William N. Furnace sat down with a grunt. "I hate this. Why the Hell didn't you ever kill me?"
"Eh!" Ernie turned his wheelchair to face him. "Who'd have ever thought we'd get old."
"Everybody but us. At least when I got old and hauled my ass into obscurity no one tried to drag me back out. Heh. I'd have gone ballistic over all the wailing and hand wringing your retirement evoked." Will thumped his cane on the floor. "I'd have kicked their asses."
Ernie snorted. "Ha! By then even normals could have taken you down. But yeah, it was irritatin' to have them begging me to save them from this and that barely enhanced bad guy. They don't make them like you, any more."
"Well, that's because 'they' all died in that unfortunate fire of their main laboratories." Will shrugged. "I suppose I ought to have let all the kids burn too, but I never developed your over-active cold-blooded morals."
"You have to take the long view. No telling what those genetically enhanced kids might do. They were dangerous. Still are, the ones that are still alive."
"Oh, right. Like the government labs you came out of weren't playing with fire. Although they did have sense enough to stop at one super kid. The Corporation just dialed their program down, once they realized they couldn't control me." Will snickered. "The fools! They shouldn't have been so brutal in their panic. They gave me not the slightest reason to be loyal to them, and unwittingly taught me by example."
"Oh, spare me the 'abused child' shtick. After three hundred years you should be over it." Ernie grinned suddenly. "Although they never did potty train you, did they. I mean, look at you. Still in diapers."
Will glowered. "Don't think I haven't noticed you shuffling for the bathroom every half hour. Maybe you ought to rename yourself Prostate Man."
"Cute. Mr. Hyperactive Bowel. I'm not gonna be the poster gramps for Depends."
"No! Not that I've had the opportunity to demonstrate my virility anytime lately, darn it."
"Three hundred and forty-two years old and you still don't swear like a man?"
"Watch who you insult, Buddy. I'm not afraid of your orthopedic cane!" Ernie eyed his old arch enemy. "I didn't realize you were the one who burned down The Corporation. Everyone figured one of their experiments blew up."
Will thumped his cane an couple more times. "Well, yeah. One of them did. And I'm it. Did you like the way Mr. Big's body was cowering in the closet? And Dr. Dreary's was laid out as if she gave her life to save the kids?"
"Well, that was actually before my time. I never bothered with the detailed reports. I was just trying to trace the children."
"Adopted, most of them, and perfectly normal." Will waved away his retort. "Oh, strong, healthy and smart, but still within the ninety-ninth percentile on the normal scale. You and I? Totally off the scale. Then. Now we're just old men. Even if it's taking us longer than most to slide downhill."
"True, that. But those kids, and their kids and grandkids, have been the cause of a lot of problems. You just can't trust a brilliant scientist to not have to test his latest invention."
"Or her latest invention! Don't forget . . . Oh Hell. What was her name?"
"Lady Fang. Damn, she was gorgeous!"
"Yeah. Little Fanny. She was a cute kid, probably one of the main reasons I got the kids out before I burned the place down. Well, that and she was likely to cause problems in the future. Didn't spend much time thinking about it being the right thing to do. I was pretty full of hate, in those days"
"So I heard." Ernie sighed. "The problem with living three times as long as anyone else is that puberty lasts three times as long too. It was hell. Thank God I had some good influences to steer me right."
"Turned you into a sanctimonious prick. And you never outgrew it."
"Did too. I'll bet I lost my virginity before you did!"
"Bet I've had more lovers than you've had kisses!"
"But I can remember mine."
"Oww! Point, Ernest Man."
"Don't call me that. How the heck did I ever wind up in the same retirement village as you?"
"They took cash, their computers were easy to hack, so we could pretend to be seventy instead of three hundred and something, and they do once a month road trips to Vegas?"
Ernie sniffed. "Yeah, well. So . . . what do you think about this new rejuve thing they keep talking about?"
"Yeah, all promise no put out. Just like a woman."
"Thought you couldn't remember . . . oh, never mind. I don't think I'd try it, though. I think the world has had enough of us. The few genes out there? They'll just get swamped by the ocean of normal genes. Doubt there will ever be another superhero or super villain."
