Pyrrhic

pyrrhic

“I like your costume, Gill,” said Savannah Atlanta, “…err sorry, Seaguller.” The balaclava around her mouth muffled her naturally sweet tone, giving her the menace of a much older assassin. Her red hair was dampened by the cold and wet Titan City night. It seemed like everywhere else spring had sprung, except for that one rooftop above the dark streets of Daedalus Heights.

“Thanks,” I said, not knowing what else to say, nervously twisting my cape of white feathers in my hand. It was the third such cape I had made in so many months. “Your new uniform is nice too.” Her eyes were too beautiful, so instead I glanced around the roof. All concrete and gravel, it was covered in a maze of low-laying pipes, but not much else.

“Do you really think, so?” She said shyly. “I wasn’t too sure how well it would go over.” Unthinkingly  she flattened out the creases in the hard leather and kevlar fabric. Form fitting and zipped all the way to the neck, her new outfit was mostly black with highlights of red. A single crimson bandolier of throwing stars cut across the chest to meet with a wide belt holding two smaller daggers, a bola, and a few pellets of varying gases. A red leather strap hugged her hip, holding a single sai in place where it could be easily reached in a time of need.

“You know, I was never really a fan of the Southern Bedlam costume,” she continued. “It had too many overtones toward certain controversial notions that I do not personally believe in, if you know what I mean. So, since I’m just plain ‘ol Bedlam now I wanted to change things up. Still, I am not quite sure of the color scheme…”

Without thinking I put a hand on her arm and she got silent. “Black and red is very classic,” I said before pulling back quicker than I had meant. “It looks good on you.”

“That’s nice to hear. Rick, wasn’t really a fan of it when I first showed him. He said he like the old one better, something about how the added armor in this one doesn’t show off my feminine form enough.” She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

“Well, I think Pyrrhic is… is…” In my mind I knew exactly what I wanted to say about the man, but I couldn’t get it out. “… is late.” To hide my cowardice I took out a small make-up mirror and adjusted the black and white paint around my eyes. It looked fine, same as it had two minutes before when I had checked it for the fourth time. I was more nervous that I had ever been, and being so close to Annah was only half the reason why.

“Rick is never on time.” She stood up and looked around before sitting back down. “Especially, when he is with those friends of his.”

“It’s okay.” I rubbed my hands together more out of anxiety than for warmth. “It gives me time with you. I like spending time with you.”

“I like spending time with you, as well,” she said with a smile hidden beneath her mask. “You’re such a good friend, and you’re like the smartest guy I know.”

“I’m not that smart…”

“You’re being too humble?” She tapped the feathered crown on my head. “I could never make something like that. I mean how did you ever think up such a gizmo?”

“It’s really not that complicated. All you have to do is find the right brain frequency that seagulls use, and then attune that frequency so it responds to human thought patterns and…” I stopped, knowing that I was boring her. So instead, I reached out with my mind and suddenly Icarus, my seagull friend, appeared doing loops and cawing, just as I commanded him. “Maybe it is a little impressive.”

“Ain’t that sweet.” Pyrrhic’s voice was deep and fiery, but his laughter was bone-chilling. I got up to find him standing behind us, his leather jacket open revealing a bare and ghost-pale chest of tattoos that ran all the way up to his neck and face. His ears and eyebrows were pieced full of metal and his eyes were completely black, like deep wells of the special liquor JJ hides in the back room. His most distinct feature was his hair, flames of dark reds and blues flickered from the top of his head, casting a cold glow over everything around him.

“Rick,” said Annah as she ran to him. I tried not to watch as he lowered her balaclava and kissed her like no one’s watching, except everyone was, including me.

“Good to see you, babe.” He let her go and looked to me. “And you too, Greasy Gill. It’s been a while. Where’ve you been hiding?”

“He’s the Seaguller,” corrected Annah fixing her mask, “and he’s been studying for his exams. Gill, here, is going graduate tomorrow from Titan City University, with a bachelor’s in engineering, and with top marks.” I felt my face get hot. Annah said it like it was the most impressive thing she had ever heard.

