Chapter 21: Avatars Finale
My sister and I sat on a park bench, and looked at the gorillas in the Central Park Zoo.
I was twelve.
She was seventeen.
Do you think Dad is crazy? I asked her as we watched my father throw baseballs at the gorillas.
No, Herman, she said as a ball bounced off the forehead of a furious-looking silverback. Hes not crazy.
My father came over, grabbed me under the arms and dragged me screaming towards the edge of the enclosure. Okay, Herman. Super-strong guys coming at you from all sides. Now, remember, dont try to fight them, just try to
What are you doing? I screamed, but not too loudly, my mind already fragile from the fun in the vaults of the basement.
Think of this as a pop-quiz, he said, laughing merrily.
General Schultz a security guard said, nervously appraising the situation. We never heard General back home, so it was always strange when someone would say the full title in public. My father hadnt been in any wars, had never faced active combat; as far as we knew, he was a crook, a street thug.
At best, a wise-guy.
Is anything wrong? the guard said.
No, he said. Everything here is fine.
One of the gorillas below howled in rage and pain, still clutching its face from where it had been struck by a baseball.
The guard looked from me to my father to the apes and then back to my father, nodded weakly, and began clearing people from the area.
Just before he tossed me over the gates into an enclosure housing eight furious gorillas, I remember my sister saying, very clearly:
Hes not crazy at all. Hes the devil.
New York mornings are gray and joyless, the sun boxed out by sky-scrapers, only faint rays of light coming through the buildings, illuminating things you never really wanted to see in the first place.
Hammerheads current residence is one of these places.
Last time I saw Hammerhead, he was face-down after a punch from the second-tier superhero called Darkhawk, one of Spider-Mans butt-buddies from back in the day. Hammerhead always was the type to go down easy; I remember one time Spiderfuck webbed his eyes and he actually fled out into the middle of the street and got hit by a car.
This is not Einstein were dealing with here.
But its not Aleksei either.
Hammerhead (no alias, no real name) was always a cold-blooded killer; that much is clear. But at one point in his life, someone, for some reason, thought it would be a good idea to replace the top of his skull with a three-inch-thick, ten-by-ten-inch square of titanium.
Ill be fucked blue if I know why; sometimes, when Im meeting these guys, hearing their stories, I just have to sit there and bite my lip.
Because sometimes asking, Why? is more trouble than its worth.
Whoever did the surgery didnt care much for the aesthetic aftereffects; the skin of Hammerheads face is grotesquely stretched, leaving him looking like hes had about a million face-lifts. The sides, tops and bottoms of his eyes are pulled back, showing some of that gooey red tissue under the eyelids. His mouth is yanked down into a soft-edged rectangular grimace, the veins to his lips and gums exposed and chapped. His perfectly flat head is covered in stained, strained white skin, with a thin layer of oily black hair prickling up from aggravated follicles.
Bet youve never heard him described like that before, eh?
Yeah. The news pretties shit up real nice.
Hammerhead asserted himself as a hit-man and mob enforcer, but, in time, ended up as a prominent figure himself. He was never the head of any important gang, but rather functioned as a kind of facilitator to make a posse run smoothly; always a lieutenant, never a general. What most superheroes dont realize is that Hammerhead is easily one of the richest street villains out there; dude barely ever spends a dime, just piles it into secret accounts, occasionally splurging on 1930s gangster clothes.
The place looks to be just a normal warehouse office, but its vibrant green and white paint feels like live skin stretched over dead flesh.
Bad shit has gone down here.
Not as bad as whatever mind-raping nightmare happened in the White Rabbits house, but dark stuff, for sure.
You can feel the death creeping along just beyond the walls.
The gauntlets click on with a warm, welcoming little vrm.
Felicia fades into the shadows, and Aleksei and I head to the front door.
Hold it right there, faggots, the muscle-bound guard says, raising his Uzi.
Aleksei chuckles to himself.
Hey, Herman, wanna see something funny?
Now isnt really the time, Aleksei, I say, trying to keep the were-here-to-kick-a-whole-bunch-of-heads-in vibe going.
