Bunkum 36: Steel Flying Squirrel Returns and Rises Forever

Definitely not an infringement of copyright!

Billionaire playboy with cool crime-fighting gadgets!

Uh oh, another superhero!

I hope they get along and don’t fight arbitrarily!

Tragic origin stories of villains!

Everybody loves those!

That’s why Episode I was a huge success!

Bunkum: It’s like a comic con for agoraphobes!

bunkum

Bunkum 5: Steel Flying Squirrel

A monomaniacal billionaire industrialist!

A crime-fighting vigilante with cool gadgets!

Reckless child endangerment!

No, that doesn’t sound familiar at all. Why do you ask?

It’s the podcast we deserve right now, but not the one we need right now. So we’ll listen to it. Because it can take it, because it’s not a podcast. It’s an abandoned project. An always-available comedy. A Bunkum Podcast!

bunkum

The Redressers: Part 10

After a very unusual somersault, Donut found herself at the rubble that used to be the Statue of Liberty. She leaped on top of a giant toe to get a better view. It would have been just a jump, but her newfound powers upgraded it to a leap.

As she steadied herself from the leap’s unexpected impressiveness, Donut scanned the scene for the Redressers. She spotted them as they took turns making out with the chunk of statue that contained the mouth. What a bunch of creeps, right?

Donut assumed a heroic stance, pointed at her newly-evil former teammates, and shouted, “Hey! Lady Liberty didn’t give you her consent!”

The Redressers turned to face her. They recognized her and started laughing. “Look out,” said Kathryn, “that banana’s loaded!” Oooooh, that just burns me up.

Donut looked around, excited about the potential banana. When she saw there wasn’t one, she got really embarrassed. That embarrassment manifested itself as anger, which then led to shame for allowing her anger to distract her from Buddha’s teachings.

Just then, Buddha appeared two toes over from her. “Hey-y-y-y, Donut! How’s it going?”

“Not great, sir. Those guys blew up the Statue of Liberty and made fun of me. It’s making me really upset. I’m not controlling my emotions or letting go of my ego at all.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. There’s plenty of time to shed the baggage of earthly life. Right now the bigger issue is those guys causing trouble.”

“So it’s okay if I get mad and take things personally?”

“What’s important is you’re aware of it and work to improve in the long run.”

“I dunno, that sounds like an excuse.”

“Think of it as training wheels. No one finds enlightenment in one day. We’ll work on clearing your mind tomorrow. Right now, you’ve got to stop these jerks from wrecking more symbols.”

“Okay. Thank you, sir!”

Donut leaped at the Redressers. This time it was a fully intentional leap and her form was inspiring. She shouted, “Monkey rise!” and grew until she was a hundred feet tall. She shouted, “Monkey staff!” and her magical staff materialized in her paw. She swung it at the Redressers and knocked all five of them out over the harbor.

Carl quickly waved his hands and created a huge portal in their trajectory which popped them out behind Donut. The force of five people hitting her at full speed knocked Donut prone.

Kathryn smirked and said, “Let’s get rid of that stick, eh, little monkey?” She grabbed the butt of the staff and turned it into water. Can you believe it?

As her weapon splashed away, Donut rose to her feet. Though she was much larger than her opponents, she was outnumbered. She tried kicking at them, but they dodged nimbly.

“Donut!” Buddha called. “I gave you other powers!”

“Like increased awareness and control over my pulse?”

“No! Like finger lasers! You have finger lasers, dude!”

“Holy crap!” Donut yelled. She spread her fingers out and fired ten lasers at the Redressers. She only hit Frankenstein and Kathryn, but they were all terrified. “This is amazing! Thanks, Budda!”

Frankenstein shot a death beam at Donut, but she shrank down to fifty feet and it went over her head. Dwayne shot his machine guns at her, but she turned her body to kevlar and the bullets bounced off her. Jeez, I can’t believe I used to like these guys. Well, not Dwayne. He always kind of sucked. Anyway.

Mia looked around for anything technological to take over, but only saw a bunch of dumb old copper and concrete. Ha! How about them all-natural, organic apples?

