It's not easy, carrying a body.
It's even harder when the other person, the one who's holding them under the arms, is taller than you are by a good foot. My arms were aching from the effort of keeping the feet properly elevated. I was determined not to show the strain, though. We were two people on a mission. (Well, peopleish. I've got bird DNA, and Zombie Samurai's dead and still walking, but I think we technically qualify. Nobody knows the rules anymore. Not when we've got electric cat-women on our team.) Our team was depending on us. I just hoped I hadn't screwed everything up too bad.
I should probably clarify, the body we were carrying out wasn't dead. It was Mister Meme--I know, you probably guessed that one--and he was "just" unconscious. But I was still worried, because one of the things I've learned about being a superhero is that it's a lot harder to knock a person out than it looks on television. I've punched bad guys nine, ten times, as hard as I can, and all I've got for my troubles is a really pissed-off bad guy who's spitting teeth. And I'm not proud of it, but I've sent some guys to the hospital when I was just trying to subdue them. Mister Meme was unconscious. That could mean concussion, skull fractures, maybe never waking up. We couldn't afford that.
That was what was going through my head. On the surface, I was trying to remain calm and collected. I had to. I'd told Zombie Samurai that all this was part of my plan. "We need to get him back to our headquarters," I'd said, "and we can't afford to risk moving him through the city with his powers. Every human being is a potential hostage. We get him back to base fully neutralized, we take stock of the situation, and we do whatever we have to in order to make him fix our friends."
That was what I told him. But he looked at me with those eyes...dead eyes. Killer's eyes. And I knew he knew. Just as sure as I knew, looking at him, that he'd used that sword when he was a living man to end someone's life, I could tell that he knew that when I came into that room, when I hit a helpless man over and over and over, each blow rocking him back faster than he could possibly recoil...I wasn't trying to knock him out so we could carry him back to base. For a few seconds, before I got control of my anger, I was just lashing out at the person who hurt my friends. For a few seconds--and a few seconds, to me, feels like a few minutes--all I wanted to do was kill someone.
And I could tell that Zombie Samurai understood. He didn't say anything, though. Maybe things like that, you don't have to talk about.
We got him to our transport flyer and made it back to base in record time. (I don't know whether I inherited some sort of intuitive flying skills from the bird DNA, or if the flyers were just designed to be really user-friendly so that henchmen could pilot them, but I was great with those things.) My stomach was clenched up in knots; we didn't know just what to expect when we got there, but we knew it would be bad.
The bad news was, only five of them were upright. The good news was, the rest of them were trussed up and semi-conscious. I have never felt more grateful to see my friends beaten up and bound with electrical cord than at that moment. "What happened while we were gone?" I asked Goth Grrl. "How come you're not like...the rest of them?"
Goth Grrl looked down at me. She looks creepy when she's staring at you; it's the black eyes. Black-on-black-on-black, no pupils or irises. They stand out even more against the ultra-pale skin. "I share my head with a ghost and a primal darkness spirit. It gives you a different perspective on death."
I nodded. "And the others?"
Gunmetal Grey cocked 'his' head. I could hear the servos whirring under the synthetic skin. "It appears I have no analogue for 'death' in my database. The concepts Gaian Champion was talking about did not translate."
John Q. Public had heavy bags under his eyes, like he was wearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he gripped his baseball bat tightly. "Just too stubborn to die, I guess. Same as the Fist, over there."
Shu bowed deep and low. "It is a question of being centered within the universe," she said. "The wheel of karma turns, and it will continue to turn after this body is passed on to its next life. I tried to explain it to the others, but..." she shrugged. "It took me my entire life to achieve the humble understanding I now possess."
I looked over at Saavij. She had found a hunk of meat somewhere in the stores and was gnawing on it. "Kra pochitila mar ka sangiri!" she shouted, pulling into a defensive crouch to protect her prize. "Fo-od! Go-od!"
"Right. Got it." We'd been working with Saavij, but she still had a vocabulary of about fifty words of English. Metaphysical concepts probably didn't get through to her. "Okay, let's start waking this guy up and explaining why it's in his best interests to undo his messes." If we can, I added mentally. His head was lolling in a way I didn't like.
It was a few very tense minutes before Mister Meme opened his eyes. In that time, we tried cold water, light slaps to the face, shouting...but it wasn't until John reached over and pinched the guy's earlobe as hard as he could that Meme's eyelids shot open and he yelped loudly. "Wha-huh-wazza?" he mumbled.
I'd never seen anyone but me move as fast as Zombie Samurai drew his sword and darted in to put its edge right at Mister Meme's throat. "I will make this very simple, animal. This is an amazing world that I have been returned to, filled with wonders to stagger the imagination. I have no doubt that if I slit your throat, we will find someone else in this fantastic new universe to restore our teammates. So while I am willing to spare your life if you undo what you have done, do not mistake this for a bargaining chip. Not for a moment."
Meme's eyes narrowed. "What makes you think I can fix it?" he asked.
"Because you are not dead. If the idea kills anyone who understands it, you would not be able to pass it on. There must be a piece of information, something you withhold from your victims that prevents them from seeing the true solution."
Meme grinned again. God, I hated that grin. "You're pretty smart, dude, you know that? A lot smarter than me. Me, I'm dumb, I'm shallow, I'm amoral..."
I couldn't help it. I snarked, "And those are your good qualities?"
He looked over at me. A thin line of red appeared at his throat before Zombie Samurai could pull the sword back. "No...and that's just what I was made to be. I was grown two weeks ago, built out of flesh to become what I am. Obnoxious, stupid, dangerous, the kind of threat that you'd have to bring into your base to deal with...and a large-scale teleporter." His mouth opened, wider than any human mouth possibly could, and light burst forth from it. It flooded across the room in a stream, manifesting into over a dozen human forms. The one in the middle wore a suit of sleek golden armor, with a dark purple cloak draped over his shoulders.
"I am Regent," he said. "I understand that it will take you some time to understand how thoroughly you have been outmaneuvered, but you would be wise to kneel and show fealty now. The alternative is pain."
TO BE CONTINUED...