Chapter 35: United We Skulk

“Again, this is the only footage available of the escape of the vigilante Herman Schultz from the bowels of the Stark Building this morning.”

Do you see that, there? Not meta-criminal, not super-villain. There is apparently enough Shocker-Love out there that now I’m “Vigilante Herman Schultz.”

It’s a shot from outside on the street. The battle is already nearly done; we watch Iron Man fly in, and Marty comes up right behind him. It’s actually a pretty hilarious visual, considering that all Stark had to do was turn his head slightly and he could’ve avoided the whole thing.

Iron Man gets zapped, and then the Black Cat and the Shocker zoom out on the Broomstick, closely followed by a stampeding Rhino, who takes the time to flip over a cop car before trundling into the sewers, and then Marty zips off, and of course, Punisher’s demon-car flies out last, hitting Luke Cage again just as he’s recovering from the grenade to the face out in the middle of the street.

“The Avengers were conflicted in their responses. Captain America had this to say.”

The Captain does not look happy. He’s got a little wad of Kleenex stuck in his nose; this footage was clearly taken directly after my escape.

“Captain, how do you feel about the Avengers, America’s premiere superhero team, taking a loss to a group of such relatively low-level metahumans —”

The Captain stares blankly at the reporter.

“One: They were not a group of metahumans. There was only one metahuman among them, and one mutant. Two. We did not ‘take a loss.’ They didn’t beat us, didn’t come close; the entire thing was a rear-guard action organized to keep us off our toes until Schultz and his accomplices could escape. In that respect, yes, they accomplished their goals; it was an extended retreat, not a battle. Had they stood their ground, they would’ve been destroyed.”

He turns away from the reporter, looking directly to the camera, and I realize with a little shiver that he’s talking to ME.

“They would’ve been utterly, and totally, destroyed.”

“Aw, bullshit!” Marty says, sipping his beer. “We had their number, and they know it!”

“Mr. Blank,” the Punisher says, sighing. “If we’d stayed, they would’ve killed us.” He eyes Marty. “All of us. Fancy suits or not.”

An interesting note about the Punisher: before he kidnapped me and hung me upside-down from the roof of a warehouse, I’d only seen him in person twice. One was when he gunned down the entire Bertinelli crime family outside the wedding of their youngest son. The other was when he basically came into the Kingpin’s headquarters, catching us all off guard, walked up to the Kingpin and demanded five million dollars.

And the Kingpin gave it to him.


And then he left.

But if there’s one thing I always took away from it, it was that this guy was completely dead inside. Psycho, sure, but worse than that: darker. His body wasn’t a tool for expression, it was an engine of destruction. Think the Hulk, but meaner, smarter, and a hell of a lot more cold.

But when he’s around me, Punisher smiles; he smiles a lot. It’s a weird, somewhat uncomfortable, jagged expression on his face, but there it is, and there’s no denying it. I finally asked him about it earlier today when we all met up at the top of the Brooklyn Bridge (one of the coolest things about being involved in the Metahuman World is that entire cities pretty much become your secret tree fort). “What’re you always grinning about?” I said; I should’ve monitored my tone more closely, but Felicia and I had made a thirty-minute stop on the side of the Chrysler Building for … rest, and I was still a little high on the adrenaline.

Punisher just stared at me, and then the grin came again.

“I like you, Herman. And I like that we’re on the same side.”

I didn’t realize how profound what he’d just said was until nearly an hour later, in between making dozens of plaintive phone calls from a series of pay-phone booths.

Punisher and I are on the same side, in the sense that we’re on no side at all, in any practical sense. I always hated the meta-folks who’d try to portray themselves as “outsiders,” “rebels” or “renegades,” but I think Punisher and I might just fit the bill. And I think Punisher picked up on that, and for some reason it’s making him happy as hell.

The air-conditioning in this Coney Island branch of the Bar With No Name is up way too high; my nose keeps stuffing up, and I have to snort it back, clear my throat, and hack up great dark green globs into BWNN napkins, all while Felicia watches, smiling at me.

“Cut the purr, Garfield,” I say, looking at my most recent phlegm ball. “No one is going to show up.”

“They’ll show. Just wait, it’s early yet.” She rests a hand on top of mine. For some reason, God knows why, that actually helps a little.

Punisher scared away the bartender just by walking in, and we’ve cleared all the chairs and tables from the main floor, and arranged them into a kind of forum position. Aleksei had the decency, once he’d heard our plan on the Brooklyn Bridge, to smash his way through an Albertsons and get a couple of dozen fruit, cheese and cookie platters, along with about forty 2-liter bottles of soda.

