The only sounds come from outside the building—those sounds are louder than they would normally be, due to the gaping hole in the concrete wall. Agent Grant hears sirens, many sirens, as police frantically converge on the scene. He wonders if there are any metahumans in Raleigh who will also respond. He assumes there has to be at least one, what with all the technology in Research Triangle Park, but he’s not familiar with the area.
Doctor AEvil stares at him impassively—he supposes it’s impossible for a hulking suit of powered armor to do anything but stare at him impassively. Grant glares back at the tin suit for all he’s worth.
“Bring him to me,” Doctor AEvil says.
Two of the soldiers step forward, each grabbing one of Grant’s arms, and they drag him over. Grant doesn’t bother resisting. Doctor AEvil is considerably larger up close, and Grant tries to look nonchalant as he glances at the cannon welded to his arm.
Grant thinks he can probably fit his entire arm inside the barrel.
“So…” Doctor AEvil’s voice drops to an even lower pitch. “We amuse you.”
“No,” Grant says. “You don’t amuse me. If you amused me I’d be laughing, slapping you on the back, maybe offering to buy you a drink. What you do is embarrass me. What the fuck are you doing? This is all kinds of stupid.”
“Your laws mean nothing to me,” Doctor AEvil says. “FOR I AM—”
“Jesus, chief, I’m not talking about the laws. You’re a supervillain, I get it. But COME ON. This is penny-ante, romper-room bullshit. You’ve got something that can blow shit up and freeze the tiny bits in mid-air, teleporter beams, what I can only assume are laser guns, and the best you come up with is a painfully stupid name and a plan to go rob a bank?”
“There is nothing wrong with my name!”
“My ass there’s nothing wrong with it,” Grant says. “It’s the kind of name a precocious twelve year old kid picks for an MMO because someone already registered the name he wanted. Fuck you there’s nothing wrong with that name. It’s embarrassing. I gotta believe the guy who got ‘Doctor Evil’ laughs his ass off every time he hears your name.”
“I AM A GENIUS,” Doctor AEvil says. “AND SOON THE WORLD WILL KNOW MY—”
“If you’re such a goddamn genius,” Grant says, “why the fuck did you blow off the side of a building to rob the bank? You’ve got teleporters.”
Doctor AEvil thinks it over.
“I wanted to field test the bomb,” he says.
“You wanted to—” Grant stops, frowns, then shrugs. “OK, that makes more sense than I expected it to. Except that it’s not a bomb, you dumb fuck, it’s a goddamn missile, because it flies through the air under its own power.”
“No,” Doctor AEvil says. “The missile is the delivery system. I didn’t want to field test the delivery system. I already knew that worked. I wanted to test the part that explodes, and that is a bomb.”
Grant opens and closes his mouth multiple times before he gives up. “I guess I gotta let you have that one.”
“Now let us move away from the topic of my name, or my methods,” Doctor AEvil says. “Let us instead discuss why you thought it would be a good idea to mock a heavily armored and heavily armed man who has just taken you captive.”
“OK,” Grant says, “but to do that we’re going to have to go back to the topic of your name and your methods, and probably throw your sense of style into the whole goddamn mix, because it’s exactly this kind of two-bit, half-assed job that really pisses me off.”
“How dare you—”
“Oh shut up. I don’t know how many times I have to say this until you get it. You’re robbing a goddamn bank, sport. That kind of shit went out of style in the 70s. Big leaguers don’t rob banks. People with your kind of tech? If they need money, they hack a system and transfer it into a private account in the Caymans. Or create quantum supercomputers to mine Bitcoin. The point is, the only people who actually rob places these days, are meth addicts and high-class jewel thieves. You cooking in that armor, sport? Because you ain’t a high-class jewel thief.”
“I have my reasons!” Doctor AEvil says. “And I don’t need to explain them to a nobody.”
“Denial. It’s sad to see in what I assume is a fully grown adult,” Grant says. “Though for all I know you really are a precocious ten year old. That would definitely explain the name…”
“Enough!” Doctor AEvil’s voice booms through the room, causing Grant to wince and take an involuntary step back. “I will not be mocked by someone who is clearly my inferior in every way! Choose your next words carefully, sir—they may be your last.”
Grant looks around the room. All eyes are on him. He turns back to Doctor AEvil and shrugs.