Pyrrhic just gave me a look, the kind that bores into your soul, almost literally. Behind him, his three friends laughed. Punk Shocker, had his electric guitar strapped over one shoulder and his blue mohawk seemed even brighter and taller than usual. Redheck’s demon horns protruded out of his old trucker’s hat, and small drops of rain silently hissed as they touch the pink skin exposed by his sleeveless plaid shirt. Syber_Sorcerer was the creepiest of them all. An electronic mask of glowing nodes and diodes, designed to look like a big-nosed plague mask, hid all expression. Black and neon green robes hid the rest.

I usually feel more confidant when dressed as the Seaguller. It is the real me, the me that people will one day respect and fear in equal measures. I am the terror awaiting to be unleashed on Titan City. I know all this, as sure as I know the tides will flow and that gulls will roost together, but that night, on that roof, and in the presence of those five, I could feel my heart racing and my pulse pounding. We were about to commit true villainy, and as much as I now despised Pyrrhic and his friends, I also didn’t want to make a fool of myself.

“Well, unless we’re planning on throwing Featherhead a graduation party,” said Pyrrhic, “than we need to get moving. We’re burning moonlight, and tonight is a night I have been waiting for, for a long time.” He casually walked to the edge of the roof and stepped off, dropping three stories and landing unphased on the pavement below. His three friends followed, Punk Shocker floating down on bolts of lighting, Redheck crossing the gap with a few flaps of his demon wings, and Syber_Sorcerer just simply disappeared, only to reappear a moment later on the ground.

“Wait,” I said to Annah before she went too. I dug around the pockets in my cape and came back with a large throwing star. “I wanted to give this to you. I made it.”

“What is it?” she held it up and admired the etching along the blade that took me hours in the college’s metal shop to complete.

“It’s remote controlled.” I pulled out a small device and clipped it to one of her shoulder straps. “You can command it to go where you want: around corners, through windows, or you know, where ever.” My foot dug sheepishly at the gravel on the roof.

“Aw, Gill. I love it.” She rewarded me with a friendly peck on the cheek. “Thank you so much.”

“Well,” I said, regaining my senses. “I just wanted to say thank you for talking Pyrrhic into taking me along tonight. This is my first real villain team-up.”

“Honey,” said Annah turning around to face me. “I didn’t convince Rick to do anything. He’s the one that suggested you come along.” Then she was gone, somersaulting off the roof and swinging down a nearby drain pipe, like a leaf dancing through a storm to land gently on the pavement below.

I had to go the long way down. There was an access hatch that led to an exterior landing. Below that was another smaller ladder that cut off about ten feet from street level. I hung down and fell as gracefully as I could, knocking over some garbage cans before landing on my back. Before I could stand back up Redheck had me by the scruff of the neck and started dragging me along. “Whatcha you wanna do,” he said, “wake the whole damn neighborhood?”

“Enough,” commanded Pyrrhic as we marched down a long alleyway. Redheck released me, but not before hocking a piercing hot spit at my feet. It burned through the pavement.

“Uhh,” I sputtered up the courage to ask. “Do we have a name?”

Pyrrhic and his friends stopped and turned to me. “What the hell you mean?” said Redheck.

“Well, I was thinking we could call ourselves something like Generation Nightmare, or maybe something more classic, like the Seditious Six…” I trailed off, realizing that everyone was just looking at me like I was crazy. Then Punk Shocker burst out laughing, but Pyrrhic was dead silent.

Without warning he grabbed me. “Get this straight, Featherhead. I don’t like you, and after tonight I don’t expect to see you ever again. As for your ideas, team-names are for our grandparents. They’re for people like your busted-ass boss and his generation or circus buffoons. We don’t need labels to wreak our kind of havoc.” He hauled me around the corner of the alleyway before shoving me a few steps away.

“We’re here,” said Pyrrhic, as he raised his hands in a grand gesture. In front of us was a massive complex of warehouses and office buildings. A barbed and electrocuted fence stood between the alley mouth and some far off loading bay, over which were written the words: Hephaestus Enterprise Laboratories.

“We’re breaking into HEL?” I said.

“You got a problem?” said Pyrrhic, “You could always turn back now if you ain’t villain enough for it.”

“No, I’ll be fine breaking into one of the most secure and important science corporations in the city.”

