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  | Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Villains & Vigilantes | The Revolution | Story So Far | Aside |





    Scott went to the office that morning, bringing a very, very large box of chocolates. He'd been reading up on the customs.
    "Oh hi, Mr. Silver," Stephanie said despondently, head in her hands.
    "Hello." He handed her the box.
    "Thank you," she murmured. "These are the 'he's an idiot' chocolates, aren't they?"
    "Yeah. Are the guys in yet?"
    "Yeah, they're in back. Ooh, cream," she noted sadly, opening the box.
    Scott headed to the conference room. "That was kind of disappointing," he announced.
    "After all the work we put in," Larry sighed, making no effort to pretend that he didn't know what Scott was talking about. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is... I got to practice my palming, though, that was good."
    "Mm. I ended up having to drop the shovel, went right through the roof of a cab. It was depressing." He'd really liked that costume.
    "Did you hear the applause?" Larry perked up at mention of the Gravedigger outfit.
    "No, I was a little busy."
    "Oh." He clapped his hands briskly. "Well done, well done."
    "Concurred," Felix agreed succinctly.
    Scott turned the topic to business. "So in case you didn't figure from the three weeks of news footage, we got our heads handed to us."
    "Yes, we did notice that you'd been beaten by the...." Larry looked for the list.
    "The Circuit Board, in my case. Really kind of dreadful. There were a whole lot of theme villains waiting in that house. Like all the ones who suddenly showed up here in Boston, plus some who haven't."
    "It's almost like they knew you were coming."
    "Are we bugged?" he asked the logical question.
    Larry shook his head firmly. "I checked the place over already: no. Unless there's somebody out there so good at hiding them that we can't find them. However, I find that unlikely. Didn't they have a short-term precog working for them?"
    "Yeah... she was working for 1-800-HENCHMEN, I don't know where she is at the moment. Last time we saw her was when she was being one of the ravens for Odin."
    "Still, we're not even clear on what her power base is, and from what she was displaying, this would require an awful lot more range."
    "She didn't seem to have that much," Scott agreed. "Didn't seem to have all that much either when she was Holly out in Seattle. I suppose at least she's got steady work."
    "There's always room for skilled henchmen," he shrugged. "Especially skilled low-variant henchmen. I'm sure she pulls in an excellent salary. Probably medical benefits, put on retainer...."
    "Well, if you ever find out where all our funding's going, maybe I'll see what I can do. If nothing else I'm certainly not using my medical benefits."
    "What would you like from us?" Larry asked, his mien growing more serious.
    "Other than present company, who else was Paul known to hang out with? I'm told by Needle that he was talking rather familiarly with someone shortly before she got zapped."
    "James, obviously, since the two of them worked together on their last gig... Molly, Stevie, the usual crew. Unless you mean people outside that circle?"
    "There were people from the other Great Hunt villains, but very few of them are up and around these days, and certainly none of them have the correct profile for this. Honestly, he was the only theme villain type that they routinely fought, other than a ubiquitous zodiac group... I think that's what they actually called themselves."
    "The Ubiquitous Zodiac Group?"
    "Mm. Didn't they cut some albums in the 70s?" Felix recalled.
    "I think," Larry agreed. "But we've already done searches of other people who were in the Game, who might have been involved in this," he shrugged.
    "Oh, on the downside, by the way, as far as personal bad news for you guys—according to Needle, he's mostly a brain in a giant toy now," Scott informed his henchmen.
    Felix, unusually, blinked. So did Larry, who also touched his ear and said, "Excuse me, I can't have heard that right. Paul is a brain in a giant toy?"
    "Apparently he built himself a body and is animating it. Which I think really in a lot of ways is probably a problem, considering it was his powers that were causing the neural degeneration to begin with, if he's having to use them almost continuously to keep his body moving."
    "I don't even know that he would be capable of that," Larry frowned.
    "They had gone to South America. Maybe the Nazis built him a body," Felix theorized.
    "That's possible," Scott admitted. "I don't know what he'd have that the... oh, money," he answered his own question. "Either that or a quick stop off at the illegal metahuman surgeons in Costa Diablo."
    "But if he's just animating it by himself, you're definitely right, that would accelerate the use of his powers... he can't have that much longer to live," Larry said soberly. "She was certain?" he asked intently.
    He sighed heavily. "Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul... at least we now know it's him; we can focus our attentions. I assume that you are going back up to the house in the Berkshires?"
    "Yeah, we kind of have to, if nothing else to discover the empty, dust-filled house that's apparently never been inhabited."
    Larry nodded. "If I were you, in fact, I'd get going. The longer you wait the more time they have to, I don't know, distribute dust."
    "Or put in the artillery, one of the two."
    "I think the artillery was there last time you were in, boss," he pointed out delicately. "You wandered in and were suddenly in the wrong play. Or at least had been cast as the wrong characters."
    "It was sort of dreadful," Scott agreed. "We'd gone in as the middle of a Dumas novel and suddenly we were in the middle of oh, the 'Charge of the Light Brigade.' Rather bothersome, that."
    "I'm certain, the way these things operate, they were only able to defeat you because they had the element of surprise," Larry assured him. "Now that you are prepared for them and their distinct abilities, there is no way they'll be able to stand before you."
    "Possible," Scott replied dubiously.
    "I have complete faith in you, my man!"
    "Well, that makes one of us. Thank you very much."
    Before he could leave, Larry cleared his throat slightly. "We might be forced to... we had planned, you see, to...."
    "A certain cessation of extra-curricular activities?" Scott suggested.
    "Precisely. And it seems...."
    "Unfortunately, the target's a doofus."
    "There's been an encore. We're currently at the end of our original... list of characters. We might be forced to recruit a few more. Please understand... nothing's been broken," he said with extreme care, looking almost hopefully at Scott.
    "The city seems at the moment to have a surfeit of extras," his boss replied.
    "No one would notice if this were to continue say, for another act or two, then?"
    "Particularly if you keep using the same sort of players you have been," Scott told him, certain his meaning would be taken.
    Larry broke into a broad smile. "We'll get to work on the script right away. Thank you."

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson