The sun beamed down gentle light onto a cool autumn street. A crowd was gathered in front of Independence Hall; school children, foreign tourists, and the criss-cross of pedestrian traffic. Photos were snapped of smiling faces flashing two fingers to their friends’ phones as a Ben Franklin cosplayer leaned in, grinning through his low perched spectacles. Street musicians jangled out competing melodies as passersby tossed change into their open instrument cases. Tour busses whined as their brakes grabbed ahold and belched out white steam. Tour guides talked over their chattering groups and children ran in circles around their adults in chaotic games of tag.
Through the bustle, a group of figures in thick, brown cloaks dispersed themselves among the sightseers. A man dressed like an upper-class Dickens villain glanced between the monks and his fob watch. He watched the second hand stutter towards an ornate number 12.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Pulsifer announced as the watch struck noon, “your attention please.”
A few members of the crowd looked his way for a moment, but then returned to their own activities. Pulsifer stamped his foot on the ground and a shockwave rippled through the ground. People fell, cobblestones were displaced, and windows shattered. A bronze statue toppled off its pedestal and fell next to a huddled group posing for a picture. All eyes looked around, stunned.
“There,” Pulsifer said, “that would have been much easier on everyone if you had just done what you were told.” He floated up to the vacated pedestal. “I have an announcement to make.” he gave a signal and the monks removed their cloaks, revealing men and women in gis with centipede tattoos on their faces. “This city has been a wayward mess for some time now. Sure, it looks nice where we are, maybe even idyllic, but go a mile in any direction and...disaster area. Crime goes unchecked, corrupt politicians bleed the coffers dry, chaos. I am Randall Pulsifer, but you’ll come to know me as Centipede. The men and women you see among you are my legs. Get used to them. As of this moment, they are everywhere. I’m bringing a new era to the city. No crime is done without my consent, no edicts passed that I didn’t write. You’ll find that in this crowd, right now, there are one of my legs for every ten of you.” the Centipedes each grabbed one person from the crowd and wrapped one arm around their necks and put their other hand on their chins. “Do you know what decimate means?”
“To reduce by one-tenth,” a child answered.
Pulsifer paused and looked at the child, frowning, “Right. I don’t expect you to willingly comply right away, of course. Shocked into compliance is more dramatic. Looks good on TV.” Pulsifer raised hands.
“Put your hands in the air,” a police officer shouted aiming his pistol.
“They already are,” Pulsifer replied and dropped his hands.
The Centipedes snapped the chins of their hostages and let their lifeless bodies drop to the ground. The police officer began firing at Pulsifer. He jabbed his hand toward the officer and the bullets reversed flight toward him and struck him in his flack jacket, knocking him breathless to the ground. Pulsifer lifted off the pedestal and floated over the cowering mass.
“Is another demonstration necessary?” he said.
Duke sat across from Linc eating a from a bag of potato chips. Linc was sitting in a folding chair trying to align his fractured bones.
“You still look like shit,” Duke said through a mouth of potato chips.
“I feel a whole lot better,” Linc said. “No pain. I’m not hungry. I could use a new body though.”
“So what about this Pulsifer cat?”
“I’ve been thinking about him, while I was in and out and yall were letting my head bang against hard surfaces. His wife said they had kids and he says they don’t.”
“One of them is lying.”
“I had gotten that far. It’s plausible for each of them, but why would his wife lie to me about that. She didn’t even need to give a reason why she wanted me to find him doing shady shit. She could have left all that out. And why would Pulsifer say anything? There's something weird about their kids.”
“If you were raised by those two, you’d be weird too.”
“I mean something weird around them.”
“That we don’t know if they even exist?”
Linc nodded and got lost in thought.
“Oh my god,” yelled a frantic voice from the apartment upstairs.
“What’s his problem now?” Cheryl asked Bart.
“Billy?” Bart shouted up the stairs. “You’re not watching infomercials, are you? You know how they startle you.”
“Look at the news,” Billy shouted back.
Cheryl Googled for the news and every story on every page was the same. She clicked a video at random.
“...at least 70 are dead,” a reporters voice said over footage of Pulsifer floating around above a terrified crowd. “This man, who identifies himself as Centipede…”
“Pulsifer,” Duke growled as he crushed the bag of chips.
“Hey, don’t mash up my chips,” Hunter said.
Duke stood and punched the chip bag between his hands, “I’m gonna kill him.”
“Do you have a plan?” Cheryl asked.
“Yeah. Kill him.”
“That’s a goal, not a plan. Look, you’re not prepared.”
