Chapter 10: Devolution, Part Seven
I number everything, if you havent noticed. I rank everything, chart everything, because thats how I grew up, thats what makes it easy for me. We all have our little systems to make things less sharp, to numb the pain of an overwhelming world.
My most common number for ranking and charting is five, with one always being the least and five being the most.
Even my gauntlets have five settings, with one being stun and five being Well, you saw what happened to the Grizzly. Five will blow the door off a vault.
It only bothers me to a level three that Im about to die, most likely in a rather painful manner.
It bothers me on a level four that I dragged Aleksei, my best friend, into this with me, and now hell die, too.
What bothers on a level five is that I have:
1) no idea when Bullseye actually entered the room, and
2) no idea where the rocket that hit Aleksei came from.
But I suppose those sort of questions are commonplace when you get up to Bullseyes level. This is one of the Big Guns, a super-villain on an international scale; guys like Green Goblin, Sabretooth, Abomination, they might be seriously scary dudes, but Bullseye?
Statistically, youve got a better chance surviving a one-on-one throwdown with Galactus than fucking Bullseye.
Lets start on the assassination street cred, first off: forty-nine politicians, five dictators, thirty-nine superheroes, a rumored tally of over nine hundred military and law enforcement officials worldwide over the past twenty years.
How, you say? Hows he gone so long without getting caught?
Well, he hasnt. He does get caught. Gets caught a fair amount, really.
But then he just kills everybody and leaves.
Hes got adamantium-laced bones, a black belt in just about every form of martial arts, and, did I mention, anything, to him, is a weapon. Anything.
I heard he once killed a guy with a paper clip.
Like I said, a seriously scary dude.
And he wont miss. He NEVER misses. Never has. Not once. Ever.
At least, thats what everybody says.
Everybody he HASNT killed.
Aleksei coughs and starts to stand up.
RHINO! I scream. COVER YOUR FUCKING FACE!
Aleksei does as hes told, and not a second too soon; five knives hit the back of his hands as they go over the front of that big gray head of his.
Bullseye laughs, and then hurls a knife through Felicias palm as she reaches for something in her bedside dresser drawer, pinning her hand to the wall. Felicia screams, and a torrent of red starts to leak down the wallpaper.
I stand up, and he punches me right the fuck back down. My nose feels like its splitting my face in half.
Bullseye laughs again.
Its not a crazy laugh, like the Green Goblins. Or a hollow, victory laugh like Doc Ocks, or even a cruel laugh, like Kingpins.
No, not at all.
Its completely sincere. A laugh of simple, childish glee. He loves this. Loves it.
You guys are feistier than I expected, he says, pulling a handful of steel ball-bearings out of one of the pouches around his waist. Schultz, why dont you just save me some by giving up. Punch yourself in the face once for yes, twice for no.
Dont do it! Its a trick! Aleksei yells helpfully from the next room. Bullseye laughs again, and I throw all my strength into diving at him; he easily side-steps, and then kicks me in the ass, sending me tumbling into the bathroom. I hit the shower door; shes got one of those free-standing porno showers, all glass, and I feel it shatter on my forehead. Bullseye smiles at me from the bedroom as I lie there in the shards, beaten in three fucking moves.
Be right with you, buddy. He slams the door closed.
I hear Felicia screaming.
Here is whats going to happen. Hes going to murder Felicia in some absolutely horrific manner. Then hes going to kill poor Aleksei, because hell drop his hands, somehow, hell drop his hands, and then, hell come in here and kill me, too.
What is FPS?
Back when I was a super-villain, I had a kind of neat thing going; no matter how many times people would shoot at me, try to stab me, hit me with shit, I knew I wasnt going to die, I KNEW it, and Ill tell you why: Because if youre a super-villain, and someone takes you down, 99.9 of the time its going to be a superhero. And 99.5 of superheroes wont kill you.
Not counting the X-Men teams, of course, because those fuckers are positively homicidal.
But in general, a superhero will only give you pain. Lots of it, but youll still be alive to know who hurt you.
Thats not true when youre dealing with super-villains.
Ravage? Venom? Grizzly? Those motherfuckers were trying to KILL me.
And now, Bullseye is going to murder me, and no one will
I glance to the left, rubbing glass fragments out of my eyes, and stop dead.
