When I woke up I thought for a minute I was back in the hold of the Queen Mary or the Royal Sovereign or the Fancy Empress or whatever the name of the ship was that brought me to Madripoor and this thrilling new life of violence and horror. But it was “just” a room, like on land I mean, not in a ship. It didn’t have any bars like on the TV but it had a real prison vibe, maybe this is what solitary confinement is like. I’m no architect but the place seemed to be designed for super-person containment, I’m not sure what’s harder and stronger than concrete but I think that’s what it was made out of. The door wasn’t like a normal door, it was more like the door to a bank vault.
There was a cord or cable or whatever around my neck that led into a metal grommet (is that the right word?) through the wall. It was so tight around my neck that I couldn’t get my fingers behind it to get any leverage on it to break it, and the cord (or whatever) itself was some kind of slick material that I couldn’t get a good grip on for breaking either. It felt like it was made of liquid metal. No problem, just rip the wall down right? I have the strength of twenty strong men, even super concrete should be breakable with that kind of awesome power.
And maybe it would have been ordinarily, but I wasn’t feeling great. I smoke some grass now and then. I tried ludes a couple times. And like most people, I chewed on the adrenal gland of a coyote once. But other than that, drugs aren’t really my thing. So I don’t know what it feels like to be on heroin, but if I had to guess I think it felt like the way I feel now. For the first time in one hundred and twenty eight days, I wasn’t being chewed up from the inside by hunger. I had forgotten what it felt like to not be hungry. For the first time in one hundred and twenty eight days, I didn’t have a splitting soul-slapping headache.
That sounds good right? But I wasn’t okay. I think those things were still happening, I just couldn’t feel them. It’s like I was cut off from my mind. I could move, but it was like I was underwater. No, it was like I was underneath an ocean made up of peanut butter instead of water. The thick name brand stuff. My fingers felt like they weighed a ton each. Worst of all, I was having a hard time catching my breath. I remember seeing an uncle of mine one time sleeping in a recliner and it seemed like he would stop breathing every few minutes. He was almost dying without knowing. That’s what I felt like. Except I did know.
I grabbed at the wall-hole but I couldn’t rip it down. I was still stronger than normal, just not strong enough. After a minute, I sat down and just panted like a worn out retriever. It felt like someone was punching me in the chest every time my heart beat. I started to hate my heart for beating and hurting me like that.
I don’t know how long she was there before I noticed. Could have been hours. The vault-door was open and sitting before me was Serpentina. It took me a while to make my brain comprehend she was sitting on a chair, at first I thought she was hovering before me with her knees bent. Which would be a strange superpower to have, but you know, Bouncing Boy. She didn’t look like the last time I saw her – old and weak – she looked like the first time I saw her, young and powerful. She had the magic necklace I had taken from her, bouncing against her firm bosoms again. I wonder how a Madripoor crime asshole got a mystical South American necklace. I’ll probably never find out. Money I guess.
I felt like I needed to hold my eyelids open with my hands to meet her gaze “Hey Tina . . . where’s Archie? Where’s Big Moose?” I realized that I was speaking English and she probably couldn’t understand me. I tried, but I couldn’t access the part of my brain that knew French “Sorry T, I can’t seem to remember French right now because I’m so high.”
She crossed her legs, her stupid leather suit squeaking like mad, and leaned forward, probably because I wasn’t speaking very loudly and she had to hear me “I’m not sure I’d call having massive amounts of presynaptic neurotoxins in your body being high, but you have very little other frame of reference.”
I nodded once very, very slowly “Good, you speak English, I’d hate to do the James Bond villain banter through an interpreter. That would ruin the dramatic tension.”
“I couldn’t agree more, although there’s no tension really. I’ve won. You have a very impressive constitution my foreign friend, you already have enough venom in you to kill twenty men and you’re still talking, but it shouldn’t take much more to finish the job.”
I couldn’t help but smile “Twenty normal men or twenty strong men? I get it, right, snake venom, because of the serpent thing. That’s good . . . uh, marketing . . . or whatever you call it. Hey, you know, I want to apologize for that whole thing before where I ripped your necklace off and exposed your suddenly flabby old tits to everyone. That wasn’t my intention.”
“No, you were just going back on your word seconds after giving it and trying to beat information out of me instead of following through with the deal we had just made. Seconds before. Literally seconds.”
“Yeah . . . and I feel really bad about the whole thing. I heard your whole criminal empire fell apart after I took your necklace. Actually what I heard is that you were dead. I heard that one of your lieutenants cut your bloody throat.”
“They certainly tried. I lost almost everything because of you, but I had a couple million stashed away for a rainy day. It pays to be prepared when you’re the leader of a criminal conspiracy. It’s a shame really, I used that money to hire a team of superpowered mercs ready to take you and your friends on.”
“Whoa, that sounds like it would have been a heck of a melee. Super cool.”
“Yes, but then a little blonde girl from the States comes to me and says that she has you trussed up like a chicken in a butcher’s window and heard I was offering a bounty. I wonder if I can get some of my money refunded from the mercenaries since they didn’t end up doing anything. Or maybe I should have them kill your lizard friend and your fish friend anyway, just for good measure.”
I wagged my finger at her “Yes, you should do that, and make me watch. Killing me now? That’s too good for me after what I did to you. Keep me alive to see my friends die.”
She smiled “That would buy you some time, James Bond style.”
“Hey, how about this? Since I crushed your criminal empire, you don’t kill me, what you do is you use me as your attack dog and help you build it back up again? I got the superpowers, you know, we can do it together, just us girls. Feminism. Those Shadow Lords need to be taken down a peg or two. How about we go after them? Knock them off and install you as the numero uno crime gang around here. And then once you’re back in power, you’ll kill me. You can take my family back home as hostages to make sure I go through with it. What do you say to that?”
“Charming to the end. I think I’ll just kill you instead.”
“Final offer, how about instead of poisoning me more right now – instead, what if you torture me to death over the next several days? Or weeks even? Make it last as long as possible. Really teach me the errors of what I’ve done.”
She stood up and someone came in to fold up her chair “Tempting, but I don’t think it would be wise to give your friends time to mount a rescue attempt. They’re quite loyal. God knows why.”
I wracked my brain for a moment and then I blew out a long breath “Well balls.”