(Continued from previous episode)
We resume at the face-off between Johnny W. Punisher and Tony Howard Stroark, Randian robber-baron and sodden steel saint of selfishness.
"Just two things before we fight," says Johnny. "One: give me some of that booze in your armor, and two: give me some of that booze in your armor."
"I wouldn't mind some booze, either," says Baronessy, tiredly rubbing her forehead. "That bottle of Jack he tossed me was completely cashed."
"Sure, why not?" Johnny shrugs. "Something for the lady, then. Maybe you got one of those big fruity drinks, with all the curly straws and shit?"
"I can drink with the boys, dammit! Does he have any brandy?"
"You're a fine girl," Johnny tells her.
"No! Stop it!" Stroark shrieks. "No handouts, no freebies. Everything has a price, and any man who says different is a parasite or a slave." He pauses to gulp a little Laphroaig from a valve hidden in his collar, then raises an accusing finger at Johnny. "I figure you for a sort of hybrid of the two: the stupidity of a slave redoubled with the parochial viciousness of a parasite. Well, 'slavasite,' you won't oppress me again!" With a hiss (and a slight fizz of champagne), Stroark's visor slams shut. "Ayn Man is your opponent now, and he will extract a few pound of your flesh as payment for your vandalism!"
"Johnny!" hisses Baronessy as the laser cannon on Stroark's arm starts Sucking-In Lines of atmospheric energy. "Do we have time to get back to your robot?"
"Wish I could, but piloting EMO-1 is like donating blood," Johnny says. "It's very attractive to a certain variety of women. Oh, and you can't do it more than once every few weeks." He cracks his knuckles. "Looks like I'm going to have to tear out his heart and eat it the old fashioned way."
"Give it a try," Stroark says in a filtered "Frampton Comes Alive!"-ish voice, then fires a six-foot-wide column of energy at Johnny.
Johnny's dodge, luckily, gets him seven feet away, where he sullenly regards the smoldering hem of his long coat and glares at Stroark reproachfully.
"Hmmpf," harrumphs Stroark, "I can do far worse than-" But he's interrupted when Johnny suddenly appears at his side, bites the laser cannon off his arm, and spits the crushed remain at his visor.
Stroark reels back in a near panic. "The hell? How'd your jaw...? Forget it; your luck is up. It happens that I just put away an occasional teammate of mine who goes berserk every so often and starts wrecking the city, so my suit is newly OPTIMIZED to wrangle with hulking psychotics of your stripe!"
With that, the
repulsdetractors at his feet ignite, and he careens forward to slam Johnny's head into a warehouse wall. The next few minutes is a montage of the fight swinging Ayn Man's way. Johnny throws a punch, and Stroark glides out of its way and retaliates with a detractor pulse; Johnny grabs a limb and he soon finds himself thrown thrown to the ground.
"This is bad. With his ability to fly, Ayn Man has Johnny completely outclassed!" says Baronessy to no one in particular. "Unless Johnny can somehow expose a weakness, he'll be killed!"
"BTW, babe," calls Stroark over his shoulder, "once I do kill him, how's about we two amble over to Casa Stroark for a little of the old extracurricular? You'll find it quite rough the first few times around, but I believe that pain is just the parasitic mindset leaving the body."
"Speakin' of pain..." Johnny mumbles. He manages a leap onto Stroark's back, where he can't be easily dislodged, and starts pounding on his shoulder blades.
There's a sudden POP! and we drop into slow motion to capture Johnny's bruised bewilderment, Baronessy's surprise, and Stroark's horror (somehow visible through the impassive mask of his visor) as what appears to be a wine cork drops out of the shoulder of his armor and thuds to the concrete.
Johnny sniffs the socket vacated by the cork, smiles dreamily, and starts slurping at it. Almost immediately, klaxons start sounding from the Ayn Man armor, and a pleasant female voice warns that "Bananarita Levels are at 40% and dropping."
"No. NO! Isolate well drink reservoirs! Seal off the mixers!"
"Isolation failed; suction too strong. Old Fashioned tank depleted; more cut fruit required."
Stroark drops to his knees, clutching his helmet. "No matter! Just preserve the vodka!"
"Cannot comply. Vodka flow at 90%; 63%; 21%; vodka depleted. Suit is dry."
"Gaah!" With a sudden convulsion, Stroark manages to shake off Johnny. "You fool! You don't know what you've done! I'm as good as dead now." The visor slides up to reveal Stroark's ashen face, which looks a good twenty years older. His bloodshot eyes are more red than white. "The vodka drip you just drained was the only thing staving off a massive hangover. If I don't find a little hair of the dog soon, my heart will probably stop. Talk about a party foul."
Johnny responds with a slightly-inebriated roundhouse kick to Stroark's chestplate.
"Wha can I say? AA ish AA, bitsh!"
