocket the PDA. I slosh the red Gatorade around in its bottle as if it were Rioja in a wine glass.

Evan does another lap around the track then bounds up the bleachers. His honey-gold hair glistens in the sun. He would be at home in a Greco-Roman epic. Catullus would have written about his taut stomach and the clean line of his jaw. He nods at me, “So, let’s get this puppy done.”

I pull a micro-recorder out of my lapel pocket. “First, let me say thank you for agreeing to this interview, Mr. Lovell. I’m a big fan of your work.”

“Yeah, whatever. What’s your name again?”

Gay Talese.”

His eyes narrow. “I thought you said it was Bob Woodworm or something on the phone.”

“Pen name. You must be thirsty after a run like that. Gatorade?”

He smirks. “That was nothing. Seven miles barely works up a sweat.” He snatches the bottle I hold out. Twists off the cap. Swallows the content in three savage gulps. I watch his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he drinks. He hurls the bottle behind him.

“So. Let’s get to it.” He slouches down next to me. Taps his foot in time to some unheard music. Calf muscles ripple.

“I admire your directness. Well, I wanted to get down some of your thoughts on the remarkable season you’ve had. You’re really anchoring Track & Field.”

“Yeah,” he fans his hands in false modesty, “I think the key to everything is hard work, clean living and believing in yourself.”

“What an original concept. I’m fascinated.” I don’t bother to conceal my contempt, but he preens visibly.

“Well, you know, gotta be a role model for the kids.”

“Indeed. Well, thank you for your time. I think I have exactly what I came here for.”

He furrowed his brow. “That’s it? Don’t you want to know about my training routine? Or how the runners from Clark State are gonna go down in flames against us in the 4x400 relay?”

“I prefer to leave some mystery,” I say over my shoulder as I pick my way over the bleachers.

He won’t be running against Clark State. The Regionals are nineteen days away. With that much Polonium-210 bouncing Alpha rays around in his internal organs, I don’t think athletics will be an immediate concern for him in his few remaining days.

***

“Hi! This is Erik. I’m out of town for a couple of days, and I didn’t take my cell phone with me. Leave a message at the tone and I’ll give you a call when I’m back. Thanks!”

“Hi Erik. This is Julian. We need to talk, I think. I need you and I don’t want—I don’t know what I’m saying, nothing makes sense to me anymore. Just call me. Please.”

***

Antoine Johnson is still wearing his mascot costume. He carries his cartoon fox head under one arm and pushes a dolly with two kegs of beer stacked on a hand truck. He takes a shortcut through an alley—the kind of alley his worried mother must have doubtlessly warned him to stay out of—it’s dark and trash strewn and the ground is cracked asphalt full of potholes. I lean close against a graffiti-ridden brick wall and follow. PDA in my right hand: 97.333% Probability of Match to Metahuman codenamed Fire Fox. Known Metahuman abilities: Pyrogenesis. Can generate, but not control, external combustion. Apparent immunity to extremes of temperature. I snap the elastic band in my left sleeve. The familiar weight of my dagger slides into my palm. Damascus steel gleams in the early evening light.

He whistles N’Sync off-key. I shadow him, pressing my body against the wall. One of the wheels of the hand truck catches on the edge of pothole. He rocks the truck. It doesn’t budge. “Fuck!” He leans over.

I club him on the back of the head with the hilt of my dagger. He slumps forward. I focus for a second, then jab hard at the bottom keg of beer with the dagger’s point. Beer gouts from the hole.

I grab Antoine’s greasy black hair and shove his face into the shallow, foamy pool of Milwaukee’s Best. He coughs and sputters. I force his head down.

There are fifteen-and-a-half gallons of beer in a single keg. The contents are under pressure, and a single well-aimed puncture can cause them to come gushing out quickly. There are documented cases of people drowning in as little as 30 mm of liquid. But drowning someone, even a largely unconscious person, is more tedious than you might think.

I press my thumb to the side of his neck. His heart rate is hummingbird fast at first, but quickly becomes slower and weaker. I look at my watch. Six minutes of this to be sure.

The beer from the keg splashes out in irregular spurts. My shirt is ruined. His throat spasms and feels tight beneath my hands. He trembles beneath me, and then is still. Two minutes left.

