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





Phoenix Talon didn't want to lose the momentum he'd recently built up, so he called Rick and arranged a meeting with those Blood Boards who weren't in the hospital.
    "Come by my house, you can pick me up, I'll show you where one of our meeting places is."
    "Think they're in a mood to listen?" Phoenix Talon asked.
    "I don't know."
    Dawn met him downstairs as he was getting ready to go. "Can we talk for a minute?"
    "What's up?"
    "Um... you seem to be taking this Blood Board thing awfully personally."
    "I don't know about personally... it's important to me." He shrugged.
    "D'you remember just before we went to Japan, when all the strange things happened?"
    "I try not to think about it." Xyrgoth was a long time ago.
    Dawn pressed on. "Remember how you said that it was just because you were so easy to just, push over the edge, that you were able to get controlled?"
    "Um, that kid you put in the hospital with the broken collarbone and the three broken ribs...?"
    "He's not dead, is he?"
    "No, but he could have been," she pointed out somberly.
    "Don't worry, I'm not puttin' any of them in the hospital today," he assured her.
    "Just... trying to make sure you stay a little further away from that edge."
    "I know, but see, now I'm tryin' to recruit 'em, so I don't want to hurt 'em," he pointed out. "It would lessen their effectiveness."
    "If they were all in the hospital?"
    "Exactly. What, then there's none of 'em. So, I won't knock 'em around any more than my sensei did me," he promised. "Just a bruise or two, it was nothing."
    She seemed willing to accept that. "Okay. Well, have fun."
    "I'll be back soon, hon." He took one of the motorcycles. He wasn't in costume, although he brought all his gear with him in a bag and had the mirrors on his wrists, and drove over to Rick's house.
    "It's a bit of a drive for us to get out there," the kid told him, getting on the back of the bike. "Are you goin' in costume?"
    "I got it."
    Rick sounded uncertain. "Most of the guys, they don't recognize you outside of a costume."
    "They're gonna have to start learning."
    "I hear Bobby's in the hospital?" Rick asked a while later over the wind noise.
    "It was a fight, you'll have that," Phoenix Talon yelled back. "I tried to go easy on him. I hate to say this, but when you get in a fight with a superhero, you have to expect to get fuckin' hurt, okay? That's what the whole thing's about! Doc Cold nearly killed me—did I bitch? Did I say 'Oh, he wasn't supposed to do that?' You put on a costume, you have to expect to bleed, that's the way it works."
    "I hope you're working on your recruiting pitch, there...."
    "You guys aren't gonna be in costumes, this is different. You guys are gonna go after the folks who aren't gonna be wearing costumes. Like... the Alley Cats. They don't wear costumes, do they?"
    "Right, so it's different. It's a different level," he explained.
    "But Tybalt doesn't wear a costume. He just has a leather jacket with that cat tattoo."
    "What can he do? You were implying there was some weird shit."
    Rick shrugged. "He's just really godawful fast and a hideously good shot."
    "I may have to deal with Tybalt myself, we'll see about that." If the guy was a variant, it wouldn't be cool to have him going after these kids.
    Rick directed him to the abandoned construction site that he'd been to before. A dozen Blood Boards were practicing, most of them familiar faces.
    "Hey guys! Guys!" Rick waved to them as he and Phoenix Talon dismounted.
    "Good afternoon, gentlemen. How ya'll doing?" the hero greeted the gang.
    "All right. Who's this guy?" the nearest Board asked Rick.
    "Why did I tell you we were gettin' together here?" Rick asked, exasperated.
    "You said that Phoenix Talon was gonna show up."
    "Who did I drive in with?"
    "We've gotta work on this," Phoenix muttered. He spotted the kid he'd let go from Brandeis' boat. "Wendell, I'm sure you recognize my voice?"
    "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Say that again," Wendell said.
    "Wendell, remember yesterday," he suggested with more patience than he felt. "We had a bit of a close encounter on your board, out in the harbor."
    "Yeah, it sounds like him all right."
    "You want proof, watch this." He popped a flash and used the mirrors to create a brief light display.
    "That's the first time he's done that where I can see afterwards, man."
    "Now that we've got that cleared up," he settled down to business as they gathered around. "I'm glad to see you all here, I'd like to say something first: I'm sorry about Bobby and the others. That's what you get," he told them sternly.
    "Does that mean you're coming here to beat us up?" one asked.
    "No, otherwise I already woulda started."
    "If ya'll remember, Rick gave you a message before you signed on with 1-800-HENCHMEN, that I thought it was a bad idea. Now you see what I was talkin' about." Pause. "You do, don't you?"
    A chorus of agreement followed.
    "That's why we didn't go."
    "Well, we went, but it turned out to be a really bad idea," admitted one of the half dozen who had abandoned Manta Master only for the final battle.
    "How were we supposed to know that he was gonna TELL them where his next crime was?" another protested.
