Things That Happen When You're Trying To Do Other Things.
Author's note: All characters appearing in this story belong to Warren Phillips. All rights reserved.
"You can skip the maniacal laugh, my dear."
"But the maniacal laugh is my favorite part," Dr. Moreau mock complained as she settled on a large beaker for the white roses her visitor had brought. Touching that he would remember her favorite flower after so long.
"Humor me," Captain Al replied dryly.
"Humoring me is the entire point, but as you wish. While I have a process that will greatly slow aging, the problem is that you are already in your early seventies. Wouldn't really help you. I could run up a clone followed by a mind transfer, but if you want it done right, you can't rush the clone's maturation process. Do that and things can get... messy, messy, messy. You clearly are not willing to wait for that. The simplest rejuvenation process I can think of would have the side effect of making you female and neither of us wants that."
"No Irene, no we do not." Cassidy had had sex with Moreau once, nearly twenty years earlier. It had been enjoyable enough for him that if the opportunity arose again, he wished to be able to take advantage. Moreau had done it for giggles and a sperm sample from the most unreadable mind on the planet, one that had derailed an entire alien invasion. Neither knew the other's motivation and neither particularly cared.
"I do have a gene therapy based idea, but it is something I would need to actually test before attempting it on a paying customer. Or you."
"I'm flattered. Will I need to arrange a delivery or would you prefer to handle it yourself?"
"Oh, I'll do it myself. I'll need more than one and I need to get out of the cave more often anyway. Although I will need current DNA samples from you. After fifty years doing what you've done, the possibility of genetic damage can't be dismissed."
"Granted. So we have a Deal?"
"We have a Deal, Albert." The two shook hands and considered the question settled.
'I really do need to get out of the cave more often,' Irene Cullen thought as she walked through Salem Center Mall. As Dr. Moreau, she seldom needed to leave her base. Research and bio-modification work were enough to hold her professional interest. Occasional wet work as Widowmaker fulfilled her occasional need for adventure. Both had supplied more than enough money to pay for whatever vacations she felt like taking.
But the cave's food makers couldn't duplicate good butter pecan ice cream in a waffle cone.
On the other hand, the cave didn't have anti-vaccine protesters spreading their particular brand of nonsense.
'Thiomersal and elemental mercury aren't the same thing you idiots,' she thought. It was like comparing sodium chloride, table salt, with elemental chlorine, a World War I chemical warfare agent. Nor did they apparently understand herd immunity, compromised immune systems, allergies, or relative risk. The 'evidence' linking vaccines to autism was something she'd disproved herself after hearing about it. Nor were the enthusiastic proselytizers likely old enough to have seen the effects of polio or smallpox first hand. Irene Cullen had.
Had any of them been older males, Moreau's snatch mission might have ended right there. The small kit carried in her purse was meant for an abduction. The infectious agents had been left behind as unnecessary. Moreau contemplated returning home to get one or more to use on them. The delay was mistaken as interest by one girl who attempted to hand her a pamphlet.
"Get that away from me while you still have two unbroken arms," Widowmaker growled in a tone making it perfectly clear the threat wasn't idle.
Before the young woman could comment, a human figure burst through a plate glass window nearby and for Irene Cullen, at least compared to everyone else present, time slowed down. Millisecond reaction times not only required her body to move quickly, but for her mind to process information fast enough to control those reactions. So she had plenty of time, personally, to both observe and decide upon a course of action.
'Skyhook? What's he doing here?' she asked herself after identifying his blue and gray costume. Like her client Rimshot, Skyhook had once been an Olympic caliber gymnast. But while Rimshot could compete at that level, Skyhook had multiple gold medals to his credit. His primary tools were 'invisible, immovable rods' that were invisible enough that the alien scanning gear she had available couldn't reliably detect them and immovable enough, when needed, to stop a fleeing tank. Between his blonde movie star looks and a physique she considered 'yummy', Moreau was quite happy that they'd never come into direct conflict.
Noting that she would be in the range of the flying glass, she added, 'I should probably duck.' Realizing the young woman with the pamphlet was also in the line of fire... 'I'm going to regret this.' Dropping what remained of her ice cream, the duck turned into a grab and leg sweep, taking the guilty bystander to the ground split seconds before flying glass and Skyhook occupied the space where they'd been standing.
Skyhook slowed unnaturally, his rods bleeding off momentum before he crashed into a wall. Hanging in midair for a heartbeat or two, he dropped back to the floor and sprinted back the way he came.
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" roared a large, yellow-white haired man dressed in blue jeans and a black and red plaid shirt as he clambered over the half wall between an outdoor clothing store and the mall concourse. Moreau recognized her former patient Kermode despite the full beard he'd grown since their last meeting. ('Kermode' because Spirit Bear was already taken and almost no one could properly pronounce Moksgm'ol.)
'I knew I should have gone to Seattle,' Moreau thought as she considered her options. If Skyhook was alone, it wasn't a problem. If the rest of The Battalion were nearby, that might call for drastic action. The biggest potential problem was Kermode. Blowing her identity, or even drawing significant attention to it, would be a kill worthy error on Kermode's part. But most people's thought processes went to hell in the middle of a throw down. Moreau decided to see what developed.
