When I see what they have done to her, I swear to make them pay.
For some this would be an idle threat, but I am the daughter of Vandal Savage. If I were not capable of backing up my threats, I would not have survived to the age I am now. I am fierce, and well trained, and she... She is my love, and when I look into her eyes there is nothing there.
"The hell have they done to her?" Floyd frowns and snaps his fingers in front of Knockout's face. She stares at him blankly, barely reacts. Her face is slack and uncomprehending; her body language lacks the fire that carries her through life. My hand tightens helplessly on her shoulder.
Next to me, Blake looks worried. "She looks like she's in some kind of trance. Hypnosis? Brain washing? Might explain how these people got so many on their side."
I stare into her eyes, trying to will her back to me. "Break free, beloved! You are stronger than this. I am here for you. Don't let them do this to you."
Floyd is starting to look twitchy. He looks towards the door. "We don't have time for this. They'll be coming any second."
I glare at him. "We're not leaving her behind."
Blake tries to smooth things over. "Of course we won't. But it's going to be difficult to carry her if we can't get her to snap out of it."
"I'm trying to get through to her--"
"Ain't working. She needs a shock to her system. Something to make her fight back. Move back from her."
I stare at him suspiciously as I shuffle backwards. "What are you.--"
The shot echoes throughout the room. Knockout jerks back against the wall. For a few seconds I can do nothing but stare in shock.
"Just wait. Just see if she--"
My world dims into an angry red rage. "You shot her"
Before I can do something I might possibly regret later, however, I hear my cry echoed from over near the wall.
"You shot me! You will die for that, cur!"
And my heart sings.
We get out, and we take them down. With my love by my side there is nothing I cannot do. The gunshot wound heals quickly, as all of Knockout's wounds do.
It was quick thinking on Floyd's part. I owe him for it. I'm grateful to him for it.
I will be sure to tell him so when he regains consciousness.
Henry wasn't like most other henchmen.
Being a henchman was, after all, a thankless job. It was hard work. You had to be good with a gun and willing to use it. Your boss might be evil, or insane, or both, and if you screwed up, god help you. Most people fell into the job. Petty criminals who realised that they weren't good enough to make it on their own, or people who were just plain desperate for the money.
But not Henry. Henry wanted the job.
All his life he'd been fascinated by villains. He watched Two-Face on the TV; he clipped out articles on the Ventriloquist. He read books on Mob bosses (never let it be said that he was biased towards the 'super' villains), and posted adventurous (and, to be honest, not terribly good) stories about bad guys on the internet.
When he finally landed a henchman job with minor Mob boss Tony Feranzi, he was thrilled. Most of his colleagues thought he was insane. But he worked well, he was enthusiastic, and (something that was important with the higher-ups), he was loyal and not terribly bright, and therefore easy to manipulate.
Henry had been working for Tony for a year when it all fell down. At first he'd been stuck with guarding international shipments, but just one week ago he'd been assigned to protect the boss himself. He was very proud of himself for that. It showed he was going somewhere in the world, and if he'd had many friends he would have talked their ears off about his new position.
Henry wasn't on duty that day. It was 7 o'clock in the morning, he'd just gone down to the shops for some bread and milk, and on the way back he was shot.
It was an awful surprise to Henry. One moment he'd been walking along a mostly deserted street to where he'd parked his car, the next moment there was a bang, and a sharp sting, and there was blood flowing down Henry's arm.
Henry gasped and whirled around, but there was no one in sight, and no further shots. Then he gasped again and grabbed his arm, which was really beginning to hurt. What was he supposed to do? Get to a hospital? But he was a henchman now! Would the hospital know what he was involved in? Would they call the police and lock him up? Henry was very worried about this. He didn't want to be locked up.
In the end he stumbled back to his car and tried ringing the only other henchman who'd liked him enough to give him his number. Sadly, there was no answer, and so Henry, by now in considerable pain and wracked with panic, made his fateful decision. He started the car and, one arm still pressed to his shoulder, drove awkwardly to the place where he knew several other henchmen were. Where he had been just last night. Tony Feranzi's hideout.
Henry had barely opened the door when the shooting started. He'd barely hit the floor and scrambled out of the way behind a stack of crates when it stopped.
There'd been ten lesser henchmen, four bodyguards and Tony Feranzi himself in the hideout when Henry stumbled in. When Henry peered over the top of the crates into the rest of the room, they were all dead. It had been very quick. Most hadn't even had time to reach for their weapons.
Henry stared. And then there was a click, very quiet, right next to his ear, and he turned his head very slowly.
The man with the gun was wearing a costume. Red and yellow and silver. The targeting lens attached to one eye glinted in the dim light. Deadshot. His name was Deadshot. Henry had read about him.
"You new to this job?" Deadshot said.
Henry swallowed. "Yes. I mean, I was working before for... but I only got assigned to protect the boss last week and..."
"Great job you did there." Henry thought the man sounded almost amused.
He shivered and clutched his arm, which still really hurt. "I... I didn't think that someone would follow..."
"Noticed that. I got a suggestion for you."
"Get into another occupation. I heard you don't need much brainpower to be a bouncer."
Henry frowned and looked mournfully over at his dead co-workers. "I... but I really wanted to--"
"Bouncer work's good money."
"But I... Hey, wait... you're not going to kill me?"
"You're new. Not on my list of kills. Won't get any money for you. You want me to kill you, I will. Don't really care either way."
Henry stared at the silver mask. He couldn't tell what Deadshot was thinking. "I... I don't think I want to be killed."
The mercenary shrugged, and suddenly the gun wasn't pointing at Henry any more. "I'd get out of here then, I was you."
Henry scrambled upright and ran.
Henry thought long and hard, but eventually he was forced to agree with Deadshot. He really wasn't cut out for henchman work. For a while he didn't know what to do. His dream job had turned into a nightmare, and his arm was bandaged up and still quite hurt.
Eventually he took Deadshot's advice though, and got a job as a bouncer at a bar. It paid pretty well, and to his surprise he enjoyed it quite a lot. He got to know the regulars, and even made some friends. There was Betty who always wore red and flirted with him sometimes. Harold who drank vodka and talked to him about how the government was going to hell. Sam who sat at the back table and smoked non-stop and gave him tips on the horses.
There were a couple of guys called Floyd and Blake who came in and had beer and played darts some nights. Sometimes he played with them on his breaks, and he even won sometimes. Floyd looked kind of annoyed when that happened. He said that Henry was a lucky guy.
All things considered, Henry had to agree.
I finished my degree today. I did it all myself. It was damn hard work, but I did it. Five long years of hard work, and I'm a qualified programmer and systems analyst.
Well okay, lots of long years really. And the first ones were the worst. University is nothing compared to high school, and I shudder to think about what I almost did.
I almost did. See how I wrote that? It was hard to accept at first. It wasn't about what I was doing, it was about what they were driving me to. Them, with their bullying, and their constant torments. All the things they were doing to me and they weren't sorry. So I was going to make them pay, and I wasn't going to be sorry either.
I stole the first gun from my uncle. Took it from the cabinet in the back shed, and hid it under my bed. Then my uncle started complaining about those damn thieves and I got afraid that someone might look for it. I decided that I needed to have a special place to keep my weapons. There was an old abandoned warehouse on the edge of town, and I broke in by cutting the chain link fence. Then I cleared out this room that had once been an office and put a padlock on the door, and hid the gun under the floorboards in an old toolbox. I was still worried that someone might find it, but at least they wouldn't connect it to me, right?
I started collecting other weapons. There was this guy; his name was Tony. I didn't like him very much and he didn't like me, but he was just as much of a social outcast as me at school so I hung out with him because there was no one else. Anyway, Tony's Dad was this semi-militia weapons freak, so I started stealing his stuff. Then I broke into my neighbours when he was away and I stole this really old pistol that he kept under glass in his sitting room. Next I took my Dad's fishing knife when Mum made me visit the bastard. I don't think he ever noticed that. I started collecting a... cache, I guess. And every time they called me names, and hit me, and laughed at me, I added a little bit extra to my mental plan to make them pay.
Then, after a really bad day, I went to look at my stash, and there was someone there.
