Nono has never been inside a real, proper, supervillain lair before. Well, once before, but that feels different somehow. She helped blow that one up.
It’s not what she expected. She kind of thought there’d be more, well, death rays and holding cells and torture devices and all that. But it’s just a bunch of those big shipping bricks they carry on cargo ships and trucks, emptied out and filled with cheap furnishings.
The real supervillain is here though. Nono has read about him. He doesn’t really hurt people, not usually, but the authorities have been after him forever. He’s big, sure enough, and bald, and covered in what look like tattoos. He’s reclining in what looks like a very comfortable La-Z-Boy chair.
“You must be Nono. I’m Mr. Big. If Hot Mess vouches for you, then you’re entitled to hospitality and protection here.”
Nono would have been terrified a year ago. Now? Now it just feels like another of those unreal things that kind of happens to her, you know, every day. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
“Hey, that’s kinda what I came to ask you about, boss,” Emma says. “We’ve been globetrotting for awhile, living out of hotel rooms and such. But uh, what’s the skinny on settling down? I know the basics - bases are meant to be expendable and all that - but like, any contacts I can lift from you? People in the area I can get the shipping containers from for cash, that kinda thing?”
Mr. Big flashes a big grin. “Sure, I’ll hook you up. Oh hey. Heard anything from Samir and his gang?”
Emma growls. “Fuckers sold me out. I’m gonna get them, first time I hear a peep. But they were reliable for awhile.”
The villain nods knowingly. “‘Wise are they who have learned these truths: Trouble is temporary. Time is tonic. Tribulation is a test tube.’ William Arthur Ward, author. What did you learn from the experience?”
Emma is still scowling, but has a ready answer. “Henchmen get paid. But anyone can pay henchmen. I don’t buy loyalty, I buy time.”
“You got it. Anyone working for money is working for money, not for you.” Mr. Big’s smile is wide and proud. “Now what else? You didn’t drag your girlfriend all the way up here just for that.”
“You’re right.” Emma rubs her hands together. “Hey, uh, so I’ve been working with AEGIS people here and there, like, well, a lot. And a superhero. Well, quite a few superheroes. I’m worried I’m losing my villain cred. I just kinda want to know where I stand.”
“You doing what you feel like doing, for your own reasons, public opinion be damned?” asks Mr. Big.
“You proud of the work you’re doing, anyone else’s preference be damned?”
Emma pauses, and nods her head quickly. “Yeah, I am.”
Mr. Big hops out of the chair and procures a baseball bat, leaning up against one wall. Nono is suddenly very worried, but Emma doesn’t seem to be. So she rides out her fears, and watches.
The villain taps one shoulder, then the other, with the tip of the baseball bat. “Well in the name of God, Saint Michael, and Saint George, I dub thee a proper supervillain. Go do whatever the fuck you want, with whoever you want, Hot Mess.”
Nono can see Emma almost vibrating with excitement and joy as the baseball bat gets tossed back in the corner. “About that, boss–”
“Hey, no more ‘boss’. We’re equals now. Respect.”
“Okay. Uh, Mr. Big. I was thinking about a new code name. I feel like…” Emma turns and smiles warmly at Nono, before looking back at her mentor with determined eyes. “I ain’t so much of a mess any more.”
“Got anything in mind?” the man asks.
Mr. Big nods. “Well when you pick something out, let me know. I’ll spread the word in the community.”
Impulsively, Emma rushes forward and hugs the big man. He returns the gesture, careful not to squeeze too hard, and grins down at her. “You done good, kid. You made me proud.”
Emma and Nono are passing time at an arcade in the city. Emma is operating the claw machine, while Nono is nearby, collecting tickets from an old skee-ball game. Her aim is dramatically better with all the training she’s been undergoing, and she marvels at the ease with which she’s doing something she’d have thought impossible a year ago.
“How about you?” Emma asks absently.
“How about me what?”
“What’s wrong with Agent R?”
“Sounds like Agent Orange.”
“It’s an old poison gas thing.” Emma shrugs. “The Americans dropped it on Vietnam. A million people got sick.”
“I think that’s an accent thing,” Nono says. “You say arr-ange. I say o-range.”
“Whatever. Come up with something better.”
Nono lobs the ball into the ring, getting another 100 points. Tickets obligingly pour out of the machine. “You’re stalling. You can’t think of anything clever, so you want to leech off my good ideas.”
“Yeah. So?” Emma kicks the crane machine, and drops another quarter into it. “Nothing wrong with stealing, all good supervillains do it.”
“Good supervillains have clever ideas. And you’re a good supervillain. So come on. Who are you?”
Emma sighs. “Who I am is annoyed. But fine. Must strike terror into the hearts of law enforcement. Must be short and phonetic and easy to say over radio. Must be exceedingly witty so the news fawns over my cleverness and ignores my numerous war crimes and human rights violations.”
“Must mention your powers?” prompts Nono.
“Actually, no. A lot of good names are about your philosophy or your goal or your history. Think about our team. Charade. SNOWMAN. Tells you nothing about their powers.”
“Okay, okay. So…?”
“Stop hounding me,” Emma mutters, and misses her target in the crane game again. “Dammit.”
“‘Dammit’ is a terrible code name.”
Emma sighs and throws up her hands. “Were you drinking? Did you order anything at the bar upstairs?”
“Maybe a little,” Nono admits, and giggles.
“Okay, fine. Listen. I have a pick. I just don’t know how I feel about it. So promise you won’t laugh. Or I’ll burn this place down.”
Nono pauses, and looks it up on her phone. “One who creates unrest or strife (as in aggressively promoting a cause). Agitator.” She grins. “Yeah, sounds totally like you.”
“You skipped over the first definition which was ‘piece of burning wood’.”
Nono shrugs. “I knew what you meant. It’s a good name. Why don’t you like it?”
Emma sighs. She abandons the crane game, and drops a quarter into a nearby Capcom vs. machine. “It sounds like a superhero name, kinda.”
Nono gives up on skee-ball and contributes her own quarter, joining as Player 2. “You can be my hero, and everyone else’s villain, Firebrand.”
“I’m gonna kick your ass for calling me a hero.”
“Yeah, by cheesing Morrigan.”
“You know what they call cheese melted at high heat? Fondue.”
“How about you fon-don’t.”
“That was good, Nono. Now die horribly at the hands of my succubus.”
The match begins, and both girls take the controls with deliriously happy grins.