Shortcircuit V1 C4

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Whoever named the stress test knew what they were doing, because Ryan was stressed as hell and really needed to shoot something. He put on his safety goggles, slid on his earmuffs, leveled his revolver and opened fire. There was something oddly relaxing about the kick of a .357 and filling a mannequin with holes. He landed four shots at ten yards, three on the torso and one to the leg.

 

The first bullet collided with the first layer of the rubber-like material and stopped short of penetrating the buckypaper bilayer. The following bullets did the same. A single layer would be more than enough to be considered type II body armor, and there shouldn’t be trouble with higher calibers provided he could add more layers. He was sure he could produce a higher quality prototype in no time – and he’d be needing it.

 

That Skinnyman son of a bitch, part of him hoped he’d get a crack at him. He was just another shitbag blackburner like Wilbur, or Phantasm, or Ryan’s father, who thought they could do whatever they want without consequence.

 

“Hey Ryan?” Fritz poked his head into the range. Ryan removed his earmuffs. “Have you seen anyone take my defibrillator gloves?”

 

“No, why?”

 

“Someone’s taken them. Probably Wilbur.” He checked his watch. “It’s almost six dude, why don’t you get out of here?”

 

Ryan gave him a wave, waiting until he was gone before putting his revolver in its case, grabbing a bulletproof vest from the closet and walking to his car. The drive to get from downtown to the seedier parts of Blackburn didn’t take as long as one might expect, perhaps twenty minutes.

 

The hollowed out husk of what was once a booming manufacturing industry, Olympic City was an endless assembly of warehouses that stretched to the horizon, running across Lake Erie. Criminals of all stripes romped about carelessly – cops almost never went in with anything less than a SWAT team. Ryan popped his trunk, grabbed his vest and began his search.

 

Being located in the heart of the Rust Belt didn’t help Blackburn in recovering from economic lows, but it sure as hell helped the local crime lords. They always had a racket to run or a bridge to sell stupid, greedy fools. Ryan’s father had been one during the 90s and 2000s, running with a two bit ‘supervillain’ called the Red Dragon, and then Phantasm when the former’s gang got absorbed by the latter’s. He thought it put hair on his chest, that it made him a big man. Well, he wasn’t such a big man when he embezzled from Phantasm and had his legs sawed off. Ryan’s only regret was that he didn’t do something to protect his sister and do the deed himself.

 

He hoped that when he rescued Lisa from Skinnyman’s clutches, she’d forgive him for that and they could get the hell out of Blackburn. Maybe move to New York City, or Seattle, maybe Phoenix, somewhere where the local costumed crimefighters kept the villains largely at bay.

 

Ryan stuck to the shadows, weaving in and out of narrow sidewalks and alleys, avoiding the few streetlights there were. It was early in March, still cold enough outside for there not to be as many hoods prowling about. Those that were out were generally working for the big boys. There were some guys taking apart a car, probably stolen, in a chop shop. Some shady looking dudes unloading crates of God-knew-what. A couple of dumbass teens tagging gang signs. None of them obviously worked for Skinnyman, which had been the story of his previous two trips. He squeezed the handle of his gun in frustration.

 

“Yo.” The cock of a gun – an amateur move. “Wallet, now.”

 

The alley to his right stretched to an intersection, with the victim having been southbound and the assailant having come from the east. The victim, a teenage boy who clearly didn’t know where he was stepping and looked like he had just pissed himself, threw his wallet to the ground.

 

Ryan primed the hammer of his revolver. It would have been trivially easy to cap the robber then and there. But it would also be messy and create a scene, and he had his own business to attend to. The robber scooped up the wallet and sprinted past him, giving him an elbow to the chest.

 

“Fuck you lookin’ at?” He caught the idiot saying. Ryan glanced back at the victim, who looked shellshocked. He retrieved the backup handgun from his vest, holding it by the barrel.

 

“Hey kid.”

 

The boy looked up as Ryan approached, handing him the gun. “I think you need it more than me.”

 

“I, uh.” He seemed a little surprised by its weight before he stuck the gun in his waistband. “Thanks…?”