I didn't notice them at first. I'd pulled up the loose floorboards, and was looking in the toolbox, and suddenly someone behind me said "You've gotta be kidding me."
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I pulled up the gun reflexively and aimed it wildly in the general direction of the voice, and then I went cold as I realised that the person behind me was pointing a gun at me, as well. Only he looked like he knew what he was doing, and I didn't.
"Put the gun down."
Put it down? But he had a gun too! And he was... he was scary looking. The expression on his face was... My hands were shaking, but I didn't put down the gun.
He didn't look impressed. "I'm serious, kid. You don't know how to use that thing."
"I... I do!" I yelped.
His look was almost scornful. "Don't make me do something you'll regret, kid. Where'd you get all of this, anyway? I thought this stash might belong to someone important."
"None of your business. And it's mine, so just... just go away."
Now he almost looked... amused. That wasn't funny. "Oh yeah? What were you going to use it for? Going into the business?"
The business? What business? Oh god, was he a gangster or something? Who was, maybe, scouting this place out for shady dealings and then he'd found my stuff and... oh god! Was he going to kill me? "I'm not using it for business," I said, trying to keep my voice from wavering.
"What, you're just a collector?"
He really did look amused. I suddenly felt angry. "I'm not a freaking collector! I'm angry, that's what I am. There's a bunch of people who are going to pay!"
To my infuriation, he rolled his eyes. "I see. Your school buddies been hurting your feelings and you're going to get them back."
"Shut up! They're not hurting my feelings, they're making my life hell!"
He looked dismissive. "Don't make me laugh, kid. You gonna drop the gun or not?"
"Never." I tried to look firm and confident.
He shrugged and shot me twice, once in each shoulder.
I don't remember much detail about what happened straight after that, I just remember the pain. It hurt so much, but I didn't scream or anything. I was just... stunned. He'd shot me. There were bullets in my flesh and they hurt like nothing I'd ever felt. He'd shot me!
Dimly, through the pain, I heard footsteps. He walked up to me and flicked the gun away.
I stared up at him numbly. "You shot me."
"You thought I wouldn't?"
"Word of advice, kid. This ain't your world. Don't step into it."
I jumped as a cellphone was dropped into my lap. It might have been one of my stolen ones, I really wasn't sure.
"What... what am I supposed to..."
"Thought you'd want to call for an ambulance. Up to you though." Then he turned to leave. Just like that.
I stared at him incredulously. "You're just leaving me!"
He turned back with a raised eyebrow. "Yeah. You got a problem?"
"I..." I stared at him. Suddenly, for some bizarre reason, I wanted to justify things. "I just wanted to... They made it so bad. No one likes me there. No one."
"Then change your damn school."
"Get a clue, kid. Best of luck and all that."
Then he walked out. Just like that.
I called the ambulance. I almost... There was a few seconds there when I wondered whether I should bother. Because it hurt so bad, and when he squeezed the trigger and I heard the shots it was so, so terrifying, and what kind of person was I, to wish that on someone else? How the hell was I any better than them? What kind of a monster was I?
But I called the ambulance.
I changed schools, after I got out of hospital. I threw myself into studying, and after I stopped worrying about having any friends, suddenly I had a few. The irony. I didn't tell them what I'd almost done. I didn't even tell most of them about being shot. I never forgot, though.
So I've got a degree. I've got a bunch of geeky friends. I've got a once a fortnight psych appointment and I've even got a modicum of hope. And I guess I owe it to a guy whose name I don't even know, and who I hope I'll never see again in my life.
Who'd have thought it? Life is good.
Rick Flag narrowed his eyes at the man lying in the hospital bed in front of him. "Okay, Lawton, you've got five minutes to explain why the hell you did what you did before I make a recommendation that you be locked up in Arkham as a danger to yourself and others."
"You worried about me hurting myself, Flag? Here I thought this was called the Suicide Squad."
"You can shoot as many holes in yourself as you want on your own damn time. When I've got five people counting on you being sharp on a mission and you turn up with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the leg you can be damn sure I'm worried about you hurting yourself. You're scum, Lawton, but I'm not going to let someone else die because you're not fit to provide backup."
"You think The Wall's going to listen to any of your 'recommendations', anyway?"