“It will be simple,” said Syber_Sorcerer in his monotone, almost electronic voice. He pushed a small thumb drive into my hand. “There is a security office on the third story. It is the one with the window open.” He gestured with a robed finger to a nearby building. “We paid an employee to leave it open. All you need to do is insert this drive into any open port on the console. I will then connect with it remotely and hack the system.”

“You want me,” I said. “How…”

“Hello,” said Pyrrhic, smacking me on the back of the head and nearly knocking me from my feet. “You got your damn birdies, don’t you? Use them. Geez…” This time he laughed along with his three friends. Annah just looked at me, unsure of what to do.

“Right,” I said pretending to laugh too. “Of course.” I thought hard and summoned one of my nearby seagulls, a female with a small black spot on her head. I had named her Dot. Without hesitation she gripped the drive in her talons and took off toward the window.

Conveying complex instructions was not a simple task, but I had been practicing with my device for weeks and had gotten pretty good with it. I visualized the port as best I could, but even so it took more than ten agonizing minutes for Dot to locate it and figure out how to plug in the small device. Luckily there seemed to be no one in the room.

“I am interfacing now,” said the sorcerer as I watched Dot swoop away from the distant window. “It should only take a few moments now.”

“Good job, Featherhead.” This time he slapped me across the back. My cape and makeshift armor did nothing to lessen the pain of the blow.

Annah smiled at me just as all the lights of the building began to go dark. An alarm started sounding, but that quickly died too. A second later some emergency generators kicked on, but the rest of the complex remained black.

“So, what’s the plan?” I asked suddenly realizing that I knew very little about what we were actually doing there at HEL.

As if in response Pyrrhic nodded to his friend and said, “Show ’em, Shocker.”

Punk Shocker took off toward the nearby fence. As he ran he unslung his guitar, dropping to his knees mere inches from the razor wire. He reached his hand to the sky and brought it down, strumming out a single deafening note. Electricity arched up his back, launching from the guitar in a wave of blinding light. The fence exploded backward, showering sparks everywhere.

“Rick,” said Annah. “That is your plan? I thought we had talked about letting me take the lead and being all stealth-like?”

“Sorry, babe, the plan’s changed. I want this to be loud.” He turned to Redheck and said “Go.”

The cornfed demon fell into a crouched, four-legged sprint, looking more animal than human as he ran. Punk Shocker merely stepped aside and smiled as he raised his sunglasses to get a better look. Redheck was suddenly engulfed in flames. By the time he struck the large loading bay doors he was a fireball. Like the fence, the doors shattered apart. Flaming pieces of aluminum and brick fell all around us.

Then came the gunfire. A dozen security guards and two armored vehicles turned the far corner of the building, their bullets whizzing past like swarms of angry hornets. Punk Shocker was the first to react, strumming out a few cords that sent bolts of lightning into the lead vehicle. Its tires exploded and the truck flipped two times before rolling to a stop.

“Damn you to hell,” said Annah. “Rick, you know I don’t like no killing unless I absolutely have to.”

“Babe,” he said as he strained to pick up a nearby dumpster. “That’s a pretty stupid thing for an assassin to say.” Pyrrhic hurled his makeshift weapon at two men in full body armor. Their screams were gut wrenching, and I felt suddenly sick.

A flash grenade detonated and the next thing I knew I was on the ground, a piercing sound ringing in my ear. As the sensation died and my vision returned, I found myself along. Pyrrhic, Annah, and even Syber_Sorcerer were nowhere to be seen.

“Don’t do anything stupid, asshole,” said one of the guards, his assault rifle pointed at my chest. I could see his eyes beneath the shaded visor of his helmet. My breath was ragged and my heart pounded harder than I can ever remember. Suddenly, all I wanted was to be back at the bar, cleaning the bathrooms, wiping down puke and blood, anywhere else but right there and then.

Then the man screamed. A flock of black and white wraiths descended upon him, ripping the weapon from his hand and pecking at every exposed inch of skin. I’m still not sure if I had commanded my seagulls to attack or not, but there they were. My friends had come to my aid and I no longer felt alone or as scared. I picked up the man’s rifle, and slammed the butt of the weapon into his armored head. He fell unconscious on the floor.

I felt strong again. I was the Seaguller, maybe for the first time ever. All would fall before my wrath. All would cower at my presence. I was the winged scourge whose very name would strike terror in the hearts of the meek and strong alike.

Icarus landed on my arm and cawed at me. “I’m alright, my friend.” I cackled as I surveyed the battleground before me. Suddenly it seemed as if I was seeing it for the first time. It was not sickening or terrifying, but glorious chaos. Lightning and fire roared across the open parking lot as cars and people unceremoniously burst apart.

I never heard the bullet. I didn’t fall this time, even as the sensation of fire shot up my arm and my snowy white cape suddenly turned crimson red. I didn’t even scream, at least not until I looked down and saw Icarus dead at my feet, part of his little body missing.

Two more guards were running toward me, but for the first time since the battle began my fear was replaced by another sensation. “You will pay,” I yelled and my flock took wing and swarmed the nearest guard. He went down screaming as a dozen tiny razors cut at his skin.

His partner raised his weapon but didn’t make it much farther. Annah was there, like an image appearing from shadow and darkness. Her sai found the man’s leg, and his mouth opened in a silent scream. With lethal grace she turned the weapon around and smashed the blunt end into the guard’s nose. He went down unmoving.

“Gill,” she said looking at me. “You’re hurt.”

“It’s fine,” I lied. “I barely feel it.”

She lifted my arm and looked at the wound. “The bullet didn’t go in, only tore the skin. You got lucky.”

“Yeah,” I said looking down at Icarus’ body. “Lucky…”

“C’mon,” She grabbed my by my good arm and pulled me toward Pyrrhic and his band of friends. He was already barking orders as we got close enough to hear him. The warzone had become quieter with most of the guards dead or retreating.

“…Shocker and Heck,” he said pointing at the blown open door. “There will be more coming, including cops this time. Keep ‘em busy, and if any capes show up, don’t hesitate to fry ‘em. I don’t want to be interrupted.”

Pyrrhic watched them go, both were laughing like two kids in a toy store. “Everyone else is with me.”

Two more guards tried ambushing us inside, but Syber_Sorcerer chanted a string of 0’s and 1’s from his Spell-eBook and the two men digitized into pixelated frogs. Pyrrhic then promptly stomped the two 8-bit creatures into dust and we moved on. It was not long before we found what we were looking for. We entered a warehouse-sized laboratory, and in it center was a giant square archway connected to a machine and a large plastic booth.

Without a word Syber_Sorcerer walked to the console and plugged in some device. Immediately it came to life with restored power. The sorcerer began interfacing with it, and soon the archway itself lit up. A shimmering blue wall of static and otherworld energy glowed within its confines, brightening the previous dim and cavernous laboratory.

“What, in the name of all that is holy on Easter Sunday, is that?” said Annah gazing at the glowing doorway.

“The beginning of the end for this city. It is the second coming of doom,” said Pyrrhic with a hungry look in his eyes.

“It’s a trans-dimensional doorway,” I said starting to recognize the components scattered around the room. “I’ve read about them in my super-science classes…”

“This doorway does not lead to just any dimension. This doorway leads to the Quantum Zone,” said Pyrrhic stepping next to his robed friend as he worked the console. “Have you found him yet?”

“I am locking in on his essence currently,” said the sorcerer as a hazy image began to appear in the doorway. After a moment it came into sharp contrast, and someone let out a sharp gasp. I couldn’t be sure if it was Annah or myself.

The unmoving figure hanging on the other side of the glowing doorway was wreathed in hellfire, wearing an abyss-black mantle and shrouded in dark obsidian armor. His head looked more skull than flesh and though the creature was unblinking and unmoving he still radiated a power of pure terror. “Holocaust,” I said finding my voice. “I thought he was dead…”

“No,” said Pyrrhic,” his voice changing. “Scarlet Falcon only succeeded in locking my father away in this electronic limbo.” His hair ignited and burned as hot as his words. “That was thirteen years ago, thirteen years stolen from him and from me. Scarlet Falcon and those goody-goody-shitheads of Eternal Vigilance thought they could keep me from him, but tonight that all changes. Tonight Holocaust returns and no one will be able to stop him this time.”

