In an old industrial center made of concrete and metal in odd structures, the orange overlord faced off with the latest incarnation of the allies.
“Give it up, O. You can’t possibly defeat us.” The man in a quasi-military outfit said, giving a wide grin and a macho pose.
The Orange Overlord said nothing. He turned and slashed a hand through one of the structures made of concrete, sheering it down to dirt and letting the entire structure canter over near the assembled heroes.
“Scatter! Beta 2 formation!”
A young woman in a skin suit flew, taking the smirking man with her while the rest moved as fast as they could to avoid the rubble. The orange overlord didn’t move a muscle. His force shield protected him from the rocks and he walked away from his scattered foes.
“Ok. Hold that frame.” Donnie showed this to Red, Lorenzo, Rog, Nasim, Annabel and a few others. “I wanted you all to see this for two reasons. One, there was particularly good footage of it from the allies drone copters, the narcissistic bastards, and two, I’m never going to be able to replicate that. No way, no how.”
They all rolled their eyes. “What can you replicate?” Red asked.
“I’m working on the big O’s super leap – landing’s a problem – and his remote fist, which is something he relied upon as a primary weapon near the end of his more active phase. We clearly have some armor, but it’s not nearly as tough as it looks on account of the fact that Rog here has to be able to move.”
“I thought you were going to give him extra strength through an exoskeleton?”
“I was. But after repeated simulations I realized that I was either going to break his bones or rip his tendons to shreds. Given that the suit was powerful enough to make a difference, it was going to also move his arm, leg, whatever faster than he can move it himself. Since he’ll still be keeping it rigid, the counter force will pulp his body. Maybe not right away, but over time, the operator,” and here he shot a look at Rog, ” would be a mess.”
“Well can’t we just let that happen… and then fix him later?”
Lorenzo jumped in. “If I follow Donnie’s issue – no. The person would be disassembled enough that the body would be unable to heal.”
“Well then, this isn’t going to work. Can we do, I don’t know, holograms of him or something?”
“Well, I was looking at holograms. And remote force projectors.” Donnie said. ” It just wouldn’t be believable for the Faux-verlord himself. People would notice, especially in the dark. And it would limit the kinds of deployments we could set up. No. The suit itself has to be there. And before you ask, yes I looked at robots. I just can’t get a natural look out of a robot. Not in a week. It would move, but it would look mechanical. Not to mention that it would be seriously limited due to the proscription on remote control or EM radiation going too or from the unit. I need to have a dude in there and the current suit is perfect for Rog.”
“Why are we sending him, again?” Asked Nasim.
“Because if he gets shot in the face we’d only be out one dumb asshole.” Red said as a statement of objective fact.
“Oh, yeah, that.”
“You know, I’m right here. And I gotta say, the idea of enhanced strength would really be a good one.”
Red squinted. “And why is that, Rog?”
His head whipped around and he smiled at Red. “Well because it’s really flexible as a power. And it can be close up showy. Sells the con better.” He pointed at the screen. “That stuff? That stuff you can set up in advance. Stage your fight so the wall crumbles due to judicious use of C4 or something when the Faux-verlord points at it.”
“Is that really what you are going to call it?” Annabel said as a side conversation to Donnie.
“Well, it ain’t the big O, and I need to keep reminding myself of that. Rog made me internalize the distinction. We are in the deception game here.”
“But,” Rog continued. “That isn’t interaction with the public. That is the sneaky shit we need to do. We need to convince people that the orange overlord didn’t go anywhere. That means up close examples of power, not something that is mundane for anyone with a wrecking ball and a plan.”
Donnie grimaced. “Maybe I can make the hands grip strong or something.”
“That would help. Being able to lift a car, though, that would be much better. I’m sure there are plenty of examples of the big O throwing something heavy.”
“Yeah, he took to doing that when he realized that he needed to save his force field for the really hard battles. Needed to keep some abilities secret.”
“Ok. And maybe we get some help from your force projectors or something?”
Donnie shook his head. “Doesn’t work like that. And not strong at a distance.”
“How much is this all going to cost, Don?” Annabel chipped in.
“So far, I’ve burned through a quarte mill. I can’t get development to go fast enough to make much of a dent in the budget so far. But to do what we need it to do is not going to be cheap.”
“A quarter mill isn’t real money?” Rog almost shouted.
“No, it isn’t. Annabel replied. But the thing about money is that shifting it around leaves a trail, and we can’t have that.”
Red looked at Annabel. “This going to be a problem?”
“Short term, no. But we will need to squeeze the vice enterprises for more cash if we want to keep this all off the books.”
“And we can do that?”
“For now. These arrangements take a while to unwind. After all, it’s not like someone is going to find a new distribution network overnight.”
Bagsy walked into the warehouse and looked at the two tables. They had nothing on them. Two people at each table sat, stone faced while four men with guns stood at the perimeter of the space.
The big man held out his hands. “Where the hell is everyone?” Bagsy looked at one of the counters. “Where’s my fucking money and where is Tony?”
“T – Tony is in the upper office.”
“And my money?”
“I – I don’t know. I got called in as a replacement. I don’t know what’s going on please sir!” The kid stammered.