 

Ryan went back to his search, feeling like he was walking in circles. No one out tonight struck him as the type who worked for Skinnyman. He did, however, catch a glimpse of some guy in a hoodie and ballistic face mask. What was up with that?

 

 

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Shortcircuit V1 C3

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So this is how it feels to be a sardine, thought Wilbur, resisting the urge to retreat to a nice secluded corner. The lobby of one of Edward Hamilton’s fancy hotels was packed full of politicians, businessmen, philanthropists and other high society types, all there for a benefit.

 

Edward had a certain kinetic energy about him that could capture your attention during the most boring of conversations. It was hard to dislike the charismatic, always happy black guy. Wilbur did question his sense of style, though. A black pinstripe suit with an orange tie? Yeesh.

 

“Thank you all for coming,” he began, standing on a balcony above the crowd. “Always nice to gather Blackburn’s finest in one room. Speaking of which.” He smiled, raising his champagne glass in Wilbur’s direction. “I’d like to give a shout-out to my largest backer. Say hi, Wilbur!”

 

“Hi, Wilbur.”

 

There was a mix of groans and light laughs in response, but Edward just rolled with it.

 

“You’re welcome for the lob.” He finished his chuckle. Then, his expression turned more solemn. “You know, it really is a blessing to be able to give back to this city. I didn’t always have all this, the money, the real estate, the high class booze. I basically lived in a shoe box, drinking dirty tap water before my momma helped put my ass through college. And you know how we did it? The good people of this city. My teachers, my church, the folks at the library. Good role models every kid should have. Good role models that turn boys into men like me. So please, when the Martin Salazar Community Center opens next year, you’re all cordially invited. Don’t expect to be drinking my booze though.”

 

That got the crowd giggling, but it just made Wilbur really thirsty. What was there to drink around here? He slipped into the dining room, finding a towering stack of champagne glasses on a table in the center. Snatching one, he went for a sip but almost bumped into two ladies.

 

“Hi Mr. Scholz,” began the one in the nice yellow dress. “My friend and I were just wondering – did you visit Southern France at all? My father’s side of the family comes from there.”

 

“Actually I did. Check this out.” Wilbur whipped out his phone and pulled up his gallery. “Rome, St. Petersburg, London… Here it is, Toulouse.”

 

The woman laughed and pointed. “Hey, I’ve been there! Cité de l’espace, right?”

 

“Oui.”

 

“I have to take you one of these days Megan. So what else did you do there?”

 

Wilbur shrugged and dug further through the gallery. “Rented a couple Renaults, definitely inferior to German engineering. Some old guy taught me savate. Tried all the restaurants, of course. Let’s see, what else do we have here…” He flipped to the next image: him taking a selfie with himself on the news channel. “Ha! Good times.”

 

He turned to his female company, but alas they were already gone. He sat down at an empty table and watched Edward move from person to person, seemingly entertaining the whole crowd at once. How did people like Edward, or his father, make navigating these events look so easy? It was always the same story with Wilbur: people gravitated towards his wealth like moths to a fire, but when they got too close to him, burnt up and dropped away. Were people that shallow, or did his personality just suck that bad? Or both?

 

Eventually Edward made his way towards him. “Nice to see you again Wilbur. I wanted to that you for your donation personally.” He gave him a half hug before pulling away. “Damn dude, you got strong! Those snails you been eating got a lot of protein?”

 

“Ulch, escargot. Couldn’t stand the texture. You look pretty well yourself.”

 

“Business is booming! I guess it’s karma at work – I bought a decent stake in Cerberus Security. We’re doing some good work around the city. Hopefully some will come around to you brother.” He patted him on the shoulder. “Take care now.”

 

Wilbur raised his glass in salute before resuming his drink. Karma. The world probably did owe him something for kicking that guy’s ass earlier and helping that Jessica chick. It felt pretty damn good, he had to say, better than this lousy party. He went for another sip, but his glass was empty already. He toyed with going for another, but then he remembered something – that pale woman, Mouse, didn’t it have a bar listed on her card? The gears grinding in his brain, he gave her number a call.

 

“You dialed the wrong number. Fuck off.”

 

“Wait, hold up. It’s me, Wilbur.”

 

“Scholz? What’s up?”

 

“I really need a drink and champagne isn’t doing it for me. Meet you at the Witch’s Brew?”

 

“Already here. Feel free to drop in.” Click.

 

That suited him just fine.

 

***

 

A quick drive later and he found himself in the Cauldron neighborhood, outside the Witch’s Brew. The building was lit a dazzling mix of purple and green, a stark contrast to the drab, haze-choked Blackburn sky. The place was largely wood and glass but he didn’t recall it being in this part of town five years back. Boorishly loud electronic music blared from inside. He liked the tune, but couldn’t they turn it down a little?

 

As he walked in, he was surprised with the place being as well polished as it was. At least as far as he could see. The place was dim, with most of the patrons gathered around televisions and the jukebox and a few quietly hidden in corners. Many of them began to stare. He had to admit, he probably looked out of place, a sharp-faced blonde white guy in a suit.

 

“Hey! Don’t just stand there like a deer in headlights, come sit down.”

 

Mouse, who was sitting at the end of the bar with Jessica, motioned him over. Now that he got a chance to examine Jessica, she definitely looked distinctive. Torn jeans, a band t-shirt and a rolled-up army jacket – talk about three decades behind the times. At least she had a nice face, with high cheekbones, a pointed chin and freckles. He took an empty seat and called the bartender over.

 

“I’ll take that Absinth King and a few shot glasses.”

 

Mouse smirked and tapped her fingers on the bar. “Alright hot shot, what’d you come here for? Trying to get me to be an organ donor?”

 

“Just to talk.” He poured her a shot first. “You scared those goons off like they were stray cats. What’s your story?”

 

“Me? I’ll show you. You care much about that watch?”

 

He wriggled it off his wrist. “Not really.” That was a lie, but he had a few to spare and his curiosity was getting the better of him. Mouse knocked back her shot, sloshed it around her mouth, then to his horror, spat it back in her glass. The liquid turned clear. She dropped the watch into the glass. It began to rapidly corrode, the liquid popping and fizzing.

 

“Well. That’s not normal. You must be one of those…”

 

“Anomalies is the PC term. But it’s okay, we’re freaks, we get it.”

 

Her words, not his. He carefully took his shot.

 

“So uh. Your superpower is… acid?”

 

She shrugged. “If someone’s pissed me off. It’s complete control of my physiology. I can turn a substance into other substances.”

 

“Shit, I need to hire you,” he said. “Screw Ryan’s vacuums, just have you spit out non-newtonian fluids. Or gold coins.”

 

Jessica snorted as she sipped her whiskey. “Hmph. Blowhard…” As she raised her glass, he got a better look at her right arm in the light. It was covered from the wrist up in a green tattoo sleeve, celtic knots, shamrocks and other assorted Irish symbols.

 

“And what’s her story?” Wilbur asked, pointing. “Is she the daughter of Oscar the Grouch?”

 

“Actually yeah, kinda,” Mouse answered. That managed to get a brief grin out of Jessica. “What about you? The hell’s a suit and tie guy like you doing with goons like us?”

 

“Isn’t that the million dollar question?” Wilbur knocked back another shot. “I don’t know. I guess I’m… I guess I’m bored. That’s crazy right? I have my own conglomerate, millions of dollars, all this material wealth and I’m so fucking bored. I’ve tried everything. My brain’s like a, a scrambled egg.” He laughed, but this time there was no humor in it. “You know the most fun I’ve had recently is beating that guy’s ass… Do you think I’m just messed up?”

 

Mouse spun her drink in circles. “I don’t think you’re bored, Wilbur, I think you’re rudderless. What’s money got to do with purpose?”

 

“So what you’re saying is I should sell all my earthly possessions and join a Tibetan monastery?”

 

“God, no! Money’s great. Money buys expensive booze. But you should be making money doing what you love. Works well for me.”

 

He had to admit, he did like his expensive booze. Taking another shot, he squinted at her. “And what is it you do for a living?”

 

She smirked. “Let’s just say freelance chemist.”

 

He knocked back another, hoping for some liquid courage. “Hey, uh. How much do you know about Skinnyman?”

 

Mouse nearly began to choke. “The hell?”

