CONTINUED FROM PART TWO
You got me runnin’ goin’ out of my mind,
You got me thinkin’ that I’m wastin’ my time.
Don’t bring me down, no no no no no,
I’ll tell you once more before I get off the floor
Don’t bring me down.
ELO, “Don’t Bring Me Down”
I am shocked – shocked – by the flimsiness of the interior walls in this building.
Ted Bradbury throws me through, like, the fifth wall in the QuantumWorks annex at work. I end up in a heap of debris in the middle of yet another ruined office. Somebody’s desk is wrapped around me. I cough, mouth full of drywall dust.
Either Ted has high-range super strength, or these office walls are really weak. I think it’s a little of both. Seriously, though, don’t all office buildings have to be earthquake and parahuman-resistant these days? You’d think I’d bounce off some of these walls instead of smashing through them like a wrecking ball.
Bouncing sounds less painful.
Awkwardly I pull myself to my feet. Whose office is this? It’s fucked up now.
Then Ted Bradbury emerges from the drywall fog, charging at me in his bathrobe and boxers. I’d laugh if he wasn’t kicking my ass.
This time I’m ready. As I’ve found out in the last 90 seconds or so, Ted is fast. Super-fast. He may be a little older, but he’s got game to spare. Ted’s been hitting the Bowflex and the Ensure, too, because he hits like a kicking mule or some other animal analogy. So this time I’m not underestimating him, this time—
Ted smacks me in the face, again. Hard.
My body flies back, launched by Ted’s fist. The back of my head cannonballs into some shelving units and rams through a wall. Suddenly I’m stuck, my head lodged into the damn wall.
I’ve got seconds before he grabs me.
Quick, quick! I grab something blindly off my utility belt -
- a solar flare bursts somewhere below me, and I’m rewarded with the sweet sound of Ted bellowing in pain.
“You son of a bitch!” he screams.
My feet find something to push off of and I kick myself the rest of the way through the wall and into the next office over. I fall headfirst on to a stout red oak desk and flop to the floor.
Okay, keep moving.
I get up, look around. I’m in Margo’s office. There’s that dumb cat clock of hers, there’s that cool lamp…
Then, in the seconds before Ted Bradbury smashes through the wall behind me, I notice on her desk a picture of us - Connor and Margo. It’s from that business trip to Turbine City we took last year, the Delphi project thing. The project team all went out drinking, and I guess somebody had a camera. I remember that night fondly. I do.
She’s got a picture of us on her desk.
The wall behind me explodes and a big Ted Meteor plows through. He’s covered in a nice frosting of plaster and drywall. Directly behind him is a floor-to-ceiling window which has (in the daylight) a nice view of the rail yards and The Bay.
Ted notices the window at the same time I do.
As hard as I can I kick Margo’s desk at Ted and the big window.
The solid oak piece shatters the glass and launches out high over the yards.
- but Ted has jumped over the desk and is now coming straight at me, yelling something.
I duck, and Ted’s fist plows into the bookshelf behind Margo’s desk, splintering it. Another punch whooshes through the air next to my face, narrowly missing.
You know, screw this being-on-the-defensive shit. I’m not going to let some old guy in a bathrobe beat the crap out of me. This is a dignity issue.
Grabbing him by the front of his robe, I pull Ted’s face towards me and head butt the bridge of his nose as hard as I can. I get an acceptable “gaaah!” noise from the big guy and he staggers back. That’s two points for me. Now if I could just get him out that window…
Ted recovers quickly, and returns the favor by punching me in the face.
It’s just a quick jab, so it doesn’t shoot me through the wall, but it stuns me for a second. I get little dancing motes of light in my goggles. Then my vision clears and I see Ted closing to grapple.
“You stupid son of a bitch,” he shouts. “You see what you’ve done?”
“You’re the one throwing me through walls, asshole.”
Ted drives his elbow into the side of my head. Ouch.
I grab his throat with one hand and stab him in the ribs with my rigid gauntlet. Even through my ringing ears can hear him groan. Gotcha, fucker.
I squeeze hard on Ted’s throat and twist as violently as I can, wrenching Ted’s body over mine in a super-powered ippon seoinage – a one-arm shoulder throw. He breaks through the wall of Margo’s office and tumbles into a hallway, caught in a tangle of metal framing and wires.
“Ted, I gotta admit man, you’re in pretty good shape,” I say, producing a sepia bomb from my belt.
I pull the pin, drop the bomb into the hallway, and - vooosh! - Ted is suddenly engulfed in an expanding cloud of black ink.
I switch on the infrared setting on my goggles and move to engage Ted. Ted knows I’m coming. He swings blindly, doesn’t connect. I wait for an opening then kick him in the ribs again -- same spot. I know, it’s not very heroic of me, but I think we’ve established that Ted is not somebody to screw with, in many ways. I just need him to be unconscious right now.
Ted groans and drops to one knee, clutching his ribs. He looks strange in my goggles, a grimacing infrared gargoyle. It makes it easier to drive a wicked haymaker into the side of his head.
Toggling back to the normal setting on the goggles, I step out of the sepia and back into Margo’s ruined office. I can hear Ted coughing in the middle of the ink cloud.
I think it’s time to call in the cavalry. Ted could be back on his feet in seconds, and frankly, I don’t have the power to shut down whatever transdimensional dog-and-pony show they’re running here. Plus - way confused. What the hell is Hydrangea doing in there? And what is that black hole thing? Margo has a picture of us on her desk? It’s too much shit for me to deal with alone. It’s time for the nuclear option: Silver Striker.
I bust out the switchblade Nokia that The Man himself gave me. Among other things, it’s a hotline to Striker Mountain. All I have to do is dial “911” and in seconds –
The Nokia reads “NO SIGNAL.”
