Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Craigslist stories, part deux


Here's another first draft that signifies, well, nothing.

Standard sort of disclaimer: I put this here for free because I'm not good enough to get paid. Still practicing. So consider it available under the Creative Commons. You have to give attribution and if you reprint it, gosh, I'd like to be notified and get some money, but the money isn't totally necessary.

I didn't intend it, but this seems to be the second part of a Craigslist series (duology? trilogy?).

It's probably worth mentioning that I write the stories first and then worry about character writeups. If it were the other way around, you could say it's a kind of solo roleplaying...but it's not.

The first one is here.

The Sound and the Fury

2018, John McMullen

So I’m in this museum, hiding in the Florentine room after hours, to steal the Albright Amulet because I want to be a supervillain, right? Because of the origin and me being fired from Faceless Corporation. My attempts to ease into it with a nemesis and all have totally failed, so I'm jumping right in with a commission to steal this amulet. I found the job on Craigslist, that being the least-reputable online place I know.

And right at this second I’m sitting in a blind spot and looking at the high-security display stand that wasn’t there yesterday when I cased the place. And what I’m doing will be totally visible to security cameras because I need the credit: I haven’t disabled the museum’s security. People are going to be watching, and I don't want to have to do this again. It just looks bad, you know?

And there’s a flash of light in the next room.

I have not been in the supervillain game a long time, but I’ve been reading. There are a couple of possibilities when there’s a sudden flash of light. Maybe an incandescent light bulb blew. Maybe a bolt of lightning suddenly struck indoors. Or maybe another supervillain just wandered into the building despite the anti-teleport tech.

(I don’t have fancy teleportation: I have a kind of invisibility, for short periods. I was going to hide and leave with the first batch of tourists in the morning. That's how I entered in costume.)

I can hear him-her-it moving around, without any regard for the internal cameras.

Now, museums don’t have great security; it’s not cost-effective for them, because the artwork can usually be ransomed back. But this guy (because statistically it’s a guy) is ignorant or powerful enough not to care, and he has triggered some alarms for sure.

If he steals something and leaves, I will probably get blamed. Blame goes to the lowest on the ladder, credit to the highest. Supervillainy: it’s like a corporation that way. (Clearly I traded one corporation for another.) Will that be good? Depends on what he steals, but even if I get the credit, I won't get the money.

And he strides into this room, muttering about key lines and magic and crap like that. It’s Merlin Furioso, who is powerful.

I have some crappy sonic powers that frankly are most effective against toddlers, and he’s an honest-to-goodness sorcerer.

There’s a chance that he might be here for something else. After all, the Florentines were big on magic. Probably. I don’t really know.

Of course he walks right over to the Albright Amulet and looks at it.

The amulet doesn’t look like much. I did some research on it when I took the job. Meteoric iron cunningly wrought, with a gold inset making the shape of an eye, and an onyx pupil. It’s been in the museum for about twenty years. Hell, it’s been travelling on loan for twelve. Slight magic aura but nothing more than you’d expect from something that was in an alchemist’s place for years.

The fact that two of us are here tonight to get it means that now the stars are right or someone has just unearthed the secret incantation that opens the gate with this or yadda-yadda; the point is that he’s going to take the thing that I’ve been hired to steal, and even if I stop him but have to leave without the amulet, some other mystically-inclined dorkwad is going to show up tomorrow, and so on. Time is limited.

Also: I have probably been set up by the guy who hired me. Bonus for him if I succeed and no loss of money if Furioso gets the amulet. Memo: don't trust jobs from Craigslist. I gotta get access to the supervillain deep web. TL;DR: grab the amulet now or never, because multiple folks want it.

Here’s my plan: grab it, survive for four minutes (police response time), let Furioso fight them when they come in and slip out. Yes, the cameras will see me but the police won’t.

It’s a crappy plan, but momma needs rent money and this is the way to do it that doesn’t involve crawling back to Faceless Corporation.

I check the room for mannequins and statues (Furioso’s MO involves animating statues and his spell du jour, whatever he’s been reading up on) and spot the two that I should avoid. They’re flanking the doorway that Furioso didn’t come in, displaying arms and armor. One mannequin has a lance, kind of lopsided armor, and a gold helm that looks like a snarling lion; the other has a sword and chest armor with exaggerated musculature like a superhero.

I tense, waiting for him to break the case, because he’s going to. The man has the patience of a St. Bernard puppy. (I speak from experience.)

He taps the wand and the glass shatters. It doesn’t fall to pieces because it’s more like windshield glass. He frowns, mutters a phrase that sounds like “Come,” and pulls the wand up. His wand is suddenly sticky and the case comes up and off. I hope that in the security office something lights.

It’s not just the Albright Amulet that’s in the case: there are a couple of other examples of goldsmithing in the Florentine era but all have provenance and aren’t mystical.

Hours of gymnastics when I was a kid pay off as I dive over the pedestal while I grab the amulet. “Uh-uh-uh,” I say. “No touch.”

The banter is deliberate. The other thing I read about Furioso is that he loves to talk. So if I can get him talking, I have a better chance of surviving the next four minutes. “Insolent swine!” He has a nice voice, a tenor. I wonder if he sings at all. “That amulet belongs with Merlin Furioso, Master of the Mystic Art!”

Yeah. He talks like that.

“Sorry, didn’t hear you. I was looking at my amulet,” I say as I roll backwards. I wish I could fly; I call myself Mynah but because of the crappy sonic powers, not flight.

By staying low, I can keep out of his view. Pedestals for display cases keep me hidden. So far, it is working.

