This story is at a state just before I’d send it to an editor, and thus is what I consider fairly ‘clean’. It’s unusual and fairly short… but I remember enjoying writing it. It isn’t supposed to represent any city, but if this ever ends up in an actual book, I’ll figure out where it goes.
A Date Gone Awry
“Ah, shit.” Christopher swore under his breath as he took cover behind the dumpster. Moments later an energy blast hit a nearby building, sending shrapnel flying everywhere, and ringing the mostly-empty dumpster like a gigantic bell. He hissed in pain as his ears rang, shaking it off as he peered over the edge of the dumpster cautiously.
Two figures were fighting it out in the sky above him, each flickering through the air like a shooting star. One was the heroine Nightsinger, her dark hair flying as she darted about, her black catsuit tight around her toned, athletic body. He couldn’t help but admire the woman, but frowned in worry as she launched another flickering black bolt from her hands at her opponent. She was bleeding from her ears, he’d noticed.
The other figure was one that Chris didn’t know. He’d mockingly introduced himself as White Annihilator, a title which made Chris cringe at the sound of it. He was wearing weighty power armor with thick armor plates all across his body, likely outweighing Nightsinger by four or five times. His armor had a machine gun in one arm, as well as what had looked like a flamethrower, while the other had an energy weapon and some kind of sonic weapon. The latter was what had caused the bleeding earlier, and it hadn’t escaped his attention that Nightsinger wasn’t looking terribly steady in the air. It wouldn’t be noticeable to most people, but most people weren’t Chris. Worse, the villain had a force field which deflected the bolt of black energy easily.
“Modulated force field designed to block her energy bolts, sonic weapon designed to bypass her defenses. Yup, this was planned.” Chris murmured, and narrowed his eyes. This rather pissed him off. He examined White Annihilator’s backpack with a critical eye and tapped a lapel key of his nice suit, murmuring. “Dark Horse, ETA?”
His earbud carried the response of his lieutenant, and George sounded amused. “Two minutes out, boss. I’m surprised that you’re after another villain, this time.”
“Yeah, well the bastard isn’t just poaching in my territory. He interrupted my date.” Chris growled, making certain not to go out in the open, and ready to duck the second a blast came his direction. He wasn’t an idiot, after all.
“That’d do it.” George agreed, laughing as he continued. “Damn, did he have bad timing or what?”
“Very bad timing. It was going well.” Christopher’s voice dropped as he glared daggers at White Annihilator. “Sure, it also brought some…interesting problems to the fore, but it annoys me.”
And as he waited, his mind flickered back to earlier.
Being a supervillain wasn’t as bad as some people liked to make out. Oh, there were bad points, but it was largely good to Whispering Darkness. He had over a hundred minions, and owned a half-dozen profitable companies via shell companies, and several exquisitely appointed lairs. Other villains came to him to get their own minions equipped with armor, gear, and weapons. They all came to him when they needed equipment that was expensive but not unique, because he was the one who could get it for them. There was just one problem with being a villain.
“I need a date.” Christopher muttered, staring at the plan for a bank heist that he’d been distracting himself with. Only to realize midway that he’d chosen the particular bank because the two heroines who most often responded to emergencies in that area were Nightsinger and Siren…and both of them were gorgeous. He sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose, and wiped the data on the raid. Going would be just stupid if his motivation was off kilter, and drawing in the heroines deliberately would be the height of stupidity.
After a minute of wracking his brain, he sighed and dialed a number. After a moment his cheerful lieutenant picked up. “Hey boss! I was about to call you. We just got the first batch of the new armor plates out, and you’d have to see these to believe their specs!”
“Uh-huh, awesome, but if you have a minute, could you come on up to my office? I’ve got a personal issue I need some advice on.” Chris asked, sighing, but in the background his mind began running over the uses for the new armor plate. Personal armor was a must, as lightweight as the new composite was supposed to be, and maybe even armored vehicles…?
“Sure? I’ll be right up.” George sounded a bit surprised, but laughed before hanging up.
While he waited, Chris made good use of the time, pulling up the data on the new armor to read it. It actually was rather impressive, and he was in the middle of his analysis when George came in, a moderately handsome, rugged-looking man with sandy brown hair and a ready grin. And whose jeans and polo shirt were both slightly scorched, Chris noted with a slight smile. Obviously he’d been testing the plates himself.
