Chapter 11: Devolution, Part Eight
And life goes on, with or without an ear.
Lets talk about Aleksei.
People often ask:
Why, if youre going to cover a mans entire body with impenetrable armor, would you leave his face entirely unprotected? Doesnt that leave his most valuable asset, his brain, entirely vulnerable? Whats the point of being bullet-proof if you can still get shot in the head?
Well, thats simple. See, what most people dont know is:
Rhinos brain isnt in his head.
Yes, you read that right; when the Russians modified Aleksei, turned him into Rhino, they surgically removed his brain and compressed it down into his neck, just behind his trachea and in front of his spinal cord. Id like to say that this is the reason for his ahem unique mental processes, but fact is, I knew Aleksei before he was Rhino and he hasnt changed a goddamn bit.
Howd they do it? Youve got me; Im an engineer, not a surgeon. As I understand it, though, they moved around a lot of his bones, added muscles and tendons, maybe even added bones. That certainly would explain how an eight-hundred-pound man can pull nine miles an hour on foot, right?
Make no mistake, buddy, the transformation from Aleksei to Rhino was no simple slap-and-spray job. The original intent was for him to be a prototype Russian Captain America, a new soldier for the already long dead Cold War. If Aleksei was a little smarter, Spider-Man and the rest of those bums would be in a hell of a lot of trouble.
Did you know he hasnt seen his penis in twelve years?
He pisses through this little drill hole.
Not that Aleksei would have much use for his penis other than for pissing, but still, its a sad state of affairs.
There. Now you know shit not even Spider-Man knows.
Dont you feel special?
Im cleaning my apartment; Im not afraid to say it, it was a shithole. But Ive got energy, Ive got this kind of insane manic feeling; the kind of feeling that comes from winning a fight.
And winning a fight with Bullseye feels especially good. Im dancing around like a goddamn idiot, piling more and more filthy clothes
Old Superman cartoons are playing on AMC, and Ive got the volume up all the way. Its the one where he fights the Tyrannosaurus, and I look up at the screen to see the left hook he hits the Rex with that crashes him through Times Square (in Metropolis, no less).
The thing that makes me most worried is that I keep finding food items; no bugs yet, but underneath the garbage, dirty clothes and porno mags, Ive found three slices of pizza, one Egg McMuffin and six, yeah, six half-eaten (and now crunched into an orange mess) bags of Cheetos.
So far, six bags of trash. Three more already have had more than they can take, but Im still shoving crap in; if I can finish without using more than nine bags, then Ive still got two left over.
Its been two days since the Rhino, the Black Cat and the Shocker took on Bullseye, smashing up a residential area in Manhattan.
The headline of the Daily Bugle lying on the table has a great picture, taken by someone named Parker, whos way too good to be working freelance.
Its me, all on fire, punching Bullseye in the chest, while Aleksei is sprawled out on the pavement nearby, his face blurred so that the horrific details of his wound cant be seen.
Its from a couple of seconds before I lost my ear and half my mask, and Im lucky they didnt use any photos from after it. Even though thats when I started winning the fight, and even though the fuzz already know who I am and what my face looks like, itd be best if the whole city of New York couldnt point me out in a line-up.
Ive been out for the majority of my time at home, and its only just now that Ive noticed Felicia laying butt-naked on the couch in what passes as my living room. Shes got a gauze head-wrap, big bandages on both shoulders where Bullseye stabbed screwdrivers through her levator scapulae muscles, and casts on her left hand and right ankle, where he sliced her Achilles tendon.
Her body is like a joke; every muscle is sculpted and hard; her shoulders are broad, and without a shirt it puts her breasts in better perspective, makes them look less balloon-freakish. Shes got this great, long neck that segues seamlessly up into her head; I dated a girl with a fadeneck, one that fades into the chin, in high school and Ive never forgiven myself. Her legs are long and elegant, muscular but not masculine, every part of them lovingly crafted by some higher power.
Maybe a plastic surgeon, but an amazing one. That and a superhuman body-sculpting routine.
Waxed all over, of course.
Her stomach is a smooth plane, a tiny bit of thin white peach-fuzz on her paunch and on the center of her chest, her bellybutton pierced with a little ornament of Spider-Man. Who else.
He ruins everything else, so why not have him ruin my hard-on, too?
