Right. This is part one of a two part chapter about Randy the Tech. This is still a bit rough, but hopefully not too rough. Don’t worry, all of these stories go through an editor before being published. I just like to give away pretty much every chapter for free now before actually publishing.
Randy the Tech Tests Out A Mind Control Unit
“Hey, dude,” Washington said to me from his side of the doorway.
I looked over at my co-worker, a huge, scary, pipe-hittin’ brother who towered over me by a good six inches, and could snap me in half as if I were dry spaghetti. He looked distressed, yet his voice was casual, calm. Maybe he looked distressed. When he gets all crazy, his eyes get real big, and it makes me begin to shake inside because I start getting little movies playing in my head that feature Washington on a rampage, picking me up, and literally pile-driving me through the concrete floor like we were in a cartoon. But he didn’t look like enraged Washington. He looked like he might have had an accident in his fatigues.
The fact that he sounded casual and called me “dude” made me possibly more frightened of him. Washington didn’t talk much, but when he did, it always seemed like he was a drill instructor and you were some lowly piece of shit new recruit that just caused the entire platoon to lose out on a three day weekend where they’d all planned to hit Tijuana for some female company. I’d never heard him say a single casual thing to anyone but the Vils, and that was maybe three times in the eight years I’d known him. All three times, he looked like he was strategizing just how quickly he could kill everyone in the room and escape.
“What’s up, Washington?” I asked. “You all right?”
“I’m just fine, dude,” he said, but his face, especially his eyes, said he was anything but all right. “Check this out!”
He smiled, showing a double row of perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth, thanks to our CAS dental plans, then pretended to play a heavy metal guitar. Concerned is a word I might use to describe my state of mind if it were anyone else, but the guy head-banging less than six feet from me could probably kick the doors we were guarding hard enough to send them into another dimension. If he wasn’t in his right mind, India might not be far enough away to survive his punishment.
“Washington!” I hissed. He stopped yowling out a guitar solo that he was furiously pretending to play, a string of high pitched widdly-widdly-weeeew sort of noises, and looked over at me. “The cameras, dude. Come on, we’re on duty.”
I wasn’t worried one of the supervisors or security specialists would see him goofing around and come down hard on us both. I was worried that I didn’t know exactly what I was worried about, just that I was pretty damn worried that I was worried about how strangely he was acting.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, straightening up and standing at attention. “Sorry, bro.”
I looked over at him again, and he winked at me before pretending to put his pretend guitar back in a pretend case before shutting off his pretend wall of Marshall amplifiers.
“What the hell, Washington? You’re scaring the shit out of me.”
“Dude. Chill. It’s cool.”
I had to do a double take. Either I was hallucinating, or Washington was able to do a dead-on impression of Randy the Tech. Washington noticed me glancing a second time, and did a little Bill & Ted mini-solo on his pretend guitar. He must have pretend pulled it back out of its pretend case.
“I’m gonna go grab lunch early,” he said, and again he looked like he was trying to see who was in his mouth making it say things for him.
“Man, come on,” I said, getting upset, but not wanting to incur the wrath of my huge shift partner. “There has to be two of us, and I’ve got a spotless CDIS.”
The Contractor Disciplinary Information Scoresheet was what all of the Vils, the ones who had a brain, anyway, used as a screener for potential temps and new hires. The union reps and the A-List guys created a score sheet that gave you a certain number of points for each disciplinary infraction. Things like being late might get you a point or two if the employer filled out a formal complaint and showed up at the local union shop to have a mediated hearing with the employee in question and his union rep.
Things like unplugging the Compound Death Ray satellite uplink transmission cable during a live TV event where a Vil was demanding to be paid millions of dollars or he was going to destroy Dallas, that was worth a pretty severe number of points. Vils like Dr. Carbon specified to the HR departments the maximum number of allowed points a potential henchman could have for each position and still be eligible. The small stuff was a hassle, so there weren’t too many of us that had entries that were only worth a point or three.