    Phoenix Talon pounced on the opening. "That's what supervillains do, I'm tellin' ya. Guys, think about it, okay. And this actually works into what I'm about to say. If you want to go out and beat people up, and have a good time, and still be okay with the cops, you can do that. I do that every day. And that's what anybody with a brain in their head would do. Supervillains are fuckin' crazy. Think about it." He looked around; he had their attention. He was on a roll now. "You go out, you put on a costume, you get powers, you go out and you go up not only against the law and all the people you're tryin' to steal from, but superheroes! Eventually, you're gonna find a superhero, and then you're gonna get your ass kicked. Is there anybody here who can't vouch for this?"
    One hand rose timorously.
    "All right, but you saw them. Ask them, they can vouch for the experience. What you do is, if you got the cops, you got a superteam, basically you're a gang, except on the side that everybody likes."
    "So you're talking like the whole Guardian Angels thing in New York?"
    "Yeah, yeah, that's exactly it."
    "Didn't they get obliterated in the Daemonwar?" another asked.
    "Yeah, I remember like a bunch of them got turned to dogs, and stuff..." someone else remembered.
    There was always at least one. "Wait, wait, that's Weird Shit," he corrected them. "That's a different level entirely. Weird Shit is stuff that only full superheroes should deal with. Like...." He tried to think of an example. My daughter used to be a Daemonwhore, no I don't want to tell 'em that... possessed by Xyrgoth, no... Needle's a clone.... "Most of it's personal, I can't talk about it. But you definitely want to avoid it if you can. Let me get right to the point, the Guardian Angels are a good example."
    "Or the Ground Zero Defense League?" another youth suggested.
    "They're all dead, too," the objector pointed out. "Are you tryin' to—apparently if we don't get our ass kicked, you just want us to get killed!"
    "No, that's not gonna happen," he countered. "Boston is a much more normal town than New York, or Harborview. I give you permission, if daemons invade you don't have to do anything. You can get out of town with everybody else. On a more immediate plane, I hear you guys have a problem: the Alley Cats."
    Another general mumble of agreement.
    "Now see, right now, you're a gang, and they're a gang, so the public hates both of you," Phoenix Talon explained. "You're both good-for-nothin' juvies. If you guys go legit, we can still go after the Alley Cats, except now you're the good guys, and they're the bad guys. You see what I'm sayin'?"
    "Does this mean we'd have to give up the protection rackets and stuff?" one asked.
    Unhappy mumbling.
    "But you get on TV and people like you."
    Happier mumbling.
    "Um, how much do we get paid?" someone else wanted to know. "The 1-800-HENCHMEN people, we were pulling two grand a day."
    "And what happened? Did they give you medical insurance? I hope they did," he retorted. "Look, the first thing about going legit, is that it doesn't pay as well, you just have to accept that."
    "But they had a retainer system set up, before this Manta guy showed up, we had a week's worth of work where it was just us sittin' around waiting for him to show up, and that was what, a hundred dollars a day?" the accountant pressed doggedly.
    "Probably you'll all have to get, like, actual jobs," Phoenix Talon informed them. "Although we'll work on that. I'm open to suggestions, I'll have to make some phone calls. But let's face it, you're not gonna pull down two grand a day legit, nobody does. But," he raised a hand to forestall interruption, "you'll live longer to enjoy it."
    "Gordon Gecko doesn't make two thousand dollars a day?"
    "That was a fuckin' movie," he snapped. "He probably does. If you can all go work on Wall Street, you'll be makin' two grand a second, I don't know. They live in a different world. But you don't get to kick anybody's ass there. At least not literally."
    "So we're talking a metaphorical ass-kicking on Wall Street?"
    "Shut up!" Another Board smacked the speaker.
    Phoenix Talon sighed. "Yeah. You got the brains to go over to Harvard Business School, then go." There didn't seem to be any takers. "Okay, so the first thing I'm gonna do is train you guys to not be such doofuses. 'Cause let me be blunt, I've sparred with you guys, and somehow I always end up winning. I mean it's not even close, I'm usually taking out three, four of you at a time. You can do better than that; I'll show you how."
    Momentary silence. "Rick? What're you doing?" one asked.
    He shrugged. "I don't know about you guys, but... I just like ridin' the boards, y'know? I mean, having people scared of us was cool, the money, that's cool. How many of us are here just 'cause we want to ride the boards?"
    Most of the hands went up.
    "So we don't need any of this stuff," he waved dismissal of protection rackets and thuggery.
    "If we don't get the money, how're we gonna keep fixing the boards?" one wanted to know.
    "We'll work that out," Rick told him. "But I already lost four teeth to this guy, okay? I don't want to lose any more."
    "Also, good guys get tech too," Phoenix Talon tried to sweeten the pot a bit. "One of my teammates is a robot. So we'll see what we can do with those boards."
    "We don't want anything to do with TECH." The guy sounded panicked. "We dealt with TECH before, that's what got us screwed up last time."
