This takes place in the not-too-distant future. Maybe.
“And that, my dear Charade, is why the world will soon tremble at the name of … the Atomic Fist!”
She rolls her eyes, and rolls her shoulders as well, feeling the pressures of the remaining ropes shift and tug. She can see she’s in a dentist’s exam room, though it’s old and stripped and devoid of devices to torture her with. It just seems like it was a convenient place for him to stash her. “Can I ask you a question?”
He stops his pacing, looking down at her. She has the sense that, were his face not fully cowled and masked, he’d be raising an eyebrow. After a moment, he nods. “Go on.”
“Why do you do that?”
“Do – what?”
“Monologue. Get all pretentious and call me ‘dear Charade.’ Give big speeches like that to a captive.” Cross wrists like that. Slide – don’t worry about skin – like that. “I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense just to use that atomic … fist … yeah, fine, use that to pulverize my head? Eliminate the threat., move on with your plans.”
“You mean my fiendish plot?”
“Wait, you – you want me to kill you?”
“Of course not. I just – well, I’ve always wondered.” She stops fidgeting, sits quietly a moment. “I – knew someone. Like that. They monologued a lot. They told me I’d eventually understand. But I never did”
“You know,” he says, looking up at the ceiling for a moment, then back down at her. “It’s funny you should ask that question. I was talking about it with my – with a – an expert – in personal – motivations. And --”
“A professional counselor, please. Mrs. Begoshian suggested that receiving a lengthy monologue of such sorts is, well, actually a sign of respect. That my doing so to someone such as yourself ought to be taken as quite the complement.”
Charade shrugs, which, not unintentionally, shifts the ropes there over just a half inch. Which is enough to – “Except that you spend all that time insulting me and talking about your future great triumphs, and how there’s nothing, nothing I can do to stop them!” She lets the overwrought tone she’s assumed for a moment fade out. “That doesn’t sound like respect or a complement.”
“If you were a mere lackey, a law enforcement agent, an ordinary civilian, I’d dispose of you without a single hesitation. Clearly, if I am taking the time, then you’re important. Which is what Doctor --” He stops. Turns. Looks out the dusty window.
“What – Doctor – wait, you have a second shrink?”
Psychologist. Originally court-ordered, but after my – departure from the state penitentiary, I thr-- convinced him to continue our interrupted sessions. I find him – soothing."
“So what did he have to say?” The left ankle’s loose now. Looser. She brings it carefully up and around, crossing it over the right, before he turns back to her.
“Doctor Nemur, he says monologuing is an attempt to engage. To pull in your sympathy. Ideally, to convert you to my cause.” At her snort, he goes on, “Or at least to make you see me as human. As not just some melodramatic two-dimensional black hat.”
“Wait, and you went back to this guy?”
“He has a very pleasant office! And he serves herbal tea.”
“Yyyyeah.” She pauses. “And his thesis is that you are trying to prove you’re not some melodramatic, two-dimensional villain by giving a long, self-referential, clearly delusional speech just like every melodramatic, two-dimensional villain who’s ever lived?”
He looks down his nose at her, then slumps slightly. “Well, when you put it that way, it doesn’t make much sense. But it does when Doctor Nemur says it!”
“I’ll bet. Do you still pay him?”
Alycia shakes her head, simultaneously flexing her legs so that the one of the knots at her ankles gives way. “Any other mental health professionals weigh in on this?”
“Dr. Sullivan --”
“Really?” she says with surprise. "I was kidding!"
“Dr. Sullivan says it’s a sign that I’m lonely. That I don’t have anyone to talk with, so once I have a, um --”
“Yeah. As you say. That once I have that, well, all of this comes out. My dreams, and aspirations – my hopes for the future.”
“I find talking to myself does a lot of that.”
“I do that, too, believe me. It’s just – well, sometimes I do want to share it with someone. Someone who won’t, um, run away. Or call the police when I turn my back. Not like – well, I just don’t have a lot of people in my life like – that.”
“Gee, you dress up in gray-black armor, a big completely-unrealistic atomic symbol on your chest, wearing a cowl and mask, and throwing out disturbingly high levels of radiation whenever you power up that fist of yours – and you call yourself Atomic Fist, for Vishnu’s sake – and you wonder why nobody hangs out with you?”
“Hey! This stuff isn’t easy! What I do! If I’m lonely, it’s because I’m a visionary, a man who sees the future – further, farther than the common crowd. I have a Grand Vision --”
She closes her eyes for a moment, which both helps the sudden headache and also her concentration on where those three ropes and her wrists cross in the small of her back. “I know, I know, believe me: a Great Mission, a way to save the world, put it under your guidance, turn all hearts in the direction you desire.” She opens her eyes and cocks her head, letting herself lower one shoulder again, the tension on the rope extending to the other side suddenly letting it slip still further. “Though I’m guessing that unlike – the person I knew, your desire also includes a lot of gold bricks, some scantily clad women, and probably copious supplies of drugs.”
"There’s – nothing wrong – with feeling lonely. With wanting the better things in life. If I have to take them, if I have to bend the world to my will to get them – well, I deserve them! I have a vision!"
