“Blackout, I presume.”
Blackout leered skeptically at the receiver, then put it back to his ear.
“I’m not one for long explanations,” the voice said in a calm cadence, “so please call your associates Terriferno and C.K.” A pause flushed through dusty static. “This is Prescryptor. We have business to discuss.”
A thousand tiny bells rang in Blackout’s mind, like hearing Santa’s sleigh. He filled his lungs with air and began to bellow into the kitchen, “Yo, Fe—”
“Please!” slashed Prescryptor. “No loud noises. I have a tearing headache.”
It was looking like the most famous psychic in Upville was actually kind of a dick. Nonetheless, Fern covered the receiver and walked the handset to the kitchen, where Fern was rummaging through the fridge, searching for the ingredients for a rice pilaf recipe C.K. had found on the internet.
Blackout whispered urgently, “Prescryptor is on the phone!”
“Who doesn’t have chicken stock in their fridge?” Fern said.
“Who?” asked C.K.
“Chicken stock,” repeated an annoyed Fern. “The most basic cooking essential ever.”
Blackout locked eyes with C.K., “Prescryptor!”
“Wait, what?!” said C.K., soon swiping his fingers across his tablet to try and confirm the unbelievable.
“How many times do I have to say it!” shouted Fern, finally pulling his head out of the fridge. “Chicken stock!!”
“He said don’t yell!” screamed Blackout.
Fern scrunched his eyebrows together and glanced around the kitchen, “Is anyone even listening?”
“You’re the only one that’s not listening!” Blackout retorted.
“I should talk to him,” C.K. said, grasping for the phone.
“What does this have to do with dinner?”
Blackout held the phone out of reach of C.K., eyes begging Fern, “Would you pay attention for two damn seconds!!”
C.K. and Blackout stopped their quarrel for an instant and joined their voices together, pointing at the phone, “Prescryptor!!!”
Fern was stunned.
There was no way. Prescryptor? On the phone? Now? He jumped towards Blackout and C.K., causing even more of a tussle over who would be the first to exchange words with a real Super Hero.
Then they heard a faint mumbling emanating from the earpiece. Everyone leaned in, pressing their faces together.
“Speakerphone!!!” the voice exclaimed.
Immediately Blackout found the button, and they unglued their faces from each other, now waiting in heavy silence.
“I told you I have a headache,” Prescryptor stated, recognizably perturbed.
Blackout jutted a finger in Fern’s direction several times in rapid succession.
C.K. was recording the entire thing, matching the voice to video clips of Prescryptor to confirm his identity; it checked out.
Prescryptor sighed, “Is everyone present, then?”
“We’re all here,” said Fern in a deeper voice than usual, attempting to feign confidence. Although he knew that wouldn’t work too well, seeing as how Prescryptor could read minds.
“We’ve reviewed your last—‘heist’—as you call it,” said Prescryptor, presumably rolling his eyes at the word choice. “And we’re interested in bringing your team into a minor, temporary role with the Axis of Adversaries to gauge the public’s reaction.”
Everyone on Fern’s side of the phone had their mouths gaping open. Axis of Adversaries was Super Villain territory. Endorsements, product lines, dedicated news coverage—everything. You didn’t just break into the AxAds; you had to get invited. Or, thought Fern, you got erased. They didn’t like people encroaching on their business.
“I take that to mean you’ve accepted the offer,” Prescryptor said.
Blackout jumped in this time, “We’ll have to talk to our agent about it.” He winked at Fern and C.K.
A low laugh rumbled through the receiver, “Sure you do.”
Fern slapped Blackout on the back of the head. You had better be damn well prepared if you were going to lie to a psychic.
“We’ll give you our response after we have more details on the situation,” said C.K. in a cool tone.
“Our associate will be in contact with you shortly, then.”
C.K. nodded at Fern and Blackout, “Looking forward to it.”
Then the call cut off. Fern guessed it made sense that real heroes weren’t much for long goodbyes. As soon as Blackout hung up on their end, before anyone had a chance to say anything or leap in excitement, the phone, almost on cue, rang again.
Fern snatched the handset from Blackout, let it ring once more, and then picked up.
“Oh, hey Fern,” said an uncomfortably familiar voice through an enigmatic crunching sound. “The other guys there with you?”
“They are, actually,” he said, switching the call to speaker phone. A creaky silence overtook the room as imaginations raced over the possibilities of their new contact. Was this the associate Prescryptor was talking about?
