Being the Bad Guy
By Daniel Devine
Copyright 2015 Daniel Devine
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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I entered the mansion’s study, feet sinking into deep blue plush and was struck by the slightly sweet scent of the smoke that Dr. Herman Mandrake was puffing forth vigorously from his wooden pipe. The current wife, being a twenty-something health nut and fifty years his junior, had made him promise to quit smoking but he always whipped the pipe out for Order meetings.
The walls of the room were adorned with the sculpted heads of various animals, as if someone had slain a number of marble-skinned beasts and preserved them via taxidermy. Their strange carved expressions made them sinister and foreign. In between the carved heads, waist-high gothic columns displayed bits of ancient pottery.
The room’s center was dominated by a broad table of lacquered green wood. It was so close to the floor that it required cushions rather than chairs. The other four members of the Order of Chaos were already seated around it.
I lowered myself down on the empty cushion between Hijack and Ice Queen, wishing Mandrake would lighten up on his mystic motif enough to get a conference table or some decent recliners.
Mandrake put down his pipe long enough to nod at me and adjust his panama hat before speaking.
“Nightstar, so good of you to join us! You will forgive me if I suspend the small talk this once. Let us now focus upon business, Bombastic has an important proposal for us to consider.”
The large, dark-skinned man was crouched uncomfortably to Mandrake’s right. He wore a jumpsuit of navy blue with a hissing bomb drawn poorly over the center of its chest and wrap-around, mirrored glasses that completely obscured his eyes.
“Thank you, Doctor. As the rest of you may know, about a year ago Knox Bank opened a branch in Imperiopolis, touting their unbreachable vault.”
Hijack sighed. He was a middle-aged white guy, chubby and balding, in black and yellow spandex and half-mask.
“Do I ever. We haven’t been able to steal more than lunch money since everyone moved their life savings into that beauty.”
“Well, it took some doing, but I have finally managed to infiltrate the bank’s administration with one of my henchman and secure a copy of the vault’s blueprints.” He said. “And with my genius knowledge of structural architecture, I have determined a way to crack the vault!”
“Good show! Good show, old boy!” Mandrake puffed happily, slapping Bombastic on his shoulder. “How quickly can we pull together the men and materials needed for the heist?”
“Sooner would be better,” Ice Queen added. Most people seemed to find her haughty voice intimidating; but it just reminded me of one of my least favorite English teachers. She wore a low cut suit of grayish-white which was probably once quite fetching, but she was now on the wrong side of sixty and I found it somewhat unnerving. “The Human Bullet and Slashdance will be back from vacation in a few weeks.”
“There are still too many heroes around without them. No point in rushing. I say we take the time to do it right.”
Bombastic cleared his throat.
“Be that as it may, my plan is quite beautiful in its simplicity. If you are willing, I anticipate we could move as soon as Thursday.”
“That’s only two days.”
Bombastic raised an eyebrow at Mandrake.
“If I may, Doctor?”
“Be my guest.”
Bombastic withdrew a scroll of paper from his utility belt, unfurled it, and used some of the table’s coasters to hold down the edges.
“Now, the door to the vault is practicably impenetrable, but we will attack from the side…”
I snorted in agitation, apparently louder than I intended, because Bombastic paused and everyone stared at me.
“You have an objection, Nightstar?” Mandrake asked, clearly unhappy with the interruption.
“No… well, yeah.” I fumbled. “I mean, seriously you guys, a bank robbery?”
“Not just a bank robbery,” Ice Queen said. “But the cracking of the most sophisticated security system in the world.”
“Or in Imperiopolis, anyways,” Hijack added.
“Right,” I said slowly. Knox was only mid-tier superbank and they knew it. They didn’t have heroes on staff as security guards like Magnum in New York City. “Look, I’m sure it’s a great plan and all, and that it will probably work, but how is this really going to strike fear into the heart of the city?
“What happened to the Order doing real crime? Don’t we all have enough money? Aren’t there any death rays in town that we can steal or anything? Maybe the CDC is experimenting with some superbug we could release on the public?”
