“Impossible is right,” Frank said. “We’ve all seen Mr. Impossible. You are his archenemy. In fact, you mentioned battling him just a moment ago. Just down stairs. Remember?”
“I remember,” Arthur said. “And it’s all true. I was, at one time, the villain known as The Mastermind. I was the archenemy of Mr. Impossible and the League of Guardians. I was also, a very long time ago, the superhero known as Mr. Impossible.”
Frank shook his head.
“No,” he said. “Ever since I was a kid, I was a fan of The Mastermind. I watched you. Studied you. I watched every news clip I could find. Read every report. Every news article I could get my hands on. All your battles. All your speeches. Everything. Your battles against Mr. Impossible were my favorite. I spent countless hours watching them and reading about them. Over and over until I memorized every frame of every clip. Every word of every article. So…when I say that there’s no way you and Mr. Impossible are the same person…I think I have some authority on the subject.”
“You’re correct, in a way,” Arthur said. “The man you know as Mr. Impossible is not me. He was my second sidekick. He took over the role of Mr. Impossible after I became The Mastermind.”
“Your…sidekick?” Frank said, almost in disbelief. “That can’t be. I’ve seen pictures of Mr. Impossible from his very beginnings to his latest picture…it’s the same guy.”
“That’s what they want you to believe.”
“The government,” Arthur said. “I was a symbol, Mr. Sonata. A symbol that showed a world gripped by fear that it didn’t have to be afraid. One that could summon the strength and courage from even the most cowardly of men. While I was not really the first superhero, I was the first to become a public figure on such a grand scale. More importantly…I was the first to be officially endorsed as a superhero.”
“You’re talking a large scale conspiracy…”
“Yes,” Arthur said. “My turning to villainy was a devastating blow. Had the public known their symbol had not only fallen, but turned against them…the people would have lost faith in Mr. Impossible. They would’ve lost faith in the government. So when my betrayal was discovered, my sidekick took over the mantle of Mr. Impossible. A government retcon operation doctored all the past photos and news clips. A lot of black bagging. A lot of threats and bribes. Memory wipes. All went to making sure the public believes today’s Mr. Impossible is the same man from all those years ago. Soon, not aging was just another impossible thing he made possible.”
Frank was silent for a moment.
“If that’s all true…then you created the League of Guardians,” Frank said. “The first organized superhero group in modern history.”
“Yes,” Arthur said. “Why do you think I was so dangerous? I was the one who created the foundation for their tactics and procedures. I knew their members…and I knew their methods.”
“The Mastermind is known as the first supervillain,” Frank said. “Not because he was first, but because he was the first to accomplish something countless other villains had tried and failed to do. He created the first organized group of supervillains. The Vengeance Initiative.”
“That’s right,” Arthur said.
“Which means…you weren’t only the foundation for the modern supervillain. You were the foundation for the modern superhero. If it’s all true.”
“Why would I lie?”
“That’s what’s getting me,” Frank said. “Why would you tell me this at all?”
Arthur smiled, putting his glasses back on.
“You’re right,” he said. “I gain nothing from telling you. In fact, if told to the right people, that information could be very dangerous. Not only to me, but my family.”
“Then why tell me?” Frank asked.
“It was only fair,” Arthur said.
“I placed you in an uncomfortable position earlier,” he said. “I shouldn’t have pressed you about your father.”
“Doesn’t seem fair to me,” Frank said. “I could destroy you with the stuff you just told me.”
“Oh but it is fair,” Arthur said. “And I think you know that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your father was an assassin,” Arthur said. “His job consisted of making enemies. You don’t know half of the people looking for his head. And that’s just in America. I assume he went to considerable measures to keep your new family name a secret. To protect you from those enemies.”
“My father was a heartless monster Mr. Warden,” Frank said. “If he distanced himself from his family…it wasn’t out of love.”
“Regardless,” Arthur said. “If your family origins were made public…no doubt you’d suffer a similar predicament as myself. Old enemies coming out from the shadows to kill you and everyone you love.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Frank said. “But that brings us back to the original question, doesn’t it? Now that we know each other’s secrets, what’s the benefit?”
“The best kind,” Arthur said. “Trust.”
“Secrets breed trust, Mr. Sonata,” Arthur said. “And if I’m going to place my family’s future and the little time I have left in your hands…I want to trust you.”
Frank paused a moment. His eyes narrowed. His nostrils flared. His face was a thin mask of composure.
