The Beta Trilogy

THE

EXCESS MEN

 

CHAPTER FIVE:

 

Part I - Something's Wrong

It is dusk on a warm August evening in the Ocean State. Crouched in a small stretch of brush outside of the long abandoned Rocky Joint Palladium, The Excess Men, on the orders of Professor Exhausting, are staking out the huge dance hall. It is the first mission in a month for the Superzeroes, since quelling the uprising of prisoners at the Ocean State Penitentiary, and thwarting the evil plans of Ex Com. 

“Why are we even looking at this dump?” asks Maintenance Man. “It’s been closed for years.”

Methane Man explains, “The Professor believes there will be some sort of illegal activity going on here in a couple of hours.”

“And The Professor is always right,” says Sarcasm in a sarcastic tone.

Just then Captain Irrelevant arrives. “We are The Exces…” Methane Man slaps him in the back of the head.

“You know, it would be helpful if we knew what we were planning for,” grumbles a frustrated Maintenance Man. “Are we even supposed to go inside?”

“Beats me,” says a befuddled Sarcasm. “Before we left he said to stake out this place, gave me a bag of oranges, and a picture of what appears to be two snails having sex.”

The others are equally confused.

Just then Consumption arrives. 

“Holy crap, it’s about time you showed up,” says Methane Man. “Let me guess – you stopped to eat…a neighborhood.”

“No,” replies Consumption. “I’m not even hungry.”

The other Zeroes look curiously at the big man.

 

Meanwhile back at The Great Hall of Excess, Professor Exhausting is at The Excalibro watching a ballgame on one monitor, and playing Mister Mosquito on another. He happens to gaze up at a radar-like display, and does a mild double take as he turns away. Then he stops, and looks again, more intently at the radar. He notices four blips concentrated in one area, and a separate blip at a distant bearing. 

“What the fuck,” yells The Professor, as he engages the communications port to contact The Excess Men.

“Yes, Professor,” says Sarcasm drolly answering the call. 

“I told you I want you all up there staking out that roach trap.”

“We are,” says Sarcasm affirmatively.

“Wake up, shitheads,” scolds The Professor. “Did you forget…uh…Captain...Irrelevant!”

Sarcasm looks around, and realizes, “Oh damn, we did.”

Methane Man corrects the Terse Titan, “No - he’s here.”

“Oh,” says Sarcasm, spotting The Captain, who then transmits the update, “We’re all here Professor.”

Their leader is concerned, looking again at the radar. He is cautious and guarded as he instructs the team, “Okay, get back here. We need to talk.”

Methane Man replies, “But…we’re not done checkin…”

“GET YOUR ASSES BACK HERE!” screams The Professor.

Sarcasm severs the connection and bluntly states, “Crazy man wants us back at The Hall.”

 

A short time later The Excess Men, having returned to their main base, file into The MajestX Foyer and fall in line. Professor Exhausting enters, and rides The Express along the row of Zeroes, running over Methane Man’s foot in the process. Their leader is informing them of a special mission that he is sending them on. As he begins to detail the plan, the landline on the end table rings. Consumption answers the phone, listens for a brief second, and curiously states, “It’s the Governor.” 

The Professor, continuing his instructions, maneuvers The ExPress to the phone. Without stuttering a word, or losing the tempo in his speech, he swiftly takes the phone from Consumptions hand and hangs it up sharply. He then instructs Methane Man and Sarcasm to remain in The Foyer, and for the other three to wait in the truck. Not until they are out the door does the Professor speak.

“We have a problem.”

“We have lots of problems,” remarks Sarcasm. “Any in particular you want to discuss?”

Their leader lets out an exasperated sigh, and then directs them to the radar on the Excalibro. “I can track all of you on this program. When you were at the Palladium only four of you were there. And as you can see now, there are only two of you in the truck. That means we have an imposter. The only explanation I have is that The Imprinter got to one of you. Probably back at the OSP incident last month.”

Methane Man is stunned, “You mean he’s been impersonating one of us all this time?” The Professor nods.

“Wait a minute,” says Sarcasm. “We were all out in The Foyer together. How did you know it wasn’t me or stinky? What are you - psychic? (mocking) Oh, I’m The Professor. I can sense everything. Look at me….”