“Look, Nightstar, I see what you’re saying. Actually, money’s very tight for me right now. The twins are turning sixteen and they refuse to share a car…”
“And social security doesn’t quite fund my… appetites,” Ice Queen added.
I gave Mandrake’s elaborate décor a meaningful look.
“Don’t even say it.” The Doctor used the beige kerchief around his neck to wipe his forehead. “I’m completely tapped out. Adrianna’s set on redecorating the summer home. Her tastes are not cheap.”
Hijack slapped me on the shoulder.
“Let’s face it. The heroes have our number right now. There’s just too many of them. But the pendulum will swing back eventually. We just need to stay flush until the next opportunity to do some real damage presents itself.”
I shook my head.
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t think I can do this anymore.”
Ice Queen sneered.
“What? Crime? Who are you kidding, Nightstar? Your soul is as black as your cloak.”
“That’s not what I’m saying!” I glared at her. “I just can’t do this half-assed villainy anymore. What’s the point in having the Order if it doesn’t incite any Chaos? We joined forces so we could overpower any team of heroes. If we can’t, why bother working together at all?”
Bombastic rolled his eyes.
“So, what? You quit? Fine, get out of here and let the rest of us get on with business.”
“I guess I do,” Overcome by the moment, I unclipped the five-pointed flame sigil of the Order from my breast and tossed it onto the table.
Startled, Mandrake dropped his pipe. He gave Bombastic a stern look and the larger man shrunk back sullenly.
“Christopher, don’t be so rash. Let us talk this over. You don’t want to do anything that you will regret.”
“Listen to him,” Ice Queen said. “We know you’ve been struggling since things went south with Karen, but throwing away the friends you do have isn’t going to help.”
“This has nothing to do with her!” I shouted, furious she would bring that up here. I saw her skin frost over defensively.
With effort, I calmed myself and gave the Order a good, hard look. What I saw didn’t impress me much. The greatest criminal minds of the last generation reduced to mediocrity by time, familial obligations, and a general loss of passion.
Perhaps it was time to move on.
“Look, Nightstar…” Mandrake began. I cut him off with a snort.
“Forget it. It’s not worth the argument. I’ve said my peace.” I raised my hood and pulled the rooms’ shadows tight around me, so that they wouldn’t see my tears.
The Order may have been all I’d had left, but that didn’t make them nearly enough.
I burst forth from the study, startling Mandrake’s stout and hairless bodyguard, Tung. The beefy man appeared to consider tackling me; but he relaxed at some unseen signal from the Doctor behind me.
“Hey buddy,” I said hoarsely, laying a hand on his shoulder as I passed. “Do me a favor and keep yourself and that old goat safe.”
“Stay safe yourself,” he rumbled back. It might have been the longest sentence I’d ever heard him utter.
I walked out of the mansion and into the rain.
It was rough waiting to find a caper that I could pull solo. I had no girl and no friends and nothing to do but wallow in self-pity.
My mood had been brightened by the news that Captain Civic and the Morality Division had thwarted a robbery at the local Knox Bank. Bombastic had managed to breach the vault, but the heroes showed up before the Order could make off with any money. Bombastic had refused to abandon his plan and been arrested.
He’d break out in a month or two- like the last half dozen times.
If the Order’s defeat let me feel a bit superior, it underscored the insanity of what I was attempting. If the city was crawling with so many heroes that the Order couldn’t complete a simple bank heist, how was I going to do something epic on my own?
I threw myself into research. Intel and preparation, not strength or super-abilities, were what separated the great criminals from the merely good.
I kept track of all the news, tracked which heroes were where and doing what. I was a member of several online forums where villains discussed heroes’ potential weaknesses, true identities, and that sort of thing.
By sheer chance I came across a little nugget in my morning newspaper, and a plan started to come together in my mind.
In about a week, Mayor Thomas was holding a ceremony to honor the Worldbeaters as the hero team of the year, thanks to their triumph over the galactic threat Vampirius, the Planet Sucker.