“So what’s up, boss? Nothing problematic with the minions, I hope?” George asked, plopping down into the chair across the desk from Chris. “I haven’t seen anything bad recently, which is a pleasant surprise. Usually someone manages to screw up at least once a week.”
“No, no, it’s nothing with work here. And there’s nothing wrong with the minions, either.” Chris sighed, tapping the desk nervously, then continued hesitantly. “It’s something else, and I’m just not sure how to fix it.”
George frowned himself, his voice gaining a note of concern. “Are you alright, boss? I almost never see you this nervous.”
“It’s just…” Chris let his voice trail off. This was horribly embarrassing, but he sighed and admitted it. “I need a date, George.”
“Wait, what?” George looked stunned for a moment. And a second later, he began to simply laugh, harder and harder.
“What?” Chris demanded, flushing bright red at his friend’s amusement.
“Just…you, boss.” George managed between laughter, bright red as he slowly reduced himself to mere chuckles. “I thought this was going to be…oh, boss, that’s easy. You’ve got tons of ladies who would love to date you among the minions alone. Plus, there’s all the ladies who’ve contacted us for provisions, both villains and their minions.”
“No.” Chris spoke flatly, laying his hands on the table. “None of those options are acceptable.”
“Why not?” George blinked in surprise, then leaned forward, his laughter dying at last. “I mean, there’s plenty of attractive, intelligent women among them. Unless you want dumb ones, which doesn’t seem like you, boss.”
“No, I don’t want a dumb date, or an ugly one. The problem, George, is that I run our organization like a company. And one of my strictest rules is that I never, ever will date someone who works for me. I can’t be certain they aren’t dating me out of ambition, or fear they’ll lose their job. It loses trust in me, and I refuse to do that.” Chris told him, shaking his head as he got up and began to pace. “As for villains…oh, certainly, I could date them. Villainesses are not exactly trustworthy people at the best of times. And that would be dating customers in addition! That’s just a bad plan in general. It raises my hackles just thinking about the chaos it could cause. Besides, they might try to take over the company.”
“Umm…” George seemed to consider the point for a moment, then conceded as he agreed. “I see your point.”
“Good. Because this entire situation unsettles me.” Chris admitted, sighing heavily as he looked at charts. “I’m making mistakes because I’ve been in the office or lab too much. I need another option.”
“Well, let me think a second.” George replied slowly, obviously thinking hard.
“Sure. You have a better idea of how to do this than I do. I haven’t been on a date since I got into this business.” Chris spoke, unable to keep the sour note out of his voice.
“Yeah…you kind of get sucked into your work a lot.” George replied, then snorted, smirking. “That’s an idea. Why don’t you just try out one of those matchmaking sites? Use one of your public personas, and fill out a profile? It might be easier than trying to figure how to meet people.”
“Err…do those sites actually work? I haven’t heard anything good about matchmaking sites.” Chris asked, balking slightly at the idea. While he’d heard the idea before, he’d always felt that they were cheesy rip-offs. The idea of using a matchmaking site made him feel a bit ill, to be perfectly honest.
“I’m not saying it will work, boss, and it’d be hit or miss…but I can guarantee you’d have a chance at a date or two. It all depends on your profile and standards.” George told him with a helpless shrug. “Only so much I can do, though.”
“Umm…” Chris debated internally for a minute, then sighed and shook his head. “Damn. I think I’m going to have to do it. Now that I am thinking about this, I can’t think straight. Thanks, George.”
“Don’t thank me unless it works.” George chuckled, getting to his feet with another grin. “Good luck, boss.”
“Thanks.” Chris replied, then waited for the other man to leave before he sat down to his computer and muttered. “I’m going to need it. Now let’s see which sites are actually halfway decent…”
He fired up a search engine and started to look up the various matchmaking sites, paying close attention to the reviews. He wanted one that might actually work.
Christopher examined himself in the mirror, adjusting his suit nervously. This was his third blind date since he’d built a profile for himself, and he was starting to wonder if it was a good idea. With how the first two dates had gone, the idea of setting himself up to get captured by Nightsinger or Siren was looking like a much more attractive option.
