The League is Watching
Chapter 1 - Plushie
The best laid plans are nearly always horrible, and that's just the way that Billy liked them. Interlocking his fingers under his chin, he nodded approvingly at the schematics carefully arranged on the table before him. Being an evil mastermind had prerequisites – and colour coding one's evil plan was one of those unwritten rules, the secret coda by which one must rise to greatness. Or horribleness.
“Oh yes, it will be horrible,” he whispered in what he hoped was an impressive manner. “My nemesis, prepare to meet your doom...prepare to meet...THE FREEZE RAY!”
A manic peel of laughter followed this.
“Prepare for the chills of defeat to roll down your spine, prepare to suffer an icy reception, prepare to...to...”
“Star in Ice Age?” supplied Moist from the door.
Billy leapt up from the table, blindly fumbling through the paperwork for his goggles. To be seen monologuing without the webcam was one thing, but to be caught doing so – by a minion, no less! – in civilian clothing? Giving up in disgust, and planning to re-educate himself on some of the finer points of standards, Billy turned to his friend and mustered up an evil glare.
Moist wiped his sleeve over his forehead. “Uh, sorry to interrupt your Mr Freeze moment. Not that I want to, because it's totally...um...chilling...”
Billy's glare intensified, aided by a menacing snarl.
“...and horrible!” added Moist hastily. “But I'm pretty sure we have a problem.”
“How sure are you? If this is the mutant rabbit trying to buzz itself into our apartment block again...”
“No, no. No mutant rabbit. It's the...others.”
Billy rolled his eyes. “The others? Don't tell me – they're multiplying like rabbits. Moist, if you're going to start up with that again, I will have to do something drastic. I might even start checking my own mail.”
Moist's eyes widened. He held up his hands in a placating gesture.
“Let's not, you know, get drastic or anything,” he said nervously. “I mean the guys. You know, your friends?”
“Oh. Them.” Billy's mouth suddenly felt furry.
Watching him with a concerned expression, Moist moved into the flat and carefully shut the door. After resting his ear back on the door, listening intently for any intruders, he turned back to Dr Horrible and said in a low voice, “What's happened to you, man? You're supposed to say something like...henchmen are minions not friends...”
“Moist, I don't need help writing my scripts,” Billy told him irritably.
His friend gulped noisily. “You're gonna need help. Everyone says...everyone says you're slipping. They say you're losing your touch. Getting soft, like plushie-soft. Or my newspaper soft.”
A hot squirm of his intestines forced bile up into Billy's throat. Swallowing furiously against the burn, he looked around for his goggles in yet another futile attempt. He managed in a croak, “I am not a plushie! I'm Dr Horrible, I have a PhD in horribleness. The only reason I haven't defeated my nemesis is because he happens to be extremely dense – in both senses of the word! And I do not have time for pissing contests with posers in parkers, so I'm not going to start showing force unless I have to!”
Moist fidgeted, but he ventured bravely, “Then what are you doing tonight?”
“Going to Penny's,” Billy conceded.
“Instead of doing something evil, huh?” Moist demanded.
Billy felt as though someone had kicked him in the chest – not a sensation he was unfamiliar with, because of Captain Hammer. But this time he couldn't seem to move, and for one wild second thought he'd been shot with the Freeze Ray.
“That's not – ”
Moist crossed his arms and waited.
“It's not – ” Billy tried again, his voice higher pitched than usual. “It's not like that! Penny supports my decision to try to get into the Evil League of Evil. She even likes the goggles – how many people can say that?”
Moist snorted wetly, in a way that made it sound like he'd fallen into a bog. “Whatever. I'll be at Pink Pummeller's tonight, if you change your mind.”
After watching his friend disappear out into the corridor, Billy sat down hard on the floor. He wriggled uncomfortably before discovering his goggles underneath him. Peering down into them, a vague sense of unease washed over him.
“It's not like I don't have any plans!” he snapped.
The empty room mocked him.
“I'm perfectly horrible! I have viewers, I have fans – granted, they're ceiling fans, but that still counts! Doesn't it?”
Billy glanced wildly from side to side. He scrambled back up to the table and peered intently at his plans. These were the plans of an evil genius! But as he narrowed in on the schematics, he could have sworn that every line, every word, every colour screamed “PLUSHIE! PLUSHIE! PLUSHIE!”
For the next ten minutes, he tried to convince himself that every ELE member had cowered under their kitchen table at least once.
Or at least thought about it! Billy reasoned furiously, hugging his knees.
Being confronted with a closed door can leave one in two states – either one of determination or the state that not-quite-famed Dr Horrible found himself in some minutes past dusk. Shifting his weight from foot to foot, Billy dug through his pockets for nothing really – maybe lint, because you can never have too much lint, right?
