Chapter 34: Avenged

Felicia gazes at me evenly across the table, and I stay quiet, staring down at the handcuffs. They’re the big, bulky, whole-fist kind they give to low-level metahumans; I guess that’s flattering, in a way. But my plain white shirt and white pants look like they belong on an inmate at a mental asylum, not a prisoner.

They’re treating me like your standard metahuman creep; they even gave me my “one phone call” this morning. It feels ridiculous. It feels familiar.

Those green eyes dig into me; out of costume, in a simple white business suit, she’s even more intimidating than when she’s in it. I try to distract myself with the frightening thought that Stark’s finally got his greedy little paws on copies of the costume and the gauntlets, but it doesn’t work. The costume was trashed, and the gauntlets were so scrambled they might as well get melted down for silverware.

The room is plain white, featureless, some little cavern in the underbelly of Stark Towers, where just a few days ago I was living the high life. I’m not sure how long I was unconscious after Tony zapped me; hopefully not more than a day, I can’t let my father have time to regroup. These handcuffs — arm-cuffs, really — are electrically powered. Inside each of the glove-mitts, there is a single screw-head. Your fingers have about three inches of movement space.

Cracking the nail off my left pinkie was easy. Using it to unscrew the screw in my left cuff was harder, but not by much; these are the restraints they usually give to less-power super-strong guys, thus the lazy interior-screw design. It opens up into the glove’s wiring system; I’m working it blind and with only two fingers, but that’s going to have to be good enough for now. What were they thinking giving me access to anything electrical?

Their mistake. Their big mistake.

“Herman,” Felicia says, snapping my attention up to her again. “Why?”

“Because,” I say, trying not to focus on the stinging, torn-flesh pain from my pinkie.

“Because?” She’s suddenly angry. “Because what, Herman?” She’s got this immense presence; it sucks the whole room in around her when she’s mad. Super-people need this; Felicia, while not a true superhuman, has more than enough.

And for the thousandth time, it replays in my head; the look of shock on her face as I blasted her. Not betrayal, not pain, not even anger; just raw shock. I can only imagine what she thinks of me now, only imagine what —

“Herman, cut that shit out.” Curt, quick.

“What shit?” I say, genuinely baffled.

“That sad puppy shit. I can see it in your eyes, ‘oh, wa wa wa, Felicia’s mad at me.’ You can stop it now; I’m not mad.” Okay, that one genuinely caught me off guard. “I’m used to violence from men I’m involved with; hell, I don’t know how many times Peter’s punched me out.”

Okay, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that.

“What scares me, Herman, is your anger. I knew you were complicated, boy, I knew that. But when you found out about Peter … Herman, you looked CRAZY. I mean, really genuine straightjacket crazy; I could even see it through the mask. Your eyes didn’t even blink, you just lost it, snap, like that. That’s not the sort of thing a sane person does. I had no idea you were so … screwed up inside. I —”

“No!” I say, not shouting but certainly not quiet. “I am not crazy.”

“Herman, I —”

“No! No! You listen to me now!” It feels like a damn bursts inside of me.

And it all just comes pouring out.

“Do you know, do you know how much time I used to take to plan heists? Days! Weeks! Do you know how much effort, how much fucking workwould go into making sure I could minimize casualties, minimize property damage, maximize profit, plan a safe escape route, make sure everyone got a fair cut so there wouldn’t be any backstabbing, the organization, the fucking hours upon hours of mapping and strategizing every possible scenario? And then thwip thwip thwip, joke joke joke, it’s over! It’s over and I’m in prison. Do you know what happens in prison, real prison, Felicia? I’m not a meta, I don’t get my own special cell; you get beaten in prison, you get stabbed in prison, you get raped in prison, and every second of it you’re hearing his fucking jokes in your head!

“And how did he do it? How did he beat me? Is he smarter than me? No, no, he’s not fucking smarter, or more clever; he didn’t fucking plan, or put forth any real effort. He’s just stronger. FASTER. And he knows it, and that’s why he does it. Do you think for a moment, for even a fucking moment, that creep would take on a foe he wasn’t sure that he could beat? I don’t think he would; he’d leave it to the Avengers, or Daredevil; they’re the ones who handle the real challenges. You know why he’s always fighting the same fifteen or so guys? Because he knows he can take them down, because he knows he’ll be able to crack at least one joke at their expense. You think he ever tries to, to talk to these people? You think he ever tried to talk to Aleksei? No, and you know why? Because he’s a fucking bully.