    "No, no. Like, technology. Science."
    "Yeah. Can I see one of those boards?" The kid tossed him the deck. It looked to have been professionally built, although it had obviously been repaired quite a bit since. "Where did you guys get these again?"
    He looked nervous. "Back in the whole, and I hope you're gonna, like, cut us some slack here, tryin' to kill Needle thing."
    "Yeah, yeah, that's all under the bridge."
    "The mad scientist, the one who also gave us the power armor and stuff...."
    "It's the same guys, you're saying?"
    "Yeah, and then we've just been repairing it for the last six months."
    "Not doing too bad a job it seems," Phoenix Talon admitted. "They're still running. Pretty difficult piece of equipment. But you can't keep repairing those forever. That's another thing we might be able to help you with."
    "Can we get one of those anti-gravity things?"
    "We'll see. So the first thing to do, if you guys take me up on this, is start training. It'll be hard," he warned them. "It'll take a couple months, probably the rest of the summer before I think you guys are in shape. Plus, we got twelve of you now? How many Alley Cats are there?"
    "Thirty," one said.
    "We're gonna have to recruit some more people, too. We'll have to see how many of those currently injured will be gettin' out of the hospital any time soon."
    Rick spoke up. "You're gonna talk to our parole officers and the police and stuff, and clear all this with them, right?"
    "Yes. Let me make one thing perfectly clear. After I talk to them, any shit you guys pull comes down on my head. And I WILL revisit it upon you, if you get my drift."
    "So once he clears it... matter of fact, guys, just drop all of it right now," Rick suggested.
    Phoenix nodded. "That's when the protection stops, that's when the muggings stop."
    "It stops now," Rick repeated firmly. "We agree to along with this, we don't do it any more. And here's another thing, and I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds here," he glanced at Talon, "the group of us that are going along with this—we're the Blood Boards. Whichever ones of you don't go along with it, you're just some punk-ass bastards that're using my tech that I've been rebuilding for you."
    "Jeez, Rick..." somebody muttered.
    "Bobby's gone," he pointed out. "And you saw what his shit got us into. All right? I'm serious about this. Not only will I not fix it if it breaks, we'll come after you and we'll take it away."
    It was quickly clear that they had made their decision to go along with the new plan, although Phoenix Talon took careful note of those who seemed most reluctant.
    "Our first training session will be within three days. Let's set a time up," he told them. "Now."
    Once that was out of the way, they spent a while just riding around. Phoenix Talon borrowed a board for a while; he figured that being able to handle one would be important to maintaining their respect, and he could do with some practice.
    He drove Rick home later on, thanked him for backing him up earlier, then went home himself, trying to think of some symbol he could give them to embody their changed identity.
    "I didn't have to touch any of them," he reassured Dawn. "Everything went fine."
    "That's very comforting to know."
    His mood was little short of ebullient. "They're having a problem, I think this is the first thing I'm gonna have to deal with to gain their trust; there's another gang in town, the Alley Cats, and they're led by a guy who I think is a variant, from what they're saying. So I'll train 'em up and we'll go after them first."
    "Have you talked with Reilly about this at all?" she asked.
    "Not yet, but it's about time. I gotta start talking to their parole officers and shit."
    "Hm. Um, you got a phone call," she added in tones of studied indifference.
    "From who?"
    "Um... Ms. Candi Rich."
    "She says you met her yesterday, on a boat. Sounded like a slut," she added calmly, flipping through a magazine.
    "Yeah, she was out on the yacht. I don't know, I think she's a model or something."
    "Okay. She said you should give her a call. She wants to 'get together' some time." She still wasn't looking at him.
    "That's cool." Phoenix Talon was having a hard time reconciling the two streams of thought this development led to. On the one hand, given the circumstances in which he'd met Candi, it was entirely possible that Dawn's succinct characterization was correct, and he certainly didn't want his daughter approving of that sort of thing.
    On the other hand... she wanted to go out with him! Woo-hoo!
    He decided to change the subject. "I was wonderin' if you could do me a favor. Okay, I want to give the Blood Boards something."
    "Not a concussion?" she inquired archly.
    "No. Could you make me... a dozen shuriken, like eight-pointers, about that big," he indicated with his hands, and sketched the design he wanted—a modified version of their current symbol, a skateboard with flames around it. "Not too sharp."
    "As badges?"
    "Sort of. And then, I guess what I gotta do this afternoon is I gotta call Reilly, I gotta start calling their parole officer and such."
    "Here you go." She handed him the shuriken.
    "Thank you. " He shook his head, reflecting on the afternoon. "Think of what the alternative is. Half of them are in the hospital right now, courtesy Yours Truly and the Company. That's gonna happen to all of 'em eventually, and then they get out...."
    "And then there are the ones who are dead, because they stumbled across TECH," she reminded him. "No, I think you're doing the right thing. I—"
    "Thanks, hon. That means a lot to me." He left the room before she could add anything further.

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson