ROBERT ROTH

Friday Flash Fiction: The Last Henchman

by May 21, 2021Blog, Flash Fiction

“That looks like it fits you really well.”

Phil smiled at the compliment as he checked himself out in the full-length mirror. His new uniform did fit him really well. It ought to have since it was custom printed for him by Professor Specter’s Quartermaster. He wasn’t sure about the black and green color scheme, but he’d worn worse uniforms in his short career.

“Thanks, Miles,” Phil answered, turning to his squadmate. Then he sniffed. “Although it’s still got that new uniform smell.”

Phil laughed and handed Miles a matching helmet. “It’s your first day. The smell will go away, trust me. Now, we should–”

A klaxon suddenly sounded as the overhead lighting shifted from bright white to red. “Alert. All guards to your stations. Repeat. All guards to your stations. This is not a drill.”

Phil’s expression must’ve betrayed his surprise because Miles put a friendly hand on his shoulder. “You’ve got this, Phil. It’s what you’ve trained for. Let’s get going.”

Miles slipped his helmet on. Phil nodded and did the same, then followed his squadmate out of the locker room into one of the vast, open corridors of Professor Specter’s base. Not for the first time, Phil lamented the lack of protective cover. Their squad had already gathered there.

“You two,” called out their Squad Leader. He was the largest guard Phil had seen in Professor Specter’s crew. He was easily a head taller than Phil and probably outweighed him by at least seventy-five pounds. “Fall in. We’ve been assigned to the group guarding the main chamber. Let’s go!”

The Squad Leader turned on his boot heel and started running down the corridor with the squad in tow. Phil had no problem keeping up. His guard training had included a lot of cardio, which he’d taken to with a vengeance. Between that and the extensive strength training, Phil was in the best shape of his life. No one was ever gonna get past him, he knew. Especially none of those–

Then an explosion sounded in the distance, causing the lights to briefly flicker and go out, giving him a quick moment of pause.

He turned to Miles. “What the hell was that?”

Miles shrugged as he ran. “I don’t know. Maybe one of the reactors blew?”

Reactor? Didn’t that mean the base would soon be flooded with radiation? Would his insurance even cover that? Phil shuddered at the thought. At least he hadn’t been down there when it went.

Phil’s squad rounded a corner as another group of guards ran past them, going the other way. The flashing red lights and loud klaxon were becoming annoying and added to the chaos he felt. But his helmet dulled the sound enough to at least make it bearable. He felt his heart pounding as he contemplated whatever battle was coming and smiled, confident that he would make a difference that day.

The main chamber was just up ahead. Phil’s squad ran in from the corridor just before a set of massive metal doors swung closed and locked with a loud thunk. Phil couldn’t remember what they were made of, but they were each at least three feet thick. There was no way someone was getting through those.

Phil turned and saw Professor Specter himself, standing in the center of the room giving orders to the small crew stationed at a bank of computer terminals. The Professor was dressed in his usual long, black robes, a tall ornate silver staff held loosely in his bony fingers. He gave off a faint, spectral aura that seemed to radiate confidence and let his observers know that there was a lot of power to be found within.

Suddenly another explosion rocked the base. It was strong enough to shake the chamber, and several large pieces of the domed ceiling came loose and crashed down to the floor. Phil gasped in shock as one chunk of debris fell right on Marty, one of his trainers, and crushed him. That was too bad. He’d really liked Marty.

Then the deep timbre of Professor Specter’s voice cut through all the noise in the chamber. “You there,” he called out, his voice echoing in Phil’s head, and pointed a skeletal finger at Phil’s Squad Leader. “Bring your men and follow me.”

“You heard the Professor,” his Squad Leader shouted. “Let’s go.”

The squad ran up to where Professor Specter was standing, then followed him to the other side of the great, circular chamber. The Professor stopped a few feet short from a section of the curving wall, then dramatically waved his long arms and began to chant in a language Phil didn’t recognize. His pale hands started to glow a ghostly blue, then the section of the wall slid away to reveal a dark corridor.

The Professor turned to the squad. “No one must follow me,” he firmly instructed them. “Guard this exit with your life, if necessary.”

Then, without waiting for a response, he turned and ran out into the dark.

Phil considered the instructions he’d just been given as he watched as the wall section slid back into place. His life? He hadn’t thought it would come to that. But it’s what he trained for, at least. Phil took his position as the squad formed up in front of the secret exit. It kind of gave away the secret, all of them standing there, but he wasn’t about to point that out in the middle of a crisis. It was better just to follow orders than risk a reprimand from someone who could rend you limb from limb with a wave of his hand.

There was another sudden, loud boom, and the giant metal doors buckled. That could only have meant one thing. There weren’t many people strong enough to deal that kind of damage. Phil fell back into his combat stance as a second boom rang out. Then one of the doors exploded from its hinges and flew across the room, taking the bank of terminals and its operators along with it. Phil wondered if that cute operator he’d met in his training was on shift. It was hard to tell with everyone wearing their helmets.

As the blooming cloud of dust slowly dissipated in front of the broken door, a lone figure strode purposefully into the room. Phil already had a hunch who it would be, and the sparkly platinum spandex costume with the shining gold emblem on its chest confirmed his suspicions. It was Captain Star. Finally.

Illustration of a green-armored guard waits in front of a metal sliding door

The hero had been responsible for Phil losing his last job. Not because of anything Phil had done, of course. But his previous boss, Queen Quasar, had insisted on a strict five-day workweek. So Phil had been at home, enjoying a beer while he watched the game when the newscast came on informing the world of the Queen’s demise at the hands of fucking Captain Star. Phil was finally gonna get some payback.

