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Part One, Nikhi's nest
“Put your hands up!” bellowed the bullhorn.
Four hands went up, belonging to two musclebound figures in Spiderman costumes. One was an evil impostor who had terrorized the city with bloody atrocities for weeks on end. The other was the real Spiderman, who had finally caught the impostor to clear his name. The SWAT team surrounding them was seeing both together for the first time.
“I’m the real Spiderman,” declared one. “He’s the one who did all the crimes, not me.” His voice was strong and full of authority, like a superhero’s ought to be.
“No, I’m the real one,” yelled the other. “The bad stuff was all him.” This voice seemed pretty authentic too, if less articulate.
Laser dots crawled over both figures as commanders conferred in clipped tones.
“I can’t tell them apart,” said one.
“Me either,” said another.
“What are we supposed to do?” said the first.
The second shrugged. “We can’t keep letting that animal get away again and again.”
“FINISH THEM!!” bellowed the first commander into the bullhorn.
But the real Spiderman had whisked the red-checkered mask from the impostor’s head just as the bellow began, and by the time it finished, he had dived into the shadows. The impostor’s unmasked face belonged to Nikhi Lahey, a totally fictional former governor of South Carolina turned presidential candidate.
A gasp went up from the entire SWAT team as laser dots scrambled, bullets careened, and Nikhi too dove into the shadows.
“SEARCH THE SHADOWS!” bellowed the commander. His name was Khant L. Themaparte, former spokesman for the activist group Human Shields Defense League, who’d had a change of heart and decided to stop letting the bad guys win all the time.
But the search failed, and the team left the shadows empty.
Commander Themaparte easily found Nikhi’s nearby home address on social media, and the team rolled up in their armored vehicles and took positions all around. As they deployed creepy surveillance gear to confirm her presence inside, several SWAT members’ phones chirped with notifications that she was starting a livestream. Her face came on screen in her familiar spare room with acoustic foam on the back wall.
“She’s in there alright,” grunted Themaparte grimly. He bellowed into the bullhorn, “Nikhi Lahey, come out with your hands up. We have the place surrounded.”
For a few tense seconds, nothing happened, and it continued until Themaparte felt awkward enough to bellow again, “Nikhi Lahey, come out with your hands up, or we will have to breach the building.”
“She’s wearing over-ear headphones,” said a sergeant. “Top of the line, no sound leakage. She definitely can’t hear you.”
“Yeah,” said a rifleman. “And those podcast mics have a really tight pickup pattern.”
“Damn it!” cursed Themaparte.
Another SWAT member came forward. “Sir, I’m a paid subscriber to her channel. Maybe I could get the message to her in the live chat.”
“Yes,” snapped Themaparte. “MAYBE you could. MAYBE I order you to do that right now.” He grimaced.
“Sir, yes sir,” replied the SWAT member and began to tap on his phone.
But the live chat was scrolling too fast. There was no way she would notice the SWAT message telling her to come out with her hands up, while she was busy talking to the camera.
“Try a Superchat!” ordered Themaparte. “Fifty dollars. I’ll have the department cover it.”
“Sir, yes sir,” replied the SWAT member.
It only took a few seconds.
Nikhi’s face brightened on screen. “Oh, we have a Superchat,” she announced. “Fifty dollars, thank you! And… hey, this isn’t funny. Am I being SWATted? While I’m on the air?”
Her face tensed as she mumbled through the lines of text coming from her SWAT fan. “Umm… they’re telling me, come out with your hands up… wanted for recent violent crime spree… captured your face unmasked… recognition confirmed by AI…”
“Hey now, listen,” she said into the camera. “Whoever you are—uh, nikhifan69—I’ve been home all day. And I obviously didn’t do any of these crimes. I’m a classy former South Carolina governor now running for president. I was also an ambassador, you know, and on the board of Boeing, but I don’t always mention that last one.”
“She might be right,” said the fan to Commander Themaparte. “She couldn’t have gotten here much before we did, on foot and all. Yet she managed to change out of that costume and get the livestream going… and I think her hair is different.”
“Her hair?” asked Themaparte with disdain.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” replied the fan. “I thought it was wavier back there. And her shoulders were way too beefy… I thought.” He looked at his shoes. “Not that I would notice…”
Themaparte snorted. He bellowed some more into the bullhorn. “Nikhi Lahey, come out with your hands up. This is your last warning. We will storm the compound and apprehend you by force. All collateral damage and casualties are officially your fault.” The fan relayed every word into the chat.
“No-oo!” Cried Nikhi into her podcasting mic. “There’s a baby in here, my niece’s whole family is over... and I’m fostering puppies, and we just took delivery of an antique grand piano, which they just finished tuning... I, just wait, did you call my house a ‘compound’? What the hell? I’m coming out!”
There was a little burst of feedback as she dropped her headphones on the desk by the mic and disappeared from the screen. Laser dots crawled like red ants over the front door and every window, while all personnel held their breath as one, and countless milliseconds passed.
Then broken glass erupted from Nikhi’s rooftop, and her jumpsuited figure hurtled through a skylight into the blue, strapped to a powerful but remarkably svelte jetpack. Everyone caught just half a glimpse of it, their mouths slack and laser dots useless, before it dwindled to a speck and was gone.
“Double-yoo tee eff!!” cursed nikhifan69. “What was that?”
“Some secret spy technology,” concluded Themaparte. “I’ll bet it has all the earmarks. Classy former governor, my ass!”
If someone had pointed a super-high-resolution camera at Nikhi’s jetpack and zoomed in on the lower-right corner, they would have seen earmarks indeed: a swirly silk-screened logo and the words “Boeing Secret Spy Projects.”
But no one did.
… TO BE CONTINUED …