From our brief stopover in Tokyo, we took a submarine down to his hideout. After we had arrived there, he gave me a tour of the place, and showed me to a room that would be mine.
When he had finally left me alone, I sat down on the bed in my room, trying to figure out what I’d do with my life. I had no desire to try to make things work on my own. I couldn’t go back to my VI4C days- that was pretty obvious. The only choice that I felt I had was to stick with Nikto for a while. Who knew, maybe he wasn’t as crazy as I had thought he was.
I put the clothes he had bought me away, and then began to look around. I had a small dresser and a decently sized closet in the room, and there was a bathroom down the hall that would be for my use alone, at this point. There was a decent amount of space in the room, and a desk sat along the wall, beside the bed.
Curiously I approached it and began to look through the drawers. Most were empty, but in the top drawer on the left side I found a pad of paper and a couple of pens. A thin scrap of paper sat underneath the pad, and I picked it up, reading the words typed on it.
Greetings, my dear recruit! If you are reading this, you have probably had a tour of the hideout. If not, that will be remedied shortly. Beneath is a schedule of required practice and meal times. Lights out will be at eleven thirty each night, and you will be expected to be awake and present at breakfast. Sincerely, Nikto.
Quickly I scanned the schedule, and then set aside the scrap, flipping open the notepad. I began to write out a list of things that I’d need for a forge. If I was to stay here I’d need a place to work, a place that was all my own.
A knock on my door startled me, and I slipped off my bed, where I was still sitting, to unlock and open the door. Nikto stood there, with a couple of metal creatures hovering behind him.
“I wanted to make sure that you were settled in,” he said. “And also to introduce you to my puppets.” I leaned against the door frame, studying the metal things.
“Clumsy workmanship,” I observed. “What are they supposed to do?”
“This design is called the Blaster,” he said. “They are used both in battle and around the hideout. Each one is armed with heavy ammunition, making it an ideal weapon source in the middle of combat, but also a useful training tool for here in the hideout.”
“Right,” I said, not taking my eyes off of the puppets. “May I take a look at them?”
“Sure,” Nikto said, waving a hand to make the puppets float into the room. I took one of them from mid-air and ran my hands over it, a little frustrated that I was still powerless. The metal, cool to the touch, was familiar to me, like a long lost friend, but I could do nothing to respond until the drug had left my system.
“This could be made a little lighter,” I said, tracing the edge of the metal drawer that protected the ammunition. A small latch on the side permitted me to pull the drawer open.
Protesting loudly, it slid open, revealing a dented and uneven drawer, full of different kinds of explosives. The outer sides and bottom of the drawer were heavily coated with grease and WD-40, and my fingertips came away black.
I sighed as I picked up the prison garb that I had discarded, wiping my hand off before I dumped the explosives into it and passed them to Nikto, who was watching me closely. Then I wiped down the outside of the drawer.
“As soon as I get my powers back, this needs to be fixed,” I said, setting the drawer down on my desk and picking up my list of needs for the forge. “I’ll need to buy, or get, supplies, too.” He nodded.
“I was expecting you to,” he said. “So, what’s the damage?”
“I’m not sure yet,” I said tersely, skimming the list. “But these are the necessary things. I will require weapons, too, if you expect me to help you in combat.” He nodded again. I guess he needed to show that he understood.
“I have some weaponry already,” he said. “If you want to come and see what suits you, that might be helpful.”
“Right,” I said, picking the shirt back up and wiping down the cavity in the puppet, where the drawer had been. He watched me for a moment, and then turned and began to walk down the hall. I followed him, carrying the puppet.
“So, you’re going to fix up my puppets?” he asked me, a slight grin on his face. I looked down at the limp Blaster in my hands, so obviously made by an amateur, and grimaced.
“When I get my powers back, yes,” I said, thinking that it was almost physically painful to me to see such clumsy methods. I couldn’t stand to see something as useful as metal being wasted and abused like this had been. It had to be fixed, and my personal feelings about the creator and user of this puppet could be ignored.
Nikto unlocked and pushed a door open and stepped in, turning on a light. I stepped into the small room and sighed, remembering the larger weapons room in the VI4C hideout. I closed my eyes for a moment, fighting back the emotions that were coursing through my veins.
Anger, sadness and relief all vied for the position of strongest and most potent emotion. That room in the VI4C had been my workspace throughout the duration of my membership, and it held many fond memories for me.
My fingers tightened on the door frame as I forced the emotions down, opening my eyes to look at the room. Nikto was watching me with concern as I looked around, trying to act like nothing had happened.
“You alright?” he asked as I slid a throwing dagger from the shelf, checking the balance in my hand.
“If you call being trapped at the bottom of the sea with a complete lunatic and no where else to go alright, then yes, I’m absolutely fine,” I said sharply, returning the dagger to its position on the shelf and moving on to another style of blade. He shrugged, and I felt that it was time to change the conversation away from me again. “So, how do you happen to have enough money to buy everything down here?”