As Skyhook charged in, Kermode crossed his arms in front of himself and inhaled deeply while uncrossing them. When he finished, he was a good foot taller, two hundred pounds heavier, covered in yellow-white fur and even stronger than he'd been just moments before. The only clothing that survived the transformation were black lycra biking shorts that he wore only because they'd fit both his forms.
Most folks started running for the exits, starting with the anti-vaccine people. Many of the remainders broke out their smart phones and started recording. This latter group was divided into those who did so from behind cover and those who had even less sense of self preservation. A few opportunists took advantage of the chaos to take things that didn't belong to them.
Moreau didn't fall into any of those categories. She quite calmly stood, brushed off the light blue medical scrubs she wore and walked to what she thought of as a better vantage point. The too young for her purposes man who was already there scooted over in a manner Moreau chose to consider chivalric, if unnecessary.
"RRAA-AAUGHH!" screamed Kermode as a swing meant to decapitate Skyhook instead impacted one of his rods. His head was then snapped around in response to a blow from the other rod.
"Skill versus power," Moreau murmured loud enough for her unintentional companion to hear. Skyhook was 'merely' human, she'd verified that years ago. But he was also trained, experienced and a magnificent physical specimen. And lucky. Anyone who lasted more than a couple years in the superhero game pretty much had to be.
In comparison, Kermode was a superhumanly strong and reasonably tough specific metamorph. From personal knowledge, she knew that small arms fire merely stung him a bit, but .40 caliber and heavier rounds required medical attention that she'd provided more than once. If he'd been lucky...
"Those sticks help a lot," the young man said, hoping he wouldn't run out of memory or battery on his cell phone before the fight ended. Skyhook cleanly nailed Kermode's left knee for the third time and was rewarded by putting a hitch in his opponent's giddy-up.
"True," Moreau admitted. "Kermode's going down unless he smartens up real quick." Skyhook ducked a double claw swipe and backflipped away from a kick by a leg that wasn't as injured as Kermode had made it seem. 'Linear, not circular. That's the way to go,' she thought.
"You say that as if it were a bad thing."
Moreau damned herself for accidentally revealing where her sympathies lied. "Just an observation." she said to cover her mistake.
Skyhook's luck ran out, at least temporarily, as Kermode's backhanded chop sent Skyhook flying again. Directly at the ATM kiosk where Moreau and her... not experimental subject... crouched. The young man, reflexively, attempted to shield a woman whom he could not know didn't need his protection. Skyhook, on the other hand, struck the obstacle squarely and slumped to the ground stunned. Kermode dashed toward his fallen opponent and reared back for a killing blow. Then he noticed who was crouched on the other side of the ATM. And froze. At the woman's barely perceptible head shake, he turned to flee only to find a heavily armed SWAT team between himself and escape. He raised his paws, exhaled and returned to his slightly less dangerous human form.
Moreau, for the life of her, couldn't remember all the information on the fake driver's license and other documents she carried. She simply didn't use them often enough for that information to have ingrained itself on her memory. If she'd been questioned as a suspect instead of as a witness, there would have been things either difficult or impossible to explain.
Fortunately, with the fight between Kermode and Skyhook appearing cut and dried, she'd been able to avoid close scrutiny. From the police anyway. The young man she'd observed the battle with was a different story.
"I just wanted to make sure you were all right Miss... I never did get your name."
"I never gave it, but you can call me Rini." Which was short for 'Corinne' as shown on her fake documents.
"I'm Kevin, Kevin Whitloe." He held out a hand which Moreau chose to shake. He was only 5' 9" or so, thin, probably not over 140 pounds, but with an athletic build and a firm grip.
"I appreciate the effort, but i can take care of myself."
"Oh, no doubt. I saw you leg sweep that protestor. Slick. But if I didn't try, I'd have to turn in my Gentleman card."
Moreau looked the question at him. He opened his wallet and pulled out a small laminated card and handed it to her.
This card certifies KEVIN WHITLOE
is a Gentleman Adventurer
Damsels in Distress Graciously Rescued
Moreau gave a short laugh at the concept of being a damsel, let alone one in distress. She handed back the card, smiling. "So, you're my knight in shining armor?" she asked.
"Actually, I'm an app developer, but I have a rich fantasy life."
"If you're angling for a date, I'm older than you think I am."
"Really? I was guessing 28." Five years wasn't too big a gap, especially for a woman who, while short, not even medical scrubs could make unattractive in his opinion.
'53,' Moreau thought although she replied, "32" to match what was listed on her ID.
Her would be suitor took that information, processed it, mentally shrugged and replied, "Not a deal breaker."
"And if I say 'no'?"
"A gentleman takes 'no' for an answer, but you haven't said 'no' yet."
"Well, that would depend on the answers to two questions."
"Which are?" he asked with a theatrically raised eyebrow.