The first one had gone decently, right up until he’d learned about the…modestly attractive woman’s three ex-husbands, conspiracy theories about superpowers being created by the government and that all villains were in the government’s employ, and that she thought modern medication was something that the government used to mind control the citizens. He’d politely excused himself and proceeded to make certain she hadn’t managed to infect him with something. The second had included a blatantly lying woman whose profile was false, and who would likely have killed him if she’d fallen on him. He’d executed his escape plan quickly, and she’d been most upset when he flagged her account as being largely false, heaping abuse on his own account.
The most recent match that he’d received was with a woman named Janice Reamer. He sorely hoped that the last name wasn’t a premonition of what was going to happen to him. But her photo had been nice, her attractive face surrounded by long, wavy brown hair, and warm hazel eyes, and he wanted to make a good impression…assuming she wasn’t a psychopath.
His sandy-blonde hair was carefully trimmed and parted, and he’d gotten rid of the stubble that tended to accumulate on his chin. One of these days he needed to get the wispy strands entirely removed, they just looked pathetic. His face was, if not handsome, at least attractive, he thought. Maybe a bit geeky, with his slightly thinner frame and the rectangular glasses…but he liked his eyes too, which were a simple blue, not terribly remarkable. He was fit, though, lean and built for running. And he looked nice in his suit, though he’d outright refused to wear the noose that some imbecile had named a tie.
He fiddled with the buttons of his suit a bit, then took a deep breath and nodded. Time to meet Ms. Reamer at the restaurant. He already had four escape routes planned out in cases of emergency, so…showtime. And he headed for the car nervously.
Janice Reamer wasn’t attractive, Christopher reflected as he carefully cut his steak. No, she was absolutely stunning. If she used software to manipulate the image, she’d used it to try to make herself look less attractive than she was. She was a bit taller than his own five feet, eleven inches, and she wasn’t in heels either. She was wearing a long red dress, cinched about the waist with a sash, and the tasteful string of pearls drew his eyes to her cleavage, which he managed to pull his gaze away from with some marked internal effort. He had to remind himself that he wasn’t some horny teenager anymore.
“So what is it that you do for a living, Chris?” Janice asked in a hauntingly beautiful voice, a slight smile on her voice as she swallowed a small slice of her own steak. It really was a nice steakhouse, too.
“I’m the owner and CEO of a small warehousing company. Mostly a transshipment point for different shipping companies.” He told her easily, smiling as he swallowed his own slice of steak. It was a wonderful steak, and he sighed happily as he added. “It’s done well by me, I think.”
“Indeed. So if that’s the case, why are you dating this way?” She asked, a grin crossing her face. “It seems a bit…odd for someone like you.”
“Ah…that…” Christopher hesitated for a moment, shocked by the direct question, then laughed ruefully as he set down his fork and smiled wryly. “That’s a direct question.”
“Yes, but I thought I’d ask up front. I’d think someone like you could find a date quite easily.” She teased, picking up her wine glass to take a sip.
“Perhaps so. But I have my standards. No dating anyone inside my company. No dating rivals or customers.” He replied simply, shaking his head. “It dropped my dating pool to almost no one at all.”
“Oh? Why not? I’m sure you have friends…?” She hinted, curiosity apparent on her face.
“You would think, wouldn’t you? But no, I don’t.” His voice grew tired as he ran his fingers through his hair and corrected. “I take it back. I have a few friends, but not many. When I founded the company, I got sucked into it, I spent all of my time on it, for years on end. Now here I am, nearly thirty years old, and a few weeks back I realized that I was lonely. It took me a little while to decide to start dating, and…suffice it to say my first couple did not go well. I was a bit nervous coming here, to be honest.”
“I see. I can’t say as I blame you. I’ve been on a half-dozen dates, and you’re the first man who could tear your eyes away from my chest.” She teased, grinning as Chris blushed.
“I must admit that it was something of an effort. But what about you? Why is such a stunning woman as yourself looking for online dates? And what do you do for a living?” Chris countered, trying to regain poise.
“Me? I’m a simple beautician, and help with a few of the local movie companies.” She demurred, smiling and shaking her head. “They are the amazing ones, hmm? But the problem that I run into is egos. You’d be amazed at how…self-centered most men are. The question is, are you?”
