For those interested, I'm still hard at work on the Mouse book (working title: Mouse's Tale). Since I've been talking about this one for a while, I thought it might be fun to share an excerpt, so - bearing in mind that this has not gone through the editing process - here you go:
The first to come in was Buzz, the speedster. He was a young guy with dark hair and a lean, athletic frame. From the way he moved, I got the impression that walking at what could be considered normal speed was unnatural and awkward for him.
Next was Esper, a natural beauty who was generally considered the most powerful telepath on the planet. Although I’d never heard of her misusing her powers, she was definitely someone you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of.
Finally, there was Alpha Prime. Handsome and statuesque, with a chiseled physique, he probably could have been a movie star had he so desired. As was usual for the most powerful super on the planet, he simply floated in. (Apparently walking was a pastime for mere mortals.) At least he had the good grace to close the door behind him.
I gave them only a casual glance – long enough for them to know that I’d seen them – then went back to puttering with the microwave. Although it was already repaired, I took satisfaction in giving the impression that even a broken-down, obsolete appliance merited more attention than my visitors.
As they approached the counter where I was seated, Alpha Prime glided to the front of the trio, with his companions flanking him. When he got close enough for it to become clear that he wanted my attention, I looked up.
He was already tall, at least six-six, and floating several inches off the floor probably made Alpha Prime seem even more imposing to most people. Rather than crane my neck looking up at him, I leaned back in my chair. I spent a moment letting my gaze shift to each of them in turn.
“Can I help you?” I asked no one in particular.
Alpha Prime frowned slightly. My guess was that he was used to people being overawed by the presence of the Alpha League in general (and by him in particular).
Sorry, buddy, I thought. Fresh out of awe.
“We’re looking for the owner,” Alpha Prime said after a moment, his voice a magnificent baritone.
“You’re also looking at him,” I countered.
“You’re Dale Theodore Goodson?” Esper asked.
“Every day,” I replied. “But most people call me Mouse.”
“That’s right,” Buzz chimed in, snapping his fingers once. “You were Power Piston’s sidekick at one point. I think I remember you.”
“No you don’t,” I corrected him. “You just remember the facts you read in whatever file or dossier you pulled up on me before you came here. And I wasn’t Power Piston’s sidekick. I was his partner.”
Buzz, turning red with anger, was on the verge of saying something when Esper suddenly stepped forward.
“We have something we’d like you to take a look at,” she said. At that point, I realized that she was holding a folded piece of paper. She opened it up and laid it on the counter in front of me. “Do you know what this is?”
“Sure,” I said, glancing at what was on the paper. “It’s a portion of the schematics for a suit of power armor. To be precise, this shows part of a shoulder-mounted cannon.”
“Are you certain?” she asked.
I nodded. “No doubt.”
Her brow crinkled slightly. “How can you be sure?”
“Because I’m the one who designed it.”
“A-ha!” Buzz practically bellowed, like he’d just caught a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. “So you admit it!”
I frowned. “Admit what?”
“That you built this,” Buzz said as he step forward and tapped the sheet of paper with the diagram on it.
“No,” I declared, shaking my head. “I said that I designed it. I assume that the guy I sold the schematics to built it.”
“And who would that be?” asked Alpha Prime.
I crossed my arms defiantly. “I’m sorry, but my client list is confidential.”
“List?” Esper repeated. “How many of these designs have you sold to people?”
“That’s confidential as well,” I replied. “But I will say that I do more than just armor. In fact, I can design almost anything a client wants. It makes for a profitable niche.”
“Let’s just go ahead and clear the air here,” Alpha Prime said. “We know that the client you sold these schematics to was Gun-Greave, and you can stop all the ‘confidentiality’ nonsense because he’s dead.”
Although this was surprising news, I kept my voice neutral. “Gun-Greave’s dead? When?”
“Last night” Alpha Prime replied.
“What happened?” I asked casually.
“He went criminal,” said Esper.
I shook my head. “Doesn’t sound like the fellow I dealt with. You must have the wrong guy.”
“No, it was him,” Alpha Prime assured me. “He got caught trying to break into a museum vault.”
“Yeah,” Buzz added. “And he just happened to be wearing the power armor you designed when he did it.”
I shrugged. “So what’s your point?”
Buzz placed his hands on the counter and leaned forward. “My point, asshole, is that you’re in league with criminals.”
“First of all,” I said, “he wasn’t a criminal when I sold him the design. He was a guy with dreams of maybe joining a superhero team, but his crappy armor wasn’t cutting it, so he came to me.”
“Well, that makes sense,” Buzz sneered. “Since you know all about not cutting it, don’t you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I practically demanded.
