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Chapter Sixteen: THAT MUST BE SO ILLEGAL

“So Marquez isn’t Marquez,” Agent 09 said, driving her car down the street. I’m not going to lie, it was really freaking awesome: like a combination of a spy car and a Hummer. It wasn’t great for the environment, but when people were shooting at you, I guess you didn’t care so much about the environment?

“Marquez is Plastique,” I said, sitting in the passenger seat.

“Charlie’s arch-nemesis,” she mumbled.

“Yeah.”

“That explains a lot,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Do you have any music?” Cathect asked. “I feel like this is a really good time to have a bad-ass soundtrack.”

“I really like techno,” Sotto Voce whispered. That all made me break into a smile, which I appreciated, at a time like this.

“You know what, Cathect?” I said. “I don’t hate you. I don’t even hate you a little bit.”

“I do,” Agent 09 said. “Why did I let this fool onto the team again?”

“You’re going to take a left up here,” Blue said.

“I know how to get to Sum Industries,” Agent 09 said. “The problem is figuring out how to take them down.”

“Do you have rocket launchers?” Cathect asked. “Think about how cool rocket launchers would be.”

“Can we get help from Metahuman Affairs?” Blue asked.

“The only agents that are alive right now are just doing their best to survive,” Agent 09 said.

“What about the police?” Sotto Voce asked.

“Tied up with all the escaped prisoners.”

“You think Sum Industries had something to do with the prison escape?” Blue asked.

“Almost certain,” Agent 09 said. “It makes us easy pickings. Cripples the system that’s supposed to protect us.”

“What about the ideavirus?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Agent 09 said. “That would take a lot of reach. I just don’t know.”

I screamed. Bullets rattled the car’s windshield. Agent 09 barely flinched.

Cathect screamed, like, five seconds after it started.

“A little late!” I yelled.

“If either of you scream like that again, I’ll shoot you,” Agent 09 said, jokingly. Well, actually, it sounded kind of serious. But it had to be a joke, right?

Haha?

The window definitely looked the worse for wear, but it’d held up, which was definitely a plus. I guessed it was, like, super bulletproof?

The bullets let up for a second and I saw where they were coming from: The Patriot and The Hound. Actually, it might’ve been more accurate to just say The Patriot was responsible for the shooting, because The Hound was kind of just sitting there not doing much. The Patriot, on the other hand, looked really into it. His shirt was off and he stood behind a stationary machine gun that looked straight out of World War I.

They were a block or two away from us, but the streets were mostly clear of people, so the bullets flew.

“BY THE SEVEN SONS OF SODOMY!” he yelled.

The bullets started up again. The window looked like it was about to pop through. We were still speeding towards him.

“You know these guys?” Agent 09 asked.

“Yeah, but they’re not my friends,” I said.

“I figured that one out,” she said, speeding forward.

“You kids better have your fucking seat belts on.”

Just as I thought the window was about to break, the hail of bullets stopped. The car jerked to a stop, slamming into the machine gun. The air bags burst open.

*BANG*

My ears were ringing. The airbags popped, letting out air through the bullet hole Agent 09 had just made.

“DID YOU SERIOUSLY JUST SHOOT THE AIRBAGS?” I asked. “THAT MUST BE SO ILLEGAL.”

Agent 09 said something, but I couldn’t hear. I opened the car door, and found The Hound there. He looked kind of afraid, but still his fists were raised, as if ready for a fight. I could tell he was saying something, but it sounded like mumbling. Still couldn’t hear him over the ringing.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU JUST SAID BUT I’M SURE THAT IT’S STUPID!” I yelled.

He flinched right before my fist met his face. Which made me feel kind of bad, once I’d punched him. But really, if you’re going to be a supervillain, you shouldn’t flinch when you’re going to get hit. Like, really? You threaten people’s lives and you’re a flincher?

Cathect stumbled out of the car and said something. I didn’t hear him. I was about to punch The Hound again, but he was just on the floor whimpering, so I didn’t. I kind of just kept my eye on him, in an “I’ll heck you up” sort of way.

“WHAT?” I yelled.

“IS YOUR MOTHER CRAZY?” he yelled. “SHE JUST CRASHED THE FRIGGIN’ CAR!”

From behind me I heard Agent 09 yell, “I REALLY DON’T LIKE THIS KID!”

I yelled, “I REALLY WISH YOU HADN’T SHOT THAT GUN SO CLOSE TO MY EAR.”

“I SAVED YOUR LIFE,” she said. “AND I CAN TAKE IT AWAY.”

“HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET TO SUM INDUSTRIES?” I asked.

“BY FOOT,” she yelled. We started to move, and I felt my hearing slowly coming back to me.

“WE’RE, LIKE, TEN BLOCKS AWAY FROM THERE,” I yelled. Blue and Agent 09 led the charge, while Cathect and I held back.

“THAT’S WHY WE’VE GOTTA MOVE FAST!” she yelled.

Sotto Voce said something, but I couldn’t hear her.