“Lint,” he repeated out loud, disturbed. “Lint under my fingernails. Brilliant display of genius there, you…you…genius. I’m not going soft, I’m harder than a…a…this is crazy, just because I can’t think of any good insults or metaphors any more – AH! Hi Penny! I didn’t even ring the bell yet.”
A bemused tilt settled over Penny’s lips as she watched him from a few paces away. Billy wrenched his hands out of his pockets, quickly inspected the nails and then lunged in for a hug, digging his chin into her shoulder. He pulled back to smile distractedly into her green eyes.
Penny raised her eyebrows shrewdly. “You do realise that my flat doesn’t have a bell, right? Is there…something wrong?”
“Why…why…why would you think that?” Billy stammered.
“Your eyes are kind of twitchy, maybe?”
“Oh. Right. It’s very glary today.”
Penny reminded him gently, “It’s after dusk.”
“A moth flew into my eyes,” he amended lamely.
Slipping a hand behind his neck, she coaxed him into her flat. Once under the spell of soft amber lighting, Billy allowed her to sit him down on the two-seater – the one that was mostly pink but with a nasty looking dark stain on one of the cushions. Penny had dragged him along on a dumpster expedition a few weeks ago…something or rather about recycling…and found the sofa hidden underneath a pile of black leather.
Billy still wondered where that much black leather had come from.
“Something is wrong,” Penny’s voice snapped his attention back to the present. “You can tell me. Is it your application for the League?”
Surprised, Billy realised that he truthfully hadn’t thought much about the Evil League of Evil since the last weekend. Sure, he’d been planning, but Bad Horse and his terrible death whinny had been relegated to a secondary objective. He hung his head.
“It’s Moist. He said I was a plushie.”
Penny patted his knee. “Oh, I thought you’d have made a sweet little plushie.”
“I am not a plushie!” Billy said crossly. “For one, you can’t put me through the spin cycle at the Coin Wash. And – and – I have a Stun Ray! I’m about as soft and plushie-like as a triceratops!”
Inwardly, he crowed. Ha! A metaphor! I have not lost my horribleness. But there was that dinosaur movie. The one with the squishy-looking animations…that was nice…
Horror smacked into him with the force of a sucker punch from Captain Hammer at this thought. Billy skirted his eyes back up to Penny, who was biting her lip thoughtfully. She rested her elbow on the back of the sofa, and then tucked her chin onto the fist of her hand. Watching her apparently serene contemplation, coupled with the orange glow alighting her face, Billy felt his panic subside.
“You could try making more public appearances,” Penny suggested after a while.
Billy curled his lip. “I am not challenging Johnny Snow to a freeze match while the League is watching. That's nothing impressive – I'd defeat him inside of two minutes. No, it will have to be a masterpiece of planning, a heinous crime...”
A murder would be nice of course...
“But I'm not going to kill anyone!” he assured, taking Penny's hand in his over her knee.
But if everyone thinks I'm going soft, I might just have to...no. No. Penny wouldn't even look at me again.
“I mean it,” he said firmly.
“I know, and that's great,” Penny acknowledged. “What you need to do is get into the newspapers. Once you're there, it's evidence. Think of something...” A smile. “...horrible enough that someone wants to write about it.”
And like a sign from a higher being of existence, the picture of a hammer appeared behind Billy's retinas. A slow, terrible smirk emerged, quickly masked by his hand as he faked a cough. Once the tell tale sign of an ingenious plot was carefully concealed by a neutral expression, he nodded absently.
“I'm sure I will think of something. But enough of that. How are you going with the signatures...?”
Upon opening the door, Moist eyed his friend suspiciously. Billy reached up to fiddle with his goggles – a deliberate gesture to alert the henchman to his garb. He passed the inspection. Moist slinked aside and Dr Horrible made his entrance, arms crossed, glove fingers clenched. Probably fortunate that the cumin stains had come out in the wash. It might have ruined the ensemble.
He nodded to the Pink Pummeller, once an aspiring villain now relegated to henchman duties, who tapped his bright pink boxing gloves back in response. Then to Conflict Diamond he tipped his head sideways – a villain must never fully turn their head to acknowledge a minion if they are not straight ahead. Conflict Diamond probably would have smacked Moist into the next world for referring to her as one of the guys. Or maybe just taken off her black Ray Bans and used her piercing gaze, good for slicing through bank vault walls if her power decided to work, to rend him in two.
“Where's Purple Pimp?” Dr Horrible asked after casting his eyes around the Pink Pummeller's lounge room, conveniently choosing to skirt over the two large stuffed Pink Panthers in the corner. You never know. A plushie might be among them.
