|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Suddenly an alarm goes off. The room is flooded with red lights and the monotonous sound of a computerized voice repeating the words CODE RED: INTRUDER ALERT. Alvey Fratto, still in a squatting position atop the desk, is startled enough by the sirens to finally release his bowels. Chuck, sat down on a swivel chair and reading a magazine article about how to tell if your assistant manager is really management material or if he’s just playing you for the paycheck, is rather undisturbed by the commotion.
Alvey buttons his pants and jumps down from the desk, landing directly on his ass and making a squish noise that, even through the blaring security alarm, is fully audible to Chuck’s poor, innocent ears. Alvey runs over to him and rips the magazine out of his hands, putting mere inches of open space between their faces.
“Chuck! What are you even doing?! We’ve gotta to get going!” he shouts, a few globulets of saliva making contact with the lenses of Chuck’s sunglasses.
Little windshield wipers come down from the top frame and whisk away the saliva. Chuck, tempted to make a joke about being in a pinch, looks right past Alvey and smirks. “What took you so long, man? A little stage fright?”
“Chuck Leary! Do you even hear the alarms, Chuck Leary? Do you see the red lights?! Of course it took me time to poop on my boss’s desk Chuck Leary, how could I do something so grotesque with you watching me? How could I do it quickly, Chuck? Chuck Leary?” Alvey grabs hold of the collar of Chuck’s linen shirt and, even though he’s very startled when his hands bend to the fabric rather than the opposite, he keeps on talking. Like a good little boy, like a strong boy. “How could I do it with you watching me, Chuck Leary?”
“I think you mean with him watching you,” Chuck says, his eyes still looking right past Alvey, “because I was reading a magazine.”
“Him? Wha…” Alvey says, trailing off as he turns around and realizes that Chuck isn’t just staring off into space. In fact, he was staring at something the whole time, that something being a someone with a gun pointed directly at Alvey’s head! I’ll tell you what, it’s a good thing that Alvey relieved himself on that desk, because if he hadn’t… never mind.
Alvey feels a tug on the back of his shirt collar and suddenly he’s back in the cubical room, a trail of vapor left in his wake. A suit of power armor somewhat reminiscent of the Marvelous Comics character Steel Man then flies down the hallway and slams the door shut, welding it with a laser before floating back and landing in front of Alvey. The head melts away to reveal Chuck, still wearing his fedora and sunglasses.
Chuck puts his right ring finger underneath Alvey’s shirt collar and effortlessly lifts him two feet off the floor, bringing him to eye level. “Alvey, you got some ‘splainin’ to do to the me right now.”
“Chuck! You removed your own pinky finger! Also, you were wearing a business suit a minute ago and now you’re shooting lasers from the fingertips of a mechanical suit of armor! How am I the one in this situation that has some explaining to do!?”
After a moment of pondering, “Well, you might have a point if we were literally anywhere else right now, but, we’re just not.”
Chuck’s ring finger collapses into his hand and Alvey falls, the ring finger reappearing shortly after the resulting shockwaves going through the building subside.
“I could be back at Cape smoking all the Cannabis, maybe even chewing some ‘Shrooms, properly celebrating my favorite holiday. But no, I decided to be nice and help you out with this little project. Now, it wasn’t me who had a gun pointed at his head, it was you. I’m an inconsequential dipshit in this situation and you know it.”
“Okay, that last part, that I will fully agree with!” huffs Alvey. He gets up and makes a run for a back corner of the room, somehow squeezing himself behind the plaster vase holding the plaster plant that’s secured with plaster to the plaster subfloor. Before Chuck can even laugh at the situational comedy of this, a sizzling sound erupts from behind him. He turns to see the steel door that he spent all that time welding shut melt down into a puddle on the carpet floor, into which steps the man with the gun. He does not look amused.
In an eerily robotic voice, the gunman drones, “You have exactly seven point three-two-nine-one seconds to describe to me why you shouldn’t be terminated.”
Chuck takes this as a disrespectful challenge to his intelligence. He says, “Oh really? Is that how long I have, seven point three-two-nine-one seconds? Where did you even come up with that, li–” and is cut off by the urgent need to duck so the bullet bores a hole in his hat and not his skull.
“What the fuh–”
Another shot goes off and a few strands of hair are sacrificed, rather than Chuck’s left eye.
“Dude, cut it o–”
Interrupted again, the bullet ricocheting off his shoulder and piercing the wall next to a trembling and sweaty-slick Alvey. In one swift motion Chuck raises his left arm, around which a grenade launcher takes form, and bloops no less than four grenades into the hallway before him. These four grenades each release a dense green smokescreen that overtakes the room, but not before the gunman fires a fourth bullet, this one missing Chuck entirely and hitting a sprinkler head on the ceiling.
Chuck blurts out, “A’ight, I call shenanigans!” before his head is swallowed up by the armor once more. He kicks his feet up and engages the propulsion rockets in his boots, sending him blasting towards the front door. Alvey leaps out and grabs on to Chuck at the last moment, which is pretty fortunate for Alvey, because Chuck’s propulsion rockets ignite the green smoke, turning the cubical room into a literal holocaust seconds after they vacate the premises.
For Chuck, on the other hand, Alvey’s being saved is quite the inconvenience. His suit’s autopilot mode is programmed to calculate flight patterns on the spot – as most autopilot modes these days are – the propulsive force and whatever else are entirely based off the pilot’s weight. Alvey Fratto, however, is the mass equivalent of one to three Chuck Learys, depending on the day, and the power armor’s computer just isn’t ready for all that extra variable. What was at first a perfectly calculated beeline out the window of the building and into the sky is now a random series of jagged contrails zigzagging above the city street. From every right veer, a left veer sprouts to correct. From every dip in altitude, there is a burst skyward. The computer can barely handle the pressure.