“WHAT?” I yelled.

She said it again, but I still couldn’t hear her.

“WHAT?” I yelled.

“WE SHOULD PROBABLY START MOVING!” she yelled. It was the first time I’d ever seen her yell.

“OH,” I yelled back. “I’M SORRY I MADE YOU YELL THAT A BUNCH OF TIMES.”

“IT’S OKAY,” she yelled again. “LET’S GO.”

The four of us moved, running at an uncomfortably fast pace. Things were quiet, but they were quiet in the way that felt incredibly, dangerous, you know? The quiet was less chill and more ‘You’re probably going to get stabbed soon’. Which, you know, I kind of wasn’t wild about.

“Wait,” Cathect said, panting.

We were right next to an alleyway, and a guy popped out of a trash can.

“HAVE YOU TRIED THE NEWEST SAMSUNG?” he yelled.

*BANG*

Agent 09 shot him in the shoulder and he toppled over, bringing the trash can with him.

“Bullshit advertising,” she mumbled.

“It has all… the latest… features,” he whimpered, more quietly than before.

“What the Hell was that?” I asked.

“Ideavirus,” Agent 09. “It’s ugly out here.”

Cathect flipped through his Tarot deck and took out a card. “The Power of the Chariot!” he yelled.

Sure enough, he flicked the card onto the ground before us. The card cast a yellowish light, which solidified in the form of a chariot.

“Onward!” he yelled, jumping in. The rest of us followed suit.

“See?” Cathect said, as the white horse galloped across the sidewalk. “I’m useful. I’m a valuable member of this team!”

“You’re definitely a member of this team,” I said.

“HAVE YOU TRIED THE NEWEST SAMSUNG?” a lady yelled, chucking a beer bottle my way. Sotto Voce grabbed it with her shadowy cape and chucked it right back at the lady.

The chariot rushed us past her and Cathect said, “That was almost as bad as telemarketers.”

“Almost?” I asked.

“You heard me,” he said, sassily.

“Guys,” Blue said. “We’re here.”

Sure enough, we were. I got off the chariot and looked up at the huge Sum Industries building. Agent 09 rushed in first, pushing open the big door.

Inside the lobby, I didn’t see Gary the Gargoyle or The Invisible Ferret (not that I would have seen the Invisible Ferret, but you know what I mean). Instead, there were four ninjas standing there, poised for attack.

Before anyone could really react, Agent 09 shot one in the leg. She then went for a second one, but she no longer had the element of surprise. They all went for the attack.

“You, Cathect, and Sotto Voce find Charlie,” Agent 09 said. “We’ll take care of the rest.”

Sure enough, Blue immediately pounced on one of the ninjas. Agent 09 kept the other two busy. Cathect, Sotto Voce and I looked at each other. We ran for the elevator.

Much to our disappointment, the elevator didn’t work. Which made sense, in a way. So we ran towards the staircase. The door looked a little rusty and intimidating, but that was nothing compared to the staircase itself which looked ancient and concrete. Like, it was weird to see that such a nice building looked so old. I wondered if that was on purpose?

We ran up the narrow staircase.

“How many floors is this place?” Sotto Voce said on the third floor.

“I think it’s, like, 30,” I said.

“Oh, fuck me,” Cathect said.

“Gross,” I said.

We wound our way up floor after floor, huffing and panting and thankfully not puking but let me tell you it was close.

On the 29th floor, we ran across creepy bearded telepath guy. He wasn’t wearing the comic shirt, and I’m not going to lie, a different wardrobe was a lot more than I expected from him.

Still, he was the grossest. His yellowing teeth showed as he leered at me, his pencil-thin smile growing just a little while. He enjoyed seeing me.

I felt him reach into my mind. It was what I imagined trepanning was like, this hole getting bored into my brain. There was pain and confusion, and I felt lightheaded.

I was on my knees. I glanced over at Cathect, who was 100% passed out. I felt like joining him. Just so long as I could get this pain out of my head.

Sotto Voce wasn’t doing too well, either. Her cape lashed out, not hitting anything in particular. She wasn’t focused enough to fight. She was just trying to get rid of the pain.

I guess he’d figured out how to take on groups of people? You didn’t try and take over anyone’s minds. You just made them hurt. You just made them feel pain.

I realized the telepath was wearing Cargo shorts. And I can’t tell you what exactly it is about a guy in cargo shorts, but I laughed. And the laughing made me feel better. I grabbed onto the staircase railing and dragged myself up, laughing.

When I’d gotten myself as upright as I could — upright, but leaning on the staircase railing — I looked at the sad, pathetic man.

“I am a lesbian because that’s who I am. It has nothing to do with you and your stupid telepath-y stupidness,” I told him. “And in case you were wondering, you are an asshole because that’s who you are. Your stupid telepath-y stupidness only makes it worse.”

I punched him a couple times — I didn’t really count, but it was enough times that it felt good, and enough times that he was knocked out. So, it must have been the right number of times.

Sotto Voce wobbled her way up and walked over to me.

