--Chapter Ten: Enemy Territory
Pants Man learned all he needed to know from Number Two, who lay on his deathbed with not too much on his mind except revenge for the treachery he suffered. The hero left the hospital with new resolve, but he took his new information with a grain of salt.
Scott, in normal street clothes, was now getting out of a taxi in front of a skyscraper. He studied the building carefully; Number Two had told him plenty about how to get into the “secret” headquarters, but there was no information to indicate how to get out.
Scott took the elevator to the seventy-eighth floor, then went down the stairs one floor—according to plan, the building’s secret floor had no elevator access and was easy to overlook from the ground.
He slid into a broom closet when he saw the first security camera—lucky it did not see him first. When he emerged, he was Pants Man. Now he only had to get past security…
(Further down the hall and around a corner…)
Security Guard 1: Say, Jake…
Security Guard 2: Yeah?
Security Guard 1: You heard about what happened to Number Two, right?
Security Guard 2: Well, I hear what I hear…
Security Guard 1: You know what I mean. It just makes me think, you know? Every now and then I wish I had a position higher up, like one of the Bosses. But then, something like this happens, and I’m glad to stay just where I am.
Security Guard 2: What, does a “cutthroat” atmosphere intimidate ya?
Security Guard 1: That’s not funny.
Security Guard 2: Or are you just not ready for a job that’s “to die for?”
Security Guard 1: …I swear, Jake, if I ever get the chance, I’ll rid the world of all its bad puns.
Security Guard 2: (sarcastic) Ha! There’s a noble ambition. While you’re at it, you can wear a mask and cape…
Security Guard 1: Jake…
Security Guard 2: (still sarcastic) …And you’ll have your own kids’ TV show, Pun Man: The Adventure Begins…
Security Guard 1: (sigh)
Security Guard 2: Oh, and you’ll have your own theme song, too! (sings) “You may think you’re being funny, but he thinks you’re being punny, dun-dada-dun, beat his ass, Pun Maaaaaaaaaan!”
(Pants Man sneaks past them in the overhead air duct.)
Security Guard 1: I would too beat your ass, man. Just shut up already.
Security Guard 2: Heh. You take everything way too seriously, man. It’s not like we have anything to do but stand here until the shift’s over, anyway.
Security Guard 1: Whatever. I guess you have a point…
Security Guard 2: Of course. I mean, honestly: who’s going to try and walk past us without a permit, huh? The only other way past is the air duct, and there’re a million alarms on that thing.
Pants Man released his finger from the trigger of his Super Soaker and watched the alarm wiring on a laser detector fry and short out. More like, “a million minus one,” he thought.
He looked down through a vent into a room that, according to Number Two, should have been Number One’s private office. Number One, sitting with his feet up on his desk, talked on the phone…
“I’d like to help you, Mr. Gates, I really would,” said he. “But The Firm has way too many projects on hand already. Right now we’ve got the RIAA deal, the USA Republican Party assassination schedule, the USA Democratic Party assassination schedule, and Saddam Hussein’s hideout fund to consider. I’m afraid that killing the Linux penguin will have to wait for another day… unless you’re willing to up your offer a bit…”
He waited for a second and continued, “What do you mean, ‘price gouging?’ Of course I’m gouging you for prices! It’s not like you don’t have the money. You’re Bill freakin’ Gates, dammit! How much is this job really worth to you? …Fine, two billion it is, then.”
With a satisfied smile, Number One hung up the phone and walked out of the room, saying to himself, “Another day, another dollar… I think I’ll take lunch early to celebrate.”
Pants Man surveyed the room for signs of alarm systems, then planned his entry to the office.
As Number One left the room, Aeris entered it. She dropped the key ring on the floor and shoved it aside once she was sure she was alone. The cat was going on an instinct developed from several hours of videogames: in the main office there would be some incriminating evidence she could conveniently turn over to either the police or Pants Man later.