“Fire in the hole?”
The room explodes. Again.
* * *
“Seriously, Pete, Doctor AEvil? Who the fuck names themselves that?”
Their car is parked in a dead-end alley twelve blocks away from the bank. They can hear sirens rush past as law enforcement races to the scene, but the alley is practically hidden from the rest of the world. Travers isn’t happy about it being a dead end, and Grant can’t really blame him for that, but it means that people who know their way around the city—specifically cops—won’t bother using it.
Grant and Travers are quickly unloading the trunk, dumping luggage as they try to clear enough space to open the spare tire well.
“Hu certainly packed a lot of luggage,” Travers says.
“Most of that is mine,” Grant says.
“Oh…” Travers coughs, embarrassed. “How many black suits do you need?”
“All of them, Travers… but that’s not the point. Have you ever even heard of this guy?”
They finally get to the tire well. Grant starts unscrewing the heavy iron screw that keeps it shut.
“No,” Travers says. “Believe me, if I ever heard of a guy calling himself ‘Doctor AEvil,’ I’d remember it.”
“Well I can’t figure it out,” Grant says. “The tech he has… teleporters aren’t cheap, and these weren’t run-of-the-mill. Plus the weird-ass missile that shouldn’t work? And the Buck Rogers laser gun shit? The guy probably isn’t in the highest tiers—not like Gladiator or Sentinel or Overmind, or anyone like that—but he’s still a notch or two above Sky Commando, which is pretty sweet in its own right.”
“What’s to figure out?” The screw finally works free, and Travers helps Grant pry open the lid that separates the trunk from the spare tire well. “This Doctor AEvil is unknown, but smart.”
“Come on, Pete, you’re not thinking this through.” Grant reaches down into the tire well, grabs the side handle of a large, rugged crate, and starts pulling. “Gimme a hand here. No, the problem isn’t his gear, it’s what he’s doing with it.”
Travers puts his knees up on the rear bumper to allow him to lean farther into the trunk so he can help Grant pull. “Ah. The bank robbery.”
“Yeah…” The edge of the crate clears the spare tire well, and they quickly pull the rest out and open the top.
The crate is full of weapons.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Grant says. “It’s not even a main branch. Hell, Travers, it probably cost more to build one of those crazy impossible missiles than the bank has on hand. There’s no practical reason for him to show up and stir the shit like that.”
“Maybe that’s not the practical reason,” Travers says.
“I don’t follow.” Grant starts pulling out various weapons—nothing lethal, Travers notices—and stuffing them into his pockets.
“Maybe it’s a distraction. Maybe he wants everyone looking at him while something important happens somewhere else.”
“Maybe,” Grant says, “but he gets really pissed off every time I make fun of his name.”
“Ah,” Travers says. “Well, maybe he’s just an idiot.”
Grant laughs. “That’s where I’m putting my money down. OK, I gotta go. Looks like the fun is about to start.”
With that, the outline around Grant blurs, and Travers is alone in the alley.
* * *
When Agent Hu first discovered her abilities, she mastered most of the aspects of control relatively quickly. Once she entered her burning state, most of her ability to control the flame she generated was instinctive—it was part of her body, and was no different to her than flexing an arm or a leg.
The process of moving from a non-burning state to a burning state—a transformation she refers to as “lighting up”—was another matter entirely. The first time she triggered her powers she exploded like a fuel-air explosive, incinerating most of the junkyard she was standing in at the time. Controlling the overpressure she generates when she lights up is something she struggled with for a long time.
She doesn’t struggle with it now.
One second she’s an Asian woman sitting alone cross-legged on a cold tile floor. When Grant says “fire in the hole,” she explodes into a being of living, solid flame. The blast immediately knocks three soldiers off their feet, and staggers two more. Everyone turns to face her as she rises into the air, the flames around her burning white-hot as she surveys the room.
That’s when Grant drops the flashbang grenade.
His form blurs for a moment, then he drops something to the floor, then he blurs again as he disappears. The painfully bright light and sound cause the four soldiers who were guarding him to stagger, one falling to his knees and one completely losing his balance and falling over. Doctor AEvil appears unaffected, and turns away from Hu to see his men falling over each other.
Grant appears behind three soldiers, dropping a cylinder to the floor.