“With all due respect, Mr. Warden. You have a fucked up way of building trust,” he said. “Please excuse me.”
Frank made his way to the door. He reached for the handle.
“Is Green Tower still standing?” Arthur asked.
“Yes,” he said. “City’s been taking care of it. You wouldn’t believe how many people want to come see the first lair of the Mastermind.”
“It’s crowded then,” Arthur said.
“Not this time of year,” Frank said.
Frank opened the door.
“Goodnight Mr. Warden.”
“Mr. Sonata, did you ever read Jack and the Beanstalk as a child?”
“Between following you and taking part in ruthless training sessions, there wasn’t much time left for fairytales.”
“You should read it,” Arthur said. “You strike me as a man who’d appreciate it. One more thing…”
“How did your sister die?”
Frank shook his head and left without another word. He found himself in front of the High Brass Hotel again a few days later. It was a little cold. Grey clouds over the sun. Almost looked like rain. Frank sat quietly in the driver’s seat. He’d switched the radio to a station that played smooth jazz from seven AM to noon. His father hated jazz. Frank turned up the volume. He sat there for a while, then looked up at his sun visor. He pulled it down. A few folded notebook pages slid into his hands.
He glanced out the window. Arthur was making his way through the parking lot. He took a handful of pills as he walked. Frank put the folded pages back and unlocked the car. Arthur got in. Sat down. Closed the door. They sat in silence for a few moments.
“So when…you were Mr. Impossible…,” Frank said. “That whole relationship between you and Firerose. Was that real or…just for show?”
“It was real,” Arthur said.
“She looked like quite a catch.”
“She was,” Arthur said.
They sat there in silence for another minute.
“Look, I’m sorry.” Both men said at the same time. Then laughed.
“No, no,” Arthur said. “I was wrong to have said what I said. Years of supervillainy has hindered my sense of tact. I should have kept my mouth shut.”
“No,” Frank said. “I should’ve kept my cool. Been more professional. I mean, I usually am. It’s just…well let’s just say dad’s still a crack in my armor.”
“Call it even?” Arthur asked.
“I’d like that Mr. Warden,” Frank said.
“Good,” Arthur said. They shook hands. “You can call me Arthur.”
“Call me Frank,” he said.
The private showroom of the Oculux R&D department was one large solid grey room. Empty. There was a window across the room from the entrance. Behind was an operator ready to take commands from the showroom presenter. A grey manikin dressed in a sleek armored suit stood in the middle of the room. The suit was mostly painted a dark green. The pieces meant to protect the biceps, the knee guards, the shoulders, and the stomach plates were painted a deep purple. An elegant purple cape hung from the shoulders. Finally, the Mastermind’s famous horned helmet painted green.
Arthur popped another pill. His eyes were soft. The corner of his mouth peaked into a small smile.
“Very nice,” he said, slowly circling the suit.
“I thought you’d like it,” Frank said. “We kept a similar style to your old armor. Same color scheme too. Just with a few modern updates. A little lighter. Better protection. Greater flexibility. Painted by machine rather than by hand.” Frank walked over to the suit. “And of course, the feature you were most interested in…the quick change option.”
“Yes,” Arthur said. “I was wondering about that little feature. It sounded interesting, though, I have to admit I’m unsure how power armor can be applicable to a quick change.”
“It’s a recent development actually,” Frank said, unclamping the forearm piece from the manikin’s arm. Walked over to Arthur. “The armor has already been augmented to your DNA.”
“I suppose that means something?”
“Well, just watch,” Frank said, he pressed the armor piece against Arthur’s forearm. The limb merged into the armor piece, going through as if the piece were made of mush. The armor turned solid once the arm was completely inside.
Arthur’s eyes lit up.
“Remarkable,” he said. “But if the armor can be put on so easily, won’t I run the risk of losing pieces in battle?”
“It’s specifically coordinated to you. That includes brain patterns,” Frank said. “In other words, they won’t come off unless you want them to. And then they come off, either by the latch on the side or the way I just showed you.”
“Incredible,” Arthur said. “The things madness creates when you stop looking.”
“I have to admit,” Frank said. “I was a little disappointed. You picked a pretty basic contract. Just a suit. No henchmen. No fancy gadgets or weapons. No right-hand man…or woman.”
“Well as it goes, I’ve never had trouble recruiting my own henchmen and I don’t think I need a roster of fancy gadgets or weapons just yet,” he said. “As for a right-hand woman. Well, I may be a notorious supervillain, but I’m still married. And according to your rules, a basic contract will be easier to pay off. I plan to use this armor to begin my career again in some small capacity. I don’t want to drop dead before I can begin.”