Aleksei mustve put her there after whichever villain doctor he got patched us up; there are bloodstains all over the kitchen table. Shes sleeping peacefully now; I reach out a hand, towards her face, but then stop myself, and trace the hand through the air just over her body.
Jesus, I say quietly.
She stirs, grunts a word that sounds like Peter, and rolls over, and her ass is just boom, right there.
I have to go to the next room, lest I do something stupid.
I finish cleaning the kitchen (i.e., windexing the hell out of everything), and go reset the alarm system.
See, ever since Bullseye first shattered my window, Ive been tightening up security round my place. Its all vibration-based (go figure), but since I figure theyd be counting on that, Ive added a bunch of laser and mechanical stuff; I even got Otto to loan me one of his old torn-up tentacles to automate for the hallway outside my front door, plant it in the wall and as soon as somebody tries to break through, theyre going to have some serious problems.
Cold as ice, man. Cold as ice.
Im walking back through my once over crowded now positively desolate kitchen/living room when, for the first time, I notice the headline on the Daily Bugle and stop dead.
There it is, in big white type.
THE SHOCKER: LEGIT?
I stand there frozen; the Shocker. Legit?
Ten minutes and forty read-throughs of the article later, I still dont get it. How did J. Jonah Jameson, who penned the article himself, turn a foiled assassination into something so much bigger. Suddenly Im not just trying to save myself and my friends; Im purposely targeting Bullseye.
Jameson posits that Rhino and the Shocker attacked Bullseye before he could execute a hit on Senator Daltry, a liberal who, nonetheless, is one of the most vocal supporters of Proposition 318, which would fund the creation of a device to track teleportations throughout New York State to try to put a lid on Mutant Crime.
How they paint Aleksei and me as heroes in this baffles me, considering we did more damage than Bullseye ever could have. They talk us up by calling us outclassed and outgunned. Outclassed, I understand, its true. But outgunned?
Aleksei has unbreakable skin and can bench-press a mail truck.
I have gauntlets that can throw vibrations that, when over-amped, can literally shake a person apart.
Bullseye Bullseye throws stuff.
Outgunned? Fuck outgunned. We were OVERgunned.
See, apparently since the fight outside Felicias brownstone apartment, they found Bullseyes hide-out, where there was a pay-off from something called First Person Shooter to put a walnut through Senator Daltrys brain.
First Person Shooter.
Thank you J. Jonah Jameson.
Ever since I was little, my brains done this weird thing; I call it overclocking. It happens when Im picking locks, or cracking safes, or working on the VibroSuit. Everything around me blurs away, and all that remains is the problem.
And my entire brain focuses on the problem, heats it up, spins it around, and then shakes it shakes it and vibrates it and twirls it until it tears itself apart.
The black spot.
Brian Cordwell and his goddamn piece of Rebar.
The destruction of the body.
The dead husband.
First Person Shooter.
Rigged super-villain fights.
And out rolls the answer.
And suddenly I get it. I totally get it. Im not sure how it works yet, but I understand the basics, and theyre ugly as sin.
I know where the big money is coming from. I know how First Person Shooter supports itself.
Im going to need bigger gauntlets.
I dial the phone without even looking at the pad.
Huh? Aleksei says. This is his version of hello, how he always answers the phone, like hes not sure exactly how it works.
Aleksei, I know what FPS is.
Oh, hi, Herman.
Aleksei, I know what
I heard you the first time.
Its a video game, I say, but I say it so quickly Im not even sure what it means. I think as I talk, words spilling out of me. The money doesnt come from the people paying to fight the villains, theyre just a device.
Yeah; the real money comes from people paying to control the villains. FPS is an acronym for First Person Shooter, a type of video game where the player sees through the eyes of the person or unit they control. Thats why they act so crazy; theyre acting the way people think they should act; Ravage says smash, like Hulk, because people see Ravage and they think Hulk, and Grizzly roars, because people see Grizzly, and they think grizzly bear. Its just people playing the part, getting into the role. Thats why the Grizzly didnt seem to be feeling pain; because, when your character gets hit in a videogame, you dont feel it. Somewhere, someone is paying the Spot to keep a portal open to the villains minds, and theyre somehow sending commands through the subdimension and Jesus, Aleksei, dont you see the implications of this?
Theres a moment of silence on the other end of the phone.
But Herman Remember on the receipt, it said power lines. Why would they tell Cordwell how to kill the Grizzly if someone is paying to control him?