Just then, Skranenflon appeared. “To me, my Redressers!” he called. “Hey, what gives? You’re making us look bad up here!”

“It’s that monkey,” Mia said, not mentioning her inability to contribute to the fight in this setting. “She somehow got Sun Wukong’s powers and we can’t stop her.”

“Aw, man! Is that Buddha guy here? Ooooh, I hate him! He’s like a walking coexist sticker. I’d better power you guys up.”

Skranenflon wiggled his nose and the Redressers were suddenly much buffer. Dwayne and Carl were now well over six feet tall and covered in veiny muscles. Frankenstein was now ten feet tall and looked more like a Hollywood action star than a stitched-together pile of corpses. And Mia and Kathryn were now standing back to back and wearing sports bras, knee-high boots, bikini bottoms, and random straps on their arms and legs. Mia’s hair was now purple and Kathryn’s now had a white streak. They also had a strange urge to make out with each other. Mia looked over at Skranenflon, who was staring at them with a big, pervy grin. Gross!

Mia and Kathryn shook their heads to clear the horniness and all five Redressers punched the air in front of them, each discharging different types of energy. Dwayne’s was plasma, Mia’s was electricity, Frankenstein’s was dark energy, Kath– Oh, who cares? Donut fired her finger lasers back at them and all the various beams met in the middle, pouring more and more power into a bright ball of energy. The ball exploded, knocking all six of them back on their butts. Wow!

“Aw, come on!” Skranenflon shouted. “This isn’t working at all!”

“I know,” Buddha said. “This is ridiculous! We’ll be here all week at this rate.”

“Forget it,” Skranenflon said. “I’m calling in our fleet.”

Skranenflon tapped a few buttons on his gauntlet and within seconds, hundreds of starships came out of hyperdrive in the sky above New York. A loudspeaker from the ship in point position crackled, “This is Pandemonium-1, reporting in.”

“All units, fire!” Skranenflon commanded.

Just then, Buddha drew a mystical sign in the air and another fleet of starships appeared overhead. They immediately started firing on the Pandemonium ships.

“Great job, Nirvana,” Buddha said into his earpiece. “I knew you’d get here in time.”

“Time is a construct, sir,” Nirvana-Red-Alpha replied. “We’re concerned with higher things, like kicking some infernal tail.”

“Atta boy,” Buddha said.

The Redressers and Donut looked up at what would surely be the greatest science fiction movie of all time if anyone wants to buy the rights from me, when they suddenly disappeared.

They rematerialized in the cockpits of the lead ships for their respective sides, Donut with Buddha in Nirvana-Red-Alpha and the Redressers next to Skranenflon in Pandemonium-1.

“What’s happening, sir?” Donut asked.

“I guess it’s time you knew. This was all a proxy war in the eternal battle between Skranenflon’s and my rival alien empires.”

“That’s mind-boggling and all, but shouldn’t you be worried about the innocent people down there? They could get killed!”

“Oh, right.” Buddha wiggled his fingers and the Earth disappeared. “Sorry to scare you like that. Earth was a hologramic arena we created to play out our moral conflict in more concrete terms.”

The space battle raged. Every second, more ships from the opposing alien races exploded into dust. Before long the only ones left were Pandemonium-1 and Nirvana-Red-Alpha.

“Oh, poo,” Skranenflon said.

The universe dissolved to reveal Skranenflon and Buddha sitting on either side of a sophisticated video game console.

“Hmm, looks like another tie,” Skranenflon said.

“Shall we play again?”

Skranenflon sighed. “It’s so tedious. Can’t we just do it directly?”

“You mean with our fists?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Well, okay.”

The two beings stood up and started kicking and punching each other. Neither was getting hurt, so the fight was pointless.

After a few minutes, Skranenflon said, “Nope, this still isn’t getting us anywhere.”

“No bodies, then?”

“No bodies.”

Both beings dissolved into amorphous clouds that slowly grew. The clouds slammed into each other, intermingling and then pulling apart. Each collision resulted in a few particles of each cloud winding up inside the other cloud, then being destroyed by their equivalent of white blood cells. After several millennia and countless collisions, both clouds had only experienced nominal losses.