“I understand,” Frank said.
“Along with the suit…I did ask for one more thing.”
“Oh, right,” Frank chuckled. He snapped his fingers. “I almost forgot. A little old-fashioned for my tastes, but it’ll get the job done.”
A pedestal rose from the ground. A small black box rested on top. Frank took it and handed it to Arthur.
“Thank you, Frank,” Arthur said. The box was smooth. Heavier than it seemed. Its lacquer finish glistened in the light. “And…I can set the frequency on this?”
“Sure can,” Frank said. “As you requested.”
“Wonderful,” Arthur said. “So what happens next in your little program?”
“Oculux puts you to work,” Frank said. “Once we get a sponsorship, we’ll set you up as a villain for some anti-whatever campaign.”
“How long will that be?” Arthur asked.
“How does tomorrow sound?”
Arthur peaked a brow.
“You kidding?” Frank said. “You’re a celebrity. Every superhero wants to be seen fighting the Mastermind. And every campaign wants to feature a villain as feared and respected as you.”
“So what’s the usual procedure?”
“Just come back here tomorrow morning. Get dressed. I’ll have the address of the shoot sent to you.”
“Perfect,” Arthur said.
“Try to go easy on them,” Frank said. “Remember. You’re supposed to lose.”
“I’ve been a villain for many years,” Arthur said. “I’m fairly adept at losing by now.”
The sun was just peaking over the horizon when Frank pulled into the parking lot of Empire University. A camera crew was already unpacking. The director was a skinny man with a grey beard and bright friendly eyes. He was wearing khaki shorts along with a red and orange Acapulco shirt. Looked like he just returned from vacation. He was talking to another man with snow white hair and glasses. The other man was in a grey tweed suit with brown elbow patches. A blue bowtie tied around his neck. Mastermind and the hero were supposed to play a chess game during the infomercial. They plan to have Mastermind lose in order to teach kids it’s better to use your brain for good and to stay in school. The hero’s victory will prove that even geniuses will lose if they use their mind for evil. The professor must’ve been the one who volunteered to coordinate the game. Make sure Mastermind lost.
Frank took out his phone.
“Good morning, Mr. Sonata,” October said in her usual chipper tone. “How can I help?”
“Hey! Good morning beautiful,” Frank said. “Listen, could you do me a favor and see if Mr. Warden has checked out his suit yet?”
“Is something wrong?” She asked
“Nah. I just want to make sure he hasn’t overslept,” Frank said.
“Right away Mr. Sonata.”
“Thanks. You’re an angel.”
A few moments passed.
“Alright,” October said. “Yes, records show Mr. Warden checked out the suit an hour ago.”
“Must’ve wanted to take it for a spin,” he said. “Give the early birds a little scare. Thanks October.”
“You’re very welcome, Mr. Sonata. Will that be all?”
“For now,” Frank said. “Thanks, October.”
“Oh, there’s one more thing you might find interesting,” October said.
“Mr. Warden charged the company account for an order from an unknown manufacturer.”
“That’s alright. He’s a V.I.P. member. He has unlimited credit with Oculux so long as we’re reimbursed.”
“I’m aware, sir,” October said. “I just thought I’d mention it to you since the amount was a considerable one.”
“What was the order?” Frank asked.
“Unknown,” she said. “But we do know a sizable package was delivered to Green Tower this morning.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Nothing,” Frank said. “Listen October, I’m sure it’s nothing. He’s probably planning to set up shop in his old base. I’ll talk to him after the PSA.”
“Well, I’ll talk to you later October.”
“I’ll be here if you need me,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “Bye-bye sweetie-pie.”
Frank hung up. He felt a soft gust of wind push against his back. He turned around. A tall man gracefully landed on the ground behind him. Tastefully muscled. Square jaw. Neatly groomed black hair with a spit curl hanging over his forehead. He was wearing a shiny red skintight outfit. White gloves and boots. A long white cape with a golden border hung from his shoulders. His chest was stamped with a big letter “I.”
“Mr. Impossible,” Frank said, smirking. The hero’s face was calm, but Frank could see a boiling anger in his eyes. The superhero folded his arms.
“Frank,” Impossible grumbled.
“No one mentioned they’d be sending you,” Frank said.
“That’s because they weren’t going to,” Impossible said. “They thought I’d be too busy.”