Stroark collapses to the ground like a sack of potatoes... a sack of bloody, alchoholic potatoes. As if on cue, the thunderclouds that were gathering above open for a downpour of rain, and the whole world turns Deliberately Monochrome.
"The rain on my chest ish a baptishm. I'm born again. I smell their fear. And it is shweeet! I am the night!"
Baronessy rolls her eyes. "No you're not, you're just drunk."
"What are you dense or shomething? Are you retarded? I'm the goddamned Johnny W. Punisher!"
"Sure you are. Let's get you inside."
"Yer a gud guy, 'nessy... a real gudguy."
Baronessy drags her wobbly partner into the nearest dive bar. A quick flirtation with the bouncer gains them access to the surprisingly plush VIP room where a cowboy-themed stripper dances without actually taking anything off with a oddly-sexy anthropomorphic English-accented mouse. A dangerous-looking heavy set man in a blood-stained trenchcoat announces their arrival.
"Da two strangers entered da bar like de other vermin of da city did before dem. Dey smelled of gin and sweat and broken dreams. It is a fragrance we all know well. We bathe in dat cologne every day of our lives in this city. Maybe today will be da day dat the rain washes all our sins and blood and filth away."
The man pauses to finish his brew.
"But dat will never happen... mainly because sins are abstract and can't be washed. I tink I was going for de metaphor dere though."
Baronessy turns to the waitress, who somehow has managed to remain relatively decent with a grand total of four square inches of fabric. "Does everyone in this friggin' city get all monologuey when drunk?"
The waitress flashes a heart-melting smile. "Aw, that's just Harv over there. He just gets like that sometimes... it only when he starts talking about his invisible rabbit friend that there's problems. Can I get you two anything to drink?"
Baronessy considers the drink menu. "I'll have a Gargle Blaster, and my friend here will have..."
Johnny pipes up: "WIMMIN!"
Baronessy sighs. "The blackest coffee you have."
The waitress pulls out a small black book and writes down the order. "How serious was your friend about his request? Let me tell ya, we've got whores. All sorts of whores. Whoreswhoreswhoreswhoreswhoreswhoreswhores."
The confused look on Baronessy's face vanishes. "Ah... we must have found our way to the MilleRed Light District."
In short order the drinks arrive, and with them a statuesque woman wearing even less clothing (but rather more jangly piercings) than Baronessy. She studies Johnny curiously: by now he's slumped on a table, murmuring quotes from The God Delusion in his sleep.
"This the john?" the whore asks. "He don't look too lively."
"He's had a rough day," mutters Baronessy, already well into the Gargle Blaster.
The whore cracks her chewing gum. "And was it you doin' the roughin', sister?"
"No, I - No. No, very no." Baronessy almost blushes and tries to cover by chugging the rest of the drink. "No," she continues a little woozily, "he had a little tussle out by the warehouse district. You should see the other guy - his armored ass won't be flying anywhere soon - "
She breaks off as she realizes that the bar has suddenly become remarkably quiet.
"What? What did I say?"
"An armored guy?" says the whore, nervously twitching one of her piercings. "It wasn't - it wasn't Tony, was it? Tony Howard Stroark, Junior?"
"So what if it was? We left him in a coma."
Abruptly, the waitress bolts into a back room, the cowgirl folds up her rope and vamooses with the mouse, and most of the rest of the bar stampedes out with them. Only Harv (conversing animatedly with the air above the bar stool next to him), Johnny (now muttering about "Catholic mind viruses"), Baronessy (suddenly sober), and the whore (whom Baronessy has caught by the arm) remain.
"Let go," hisses the hooker. "You want to get us both fridged?"
"Who is Stroark to send people running like this?"
"That objectivist bastard's connected. His daddy's a U.S. Senator, his uncle's a king shit at Access-Mundi Corp., his sister's a railroad magnate, his cousin's a hard-charging newspaper owner, and his mistress is a Soviet emigree novelist with her own personality cult. You two won't survive the day!"
"Or the minute, for that matter."
The entire front wall of the establishment collapses in a cannonade of laser fire to reveal Tony Stroark, now encased in a bulky gray battle suit - a veritable Machine of War.
"I knew I shouldn't have left my katana and roller skates at home today!" wails the whore as she finally breaks free from Baronessy and scurries under the bar.
Johnny continues to murmur and snore.
"You parasites have a great deal to answer for," booms Stroark. "The nanites in my suit were able to rebuild my failing organs, but they somehow screwed up my liver. Thanks to your boyfriend, I'm going to need six hours of dialysis every time I down so much as a Naughty Girl Scout!"