Professor Exhausting gives a cold stare, and states firmly, “I’m pretty certain.”

Sarcasm gestures toward Methane Man, “Oh yeah, and what about him?”

The Professor rubs his brow in frustration, and explains his plan, “Look, there is a lot going on here – more than I can tell you.”

“Why can’t you tell us?” asks Sarcasm.

“Two reasons,” explains The Professor directly. “Because you’re too stupid to understand, and you’re too stupid to understand.”

Sarcasm and Methane Man display irritated smirks.

The Professor pulls a small remote control from The Express’ storage box and hands it to Methane Man.

“Hang on to this,” he says. “There may come a critical point where all seems lost. If that time arrives, your activating this device might be instrumental in saving the day. Here’s hoping that pea brain of yours has enough wherewithal to recognize that moment.”

“Just for clarification,” wonders Methane Man, “was that intended to be a compliment?”

“What does it do?” intervenes Sarcasm.

“I can’t tell you. It would affect your judgment in knowing if and when to engage it.”

“Can you tell us anything?” asks an agitated Methane Man. 

“I can tell you everything,” says The Professor. “I choose not to. Now pay attention. Our entire operation is in serious trouble. If my information is correct there’s going to be a lot of focus on us real soon.”

Sarcasm is apprehensive, “Your information is never correct.”

Professor Exhausting is fuming, but trying to focus on his direction of the Zeroes, “For right now you just need to concentrate on weeding out which one is the imposter. The mission I’m sending you on is to the control room at the base of the Reggiano-Parmigiano Bridge. According to the radar, that’s the location of the other team member. I don’t want you to draw any attention. Unfortunately, there’s a classic car rally set up at R.P. Park adjacent to it. So, try to be inconspicuous.”

“We’re wearing tights and capes, and driving an ice cream truck,” remarks Sarcasm sharply. “They’re gonna think we’re the entertainment.”

Furious and irritated, The Professor growls, “You two bozos have the ride over there to try and find out who the rat is. If not, you’ll know when you get there. When you do figure it out, just have him touch the guy he imprinted. That will switch them back”

“Why don’t we just drag their asses in here now and interrogate them?” asks the Terse Titan.

“Because whoever they’re holding may be in danger. They probably have a plan to exchange him for ransom – as if I’d pay. The mission I laid out to all of you before was a ruse. Go with them, find the missing team member…and be alert. If one of those three starts acting strange, nail him.”

“Act strange? Be more specific,” says Sarcasm, as he and Methane Man head off to the truck.

Part II - The IMposter

 

Upon arriving at the control room of the Reggiano-Parmigiano Bridge, The Zeroes observe that there is not a classic car rally at the bordering park. Instead it is a farmers market. To keep a low profile they drive to the far side of the building. 

Just as the Excess Men step out of their vehicle, a six-year old boy runs toward them looking for a treat from the ice cream truck. Seeing the Superzeroes, he comes to a stop. His eyes widen, then narrow for a moment, looking curiously upon the Men Who Do Something To Excess. 

“You guys look like dicks,” says the boy.

“We’re The Excess Men,” says Captain Irrelevant, trying to muster an authoritative voice. “We take out the bad guys.”

“For what?” retorts the child. “Drinks and a movie?”

Maintenance Man takes exception to the youngster’s taunt. “Hey kid, we’ve put away some of the worst criminals this state has ever known.”

“Oh yeah? With what?” says the boy, as he turns to run off. “You’re Allen keys?”

“That’s a 14-Piece insulated Salisbury hex wrench set!” screams Maintenance Man. “You little prick!”

The Captain turns to Sarcasm and calmly asks, “You ever have any kids?”

“Alright guys. Let’s go,” directs Methane Man, trying to gather the team.

They cautiously approach from the back, moving in slowly towards the mostly cinder block structure. As they enter, the main control room appears to be unmanned. Then Methane Man spots a lump of fur draped in purple velvet in the corner. He and Sarcasm stop and look at each other, realizing at that moment who the imposter is. They turn to find The Imprinter, in the form of Consumption, holding a pistol. 

“Nobody move,” he says, pointing the gun at the Zeroes. “Very clever, taking me right to where my hostage is. Daring, but I like it.”

