The beer sat awkwardly in Rog’s stomach. He paced the room and though it was nice, he couldn’t help but feel caged. Not that he cared about being caged, as long as the cage was nice, but he wasn’t in the mood for it.
He tried the door and was surprised to find it open. Not only that, it wasn’t much of a door. A single good kick could have broken the thing to pieces even if he’d had a key that could have locked the thing. At this point, the best he could do was lock himself out by doing the knob and only stupid people did that.
He was off down the hall before he’d reconsidered. Donnie was right, this really was like a hotel, right down to the weird wall mounted light things, the stripped wall paper and the carpet that hid stains in the patterns. It even had that rigidly air-conditioned feel to the place.
Not letting the weirdness get to him, he thought “hotel” and followed the hallway to where an elevator would be. He didn’t find one, but he did find stairs. Going down, he found himself in a polished stone and concrete lobby that would have been nice had all the windows not terminated in raw stone instead of sky.
“You like it?”
His head whipped around, and he saw Red in the same kind of track suit he currently wore. “Uh… It’s freaky.”
Red nodded. “Yeah, I can see that. But Ted liked this kitschy little hotel he stayed in in South America and he wanted to recreate it here for the living quarters.”
“That’s…” Rog blew out a sigh, “That’s a little much, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. And to be fair, we were half way through doing it when he said he would have been happy with a rough outline using the layout and just getting it done, but we’d already gotten the original architects and the managers…”
“And that’s crazy. Why the hell do that?”
Red stopped looking around at the lobby and faced him. “Because we can. Or could. Look, the moment you stop doing things to impress people, and this installation is quite impressive, you haven’t seen the pool yet, the moment you give that up is the moment that people think they can take you for granted. Ted…”
“The Orange Overlord, you mean…”
Red demurred. “Of course. The Orange Overlord, for all his power, was always punching up but he always had to make his opponent think he was punching down. That is the real key to success. Ted brought it with him from his business.”
“And you buy that?”
“I took it and ran with it. And speaking of running, I was going to get in a jog before turning in. I take it Donnie didn’t show you the gym?”
Rog smiled. “I’m not sure Donnie is the gym type.”
“No. But he is brilliant. Losing that mind would have been a real shame. I don’t believe I thanked you for preventing his brain damage. Lorenzo said he was very close to a cerebral hemorrhage.”
“Yeah, well, it’s the job.”
Red nodded. “You are still thinking about your fare, aren’t you.”
“Kinda. It’s a little hard to shift gears.”
“Well, that’s fine. We’ll find a use for you or you’ll be eliminated and won’t have to worry about it.”
Rog stopped walking. “What?”
“It’s nothing personal. It’s just that this,” and she waved her hand around, “is a conspiracy. If we had a bunch of people walking around with knowledge of it, we’d never be able to keep it secret. And the Orange Overlord is a villain and owns the police in any jurisdiction that matters so, yeah.” She pointed out the door to a larger chamber beyond. “Gym and track are right out there. Come on.”
They ran in silence around the track. Apparently in the original building, this was a walkway around the perimeter of the pool deck. In this replica, the walls were made of rough-hewed stone and the path was a two-lane, cushioned AstroTurf track that went around a gym pagoda, past the pool, also cut into the stone, and then around the hotel building its self, including an out-building restaurant-come-kitchen and a roundabout for golf carts. It was all very impressive.
“How many people live here?”
“Right now? We have a full compliment of a dozen. It’s just the people who are in the know. We have people who supply the building when we are in lockdown elsewhere.”
“Again, seems like a waste.”
Red panted and kept jogging. Rog didn’t even sweat. “You wouldn’t think it was a waste when we were calling up the Orange Accords and the entire US delegation was living here. It was damned impressive and useful. Plus, we’ve hosted villain conferences and at one point jailed two entire teams of supposed heroes here. These walls are thick and I bet you didn’t even notice the blast doors.”
“Hang on, you imprisoned heroes here?”
“Yes. Ted wanted the world to think they were dead. And the Villains are way easier to mobilize if you give them some perks.”
“I live in crazy times.”
“Yeah, and I was walking around here to try to not feel like a prisoner.”
“How’d that work out?”
“Well, I no longer feel like I’m in a prison. Now I feel like I’m in an asylum.”
Red started to unzip her track suit and made her way to the pool, leaving Rog behind. “Maybe you aren’t so stupid after all.” She shucked the jacket, revlaling a one piece swimsuit and a lithe body. “Go get some rest Rog. We’re meeting again in seven hours.”
“Why seven hours?”
“Becuase Ted gets arraigned in eight.”
Lucius woke with a jolt. His purpose from the night before had crystalized in his sleep. It was clear, and sharp and like all sharp things, it’s edge cut.
Breakfast was hurried and done. Marsha was up and over to his cousin’s apartment next door before he even thought about it, his wife Marcy having already braided her hair the night before. The purpose put blinders on him. Though his family mattered, the purpose *had* him.
