Snek is a Good Boy
Part Two: Snek to the Rescue!
[A/N: This chapter was inspired by a comment from Lumias, on , and beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
Director Piggot's delivery of the two words was flat and toneless, which meant she was either thoroughly pissed off or had no idea what to make of the revelation. Or both. Personally, Colin was betting on the latter.
"Yes, ma'am." He took a deep breath. "My experimental lie detector did not register any untruths in what she told me. Also, one of the ABB was recording the event on their phone—almost certainly against orders—and there's a three-second clip of the snake rearing up and speaking. Then the phone gets dropped, there's a lot of gunfire, and the person runs away. I located the phone after the event. The camera was pointed at the sky for most of the action, but the audio appears to bear out her story in all relevant details."
She seemed to take that in. Were he in her place, he imagined he might be celebrating, just a little, deep inside. Not that he'd wanted Lung to be eaten by a giant snake, but the man had been a multiple murderer, and he'd already been sentenced in absentia to the Birdcage, so his death was no great loss to the city. However, her visage never cracked even the slightest hint of a smile.
"So there's not only a gigantic man-eating snake somewhere in my city," she said quietly. "But it's smart enough to be able to speak, and it can teleport." Sighing in frustration, she pinched the bridge of her nose. "What are the options, here? BioTinker creation? Case Fifty-Three?"
"Those are two potential answers, yes." He nodded seriously. "Alternately, it may be a projection, an illusion—though the fact that it ate Lung suggests otherwise—or a Changer." He paused for a moment, wondering if he should keep going. In for a penny, he decided. "Or one last option, least likely but most worrying."
The Director gestured wordlessly. Get on with it. In her place, he wouldn't have wanted to hear what he considered 'most worrying', but it was her job to have all the facts to work with before she made any decisions. Accordingly, it was his job to give her all the facts at his command.
"It's intelligent enough to be verbal, and to have some sort of moral code," he said slowly, working his way through the premise. "Suppose the portals it travels by can extend to other Earths. It's not from Aleph, of course; we would've heard about them by now. But what if it's native to another Earth, where English is somehow the local language?" It was implausible, he knew, but not impossible.
"And it just came here to visit?" From the tone of her voice, she didn't like that at all. "So it could come back. Or worse, it could come back and bring friends. Especially when it tells them what the lunch menu is like."
Again, he couldn't blame her. Of all the hypothetical scenarios he'd ever had of the world ending, an invasion of giant smart teleporting carnivorous snakes had never been at the top of the list, or even close to it.
"Perhaps not," he reminded her. "The cape I spoke to was very definite about how it told Lung that he shouldn't hurt children. It could've come after her easily—she was certain it knew she was there—but it didn't."
"That's the only faint ray of light in all this." Piggot shook her head. "On the upside, as you so kindly pointed out, it apparently has something approximating a sense of morality, though it chooses to express this by eating the guilty, which doesn't reduce my problems in the slightest. What are its guidelines for determining who is innocent and who is lunch? And even if it never comes back, it's left a mess on our plate just by doing what it's already done. Unless Lung left an established chain of command, Bakuda and Oni Lee may well have a turf war to see who inherits the ABB. And even if they don't, I can see the Empire Eighty-Eight expanding their territory once it becomes clear that Lung is gone for good."
Colin nodded. "Understood, ma'am. I'll keep an eye on them."
"You do that." She waved a hand in vague dismissal.
Turning, he left her office, closing the door carefully behind him. He had a lot to think about, and to plan for. The death of Lung, as he was fully aware, spelled out lots of work in the future for him. But he was fine with that.
He'd long wanted to match himself against Lung one-on-one, partly to put the Asian crime lord into the Birdcage where he belonged and partly (if he was being honest with himself) for the recognition value. Soloing Lung would've put him on the map.
In the absence of the man himself, Colin decided that he would focus on the other two ABB capes—Oni Lee and the newcomer Bakuda—and deliver a message in no uncertain terms. One: they were not Lung. Two: Any attempt to match their ex-boss's activities would bring swift and certain retribution. They were a lot easier to Birdcage than he'd been, after all. And if they wanted to argue about it, he was perfectly willing to hand out a beatdown or three to make his point absolutely clear.
As he pressed the button for the elevator, he nodded to himself. It sounded like a plan.
And if the snake came back, he'd just have to deal with that as well. Or recruit it. One of the two.
It would be worth it just to see the look of horror on the face of the Image rep.