“That was pretty cool,” she whispered.

“Thanks,” I whispered back. “You’re pretty cool.”

“Thanks,” she whispered.

“Hey, do you kill people?”

“I–” she paused for a second. “You mean because the Sotto Voce thing?”

“Er,” I said. “Yeah.”

“No,” she said. “You mean because of Becky Gale, the Sotto Voce who killed all those people. No. She lived a hard life, a really hard life, so she snapped. That wasn’t because of the spirit. That was because of who she was.”

“So, you’re not going to kill people.”

“I’m not going to kill people,” Sotto Voce said. “It’s not who I am. Besides, most killers are men, anyway.”

I smiled. Then I looked down at creepy telepath fedora guy.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Yeah?” Sotto Voce said. “What?”

“Can I kiss you?” She smiled, then blushed.

“Yeah,” she said.

I pecked her on the lips. It felt nice. Warm. Good.

I went over to try and wake up Cathect. I lightly smacked his cheeks a couple times, but no dice. He was drooling on himself.

“Should we leave him here?” I asked Sotto Voce.

“Nothing else we really can do,” she said. That made sense, so I got up. We walked up the last flight of stairs. Step after step, it was kind of hard. Not because it was that exhausting — I mean I’m not Hercules but I had a pretty good adrenaline rush going — but because I was afraid of what was going on at the 30th floor.

I opened the old, rusty door and walked into the hallway. It smelled clean, but in an awful sort of way. You know how cleaning materials smell so bad? I always wondered about that. I always wondered why clean smelt worse than dirty.

Anyway, I walked down the hallway, the wood panel floor reeking of over-cleanliness. Marquez’s door was at the end of the hallway. The left side was just a boring old wall, but the right side was all glass. I looked down at the city below, at the little specks. Though actually it was pretty rude to call them little specks. They probably would have preferred the term “people.”

It probably wasn’t even fair to call them little specks. I mean, it was obvious to me that they were people. It wasn’t like I was so far up that I literally couldn’t distinguish them from a dot. I don’t know.

Thinking about people while up on high is just a weird thing to do. Even weirder was the naked speck running down the street, holding a sign. I couldn’t read the sign, but it probably didn’t matter. I mean, did anyone really care what the sign said? When you see a naked man running down the street holding a sign, are you really going to try and read what the sign says?

I reached the door. I opened it.

“Oh,” the secretary said. “It’s you again.”

“Yeah,” I said, very surprised to see her there. She was sitting behind the desk, just like the last time I’d seen her. She didn’t look particularly panicked, or anxious, or even different.

I looked over at Sotto Voce, who kind of just stood there, looking back at me. The secretary didn’t acknowledge her.

“What brings you here, again?” she said, sounding annoyed, but not anymore annoyed than last time.

“I’m trying to take down your boss?” I said. “Your evil boss who owns the evil corporation that you work for?”

“Oh, that,” the secretary said. She rolled her eyes and then sighed. “Superheroes.”

I walked closer to the front desk, looking for traps. Or something. Literally, this room didn’t look any different than it had the last time I’d been here.

“You know shit’s going down, right?” I asked. “I don’t want to be, like, a jerk or anything. But you’re acting like nothing has changed.”

She rolled her eyes again. I wondered if I should start keeping count.

“I’ve worked here for seven years,” she said. “You get used to it.”

“Ideaviruses?” I asked. “Evil bosses? Lies, kidnappings, murders?”

“I can’t believe you didn’t see this coming,” she said, shaking her head. That really should have been offensive, but it was hard to see it as offensive when she said it in such a blase sort of way. She pressed a button on her intercom system. “Yeah, Marquez? Yeah, the girl’s here to see you. She brought a friend. So, two girls are here to see you.”

“Which ones?” Marquez’s wife Jane asked.

Which ones?

“Um, I forget the one’s name. Nono?” the secretary said.

Nano,” I said.

“Oh, right,” the secretary said. “I don’t know what emo girl’s name is, but the one I recognize calls herself Nano. Which doesn’t really make much sense. She’s not that small.”

“Yeah, send them in,” Jane said. The secretary lifted her finger off the button.

“You know, nanotechnology?” I said. “Like, I had this suit–”

“Where’s your suit?” she asked.

“It broke.”

“Stupid name,” the secretary said.

“Whatever,” I said, walking towards Marquez’s office, Sotto Voce in tow. “You’re kind of a jerk, anyhow.”

I opened the door to Marquez’s office. Charlie was there, tied to a chair. Marquez sat on her chair, looking straight at me.

“Seriously,” I asked. “Who else would be visiting you right now?”

*THUD*

I turned around and saw Sotto Voce on the floor. Jane was there, dragging Sotto Voce with one hand, and a massive mallet with the other. She wasn’t in her banana outfit.

“Don’t you hurt her,” I said.

“I don’t want to hurt her,” Jane said. She stood next to a second, empty chair and put Sotto Voce in it. She untied the cloak and took it off Sotto Voce. Then she put it on herself.

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