Fantastic Tales – Ch 16: “The Legacy of Darkness”

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as narrated by Lewis “Doctor Nightshade” Baldwin

    There is no karma in the world. It is not an innately fair place. Justice is at best a delusion fostered by those who wield power. This is a situation which I am eminently pleased with.

    Were the world a fair place, I would no doubt have come to bad end early in my life. Instead, each day greeted me with the same sunshine it showed those more virtuous, and I was able, in my aged retirement, to enjoy the small comforts to which I have grown accustomed.

    Not many would believe that the great master villain “Doctor Nightshade” had settled down to live in a sleepy little suburb community of Brassport, the scene of some of his most infamous rampages. It is, by all rights, the last place on Earth I should ever “show my face”. That was yet another source of joy for me.

    I wasn’t always a ne’erdowell of course. As a child I thrilled to the exploits of the heroes of my day. I even dreamed of being a flying ace to soar the skies beside them. Poor vision and a poor physique scuttled those dream however and, by the time I was a teenager, my interests had turned away from heroes and to science!

    I never developed the love affair with science though that some of my colleagues did. For me, science was always merely a tool to help me gain my true desires: power and security.

    That was the lesson taught to me in school. Not the lesson the instructors sought to deliver. Not the lesson captured in the text books. No I learned that lesson from my fellow students. In simple and direct ways they taught that, more than anything else, power is what matters.

    All humans share certain needs. Chief among those needs is safety. Deny a person food and they will tighten their belts and carry on. Deny them shelter and they will open an umbrella and mock the worst of storms. Deny them safety though and they will give anything they have to reclaim it.

    That central fact of life is what makes us weak. That is why the acquisition of power is all that matters in the end.

    For myself, the path to power that I chose was my intellect. I saw early on that I could never compete in the physical arena. Nature had not blessed me with any such gifts. As I grew older I understood how fortunate I was though.

    What use could I have for mighty arms or a broad back when I could build a laborer more powerful than any normal human? The engines of warfare that I built had another advantage too. Unlike a fantastic physique, when someone destroyed one of my robots, I could always build more.

    It amused me for a time to sell my creations, to play the shadowed power behind the throne for kings and criminals alike. I made more money than I could have ever imagined like that. The money became hollow though. There is only so much safety which money can buy.

    From that hollowness was born a form of lunacy. I believed that where money could not secure my safety, reputation would stand more firmly. I look back and have to shake my head at the belief I held so thoughtlessly that if I could achieve a spectacular enough victory no one would ever dare threaten me.

    That was where “Doctor Nightshade” was born. I at least had the sense not to use my real name. As alter egos go I still have a fondness for the good doctor too. He was an insane role to play, but as him I earned the reputation and fear that I had sought. People trembled at the mention of “Doctor Nightshade’s” name.

    In time that madness faded too though. I woke up to see that in creating a persona that only a lunatic would attack I had ensured that I would be attacked almost non-stop by lunatics. Between fighting the heroes and my fellow villains, something had to change.

    So I died. Or rather the good “Doctor Nightshade” did. It was all staged and very explosive, a true piece of theatrical art. More importantly, it accomplished its objective and left the world thinking that Doctor Nightshade had finally been laid low. Some few might have suspected that I survived, but if so none of them ever came to look for me.

    Thus did I retire. I still had my fortune but it wasn’t safe to spend it too quickly, so I adjusted my life style. A small home in a pleasant suburb of the very city I had once threatened. Doctor Nightshade’s life was over, but mine continued on.

    Quietly and peacefully.

    Until a nine foot tall mutant beetle smashed through my window.

    I heard the crash and shattering from my kitchen and I knew I’d gone insane. Not because I doubted my senses. Not because I was terrified out of my wits. No, I knew I’d gone insane because I felt the old lunacy return.

    Lewis Baldwin had been sipping his morning tea in his bunny slippers, but it was Doctor Nightshade who rose from the chair to investigate what had gone wrong. Apparently reports of the good doctor’s death had fooled even me.