“That’s all he is, another fucking bully, like my father, like the Kingpin, another asshole with fucking low self-esteem and an attitude problem; if you think he does this shit for anybody but himself, you’re wrong, he does it out of, there must be some kind of, some kind of trigger, some kind of event that made him feel like a bad guy, or a victim, maybe he was a nerd in high school, maybe something worse, but it fucked his head up for life. So now he feels this need to melodramatically martyr himself at the expense of others; all the tragedies in his life that he moans about on the rare occasions that we, his clowns, his victims, challenge what he’s doing, that Gwen Stacy woman Norman Osborn killed, every single one of them are his fault. And he knows it, and oh, he cries about it, but he doesn’t care, not really, because he keeps putting on the mask, keeps cracking jokes. You honestly think with all the superheroes in New York we couldn’t live without Spider-Man? WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

“What do you think he’d do, Felicia, if he knew what we knew? That the accident was all planned, that none of it was fucking destiny, that it was all my father and some other jackass generals trying to build an army to kill Galactus with? What then? He’d fucking fall apart, because he needs, he needs, he needs to believe he’s the most important person in the world, that he’s the ‘main character,’ the protagonist! That he’s the one who the audience loves —”

“The audience?” Felicia says, raising her eyebrows.

“In life, there is always an audience!” I nearly scream. “And at least when you fight Captain America, when you fight Daredevil, when you fight Iron Fist or Luke Cage or any of them, they treat you like an opponent, like a threat, and, if you’re not being a fucking evil asshole, they’ll even show you a little respect. They recognize the work, the fact that hey, maybe our lives aren’t a fucking cake-walk, that we’re not international celebrities with our own action figures, and that yeah, we’re people, too. That I’m a person, too! That I’m not just that costume, that costume that took me three years to build and that he laughs at, but that there’s a person under there.”

There’s a distant boom. Felicia looks around, confused, but I slam my cuffs down on the table, drawing her attention.

“Well, I was fucking sick of it! Sick of his bullying me, and hurting me, and laughing, and being a fucking smart-ass because he knows he’ll win! He told me, ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ and that’s true. But he doesn’t have a sense of responsibility. He doesn’t have a sense of morality, he doesn’t have a fucking soul! And I needed to show him, show him that I was better, and I did, I did it for myself, I did it because I had to do it if I wanted to stay sane. And now it’s done; I’m rid of him, I’m almost free. But there’s one more boogeyman, Felicia, one more that has to go down if I’m ever going to fucking get a sound night of sleep again, and not you, not Spider-Man, not Tony Stark, not Reed Fucking Richards himself is going to get in my way.”

Another distant boom. Felicia just stares at me.

“Herman. I think you’re completely insane. But I also think … I don’t know … I think I … I might be in love with you.”

I smile, and start to talk, but then the three-inch-thick door at the other side of the room slides open, and Wolverine steps through, claws out, shirt riddled with bullet holes over rapidly healing wounds. Felicia stands up.

“Sorry, Cat, but Schultz has to go,” he says, slightly out of breath. “Someone let the word out that we were holding him in here, and we’ve got something like six high-level metas up there trying to get in here for the bounty.”

“But isn’t he safer —” Felicia starts to say, and then I kick the table between us into her legs, and she lands flat on those great big wonderful breasts of hers. I kick off the chair and dive towards Wolverine, who raises his claws; I bend mid-air and land right infront of him, allowing his claws to slice apart the link between my cuffs. My right cuff, now without a power-source, unlocks and clatters to the floor.

“Hey —” he manages to say, and then I trigger the wire on my modified left cuff; the inputs cross, there’s a spark and the cuff falls off, but not before emitting a powerful electric shock that knocks Wolverine on his ass.

I’m not tempted to press my advantage; that was a fluke, albeit a carefully planned one. I was terrified that once the siege started Tony might send Luke Cage, and then I’d be shit out of luck; I needed those claws. But if I stick around here for even a second more, Wolverine will kill me.

I grab Felicia by the wrist and take off running, and to my surprise, she follows, giggling uncontrollably.

“Herman, this is amazing! This is amazing!” It’s the out-of-breath, joy-filled voice of a little girl on a roller coaster. We make the eight lefts and rights I memorized on my way down here, and reach an elevator door with an access panel. “What now?” Felicia says, but it’s more anticipation than anything else; it’s like she’s watching some great television show.

“Now, uh …” I say, staring at the code-keys on the panel, wondering what the hell I’m going to do. There’s a distant boom, then a series of approaching thuds and I can hear a muffled “ow, oof, ow” rapidly approaching from above. I smile so hard it hurts.

BAM. An enormous gray fist smashes the elevator doors open, and then Aleksei peeks through, looking very much like a curious puppy.

“Herman, is this sublevel b5?” he says slowly. “Because that’s where you’re being held … Oh, no, that’s a dumb question, because you’re right here, so this must be —”

I kiss him a dozen times all over his face, and then jump into the elevator shaft, climbing onto his massive back, surprised to find myself sharing space with a huge back-pack. Felicia climbs on, too, grinning, wild-eyed.

“You’re breaking out of the Stark Building!” Felicia nearly shrieks as I open the backpack, and pull out the soft brown and yellow suit inside. She squats in a perfectly balanced, feline manner on Aleksei’s other shoulder, beaming at me as I pull off my prison-whites.

“Good call on the suit, Aleksei!” I holler to the back of his head as he begins to rapidly climb back up the elevator shaft, King Kong on the side of the Empire State Building. I pull on the lower half first, then stop; above us, I hear gunshots, plasma blasts, fighting. But below us …

“Trying to sneak up on me, you sonofabitch!” I howl down into the darkness as I pull the top of the suit on and feel it vacu-seal shut. Wolverine, who’d been pulling himself up by his claws, pounces up onto Aleksei’s left leg; his claws dig in, but not nearly deep enough for him to feel it.

“RAR!” Wolverine “says,” flipping himself up onto Aleksei’s shoulder-blade and taking a wild swipe at me. I yank the gauntlets out of Aleksei’s backpack and jump out onto the elevator cables at the center of the shaft. I yank on the mask, and it’s around this point that an express elevator passes, switching over a connector on the cable I’m hanging on, which means I’m abruptly flipped upside-down, and yanked upwards and smashed into a rafter.

So much for my smooth, secret agent escape.

I grab the rafter and pull myself up onto it, fastening on the gauntlets as I stand up. Wolverine dives off Aleksei, and lands with animal-grace on the rafter, smiling.

“Slick move down there, bub. Real, real slick.” He raises the claws.

Most people shit themselves when they see those claws.

I, on the other hand, feel like a million bucks.

“Wolverine,” I say, raising the gauntlets, letting out a breath of relief. “You lose this fight before it starts.”

Another explosion, and some dust and plaster falls down past us.

“Oh,” Wolverine says, edging towards me. “Why’s that?”

“Your bones are made of adamantium, yes?”


“Goodbye,” I say, and hit him with a single level two.

“GAH!” Wolverine screams, clutching as his bones vibrate against his muscles, his skull vibrates against his brain; they’ll be ringing like that for at least three more seconds, ample time for me to place my hand on his chest and gently push him off the rafter. He tumbles down into the darkness, and I leap back onto Aleksei. Felicia grabs me by the neck and kisses me on the mouth; it’s not a very passionate kiss, considering we’re separated by the mask, but the message is clear.

It hits me a little, and I sort shiver: I just ganked Wolverine. Ganked the hell out of him. Ganked him like a fucking punk.

… He’s going to be pissed.

Aleksei yanks us up through an exploded lobby door, and into what could most accurately be called a war zone; the whole front wall of the lobby has been blown off, and the mercenaries are flooding in. Bullets and energy blasts fill the air, but I can immediately tell I’m dealing with a higher quality crop of evil bastards than I faced at the Tube; Task-Master, the absurdly high-rate mimickry-based assassin, is going toe-to-toe with Captain America, while Sabretooth is brawling with Luke Cage. The Bushwacker, a hit-man with a Gatling gun for a left hand, is holding off a wave of Stark’s guards; they’ve got little Iron Man suits of their own, minus all the neat stuff. Stuart Clarke, in his old blue and black Rampage armor, is similarly engaged; I watch as he twists the head off one of the mini-iron-men.