 

“Um, well, you see… Guy’s a fucking dickhead right? And he probably took one of my employee’s sister and someone should really stand up to the guy, right?”

 

Mouse calmly sat her glass down. “Wilbur. Are you thinking of picking a fight with the devil?”

 

“Nooooooo!” Wilbur waved dismissively. “Of course not… I could just hire a PI and a bunch of Cerberus mercs or something.”

 

Mouse looked over at Jessica, who was shaking her head. “Might as well throw your money in a blender,” she said.

 

Mouse didn’t seem to be in the mood for drinking anymore. “I know a lot about Skinnyman. That ‘man’ is the worst kind of sick, sadistic sociopath. He experiments on human test subjects like some kind of supervillain Joseph Mengele. If someone has a death wish they can find his gang in the shadows of Olympic City. I’d wish them the best but expect the worst.”

 

Wilbur was beginning to feel somewhat ill, so he stopped drinking. Maybe some of it was fear, or nervousness, or even excitement. Whatever it was, he needed to head home and work it off.

 

“Thanks Mouse.” He got up and began dialing a taxi. She began to hand him the bottle.

 

“No no, keep it.”

 

She shrugged. “Sweet. Good luck with, everything I guess.”

 

Wilbur pointed at Jessica as he got up. “Get that one a Snickers or something.”

 

She raised her pint. “Bite me.”

 

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Shortcircuit V1 C2

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The Scholz Enterprises building in downtown Blackburn was a brilliant piece of modernist architecture, a forty story steel and glass reminder of better times past. Wilbur had forgotten just how damn big it was, at least in comparison to its neighbors. Blackburn wasn’t as vertical as New York or Chicago, with only a handful of buildings that met the definition of a skyscraper, but Wilbur liked it that way – better to be a big fish in a small pond.

 

“Willie!”

 

Oh no. He had called for one of the interns to help with his bags. Why was he hearing that shrill voice? It belonged to Friedrich Kravitz, the man he’d appointed head of Creative Sciences according to his father’s will. He wasn’t particularly terrifying, a scrawny blonde man with a ponytail who wasn’t much larger than that Mouse woman, but he could badger you. He was also his best friend. Laughing awkwardly, Wilbur popped the trunk and picked up both suitcases.

 

“I’m standing right here buddy.”

 

“You, you evasive motherfucker. You’re a terrible human being. I hate you. I should probably punch you in the face.”

 

“I’m shaking.” He dropped his suitcases, paid the taxi driver, and turned back around. Fritz was still pouting. He sighed. “Let’s talk more in my office.”

 

The guts of the headquarters building stood in stark contrast to its exterior. Renovated every couple decades, the current style was a sleek contemporary, with an emphasis on polished white where possible. Wilbur had made sure all the furniture had been replaced before he’d left.

 

“Mr. Scholz!” The receptionist, who looked to be a college kid young enough to make Wilbur feel old, hopped out of his chair. “Oh wow, we weren’t expecting you back so suddenly! I can totally help you with those.”

 

“It’s alright, he can carry them himself,” Fritz answered, putting his hands on his hips. Resisting the urge to sigh, Wilbur smiled at the intern.

 

“Yeah, it’s fine.”

 

An uncomfortable elevator ride later and the two arrived outside Wilbur’s penthouse suite. His nose was assaulted when he opened the door. Right, he’d almost forgotten dust was a thing. Everything remained as barren as the day he’d left. The grand portraits of his father and grandfather remained on the far wall, but the rest of his stuff remained packed away. Only the sheer square footage of the office room and the windows’ eagle’s eye view of the city revealed a wealthy person owned it. A lone oak desk with a computer sat in the center. Wilbur plopped his bag on top.

 

“So.” He unzipped the bag and began to sort. “Glad to know the street food’s still deliciously terrible.”

 

“Man.” Fritz brought a hand up to his mouth. “I hope you’ve had a good time smoking weed and banging broads in Amsterdam. I’ve only been stuck in this dump, with the board up my ass for ‘wasting money’. Hell, did you know the last time you gave me a call was two years ago?”

 

“You never asked. And I’ve been placating them by courting investors. I’m probably keeping Blackburn’s economy afloat singlehandedly you know.”