Maintenance Man is bewildered. “Consumption, what are you doing?”

“That’s not Consumption,” says Methane Man direly. “He’s The Imprinter!”

“I don’t get it,” says Maintenance Man, trying to understand. “When did you have the chance to make the imprint?”

The villain smiles with his weapon fixed on The Zeroes. “The night you took down Ex Com at the Pen. I was waiting in the storage cooler when your chowhound and The Neck came in for pie. I printed him, threw him in a truck, and sped out of there before you activated the security knockout. I planned to kill you all at a later time, as I was hoping to get access to that computer I hear you losers have. But, you forced my hand here. No great loss, as long as you’re dead.”

“Well you don’t have to be so mean about it,” says Maintenance Man.

“No big deal for me,” says the villain unemotionally. “I can take care of that business here and now. And with you out of the way, I can help Ex Com escape prison, and we can continue with our diabolical scheme. Not to mention get back to my original form. Carrying all this extra weight is wearing me out!”

“It looks good on you,” says Sarcasm wryly.

The Imprinter focuses his gun, preparing to shoot. Cornered, The Excess Men brace themselves. At that moment, Captain Irrelevant decides he needs to use the restroom, and turns to walk to his right. The Imprinter doesn’t notice him at all. With his first step The Captain catches a protruding floorboard, which sends him falling forward into a shovel that was leaning, spade up, against the wall. The shovel falls sharply; cutting an errant electrical cord that was hanging down from a beam. The live wire, swaying from the sudden cut, swings towards The Imprinter, shocking him and throwing him to the floor. Barely able to raise his head, with his last breath before falling into unconsciousness, The Imprinter mumbles, “There are five.”

Maintenance Man finds the circuit breakers, and shuts down the power. 

With The Imprinter immobilized, Methane Man, stunned at this turn of events utters, “Uhhhh….good work…Captain.”

Maintenance Man is still baffled. “How did you know the real Consumption was here?”

“The Professor tipped us off,” says Methane Man. “He has a radar he can track us on.”

Sarcasm and Maintenance Man grab The Imprinter and drag him over to the real Consumption, but it is a laborious task. “It’s like trying to pull a bag of rocks,” says the Terse Titan.

They move the imposter’s arm onto the pelt of Consumption, and the transformation back takes place. Consumption regains consciousness, but is weak. Methane Man instructs the Captain to feed him whatever he can to get his strength back up. He runs out to get food from the farmers market.

Sarcasm calls the Professor to update him. 

“Alright,” says The Professor, “build up pork chops strength, and then get back here immediately.”

After an hour the Hungry Hero is well enough to travel, and the team prepares to return to the Great Hall. They call the police and notify them of The Imprinters location, and head for the truck. With The Zeroes all loaded in, Maintenance Man drives off. 

Part III - Deception

After a short time on the road, Sarcasm's eyes start to water. Captain Irrelevant begins to choke, and the Tool Titan is rolling down the window. 

Sarcasm turns to Methane Man, “That was a bad one, huh?”

The King of Stench is perplexed. “It wasn’t me. It’s him,” he says, pointing to Consumption.

Sarcasm looks at The Captain, “What did you feed him?”

“Brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli…”

“Fuckin' beautiful,” says an irritated Sarcasm. “You created a human compost.”

As the air clears, Consumption, feeling more coherent as he continues to eat, can finally speak, “Thanks for saving me guys. How long was I out?”

“A month,” says Methane Man.

“Wow,” says the Hungry Hero. “It feels like no time has passed. So what’s been going on? Did we stop ExCom? Did we save the Ocean State? Where are we going?”

“We got ExCom, and now we’re heading back to The Great Hall,” says Methane Man. “Then we have a mission at Rocky Joint.”

“Oh, good,” says Consumption. “Are we going to talk to The Professor?”

“Talk? What talk?” says Sarcasm. “He usually just yells at us.”

“No,” emphasizes Consumption. “I mean, are we going to have that talk with him?”

The other Zeroes are confused. 

“About what?” asks Maintenance Man.

“Well, you know, about us. Our history. How he manipulates our memories.”

His fellow Excess Men are confused in listening to Consumption, but are growing curious. Maintenance Man pulls the truck over, and turns to face the rest of the team.

