LNH: Dashing Tales #6
ben.rawluk at gmail.com
Mon Sep 7 15:38:44 PDT 2015
DASHING TALES, episode the sixth,
by Ben Rawluk
Clement Bogus's life has been a series of bad choices. Maybe that's true of most trenchcoaters, but he hasn't even been a particularly successful one -- barely more than a snitch, really, keeping an eye on the Shimbleshanks and scribbling little notes on his tiny yellow notepad. Writing uninspired prose, describing things people are not supposed to talk about. Spending most nights too drunk to make it home from the office. Trying to verify all the random prophecies that crop up every day, picking out the ones that will come true. He used to gamble, but the prophecies never worked for him.
Right now, he's lying in a dumpster out behind the office of the Net.ropolis Netizen. It's raining, long thick lines. He wipes at his face. Clement grunts, wiping at his face. "Well," he says, although he has no audience. "At least I'm on Earth." He sits up, hands sinking into the trash.
The stink doesn't bother him, but he's also spent about a week crawling through the digestive tract of a leviathan, soaking in the intestinal bilge. This is nothing.
(Why yes, he is trying to look on the bright side.)
Clement grips the lip of the dumpster and hauls himself up, taking in the alley--
Face to face with two figures in silhouettes, frozen and staring at him from underneath wide-brimmed hats that keep off the rain and keep their faces in shadow. The one on the right is massive; the one on the right is thinner, petit, almost hunching forward. Before Clement has time to blink, the big one's hand is on his neck. "Fffuuu," Clement squeezes out. Rain rolls down his face. The small one's posture suggests leering, but he can't quite see--
"Bogus," says the massive figure with a thick, rasping voice. Clement closes his eyes, trying to get a bead on that voice. It's not familiar at all. Why are they shaking him down? Not that it would be the first time some random has decided to beat up a guy in a ratty trenchcoat. "I follow your work," the big one says. "Which celebrities are having demon babies. Four Riders of the Apocalypse reunion tours. Crop circles. Cult gossip. Real dreck." He digs his finges in. "I would barely call you a threat, but better safe than sorry. I don't need you talking now that we're here."
Clement can feel the pressure on his windpipe increasing. "Hhhu," he tries to say.
Some subtle quality of the spillover from streetlamps changes, and gleaming teeth appear under the shadow of the larger man's hat. Fangs. Rain splashes endlessly against metal and wood and concrete. "Normally, I wouldn't introduce myself," That grin, the large man drawing close. "But you're not exactly going to be talking, shortly." Clement is going to die sticking out of dumpster behind the Netizen, isn't he? With this asshole's grip on his throat, he can't exactly say the magic words and disappear. "My name is Moribund the Revampire."
Moribund the what-now?
"My associate's name is Kid Nosferatu. You'll forgive him, he doesn't speak. We represent certain -- interests. And a trenchcoater who is far too willing to put things in print for a few dollars is -- counterproductive to us." Moribund's fingernails dig into his throat. "I suppose you should feel proud of yourself, Mister Bogus. Finally, a big enough fish to be noticed. However briefly." And then Moribund drags him out of the dumpster, holding him up in the rain while Clement kicks helplessly. "You won't be blabbing after tonight."
Clement wants to say, sure, no problem, I won't say a word, but he's pretty sure that's not what Moribund means. The smaller one -- Kid Nosferatu, is drawing closer.
"Kid Nosferatu? He's yours."
There is a moment between Moribund letting god and Clement's feet contacting the ground that he sees Kid Nosferatu throw off his clothes. A bald teenaged boy with gigantic fangs. His skin, his clothes -- he's entirely grey-scale, like he's walked right out of an old silent movie. And then Clement's feet hit pavement, water splashing everywhere. He struggles, aware of the water soaking through his socks, and then the monster is on top of him, fangs drawing closer to his throat--
After that, it doesn't take long. He crumples. The eerie thing is the absence of sound -- no breath, no sucking, nothing. Kid Nosferatu drains him -- of blood, of life, of colour -- in absolute silence. Has he gone deaf? He crumples, panic blossoming, his muscles too weak to do anything. He can still hear the rain, and distant traffic. He wonders if they'll leave him here, bleeding out, or if he's to be some minion. He could start at the bottom and work his way up. He sprawls on the ground and watches their feet.
And he can hear Moribund: "Well. One less inconvenience for the Legion of Net.Horrors."
Kid Nosferatu (predictably) says nothing.
