Shit’s gone slightly apocalyptic. But just slightly. The heart of the whole thing is Empyreal City, of course.
People are getting sick all over that place. The boils and vomiting is cruel, but Epidemic’s just being mean with the anal leakage. I suppose I might find it funny if I was behind it, but they think my kid’s there. As far as he’s concerned, he’s inflicting that shit on my family.
While he’s doing that, animals all over the fucking continent are freaking the fuck out. They’re all acting more aggressive, even the prey. Herbivorous or not, most people don’t do well going head to head with a mad bull. Sheep and goats are devouring the crap out of stuff, too, feeding themselves to bursting in places.
Next to all that, Machine Man’s little army of followers is almost quaint. I guess Venus still has plenty of cred worth trading in on. The robot disguised as her has gathered her own gang, even including some supers. They don’t have the Master Academy supers, though. That place is sealed up tight, with heroes heading in and out with some sort of secret entrance.
A lot of other heroes are staying away, or trying to face threats around the country, like the animals gone wild. Or the plague. Or the roaming groups of people with guns. From what I understand, the government’s Freedom Legion doesn’t have as much manpower as it used to, what with Omega and I killing a bunch of them.
You know, with a better idea of the bigger picture, I can understand why Captain Lightning decided not to continue the fight against me. He and his apprentice have their hands full enough without dying.
Thing was, they could tear Empyreal City apart and they weren’t going to find my people. I don’t know if I gave myself some sort of subconscious programming or if Omega’s ignorance of technology was really that big a hindrance while we were mentally merged. Either way, when I was working with him, I didn’t think to hunt down any concentrations of my nanites outside of Ricca. There’s Belgium, North Korea, and some Cape Diem bases. And then there was a small concentration in Las Vegas.
Vegas doesn’t like me, but it seems to like Mix N’Max well enough. He spent a lot of time there. I think he invited all of them there.
It’s a smart idea. Las Vegas has its own protectors, who don’t like me. I’m pretty sure they don’t like any cyborgs hanging around there without getting into all the trouble I cause. And I haven’t had much reason to go to Vegas. I can eat buffets anywhere. Or I could. I can’t even pick my own nose at the moment, let alone my friends’ noses.
As felt appropriate for a city that far west, the Dudebot I sent to Vegas rode in on an automaton horse. It’s like a real horse, but it can run indefinitely, doesn’t need to eat or shit, and is less of an asshole. I stopped short of the sign welcoming visitors to Las Vegas and waited. This is not the time for me to be stepping on these folks’ toes. It also gave me more time to get things in position in Empyreal City.
I had a few Dudebots in that area already. Knowing they were heading there, I set some to make their way. That gives me some backups, or a chance to double team one of these Omega Minions. I’m tracking them, too. Epidemic and Stampede still have to sleep sometime. It’s easier to track with Stampede, because animals calm down whenever she’s out. Best of all, none of the three are working together. I don’t have to beat three supers remotely. I just have to beat one three times over.
The Dudebots are heavier than me, not so good at being stealthy. They were based on a bulkier design of my armor that emphasized durability over stealth. I managed to keep up with her, staying at a distance and maintaining invisibility. She liked to run with the animals. In the city, that mostly meant rats, raccoons, and pigeons. She’d taken up a grudge against the Greens, circling their territory, nibbling away at it with pests.
Whatever the Greens are on that’s giving some of them animal features and powers, it hasn’t made them susceptible to Stampede’s power. Which is a weird one. Animal control should work on humans, too, but it doesn’t. I’m interested to see how much it works on other primates, or other intelligent animals like dolphins and octopi. Could be she’d get pissed when trying to boss around an octopus and the cephalopod does nothing but gives her the tentacle. For that matter, raccoons are pretty smart, too.
After a night of pestering the Greens, Stampede and her flock of furry and feathered friends flooded into an old apartment building. A lot of people came screaming out, some with rats biting at them to encourage their flight. After a half hour, when she didn’t come back out, I headed in after Stampede.
Critters were everywhere. Roaches and raccoons and rats, oh my! If any of the people who lived there saw it like that, they probably wouldn’t want to move back in. Without the ability to levitate, making it through there without some crunching sounds was impossible. There were plenty of heat signatures all over the place, but the source big enough to be her was just a couple floors up. I could jump to the landing, minimizing the amount of bones and exoskeletons I broke.
I detached a power collar from the Dudebot’s belt and readied it. I was sure she’d already come down with that little illness being here. Then I proceeded into the one-bedroom apartment.
I crunched up to the bed as quietly as I could. With an elephant’s trumpet, Stampede opened her eyes, shot to a sitting position, and punched me through the wall and living room/kitchen. All these little pests swarmed the Dudebot, crawling all over it, trying to bite.
Stampede walked over, beating at her chest, her body bulging with muscles. “You smell wrong.”
I generated the sound of a raspberry through the Dudebot’s speakers. Outside, a second Dudebot got into position, invisible as well, and jumped. It crashed through the bedroom window, jumped through the hole in the wall, and snapped the collar around Stampede’s neck.
Snapping her neck would have been easier, but she’s a kid.
Immediately, the noise level increased as animals went nuts and tried to flee or eat the roaches. The two Dudebots stood up, secured a deflated little Stampede, and tossed her over one’s shoulder to secure elsewhere.
Epidemic, meanwhile, had been targeted by the Reds and was retaliating in turn. The Reds are trying to fight disease with fire and gas masks, to mixed results. They’re also using the situation to distribute medicine and supplies, making themselves look better.
Epidemic preferred to keep to the shadows, even the sewers at times. The guy still came up to eat, and people still called him into the cops. He offered to spare people who made him a good meal, so he didn’t keep it that secret he was behind all the outbreaks.
I showed up while he was eating at a barbecue joint. This being Empyreal City, it looked like they only got as far as some sort of light sampler, but that could just be the entree around here.
The Dudebot was invisible again, but he called out to me as soon as I entered. “This is a private function!” When I kept approaching, he turned, didn’t see anyone, then snapped his fingers. “Another boring super cop.”
He frowned then, and snapped his fingers again. I lifted him up out of his chair, turning visible, and snapped a power collar around his neck. “You’re not even human, are you?” he asked.
“More than I thought. Less than you’d think,” I said to be all cryptic.
Behind me, the waitress came back into the room, then ducked down. Epidemic snapped his fingers again and her body jerked. She began to scream. “Let me go, or I kill her,” he said.
“I don’t care about that,” I said. I checked over the collar. All functional. “You can’t convince me to leave you alone, and you can’t infect me.”
He laughed. “I am the Master of Disease. The Emperor of Illness. The Lord of Fungus. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Ah, right. He probably stopped his own self from becoming infected by the same disease that allows the power collars to work. Behind me, the waitress stood back up, her head swollen with something green and black. Her eyes looked weird, glass and black-veined, as she walked toward me. Some sort of zombie plague, then.
I casually grabbed Epidemic’s chair. Still holding him up, I smashed the crap out of the waitress, beating her head in. Black ichor dripped out as a toadstool poked out. I stomped it and ground it out. Then I slammed Epidemic on the table, took a broken piece of wood, and slowly pushed it through his chest. Guy looked like a vampire, so I figured I’d stake his ass.
He screamed and cursed as I forced the chunk of wood into his chest. He kept at it briefly because I didn’t get the heart, though it quickly turned to squeaking. I grabbed another chair, broke off the leg, and used that one to pin his head to the table, right through his brain. I pulled off the power collar and gave him an answer as I walked away. “I am death, and hell to pay.”
Compared to them, it wasn’t nearly so difficult to find Machine Man, and I was confident such an outdated piece of machinery would be easy pickings.
But, finally, a delegation from Las Vegas came out to meet me. They pulled up in humvees and technicals, with a wide variety of firearms and energy weapons aimed at me.
“I come in peace!” the Vegas Dudebot said, raising its arms in a gesture of surrender.
“You mean you come in piece,” Medusa said, hopping out of the back of a humvee. “That’s a robot double. Why shouldn’t we destroy it now?”
“Because Omega and I aren’t really working together anymore. Listen, I got upset and I made a mistake. A big one. I’m trying to make it better, but he decided to lock me away. As far as Omega knows, I can only watch. It’s… not fun. Seriously.”
Back in Ricca, Omega laughed as he binge watched Friends as a way to become acclimated to this new world.
“In fact, it’s downright torturous,” I told Medusa. “But I’m serious. The people he sent after you in Empyreal City? They’re being handled. All I have left is the one pretending to be you.” The Dudebot projected clips of my confrontations with Stampede and Epidemic.
“Face-stealing son of a…” she drifted off. She pulled out her phone and started checking in on things, texting some friends, trying to get the low down. I didn’t spy this time. I let her do it. The fact that animals were calming down and staying that way were easy to come across, but we ended up waiting several minutes while she got outside confirmation. “Where’s the kid?”
“Locked up somewhere she can’t hurt anyone or herself. I didn’t want to kill a kid. Tried to give Epidemic a chance, but turns out he kept that thing from infecting him.”
Medusa nodded to me. “Let’s say we trust you to help again… what’s your plan?”
In Empyreal City, a crowd of Machine Man’s gang, hunting down some of the Q group, came across one of my Dudebots standing there. It raised its hands as well. “I come in peace! Take me to your leader.”
It didn’t take long before the False Medusa stepped up, her movements more smooth now, but almost seductive. Still nothing like how Medusa herself walks. “Who are you and what do you want?” she asked.
“Let’s just say I plan to give Omega what he’s asked for,” I told both of them at once. “But I can’t do it alone.”
“We already have our own plan,” Medusa told me.
Machine Man cocked its head to the side. “That is an unusual way to phrase it. What is your plan?”
“…anyway, they figure since birds are the traditional vector for the spread of chili pepper seeds, it’s useful to start the seeds with it. Just get some seeds, maybe wash them down with a tiny bit of bleach in there, then stick them in a mixture of bird poop and water. It’s supposed to be pretty good, and chilis need slightly more acidic soil anyway.”
The world passed by underneath my body as Omega checked the Empyreal City. The being that controlled my body hadn’t blown the whole city to hell. Mr. Omega figured out he would have to confirm a kill for it to mean anything to me. It would be difficult enough for him to search the entire world, but I’ve made it even tougher for him.
“Would that I could sew your mouth shut with a scorpion trapped within,” Omega muttered.
“You trapped me in your head, buddy. You don’t want me yakking away, feel free to let me out and give up this body,” I said. “If not, we can move on to another fun subject. Tell me, what do you know about snail husbandry? Because, let me tell you, it’s a slow fucking process.”
“Quiet down. I am hunting your daughter,” Omega said.
“You’re doing a shitty job of it,” I said. I know where I would have looked first, or the things I could have done to try and find Qiang. Evidently, our recent schism keeps him from accessing my brain, which is a handy thing to know. Omega’s got plenty of power, but he’s not tech savvy in the least.
Case in point, he asked me, “Why is there a twelve and two zeroes appearing and disappearing in my vision?”
I reset the HUD clock to screw with him. I wasn’t sure he’d still see it, but that confirms it. I’m a little worried he might be altering my body. Not in the good way, either, like when I planned to use his powers to zap myself pregnant by Medusa the next time I saw her.
While I mused how to take advantage of this and continued to try talking his head off, he decided to try using my technology. He stopped in Colorado, which is 99% composed of the middle of nowhere, and clenched his fist. An orb appeared in front of us in the sky and expanded out. My Omega power armor was inside. We floated toward it and passed right on through it, either us or the armor becoming intangible in the process.
“You know, if clocks are too complex for you, I’m not sure power armor is going to work as well as you’d like,” I teased.
“Armor is beneath me,” Omega answered. He raised my lower limbs, showing off the gauntlets that were equipped with portahole technology. It was similar to the Telechamber, but less powerful. “I have acknowledged your machinery can achieve that which I cannot. Now, it will.”
There wasn’t a lot of fancy programming work put into the portahole gauntlets on this end. Most of it is a matter of location and size. The difficult stuff was handled by Chu, also missing these days, who handled power management that was delivered using more portals. Omega didn’t have to worry about delivering power remotely. Omega had all the power these things could want. They still won’t do him any good getting through. They can deliver something person-sized, like me, but the power required to bring through someone the size of Omega’s ego would damage their hardware. “Can’t get through with those, Mr. Impatient.”
“I do not intend to,” he informed me. Omega lowered us to the ground. There, he created a portal and expanded it, but to about people-size. Out of that one stepped a robot, with limbs that looked like girders and a conical head flanked by radar dish ears. The head had a facsimile of a human face carved into it.
The robot swiveled slowly, taking in the scenery. Mr. Omega conjured an image of Medusa in what he’d seen of her costume without her power armor. He explained to the robot, “This is who I want you to find. She already has reason to want to find me first, but I want you to take her appearance.”
The robot’s body pulled in close and the radar dishes raised to the sky. The center of them lit up with blue light that shot out and expanded into a halo. The halo then fell over the robot’s body, stopped at its cupped feet, and rose again. The sequence repeated itself, growing faster and faster, until the Medusa faded into existence where the robot had been. It didn’t seem like a hologram, but I didn’t know what it was. Something as old as that automaton shouldn’t have been able to do that.
Fake Medusa nodded stiffly and said in a voice that sounded nothing like her, “As you wish, Moloch.”
“You will need allies,” Mr. Omega added. He created another portahole. Out of that one stepped a man in an all black coat, black pants, dark red shirt, and a wide-brimmed black hat. His eyes glowed red in the shade of his hat and he had wrangled his facial hair into a messy goatee.
“You rang?” he asked, smiling yellowed teeth. With the 360 cameras once again connected, I had a better range of vision and could see that that grass died off, radiating outward from where his shoes touched the ground.
Mr. Omega didn’t address him just yet. Instead, he opened one last portahole. From that emerged a little blonde girl with pigtails, dressed in yellow and green superhero tights.
The man in black looked her over. “I better not be here for child’s play.”
The girl stuck her tongue out at him and blew a raspberry.
“Silence!” Mr. Omega said. He conjured the image of Medusa again, and one of Qiang. “Epidemic and Stampede. I summoned you from the void to this Earth to aid me. I require you to bring me this woman and child. I believe them to be within this nation-state, in a city known as Empyreal City. Machine Man has taken the appearance of the woman to wreak havoc in her image. You will assist Machine Man and bring them to me.”
“That’s it, we’re hunting down this woman? This has to be the easiest payment either,” said the guy I took to be Epidemic.
The girl raised her head and howled like a wolf, her jaw and ears briefly elongating as she did so. Howls answered her from the distance.
Mr. Omega nodded once. “There are many on this Earth with powers beyond mere man, and your debt, those that owe it, will be wiped clean by this act.” He created a new portahole, then waved them through. “Go. Call for me when you have them.”
Machine Man, as Medusa, tromped through the portahole. I don’t know what that one could do to anyone it wanted to hurt, and I have no clue if Mr. Omega’s ignorance of technology extends to 1940s-looking robots. I’m completely ignorant of the other two, too. From the way he talked, Omega didn’t think they were used to the concept of supers, so it’s unlikely they’re from this Earth.
Still, I couldn’t just let the guy trapping me in my own head just run around with the ability to summon his minions into the world. I adjusted a few of the parameters and fired off a pair of portals while Mr. Omega was zipping back into the air. They were designed to be way too big for the portaholes to handle. I could have initiated a safety shutoff, but I didn’t want to. Instead, I watched as the subtle wrinkles in the air started to form, then the gauntlets sparked and blew out when the portals got big enough. The portals vanished while the gauntlets caught fire.
Mr. Omega looked down at them, my face pulling into a frown. Neither of us felt the heat, nor did he bother to put it out before he started heading back toward Ricca. “That was foolish, Gecko. You lash out when you should be thankful toward me.”
“You stole my body, so don’t expect me to thank you anytime soon.”
“You came through and made a life you feel is worth living. To deny me the same out of fear shows you have not changed,” he said.
“Oh fuck off, grandpa.” Wow, we got over Mu pretty quick. Mr. Omega finally got the idea to look over our various colonies on the lost and restored continent. Most didn’t give him any trouble, though the Bronze City sounded an alarm. The arrows fired by the guards didn’t reach anywhere near us.
Mr. Omega stopped and descended to where some of those same men bowed apologetically. “Forgive us, Empress-King. We did not realize it was you.”
Omega glanced down at my armor, quickly grasping the benefits of co-opting my identity around the last group of people who still considered me their sovereign. “Tell the soldiers to gather,” Omega ordered.
It didn’t take long before Omega floated in front of the city’s army, all clad in the bronze armor the city was famous for.
“You will do nicely,” he said in my voice, looking around. His view lingered on one particular shield that had been polished to a mirror finish. The reflection’s fists pounded the shield, much like I wanted to do and might have if I wasn’t thinking. I experimented by giving Mr. Omega the finger with my upper hands. The reflection did the same.
This time, Mr. Omega thought to himself, his mental voice thankfully not a copy of my own. I think it would have really pissed me off if he had my mental voice, too. “I see you. Maybe I should simplify this by putting you in another body. What is the name of that girl whose body you envy? The blonde one, belonging to the tribe of god-pretenders.”
I didn’t respond because I was tempted. I think he picked up on that. If he knew me any, he’d know I’d resist on principle alone. If I’m lucky, he doesn’t realize I have more ideas on how to sabotage him. “I think if it were so simple for you to just possess a body without a mind, you’d have done it. There are plenty of mindless bodies around.”
“I think if you knew anything about magic, you would not have built your power on machines,” Omega responded.
Out loud, Omega announced, “What do they say now? You should get an upgrade.” Omega waved my hand, not that asshole’s hand, and the soldiers’ armor changed color to the same red as mine. Their swords, spears, and arrowheads changed as well.
Omega rose into the air as a sphere appeared around the whole of the assembled men and my body. Everything pulled inward and then spread out again, and the soldiers were now assembled around the Telechamber site.
Shockley had taken cover behind a low wall, zapping the occasional brick that came close to hitting him. He smiled in relief at the site of Omega and the army. Omega pointed to the crowd. “Go home, or go to the grave.”
The army let out a roar that scared off most of the people protesting the Telechamber. The rest ran away when some of the soldiers rushed to take up positions at the street.
Mr. Omega examined the Telechamber and could tell the exterior was done. The interior had to be close as well, but he didn’t have my skill with tiny little robots. “Soon,” he murmured to me. “Soon, a new day begins. A new palace is in order for the new ruler. Don’t you agree?”
The ground rumbled and wood cracked. Off in the distance, a ruby spire sloughed off the palace it had arisen from underneath and stabbed into the sky, the center of a crystalline keep that took over the palace courtyard and former Directory building.
Now he’s in trouble. The bastard destroyed the best toilet I ever owned. And he doesn’t even realize I have plenty of spare bodies I can use to help thwart him, including a few Dudebots in Empyreal City.
For all my power, I feel I’m losing control of the situation. Ricca, for instance. I don’t care for the throne so much as I wanted my daughter and I wanted to finish the Telechamber to be whole. To be fully here, fully empowered. The goal from there is simple: rule as god-queen. Or maybe I won’t rule. Ruling is troublesome. But being a god? That I can do.
The Riccans had to learn that lesson. Some of them, emboldened by recent events, decided to throw water bottles at me while I oversaw construction of the Telechamber. I raised a hand in their general direction and fired off a blast that scattered them. They didn’t really come close after that. Even the Deep Ones hung back. Really, it was only Shockley who approached. He wasn’t having fun, either. I think. Being my follower isn’t too popular at the moment, especially in a place where I ran off the beloved child Empress.
Did she run from me? Was it Medusa’s plan? Is my daughter now a hostage?
It occurred to me, as I stood my unceasing vigil over the Telechamber’s assembly, that I’d undone a lot of work I’d done to keep her safe. It was really distracting me, making me more a pair of beings in one body than one body and one mind. I could feel Omega’s mind reassuring me that no one would dare harm the daughter of a god. Which is bullshit. People are brainless dick monkeys. Of course some asswipe would come up with the idea of attacking a god’s daughter just to see if they could get away with it. They might even thing it’d give them some perverse form of street cred before I’d dissolve them, slowly, so that they feel every atom in their body pulling away from every other atom.
Thinking about Qiang made me realize I needed to have a heart to heart with myself, though. Because Omega’s answer didn’t satisfy me. I needed to look inward. I started to turn toward Shockley and ask if he could hit me with some more of that dust, but I ended up looking at a black void with Omega standing there instead. “Good. Maybe I’ll get some real answers now. What are your actual plans, dude?”
Omega, as a separate entity, looked like a guy now. “My goal is to be here. I have that right. To be here, to remain free and unharmed. It is the dream I’ve had for so long.”
The void around us shifted and he disappeared. I seemed to be running then, down a darkened corridor with stone walls. I heard someone next to me yell. I turned to look and it was a man in robes, with an arrow sticking out of his back. More flew out of the darkness, missing him, but at least a half dozen sank into the man’s flesh and he fell. I heard a yell of triumph behind me.
Suddenly, I came out into an opening. More people in robes were there. One of them pulled me to the side while others rolled a boulder in front of the door way and barricaded it. The chamber we were in looked like a cave, but with a hole in the top that allowed light to touch the center of a design carved over the floor, which was red. I could even smell the blood that had flowed through all the engravings of that design, courtesy of the dead goats piled up on the edges of the chamber.
The scene paused as Omega appeared. “You know what it’s like to be nothing but a pawn in the games of the powerful. You were a prized weapon. We were far less valuable. You were trained, fed, allowed to rest, given equipment; but I was far less.” He paced, looking around. “All I wanted was the power to resist and live free. I was scarecely empowered when I was banished, and the brethren who aided me put to the sword. They were mere servants. Their defiance made it so their value lay in being a lesson for others with hope to follow our path. I didn’t have further plans beyond that all-consuming drive.”
He stopped pacing and looked down. “They banished me and killed everyone I knew and cared about. The world moved on and changed completely. My only plan is to be, and to make sure nobody can trap me or kill me for the perceived crime of existing freely.” I felt the anger running through me from our bond as the scene disappeared, leaving us in the void again.
“I understand a lot of what that’s like. Just being allowed to live was a big part of what I was about when I got here. But I see more similarities, too. The way you just casually blast a bunch of people in a heavily-populated city, for instance. You don’t care. It’s hard to tell because of us being merged, but how much of the killing and violence over the past few days was me being a depressed asshole, and how much of it was you?”
He smiled. “Even if it were all you, I would not care to stop you. These people are nothing to me. They are scared as you were scared. If given the choice, they wouldn’t have allowed you to their world. You, who slaughters them by the dozen. You, who looks down on them with contempt. You, who thinks you are better and special and deserve to be immune from their punishments because you can break their bones. I, too, see that similarity. I am tired of submitting to the laws of corrupt man. Any who try to stop me shall fall to my power.”
