Careful attendance to the little details is what finally separates order from chaos
. Even seemingly unimportant minutiae can introduce unpleasant variables that can ultimately create surprising and unanticipated results that can render all of one’s intricate
planning useless. Ordinarily, of course, unplanned events add variety
and color to life, and help one adapt to an ever changing environment. Adaptation
is key to survival. However, when dealing with extremely dangerous and adaptable adversaries, control is the key to retaining the upper hand. Surprise is not a good thing in these cases. If you cannot anticipate not only your opponent's next move, but his every move
, you are not in total control. And when the slightest misstep on your part can give your adversary an advantage, loss of control is lethal.
So, for my eighteenth birthday, I planned my celebration dinner down to the smallest details. I chose every pear that was poached, I ironed every napkin on the dinner table and carefully considered how varying linen thread counts would affect the evening's interactions. I chose the crystal not only for the emotional response it would elicit, but also tested it to see how it would shatter when struck against the table, and evaluated its usefulness as a makeshift weapon. I used several expensive pieces of china for discus practice before committing to a lovely, but aerodynamically awkward, set of plates. I resolved to make everything as perfect, as in control as I could.
They say the devil is in the details. So be it. I fear the devil far less than I fear my dinner guests.
Gordon and Sylvia (Robert and Julia)
Robert watched as the delivery truck made its slow way up the winding dirt road that led to the cliff where the charming ocean view cottage where he and his wife had spent the last four idyllic years. Despite its commanding view of white sand beaches and the sparkling azure bay, the cottage had sold cheap because of its inaccessibility; during the rainy season the sole road leading up to it turned into a muddy, impassible quagmire and swift currents and treacherous rocks just below the surface of the seemingly placid water made travel by boat difficult. For much of the year, the cottage was only easily reached by helicopter.
Although a major inconvenience to most prospective buyers, this inaccessibility suited Robert and Julia Von Wicked just fine. Over the course of their storied career the pair had made many enemies who would delight in permanently ruining their retirement. While the location of their retreat made any sort of stealthy assault tricky; Robert had added a few technological enhancements that made a surprise visit from heavily armed adversaries nearly impossible. Electromagnetic scanning devices, motion sensors and highly sensitive RADAR and SONAR equipment were strategically placed to give the Von Wickeds at least a half-hour's notice of any visitors, expected or otherwise.
After receiving a gentle notice from the computer that someone was approaching, Robert had taken up his usual station on a jut of sandstone that overlooked the road to the city. The telescopic vision in his prosthetic left eye allowed him to confirm what the computer readout from the scanning device stationed at the foot of the cliff suggested, the delivery truck was being driven by their usual boy Ivan, who was alone and carried with him no explosive or patently toxic materials. Ivan had worked for the couple he knew as Mr. and Mrs. Tidball for three years and had passed Julia's stringent and thorough background checks with flying colors. During the dry season, he drove up to the Tidball cottage twice weekly to deliver supplies, food and periodicals. Although this was a scheduled delivery and although each time Ivan had proven himself nothing less than dependable and trustworthy, Robert still examined the truck and its contents as if it were being driven by a dangerous stranger. One can never be too cautious was his rationale.
"My beautiful poison blossom," he bellowed in through the cottage's French doors, open to take advantage of the ocean breeze, "Ivan will be here with supplies, you might want to put on your face."
As he said this, Robert adjust a knob on the holographic imager he wore around his neck and assumed the appearance of Gordon Tidball, a portly, grandfatherly sort with wispy white hair carefully combed over a shining pink pate and a bristly walrus mustache. Julia silently joined her husband, her catlike tread giving lie to the heavy, garishly made-up woman of a certain age she appeared. Robert smiled at his wife, whose erect posture and regal bearing seemed at odds with the blue-eyeshadowed, aggressively rouged woman the holographic imager had transformed her into. He purred softly, "Even with that hideous, tropical-print muu muu and that unfortunate Miss Clairol coif, you are still stunning, my deadly dearest."
Julia fluttered her chubby, beringed fingers girlishly and replied, "And you, my love, retain your charm even in sans-a-belt pants."
Robert grabbed Julia and kissed her hard and deep. Pulling back and gasping with pleasure, she smirked, "You naughty boy, Gordon. Whatever will the neighbors think?"
Robert craned his neck before replying, "Let the eagles think whatever they like, Sylvia. We have a few minutes before Ivan gets here. Shall we throw caution to the wind?"