Well, thats a damn good question, Aleksei. I hadnt thought of that.
I dont know. I hear that big, deep chuckle over the phone.
You will soon, buddy; you got such a brain in your head, there aint nothin you cant figure out. You want me to
Theres a click.
Aleksei, big guy? You there?
Silence. And then:
If youd like to make a call, please hang up and dial aga
I hang up.
This happens sometimes with Aleksei; he shifts the wrong way and crushes the receiver, or sits down on the phone line, or stretches the cord until it snaps. Nothing new. Hell either come over or call back, so I might as well just
Thwip. Thwip thwip thwip.
Im pinned to the fucking wall. Pinned to the wall, crucified by that sticky grey glop.
Hiya, Herman, Spider-Man says, flying in through my shattered window.
Get me down, you fucking asshole! I scream at him. He smiles underneath the mask.
I saw your little throwdown with Bullseye. You mustve found a penny.
Huh? Im always so thick when I talk to him, its like my brain slows down.
I mean you were lucky. Bullseye was aiming on killing you, you and Rhino both.
Yeah, lucky, I mutter.
Whatre you up to? Whos paying you? I blink and shake my head.
Paying me for what?
To be a superhero.
Aint anybody paying me.
Oh, he says, laughing under the mask. So you just up and decided Today is the day Im going to play Captain Justice? I dont buy it. People like you dont change, Herman. Youre all about you, and you always will be. Whatever this little mission youre on is, Ravage, Scorpion, Grizzly My advice to you, if you genuinely want to stop being an asshole, is to just give up the meta world entirely. Go make vaults in Sweden or something. Cause sooner or later, youre going to realize theres no money in being the good guy, and youre going to go right back to crime to pay the bills.
Whatever, I say. What a brilliant conversationalist I am, especially considering that what hes saying is probably right.
Just stay off my radar, Schultz, or I will take you down.
Ooh. Hes being scary Spider-Man.
Its so adorable when you go all Luke Cage on me, I say, finally coming up with a somewhat witty response. Those big white eyes narrow. He smells like woodchips, cotton and pepper. Its actually pretty nice.
Are you sniffing me? he says.
I have no response to this.
Felicia steps out of my bedroom, still entirely naked.
Herman, youve got to oh, Spider-Man. She stops short, and then a very interesting thing happens, something that merits more thought when I have the time.
His body sags and his face clears, the mask going smooth; he looks like he just came home to find his wife fucking the dog.
Are Spider-Man and Black Cat together? I know they were during the Eighties, but
Felicia doesnt even seem to notice, or, if she does, she doesnt care. She doesnt even look at him, just goes back to talking to me.
Herman, you need to get in here and see this.
I look at Spider-Man, who still seems to be in shock.
Spider-Man mumbles something and tears the webbing off me. I drop down and jog merrily into the bedroom, past naked Felicia.
I dont know what just happened, but it upset Spider-Man, and that feels good.
The good feeling stops as soon as I see the TV.
Jesus Christ. This isnt happening.
I yank my closet open and practically leap into a VibroSuit. It takes me a second to figure out where I left my newest set of gauntlets (under the kitchen table) and then I run past naked Felicia and still stunned Spider-Man to grab them.
They lock around my wrists and my forearms, and the squeeze triggers pop into my palms.
Hey Spider-Man says weakly as I charge back into the bed room, past naked Felicia, to get another look at the TV.
I watch as Aleksei, no, not Aleksei I watch as the Rhino impales a police car on his horn, flips it, then grabs one of the fleeing officers and tears off his leg, laughing an insane, high-pitched cackle.
Get out of my way, jackasses! Im the freakin Rhino!
I feel vomit rise up in my throat, but push it back down, charging up the gauntlets to five.
Theyre uptown. No time to get on the subway, or a cab.
I need to be there NOW.
How do I
My eyes drift to the Flying Broomstick, sitting in the next room next to Spider-Man, who still hasnt moved.
I almost jump onto it, kicking a leg after, grabbing hold of the ridiculous OH SHIT handles. I press the Green Button down with my thumb, and then turn to Felicia. Dont let him steal anything, I say, nodding at the Spidercreep.
Under control, she says. Felicia can handle herself. I just hope shes still here when I get back.
I shove down the lever, and suddenly Im out the window, streaking across the New York sky.
Hold on, Aleksei. Im coming.
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