I’ve been having trouble sleeping the last few nights. I toss and turn and reach out for someone who isn’t there. The ceiling fan overhead casts restless shadows across my sheets, and tricks of the light make me think he’s standing there at the foot of my bed. Half-asleep I reach out for him, before realizing that I left him behind. I press my face into my pillow, inhale the scents of laundry detergent and dust, when I hear something from the corner of the room. I make a fist. Harsh, white light chases away the shadows and the air ripples around me. There’s a blond woman with a messy pixie cut seated on a folding chair in the corner of the room, beneath a poster for an Almodovar film. She’s wearing a wrinkled black suit with a skinny black tie and a white cotton shirt that looks straight from the cleaners. Her head is cocked to one side and she’s staring at me behind dark glasses. Staring at me. After sitting in the dark for any length of time she should have had to turn her head away from me when I started glowing, dark glasses or no. I concentrate and intensify my light, flooding my apartment with brightness. Her thin lips quiver into a half smile. She raises an eyebrow and says, “Glow all you want, little star, but one point of light isn’t enough to keep away the darkness.”

“Who are you?” I ask between clenched teeth.

“Relax, Sparky. If I had been sent to kill you, I wouldn’t wait here all nice and prim in the shadows for you to wake up and have a chance to turn me into girly brulee.”

“Who are you?” I repeat. I stare at the Todo Sobre mi Madre poster just behind her, feel a pang as I remembered that Julian had bought it for me, and wonder if setting it suddenly afire would be a big enough distraction for me to fly out of the window behind me without this crazy woman doing something seriously weird. She fumbles in her lapel pocket. The poster begins to brown and crinkle around the edges. The woman pulls out a pack of cigarettes, taps it on her open palm and slides one out. She holds the cigarette out towards me. “Would you mind?”

“I don’t like smoking in my apartment.”

She tosses her head and raises an eyebrow again. “Really? You might want to put out your sheets, then.”

I tamp down on my intensity immediately, and notice that my sheets are a little scorched. Whisps of smoke trail up past my face. The woman takes off her dark glasses and taps her fingers in a groove close to the lenses. She’s got hazel eyes with fine lines around them. I’d say she’s younger than thirty, but spends too much time in the sun. “That’s better. These glasses are ‘highly experimental’, which means I probably couldn’t have counted on them to last much longer than twenty more seconds if you kept playing human tanning salon, Fireball.”

“Who are you?” I ask for the third time, now wondering if permanent harm would come to her if I set her hair on fire. Also wondering if I really cared.

The woman sighs. “I was kinda hoping we could have a little pleasant small talk before I dove into the whole, ‘you’re in terrible danger and I’m here to save you’ speech. It gets old after a while, you know?”

I narrow my eyes and focus on causing the air around her to heat up enough that she knows I’m serious. She shrugs, purses her lips and says, “Suit yourself.” She stands and brushes crumbs off her pants. “Erik Jones-Nakata, I am Agent Sanderson of the Bureau of Metahuman Affairs. I am under orders to take you into protective custody. We have reason to believe that you are in terrible danger, and I am here to save you.”

I wonder if she has Aquanet in her hair, and how quickly that would burn. “Terrible danger. What terrible danger? Well, besides strange women sneaking up the fire escape and watching me sleep half-naked.”

She looks around the room furtively and taps her fingers against her forehead. “I’ve got loads to tell you, but I’d rather do it once I’ve got you someplace safe. This place isn’t exactly secure.” Her mouth curls downward. “And don’t flatter yourself, Glowworm, you may keep yourself in shape, but I’m way too much woman for you to handle. ”

“I never asked for you to handle anything!” I roar. “And I’m certainly not going anywhere with you just because you’re wearing a cheap suit and magical sunglasses and tell me you’re from the government! You have something to tell me? You want to tell me what sort of danger I’m in? You can do it right here in this room, right now.”

“Stubborn. I like stubborn.” Sanderson leans forward and claps her hand. Instead of a single, sharp smack, the sound reverberates and deepens. My window rattles. Sanderson makes a gesture with one hand and the rumble becomes high pitched and keening. An unbearable shriek fills the room. I grab a pillow and press it to both ears. After a second, the horrible din recedes. Sanderson perches on the edge of my bed. Her voice is barely above a whisper, but I can hear it clearly despite the fluffy barrier of goose down between us. “That sound should have taken out any standard eavesdropping equipment, but if we’re dealing with the kind of nasties I suspect, that might be not enough. I’m going to try and get through this quick, I’d prefer it if you just nodded or shook your head during this whole mess, because it’s a lot more work for me to work wonders with your voice than my own. Got it?”

I nod my head.