Had that been everything in the article, I would have rolled my eyes and moved on to the next column; but it went on to detail the extravagant, hand-crafted work being donated for an award by Lillian Jewelers.
A custom trophy of that caliber couldn’t be quickly remade and with its design leaked in the article, people would know if it was replaced with a sham. Stealing that award would be a message that even the city’s mightiest heroes were susceptible to the criminal whims of Nightstar.
I wouldn’t even sell the expensive trophy or keep it on my mantle as a conversation piece. No, I’d send it over to one of the major media outlets with a plaque attached that said “Nightstar: Criminal Mastermind of the Year.”
Laughing, I googled the address of the nearest Things Remembered.
That was putting the cart before the horse though. I began scouring the blogosphere, specifically Worldbeaters fanboy sites, for more news. From there, it was a slow drudge through building blueprints and security company contracts as well as a couple of calls to old business associates. I also made a few enquires of my own, sending emails from some of my false identities pretending to be a political journalist and then an art professor at a fictitious college and trolling for more information from the mayor’s staff and the jewelers commissioned with creating the award.
As the details trickled in, I could feel my sense of emptiness slowly giving way to a feeling of excitement.
The break-in itself was something of an anti-climax.
Though the trophy was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the mayor hadn’t bothered arranging any special security for it. That made a rough kind of sense, I guess. What idiot would be stupid enough to steal something that would set the Worldbeaters on his tail?
I don’t mean to imply that the Lillian Jewelers home office was undefended. Every possible entrance was alarmed, every room motion-detectored, and there was a small three-man security team roaming the building.
None of the three were super powered though; they were just ex-cops. Cloaked in shadows, I snuck into a side alley and scaled the side of the building. The adhesive gloves and footpads that I’d borrowed a year ago from Hijack and never returned made it easy.
The windows all had dual alarms. A circuit connecting the bottom of the window to the frame was tripped whenever the window was opened. Similarly, a charge was run through the glass of the windows, disturbed when the window was cracked or broken.
Fortunately, the artisans of Lillian’s had not been satisfied with a boring, crudely functional building and the structure had several octagonal stained glass windows printed with intricate designs. These did not open and only gave a warning if broken.
One of these decorative windows was on the third floor, facing the alley. I iguana-ed over to it and lit my blowtorch.
Careful to leave the glass undisturbed, I cut through the window frame above and below the wiring for the alarm system. I lowered the flame’s intensity and heated the untouched metal just enough that I would be able to distort it.
I was able to twist the now malleable frame back almost ninety degrees so that the window laid flat horizontally.
The gap created was not wide, but I slipped through into the room. This would have set off the room’s motion detector, but motion detectors work on the simple premise of rays of infrared light projected across a room towards a receptor. When the light’s path is blocked, the detector goes off.
For me, this was no problem. I simply bent the infrared light around me and then back onto its original path as I moved. It helped that I could see in infrared, of course.
My main concern had been that one of the guards would happen by and see me while I was making my entry. Now that I was inside, I was sure that I could avoid them easily.
I made my way toward a back stairway leading to the first floor workroom where the award sat awaiting a final polish before the ceremony. Out of tune whistling announced the approach of a night watchman, but I slipped quietly into a convenient office until he had passed.
The trophy was not hard to find, being by far the largest of the pieces on display. I was tempted to toss a few other things into my pockets, but decided there would be more style points if I only stole the award.
I didn’t have any fancy solutions to the alarm on the display case, so I traced some wiring back to the fuse box in a back room and unscrewed the siren’s fuse.
No sooner had I smashed the case and lifted the award than the wall opposite me exploded.
I cringed, expecting a hero—a strong, stupid one like Brickman; hazy on the cost benefit ratio of destroying someone’s business to save their wares.
The form that slowly strode through the ensuing cloud of mortar dust was instantly familiar; but it belonged to the last person I had expected to see that night.
“RiotGyrl? What are you doing here?” I had a hundred more questions, but I didn’t get a chance to ask them. Karen crossed the space between us in three quick strides and her shoulder hit me like a sixteen-wheeler as her hands deftly separated the trophy from mine.