He put them all around the bar, in sort of random positions; on top of a television here, under a table there. He was so happy doing it I didn’t even try to stop him; this whole thing has him overjoyed.

“We’re going to see Max, and Pete, and Mr. Toomes, and maybe even Dr. Otto!”

Sure, it’s only been three hours, but someone, anyone, should’ve shown by now.

And as though on cue, here comes Dan in through the door.

“Herman, what’s —” We all look up at him, and he freezes in place. He turns around and starts to run back outside, but crashes into Miss Peelo as she comes through the door, knocking them both down. Felicia leaps across the entire length of the room and tackles Dan as he starts to get up. He flips her off and kicks her in the face; BAM, and she drops onto her back.


“Him!” Dan screams, and I finally realize what all the fuss is about.

Punisher almost looks offended.

“It’s okay. He’s with us.” I hold out a tray. “Cookie?”

So Dan sits, and Dan drinks, and we talk. Ronnie and Jack show up a couple of minutes later, looking nervous, but once they see Dan and me drinking with the Punisher, they calm down and just sort of accept that Hell has frozen over and the world has gone totally crazy.

“Beers with the Punisher,” Jack says, knocking back the brim of his cowboy hat in full aw-shucks-good-ole-boy mode. “If Kingpin could see us now, he’d have a goddamn aneurysm.”

Punisher laughs that cold, barking laugh of his; it catches the Enforcers off-guard, and they look to me. I just grin, as if to say, Hey guys, it turns out I’m Prozac for the Punisher, what can I tell ya?

So, so far we’ve got the entire classic Enforcers line-up.

We’re actually off to a pretty good start.

Miss Peelo is thrilled to see us again, like an old aunt visiting her favorite nieces and nephews; she actually hugs Aleksei for nearly a full minute. I have her lay down a psychic calming web over the whole bar, especially over Punisher. She makes it so that as soon as his presence is registered by a new arrival, the first thought they have is, Don’t panic, if he hasn’t shot anyone yet he’s not going to shoot at all.

Clever, she is, especially because this logic is particularly accurate when it comes to the well-known insane, homicidal style of the Punisher.

Aleksei breaks out the cards, and we start up with poker. Felicia wins the first three rounds, while Aleksei and the Punisher just watch. The rules are too complicated for Aleksei, and the Punisher playing, I would argue, would be completely unfair. The guy is the living definition of a Poker Face.

Next to arrive is Hubert Carpenter, better known in the “World’s Dumbest Criminals” books as the Walrus. He’s out of costume, which is a good thing; I requested that everyone wear casual clothes, and if the Walrus got the message, odds are everyone else did, too.

Then comes Frank Payne, “the Constrictor.” He joins right into the poker game almost without a word; Frank’s an old hand at cards, and I immediately back out of the game, opting instead to go hang out over by the bar with Miss Peelo, who smiles at me warmly.

“There are a lot of positive thoughts about you coming this way, Herman. More of them appear, and more get closer all the time.”

“Yeah?” I say gruffly. “Got an exact count for me?”

She just smiles, winking that third eye of hers at me.

“A lot.”

Time passes, and yes, a lot is about right; here’s Fred Myers, barking in that Aussie accent, here’s good old Hobie Brown, here’s Rob Farrell, giggling like a moron at the situation, and there’s Drake Shannon, thank Christ without that ridiculous Eyeball-helmet of his, and Terry Sorenson, looking maybe a little high but certainly happy to be here. Thomas Fireheart comes in; idiot didn’t wear a costume, but he stayed in Puma form, the jerk-off, couldn’t just be plain old Tommy for a single fucking night.

Everyone’s talking, getting along; Fireheart thinks of himself as hero, so he’s hanging back, but Felicia is chatting him up like a pro. Terry’s drinking and smiling, Hobie and Miss Peelo are drinking tea like losers; Hobie’s on the wagon again, probably for good this time.

Fred comes up and grins at me, and despite myself, I grin back. He’s got this infectious “that’s not a knife, this is a knife” energy about him that you just can’t resist. He glances over at Felicia, and then winks at me, and we both crack up.

“So, being a superhero working out well for you, then.”

“Not as good as it seems, Freddie.”

He speaks under his breath.

“She got the herpes, mate?”

I choke on my beer.

“No, Fred, I was referring to getting my ass kicked, week-in, week-out.”

We chat about life; Freddie just got out during the big break-out of the Raft. He had the right idea; didn’t bother trying to engage the heroes, just bolted straight the hell into the water and swam until he couldn’t swim any more. He ended up on the beach in Canada; he’d passed out, and some kind of undertow carried him up there. Within a few days he’d made it down to Jersey and gotten his boomerangs, but just looking at them put him into a near-suicidal depression.

My call was the first reason he’s left the house in over five months.

Antonio Rodriguez wobbles in, and waves to us with one of those giant clawed hands. His ridiculous armadillo suit, forever grafted to his skin, means he’s the one guy here other than Aleksei wearing a costume; they’re in the same boat, really, tricked by scumbags into super-humanity … if you can even call it humanity, any more.

I’m amazed he’s here; I mean, Antonio is in Vil-Anon, a kind of recovery group for ex-villains. I considered it once upon a time, but it turns out they only accept metas, and encourage trying to “live a normal life.”

“Live a normal life.”


We’re there in the first place because we failed at living a normal life. Now a pep talk and a couple of support-group happy sunshine handjobs are going to turn us around?




At 11:00, the first of the heavies shows up.

Adrian Toomes has been my friend since I started this whole stupid superhero shit; an inventor of the highest caliber, Toomes is a thief like me. The one person he has killed he actually broke out of prison to apologize for.

Toomes’ “vulture suit” may look ridiculous, even after its recent overhaul, but the guy is one of the best fliers in the business; I once saw him out-maneuver Angel of the X-Men, and that’s no fucking joke, let me say that straight.

His left eye is missing; I ask him about it, but he gives me a warm “Don’t worry, boy, don’t worry.” and pats me on the head like I’m his pet Chihuahua or something.

And I accept it, because he’s Toomes, and Toomes likes me as much as anyone I know, except maybe Aleksei.

Normally I wouldn’t tell you this, but for the sake of explaining our relationship, I’ll go into a bit of detail. You know how you have that one friend, who it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen him (or her, you know, whatever), as soon as you see them again it’s like it’s only been ten minutes?

Adrian is that friend; a much older brother.

He’s to me what the Tinkerer wishes he was: a mentor, a man whose crotchety, bungling exterior hides a brilliant mind and a warm heart.

He’s also extremely greedy and materialistically selfish beyond all sane limits, but hey, we’re villains, remember?

Our flaws are what define us. You, the noble and heroic audience, don’t need to worry about our good qualities. You just need to pay attention to all the great things Spider-Man is doing; his flaws don’t define him, though. They just make him “complex.”

Fuck him. And fuck being complex.

“What is this, Herman?” Toomes whispers once he finally gets me alone over in a quiet corner. “What are you trying to do, here?”

“You got my call,” I say. “You came on your own volition.”

“Things haven’t been perfect for me lately, Herman.” He motions to the scars on his face, and the eye-patch over his left eye. “This is a difficult time for people like us. I came, lad, because you said you needed my help.” He sips his hard cider, and looks vaguely off into the distance.

Flint Marko, when he appears at the crust of eleven thirty, looks nervous as hell at first, but he loosens up once he sees Toomes; they’re old buddies. I actually get a big sandy hug, as does Aleksei.

“You, me, Adrian and Aleksei, Herman,” Flint says, smiling, that ridiculous green and black shirt of his a familiar and strangely comforting sight. “We’re the originals. We’ve got to stick together, yeah?”

Flint Marko. Probably another puppeteered creation of my father’s. So weird to see him, to know that through all the tumult in this poor, misguided man’s life, through the stints as both hero and villain … My father was there. Behind the scenes, working the lights, revising the scripts, making sure everything went according to plan.

“Yeah, man, for sure.” I raise my glass. “To the originals, may we remember that first little taste of victory forever.” Flint shakes his head and laughs.

“He never saw us coming.” We clink glasses, and just sit there smiling at each other; whenever Flint moves, there’s this odd grinding sound, always has been. It’s the sound of billions of individual grains of sand reasserting themselves. I raise a plate.

“You want some Rice-Krispie treats?”

Peter Petruski, who I still call “Paste Pot” even though it pisses him off a little, shows up at around eleven forty-five. Like an idiot he came wearing a  shirt reading “SCHULTZ AVENGERS.” He must have ironed it up this afternoon; a real cheapie home-made deal. I have to admit though, it makes me smile; Marty cheers when he sees it, and Felicia runs her nails down his chest, causing Pete to jokingly fan himself with a napkin.

Pete’s hands-down one of my favorite people; I realize this as I’m talking to him, but, had he not shown, my feelings would’ve lain dormant.

That’s what’s getting to me most about tonight; I always said I didn’t have friends, and that Aleksei was the only one who’d talk to me. But now that I’ve gotten them all in one place, it’s getting harder and harder for me to deny that I really do enjoy a lot of these folks.

Herman Schultz: Social Butterfly? Main man, best bud?

Prom queen?

Maybe. I’d look great in the tiara.

Maguire Beck and Brian Jenks show up together; word is they’re dating, but lord only knows how she tolerates him after those meta-treatments; we’re talking nearly Aleksei-level intelligence, for shitsakes.

Maguire showing is a good sign; another reasonably big name, depending on who she’s halloweening as now, Mad Jack or Mysterio.

I’m hoping for Mad Jack; more offensive capabilities, while most of Mysterio’s gimmickry relies on him being able to draw you IN, not knock you OUT.

Felicia comes over to me, and brushes those plump lips against my cheek, dragging them up across my stubble to my ear.

“They’re all here for you, babe.”

“Please,” I say, trying to shrink further into the dark corner where I’ve made my current base-camp. “Don’t rub it in.”

“I had no idea this many people would show up,” she says.

“Oh, thanks for your confidence.”

“No, it’s just … when I was a villain, a straight-up villain, it wasn’t like people were crawling out of the woodwork to help me when things got rough.” She looks me up and down, and then smiles. “I’m glad you finally got rid of the eyepatch.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Me, too.”

Blitz arrives ten minutes later, scaring the hell out of me. She silently goes over to the bar, looks around, and just sits quietly, staring at the lacquered wood; I plan to keep my distance, but Miss Peelo practically shoves me into Blitz’s massive back.

Out of costume, she seems even bigger than when in it, seven foot, easy. Not a particularly “pretty” woman, but with a strong, masculine quality I find instantly attractive. Her silence is explained without the costume, as well; usually her neck is covered by a plate of armor, but now I can see an enormous jagged slashing scar across her throat.

Her nose still has a little bandage on it from where I broke it, but the staple wounds seem to have healed up nicely.

“Hey,” I say to her emotionless stare. “What happened to your neck?”

She pulls a little white-board out of her pocket and writes on it with a dry erase marker.


“No shit?” I say quietly, and she just nods.

Power Broker. Fucking YUCK.

“Let me guess; he gave you the strength on the condition that you work for him.”

She nods. I’m quiet for a moment.

“Look, about Eddie —”

She raises a hand to silence me, and then scribbles away on her board again.


“I had Miss Peelo do a search for you; we couldn’t find you in New York state —”

The hand comes up again, and she writes.


“Why?” I say, genuinely boggled.


Felicia sees this over my shoulder, and laughs out loud. Five minutes later Felicia’s talking and Blitz is scribbling, and I think I see a friendship forming, as I manage to fade again into the background.

The door opens and closes, and suddenly, everyone starts clapping. I notice a fuzzy mop of sandy blonde hair through the crowd by the entrance, and rush towards it.

“Maxwell motherfucking Dillon!” I say, embracing him, ignoring the slight static shock.

It’s not like Max and I have ever been very good friends, but I’m happy as hell to see him here; I needed someone with electrical powers, and Max, in that respect, is the best there is.

He and I always sort of rubbed each other the wrong way, to be honest; we’re both usually pretty down on ourselves, but I don’t let it get in the way of my work. Max, on the other hand, is damaged goods. His parents were loving enough, they just would take these constant little shots at him, chipping away, and I think finally it must’ve just driven him bonkers; even when Max is about to win it big, he’s still certain of his imminent failure.

He also tries to cover it by being absurdly cocky and wearing a particularly garish costume, but it doesn’t work; he just ends up looking like an asshole wearing an absurd sun-flower-head costume in an effort to hide his own insecurity.

The applause he got when he came in, though, I must say, is entirely merited. Most of the guys here are fresh out of the Raft, a breakout that Max was an integral part in; he got caught and locked up almost immediately thereafter, but he’s out again now, and he’s here, and that sincerely kicks ass.

The entire Circus of Crime, everyone from Zelda to Iron Jack, shows up with Maynard leading the way at twelve thirty-six; that’s seventeen more people in under a minute. Considering I only called Zelda, that’s a pretty good sign; she must’ve run up her old buddies from the circus for back-up in case this turned out to be some sort of trap.

Maynard doesn’t look too happy when he sees the Punisher; the last time they met up, Punisher shot off one of his fingers.

Jesus. There are over forty people here, milling around, talking, laughing … Felicia has pressured Frank into dancing with her to Muse’s “Super Massive Black Hole” as it plays on the juke box, and a couple of other people are starting to dance, too; I notice Tanya Sealy in the crowd, and try to hide for a minute like a retard; things didn’t end too good between me and her.

They don’t make a Hallmark card that says Sorry I gave you gonorrhea.

I check around to make sure I didn’t miss anyone else; I didn’t.

Looking over them, I have a kind of scary thought; I mean, I didn’t expect nearly this many people to show up. I guess maybe Honor Amongst Thieves might not be such bullshit after all.

This isn’t a joke anymore. This is turning into an army.

Otto Octavius and Carolyn Trainer arrive together; weird practice for Otto, I thought they’d parted ways a long time ago. He must’ve brought her for back-up, just in case. That would at least explain why she’s wearing a trench coat; to hide those modified Doc Ock arms of hers.

It’s one AM, and “The First Single” by the Format is playing on the juke box.

If anybody else is going to come, I guess they’re going to have to start in the middle. I have Aleksei start herding everyone into their chairs; the whole time he’s shouting out, “Announcement time! Everybody sit down! Herman’s gonna make his announcement!” Marty turns off the juke.

Ten minutes later, once everybody’s finally seated, I edge out in front of the crowd. I’ve never been super-comfortable in front of people, but by now, that’s no big revelation to you. You’ve been inside my head for like three months now; my stage-fright ain’t quite a “shocker,” if you get the …

Oh, God, listen to me. I’m scared retarded.

Punisher and Aleksei stand at the back, big as life; my royal guard. The Enforcers have set themselves up at the doors, per my instruction; even though I’ve got this place under fifty different types of stealth technology, I want a back-up plan. Keeps my balls from shrinking up and falling off.

I look out into the crowd silently; the front row is Adrian, Pete, Flint, Otto and Fred.

Good. Friends all. I try to pretend I’m just talking to them, ignoring the many somewhat more questioning, even vaguely suspicious faces in the audience.

I decide to open with humor.

“We all know what happened last time this many meta-crims were in a BWNN together. So on that night, let me introduce you to our special guest speaker, the Scourge of the Underworld!”




And then, Otto laughs. He tries to stop himself, but he laughs, a shocked little sound; he can’t even believe I made the joke. None of them can. But once he lets out that little nerd-gasp laugh, the place fucking EXPLODES.

Everyone is choking on their beer, crying, stomping, slapping their thighs and smiling so hard it hurts their cheeks. It’s not often we all get to be together like this; not often we can make a dark joke about the Scourge and have people relate. It’s not often we can look around and realize that, in some small way, we are with our peers.

I didn’t invite any murderers tonight. Sure, some of the guys here have killed the odd cop or mobster, but for the most part, we’re dealing with crooks, cretins and costumed cuckoos.

Exactly what I was looking for.

Once the laughter dies down, I start talking; I leave out the whole bit about most of their lives being indirectly and sometimes directly controlled by a massive government conspiracy, but other than that I give them an unabridged account of my life so far as a superhero.

I tell them about Rampage. I tell them about Scorpion, the Grizzly and the mechanics of FPS. I tell them about everything. When I bring up Eddie’s death down in the Subway Tunnels, there are some sounds of shock; Eddie had some friends here. When I tell them about the kidnapping and torture of the Spot, there are some murmurs of outrage. There’s even a little round of applause after I tell them about what I did to Hammerhead after he mocked the super-villain trade.

But most of all, they gasp at the idea that my father is directly involved in a plot to, as I put it, “seize control of the entire metahuman population.”

Again, I leave out the part wherein he helped create said metahumans.

And, to my shock, everyone quietly listens. They listen to me talk up there in front of them for over an hour, eating fruit, cookies and cheese, sipping soda and beer, and just listening to me. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before.

good feeling.

And unlike most good feelings, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. There’s something happening in this room that I don’t understand yet; why do all these guys seem to like me so much? Why are they listening to ME, of all people? I’m one of the least successful of all of them!

I finish up with the breakout from Stark Tower, and everyone is quiet. I shuffle my feet, and look down at my toes, unsure of myself again.

“If you’re here …” I say slowly. “That means you’re not currently associated with or in the employ of Advanced Idea Mechanics, Roxxon, the Maggia, Hydra, the Hellfire Club, Justin Hammer, and/or the Serpent Squad; I requested as much in my calls to you, so I take this to be the case.” I’m silent for a moment, giving time for anybody to say otherwise.

“I got this thing, I’ve got to voice it now,” Antonio says, raising an enormous paw.

“Go ahead, man,” I say, smiling, trying to keep it light.

“I’m here out of respect for you, Herman. Back when we were in Leavenworth together, before they transferred me out to the Vault, you let Hercules and the guards know that I wasn’t in on the Big June breakout, and that cut my sentence by a half after Cap put in a good word for me. You didn’t have to do that, and I owe you, but I’m on the level now. I’m Vil-Anon; I’m not gonna press it on you guys, but —”

“Whoa, whoa, hold up,” I say, raising a hand. “I’m not going to ask any of you to do anything illegal.”

This creates a hubbub, people quietly talking back and forth, but I see a couple of folks starting to look interested.

“How many of you are currently wanted by the police?”

All but one or two hands goes up.

“Okay, good. How many of you are wanted by SHIELD?”

Most of the same hands go up, but a few stay down.

I say the next part as a joke, and you need to understand that, because the reaction fucking BLOWS MY MIND.

“Right, how many of you feel like you owe me a favor?”

Almost every goddamn hand in the place goes up.

I stammer out a word like “ogh,” and then stop dead. I hear Felicia stifle a giggle.

“What … are you serious?” I say, specifically talking to Toomes, but there are plenty of nods and voices of affirmation. I look to Frank, confused. “Frank, I’ve never done anything for you, man —”

“Herman, are you fucking kidding me?” he says; he actually sounds a little pissed off. “When the Rose put that hit out on me, you hijacked a SHIELD Comsat to find me and let me know, then blew seven thousand of your own cash to get me deep into Canada.”

“Yeah, but —” I start, and then Hubert interrupts.

“And when me and the White Rabbit wuz on the run from Egghead, you let us stay in that … that subway place you had.”

“Well, sure, but I never —”

“Adrian laughs, interrupting me again. What about the time I fought Iron Fist over the East River?”

Oh, God, not this, don’t bring this up in front of people.

“Herman, you spent the better part of three days and two million dollars convincing Mr. Fish and the Abomination to help look for me, and when you found me, you not only repaired the suit and covered my medical bills, you made improvements on my original design.”

“Guys, come on, it’s not like I —”

“I OD’d on heroin,” Pete says abruptly, and stands up. “I OD’d, in costume, and the paramedics wouldn’t come within twenty fucking feet of me, and then Herman shows up out of costume and CARRIES my ass to the Kingpin’s doctors.”

This is embarrassing me, but the anger that usually comes with the embarrassment isn’t there. Instead there’s just sort of this growing warm feeling in my chest.

“What about when I got dissolved?” Flint says. “Do you guys know about this? Spider-Man threw me into a giant grater in a steel mill that split me up all over the city. When Herman heard, he takes it on himself to go around in his old piece of shit Honda collecting me all over Brooklyn, and then he makes this big funnel machine that vibrates me back together.”

Some part of me wants them to stop.

But they keep going.

They just keep going.

I nearly break down; I have to choke back tears a few times.

I sit down on the edge of a table as they finish up; everyone who’s had something to say has said it, and again, they’re all looking to me. Otto looks at me and gives me a half-condescending, half-friendly smile. Everything Otto does is half-condescending, so I take it to be a good thing.

“So, Herman. Do you actually have any idea how you’re going to stop your father from spotting us, or did you just bring us all here to massage your ego?”

“Actually Doctor Octavius,” I say (Otto loves when you call him by his full title, and the condescending part of the smile disappears), “I do have a plan.”

“You DO?” Aleksei says, baffled.

“Yes, Aleksei, I explained it to you like six hours ago.”

“Oh, that plan.”


“I know that plan.”

“Yes, you do.”

“That’s a good plan.”

“Aleksei …”

“Are you going to tell them the plan?”

“Well, I was trying to —”

“You should, because they’re involved.”


“… Sorry.”

I take a moment, just breathing, to compose myself.

“Well, Shocks,” Pete says. “Care to enlighten us?”

So I do. In short order I explain my plan to bring down my father, save Johnny Ohnn and Carl Creel, simultaneously incapacitate the New Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, enact the largest nonviolent super-villain act ever attempted, utterly and completely destroy the Control ghost-arm of the CSA, and bring New York City to an absolute motherfucking standstill.

“So,” I say, without pausing for even a second. “Who wants in?”

The applause, as they say, is deafening.

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