Days of Future Tense 2

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The House of Shadows and Spires is what this bunch call that old-fashioned house. The future version of my daughter pulled my future and unborn (that I know of), son off me when the robot, Wattson, issued some alert.

The guy with the future clothes held up a bag. “Here, more metal. I’ll take the void cannon now.” He tossed the money at me and took the gun. Had he not been an ally of my children, I might have had a more negative reaction. As it was, I let the Rhodium drop to the floor while I gave future Qiang and my future son a nice big hug.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Alexander,” he told me. “And I have to go save the future.”

I guess in the past I’d have made a big show of cringing over that. Instead, especially because I didn’t know what the fuck was up, I just kissed his and my daughter’s foreheads and told them, “Go. I’ll be here when you’re done.”

It’s a bit sappy, but sometimes we need sap in our life. Without it, how would we get delicious syrup, the only thing that makes waffles and pancakes edible? I daresay it’s downright patriotic, at least if you’re a Canadian, to believe in properly-applied sappiness.

They left me with many questions, including the standard paranoia-induced ones about if I might have been duped by someone who had gotten hold of my DNA and a picture of my daughter. The Rhodium was real, though, so they more than made up for it. Whatever future they come from, they know got enough heavy metal to shut Iron Maiden up.

I spent the night doing a heck of a lot of thinking, especially about Alexander. A bit classical of a name for myself and… well, let me have some secrets. Some confusing secrets I’m not sure about. It’s not everyday you meet a kid you’ve never had yet. Heck, the whole bunch had just disappeared as soon as they exited my door, taking their house with them.

The next day saw a different crowd come into my store. An Amazonian figure stepped in, dressed in all black from the bottom of her boots, straight up her lightly-padded pants and top, to the full face mask that hid even her eyes. With her was a short, hairy man with wiry black hair and a skunk stripe right through the middle of it. “Hey there, you seen anyone unusual come through here lately?”

A third person walked in, bald and wearing a simple robe, eyes blindfolded. He answered his companion’s question, “That is too broad a question given your entrance.”

The hairy guy gave the blindfolded man the finger. The blindfolded man grabbed it and twisted, eliciting a yelp from the hairy man. He addressed me next, never raising his voice. “My friends and I are looking for people who came through with some ill intentions. A band of shapeshifting temporal terrorists. We know from your past work with the Mobian you respect the sanctity of the timeline.”

I shrugged. “I think I’d like a redo on some mistakes I’ve made if it’s all the same to you.”

“Nevertheless, Miss Gecko, we know you saw them and we would very much prefer it if you came with us,” the guy said. No sight, but plenty of brass balls.

“Not my name,” I told them. “And if your only reason for coming in was to ask me questions you know the answers to before trying to arrest me, then you’ve made a serious error in judgment.”

“No, but our benefactor wished to give you another chance to aid us without turning to violence,” the blindfolded man let go of his hirsute companion’s finger. “The truth is that we do not care for the timeline either, and can facilitate the change in your circumstances. It would be beneficial to us as well.”

Mixed messages like that aren’t a good sign either. Someone who starts contradicting themselves to tell you what you seem to want to hear is someone you don’t trust without good reason.

“Jaguar Slayer is not your enemy,” the blindfolded man said. Yeah, sure, but the tall, muscled woman in black was circling around one way while the hairy guy subtly spread out in the other direction. My turret guns and traps were armed and ready to pop out, and I had some armor ready.

“The world’s wrecked. It’s hopeless,” the hairy man said. “It’s nothing but shit.”

“Jaguar Slayer was created to bring about a utopia, and it could, but there are anomalies, individuals who threaten to undo any attempt to perfect the world. They are deeply rooted, so Jaguar Slayer has decided that the timeline needs a change.”

“That’s not how time travel works,” I told them.

The blindfolded man smiled. “The imperfect timeline had a naive defender who feared all change, another such anomaly. When the changes become too great, the timeline breaks away. It can still threaten the new timeline because of the multiverse. Jaguar Slayer has found that the only way to make the world the best it can be for all would alter the timeline too much. And these other universes are a threat to that perfection.”

“And I’m one of those threats, I take it?” They couldn’t see my legs or feet behind the counter, where helper robots were already pulling part of my armor onto me.

“You are someone of immense utility and regret that Jaguar Slayer wants to give a chance to. You can erase your past, be the correct gender from birth, be a hero, and never worry about the blood on your hands.”