Snek bumps his snoot against Master's work room door. One, two, three bumps. Snek is careful not to knock down door. Then Snek puts out his tongue. Master has given Snek tongue that can hold things. It is how Snek helps Master. Also, that Snek can swallow anything dangerous. Snek likes spicy food.
Snek uses tongue to turn handle, open door. Master is working at Master thing. Is big thing. Sometimes Snek lifts Master on head to reach high-up thing. Snek likes helping Master. Master is good to Snek. Snek is a good boy.
Snek wriggles into work room and waits. Snek is not hungry. Last meal Snek ate lasted very long time.
Master turns and looks at Snek. "Yes, Snek?" he asks.
"Ssnek iss here to help Masster," Snek says. "Ssnek has sslept, and iss not hungry."
Master looks at Snek, then at Master thing he is working on. "I don't need your assistance right at the moment, Snek," he says. "But thank you for checking with me. If you want to go and amuse yourself for a few hours, that will be fine." He reaches out and pets Snek on the snoot. "You're a good boy, Snek."
Snek is very happy. "Thank you, Masster." Snek likes being petted on the snoot and called a good boy. "Ssnek will go and play now."
Snek turns and wriggles from Master's big room. Snek's tail is very strong, so is careful to close door and not break it.
Snek's winding-post is big and strong and has many resting spots, so Snek goes and plays on it for little while. It is fun, but chasing tail gets boring after awhile. Snek thinks about shouty fire metal man, and wonders if there are other bad men in that world. Master has said Snek can have fun, and chasing bad men is fun. Snek opens wriggle-hole and goes to that world.
This isn't fun anymore. I want to go home.
Diane wiped her glove over her forehead, swiping away sweat. She'd discarded the mouse-themed helmet some time ago, tossing it into an empty alleyway after marking it with a teleport tag just in case. They already knew who she was—how, she still wasn't sure—and it wasn't likely to protect against them for more than a second or so. Even Jack Slash was good enough to aim his cuts between the gaps in her armour; he'd already proven that.
She leaned against the wall and pulled the canteen off her belt. Unscrewing the cap carefully so that she didn't make any noise, she swallowed the last of the water in it, then marked it with a tag as well and carefully placed it on the ground at her feet.
Doing so pulled at some of her bandages, and she was sure she could feel fresh blood seeping through them. Goddamn it. They'd been harrying her for the best part of a day, just wearing her down and herding her in circles. Each time she thought she could break out, one of them was waiting for her. Going on the offensive didn't work either; somehow they knew ahead of time, and had enough reinforcements waiting so that she had to cut and run. Or just run, without cutting.
Fighting normal villains was fun. Fighting the Nine, especially when it seemed they specifically had it out for her, wasn't.
She'd already learned to stay off the rooftops. Shatterbird was positively vicious with her little shards, and Diane knew she could do a lot worse. That was probably what hurt more than anything else; they weren't being particularly stretched by fighting her. She wasn't a challenge for them, so they were just taking their time with her. Like cats with a wounded—
She shut that thought process down hard.
No. I'm not going to give them the satisfaction. I'm going to take at least one of these bastards down with me.
They didn't have eyes on her right at that moment, and she still had a few tricks up her sleeve. Easing down to the mouth of the alleyway, she peered around the corner … and there stood Hatchet Face on the sidewalk. Smirking. Bouncing that damn great axe on his hand like he couldn't wait to use it on her.
"Hi." He grinned with his snaggled teeth, and she really wished he hadn't. "Run, little mousey, run."
Just for a second, she considered going for his eye with her sword. It was sharp, made of good steel, and might just penetrate to his brain. But she'd be well inside his range then, and if she didn't get him, he would most certainly get her. The man was far faster than someone his size should be. No, she wanted to save her death-or-glory attack for Bonesaw. That murderous little munchkin had a death toll out of all proportion to her time in the Nine.
She reversed direction around the corner, ready to turn and bolt down the alley, but something nudged her in the back.
Shit. Fuck. Bollocks. I let them sneak up on me.
Turning her head fractionally, she looked to see which member of the Nine was about to sign her death warrant. And damn near wet herself, right then.
Looking back at her, via eyes that managed to look bright and interested, was a snake the length of one of those articulated city buses, which had somehow managed to insert itself into the alleyway behind her while she wasn't looking. Its head alone was damn near the size of a subcompact car.
Its tongue flickered out and back. She had just enough time to register that the appendage seemed oddly configured, rather than the simple fork that most snakes used, before it spoke. "Hello," it said with a hissing undertone. "Bad man? Ssnek help?"
What the fuck. Why not. "Yes," she said. "Bad man. Snek help. Please?"