‘Master Charles, what is happening? I cannot seem to correctly anticipate where we are flying.’
“What the fuck?” Chuck exclaims, narrowly avoiding the corner of the building. “You can talk ?”
‘Yes, sir, and might I say you look rather dapper and snackish in that suit. If I weren’t… well, never you mind.’
“Yeahhhh I don’t like that, you’re gonna have to shut the fuck up right quick.”
Alvey, and all his body weight, is dangling by Chuck’s right hip at this point, causing them to fly in a spiral around the gray building with blackish-gray smoke leaking out of the shattered holes which were once held blackish-gray windows. For the first time since the current owner’s hostile takeover, a plume of natural daylight floods into the office, momentarily blinding the gunman who’s very busy extinguishing the blaze as it is. Chuck is stressed, the apparently sentient computer inside of Chuck’s power armor is stressed, the gunman is bummed, and Alvey certainly isn’t having a good time; the vibe is mad low here.
‘Something has to change, Charles,’ the suit drones, ‘because the current flight conditions are unsustainable.’
“I said shut up, ya fuckin’ nerd!” Chuck screams out, causing Alvey a startle.
“I’m not saying anything Chuck!” Alvey shouts back, nearly crying now. “Who are you talking to??”
Bystanders are beginning to gather around the building on the streets below; men, women, children teens, twentysomethings, consumers of all shapes and sizes are herding together, uPhones unpocketed and set to record the action so they can post it later from the comfort of their living room. Alvey notices the New Manhattan-esque bystanders and his skin turns an even paler white, making it look like a fat ghost is trying to take down a flying robot in a business suit; Alvey’s mental image of how he must look to the multiplying onlookers, it, well it just makes his anxiety all that much worse. Again, it is a damn good thing Alvey relieved himself earlier. Cannot stress that enough.
Chuck, however, soaks up the attention like an InstaSponge model – all these extra humans with only partially liquid brains in their heads providing a sudden increase in activity and vibrational energy around him sparks an idea in his head.
Keeping his spiral around the building as taught as possible, Chuck looks towards the sky. The building is crowned with four large red symbols, the leftmost being an A. For those of you who live in a two-dimensional reality, large three-dimensional letter As have a triangular hole in the middle of them, just above the line bridging the gap between the legs. In a distant cavity of Chuck’s version of the human psyche, a bonus points radar goes off like an M-9876 firecracker.
Disengaging the autopilot and silencing his computer, Chuck’s mind directly interfaces with the power armor, and he and Alvey soar skywards. Alvey’s screams only increase with their altitude, but they’re drowned out by the crowd going wild as Chuck sinks the trick shot, his body threading the chokepoint at the top of the gap while Alvey’s bum scrapes against the bridge, pulling his pants back down around his ankles to reveal a dirty pair of tighty-once-whities around his knees. For every up, though, there must be a down, and from the view of the phones of the bystanders, a pimply moon is about to crash into the Earth. When he notices that all the faceless consumers below him can see his exposed boyhood, Alvey loses consciousness completely.
Pulling a sick barrel roll maneuver, Chuck dumps Alvey onto one of the many identical gray cars parked along the perimeter of the building and ascends once more. With the weight stabilized, the computer comes back online stress-free and ready to work. A flight plan is plotted and Chuck finds himself heading north out of Brick City, which is about forty-five-to-ninety degrees off of the location of New Manhattan, as far as he can tell, but sweating the small stuff is lame, so Chuck decides to make up for lost Holiblaze time and activate the suit’s integrated THC dispenser instead. It’s not as good as a joint, but now that he’s done helping Alvey and that terrible gray office was filled with smoke in one way or another, what could a little pregaming hurt before he returns home and fills his own office – his wonderful office – with smoke?
What A Mess
Meanwhile, an emotionally, spiritually and physically broken and battered Alvey slowly opens his eyes. There are bits of glass and metallic paint fragments all over his body, his button-up office shirt is stained with his own blood, his pants are hanging by the belt on a streetlamp, and all he can see are flashing stars. The stars, which are more camera flashes than cosmic balls of fire, dissipate when the crowd of onlookers is dismissed by an old-looking gentleman in a gray business suit with a red tie, the remains of his gray hair banded into a tight ponytail. He’s holding a steaming hot Novabucks coffee in one hand and a white paper pastry bag in the other. His face is slouched into a look that whispers not this again.
“My my, what a mess,” he says to Alvey, looking down on him. “Are you all right, my bulbous friend?”
Alvey lets out a noise that sounds like a guttural groan spliced with an unhealthy level of gurgling.
“Good,” he says, placing the coffee onto Alvey’s bloated belly.
The man snaps his fingers a few times, picks up his beverage, and removes the lid, placing it over Sigmund’s pride and two joys. The gray man then takes a long swig of his brew and calmly walks through what remains of the crowd and into the building. Shortly after, the soot-covered gunman descends from above, balancing on a small gray rectangular… thing, of some sort. Alvey can’t really tell what it is, but through squinting eyes and a slight red tint, he notices the assailant is sporting a disturbing lack of hair.
The rectangle thing folds up into the gunman’s feet as he lands, his boots falling heavily on the cracked concrete sidewalk. “You,” he monotones, gun pressed into Alvey’s disturbingly squishy head, “are coming with me.”