Another scene shifted around us. We were in the air over Ricca, looking down on the city. A red hand, my hand, raised itself. Parts of the city erupted in explosions at random. “What the fuck, these are my people! That’s my body!”
Omega grabbed me and held me in place. “It is our body, and those are people who sided against you. They deposed you when you seemed to support me, or they failed to resist the ones who did.”
I grabbed him. “Listen, I see a lot of myself in you. A lot of myself as I was for a long time after I got here. I get it, ya know? People not being valuable to you unless they’re valuable to you? It’s the exact same thinking as the people who used to own us. So what? That’s what you’re thinking. It’s your turn. You get to be the one with the power of life and death over people like those who didn’t care about yours. The people who thought you were the bad guy for wanting to be free, or who are just like those ones.”
I looked at the images around us, tried to will my hand down. It reluctantly obeyed. “All this power, and our first thoughts were to just kill and destroy. There’s someone out there who spent a long time trying to say I could have been better, and I thought it was a bunch of bullshit. But while I haven’t been perfect, I’ve helped build a country back up. You come to Ricca and the waters heal you. We’re saving immigrants from concentration camps, and accepting Deep One refugees that other people would have labeled monsters. Any one of them could have turned up on the shore of any other country on Earth, except the landlocked ones, and been the same kind of killer. You have power, but you don’t have to exert it by hurting people. It’s so mindless and petty, too. You work to get all this power, just to kill people you don’t even know.”
Omega stared into me, then laughed. “You have no right to counsel me in such a way, maniac.”
I grit my teeth. “I’m trying to get you to stop making the mistakes I made.”
“You are trying to protect your daughter. Because you fear me,” he said. “Remember when you did not fear? The world was your plaything, for you to blow up while laughing. You wanted to deny me the same privilege.” He peered more closely at me. “You have been working against me.”
“I hit a low point, with my anger and paranoia convincing me to open myself up to you. But you can be better than I was. You don’t have to be a loser with a shitload of power who doesn’t know what to do with it other than cuss a lot and kill people,” I explained. I mean, I saw what Omega’s history was, and I’m sympathetic to it. But his plan is seriously to just appear and blow shit up because he has power. That’s no real plan. That’s just boring and being a loser, the same way any of those dumpster-licking assclowns in the United States thinks the way to have power is to grab a gun and shoot up a kindergarten or something. The easiest way to exert power is to hurt someone else, but it really is petty.
I really was petty. But I was also suicidal. I didn’t have it in me to kill myself, because it felt like a waste of all the people I had to kill to survive. I wanted someone else to do it for me. I was a monster who couldn’t imagine happiness anymore. I thought I could find it in the humor of tearing apart people’s lives. I suppose it’s a testament to all the medication and the stuff Psychsaur did to my head that I’m not like that anymore. And then there’s Qiang. Somehow, I can love that girl. I want to be there for her and take care of her. I want to live for her.
At the same time, I can’t exactly ask Omega to pop out a kid so he has something to live for, too. That’s also pretty terrible. But compared to the me that wanted to lay dead in the ruins of the Empyre State Building, the me that exists today is better. And not just better for the world, Medusa, or Qiang. I’m better for me.
“Touching,” Omega said, as if he’d read all of that as clearly as anybody else could. “But why should I take advice from a traitor? I can see it now. You have been undermining me, somehow. There are things you have done to fight me even as we lived as one.” He raised a finger and tapped my forehead. “Something is missing here. You removed knowledge from yourself. Why, if not that it would have aided me? And why remove this if you wanted to help me? Yes, you took the coward’s way out and invited me in to save your own life, but you attacked your own brain to save those others. What living being would willingly make an idiot of itself?”
Around me, I saw simulacra of my family. Qiang, Max, Holly, Sam, Citra, Silver Shark, and even Medusa. That last one gave me some mixed feelings still, especially after having to pretty much admit she was right about me. I hope she never finds out about that. Well, little chance of that. Not like anyone from this universe can read this.
Omega stepped toward the false Qiang, taking on a shape I can see in the mirror every day. “I will not give you up, Gecko. This is my body now. That is the cost of your cowardice and insistence in saving your own life with a lie.” Omega patted the unflinching face of the mental image of my daughter. “Whatever else you’ve done, though I know not what, shall cost you dearly.”
Omega disappeared, though the blackness disappeared as well. I was back to myself, floating above Ricca. But then I looked down at my hands without meaning to, or feeling my arms move. I realized that while I could see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste, I couldn’t do anything.
I floated lower and Omega, in control of my body, spoke to Shockley. “Finish overseeing this. I must punish the traitor Gecko.”
“As you wish, my god,” Shockley said, laying it on a bit thick for my taste.
Then I got to watch as I took off for a flight across the Pacific, Omega muttering to me, “I will find her.”
Over my dead body, bucko.
Shockley kept bugging me about having more important things to do, so I zapped him and turned him young again. It was a bit harder than using my powers to fight heroes. A lot of that is straightforward physics. Turning another being young again, while within my abilities back before banishment, was trickier. It’s a good thing my new self knows so much about human anatomy and things like telomeres.
We are both me, but different mes. I am Omega, and I am Gecko. I would say I’m mostly Gecko, since most of my Omega self is trapped outside of this universe. But being new to this changed Earth, free for the first time in centuries, I find Gecko a handier guide than ancient rites and spells. I can set a storm upon the entire face of the Earth if I need to, but nothing so far has required such an exertion. I am a god far beyond those pretenders hiding behind the Three Hares symbol and the names of pantheons past.
I finally get to enjoy things like modern food and beds! The company of beautiful men and women with plastic surgery and fitness trainers. But I can’t help but feel, even if Shockley is no longer pushing me, that perhaps he had a point. It’s been so long since I’ve been on Earth that it was easy to get distracted. People have expectations of you when you’re a godlike being existing outside of time and space. They never stop to think about what it’s like when you go from living in a void to experiencing the world all at once.
No, they do things like send a small army after you.
Mine and Shockley’s destructive tour of the United States had crossed out of California, so some guy in a big white house finally gave a damn.
We were in Portland, Oregon. Shockley and I spent the night raiding a local strip club called the “Oregon Happy Trail” for their most agreeable dancers. I had a disagreeable night, unfortunately. I couldn’t help but think about the woman who betrayed me. Medusa. Another girlfriend who decided it was better to attack me.
I thought of my daughter as well, but later. After sexy times. Hollow sexy times. The thing that got me really excited was when explosions interrupted my sleep. The roof disappeared, and there were a number of expressionless men in black, with a contingent of flying Freedom Legionaries floating overhead, pointing any number of guns and hands at me. I pulled a startled stripper over my boobs to cover them up. “Do y’all mind knocking?”
They fired, which didn’t do them a whole lot of good. Killed some strippers, who really didn’t deserve that after all the hospitality they showed me. Oh, right, I could have stopped that. Well, even if I didn’t, Shockley stopped the bullets in midair. I just shrugged and looked up at the people who fired on the single mother I’d been snuggled up with. “You know, if you guys weren’t such massive turds, I wouldn’t look so good in comparison.”
I raised a hand and brought a little inventive knifework from my mind to reality. It was bloody, it was fun, and it was easy. I floated up, bedsheet flowing in the wind as I looked around tosee the perimeter set up by more of this Freedom Legion. I looked at them and raised a hand, then glanced at the blood on it. It didn’t excite me the way it used to.
I thought back to years ago, that confrontation on the rooftop with Shieldwall. I’d been thinking about that a lot lately. The way my nemesis decided I was worth something better than being killed. I don’t know exactly how I felt about it. Omega chimed in, feeling the same way I did for so long: that she wasted a chance to be rid of a major problem.
After a moment, I lowered my hand. “Whoever or whatever you are now, start leaving. Or stay and die. You have 30 seconds to comply.”
I didn’t bother to count. I didn’t flinch, either, when the men in suits unloaded their guns on me, or when a trickle of Legionaries joined in. I gave them a chance, though. A chance to not feed that emptiness.
More than a thousand years ago, I stood in a hidden temple and shed mere humanity. Scarcely was I capable of turning my thought into reality than traitors banished me. I promised revenge, with a burning anger that sustained me ever since. These fools went up and were extinguished like leaves tossed on a bonfire. Fire was one of the easiest of the elements to control. The only one that resisted the kiss of flame soon became a melted puddle of sizzling metal.
It was all very purple in prose and empty in calories. It didn’t excite me like it used to. And so I looked down to Shockley, who by now was quite pleased to find himself under a pile of beautiful women. “When you finish up down there,” I said, figuring I’d at least give him time for his own fun, “we should head west. I’ve grown bored, and you’re right. It’s time to return to Ricca.”
I don’t know if the cheer of approval had anything to do with my announcement. It was hard to tell under all that ass. There was, like, an assload of ass. A buttload of butt. A shitload of things that shit. Darn it, I’m getting all poetic again.
So he fucked, and I pondered.
When he was finally ready, I cast a spell to trap him in a protective bubble, created a portal, and came out bouncing off the island’s forcefield. I glared at the glowing sphere of light that prevented things from getting in or out of the island. It stood out in the night.
“You can’t get in?” Shockley asked,
I raised a hand to the shield. The shield rippled and bent under invisible pressure. It didn’t break, which says something damn good about the scientists I put in charge. “Oh, I’ll get in. If there’s anything I know, it’s how to get inside where Medusa’s reluctant to let me.” I shook my head after a moment and added, “That was terribly worded.”
“Don’t force it,” Shockley commented.
“Forcing it… nevermind, not going to force it.” Omega wanted to just punch through with as much force as possible. Gecko knew that could have some disastrous affects with the power grid and the forcefield that could damage everything.
A thousand years ago. A nobody, a nothing. Not even literate until I defied that bastard with his riches and his castle. Fucking Romans. And then the fucking Sassanids. And, for reasons I don’t entirely understand to this day, the fucking Mercians. The Mercians, y’all. That really hurt, and I don’t think I have to elaborate on why.
Anyway, I used the fact that the energy field merely bent the forcefield to create a wave. It took a little bit of experimentation, because Omega didn’t know a lot about that waves. But they have this thing where they enter a positive feedback loop of sorts. I leave all the fancy words to the people who can remember them, but the point is that the right frequency caused the shield to flutter on its own as the wave running through the field built on itself and finally collapsed.
I was greeted by the sounds of alarms. Things got a bit fuzzy, because we were literally of two minds. Omega wanted to rush to the Telechamber. I wanted to head to the palace and find my daughter. Maybe even skin Medusa alive while I’m at it. But I’m still mostly Gecko, so I dropped Shockley off on the beach and flew off for the palace.
I blew the doors off. “Hi honey, I’m home!”
No answer. No lights. I zoomed through it at superspeed, checking every room. Then I went through the Institute, the military base, all sorts of stuff. The place looked like they’d had a heck of a fight while I’d been gone. Both of them, actually. A lot of our science personnel were missing, like Dr. Creeper. I couldn’t find Intel Chief Pagan, either. I checked the labs in the Institute again, slower this time, and nearly got caught by a vine. It lashed out at me from a room completely taken over by greenery. I slowed down to grab it, and noticed some muffling coming from inside. More vines whipped out at me. I swatted them aside, then waved my hand. The stalks and leaves parted with snaps and I saw a man there. Dr. Quincy, the scientist I kidnapped for his expertise in biology. He was held firmly in place by leaves wrapped around his legs and stalks growing around his upper body and over his mouth.