No, wait, just watch, Aleksei says, and steps up to the guard. Hey, you know its two seconds till.
The big muscle-bound goon cocks his head, confused.
Two seconds till what?
Aleksei grabs him by the leg and swings him like a fly swatter, smashing the other guard and taking them both down for the count. Then he swings them both up and through the door, which is smashed
He then turns and gives me a big gray thumbs-up.
Okay, I have to admit; that was pretty fucking funny.
I blast the door off its hinges with a level four, incidentally taking out the three guards rushing towards it from the inside. Seeing non-metas, normal folks, getting vibed by the gauntlets is always a little rough; imagine a person getting hit by a car, minus the car. The bodies bounce and twist aside like they got skimmed by a wrecking ball.
A point-blank blast is even nastier; they just wipe the fuck out. Primarily because getting hit with an fresh blast, rather than one thats traveled like twenty or thirty feet, wont knock you back.
Itll just shake the living shit out of you.
Just ask Bullseye.
Were in the open-room two-story foyer of Hammerheads HQ, now, and Im blasting everything in sight. Hes actually got a pretty sweet set-up here; hes pulling in major cash from somewhere. Everything is felt and old wood; old gangster stuff, very classy, so seeing it fly apart is all the better.
A guy with a pistol pops out of a door to my left, and shoots me in the head; the bullet slides around my head, frictionless, and drops to the floor. I start to raise a gauntlet to blast him, but a giant gray fist flies in and catches him in the left shoulder.
The effect is immediate and devastating: he sails backwards, his shoulder crumpling in on itself as he goes, hits a wall, and falls to the ground, unmoving.
Aint nobody shoots my friend in the head.
A hail of bullets bounces off his back, and he turns, allowing me to hit his three AK-47 wielding attackers with a series of level twos. One of them, a big black dude, manages to stay standing, and I walk towards him, firing off the gauntlets like six-shooters, hitting him with at least eight or nine level ones.
Needless to say, he drops like a rock.
As we tear deeper into the building, I look back over my shoulder: with all the level fours Im throwing out, and Aleksei just smashing and ripping into anything everything, weve created a massive, rubble-strewn tunnel through the superstructure of the warehouse, plunging through like a diamond drill.
Its been a while since Ive been out wrecking with the Rhino, and Id forgotten how good it feels. When Aleksei hits his groove, hes like Hulk Junior; a goddamn tornado, the Black African Rhino smashing through the savannah.
A goon throws a grenade, and Aleksei catches it and closes his fist around it.
Theres a muted bomf, and a wisp of smoke comes out between his knuckles. Aleksei laughs the big, booming Aleksei laugh, and the goon turns to run.
I catch him with a level one in the back of the head, and he stumbles twice before dropping to his knees, clutching at the air in front of him and then collapsing unconscious. Aleksei slams an elbow through the wall into a little kitchen area, and then throws his massive body through the room, horn first, crushing everything in his way.
We finally come to a broad, oaken door, and I blast it off its hinges.
Hammerhead stares at me, sitting calmly on his desk, wearing a blue and white pinstripe suit and spats.
Come on, Herman! Aleksei says, trying to barge past me. Lets crush em!
No, I say, throwing up an arm in front of my big friends face. He stops, but eyes me with an avarice and frustration that Aleksei is only capable of in the heat of battle.
Hammerhead walks around his desk, and chuckles uncomfortably.
So, someone told you about the contracts. I knew I shouldntve hired those damn Enforcers, theyre outdated, and
SHUT THE FUCK UP! I scream at him, and he goes quiet, but suddenly seems more placid, cooler. Hes adjusting to the situation, exactly what I didnt want him to give him time to do. I dont want to talk to you. I dont want to fight you. Just give me an address where I can find Arcade.
Hammerhead sighs, and sits down behind his desk, perfectly calm; not fake calm, either.
He actually seems a little bored.
Wheres that oh, shit look I love so much?