The union rep that sat with the offending employee was usually the biggest car salesman or ambulance chasing attorney they could find. The type of guys that would argue the shit out of whether or not time was a fluid thing, that each of us belongs in our own universe, and only when those universes intersect does time take on any real meaning, and even then it’s a question of each party’s perception of time itself. You can imagine how fun that might be for an A- or B-List Vil who probably would rather be plotting how to boil the oceans into vapor unless he was given the entire state of Wyoming.
“Stop cryin’,” Washington said. “I told you, it’s cool. Randy will sub for me.”
Randy walked around the corner at that very moment and gave Washington a high-then-low five. Both of them did the Bill & Ted thing, both laughed, then clapped each other on the back. It was creeping me out. I felt like I was watching Bugs mirror-mime Elmer Fudd.
After Washington had rounded the corner Randy had just appeared from, I felt the sudden need to get at what felt like a big, crusty booger out of my nose. I stuck my finger in and dug around real good, not feeling it with my fingertip, but for some reason feeling it attached to the inside of my nose still. I started to get angry and began to really go to town, then stopped when Randy erupted into laughter.
“You… your… Mike!” he howled out broken sentences and words for almost a minute, unable to breathe, it seemed. I thought he might fall to the floor and start rolling around like he was having a seizure. “Dude! Mike! The look on your face, man.” He started giggling again.
“What the fuck, Randy?” I said, feeling a burning sensation in my left nostril where I had maybe attacked an imaginary nose ingot a little too zealously. “What the hell is going on?” If anyone was watching the security cameras, we were all in big trouble.
“Hey,” Randy said suddenly, as if he’d just had a great idea, “who’s roaming today? Let’s get them here to sub in so we can go do some… uh… work.”
“Come on, Mike. Use your comm to page a couple of roamers. I’ll tell them I need you for some lab work, and one of them can leave when Washington comes back.”
“What the hell did you do to him?” I asked, still not sure if I was hallucinating.
“Page your roamers and I’ll show you,” he said, giving me a sly grin.
I pressed him for more info, but he only stood at attention, staring straight ahead like a good door guard should. I sighed and pulled out my comm. I put an alert on the network for the two nearest roamers to come to my position and have two more from the “stables” to take up their roam. Their tracker told my comm they’d arrive in four minutes.
Top-end Vils, the A-Listers with money, power, connections, they were sticklers for protocol and security. At any given time, there were always six to ten “roamers” loose on the property. They were guys like me, and their job was to fill in at positions all over the compound, or lab, or fortress, or air palace, whatever, when one of us had to go to the bathroom, be at a meeting, anything that required us to no longer give one hundred percent of our attention to our assigned duty.
My assigned duty was to guard this particular doorway, and not let anyone in (or out) without a Class IX or higher security clearance. We were paid an excellent salary and a generous benefits package to be professionals, and if that meant standing at attention for an hour or two at a time for an entire shift until a roamer became available, then you willed your feet and legs (and back, and neck, and shoulders) to get used to it. The roamer thing was an idea that Insidious came up with. He’d complained loudly that Supes or the cops always showed up when one guard was taking a leak, or maybe at the snack machine down the hall.
I kept my thoughts to myself that went along the lines of even if the second henchman had been there, it wouldn’t stop a SWAT team any more than it would stop Hyperion or Big Mike or any other Supe that showed up. But rules are rules, and like I’d told Washington, my CDIS was absolutely spotless. I wanted to ask Randy a million questions, but I knew he’d just give me that weird grin of his (and maybe a Bill & Ted mini-solo?) while staring down the hallway like I was supposed to be doing.
When the roamers showed up, I instructed them on their duties and told them I didn’t know when we’d be back. Technically, I wasn’t their supervisor, but because of my seniority and status, I was like an unofficial shift boss. Randy piped up and added that Dr. Carbon needed us for some classified lab testing, and we’d probably not be back before the end of the shift. Instead of giving us suspicious stares like a good henchman was supposed to do when on duty, the two roamers gave me what I could have sworn were jealous glares. They probably thought because I’d been around longer than almost any henchman that I got all the cool, secret perks. The look on the younger one’s face told me he suspected that Randy and I were going to go find us a gaggle of easy girls to party with in the executive lounge.