“Well I’m glad things changed,” Frank said with a shark’s grin. “I’m sure the public is going to love seeing two old enemies face each other again. Even if it’s just a false chess game.”
“Things didn’t change,” Impossible said. “I’m here because, after fifteen years off the map, the Mastermind comes back and the first thing he does is to do a public service announcement? The Mastermind doesn’t play small games, Frank.”
“Well, you know,” he said. “You’re outta the game for a while…everybody’s gotta start somewhere, right?”
Mr. Impossible grabbed Frank’s shirt. Pulled him in close.
“Listen here you little worm,” Impossible said. “Your PSA program is the only reason I put up with sniveling scum like you. That and until now Oculux has been too well protected. You have too much support. You fill the pockets of too many people.”
“Have our fingers in too many pies?” Frank asked. “That one’s my favorite simile. I like pie.”
Mr. Impossible snarled.
“But you re-equipped him,” he said. “He’s wearing your product. He’s an official Oculux employee. I wanted to be here because when the Mastermind finally reveals his master plan, I’m not just going to stop him…I’m going to bring Oculux crumbling down with him.”
“Well…you can sure go ahead and try,” Frank said. “Though, I hope you won’t be too disappointed if this PSA does go as planned.”
Mr. Impossible smirked. Nodded. He let go of Frank.
“Let’s just hope you’re right, Frank,” Impossible said. “Just answer one question for me.”
“Why do you think the Mastermind came to Oculux?”
“Well, I don’t have to tell you, big guy, that Oculux has many high profile clients,” Frank said. “I think the better question might be, why wouldn’t the Mastermind come to Oculux?”
“Oh, right,” Impossible said. “But here’s my concern. I know the Mastermind better than anyone else. The man only played underling twice in his life and he hated it so much he created the first stable team of supervillains ever recorded. From then on, he played leader. Aliens, mutants, psychopaths, sociopaths, scientific geniuses, tactical savants. He grounded them all beneath his heel. He made the impossible, possible. He made order from chaos. He walked right in and made a professional army from a quarreling rabble. Do you really think a man like that. A man who can turn a society upside down with just a few words in the right ears. You think a man like that would need Oculux to jump-start his career? You think a man like that would ever lash himself to a simple PSA? And if he never needed the PSA program…why do you think the Mastermind came to Oculux?”
Frank averted his eyes. He didn’t respond.
“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Impossible said. “I have to get ready.” He walked a few steps. “Oh and it’s a metaphor.”
Frank looked back at Mr. Impossible.
“What?” He asked
“The whole finger in the pie thing. It’s not a simile. It’s a metaphor,” Impossible said.
“Oh, right,” Frank said, forcing a smile. “Thanks.”
Mr. Impossible nodded and headed to make-up. Frank stood there. A few minutes passed in silence. His head shot up. Frank pulled out his phone. Dialed Arthur’s number. A recording of a woman answered.
“The number you have dialed cannot be reached-”
Frank ended the call and dialed October.
“Yes, Mr. Sonata?” She asked.
“October, I need your help.”
“Can you to locate Mr. Warden for me?”
“Sure. Give me a moment,” she said. “Okay, according to the satellite reading, Mr. Warden’s current location is…Green Tower.”
Frank closed his eyes, paused a moment, then opened them. He looked at his watch. Sighed.
“He’s not coming is he?”
“I really couldn’t say, sir.”
“Of course not,” Frank said.
“I’m sorry sir,” October said.
“No, no. It’s not your fault,” he said. “Look, if anyone asks where I am…tell them I’ll be at Gre-”
Suddenly the whole world fell silent. Passing traffic stopped in the street. The people got out of their cars. Every digital billboard had changed from the latest advertisement and to a live feed from the Mastermind. A close up of his horned green and purple helmet. Standing on top of Green Tower, his purple cape blowing in the wind. He took a breath and soon the voice of the most notorious villain who ever lived could be heard throughout the city. The equipment he used was old. His voice echoed at every pause and every echo distorted his voice more with each reverberation. Deeper and deeper. Almost demonic. Frank listened closely. All those years of listening to the Mastermind. All those sound bites and news clips. They all came rushing to the front of his mind. It was Arthur’s voice, but the Mastermind was talking. Speaking in that lifeless, calculating monotone the villain was known for.
Attention Empire City. This…is the Mastermind. I understand that…in the decades I’ve been gone, the world has become…a very busy place. But…if you can bear with me for a few moments, maybe some of you will understand…why you’re going to die.