“Angry is not prepared. Where’s your manservant, Skippy? This guy’s bones are pretty much gravel. And you don’t even know where this Pulsifer asshole is. How are you going to find him?”
Duke sighed and hung his head.
“Not trying to pop your balloon, but we’ve been there. Reactive scatterbrains.”
“Now we’re proactive scatterbrains,” Sophie added.
“My point is, if you want this guy, you’re going to have to go at him with more than just white hot Dracula rage.”
Duke looked at Linc, “Any ideas?”
“Well, the last time we fucked with his boys, he came after us,” Linc said.
“It’s a start,” Cheryl said.
“He comes out of a portal.”
“Tech or magic?”
“I assume magic.”
“Don’t assume magic…”
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clarke,” Sophie nodded, proud of her pull.
Cheryl pointed at Sophie, her eyes rolling.
“He said he wasn’t powerful until the spaceships exploded last year,” Linc said. “I figure what happened to me happened to him. But instead of a corpse hopper, it made him a wizard.”
“And what about his crew?” Cheryl asked.
“They’re really strong,” Duke said. “Strong as me.”
“That could be anything. Magic, drugs, implants. At least we know how to draw him out.”
“He seems like a showboat,” Hunter said. “We could wait for him to put on another performance.”
“He killed 70 people within five minutes,” Sophie said. “Do we want to risk more casualties like that?”
“We?” Linc asked.
“We’re helping. This is right up our alley.”
“This is our case. Let us handle it.”
“I agree with the girl scout,” Cheryl said. “This isn’t the sort of thing we sit out.”
“You were content to sit out before,” Duke said.
“That’s before he went magic psycho killer on a crowd of tourists.”
“Oh, now that there’s glory in it,” Linc said.
“You knew about the wizard ninjas?” Sophie asked Cheryl.
“He didn’t make it seem like a big deal,” Cheryl protested. “They just wanted drugs for his buddy’s dart gun. He just said wizard ninjas.”
“Alright,” Duke said. “It’s like we can't stop you from getting involved, but Pulsifer is ours. We’ve got personal bones to pick.”
“We won’t get in the way of your beef. But there’s probably going to be a lot of these wizard ninjas in between.”
Duke looked at Linc and he nodded.
“Agreed,” Duke said. “You help with the wizard ninjas and we take care of Pulsifer.”
“I can’t wait till this is over and we stop saying ‘wizard ninjas’,” Sophie said.
In an Edwardian building, lying at the intersection of two major roads that cut Philadelphia in quarters, the city council argued over how to squander taxpayer money. The doors swung open and centipedes marched in led by Pulsifer.
“Security,” the council president shouted.
“Sorry,” Pulsifer said, “they’re too dead to hear you.”
“What do you think you’re doing here?”
“Completing my control over the crime in the city. You’re the last part of that puzzle. Looters and thieves all.”
“And you’re different?”
“I’m better at it. I’ll have this city running like an oiled clock.”
One councilman rose and a centipede pushed him back down by the shoulders.
“I usually ask people if they know what the word decimates means, but I’m getting sleepy. Wanna flip a coin?”
“I’ll take that as volunteering.”
The centipede standing behind the council president pulled and blade and plunged it through his back. The blade emerged from his chest. He bled from the mouth and his head hit the table. Pulsifer moved behind the table past the other council members. He pushed the dead council to the floor and took his seat.
“Now, where should we start?” he said folding his hands in front of him.
Duke laid down on top of his trailer and looked up at whatever stars he could see through the light pollution. Inside Linc queued up Robert Johnson on his phone and ran it through Duke’s speakers that were set outside by the door. Skip’s footsteps could be heard approaching. Duke could tell they were heavy. He was carrying something. He could hear tightly packed bottles clacking against each other. He brought the beer. Duke felt like a soldier lounging in the camp the night before a planned battle.
Skip crawled up the side of the trailer and plunked a case of beer down beside Duke.
“A little help?” Linc said, knocking on the side of the trailer.
Skip threaded down a length of his grappling cable and Linc grabbed on. Skip reeled him up. He handed Linc a beer.
“That isn’t gonna do shit to me,” Linc said.
“Oh, right,” Skip said.
“I can’t believe I wish I still had that virus. I could use a beer right now.”
“I almost had that guy the last time,” Duke said. “I think we’ll be fine.”
“We got the weirdos helping us,” Linc said.
“I feel a little better,” Skip said and noticed Linc glaring at him. “Not that I don’t think we could handle it. Help helps, not to sound too obvious.”
Linc nodded, "I'm gonna try to get into one of those buff ass ninja bodies. I bet that'll last me a while."
“Good selection,” Skip said.