She had absolutely no fucking idea what was going on, but she knew the Nine did not have a giant talking snake on their roster. This was the Hail Mary pass to end all Hail Mary passes. Either it helped her, or it ate her. Forget rock and hard place; she was a tired, wounded mousey besieged by a whole pack of rabid, hungry cats. Any snake in a storm.
"Ssnek help," the snake confirmed, and flowed past her around the corner, like liquid. If something that came nearly up to her waist and was covered with gleaming scales could be said to 'flow'.
"Hey, who you talking to—" Hatchet Face broke off what he was saying. "Holy motherfucking—!"
There was a loud hiss, like a steam boiler letting off pressure, then a clang. Diane had no idea what that was about, but she knew what the next noise was. A deep-throated scream of agony, wrenched from the throat of the multiple murderer known as Hatchet Face. More of the endless length of the snake slithered past her—wonderingly, she put out her hand and let her fingers trail over the smooth scales as it passed her by—and she heard the crack of bones breaking, one after the other.
Carefully, she peeked around the corner. The axe lay discarded on the sidewalk, and Hatchet Face was basically engulfed in coil after coil of the snake's body. As she watched, it shifted, and the sounds of more bones breaking came to her ears.
The snake's head turned to face her. "Bad man sstopped. More bad men?"
Dazedly, she nodded. "Uh, yeah. Bad men, bad women, even a bad child."
The massive head tilted sideways questioningly. "Ssnek not hurt child. Bad to hurt child."
"This kid's hurt and killed hundreds or even thousands of people," Diane said wearily. "She's killed kids by the dozen. By the hundred. Killed them and done even worse." She'd seen the little spider-bots, and knew how they were made.
"Then Ssnek sstop her," the snake said definitively. It uncoiled from the twisted, mangled and very dead body of Hatchet Face. She wasn't even surprised when it began to engulf its prey, unhinging its jaw and swallowing down Hatchet Face's bulk in an amazingly short time.
Well, he wanted to kill me. I can't say I'm unhappy that he's dead.
The snake turned back to her. "Ssnek iss Ssnek." It looked at her almost expectantly.
Seriously? That's actually its name? Then again, she wasn't exactly in a position to point and laugh. "Uh, Mouse Protector. Diane."
"Mouss," it said. "Iss good name."
"Thanks." She took a deep breath, ignoring the stab of her injured ribs and the rest of her multitude of aches and pains. "Listen, you seem like a nice … uh, snake, but if you've got a way out of here, some mousehole we can scamper away through, that would probably be best. Because the rest of these guys won't be pleased—"
"On the contrary, my dear Mouse Protector, I'm positively thrilled."
The voice had come from above. Carefully, Diane turned and looked, as did Snek. There, on the rooftop opposite, stood Jack Slash next to the Siberian, who had Bonesaw on her shoulders and her hand on his arm. Their skin and clothing showed the monochrome tinge that people under the Siberian's protection normally exhibited. Shatterbird hovered farther up above them; while she hadn't seen Mannequin and Burnscar, they were probably close by as well. She was just as happy to not see Crawler right then; as big as Snek was, he would almost certainly have problems with the misshapen cape.
"And why are you thrilled, Jack-Jack?" The mocking tone was second nature to her. "We just wrecked Hatchet Face."
"Oh, I'm aware." She got the impression that he was less happy than he was putting across with his façade. "So who is your fascinating friend? I'm not aware of any capes getting about as giant snakes."
"Cannot ssmell sstripy one," Snek said quietly. "No ssmell, no heartbeat, no breath, no warmth. Not alive. Dangerouss?"
"Very dangerous," Diane confirmed, speaking softly. "She can tear you apart with her bare hands, she can't be hurt, and she can protect anyone she's touching. That's Jack Slash with her. A very bad man." She raised her voice. "This is Snek. Snek doesn't like bad men." Oh, god. Now I'm talking the same way.
Jack slash laughed out loud. "Oh, he doesn't, does he? Well, this is interesting. We get paid by Ravager to hunt you down, and we get your pet snake as well. Crawler will be happy; he hasn't had a proper challenge in some time." A blade gleamed in his hand; Diane tensed, but he seemed to be merely twirling it absently rather than directing it with malice aforethought.
One huge eye swivelled toward Diane. "Ssnek eat?" asked the snake hopefully.
Diane released the breath she hadn't realised she was holding since the mention of Ravager—that humourless unimaginable bottom-feeder hired the Nine to kill me? If I get out of this, I am so gonna wedgie her so hard the next time we meet, her kids will spontaneously lose the ability to procreate—and nodded. If they were going to go down, she figured they may as well go down fighting. "Snek eat."