Herman, Herman, Herman Hammerhead says, smiling that strangely stretched, square smile at me. When are you guys gonna learn? Theres no money in the street-villain business any more; no room to grow! There are too many heroes these days, and some of them are way too strong. Guys like you and Rhino; youre obsolete.
Hey, you watch who youre calling obsolete, jerk-off. Your power is that youve got a funny-looking head. I take a step towards the desk, and he rolls his eyes.
Dont you get it, Herman? If this was a movie, youd be the bad guys the hero beats before he fights the real danger! Youre throwaway thugs, cut-rate creeps bought cheap and beaten easy. Take off the cartoon costume and get yourself a suit; the only way to get anywhere in crime these days is to rise above all that super-strong, super-fast crap. Network; learn to sell yourself. Find friends with real power, not super-powers. Understand what Im saying?
Is that what youre doing, flat-top? Is a sociopathic, video-game-loving billionaire real power now?
Hey buddy, from what I understand you know more about all this than I do. Shit, Im just here to take you out. Arcade calls me a mini-boss, can you believe it?
Aleksei growls at him and starts to move towards the desk.
They went inside my head, you jerk! I ought to smash your face!
Day went inside my head, you joik. I odda smash yer face.
Hammerhead sighs and shrugs.
You Halloweeners are all the same; you think because youve got a costume and some super-powers, that means that youre part of some kind of special club where we all help eachother out and wife-swap and give each-other handjobs at two AM talking about the one time we were thiiiis close to beating Daredevil. Herman Aleksei Even if you get out of here, do you honestly think youre going to get anywhere with whatevers going on over my head? No. Youre not, because doing something significant isnt in your natures. You Both of you Are born failures. Just give up. Let go.
Give me an address, I say, my voice shaking a little. But I could care less; I like when things shake.
Im just trying to help you out here; you know, advice from the living, Hammerhead points at himself. To the dead. He points at me. Oh, well. Nice chatting with you, Herman, but
Give me an address, I say again. It comes out so fucking ominous I give myself the chills, but sadly has absolutely no effect on Hammerhead.
Enough of this. He nods to someone behind us. Kill them both.
Aleksei suddenly tumbles forward, some kind of metal band wrapping his ankles together, tightening rapidly.
Hey, what the hell is this? Aleksei yowls, more afraid than angry. Another metal hoop hits him, wrapping around his left arm and looping over his back and then tightening at sickening speed, wrenching him into a half-nelson.
I turn to the source of the constricting rings, to find, who else, the Ringer.
Or at least, the Ringer Two. I was present when the original Ringer, Tony Davis, was gunned down by the Scourge of the Underworld in a Bar With No Name in 1993. Which means that someone bought the ridiculous orange and green suit, and its that asshole who were dealing with now.
I raise my gauntlets, but he tosses a hoop around my wrists and theyre suddenly buckled together, the pressure steadily intensifying on my humerus bones as the ring tightens. The weight of the damn thing pulls my arm down, so I cant get a good shot at him, and he tosses another ring, this one neatly lassoing my head, shrinking tight around the top of my head, crushing in on my temples like a sadistic headband, squeezing the mask so tight I feel the rings edges cutting into my flesh beneath the fabric.
I vibe the suit on a level two, and the rings stop actively contracting. I jerk my head around violently, trying to shake the ring loose.
No dice, and then, stupid me, Im distracted while the Ringer tosses another hoop at me, which I duck, but only barely. He whips a smaller ring off his belt, slides around behind me and pulls it down over head and around my shoulders; it contracts inward instantly, pressing my biceps into my ribs, squeezing the air out of me.
Gahdahmuh! I bellow, but theres not enough air in my lungs to form the word properly. He kicks me in the back and the shove knocks my already unbalanced body over onto the plush red carpet, face-down.
There, the Ringer says, sliding a ring down onto my neck, which immediately contracts around the suit, crushing onto my throat, my adams apple trapped at the back of my mouth as I try frantically and unsuccessfully to swallow. Gotem both. Told you I could do it, Hammerhead, youve got to have more faith in me.