“This is getting us nowhere,” Helen said.

“I can’t believe it,” Methuselah said. “Over eight billion simulations and we’re still no closer to determining if people are generally good or evil.”

“It seems like it’s mostly determined by the almost random conditions you grow up in, with some influence by characteristics that you’re born with,” Helen said.

“Yeah, I know,” Methuselah said. “I was working on the same experiment. Why are you being so expository?”

“Why are YOU being so expository?” Donut mumbled. She stirred, realizing she had been talking in her trance. The Redressers, Buddha, and Skranenflon had stopped fighting among the rubble on Liberty Island and were staring at her.

“Heh. I guess you heard all that, huh?” Everyone nodded. “Then I guess we can just cancel the fight and move on with our lives.”

Everyone shrugged and shook hands. Donut looked at the camera and winked.

I read over the last sentence. “Looked at the camera and winked?” I said. “What am I thinking? This is text! Ugh, this arc is so stupid. I’m not even posting this episode.”

I crumpled up the paper I was writing on and threw it on the floor in disgust, quitting my Redressers story forever.

As I walked away to drink seven more coffees, the wad of paper looked at the camera and winked.

THE END

The Redressers: Part 8

Wanted for two jailbreaks and destruction of public property, the Redressers were hiding in Dwayne’s one-bedroom apartment, going over their options.

Dwayne picked up the list. “Alright, what have we come up with? Get jobs under assumed identities. Okay. Lean into crime. Not super enthused about that one. This one just says ‘Dark Web’. Carl? Can you expand on that?”

“You know, like on the internet. But, like, untraceable.”

“Doing what?”

“I’m not sure yet. The library was closing, so I had to stop reading the wikipedia page.”

“Okay. Now, there seems to be an option missing from this list. One that I think we ought to look into. Can anyone guess?”

Carl peered into distance, racking his brain. Frankenstein drummed his fingers on the table in thought. Mia continued trying to ignore the whole conversation. Kathryn woke herself up with her snoring.

“Znxx, wha? Where are we?”

“You guys,” Dwayne said. “I think it’s obvious what we’re meant to do. We’re back together as a team, operating outside of the law, each of us with their own specialty. Frankenstein, you know what I’m thinking, right?”

“An agricultural commune?”

“No! Let’s be outlaw vigilantes! Let’s be supers. Fighting crime. Hunted by the very police who we’re helping in our mission to protect the streets. It’ll be great! We can have secret identities and everything. Well, those of us who aren’t blue or undead. No offense.”

“Hey, it’s catching on in Scandanavia,” Kathryn said.

“Which one? Never mind. I don’t want to know. So let’s talk powers. The old lineup was flawed, which we saw after a couple of excursions. Frankenstein, you’re good as the muscle. Mia, I like you as the brainy tinker. But the rest of us need new skill sets since none of us are actually magical or godlike. Carl, I like the blue. It’s a good initial distraction. Can we build on that? Make you a dark elf or something?”

“I learned to juggle flaming sticks in the freak show. Can we use that?”

“Okay, okay, I like what I’m hearing. Fire, blue skin, maybe a devil theme? A demon? An imp? Let’s put a pin in that and come back. That leaves you and me, Kathryn. I’m kind of the leader. The general giving orders. So you–”

“Hang on,” Kathryn said. “Why do you have to be the leader? My TED talk ratings are just as high as yours. And I think a female leader would be a good change. Good publicity, too. Think of if we made the news. If people see a man grandstanding about vigilanteism, they’ll get scared. But if a woman does it, that could be empowering. Inspirational, even.”

“Then what do I do? Carl’s got fire covered, so my only other skill is inspiration. Could we use a bard? Is that a thing outside of RPGs?”

Kathryn thought for a moment. “The nearest I know of would be a hype man. Like Flava Flav or Bobby Byrd. You could stand off to the side and cheer us on or repeat what just happened to amp us up. How does that sound?”

“Ifrit!” Carl said.

“Ifrit as in the fire demon?” Kathryn asked.

“Yeah! I could make my hair crazy and twirl fire and be really scary. Ifrit! What do you think?”