“Me? I’d like to think I’m not, but I’m not entirely certain.” Chris murmured, tilting his head as he considered. After a few moments, he sighed. “Does making certain your employees are well treated, well paid, and have good benefits help at all?”
“Just a bit.” Janice laughed, taking another sip of wine. “I just-“
There was a sudden rumble in the near distance, and the sound of an explosion rattled the tables throughout the restaurant. The lights flickered, and an instant later he heard Janice’s phone buzz.
“What was that?” He asked, a sinking sensation in his stomach.
“Oh god, someone blew up the theater!” A woman shrieked from near the doorway, and Chris’s sinking sensation turned into a knot in his gut. The theater was only two blocks away, and at this time, it was probably packed with people. Who in their right mind would blow that up? As panic began to set in around them, Janice spoke, looking up from her phone.
“Chris, I’m sorry, but I want to get out of here. That explosion…I’m sorry, I just…have to get away from it!” She spoke, and she looked terrified…but as he looked into her eyes, the terror didn’t reach them. Oh, there was superficial terror, but in them he saw determination and anger. Not the eyes of a beautician.
“Not at all. Go ahead. I’ll deal with things here…I hope that we could try again, though?” Chris replied calmly, his mind racing. She smiled in apparent relief.
“Of course! I’ll…I’ll call you later!” And with that she rushed out, leaving him behind.
Chris, for his part, simply sighed, frowned, and dropped several rather large bills on the table as he got up and nodded at the server. And then he headed for the front door, tapping one of the sleeve buttons of his suit as he murmured. “Dark Horse? Situation downtown?”
For a long few moments there was no response, and then George replied. “Boss? I thought you didn’t want to be bothered on your date?”
“Got interrupted. Explosion, possibly from the theater.” He murmured, relaxing once he was outside, even though he could hear sirens, and smell smoke from down the street. “So what’s happened?”
“Lemme see…ah, getting reports now. Police say a new guy in power armor, calling himself White Annihilator, just blew up the theater there. Damn, middle of a showing…that’s going to cause a hell of a body count.” George sounded much less amused all of a sudden. “That’s gonna draw heroes like shit draws flies. Fuck, he just opened up on police, and they’re calling for backup.”
“Ah. Bring me my suit. Packages A, C, and F.” Chris asked, walking in the direction of the theater, and the sounds of machine-gun fire.
“Pissed, boss?” George asked.
“Very.” Chris growled.
Chris had reached the area where the villain had struck in time to see White Annihilator and the newly arrived Nightsinger face off against one another. He didn’t really hear their initial conversation, though, since they were rather far away. Nightsinger was a tall, busty brunette, and her hair was slightly wavy, he noted with narrowed eyes. Based on what he’d seen…he’d give even odds that Janice and Nightsinger were one and the same. Which was a complication he really didn’t need. Not that she’d noticed him thus far, he didn’t think. Still, not something he wanted to contemplate. He’d liked her at dinner, and that made things strange and complicated.
In the opening exchange Nightsinger had obviously been trying to overpower White Annihilator as quickly as possible. Chris hadn’t been able to avoid wincing as the heroine unleashed several energy blasts at the villain, then rocketed in as close as possible to hit him with all her strength. He knew from experience that she could put a fist through several inches of steel, so he’d been expecting the battle to be rather short for new villain.
Instead the blasts had been deflected by the villain’s force field, and a high-pitched whine had made him cringe had erupted from the villain’s arm right as Nightsinger drew in close. Chris had seen Nightsinger stagger, almost falling from the sky as she began to bleed from her eyes, ears, and nose. Not much blood, perhaps, but very distinct to his eyes. Especially since he’d never seen her bleed before.
“See! You are no match for White Annihilator!” The villain boomed as he unleashed a spray of fire at Nightsinger.
The heroine dodged the flames easily, her own voice not as spirited as normal. “I’m barely getting started, tin can!”
The heroine darted downward, picked up a metal bench and spun, throwing it at White Annihilator like she was doing a hammer toss. The villain quickly dodged the attack, a fact which Chris noticed with interest. That explained a lot to him…and it was right then that his com crackled to life.
“Behind the building, boss. Didn’t want them to see the van.” George reported, seeming slightly excited.
“Be right there.” Chris replied, glancing up to see another exchange of energy bolts on both sides, and turned to run behind the nearby flower shop. He made a mental note to pick up flowers later.