I shook my head. “That’s not how it works. The fact that I killed so many people wouldn’t be gone. It would have just happened to, what, another universe you want to wipe out as well?”

The woman in black made the first move. She was fast, flying over the ground with a punch aimed right at my heart. I pulled the armor up onto myself, getting at least the chest and arms secure enough to catch her punch. She was strong, but so am I now.

“Monster,” she said with a voice like she had a toad stuck in her throat.

My face disappeared behind my helmet, which projected a blinding flash of light right where here eyes would be behind that mask. I clocked her one in the gut that stumbled her back and let go to confront the hairy leaping guy whose fingers had become a set of bloody claws. I slapped him in the chest hard enough to drop him onto my display case, cracking the glass. Meanwhile, the turrets dropped from the ceiling to rain hot plasma onto his friends.

I pulled the winded man onto his feet. He clawed impotently at my throat, so I grabbed him by the chin and swept his head hard around with an “Ole!” His neck cracked, and a hard push sent the body tumbling back into the main floor of my store, where the blindfolded man was absorbing everything shot at him in a golden glowing ring of unknown characters and designs that hung in the air. The woman in black just tanked the shots, her melting uniform revealing burned skin.

She held a hand up, palm toward me. From it came a beam of what I have to call black light. Not the blue stuff that shows where you’ve been creaming; this was pure darkness in light form. I raised my gauntlets, which have the ability to absorb energy and repurpose it to strengthen my own blows. The black light overcharged the system, blowing the absorbers and capacitors without charging them. I took the hit and crashed through my own cement wall.

No matter how many cement walls you go through, they’re never as fun as your first time. I suspect that’s because of brain damage.

The hairy guy oughta know what I’m talking about. He came after me again, head back on straight and no worse for it. I rolled out of the way and let him land on top of the mine that fired a pair of taser darts into his taint and shocked him until his head exploded.

Back there in the shop, blindfolded man had sprouted a pair of iridescent butterfly wings that shattered into a bunch of small butterflies. The turrets shot some of them, poofing them into smoke, but most managed to swarm the automated defenses and blow themselves up, wrecking the weapons. Meanwhile, the woman in black had a lot half her mask shot off. The shots never did anything worse to her skin than burn it, though. The eyes glared at me. I got a good view of them when she flew through the wall and grabbed for my throat. I felt her thumbs pressing in, and not in the safe spaces you can choke a person for sex. She was out for blood, not any other bodily fluids.

My blow to her larynx weakened her grip. The strikes to the insides of her elbows as well. I meant to deploy my Nasty Surprise and whatever I’d taken to calling its whip-equivalent in the other arm, but that didn’t work out. Instead, I formed my nanomachine cape into a pair of tails that jammed into her chest and head. I heard her cry out in pain as the machines dug in, stabbing deeper despite some sort of protective aura and tougher bodily tissues than normal.

“Enough!” called the blindfolded man. He clapped his hands together once and columns of light encircled the woman in black and the guy who was regrowing his head. The columns threw my nanomachines out before I could secure the kill. Another clap and those two opponents disappeared into thin air, and a new column now surrounded the blindfolded man. “I am sorry for my companions. Perhaps soon you will be more willing to pursue redemption.”

“Redemption doesn’t mean annihilating everyone who knows you did something wrong,” I told him, as if I knew what the fuck I was talking about. Redemption is an impossibility for me. “A tip though… anyone willing to throw away that many lives isn’t really interested in making the world a better place.”

“Spoken like one who still has a world to go back to,” the blindfolded man smiled, then made a gesture. His column disappeared. Just then, the door flew open and the other crew from the future came running in. Qiang even had her own adult power armor! It was cool. And Alexander had a whole different look to him. A dark green breastplate, a Mix N’Max-style syringe gun, leg braces resembling Silver Shark’s cybernetic parts, and a backpack that looked like it belonged to Troubleshooter. I think I even spotted Ouroboros’s knives hanging off his belt. The guy had a stuff from all over the place, not just his other parent.

I dusted my hands off and stepped out of the backroom of my robots and nanomachines swarming over the damage to clean it up and fill things back in. “Sorry for the mess. Y’all need anything else?”

“Told ya,” Qiang nudged the future guy. Oh neat, he had these transparent forcefields around his limbs, head, and body. Looked like he had balloon powers, almost.