“Well, Carl, I must congratulate you on your knowledge of Islamic mythology. Ifrits are a kind of fiery jinni that appear in the Koran as well as more secular works like the 1001 Arabian Nights.”

“Oh. I just knew it from Final Fantasy IV. Rydia summons them and they do damage to all the monsters. It’s especially powerful against–”

“Okay. Thanks, Carl. Good job. So we’re good? We’ve got Ifrit and Frankenstein. Mia, you can make another costume and be the tinker or engineer or whatever. Dwayne, you’re Hype-Man (hyphen included). And I’ll be Professor K the psychic and keep my boobs inside my damn shirt. We can use earpieces to simulate telepathy like televangelists do. I like this plan!”

“She likes that plan!” Dwayne said. “How’s that, fellow outlaws?”

“One question,” Frankenstein said. “How do we make money doing this? We still need to eat and presumably pay the rent.”

“Once we get a name, we can sell merchandise,” Dwayne said. “Until then, we work on commission. If we stop a robbery, we get half.”

Mia stared ahead blankly and muttered, “We’re doomed.”

A few nights later, an alarm went off in downtown Big City. The Sand Witch ran out through the employee entrance of Adjectiveless Carl’s Pawn Shop with her sand blaster in one hand, a bag of jewels in the other, a tank of sand on her back, and a big, floppy hat on her head.

As she turned a corner into an alley, she found herself face to face with a flame-twirling blue man, a woman in a steampunk outfit, another woman pressing two fingers to her forehead intently, a man in a neat suit and skinny tie straight out of 1983, and, well, Frankenstein.

“What is this?” she asked.

“We’re the Redressers,” Kathryn said, “and we’ll let you choose WHICH of us beats you up first. No PAWN intended.”

“No pawn!” Dwayne repeated.

“That’s right!” Carl said. “We’re outlaw vigilantes and you’re about to regret doing all that crime!”

The Sand Witch put down the sand blaster, pulled out a gun, and shot all five of them. She then picked up the bag and ran home.

~   ~   ~

Mia stirred. The last thing she remembered was getting shot. She opened her eyes a crack. She seemed to be in a giant cave with high, red walls that disappeared into darkness. The ground was hot. She sat up and saw Dwayne, Carl, Kathryn, and Frankenstein on the ground near her. They were rousing as well.

Now that she was awake, she noticed the acrid, sulfurous odor in the air. She stood up to get her bearings. Fire and lava seemed to be everywhere. “Guys?” she said. “How did we get inside a volcano?”

“Oh, it’s not a volcano,” said a voice behind her reminiscent of Frank Nelson. She spun around and saw a bright red man in a tuxedo leaning on his walking stick. He had small horns on his head and a long, forked tail. “I’m afraid you’re in Hell.”

The Redressers: Part 7

~ Ten Months Later ~

Some people find religion behind bars. Some see the error of their ways and vow to reform. Some are made more violent. The Redressers had been awaiting trial in jail for fifteen months and Carl had a sudden burst of insight.

“Man, jail sucks!”

Mia, Kathryn, and Frankenstein glanced at him and settled back into their own interior monologues, which were immediately interrupted by Carl again.

“Seriously! This place is the worst.”

“Prison is worse,” Mia said. “When we’re found guilty and sent there, this is gonna seem like a vacation. From what I hear, the gangs are a lot more dangerous.”

“The lockup gangs may not be violent,” Frankenstein said, “but they’re so incredibly irritating! They’re either having episodes because they stopped taking their meds or they’re just sloppy drunks.”

Kathryn rolled over on her bed, threw up, and fell over the side into the vomit. She sat up, barely noticing the filth. “D’you say drunks? ‘Sthe Toilet Winos comin’? Those guys’re great.” She fell sideways, back into the land of blacked out slumber.

“She’s gotten worse,” Carl said. “She swears she’s just investigating the Toilet Winos undercover, but jeez.”

Mia sighed. “This wasn’t the plan. We were supposed to network with the minor league gangs here to get intel on the guards so we could expose the institutional abuse. We may be stuck waiting for our trial, but we can do some good in the meantime. But our spokeswoman is just–” Kathryn farted in her sleep. “Yeah.”