“What is going on in your head,” says Methane Man, in a curious tone.

As Consumption explains, by detailing the events leading to the uprising at the OSP, the awareness and consciousness in the other Zeroes begins to awaken. They come to realize The Professor has erased their memories a second time.

“He did it to us again,” says Methane Man.

“Son of a bitch,” yells Sarcasm. “This motherfucker’s got us by the balls!”

“Wow, he zapped you guys?” realizes Consumption.

“And if The Imprinter hadn’t taken you out, we’d have no clue,” says Methane Man, who stops and realizes what each of the other Zeroes are also understanding. “We can’t return to the Great Hall until we figure out a plan. He’s liable to do it again if we go back there.”

“Liable to?” snarks Sarcasm. 

“Well, we’ll need an excuse as to why we’re not heading there now,” says Maintenance Man. “How about we go to the Palladium? It’s almost time for that…thing; whatever is supposed to happen there.”

The Zeroes agree and head to the Palladium.

 

A short time later The Excess Men arrive at Rocky Joint. They cautiously enter the Palladium, dimly lit by a security lights. It is a spacious dance hall with tables and chairs stacked along the perimeter. The hall is quiet and still, as The Zeroes walk to the center of the room.

“I don’t see a lot going on here,” says Methane Man.

“You mean The Professor was wrong?” notes Sarcasm. 

Suddenly the main lights go up, and twenty state police officers in SWAT gear step out from behind the surrounding tables and chairs. Each officer is wearing a gas mask, and holding an automatic weapon trained on the cluster formed by the Excess Men. 

“Seems they were expecting you,” says Maintenance Man to the Man of Odor.

Consumption scans the line of weapons aimed at the Zeroes, “I hope none of them are prone to spasms.”

“What’s going on here?” asks Maintenance Man of the surrounding police force. 

Then a voice comes into earshot from behind the officers, “Perhaps I can explain.”

A man in a dark suit, also wearing a gas mask, walks in just past the police line. 

“Hey, I think that’s Governor Chumlee,” says Consumption.

“That is correct,” says the Governor. “And I am here to personally oversee your arrest.”

“Arrest us?” exclaims Methane Man. “Are you shittin’ me? We’re the good guys. We stand for justice.”

“Yeah,” says Sarcasm peering over Methane Man’s shoulder. “And we put away more Supervillans than your smog monster cops here.”

“Yes,” says Governor Chumlee. “That fact is particularly perplexing to a great many people. However, we now know your efforts against crime were nothing more than a clever smokescreen. It seems the Ocean State is floundering. Money has been systematically siphoned from all of our secure online accounts, but we couldn’t figure out how. Then our investigation team cracked the code on the cyber sabotage, and traced it, showing that it has been you - The Excess Men - doing it all along.”

“Us?” exclaims Maintenance Man. “You’re crazy.”

“Oh, it’s you all right. Don’t deny it,” says The Governor confidently, as he produces a small envelope. “We have all the evidence to prove it right in here. You’ve drained money from the state, the banks, and even the electronic accounts of the most powerful local Mafioso.”

Consumption’s eyes widen, “You mean the Ocean State Mob Lot?”

“That’s right,” says Governor Chumlee. “Pretty ballsy. You’re lucky we got to you before them. We’re just going to arrest you, and lock you away. They would blow you up, or put you through a slow, torturous death.”

“Certainly be preferable to listening to you,” says Sarcasm.

“Stow the wise cracks,” says one of the policemen, in a more decorated outfit. He steps up next to the governor, who does the introductions.

“Excess Men, meet the head of the Capital Police – Major Mager Majure.”

“Oh, come on!!” yells Sarcasm.

“You clowns are done,” says Major Majure. “We don’t like you having your own little vigilante group, and now we’re going to expose you for the lowlife criminals you really are.”

The Zeroes, clustered in the room in very close proximity, whisper amongst themselves.

“We gotta find a way out of here,” says Consumption.

Maintenance Man looks to the ceiling. Thirty feet up is a glass skylight. 

“I have an idea,” he says. “When I signal, everybody group hug around me.”

“What? Ewwww!” says Sarcasm.

“Just do it!” orders The Tool Titan, who grabs his Bullet Line SM-9408 tape measure and quietly orders, “Now.” 