“Wow, you look like shit.” And green.
He couldn’t answer, what with the stalk in his mouth. Another wave of my hand and the plants holding him dissolved. He stumbled forward and free of big green mess that then caught on flames from a simple fire burst spell.
“Oh god, you’re back,” he said.
“Surprised to see me?”
He nodded. “I, they, shit! They told me they were evacuating and I was going to go with them. I came to get some of my samples when the Martian Mantrap grabbed me.”
I pointed to the skin on him. “You’ve got green on you.”
“I’ve got chlorophyl on me?” he looked down. That let me see the leaves growing from his head.
“Something like that,” I said. “Well, they abandoned you. Sucks, doesn’t it? Why don’t you tell me where they went?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
I raised a finger. Fire danced on the tip of my nail. Quincy’s eyes widened and he backed off. The iris split into a mess of green and red. “Did everything turn red? What’s going on?”
I patted him on the shoulder. “Congrats, you’re either effectively dead, or superpowered. You might want to get outside and get some sunlight.”
I left him there and rushed to the computers in the main office. Gone. The multiversal physics department? Gone. Pretty much all of it. They even took the dust. I had one last trick up my sleeve, though.
Like a red-skinned lightning bolt, I dashed out of the labs and to the Telechamber site. More like the Telechamber foundation. That was all they left, having disassembled everything else with the help of the nanomachines I so love to use.
So I headed to the nearest manhole and blasted it open. I hopped down into the sewers and reached a hand down into the unusually-clean water. There, I connected again to the nanites.
I once explained that the nanomachines worked in part by sharing data in a network that allows them too coordinate. That way, they can avoid complications while working together to heal injuries. Or to build things. This was something Omega couldn’t have done, and something Medusa, my dear traitor, didn’t think to do. She still hasn’t integrated the functions of her phone into her body.
So what neither could do, Gecko could. I synced up with the nanites and found where the building plans for the Telechamber and the equipment therein were still in their memory. As I set them to work, a cliché passed through my mind that, because I still hadn’t retrieved Shockley, I had to say only to myself.
“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
The Telechamber would rise. I would be whole again.
Establish dominance then dictate terms. It’s a negotiating tactic. That’s why I stuck around.
They didn’t send the Freedom Legion after me at first, because I was in California. Master Academy didn’t really respond, either. They were busy seeing to the death and destruction I’d caused already. So I began to wonder who would be the first to accept the open invitation I presented. I made no effort to hide who I am.
Shockley wasn’t so fond of that idea. He had it in his head that we should just rush Ricca and finish the Telechamber. That, or I could use my power and knowledge to create it myself. The problem there is that I don’t know how to build it myself. The joys of handing off things to subordinates, especially subordinates who understand the physics behind breaching the universe. Even the part of me outside it knew more about brute forcing my way through, and that was only possible when the veil had been weakened.
Oddly, though, I feel like I’m forgetting something. I’m not even drawing a blank, oddly enough. It’s like whenever I feel I’m close, I start remembering a recipe for peanut butter no-bake cookies.
There was time enough. There weren’t many who could banish this partial amalgamation if they even knew how. That family, the Trust, are such gigantic screw-ups that even their benefactors won’t be able to stop me. Legba and Samedi have the competence, but I believe they’ve taken a liking to the Earthly part of me. They would have to banish all of me.
So it was that I didn’t feel threatened when I was shot out of the sky while flying along over the California countryside. The disadvantage of leaving my armor behind didn’t matter so much if I can get hit by an exploding shell and suffer nothing worse than a little tumble through the air. I saw a streak of fire pass over the farm fields below me before I righted myself. The fires spread around me as the man inside buned his way around the sky to encase me inside a flaming whirlwind in the sky.
I created a protective aura, then pushed the outer layer of the aura out to leave a void and make it even harder for the heat to reach me. A shot from Warman barely missed Eschaton and exploded against the aura surrounding me. Eschaton, meanwhile, spiraled around down below me and fired up, blasting white hot flames up at me.
I created a hole on the underside of my protective shield. The flames went in one end, and came out in the fields below me. I used another such hole to pull myself out a short distance away, letting me spot where Warman stood on the nearby highway. The guy held a gun that usually requires a tank underneath it. Eschaton stopped when he saw the fire down below, then turned and flew at me. This time, when Warman fired, a hole in the universe carried the round outside of everything to come out and explode against Warman. The fiery superhero fell, stunned by the concussion wave of the explosion even if the flames wouldn’t do anything to a being of his abilities.
Down on the ground, Warman soon found the cannon yanked out of his hands by one of mine reaching through another such hole. When he jumped and grabbed onto it to pull it back, another couple of fists of mine appeared just in front of him and used his nutsack for a speedbag. When he tried to cup them protectively, I pulled back and opened another pair of holes. One grabbed him by the back of the head and pulled his head back. The other popped him on the underside of the jaw, sending him flying. I decided to open one last portal for him, to dump him in the Potomac as an example.
Eschaton came for me again, all fire and hatred. I created a new aura, to absorb the heat. All the heat. Soon, it was me in a ball of icy mist that grew and stretched down along the flames coming from his outstretched hands. He broke and tried to flee before it could ensconce him.
I gathered the ice up and, with but a wave of my hand, broke it into sharpened shards that launched themselves after him like spears. He took evasive maneuvers while blasting those closest to where he was heading. He missed one, that got him in the back of his left thigh. He fell, clutching at the hole that his own heat opened up to the world. I dropped him on Warman as well.
Then, just because I felt like it, I laughed and created a hailstorm.
Shockley thought it was stupid thanks to his jealousy, but it was all in good fun for me. That, and all in the name of showing that I can’t be beaten. The sooner Earth gets that through their heads, the sooner they can give the fuck up.
Those two weren’t the only major heroes to gun for me. I stopped off in this one little town to enjoy the fruits of the local farmer’s market. The Gecko side of me had plenty of time to enjoy apples and other delights, but the part of me from the void, Omega, felt a great yawning hunger. Aside from an urge to devour the planet whole, it also urged me to devour some juicy, delicious produce.
I wasn’t even committing any crimes when, out of nowhere, this guy in a red and white outfit flies at me. Darker brown skin, a Latino fellow by my estimation, with a long, brown beard and long hair. I’d seen a suit like that before, with a white cape like that as well. This time, it golden runes covered every inch of the cape, and the suit seemed just slightly different, with golden lightning bolts along the forearm sleeves and the thighs. He had a lightning bolt buckle, I would say, but no belt for it.
I raised an eyebrow and caught the man’s left handed punch. The way the building next to us shuddered and baskets blew off the shelves, I realized that had all taken place in an incredibly short span of time. There might have been a sonic boom involved. I smiled and looked to this newcomer, holding him tight in my grip. “Who are you supposed to be?”
“I’m Captain Lightning, new and improved,” he said. Twin bolts of electricity arced from his eyes. I raised a hand, creating an iron pole to catch and ground them in the dirt. He tried to pull his hand away then, but couldn ‘t, so he resorted to punching me with his right. I grabbed that as well, then pulled him forward to bonk his head on the iron pole. It wouldn’t do much to him, other than make him look silly. So did my lower hands reaching forward to tickle just underneath the sides of his ribs.
“Stop that!” he yelled. “Unhand me, villain!”
“So many ways I could take that,” I said. I raised my lower hands, the fingers folding together as if to karate chop. Red crystal formed around them, forming blades as thin as an atom at their edges. I was just about to unhand him when some real lightning hit me in a huge blast out of nowhere. It numbed me momentarily and let the pretender get away. When I looked up, the sky was dark and rumbled with the anger of the man who descended, his more subdued cape flowing behind him in the breeze.
Even knowing the man behind that facade was an oldtimer who had fought in World War II, the original Captain Lightning’s superpowered form looked as young and as strong as ever. “I sense Psycho Gecko in you… and an incredible corruption of power that doesn’t belong here.”
“I have graduated from psychopomp to god. You’re outmatched now, Lightning,” I told him. I liked the guy, though I could feel a part of me getting pumped at the idea of going up against this guy.
“You face not one, but the many gods who empower myself and my apprentice,” Captain Lightning said. “But I saw that, for your faults and your outrages in days past, you sought no quarrel here. Can we avoid further destruction this day?”
“You can’t be serious!” Captain Lightning II yelled. I wondered vaguely how old this one was. He didn’t strike me as particularly mature, but it’s easy to see lots of guys running into a fight if they had those abilities at his disposal.
“Trust me, there’s no fight to be had here. Just a beating, if you want it,” I said, turning my back to them so I could look around for some more fresh fruit from the market. I grinned to myself, wondering if Lightning would be able to control Junior there enough to stop the inevitable attempt at a sneak attack.
“No,” I heard over the wind as the older original addressed what I assumed was his trainee. “This is a time for wisdom, not force.”
“Yes, run along before you soil those tights,” I called back, bending down to grab a peach. I waved a hand, magically knocking all dust and dirt off the thing and leaving it completely clean. I put it up to my mouth when a blow hit me from behind, knocking it clear. I whirled to find the new Lightning nowhere around, with the original standing back some. Quicker than lightning, I turned and found him as a speeding blur trying to get behind me for another punch. Faster even than him, I caught the peach I dropped and pitched it at his face. It hung in the air as soon as I released it, right in the path of Lightning II.
I returned to normal time and watched as Lightning II accelerated into the peach that exploded against his face as a flaming ball of fruit and knocked him off his feet. I bent down next to him and gestured. “Yeeeeeeer out!”
Then, I leaned down close to his face. “Hey, kid, just wondering. How’s your mom these days? She still hot? The boobs hanging in there? She got some MILF going on? I only ask because I’m newly single, and I think she’s the only person in your family who stands a chance getting her hands on this.”
He growled and headbutted me. Knocked me back slightly, but left him shaking his head, dazed.
“Are you done, Gecko?” asked the real Captain Lightning, watching close.
“Not going to intervene, Cap?” I asked.
“He’s learning a lesson about one of our powers: wisdom. And I hope watching you tells me what happened to you? Why did you give in to whatever did this to you?” he asked.
I looked at him, feeling my teeth grow sharper as I sized him up. “Like I need an excuse?”
“Venus, or Medusa, vouched for you being more than a mindless animal obsessed with killing and destroying. Was she wrong?” he asked.
“Maybe she doesn’t know me as well as she thinks. A friend like Mix N’Max would know I wouldn’t take that kind of treatment well. A person like me is betrayed, I’d go to all sorts of ends to bring down the people who thought they trapped me.” I nodded toward him, then reached down and patted his trainee on the cheek. “Come get your successor. I think he needs a bit more time on training wheels.”
Captain Lightning stepped forward and helped his apprentice up. “He’ll be ready soon. He has to be. But it won’t be you or whatever is attached to you that forces him to step up quite yet.”
They sped off, leaving me triumphant in front of a bunch of people who, if they hoped the pair of world-class heroes would defeat me, had to realize the day wasn’t saved just yet. Not as long as I was still on Earth.
The Dudebot reawakened. I looked around to find out where they’d stored the thing. Looks like they packed a lot of my stuff together, but I didn’t recognize the room offhand. My things weren’t dumped haphazardly, though they could have treated my fucking dresses better. I lifted up one that they’d set on my armor chamber and ran unfeeling robotic hands over the badly-wrinkled fabric. I tossed it back down and crawled over the whole mess to make it to the door on the other side.
