Down With Disease
"Is this guy your manservant?" Cheryl asked, assessing Skip.
"He's my ward Renfield," Duke replied.
"Dude," Skip barked at the ceiling. "My name is Skip."
Cheryl smirked, "I'd go with Renfield. So, what do you want me to do?"
"He ran out of curare," Duke said. "I was wondering if you guys could help with that."
"Chemistry was never my thing. Roland?"
"Can't abide by it," Ian replied. "Balancing chemical equations gave me the first nightmares I ever had."
"Curare?" Bart chimed. "I can do you better than that. Come along, sir."
"Sir," Skip grinned. "You hear that? Sir. That's the kind of respect I deserve."
"I do have something else he may be interested in," Cheryl said to Duke. "It was something I was working on for Carl but abandoned it after space ninjas from the future hooked him up with a mech suit."
Linc rummaged through Hare's pantry. She produced a bag of potato chips and tore them open. She stuffed a handful in her mouth and chewed. She craned her head as she tried to swallow it and began to gag. She filled a glass with water and dumped it in her mouth. The water filled her mouth and began to overflow, spilling all over the floor.
"I hope you plan to clean that up," Hare said.
Linc jumped and coughed up a mouthful of soggy chip shards, clutching her chest.
"Dammit," she sputtered. "Tell me when your creepy ass is gonna sneak up on me."
"It's my house. I don't need to announce my comings and goings. Why are you pillaging my pantry? Do you even have a working digestive system?"
"I just got hungry all of the sudden. Thirsty too."
"Good, you've found another way to be an imposition."
"Calm down, I'm going out. I'm gonna catch up with Duke and see if the Centipedes paid him a visit too."
"I feel stupid wearing this," Skip said, pulling at the black wingsuit and harness.
"I have to derive job satisfaction somehow," Cheryl said. "In addition to being hilarious, it's also practical. The wingsuit is good for space jumping and the harness is part of a grappling system embedded in the suit. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to flit around the rooftops like some kind of..."
"Bat?" Skip's face lit up.
"I was thinking of a squirrel, but if you're married to the idea of being a theme gang."
"How does it work?" Skip said holding his hand out and pressing the button on his palm. A harpoon attached to a cable shot out and embedded in the wall next to Cheryl's head.
She glared back, stood and walked to the side. "Now hit the button again."
Skip pressed the button and cable began winding back up and pulled him to the wall. He crashed into it with a thud.
"Variations on that theme," Cheryl said. "Around the wrist is a controller for the adhesion factor of the soles of your feet and palms. Zero is like a regular pair of sneakers. At ten you'll be able to adhere to any surface, even horizontally. At negative ten, you'll glide over a gravel road."
Skip turned the dial on his wrist up to ten and stuck his hand to the wall. He yanked it and it stuck fast. Cheryl took his other hand and slapped it on the wall. Skip yanked both his hands but couldn't free them.
"So how do get out of this?" Skip asked.
"There's voice control," Cheryl said. "Gwen, adhesion factor negative ten."
Skip's hands slid off the wall and feet out from underneath him. He landed on his face. Duke offered his hand to help him up, but he slid around like an ice skater trying to regain his feet.
"Use your words," Cheryl said.
"Uh, Gwen, adhesion factor zero," Skip said regained his footing and balance.
"Fast learner," Cheryl started to rummage through a bunch of boxes scattered around the room. "What other junk do I want to get rid of?" She produced a metal cylinder with glass at each end and handed it to Skip, "How about a scope? It'll give you a full readout of your target. Body temp, heartbeat. It'll practically tell you what they're thinking. Night vision et cetera."
"Wow," Skip said, "thanks."
"The two of you vacating my workspace will be all the thanks I need."
Linc's feet crunched over the gravel roads of Duke's trailer park. She saw Duke and Skip standing beside a battered, overturned trailer. She jogged toward them waving her hands.
"A girlfriend?" Skip asked as Linc ran toward them.