As Aeris jumped on top of a file cabinet, a soft metallic sound came from above. She looked up and noticed something moving… a hand reaching from above the duct, unscrewing the grill from the ceiling. The hand had no screwdriver, though… rather, it looked to be using a belt buckle.
The cat patiently watched all four screws come off. They landed in the hand’s open palm. Whoever was unscrewing the ensemble had enough foresight to hold onto the grill and keep it from falling to the floor.
Pants Man thought to himself, There’s no security camera or motion detector in the room. That means the alarm must be in floor sensors… or something like that, anyway.
In reality, there were no alarms or security devices guarding the room itself, but there were plenty on the file locks and computers storing sensitive information. Aeris had already discovered one of the alarm triggers from her perch atop one of the smaller cabinets. The setup was meant so as not to sound an alarm if someone accidentally entered the room; instead, an alarm would catch the perpetrator red-handed, fingers on the computer keys and everything.
Aeris watched Pants Man’s entrance into the room, and it was all she could do to keep from laughing aloud. The hero lowered himself using a pair of belts tied together for rope. These were attached to two more belts around his torso and waist. He may have meant it to look like a Mission Impossible scene, but Pants Man’s clumsiness with the belts made it far more ridiculous.
Finally he lowered himself into a level position and returned to scanning the room. He then took out yet another belt—Aeris started to wonder just how many of those things he had—fastened it so as to create a lasso, and hooked it successfully around a wall lamp. Using this, he pulled himself toward the files. He did not notice the cat sitting on top of the cabinet at first.
Aeris found herself at a crossroads here. On the one paw, if Pants Man triggered the alarm, it was all over. On the other paw, she had her precautions about talking in front of humans… how would Scott take it if he knew his cats could talk? She would find out soon enough…
Pants Man reached for the handle, but a loud “MEOW!” caught his attention before he could open it. He looked up and could hardly believe his eyes.
Pants Man: Aeris?
Aeris: (ahem) Look, Pants Man, you really don’t want to open that file cabinet. It’s got an alarm on the handle.
Pants Man: (stupefied) … Aeris? You talk?
Aeris: Wow, you took that better than I expected!
Pants Man: Oh? And how did you expect me to take it?
Aeris: Well, you know, I thought you’d completely freak out at seeing a talking cat and whatnot.
Pants Man: Aeris.
Pants Man: I’m a would-be superhero who carries a squirt gun full of detergent, wears boxer shorts on his head, and sneaks into illegal organization offices via the air vents. It’d take a hell of a lot more than a talking cat to freak me out.
Aeris: Ah. Good point.
Pants Man: So what should I do to deactivate the alarm?
Aeris: Well, first things first. There’s no alarm on the floor; you can come down safely.
Pants Man: Okay… (Reaches behind his back, undoes one belt buckle, then the other. Then he looks up, twitches the belts from up in the air vent, and catches his squirt gun as it falls, attached to the end of the belts.)
Pants Man: Yeah, I just had the thing wedged in there and unwedged it to pull it down. Bad news is, I’m almost out of ammo.
Pants Man: (as he examines the file lock) So how are you able to talk, anyway?
Aeris: Years of radiation from all the electronics in the apartment altered my intelligence.
Pants Man: I see. And Leo?
Aeris: Yeah, he can talk, too. He’s around here somewhere with Krug—who, by the way, is actually an ally now.
Pants Man: So how come you guys get super-intelligence and I don’t? I live in the same apartment, after all.
Aeris: Maybe you do have a superpower and just don’t know it yet.
Pants Man: (picks around the file cabinet lock with a belt buckle) How did you discover you could talk?
Aeris: (shrugs) I started purring one day and noticed my voice had changed. Then I tried talking, and it just worked.
Pants Man: Interesting…
Just then, the door opened, and a fat figure walked in. Pants Man and Aeris both recognized him: Number One.
“What in the name of all things evil—” began the villain.