“There is something wrong with isolating yourself from others and pretending to be smarter than all of them, and then feeling sorry for yourself because of it.”
“Oh, and I suppose you have soooooo many friends.”
Charade is silent for a long moment, and Atomic Fist crows. “Ha! I knew it!”
“I was actually talking about my f-- friend. The one I was talking about. But – okay, yeah, there might be some truth in what you say, which means there’s truth in what I say. Which means – maybe you’re smarter than you look.” She lets out an exasperated sound. “Look, if this is all about fulfilling your vision, why are you driving everyone off? If you think your cause is persuasive, so starkly correct, why not simply share it, rather than robbing banks and destroying police property.”
"Because people won’t listen!" He resumes his pacing, waving his hands in the air. “Because they’re stupid! And they think I’m stupid for thinking differently from them!”
“Yeah, people are cruel and petty. Individuals are, at least. But the human race – it’s worth saving, improving, protecting. Not beating up and irradiating. If you don’t get that, then maybe you are stupid.”
“I’m not so stupid that I couldn’t capture you! And tie you up neat and tight.”
She knows what’s coming next, and flexes appropriately to tighten all the ropes. Just in time, as he steps over to the table and plucks at a couple of them. They all feel taught.
“Yup. Got you trapped like a bug in butter.”
“What?” There was a weird accent in his voice, just that moment – Appalachian? Ozarks? – that was missing before, as if a bit of him peeped out past the facade he’s erected.
“My p-- father used to say that.”
“Fathers,” she mutters. Then, “So so far we have you monologuing instead of killing me because you actually respect me, because you want me to sympathize with you, or because you’re lonely. Anyone else have a opinion?”
He hesitates and she rolls her eyes. “Oh, come on --”
“Another guy.” Atomic Fist’s voice is softer. He’s looking at Charade, but doesn’t seem to really see her. “A mentor, one might say. He had another, separate opinion why one would do that.”
“He said – I actually want to lose.”
After a moment, she says, “Huh.”
“He suggested if I give up such an obvious advantage, it must be because I don’t want to actually win. Thus, that I want to lose. That I want to give you time to escape, to give you time to be rescued. That I want to be caught and punished for my crimes.”
She purses her lips, though it’s not clearly visible through her own ask. “Well,” she says after a moment, “what do you think?”
His focus snaps back to her. “I don’t want to lose!” he shouts at her. His right fist begins to glow, a pale white flickering about it like whisps of cotton candy, tangible drifts of alpha, beta, and gamma particles, barely restrained. "I am the Atomic Fist, godammit! I can punch through a concrete wall. I can burn through steel. I can kill with a thought! You’re just like the rest of them! But I’ll show you, I’ll show all of you!"
“Will you show me your super-invulnerable armored jaw?”
He pauses, interrupted, staring at her. “What?”
“Hey, Fist Boy,” says a voice.
The Atomic Fist obediently turns that direction, and another fist, this one made of metal and the size of small drink cooler, smashes into the side of his head. He drops like a sack of potatoes, radiation aura vanishing like a puff of steam.
Charade sits up, ropes falling away from her body. “Dammit, Otto. I had this.”
“I know, I know. I just – jeez, that guy was annoying.”
She ponders. “Yeah, he was.” She swings around out of the dental chair, standing up, leaving her bindings behind. “Though he had a few – insights that were --” Charade pauses, looking at nothing for a second. “Insightful.”
“Yeah, yeah, yadda-yadda. Monologuing villains are annoying, too.”
“Wait, how long were you listening there?”
She shakes her head, looking at the hulking figure. She has no idea how he snuck in here. She points a gloved finger at him. “No, you know what’s annoying? Talking cars, those are annoying.”
“Gee, hope you don’t start monologuing at me about it.”
“I mean, that would be very revelatory and even respectful, but damned boring.”
Otto chuckles, a weird revving sound in his engine. “Need a ride?”
She’s about to refuse, when she realizes that she has no idea where she is. She could Lyft back to where the hoverbike is, but – “Yyyeah. I guess.”
“I’m glad you don’t monologue, Charade.”
She snorts. “Yeah, it’s a – it’s one bad habit I didn’t pick up.”
“But that doesn’t mean you aren’t trying to get sympathy, or aren’t lonely.”
She stiffens. “Or that I want to lose?”
“Depends on what you’re talking about losing.”
Charade rolls her eyes. “You’re more Lightning McQueen than Sigmund Freud, thank Inti. Let’s get downstairs where you can actually open up and let me in.” She pauses. “Hey, do you have a car phone? We should call this guy in to AEGIS.”
“He fried my comms when I let him capture me.”
She nods. Then, taking a slow breath, she says, “And …” Another pause. “… thanks.”
“Hey don’t mention it.” A beat. “And please don’t monologue about it.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, shut up.”
“If it’s going to be that sort of potty-mouth monologue, I don’t want to hear it. I have tender ears.”
"Shut. The fuck. Up."
“Heh,” he chuckles.
After a moment, so does she.
author: *** Dave H.