“Like I said, my name’s Sanderson. Delia Sanderson. I work for the Bureau. I’m also a Meta. I can’t do anything flashy like set art film posters on fire or light up like a raver’s glowstick. I can’t make your head explode with my mind or call down bolts of lightning from the sky. What I can do is change the amplitude and frequency of soundwaves. It doesn’t sound very useful being a human set of woofers and tweeters, but you’d be surprised how easily human bones break at the right pitch. This talent will hopefully keep what I’m going to tell you just between us.

“We’ll start at the beginning. You’re aware, I’m sure, that your parents were Metas who did quite a bit of freelance work for the Bureau without ever officially becoming agents. You’re also probably aware that they had quite a nice track record and made several high-ranking enemies from around the world? You’re also aware that they were killed in the line of the duty—attempting to take out a pair of particularly dangerous international criminals?”

I nod at all this. Tears sting my eyes. The back of my throat tightens.

“We had a codename for those self-styled overlords. Scylla and Charybdis. Your parents weren’t the only ones caught between them. We sent twenty-two well-trained, well-armed teams after them. None of them came back. We were considering using TACITUS--” she squinted at me. “You don’t need to know what that is. When we got a stroke of luck. The bad Doctor and his witch woman had some sort of lovers’ quarrel and appeared to blow each other sky high, along with a four-hundred year old chateau full of priceless art and an impressive chunk of a mountain in the French Alps.”

I nod.

“With those two gone, the world didn’t turn into a place where unicorns frolicked and farted rainbows, but it sure did seem a little bit easier. In your case, you got to grow up without some spook trailing you to school every day in an ice cream truck tricked up with EMP devices.”

I nod slowly.

“So, the bad news—not that there was any good—we have pretty good intel that the formerly disbanded Operation Scylla and Charybdis team has good reason to call off their golf games and come out of early retirement.”

I turn my face away from her, stare at a waterstain on the ceiling. I’ve known about their surprisingly vital state for two years, and have not figured out what do with that information.

She shifts in her chair. “Either you have better intel than we do, or you’re not very bright. The Von Wickeds are still alive.”

I clench my fists. I don’t want Julian to be caught in the crossfire. “What does this have to do with me?”

“Not very bright it is. Look, these people killed your parents in cold blood, and we have very good reason to believe they’re coming after you. So, you should come with me someplace we can keep you safe.”

“Why would they come after me? And if you’re from the Bureau, you would know that I was already offered a diplomatic assignment from your agency earlier this evening.” I watch her face for signs of surprise. There are none.

“Yeah, well your little free trip to the Caymans has been cancelled. We’ll probably try and keep that from becoming public knowledge, but it’s not a fantastic idea whether you believe me or not. And shouldn’t a kid your age be all about avenging your parents’ death?”

It’s a low blow, and the room brightens suddenly before I bring myself back under control. This time, Sanderson shields her eyes. I respond slowly and deliberately. “Vengeance is not justice. Vengeance will not bring my parents back. And it would only cheapen the memory of what they stood for.”

She shrugs. “You really are a white hat. That’s going to get you in trouble. Anyway, why would the Von Wickeds come after you? Well, they already did when you were a kid. Something or someone deterred them, but I don’t think they’re the forgive and forget kind. I’d tell you to ask President Ross’ daughter Amy, but twenty years later and she’s still having trouble talking or holding a spoon. Then there’s this,” she reached inside a pocket and pulled out a white envelope, “Are you familiar with Psi Omega?”

“The Council of Heroes for Justice fraternity?”

“That’s the one. You’d been targeted by them for induction into their ranks because of your illustrious parentage.” Her mouth quirked. “Early this morning, their house near your University was broken into. After that security breach, three of them have ended up dead.” She ripped open the envelope and handed me a small stack of Polaroids concealed within. “Antoine Johnson. Gabriel DuChance. Lee Rosencrantz. All of them dead.”

I glance down at the polaroids and feel a wave of nausea wash over me. One’s a picture of a body coiled with wire. The sand beneath him is black with his blood. If the Von Wickeds were responsible for this and I had an opportunity to stop them… I shuddered. Maybe Julian was right. “Agent Sanderson, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but why do you think the Von—those people are responsible for this?”

“Isn’t it obvious? They’re looking for you. You’re a bit of unfinished business from the past that they’re looking to take care of before they move onto bigger and better things. Lee Rosencrantz was just an unlucky chump on door duty on the wrong day, but the President of the chapter and the Director of Formal Recruiting both end up dead on the same day, just when they were planning to sweet talk you into joining? And this happens a day after a couple of powermad crazies with a serious vendetta towards you show up from the dead? Call me a loony, but I’d think there’s gotta be a connection.”

I swallow. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would the Von Wickeds kill people I hadn’t met to get to me, when I’d had dinner at their home only the day before? I mean, dinner hadn’t exactly been a bonding experience, but if they wanted to track me down it couldn’t be that hard. Unless Julian had refused to tell them anything about me and this was all retaliation. I sigh. Was it really dedication to an ideal that kept me from killing them, or am I just afraid?