I was thrown across the room, shattering a window and setting off an alarm.
“Hello, Nightstar,” Karen said. It was almost like there was some strange parasite controlling her body; the high-boned face and its expressions were the same, but the warmth and emotion that had always animated them when we spoke were gone. “I’m taking this. Don’t make me hurt you more than I have to.”
“Look, that’s cool. I don’t really want it. I just want my name in the papers that I was one of the ones who stole it. You can keep it, fence it, whatever. We’ll call it a two-person job but you can keep all of the profits.”
“Sorry, but I don’t want to appear associated with you any way.”
The overhead lights flashed to life as two security guards burst through the door, guns firing. Fortunately, they weren’t expecting me to be sprawled uselessly in a corner. Their first, wild shots missed Karen and I filled their eyes with darkness so that they were fighting blind. She delivered a fist to each of their temples and they slumped to the floor.
Karen had put down the award to do this, and while she was occupied with the officers, I snatched it.
She dove for me, shrieking as I flashed brilliant light in her eyes. She had always hated it when I did that. Her blind lunge was almost on target, and she got a hand on the edge of my cape. I tugged myself free of her superior strength, but skidded on broken glass and fell over a cabinet.
Keeping hold of the trophy, I rolled away to the side; a good decision since she dove immediately toward the sound of my fall.
“Give it back!”
I crawled under a worktable, lessened the glare in her eyes, and constructed a hazy shadow by bending the light on her other side. She shook her head like an angry bull and leapt towards it, roaring in frustration when her fist flew right through and the rest of her followed to rebound off of the wall.
“Why do you want this thing, anyway?” I asked. “I already said you could have the money and you refused. You’re also welcome to any of the other trinkets here; they’re probably worth more in aggregate.”
Speaking to her was obviously going to pose some danger. She didn’t leap this time, but kicked the frame of a shattered display case in my direction. Fortunately, it deflected off the table I was cowering under without doing me any harm.
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, the third security officer sneaking up behind us. I blinded him as well. When he stumbled, Karen was on him in a second. I watched as he absorbed all of her affection for me.
I considered playing dead at that point, but sightlessly molesting the body of the officer to search for the trophy, she soon realized her error.
“Nightstar! Hand it over now and I may leave some of your bones unbroken. This is your last warning.”
I took cover behind a sturdy looking old metal file cabinet and went on the verbal offensive.
“What’s your deal?” I yelled back. “If you’re not here for the money, you’re here for the fame, but that’s never been your style.”
Which was true, Karen had never been one of those insecure types who performed crimes so that people would notice her. RiotGryl was in it for the adrenaline rush—the good clean fun breaking limbs. Committing a crime to make a statement wasn’t even something that would occur to her.
“Who sent you?” I demanded.
“No one sent me!” She slammed a fist into her palm. “You are such an arrogant bastard, Chris! You never could believe that I might be smart enough to pull off a real crime on my own!”
For a just second, I felt bad. She had caught me in exactly that train of thought. But the fact that she would have picked the exact same target as me for her coming out caper as a criminal smelled fishy.
“Play the victim all you want, I’m not buying it,” I said. “Dating you for five years taught me something. You’re more practical than me and a lot less of a coward. You wouldn’t steal somebody’s medal to piss them off. If you wanted to show them you’re better, you’d just go and punch them in the face.”
She was quiet for a moment, so I peeked around the corner of my cabinet to make sure she wasn’t sneaking closer. Instead she was standing still, blinded eyes looking down at her hands. The silence suddenly felt guilty.
“I need full credit for the robbery,” she said finally, her words just loud enough for me to hear. She gave a bitter laugh. “Word is that there’s a seat or two open in the Order of Chaos. I needed something flashier than usual to catch their attention.”
Karen had always been jealous that I’d been ranked as a top-tier criminal just because my crimes were higher profile. I considered just giving her the gaudy thing. It might bury a hatchet. I could think of some other way to terrorize the city. But I couldn’t let it go.