Police sirens and gunfire erupted outside the laboratory. “Heck and Shocker are in trouble,” said Annah. “They ain’t going to be able to hold that door for long.”

“Their fate is insignificant,” said Pyrrhic. “All that matters is that we return my father to this world, and to me.”

“They are your friends.”

“I will honor their sacrifice,” he said before turning to the man at the console. “What is taking so long?”

“There is a malfunction with the transport tube,” said Syber_Sorcerer. “It requires repairs, as we feared.” The enclosed booth near the portal doorway lit up. It cracked in half revealing a space large enough to fit a single person.

“Time to earn your keep, Featherhead,” said Pyrrhic motioning toward the open tube. “You have that fancy engineering degree. Get in there and see what the issue is.”

Without thinking my feet started moving toward the open tube. Small nodes winked on and off, and overhead LED lights cast the inside in a sickening white glow. I stepped through the opening and began looking for some sort of access panel or diagnostic read-out, but before I could find anything the door snapped shut.

I turned and found Pyrrhic standing there locking it with a devilish smile. “Let me out,” I said not sure if he was joking or serious. When he started to walk away I banged hard on the door, but it was made of industrial strength clear nano-carbons and reinforced plastics. The door could hold back a tear in the space-time continuum. My strength was nothing in comparison.

“What are you doing?” Annah’s voice was muffled through the door, but still audible.

“A sacrifice is required,” said Syber_Sorcerer from the console.

“What?” Annah ripped the balaclava from her face. “You’re kidding, right?”

“The Quantum Zone,” said Pyrrhic, “is a fickle master. It will only release someone from it’s grip so long as another takes his place.” He looked at me meaningfully. “Why else would I have asked this D-Lister along with us tonight?”

“You can’t do this. I won’t let you.” Annah’s sai came readily to hand, but Pyrrhic was faster.

The brute backhanded her so hard she went flying, falling to the ground unmoving. Her weapon skittered across the floor, coming to a stop inches away from the tube. “You will thank me once my father has been released, for you will rule beside me as my queen,” he said to Annah’s unconscious form.

“Leave her alone.” I started banging harder, but it was no use.

“My only regret in all this,” said Pyrrhic, “is that you are such an unworthy sacrifice. I would preferred if it was Scarlet Falcon in that tube, or someone worth the effort. You’re nothing more than a worm, but look at it this way: what you are doing now will be the greatest thing you could have ever hoped to accomplish in your life.”

A streak of green lit up the laboratory and Redheck skidded to a halt in the center of the room. He was barely alive and missing one of his arms and wings. The rest of him was sizzling. Even his trucker’s hat was melting into a pile of radiative goo.

“No,” bellowed Pyrrhic. “Not now. I’m too close.”

I watched him turn to gaze at the open doorway. Standing there, backlit by police searchlights and helicopter spotlights was a man dressed in a form-fitting green and yellow containment suit. Stylized goggles were pulled down over his eyes and a distinctive radiation symbol adorned his chest.

“Always now,” said the superhero, Half-LIfe, “Always and forever, Pyrrhic. Quit your deeds and give up. Your two friends outside are down for the count, and you’re going to be next.”

“Keep working,” the large villain said to Syber_Sorcerer. “I’ll deal with this little meltdown.”

Pyrrhic roared as the flames atop his head soared higher than before. Half-Life unleashed a beam of pure radiation. It struck the villain melting the leather jacket from his chest, but otherwise failed to slow him down at all. The two titans met, locked in the eternal struggle of good and evil. I admit that I geeked-out, momentarily forgetting my own peril, but not for long.

A loud thunderous noise drew my attention back to the panel where Syber_Sorcerer worked. The lights around me began to rotate, slowly at first but steadily picking up speed. So, I did the only thing I could think to do. I reached out with my mind.

My flock of seagulls soared down from the rafters and swarmed the sorcerer and his control panel. The man swatted furiously at the small birds, deflecting their beaks and talons with swipes of his hand. While he was distracted, Dot flew over to the tube and started working on the lock. She pecked at it furiously trying to get it to unlatch.

“If only you had opposable thumbs,” I cursed. “Why couldn’t I be Monkey-er instead?”

