“Sweet Lady Liberty, this is a nice kitchen.”
The Masked Deceiver dropped the cup of tea she was holding and phase-shifted two feet into the air, making a noise that was half way between a kitten that had been stepped on and a quickly deflating balloon. She landed inelegantly on the kitchen floor and swore as a shard of porcelain bit into her bare heel. Looking round for anything she could use for a weapon, she snatched the nearest thing to her and brandished it at her arch nemesis, the Cobalt Crusader.
“How did you find me?” squawked the Monster that Stalked the Streets of Brooklyn and Struck Fear into the Hearts of Men.
The Champion of All Justice raised an eyebrow behind her stylish face mask at the whisk being waved threateningly at her.
“Oh please. We’ve had your address on file for months, Satveer.” It was a lie, of course. Lockdown meant that there were fewer people on the streets and she had seen her fiercest rival grocery shopping earlier in the week and followed her home. Satveer’s government recommended surgical mask covered the same part of her face that her villain’s mask did and the Heroine in Blue had recognised her instantly. A quick look through the post revealed both Satveer’s real name and that she was an ardent supporter of a local cat shelter.
“Why haven’t you come for me before now then?”
This was a reasonable question to ask.
“Well… you’ve not been very active since we discovered your lair-“
An indignant squeak. “This is not my lair! This is a very expensive loft! I have people over for brunch.” The lair was uptown and had none of the interior design that this did. It was high tech and shiny but there were no ornamental pineapple lamps or Himalayan salt candles.
“Since we discovered your loft, then. You’ve been laying low.”
“There’s a worldwide pandemic.” The whisk circled the air around Satveer’s head in an exasperated manner. “Unless you’ve somehow missed that. I thought you of all people would want me to take some time off! Don’t you have asthma?”
“I - how do you know about my asthma?”
“You’re not the only one who can do research, Sally.” Satveer glowered at the do-gooder leaning on her breakfast nook. There was a tense moment where egos battled silently before Sally threw her hands in the air in surrender.
“I didn’t come here to fight,” she said, sounding defeated. “I actually came to tell you that I get it now. I get why you do what you do.”
Satveer considered her for a long moment and finally put the whisk down. She made sure it was close enough to get to if she needed it but the Cobalt Crusader was honest to a fault - it was kind of her thing. Well, that and super agility, which was probably how she’d managed to slip in the open kitchen window in the first place.
“I thought you were committed to defending the city?” Satveer said, refilling the kettle and pulling out two new mugs on the kitchen island, careful not to turn her back to her guest. She gestured at the stools on the other side of the custom made countertop. It was Italian and a small part of her hoped that her adversary was appreciating it.
Sally sighed and came to sit. “I was. I am.”
Satveer pushed the coffee, cream, sugar and tea bags in front of her and Sally picked up the sugar spoon morosely. “But quarantine makes you think, doesn’t it? There’s lots of crime still but it’s… well, you have to think about what your priorities are.”
Satveer set the mug of hot water in front of her, feeling very much like she should be wiping the bench down with a wet rag and pouring shots of whisky instead of Twinings.
“It’s like,” Sally continued, trying to find the words that she was chasing. “I mean, do you remember our last big showdown?”
Satveer’s mouth twisted slightly. She was hardly likely to forget it - she was still doing regular physio exercises for her shoulder. She was lucky that it had been a few weeks before lockdown because the physiotherapist had closed up only a few days after her last session.
“You were trying to kill that CEO.”
“That’s him. Anyway, my power was superior and I beat you. You failed.”
This was said so casually that Satveer momentarily lost a bit of control and phased her hand through the milk jug instead of picking it up. The Masked Deceiver and the Cobalt Crusader had a fairly even hit rate and while, yes, technically the last round had been won by the good guys, it wasn’t because Sally’s power was innately stronger. If that were true, Satveer would’ve been behind bars years ago. The truth was that it had been a long week and fatigue was a greater enemy to super villains than any moron in spandex could ever be. She scowled.
“I didn’t know why you were going after him but we thought, y’know, murder is illegal. When we found out what you were planning, I was sent to stop it.”
Sally finished tracing abstract patterns in the top of the sugar bowl and cupped her hands around her warm water, completely forgetting to put any flavour into it.
“But I couldn’t work out why you’d targeted him. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes we find out but we were in the dark on this one. Normally the higher ups give me a new case to keep me focused but, quarantine, y’know? I tend to roam the streets a bit and they prefer to have me on the important crimes.”
This confirmed Satveer’s suspicions that heroes were like badly trained puppies and just as easily distracted. She gave a non-committal hum and fished under the counter for the cookies.
“So I started researching.”
Satveer had located the chocolate chip cookies and was displaying them artfully on a Morrocan style plate that she’d stolen last year. She was content in the knowledge that Sally wouldn’t eat them; the only thing that the Cobalt Crusader had put near her mouth since appearing in the kitchen was her own ragged thumbnail.
“It turns out that he’s the head of Yumz - you know, the chocolate company? Did you know that they were up to some seriously shady stuff? They’ve got links to modern day slavery and drug cartels in South America. They’ve even been linked to the malaria crisis in Nigeria. It’s all on the internet, if you look carefully enough.”
Did Sally actually think she was so unprofessional that she’d plan an elaborate murder for someone she hadn’t researched thoroughly? Also, was Sally using Google as her sole method of research?
“I used to love their caramel chocolate. They add a bit of salt to it and it just makes the flavours pop.”
“The added zing of human trafficking gives it a certain je nais se quoi, too,” added Satveer dryly.
“Well this is my point. I can’t enjoy the chocolate anymore. I keep imagining all those little baby hands picking cocoa beans and it just makes me so sad.” Sally looked up, eyes wide and lip trembling. She, again, reminded Satveer of a puppy - this time of the kicked variety. “So I went to speak with Mark Geclick.”
“Right. I went to his penthouse and had a whole - responsibly socially distanced - conversation. He was very charming and sweet although I think he thought I’d shown up in the middle of the night for other reasons. It’s lucky I can take care of myself because he was quite handsy and quite insistent. But when I sorted out the misunderstanding-“
“I hope you kicked his ass. That’s sexual assault, Sally.”
“No, don’t be silly. He only grabbed my backside a few times. Tried to kiss me. That kind of thing happens a lot.”
Despite herself, Satveer found herself feeling quite sad. She pushed the chocolate chip cookies closer to Sally.
“We ended up having quite a long chat. I’d printed out all the proof I’d found so he could see it and he looked through it all.”
“I want to guess the ending.” Satveer had been through a similar process herself. She had a rep to maintain so the non-murder options had been pursued in her civilian persona. “Did he very nicely tell you that the proof you were holding was fake news? Then when you cited your respectable sources, he got angry? Went on a bit of a rant about you not getting it? That he had a responsibility to his shareholders and that the people in the articles actually got treated very well and had a better quality of life than they would have otherwise? And that sometimes the price of doing business included dealing with people who were fairly unpleasant but the drugs would get into our country even without Yumz helping them out? Did he then make snide remarks about your intelligence because you were female?”
Sally stared. “You’re psychic! This explains so many of our fights!”
Satveer pulled the plate back towards herself. Idiocy on that level didn’t deserve cookies.
“So what did you do then? After you found out that he was a complicit scumbag?”
“I reported him, of course. The … group … that I work for-“
“You can say the government. I know they hold your strings.”
Sally inclined her head in silent agreement and pushed away from the island suddenly. Satveer winced at the sound of metal chair legs scraping her reclaimed oak floorboards.
“They said he was a horrible man but not a Bad Guy. He gives the country a lot of jobs and has a huge impact on the economy. They explicitly told me to stand down!” She whirled to face Satveer, who was unable to reply around her mouthful of crumbs. None of this was remotely surprising and her cup of tea was fast approaching an undrinkable temperature. Sally, on the other hand, was quite agitated. “I even told them that the guy in line to take over was less slavery minded and they said that he wouldn’t be as good at driving the economy as Mark Gedickhead.”
Satveer saw no reason to correct her this time.
“I started looking back at our fights. Did you know that all the people you go after are shady in one way or another?”
“I mean, in fairness, only about 85%. None of them are saints but sometimes I also need to make a little cash. Mamma gotta pay her bills.” Satveer found herself leaning to the side slightly to block an original Van Gogh from sight. Sometimes the bills weren’t electricity or water but she’d never felt guilty about enjoying the perks of super villainhood before. Seeing it through Sally’s eyes made her feel a little uncomfortable though. Perhaps that money could’ve gone to helping people but didn’t she also deserve nice things? Her cheek twitched a little. Sally was carrying on obliviously.