Look at that. Another one of those moments where I think God might exist, before logic wins out:
Sitting on the sink, neatly folded in Alekseis characteristic obsessive style, is my VibroShock torso and mask.
He mustve been trying to wash it in the sink, the big stupid beautiful
Oh, my babies, my babies, they look so beautiful there on the black tile.
Theres an enormous crash and the whole apartment building shakes, and I know that Bullseye just put a hurt on Aleksei.
Felicia screams again.
The mask, the suit and the gauntlets are on in six seconds flat.
Adamantium bones. Adamantium. If I pull this off, its gonna be fucking classic.
On maximum power, the blast doesnt just blow the bathroom door off its hinges.
It blows out the whole fucking wall.
Im starting to value that What the hell? look; I used to only see it geriatric bank guards, but now Ive seen it on cops, villains, hey, even Spider-Man.
On Bullseye its absolutely gorgeous, his frantic, last-second attempt to hide it just makes it even better, and the fact that hes covered in broken bits of plaster and insulation from the destroyed wall puts the cherry on top. He pops up from where he was sticking long needles into Felicias throat, and hurls the ball-bearings at me; they all hit me in the neck, but the suit shakes off the impacts. I throw a hand out behind me and hit a low-level blast off the marble, using my other hand to switch off my stabilizers.
The intended result was a shock-jump; when Im lucky, I can use the gauntlets to throw myself dozens of meters through the air. My idea was to tackle Bullseye, but in my haste all I accomplish is sending myself flying into the wall above Felicias bed. I bounce off, and try to make it look intentional, but Bullseye is already up, unsheathing a machete.
Felicia kicks him in the wrist, and his hand pops open. He drops the machete, but then snatches it out of the air, slices the tendon at the back of her ankle, all in one smooth motion, and then smashes the blade into the side of my head.
It bounces off like a kid on a trampoline, vibrated right out of his hand.
No dice, asshole, I say, and try to vibro-punch him in the face. He ducks under it, and kick-sweeps my legs out from under me, flipping me flat on my back.
The bruises from the computer-fall scream in agony, and Im back on my feet in time to get whacked in the jaw with a telescoping billy-club. As always, the impact is dissipated almost instantly, but the push of the blow knocks me back into one of the rooms two remaining intact walls.
Bullseyes arm waves out in front of him, and I see a handful of small, shiny objects flash through the air, landing all over my torso. Bullseye yanks his hand back, closing it into a fist.
I notice dozens of thin, metallic wires going taut between me and the Worlds Deadliest Assassin.
Wh? I say, and then I feel a bizarre tugging sensation; its like the skin of my upper body is trying to pull itself off. The tug yanks me face-first into the ground, and Bullseye stomps the back of my head, my forehead coming down so hard it tears the carpeting. But the suit handles that. What it doesnt handle is my ahem nose, which again explodes in agony; hes cracking my head into pieces. I feel the tug again, lifting me up, but he stomps me back down.
You like em? Bullseye says, laughing. Tinkerer made then for me. He calls them null hooks, he said theyd go through your suit, and lookee here. He yanks them again, and I feel them sink into my skin beneath the suit. Looks like the old guys still got it, eh? My first instinct is to vibrate the suit, but I know thatll only make it worse; maybe vibrate them straight into my organs.
At first, Bullseye says, smiling, standing on my back and pulling as hard as he can on the hooks. At first, old Phineas was a little hesitant, but once wed given him the challenge of cracking through that suit of yours, he warmed right up. Said hed been waiting for a challenge, and
Felicia smashes him in the face with the bedpost shed been handcuffed to, and then wraps the cuffs around his throat, using her superhuman strength to swing him to his knees. Within seconds Bullseye slides through her legs, pops up behind her and buries two screwdrivers (from his pouches, of course) down into her shoulders, and it must screw up some muscles, because her arms suddenly go limp.
Using the screwdrivers as handles, he swings her around from behind and smashes her face into the wall, cracking the plaster.
I shout something that sounds like GRAWL and tackle him around the waist. He slides out like a goddamn fish, and grabs a handful of the cords, attached to the hooks, still lodged in my suit.
Goddamn it, forgot about those.
He swings me around, me stumbling haphazardly like a roped cow, and then yanks me up off the ground by the hooks.
I feel them rip through my skin, my suit, my (few) muscles.
As you can imagine, its not pleasant.