"They gave us bus tickets, at least!"
They are in one cramped corner at the back of the bus, Marco pressed into the foggy window. Emma is pushed up against him. There are people everywhere, and they're all staring at him. He is wearing a net.hero costume, after all. "You should have a flight.thingee," Emma says, frowning, and he wishes she'd stop talking. He hates having conversations on the bus.
"I'm, ah, grounded."
"There was an incident. You were--" He shuts his mouth. He doesn't know how to say it was while she was hiding in her apartment. Instead, he changes the subject: "Occultism Kid says I'm not the first, ah, to be put on probation. There was this kid Luke--"
"Occultism Kid, huh?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," says Emma. "I've just been talking to Sonnet Queen. Sorry, April." No good can come of those two being friends. He looks away, but the window is lost to condensation and a tall man in a suit is staring at him. Maybe it's all the turquoise. Maybe it's the swimming goggles. "I'm just surprised," Emma is saying. "They want you do your first solo mission and they send you on the bus? They couldn't even spring for a taxi? I thought Toony Stork was fitting the bill for half the Legion's expenses, and he's got more money than God--"
"The Legion supports robust public transit," he says, quoting from the handbook.
"Funny, but they all fly everywhere."
She rolls her eyes. "I'm just saying, they want you out on your first real mission by yourself and they send you on the bus. This isn't exactly setting you up for a successful career."
"Net.heroes must be humble," he says. Keep telling yourself that. Keep telling yourself that. God, did April really say something about Occultism Kid? Was Marco being super-obvious? "I'm trying to focus on the mission," he says, more to himself than to Emma. Everybody's watching him, and his costume is so uncomfortable, and he wishes he'd just gone with something simple like street clothes and a stupid mask or something. Half the Legionnaires at LNHQ just walk around with masks spirit-gummed to their faces. They don't look awkward at all. He closes his eyes. "I got called into the Mission Monitor Room by Doctor Stomper and Research Lass. They gave me the briefing." And he'd seen the little shimmering hologram, his icon, a "u" followed by a "/," unstressed and stressed syllables.
He's a pretty stressed syllable right now.
"So? What do we have today?" Emma elbows him. "Is it Lagneto? Am I supposed to lock you in a room with the Brotherhood?"
"They said there have been some disturbances in the warehouse district--"
"That's kind of a big space to cover. Especially when you aren't allowed to fly. Did they at least--" She cuts herself off and starts rifling around in the pocket of her jeans. "Sorry, sorry, phone." She pulls it out and presses it to her ear, looking away from him for a second. There are people everywhere, Marco never answers his phone when he's on the bus, especially when it's this cramped. People are making faces. "Hello? Oh. Hi, Victor." Victor King, their boss at the Netizen. If he's calling, it's probably nothing good. "He's -- okay, really? I mean, I'm kind of in the middle of a story right now -- yes, we talked about this, the story about Marco. The Intern. Marco the Intern. And the Legion. We talked about this already! Yes, that's still happening." She huffs. "Okay, fine, yes, I can come up with something. Okay. Okay, fine. Yes. Tonight." She pulls the phone away from her ear and thumbs it off, slipping it back into her pocket.
He's probably staring.
"That was -- Mister King?"
She breathes, a long exhale, slumping forward in the cramped space between other riders. "Yes," she says. "Bogus still hasn't shown up to the office. Which is unusual, because he practically lives there. He wants me to come up with something for the Occult beat. Which, I can pull together notes about that whole 'trapped in hell' thing. It's not like that demon's going to be poking his nose in to check quotes. Whatever. But I'm kind of busy here, and--" She closed her mouth and settles her face into her hands. "Bogus is a creepy pain in the ass on top of the whole kidnapping crap." As far as Marco knows, she hasn't heard anything from him since the day her apartment basically exploded. "Goddamn Bogus."
He stays out of the sunlight. That's the first rule. He keeps the shadows, making his way across town on foot. It's a bit of a shamble, but it's mid-afternoon and he has to be careful. No need to spontaneously combust. And if he keeps to the shadows, it's harder to notice the way the colour has bled right out of him, until he's as black and white as Kid Nosferatu. They just left him like that, a lump in an alleyway, until eventually he felt compelled to find his way to his feet. He's probably following them; probably he's in Kid Nosferatu's thrall. It's not the first time he's ended up a henchman, but it's the first time he's been dead. Well, undead. Usually, there's just hypnosis involved.