“And you happened to choose this spot on the night that I was here? Bull! You read my emails, didn’t you? You were spying on me!”
She trembled; looking as if she were about to cry, but then a change came over her and her shoulders straightened.
“It’s not my fault you never change your damn passwords! And we’re villains! Did you expect me not to cheat to get ahead?”
“I guess I thought you were someone I could trust,” I muttered. “Should have learned my lesson by now.”
I saw her flinch at that.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have but I couldn’t think of anything and I was desperate.”
“Look, I know you’re going to take this the wrong way, but don’t bother. The Order of Chaos isn’t for you.” Her face pulled tight and I spoke faster, trying to get my words out ahead of her fury. “Not because you aren’t good enough for them, but because they aren’t good enough for you. I didn’t just quit them for no reason. I realized I’d been sticking with them because I liked them as friends. But as criminals, they’d drive you crazy.
“They’re too afraid to pull any job where they aren’t 100% certain they’ll succeed, and recently they usually even screw those up. Crime isn’t about the excitement to them anymore. It’s a retirement plan that keeps them from having to get a real job. They’d bore you out of your mind.”
She shook her head.
“I appreciate your concern.” Her whole body seemed to tense. “But I’ll make my own decision.”
She launched herself toward me like a missile. There was a human grunt and a metallic groan as she hit the other side of the cabinet. It withstood the blow but did nothing to stop her momentum, and she plowed it across the floor driving me before it.
My entire body went numb as my spine was smashed into a support pillar. The award slipped from my nerveless hands. I blacked out for a moment.
When I shook off the cobwebs, Karen was regarding me with a pitying expression. Her eyes were clear, since I’d lost hold of my powers. She was hefting the enormous cabinet in one hand, like it was an empty cardboard box, but tossed it away idly to crush some glass shelving.
“The problem with you having nothing but wussy tricks to rely on in a fight,” she told me. “Is that all I need to do is wait for you to make one single, stupid mistake.”
She picked up the trophy and stepped toward the gaping hole in the wall through which she’d originally entered.
“It’s been fun, supergenius.”
She ducked outside, into the approaching sirens of the outside world.
I cursed myself for not just handing the thing over in the first place and trying to rescue something of a relationship with her. I cursed myself more for being stupid, staying in one place, and letting her get a bead on my voice.
I was half convinced that I would never see her again. So, I was somewhat surprised when she dove back through the breach in the wall a second later, screaming “Shit!” and then running hell bent toward the back stairs.
A blur of white flew by in her wake. I would have thought it an artifact of my recent blow to the head, except I recognized the conical hat, tassel, and frilly skirts as they blew through.
Power Princess. One of the Worldbeaters, here to protect what was theirs. I prayed to God she was alone. Even so, I didn’t think it likely me and Karen could take her.
I found I could stand if I crouched awkwardly, so I told my ribs to shut up and shuffled after them like Igor.
It wasn’t too hard to tell which way they’d gone—I just followed the divots and the missing stairs. The building shook a couple of times and occasionally pieces of the ceiling rained down on me. I had my doubts about its structural integrity at this point, and wondered why I wasn’t just making a break for it.
I pulled the shadows tighter around me and pressed on, keeping close to the wall. The sounds of combat began to get louder.
I turned a corner, expecting to find myself in a narrow hall, but entered into a large open chamber. On the blueprints I’d memorized, this area had several non-load baring walls which had apparently been removed during the last few seconds.
RiotGyrl and Power Princess eyed each other across a faintly smoking pile of debris. Karen still held the trophy, but her glossy black costume was dull in places with burn marks and the cheek facing me dripped blood from a long gash.
Power Princess still glowed with energy, and from this close I could hear a faint crackling, like a radio that wasn’t perfectly in tune.
The Worldbeaters were the real deal, a Class A worldwide crime fighting superteam. They just happened to have made Imperiopolis their home. Power Princess herself was able to harness some immense power source from an unknown dimension and was good enough to have figured out how to do pretty much anything with it—boost her muscles for amazing speed and strength, shoot rays of energy, project force fields for protection. I was fairly certain we wouldn’t be able to scratch her if she didn’t want us to.