After logging them to the network, Randy and I started off on whatever adventure he was leading me to. I pestered him all the way out of the building and into the parking lot, but he said nothing and kept walking beyond the parking lot and into the Sonoran Desert that surrounded us on all sides for as far as the eye could see. Ten minutes later, he stopped, looked around, then up into the sky, then back at me with a grin so big it might stretch all the way around to the back of his head.
“I’ve checked the security systems, and this little two hundred square foot area is one of the only blind spots that isn’t covered by some kind of camera or microphone,” he said, answering my unasked question. He leaned forward, as if he was still being careful just in case his intel was wrong, and showed me a small device that was about as big as a mobile comm. “Dude, this is a working prototype of the XR-2 Shortwave Mind Control Unit.”
Let me tell you a little about Randall Johnson. Randy the Tech is a kid in his mid-thirties, a video game addict, a chocolate milk addict (and it has to be the expensive, whole milk stuff, and it has to be so cold as to almost be frozen), which he used to wash down his addiction to those long, thin little packages of heavily salted peanuts. I asked him once how the hell he could stand to munch on salted peanuts and then take headache-inducing swigs of icy, thick, chocolate milk. He told me to not knock something before I’d tried it, so I gave it a shot. After I was done gagging from the weird combination of flavors and sensations, I asked him again how the hell he could stand to mix the two.
Randy got recruited right out of high school, before he even graduated. The Vils and the Supes both vied for his genius, his mechanical and technological expertise, and most of all, his weirdly imaginative, inventive ideas. He’d made national headlines when he was thirteen and built a prototype matter transmitter, scaring the daylights out of his junior high school peers and teachers by teleporting his best friend about twelve feet across the stage at the talent show.
The uproar brought the media and law enforcement attention, and then, of course, the military and the superheroes / supervillains showed up. Rumor has it that Randy teleported himself away from danger somehow, then destroyed the device before showing up at the police station down the block from his house. He’d told me once that all of the computers, notes, and components he’d used to design and build the teleporter had been gathered up into a big pile, then transmitted about five hundred miles below the planet’s crust.
The goons with badges and the goons with medals pinned to their chests kept him locked up until his fourteenth birthday, but with only a grainy mobile phone video of the actual event, even though it was backed up by almost a thousand witnesses, there was no actual evidence that a matter transmitter had ever existed. They knew the truth, the same as everyone who’d seen it happen, but publicly, they chalked it up to both a hoax and a dirty HVAC system that had malfunctioned and created a hazy cloud in the auditorium during the talent show. No one bought the story, but the Feds, they stuck to it and refused to talk about it anymore. However, they talked to young Randall Johnson for about twelve hours every day for seven months in a concrete box that was only nine square meters.
From there, after gaining a huge following on social media, and because of his odd yet charming personality (he kept a following of the real media for a few years as well), he continued to wow the scientific (and internet) world with his ability to create incredible objects and devices and machines and software programs out of household items in the span of a day or two.
He invented things that billion dollar research teams that had been working for decades on and hadn’t solved yet. That insanely fast wireless network that covers just about the entire globe? That’s a Randall Johnson patent, and every time a company builds a device that uses the technology, he gets a nice little licensing fee. That was when he was fifteen. At sixteen, he dropped out of high school and went to work for Enjii, as a kind of apprentice.
It soon became apparent that the student was really the master, and the two had some kind of falling out. While it was bad form to swoop in and feed on the scraps, the other Vils (and even a few Supes) got into some heated exchanges over who was going to hire the boy wonder next. Insidious stepped in and offered Randy something he couldn’t refuse, and that ended that (though there’s a lot of bad blood between Insidious and Dr. Genius because of this, which only adds to the bad blood from one being the leader of the superheroes and the other being the leader of the supervillains). No one knows what Insidious promised him, and Randy has never revealed that juicy bit of information that is the subject of many rumors.