They had locked it. I kicked it. When it didn’t open, I kicked it again. I charged the gauntlets and slammed them into it, knocking the door open. It swung to the side, one tough fucking door, and I stepped out to discover my things had been vaulted. It was a short corridor of vaults that. Had to break my way out of a door at the end and climbed up some stairs to find out I was in a bank. Huh. And here I thought they’d stick my crap in a storage closet somewhere. I guess they didn’t want anyone playing with my toys.
It looked like one of the nicer banks, which gave me an idea what part of town we were in. The ones in the residential section were a little less plush. I think a bank tried to set up shop in the recreational part of town, but drunk supervillains didn’t bother to make any deposits before they withdrew. That put me in the same area the bigger banks set up. Corporations love to have an office in countries that don’t extradite.
I’ll give them credit, I had to bitchslap the doors open, too. They made the whole building tough. I walked out to find a crowd of Buzzkills and Island Security. The Sec guys looked disheveled. They were half out of uniform from what I could see of them above the cars they arrived in or the barricades they unloaded. The Buzzkills lowered their Stingers, but most of the Sec guys kept theirs up.
I stopped, arms akimbo. “Bow.”
The Buzzkills did, save for a couple. They looked at each other, then one started rushing around, trying to pick up Buzzkills. The other approached me, motioning for the Security guys to lower their weapons. “I must apologize, Imperial Mother, but you are not Empress anymore.”
“As your Empress, I say otherwise. Now, bow,” I ordered.
“We don’t need or want you!” A Security officer yelled at me.
The one next to him slapped him upside the head, but added her own two cents. “By order of Empress Qiang and her Regent, Queen Beetrice, you are sentenced to exile until we’ve established a stable and secure government for us, for the people.”
“This sounds more like something you were told to say, not some spontaneous will of the people. I did so much for you. I made the island safe in a time of chaos. Restored order. Corrupt politicians? Out of a job or dead. We even have a whole new island. And not a peep from y’all. No protests or signs or letters.”
“You, uh, tended to kill people who caused you trouble,” said the second Sec officer.
“Doesn’t mean I’d have killed you,” I answered.
The Buzzkill spokeswoman decided to rejoin the conversation. “Imperial Mother… all the attacks and villainy.”
I looked back over their faces, trying to read them. The Buzzkills were… sad, maybe? But the humans were scared or angry. This next part wasn’t going to help that. I activated the eye laser on the Dudebot. I sheared a barricade in half and took a Security officer’s arm with it. He fell, screaming. Before I could move onto the next target, a large stinger lodged knocked the Dudebot’s head back. Laser shot into the sky and the energy barrier over the island. It didn’t go through, of course.
The Buzzkills and Security officers unloaded on the Dudebot. They didn’t have enough firepower to puncture the armor on this model. I lowered my head slowly, cutting the laser. I wanted them to watch as everything they tried did nothing. A few of them made for their cars and came up with grenades. The Buzzkills tried to stop them, but nonviolently.
I shrugged and jumped the Dudebot out of there, bounding from rooftop to rooftop toward the palace. Alarms spread throughout the city I’d come to think of as my own. It seemed weird to think they were signaling that I was a danger to them, but it was true enough a few years back.
I skidded to a stop in front of the palace, where there were guards, Buzzkills, and some regular citizens who decided to pelt me with produce. Mangoes were mangled hitting me. Squashes squished. They didn’t yell at me before this little coup, but they yelled plenty now. The words they said were a hell of a lot freakier. “You won’t hurt her!”
I thought that would give me pause, but I kept walking. The Nasty Surprise popped out, a threat. The Buzzkills fired stingers at me and formed a human wall with the Sec officers and civilians present. Human/Buzzkill wall, I guess.
I was going to kill all of them. I knew it. Forget maiming like back at the bank. More than anything, I wanted to make those clueless peasants in front of me feel pain. I wanted to just let my anger loose. Destroy and kill, again and again after all these wastes of people did to me. I didn’t realize how much of a state I was in until I heard my daughter’s voice cry out.
Qiang wiggled through the human wall and ran toward me. I retracted the Nasty Surprise and bent down, holding my arms wide. I missed her, even for that short amount of time. It was the uncertainty over seeing her again and not knowing if she was a pawn in some scheme. But she was there now, in my arms, hugging me. I wish I could have felt it.
“I’m sorry I left. I didn’t know they’d do this,” I told her.
“I’m sorry too, mommy. I don’t want to be Empress now. They said if I did, you’d be safe. I want you to be safe.”
We just hugged. The crowd had the decency to shut up, but then another moodkiller arrived in her own power armor.
Medusa, Venus, whatever she wanted to call herself; the fucker who had a hand in all this. Giving people ideas about self-determination and stirring up trouble. Having the shield put up and cutting me off from using my portaholes. She bent down and tried to join our hug.
I stood up, pushing her away. “How fucking dare you?”
She held her hands up. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t how I wanted this to happen.”
I glared at her as best I could while remotely controlling a robot with three fake eyes. Luckily, my nemesis has a good imagination and knows me well enough to understand what I was trying to do. I could tell from her lip. It was an apologetic lip. “So nice to know the woman I love has it in her to stab me in the back and exile me far from everything I care about except Mix N’Max. Do you know why they call it heartbreak?”
She nodded. “I do. But I want to know how you are able to get through right now.” Yep, quick enough on the uptake that she asked a really important question. The second most important question out of those asked that day, in fact.
The Dudebot lit up red and began to warp. Medusa called into a radio to, “Maximum strength on the shield!”
It distracted her long enough for me to get her with a cheap shot to her firm abs. She caught the next one and kicked the Bot’s knee hard enough to topple it, throwing off a follow-up. Before I could try the laser, the connection ended.
I came back to myself, over in California. California, California, not California, Pennsylvania. I was in some house the Dusk Priest, Shockley, found for us to stay in. I opened my eyes and let myself float to the ground. I’d been sitting in midair, cross-legged like I was meditating.
“Your new method of spying failed?” asked the old man. He had put on a dress shirt, pants, and a tie after leaving his Snuggie behind. He kept an athame clipped to his belt next to a pouch of sand in case he needed to do anymore weird magic stuff or blind somebody for a minute.
“Even with my new power, they have a way to fend me off. Temporarily, at least,” I said, smiling. “Originality doesn’t matter that much. Everything fundamentally comes down to the same old principles and stories, and I know some guaranteed ways to do what needs to be done.”
“Don’t you know enough to build it here? Or there?” he pointed in a random direction. “Or anywhere?”
“This is the price she asked for, Priest,” I chided the man. “Wait for me here and don’t fret; soon, we will be on our way to pay in accordance with our deal.”
He didn’t seem happy, but I don’t get his complaint. He got to hang out in a mansion.
Meanwhile, I flew, armor left behind with the weight of mortality. I shot up through the ceiling, envisioning a barrier of my own that punched a hole for me to avoid getting any splinters in my long, crimson hair. I smiled as I hit zoomed into the night sky, the crescent moon illuminating my scarlet skin. It wouldn’t have been so easy to make out the black, long-sleeved dress, or the harlequin green and Mardi Gras purple of the legging stripes that lead into a pair of black booties. The white glow of my eyes and the Omega symbol on my chest were much easier to make out.
My joy of flying was bolstered by the experience at it I felt in the back of my mind. That kept me from getting too distracted on my way to the Master Academy. In a part of the country with such high land prices and a lot of homeless people looking for somewhere to camp, the Academy and its walls stood out.
I waved a hand in the air and left behind a red trail. The walls cracked in half at their middle and tumbled. Then I held up a single finger, and not my preferred one when dealing with heroes. With a little thought and giggling, I put the other three arms behind my back. A tiny beam of light shot out from my fingertip and down, burning through the roof of the main building. I dragged it one way, then the other, cutting it into halves as well. Then I brought it closer to me, taking out a statue in the middle of the grounds and spinning. I’m pretty sure I got some other buildings nearby, but most of them weren’t subject to what I was planning.
There were more alarms, but these had all the right in the world to be worried. I put that hand behind my back and brought out another one with its own pointer finger of doom, cutting a perpendicular line through the first so as to divide the main building into fourths. Below me, I saw people rushing out and about, some with flight and others with superspeed. I swapped out the other two hands who went diagonal, with the students and staff below more concerned with getting everyone to safety and dealing with whatever incidental casualties I was causing. It being a school, some of them were smart enough to realize I was following a pattern that could be avoided.
A few began to fly my way, scattering to present a more disparate field of targets. Oh look, the mortals think they can fight back. It probably seemed more manageable until I pointed all four index fingers down and split another eight beams off from each one.
Some of the heroes and trainees managed to get away. The really lucky ones did so intact. And one bold son of a gun flew up at me, sparks flying off his body before he tried to barrel into me. He let out an “Oof!” as he bounced off me.
I sped faster than a speeding bullet, and far too quick for him to have recovered before I landed a series of very light slaps to his face. Lovetaps, really. I stopped in front of him to grin afterward. Defiant little guy tried to zap me with an electrical bolt. I grabbed it out of the air and tossed it aside like a paperball.
“What the everloving fuck are you?” he asked.
“I’m Omega. And if you call me your goddess real nicely, I may spare you.”
I raised a fist, taking my time. He shrunk back. “Please don’t hurt me!”
I paused. “You know what to say.”
He closed his eyes and turned his head down. “Goddess.”
I brought my hand forward and patted him gently on the head. “Good. Now, your goddess has a little task for you. Just a trifle, really. When she asks, and she will, I want you to let the person formerly known as Venus know it was me who did this. And tell her I’ll see her soon.”
He nodded his head, so I used my new powers to force him to the ground. It was as simple as encasing him in a bubble of the energy that flowed through me and dragging it down to the grieving and the wounded.
I’m sure she knew before I returned to my priest, who grumbled about not knowing why we were taking our time. The resentful little toad was jealous, of course. He also had nothing to go back to and nowhere to run, not even to the nothing between somethings where the rest of me waits.
But while I’m here, I’m going to enjoy myself.
The house I arrived at which supposedly held the last of the Dusk Club was an ageing one-story. The cast-iron rail on the green porch looked out of odds with the uneven slope of it and the discolored vinyl siding on the outside. The walkway was partially overgrown with some sort of floppy grass plant different than the rest of the lawn. It wasn’t some mansion or decaying haunted house. It was just an old and neglected house in a bad neighborhood. In California, Pennsylvania.
I mean, at least I didn’t have to go back to California, California.
I just expected something with more gravitas. Something that would fit a narrative. Unfortunately, real life so rarely does. That would make an excellent cop-out for a bad writer. For me, it’s part of why I expected a trap. The other part is that I always expect a trap. It’s a handy mindset. Kept me from breaking some fingers this one time when I found some cheese just laying around. Even kept me wary of Medusa.
…yeah. Of course she paints herself as being in the right, but that still stings. Pissed me off initially, sure. Still has me pissed off. It’s really like an underlying layer of pissed-offedness. But it still hurts to know I was right about her and why she’d ever be with me. Her and me never made sense either.
Whew… anyway, all the coke I did to keep from sleeping helped me make amazing time from Montana to Pennsylvania. Kept me awake, energized, helped me ignore the pain in my chest, and I could drive all night. I still had enough sense to stop outside of town and sober up with a good night’s rest before I went in there. Invading a mage’s domain on a three-day drug coke binge is a bit like molesting a belligerent baboon: you can try, but you’ll probably end up the wrong kind of fucked.