“I actually think your birds are kinda cute, honey,” said Annah as she reached over and pulled open the lock. She spit a glob of blood from her mouth and picked up her sai.

“Thank you,” I said stepping down out of the booth.”

“Don’t mention it,” Annah winked, “but it would be best if we hightail it out of here, sooner rather than later. This whole thing has gone sideways and I don’t want to be around when it tips back up.”

“0111010010110101,” suddenly Syber_Sorcerer was in front of us, chanting his magic spells. My hands and feet froze, bound by some sort of digital chains.

“Oh shut your piehole,” said Annah and she hurled her sai harder than I thought possible. It struck the sorcerer in the mask, deflected off, and sank into the console controlling the Quantum Zone doorway. My pixelated chains immediately disappeared.

“You, bitch,” said the sorcerer, his voice no longer synthesized. Part of his mask fell away to reveal a pimply plump face. “I’m going to…”

The world seemed to spin and go deathly quiet. The silence was quickly replaced by a thundering sound, like ten-thousand toilets being flushed at once. The console sparked and shattered apart as the doorway escaped the confines of the archway that was holding it in place.

“No,” said the sorcerer turning toward the growing and wild portal. It was the last word he ever spoke before the maw of the raging dimensional storm engulfed him.

Then the world changed. Annah had been right, everything did go sideways, just not as either of us had predicted. I grabbed on to anything bolted to the ground as everything else fell around me. Right became down and left became up and each moment the growing portal threatened to swallow us down, as it had the sorcerer. My hands found a small water pipe, and I hung on for dear life.

I risked a glance and saw that Annah was holding onto a dagger she had dug between the floor tiles of the laboratory floor. Pyrrhic was above us holding on by sheer strength and screaming obscenities that were lost in the whooshing sound of the open portal. His opponent was nowhere to be seen.

Then I Pyrrhic did the unthinkable, he jumped. “This is your fault, you little asshole,” I managed to overhear him say, as he came plummeting toward me with hatred in his dark eyes. When we collided he grabbed my body like a wrestler and both of us began tumbling toward the portal. “It took me years to find my father,” he was screaming as we fell. “I am going to throw you into that portal if it’s the last damn thing…”

I stopped with a sudden jerk. I nearly snapped my neck as my feather cape snagged onto something, ending my tumble toward oblivion. Pyrrhic cursed as he lost his grip on me and went spinning past. He disappeared into the portal, his eyes locked on me as if willing me to die, right then and there.

When I looked up to see what was holding me in place, I found a distinctively etched remote-controlled throwing star lodged between my cape and the floor. I smiled my thanks at Annah across the room. Her smile was bigger than anything I had ever seen, but then it fell, just as Pyrrhic had.

The sound of the device changed. It whirled up several octaves like a bomb ready to erupt. Shockwaves exploded out of the growing nova of energy, and Annah’s knife jerked loose of its hold. She yelled something as she plunged past. I tried to reach out, but she was gone too quick.

Then gravity righted itself. I stood up, but I knew it was too late. The light from the portal began pulsate and grow more and more unstable. Everything went white, and the world exploded around me.

******

Georgia pulls back the cloth she’s been using on my arm. It is still wet with blood. She just looks at me, as if she is seeing me for the first time. I usually feel speechless when Georgia looks at me, but right then it was for different reasons.

“I’m sorry,” I say, refusing to turn away from her accusatory stare.

“What happened to Annah?” asks Ed, his lumbering figure leaning on a nearby wall. Unlike Georgia he only looks at his shoes.

“I don’t know,” I say. “The device was unstable. It exploded.”

“Well, then how did you survive?” There is a hard edge to her voice.

“I must have lost consciousness. Half-Life pulled me from the building, along with Redheck. When I came awake a few moments later the entire place was gone. Half the block was on fire. People were yelling, fire trucks were pulling up, and in the confusion I just slipped away. I came straight here. I didn’t know where else to go…”

“You didn’t even try to look for my Annah, my only niece?” Georgia’s handias suddenly high over her head, as if she means to slap me, but then stops. A look comes over her face, as if I have just dug a knife in her back. Her hand drops and all I can do is wish that she would hit me. At least then it might mean something. At least then it might mean she still cares.