“I’ve stopped you murdering hundreds-“
“- of people and I always thought that it was obvious that you were the bad guy! Because, murder, y’know? But how many people have I helped enslave? How many people have I helped do unspeakably horrible things?” She seemed close to tears and Satveer could relate; she hadn’t started as the Masked Deceiver. She’d been through this epiphany herself although, admittedly, she’d had it a lot earlier on in her career than Sally had.
“Last time we fought, you did a whole fancy speech about right and wrong being subjective. You asked me to join you.”
That had been a great speech. There had been emotional notes, rousing anti patriotism. She’d even referenced Martha P. Johnson and Rosa Luxembourg.
“In fact, it was your monologuing that let me get in the winning blow.”
It was perhaps too good a speech. She’d gotten swept along by it and had completely missed the Cobalt Crusader sneaking along the ceiling joists.
“But the Yumz thing got me thinking about it and I think you might have been right. My side is getting it wrong. We’re letting people get away with whatever they want as long as they have the right amount of money.”
“So you’ve decided you want to murder them all?”
Sally blinked, shocked.
“Not all of them!”
Oh. She was fine with small scale murder then.
“Just the ones who are getting away with worse. And maybe those protecting them.”
Medium scale murder. Yikes.
“So… I have a proposal. I think we should team up.”
Satveer began to tidy up. She had been campaigning for Sally to switch sides for a while but without any hope of it happening. In fact, she was a little unsure now. It was like giving a child the entire ice cream cart - where did they start? Could they handle the whole thing? Would the child murder every flavour and then maybe turn on the ice cream vendor?
“Okay,” she said, as she finished washing the crockery. She dried her hands on a tea towel. “We’ll start with Mark Gecliff and see how you do.”
Sally nodded, her face serious.
“There are rules and caveats and I have a whole threat about cutting you up into pieces that will fit into Tupperwares if you double cross me but we can do that later. What I do isn’t straightforward violence, Sally. It’s planned, structured, surgical. It takes time and effort and you have to know that killing leaves its mark. You have to make sure the end justifies the means. You can’t just slaughter haphazardly. If you do this, you’ll be fighting for the people and they won’t know it. They’ll think that you’re the villain and you’ll be hated. But if we do this my way, you’ll make more of a difference than you did as a government employee.”
Sally pulled her mask off, giving Satveer a clear view of her face for the first time. She had a determined look in her green eyes and she put her hands on the kitchen island, leaning in towards her nemesis.
“I don’t want to do it your way.”
Satveer froze. Damn it, this had been a trap.
“Your way is almost as bad as Mark’s.”
Satveer hissed through her teeth. Insulting her in the middle of a knock down fight in a skyscraper was one thing but this was her own damned kitchen.
“You murder and you ruin lives. You’ve got a beautiful home,” Sally ran her fingers over a vase that contained over a hundred dollars worth of flowers and Satveer quietly picked up the whisk again, “but it’s built on blood. How many people lose their jobs or reputations when you steal something? The security guards? The museum curators?”
“I steal high value things. It hurts the rich.”
“Does it? They’ve got insurance.”
Damn. That was a fair point.
“I don’t want to join you, Satveer and I don’t really want you to join me. Neither of us are getting it right, don’t you see?”
Satveer looked at the whisk. Did she need it or not?
“So what the hell are you proposing then?”
“That we team up. We find a middle ground - one where we hurt the people who need hurting but not the ones who don’t. We find a way to protect the poor, the victimised, the sick and we find a way to make the bastards who did it to them pay. We work together, we balance each other and we help whoever we can. Stop wasting energy fighting each other every week. You want to help people; I know you do. Why else would you be targeting CEOs that are doing that much damage? You’re a good person who got a bit lost along the way. I can help you with that and you can help me do what needs to be done. What do you think?”
Satveer looked into Sally’s eyes, gleaming with zeal and, Lord help her, she felt it too. Maybe her speech in the last battle had improved Sally’s oration skills. She’d not got into the super villain game for personal glory or wealth to begin with but when you’re outside the law, why not enjoy it a bit? Besides, all her super villain friends had fancy houses. Maybe a bit of it was keeping up with the Joneses. What Sally was offering though... it felt like being offered the chance at redemption that she hadn’t even known she wanted.
She put down the whisk.
She squared her shoulders.
“What do I think?”
She leaned so that her posture mirrored Sally’s.
“I think we’re gonna need a kickass team name.”