I got going a bit later in the day than I intended as far as hunting down the Dusk guys. Just felt like shit all over, especially in my back. Darn extra limbs. I just felt so old and stupid, sitting up in bed and looking down at myself. Wondering if I was a person who dreamt I was a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreamt I was a person. Wondering if Mr. Omega had given my daughter an ultimatum anyway.
The fury in me rose again as I thought of my sweet Qiang being used as a puppet by others who claimed to be on her side. That gave me the jolt of energy I needed to rise out of bed and don my armor. And from there, I drove a stolen car to a shitty little house in a worn, old neighborhood in California, Pennsylvania.
I approached it invisible to the human eye, but probably not a third eye. My softer and lighter boots didn’t grind on the walkway as much as the heavier version would have. Aw, crap. In my cocaine binge, I forgot to bring along a Dudebot. I can’t even reach the ones on Ricca anymore, but I have others scattered around the world.
Ah, fuck it. Doesn’t matter what hole, just fuck it. I dropped my cloak and stomped the rest of the way up the walkway. The leaves of the stringy grass blew from the wind, then wrapped around my ankles. I tore through them. The porch’s cast iron rail shifted as well, and spiky spades poked out at me like snake’s heads. I raised a finger and looked between the two nearest. “You don’t want to fuck with me today, so if you things have any minds of your own, you will not try me.”
They tried me. I grabbed the first one and bent. The second went for my neck. I caught that one as well with my extra hands. They were stretching way longer than needed to get to me. I tied them up together and limboed underneath.
The screen door opened easily enough, but the door inside didn’t budge. I tried to knock the knob off, but the thing stayed where it was, with an odd light flaring up along the outside of the door. I tried it again, paying more attention this time, and saw runes all around the door. “Magically protected, are we?”
I let the door go and took a few steps to the side. I ran right through the vinyl siding and wall to step into a living room. “I’m magically malicious!”
It looked like a normal living room, connecting to a really small guest room to my left, and a kitchen right in front of me. I heard groaning coming from the kitchen as a figure in dark robe and hood approached. His legs didn’t move as he glided along the floor, face obscured under the heavy fabric. Then he fell forward and caught himself just, tugging the bottom of his robe out from under one of those little hoverboard scooters. He turned to me. “Who in damnation are you?”
“I am Psycho Gecko. I’m here to find the Dusk Club.”
The man tossed his hood back. He was just an old, skinny guy with thinning hair that he brushed over his scalp as best as possible. He peered back at me through a pair of glasses. “It’s not much of a club anymore. Just myself. What do you want that’s so important you couldn’t knock?” he gestured toward the hole in the wall.
“I’ve been in contact with an entity called Mr. Omega. Big guy, red skin, trapped outside our dimension and says you guys had something to do with that,” I said.
His eyes widened. “I wasn’t sure… he hasn’t resurfaced in my lifetime. I always thought ‘Mr. Omega’ was a silly name.”
In my HUD, Omega’s face appeared again. “See what he will give up on the methods of his sect. I would learn how to weaken the spell before I must tear it asunder.”
“He mentioned your group,” I continued. “He wants to come back. The dimensional barrier is weakening and he’s trying to push through. Is there something special he’s doing to destroy whatever was done to keep him out? And how do we stop him from doing so?”
He looked me up and down. “I don’t know if I can trust you. You broke into my home.”
“I’m angry. It’s my time of the month to kill a bitch who doesn’t give me the answers I want,” I said. I realized I was gritting my teeth and tried to relax my jaw. I was just so damn tense. I needed answers from this guy, but I also wanted to take out my anger and other feelings on something fleshy with lots of blood inside.
“We’ll see,” he said, thrusting his hands forward. They were nowhere near connecting, but that wasn’t his intention. He threw a powder into the air and spoke words in some unidentified language. The powder obscured the air, filling the entirety of my vision. Even the rear cameras looked more like I was in a mess of dust. The words he spoke hung heavy in the air.
Sometimes, I hate my body’s natural disinclination toward magic. I can’t use it well, except Mr. Omega’s powers, but it’d be nice if it provided more protection against hostile magics. Just like it’d be nice if most people’s skin was bulletproof, I guess.
A light flared up and everything was black. I lost my 360-degree vision, and apparently my armor. I looked down and was basically a Barbie doll with four arms and a serious red blotch over a large part of the skin on my belly. A faded Omega symbol curved down over my tits. Right-angled circuitry jutted out from the edges of my body, standing out against my skin.
In front of me stood the old man, luckily looking like a Ken doll so I didn’t have to see his old danglies. On his chest was an Omega symbol, coming in much more solid than mine. I pointed to it, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I am the last of the Dusk Club. I was taught all my life that the connections between us were important. We severed those connections to thrust Omega out and keep him out. My parents raised me to be part of a group to protect the world from a god that could give us whatever we wanted. I never had a Christmas because they were too poor, too dedicated to their watch. I didn’t have my own friends because they might find out about magic and Omega. I couldn’t go to college because the only schooling I had was what they taught me in magic. All I had were others in the Club, shallow connections, until the day he contacted me. I gave each of the remaining members a test to see their inner selves, and made myself the last of the Dusk Club. But I lacked the power he needed.”
“So why’d Omega send me to you?” I asked.
A voice reverberated in the darkness. I turned to see where a line of red light connected me to misshapen cloud of red that lit up with electricity. “To test you and to show you that I am merciful. Like you. I could feel your doubts and fears. I feel your sadness now. You ache to be with your daughter again. Like me, you are tired of betrayal by those who claim to love you. You want to be protected from those who hurt your heart and your daughter. I can give you that power, and the payment is simple. Let me in.”
The cloud compacted itself into the form of a person that reached its hand out toward me.
“You’ve left me powerless before,” I said. “I still don’t trust you.”
“You trusted so many unworthy of it. I seek to trust you. To gift you my power. All I ask is to return. That is it. I need your power, and you need mine.”
Even on such unfamiliar and turf, I could feel the Dusk Priest approach from behind, awaiting my answer.
Shit, meet fan.
I blame myself, and lots of other people, but mostly the other people. It’s a burden of being better than everyone else that I have to take the blame for their failings. Forgive them, me, they know not what they do.
Some of the problem was that Medusa wanted me to work on making the government more democratic again. And it wasn’t just her idea. She’d been getting to know Riccans, and the people who had been cowed into taking me as their Empress in the past had begun to get ideas about organizing for themselves again. I’d agreed that we could see about transferring several of my closest top guys to a more traditional cabinet position and open the Directory back up to being a legislative body that shares power with me.
It wasn’t going to take too long. I could make the change in a snap, but I wanted to let any furor, and there was some, die down a bit. Let people get the excitement out of their system. When their enthusiasm has dampened a bit and they have time to think things over, they probably won’t be manipulated as easily by the sorts of people who argued over street names last time.
Eh, I’m probably wrong. I’m really just winging this.
It’s part of Medusa’s pretty good idea to give them more of a say instead of being so much of an asshole, leading to stuff like establishing a ministry to handle the day to day running of the country. That way, I have time to do all the fun stuff I like. And Medusa gets to make me less of a dictator. She didn’t say as much, but I think I worry a lot of people being in charge of so many people’s lives.
But that’s just housekeeping.
That group of Japanese superheroes I still hadn’t personally encountered came forward about their experiments about the recent dimensional shenanigans. They’d lost their lab, but they had backups of their data.The guy running the United States thinks you can nuke hurricanes to make them go away, but a lot of the rest of the world is paying attention. I could have covered for it. You pay the right people and you can have an enormous network of Right-wing misinformation mercenaries saying anything you want. I’d hardly be the first dictator they cozied up to.
A spokesman from the Institute of Science initially denied the allegations with some technobabble. The public doesn’t really know what these things are and how they work. All you have to do is put the lie out there and they’ll believe it, no matter how many doctors point out vaccines don’t cause autism. It’s one of the things I hate about people until it becomes convenient for me. We pinned all of this on resurgent Japanese imperialism in the Pacific power vacuum.
That got China on our side, and they were more than happy to release documents about Japan’s greed. Before too long, we had the Mao apologists talking about how Japan was trying to steal land away from the natives of Mu, who were being protected and watched over by my Ricca.
They still figured that Mr. Omega smashing spaceships with his hands was the same person as me flying around, blowing shit up until the footage was released from the end of the fight. When Omega abandoned me suddenly, there was a split second when my armor was visible. It was red with an Omega symbol. Even then, the design was fairly new. Maybe it was an impostor, right? Not so much when plenty of video and photos get out showing me around here in the same armor.
I knew when Medusa found out because she called me up and we had a screaming match briefly. She heard about those attacks by Omega’s avatar, and I hadn’t told her it was me. She disagreed with me killing for him. But I think she mostly disliked that I didn’t tell her about it.
We would hang up on each other, then on of us would call the other back. It got ugly, but not as bad as us physically attacking each other. She was off talking with some regular people, offering them a chance to have their opinions heard by the Imperial Consort, so I bet lots of those folks heard some of that dirty laundry. Besides, my kicking in my sleep is no big deal compared to her drooling. They probably heard all about that, and in the aftermath, I heard we finally located someone of interest.
One of my people in Intelligence got back to us with some information gained from an informant who decided to look into the government’s deal with Hephaestus. He was actually a Treasure agent, and he found out the guy was being hidden by the Secret Service. First guess, I’d have thought he was hiding himself, but the Secret Service is especially weird. That’s more the job of the federal marshals, and he has to know I can handle the Secret Service. I just assassinated a President, after all. So, they seem to think they’ve got an ace up their sleeves, and it’s hidden in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
Ugh, nature. I mean, I have no problem with it if it stays away, but I don’t care for it in general. Too much sunlight, too little air conditioning, and everything’s part of that raw food movement. Us sapient apes were not meant to exist without refrigerators and internet porn.
Speaking of internet, it really is tough staying connected to the world out there. Too many mountains and not enough cell towers. Satellite coverage can be spotty. That probably explains why the guy hid out there from me.
Rather than forget about how I can just waltz through portals like in Tokyo, I remembered this time. Yay, me. I finished fixing a nice dinner for Qiang for when she gets done playing with her friends, slid into my armor, and created a portable hole to the mean lakes of Montana. I appeared in the air above the shallows of Lake McDonald and splashed down near the shore. I don’t entirely know what happens if I were to appear partially inside a tree, but that’s a question I hope to let someone else test first.
Two things stood out to me immediately. First, the view off in the distance looked a lot like a work of art. Second, something had taken a truly massive shit on the shore nearby. I was glad for my air filtration system.
GPS put me less than a mile away. I finished tromping out of the water and faded into holographic invisibility. I stopped walking so heavily before too long. The forest is absolutely full of things that make noise on trees you pass by and things you step on. There are plenty in the canopies, too. Birds are an indicator, one I doubted the Hephaestus guy would know. But maybe those guarding him know better. I took it nice and slow on my approach.
He turned out to be hiding in a cabin. Weird. I thought a guy with his money would spring for a whole big house. Not sure how much they let people do that on Federal land, but he has money. If you have the money, laws and prices are both negotiable.
Coverage was absolutely shitty here. I couldn’t get a good look via satellite because of all the trees in the way. No cell service, no internet. I stopped to check it out with my eyes instead. Let’s see… a trio of ATVs, a pair of jeeps, and a pair of men in suits walking around in suits. That seemed incredibly impractical. And either these guys really look this generic, or they were twins.