"With the imagers on? You know, querido, I might start thinking that you prefer Sylvia's ample womanly charms to my own more modest ones. I have a nasty jealous streak."
Robert ran a hand over his left eyebrow, "mmm, do you ever. But never fear, you are, and shall always remain my heart's darkest desire. Sylvia, despite her zaftig midwestern je ne sais quoi and her amusing penchant for crafting hors d'oeuvres out of inedible pork products and the finest of imitation cheeses will always remain a distant second."
Julia smiled and tossed her hair haughtily before assuming the bad posture and myopic stare of Sylvia Tidball. She shot Robert an insouciant wink before shrilling, "Oh Gordie, you're a real laugh riot," just as Ivan made the final turn in the approach to the cottage.
Gordon coughed in the cloud of dust stirred up by the white delivery van, and Sylvia ran to the door shrieking, "Ivan, baby! Let me see you!"
Ivan opened the door and stood before Sylvia who held him at arm's length and scrutinized him, "Oh, but you're so thin! You need a woman to feed you my lovely. Let me send you home some of my famous ghoulash and we'll see if we can't fatten you up a little."
"Oh, thank you Mrs. Tidball, but my mother is cooking for me this evening and she will be jealous if you send me home with something better," Ivan replied with earnest politeness. He had the faintest hint of a Russian accent.
"Oh, you flatterer. Alright, so no ghoulash. Your loss. You will have a drink won't you," without waiting for a response, Sylvia screamed, "Gordie! Get our Ivan a little somethng to wet his whistle."
"Mrs. Tidball," Ivan said mildly, "I must again refuse. I do not drink while on duty."
"Just one won't kill you."
"Mrs. Tidball, please do not tempt me. It pains me to reject your hospitality."
"You're a sweetheart, sweetheart," Sylvia said.
Gordon peered over her shoulder and asked, "You got anything special for us today, Ivan?"
"Ah yes," Ivan leaned into his truck and pulled out a white parcel, "There is this package. The label is somewhat unreadable, I'm afraid."
As Gordon and Sylvia leaned forward to inspect the package, Ivan punctured the tape sealing it with a long, dirty pinky nail. A greenish cloud of vapor issued forth and caught the Tidballs by surprise.
Just before she lost consciousness, Julia heard Ivan say in a Texas drawl, "For what it's worth, I did enjoy your company these last coupla years, Dr. and Contessa Von Wicked."
"Good, you're awake," I said as my parents began to stir and move sluggishly in their chairs, "Despite certain advances that have been made in medical technology, anesthesia is still somewhat of an inexact science. I'm pleased that the dosages worked as planned. I'd hate for you to miss out on all the fun."
My mother, who for a moment had been feigning sleep, snapped her eyelids open on the word "fun" and then allowed herself a moment of wide-eyed disbelief before making her face an implacable mask. My father, whose longish graying hair gave him a somewhat leonine aspect, smacked an open palm down on the table, jostling the china and crystal, and leaning forward roared, "Who are you? What do you want? My robots --"
My mother placed a restraining hand on his forearm as I smirked, "I realize that it has been quite some time, but one would think someone with your vast mental acumen would be capable of recognizing his own son."
"Julian?" my father gasped as my mother nodded in confirmation.
"But how? Why? Who--" My father blustered as my mother scanned the table and evaluated the silverware for its usefulness as weaponry. I must admit it gave me a frisson of pleasure to see a woman who could kill you with an escargot fork at work.
"There will be time for all the basic questions of journalism later, Robert. But as for why, you couldn't possibly imagine that I'd want you to miss out on the festivities planned for my eighteenth birthday, especially since your presence is key to their success," I said, pretending not to notice my mother palming a particularly heavy antique steak knife.
"But how on earth did you find us?" Robert asked, "We went through a great deal of effort and planning to guarantee that our disappearance was both permanent and untrackable."
"Yes, and believe me it certainly wasn't as easy as typing infamous supervillains into the google query window. But once I discovered that neither of you had, as yet, shuffled off this mortal coil, I spared no effort in locating you. Besides, you haven't even met my boyfriend."
"Wait, you're gay? Why didn't you tell us?"
"We were supposed to be dead, beloved," my mother reminded him.
"Yes, the coming out process is complicated enough already without attempting to exhume badly burned corpses," I said.