What he did tell me though, was the reason he chose to work for a Vil instead of a Supe. The Supes, especially after they felt they had another shot at him when the rift happened with Enjii, they tried every trick in the book. He claims they even offered him a billion dollars in cash, tax-free, and had a sitting senator and the head of the IRS at the meeting to guarantee the terms. What they couldn’t offer him was the freedom to do as he pleased, to invent or design or work on anything he wanted, without restriction.
The Supes, of course, balked at this. They were wary of him somehow inventing a black hole that could suck up the entire universe, or maybe a bioweapon that killed everyone but him and a bunch of college girls who worked at the local Wing Shax. The Supes, they sometimes have weird ideas about what is and isn’t morally acceptable, though like most normal humans, they know morality is a fluid, ever-changing thing. You’d never kill a man for stealing a hot dog from a cart vendor ten feet in front of you, but you might feel differently if that same man was rushing at you in a dark hallway in your home at three in the morning, knife or gun in his hand.
The Vils, while not actually truly evil (I’d consider them to be something along the lines of Chaotic Neutral, or maybe a bit Incompetently Evil), have no such compunctions when it comes to free will. Or capitalism. Or survival of the fittest. Social or environmental Darwinism. There’s a lot of labels that can be attached to the differing philosophies and morals of the various Vils, but they all sort of boil down to do what makes you feel good. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea.
What makes Randy the Tech feel good is to sit in his underground, fully stocked lab, and make things. He has an unlimited credit account, a security clearance that is above everyone else except for Insidious, Dr. Carbon, and a few other bigshots, and no restrictions. Other than the common sense stuff, like don’t blow up the earth, don’t unleash a zombie plague, stuff like that.
If the Supes had just sat down and talked to Randy, took time to get to know him, they’d have learned that his need to be free of rules and committees and guidelines had nothing to do with him wanting to rule the world, destroy the world, nothing apocalyptic like that. He chafed under anyone’s thumb, yet he deferred to the Vils like a good lab dog should (however, he was never afraid to put one of them in their place when they questioned his genius or one of his inventions). As long as they left him alone, kept his equipment on the cutting edge, and let him have free run of almost all Vil outposts, fortresses, or palaces, he pumped out useful technology that he then adapted and mass produced in the form of innovative and powerful gadgets, devices, units, machines, programs, systems, and anything else the shit he came up with that didn’t fit into a pre-defined category.
Randy and I first crossed paths about six years ago, when he was still unable to grow facial hair at the tender age of eighteen. He took an immediate liking to me for some reason. He says it’s because I’m older, wiser, and not full of lies and tall tales about all the exploits that I imagined myself having just to sound important to anyone I was near. I took an immediate liking to him after hearing him say that, even if it’s a big bag of feces. I am older, I’ll grant him that, and I have no reason to brag about any of the experiences I’ve had as a henchman, but wiser? I wrote it off as the kid being wet behind the ears and needing a father figure.
Of course, he took a liking to Dave as well, and we were the first two he sought out whenever he had something new that he just had to show us. I was already impressed by his genius, considering almost all of the Vil hardware like security systems, stun rifles, hoverjets, anti-ballistic missile defense systems, networks, apps for the various tablets and comms that everyone used nowdays… Pretty much any Vil that you ran into that didn’t have a supernatural ability, the Vil types that ran on pure tech alone, ninety percent or more of their tech and equipment came out of Randy the Tech’s unfathomably brilliant mind.
“What the hell is that?” I asked, starting to sweat as the sun tried to murder my black fatigues with UV rays.
“I just told you. It’s a mind control device.” He grinned at me, sweat beginning to break out on his forehead.
“Dude. You saw what I did to Washington.” He laughed, probably replaying it in his mind. I wasn’t laughing.
“Washington is gonna be pissed when he finds out what you did,” I said. “I don’t think you want that guy on your bad side, even if you have powered exoskeletal combat armor and dual repeating plasma cannons.”
He laughed even harder. “Mike, stop worrying about it. I put it in his mind that Gerrod is somehow responsible for whatever I did to him.”
I had to laugh at this. “That’s cold as ice, Randy.”