Behind the shop was a simple white panel van, with the caption ‘White’s Painting Supplies’ on the side of it. The paint was actually a malleable alloy that could be reprogrammed via particular electrical charges. It made it very easy to change the appearance of the van, which was useful from time to time. Chris walked up, opened the back door and stepped inside.
The interior of the van was lined with gear. George was in a black suit of armor, complete with a cowl and a black mask, along with a deadly-looking sniper rifle. But Chris ignored him, looking at the armor hanging on a rack in the center of the room. If one could call it armor, that is.
The armor was black plates of advanced, lightweight alloys that formed a robotic exoskeleton for him. It wasn’t powerful enough to be a full suit of power armor, but he supposed one could call it that. The form was mostly hidden by a cloak, and a cowl wreathed the face, the mask underneath concealed by a device that kept the cowl an area of perpetual darkness. This particular suit also had reinforced shield generators and other weaponry. Nodding, Chris smiled, and the suit whined as it opened up for him to step into.
“I’m going to need two dozen stealthed pulse mines and an adjustable harmonic energy cannon for certain. The rest will be my standard battle loadout.” He explained, adjusting his hands and feet in the gauntlets and boots before closing up the armor. His voice turned into a loud, almost serpentine hiss. “This should not take long.”
“Right, boss. Want me on overwatch?” George asked, pulling down the brutal, two-handed energy cannon, then offering a belt which he attached a series of small drones to.
“Yes. Only target the villain, or cover my withdrawal.” Chris, now Whispering Darkness, replied as he first checked the charge on the rifle, then belted on the ordinance of the belt. There were a half dozen explosives in a variety of types, a laser pistol, a cutting torch, and most importantly, a series of smoke bombs, chaff generators, and a few holographic projectors. “Showtime.”
He hopped out of the van with a heavy thud. George, for his part, stepped out and used the null-field generator in his belt to dramatically reduce his own weight and jumped up onto the roof of the building. Whispering Darkness counted on the other man to do his part and walked around the building, watching his HUD for the clash.
The two had obviously been going at it while he was working. White Annihilator looked mostly untouched still, and Nightsinger’s suit was ripped in a couple of places. His software highlighted her ribs, identifying her as favoring her right side. He scowled inside his armor, and subvocalized the command to activate the stealth mines.
The two dozen small devices detached from his belt, hovering for a moment before virtually vanishing due to optical camouflage. He gave another command and they floated out to take up positions on the battlefield. Humming under his breath, he tuned the energy cannon to his voice and stepped out, taking aim at White Annihilator’s back. An instant later he pulled the trigger, and a tremendous flash of light crossed the sky.
When the bolt of light hit the villain’s shield, the shield flickered, and everyone heard the high-pitched, protesting whine of electronics for an instant before the generator fried itself. Whispering Darkness boomed, his voice severe and deadly. “Did no one teach you to put proper circuit breakers into your force field generator? Incompetent fool.”
“Whispering Darkness? What are you doing here?” Nightsinger demanded, floating backward cautiously, obviously suspicious of his intentions. Fortunately White Annihilator spoke up first.
“Out of the way, old man! You get nothing done, and I was about to deal with a heroine you’ve never taken down!” The younger villain demanded. Whispering Darkness wince as he heard the grating sound of the other villain try to power up his force field generator, likely slagging the circuitry entirely.
“You’re poaching on my territory. You’re using off-the-shelf hardware.” He replied, taking a step to the side as White Annihilator unleashed a hail of bullets and lasers at him, most of which bounced off his own shield, dropping the strength twenty percent. “And tuning your shield specifically to block Nightsinger’s energy blasts allowed me to perfectly tune my equipment to shut down your own. Observe.”
Humming another note in a lower key, Whispering Darkness fired his rifle twice. The first shot missed entirely as White Annihilator dodged, but his dodge was predictable and he flew right into the second shot. With a shriek of fried electronics his flight system failed, and a moment later he was falling from the sky.
“Bastard! Betraying your fellow vill-” White Annihilator was yelling, but just as he came close to the ground one of the positioned pulse mines exploded in a flicker of blue light, and his voice cut off. Whispering Darkness blinked in surprise at the efficacy of the small EMP charge.