“May I ask who’s speaking?” Fern tentatively inquired.
“Sorry,” said the voice, followed by an audible swallow. “It’s Al. You know, Al-Chemy.” He took a swig of Hero Zero Soda. “You can just call me Al now, though. We can save the hero/villain gig for later.”
It must have looked like a familiar ghost was crawling through the ceiling the way everyone’s eyes rolled.
Blackout was the first to respond, “What the hell, Al?”
“Is this a bad time or something?”
“We’re waiting for a call from the Axis of Adversaries, if you don’t mind,” he explained, wanting to end the conversation as quickly as it had started.
“Oh,” more crunching sounds, “that’s probably me, huh.”
Disbelief fell upon the kitchen so hard it bobbled Fern’s head.
“I’m sorry,” C.K. said. “But that makes absolutely no sense.”
“What?” a hurt Al countered. “Is it so hard to believe Prescryptor and I have a business agreement?”
They let silence scream their assent.
“Fine,” he replied after a few seconds, “if you must know I’ve known Prescryptor for several months, now.” He took a moment to choose his words carefully, so as not to give away too much. “Let’s say that he has needs that I service and leave it at that.”
Blackout pushed his bottom jaw forward, “That kind of makes it sound like you’re a prostitute, bruh.”
“We’re going to have to ask for some clarification,” joined C.K. “Unless, you know, you’re legitimately Prescryptor’s prostitute, in which case we can continue the conversation from there…”
“For your information,” the crunching sounds stopped as Al got serious, “at my old job I was researching new formulas for migraine medications. And Prescyrptor found me,” he boasted. “I needed a new gig. He needed new meds. We have an agreement, like I said before.”
Fern and Blackout looked to C.K. for confirmation, who focused on his tablet. “It does seem like Prescryptor has a history of severe migraines,” he nodded.
“So much distrust,” Al said disheartened. “Anyway, I was calling you about our next venture.”
“With the AxAds?” said Blackout.
“You got it,” Al said after another sip of his Hero Zero.
Fern sighed. They were going to have to play along on this one. “What’s the plan?”
“Okay,” said Al, leaning up in his creaky swivel chair. “Apparently the city wants to build a new pound. The old one is getting a lot of complaints about sanitation and facilities for the animals. But, they can’t spare the funds to secure a new plot of land, meaning—”
“The public couldn’t stomach the excuse, ‘All dogs go to heaven’ when the animal rights groups start protesting the euthanasia of their charges,” C.K. inferred.
“Bad PR—pictures of sad puppies, kids crying, the whole thing,” said Al.
Fern spoke flatly, “We’re gonna blow it up, then?”
“Only part of it,” Al answered. “Then Yellow Bolt is supposed to come in and do the hero thing after me and another new guy get beaten back by the villains.”
“Us,” Blackout said.
“I don’t do animal violence,” C.K. stated. “You’ll have to find someone else.”
“I’m sure they’ll evacuate at the last minute,” Al assured him. “This is all going to get pretty immediate coverage. The public doesn’t want to see that, either,” he agreed. “Really this is more of a stunt to get some new faces in the airwaves and boost Yellow Bolt’s numbers with children. Apparently they’ve got a new merchandising plan.”
Well, that made sense, Fern thought. By the way Blackout and C.K. were nodding, they were of the same impression.
“So, you guys get there first, start causing trouble, setting fire to things, you know the drill.” Al crunched down on his snack food as if he were watching a good movie.
Blackout stared at Fern, “I’m sure we won’t have any problem with that.”
“We come in, throw some fancy lights around, make a show for the cameras…”
“And then Yellow Bolt kicks our asses,” C.K. finished.
“You’ll have your medical expenses covered by the AxAds,” he said in a comforting tone.
Blackout shrugged at Fern, who had remained very still throughout the entire phone call. C.K. inclined his head to one side, raising an eyebrow to signify he was onboard if everyone else was. Fern inhaled through his nostrils. This was their shot at the big leagues. Even if it was a small-time role for a petty PR stunt, it was better than anything else they had.
“We’ll contact you tomorrow with the exact time we’ll be at the pound,” he said.
“Glad to hear it,” said Al in a cheery voice.
This time Blackout spoke, “Just be sure and tell Prescryptor about what we talked about.”
“Oh,” said an amused Al, “I’m sure he already knows.”