Without another word she walks out of the empty bar. I want to go after her, but something keeps me still, and it isn’t my half-bandaged wounds. After another second Ed follows her out of the bar, always being the first to sense when someone needs comfort, especially in a time of grieving.

“We’re live here at the scene of this raging inferno in Daedelus Heights.” I turn my attention to the softly glowing screen at the corner of the bar. It is small and full of static, but clear enough that I can see the towering fire behind the female reporter.

“Chuck, Behind me is what remains of Hephaestus Enterprise Laboratories, one of the city’s leading scientific corporations. A little over an hour ago police responded to the scene of a daring break-in by a gang of supervillains led by the notorious Pyrrhic. The gang was stopped by the hero Half-Life, with most of them perishing in the blast.”

Four pictures flash across the screen, each with captions: Pyrrhic, Syber_Sorcerer, Punk Shocker, and Bedlam. I wipe a tear away as the image of Annah is replaced again by the reporter.

“One more of the gang, Jeremiah ‘Redheck’ Memphisto is in critical care tonight, while the final member of the gang managed to elude capture.” The next picture that appears is very familiar mugshot. “City authorities are asking every citizen to be on the look-out for this man, whom they have identified as Gill Laridae, aka the Seaguller. He is considered to be very dangerous, and if you see this super-villain it is advised that you call the police immediately.

“For Channel 8 news, I am Alice Adams, signing off.”

“Are you happy, now?” says JJ. He has not spoken since I came falling into the bar, half-burnt and bleeding from a half-dozen wounds.

I don’t answer. I refuse to give him the satisfaction.

“Congratulations, kid.” He paces, hobbling back and forth in front of my stool. “You’re a genuine super-villain. The entire city will know your name by tomorrow morning.”

I know I should feel remorse and shame, but I can’t keep the anger from my voice. “I didn’t think…”

“No, you didn’t think.” JJ cuts me off, his foot kicking over a barstool. “You thought you knew everything there was to know. Well, now you do,” he says once the clatter of the stool stops.

“Pyrrhic is the one who did this. Get angry at him.” He has always treated me like a child, lording over me like he knows better. Well maybe Gill just sat there and took it, but not the Seaguller, not anymore. “This isn’t my fault…

“You’re a super-villain now, son. It doesn’t matter who came up with the plan or who did what. You went along with it. You put on the costume, and people died because of it. That’s what happens when you choose this life…”

“Just say I told you so, and get it over with.” I am on my feet, despite my dizziness. “Then you can make me clean the entire bar on my Saturday or whatever punishment you have in mind.”

“Fool,” he says suddenly quiet. “You still don’t understand. They have your real name from your prior arrest. You’re life is over. You can kiss your graduation goodbye, and your degree. There are probably a platoon of policeman going over your dorm room, right now, and interrogating any frat boy within thirty miles. By morning Half-Life, Ionic Storm, Shining Templar, Patriot Missile, and maybe even goddamn Scarlet Falcon himself will be outside your parents house, trying to track you down.”

“But…” A cold fist clenches my stomach as what he says starts to settle in. “I…”

“So congratulations,” he says turning his back, “because Gill Laridae is dead. Now you’re just the Seaguller.”

“What do I…” I start to follow JJ, but stop. “Can I at least stay here?”

He turns and looks at me, there is actual pity in his eyes. “No. It’s not going to take long for one of the other villains to talk, maybe PaceMaker, or AtoMcDoanld, or Kid Cyanide, or whoever. Sooner or later some cape is going to come knocking on my door looking for you, because they heard that you once worked for me.”

He gets still for a long moment. “When that happens, and it will happen, I’ll hand you over. I like you, only God knows why, but this is your mess. You got to live in it.”

I grab the barstool for support. My knees suddenly feel weak. “JJ, what are you saying?”

He heads toward the back room, looking as if he will ignore my pleas, but then stops and looks at me one last time.

He turns the lights out and waits. I can no longer see him, but I can still hear his breathing. My eyes adjust and it’s as if I am seeing the bar again for the first time. It’s dark and suddenly strange, like foreign world fixed over a familiar one.

Finally, JJ makes a noise as if coming to a decision. “You’re fired, Gill. Get out, and don’t ever come back.”


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