Excerpt from THE RETURN OF LITTLE PRECIOUS , the first DOCTOR UNKNOWN JUNIOR novel, coming soon from Pro Se Press!
The bizarre super-terrorist known as Little Precious has attacked the city of Zenith by unleashing a horde of werewolves. Narrator Jack Christian (former super-hero sidekick Kid Mercury), Dana Unknown (the future Doctor Unknown Junior) and young Vionna Valis are making their way through the treacherous urban landscape when they run into...
The Black Centipede.
I had never met him, but I'd heard plenty of stories. Everybody had, and none of them were good ones. He had been a crime-fighter many, many years ago. Way before my time and Captain Mercury's. The Black Centipede had been a wanted man since 1972.
I had never met him. He was said to be cold and aloof. He did not suffer anyone—fools or sages—gladly. Or, indeed, at all. Nobody knew who he really was. Most people had the impression that there was nothing in him they wanted to know.
As far as his profession, or avocation, went, the Centipede was cast more in the mold of the mysterious and daring do-gooders that flourished for a time during the 1930s than that of the modern superhero. In fact, it was said that he had actually started out during the Great Depression, though few people took that seriously. Everybody figured the current Centipede was his son or grandson or nephew or totally unrelated. He never shared any of his personal history with anyone that I was aware of.
He was wanted by any number of law enforcement agencies here and abroad. Vigilantism was illegal in most places around the country and the world. Back during the salad days in Zenith, these laws were almost never enforced. Once the superhero scene withered away, though, that changed. Well before that, however, the Centipede had abused even the wide latitude given by city officials to our kind, and what happened in 1972 had snapped the camel's spine.
And now-- here he was.
I swallowed hard, wondering what I could do if he proved hostile. I tried to protectively push the girls back behind me, but they gave me indignant looks and slapped my hands away.
The Centipede's appearance was not reassuring. He was tall and solidly-built, but didn't appear to be muscle-bound-- more like a gymnast than a weight-lifter. As for his outfit, the color scheme was limited. He was dressed in a black suit with a black shirt, a black tie, and a black cloak that hung to below his knees. His head was completely covered by a black mask with a silver centipede emblazoned on the front, and he wore a wide-brimmed black hat. Two black .45 automatics held in his black-gloved hands completed the ensemble.
"What the hell are you kids doing out here?" he asked. "Did you know there are werewolves running around everywhere? I guess you'd better stick close to me until I can deliver you somewhere."
He didn't sound happy about it. He didn't sound like he ever sounded happy about anything.
Dana was glaring at him. "We don't have to listen to you," she snapped. "You're a criminal."
"Maybe so," he said. "But I'm a criminal who has several guns loaded with silver bullets." He held up one of his guns and jiggled it. "I've got six more of these."
"We don't associate with criminals," Dana insisted.
I grabbed her by the arm and said, "Speak for yourself! I think we could associate with criminals who have silver bullets when the city is infested with werewolves."
She transferred her glare to me. "You have absolutely no morals," she accused.
"I never said I did!"
"You used to at least act like you did. Some of the time."
Meanwhile, Vionna had approached the masked man and was subjecting him to a head-to-toe scrutiny.
"What's that thing on your mask?" she asked him. "A worm?"
"No, it's a centipede," he said sharply. "I'm the Black Centipede, and this is a centipede."
"It's silver," Vionna pointed out. "It isn't black."
He gave a hiss of irritation, pointed at his chest, and said, "I'm the Black Centipede." Then he pointed at his mask. "This is just a symbol. It's a stylized rendering of a centipede. It isn't meant to be taken literally."
"Huh," Vionna said. "It still looks like a worm. Or a very sloppy letter 'S.' It doesn't look like you gave it much thought, to be honest. Did you make it yourself?"
I moved to her side, clapped a hand over her mouth, and whispered in her ear: "Let it go, Vionna. We don't know what this guy's capable of. Don't get him angry."
By way of reply, she bit my hand. Not hard, but enough to make me reopen the floodgate.
"Because if you did," she picked up her thread, "you might want to think about getting a professional to do the next one. I'm not trying to be mean, honest. I'm just saying."
"Don't talk to him, Vionna," Dana interrupted.
The Centipede said nothing. I had no way of knowing how he was taking all of this, but I was nervous. He had a reputation as someone whose feathers you didn't want to ruffle.
I cleared my throat to get his attention, plastered a rueful smile on my face, shrugged expansively, and said, "Women! What are ya gonna do, huh?"
He was silent for a moment, then he seemed to relax a little.
"You seem like you've got a little bit of sense," he said to me. "Can you use a gun?"
"Pretty much, yeah, kind of," I said. I may have been exaggerating a little. Captain Mercury didn't believe in using guns, so I had never had much occasion to fool with them. But I was good at video games.
He tossed me one of his .45s, which I snagged adroitly enough to make it look like I knew what I was doing.
"Can I have a gun?" Vionna asked.
"I don't know if..." I began.
"Don't you dare give..." Dana started.
"Sure, kid," the Centipede said. He reached into a pocket and produced a little Derringer. "This was supposed to be for my last gasp, should it come to that," he said. "But if it gets to that point, I'm screwed anyhow."
He handed the minuscule firearm to Vionna, who clasped it to her bosom like it was a bouquet of flowers.
"Wow, thank you!" she gushed. "My own gun! I can't believe it!"
Dana was fuming. "You can't give her a gun," she said. "She's a child!"
"I'll be sure and tell the werewolves that," the Centipede shot back.
Dana turned to me-- for support I guess-- but she wasn't going to get any.
"Don't push it!" I said, jabbing a finger at her. "Just don't. It makes sense for us to have these guns if there are werewolves loose-- especially Vionna, since she's the most vulnerable."
Dana clammed up and I turned my attention to the conversation Vionna was having with the Centipede.
"Now I remember you," the masked man was saying to her. "I met you a long time ago, but you were older than you are now."
That made no sense whatsoever, but Vionna nodded enthusiastically.
"Yes," she said. "That makes perfect sense. It hasn't happened yet, as far as I'm concerned right now. It won't happen to me for a few more years. I have this thing in my head that tells me stuff, and it's telling me that right now."
The Centipede shook his head. "I shouldn't have said anything. What was I thinking? I'm getting sloppy."
Vionna laughed. "It's okay," she said. "If you're worried about a... Oh, what is it called..?" She closed her eyes, and seemed to be listening to something none of the rest of us could hear. "Really? Yeah, okay." She opened her eyes again. "If you're worried about a temporal paradox, don't. It won't matter that you said that to me and made me know about the whole thing right now. Once this that we're doing here today is over, I won't remember any of it anyhow."
The Centipede had cocked his head like a puzzled dog. I couldn't imagine what was going through his mind. I couldn't imagine what ought to be going through my own mind after all that.
TO BE CONTINUED
And be sure to read Jack and Dana's first adventure, "The Abominable Myra Linsky Rises Again," in PRO SE PRESENTS #13, just 99 cents on Amazon Kindle: