Curveball Issue One: Death of a Hero

Part Two: Curveball

Afternoon sunlight streams through the Gothic windows in the bank lobby, highlighting motes of dust swirling through the air. CB stifles a yawn and waits, mostly patiently, in the cavernous room’s only line. It looks more like a church than a bank, and some might consider that appropriate—a church to Mammon, perhaps.

“Here comes trouble…”

CB looks over his shoulder and grins at the smiling, elderly man in the security uniform. “Heya Frank.”

“Back again,” Frank says. “I told myself ‘it’s the third Thursday of the month. That young fella should be in today.’ And don’t you know it, here you are.”

“You know me pretty well, Frank.”

“I know all the regulars.” Frank is obviously proud of this fact. “They never surprise me. Not any more. For example, I’d bet money you’re going to refuse to open an account. Again.”

CB laughs. “That’s money you’d win. Just here to cash a check…”

“Every month,” Frank says. “Just here to cash a check. And you get off the bus to do it! Don’t they have banks where you live?”

“I don’t live in a good neighborhood,” CB says.

Frank grins broadly. “Then you should open an account. Keep your money in the bank instead of carrying it in your pockets all the time. It’s safer.”

“I’m OK,” CB says.

“Well, it’s a new girl today. Just started last week. She’s going to try to talk you into opening an account.”

“Is she now?” CB grins again. “Is she pretty?”

“She’s married.”

“I might let her talk me into it if she’s pretty.”

“You leave that poor girl alone. She’s sweet.” Frank shakes his head, torn between amusement and disapproval.

CB shrugs. “Guess I’ll just cash my check, then. Keep holding out for the girl of my dreams.”

“Girl of your dreams?” Frank asks. “What kind of girl would that be?”

“Depends on what I ate the night before…”

Frank laughs.

The line moves up one spot. CB yawns again, then grins at the woman in front of him, who tries to pretend she wasn’t glancing furtively in his direction. He doesn’t look like your typical bank patron: matted, spiky hair, a day’s growth of beard, trenchcoat, heavy boots and a Clash t-shirt make him look more like someone intending to rob it.

He briefly considers trying to strike up a conversation with the woman, just to see exactly how uncomfortable he can make her, but the thought of the effort involved makes him tired. He sighs, slips on his earbuds, and chooses a random track from his iPod. He closes his eyes, lets the screeching vocals of the Hives surround him, and is completely oblivious when the front of the bank explodes.

The front wall blows inward, showering the patrons with a hailstorm of concrete rock, shards of glass, and a powdery mixture of both. Larger pieces of concrete litter the front of the lobby like man-made boulders; exposed support beams twist out from the intact portions of the wall like bonsai trees.

The line dissolves as people scatter, shrieking and yelling in alarm. Some hide behind desks or booths, others run to the restrooms or look for the back exit. Frank runs to a man half-pinned under a broken concrete slab and tries to push the slab away; he’s too old, it’s too large.

Dozens of silhouettes appear in the billowing cloud of concrete dust. Moments later they emerge: soldiers in gold armor, carrying rifles of unknown design and wearing gold helmets that obscure their faces entirely. They begin shouting commands in perfectly modulated tones, separating the frightened patrons into small, manageable groups against three remaining walls. Frank is forced away from the man he’s trying to help, stripped of his sidearm and herded into one of the groups. More men in gold armor appear, pulling large, floating containers behind them.

CB wonders how Pelle Almqvist manages to get his voice to sound like that. It sounds amazing.

Frank does his best to calm the hostages, but he’s only one man. They’re in various stages of distress: some, tight-faced and unblinking, manage to hold it together. Others are hysterical: a small girl is screaming uncontrollably at the sight of a man with his face covered in cuts, a byproduct of all the glass flying through the air moments before. They’re superficial wounds, but the girl doesn’t know that—to her the man is bleeding to death and nobody cares.

CB inhales dust and coughs. He frowns, wonders why the room smells like burning cinderblock, and opens one eye. His frown deepens, and he opens his other eye. He looks around the room, sighs slightly, and reaches into one of his trenchcoat pockets. He pulls out a carton of cigarettes.

The gold figures—CB automatically classifies them as “minions”—are going from group to group, going through the personal belongings of each adult hostage, collecting driver’s licenses and taking down names when a driver’s license isn’t available. CB rhythmically beats the back of his carton, watching the soldiers go about their work, idly wondering why none of them have noticed him yet.

At that moment, one of the soldiers notices him. He barks out an order, and three more advance on CB, weapons drawn.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

CB looks at the soldier asking the question; the phrase Disco Stormtrooper flashes through his mind. He manages to keep a straight face.

“Packing,” he says. “Makes it taste better.”

“Get out of the way,” another says, and gestures with his rifle.

CB flips open the top of the carton and pulls out a cigarette. “Nah.”

The soldier hesitates. “Get out of the way,” he repeats, obviously hoping for a different response.

CB shrugs. “I’d rather wait for your boss. You do have one, right? I’m assuming you do, since you’re all wearing the same uniform, and you don’t seem to have a hive mind—”

The floor trembles as a massive silhouette looms in the gaping hole where a bank wall used to stand. Easily ten feet tall and three times wider than a full-grown man, it’s a hulking construct of gold-tinted steel and polymer. A large, still-smoking gun is affixed to its right arm—similar in design to the rifles the soldiers carry, but significantly larger.

“Do not move!” The figure’s voice is modulated and artificial, similar to the soldiers’ voices but significantly deeper in pitch. “This bank is currently under my possession. It will be released when we take what we need. Obey Doctor AEvil and live!”

CB rolls his eyes. The soldiers facing him thrust their rifles out menacingly. CB ignores them, places the filter of a cigarette between his lips, and fishes around his pockets for a lighter.

“You!” The soldier’s voice is even louder. “Get over against the wall. NOW!”

“Can’t.” CB pulls out a silver Zippo from his pocket. The movement makes one of the soldiers twitch nervously, but none of them fire. “Doctor ‘AEvil’ over there told us not to move. I think he outranks you.”

The soldier hesitates. “Do not move!”

“Well, I have to move a little…” CB flips open the Zippo, producing a tiny, orange flame. He brings the lighter up to the end of his cigarette and inhales sharply. The cherry glows bright orange, and with a second flip the lighter is doused. “Autonomic whatsits and other bodily functions, right? I mean, you wouldn’t want us to drop dead. That would make the hostage negotiation portion of your evening a real drag.”

“What is this?” Doctor AEvil notices the soldiers surrounding the lone man in the middle of the lobby and advances on them. The ground shakes with each step. “Why isn’t this man contained against the wall?”

The soldiers hesitate again. “You…”

“Not their fault,” CB says. “They were telling me to move when you told everyone not to move. I figured you were the guy I should be listening to. Am I right? Doctor… AEvil, is it?”

A burst of modulated noise that might have been a garbled harrumph emerges from a grille positioned on the helmet that roughly approximates the location of a mouth. CB can see a speaker vibrating behind the grille. “Yes. I am Doctor AEvil. And SOON THE WORLD WILL—”

“Will what?” CB takes a drag from his cigarette, casually blowing smoke in the direction of one of the soldiers. “Tremble in fear? Fear that name? No, wait, don’t tell me. I think I have this figured out.”

Ignoring the soldiers, he walks up to the hulking armored figure, gesturing with his lit cigarette. “They mocked you. They called you mad. They told you not to meddle in forces humanity didn’t understand. They tried to ruin you—ruin you! But you swore, you swore you’d show them, you’d show them all! … am I close?”

Doctor AEvil’s helmet swivels down to regard him. “Who are you?”

“Don’t get me wrong,” CB says, “I’m not, you know, mocking you. I appreciate when a guy has a grasp of the classics. I know some think they’re old hat, but me, I think it’s damned refreshing to meet someone who’s rejected the whole postmodern, angst-ridden personae and gone straight for revenge as a motivator. But… robbing a bank? Seriously? A scientist? Shouldn’t you be constructing a death ray, or a killer robot?”

Doctor AEvil stares down at CB in silence.

“Or something?”

Doctor AEvil considers the question. “Science is… expensive.”

“Well, I’ll have to grant you that one,” CB says. “And again I have to compliment you on the practicality of your motives. We’re not brooding, we’re not working through daddy issues, we’re just solving a problem. Science is expensive, so we rob a bank. That pretty much paints the entire picture. Except for the name thing.”

“What about my name?” If it’s possible for a modulated, electronic voice to sound stiff and defensive, Doctor AEvil manages to pull it off.

“Well, come on. ‘AEvil?’ You were so fixated on ‘Doctor Evil’ that you just couldn’t let it go? I mean, it’s better than DocEvil666 or xXxDoctorEvilxXx—going with the diphthong is creative, I’ll grant you that—but why not ‘Doctor Destroyer?’ Or ‘Doctor Destruction?’ Or something else entirely? And why is ‘evil’ so important, anyway? I mean, so far I see greed and a desire for revenge. That’s a little on the selfish side, but—”

“DO NOT MOCK ME!” Doctor AEvil bellows. “Tell me who you are at once!”

CB shrugs. “Everyone calls me CB. Pleasure’s all mine, by the way. I like your armor. Big. Got a mecha kind of vibe, am I right? Gold is a nice touch, though. Most guys would go with gray, or crimson red, or maybe olive green. The gold definitely makes it more… sciency.”