Moist shrugged. “Yeah, apparently he wasn't Pimp enough to get a ride over or something.”
“He just doesn't want to be caught with the pond scum,” Conflict Diamond rejoined in a bored tone, checking to make sure her black nails – no, talons – were about as long as her actual fingers and as sparkly as her diamante studded eyelids.
Momentarily disquieted, Moist muttered something under his breath and found a nice patch of vinyl. He attempted to cross his legs, squelched loudly, thought better of it and casually propped one knee up.
“So, uh, I'm sure Dr Horrible has a good plan for us,” Moist started hopefully.
Conflict Diamond snorted, but made no further comment. Spitting her with a reproving stare, Dr Horrible paced along floor towards her. “I know there have been some rumours, which would be very unfortunate should they be true. However, that is not the case. I have formulated my next scheme and I require your services.”
“See, I told you he'd think of something,” Moist said as an aside.
The Pink Pummeller held up a glove. “Did I ever doubt you?”
“No, but you doubted me,” Dr Horrible spoke over him. “Now, pay attention. My nemesis, Captain Hammer, has gone too far this time. He – ”
Conflict Diamond cleared her throat. “What has he done?”
“W-What?” Billy blinked, momentarily stunned.
“You said, he's gone too far this time. What's the tool done?”
“Well – nothing lately. But that's not the point, it's all the things he's done, and will do, if I don't stop him. Now, in order to ambush – ”
“That's enough.” Conflict Diamond delivered the interruption with nary a ruffled feather. “Don't you come prancing in here thinking we're going to be the brawn to your brainless operation. Captain Hammer is your nemesis, your problem. Might I remind you, I'm not in the Henchmen Union – nor do I share your wet dream of joining the Evil League of Evil. See you next week, if you're still in one piece...or haven't been further pussy-whipped in the meantime.”
The wall rattled as the door slammed behind the black blur of the would-be villainess. An awkward pause descended over the Pink Pummeller's living room, which met a timely end in a raspberry from Moist's patch of vinyl. He sloshed a hand over his brow, perhaps to wipe away some moisture but only managing to smear more on. Dr Horrible sent him an exasperated look.
“Must be PMT,” Moist tried to assure him. “But we're still here, we'll be your henchmen – won't we Pink P?”
The Pummeller nodded hastily. “Of course we will!”
Slightly mollified, Dr Horrible straightened his spine and once again adopted his deep, authoritarian voice. “Right. My nemesis. The ambush – we were up to the ambush weren't we?”
Both his henchmen nodded mutely.
“Excellent,” Billy continued. “I have selected the most effective location of arranging an ambush for Captain Hammer. The building is so far unused, but for our purposes it must be filled with people. Preferably newspaper people. And it will probably work better on a slow news week, otherwise no one will bother turning up to watch.”
Moist made a whining noise. Dr Horrible looked at him again.
“Sorry, just getting the appreciative chills already, is all,” Moist said apologetically.
“Yeah, even I'm getting chills, and these gloves are really hot!” added the Pink Pummeller.
Billy fought the asinine and heroic urge to smile. Sure they're hot...hot pink.
“In order to utilise the building,” he said out loud, “we must work hard. There will be sacrifices to make, meals to miss and TiVo must become your new friend.”
He held up several leaflets, all covered with columns and rows from edge to edge. The henchmen looked up expectantly. Dr Horrible explained triumphantly, “We need to collect over two-thousand signatures on this petition for the new Caring Hands homeless shelter by next week!”
A ghastly silence followed this.
“Caring Hands...homeless shelter?” Pink Pummeller repeated dubiously.
Even Moist started to look apprehensive.
“Yes,” Billy said testily. “For the shelter's opening day, an invitation will be sent to Captain Hammer, requesting that he be the main attraction. He won't be able to keep away from so many cameras and adoring fans – fans that aren't the ceiling variety. But we will have laid a trap for him, enabling me to shoot him with my newly developed Freeze Ray. And then...”
He fell silent, staring off into the distance as the evil plan unfolded before his eyes. Moist and the Pink Pummeller exchanged confused glances, until Moist asked, “And then what? Something horrible?”
“For me to plan, and you to read in the newspapers,” Dr Horrible answered gleefully.
“But what if it isn't in the newspapers?” Pink Pummeller ventured bravely.
Moist leapt to his friend's defence. “If Dr Horrible says it will be in the newspapers, then I'm going to buy them all until I find at least one sentence. Because a sentence is probably enough for the League, huh?”
Dr Horrible thought it might be best to adjourn the meeting there, before things got too out of hand. He really didn't feel much like cowering under any kitchen tables in the near future.