“I still think one of us could do it,” Frankenstein said.

“Oh, come on. The public won’t take the charges seriously coming from a Latina, let alone a blue guy or a corpse quilt, no offense. We need a white lady, and ours has John Bonhamed out.”

“In her defense,” Carl said, “have you tried the toilet wine? It’s only kind of terrible.”

“Our trial starts soon,” Mia said. “We’re running out of time. We need a plan.”

 

~ ~ ~

“All rise,” announced the bailiff. “The honorable Judge Natliss Yebajuge presiding.”

“Be seated,” the judge said. “I’ve got a fundraising dinner to get to, so let’s try to hurry this along, okay? Prosecution, start your engines.”

“Thank you, your honor,” said District Attorney Gary Dean Stanton, no relation. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we have here a pretty straightforward case of four people wrecking a store so the owner could file a false insurance claim and walk away a rich man, and then attempting to break the owner out of jail, causing quite a lot of public property damage and getting caught red-handed in the act. Okay, so it’s not that straightforward, but it is a solid case. We have security camera footage and sworn testimony from the jail personnel, as well as the testimony of the owner, who was more than happy to rat out his friends in order to cop a plea bargain.”

“What?!?,” Frankenstein cried, slamming his massive hands on the table.

The judge banged the gavel again. “I’ll have order! Go on, Mr. District Attorney.”

It didn’t get much better after that.

 

~ ~ ~

That evening, they were put back in their cell. Mia started off the panicking session. “This sucks so bad! I can’t believe I stuck with you idiots! Now I’m gonna go to prison and my career is toast, not that it ever started off to begin with, and I’m gonna end up in some stupid gang explaining to everyone how tasers work or something. Ugh! I hate all of you!”

After a moment of awkward silence, Carl spoke up. “Heh, isn’t it weird that they put us all in one cell? They didn’t even separate the men and women.”

The others stared at him.

“It’s just weird. Heh.”

“L’you plizz step tlkng?” Kathryn felt like a steamroller was crushing her head and all of the gloppy chunks were splattering into her bowels. “‘M ne’er drinkin’ toilet wine ag’n. Mean it dis time.”

“Shall we attempt an escape?” Frankenstein offered. “I bet if we put out heads together we could figure out a good plan.”

“I appreciate the thought, Frankenstein,” Mia said, “but I wouldn’t suggest putting people’s body parts together if I were you. Just saying.”

“Psst!”

The Redressers looked at each other.

“Psssssst!”

They raced to the window, which took like a quarter of a second because it’s a jail cell. Outside, they could barely make out a figure waving in the dark.

“Guys,” the figure said in a stage whisper. “It’s me, Dwayne! Where are you?”

“Over here!” called Carl.

Dwayne ran up to the window and pressed his face to the bars. “You’re all clear, kid! Now let’s blow this thing and go home!” He waited for a reaction. It didn’t come. “Get it? Like Han? It doesn’t matter. Just stand back, okay?”

Dwayne took a few steps back and pulled a small bomb out of his jacket pocket. He hurled it at the jail cell and it exploded in flames. The flames began to spread across the cheap paint that the jail was coated in, but the actual bricks weren’t harmed.

“Huh,” Dwayne said. He scratched his head. “Any ideas?”

Frankenstein pushed on the wall. It collapsed outwards, creating a giant hole. The others stared at him, mouths agape.

“What? We needed a hole. Come on.”

The alarms blared as they ran out of the cell and into the open air. Dwayne was watching the fire spread over the jail. It was getting near the government center now.

“Should we tell someone?” Dwayne asked.

“Sorry,” Mia said. “I left my phone in the evidence locker.”

They ran a few blocks before taking a rest. Mia stuck her pointer finger in Frankenstein’s face.

“You could have done that at any time?”

“Um…yes?”

“Why didn’t…I’m so…This team sucks so bad!”

Kathryn knelt down and threw up. “Ohhhhh, tha’s better.” She spat and stood up on her wobbly legs. “Okay, lez go.”