Wattson changed his hands from a gun and a set of blender blades back into actual hands and doffed his cap at me. “I’m terribly sorry for that, ma’am. We believed it was a possibility Jaguar Slayer would try to eliminate you for aiding us, but we took the risk and, as your daughter suggested, we believed you capable of defeating a direct attack.”

“Sorry, momma,” Qiang said. “But we don’t want to interfere with you more than we already had to. It’s just that the Slayer erased our tech girl, PK.”

Didn’t sound like anyone I was familiar with. “Well, they did. I got the feeling this one woman really didn’t like me, but it was the guy who couldn’t see that’s the real danger there.”

“He is,” Bubble guy nodded solemnly. “He’s the one who killed my father, the Mobian.”

I leaned onto my damaged counter, the glass seemingly flowing back into place on a wave of tiny machines. “Really? Because that sounds kinda completely unexpected. I didn’t like the guy much, but he always struck me as trickier than he looked.”

“He was,” Kid Mobian said. “We found his timesphere heavily damaged in the crevices of the Inner Circle of Fault.”

Ohms patted Kid Mobian on the shoulder. “Good thing Wattson and I were in the area. We joined it with the house, turning it into the House of Shadows and Spires. The mystery led us to Jaguar Slayer and his actions to wipe the multiverse clean. And while you beat the pants off two of the Slayer’s toughest, we managed a big raid. Your cannon worked perfectly.”

Wattson looked around at Qiang and Alexander. “I think perhaps we better ask you to come with us now, ma’am. The temporal annihilation war is dangerous. If you are not in the House, you may become erased as well. I don’t believe the Slayer would risk getting rid of you, but nonetheless….”

I held up a finger. “Will you return me here so I don’t lose any time as far as anyone’s concerned?” I glanced over at Qiang. She would know well how much time I spent away as a kid. And as for Alexander, I still have to conceive that guy.

Wattson nodded. “Indeed. A most agreeable term of service.”

The amazing thing was how they managed to, in a flash, transport my most valuable equipment and armor into the formerly-nonexistent basement of the House of Shadows and Spires. A tiny basement window showed me we had left the town of Radium, a nebula drifting by instead.

Good thing there’s almost no documentation on Qiang’s mom. And Alexander… I’m still wrapping my head around that one, let alone spouting off about who some future AI needs to kill to keep my son from ever being born.
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Days of Future Tense 1

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It feels so nice to just mind your own fucking business and not have any problems. After everything I’ve been through, this regular domestic shit and the issues surrounding it are easy mode. It helps having extra bodies and the ability to control robots from afar, sure. I have the anti-mosquito drones patrolling the backyard, my grow house is automated, and I have a small army of robots keeping the house clean. Correction, I have an army of small robots. Small army, small robots. They have a sort of mechanical spider shape, because they’re also programmed to swarm intruders.

On top of that, my store’s doing well. We got some PS5s in that fell off the back of a truck, and other gizmos are keeping up the appearance that my money is coming from legitimate stuff.

I know I give updates, but it’s not like I’m ever going to just have an update that’s nothing but me doing laundry and cooking dinner. Of course, that means something happened.

This time, it started when some out of towners came into the store. Unusual bunch, but I’ve gotten unusual before. The place is starting to get a reputation on VillaiNet and through the hero grapevine, so I sometimes get people stopping by who aren’t settling down but clearly have powers.

The first one to of this bunch to step in was a guy whose clothes had been torn up and patched in places. He looked like the sort of guy who would try something. The way he glanced around to pick out defenses, I thought he might. The next guy clapped that one on the shoulder and winked at him. The first guy relaxed a bit and the second guy headed my way. I caught a third and fourth member of this party entering, one of them staring at me while the woman with him tried to get him to pay attention to gizmos and electronics on display. The young man, probably in his early twenties, gave up and tried to be less obvious about his staring.

“One moment,” I told the guy who stepped up to the counter. He set his box down, which was fine by me. I had to get to a stopping point with the companion bot I was building. I was using some of the advanced thruster and hover technology from my home dimension, along with some really light materials, to make it a platform for a simple flying robot with a holographic projector and a tablet built into it. Power’s an issue, but the thing has a number of different plugs it can use to help itself to power sources nearby, including a car adapter. Once I got the tablet fixed back into it, I brushed it aside. “What can I do for ya?”

“I hear you’re good at fixing these sorts of things,” the guy told me. He pushed the box forward. It looked like a big metal tube you could fit all the way around your lower arm, and that turned out to be the case. The front end looked like some sort of barrel.

“Weapon of some sort?” I asked.

“Yeah. We don’t have a manual or schematic for it, so we understand if it takes time. We have as long as it takes,” he said. Come to think on it, his clothes were a little different, too. Not this Earth’s fashion, maybe a bit too clean and straight. Maybe folks from another dimension. Those refugees come to this Earth, too. There’s a portal in Empyreal City to a kind of mirror image world. Villains are heroes, heroes are villains, that sort of thing. The don’t have me either way, and the place is kind of boring if you ask me. I’ve caught myself wondering from time to time if I should raid it and show them how properly villainy is done, but I have to remind myself I’m trying to not do that.

“Let me take a look at it,” I said, pulling it out of the box. I reached in and found that my body went ahead and did its homo machina merging pretty easily. It was designed for it, with simple computer that gave me some details on its performance and issues. “What’s it do?”

The battery was still good. I popped that out for a look, wondering what kinds of batteries it would take, and this thing looked like a jury-rigged version of some of the stuff they’ve started shoving into plasma rifles. I already knew I could give them an improvement there, but that’s not what the issue was. Someone had put a failsafe into this thing, and they put it in easily-understood language for anyone who came along later. Some things called “director plates” were no longer sending or receiving signals indicating they were still functional.

“It’s a weapon, like you said,” the man told me.

I shrugged. “I think I can fix it, but if we test fire this thing, I don’t want it taking half the building with it.”

The man turned back to the rest of the bunch. By now, they were all staring at me. The woman, half Asian and half white, was shaking her head. “You don’t want to test fire it inside. We’ll test it,” she said.

I frowned. “I think we better talk about half payment up front then.” And maybe I’d steal some ideas from it.

The guy who’d approached me set down a bar of small bar of metal on a solid part of my counter. All he said was, “Rhodium.”

I raised an eyebrow and hefted the bar. The weight was exactly a pound. I gave it a light bite, just enough for nanomachines in my saliva to spread onto it and examine the molecules. It came back as pure rhodium, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars even as a single pound. I set it back down. “Good thing I take alternative payment like that, right?”

The man smiled and set down a second bar of the same size.

I put in some good work that night, because that thing was interesting. It worked along some principles connected to the stolen interdimensional knowledge I use, except more advanced. This focused the effect into a projectile beam weapon. A projectile of damaged time-space. I had the facilities to not only fabricate new and improved parts for it, but to build something on a smaller scale to test it out. My test dummy was a spare Enforcer robot with all its digital parts removed. Listen, I can’t help it if the Office of Superhuman Resources accidentally leaves the supply closet unlocked. They should know better. Someone might steal something.

There was the problem of limiting the range of the effect. I turned on the firing range’s force field. It’s based on one of those nifty ones from my original Earth as well. The shot is difficult to describe, like super fast bullet of pure darkness. A black far darker than anything else because it’s a complete absence not only of light but of existence. Also, it swiss-cheesed that Enforcer, and immediately suffered a similar failure as the bigger version. The wires melted. It was actually the same problem as the bigger version. So it looks like my new and improved wires weren’t going to cut it either.

I put a halt to the part about copper wire and decided to substitute in some silver, trying it on the little one first. It didn’t burn out after the first shot. Or the second, which I timed thirty seconds after the first. So I decided I’d test that little one to the breaking point.

I was so focused on it, I nearly missed dinner and my daughter telling me about her day. “And then a bunch of us were daring each other to run up and touch the house.”

I shook my head. “House?”

“The big haunted house that appeared!”

After dinner, I had her show me. Sure enough, at the end of a street that used to have an overgrown lot there, was a classic haunted house. Three stories, with gables and pointy lightning rods and old shutters and shit. Couldn’t see anything through the windows, but none of it looked rundown or broken. Just older than it should for the area, and out of place.

My daughter was surprised I just shrugged and headed back home. “What if there’s ghosts?”

“You’ve met ghosts before. If they want a house, why not let them? Did they hurt you somehow?”

“No,” she said, still sounding disappointed that I wasn’t kicking down doors to fight the Wolfman or something.

The next day, I was getting the weapon ready. I had new batteries, fully charged and with their own charger. Also included was a kit of some basic materials and tools for repairs. And just in case they decided to screw me over, I had a forcefield ready.

The young guy who’d been looking at me so much was the first one in. He ran in with a face that, now that I glanced at it, looked familiar. I didn’t know where I knew this guy from, but he started crying.

“Who are you?” I asked.

Now, because of the oddness of the situation, I showed restraint and didn’t kick his ass when he lunged forward and hugged me. Guy was ruining my dress, but one does not simply kill everybody who has a mental breakdown, hugs you, and calls you mom. Wait.

“Mom?” I asked

He sniffled. Ok, I figured it was time to put those nanites to work again. No nibbling on another person, though. These crawled down and performed a quickie DNA test that came back with this guy being homo machina and being my son. I didn’t know how to take it either, except to know that it was just about physically impossible for me to have conceived this guy that long ago. Plus, the other half of the test…

The door opened and it was that group again, along with two others. One was a robotic man, looking like someone had appropriated an unarmored Enforcer with a cyclopean head and stuck it in a suit with a bolo tie. The other guy was dressed casually, but his skin was lit from within by the occasional arc of electricity.

The Asian woman ran up and hugged the guy hugging onto me. I gave her a little closer look. Yeah, still don’t know what to think about all this, but at least confirmed my suspicion. “Qiang, what’s going on?”

“Shit,” she said.

“Perhaps I can explain,” the robot said. He stepped forward and a card appeared in his hand. “I am the caretaker of the House of Shadows and Spires, Investigator Wattson. Two Ts. And as you clearly have deduced, we are from the future.”

“We needed your help, mom,” my future son said.

Wattson put his hand on his shoulder. I waved them away and tried doing some of that maternal shit. I held him close. “Shush. What’s going on?”

Qiang answered, looking up at me. How did I not see it the first time? “Evil AI from the future is trying to destroy the past. It’s complicated, and you finding out might mess it up.”

“Why?” I asked. “Was I supposed to do something that I now won’t?”

“No,” the electrified man spoke up. “Because Wattson here says you’re definitely being monitored by our enemy, Jaguar Slayer.”

“We’re going to have to figure out a way around this,” said the guy who I’d negotiated with the day prior, with his too-neat clothes. “I hate this.”

Future Qiang nodded, and told me, “It’s more complicated time travel bullshit, mama.”

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Outlaw X Presents: Heavy Metal 2

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Seeing as our friends at Outlaw X were kind enough to leave y’all with a cliffhanger, I figured the least I could do is not make everyone wait another month to find out about the fate of random people you only learned about a few days ago.

Note to self: try to sound less like a jackass.

Hey, all of this is some new and useful knowledge for me. It keeps me abreast of emerging supervillains and superheroes. I get to understand a little bit more about that metal. I saw that video they mentioned in the first part, too. Might be I’ll find myself up against a mysterious telepathic metal capable of doing all these things. Sharp, too. Able to hold an edge that can take down a well-armored robot.

So let’s continue this voyeuristic journey together, shall we?

**

“Ya heard it, ya heard it, ya heard it on the X!

Outlaw X here, back in black and twice as beautiful. I’d like to thank everyone for their fondest wishes for my well-being due to my recent absence. I especially want to think the evil magician Perfecto and his assistant, the Malicious Maiming Melinda. Better luck next time, shitlickers.

With our dedications out of the way, I see it’s almost time for us to kick off two hours of throwback 90s Gangster Rap goodness. The one hit wonders, the sellouts, the hitmakers, and the dead but not forgotten, all in one. In a way, it reminds me of supervillains. A lot of supervillains fit into those molds as well, but be careful who you call a sellout unless you know for a fact that they talked.

First, we’ve got the second half of a story to share. Looks like this one’s going to spoil me. Thanks a lot, Perfecto.”

**
So I’m trapped in the fourth and top floor of a lab that studies metals, calling myself Green Falcon because of my thunderbolt suit and small thunderbolt knife. Zeus had his bedsheet and thunderbolt javelin, Gauge had his thunderbolt darts, and Mist had some guy she’d taken hostage. She brought him into the room with her and closed the door. We’d all heard the elevator ding and the pounding of heavy SWAT boots and Enforcer legs on the floor.

Mist put her hand on the poor guy’s body. “I have something in mind.”

“Please don’t hurt me,” the man cried. I didn’t see what she had that brought her here looking for more of the mysterious meteor metal, but I knew people who didn’t have it would want it too. It’s valuable if they want it for themselves, and I bet you could sell it for a lot of money if you knew how to do that sort of thing.