I must have allowed a trace of bitterness to creep into my voice because my mother bit her lower lip the way she always did when she was about to apologize and said, "Julian mijo, you must believe me when I say that if there were any other way, we would not have deceived you. But it was crucial that no one know that we were alive, not even you. We made many enemies--"
I stifled a sound of contempt and responded, "So, your idea of protecting your child was leaving him in the care of an elderly butler without so much as a name change while you go gallivanting off in tropical locales cleansed of any association with your past? Forgive me if I find that dubious."
"Julian, your mother and I love you. I know it's hard for you to believe, I know your childhood was difficult, but we wanted the best for you. We--"
"Spare me the pretense of nobility, Father. Anything but that. Was it your grand and lofty idealism that led you to murder Shadowseraph and Sister Smolder?" I snarled. My mother gasped and visibly paled at that comment. I had struck a nerve.
"Julian," my father roared, "you know nothing about that."
"Oh, I know far more than you think," I snapped.
His voice was softer in response, "We've done some awful things. And I'm not going to apologize for them. Everyone does what one must to get ahead. Regret is weakness. But you were a target for our enemies as long as we were alive."
"I've been surviving assassination attempts since I was five, father. Did you honestly think that you didn't make any enemies who were embittered enough to get revenge on you posthumously?"
"No. But that's why your mother and I pushed you so hard to take care of yourself. But there was an intricate plot -- your mother still does not know all of the details -- to use you as a weapon against us."
"Yes," I said furrowing my brow," about that. It was Deathblast who kindly informed me about your surprisingly vital state."
"Deathblast?" my mother's eyes narrowed dangerously, "Robert, you told me that you were a widower and that whore with the implants wouldn't ever again be an issue. Is there something you want to tell me?"
Robert shook his head, "He means Herschel. The cyborg is toast, but I hadn't realized how far her father would go to get revenge on me. On us."
I heard the garage door open. I counted a few beats and then did something I knew would provoke a response from my mother. I turned my back on her. I turned towards the swinging door to the kitchen and closed my eyes. Even with my eyelids tightly clenched, the world swam with vibrant color as intense light beamed past me. I could feel the terrible heat on my cheek. I opened my eyes and stared disinterestedly at the cooling, molten remains of the steak knife pooling on the floor. Timing is everything.
"How does the song go? Ah, yes. My boyfriend's back..."
I wanted to take Julian out for his eighteenth birthday. But he insisted on staying home. He said he just wanted to have a quiet dinner en famille. I offered to cook him my grandma's famous jambalaya, but he said that he wanted to cook. And again he insisted. When Julian insists, which isn't that often, he usually gets his way. I was feeling guilty that I hadn't planned anything more special for him, so I'd resolved to give him a one-of-a-kind gift. Julian has always gotten me the perfect gifts. If somewhere in the darkest corner of my heart I wanted something impossible, Julian would find out what it was and get it for me. I knew that Julian was fond of antiquities and found, with some effort, a beautiful Byzantine micro-mosaic. There weren't a whole lot that survived the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, and it was perfect. And expensive. The government gives me an especially generous stipend as a sort of compensation for the loss of my parents who were "killed in the line of duty", and it took me five months to save up enough to pay for it. Anyway, the point is, I'd had it wrapped and ready to present when I walked through the kitchen door and saw a gleaming, silver object hurtling at Julian's head. I dropped the micro-mosaic, which shattered on the terazzo, and focused a beam of light and heat at that thing which was threatening my boy.
It wasn't until a heartbeat later that I noticed that Julian's eyes were already closed, as if he had anticipated this entire scene. He said, in that sangfroid voice of his that drives me batty, "How does the song go? Ah, yes. My boyfriend's back..."
Shaking with anger and rejecting the notion that Julian had allowed me to expose myself and my unusual secret to strangers as some sort of party trick, I pointed a finger at the beautiful, black-haired woman and said, "Julian, that woman just tried to kill you."
"I'm sure she was only trying to knock me unconscious, so she and her accomplice could escape. Still, thank you for saving me a nasty clout on the back of the head."
"Who are these people?" I asked with a mixture of rage and confusion.
"How rude of me," Julian said, entirely too glibly, "Erik, allow me to introduce you to Robert and Julia Von Wicked, my parents."
My stomach tightened. Words failed me. I lost a little control and began to glow softly. I could smell my clothes starting to scorch. The air around me began to ripple.
Julian's eyes took on a nasty and dangerous cast, and he had a look I'd never seen before as he turned to address his parents, "Mother, Father, this is my boyfriend, Erik Jones-Nakata. I'd imagine he's even more eager than I am to hear answers from you. Only, I don't think that you'll be able to pacify him with a mere apology."