"No. That's Linc," Duke replied.
"He's that guy the news calls Corpse Guy?"
"You know I don't watch the news."
Linc stopped in front of them and rested her hands on her knees gasping for breath.
"What the hell?" she panted. "I'm out of breath."
Linc looked at Skip in his black wingsuit. He had added a leather aviator's helmet and goggles that made him look like a World War One fighter pilot.
"What are you wearing, man?" Linc asked.
"Linc, this is my buddy Skip," Duke said.
Linc and Skip shook hands.
"What's with the getup?" Linc asked.
"That Ellers chick hooked me up," Skip replied. "It's a lot cooler than it looks."
"You sure she's not trolling you, bro?"
"It's a distinct possibility, but this suit is the shit, so it's fine if she is."
"What's this mess here," Linc pointed to the trailer.
"That's my trailer," Duke replied.
"How'd you guess?"
"They came after me too."
"We were trying to figure out how to flip it back over," Skip said and climbed up the side and stood on top. Skip attached his hooks to the roof of the trailer and jumped down. "You guys push from that side and I'll pull." Skip walked a few yards away. "Gwen, adhesion 10." His feet locked to the ground and reeled in his hooks.
Duke and Linc pushed the trailer toward Skip. Linc's hand slipped and scraped over a piece of jagged metal. She shrieked and pulled her hand away. It had a huge gash across the palm. The trailer lurched over and slammed down on its wheels, rocking back and forth.
"You okay, man," Duke asked Linc.
"I felt that," Linc replied. "It hurts like hell."
"You should see a doctor," Skip said.
"I know a guy."
Burke looked in Linc's ear with an otoscope. He put the tool down and plopped down in a chair.
"I have to be perfectly honest with you," Burke said. "I have no idea what normal looks like for you. What issues are you experiencing?"
"I'm hungry. I'm thirsty. I get short of breath and I cut my hand and it hurts like hell," Linc said. "That's not something I've had to deal with before."
"Have you tried switching to a new body?"
"This one is still good otherwise. I think she worked out a lot. I can put up with it for now."
"Just as well. I'm all caught up with work, so I have nothing for you down here."
Linc and Duke wandered down a dark street, under the humming orange of the sodium street lamps.
"So this is what you guys do?" Linc asked. "Stalk the streets at night, beating up small timers."
"Gotta start somewhere," Duke replied.
"Start what? Are you guys going to be the next Menagerie?"
"They've moved on to the big, weird shit. Somebody has to do the small stuff, help the regular people."
"That's where it starts, right? Muggers and rapists, then it's bank robberies. The next thing you know you're messing with aliens and ghosts and shit."
"I guess that's how it goes for people like us."
"Oh no, man. I ain't trying to mess with aliens and shit. I just want to get this PI gig off the ground."
"And what was your first case? Wizard ninjas."
"I don't have to take down the wizard ninja, I just have to tail 'em."
High overhead, Skip swung from rooftop to rooftop. His wingsuit billowed as he glided down to Duke and Linc. He landed on the street and slid on his heels. As turned the dial on his wrist he slowed to a stop.
"This is awesome, you guys," he said.
The air around them began to crackle. A tear opened in front of them and opened into a large hole in space.
"You boys have made yourselves a real pain in the ass," a tall man in a red robe and stringy black hair said, stepping out of the portal, followed by three Centipede footmen. "Did my ex-wife put you onto me? Such desperation."
"Randall Pulsipher?" Linc asked.
"The one and only," Pulsipher replied.
"Your wife said you were a custody battle for your kids," Linc said. "She wanted proof you were too dangerous to be awarded custody."
"We didn't have kids. She's just mad at me. She used to be the powerful one in the relationship, until a year ago when the spaceship exploded above the city. Then I was the powerful one," he pushed his hand forward and Linc stumbled back.