They ran off into the night. They stopped six times to convince Kathryn that running away was still a better idea than taking a nap at a bus stop.

When they arrived at Dwayne’s one-bedroom apartment, they got to work planning their next steps.

“So what, we’re outlaw vigilantes now?” Carl asked.

“I guess so,” Dwayne said.

Mia put her head in her hands. “All I had to do was serve coffee and apply for jobs.”

The Redressers: Part 4

Frankenstein turned around to see an evildoer approaching. That is, he saw Mia pushing a mannequin with an ‘EVILDOER” sign hung around its neck and a bandana on its head for that 90s gang affiliation sort of look. He tried yet another spin-kick and this time he actually connected.

“Yes! Take that, Doctor Larceny! Frankenstein owns these streets!”

Mia patted the 230-year-old undead scientist on the back. “That was good, Vic. Unfortunately, you also took out poor little Fido.”

She pointed at the ground, where the mannequin lay on top of a cardboard box with “DOG” written on it in marker.

“Ach, this is nothing! I could zap a dog back to life in no time.”

“I’m sure that would go down great with the girl who was walking him. ‘Don’t worry, sweetie, I’m a big green monster with secret lab equipment and I’ll make your dog a zombie like me.'”

“Hey!” Carl yelled. “We don’t use the z-word. Victor is not one of them.”

“Thanks, Carl,” Frankenstein muttered. “Stupid blood-craving, brain-eating, fast-forwarded maggot sacks.”

“I’m sorry, Frankenstein,” Mia said.

“No, I’m sorry! I’m sorry that the first time I land a kick with this vintage leg the dummy falls on a box! Won’t someone pleeeease think of the box?!”

“How about a break?” Kathryn asked. “I think we’re due for one. How long have we been at this?”

Mia looked at the clock. “About twelve minutes. Okay, Dwayne, come in with the lasers!”

Dwayne ran in with a broom and tried ramming the others with it. “Pew, pew, pew!”

Carl threw off his oven mitt boxing gloves. “Man, this interactive 3-D training environment sucks! Where are the holograms? Where’s the control room with dials for adjusting the level of peril we’re in?”

“You don’t get holograms if you can’t stop a broom,” Mia said. “The point of this exercise is not to show off any fancy moves or score the maximum number of hits. It’s to think about your environment and the consequences of your actions on that environment. No one will thank you for stopping a mugger if you total their car in the process.”

“Mia is right,” Dwayne added. “The public would trust supers a lot more if they didn’t cause so much wanton collateral damage.”

“But we’re not supers,” Kathryn said. “We’re just playing dress-up. Well, except Frankenstein.”

“True, but remember,” said Carl, “we’re all playing dress-up at first. It takes time to organically grow the aptitude that will later inform our confidence.”

“Don’t quote your book at me,” Kathryn retorted. “Or would you like me to give you a list of religious laws that tattooing yourself blue violates, cross-referenced by region and century?”

“Stop it!” Dwayne shouted. “We’re all on the same team, and we ought to act like it. Now I know our nerves are a little frazzled from the last–” He looked at his watch. “–fourteen minutes, so I want us to recenter our training for a minute with you two saying something nice about each other. Carl?”

“Kathryn, you are the toughest member of the team who wasn’t brought back from the dead.”

“Thanks. And Carl, the Picts would like your blue skin. They’d think of you as a mighty warrior.”

“Thanks. That doesn’t really apply to me or this millennium, but thank you.”

“Okay,” Mia said. “Let’s take a break. Go to the bathroom, grab a bite, write a post about mindfulness on your blog. Do whatever you’ve gotta do. Dwayne, can I borrow you?”

Mia and Dwayne walked upstairs from the finished basement, aka training room, and headed to the kitchen for a couple of smoothies.

“First of all,” Mia said, “I wanted to thank you again for putting us up. I think it’ll make a big difference in building the team if we’re immersed in the whole super lifestyle. But can you tell me something? We’ve been here for three weeks now and you haven’t given one seminar since I got here. If you’re work isn’t steady, how can you afford this huge house?”

Dwayne chuckled. “Oh, that’s not my only revenue source. These days you’ve got to diversify, especially in a creative field like motivation.”

