Countdown, Part One: Old Friends

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(July 9th)

“I've got to admit, I was a little bit surprised to hear from you.” Josh Stevens poured three cups of coffee, glancing over his shoulder at his guests. “Let's see if I remember – Lucky, you take your coffee with milk, and Nina, you take three sugars.”

Lucky Ladd, sitting at Josh's kitchen table, looked over to Nightshade with a raised eyebrow. “Seriously? Three?”

“Black as hell and twice as sweet.” Nina said with a smile, taking the offered cup without commenting on its yellow smily face. “I don't know how you remember these things, Josh. You haven't made me coffee in months.”

“Since I worked at Malefico, yeah.” Josh nodded, sitting down. “What can I say? I have a head for trivia.” He shruggd. “But like I was saying – it's been a while. I haven't heard from you guys since Doctor Ecchs turned out to be the world's biggest villain. Then, suddenly, my two fugitive-ist friends show up on my doorstep.” He looked between the two. “So I'm guessing – not a social call.”

“Not really, no.” Lucky admitted. “But I don't mind catching up first. We've got spotters around the neighbourhood, and Ash's local spies have been distracted. How have you been?”

“Pretty good, actually. It turns out that having Rex Mundi on your list of references is shockingly good for your cred in the supervillain community, even though I had nothing to do with his Rex Mundi plans or actions.” Josh shook his head. “So now I'm a supervillain consultant. Which is weird, but the pay is amazing, so…” He shrugged again. “Adaptation for a new world, I guess. How about you guys?”

“Adaptation for a new world.” Nina echoed glumly. “A world that involves moving every two weeks to avoid getting vaporized by a legion of angry trees, mostly.” She looked up. “Supervillain consultant. I'm kind of surprised, Josh. You were always pretty reluctant about the whole supervillain thing. I'd assumed that the whole Rex Mundi business would have pushed you out once and for all.”

“I thought of it.” Josh admitted. “Malefico didn't feel evil, most of the time. It was fun. A sort of dark, bitter fun a lot of the time, but fun. Rex Mundi…” He trailed off, and shivered. “I didn't know the Doc had it in him. I should have guessed, though.”

“So…?” Lucky asked curiously.

“So, the fact is I don't have much of a choice. Ecchs is too well-known. Any Malefico employee who was decently high-ranking got splashed across the news for weeks after he went public. I've gotten angry letters, blame for what happened, even death threats.” Josh sighed. “Supervillains are about the only people who'll hire me. I mean, yeah, I could just retire for ten or twenty years on the money I've saved up since January, but I want to be doing something. This way, I'm keeping some villains focused on playing by the rules.” When Lucky and Nina looked at him in confusion, he smiled. “Things are pretty confused right now. You guys have been mostly recruiting the angry people, so you probably haven't realized it, but no one's sure if the Accords are still in operation. The United States hasn't officially withdrawn them, but Ecchs threatened to vaporize any governmental body that formed a new superhuman enforcement group, so it's all running on limbo. I've convinced a lot of people to wait a year or two before they start breaking rules, in case somebody brings Rex Mundi down.” His smile faded. “Statistically, someone probably will. Our boss was a genius, but his plans don't usually have staying power. I'm more worried about who it's going to be.”

“We're kind of hoping that it's going to be us.” Lucky said slowly.

“That would be nice.” Josh smiled faintly. “You've been doing well, but… I don't see how you can beat Ecchs at the moment.”

“Funny you should mention that…” Lucky smiled. “We kind of have a plan, but we need your help.”

Josh blinked. “Woah, woah. Woah. Woah.” He raised a hand. “Woah. You want me to go up against the doc? Directly?” He looked from Lucky to Nina. “Guys, you might have forgotten this, but I don't have powers. I don't have protection that could handle an annoyed Doctor Ecchs, and I don't really want to be the next person dead.”

“Josh, calm down a minute, will you?” Nina said. “Just listen. We don't need that much from you, and I'm not going to tell you most of the plan. Fact is, you're not the only person I'm in town to have a chat with. What I need is your magic memory.”

Josh raised an eyebrow. “This should be good.” He said.

“Oh, it will be.” Nina smiled. “Here's the deal. I know that the Doc shut down Malefico and shipped out or melted everything that could possibly compromise him. I also know a little secret that I don't think he considered.”

Josh frowned, and then blinked. “Oh. Oh, no. No no no no no.” He shook his head.

“You know all the passcodes, all of the tricks that the Doc used to cover up his business. You know every pattern that he ever used.” Nina pressed on. “You know where Malefico supplies were delivered. All of it. And knowing the Doc, and his habit of making backups, you can find out where he was building secret bases.”

“Yes, fine!” Josh muttered. “I remember an awful lot of that. But you're barking up the wrong tree, Nina.” He sighed. “I spent months writing down everything I could remember, whenever I would think of it. I've looked through his passwords, data logs, all of that.” He shook his head. “There's no pattern. It's totally random.”

“There's always a pattern.” Nina said with a smile. “You just need to be a genius at information shifting, and be intimately familiar with the person you're studying.”

“If it was that easy, someone would have done it already.” Josh shook his head.

“It's happened.” Lucky said. “To the best of our knowledge, two groups – one of heroes, one of villains – have managed to collect enough clues to figure out where he's hiding, and teleport themselves in to fight him.” He sighed. “Unfortunately, neither group was in contact with us, and both were wiped out wholesale. The heroes left information behind in case they failed, which is the only reason that we know it happened – Psiborg went on a deletion spree that took out the memories of forty people who might have come in contact with the information we needed.”

“You are really not encouraging me here.” Josh looked at his friends, and then grimaced. “But you're right. I've been watching the news – crime rates are up ten percent across the planet, and arrest rates are down. The world is getting nastier. I can't just sit by.” He stood slowly. “Alright. I'll give you the information that you're looking for, but… I couldn't figure anything out, and I didn't think your group had anyone in it with that kind of talent. Unless you guys have unearthed Clockwork or something, this won't be much help.”

“Nah, no Clockwork. Dude's gone to ground pretty thoroughly.” Lucky said blithely. “But we have someone even better.”

Josh frowned. “Who?”

“Better you don't know.” Nina said seriously. “But trust me – he'll help.” She lowered her voice to a stage whisper, and added, “If he knows what's good for him.”

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