"Yeah. No one will ever be a great as I was." Will grinned. "Those were the days."
"Ha! Your attempts to take over the world were pathetic."
"They weren't pathetic. And I wasn't trying to take over the world. I was focusing attention on specific areas that really needed help."
"Oh, come on! Why would I base my evil empire in Tehran, unless I wanted to stop a nuclear war in the Middle East? Eh?"
"But we bombed their silos . . . "
"After all the soldiers had been recalled to deal with me. You didn't hardly kill anyone, the missiles and the warheads were destroyed. The Mullah's credibility was destroyed and the people rebelled, and demanded a democratic government."
"Pure luck. You are taking credit for pure luck, and trying to excuse your utter failure."
"Oh no, I own up to the utter failures. My first ever secret base . . . damn it all, I was sure that volcano was extinct."
"Yeah, laugh it up. How's that Artic base of yours doing now, eh?"
"I should never have believed those scientists about global warming. That mountain ought to have become an island in the arctic ocean when the ice caps melted. Sheesh. Last time I was up there, I had to tunnel through twenty feet of compacted snow to get to the door. I think it's all turning into a glacier."
"That's kinda cool. Secret base under the arctic ice cap." Will smirked. "Unless it all starts heading downhill. Crunch, crunch."
"Bah. I'm going to go sign up for the Vegas trip. You coming?"
"Of course. Ogle the showgirls and laugh when you lose money. What's not to like?" Will, once Doctor Inferno, and before that, prototype W-45, levered himself out of his seat, and limped over to one of the common room computers and checked that he had indeed already signed up for the Vegas trip. Maybe someday I'll remember these days, and forget the early stuff.
Or maybe I'll look into this new rejuve stuff. If I remember three days from now.
The dancers were prettier than ever, and Will got enough of the skimpy-sized watered-down senior drinks to get buzzed. Enough to get fresh with the lady he met on the street between casinos. Buzzed enough to let her take him "somewhere private."
Fifty years ago, he would have sneered at her.
Forty years ago, he might have been tempted.
Thirty years ago it would have taken twice as much alcohol to get a buzz.
Twenty years ago it would have taken twice the dose of knockout drops to slow him down.
Ten years ago the knockout drops might have actually worked.
Tonight they worked.
He blinked and focused on the peeling paint of a waterstained ceiling.
Someone was cussing. Something about bloody weird credit cards . . . He was sort of woozily amused. He carried some of those himself. Made them . . . ages ago. I wonder where they got theirs? He looked around dingy officey looking place. Cheap battered furniture, massive electronics on the desk and floor. Pretty girl . . . well, she was younger than he was, they'd had a drink . . . and walked to the next casino . . . no wait, she'd said something about privacy . . . Then nothing.
Knock out drops? He sat up indignantly. "Knockout drops? I've gotten so senile I can fall for a doped drink? Bloody damn hell. I hate getting old."
The woman spun around. "Damn, you used up half my bottle, getting you out. Why are you awake?"
"Cause I'm a mean old cuss. And my credit cards won't do you a lick of good." He scowled at the man, who'd spun around the computer filled desk. And back at the woman. She didn't look nearly so good in normal lighting. He frowned at them. "Now you're pretty easy to classify, but your boyfriend looks more like a computer nerd than a pimp."
Double glare. "That's my brother. He's a BRILLIANT scientist, he just needs money for his experiments."
The man nodded. "The FDA testing protocols are damn near impossible for an individual. And when I was with the university, they wanted the patents in their name. Corporations wouldn't be any different. It's not fair!"
Will rubbed his eyes. If the woman looked older on sober inspection, the man looked younger. "FDA? Federal Drug Administration? You working on the next generation of antibiotic, or are you going for some genetic thing?"
"Genetic engineering is illegal."
Oh yeah. Because of the monsters The Corporation created. Like, well, me.
"I'm looking at age extension therapies. Telomerase, mitochondrial replication, and stimulating in vivo stem cell reversion."
"In vivo . . . " He boggled a bit. Medicine and biology aren't my fields. I'm more into doomsday machines of the explosive variety. But that doesn't sound too bad. "How far have you gotten?"