“I think you know exactly what it means,” Buzz said. “You went out for the Super Trials three years in a row and failed miserably every time. Later, you barely made it as a sidekick.”
“Buzz!” Alpha Prime barked. “That’s enough.”
“I’m only quoting what’s in his file,” Buzz said innocently.
I was starting to fume. Buzz had inadvertently settled on the one issue that was definitely a hot-button topic for me. Normally I try to keep my face impassive, but something must have shown because I felt Esper once again trying to surreptitiously poke around the outer rim of my mind – this time, presumably, in an effort to keep me calm. (In fact, she’d been scanning me since she and her colleagues had entered my shop, but I’d made sure she hadn’t gotten anything worthwhile for her efforts.) I got a grip on my emotions and intentionally leaked enough calm to convince her that I wasn’t going to blow my stack. Satisfied, she ceased her efforts to pacify me but didn’t withdraw completely from my head.
“I apologize for my colleague,” Esper said a second later. “He gets a little passionate when it comes to bad guys.”
“Don’t worry about,” I stated in a monotone voice. “But as I was saying, Gun-Greave didn’t start off as a bad guy, and I just tried to help him out. I couldn’t predict that he’d get tired of walking the straight and narrow.”
“Well, your efforts are what probably got him killed,” Buzz said.
I frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Your designs were a significant upgrade to what he’d been capable of before, and it became clear that he wasn’t going to let himself be captured,” Alpha Prime said. “With innocent people caught in the crossfire, the only way to take him down was to take him out.”
There followed a moment of silence, and then I muttered stoically, “Well, that’s a damn shame.”
“Yeah,” Buzz said sarcastically. “I can tell you’re really broken up about it.”
I gave him a hard stare. Obviously, the speedster and I had somehow gotten off on the wrong foot, and he was taking every possible opportunity to needle me. However, before I could respond, Esper interjected.
“Look,” she said, “this wasn’t intended to be antagonistic. We’re actually speaking to you here, instead of at our headquarters, as a courtesy to Power Piston and out of respect for the fact that you two worked together.”
“That’s laughable,” I said, guffawing. “Power Piston would be the last person to show me any favoritism if he thought I’d done something wrong, and there’s no way he would ask it of his teammates.”
Alpha Prime nodded. “You’re right – he wouldn’t ask. He doesn’t even know we’re here, because we thought it would crush him to know that his old partner and protégé might be working outside the law.”
“You’ve got to stretch the facts pretty far to get anywhere close to that conclusion,” I countered. “I haven’t heard anything that implicates me in any illicit activities.”
“Doesn’t it bother you that some of your clients might be criminals, or use your work for illegal purposes?” asked Esper.
I snorted derisively. “It’s not illegal to engage in business with criminals. It’s only illegal to engage in criminal business. If you’re going to harass me about what I’ve done, are you also going to go after the guy who sells criminals their groceries? How about the power company that supplies their homes with electricity? The department store where they get their clothes?”
“None of those other services directly enable the bad guys to engage in criminal behavior,” Alpha Prime countered.
“Touche,” I said. “But I still don’t see you going after gun manufacturers after their weapons have been used in a robbery. Or taking on auto manufacturers after one of their vehicles is used as a getaway car.”
“Stop trying to spin this like you’re some honest businessman,” Buzz said testily. “You’re as guilty as the criminals you sell to.”
My eyes narrowed. “We’re done here. You can leave now.”
“We’ll leave,” Buzz stated. “But you’re coming with us.”
I blinked. “What?”
Buzz sneered. “We’re not done talking to you. You’re coming back to HQ with us.”
I shook my head. “That’s not gonna happen.”
“We can do it, you know,” Esper said. “Like most superhero teams, we’ve got the authority to take suspects into custody.”
“Maybe with probable cause,” I acknowledged. “Which is sorely lacking in this instance.”
“Even without probable cause, we can detain you if we feel it’s warranted,” said Alpha Prime.
“You can try,” I said, casually stretching my hand across the countertop. Of course, the object I was reaching for wasn’t there, and I spent a few seconds glancing around as if bewildered.
“Looking for something?” Buzz asked. He held up a hand and I saw that he was palming a small square-shaped, metallic device with two buttons on it – one gray and one black.
“Give that back!” I demanded, coming to my feet.
“I don’t think so,” Buzz said with a leer. He turned his attention to the device. “Let’s see… I wonder what will happen if I push this.”
His finger hovered over the black button.
“Don’t press that!” I yelled.
“Or what?” Buzz said, then pressed the button.
There was a momentary crackling sound, and the air in the shop between me and my visitors seemed to flicker for a moment. They realized almost immediately that something had happened, but obviously they had no idea what it was.
I gave them a grin that was practically magnanimous. “I told you not to press that.”