I try to gasp in air, but it just swirls around in my mouth, not going anywhere.
Yeah, well, this is gonna do wonders for yah, kid, Hammerhead says.
Im dying. Im choking to death on the floor.
Beaten by the fucking Ringer. Is there no end to my long list of failures?
I got this shit down. Im Theres the sound of a window breaking, and then gunfire and swearing, followed by a crash. I roll over and watch as Felicia punches and kicks the Ringer repeatedly in the face, slowly knocking him across the room. Shes really clobbering him like a punching bag; Felicias super-strength is a very minor facet of her abilities, but her punches feel like bricks breaking on your face; trust me, I know.
Hammerhead, whos wiping blood out of his eyes from where Felicia mustve sliced him on his forehead, is picking up a tommy-gun he mustve dropped on the floor.
Hes going to shoot her. Hes going to shoot her in the goddamn back.
I wrench my left arm outward, vibrating it on a level five. It cuts through the rings on my shoulders and my wrists, but this is accompanied by a sickly popping sound; something in my elbow just went seriously haywire, and its sending off little fireworks of pain up and down my arm; like I just got hit in the funny bone with a hatchet.
I use my good arm, vibing on a level five, to tear the ring off my neck, and stand up, firing off a single level three at Hammerhead, who tosses aside the gun and dives behind his desk, his face still a mask of ambivalence.
My first breath hurts so bad I nearly fall back down.
Felicia turns at the sound of my gauntlet, and this gives the Ringer the chance he needed; he drops a ring over head, and contracts onto her neck so tightly that the flesh at the front is almost compressed against the spine. She makes a sound like gak and falls forward, clutching her throat.
He turns, and throws a handful of rings at me but I blast them out of the air. He ducks towards me, and tries to get a ring over my hurt arm, which is dangling conspicuously at my side, but I slap it out of his hands. He pulls another ring off my belt, some kind of bladed boomerang, and hurls it at me; it slides off the suit, and I punch him in the face on a level two.
Hes knocked back, so I grab him by the shoulders and repeatedly knee him in the gut, and then slam my good elbow down onto the back of his neck. He falls onto his chest, and I sit down on his back, straddling him. I tear off his helmet and toss it aside; its just as I thought, hes some thug kid, Latino, bulldog-faced, with a little blue tear tattooed under his right eye.
I grab a hand full of hair, pull him up a little and then punch him in the back of the skull, driving his face down into the ground. I do this one, two, three times.
The Ringer stops trying to get up, and just lies there, moaning.
I practically leap on top of Felicia, vibing my gloves on a level five to tear the ring off her neck. It falls back into its normal shape, but a thick line of red-black bruises is forming even as she takes in her first few gasps of air.
The name comes out of me all sideways, different from anything Ive ever said before. Our eyes meet, and, even though shes on the verge of passing out from asphyxiation, theres a connection so intense I have to look away.
I rush over to Aleksei, and yank the rings off him.
Someone starts clapping.
I stop dead, and turn to the source of the sound.
Bravo, Hammerhead says, sitting in his desk chair, looking mildly amused by the proceedings, politely applauding.
The fuck are you clapping about? I say, and Hammerhead stops the applause, but the smile stays. ONE GUY? I scream at him, still spluttering and trying to catch my breath. I feel like my neck has been compressed into a drinking straw, and whenever I swallow it feels like Im trying to shove a bowling ball down my throat. One fucking guy. Thats it? Thats all?
I wipe some of the Ringers blood off my mask, and help Felicia up, but something inside me is still vibrating.
Still shaking out of control at Hammerheads even, calm gaze.
I want you to watch this, I say to Hammerhead, who stays quiet.
Herman Felicia says weakly, rasping, but a single look from me silences her.
I pull the Ringer to his feet, vibrate my glove on a level two, stick my fingers into his nose and tear it off his face, releasing a high arcing splash of blood.
He screams, and I hit him point blank in the chest with a level two that sends him flying backwards into the side of Hammerheads enormous desk, bouncing off with a hearty snapping sound, and when he lands his body is bent awkwardly, contorted into a sort of broken fetal ball.