“So, are you coming with me, or are you waiting for giant robots to come stomping down the street?”

Whatever happens, I need to keep Julian out of the middle of this as much as I can. If his parents really are trying to track me down, maybe that will keep them away from him. “I’ll go with you. I don’t see much choice.”

“Alright then, shrug out of your jammies and bring a jacket and I’ll meet you downstairs with the engine running.”

***

The ride to the safe house goes through tricky turns and narrow, winding backstreets, and Sanderson loops back on her own path so many times that I have trouble figuring out where we’re going, and I grew up in this city. She doesn’t talk much, seems to concentrate on the road. She grunts my way a few times, but we don’t have anything that resembles a conversation. We’re in a little white sedan that looks like it might have been picked up at any decent quality car rental place. It’s a humid night, and despite the fact that we don’t have much to say to each other, a thin line of condensation creeps up the passenger side window. I trace a J on the window with my finger. Sappy. I stare out the window at looming warehouses that crowd in on the little sedan from either side. Sanderson hums something soft and low that I can’t quite make out. I wonder if my entire week has been one big mistake.

We turn off through a half-open gate in a chain-link fence next to one of the warehouses. Rusting hulks of scrap iron and car chassis dot the yard we pull into. Someone has started a trash fire in an old metal barrel. We pull into a tiny space behind an ancient tow truck. Stack of yellowing newspaper surround the car on three sides. I won’t be able to open my door without causing us to be drowned in a cascade of Times from the previous century. Sanderson reaches over and opens the glove compartment. She taps rhythmically inside it. I hear a low hum and the grinding of gears. There’s a sensation of falling. We are rapidly moving down a dark tunnel on some sort of high speed elevator. I light up some. On all sides is a concrete tube barely wider than the car. Sanderson squints, “You know, if you needed a little light, you could have just asked. I could turn on the fluorescents.”

“Bioluminescence is more environmentally friendly, Agent Sanderson.”

She grunts. Before long our descent comes to a gentle stop. There’s a slight hissing sound from beneath the car. A row of lights illuminates a narrow tunnel in front of the car. Sanderson drives the car forward through the tunnel, tapping her fingers in time on the steering wheel. We move into a vast, empty concrete room, lit from above. Giant I-beams tower above us like metal trees at precise intervals. Sanderson stops the car. “Welcome to bunker 12.”

I get out of the car and stretch my legs. I hear the sound of footsteps echoing towards me. It smells damp and musty here. A pair of blast doors at the edge of the chamber slide open. Out steps a man in a military dress uniform. Navy blue with epaulets and pins. He’s about fifty with salt and pepper hair and a pencil-thin mustache. He smiles at me, but his eyes look cold and serious. “Ah, you must be Erik. I knew your parents, fine people.” He shakes my hand firmly. “It’s terrible what happened to them. But I want to give you my personal assurance that my people are working in conjunction with the BMA, CIA and NSA to make sure that this time, we get those bastards good.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir. I’m a little confused as to what exactly is going on here.”

“Not at all a wonder, son. Sanderson’s a real cracker jack with a pistol, but she’s not real good on passing on information.”

I watch as her eyes narrow and her thin lips twist into a grim little smile.

“I’m Colonel Lionel Hanes, I was a Lieutenant barely out of Westpoint when I was brought in on the first Operation: Scylla and Charybdis, and I’m afraid I’m in charge of the whole shebang now. If you’ll follow me, we’ll get you tested and ready, then I’ll take you into the briefing room and we’ll get you caught up to speed.”

“What am I being tested for?”

He turns his head as if he doesn’t hear me. Sanderson leans in close and whispers, “Standard metahuman testing. They’re going to see what you can do, hot stuff.”

Colonel Hanes turns on his heel and takes brisk steps back through the blast doors. I follow.

There’s a short corridor after the blast doors and next we’re on a metal catwalk high above a dark pool of water. I point at what appears to be a yellow rubber duck bobbing on the surface. Hanes grins, his face turning suddenly boyish. “I know what you’re thinking. What’s a rubber duck doing on the reservoir that feeds this whole operation fresh water? Is this some kind of underground bubbly bath?” He laughs at his own joke. Neither of us laugh with him. “Well, we have divers inspect the reservoir twice a month for leaks or other problems and the duck is there so they know which way is up.

“Damn shame about your parents. Your mother was a damn fine woman. They just don’t make them like that anymore.” There was something in Colonel Hanes’ face that I didn’t like. “Your dad wasn’t bad either. But your mother—what a piece of work.”

“Turn it down, lightning bug,” Sanderson whispers. I look down at myself. I’m glowing.