He still has a pulse.

He shivers again, and pale yellow froth takes on a reddish cast. Ten seconds.

I slip my fingers out from his hair as delicately as I can manage. A few strands remain tangled in my nails. The smell of shit rises up pungently over the haze of cheap beer. Red-orange fake fur clings to my shirt. The discarded cartoon fox head leers at me obscenely. Goodbye, Director of Formal Recruitment.

***

I flip open my cell phone. I dial Erik’s home number. My finger hovers over the send button. I flip the cell phone closed. Night’s coming on. The wind carries the scent of brine and dying kelp to me on the shore. Memories pry at the edge of my thoughts, dulling my focus.

"I won't let them hurt you. I won't let them get at you, I'll protect you." Erik’s voice hangs on the air as if he just said those words. I’m standing where we parked the car the night I told him about my parents. The water was black and moon-silver then, red and orange, now. Blood and fire.

I close my eyes.

We were parked in his new red convertible. Jeff Buckley moaned soft and low over the radio. The moon glowed silver and bronze, and Erik glowed too, with soft white bioluminescence. I took his hand in mine and held it up to my cheek. His skin was the color of café con leche and smelled like sandalwood. I kissed his hand. His light intensified. I sighed as he controlled his brightness. “I have something to tell you. You're not going to like this, but you need to know.”

I spent hours planning that moment. Calculating what would impart the most emotional impact. But in the actual moment, I had trouble remembering the speech I prepared and babbled, “Erik, you've never held anything back from me. You told me about your parents. You've trusted me. But there are things I've never told you.” I leaned back and closed my eyes. Timing is everything. “I've never told you about my parents.” A beat. I looked for the concern in his rosewood-colored eyes before continuing. “I've never lied to you. I told you I was ashamed of them, and that I changed my name. I told you that they were horrible people.” He was curious, but he was still holding my hand. I looked away.

“I don't know what I'd do if you hated me, Erik.” He was hurt, then indignant. “I could never hate you!”

It was time to lead up to the big revelation. “I've been an orphan since I was eleven, and in some ways longer than that, my parents were always busy with their work. But I've never really told you what their work was. At first it was because I was ashamed and didn't want you to think I was like them--”

“You’re not responsible for who your parents were!” He squeezed my hand. He shone so bright that I had to look away. I could always count on Erik to be noble.

I took my hand away from his. It was time for tears, nothing else would work. I held my head in my hands and cried. Great sobs racked my body. I shook. He slipped his arm around my waist. I counted three. I looked up at him-- I’m sure my eyes were red-rimmed and my face blotchy-- and blurted, “Erik, my mother and father were Contessa and Dr. Von Wicked.”

He still held onto me. He trembled and, his light shone sun-bright. And then, darkness. There was fear on his face, revulsion, and something like horror, but he held onto me.

“You are not your parents. You are a good person. I love you.” He squeezed me. “Your parents are dead.”

One last knife to twist. “That's just it,” I sighed, “the reason I had to tell you everything even though I wasn't ready. I just learned that their death five years ago was a ruse.” I let the words take effect for a moment before continuing, “my parents are still alive.”

Brightness.

He had that lovely crusading look in his eyes. “I won't let them hurt you. I won't let them get at you, I'll protect you.”

I open my eyes.

I’m alone on the bluff. I had him and then I pushed him too hard and lost him. I counted on him to protect me, but who would protect him? Psi Omega would push him into his parents’ line of work. Tools for the government. They’d call him a superhero and drape a flag over his casket when they were through with him. I stare out at the ocean. Blood and fire.

I have to protect him.

***

99.324% Probability of Match to Metahuman Codenamed Aerospark. Known Metahuman abilities: Electrical Manipulation.

Gabriel DuChance, The Psi Omega President, is alone at a construction site at the beach. They’re building an oceanfront Home for children with terminal diseases. He’s the sole scion to the DuChance cosmetics empire and this is his pet project. The construction crew has left for the day and he sits in the fenced-off area on a giant spool of industrial wire drinking a beer.