"He's not my boyfriend," Baronessy says, in two glances sizing up Stroark's armor and the distance to her satchel o' weapons. "Or rather - not anymore. Lately, I've grown dissatisfied with his company - and with my empty altruistic lifestyle. I have a need...a hunger...for a philosophy that could reframe my selfish inwardness as true nobility, and for a man - a real man - to break me down with all the force his cruel ego could bring to bear. Tony..."
"...Could you be that man?"
"Oh, you prince! Tell me about your philosophy," she purrs, inching a hand toward something on the bar. "At length."
"Well," Stroark babbles, "the inferior can only thrive at the expense of the truly capable. Society at large, particularly society conceived around a strong central government, is a grand ring of thieves..." He seems content to go on in this vein for three hours, but Baronessy suddenly holds up a hand. (Her left hand; her right is behind her back.)
"Tony, dear, it's hard to hear your magnificent words through that vocorder." She drifts her fingers across chest plate. "Perhaps you could take off your helmet so I could get the full effect."
Stroark complies, though a little reluctantly. With a hiss, the helmet lifts off to reveal his jaundiced head, hideously yellowed from the failure of his liver. He grins rakishly at her, to horrendous effect.
"How's that?" he asks.
"Perfect," Baronessy says, and with three dextrous passes of the bottle opener she lifted from the bar, she removes his head from his body. The armor remains standing for a surprised second or two before crashing impotently to the floor.
"Wow," says the whore, cautiously poking her own head over the bar. "Not even Harv could have made a take-down like that."
"Dat was priddy nice," Harv admits. He cocks an ear toward the neighboring stool. "Heh. Elwood tinks so too."
"It was nothing," Baronessy says absently. She sets the blood-fountaining head on the bar and casts about for a napkin.
"Don't be modest," says the whore. "You got class, intelligence, self-confidence, a way with weapons...did you ever think about becoming a whore?"
"We've got to get out of here," says Baronessy, turning to Punisher. "Wakey, wakey, John."
"I love you, Daddy," he murmurs. "I - Wha? That you, Baronessy? Man, my head..."
"We're leaving, Johnny."
"But we just got here! Ya gotta let me eat something to counter the hangover, or I'll just be worthless for the rest of the day." He spies a rounded blob of meat on the bar. "Say...you gonna eat that?"
Johnny saunters to the bar, but stops as he reaches for the pepper mill.
"On second thought, I'm hearing possibly-hallucinogenic mockery coming from this thing. Maybe we should just grab something at Chick-Fil-A."
Harv stands up and swoops on a coat just barely longer and more badass that Johnny's.
"Personally, I'd be gettin' out of da tri-state area. Stroark's suit has computer prolly already twittered his Uncle wit what you guys just did. Pritty soon, Access-Mundi's team of mercenaries will be showing up."
Baronessy glances out the front window.
"You mean that Burger King Kids' Club that's coming up the street now?"
Harv, looks out the front window, and makes a motion to the whore behind the counter.
"Yep, dat would be dem."
"I guess we're in for another fight."
Harv cracks his freakishly large knuckles.
"Yup, I guess you are."
In an unexpectedly swift motion, Harv's meaty paws grabs both Johnny and Baronessy by the scruff of their necks and send them crashing through the bar's front plate-glass window. Immediately following their departure, three metal security shutters cover up the front of the bar, respectively featuring the signs "QUARANTINE", "BEWARE OF LEOPARD" and "I ASSURE YOU WE'RE CLOSED." The two struggle to their feet, bloodied, with jags of glass sticking from several uncomfortable looking places, but still generally okay.
"Dammit!" Baronessy says. "All our weapons are in there."
"We'll just have to get creative, then" Johnny says. He withdraws one of the larger shards from his stomach lining and tests the edge with a finger. "I call the one in the wheelchair."
We cut back to the offices of Edger and Darkier, where Heath Edger's attempt to follow the ensuing fight on his surveillance monitor is defeated by an opaque haze of blood over the scene. He has to content himself with upping the volume on the screaming:
"Ay dios mio!"
"No! Not my glasses!"
"What?" Edger hurriedly hits the mute button on the monitor and turns to his desk waterfall, on which the image of the ominous executive from last episode is cast in angry red light. "Oh, good evening, sir. My, ah, condolences on -"
"I require vengeance, not sympathy. My nephew is dead, and you deployed the girl who killed him."
"Sir, I assure - "
"He could've been the first Stroark to become Secretary of Defense, but she went and made him into a headless freak. And you're responsible! If my Beta-Knife Killing Commission fails - as appears likely - than you must recall and execute her."
"The woman is a failsafe. She's essential to the plan. And you know as well as I do that the plan trumps everything: your nephew, your vengeance, your life - my life, if it comes to that."
"Rest easy. After Baronessy has played her part in delivering Punisher to us, I'll deliver her to you...Mister Rahlchard Stroark."
"See that you do." The light cools a little bit. An uncomfortable pause ensues. "Why...er, why did you just use my full name?"
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