It took a second, but Number One figured out from the look of the hero that this was Pants Man, the maverick crusader who had defeated Number Twenty only last week.
Number One instantly ran out of the room, slammed the door, and locked it from the outside. Seconds later, an alarm went off.
Aeris ran over to where she had left the keys. Then she jumped up to the doorknob. One of these has to work, she thought.
Pants Man, meanwhile, used the last of his ammunition to shoot through the file cabinet and grab the papers. At least he would get what he came for. His mind was caught up on the concept of superpowers, though. He internally ran through the list of possibilities: x-ray vision, superhuman strength, animal instinct, flight, weakness to kryptonite…
As Aeris fiddled with the lock, he tried each of these. Could he fly? No. Could he see through things? As far as he could tell, no. Could he run through walls? …Well, he was not desperate enough to try that yet, anyway. Could he—
The security guards were outside the door, debating which one would enter the room first to kill off the intruder. Then a flash of light and sound of thunder came from the office, and suddenly the door burst from its lock and hinges. The wood sailed into the guards, knocking them over. Aeris, stunned and singed as if by a flame, stumbled off the door and walked away.
The guards got up quickly but cautiously. Immediately they raised their guns and rushed into the room. There was nobody in sight, though… just a pair of footprints on the carpet by an open file cabinet. Looking up, the guards saw the opened air vent and jumped to a conclusion: Pants Man had made his escape.
Pants Man had indeed made an escape… but he was nowhere near any air vent… he looked around himself and wondered at his surroundings: the landscape was flat, blue tile, with various printings on it at places. He still held in his hand the confidential folder of evidence, but it looked strangely two-dimensional…
Then he figured it out: he was on a computer desktop. How did I get here? he wondered. All I did was stare at one of the room’s computers when I was trying X-ray vision… Then I tried telepathy, and—I guess my thoughts are part of the source code now…
He could worry about getting out later. Right now, though, he had access to all the computer files in The Firm’s most securely guarded computer. He made preparations to send all the computer’s hard drive contents to the Commissioner via e-mail, but then he reconsidered; the file size would be too large. Maybe he could compress it in a zip drive or two…
Meanwhile, Aeris caught up with Krug and Leo in the hall. Intent on hiding, they walked into the conference room. They turned on all the lights to make sure the place was empty. It was. Then Aeris briefed the other two on the situation, as far as she knew it: Pants Man had zapped himself and caused a near explosion in the office, but there was nothing to indicate that he had actually been hurt yet.
Krug flipped the lightswitch to return the room to its eerier previous state, one spotlight by the entrance and total darkness elsewhere. They would wait in the shadows for news of both Pants Man and the confidential files before attempting an escape.
Pants Man sent the zip files, then checked out some of the computer’s programs for himself. From here he could access the security cameras (where they existed in the building, since there were none in Number One’s office, of course), and he noted that Leo and Aeris were both talking congenially with Krug just before the monster turned the lights out in the conference room.
From the security cameras’ program, it was easy to access the floor-wide PA system. The pixilated hero announced soundly, “Emergency meeting in conference room. All available numbers report.”
Outside the building, the Commissioner was waiting with the entire Toronto City Police at his command. His cell phone rang, so he looked at it briefly: someone was trying to instant message him. He first made to turn the phone off; he did not need distractions right now. Then he saw the message, though… it was Pants Man’s screen name, and the words “evidence sent by email, come in and I’ll give directions” flashed before his eyes.
“Alright, boys!” he said to the officers nearest him. “We’re going in! I want the elevators, all exits in the building, and all streets in the vicinity secured. Don’t let anybody through, even people from the other floors, you got it? It’s complete lock-down until we catch these guys!”
So Pants Man gave the directions to the floor, and from there, he directed them to the office. Any security guards that tried to stop the incoming police were caught by surprise and shot on sight. More than twenty police secured the conference room. One of them found the room’s lightswitch and flipped it…
A very fat Krug lay sprawled out on the table. The monster was short of breath and clearly in no shape to put up a fight.