    Though my humble abode was no super villains lair, I had not completely forsaken my love of security. As Doctor Nightshade it puzzled me therefore that something would be able to break through my windows. I had treated them with chemicals of my own devising that rendered them stronger than titanium steel.

    The other thing that puzzled me was how a nine foot tall beetle had fit in through the windows in my kitchen. I have always favored smaller windows as being more defensible and a nine foot beetle man is not a tiny creature. Looking at the beetle and the direction the remaining shards of the window were bent showed me clearly what had happened though.

    He hadn’t broken the window from the outside to get in, he had been inside to begin with and had broken the window in order to allow a horde of mutant wasps into my house as well!

    I have never liked wasps and have always kept several bug sprayers on hand to deal with any I encountered. The pantry at the entrance to the kitchen happened to have one of them. I was fortunately able react quickly enough to retrieve it before my uninvited guests noticed me.

    With the simple flip of a switch I adjusted the sprayer from “Light Mist” through “Heavy Mist” to “Burning Plasma Fire of Death”. It was a shame to lose my kitchen, but I truly dislike wasps, especially ones that are four feet long, have hands with razor tipped fingers and can breath clouds of ice.

    It might be said that I held the spray of plasma fire on the wasps for somewhat longer than was necessary. I would explain it as the momentary lapse into my old persona filling me with the need to grandstand. Setting one’s own house completely on fire could perhaps be seen as over doing things though.

    The disappointing end result of my endeavor was not that I destroyed a house which I had invested years of effort into. It was not that my bug sprayer lasted a mere two minutes before breaking down. It was not even the fact that I hadn’t had breakfast and had reduced all of my food stores to ash. No, the disappointing result of setting my house ablaze was that while the plasma incinerated the wasps it did nothing to the nine foot tall beetle monster.

    My day continued to grow more interesting when I heard a sound from my hall and turned to see that I didn’t have one beetle monster in my home but rather four.

    There are times when one must exercise restraint and caution. I had lived for nearly twenty years under such a mindset. When four, then five, then six giant beetle monsters show up in your home however such thoughts are swept aside quite easily.

    Lewis Baldwin, the old man in the yellow shingled house with the white picket fence around his lawn, would have had the option of fleeing for his life (and being devoured as he ran) or abandoning hope (and being devoured where he stood). That might have been why the old lunacy returned to me.

    Doctor Nightshade tapped a code into the watch that I wore and from my sub-basement, a remotely controlled suit of power armor burst forth. The house was burning to the ground anyways so losing the polished oak floor where the power armor crashed up into my living room was no hardship. Another code on the wrist watch and the power armor enfolded me like a glove.

    It wasn’t surprising to see the armor in good working order. It had been twenty years since I fought in it but it had only been two days since the last time I tinkered on it. Some people have sports as a hobby, others have model trains, or race cars. I have designing robotic battle systems. It has always seemed to me to be the most eminently practical of hobbies. I mean what good will a model train set do you when giant beetles are attacking your home?

    As it turns out the answer is “about as much good as a suit of power armor if you’re faced with a half a dozen of such monsters”.

    To give the armor it’s proper due, it did preserve my life for a few minutes. The chest plate absorbed two hit that would have been fatal had the armor not checked their force. The helmet similarly blocked blows that would have been inconvenient to meet unprotected. Unfortunately they and several other pieces of the armor were destroyed in the process.

    By the time the suit’s power systems had flatlined I had only made it out my front door and down my front steps. I was reduced to crawling towards the street to buy myself a few more precious seconds of life.

    As I struggled vainly to escape my fate, I felt the first tears that I had cried in close to sixty years falling down my cheeks.

    Perhaps life was fair, I thought. I had been a horrid person. I had done horrid things. There was a measure of justice that after what I had done while struggling my whole life to be safe, I should come to such a violent and unpleasant demise.