Gerrod Mayfield was a henchman that no one liked. Okay, maybe someone liked him, but in the decade I’d had to work with the prick, I hadn’t met anyone that liked him for even a moment. He the kind of know-it-all, blowhard, braggart who never shut the fuck up until he’d regaled you with as many bullshit lies as he could fit into a single story about how great he was, usually one that he’d just made up on the spot. Yeah, you can sense my love for the guy. I couldn’t imagine the love Washington was going to show him.
“Okay,” I conceded, deciding to stop being a sissy and start fooling around with this new toy. “How does it work?”
“It only works at short range, say a hundred yards of clear line of sight. If no LoS, then the range is about twenty meters, but it’s variable. Depends on any objects in the way, how solid they are, if there’s a heavy magnetic field nearby, and a bunch of really super-technical stuff that would put you to sleep after it initially scared you enough to drop a deuce in your uniform.”
He was right about that. One time, he’d been showing Dave and I a successor to his matter transmission device from his teenage years, and we’d asked him for more detail about the thing. He told us that if the calculations failed, or the device couldn’t sync with reality all the way down to the very smallest units of time, it might create another Big Bang, and it would take another four billion years or so before humans would be standing around having conversations about matter transmission devices.
When Dave asked him how he’d solved the problem of the device never failing, Randy had laughed for a good two minutes before telling us he actually expected it to fail every time he used it. It was made with bits bought at Lowe’s and Amazon.com, after all. Then he launched into a fifteen minute explanation of time, space, dimensions, quantum efficiency, and all kinds of other geeky subjects that sounded like he was talking in Hindi to us.
“So, what do you have to do to make people do things?” I asked.
My brain started thinking about how to have some fun with the unit for the few hours we’d get to fool around before it had to be returned. Randy had a lot of freedom, but goofing off with henchmen while joyriding in a stealth hoverjet, controlling human minds, whatever it was we did when he came around… the bosses, especially Insidious, weren’t very tolerant of that sort of thing.
“Right. So you put this near your temple,” he said, peeling something invisible from his temple and sticking it to mine. “Flesh colored, so you don’t look like a modern Frankenstein with capacitors coming out of your head. Okay, take the controller unit, and make sure your thumb is always on this smooth glassy surface when you’re wanting to jump into someone’s head.”
He placed my thumb over the area and pressed down on it. I felt a jolt throughout my body, and then a strangely distant vibration coming through the unit into my thumb. I looked at Randy and gave him a thumbs-up with my other hand.
“All you have to do is focus your eyes on someone, and a little target reticule should appear in your vision if you concentrate on wanting to get inside their head.” I stared at him, willing myself to jump inside his brain so I could make him pick his own nose hard enough to make it bleed. He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. “Yeah, except I have another very important item stuck to my other temple, one that keeps that thing from being used on me.”
I showed him my middle finger, getting another laugh. We started walking back to the complex, my mind whirling with exactly what I might do for the next few hours. I knew it was going to be one of the rare times being a henchman was completely, truly, absolutely enjoyable. We’d planned on bailing from work, citing the need to head to Arachnor’s lair up in hills around Phoenix to do some lab experiments.
The enjoyable part, and maybe I was a bit jaded by this time in my career, would be that no broken bones, bloody noses, jail intakes, courtrooms, or any number of other scenarios that involved me getting my ass kicked or arrested, would be happening today. Randy and his tech were always a lot of fun, even when we almost got in a lot of trouble, which was every time we did this kind of stuff.
I began to go through the little list I’d made in my mind. I could go to any bank, talk to a teller, then to the branch manager, even a CEO if he was within a hundred meters or more, and have a cashier’s check for every dime in the vault without doing anything more than asking politely. I could tell people to jump off a building, but that was a little darker than my mind was used to. I might be a henchman, but I’m not a killer, and I’m not a big fan of evil, whatever it might be. With the power to control someone’s mind though… weird thoughts were flitting through my head for the six minute flight to Phoenix in one of the stealth hoverjets.
“What do you want to do first?” I asked, letting Randy know to take the lead. I’d never had a mind control device before, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I had a sudden thought before he answered. “Is it like… painful, or invasive or anything?” I asked, my own internal moral thermometer edging into too hot, maybe.