Pants Man’s voice over the PA said, “That’s enough, Krug. Good job. Officers, do not, I repeat, do not try to attack Krug. Trust me, more than ten people just tried, and well… look for yourselves.”
The bloody spork dropped from Krug’s hand, and all the police officers simultaneously shuddered.
Krug spoke with a weak voice. “Krug a good monster… Krug eat evil ones… Krug do good… All Krug life, Krug eat and eat and eat… But Krug never full… Krug want eat more and more and more… Then Krug realize… Krug hurt people when Krug eat them… Evil ones need be eaten, but… Krug no like that… Krug was made to eat, so Krug eat… but Krug no want to eat no more… Krug no want to be monster no more… People, good and evil, they think all monsters evil… But Krug do good… Krug good monster…”
“What should we do?” one of the officers asked the Commissioner.
“Well, we have to at least take him in for questioning. But don’t hurt him or make any fast moves, okay?”
The officer gulped. “Okay.”
Krug let himself be carried into the paddy wagon on stretcher.
The Commissioner was just cleaning up the last bit of work at the crime scene when he saw something run around a corner. He went to investigate. Suddenly, an obese man with comb-over and dark suit pulled a gun up to the Commissioner’s head.
“So you escaped Krug, eh?”
The fat man grumbled, “If I need a hostage to get out of here, I might as well take you. Now march toward the exit, and don’t try anything stupid.”
Pants Man saw over the camera what Number One was doing. The hero thought quickly—too quickly, in fact, for The Firm’s ringleader to catch up to what was happening.
There came a flash of light, followed by a loud cracking sound, and by the time the Commissioner turned around, all he saw was Pants Man holding a belt-lasso and a strangled Number One on the end of it.
The Commissioner smiled. “Well, I’ll be damned: Pants Man catches a criminal, and the building’s still standing this time! How did you do it?”
Pants Man let the dead crime lord drop to the ground. He glanced at the cell phone on the Commissioner’s belt, the same phone he had just sent himself to in a file attachment…
“Let’s just say I work at the speed of light,” said the hero.
The evidence found in the files was enough to convict the felons, but it was of little use, since most of The Firm was dead anyway. The police never found out what exactly was the target at the convention, and they never traced it back to see who was hiring The Firm for that job… but nonetheless, the convention went smoothly, and all was soon more or less back to normal in Toronto.
Two weeks later, in apartment 14A…
Scott: (as Roy from Super Smash Bros. Melee) Dang, you guys are good!
Leo: (Marth) Hey, what did we tell you? We’ve had months of practice time.
Krug: (Jiggly Puff) Krug not like this game… Pixels make Krug fat…
Aeris: (Sheik) Next time pick a character that fits you better; I recommend Bowser. (Knocks Krug off the screen with a baseball bat homerun.)
Krug: KRUGGILY PUUUUUUUUUUUUUUFF!!! (splats on the screen) See, that just not sound right…
The phone rang, and Scott pressed pause on the videogame controller so he could pick it up.
“Yes, Commissioner? …A mission, eh? …Alright, I’m on it!”
Moments later, Pants Man was just about to leave, when Krug approached him and said, “Look, fleshy one, um… Krug not know how to say this, but… thank you for letting Krug stay here while Krug get back on his feet, what with going legit and all…”
Pants Man patted him on the back and said, “No problem. Just keep the cats occupied while I’m away.”
“Krug do that.”
Krug turned around when Pants Man had left. He announced to Leo and Aeris, “Alright, turn game box back on… Krug gonna play meanest Jiggly Puff kitties ever knew!”
As the monster sat down to play, the sun set over Toronto. The Khaki Crusader struck a vigilante pose from atop a building as twilight and a wintry wind set in, rustling his denim cape. A new night had begun.