 

“God you’re hopeless. Would you at least like to see what I’ve been up to?”

 

Wilbur turned and smiled. “Would love to.”

 

***

 

The Creative Sciences division occupied a floor of its own a few stories below ground. It didn’t resemble what one might expect engineers to work in, being an open air, sleek communal space with rolling chairs and whiteboards that must have been erased ten thousand times. Too unstructured for Wilbur’s taste, but Fritz and company got good work done.

 

Creatives Sciences was Scholz Enterprise’s in-home house of ideas, where dozens of prototypes for a wide array of devices were drafted and tested. Most were never put into commercial production, but those that did generally made a return on investment of ridiculous proportions.

 

Such as, apparently, some sort of military armor. An engineer was currently scribbling on a whiteboard in front of a group of half a dozen of his peers. Tall, kinda lanky, black haired white guy… his name was on the tip of his tongue. Wilbur stuck his hands in his suit pockets and watched.

 

“-but the problem with the material is that movement is severely restricted if the armor is too thick, which obviously is troublesome if we want to go over handgun caliber. Not a big deal if you want to coat your car or house with it, but for a full-body suit it’s quite ineffective. So in order to overcome this obstacle, we layer the armor into thinner parts and overlap them on top of each other in between a layer of buckypaper, dilatant fluid, and a second layer of buckypaper in order to allow for full moveme-”

 

Wilbur, getting impatient, cleared his throat. “Sorry to interrupt everyone! I just got back and I already feel like I need a break. Can someone show us around?”

 

Fritz gestured at the guy at the whiteboard. “You look like you’ve been busy Ryan, go ahead and let James present.”

 

Ryan visibly flinched before putting a cap on his marker. He led Wilbur and Fritz to a door. Everyone affectionately called the next room the gallery, where the blueprints, sales plans and prototypes for the gadgets recently cooked up were put on display.

 

Wilbur brought a finger to his chin, then pointed.“Ryan. Wallace, right? I remember you. One of my dad’s final picks.”

 

“Yeah. He was a good man. We could use more like him.” He went over to a glass case in the center of the room. A lone light source shone down on the armor set, an almost rubber looking black synthetic material over digital camouflage fatigues. The helmet piece resembled that of a racecar driver’s.

 

“The Department of Defense is interested in contracting us to mass produce the stuff. They’re starting to take their exoskeleton program more seriously.”

 

“That’s great and all Ryan, but the Department of Defense has a budget,” Fritz interjected, slapping his palm on another display case. “You know who doesn’t have a budget? The American consumer! Check this bad boy out!”

 

“Bad boy?” Wilbur squinted and looked closer. “It’s a… toaster.”

 

“Not just any toaster! So like, it uses infrared right? Smaller wavelengths, so it heats up your bread quicker. Fifty percent so over the average toaster on the marketplace, actually, and believe me, I bought a lot of friggin toasters to test.”

 

Wilbur just shook his head. “You’re fired. Ryan, continue the tour.”

 

“Aw,” Fritz whined.

 

Ryan didn’t look very amused. Who crapped in his corn flakes? “Right,” he grumbled. Next on the slate was some sort of two foot tall robot.

 

“Looks like a vacuum with an arm,” Wilbur remarked.

 

“Well, it’s exactly that,” Ryan answered. He took a look at the blueprints. “It’s a cleaning robot. Self-guided AI with motion sensors, able to take its immediate surroundings into account, smarter than anything else on the market. Should be put into production within a few years.”

 

“Then we can finally replace the women in our lives,” Wilbur said with a chuckle.

 

For some reason, that really ticked Ryan off. His face scrunched up and he shot back a nasty look. “Alright funny guy, keep joking. One of these days someone’s not going to deal with your shit anymore.”

 

“Whoa, whoa.” Wilbur put his hands up. “What’s your deal pal?”

 

“My deal is that you do whatever you want, however you want, and think you can get away with it. Actually, no, you do get away with it!”

 

“Alright, that’s enough of that.” Fritz slipped between the two and pushed Wilbur back. “I get it, everyone’s stressed, things have been rough lately, let’s just cool it.” He gestured Ryan away. “I’ll take it from here, you just finish your presentation.”