Mist smiled and blew a kiss toward him, a dark cloud moving out of her mouth and into the crying hostage’s mouth and nose. He coughed, sneezed, and gagged like he was about to throw up. He was fine, but the Latina in the green dress patted him on the shoulder. She called out, “Don’t shoot, I’m sending out the hostage as a sign of good faith!”

I walked back to the window to glance outside quickly. “Yeah, there’s still a shitload of them down below. You sure you want to give him up?”

Mist smiled and opened the door just enough for the man to leave, hands raised. She slammed it closed quickly, locked it, and moved pretty fast in those flats to get out from behind it. No one wants to give guys with guns a good idea where you are.

“Flyboy, how much can you carry?” Gauge asked me.

I shrugged, then pointed to the hunk of meteor. “I came prepared to take all that with me. I got cords for it.”

Zeus, being super helpful, walked over to the meteor and smacked it with his javelin, drawing everyone’s attention. The meteor crumbled. I should say the fake meteor crumbled. Looked like dried mouthwash somehow.

“Heh,” Gauge said. He turned back to me from Zeus’s big reveal. “I hope you got enough for the weight of another man.”

“That’s cool, I can fly myself,” Zeus said. Nobody had asked him.

Mist opened her mouth to say something, then thought better. As if someone pressed a button, we heard screams from the hallway, including a noise like someone dropped a watermelon from atop a building. Then, more screams.

Mist pumped a fist, but it was short-lived as a metal hand punched through the door to reach over and unlock it. The door opened and the armored Enforcer in the lead caught one of Gauge’s darts through the head. It kept coming, so the others took it in the chest and slammed it out into the hallway, knocking over one of the smaller Enforcers. Two more of those came running in. They have a weird gait, like someone programmed them after that old movie with the killer robot made of liquid metal. Zeus’s javelin whipped out and pinned one through the chest, then turned and impaled the second one the same way. He tried jiggling it to knock them off. Another armored Enforcer came in, ducking under the javelin in a fluid motion that didn’t look right coming from it. I sent my knife out, the blade circling the neck and cutting the head off. It flew through the hole and bounded around inside, whirling around and just cutting through whatever. I held my hand back out for it as it came back to me through the open neck hole of the falling robot.

“What did you do out there?” Gauge asked. Outside, where it wasn’t fogged up my Mist’s mist, things were looking gross shades of pink, orange, and red.

“I like my metal gaseous,” was all Mist said to enlighten us. It was enough. From the way Gauge nearly tossed chunks, it was more than enough. I was going to the window to give the cops below a sample of my vomit when a helicopter flew in from the side all of a sudden. I saw a laserlight dead in my eye. If I’m lying, I’m dying. Gauge’s darts got to the police sniper first, and the pilot next, then came back to him. The chopper began to spin out of control, but hit the building lower down.

“That’s the kind of chaos we need to get out of here,” Gauge said.

Another armored Enforcer stepped through the doorway, this one’s armor shining the same dark green everyone there was familiar with. Zeus’s javelin spun, knocking one pointed end against this new Enforcer’s breastplate, then the other. The impaled Enforcers went flying, but the Thunderbolt Enforcer was lightly scratched.

“Guys, I don’t think this one’s fake,” Zeus said. The Thunderbolt Enforcer smacked the javelin away, the side of it knocking Zeus on his ass.

Gauge tried with his darts, aiming for the elbows, shoulders, and throat. The didn’t stab into it. Mist even put her mist to work, trying to find a way into it. There had to be, right? Why make these things airtight? Aside from air powers, water powers, shrinking powers, fog powers… fine, it was smart they made it airtight. Smart for them.

The Thunderbolt Enforcer advanced, reaching for Gauge. I got an idea and reached for a length of cord hanging on my waist. I made it into a quick lasso and tossed it around the upper body of the Thunderbolt Enforcer and flew back, out the window. The Enforcer came with me. Once we were out in the air, four stories up, my knife sliced the rope off halfway between us. The robot clanged to the ground, but I didn’t see it burst apart. Feeling things whiz by me, I flew back inside. Nearly whizzed myself.

“Smart thinking,” Gauge said.

“You get it?” Mist asked.

I shook my head. “I think it was still intact. Don’t know if it can fly. You know if robots can use this stuff like we can?”

“Why wait to find out?” Gauge asked. He walked over to me. I looped some cable around through a harness I’d brought, snapped a carabiner onto him in a couple places. Mist, meanwhile, was sucking her fog into herself like a golfball through a garden hose. She headed out through the door, checking the hall.