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”
Ted Bradbury (or more accurately, Ted Bradbury’s forearm) slams into the back of my neck. I sprawl forward and blow through another wall with Ted on top of me. I drop the phone.
Where are we now? Ted decks me in the jaw. I almost black out. My head is pumping with blood. My neck hurts like a bastard.
“We’ve got jammers in play, idiot!”
Ted grabs me by my topcoat lapels and shakes me like a Muppet. He’s all blurry and loud.
“Who were you calling, Mackenzie?” Ted yells.
“Your wife, Ted.”
Ted shakes me some more. “Funny! You’re a funny guy.”
“I try,” I say. My vision is clearing.
Ted backhands me. I taste blood.
“What were you possibly hoping to accomplish, Mackenzie? Or do you even know?”
Ted pulls back his hand for another slap.
And right then and there I make up a new rule: nobody slaps me twice. Before he can land the blow I point my gauntlet down at Ted’s bare legs and fire a Marauderang point fucking blank right into his kneecap.
Ted screams like a pirate – “Yaargh!” – and falls back, clutching his knee.
I aim a kick at Ted’s head, but I’m still a little wonky from the neck trauma, and Ted catches my foot. He swings me into the nearest wall, but I only hit hard enough to crack it.
“You son of a bitch,” Ted yells as he holds his knee. “This is my bad knee.”
“Well if it wasn’t, it is now,” I say.
Ted leaps at me again, growling. I catch him in mid-air and try a throw of some sort, but we both end up crashing through the cracked wall and into the main hallway.
Right. The hallway with all the plants.
The red light is still on in the main hallway, and the air is thick with bitter smoke that reeks of burnt plastic. Ted and I end up on top of each other in the middle of the hallway, half-covered in plasterboard. I don’t think Ted realizes where he is –
- until a tentacle from one of the aloepus plants coils around his head.
I start to laugh, until another tentacle snares my right leg and lifts me up into the air. Crap, not again! Twisting around, I see more vegetable tentacles reaching up for me out of the plant’s giant ceramic pot. If more than one of these tentacles grabs me, my chances of escaping are not great. And I’m out of solar flares.
It looks at first like Ted’s in a similar predicament with his aloepus a few yards away, but then I watch him tear his tentacle in two like a baguette. The plant drops him, tentacles quivering in shock. He kicks the plant, pot and all, down the hallway, bashing into my plant, which drops me. The two plants scatter like tenpins down the hallway.
I barely have a chance to get to my feet when Ted tackles me.
We both rocket down the length of the hallway, which is now a red alien landscape of acrid smoke and thrashing tentacles. We smash into something solid, then careen against the main doors to the QuantumWorks annex, busting them open.
Too late, I realize that we smacked into the jumbo planter that holds the weird red orchids. I look up to see three of the beautiful orchids craning down towards Ted and I. Before I can react, the orchids shoot red dust down on us.
I breathe in this time. Smells sweet.
Both Ted and I scramble to our feet and away from the giant red orchid plant, wiping red powder from our faces. This can’t be good. I feel like I’m going to sneeze.
We stare at each other in the entrance of the annex. Neither of us moves to attack. Nice to see Ted’s favoring his hurt knee.
“Okay, Ted. What’s the story with that plant? What is this shit? Are we going to die or what’s the story?”
“Calm down,” he says, irritated. He blows his nose, farmer-style. “I can’t remember what that plant does – I don’t think it’s lethal.”
“You don’t even know what it is? What kind of lame-ass villain are you?”
“Villain?” Ted laughs. “You really are a fucking idiot, Mackenzie. I don’t know what Q sees in you.”
I definitely feel like I’m going to sneeze. What’s he talking about? My stomach gurgles.
Ted holds his stomach, burps. “Aw, no. I just remembered what that thing, that plant does –“
Then my stomach contorts violently. I feel like a face hugger has planted an alien in me – severe cramping, sudden nausea, gas… I don’t have to sneeze, I have to puke.
“It -" Ted starts, then burps. “It makes you s-sick…”
We both vomit, in unison.
The sheer unexpected power of the vomiting drives us both down on our hands and knees. It’s pretty bad. My eyes tear up inside my goggles and my nose bubbles snot as I violently empty my stomach on to the carpeted floor on the ninth floor. Now there’s some shrimp phad thai that I never thought I’d see again.
I don’t know how long we’re like that, Ted and I, barfing helplessly on the floor. Occasionally we manage to groan an insult or profanity at each other between fits of heaving. Finally, we’re both just laying their next to our respective puddles of discharge, panting and occasionally retching.
“Jesus,” Ted says, coughing. “That was awful.”
“I thought I was going to fucking die,” I say.
Then, I smell bacon.
It’s that familiar aroma of cooking bacon that I smelled on occasion over the last few months – the smell of somebody interdimensionally transporting, or “jumping” as they call it. Well, that’s what SuperPeople says it’s called, anyway.
Bleary-eyed, I look up at a shimmering panel of light near the security desk. A silhouetted figure steps through the portal, which promptly collapses.
Dr. Quark – as in the Stormrider, Surgeon of Reality – is standing right there in front of me and my puke. He's wearing his trademark white lab coat over his trippy black suit that's full of stars.
I wipe my mouth. I'm confused. My head hurts. What the hell is going on? "Dr. Quark?"
"That's right," he says, in that same smooth baritone you hear in all the press conferences. "But you also know me as... John Quentin."
Dr. Quark takes off his black eye mask.
I stare at him. John Quentin - the VP in charge of QuantumWorks - is Dr. Fucking Quark?
I feel really stupid all of a sudden.
"Okay, will somebody kindly tell me what the fuck is going on?"