Mia rolled her eyes.

“So a few years ago I decided to get into real estate.”

“Oh, do you flip houses?”

“Not quite. In fact, I do the opposite.”

“You…trash houses?”

Dwayne chuckled again. Mia was really getting tired of the chuckling. “Let’s just say I have terrible luck in the restaurant business. All those open flames and all that oil and paper flying around. It’s an accident waiting to happen. So I shorten the waiting period.”

Mia gasped. “Insurance fraud? That’s terrible!”

“Ah, but with that insurance money I’m able to improve people’s lives with my seminars and have this nice house for the team to train in to prevent larger crimes. So maybe the ends justify the means.”

Mia thought for a moment. “No! No, the ends absolutely do not justify the means! That’s what dictators say. You’re no better than those robbers I stopped.”*

*See episode 3! -Devilishly Dynamic Dan!

“Now hang on. It’s not like I enjoy torching my properties. It’s just a way of getting paid. If my motivational speaking took off, I wouldn’t have to do it anymore.”

“No, I can’t get behind that. It’s not okay. You have to get a job or something.”

“Ugh, gross. Now hang on, hang on. I’m getting an idea. Okay. Okay. Good, got it. Okay, let’s say I own a little bodega downtown.”

“Okay.”

“And let’s say there is a permanent segment of the population that is not above committing crimes, including theft, arson, and destruction of property.”

“Sure.”

“Now, what if we sort of guided, persuaded, compelled that population to do what they were already going to do at my little bodega instead of the one down the street?”

“It’s getting slimy.”

“But then, just as enough damage has been done for the insurance to pay off, along comes a team of supers who catch the criminals and hand them over to the authorities, thus ridding the community of a problem.”

Mia sighed before talking it through. “You’re not committing arson. You’re telling criminals to hit your store instead of someone else’s. You’re saving people damage and emotional trauma. But you’re still planning it ahead and profiting off of it.”

“I think the words you’re looking for are ‘win-win’. Plus as long as I’ve got this house and a stocked kitchen, you don’t need to go back to that coffee shop job.”

Mia thought about it. You know, “thought about” is a little strong. Let’s say Mia rationalized it.

“So do we have a deal?” Dwayne asked.

“Yeah, we have a deal.”

“Awesome!”

“I am starting to hate you again.”

“I know.”

“But you are giving me room and board. No such thing as a free lunch, right?”

“That reminds me. The monkey’s room needs to be cleaned out. Would you mind?”

“Yep. Definitely starting to hate you again.”

The Redressers: Part 1

“Hey, Weedkiller! Tight dreads! Army Ant, those antennae are perfect! Whoa! Sweetie, you are the best, most adorable Panda-Man I’ve ever seen! Can I get a selfie?” Mia crouched down next to the 7-year-old and held him tight as she snapped a picture with her phone.

The cosplay contest at the Mid-River Silver Age Con was the highlight of her year. She’d spent weeks perfecting her steampunk design and another month constructing it.

She had a lot more free time to spend on cosplay since she finished her BS in mechanical engineering. She found work, don’t get her wrong. It just wasn’t exactly in her field. Or any field. But she liked coffee and muffins, so serving it to customers wasn’t the worst job there was. At least, that’s what she told herself every day until her shift ended, when she rushed home, waved hi to her roommate, and shut herself in her room to apply for any job she could find.

She had the degree and the brains, but she hadn’t gotten through an interview without embarrassing herself, cutting off the interviewer, or accidentally insulting the company. She sometimes considered studying her rejection letters to find patterns of polite, normal conversation she might use for future interviews.

She looked up from her phone to see a tall, cut, middle-aged man approaching her.

“OMG! Your costume is amazing! That black armored spandex spy outfit is spot-on. Where’d you get it? Aw, man, you’ve got little pouches and everything! And your gun looks so real! I can’t believe you got it past security. They usually want it to look fake.”

“It is real.”

“Ummmm, okay, wow. Hey, I’ve gotta catch up with my large group of paranoid friends who will call the police and track my phone if I’m gone for more than 10 minutes, so I’ll see you later.”