“All right, all right. I’m sorry. Take a break.” The man stormed over to the stairs that led to a catwalk. “TONY!”
Shutting the door behind him, Bagsy looked down at the four counters having coffee and chatting. “What the fuck Tony?”
“It’s like they disappeared, Bagsy. They all, or at least most of them – normal turn out for a Sunday – They picked up the day’s product and then they just vanished.”
“How do thirty of my salesmen just vanish? You think they decided to union up and run?”
Tony shook his head with a grimace. “No. Not like this. If it were just a couple, maybe. But we treat our people right. You make sure of that Bagsy. They come back because we don’t fuck with them. We might have a couple of quitters, but nobody takes the package and runs like this. Who would?”
“I don’t know,” Tony looked out of the window toward the empty factory floor below, “But when I find out, someone’s going to fucking die. This is utterly fucking my system here. That was a lot of loss,” He shook his head. “And I really hope our guys are ok.”
He thrust away from the window with an audible grunt.
“Can’t you call up the cops?”
Bagsy stopped his pacing. “What are you, nuts?”
“What? To report missing people. The Orange Overlord has the police looking out for our guys.”
“But if you haven’t noticed, the Orange Overlord is in jail right now.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that the protection he paid for is gone… does it?”
“It does. Or it might, so I’m not poking the fucking pig like that.”
Bagsy continued to pace. “You say one of our counters is also down, did I get that right?”
“Yeah,” Tony shrugged. “Vincent Duce. Real goomba, but he’s got soft hands.”
“Anyone else see anything? Any of the others get fucked with on the way here?”
“What you thinking, Bagsy?”
“The Overlord doesn’t do protection directly. There’s a gang out there like ours that does it.”
“You mean Trevor’s guys? The Turks?”
“Yeah. Stupidest fucking name in the world, but yeah. They run the protection racket that is supposed to keep the streets clear for us.”
“You think they swept us?”
Bagsy looked out the window to the floor again and bumped his fist against the pane. “I don’t know. It’s a place to start though. And get a line in to the Orange Overlord. Use one of the burners from the park. They need to know about this shit at central. If the big O gives the man the slip and reasserts dominance, I don’t want anyone to think that I was the man that threw the first punch in this shit.”
“Got it. I’ll get it done, boss.”
“Yeah,” Bagsy nodded. “Yeah. We’ll get it done.”
Wilson sat in a corner of the room on the chipped linoleum floor and scribbled into his notebook.
“What cha doin’ there Wil?” Fred, a boy his age and a fellow runner asked.
“Doing my homework. We been here for hours. Might as well get topped off, you know?”
“Nope. Me and homework don’t hang, Wil. But you be you. And anyway, you figured out what’s going on?”
Wilson frowned. “What do you mean?”
A laugh hissed out of Fred. “I known ‘bout you for years, boy. Live on the block. And that was shit what happened to your dad. Anyways everyone knows you are a bright bulb. So, what have you figured out about this shit?”
“The shit we’re in! Please don’t tell me you just think this is some kinda study break.” Fred threw up his hands in frustration. “Me, I got nothing, but you… What’s the smart play? What’s going on?”
Wilson frowned, sighed and thought. “In the middle ages, when two tribes settled a war, they would each take a member of the royal family from the opposite side into their court.”
“What, like a marriage?”
“No, like a hostage. The idea is that if the other side crossed the line, the hostage would be forfeit. Usually it was something like a young kid or a cousin.”
“So, they are going to try to ransom us?”
“No.” Wilson concentrated then went on. “No. I think whoever took us wants us unharmed, but not quite in the same way we’re talking about. It’s close, though and hopefully Bagsy understands this. Or will. So long as he doesn’t make any hostile moves, we’re safe. As soon as he starts to be hostile, though…”
“Yep.” Wilson scratched something into his notebook.
“So how can you just sit there and do your shit?”
Wilson was exasperated. “Because what else am I supposed to do? We’re pretty thoroughly stuck here. There aren’t even any guards or nothing to talk to. If we’re fucked, we’re fucked but if not, I got an assignment due second period tomorrow and I may as well be prepared.”
Fred nodded his head. “Be prepared. Now I guess you are on to something.”
“What are you thinking Fred?”
Fred smiled. “If we’re at war here, I’m thinking we need a king. What do you think, your highness?”
Wilson’s pencil stopped scratching.
[Author’s note: I’m not going to lie, I’m starting to feel the burn here. I am forcing it, but I can’t say that I’m more or less disappointed with the result. This CLEARLY needs work. It’s overwritten and some of the relationships between characters don’t feel right. Also, I’m developing a disturbing (and utterly unconscious) trend of minorities being antagonists with white people in power. I don’t really know what to do with that because you can’t just flip someone’s race. And just about everyone is female. I don’t know. And it’s hard because this is a story about bad guys. Do I really want to make more villains of people? Just about everyone is a villain here.
Oh well, got to get it down and then fix it in post if it’s not realistic. People may be upset with it, but I’m not filling quotas.
And on that cheery note, I hope you all are enjoying the ride. Likes and follows are helpful and appreciated.