Grant appears in front of a soldier standing guard at the fire exit.
Hu reaches out with one hand, and a bright thread of fire corkscrews through the air.
The mini-stuckey spreads out across the floor, miring the soldiers in knee-deep, fast-drying polymer. Grant jams a cattle prod into the side of the soldier at the fire exit—the armor is apparently not grounded, and the soldier slumps to the ground, twitching.
Hu guides the thread of fire as it cuts a line from her position to the fire exit, separating most of the soldiers—all but the one guard Grant took down—from the civilians. She concentrates, and the thread grows into a thin, burning wall of flame.
One of the soldiers caught in the stuckey drops his rifle. The other two raise theirs, aiming at Hu. Grant appears in front of them, shoves each in the chestplate, then disappears again. They both topple over backward.
The sudden appearance of a flaming wall causes panic to set in on both sides. Grant throws open the fire exit, yells “this way!” and the civilians surge toward him, not quite trampling each other in their effort to get out. Lester, of all people, tries to keep them calm and organize their evacuation. The soldiers who are still on the floor scramble to get away from the flame. Even the soldiers who are still untouched are distracted by it.
But there are more than just soldiers in the room.
Oh, crap. I forgot about
A flash of blinding light and heat thoooms through the air as energy from Doctor AEvil’s gun smashes into Hu’s burning form, sending her flying into the ceiling. Broken bits of charred ceiling paneling fall to the tile floor as Hu melts a trough across the ceiling that reaches the far wall, where she finally falls back onto the tile floor.
The wall of fire disappears, of course. She has to concentrate to maintain it. It doesn’t matter at this point—it bought Grant enough time to get the civilians moving.
Doctor AEvil’s gun is powerful—she actually felt it, and it hurt. It could potentially cause her significant damage, if he manages to hit her like that a few more times. She picks herself off the floor, then races through the air, straight at him.
The soldiers who aren’t incapacitated focus on her as the threat, and start shooting their fancy rifles in her direction. This is good—it means they’re ignoring the civilians. They don’t shoot lasers, but they do shoot energy of some kind. They do nothing while she’s in her fire form—the hits barely register as she smashes into Doctor AEvil.
Hu’s moving fast, but she still has her original mass—Doctor AEvil staggers back, but doesn’t fall. She grabs the cannon strapped to his arm.
Another flashbang goes off to her left, and
another to her right, as Grant steps up his game. She hears the cattle prod again, and a perfectly modulated shriek as another soldier falls.
She focuses on the cannon, pouring heat into the point where the gun connects to the arm.
Hu thinks she hears a note of panic in Doctor AEvil’s perfectly modulated voice. She ignores him, focusing on the cannon.
“I said STOP!”
Hu flies through the air as Doctor AEvil throws her off. He raises his cannon.
“Not this time,” Hu snarls.
Fire erupts from her and rushes toward the armored figure, engulfing him. Doctor AEvil backs up quickly, trying to evade the flame, but Hu simply wills it to follow him. Finally in desperation he raises the cannon again and…
…then he stops, stumbles once, and falls over. He doesn’t move.
Hu floats over to Doctor AEvil’s unmoving form. “Need to check the heat tolerances on that armor.”
“They also need to put more padding in their helmets,” Grant says, walking up beside her to look down at the scorched armor lying motionless on the floor. “You know every time I hit one over the head it was instant lights out? Like pressing a magic button. If I’d known that I wouldn’t have brought the cattle prod.”
“Only counted you in three places,” Hu says. “Slacking off?”
Grant shakes his head. “I was also getting the security footage and making a safe path for the civilians. And I’m down a point.”
“This is the police!” A megaphone blares from somewhere outside, just out of sight of the gaping hole in the bank’s wall. “Come out with your hands up!”
“Oh for…” Grant shakes his head, blurs for an instant, then throws a fireproofed duffel bag on the ground at Hu’s feet. “Robert Palmer.” Then he’s gone again.
Robert Palmer. They relocated to the alley. Hu picks up the bag, looks around the bank once, then flies through the hole in the wall, over the heads of the growing police presence, and far enough away to foil pursuit. It was going to take a while to properly sync up with Grant and Travers. A lot of walking…
It’ll have to be walking, Hu thinks. I never did get the money.