“Brothers and Sisters!” Lucius yelled out above the crowd gathered outside of the police station. “Brothers and Sisters! Please.”
“Yeah, who are you?” Someone from the crowd asked derisively.
“I’m someone with a purpose. And an answer. Who are you? I know who you are. You are someone, a victim of the Orange Overlord. He has picked your pocket clean and now you want blood, am I right?” Before anyone could respond he continued. “Of course, I’m right. The Orange overlord has stolen from us all. He’s taken our cities. All four of them. He’s taken our jobs unless we want to work as criminals and scumbags. He’s taken our dignity. Our community. But our self-respect? We gave that away. We gave our selves away.
“I’m here to talk about the Orange Overlords true crime. His biggest crime. You see, the media, the politicians, the heroes, they want to say that his biggest crime was when he killed Captain Courageous. Fool in a mask. No. His biggest crime was when he made us all slaves.
“SLAVES! Word hurts, doesn’t it? And you can say, but Lucius, I’m not a slave. But you are. You are a slave every time you work in that filth the orange overlord has set up to suck in all the vice and vile from all over and into our town. When you work at the munitions plant. When you do nothing. Because you are paying into the system, the taxation system through which the orange overlord draws his true power to corrupt and coerce and crush anyone who would defy him. You are owned by that system. You are owned by him.
“They say that when you work, you are trading your time for money. That time is a little sliver, a piece of the life you have to live on this planet. So, you are actually trading your life, your soul for money, which is fine as far as it goes. That would be fine if you turned around and spent your money on your wife. Your mom, your kids. But if that money is then taken and given to the Overlord? You have just given him a piece of your soul. He owns you. He has taken your soul from you.
“But now we have him, right? So, it’s all good. Right? Wrong. We still pay the tithe. We’ve still had our lives taken from us and we will continue to be slaves to this orange freak until we get our money back.” The crowd was nodding and now they had turned to clapping. “We will not be whole until we have had reparations delivered to us. To our kids. And to our communities so they can fight back against the corruption, the coercion and the filth that crushed us.
“And to that end, we are organizing. I can’t do it alone. I don’t have super powers like the orange piece of shit that enslaved us, but together we can effect this change. We can make ourselves whole. We can take back our souls.” The crowd cheered, not huge, but not just a polite smattering. Those who were into it, were all in. Those who weren’t stayed skeptical.
“I see you all here. You wouldn’t be here outside the jail that holds the Orange Overlord if you didn’t hate him. But are you just going to yell and scream? You think he hasn’t heard that and not let it bother him countless times? You think Captain Courageous didn’t scream? Or the League, or the Allies, or the armed forces that attempted to drive him from the city? Or the countless civilians and politicians he’s assaulted in his reign of terror? He could give a shit about you yelling. But, now that he’s in a cage, the politicians who still collect his outrageous tithe, who aided the evil bastard in his work, those people will answer to us IF and Only if we organize and speak with a united voice.
“I understand that many of you are burned by politics. But it is the political machine that took from us our souls. It owns them now and so that is the thing we must fight. We must fight it on its terms. But we are Right. And we are righteous, and we will be free of not only the orange overlord but the stink of his lackeys and his vice and his pain. We will be repaid and made whole!”
The crowd gave him much more energetic and unanimous applause at this. Max stepped up to the microphone and gave a much more informative rap up.
“Thank you, brother Lucius. Now I have flyers up here for our first meeting of the reparation committee. We intend to meet in the basement of the first Baptist church on 39th street, but” he looked at the stack of flyers going faster than anticipated, “But if we need to, we will relocate to the courtyard to give everyone who wants to participate a chance. Remember tomorrow, Monday, at 7 PM. Brother Lucius and I will see you there.
“So, who is Doctor Rust?”
Donnie looked up from his computer to Rog. He sat in a chair in the middle of the floor. Nothing was within arm’s reach but several things appeared to be pointing at him.
“That’s me. Or at least, it used to be.”
Rog snorted a laugh. “What, were you some kind of super villain, or better yet, a hero?! I can see it now. ‘give me your cookies or I’ll rust this car to its axels!'” A heroic pose in the chair completed the look and Donnie gave him the stink eye.
“No. It’s my fucking name asshole. I was even on the Tenure track at Quad cities college before I went to work in the private sector and got swept up by Ted to work here.”
“Really? Oh shit! You’re a real-life professor. Can I call you doc?”
“That would be confusing with Doctor Lorenzo hanging around. By the way, I’m going to need him for the next phase here.”
“That guy creeps me the fuck out!”
“Ah, he’s not all that bad. Best acid ever. Don’t get on his bad side or you’ll be kissing the sky for a week.”
“I kinda figured. So, what is this “next phase” bit?”
Donnie pulled back from his computer and grabbed his humongous sized soft drink. “The next phase is consolidating all the components into a rig that might work.”
“What? I thought you were basically doing all this yourself. Like, just making the thing.”
A chuckle moved Donnie’s belly. “You think I’m going to be able to get what is essentially a personalized tank moving by myself in a week? Haven’t you ever built anything?”
“I rebuilt an engine once.”
“Well, no. I was one of a couple of guys that did it over a weekend… oh, I seen now.”