Karen was never the research and preparation type. She probably didn’t know that about her opponent, or perhaps she did and she just didn’t care.
RiotGyrl moved first, grabbing a conference table and swinging it like an enormously wide baseball bat.
The quickness of Karen’s attack took Power Princess by surprise, and the hero was toppled backwards as the table shattered into splinters around her, though the blow didn’t even muss her dress.
Karen pounced forward, hands raised triumphantly to deliver a killing blow. I could see a thin barrier of light surrounding the Princess (probably outside of Karen’s visible range), and knew the strike would never connect.
This was a critical moment. If I was going to do something to turn the tables in this fight, I had to do it now.
I wracked my brain, but my racing thoughts came up empty. Maybe Hijack had been right and now really was a bad time to be a villain. These overpowered heroes just had our number.
Feelings of rage and futility filled me and then, just as suddenly, I found myself letting them all go.
Who was I kidding? Karen didn’t want me to be her savior. What was it she had said about cheating to get ahead?
Stepping out of the darkness, I released the shadows that I had wrapped around myself and instead drew in the light so that I shone like a megawatt bulb.
Both heads turned in my direction.
I made my hand glow bright then shot the light across the room into Karen’s confused face. Her head became pure radiant light, like a metal sculpture in the sun.
It was all for show—I was only blinding her like before, but I wanted it to look like I was doing something powerful.
“Wha…” she began but the Princess cold cocked her before she could even finish the thought.
Bowing, I offered the Princess my hand and helped her to her feet.
“My lady,” I said as suavely as I could muster. “I am sorry to intrude, but it appeared that you may be in some distress. Are you harmed?”
Power Princess made an insulted noise.
“By this?” she asked. Her face did have a bit of a regal look, all sharp and angular, but that didn’t make it unappealing. It was kind of like Karen’s, ironically enough. “I don’t believe I recognize you? Have we met?”
I shook my head.
“I have not had the honor.” I lowered my eyes humbly. “Your reputation precedes you, of course, but I doubt that you would have heard tell of a lower-tier crime fighter like myself. I go by the name of Lighthawk.”
My Nightstar persona was known, of course, but as a shadow-clad figure of deception. By simply altering my costume, I hoped to ensure that Nightstar escaped this melee unscathed.
Power Princess smiled with a warmth that softened her features considerably.
“Come now, we all have to start somewhere,” she said. “In fact, I’d deem you have some potential. How would you like to meet the rest of the Worldbeaters? You could tour Earth Defense One and maybe learn about our Sidekick apprenticeship program?”
I widened my eyes.
“Me? Working with the Worldbeaters? I find it hard to imagine!”
If Nightstar disappeared from the streets of Imperiopolis, the Order of Chaos likely wouldn’t come looking for me, especially after saying I needed a change. They certainly wouldn’t connect the appearance of a new superhero with Christopher Luxor given how dime-a-dozen guys in capes were these days.
That left RiotGyrl, but Karen didn’t look like she’d be waking up anytime soon and it was unlikely she’d be that clear on what happened when she did.
In either case, moving to an address she didn’t know probably wasn’t a bad idea.
“Come on then, I’ll introduce you to the guys,” Power Princess said.
She took my hand and we walked away, leaving the cops en route and the eventual insurance appraisers to sort out the rest. Even with her glass heels on, I found I was a few inches taller.
Sometimes, you have to be flexible and let the plan come to you. It never hurts to play for the winning team.
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Things haven't gone well for Chris lately. His girlfriend dumped him, and now every time they argue, he literally fears for his life. He's been fighting with his friends. They used to know how to party, but now everybody but him has gotten old. They all need to go home early because their wife is calling or they have to pick their kids up from the game. Nobody wants to take over the world anymore, or even cause some widespread panic. Is it time for a change? Or is it just time to focus on what he does best--being a super villain?