“Nah, it’s not painful, and the person, unless you use the control link to let them know what you’re doing, they don’t have any idea what’s going on. If you get in a dude’s head and make him think he’s hungry for a cheeseburger, he’s going to think he’s hungry for a cheeseburger, not that someone is messing around in his head making him hungry for a cheeseburger.”
“Okay,” I said, sitting back in the gel-foam seats, able to relax knowing that I could have some fun without hurting anyone.
“Hey, check this out,” he said, looking over from the pilot’s seat. He pulled a second control unit from one of his pockets, held it up, then winked at me. “We can have some real fun.”
He started laughing, which got me chuckling, even though I had no clue what he meant. Randy’s laugh was just one of those unique, geeky, almost uncomfortable laughs until you got to know him. Once you got used to it, just the sound of it could get an entire room laughing without even knowing what they were laughing about. I’d once asked him if he hadn’t developed a weird, humorous kind of superpower. He’d only laughed then, and just like now, it had gotten me laughing as well.
“What kind of fun?” I asked, trying to piece together how two units might be interesting.
He pulled out a microrecorder, one of the high-definition ones that could do about four hours of high quality video before it needed to have its memory unit swapped. His grin was even larger than it had been earlier.
“I thought we’d maybe walk around some place like the mall and make people have weird conversations with each other,” he said.
“Go on…” I said, a grin spreading across my face as I pictured us messing with people like a weird puppet show that had been dubbed in bad English.
“Hell, we could even do one of those old-timey snake oil salesmen things. I can have my guy stand in the middle of Heritage Square and pretend to have the cure for all human ills, and your guy can be the shill in the crowd that pretends to be just an ordinary citizen that the cures work on.”
“Did you get high and watch Pete’s Dragon or something?” I asked, laughing at the idea he was proposing.
“I’m just saying. I’ve messed around with the thing a little, but never in tandem with someone else. It’s a good way to test it out. What if Insidious and Dr. Carbon both have one and there’s some kind of weird issue if two are being used too near each other, the subjects go into a homicidal rage and tear each other apart?”
“And so it’s better to maybe have two teenage girls at the mall suddenly begin murdering each other like wild badgers?” I asked, wondering if he’d maybe smoked a little before showing up to my post and making Washington act strange.
“That’s the great thing,” he said, giving me his goofy grin again. “It’s not like teenage girls haven’t gone all crazy on each other before, and it isn’t like they haven’t done it at the mall food court a few times and made the local news.”
It took me a few seconds before I decided he was just being funny. I hoped. I wanted to have a good time, not go home in shock because someone I’d been controlling did something horrific. I made myself promise that I’d not think of anything ugly while I was goofing off. I didn’t want someone to run head-first through a plate glass storefront window because I accidentally wondered what it would look like from a few feet away (and from the person’s own vision, according to Randy).
“I’m just messing with you, Mike,” he said. He turned to his HUD and began to go through the landing checklist as we neared one of the League’s private compounds on the outskirts of the city.
Normally landing a hoverjet in the middle of a suburban neighborhood would cause a big ruckus, but these Randy-designed stealth versions were not only almost invisible because of the Active-Cham (chameleon) digital surfaces, but also because the thing was no louder than an electric car from more than a few feet away. I guess Randy and the Vils got tired of Hyperion always intercepting their hoverjets, or showing up minutes after one landed in town. Now the upper ranks could travel relatively unobstructed around the country, and from what I’d heard, the Supes were none too happy about it.
“Come on,” he said as the hoverjet touched down on the concrete pad behind a huge brick mansion, “let’s go have a few laughs. Being a henchman is boring if that’s what you do all day.” He was referring to my mindless job of guarding a door to a room that I’d never seen the inside of. I didn’t even know what I was guarding, or why, other than it was what I was getting paid to do.
“Not all of us can invent mind control devices and
teleportation nodes,” I said, and began to unbuckle the safety harness.
Randy the Tech #1B should be up tomorrow (4/16 or 4/17). Stay tuned!