“Well, I don’t think you really do. You see, you are going to need weapons that could potentially be explained using the powerset the Orange Overlord exposed to the world.”
“Yeah, you’re right I didn’t get any of that … whatever that was.”
Donnie punched a few keys and something in the back of the lab started to hum. “I can’t just send you out in a suit that looks like the Orange overlord with a machine gun. You would right fully look like a guy that was on his way to a costume party while armed. No, you have to both look and act in a way that the big O would act.”
“Ok. So, what do I have to do?”
Another flick of the keys and a video of the Orange Overlord in action came up on a screen. “Here’s Ted kicking the ass of the Allies in 06. You see what he’s doing there?”
Rog watched the screen as the big man in the big orange and brown suit put his right arm up and punched at people at a very far distance. “He’s shooting them with his fist.”
“Correct. That’s what he wanted everyone to see. The idea was that he was using a force cannon, but what he was actually doing… “ Donnie hit a button and the frame froze. “He was projecting his force field out from his hand and making a solid bar of force to hit someone. And he fucked up a couple of times and swung it like a baseball bat, but not so much that anyone noticed. The cycle time was actually pretty good, but not perfect.”
Rog nodded and looked blankly at Donnie. “Why do I care?”
“Because we need to make a force cannon that works like that. And that fits within the housing of the suit.”
“Ok. so that’s cool. How hard is that?”
Donnie looked up from his computer. “It’s really hard. I’m glad we have some guys in Santa Fe working on force projection tech for a manufacturing process or else we’d be cooked.”
“Wait!” Rog’s head snapped around. “I thought you were doing this?”
“I am getting the plans, hurrying things along, delivering specs. And Then eventually integrating everything into a suit I have a top-flight costume designer creating.”
Again, Rog shook his head. “Why?”
Donnie looked up from his keyboard. “Because no one can know we’re building the thing. A little part here, a little power system there. Some systems, like the pulse cannon can’t be broken down into smaller systems, but many things can. The motivators for the exoskeleton, for instance, will be sourced from five different vendors under numerous different names.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“That is because you have not opened your mind to the possibilities that the infinite universe surrounds us with constantly, my lad.” Doctor Lorenzo glided in as if he were on roller skates. “I understand you need a neural interface, Don. I came with my latest biofeedback rig. Hopefully it will do the trick.”
“Yeah. Thanks Lorenzo. Can you put it on the dummy.” Donnie quickly poked to the side while continuing to type.
Lorenzo looked at Rog and Rog glowered back at him, full of senseless violence.
“Um, excuse me, Don?”
Donnie looked up at the scene and then pointed to where he’d pointed before. On the dummy, the mannequin. It should be coming out of the three dee printer over by the wall. Hang the thing there and I’ll be over in a bit to get the interface specs.”
Again, Doctor Lorenzo looked at Rog. “Ah yes. Very good. Are you finally going to go for the direct neural interface I’d created for your computers?”
“Oh, no. I still think that’s a good way to get brain damage. It’s for Rog here so he can pilot the suit.”
“What? I heard brain damage in there.” Rog started to get up and Donnie raised a hand.
“Please don’t get up. I’m still measuring.”
Rog looked at the pieces of equipment pointed at him and sat back down. “I’m not liking the idea of brain damage doc,” he nodded at Donnie then turned to Lorenzo, “Doc. It’s not much, but it’s the only brain I have. ”
“A master of understatement. But not to worry my strong, uh… strong friend. The thing Doctor Rust fears is the interface’s display. You will only be working on the input devices to the suit. In other words, the interface won’t push anything into your brain, it will just take things out.”
“Oh. That still sounds like it won’t be good.”
“Rog,” Donnie interjected. “You are going to be the first person outside of the titanium avenger to ever successfully wear a suit of powered armor in an act of super villainy. Congratulations.”
“And for that honor, all we need is to take a little risk with your autonomic nervous system. Small thing, really”
“So, if it’s small, that means you can, not do it?”
“No, dear boy. We are using you to make the thing balance and walk. You will likely be fine, but we’re in new territory here.” Lorenzo looked at the screen and nodded. “Oh, I like the boots. That will be interesting.”
Rog squinted. “What’s the worst-case scenario here?”
Both the doctors looked up from Donnie’s screen. “Worst case, Red finds out you are getting cold feet and she kills you right here.”
Rog flinched. “Ok, so what’s the best-case scenario?”
“You become a second-rate version of the orange overlord and become beneficiary of all his hard work, raking in about six million dollars a day in profit from both the illegal enterprises and the legal holdings of Flanderal. Of course, you only get to keep a little bit of that. Mostly Red doesn’t shoot you in the eye.”
“Well, I don’t want to be shot in the eye. How much beer can you buy for six million?”
The doctors looked at each other, puzzled. “It. It is difficult to make that kind of conversion.” Lorenzo ventured.
“You’d have all the beer you wanted. All the bud and babes as well.”
Rog smiled. “Well then, hook me up!”
[Author’s note: In this bit, I’m trying out a few things. I’m also going light on attribution an ambiance, which is how I normally do my drafts – dialog first.
Anyone who’s seen The Strange knows that I get very wordy, but this is a bit much even for me, I think. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the episode. Likes and follows are always appreciated!