I was going to wait until one got close, but instead I opened a hole right underneath one of them that dumped him into Antarctic. For the other one, I reached a hand through another hole that let me grab a tree branch high over his head. I snapped it and pulled my hand back, then thrust it through again this time to crush his throat. I pulled him through the hole, leaving him behind in the bushes as I stepped out where he had been.
It seemed all clear from there on out. Just a little cabin in a little clearing. I headed up to the cabin, apparently avoiding any creaking boards on the steps or deck. That’s one way that wood is a handy flooring for security purposes. The door was locked, which was simple enough to carve through with a laser, and in I went.
My target was walking in from a hallway, wet and dressed only in a towel, a bottle of whiskey in his hand. “Oh shit,” he said, having evidently seen the door open and close of its own accord. “I guess it’s today, huh?”
I became visible. “Yeah, your time’s up.”
He raised the bottle and took a sip, then sat down on a metal bar stool next to a small island at the point where the living room became a kitchen. “My time’s been up since the Feds caught me.” He looked at me, then laughed, shaking his head as he enjoyed a private joke.
“They’re not exactly giving you their best protection,” I said, stepping closer.
“Yeah, but they know how full of yourself you are,” he said.
My paranoia sense tingled. I turned back to the door and pulled it open to reveal a thick metal door. A hole appeared in it as big as my fist, punching me in the stomach. I stumbled. I heard gunshots as more of the walls disappeared. My HUD warned me of damage as the shots that it broke bones and burst organs behind the armor it pounded and weakened. Both myself and my target dropped, me to take cover and him because most of his chest was missing. I set the nanites in my armor to myself and the armor, then opened a hole and came out next to where I thought I stashed a dead body in the bushes.
The cabin was ringed with more of these expressionless men, many in camo or gillie suits, but a few in suits. I saw the one I thought I killed, somehow still standing and firing his handgun despite his throat being punched in. It was odd. They were all firing from the hip, no matter the guns they used, all emotionless and stiff. When they finished a few minutes later, one of them held up a remote and pushed a button. The cabin exploded. The shooters didn’t respond, even when I saw on take a chunk of wood through the thigh.
A sudden power failure caused the portaholes to go out. Damn, right when I want to kill a shitload of people. As awesome as these things are, their reliability is a pretty damn big issue. I didn’t have time to worry about it, though, as I had a crowd of thirty or so of these weird, robot-seeming men to kill.
Still invisible, I came up behind one and yanked his head off. The body fell. The rest of this bunch turned toward me, but I was already jumping, landing with my feet on the head and chest of another guy. When we came down to the ground, his head went sploosh. My Surprise whips shot out as I ran forward to dodge the tracking of these things. I wrapped one around the neck of a guy, squeezing it off as I used him to change my velocity. Another took a whip to the head, revealing metal under the skin.
More fell to a laser to the face, and I picked up a nearby sentry to club one of his friends to mush with. The secret was to stay moving as those with ammo used it up and those without tried to reload quickly. There was one gaggle of them that got fresh magazines in when a headless rubber chicken wandered over to them and exploded. I grabbed a second of the guys and spun like a whirlwind, sending guys flying.
It got a bit messy, but a few more rubber chicken grenades left me the only one standing. Any other that tried were easy enough to stomp back down. The last one, stopped while he was on one knee and tried to use the portaholes. I was going to pull his skull out and use it to beat his body with, but then I remembered it wasn’t working. I settled for squeezing his head with my hands until it exploded in a gooey mess of blood, scalp, metal, and circuit boards.
I jumped to the conclusion that my old enemy the Technolutionary might be working with the Secret Service. He’d been obsessed with me in a creepy way, feeling that I was humanity’s future and that he should be able to make humans like me. We did manage that process, but he got away. Before I met him, his favorite pastime seemed to be replacing people’s brains with computers that made them is servants. These looked like more sophisticated versions, with way better weaponry than he’d had. A lot of my older armors wouldn’t have stood up to being shot like this, and I’d have been in little shape to fight without armor being able to release regenerative nanites out in the field.
So, this whole thing had been a trap. Lovely. That still left me in the middle of nowhere without a ride, my personal conveyance not working, and unable to call in for help. That might have been part of the trap as well, and a part I wouldn’t have thought about given the location.
I didn’t take a hike so much as take long leaps through the forest until I could get enough of a signal to call back to Chu, the head of my portahole project. He picked up on the first ring. “Chu, buddy, what’s wrong with these things? I need a way back, ya know.”
“Chu is otherwise detained,” Medusa said. My paranoia sense didn’t like that.
“What’d you do?” I asked.
“It wasn’t me, or just me,” she said. “I know you’re going to be pissed, but let me explain.”
“How about you explain it to me in person?” I asked, wanting to beat her to death with her own foot.
“I can’t do that. We received a message while you were gone. A lot of people want war with you, and your own people want to disavow your actions. The ultimatum is that you leave power,” she explained.
“We have the shield and all. We can hold out,” I said.
“That wasn’t just the ultimatum the UN gave us. A lot of people seem to agree with them, and I didn’t want to cause a riot.”
“They never would have tried this if I was there, but how’d they know I was gone?” I asked.
“Your government isn’t as private as you’d think. That’s partially my doing,” she said. I could feel the tension in her words.
“Have you been a spy this whole time?” I asked, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut.
“No. I love you, I really love you. I wanted to help free you and reform things, so I tried to keep things transparent with some leaks. They told me and others you were gone. Then the UN contacted us.”
“Where’s my daughter? What have y’all done with her?!” I felt the rage course through me, hurting my jaw as hard as it clenched.
“She’s fine. The people who flooded the Directory forced them to vote your abdication and her ascendancy to the throne. We’re pretty sure the UN isn’t going to declare war on a little girl,” she tried to reassure me.
“Little girls are the only group the UN will go after because they’re too scared of dictators!” I yelled. I tried getting through to Shield Command. Nothing. My command codes were no good anymore. Same for the base, or even Intel. They all ghosted me when I called, too.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll take care of Qiang. She’ll be fine. If there’s a silver lining, Mr. Omega will give up on you soon, right? It’s no fault of your own. Well, I mean, that’s not really true, but it’s not like you knew this would happen.”
I hung up on her and punched a tree. It fell in the woods. I stood there, not making any sound for awhile. Then a message got through on what I recognized as Intel Chief Pagan’s accounts. “Empress, I remain ever loyal. I will act to protect your daughter from your enemies and do what I can to aid your return. Attached is a dump of useful information we compiled on the incident as it happened, as well as other information you have requested. We found an outpost of the Dusk Club if you feel you are in a mood for violence and would like to channel it to your ends. Yours forever, Pagan.”
Another voice broke in, courtesy of the icon of a white face on my HUD of Mr. Omega. “Such ungrateful people.”
“Damn straight,” I said.
“We will take your island back for you,” he said.
“You’d help me with that?” I asked.
“I prefer you to your daughter. I would think you would, too,” he said.
He didn’t need to. He had the power I need right now. Might as well get rid of that Dusk Club first before I go back and prove why I’m the one who deserves to rule.
“I find it hard to believe you’re this powerful, able to keep an eye on me and check messages from me, but you don’t know where these guys are,” I said, perched upon a neon-lit skyscraper in Tokyo. Always Tokyo with Japan. I had Mr. Omega in my HUD.
“You procrastinated and they escaped,” he said. “I am searching. When they do, you will find the power you need to destroy them.”
“Uh huh,” I said, though it did interest me to learn a little more about how long it took him to find things. Anything that gives me an idea about his powers is helpful, including the fact that he sometimes needs an avatar on Earth to focus his power through. Why he does is a mystery to me at this point, but maybe the Dusk Club will clear that up. Awfully convenient of Omega to ask me to hunt down people who can help keep stop him. But if some group of do-gooder superheroes are going to confirm that I helped cause all these problems and am working with Omega, even temporarily, I won’t mind wrecking them.
The thought also occurred to me, as I watched some people leave a nightclub for a nearby themed love hotel, that I could also bring Medusa here and go on a public date while we claim to be cosplayers. It’d be a whole lot easier without the extra arms, but I could pull it off.
Even with cloaking activated, I kept an eye out for any Justice Rangers. The ones from my home dimension had kept a close eye on me but I don’t have any more trust for the ones from this Earth. Their enemies may also complicate matters. Most Justice Ranger teams tend to mop up whatever threat they were activated for within a year before standing down. And since they tend to keep to themselves, nobody’s got them on VillaiNet. I’d prefer if they didn’t butt in on my attack with one of their own. Plus, ya know, it being THE main city where superheroics happen in Japan means I have to watch for random superheroes or giant monsters. If it happens in Japan, it happens in Tokyo.
“I found it,” Omega said. “There.”
He didn’t make an arrow appear or anything, nor did he bring a hand up into his image to show me. He just said, “There.”
“There where?” I asked, looking around.
“That way. Left. Left!” he instructed.
“Do they have left in your direction? I’m turning left,” I said, turning and leaning out over the side of the building.
His face didn’t betray any frustration. “I know. I will show you, but you must open yourself up to my power.”
“If you’re suggesting you need to get into my pants, and skin, and give me some of that raw power of yours… well, I might be open to that,” I said with a grin.
I felt like I jammed all my pointy bits into separate electrical sockets. I lit up with power. My armor became a blinding flash of red and held steady. My fleshy bits jolted with energy, and it was at that point I realized I’d fallen from the building in my preoccupation with the power.
I decided I didn’t feel like hitting the ground that evening, so I stopped falling. “Ok, where we goin’?”
I began to fly down a street, but it wasn’t really me doing the moving. It wasn’t like I was being forced to do it, but almost like that’s what my body decided to do when I didn’t tell it to do anything. I landed in the middle of the street near an odd structure.
It was a tower of sorts, with a garage door in the middle of the base. It looked like a tower of blocks, three blocks wide and one block deep. I realized what it was when someone walked up to a screen and keypad outside. They typed in a code, swiped a card, and the tower let out a little rumble. Then the garage door opened and there was a car. “Hey, Omega, this is a parking garage. A little smaller than I thought they had. Are they in one of the blocks?” I looked it up and down. Twenty-three stories. Not hard to take apart.
“They have hidden their lair within the top floor of this parking tower,” he answered.
I heard a roar behind me, which is when I realized all the glowing made it harder to see through the 360 cameras. I turned and saw a Tyrannosaurus rex standing on the sidewalk at a table by a 24 hour ramen shop. It set aside its tiny bowl, grabbed a book off the table, and tugged on the chain of its monocle to adjust it. “What devilish dispute dares disrupt dinner?” it asked in a British accent. Under its breath, I heard it lament, “Why must these occurrences plague my every holiday to Tokyo? Always whilst in Tokyo!”
“Oh wow, it’s The Saurus!” I said.
“Is this being a threat to our plans?” Omega asked.
“I mean, he’s a hero. He’s lost us the element of surprise,” I answered.
“No,” Omega informed me, “the lair is empty. You may deal with this foe if necessary.”
“Go back to eating, King Tyrant Lizard. You don’t want any of this,” I ordered The Saurus. I turned, ignoring the honkings of annoyed drivers, and raised a hand to the building. I aimed for the base, and imagined another lovely explosion. The tower rumbled as the middle square blew outward, followed soon afterward by the block to its right muffling a secondary explosion. The tower began to sway, then fall.
The Saurus was up and by it faster than you’d think a T. rex could move. He braced against the side of it, calling out in Japanese for people to move out of the way. I believe the exact phrase was “Save yourself, mammals!”