"You want me to go tell her you're being unreasonable with your explanations?"
Lawton looked less than intimidated, but he shrugged. "Had to do it to take the meta out."
"You took a metahuman out by shooting yourself in the leg? I have to hear this."
"She had a force field up. I couldn't shoot through it. And then she started to push it forward, trying to smother me."
"That still doesn't answer--"
"She started ranting at me. Wacko stuff..."
The woman cackled with delight as she pushed the force field inexorably forward. "Not long now! Your space is getting smaller and smaller, and your air is getting less and less. Soon you'll have nothing left at all!"
Deadshot didn't answer, and it was impossible to tell what he thought about this statement. His gun hand twisted as he fired at different angles, trying to find a way through the field, a chink in the armour.
She smiled in pleasure. "So stoic and unruffled. So uncaring about your impending death."
The bullets still fired, their momentum dying as they reached the edges of the force field.
"But I know better. You are scared, underneath it all. You wouldn't ever admit it to anyone. You won't even admit it to yourself, but it's there. Buried deep, oh so deep."
Deadshot paused for just a second, and at last he spoke. "And how would you know that?"
Pleased to have attained a response at last, she was happy to talk. "Oh, didn't you know? I'm empathic. I can taste emotions, feel what you feel. I'm feeling it right now."
His eyes seemed to be considering her behind the mask. "Right now?"
Her expression was tinged with triumph. "Right now. All your worries, all you fea--"
"Okay," he said, and shot himself in the leg.
She screeched in shock as the empathic link was suddenly suffused in agony. The force field wavered, just a little. Then there was a bang, and she stopped screaming.
Rick Flag stared at the man lying on the bed in front of him with a kind of weary incredulity. It said a lot about his position that he wasn't even terribly surprised at this kind of behaviour. "So you shot yourself to distract her with your own pain?"
"Worked, didn't it?"
Flag frowned. "What if it hadn't?"
"If it hadn't, I'd've been dead anyway."
Flag narrowed his eyes and then walked to the ward's door. "Next time, find another way."
"Whatever you say, boss."
Flag's last look was a glare. Then he walked away.
"I can't believe you don't know how to work this thing. I mean, you of all people."
Floyd Lawton aimed a frown in his companion's general direction. "You wanna actually help here, Blake?"
Thomas Blake gave his friend an incredulous look. "You really don't know how to use it."
"I told you that! Look, what am I supposed to do here?"
"You just aim and shoot! I can't believe this. Since when don't you know how to aim and shoot?"
"I get that bit! It's trying to get the damn thing set up. The sights are all out of whack."
"They're not called sights--"
"Yeah, yeah. You gonna keep yacking, or are you gonna help me with this thing?"
Blake shook his head in amusement and walked over. "Look, it's all electronic. You need to push this button here, and then this one, and then--"
"Oh yeah. Just aim and shoot."
"Ah, shut it. Look, wait 'till this bit here is lined up and then... there you go."
"Now I aim and shoot?"
"Now you aim and shoot. Make sure you know what you're trying to get, though."
"Right, right." He looked down at his target. The playground was nearly empty at this time. School had finished not too long ago, and the kids were still making their way over. Still, she was there. That was what mattered.
She couldn't see him, right? Why was he so worrying so damn much? He wasn't acting like himself at all.
Aim and shoot. In one move, he lifted his hands, located the target, and shot.
The button made a soft click as he pressed it down, then the whole thing started whirring.
"Did you get it?"
"I... yeah, I guess. How do I see the--"
"The picture? This button here."
He stared down at the back of the camera. A little girl stood next to a set of swings, half-twisted towards the camera, laughing at something someone was saying. The light glinted off a set of metal hair clips that held her unruly hair back from her cherubic face.
Blake tried to peer around him. "Is it okay?"
His face softened. "Yeah. Yeah, it's okay. I'm just gonna get a few more, then we'll go, okay?"
Blake gave him a measured look, and he nodded. "Sure, Lawton. Just a few more."
And down in the playground a little girl with shiny hair clips and a cherubic face glanced in the direction of a nearby building and then stopped, and frowned.
"Daddy?" she said.