Bullseye laughs, but abruptly stops laughing when Aleksei comes crashing through the remaining interior wall, and shoulder-tackles Bullseyes cocky ass through the fucking wall out into the air above the street.
At first Im like, three cheers for Rhino, right?
And then I remember the hooks.
Im yanked up into the air, out the enormous hole in the wall, a few of the hooks tearing themselves free as I fall twenty-five feet out of the second floor of Felicias brownstone apartment into the rose bushes.
I struggle into a kind of gorilla half-stand, and watch as my friend gets his ass handed to him by a man less than half his size.
Its a sickening thing to watch; while I was in the bathroom, Bullseye must have done something horrible to Alekseis eyes, because theyre dripping blood and tears, and Rhino is swinging like a drunk elephant, hitting everything BUT Bullseye.
Come on, you bloomin idiot! Bullseye says, tapping the bulls-eye symbol on his forehead. RIGHT HERE! Its easy! RIGHT HERE!
Aleksei roars in rage, throwing all his weight into a haymaker. Bullseye ducks out of the way, and Rhino ploughs into a moving truck. The assassin pops up and buries a knife into my friends face, right down through the size of his nose, through the roof of his mouth.
That motherfucker. Nobody hurts Aleksei like that and gets away with it.
Not even bad-ass rocketfuck bleeding-edge Bullseye.
Hey, donkeypunch! I scream at him. Bullseye turns, and somehow manages to dodge seven consecutive shock-blasts, rolling, ducking and dodging like an acrobat; the blasts end up eviscerating the street, doing hundreds of thousands in property damage and even managing to vibrate a couple of pedestrians out of their shoes.
Bullseye lands on his feet in front of me, still smiling that crazy smile.
Say, Herman he says, juking and jiving around more of my impotent attempts to punch him. I dont suppose that suit of yours is fireproof?
He smashes what looks like a tinsel Christmas ornament against my chest, and suddenly my entire body is ablaze.
As a matter of fact, I say, cocking back a fist, it is.
I feel the auto-coolants spray out Freon from their pads under my armpits and around my waist.
Bullseye starts to reach into one of his pouches, and
Finally, I land a punch, a good one, too; fist vibrating on a level two, spins him around like a goddamn top.
But he grabs one of the hook-lines from hanging from my mask (the hook itself in my left earlobe) he tugs it with him as he falls.
I hear the rip almost inside my eardrum, and the reality of whats just happened overtakes me.
Not only am I now maskless, leaving me completely vulnerable to Bullseyes twisted array of armament.
I also am minus one ear.
I just lost an entire ear.
I only have one ear now.
Im still stuck on this when Bullseye hits me in the face with that damn telescoping billy club again, and I go down to my knees. On my left is Aleksei, gargling out moans through a swamp of blood and tissue, clutching at the knife in his face, his big eyes wide.
My head swims from the concussion.
This is going to be my only chance.
Im sorry, Aleksei.
I yank the knife out of Alekseis face and swing it up into the upper part of Bullseyes left arm, vibrating the blade like an electric razor, allowing me to slough off a good half-pound of flesh.
Blood sprays everywhere, but Bullseye just lets out a sour little grunt. His bone is exposed, and something in me cant believe it.
I just won. The fight is over.
What was that, Shocker? he says, sneering. What were you trying to prove?
I was trying I say, breathing hard, to break your arm.
Adamantium bones, idiot, he says, tapping his exposed metallic humerus bone through the wound on his arm. They dont break.
I grin, though he cant see it through the mask, and at this point my face is so swollen up itd be hard to tell what my expression is anyway.
Time to give him a lesson in vibronics.
Byron MacLain invented Adamantium in 1941 on commission from the U.S. government, which was looking for a new super-metal with which to fuel the soon-to-be-needed American war machine.
Bullseye laughs, and squats down next to me.
I guess you beat me at Trivial Pursuit, Schultz. Whats your point?
They turned it down, I say, my head spinning, every single thought struggling to focus through the concussion on what Im about to do. See, even though it was practically indestructible, it had a weakness. A big, fat, glaring weakness.
Bullseye looks at me, and then smirks.
Oh? he says slowly. Hes loving this. He thinks Im just ranting.
He thinks this is funny.
Adamantium is based on a rare composite metal called Wakandan Vibranium. I look up at him, squinting in the midday sunlight. Can you guess why its called Vibranium, fuckwit?
Bullseyes body suddenly tenses up, but its waaaay too late.