When Billy woke the some days later to find himself sprawled over the floor in his secret lab, goggles stuck fast in his hair and a white glove within sniffing range, he couldn't help but feel both guilty and victorious. Well, obviously, he was once again on the way to performing a perfect plot – except this time it wouldn't end with him in hospital. Maybe. But it had occurred to a part of him that he probably shouldn't be using Penny's homeless shelter group like this...
The League is watching! he reminded himself, Defeating Captain Hammer has to count for something! Then I will be bigger than Bad Horse! And then Penny will...Penny will...
“Penny will what?” he mused. “Penny will get the building for Caring Hands to use! And then we can celebrate...”
He certainly knew what kind of celebrating he had in mind, but such thoughts were best left for victory parties. Gloriously evil victory parties – the kind that Purple Pimp would not make an excuse to miss. There should be tequila at the bar, also, so that all villains were sufficiently incapacitated for him to collect DNA samples. You never knew what you could do with a strand of hair, really. Professor Normal had a reputation of growing mutant zombies out of DNA. And those mutant zombies were apparently really awesome.
I bet a mutant curry would be scarier… Billy reflected.
And another thing. DNA could tell you if you were dealing with a mutant villain, or a villain pretending to be a mutant. Perhaps this could once and for all solve if Johnny Snow was a natural popsicle, or if he was cheating and using small portable air conditioning devices…
…but that wasn’t important. Not now. He had a fresh whiteboard to decimate with ingenious scribblings – and stick figure diagrams – as well as a sizable container of left over vegetarian curry in the freezer, next to the remains of a certain mutant rabbit. That itself was an entirely different story. Along with why so many mutant mammals existed in California.
“Psyche! I’m all set!” he decided, clutching his hands together gleefully and letting lose his best evil laugh – which really wasn’t all that impressive, but for once he imagined it was.
Grimacing as he raked fingers through his mattered hair, Billy scooped up his gloves and donned them once more. Continuing to feebly cackle, he stalked out of his secret lab in search of food. He threw open the freezer – and stopped, perplexed. Nothing. Not even the mutant rabbit. Billy pressed a finger to his lips, scanning the fridge side to side with his whole face. Huh, well this was new.
“A reanimated rabbit ate my breakfast,” he deduced, awed.
“Or your girlfriend could be heating your breakfast up for you?” offered a voice behind him.
Billy prided himself on being above reflexive shrieks, but couldn’t stifle the rabid twitching that seized his eyes. Turning around to regard Penny, who was adorned in a rather flattering flower print dress and matching purple jacket, he found himself momentarily speechless. For a second he could smell laundry powder and spent that brief moment locked into seeing her again for the first time.
He coughed. “What did you do with the rabbit?”
Some things were supposed to stay cosmic mysteries, Billy supposed. He stretched his smile a little too wide and seated himself at the table, quickly brushing off his latest schematics into a pile on the floor.
“A conversation for another time,” he dismissed. “To what do I owe this…crazy random but delightful visit?”
Twitch, twitch. Please, Penny, don’t look at the plans that I pushed onto the floor while you were watching in my attempt to be inconspicuous. Because if you noticed that my plans say "Caring Hands homeless shelter" then I will have to think up a lie in maybe two seconds, a lie that actually makes sense. And I’m not awake enough for that…
Penny rested her hands on her hips. “You…don’t see or even call me for nearly a week, and I’m supposed to just let you carry on without being worried?”
The amount of disapproval she could put into one word was even more terrifying than Bad Horse’s whinny. And so Dr Horrible caved.
“Sorry?” he said sheepishly. “It’s just, I thought of something. Something good. This is the one. This will get me into the Evil League of Evil, I know it!”
“Am I going to hear about it now, or should I wait for your big performance?”
Billy simply smiled up at her. “I love you.”
That was the magic topic-changing trick. Penny beamed at him and scooted over to sit on his lap. Surprised at first, but rather pleased, he circled her waist with his arms and pulled her closer until they were nose to nose.
“What would I do without you?” he murmured.
“Eat more meat, maybe?”
“Well, there’s that…”
“Spend all your time in that lab, living off the remains of rabbits?”
“I could, you know, entertain that possibility,” Billy breathed against her cheek.
“Maybe you could entertain this possibility,” Penny responded softly, tracing a finger along his jaw. “I love you, I missed you and maybe you need a little break.”
“Will there be frozen yoghurt after?”
“I could…arrange that.”
It probably wasn’t all that surprising that the curry went soggy in the microwave following this. But then, one had to make sacrifices. Dr Horrible lazily considered this some time later as he curled up against Penny’s back, breathing in the scent of her hair.
“Mmm,” he protested, but not that much.
“Is there any reason we now have several thousand signatures for the shelter petition?”