“You ok, Lou?” Marcy asked.
“What?” He shook his head. “Um, yeah. Yeah, Marcy, just distracted is all. By this Orange Overlord thing.”
“Nothing but good news I think. Maybe now they will clean up those drug dens and get some of those other factories going. Maybe people won’t have to work for the Overlord any more.”
“Yeah. But I think it’s more than that. I’m… Marcy, do you believe in me?”
She squinted and gave him the side eye. “What kind of question is that?”
“No, really.” He looked into her yes. “Really, I need to know. Becuase I think I got some things to say to people, some things that other people may not like, but I think they are the right things to say. Do you believe in me?”
Marcy leaned forward and put her hand on his. “Lucius, I believe in you. If you think you need to get something off your chest, go for it. Just don’t get killed or fired.”
Lucius smiled. “You’re my rock, Marcy.”
“Yeah, well. I’ll use that rock to beat in your head if you loose your job. Is this why you are up so early?”
“Yeah. I wanted to have my thougts lined up. Wanted to know what I wanted to say.”
Marcy again looked skeptical. “Ok. Look, I’m going to be out wiht your cousin and the little one until five. You can tell me how it went, that cool? And is Max in this with you?”
“Kinda. A little. We talked about this last night.”
She nodded. “Max knows how to get people riled, all right. Ok, well. Just let me know if you need help with anything.”
“Thanks. I promise I won’t let you down.”
“Let me down? Honey, you’ve never let me down.”
“And I aim to keep my promises.”
Red stormed into the room. Rog recognized it as the same room where he’d been shot, and it didn’t make him terribly comfortable.
“Please, Rog, Take a seat.” She said, seeing him lurking in the shadows. “Everyone, I’d like to introduce Rog. You all met him briefly yesterday and he’s decided to join our little team.”
“Uh, Hi.” Rog said as everyone looked at him sitting down. “Hi.”
“Rog, this is Dr. Lorenzo, the person you have to thank for the paralysis darts.”
“So how are you feeling, Rog?”
“Like someone shot me with melting freaking darts, Doc.” he said
“I was wondering if I could run some testes. I’ve never been able to witness the metabolism of the darts because… well, usually they are pretty pissed off.”
“Yeah, I can understand where they are coming from.”
Red interrupted. “This is Annabell, our financial and corporate wizard” Red gestured to an unassuming older woman with glasses and curly hair.
“Glad to meet you Rog.”
“Yeah, well I’m kinda…”
At that point a man in a turban and robe flew into the room. “Red, they moved up the arrangement by twenty minutes and the lawyers are asking for guidance. Are we really considering pleading down?”
“Rog, Nasim. Other intros can wait.”
“You are the guy who immobilized me with my eyes open. Do you have any idea how bad it hurts to have your eyes dry out like that?”
“Am I supposed to care?”
“Shut it!” Red said. Turning to Nasim, she asked, “You can still talk to them?”
“The ring of far speech will let me talk to them undetected.”
Looking up at the people around the room, Red said, “Here’s the deal. Ted pleads out he can leverage the Orange Accords to try to get immunity, maybe get extradited to Suriname, which was his backup plan anyway. Or we go not guilty and make them prove that he’s the Overlord. If they do, he dies.”
Annabel spoke up. “I’d think Ted would rather have a chance to win and a quick exit if he loses. I go not guilty.”
“Yeah, but they had him dead to rights,” A voice Rog didn’t know said. How could there be any doubt?”
“Nasim. Ted has always lacked a motive for the actions of the Orange Overlord. If they hadn’t pulled him from that pile of rubble that had fallen on the Orange Overlord, then no one would have ever believed they were one and the same. We’ve certainly kept his secret.”
Rog spoke to Donnie, but his voice carried further than he wanted. “Why don’t you just have someone else wear the suit and bust him out of jail?”
Red spoke up. “What was that?”
Before Rog could answer Donnie replied. “There isn’t a suit.”
“What do you mean, there isn’t a suit? That’s like, the most elemental thing about the orange overlord is that he’s got this kinda armor that projects a forcefield. I’m a dumbass and even I know that!”
“But I’m telling you, there is no suit.”
Red rolled her eyes. “Rog, he’s telling you that there is no suit. How many times do you need it repeated.”
Rog looked back and forth between the two. “Are we talking about the same guy here?”
“It’s not a suit. The armor is mystical in nature.” Nasim said. “He brings it forth around his body through his mystic power to hide his identity and channel his otherworldly force.”
[Author’s note: This was a terrible way to end this section, but it was getting late, my mind was starting to fuzz and I had Cub Scouts in the morning. Priorities, you know.
Hope you’re enjoying the show. I’m already itching to give this an editing pass but down that road lies madness. Only another 27 days of first drafts to go until I get a shot.
Please consider liking and following if you find this to be amusing. It’s helpful to both keep going here and in general with the other stories I have not forgotten I’m neglecting. After I rip up some carpet and paint a wall, I may give that the attention it deserves.