He thought about finding his way inside the Netizen, climbing the stairs and slipping into the main office. He thought about how good it might feel bite and kill Victor King; the feeling was purely academic, though. His emotional palette is about as complex as his skin tone right now.
(How Kid Nosferatu could drain the colour from his clothes is beyond him.)
He could kill and feed off Victor King, but would he actually feel anything?
It's hard to move in the light of day, even out of direct sunlight. He's sluggish, his muscles refusing to move with any fluidity. Maybe that's the same for all new vampires. Maybe. He doesn't really care. He's a minion, his needs are secondary. He drags himself in the direction that they must have gone -- Kid Nosferatu and Moribund the Revampire. If he was still alive, if he was capable of it, he'd be writing an article about the different kinds of vampires out there in the dark. He'd have to make up half of it, but still. When was that not true, generally?
But he doesn't have to write anything now.
He just has to walk.
Try not to think about what it says about the Net.ropolis economy that so many warehouses are derelict, that petty super-crime has risen to the point where there is lucrative business for underworld real estate agents who keep track of the comings and goings, the busts by the LNH, which warehouses are occupied and which are safe to squat in. Heavy industry has moved away, in the last few decades -- moved to places like Clue Valley, or farther still. To move through the warehouse district on foot, even in the mid-afternoon with the sun up, can be unsettling, the reek of long-dried chemicals catching your nostrils. They pass disused toy factories with giant cartoon cats on top. Massive, massive typewriters. Net.ropolis has always enjoyed its giant novelty props.
"They really said it was a disturbance? No details?"
Marco doesn't look back at Emma. She's supposed to be the passive observer, after all. Follow along, make notes. Let him do his job. Right? "I know it sounds like a wild goose chase, but Research Lass says there's alway something going on out here, and sometimes it's about hunting for a case." He sighs. "She showed me a statistical analysis. I kind of nodded my head."
"It's certainly creepy enough," says Emma. She has her phone out, recording maybe, or ready to thumb notes on.
This would be easier with some of the big-name powers. Telepathy, or precognition. X-Ray vision. Radar senses. He wonders if he could shout poems out, loud enough to have them bounce between buildings and echolocate villains. "I mean, I should just pick one. A building. Check it out, do recon, right?" He finally looks back at her. "There's always something going on out here, that's what they said. I just have to find something, a crime, and solve it."
"I'm beginning to see why they weren't in a rush for you to get here."
"This might be a test." He shuts his eyes. He needs to think, he needs a plan of attack. They wouldn't send him out if he wasn't going to find anything. That makes no sense. They need to know how he'll face something big when it happens and he's all alone, no one to call on for help. And there was a call about a disturbance, so that means that somewhere out there, a villain is doing something big and stupid enough to cause waves. "It's quiet here," he says. They're near the old Mister Paprika factory. They pulled out of Net.ropolis about a year ago, moved to Keystroke. There's a giant neon pop bottle mounted to the top of the building. He can't think of any carbonation-themed net.villains. "Maybe--" He turns, slowly, facing one way and then the next. "You'd think there would be clues for me to solve."
"Maybe there are," says Emma. It's embarrassing to have her here, watching him hit his head against a proverbial wall. You'd think his first solo mission would be more obvious. He'd asked Occultism Kid about it, about what it was like, but he'd shrugged and said it was different when he joined, they didn't have quite the same level of bureaucracy.
Probably they're watching him right now, tuning some long-range sensor on his activities, watching him in himself in circles--
There's someone over there. "Who is that?"
"Who's -- is that--" Emma is turning to follow his outstretched arm and finger.
In the distance, scuttling along the side of the old Home Shopping Network storage warehouse is a thin, strange figure. There is an abstract greyness about him. Marco squints. "Is that Bogus?"
"What the hell."
He's walking even before he finishes his thought, and Emma is shuffling after him. He doesn't break into a run. There's something incredibly wrong about the way that Bogus is moving -- exaggerated creeping, almost, and he looks ever so slightly hunched. Marco doesn't run -- it feels like if he did, something about the situation might break -- but he moves as quickly as he can without drawing any more attention to himself than the stupid costume is likely to bring. He and Emma slow down once they're across, and keep their distance. It's Bogus, all right. Bogus emptied of colour entirely. "It makes sense that if we get called on a solo mission, it's going to turn out to be him. Is it just me, or does he look like a refugee from an old creature feature?"