“Hey, feller.” CB and Doctor AEvil turn to face Frank, who’s standing apart from the rest of his group and frowning at CB. “You’re not allowed to smoke in here.”

CB raises an eyebrow. “Really, Frank? Is that the biggest violation of bank rules you see in this room right now?”

Frank shakes his head. “No, but I figure it’s the one I can do something about.”

CB laughs. “Fair enough. I’ll get rid of it.” He turns back to Doctor AEvil. “Frank’s had a rough day. I figure he deserves a little consideration on my part, you know? The thing is, though…” CB looks around casually. “I don’t see any ash trays in here. Probably because it’s a smoke-free building, right? But… well. I don’t suppose you’d let me go outside to put it out?”

Doctor AEvil doesn’t reply.

“Right. That’s what I thought.” CB sighs. “Oh well, I guess it’s a flip of the coin, then.”

He flicks his wrist, and the still-lit cigarette flies straight up into the air, sailing up to the ceiling with unusual speed, where it embeds itself in one of the ceiling-mounted sprinklers.

CB whistles. “I never did that before. That’s a first for me. I mean, I know it doesn’t reach the level of designing powered armor or putting together a small army to rob banks with, but hey, I gotta take my kudos where I can, you know?”

CB winks. Somewhere in the lobby, something makes a small popping sound. Seconds later the ceiling sprinklers activate, dousing the lobby in water.

The minute water hits Doctor AEvil’s gun it sparks. CB casually steps back as a shower of sparks erupt from the barrel, transforming it into an elaborate sparkler. Doctor AEvil shouts in alarm, starts to turn, then stops cold. A puff of smoke emerges from the back of the armor; Doctor AEvil stands stone-still, frozen in place.

The soldiers stare in mute amazement at Doctor AEvil’s now-motionless form. The sprinklers stop, and for a few seconds the only sound in the room is the soft, rhythmic dripping of condensation falling from the ceiling to the floor.

CB grins.

“Get him!” One of the soldiers takes command of the situation and raises his rifle, taking aim. CB winks. Something pops, then the soldier’s rifle erupts in a shower of sparks. The soldier jumps back, throwing the rifle down in alarm. It begins to spin on the ground like one of the fancier fireworks you can buy on holidays.

CB runs back to where he’d stood in line, passing the three soldiers who originally accosted him. They stare at him, unmoving, then as the other soldiers begin to open fire they start after him. CB crouches into a slide as bolts of energy streak above him. The soldiers are shooting at him freely, and the rifles are definitely a cut above the norm.

He slides under one of the velvet ropes set up to corral patrons into a single open line. He falls to his knees and leans back, letting the rope pass over him like a limbo pole; as he slides under he reaches up, grabs the rope by the middle, and jerks sharply. The weighted posts wobble, and CB twists around, comes up to one knee, then stands. A bolt of energy severs the rope from the right post, streaks by CB with only inches to spare, and leaves a scorch mark on the far wall.

CB jerks on the rope a second time. The remaining post revolves around its base in a wide circle, tips over, and knocks into a second. That post falls, and its rope goes taut as it pulls the third post down, right into the path of the first soldier. He trips, gets tangled in the rope, and falls on his face. The impact reverberates through the room with a loud clang.

The second soldier tries to sidestep the first. CB winks, and the first soldier twitches, kicking one of the fallen posts. It spins around in place and stops directly beneath the second soldier’s foot as it comes down. He trips, turns, and falls backward on another velvet rope, pulling both of its weighted posts directly on his helmet. A second, deafening clang fills the room. He twitches, then lies still.

“Boss skimped on the padding, didn’t he?” CB casually kicks a third weighted post over. As it falls, it drags the second post down, and the velvet rope tangles itself around another weighted post, which also falls. The cascading effect resembles a very complicated combination of dominoes and cirque du soleil, ending in the third soldier getting hopelessly ensnared in four separate velvet ropes wrapped completely around him.

The room is silent.

CB frowns. The room shouldn’t be silent. He vaguely remembers people shooting at him, and wonders why it stopped. Looking around, he realizes the other soldiers have been overpowered, immobilized, and disarmed by the bank patrons. The patrons begin to cheer as they realize they helped stop a bank robbery.

CB grins, runs his fingers through his hair to try to salvage what he can of his spike, then walks up to the teller’s booth where a young, pretty woman stands gaping at the scene.

“’Scuse me, miss,” CB says, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a slightly damp check, “I know you’ve been through a lot, and I suppose it’s a little inconvenient right now, but do you think you could cash this for me? I could really use the dough…”

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1 comment

Rezonan 6 November 2023 at 6:30 PM

Excited to read this


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