* **

I’m outfitted in a Nomex body suit with various wires attached to my body. I’m in a white enamel-paneled room in front of an aluminum table anchored to the floor. There’s a one-way mirror along one wall. Sanderson and Colonel Hanes are behind it. On the table in neatly marked asbestos-coated containers are stacks of paper, wood chips, sand, water, and cubes of granite.

Hanes’ voice crackles over an intercom. “First, we’re going to test your heat output and control. We’ve got equipment ready to monitor your pulse and body temperature. When I give you the word, I want you to concentrate on affecting each of these test boxes. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do anything with the sand, it usually takes some time and training for most of you heat generating metahumans to get even that far.”

I nod and shout, “Are we ready?”

“Go ahead and give it a try.”

I wave my hand over the table and concentrate on focusing the heat in specific areas. In order I get: fire, fire, glass, steam and what appears to be lava. There’s a crackling sound over the intercom, then Hanes bellows, “Jesus, that was fast. Your pulse rate barely increased. And, Holy… you melted the granite? Clarence, get a team in there!”

A panel in the wall slides open and three men in hazmat suits run out. The molten granite is starting to melt through the aluminum table. I sigh. I’m not any good at cooling things down. The hazmat men spray the table with something very cold. I shiver and adjust the heat in the air around me. The men in the suits nod at each other and run out of the room. The intercom crackles, “That was really something. These tests were designed to test you past your limits, but I don’t think we even came close. Even your mother, fine, fine woman that she was, never managed to melt through granite at her peak.”

I shrug, “My grandmother trained me in control when I was very young. She thought it was important. I guess she didn’t want me to get scared and accidentally burn down her house. I can’t produce that much heat on a wide-scale. I’m no use if you want to melt through mountain.”

Crackle. “It’s still impressive. And the way the heat pretty much was only where you wanted-- you’re good, kid. Now, my file says you can generate light. How bright can you get?”

I smile. “Are you just behind that one way mirror over there?”

Crackle. “Yes.”

“You might want to leave that room and close the door behind you. And, uh, do you have a welding mask?”

***

I’m in the briefing room. Lights dance on the panels of out-of-date mainframe computers that calculate strange algorithms. Important looking men in black suits or military uniforms pace around, sometimes glancing worriedly at surveillance monitors. I’m sitting at an oval mahogany conference table covered with sleek black phones, laptops and smudged stacks of paper with handwritten mathematical formulae and possible schematics of Doctor Von Wicked’s giant robot army. There are pages estimating the number and whereabouts of the Contessa’s highly trained assassin corps. In the center of the table, there’s a huge relief map of the city, with red and blue pins stuck in various locations. Sanderson chews on the end of an unlit cigarette while flipping through pages of a black dossier labeled Scylla and Charbdis Mk II. Hanes clomps over towards me, his boots echoing loudly on the brushed steel floor. He puts a hand on my shoulder. I stifle an involuntary shudder. He clicks his teeth together, then leans over, close to me. He smells like Old Spice and sweat. “You know son, when I first was notified about this whole mess, I was thinking we’d have to keep you safe and out of the line of fire, as service to the memory of your moth—your parents. But after seeing what you can do, I think I, I and the whole nation, that is, have something that you’re perfectly suited to do. Maybe it’s even a gift from God.”

I concentrate on keeping myself from glowing. I hate the tone in his voice. “If any of these schematics are right,” I gesture at the stacks on the table, “I don’t know if I can take out more than one or two of these robots, much less a whole army.”

Hanes clucks. “Oh, I don’t want you confronting ol’ S. and C. themselves. We’ve lost too many good people that way. Too many. We can’t take them on head-to-head now. The collateral damage would be terrible. No, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from bastards like them is that you gotta fight fire with fire. And if you can’t take out your target, then you’ve got to hit them where it hurts. Where it really hurts.”

I don’t think I like where this is going and close my eyes. Don’t glow. I exhale slowly. “You mean their money, right? What would I have to do with it.”

“Oh, that’s not what would hurt them, they’ve been clever. Kept their funding diversified. And don’t think they would have any trouble knocking off a bank or ten if we managed to freeze their assets. No, you’re not thinking the right way.” Hanes chuckles patronizingly. “No, the bad doctor and his woman had a dirty little secret that we didn’t find out about until recently. It wasn’t so much that they were good at covering their tracks as we’d just been sloppy. They’ve got an eighteen-year-old son.”

Don’t glow.

The hand on my shoulder moves closer to my neck. Hanes moves his mouth to my ear. “If we’re going to pay back those bastards for all they’ve done, we’ve got to remember it’s an eye for an eye.” Hanes’ breath is hot in my ear. “If we’re going to take out the Von Wickeds, you’ve got to take out their son, Julian Quevedo.”


The Von Wicked Chronicles
by Excalibur 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

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.