"This is probably some new trick to get whatever it is he wants from me," Emma says. She's moving slower than he is, at least three feet behind, keeping Marco between her and Bogus. That makes sense. The guy was digging around in her dreams not that long ago, why wouldn't he be coming up with even weirder ways to get to her? They don't even know what he wants. "Stay back!"
Clement Bogus turns then, and it's like he's flickering, a film-strip impression of a person. He opens his mouth, but there's no sound. "Not even a creature feature," Marco says. "An old silent movie." He's sticking pretty desperately to the side of the building, and it takes Marco a few thirty seconds to connect why: "He's staying in the shadows."
Emma is taking furious notes on her phone. She pauses, long enough to switch over to her camera app and take a picture. Two pictures. Three. "One of those will be great with the article," she says, and he wants to get mad at her, but he can't really blame her, can he? "Sticking to the shadows and -- geez, are those fangs?" And there's a droplet of panic in her voice, but it seems to dissolve when she says, "Victor King is going to love this."
"Stay behind me," Marco says.
"What do you think I've been doing?"
"A vampire," Marco says, slowly. Bogus blinks at them. "An actual vampire."
"We're at least a mile from the Shimbleshanks," says Emma. "Maybe the weird crap is starting to migrate."
Bogus starts to thrash against the very edge of the shadow, conducting a complicated, exasperated mime. "He can't move," Marco says. "He can't touch the sunlight. Do we try to take him alive?" Is he even alive? It occurs to him that, no, Bogus could be dead by now, if everything they say about vampires is to be believed. Only sometimes you can cure them. Or they can get their souls back. Marco could recite something, maybe, something strong enough to knock him out. "Emma," he says. "Cover your ears."
"I'm on the job. It's Bad-Poetry Boy."
(And oh, she will make fun of him for that later.)
Her hands are over her ears, and she's turned away. He needs something simple, something that will knock Bogus out, not burst his brain or something more spectacular. Bogus is mouthing obscenities at him (maybe). "Hold your horses," he says, and then he begins to recite. Just a pantoum, but it's effective enough that the vampire -- if that's what Bogus actually is now -- clutches at his skull and falls backwards, slamming against the side of the building and sliding down...
Marco takes a breath and reaches out, gripping Emma's wrist and pulling her hand away from her ear. "It's okay, he's out." He stares down. "I was worried he'd burst into flames." He can never really predict what's going to happen. Emma's not looking at him, she's peering at Clement Bogus on the ground. "It's definitely -- I think it's him, alright. Does that mean we have vampires?" He feels stupid. Of course it does. Vampires don't just appear. "We need to get him back to the LNHQ."
"We should kill it," says Emma, carefully. "He's a vampire now, we should--"
"He's not like -- I mean, he's not like vampires I've heard about. Doctor Stomper or Occultism Kid will want to figure out what's going on. We can't kill him off and walk away, right?" He crosses his arms, shoulders hunching forward.
"You can have the exclusive," he says, and he means it to sound like a joke but it peters out as soon as he says it. They're standing over Clement Bogus, and something horrible has happened to him, even if he is -- even if he was a terrible a person. "Maybe they can do something," he says. "Maybe we can reverse it." He wants to reach out and rub a thumb over the vampire's face, see if the grey comes off like greasepaint. It's easier to believe that this is another awful little prank instead of, well, whatever actually happened. What does the thing that did this to him look like? Marco gnaws at his bottom lip for a moment before tapping his communicator badge clipped to his belt. "Base? This is Bad-Poetry Boy. I need a pick-up, please. We've got vampires."
Bad-Poetry Boy (Marco Ramirez), Emma Dash, Clement Bogus, Sonnet Queen (April Fu) and Research Lass owned by Ben Rawluk, copyright 2015.
Moribund the Revampire, Kid Nosferatu and the Legion of Net.Horrors are owned by Ben Rawluk, copyright 2015.
Occultism Kid was created by Josh Geurink, but is free for use.
Okay, but I've wanted to do the Legion of Net.Horrors for a while now. Being away from RACC for years is strange because I was still getting the odd story idea or character concept that really only fits in the Looniverse, and they'd kind of hang around in my head for a while. And this smells like a plotline forming? Which is probably for the best. It's been really great for getting me to write every day again, but I'm purposefully limiting how much long-term planning I'm doing for it -- but a plotline had to happen, sooner or later.
It's also been pretty great, going back into the archives and reading old stories. Stuff I read way back when or stuff (pretty much everything post-Mutton Mania, maybe?) that is completely new to me, stuff that grew while I was gone.
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