I jump up and grab him by the arm, digging my thumb into the wound, pressing it against the cool metal bone.
No, Bullseye says, his eyes wide.
Oh, yes, I say, and toggle the suits vibrate function to Level 4.
Welcome to the shake, you evil bastard.
GRZKRIZTHGVRMAOZZRZITKZZZDXOERIPQUZCZ. Says Bullseye, the Worlds Greatest Assassin.
His bones vibrate like blunt jackhammers inside his body.
Theres a weird visual distortion around him, like hes a dozen places at once, like spring snapping back into place. BOI-YOY-YOY-YOING!
After five seconds I let go, and Bullseye drops face-first to the ground, convulsing, vomiting like a fountain. I crawl on top of him, and tear off that stupid black mask of his. Turns out Bullseye is a weasely, pale guy with too-sharp features and a white-blond crewcut.
He looks like a jackal.
I kneel there staring at him, and then notice hes going for a buzzsaw blade on his belt.
Enough of this shit.
I take a handful of the white-blond hair, and smash his face into the pavement while I vibrate his head at level 3; the result is a Bullseyes-Head-Shaped crater about four inches deep.
He rolls over, lets out a crazed growl-grunt and haphazardly swings a knife up out of his sleeve, slicing me on the cheek.
You missed! RIGHT HERE! RIGHT HERE, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE! I say, tapping my forehead, and punch him in the face as hard as I can.
And again and again and again and again and
Aleksei grabs my arm, and its like its caught in a vise.
Hrmun, Aleksei says thickly. Stuhp, yur kuhling him.
Herman, stop, youre killing him.
Hes right, I am; his face is just a swamp of blood and torn skin. His right arm looks like spaghetti, the bone shattered into millions of needle fragments. His shoulder doesnt look much better. The occasional geyser of bloody vomit still rushes out of his mouth; apparently he had eggs for breakfast. Aleksei pulls me off with one hand, the other cupping the blood gushing out of his face.
Even losing blood by the gallon, the big jerk is still my conscience.
Wuh guhda ged owda hurh. Aleksei moans, and points at the distant glare of red and blue lights, visible even in the day.
Youre right. At this, he sets me down. The puncture on his face is genuinely horrific; we need to get him to a Villain Doctor, pronto.
Felicia. Oh, God, Felicia.
Rhino, get the Black Cat, I say, harsher than I mean to. Aleksei complies anyway, lumbering off towards the destroyed brownstone; taking orders, he always says, is what he does best.
Son of a bitch, I hurt. The FPS thing will have to wait, I can barely fucking stand.
I notice Bullseyes mask on the sidewalk, and pick it up, showing it him through his two black-eyes.
See this? I say, as the sirens get louder, and turn the vibro-unit on my glove up to five, shaking the bullet-proof fabric apart, dissolving it into dozens of thin strands. I drop them on his face. Dont you FUCK with me. Got it?
Bullseye makes this kind of hacking sound, and it takes me a second to realize its a distorted version of his gleeful, happy laugh.
Hes laughing at me.
Even if I beat him, Im still a joke, Im still nothing nobody pathetic stupid sick little Herman Schultz down in the basement of my fathers house, and hes laughing at me.
Like the cops laugh at me.
Like all the other villains laugh at me.
Like Spider-Man laughs at me.
STOP LAUGHING AT ME! I scream, again in a childs pleading way rather than a rage-filled adults.
He hikes up the laughter.
I act on impulse, but its an intentional impulse, something Ive thought secretly about doing to a person ever since I first started looking into the science of vibration at age ten.
I grab Bullseyes crotch and hit a level three through my glove.
The pavement under his ass cracks like a jackhammer just hit it, and for a second Bullseyes legs spasm straight up in the air.
The laughter stops, and Bullseyes eyes nearly pop out of their sockets. Hes doing this crazy silent scream thing, the muscles on his neck so tensed they look like theyre going to snap.
I stand up, looking down at him.
All in all, hes handling this better than I would; I mean, shit, if someone vibro-exploded my penis and testicles, Id probably just die.
Hes managing this whole sort of traumatized-child roll-around thats really pretty entertaining.
Rhino reappears, holding Felicia, and I climb up onto his back.
I just beat Bullseye.
The Shocker Versus Bullseye. The Shocker wins.
Man, FPS doesnt have a snowballs chance in hell.
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