In an instant the Zeroes cling tight to each other around Maintenance Man, as he shoots his tape measure towards the ceiling. The extra long, titanium tang catches a hook at the top of the skylight. He then clicks the turbo retract button. With the Tool Titan’s firm grip on the housing, the team, minus Captain Irrelevant who forgot to hug, is quickly whisked up to the ceiling. They smash through the glass peak. The propulsion tosses them onto the roof of the building. 

“To the stairs!” yells Major Majure.

The officers, not noticing Captain Irrelevant standing alone in the middle of the room, run out to try and catch the Excess Men. The Captain looks around calmly, as he is now standing alone in the huge dance hall. He sighs and walks to the door. 

Back on the roof the other Zeroes run to the edge. Maintenance Man affixes the tape measure tang to a roof anchor, and the Chumpions lower down in reverse fashion of their inside escape. They land at the base of the building just as Captain Irrelevant steps out from a side door, and falls in line behind them. They make their way to the ice cream truck, as both Sarcasm and Maintenance Man separately glance back with confusion at The Captain.

The Zeroes jump in the truck, and speed off with the Capital police now scrambling for their cars. However, the powerful super vehicle quickly loses the authorities.

They drive along the side-streets trying to determine a safe destination, when the ExPhone starts to play the ringtone I Touch Myself. It’s Professor Exhausting.

“Should we take it?” asks Consumption.

“I think we should,” says Methane Man. “Maybe we can stall him, and find out if he knows anything about these charges of us embezzling money.”

As they answer the call, The Professor is furious. “Where the fuck are you cumquats? When I say get back here I don’t mean to fuck rabbits, you worthless pussballs.”

“Sorry Professor,” says Methane Man. “We got cornered by the Governor and the Capital Police. They say we stole billions from the state, and the Mob Lot is after us.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about it,” says the leader curtly. 

“You do?” says Maintenance Man. “But why didn’t you warn us?”

“It’s complicated,” says The Professor in a direct manner. “They think they have some kind of evidence against you. But what’s most important is – Why am I explaining myself to you turd brains! Get to The Hall NOW!”

Sarcasm disconnects the line, and deadpans, “He seems crankier than usual.”

“Well, we’ve never defied him,” says Consumption.

“Yeah, but we can’t let him use the Exfacto on us again,” states Methane Man.

The team is full in agreement with that reasoning. They drive two hours to the secluded northwest region of the state.

Growing weary from being on the run, The Excess Men finally stop at the Suchashity Reservoir.  As they rest by the water, Maintenance Man says, “If only we knew what was in that envelope. Or what evidence it is that they have against us.”

“Why don’t we check it out?”

Methane Man jumps at the voice that comes from behind him, quickly realizing who spoke. “Oh, hey, Captain…” he says, then remarking caustically, “So, how do you figure we can check out the evidence?”

Captain Irrelevant turns over his hand to reveal the envelope. The whole team sits up quickly and takes notice.

“How did you get that?” asks a stunned Maintenance Man.

“Back at the Palladium,” says The Captain. “I went over and took it from the Governor.”

“Why…why, didn’t you tell us you had it?” asks a dumbfounded Sarcasm.

Captain Irrelevant just stands motionless, and stares. Methane Man walks over in a huff, and grabs the envelope. He tears it open, and pulls out a small computer chip and memory card. 

“A storage drive. The information must be on here. Can you access it, Captain?”

The negligible one takes the chip, and adapts it crudely to the only available processing source – his ExPhone. He works on the device methodically trying to access the data, then suddenly focuses intently.

“I cracked it. Man, this is impressive for the cops,” he says, explaining what he has found. “The funds were being drained by a nearly undetectable…very complex program. The power source is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Seems The Governor and his boys developed an intricate algorithm to track the source of the money raiding. It allowed them to detect on a wide scale any and all processes. There is data on electronic manipulation that clearly shows exactly where the funds were being extorted from.” The Captain slowly looks up at the other Zeroes before he continues, “And it leads to us.”

“That’s impossible. None of us would do that,” says Maintenance Man, who then stops, turns and looks at Sarcasm.

“What?” says the Terse Titan.

“Well, you would be the logical choice,” says Methane Man.