It was going to topple no matter what, but he eased it down as best as he was able by sidestepping with as much weight as he could hold on his back until, at least, he had to race out from underneath it and let it fall the last weigh. The lab might have been destroyed if it had fallen unimpeded, but I doubted I wiped it out this time.
“All you had to do, was nothing,” I said. Then I looked down at myself. That was difficult as well. I was one bright motherfucker. “Let’s see if I can find someone your own size to play with.” I was scrambling for an animal for the theme as I felt myself growing larger and warping, slightly. My hands on either side came together and my armor kinda spread out like a membrane between them, forming wings. The hands were covered over by a fists. The membrane extended up and down to join at my head and at a spiny tail growing from my ass.
I was now a giant red sea ray. I shouldn’t have tried to think of animals. I’m lucky I didn’t turn into a sea pig. Hell, with my track record, I’d have probably become a giant penguin. There’s a reason you don’t see penguin kaiju. I looked down at myself, then up at The Saurus and tried to sound as menacing as possible when I pointed at myself and said, “It’s Do Ray Me, motherfucker.”
“I observe your ponderous transformation and raise you a swift beatdown!” the eloquent British cloned T. rex said. He hoped over the downed tower and came ran at me. I… put a hand on his head and held him back. He swiped his little claws and tried biting, but I held him at bay. This was ridiculously more simple than I expected, so I uppercutted him under the chin with my free hand. I grabbed his head then with both hands, one above and one below, and swung him over me to smack into a car. He lay there stunned as I grabbed another car and slammed that on top of him.
“Look at that, a prehistoric chicken sandwich!” I said.
He started to squirm to get out, so I decided to see if Omega’s powers included anything with some heat to them. I put my hands on the cars, concentrated, and watched as they glowed and melted together where metal touched metal. With The Saurus sealed between them, I turned and hopped onto the tower, approaching what had been the top floors. “Now, let’s see what all the hub bub was about…”
Before I could do that, a beam of energy erupted from my head and tore into them. My hed moved side to side, again in the same way I recognized from Omega flying me around. On top of that, my perspective shifted as I shrunk back into my on form.
In the end, the only thing left was a runny puddle of melted cement and metal in a trench carved through the Tokyo sidewalk. I at least wanted to see what all they were doing. “Dammit,” I wrote in a text message for Omega to read. “If I got a good look at whatever they were doing, I could have maybe guarded against it. Without the heroes here who did it, they can always warn others and lead them toward the same observations.”
“Then we should hunt them down, one by one. I think you find the though fun,” he suggested.
I did, but I also promised to look over some proposals from Medusa. I thought maybe I’d be legalizing some polygamy, but when I brightened up, she stopped to tell me she meant policies and reform. But I figured I’d look at them, and not just in the sense of trying to get her into my pants. I intend to take a good faith look at this “Badass Plan” of hers.
“Your miscalculation, Omega. I don’t have time to hunt them down right now. Check in with me later,” I told him.
In response, I felt the heat and the electricity abandon me. I was there, standing on the tower, in full view for just a moment before I disappeared as well and made sure to get away from the angry dinosaur trying to escape his melted containment.
I had to call in a Psycho Flyer for pickup, but I made it in time for some policy planning with Medusa. The things we do for the ones we love.
With most of my spies tied up undermining the United States, we’ve had to transfer a lot of valuable people away from China, Hong Kong, and Japan. We can’t just fly people in to hunt for whatever supers are experimenting with the dimensional veil. Other villains on VillaiNet can only tell us so much.
Took a bit of work to get Apollo on the horn, too. “Yo, god-dude. I had some questions. You ever hear of something called the Dusk Club? Or some group like that?”
I couldn’t see his expression as he paused because we were on a standard phone call instead of a video call or smell-o-vision. “I will have to check? What are they?”
“I think they’re mages, unless they also somehow have advanced technology. They were active during the 20th century, but I’m not sure what they really do. Supposedly stop threats that cross the dimensional barrier, but they disbanded or died off before I ever showed up. I’m honestly surprised so many groups keep managing to sneak around for so long with nobody finding out about them. Like you guys, somehow managing to avoid detection for hundreds of years.”
“We use magic,” Apollo said. “There are spells that can prevent people from speaking about secrets and spells that can alter memory. The latter are fearsome if mishandled and wipe the mind of the sorcerer foolish enough to have tried them.”
Hmm. Interesting. I mean, yeah, it makes sense that the Hares used literal magic to avoid their conspiracy getting out. That’s an option NASA wouldn’t have if they filmed the moon landing on a sound stage. But more than that, Mr. Omega claims the people who evicted him from this dimension used that kind of magic. I wonder how much the successors of that group made use of that magic, if they had access to it. As was figured out by The Claw, being able to screw with people’s memories can open up all kinds of fucked manipulations.
“If you can ask around for me, it would be appreciated,” I told Apollo.
“How appreciated?” he asked.
“You like diamonds?” I asked. “I got a diamond here the size of your head.”
“That exaggeration is so common,” he said.
I looked to a stand in my study holding a small part of our mining operation on Uranus in the other universe. The diamond there could have been cut into a basketball. We can’t access anymore until the Telechamber is rebuilt, but it’s coming along. If it wasn’t for Omega, that thing would be such an awesome source of power and riches for us. Just look at Elvis. The old redneck’s sold out a new tour.
So despite all the power at my fingertips with Omega on my side, I have nothing to aim it at, a concern I expressed aloud in the hopes he or it was paying attention.
I had an easy day, with nothing to do but wait for everyone to get back to me. I was a few drinks into waiting when I got a report from the military base that Medusa was spotted sneaking around. So I figured I better go see what that’s about. She’s got the run of the place pretty well anyway, so sneaking means she’s doing something she doesn’t think I’d approve of.
I threw on my armor real quick and pointed an arm at my study wall. I holographically projected a tunnel on the wall and set a portahole in it so that I could walk through. Because when I get the chance to pull that shit, I do it. I stepped out near the outside of the base, looking up at the wall nearest to the base. If this was a movie or tv show, I’d have arrived just in time to catch her in the act. But this isn’t fiction. It’s dirty, wild reality, far stranger than any fiction.
I had to wait a few minutes before a rope latter came tumbling down the wall off in the distance. By the time Medusa shimmied down, she found me leaning on the wall next to her. “Hey there, beautiful. Who’s your friend?” I pointed up the shaking ladder at the prisoner climbing down after her.
She sighed and crossed her arms. Looking me right in the eye, she said, “A spy.”
“Why, my dear, are you breaking spies out of my prisons?” I asked.
I reached over as the spy in question came down and hopped the last few feet. He was a fairly round man despite not being fat, with wispy hair that lifted off his head easily in the breeze. His eyes seemed just a little too small. If this man was an international superspy who went around seducing beautiful women, he must have a hell of a talking game to make up for the handicap his body and faced gave him. He held a hand out toward me. I took it and he bowed, giving my armored hand a kiss on the back. “’Ello. Carter Brendleton. A pleasure to meet you. You a friend of ol’ Venus?”
Not a smooth talker. I pulled up his file from my guys. He’d been caught snooping around one of our “fishing” warehouses. An awful lot of interesting things get swallowed by fish. USB drives, gemstones, even some misplaced treasury printing plates. You never know what my guys will turn up when searching the fish. And you never know what spies will turn up when searching fish.
“You could say that,” I told him in regards to his question about being a friend of Medusa. “Psychopomp Gecko. I’m kind of a big deal.”
“Oh, Empress Gecko. You run the place. Very good. I don’t mean to be a bother,” he leaned in close. “But could I persuade you to not throw me in prison for inspecting fish?”
I put an arm around his shoulders. “Buddy, you’re accused of being a spy.”
Medusa walked up and put her arm around my other shoulder. “Babe, he’s actually a British fish inspector.”
“That’s what they all say,” I told her. “It’s clearly a cover story.”
“I am. Her Majesty has authorized me to investigate unusual fish imports that could endanger the British Isles. The Crown takes reckless fishmongery as a serious threat. First, the Krauts came for our fish. Then, our chips.” He held up a fist, getting a far off look in his eye as he locked his jaw defiantly.
Medusa nodded toward the Brit. “Why don’t you tell us about your favorite fish?”
“That is a complex question, of course, because most people think of osteichtyes, what are commonly referred to as bony fishes, but there is so much to love about chondrichtyes, or cartilaginous fish. And the amount of diversity between bony fishes is an added complication…”
Thirty goddamn minutes later, I had to put a stop before he could go into extinct species. I felt the distinct need to install a liquor dispenser in my power armor to make up for situations like this. I’m pretty sure the grass around us died of boredom. But Medusa’s point was made. She was fairly certain this guy was nothing but some sort of fish inspector, and now I was too. Problem was, we actually are smuggling things using fish. Forget coffee, there’s nothing that throws off anyone’s ability to smell like fish. And if you’re lucky, they don’t smell worse when they’re dead.
As an island nation, Ricca naturally has a long tradition of fishing. As a nation run by a supervillain, it also has a long tradition of smuggling drugs and other illegal goods either within fish they export, or in fish canned for export.
I left Brendleton to wax nostalgic about the good old days of giant bottom feeders to pull Medusa aside and quietly tell her, “This guy’s still dangerous to our business.”
“He’s a fish inspector. How dangerous is fish inspection?” she asked.
“It depends on if they find something fishy,” I said. I holographically projected secret film of a wild shootout at a dock that looked like an action movie, up until the amphibious tank tried coming to shore to fight guerrillas in yellow uniforms and white facepaint. It was blown apart by multiple anti-tank missiles and doused with flamethrowers to make sure. “That’s what happened the last time someone tried to figure out how McDonald’s sources the McFish. You don’t even want to know about the McRib.”
I started to show her the video of the Ghurkas heading into a deep jungle ambush but she waved me off. “You know you don’t have any reason to worry about a fish inspector. Stop wasting time on him and expel him from the island.”
“It’s the principle of the thing!” I said, holding up four pointer fingers.
She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the helmet. “Gecko, I know you can be better than this. You know you’re better than this. It’s time to be better, in the way only a badass can. Is it that you’re scared?”
I covered her mouth. “Not in front of the spy, honey.”
“I am barely a spy!” Carter said. “I do not even have my license to kill. I have a fishing license, however.”
Medusa moved my hand. “There’s no need to be afraid. I believe in you. And you have me by your side.” She winked and smiled, which felt awesome. But I didn’t like all this talk of me being afraid. That’s not what it was. I just had people to look after, and a family. A little girl counted on me to survive. Sure, I’ve hidden away millions of dollars worth of money to take care of her if something happens to me, but money can’t buy a p- you know, money can buy you a parent, but she’s too young for that kind of roleplay. She wouldn’t want to go back into the diapers.
More to stop from having this particular discussion, I relented and let Medusa officially deport the fish spy, with a warning that Ricca would prefer if the United Kingdom kept its grubby fish watchers to itself, lest they sleep with the fishes.
At that, Carter Brendleton stood up just a bit straighter. “I would never! I don’t know what rumors you have heard, but I do not shag that way.”
I left a message written on my HUD where Mr. Omega normally pops in at when he contacts me, letting him know that if he can show me roughly where those experiments in Japan took place, I’m more than happy to engage in a bit of widespread destruction. Me, afraid, hah!
I’ll show her. I’ll show them all!
I also need to tell Medusa to get her head off that arm. It’s starting to fall asleep.