I barely have time to get myself situated before I hear a booming, “Comrade Schultz!” and I’m suddenly lifted up into the air by my neck, my breathing choked by an adamantium tentacle.

No. No, that distinctive copper-like odor.

That’s not Adamantium.

That’s carbonadium.

And I feel tired … Weak.

Which means …

Oh, dear.

He smells like sea-salt and the geriatric wing of a hospital.

“Schultz my boy, it has been years!” He smashes me against the bronze wall of the lobby; my body, already weakened by that goddamn death stink his skin gives off, takes the hit like I got slammed by a truck.

After Aleksei, the Russians got serious with their super-soldier program; in retrospect, their jump was so big they probably had help from daddy dearest and his beloved “Control.”

They took the psychotic serial killer Arkady Rossovich, and they turned him into Omega Red.

“Arkady, what a surprise,” I say, trying to hide a pained cough as I stand up; I think the sound of gunfire does it for me. He’s approaching rapidly, those tentacles whipping all over the place. His chalk-white skin exudes some kind of toxin into the air that weakens (and can even be deadly to) all those around him; it’s doing its magic on me right now; I can barely move. “Working on your tan much lately?”

Red whips out the tentacles at me again, and though I manage to dodge the first slash, the second one trips me hard onto my back. He starts spinning me like a dervish, then uses the tip of one of the tentacles to flip me up into the air; I come down on a reception desk, and roll off onto the ground.

There’s good news and bad news: the bad news is, Arkady’s worked with me before on jobs for the Kingpin. He knows about the suit’s paradoxical weakness to self-momentum-based impacts; he’s not trying to whip or hit or impale me, just juggling me into the air and letting gravity do all the hard work.

The good news is I’m now about twenty feet away from him, out of range for his little body odor problem. And now that I’ve had a little time, albeit in pain, I’ve managed to jack the suit’s vibe-level up to 1; that ought to shake away his deathfart spores. Twenty feet is just out of range for the tentacles, too.

But well within range for the gauntlets.

I throw myself up onto the desk, standing like a fuckin’ monument to myself, gauntlets raised.

“All right, Arkady!” I shout over the chaos. “Let’s go!”

I’m standing in the middle of a war zone. I thought I could get away with a cliché line like that, but suddenly Red is all over me, those tentacles zipping around me like snakes underwater; it takes every ounce of concentration I have to dodge them, so much so that I only just manage to slide out of the way of a punch.

That’s when I notice them, on his knuckles; tiny, razor-sharp hooks. He’s gone to see the Tinkerer.

Well, that … sucks.

I dodge another punch and fire off a Level 4 at him, but he tentacle-lashes the gauntlet and the blast goes stray, punching a huge hole in the mirrored ceiling of the lobby. The vibration ripples over the mirrors, and suddenly the entire lobby is caught in a violent downpour of shattered glass; I see Felicia take cover under Aleksei, and, glancing around, take a kind of smug satisfaction that I’m the only one (other than the Iron-Guards) who isn’t taking any kind of cover; even Cap and Luke Cage are shielding their eyes.


Wrong of me to have taken that look around, stupid of me, dangerous stupid; why would Red, with his KGB-granted healing factor, give a shit about the glass, he just let it sink into him and his flesh healed right over it.

Hm. KGB might want to give that one a look-over.

Long story short, he got me with a hook fist in the face; it was a wild punch, and it barely caught me, but the side of my face is bleeding, the mask is torn. As the glass tinkles and explodes all around us, he dives in for the kill.

I jerk my arms up, and, vibing my hands on a level two, I grab his face and shove both thumbs into his demon-red eyes; they pop like ripe blueberries, and yellowish-white fluid spurts out over my knuckles.

This guy is one of the most dangerous mercs out there. But he made a mistake I’ve found to be my greatest strength in my limited time as a “superhero:” these idiots are used to fighting heroes.

I don’t fight like a hero.

“eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeYAAAAAAAAAHHHH!” Red screams, the tentacles whipping wildly; a clean level three to the chest sends him flying backwards, into the open elevator shaft. His scream fades, barely audible amidst the chaos. Back in the fray, Stuart is down, his Rampage armor damaged somehow. Luke Cage has knocked out Task-Master, and Sabretooth is trying to heal from all the glass. Cage is currently wrestling down the Bushwacker, which leaves …

He smells like fresh-cut grass and clean cotton sheets.

“Shield!” I hear Felicia shout, and, God knows how I do it, but I bend backwards under the Star-Shield as it swipes past me, level 2 my fist, turn and punch Captain America straight in the face.

Nice little POW.

He just stands there, staring at me, those blue eyes hitting me like laser beams. A little trickle of blood drips out of his left nostril.

“Oh. I … uh …” I say. Classic, quotable dialogue here, as usual.

Captain America wipes his nose, and then looks at the blood on his red glove.

“Hm,” he says.

“Um …” I say.

Felicia leaps onto him, still in her simple white business suit, and he elbows her in the throat, dropping her. Aleksei throws a huge punch, and Captain America ducks under it and smashes him in the face with the shield, sending him stumbling off. I jerk both gauntlets up, but he swats them both away, sending two level threes smashing off into nothing, sticks his fingers up into the torn part of my mask, yanks it off, grabs me by the throat, and cocks back a fist.

Well, I tried, right? That’s what matters. That’s what —

The scream of a 1959 muscle car echoes throughout the lobby, and then I see it, that black demon with a white skull on its hood, roaring up the front steps of the Stark building.

If you’ve only got one phone call, make it to the Punisher. One word: “Help.”

This is how the Punisher does “Help.”

I have to admit; it’s pretty fucking good.

Captain America turns to look. Hell, everybody does. Everybody but me.

I rest all my weight on his hands at my throat, pull my legs up, plant my feet on his thighs and launch myself free. He looks back and has time to say, “Schultz!” in a voice that almost makes me piss my pants before I level 3 him clear across the lobby.

I don’t know why I didn’t go for a higher level; I really don’t. I guess in my heart I knew it wouldn’t stop him for long no matter what I did.

The muscle car plows into Luke Cage, and he bounces up over the hood and onto the ground behind it, landing on all fours, a little frazzled but unhurt. The muscle car jerks to a stop, parking on top of Sabretooth, and Punisher pops out of the sun roof, holding a grenade-launcher.

&#Luke Cage’s eyes widen. 147;Hey, man, we’re —”

The grenade hits him straight in the face; in the mouth, in fact, and the shit flips him so good he actually lands outside, in the street. Punisher turns to me, and gives me this terrifying wide-eyed smile.

“Herman! Now how’d I know you’d already be out of the cell?” He drags something big and silver out of a bag. “Brought your ride. Instructions on where to meet inside.”

He drops the Flying Broom-Stick out onto the floor.

My joy at seeing the damn stupid thing is hampered by the arrival of Iron Man, zooming in like a rocket from the outside; he must’ve been over at Reed’s building, or he would’ve been here sooner. My head is uncovered, naked, defenseless; I’m fucked

Clink. Shwip.

A grappling hook line I hadn’t noticed caught on Iron-Man’s boot suddenly goes taut, and he’s abruptly swung around by his own rockets, straight into a fucking bolt of lightning.

Felicia, who was the one responsible for the hook, looks absolutely stunned.

It smashes him through the wall into a security room, and he lies there motionless for a moment before groggily starting to stand up. Marty floats down, armor crackling with electricity, and his visor pops open.

“OH, SNAP!” Marty monkey-howls. “BOO-YAH!” He holds up the sparking palms of the armor-suit. “COURTESY OF MOTHER RUSSIA, BITCH!”

I straddle the Flying Broomstick and kick it into gear; Felicia hops onboard behind me, I twist the throttle and I’m yanked across the floor and then out, up, into the open sky. The wind stings my face and sucks tears out of my eyes, and below me I hear Aleksei rumble off down the street and the Punisher’s death machine rip back into traffic.

“Where are we going?” Felicia shouts in my ear.

“We’re going to war, Felicia!” I shout back, choking on the wind. “It’s time to rally our army.”

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