“My mystic blasts will incinerate you!” Guess he found mystic blasts in his cereal box this morning. We spend a little while with him firing and me dodging out of sight. A rapid barrage of pale blue bolts light up the darkness, like flames from a Bunsen burner, each one shaped like a tiny ghost. They hit the display bases and sizzle. One base, just one, catches on fire.

That’s enough. It sets off the fire alarm.

Unlike security systems, museums have great fire alarm systems. Almost all of the valuables are in display cases so they are perfectly protected as the fire-retardant gas starts pouring out. The gas is heavier than air. It pools on the floor.

Where I am.

I have to get up or suffocate, and I have to get up before I breathe any of it in, because once this stuff gets in your lungs, it stays there, smothering you.

He doesn’t seem to be bothered. “There you are, rabid pup!”

Big on the animal insults, our Merlin Furioso. I expect more little blue burning ghosts but I guess even they dislike fire suppressant gas. Instead he says to the mannequins, “You, block her exit and you...skewer her.” The mannequin with a lance blocks its exit and stands motionless.

The other one comes for me, sword drawn and raised. Fortunately it hasn’t got a lot of finesse. I dodge to one side but that puts me closer to Merlin. He responds by saying, “She must let go,” and flicking his wand at me. My hand falls open, pried apart by something.

“Guard her,” he tells the mannequin. “No need to skewer her now.” He looks at me. He’s creepily old…maybe forty. “So long as she behaves.”

I’m still holding my breath, so I can’t say anything. My chest is starting to burn. The police haven’t shown up yet, so I have to stall for more time.

I kick the amulet and it skitters across the floor, bounces off something and scrapes along. I have no idea where it went. If this were my apartment, we wouldn’t find it for years.

My apartment with the rent due and the secret puppy. Sigh.

“Spirits, find it and bring it to me.” Oh, he’s so poetical in victory. It just ticks me off while my lungs burn. Then Merlin says something odd, conversationally and not to me. “You can feast on her blood.”

In the space between one painful heartbeat and the next, I suddenly realize that the spirits are literal: he’s commanding something. He’s telling it or them what to do. He might love to talk, but he needs to talk.

I don’t grin, because my chest hurts too much, but crappy sonic powers can deal with this. Except I’m going to have to breathe.

I only ever saw two effects at once: two spirits. I think. Two mystical fire blasts at a time, two mannequins animated. If there are two spirits, there’s nothing animating the mannequins...the spirits are off looking for the amulet.

Crap: I see the amulet bobbing along, so only one spirit is occupied, and I’m apparently the buffet. I try and close my hand, and I can. So the spirit isn’t there any more, though it might be anywhere else. One of them can hold me while the other does blood-draining-spirit things.

I’m holding my breath so I duck down low and move for the doorway blocked by one mannequin, the one with the lance. The mannequin starts to move but I manage to get under its feet and slide into the other hall—uh, crap, it’s full of dinosaur models.

If I were designing a museum, I wouldn’t put big dinosaur skeletons right next to Florentine metalwork of the 1500s.

Not my call, though. Two dinosaurs start to move toward me, nasty things like velociraptors in that movie but only about waist height.

My theory is, that’s all the spirits. So I pop up and breathe and use my crappy sonic powers like ventriloquism. His voice comes from him and says:

“Attend to me! Return and I shall feed you myself!”

Because an appeal to hunger works with a St. Bernard puppy.

And then I hear “What?” So I add him saying, “Ignore my words and I shall feed you, my faithful servitors! Then begone, for I release you from your servitude!”

I am assuming that they don’t want to be servants. If they have some weird co-dependent relationship, I’m hosed.

I'm not hosed.

After that, it’s mostly screaming and some wet slapping sounds that I don’t like to think about. He’s not gonna die, because the police are coming.

At least, I hope he’s not gonna die.

Maybe thirty seconds later the wet sounds stop.

I finally hear the police coming. Typical.

I dash into the Florentine room and have to look at him because, well, he’s got the amulet that I’m here to steal. He looks awful. He looks like an explosion in an abattoir. He looks like he just spilled a motorcycle while riding naked. He looks like a giant-size economy pack of lean ground chuck stuffed into a costume.

But—I check—he’s breathing.

The amulet is on the floor beside him. I pick it up, wave at the security camera and walk out. Just as the police show up, I turn functionally invisible and walk out.

And that’s how I really started my life of crime.

Mynah (Kendra Wahl)
SpecialtiesAthletics (+1), Power (Sonic Control) Expert (+2) Her sound imitations and Affliction are tested as if she were level 4.
  • She has Poor (2) Sonic Control with a basic power of Images. She can also discomfit someone (an Affliction) or distract them so that she can give them suggestions, like Mind Control/Hypnosis.
  • She can emit a subsonic that messes with someone's visual center and makes them unable to see her, a kind of Average (3) Invisiblity. Machines will still see her, and it's tiring.
  • Bad luck in picking partners and nemeses
  • Doesn't understand the whole dating thing
  • Precision over power
Merlin Furioso (Spencer Eddy)
SpecialtiesOccult (+1), Psychology (+1)
He has two Great (6) Servants who generally animate objects, but are variable and they are limited by the source that they animate. Without something to animate, they are only Fair (4).
He knows a bit of Average (3) Magic. The versatility of it is useful to him.
He does know one spell, an accurate Fantastic (9) Teleport. It takes preparation, one page per point of teleport.
  • He loves to talk.
  • The next job will be enough (but it never is)
  • Theatrical con man with some power

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