He’s a handsome young man. Wavy black hair, skin as dark and smooth as cherrywood. Tall and lean. By most accounts, he’s a genial, good natured fellow. He’s also an obstacle. I pull the hood of my rubber suit over my head, slide on IR goggles. I clamber over the chain link fence as quietly as I can, hoping the ocean’s roar will disguise my passage. I creep past stacks of wooden 2x4s, plastic pipes for plumbing. His back is to me. My dagger is in my hand I strike out.

I miss. He turns at my approach and rolls off the spool just before I would have connected.

“What the fuck, man?” He seems genuinely confused.

I slash at the air.

He’s faster than I anticipated. He kicks up at my wrist. My dagger flies out of my hand, whirls end-over-end to lie on the sand. His fist slams into my face, knocking my goggles off. I reel and roll. Ozone. Blue-white arcs of electricity crackle from his hands into the air. Beneath him jagged blue-green patterns. Fulgurites. I kick sand at him.

“Fucker!” He shouts and swings at me. The air crackles. I’m knocked backwards, onto my heels. A direct hit. The rubber suit keeps it from killing me, but the surface of it bubbles and crackles. The heat is awful. He slams his shoulder into me. I hit the sand hard, rabbit punch at his kidneys. He elbows me hard in the stomach. Air escapes my lips with a whumpf.

He raises his hands above his head. His hair stands on end. Sparks fly between his fingers, cascade off the top of his head. “You’re mine now, bitch!”

The coil of wire. I reach out and grab an end from the spool. The air feels tight. A quick lasso. I loop it around him. Once, twice, three times.

“You think tying me up is going to save you?” Four, five, six.

The air crackles. The chain link fence behinds me shakes and rattles.

Seven, eight, nine.

There’s a meaty thunk as Damascus steel cleaves flesh. His eyes widen in surprise. Blood dribbles out of the corner of his mouth. He slumps to the ground. “Electromagnetism,” I say as I retrieve my dagger from his back. My PDA did not survive our tussle.

***

Edith Piaf sings La Vie En Rose. My phone. It’s Erik’s ring tone. I grope around for it under the covers. I ache. I flip it open just before it would go to voicemail.

“Hi. Julian?” Erik always sounds like he’s only half-awake on the phone.

“I’ve been calling you,” I say. I wince. I think Gabriel must have broken one of my ribs.

“I’m sorry. I just got home. I had to go away to think about some things.”

My head throbs. I’m going to have a black eye. “We need to talk, Erik--”

A sigh on the other end of phone. “Don’t you think I know that? I shouldn’t have run away. I shouldn’t have flown through your roof. I still love you, it’s just that--”

“It’s just what?”

“Julian! You tried to get me to kill your parents!”

“They deserve it. They’re international criminals. You said yourself that no jail could hold them. You said--”

“But killing them is only vengeance. It’s not justice. If I did that, if you were capable of doing something like that, we’d be no better than them. But I believe we’re better. I know you are.”

I look at the purpling bruise on my wrist. “You sound like the back of a box of cereal.”

“Look, I don’t know if it’s a good idea for me to come back home just yet. Maybe I should move out for a while.” My pulse races. “What do you mean? I’d do anything for you. Kill for you.”

“I love you. God knows I love you. But there are some things we need to fix. I don’t know—I got contacted by this guy from Metahuman Affairs. He offered me a job, maybe I’ll do an assignment or two and get my head together.”

“The government!” My voice was shrill. “How could you work for them? They’ll chew you up in their silly little games of Realpolitik and spit you out. You’ll end up just like--” My voices trails off before I go too far.

“Just like what?” His voice is mild, but the challenge is there.

“I don’t want to lose you, Erik.”

“You haven’t. You won’t. I love you.”

“I know.”

I hang up.


The Von Wicked Chronicles
by Excalibre and Evil Catullus

I remember when it was me who made you want to take over the world and enslave humanity
Latex. High heels. Knives. (Excalibre's writeup)
It's not my fault that I'm so evil
I was a teenage Overlord
Lady Deathblast's Lover
This little light of mine
The Thanksgiving battle
My funny villaintine
Robots and comic books
This wicked life
The education of little overlords
All things truly wicked
Darkness lights its own way
No rest
How it all began
Sometimes I think you love that doomsday machine more than you love me.
They are mine. They are dead.
There is a crack in everything

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