“Mia, wait!”

Oh, she waited.

“How do you know my name?”

“I know everything about you, Mia.”

Mia froze.

“Just kidding. I know a lot about you, but not everything. Probably. But I’m not a creep or anything, just a spy. And now that I said the s-word, you have to come with me or I’ll kill you.”

Mia was still frozen from before.

“Sorry, I was kidding again. I’m working on my managerial methods. My performance evaluation said I come across as distant, so I’m trying to use humor to be more easygoing.”

“Maybe stick with distant instead of casual jokes about murdering me.”

“Noted. Okay, but I do need you to come with me. That was real.”

“Are you really a spy?”

“Oh, yeah. Super secret stuff. Killing terrorists, neutralizing evil organizations, fighting off aliens before anyone finds out about them. It’s crazy.”

“Did I do something wrong? Oh, crap. Does Etsy fund terrorism?”

“No, no. You’re not in trouble. I want to recruit you!”

“Huh. So the Etsy thing just now wasn’t an immediate clue that maybe I’m not the type to rely on to kill scary people?”

“Oh, we’ve got killers. Ha! So many killers. You have no idea. No, we need you because you were the best engineer in your class.”

“Wow, really?”

“Oh, hell yeah! Look at the detail on your costume! All those little gears and belts and stuff? I’d almost expect it to work.”

“Well…don’t tell anyone, but it does.”

“That’s gonna be hard. I’m really bad at keeping secrets.”

“Really?”

“No, sorry, kidding again. So definitely stick with distant?”

“Are you a dad? You strike me as a dad. Wait, how do you know about my mad engineering skills?”

“College transcripts, your emails to your parents, your friends’ texts about you, your advisor’s files. Speaking of which, he’s really gross. Hooks up with a different freshman every year.”

“Yuck! Should I report him?”

“Meh. I’ll slip some articles about some crazy STD outbreaks on campus into his news feeds. That should settle him down.”

“What STD outbreaks?”

“Oh, it’s not true. I’ll have our media division make it up.”

“Wait. So fake news is a real thing?”

“Oh yeah. Well, some of it. Only like 15%.”

“Like what?”

“I can’t say unless you work for me.”

“What’s it pay?”

“Not much week to week, but you get a big bonus if you survive each mission.”

“You should really stop kidding.”

“I’m not.”

“Can you make my student debt disappear?”

“Sure, yeah. Do you want it paid off or just eliminated?”

Mia’s eyes widened. She had never felt so powerful before. “Eliminated.”

“Awesome.” He tapped on his phone for a few seconds and showed Mia her new principle balance: $0.00.

“Woo hoo! And no killing? Just building stuff?”

“No killing. You in?”

“Yeah, let’s do it!”

“Come on. My ride’s waiting outside.”

“Yes! Best day ever!”

“Do you need to tell your friends first?”

“Oh. Right. That was a lie. Not a big, ah, friends person. Or fam-i-ly. Orphan. Only child. Bad at relationships. Not a great roommate. Also never was much of a–”

“Yeah, I know. I read up on you.”

“You have that in your files?”

“What? No. I follow you on Instagram. By the way, you’ve gotta stop posting pics of polenta. It tastes fine, but it’s not photogenic. Okay. Ready to go?”

“Yeah, let’s do it! I just said that, didn’t I?”

“It’s okay.”

They stepped outside of the arena and onto the sidewalk. The street was closed off for the convention and there wasn’t a car to be seen for blocks.

“Where’s your ride?”

The bottom of a rope ladder suddenly dropped in front of them. Mia looked up to see a plane — or maybe a spaceship — whose cloaking device had just disengaged.

“Oh, one thing. The other members of the team are pretty unusual.”

“How unusual?”

“You like comics, right? Hold on tight. Oh, by the way, I’m Dwayne.”

Mia screamed as the ladder was hauled aboard and she and Dwayne were yanked into the air. Within seconds, she found herself in a cargo bay. She caught her breath and looked around.

Dwayne spread his arms. “Mia Ortiz, welcome to the Redressers.”

“Is that Frankenstein?”