“Why? Because I’m the asshole in the group? Because I’m surly and mean?”

Sarcasm stops for a second, and deliberates. “Okay – logical. But I didn’t do it! What about Cap? He’s the computer guy.”

“He is at that,” says the flatulent one, as he turns to glare at The Captain.

“Me?” responds Captain Irrelevant in an ever-so-slightly elevated emotional tone. “Hey, I don’t have a huge appetite to feed.”

“What does that mean?” asks a defiant Consumption, who then points to Methane Man and questions, “How about you? I hear you've been blowing big bucks on babes and wine.”

“That’s crap,” says the Toxic Titan, who then turns to accuse Maintenance Man. “What about…” 

He suddenly stops. Aware The Handy Hero is above reproach, Methane Man lets out a defeated moan, turns away and mumbles, “I still say Sarcasm.”

“Alright, enough Zeroes,” commands Maintenance Man. “Let’s get a grip. It’s none of us. Now we need to pull it together, and focus on who set us up.”

Captain Irrelevant, having continued to work on the connection to the chips, makes a discovery. “Hey, guys, there’s more to this. It goes deeper. I found some hidden connection that I don’t even think Chumlee’s boys had cracked. I believe I can tap into the cops program through the ExPhone, using it to track the source. That might tell us who is behind all this. But, it might take days to finish.”

“Do it,” instructs Methane Man. “We need all the information on this we can get.”

“There’s a minor catch,” says The Captain. “To do so, this ExPhone must stay on. That means The Professor can try to communicate with us, and track us through it.” 

The Zeroes look concerned. Methane Man inquires as to the accuracy of Professor Exhausting’s trace.

“With his radar equipment, and this phone being activated - pretty close,” informs The Captain. “It won’t be as pinpoint if we are moving. But he’ll have a good idea of where we are.”

“We’ll have to keep driving then,” says Maintenance Man, “until it finishes. Let’s go Zeroes!” 

 

A short time later, as they journey through a  rural section in the town of Poonsocket, the ExPhone running the program engages its communications port. Maintenance Man pulls the truck over to the side of the road. The Professor starts to speak, but his voice and mannerism are quite different. He is calm and serene, speaking in a soft, gentle voice. “Hey fellas, what ya doin’? Golly, I miss you guys, and love to have you all back here at The Hall. Why I haven’t seen you boys in forever…”

As The Professor’s voice speaks from the ExPhone, the Excess Men look at each other with confusion, and an almost apprehensive fear. Sarcasm makes an intoxicated drinking gesture to the other Zeroes.

“You okay Professor?” asks an uneasy Captain Irrelevant.

“Who’s that?” replies Professor Exhausting in a confused, but still pleasant voice before continuing. “So whaddya say guys? You wanna come back, and I’ll make some cookies and we’ll play Ocean State-opoly. Hey Consumption, I’ve got some cakes over here. Chocolate and extra frosting…”

A smile comes over Consumptions face. He starts to head for the door until Maintenance Man halts him by grabbing his fork shaped cape with a pair of pliers.

Sarcasm walks over and mutes the communication. “That was fucking creepy,” he says nervously.

“Yeah,” says Methane Man. “How can someone be so bad at being nice?”

“He’s trying anything to get us back to the Hall to blot our memories,” says Maintenance Man. “We know he’s still tracking us. Let’s keep moving.”

The Hardhat Hero starts the truck, and the team climbs aboard, driving off in no particular direction. 

As they cruise, the Zeroes ponder various options to resolve their situation. However, the constant playing of Pop Goes The Weasel from the truck’s speaker agitates Sarcasm. The song is constant, though somewhat muzzled as the speaker sits outside the step door in front. Consumption, seated on a milk crate in the back of the vehicle, and eating a creamsicle, taps his foot to the song while mouthing the words.

“Why is it you can fix anything under the sun, but you can’t turn off that stupid music?” yells the Terse Titan to Maintenance Man. 

Sitting on a cooler, Methane Man grabs the gun they had taken off of The Imprinter. With the speaker barely in his sights, he aims, and shoots it clean off the truck.

“We should make you the fix it guy,” says Sarcasm.