 

“Things rough for rich boy, yeah right,” Ryan muttered as he stormed away. Wilbur turned to Fritz, bewildered.

 

“Why are you protecting him?”

 

“I’m not – I’m protecting you. You have no idea why that guy’s so tightly wound.”

 

Wilbur put his hands in his pockets. “If he’s so tightly wound, why’d you ask him to tag along?”

 

“I was hoping a leave of absence would help your people skills, and a pat on the back from the CEO would cheer him up.” Fritz sighed and leaned against a display case. “Obviously, it hasn’t. His sister got taken by Skinnyman.”

 

That got Wilbur to stop grinding his shoe. A lot of out-of-towners thought Skinnyman was an urban legend due to the lack of real information on the web, but locals knew better. Every few months, a handful of young adults would simply vanish, never to be seen again. The disappearances had been going on for a while, since Wilbur was a kid. Whenever the cops squeezed perps for information, no one admitted to seeing anything, not even guys facing decades behind bars.

 

“Damn. How was I supposed to know?”

 

“I didn’t expect you to, but you could have at least said hi, shaken his hand, not cracked edgy jokes with strangers you know nothing about.”

 

Wilbur frowned. “I’ve lost a woman in my life too.”

 

“Well I really wish you hadn’t, because I feel like your mother sometimes. Look, just. Don’t fire the guy, alright?”

 

“Alright, alright. But I thought I’d already fired you.”

 

“Yeah right. You wouldn’t last a day by yourself.” Fritz straightened out. “Now come on, I wanna show this really cool optic camouflage.”

 

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Shortcircuit V1 C1

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Wilbur was starting to get the feeling the taxi driver wanted to punch him in the face. Well you asked, he thought indignantly. He’d brought so many stories home from Europe, who wouldn’t want to listen? Getting fed up with the awkward pause, he spoke up again.

 

“So tell me, what have I missed?”

 

“Oh not much. Human trafficking, riots, an opioid epidemic, everyone’s become addicted to their smartphones – real nice close to the teens. But hey, at least the Stevedors won the pennant! Heh, honestly, you probably should have left this town for good.”

 

Would if he could. But it was precisely for those reasons he was starting to feel this bothersome little thing called responsibility. His father passed away an untimely five years back, handing him the reins of the family business. Scholz Enterprises was a large tech conglomerate, one of the few major corporations to survive so long in Blackburn despite all the recessions and depressions. Every little move his father made affected hundreds of livelihoods. Somebody needed to keep the city afloat. Learning the ropes as an ambassador for the brand was fun and all, but he was twenty-seven now – time to take over from the board.

 

“So where to next, moneybags?”

 

Next? Oh yeah, he’d stopped to get a street dog. He’d almost forgotten. Shoving the last bite into his mouth, he muttered “Headquarters.”

 

As the taxi drove through downtown – crawled, really – Wilbur turned his attention to the streets. Blackburn wasn’t as glamorous as New York or LA, but that’s how the locals liked it. It was a mix-mash of arc deco, modernist and contemporary architecture, as well as copious neon signs and billboards, tossed together as if continuity was an afterthought. The storefronts were dominated by such things as pizza places, shoe stores, electronic shops and bars. He swore those construction cranes had been building nothing in particular since the day he was born. It was a great spot to watch people from all walks of life: laborers, businessmen, cops, drug addicts, some lady getting assaulted.

 

Wait, that wasn’t right. Wilbur unbuckled.

 

“Pull over for a bit.” The driver did so with a shrug and Wilbur hopped out.

 

Two shady looking hoods were shoving around a redheaded woman in the alley. He couldn’t make out the full conversation, but it didn’t sound nice.

 

“We gave ya three months, Napier. It’s been over four. You ain’t gonna screw us over and not pay for it.”

 

The woman spat blood on his shoes. “Hmph! I’m paying for it by having to smell your sour breath.”

 

The goon looked like he was going to take a swing at her, so Wilbur whistled.

 

“Hey! Can’t you two go be degenerates somewhere else? It’s unsightly.”

 

The second guy wrinkled his nose. “You being serious right now? You really stepping to us, kid? Man, you don’t want none of this.”

 

“I think I’ll take my chances. You two-bit dipshits don’t look so tough,” he said with a grin.