“I’m a freelance journalist,” he said. “I take jobs everywhere in the English speaking world, and on rare occasion I do one or two in Japan. I didn’t have much of a loan left after college, so I paid that off pretty quickly. Now I get to keep most of my paychecks, and I use them to furnish this place.”
“I see,” I said, turning to face him. “How many people did you say this place could hold?”
“I don’t think I did,” Nikto said, taking a decently long metal pole from a rack. “Seven hundred and fifty could live here, though it would be rather crowded. At the moment, I only have twelve rooms furnished, excluding the public areas. Take a weapon, and let’s go. I want to see how well you can fight.” I studied him for a couple of seconds, and then shrugged, deciding that there was no ill intent behind this suggestion.
“Only if powers aren’t allowed,” I said, choosing a couple of blades and a smaller staff. Carefully I spun it, my muscles protesting at the odd turns that they hadn’t done for almost a year.
“That’s fair enough,” he said, watching me. “Find something?”
“These will do, for now,” I said, following him to the training room. Oddly enough, this didn’t cause me any problems. While the VI4C’s training room looked more like a training area from military movies, this one looked like a high school gym. The floor was wood. though I knew that there was some kind of metal beneath that.
“There’s far more here than it looks,” he said, a small grin on his face as he approached a keypad on the wall. “I have a bunch of neat little tricks for this place. Right now, though, I think that all we’ll need are some mats, to break any falls.” I said nothing as I made my way to the center of the gym. A slight grinding noise came from the walls as a panel slid open, revealing a stack of mats.
I watched as Nikto took them from the hidden cupboard. He spread them across the floor, and then he motioned to me.
“Let’s get to it,” he said. I smiled serenely, and fingered the daggers, which I had strapped around my hips. I held the metal pole in my right hand, ready to fight.
Nikto began circling around me, watching me like a vulture. I waited, not willing to make the first move. Suddenly Nikto lunged, striking at me from just out of my line of vision.
I spun, throwing up my defenses and blocking his blow. With a couple of minutes of pointless struggle as we each tried to disarm the other, we stood, arms shaking. I was just about to have to give in when he retreated. This time I circled with him, not willing to take my eyes off of him.
A feinted blow to his neck was quickly followed by a reversed blow. He must have been expecting me to do that, because he didn’t react to my feint, but he blocked the other blow. He struck out at my torso, and I staggered back, trying to bend in a way that I hadn’t needed to bend in for a year.
I felt the cool metal graze my skin as I fell back, dropping my staff in the process. I grabbed onto the end of his staff and twisted, so that I’d land on my front. Suddenly he released his staff and stumbled back.
My body met the floor hard, and I rolled onto my back, expecting him to be there, ready to end this duel. To my surprise, he wasn’t.
Quickly I forced myself to my feet, my footing unsteady as I picked up my own staff. My breath was coming in pants now, and I felt weak and my hands trembled slightly. Sweat had coated my body, and I watched Nikto with distrust.
If he’s going to attack me for real, now would be his chance, I thought, well aware of the physical state of my body. He’s still in good condition. He hasn’t even broken a sweat. I was determined to not lose, even though I knew that it was inevitable.
“Enough,” Nikto said, watching me from the other side of the room. “I’ve seen enough, and you won’t last too much longer. You’re a good enough fighter, but you’re not in good shape. You’re out of practice.” I lowered my defensive pose slowly, watching him.
I was humiliated by my weakness. It would take me a long time to regain the strength and abilities that I had lost during my rehab.
That was the beginning of my training. I forced myself to be better, to be stronger. I pushed myself to my limits on a daily basis, and would often fall into my bed at the end of the day, completely sore and exhausted.
Nikto oversaw and assisted me in some of my training, and after about two weeks of it, he made a comment about how hard I was on myself.
“It’s not too hard,” I said, taking a sip of water and leaning against the wall. He looked at me with concern. “The VI4C expected at least as much dedication and excellence. Or, rather, Steppe, expected that much.”
“What does VI4C stand for, anyway?” he asked, sitting down.
“Villains Incorporated in Four Countries,” I said, turning away so he couldn’t see the pain in my face.
“So it’s not just in the US?” he asked, surprised.
“No,” I said, getting my emotions back in check as I turned back to face him. “It’s also in Mexico, Cuba and Canada.” The look Nikto gave me was startling. He was grinning at me, looking like he was more insane than usual.
“Danae, you just gave me an idea,” he said. “From what I’ve gathered from talking and listening to you, and watching you, the VI4C is corrupt. We’ll destroy the corruption, and gain recruits at the same time.”
“What?” I asked, shocked. He’s actually lost it, I thought. I had been telling myself that since he had saved me from the CAMMies, but I was now convinced that he had finally gone mad.
“Danae, we are going to destroy the VI4C,” he said, looking at me steadily. “Those who are trying to stop us will die, and those who see the good we are trying to do for the world can join us.” My jaw dropped, and a tinge of persuasiveness slipped into his voice. “Just think- I can get my recruits, and you can get revenge on the people who threw you away.” I flinched, and turned away.
“Sure,” I said sarcastically. “When pigs fly.”