Skip pulled his sidearm and fired. Pulsipher held his hands out and the bullet ricocheted off in blue sparks. Duke flew toward him and took a swing. His fist impacted against an invisible barrier, sending him flying back. Duke flew back to Pulsipher like a rocket and continued to pound against the barrier giving off blue sparks. The three Centipedes advanced on Duke and Linc picked up a broken board and began swinging it at them, holding them back. As Duke struck against the invisible barrier, blue cracks began to appear until it finally shattered. Duke grabbed Pulsipher by the throat. Pulsipher waved his hands and Duke was struck in the gut by an unseen force. Skip climbed up the side of a building and took a perch on a window ledge. He fired on Pulsipher and a dart hit him in the shoulder. Pulsipher pulled the dart out and crushed it in his hand. He started to stagger and Duke threw him against the ground, striking him in the face. Pulsipher raised his hand and Linc lifted off the ground. Pulsipher waved his hand and Linc flew into the side of a car. Her back bent backward and she screamed in pain, sliding to the ground. The Centipedes crowded around her and began kicking her.
"Your friend is in bad shape," Pulsipher grunted. "How much do you think she can take?"
Duke looked back and saw Linc unconscious as the Centipedes kicked at her. Duke lifted Pulsipher and threw him into a wall. He flew over to Linc and the Centipedes scattered, running over to their boss. Duke grabbed one by the ankle and whipped him against the ground like a wet towel. His body went limp. Duke took Linc's hand and touched it to the lifeless Centipede. Nothing happened. Pulsipher opened a portal.
"You'll find his powers have been handicapped," Pulsipher said.
"What did you do?" Duke yelled.
"Good luck, till next time, Mr. Foster." He and the Centipedes hopped into the portal and it closed behind them.
Duke slung Linc over his shoulder and shot off into the sky.
Duke banged on the basement door of florist shop with Linc dangling over his shoulder. No one answered. He knocked again, punching the door with his fist.
"Open up it's an emergency," he yelled.
The door opened a crack and Hunter poked his head out. "We're having a band meeting. Can this wait?"
"I don't think so."
Hunter examined the woman draped over his shoulder, "She's in bad shape. Have you tried the ER?"
"You're the only guys I trust with this."
Hunter opened the door and cocked his head for Duke to go in. Duke beelined for a workbench and swept his arm across it, clearing it off. Projects in various states of completion hit the floor with a clatter. He flopped Linc on the bench.
"Just because your girlfriend OD'ed doesn't mean you can..." Cheryl said.
"It's Linc," Duke said. "Something's wrong."
"I see a lot of shit going wrong right now."
"He needs help."
"What am I supposed to do? I'm not a doctor."
"Oh, now you're not a doctor," Sophie said.
"Don't start," Cheryl snapped at Sophie. "What's wrong with him?"
"He pretty beat up and he can't hop into a new corpse," Duke said.
Cheryl looked at Linc and shook her head making annoyed sounds. She waved her stitched up finger over Linc's head.
"What's up with your finger?" Duke asked.
"Yeah, why don't you tell him?" Sophie said.
"I installed a diagnostic tool," Cheryl replied.
"In your finger? Yourself?" Duke asked.
"That's metal as fuck."
"It's meant for diagnosing and interfacing with electronic devices, but, who knows, maybe I can get some kind of info out of him." Cheryl examined Linc. "What happened to his neck? There's a small puncture wound."
A slender needle emerged from under her fingernail. She inserted it in Linc's neck next to the puncture wound. She removed it and held her finger near a plastic pad attached to a computer. Blocks of text began to scroll across the monitor.
"What do you know?" Cheryl mumbled to herself.
"What is it?" Duke asked.
"Well, given that he's a corpse, he's a mess. But there's an unknown virus in his system."
"Is that what's keeping him from hopping?"
"Your guess is as good as mine."
"Can you help him?"
"Like I said, I'm not a doctor. Not like a real doctor would be much help here given the circumstances."
"Let me make a call," Sophie said.