 

Muttering a curse, the second guy marched forward, throwing his meaty fist at Wilbur. Sliding under it, he sent his foot into his liver. Probably wasn’t the hardest of kicks, he realized, what with his wearing dress shoes and all.

 

Now quite agitated, the goon shoved him to the ground. Wilbur balanced himself on his hand and swept his legs out from under him. Behind them he could see that Napier chick kicking the first guy in the crotch before pepper spraying him.

 

Wilbur sprung back to his feet. “Just stay down, I don’t want to have to embarrass you.” That was a bald-faced lie if he’d ever told one. The hood pushed himself up, opting this time to just charge forward and grab him by the collar. Wilbur pushed him with a kick to the abdomen then sent his shoe into the goon’s gut.  

 

Before he could laugh at the idiot’s pain, someone came running from his right: a short, deathly pale woman who looked, at most, a hundred pounds soaking wet. Freakishly white hair fell over a pair of round pink spectacles, and she wore a black leather jacket and jeans. She separated Napier from the two knuckleheads.

 

“You two better get the fuck out of here,” she snarled behind her. The big guy was holding his crotch, but took the politest tone possible.

 

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry Mouse, I didn’t, I didn’t know she was-”

 

“Now!”

 

They hurried away. Mouse turned back to Napier.

 

“Jessica, what the hell? You’re turning to loan sharks now? You know I would’ve helped you out.”

 

“Dammit Nisa, you know I can’t ask that of you. I can take care of myself.”

 

Sheesh. Talk about awkward.

 

“Here.” Wilbur casually formed a roll of bills and tossed them at Jessica. “In case you don’t have insurance…”

 

She threw the bills back at him, not even making eye contact. “Fuck you. I don’t need your pity.”

 

Mouse scrambled over and picked up the bills. “Come on Jessica, don’t be an ass.” She looked up at him and snorted. “No kidding. You’re the one who got those buffoons off her?”

 

He shrugged. “I helped.”

 

She took the money. “I guess you’re not who I thought you were, Scholz. You’re alright.”

 

“It was nothing, really.” Her endlessly spasming eyes were starting to freak him out, so he adjusted his tie and began looking for his taxi.

 

“Hey.” She handed him a business card, if one could call it that, with just her phone number and list of haunts. Why did she have these things? “Consider it an IOU.”

 

“Uh. Thanks.” Wilbur found his ride and hopped inside.

 

“Sheesh, those guys didn’t know what was coming to them,” the taxi driver exclaimed. “Shouldn’t you call the cops?”

 

Wilbur shrugged. “No, I think those guys get the memo.”

 

Next Chapter

The Cast

Spoilers! I’ve done my best to minimze them, but this section is kept up to date with the story, so there may be story details you don’t want to see if you haven’t caught up yet. This list best serves to remind readers who wish to be reminded of already introduced characters.

The Mavericks:

Wilbur Scholz (Shortcircuit): Multi-millionaire CEO of the tech conglomerate Scholz Enterprises, Wilbur is not the smooth charmer he pretends to be in public. He’s far more eccentric and awkward in reality, but still tries to do what he feels is right.

Abilities: Electrokinetic gloves, vast wealth and connections, trained in savate.

 

The Underworld:

??? (Skinnyman): Skinnyman is a kidnapper and human trafficker that the hardest of men fear. Some people think he’s an alien. Others think he’s a demon. No one has seen what he looks like under the mask, but everyone fears where Skinnyman has marked his turf.

 

Maverick allies:

Friedrich Kravitz: Head of the Creative Sciences division at Scholz Enterprises, Fritz is Wilbur’s best friend and confidant. His fun and quirky personality conflicts with his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, but he still worries about Wilbur and keeps him on the straight and narrow.

Nisa Verion (Mouse): Not much is known about Mouse, other than her unusual albino appearance and the fact she suddenly popped onto the scene in Blackburn one day. She’s reluctant to reveal much about her past, but she is willing to pass on information on the Blackburn underworld – for a price.

 

Others:

Jessica Napier: Usually seen by Mouse’s side, she is equally reticent to discuss her past – though those in the know are already aware of where she comes from…