Making a conscious effort to contain my fury I said, "You killed my parents," it was not a question.
The woman, Julia Von Wicked, could not meet my gaze. Her husband, however, looked me in the eye and said softly, "Yes. We did. We wish things had gone differently--"
Julian moved behind me, close. I forced myself to get under control so that he would not get burned. He put a hand on my shoulder. There was still steam wafting upwards from my eyes where tears should be. I had to trust him. He's the only thing I have left. I said, "Julian, we have to call the police. These people are dangerous."
"You have no idea how dangerous, love. Too dangerous for the police. There's not a jail built right now that could hold them. Even if we were to convince the authorities of their real identities, they'd escape and hurt innocent people in the process."
I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye and snapped, "Put the candlestick down lady, and keep still, or that necklace you're wearing will be plasma."
"My mother is possibly the world's deadliest woman. My father is a scientific genius who could build a death robot out of a transistor radio. We can't let the police be hurt by them."
"So what are you saying, Julian? We should just let them go? Let them escape justice again?"
"No." he said. With a heavy sickness I realized exactly how Julian meant for justice to be delivered, "These are evil, awful people who destroy everything they touch. They're a blight, a cancer. Killing them wouldn't be murder, it would be a service to humanity. Who better than you to deliver the coup de grace?"
"Julian," the woman shrieked, "We're your parents! You can't mean to kill us."
"Really, sentimentality isn't a trait I'd expect from you, mother. The only reason you aren't dead already is because you're my parents," Julian said. There was something different in his eyes. There was a coldness I'd never seen before.
"Julian, I hate them. I hate them more than I've ever hated anything. But killing isn't the right answer. It doesn't fix anything. You're a good person, even if they're bad. Think about this."
Julian at once looked very boyish and very weary. He said to me in a voice barely above a whisper, "You promised you'd keep me safe from them. It's the only way, don't you see? It's the only way this can end. Keep me safe."
I could not believe my darling, the love of my life, was asking me to do this monstrous thing. I hated those people, those loathsome, awful people, but killing them when they were helpless would not be justice. It would make me no better than them. His eyes still implored me, but I knew Julian was a good person. He would regret it if I murdered his own parents, even at his urging. He wasn't thinking. He was afraid. I was surrounded. Those awful people were in front of me, my love was behind.
There was only one way out.
He flew through my roof; a shooting star in reverse. Sparks and burning debris rained down from above, cinders floated down to the floor. Nothing fell within inches of me. Even in haste Erik was careful; he had considered what would be broken. There is a hole in the roof. The edges are jagged; they could cut me if I touched them. I want to touch them. I want to see if they're real. I want to call him back. This is weakness. This is folly. How have I allowed myself to feel the things I am feeling? How have I allowed someone else any modicum of control? The next time we meet we may be enemies. I must prepare myself for the eventuality of our conflict, I must adapt or be destroyed. I am destroyed. Herr Doktor and the Contessa stare at me; I cannot allow myself to cry out in front of them. I cannot allow myself to appear weak. I focus myself inward, compose my voice, unclench my fists. There are things that must be done. I cannot allow myself to hesitate. I will need to repair the roof. I will need to sell the house and find someplace else to live. There are so many things I make myself think I need to avoid thinking about what I really need. Who I really need. For once I have more questions than answers. For once everything does not seem pre-arranged. There's a coldness in the pit of my stomach. I feel like laughing and screaming and pulling out my hair by its roots, but to do any of that would be to show weakness, to admit defeat. So I just stand there tallying up costs in my head.
My mother keeps staring at me. There's something on her face that I don't recall seeing before. Could it be pity? Before I can consider the possible consequences I blurt, "Why didn't you warn me about this?"
"About what, mijo?"
"Love," is my reply. It hangs there in the air. I stare up at the stars beginning to shine through the hole Erik has left.
I have no plan for this.
The lights of the city are far below. They twinkle and shine the same as always. Like today's just another day. One of those lights comes from Julian's house. One of those lights used to burn just for me on late nights.
I've failed Julian. I promised him that I would protect him and I ran at the first sign of trouble. I left him alone with those twisted people because I was afraid of what I'm capable of. I can't let it end like this. I knew who his parents were. I knew they were alive. I've got to save him from this. I've got to save him from himself. If I can't rescue the one person in my life who matters, if I can't keep him from becoming tainted by those monsters, what right do I have to call myself a hero?
I'll go back. I'll do whatever I have to prove to Julian that he's loved and safe and has a home with me.
I'll go back. But not tonight.
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
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