That’s one thing about being a superhero: there’s always some asshole out there who wants to kill you.
The guy in black wearing the jade samurai mask walks steadily towards me across the empty ninth floor of the Metro parking garage. He’s about sixty yards away and closing.
“Who is that?” Margo says behind me.
I whirl around. Why isn’t she in her car? “Margo, get the hell out of here!”
“Prepare to die, Marauder!” the guy yells. He’s not very original, whoever he is. He’s about forty yards away. Margo is running around to the other side of her car and hopping in.
“I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure,” I say, readying myself for the attack.
“Green Dragon!” he shouts through his grimacing Asian mask, and then breaks into a run.
Margo starts her car behind me.
Green Dragon launches himself into a full-on flying kick at about ten yards. He must think I’m slow, or perhaps he’s testing me. I easily dodge the kick –
--but as he passes by in mid-air he casts flash powder at me. Fwoosh! A fleeting but intense ball of fire engulfs my face. The auto-polarizing goggles immediately compensate for the glare, so I don’t go blind, but it’s still dazzling. I brace for the real attack --
Green Dragon rebounds off Margo’s car and springs at me like a jaguar. He whacks me in the jaw with a wicked mid-air roundhouse punch that sends me sprawling. He’s strong, maybe in my class.
Good, that means I don’t have to worry about killing the fucker.
“Today you die!” he yells.
He kicks me in the head. I take it, wait for another one…
I grab Green Dragon’s calf before the kick can land. I twist, and he goes down with a roar. His other foot – I have enough clarity to notice that he’s wearing ninja tabi, cloven toed moccasins – swings up and smashes into my face. I lose my grip.
We both pop up and away from each other, crouched in ready stances. Margo has her car in reverse and is trying to back up.
“What’s your story, dickhead?” I say, wiping blood from my mouth.
“You’re my story, Marauder,” Green Dragon says. “You’re my ticket to the big leagues.”
“I’m your ticket to Painstown, baby.” I fire a couple of Marauderangs at him.
He blocks and dodges the spinning Marauderangs. I thought he would, but as he’s doing that – I strike.
With a Robert Goulet battle cry I leap the short distance between us and drive a right hook into his mask. He flattens under the impact. I get in another punch as he goes down.
“You like that?” I yell. “You want some mo—hulgh!”
He drives his elbow into my sternum. I fold in two.
Green Dragon hops into the air and kicks me – his feet jackhammer into my chest, sending me flying through the air –
-- right into Margo’s car.
I strike the Sentra’s passenger side door, crumpling it like a soda can. I’m vaguely aware of the sound of her screaming and the side-impact air bags popping. Glass from the window rains down on me.
Gah, I’m having a hard time catching a breath. Fucker knocked the wind out of me.
Stuck in Margo’s car. I smell gas. I reach up and grab crumpled metal, start pulling myself free…
Here he comes.
I wrench a Solar Flare out of my belt and hurl it in Green Dragon’s direction. It fizzes, then explodes in a brilliant flash of light. He screams.
“Margo, you all right?” I yell.
“Yeah,” she calls from inside her crumpled car. “Just great.” I think I detect a note of sarcasm.
I pull myself out of Margo’s Nissan. Green Dragon is staggering a bit, disoriented. His chest is singed and his jade samurai mask is blackened. He kicks the brightly burning flare out of the way and turns to face me, shaking his head to clear the haze.
“So has somebody put a hit out on me, or are you just doing this because you’re ambitious and stupid or what’s the deal?”
Green Dragon laughs. “You mean you don’t know?”
“Enlighten me,” I say.
“My pleasure!” He spits flame at me. He fucking spits flame at me! A blast of fire erupts from his samurai mask and engulfs me. I stagger back into Margo’s Nissan. You know, the one that’s leaking gasoline?
Margo’s car instantly goes up in flames.
I’m on fire, Margo’s car is on fire. I’m not worried so much about me; my suit is fireproof and so am I for the most part, but I’m pretty sure Margo isn’t.
Green Dragon is laughing. “Burn, Marauder!”
I can hear Margo screaming, trapped inside her burning car. I have to end this quick or she’s dead.
Still on fire, I grab hold of the caved in passenger door on the car. I extend the climbing talons in my gauntlets, which pop out of the fingertips like cat claws into the car door. I can smell the Nomex outer layer of my suit bubbling and smoking. Smoke fills my lungs.