"You don't still live with your parents do you?" A little cradle robbing never hurt, but there were limits.
Kevin gave his own short laugh. "No, but I do have a roommate and a cat. Second question?"
"This Saturday good for you?"
"Skyhook started it!" Kermode yelled almost loud enough to get himself shot. "Check the goddamn surveillance cameras. I was minding my own business and Sky-goof taps me on the shoulder and tells me to come along peacefully. I told him to... get lost... and he smacks me with one of his invisible sticks. So I grabbed him and threw him. Hard. I did my time, I'm doing my probation and there are no wants or warrants out on me. He's not a cop. He had no goddamn right to touch me, let alone assault me."
On the other side of a one way mirror, Lieutenant Brown told Officer Marron, "Verify that."
As the female officer left to comply, Detective Moreno stated, "The Battalion has police powers."
"In California, not Oregon," the El-Tee replied. "I'd love to send Kermode back to prison, just to get him out of my jurisdiction. But if his story checks out, we'll have to spring him."
"Shouldn't we talk to Skyhook first? And check with the other witnesses?"
"That we should Detective."
Skyhook sat on the edge of a desk, 'holding court'. His audience of cops, suspects, those in the holding cell and civilians of various types listened intently to stories of Skyhook's adventures, both solo and as part of The Battalion. His 'invisible' rods had been wrapped in aluminum foil to make them visible. It was a compromise between his status as a legally sanctioned (in California) superhero and the fact that he wasn't in California.
Lt. Brown raised his voice a few extra decibels and said "I'm sure those of you on duty right now have things to be doing. Do them." Part of the audience scattered, while the rest realized that story time was over.
Skyhook finished one last autograph then stood up. Flashing a brilliant smile, he asked, "How can I help you Lieutenant?"
"My people are questioning Kermode right now. I figure I should get your version of events. We're a long way from Los Angeles, so what brings you to Salem?"
"Kermode. There's a case The Battalion is working on. It's nothing urgent, yet, but the one solid lead we have is something written in what appears to be a phonetic transcription of a Tsimshianic language. Kermode might be one of maybe fifty people in the country who could read it and he's literally the closest one to LA."
"And you thought approaching him cold, in costume, was the best way to get his help?"
"Best of a few bad options." Airstrike was heading to Alaska to talk with other possible translators. Royal Blue was unavailable, something to do with her civilian identity, There was serious bad blood between Charisma and Kermode. Contact between them should be avoided. Sgt. Major was undercover or missing depending on who you asked. Finally, Roswell... No. Just no.
"So what happened?"
"We have Kermode's address on file. Airstrike dropped me off and it only took a few minutes to find out he was at the mall. Spotted him on a surveillance camera when I got there and a mall security guy took me the back way to the clothing store. I told Kermode I wanted to talk to him and to come along peacefully. He... didn't want to. Things degenerated from there."
Lt. Brown frowned. Nothing that contradicted Kermode's version of events, but no admission from Skyhook that he'd swung first. Normally a case for checking the security recordings, but when the weapon used is invisible... "Who swung first?"
"He did," Skyhook lied. 'And I strongly doubt you can prove otherwise.' He'd made certain his back was to the only surveillance camera covering that part of the store and a flick of a hidden wrist was all it took to give Kermode an attention getting love-tap. A potential probation violation made excellent leverage.
The El-Tee didn't believe him. How best to deal with the whole situation?
"What's this mean in English?" Lt. Brown asked, handing Kermode a freshly printed copy of Skyhook's 'lead'.
Kermode peered at the sheet, did a double take and asked in turn, "You're kidding, right? I haven't spoken Sm'algyax in years."
"Is that what it is?"
Kermode's lips moved as he tried to puzzle out the words on the page. "My guess? A half-assed version of Sm'algyax. My degree is in Environmental Science, not Alaska Native Languages."
That a 'super-villain' known more as brawler than anything else would have a college degree surprised the Lieutenant. Strong didn't mean dumb.
Without prompting, Kermode continued, "I mean, there are words, but they don't make any sense. This first line, I think it says 'travel rain eggs west', the next one is 'south land beaver bad milk'. The third one, hell, there isn't a 'd' sound in Sm'algyax. Or an 'r' sound. If I had to guess, I'd say 'Dudley Do-Right and Horse'. It's garbage, it's all garbage."
Lt. Brown pulled a hip flask from his back pocket and offered it to Kermode, who refused as it would violate his probation. "Fine, I'll owe you one if you get through your probation. I'll spring you after I get rid of Skyhook."
"This is what he wanted me for?" Kermode asked incredulously.
"Kermode says your 'lead' is garbage and that the Alaska Native Studies Department at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau can explain why."
"Like I said, Airstrike's on his way to Alaska. Hell, he's probably there already."
"I know Airstrike flies really fast. But you figured it was easier for him to fly you 800 miles from LA to here, then pick a fight against a super strong bear in a mall instead of using Skype or Face Time to talk to an actual language expert and get an answer you'd be able to trust?"
"Take your little toys and get out of my town. Now."