A few hours go by, and the Zeroes need to stop and gas up their vehicle. They pull into a convenience station on a country road. While Maintenance Man fills the tank, the others head into the store. Consumption immediately eats the pastry aisle, and a cardboard display for tampons. From across the store, Sarcasm apologizes to the clerk, and promises to pay for everything. As he moves to the check out, the clerk says, “With the gas and pastry, that’ll be one hundred and twenty seven–fifty, Sarcasm.” 

The curt one is surprised to be called by name, and looks up to find Captain Irrelevant standing behind the counter.

“What are you doing?” Sarcasm asks in surprise. “Are…you working here? Weren’t you with us in the truck?”

Methane Man steps up and notes, “We’ve been driving around for hours.” 

“After we stopped during that last call from The Professor, you guys took off without me,” says The Captain. “It was only two blocks from here. I guess you drove in a big circle.”

Sarcasm slumps to his elbows on the counter, and in an exasperated moan says, “But…you’re working here? How…what did…?”

Methane Man puts his arm around the Cranky Crimefighter, grabs a Mad Magazine, hands it to him, and leads him to the door. 

“Relax. Head to the truck. We’ll be out in a minute,” he says.  Then with frustration on his face, turns back to the counter. 

Captain Irrelevant informs Methane Man, “With the magazine, its one hundred and thirty-five dollars, and fifty cents.”

The Man of Odor rolls his eyes, and gruffly pays the tab.

“Would you like to sign up for a Preferred Customer card?” asks The Captain.

Methane Man does a slow steam and growls, “Get in the fuckin’ truck.”

 

Just as the team readies to leave, the Capital Police suddenly arrive in numerous vehicles blocking both ends of the road. The Excess Men seeing no way out, abandon the ice cream truck and take off through the woods. The police begin to pursue them, but in the dark of night can’t keep up with The Zeroes, guided by Maintenance Man’s Legend Lenser X21 Flashlight. 

After running for some time, The Chumpions come to an opening deep in the woods. They stop to catch their breath for a few minutes. As the Zeroes relax, a quartet of gangsters from the Ocean State Mob Lot steps out from the bushes. They are armed with pistols, and each one is wearing a gas mask.

“Boy, it seems everyone has your number these days,” says Sarcasm to Methane Man.

“Oh, give me a break,” snaps the Toxic Titan. “I could melt those masks off their faces. I just can’t do it quicker than a bullet.”

The leader of this Mob Lot lot is Nester “Nutsack” Nolan. 

“Well, well,” says Nutsack, in his classic mob voice. “The infamous excess guys. Da super crimefighters. Ha! Get a load of ‘dem outfits, boys. Don’t they look adorable?”

The other mobsters laugh, making kissing and cooing sounds. 

“Suck my nutsack, Nutsack,” says Sarcasm. 

“Oh, ay, smart guy,” remarks the gang leader sternly. “Guess what? You’se gonna die first.”

Methane Man leans into the Terse Titan. “Happy now?”

“Hang on,” says a perplexed Maintenance Man. “How did you find us? We’re out in the middle of nowhere; deep in the forest.”

“Yeah, well a little doggy told us how to find yis with this here PGS jiggamathingy,” explains Nutsack holding a Garman.

“A little dog…?” queries Consumption. “Don’t you mean birdie?”

The mobsters all raise their weapons towards the Excess Men.

“Shit. We’ve been staring down a lot of gun barrels,” says Methane Man in an observational tone.

“Yeah, well, dis’ll be your last time,” says Nutsack.

Envisioning a way out of their predicament, Consumption whispers, “C.I., I need a quick distraction.”

“Like what?” says a stumped Captain Irrelevant, who suddenly loses his balance, and backs into a large branch that had fallen from a tree. Upon hitting the branch it falls over, causing a rustle in the bushes some ten feet away. Startled, the Mob Lot turns, and starts to fire their weapons in the direction of the sound. Consumption, seeing the opportunity he needed, reaches into his fanny pack, and pulls out a handful of Big Bruiser jawbreakers. He whips the cue ball size candy at great speed towards the groins of the mobsters. The impact forces each of them to their knees, providing a chance for The Excess Men to make a break. The Mob Lot members are nearly incapacitated, but two are able to fire off a couple of rounds that miss. Sarcasm and Consumption, shaken by the near death experience, scream like little girls, as they all scramble into the woods.