“You didn’t even use hardened electronics? What is the world coming to?” He asked, recalling the other mines for the moment. “I was expecting a fight out of you.”
Looking upward, he smiled internally at Nightsinger’s stunned face, lowering his rifle. “Care to deal with this miscreant, Nightsinger? I cannot have incompetents giving proper villains a bad name.”
“…I suppose. But why did you intervene, Whispering Darkness? You aren’t known for getting involved in fights between heroes and other villains.” Nightsinger slowly replied, floating downward toward White Annihilator, immobilized inside his bricked power armor.
Whispering Darkness chuckled, considering a moment, then decided to take a risk. He slowly walked forward, slinging his rifle over his shoulder as he did so. If she decided to punch him, he’d be put in the hospital at best, but he was feeling reckless, so he stepped in close, swallowing as she prepared to punch him. “You wish the honest answer, Nightsinger?”
He cut out the voice distortion and spoke further. “Honestly, I was rightly pissed off that he interrupted the date. Mind meeting again, for a more…forthright discussion? And another date?”
The look of shock on her face, he reflected, was priceless. Which was why he took a screenshot.
The next day Chris strolled into Neutral Grounds Bar & Grill about five in the evening. He was dressed much more casually this time, in a simple pair of jeans and a white polo shirt. Looking around, he spotted Janice at a table in the corner, dressed in her own jeans and a black t-shirt. She looked a bit nervous, but he realized, enviously, that she showed no sign of the damage she’d taken the day before.
She looked up as he approached and raised an eyebrow at him, her voice on the mild side. “I see you made it.”
“Why wouldn’t I be here? I said I wanted to meet you.” Chris replied with a grin, taking a seat across from her. A moment later he set a small device on the table and thumbed it on. “Here, white noise generator and jamming device. Should give us some privacy. How are you? You weren’t looking very well yesterday. I’ve never seen you bleed before.”
“I’m fine. Fortunately I heal quite quickly, though I don’t often have need for the talent.” Janice replied, quietly, studying him. “I’m surprised you showed up, to be perfectly honest. You’ve always kept your distance before.”
“True enough. That’s because my gadgets and devices, for all their various efficacy, aren’t up to taking someone like you on in close range combat. And unlike most supers, I’m quite fragile. Walking up to you yesterday was a major risk.” He admitted, sighing as he sat back. “One punch from you would have put me in traction, I do believe.”
“Is that so? The question, Chris, is in that case, why I shouldn’t take you in?” She asked, trying and failing to suppress a smile.
He laughed at that, grinning as he shook his head. “Straight to the point, aren’t you? How about the fact that I supply some of the military black ops teams with equipment? And some of the superhero teams, via cutouts? Yes, I noticed your team’s last requisition.”
“What? But…wait, that was you?” She asked, looking surprised, then frowning. “I didn’t make that deal.”
“Huh. Must’ve been Falcon’s choice or something. A half dozen military-grade com repeaters and two dozen communicators.” Chris told her with a shrug, then continued. “I also have a larger selection of non-lethal weapons than any other underworld dealer in the business, and sell them at a discount to try to encourage less than lethal responses from villains. Which leads, of course, to the most important fact. When was the last time I killed someone where it wasn’t an obvious accident?”
“What?” She blinked, looking slightly uncertain. “I…I honestly don’t know. You make bank robberies from time to time, and other raids, but other than a few minor injuries, and the security guard who got away and tried to disable your vault-cracker…”
“Other than that idiot, who somehow escaped being evacuated, I haven’t let anyone die in my raids in four years. He broke my record, which was…upsetting.” Chris sighed, shaking his head slowly, then added. “I honestly don’t need the bank heists. They’re for my reputation and advertising. You know how it is. Heroes and villains alike, we live and die by our reputations.”
“I suppose I can agree with that.” Janice seemed…skeptical, but not as much as he’d been afraid she would. “But why did you want to meet?”
“For one, I was enjoying the date. I wanted to ask about another one.” Chris smiled, sitting up straight and bracing himself. “And I had another, rather important question for you.”
“Oh?” Janice looked suspicious, but willing to listen at least. And the faint blush to her cheeks meant she wasn’t entirely opposed, he thought.
“Indeed. A very simple question.” He leaned forward and smiled. “What do you think it would take to get the government to let me go straight?”