Everybody has been in a social situation where afterwards you wish you had said something witty or stinging or appropriate. It’s like that for me every time I fight some goon like Green Dragon here. Afterwards I sit around in the Secret Chamber nursing my wounds thinking of all the clever things I should have but didn’t say while fighting the Jet Pack Mafia or somebody. When I first started the superhero thing and was establishing my brand, I envisioned The Velvet Marauder as sort of a dashing, mysterious hero (more on the Zorro end of the spectrum) and I thought that I’d be able to incorporate some banter and tag lines into my crime fighting. You know, to help reinforce the brand identity. But you know what? It’s hard to make the funnies when somebody’s kicking your teeth in or a robot is swinging your ass around in the air. I’ve gotten a couple quips in here and there, and I try to keep it light, but I’ve got a pretty lame track record as far as superhero banter goes. Which is why I told myself that next time I get in a fight, I’m going to remember to say something witty and appropriate.
I think of this while I’m still on fire as I rip the door off of Margo’s burning Nissan. I can feel Green Dragon’s presence behind me, sense him through the shimmering heat and rolling black smoke of the fire.
It’s Go Time.
“You know, this has been fun…” I call through the blaze, gripping the door.
I swing the car door around in a big whooshing arc, like a battle axe.
“But I’m showing you the door!”
There’s a terrible car-crash noise as I swat Green Dragon with the burning car door. The door busts apart and the man in black goes flying into a concrete pillar twenty yards away.
I jump back into the burning car and reach for Margo. Her beautiful face appears out of the smoke and I feel her hands clutching my arm. I lift her up and out of the car. She’s coughing. Gently I toss her down and away from the car, and then hop after her.
“My car…” she says, dazed.
The gas tank on the Nissan finally goes, and the car explodes. We both step back from the sudden blast of heat.
“My car!” Margo yells. “Shit- my car!”
“Sorry…” I say lamely.
Margo looks over at me, stunned. Her face is smudged with black and her hair is a charmingly tangled mess. The black leather jacket she’s wearing is steaming and charred. “You, um, you’re still on fire.”
“Oh.” I shrug off my burning faux-velvet topcoat and pat out any smoldering spots on my black nightstalker armor. I smell like burnt plastic. “Thanks.”
“The notes,” she says, looking around. “Have you seen – LOOK OUT!”
Green Dragon leaps on my back. Before I can react I feel a wire go tight around my throat. Margo screams.
I try to hook my thumbs into the garrote, but it’s no good. He’s up on my back pulling hard on the wire, his knees digging into my shoulders. Feels like he’s crushing my Adam’s apple.
“I’ll have your head!” he yells. “That’s all I need anyway!”
He yanks back violently. I gag. If the neck of my suit didn’t have a reinforced collar, he’d have decapitated me by now.
My vision is going hazy. I can see Margo, and the burning car, and the garage…
Ah. Got it.
I bend my knees, and then hop directly up with all my might. There’s a sickening thump as Green Dragon’s head smashes up against the low cement ceiling of the parking garage. The garrote suddenly goes slack, and he topples off my shoulders and on to the ground.
Massaging my throat, I say, “Low overhead clearance, asshole.” It’s the best I can do under the circumstances. I know, I need help.
Margo runs up. “Oh my God, are you all right?”
I cough. “Fine.”
“Who is he?”
Kneeling down next to Green Dragon, I roll his limp body over. I pull his jade samurai mask off – it’s surprisingly light weight. This is going in the trophy collection for sure.
Under the mask is an Asian guy, mid-twenties, and unconscious.
“Do you know him?” Margo asks.
“Never seen him before, never heard of him.”
“Do you think he’s from The Company? Hired to kill us? Or me?”
“I don’t think so,” I say. “I got the impression he was after me. I’ve made enemies…”
Sirens wail in the distance.
“Listen, you’re going to have to talk to the cops,” I say. “Tell them that you were just getting your car, that you got in the way of this fight. It happens to people all the time, they’ll believe you. Don’t mention The Company, okay?”
“Got it,” she says. “Got it. My car…”
“Margo, let the paramedics check you out. You’ve got some burns; they’re going to want to take you to the hospital. Are you listening to me?”
She scratches her head and looks at me like she’s trying to remember something. I think she’s in shock. “My car…” she mutters.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry you got caught in the middle of this.”
“You saved me,” she says. Margot’s face glows warmly in the firelight.
I wave a hand dismissively. “It was nothing, really.”
She looks at me funny.
The sirens are louder now, echoing through the parking garage.
“I better get out of here.” Oh, shit! My voice! I sound like me! Like Connor Mackenzie! Green Dragon must have fucked up my vocal chords with his garrote.
Margo squints at me – does she recognize my voice?
I clear my throat and say huskily, “Damn, that guy did a number on my throat.”
“Right,” she grimaces. “Ouch. Listen, thanks for helping me with the conspiracy and saving my life and stuff.”
She rushes forward and plants a quick dry kiss on my lips. “Thanks,” she says, quietly.
And then a pair of ECPD cop cars squeals up the ramp and on to the ninth floor, sirens wailing.
“See ya,” I say, and, with Green Dragon’s mask in hand I take a flying leap out of the garage and into the night.