    In the end money had failed me, reputation had failed me  and even my intellect had failed me. I stared at the inferno that engulfed my house and saw the shapes of the recovering beetle men inside. I had blasted them and held them at bay as best as I could, but it hadn’t been enough. The scene was the perfect metaphor for my life. Everything I had built was falling apart and, within the heart of the destruction were the monsters who pursued me.

    I had taken so much and in the end, in the flames, I could see I was going to be left with nothing at all. The only mark that would remain would be a pile of ashes that would soon be scattered by the winds.

    I tried to imagine where I had gone wrong, what I could have done differently. Money, reputation, intellect, I knew of no more potent powers than those. If they weren’t enough then there was nothing I could have done that would have spared me from this fate. All I’d accomplished with all my striving was to push off the date and perhaps make the toll higher.

    I sighed and closed my eyes. With the power to the armor spent, I couldn’t even move the pieces that remained. There was no further that I could go, and I knew what was going to come next but that didn’t mean I had to watch it.

    “Mr Baldwin! Are you ok?” a boy’s voice said from behind me. I recognized him. My next door neighbor’s son. Little Terry Weaver. He had shoveled my driveway and raked my leaves for me.

    “Run Terry! There are monsters in my house!” I shouted at him.

    “I know, there are monsters everywhere!” he said.

    I looked around and spotted a giant spider astride the house on the other side of mine.

    “Get out of here Terry! Get somewhere safe!” I shouted.

    I couldn’t tell what madness had gripped the world, but I could guess it’s probable origin.

    Someone like me.

    I didn’t know if that meant there would be any safe places left for Terry to flee too. We super villains can be remarkably thorough when we’re not being staggeringly stupid. Either way I didn’t want the boy to see what the beetles were going to do to me.

    A part of me was relieved when I heard the sound of his sneakers rapidly retreating. If my death bought him a few extra minutes to run he might be able to escape this madness. With nothing else left, I looked to that as a purpose for my existence.

    It was too slender a threat to hang the weight of a life on. In that moment I understood, I think, what the heroes who’d faced me had been motivated by. They didn’t stand as single threads. Their deeds wove their lives together with the people they saved and served. When they lay beaten and and about to die they weren’t left with ashes and ruins. Their lives stretched forward through the lives of those lives they’d touched and inspired.

    From the doorway of my house I saw fire belch forth as the inner structure gave way. Out of the smoke scuttled two of the beetle-men. The rest had been crushed in the collapse.

    I braced for them to leap upon me and heard a terrifying growling fill the air.

    I winced and squeezed my eyes shut tighter.

    There was a crash on the porch and I blinked my eyes open with the thought of “wait a moment, beetles don’t growl do they?”

    As it turned out they don’t.

    Nine foot tall dog/human hybrids however apparently do.

    “Let us help you get out of that!” Terry said as he and his sister began to lever the broken pieces of armor off me with a crowbar.

    For two young children they proved surprisingly adept at dismantling my armor. I wouldn’t have guessed that children had a talent for that sort of thing, but I was overjoyed that they did.

    “We need to get somewhere safe.” the giant dog lady said as she joined us. I looked at my porch and saw that the beetle men were not going to present any further danger to anyone.

    “I know where we can go.” I told them.

    “Do you have a secret lair?” Terry asked.

    “Yes. But there’s a much safer spot. The heroes will have set up a command center. There won’t be a safer place in the city.” I said.

    “How do we get there?” the dog lady asked.

    “With some difficulty I imagine.” I said. I looked out over the town. I knew the locations the heroes used for their command centers. They were dictated by geography so they hadn’t changed in the twenty years since I’d stopped needing to plan around them. Getting all four of us across a monster infested town was not going to be easy even with a guardian as formidable as the children’s companion.

    I looked at the ruin of my power armor.

    “You father wouldn’t happen to have a rotary saw would he?” I asked as a plan began to form in my mind.

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