He groans and starts to reach for a ring on his belt, but I vibrate my boot on a level three and stomp his hand so hard its permanently mangled into what resembles a bloody, flattened artichoke.
He shouts in pain, and slowly drags himself over to the wall, pulling himself to his feet, and starts limping pitifully away, so I turn and blast him in the back with a level four; hes thrown forward a little, skids off the wall and then smashes down onto his face.
I hear his bones crack.
It sounds like fucking music.
I start towards him, but Felicia puts her hand on my shoulder.
Herman. Enough. Theres a sweetness and concern in her voice thats completely alien to me. All I hear is the harsh command, and I shrug her hand off.
Yeah, whatever, I say, suddenly a lonely, angry fourteen-year-old boy again. I look to Aleksei, whos standing up, rubbing his shoulder. You okay, bud?
No problem. He just caught me by surprise, any other time I couldve pounded him flat.
I turn to Hammerhead, my hurt arm dangling loosely at my side, little lightning bolts of pain jetting up to my shoulder and down to my finger tips every time I move it.
I stand there staring at him; he remains seated, his perfect, still silence having changed to a sort of frozen catatonia.
Schultz, he starts shakily, but I cut him off.
I am Gods Solution to over-population. I am the last surviving dinosaur. I am the scariest man alive. Make no mistake: If you do not give me what I want, right now, I hit you so hard your mother will feel it.
Theres this kind of hollow silence where I realize how absolutely and completely fucking silly what I just said sounded, and then Hammerhead reaches into his desk, takes out a sheet of paper, scribbles something down on it and slides it across the desk.
The oh, shit look is finally here, torn onto his face like an open wound.
And its fucking beautiful.
Excellent, I say, and then smash his desk in half with a level two.
Hey, I gave you the address, whatre you Hammerhead warbles, and then I grab him by the jaw and slam him against the wall, drawing out my fathers old blue switchblade, vibrating it on a level one so it slides through the flesh of his scalp like butter. He screams, and I scream over him.
YOU THINK YOU KNOW ME, MOTHERFUCKER? YOURE GOING TO TRY TO GIVE ME ADVICE? I scream, the words pouring out of me like the blood that pours down Hammerheads face as I saw away at his cranium. YOU DONT KNOW ME! YOU
I vibrate my fingers and stick them into him.
I rip upwards, and theres a wet cracking sound. I hear Felicia gasp.
I yank as hard as I can, and theres another splintering crack before it gives and I tear it off.
Hammerhead falls onto the carpet, hemorrhaging blood from the wound on his head, the wound that is his head. I lift the three-inch-thick, ten-by-ten-inch square of titanium up in front of my face, and wipe some of the bloody hair off it, flicking off some of the bloody, stringy flesh.
Nobody knows me, I whisper, and I hear my voice shake.
Hammerhead whimpers, and I hear Aleksei gag a little in revulsion, and maybe fear.
What the fuck did I just do?
Aleksei, I say, tossing him my satellite phone. Call an ambulance.
He does, and I turn to the woman of my dreams.
Felicia is staring at me in a kind of disgusted, terrified and completely raw shock.
I ponder saying something to her, but figure itll have wait until were out of here.
Lets roll, I say, and exit through one of the enormous holes Id blown in the wall. Aleksei follows, still glancing nervously at Hammerheads writhing form, giving the address to the paramedics. After a moment, Felicia, to my surprise, follows us.
I drop the blood-soaked chunk of titanium on the street on the way out.
Comic book that.
Show that in the Daily Bugle, Robertson, see who thinks Im a hero then. Show them the real me, see if they still root for the Shocker: LEGIT.
I am nobodys toy. I am not an archetype. I am not a cartoon, I am not a joke, and I sure as hell refuse to be just another fucking avatar.
FPS, CSA, whatever the fuck you are, you better watch your back.
Because the Shocker is officially on the offensive.
Previous Part Chapter Index Next Part