"Well the animals that survive are doing great."
"The ones that survive? What percent survive?"
"Twenty . . . almost."
"Umm, that's not real good." I lurched to my feet. "Show me."
"Why, so you can tell the police?"
"Police? ME! Go to the police!" Will, previously known as Doctor Inferno, looked around, but couldn't find his cane to shake at the brat. "Sonny, you don't know who you're dealing with. And I'm not so senile that I'd tell you. Anyhow, I have a soft spot for a mad scientist. World needs more of them."
The front office might be shabby, but the back would make any mad scientist proud.
There were Blinking red and blue lights on anonymous equipment, and test tubes and beakers. Cages of animals with beady eyes. Refrigerators and little brown bottles . . .
"Don't mix those up, I need to keep them straight, which animals get which version." The boy was trying hard to look tough and mean.
I grinned. "Is this where you say 'We'll have to kill you' with a mad cackle?" The former evil super villain straightened his stiff back as far as it would go and felt every one of his three hundred and eighty-nine years.
"Errr . . . "
"The proper mad scientist thing to do is use me for an experiment. Where's your latest stuff?"
Will followed the direction of his gaze.
"It's not so much that it's new as that I think I've got it all together in a single intravenous injection. But . . . "
I must still be drunk. Or under the influence of the knockout drugs.
He made them give him a massive dose.
The boy's shoulders slumped.
"Don't sweat it." Will told him. "Now, let's just see about getting you some funds to keep up the work, and add in making it effective in humans." Actually, he was feeling a bit feverish, and he had a nasty feeling this hadn't been one of his brighter ideas. But he used the proper codes on his credit card and transferred a chunk of change to the kids before the woman drove him back to the strip.
It was almost dawn. And he really didn't feel good. He hit a few slots, the bathroom as his guts objected to . . . well, hopefully just the booze and drugs. I don't feel like I'm dying or anything, just feverish. Maybe I needed hydration. He got one of those huge fruity things from the bar, and sat down to lose money at a dollar slot machine.
Not that he wanted to gamble, but they did expect you to spend your money when you sat down. Will looked at his watch. Three hours before the bus pulled out.
Usually I'd be thinking about getting some breakfast about now . . . and at the thought his stomach growled, and he started salivating. He finished the fruity thing, and set off in search of protein.
He ate three breakfasts, pooped like you wouldn't believe, put on his last depends, bought snacks for the trip back to the home, and found the bus. He was early, but not the first. Two old gals were snoring, and Will decided that was a great idea and made himself comfy.
Woke up in a rather clinical looking room.
Lights dim, soft music.
Ernie was sound asleep in his wheelchair, beside the bed.
Will propped himself up and frowned. "What the Hell?" Recognition hit. "Oh, crap, this is the dying room."
Ernie snorted and jerked awake. "Heh! I ought to have known you weren't about to actually die. But you sure had the head nurse checking to see if you had a DNR." He reached and pushed a button.
The night nurse shuffled in, tired and drooping, trying to look sympathetic . . . Mouth dropping open. "Mr. Furnace! Oh, you looked so awful . . . and you were so unresponsive, and . . . Oh. I'll call the doctor . . ."
"First, lower the side of this bed, I hate these damned cages . . ."
"Oh, certainly. Let me help you . . ."
She dropped the bars and grabbed his arm as he swivled and got his feet down. And stood up. And it didn't hurt. Oh, a little stiff . . . he rotated his shoulders and walked over to the little bathroom . . . with no problem. Other than the nurse not letting him close the door so he could get a good look at himself in the mirror.
And then when he insisted on going back to his room, she insisted on a wheelchair . . . And latching his door open. Fussed when he wanted to sit at the table by the window . . .
Earnie, on the other hand, stayed.
"So . . . what happened?"
"A pretty girl with knockout drops. She got pretty pissed when they didn't work. I was a bit woozy, so I got on the bus to sleep it off."
Earnie started laughing, wound up coughing.
"Don't make me call the nurse for you." Will walked over to his mini kitchen--more of a wetbar with barely enough counter space for his electric tea kettle than a real kitchen--and fetched a glass of water.