Having slipped the gangsters, The Excess Men run swiftly through the dark forest. Again, compliments of Maintenance Man’s beam. 

“You’re like fuckin’ Rudolph tonight,” says Sarcasm.

The Zeroes circle back to where they left the truck, in hopes that the police are still off chasing them in the woods. Upon returning to the area of the convenience store, surveying from behind the forest’s edge, they see that the remaining cops are few. The truck sits across the street, unguarded, and there is now room in the road to make an escape.

“All of us going for the truck might catch their attention,” says Methane Man. “Captain, run over, get the truck and meet us out at the street.”

Captain Irrelevant makes his way over to the truck, but forgets to bring the keys. He returns to retrieve them, and then heads back.

With the rest of the team still watching, The Captain steps inside the truck. Seven seconds later the vehicle explodes into a fiery ball! The Excess Men stare in disbelief.

“What the fuck!” yells a startled Sarcasm. “That’s got Mob Lot written all over it.”

Consumption moans, “Oh man, now we got no wheels.” 

The Zeroes are stunned.

Methane Man walks over, and puts his hand on the shoulder of a clearly distraught Maintenance Man.

“That truck,” sighs the Tool Titan. “I spent so much time on it…I made it into a super machine.”

The explosion has brought back all of the police that had been hunting The Excess Men. With the area swarming with cops, The Zeroes realize they have to keep moving before they are spotted. They head down a narrow dirt path off of the main route.

Hours go by, and The Excess Men, still making their way along back roads and fields, are exhausted. They continue to buy time, waiting for the ExPhone to finish running the program put in place by Captain Irrelevant. Otherwise there is little they can do except keep moving, with short rests when it is absolutely needed.

“Something is very wrong here,” states Maintenance Man, as the team walks along. 

“Yeah,” says Consumption. “Like something’s missing.”

“No, no, that’s not it,” says The Handy Hero, his tone emphasizing the team’s attention to his observation. “We were out in the middle of nowhere. And they all knew where we we’re going to be. The cops. The Mob Lot.”

“You’re right,” says Methane Man. “Something stinks here.”

“Do you realize it when you say that stuff?” asks Sarcasm.

“I’ll bet the little doggy that told Nutsack, told the cops as well,” continues The Man of Odor. “Only one person could know exactly where we were both times.”

Consumption steps up with a look of shock, “You mean The Professor? No, he would never do that to us.”

“It has to be,” says Maintenance Man. “He has that radar. He sold us out, and is trying to get us killed.”

“What the fuck!” yells Sarcasm. 

Consumption continues to object to the premise but, at the encouragement of the other Zeroes, cannot come up with an alternative scenario.

Methane Man notices that the Tool Titan looks concerned. 

“What’s up, Double M?”

“Well, I just don’t understand one thing. If The Professor wants us dead, why doesn’t he take our powers away?  We’d be a lot more vulnerable without them.”

“You know, we haven’t tried to use our powers in a while,” says Methane Man. “Maybe we don’t have them.”

“Consumption ate a barn back there,” exclaims Sarcasm pointing whence they came. “And as for you – light a match, and we’ll talk.”

“I got a splinter in my tongue,” says the Hungry Hero. Methane Man slaps him in the back of the head.

Maintenance Man is still perplexed. “He’s the most calculating guy we’ve ever met. There’s no way he’d miss something like that.”

The team mulls over that reasoning, but still cannot escape their current predicament.

“Regardless, we better keep moving,” says Methane Man. “No matter what’s going on, we are in danger if we stay in one place too long.”

The team travels a few more miles, cutting in and out of brush, trees, and across a stream. They stop again for a rest. As they drop to the ground in near exhaustion, the ExPhone starts to beep, signaling that the program has finished its scan for the source of the Net-Crime. 

Consumption walks over and grabs the phone, “Finally. Maybe now we’ll get some answers.” 

He enters a couple of quick commands to show the results, and announces, “Hey, it worked. It tracked the true source of the cyber-extortion.”

“Excellent,” says Methane Man. “Where does it lead?”

Consumption looks up ominously from the view screen on the ExPhone, and says, “It leads back to Woodmar Kette!”