Rapidly she formulated a plan, which basically involved marking her sword, throwing it at Slash himself, then teleporting to where it was. Surprise counted for a lot in a situation like that. But before she could begin to carry it through, Snek pulled off its own plan.
Pulling back its head slightly, Snek tasted the air just as a dull-black circular portal appeared before its nose. The enormous head blurred as it struck through the portal; Diane spun around at a flicker of movement and saw Snek's head emerging from what looked like empty air behind Jack Slash. Rolling its head to one side, Snek opened its jaws wide and clamped them around Jack Slash's waist, then immediately pulled him back through the hole. In the instant after the Siberian's hand lost contact with his arm, Snek bit down hard. A remarkably familiar sound of bones (and possibly organs) popping and crackling resulted, as well as a pained scream from the leader of the Nine.
Almost without thinking, Diane drew her sword and stabbed Jack Slash through the eye. He wasn't Bonesaw, but he was definitely a viable target. The blade hung up for a second, then she leaned on it, and it went all the way in. Jack Slash convulsed in a way that indicated he wasn't getting up again … ever.
And then, while the Siberian was still staring at the hand which had been resting on Jack Slash's arm, the giant snake struck again. This time, it arched its back and lunged downward into a new portal that formed on the concrete beneath it. Wide-eyed, Diane watched as Snek's head appeared from above Bonesaw, jaws wide. Its mouth closed around the girl's upper body then yoinked upward again through the portal, bringing Bonesaw's body (legs still kicking) with it. With a wriggling motion, Snek swallowed. Bonesaw vanished down the snake's capacious gullet like an errant chicken nugget.
That was when the Siberian's expression turned from annoyance to incandescent rage. She looked across the narrow street at where Diane stood next to Snek, and leaped. Before Diane could even think about teleporting to one of her various marks, she found herself grabbed by that same mouth—though much more gently—and plunged through what she could only imagine was another one of those portals.
Snek could really travel, Diane later decided. At some point in the mad dash, she found herself seated comfortably just behind the huge snake's head, riding astride like she'd been doing it all her life. From one portal to another, they jumped from world to world, never looking back in case the Siberian was still chasing them.
The first world they hit was a nightmarish version of World War One trench warfare in a sea of mud, with artillery going off and shells bursting around them as Snek powered across the landscape at speeds that maybe only aircraft could match. Diane just had time to get a blurred impression of rumbling tanks four and five storeys tall facing off against brass and steel mecha before they dived into another portal.
One after another, the worlds flickered by. A cityscape of impossibly tall buildings, with ponderous airships drifting between. An ethereally beautiful unspoilt landscape with a castle in the distance and a huge ringed planet in the sky. Primeval forests, with feathered dinosaurs turning to look at them as they blazed past. What she would've sworn was New York Times Square, but with saurians populating the sidewalks, complete with stubby tails.
And then Snek slowed to a halt, in the back streets of what looked like an ordinary city; the street signs were in English, even. "Ssnek bring Mouss home."
"This is home?" Diane looked around. It looked about right. Felt about right, too, though she suspected it was a little farther north than she had been when the Nine was hunting her.
"Yess. Ssame ccity as sshouty fire metal man. Did Ssnek do good?"
She climbed off the snake's back and gave its head a hug, then kissed it on top of its snout for good measure. "Yes, Snek. You did real good. You saved this mousey's tail. Thank you." She wondered who the 'shouty fire metal man' was, and what had happened to him.
"Ssnek happy. Ssnek see Mouss again?"
Diane nodded, and scratched the top of its nose. It seemed to like that. "Sure, Snek can see Mouse again. Just one thing. You said you didn't hurt children, but you just swallowed Bonesaw like a party treat."
Snek nodded. "Yess. Bad child alive. Take to Masster. Masster fix. Masster fix anything."
She blinked. "Oh. Okay. Just a word of warning? She does diseases really, really good."
"Ssnek tell Masster. Bye-bye, Mouss."
"Bye, Snek." She waved, and watched as the enormous reptile slithered down the street a ways, then opened a portal and vanished down it almost quicker than the eye could see.
Well, that was a thing. She stretched, then pulled out a scarf from a belt pouch and tied it around her face as a makeshift mask. Might as well get in touch with the local PRT and ask for a bed for the night. I wonder what they'll say when I tell them that a giant snake saved me from the Slaughterhouse Nine?
Yeah, like they'll believe that.