Phil desperately tried to recall any of Captain Star’s known weaknesses. Fire? No, that was the Sea Serpent. Water? No, that was Firestorm. Or was that cold? But his musings were cut short as the squad closest to the door stormed in on the attack. The Squad Leader, anticipating his squad’s reaction, held up a hand, reminding them to stay in place. No matter how desperately Phil wanted to support his crewmates, they’d been ordered to guard the Professor’s exit.

Captain Star flashed his trademarked grin–no, it was only a rumor that his team had tried to trademark it, Phil remembered–before brandishing his Star Shield against the hail of bullet fire the guards unleashed on him. The glowing shield vaporized the incoming projectiles with ease.

Phil glanced at his service pistol, still nestled in its holster at his waist, knowing it would be useless.

Once the guards exhausted their ammunition, they rushed in for a melée attack. Despite the numerous drills Phil had seen and participated in, the attack was messy and uncoordinated. It was so easy to forget your training in the heat of the moment, and that forgetfulness served the Captain well as he quickly dispatched guard after guard. A second crew rushed him next, forgoing their useless sidearms, but they were struck down as easily as the first.

Phil wondered why they waited to attack in squads instead of all rushing their attacker at once. Captain Star was astonishingly strong, but surely even he’d struggle with defending himself against dozens of attackers at once. Perhaps the other squads had been given orders like his had to remain in place. Phil made a mental note to mention that to his Squad Leader once the battle was over, hoping he’d be open to a little constructive critique.

In the meantime, he watched as guard after guard was injured–or worse–by the fighting dynamo in the glimmering platinum suit. Phil tried to follow the action as best he could, looking for any weaknesses Captain Star might have, any openings that Phil could use if–no, when–the fighting reached him. But it didn’t seem like he had one. Phil started to sweat and wondered why his suit was so damn hot.

“Steady, everyone,” the Squad Leader murmured. “There’s fifty of us and only one of him. We’ll take him.”

The squad nodded, mumbled, and grunted. Phil appreciated the words of encouragement, even if they weren’t entirely true. Sure, they’d started out as fifty to one, but that number was decreasing rapidly.

But had Captain Star started fighting a little slower? Yes! Even a superpowered tank in spandex couldn’t last forever, Phil reasoned. The Captain had to be running out of steam. And was he favoring his right side? Phil watched closely. There, just before Captain Star grabbed another guard and tossed him across the chamber, the guard had landed a punch to his left flank, and the Captain had clearly winced. That would be Phil’s attack, he decided.

“Miles,” Phil stage whispered to his fellow crewmate, “go for his left side. He’s injured there.”

Miles nodded encouragingly. “Good eye, Phil. See, I knew this was the right job for you.”

Phil smiled and squeezed his fists tightly in anticipation as he observed the approaching ruckus. Captain Star was still plowing through the Professor’s guards, but he was definitely moving slower. And was that a limp? Yes, the Captain was limping on his right leg. That would put him off balance since he couldn’t easily favor his right side any longer.

“Get ready,” Phil’s Squad Leader announced. “This fight’s gonna be down to us.”

That was clearly true, Phil saw. The only other remaining squad had moved in to attack, and it was doubtful that they would stop their opponent. But one of them managed a closed fist punch on the Captain’s left midsection, and the Captain clearly winced. Maybe even snarled. It was a weakness Phil couldn’t wait to exploit once he–

Then Phil had to duck as Captain Star took hold of that guard and threw him right in Phil’s direction. The guard sailed over Phil’s head and smacked into the chamber wall with a sickening crunch. Phil snarled inside his helmet while he loosened his stance. That guy was going down.

Suddenly the Captain was there. Phil was about to step forward when the Squad Leader cut him off. The beefy behemoth managed to get in three solid hits before Captain Star sent him to the floor with a punch that probably broke most of the Squad Leader’s ribs. Miles and two others jumped in next, crying out in rage. Phil saw Miles try for the Captain’s right side, and Phil sighed inwardly. He’d told his friend to go for the left, but Miles must’ve gotten confused. Captain Star grabbed hold of Miles’ arm before his fist had even made contact and snapped it with an uppercut from his free hand.

Phil winced as he imagined the pain his friend must’ve felt, then growled as the Captain threw Miles aside. He saw his opening and charged, ducking under a roundhouse swing as he punched his fist into the Captain’s right thigh. It felt like Phil was pounding a tree trunk. But he heard Captain Star gasp, so he knew it was the right call. Phil spun on his heel as the Captain swung an arm down to block a second hit. Then he landed a solid punch into Captain Star’s left midsection. Was that a loose rib he’d felt? He lined up for a second hit when the Captain brought a fist down right on top of Phil’s helmet. The room swayed, and Phil’s ears rang from the concussion. Then Captain Star kicked out with his left leg, knocking Phil back onto his ass. He followed that with a fearsome strike to the faceplate on Phil’s helmet, hitting him hard enough to crack through whatever it had been made of. Phil flew onto his back and slid into the wall, smacking his head against it. Bright flashes bloomed in his vision like stars. Was that how Captain Star had gotten his name?

He tried to get up, then realized he couldn’t move. He couldn’t even feel his body at all. In his peripheral vision, he could see the Captain approach the wall section that Professor Specter had opened with a spell. The Captain just punched his hands through the metal and ripped it from the wall. Then he was gone.

Story Prompt
First day on the job.

Cover for Steal the Demon, a science-fiction novella by Robert Roth

Steal the Demon

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