“Well, that didn’t work.”
“Yeah. Who would have guessed shorting Tesla last year would have been such a terrible idea?”
“What do we do with these things now?”
“With Toaster Broker? Well, we can try another penny stock pump and dump. IOT botnets seem to be useful for things like that.”
“Sure. They used to be.”
Silas Reed, the Chairman and CEO of Skirge Corporation, paced the length of their underground bunker. He’d spent most of Skirge’s leveraged cash on refurbishing the lab. State of the art toasters were heaped in the corner, as if piled and just waiting for the Salvation Army to come grab them. However, the damn things were merely expensive paperweights without a plan. He needed to deploy his toaster botnet for a purpose, and fast. For that reason, he’d gathered the brightest minds at Skirge to help him figure it out.
The methodical clomp of his boots halted, and he glanced back to his team, huddled together in the dim light. “What if we used them to push some sort of fake news event? Something to make it easier to steal bags from all those weak hands.”
“I hear flu viruses are hot right now,” said Williams — he was a thinker.
Silas rubbed at his chin, thoughtful. “I don’t know. That may be too soon.”
A new voice boomed out from the stairwell, “Gentleman!”
The lieutenants halted their disaster spitballing and spun in unison. Silas, however, simply groaned.
“I may have a solution.” The silhouette of Helmet Von Sour filled the doorway, holding a shape like a large box in his arms. “Allow me to demonstrate.”
Before anyone could answer, Skirge's chief scientist shuffled his way to the table in the center of the room. His terry cloth bathrobe, flaring wildly behind him, parted to reveal a white tank top stretched taut across his bulging belly, already stained from this morning’s burrito.
Von Sour placed the cardboard box on the floor, and pulled a squat, black cylinder from within, placing it on the surface of the table. Next, he grabbed three of the newest toasters from the pile and plugged each of them into a small port wired to the side of the cylinder.
“Observe,” he said. “Alexa, dangle the NFTs.”
Motors whirred, and a small hatch opened at the top of the cylinder. Pushing up out of the hole was a small, black device. Something like a thumbdrive.
“You may recognize this as my Trezor. I’ve loaded a handful of Non-Fungible Tokens to it.” Von Sour dramatically waved his hand across the top of the device. “Observe, um, again.”
A splattering sound burbled up from the cardboard box, and a shape emerged. The glob, as if a scoop of rainbow sherbert owned legs, trundled over, reached out with tiny arms, and embraced the Trezor. His audience, small as it was, gasped, each leaning forward in their seats to better see the creature snuggle the crypto wallet.
“It gets better.” With a toothy grin, Helmet Von Sour posed, fists on his hips, and shouted, “Alexa! Open the fishing hole!”
The sound of static filled the room as jagged lines slashed across the screen.
"I'm afraid that's all the video we have."
Winifred Von Sour aimed the remote at the monitor and flicked a button, shrinking the chaotic image to black. "My father has stumbled upon a potentially disastrous phenomenon. With my infiltration of their lab, I was hoping to capture the full extent of his experiments with this video, but something happened next when . . . "
Pausing dramatically, she glanced across the folding table of their temporary headquarters located in the ballroom of the Comfort Suites on 2nd and Pine. She locked eyes with each of her two companions.
". . . he opened The Portal."
"That makes sense," said Damian (just Damian!) He was her top PhD student and an expert in condensed matter physics. "When he opened The Portal, the inbound hyper-stream of dark matter interfered with your iPhone's camera. Disrupting cameras is a well-documented effect of dark matter."
Winnie wrinkled her nose. "Really?"
He nodded. "Oh, I'm almost positive. Look it up."
She folded her arms, lifting an eyebrow.
"Uh, potentially?" Damian (just Damian!) twitched in his seat and glanced to the occupant of the chair next to him, Thaddeus William Diggins, III Esq.
Thaddeus ignored them both. Instead he sneered at the coarse, off-white tablecloth covering the table, as if it were the thing that offended him most in all the world.
"I suspect it was because of these." Winnie touched a panel on her belt, and out shot several iridescent blobs similar to the creature from the lab video. They streamed up her torso, encircled her entire body, and covered her from neck nape to pinkie toe. As she posed, fists on hips, the goo seemed to congeal into a skin-tight patchwork of wonder. Similar to yoga pants.
"These are Abscondamours. They poured from the portal when it opened, and for some reason smothered my phone like a clingy ex-boyfriend at 2am." She grinned, flashing a predator's smile. "But, more importantly, my father has no idea they can do this!"
Winifred Von Sour melted to the floor, slithered between the legs of the table, and shot out the other side. With an inhuman burst of speed, she wall-ran to the far end of the room, leapt to swing from each of the chandeliers, before finally landing in a single-armed handstand on the back of one of the flimsy conference chairs.
"That's amazing!" Damian (just Damian!) launched out of his own chair, mouth agape. "These Abscondamours! I must know everything about them!"
Even Thaddeus stopped glaring at the "linens" long enough to mutter, "Interesting."
"Indeed." Winifred Von Sour glided down from her gravity-defying perch. "Abscondamours come from the other side, in search of secrets with which to snuggle. They were, as far as I could tell, enamored with the encrypted NFT data on my iPhone. It appears that the more secrets they cuddle, the stronger my suit gets.”
She frowned and dusted off a stale brownie crumb. “I'm calling it an ABS. Short for Abscondamour Suit."
"So this is how you infiltrated my board room at Amortized Security and Safety, Inc.," said Thaddeus.
"Exactly.” She winked at him. “With my ABS, I was able to scale the outside of your building to the 72nd floor where I entered through a ventilation shaft. From there, it was child's play to drop in on your insurance liability meeting."
"I see." Thaddeus yawned.
"That was when you agreed to fund our operation and lend me your squad of militant insurance adjusters. They're your team which forcibly prevents property damage from man-made threats, and . . . "
Grimacing, Thaddeus interrupted her, "Um. Yes, I remember. I was there."
"It's called exposition, Thaddeus." She flipped her thumb over her shoulder. "It's for them."
"Ah, of course." Thaddeus cleared his throat, and spoke loudly, clearly, "That was your pitch to start the Freaky League of Extraordinary Creatures, tasked with the objective of gathering NFTs in order to lure in more Abscondamours and prevent world destruction at the hands of the evil Skirge Corporation, run by Silas Reed and your father, Helmet Von . . . "
"That's good. It’s okay." This time, Winnie interrupted him. "We're all caught up. You can stop."
"Is this where I talk about Sage Corps and our analysis capabilities?" asked Damian (just Damian!).
Winnie side-eyed him. "No."
A maid poked her head in the door, "Excuse me, ma'am. Your time is up. We need to clear the room for the farm equipment meetup."
Thaddeus leaned back in his chair and muttered, "We should just use my building for a headquarters."
"Fine," Winnie huffed. Then, calling to the maid, "Fine. We're done in here anyway."
"Just leave the TV remote on the table, please," said the maid as she unwrapped the cord to her vacuum cleaner.
Winnie turned to the other two and said, "The basic plan is for my Rogue Division to infiltrate and gather intel. Damian (just Damian!), your Sage Corps team will analyze that data and build an assault plan. Thaddeus, finally, your Active Risk Management and Response team will execute the plan."
The two men nodded.
"Excellent," said Winnie. "Let's go get a sandwich. I'm starving."
The three left the maid to her cleaning, but on the way out, Winnie whispered to Damian (just Damian!), “What’s with the dumb name? That’s not what I had printed on your graduation certificate.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
The door shut behind them, and the room filled with the sound of a worn carpet getting vacuumed.