“Where are you going?” Zeus asked.

“They were shooting at the Falcon on that side. I’m going out this way,” she said.

That was a good point. Zeus followed her and used his javelin to bust in the door and through the window on the other side of the hallway. Gauge and I hobbled after, trying not to get tangled up. Zeus jammed his javelin into the floor and hopped onto a pair of straps on top, tightening them. “Saw this on these gnarly rockets you could use to fly around on,” he said. He went first, probably not realizing he’d have been our indication if they had guns readied on the other side. When he didn’t get shot out of the sky, the rest of us followed.

I brought Gauge and I as if it was nothing. I’d never tested the full extent of the meteor metal’s ability to lift stuff. Maybe I should. Also good for that point, the particulates Mist sucked in were enough to lift her into the air without fucking her up like whatever she’d done in the hall. My mind kept thinking of a human balloon. Part of my ego also hated that I’d used the metal for a suit when most of the rest of us figured out a way to use it that was more impressive and still gave them flight.

I dropped Gauge off at a quiet, out of the way bar I knew that had no trouble with criminals. They had enough drug-dealing bikers in there, they couldn’t look down on some people in costumes. Mist had followed us, too. Maybe she wanted someone to throw in the way of the cops if they came after us. She even waited out in the parking lot for Gauge and I to separate ourselves. Gauge ran in first while I tried to bundle up the cable and get it set.

The news showed the Thunderbolt Enforcer flying through the wreckage back at the building while a reporter talked about an attack by supervillains. “Shit, I didn’t think about cameras,” I said, sitting down where I could watch the news and motioning to the bartender. He ignored me.

“I got to the cameras,” Mist said, sitting down beside me. “You boys would be hopeless without me.”

Gauge came back from the bathroom, patting down the front of his costume with paper towels. “We wore masks. Except that one dipshit.”

“My guys!” a familiar voice said. Even in a bar full of drug addicts, bikers, and supervillains this late at night, a man wearing his bedsheet stands out.

“Is it too late to act like we don’t know him?” Gauge asked.

“We should do that more often!” Zeus walked up behind us and hugged us all in turn.

**

Holy flying robots, bad man! Heh, that’s something to keep an eye on. Those Enforcers got a lot of people edgy, folks. Now we got one that’s tougher than all the others and can float.

We have new opportunities, too. This new thunderbolt stuff means more enhanced individuals, more mad science at work, and more ways to make cash money.

Keep an eye out, folks. And be careful if you find any of it. Wouldn’t want to put an eye out, unless it belongs to Johnny Law and his Lawbot.

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Outlaw X Presents: Heavy Metal 1

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Folks, as usual, I’ve got shit to do that isn’t interesting and y’all want funtimes, so rather than me bore you with all that, I’m handing off storyteller duties to the radio. It’s a lot like being a bad parent. But at least some of these stories are interesting, from time to time.

**

“Alrighty folks, that song there was the tribute to the greatest song in the world, and a great segue into tonight’s story of felonious fun. If you’re just joining us, I’m Medley, sitting in tonight for Rebel Rebel, who is out under FBI surveillance. She’ll be back as soon as the heat is off.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in the middle of nowhere, you’ve noticed the popularity in our profession nowadays. I’m sure we’ve all seen the new metal, the stuff they’re calling thunderbolt ore. I hear “thunderbolt iron” is a nickname for meteoric iron. When metal fell from the skies, ancient peoples made spearheads, swords, and talismans out of it. Talismans or talismen?

Potato, potato, I don’t care. But for some time, ever since shortly after a bunch of our guys and the good guys joined forces to blow up that asteroid trying to hit the Earth, people have been finding something new that’s believed to be from that asteroid. Some new alloy of deep space metals with new properties. Listeners might have seen those in action. We’re already seeing some of these villains invited into the fold, or other villains enhancing their abilities with this metal.

This is a story submitted by one of our newfound thunderbolt friends. No, that’s a horrible phrase. “Thunderbolt Friends” sounds like a kid’s show. I’m sure we’ll come up with something.

Here’s the story submitted to us under the name “Heavy Metal”

**

I found my first hunk of thunderbolt metal on a hike through these woods near the suburb where I live. It wasn’t like I expected from movies or TV. There wasn’t a huge crater or a cave it created. One day, there was that big clay ditch area, the next there was a bubbly, dark green thing sticking out of the clay. I’ve seen Joe Dirt, so I didn’t automatically assume this was a meteorite. It was a little bigger than a basketball with a melty-looking point on the end that was sticking out. As far as I knew, it was an airplane shit dump. I wasn’t going to touch it.

It was a curiosity until I mentioned it to a friend of mine, Frank, who dabbled in Society for Creative Anachronism. He likes blacksmithing, and we came up with an idea to break the bits up into nice-looking necklaces and sell them to people at the next Ren Faire. We were going to call it meteor metal, or maybe joke and say it was supposed to be orichalcum.

It was a whole to-do getting that big hunk and we used gloves. Frank was looking at it odd, but he said he’d spend a couple days messing with it and tell me if anyone had peanuts. He called me back during dinner the next day and told me we’d found something unusual. All he told me is he found something incredible and I should come over. I told him to let me finish my burger first and he had a deal.

“I broke off a segment and noticed this was definitely metal. Thought it was too awesome to waste on Ren Faire people unless we charged out the ass for it. I worked some of it into a rough ring and I wanted to make another part from that into a knife.”

He explained all this to me in one go as he walked me to his garage. He had the block of metal up on a bench near his workspace. Laying nearby was a ring that he’d ground down, smoothed, and polished. The knife looked like something from the stone age, with a simple cloth wrap around a jagged bit of metal that formed a very rough blade. He hadn’t even gone as far as making it into an old caveman chipped stone knife.

“Watch this,” Frank said. He put on the ring and held his hand out. The knife lifted up off the table and floated to his hand. It wasn’t like how a string would raise it up. I waved my hand over both, checking the ceiling for anything that helped him do that.

“Holy fuck,” I said.

“Here, you try!” He pulled the ring off and handed it to me, then set the knife down.

“How do I do this?” I asked. I thought of the knife flying up and it did. Simple. Easy. I thought of it embedding in the wall nearby and it did that too.

Frank wasn’t even mad. He jumped and smiled at me. “Yeah!”

Curious, I turned and tried to lift the whole rest of the misshapen chunk on the workbench. Nothing happened. “Why didn’t that do it?”

“I don’t know,” Frank said, throwing up his hands. “I tried it to. This is cool shit, but we need to figure out how it works.”

“This is, we could do stuff with this. Fuck selling this in a booth, man, we could be rich,” I said.

“We can’t be the only one with this metal,” Frank reminded me. “There’s got to be more though.”

“What made you break off just this section into these two pieces?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “I guess the cleavage of the metal. That was one section.”

“You should experiment. We need to do something with this,” I told him.

Now, it might seem weird to most that our first thought for doing something about this was making money and committing crimes. Money’s good. Fuck, we can use money. Frank seems to enjoy his hobbies and he spent a lot of money on that equipment, but my life’s shit. I started going on hikes because I was morbidly curious about the best spot out there to shoot myself in the fucking head. I hate my life. Give me a lot of money and everything changes.

One of our first thoughts was a sword, but that was a lot. That was a big thing, and we didn’t think we had enough metal. So we went looking. Found as much as we could, checking that area and asking questions. With a little inspiration and some materials off Etsy, we managed something for me to take out. All the risk for me. Half the money for Frank since he helped build it.

It was a suit. We built it to slip kevlar plates into, but most of it was lined in enough of the metal to let me fly. The first draft was rough and mostly black because that’s the stuff we got. It ended up looking like motocross gear, but here’s the secret: this metal’s really strong and really sharp.

I practiced. I tested what I could lift. I got good. I even robbed a couple of convenience stores first before I tried something worth the suit and took a bunch of jewelry. That wasn’t so fun because Frank and I realized we didn’t know anybody we could sell it to, so after that we settled on electronics or cash. Getting rich like that wasn’t as easy as I thought, but it still amounted to hundreds of dollars a day without needing to work.

I wasn’t the only guy in the city doing this and they showed me more. I saw the videos of this one guy with some sort of green pads painted to match the color of the sword he held. He had a hoodie on and the hood up. He had a bracer on his main hand too, unusual because that’s an archery thing, but I noticed the color of the bracer matched his sword. He walked up to the ATMs outside this one bank and chopped right through them. Made me wonder if I could do that with the knife. He had a friend to bag up the money, but I could just fly it out of there.

Then one of those new cop robots walked up and he cut it up too.

The knife’s blade wasn’t long enough to through an ATM as quickly, but it got me through to the cash box. I wasn’t the only one inspired by the example. Others came out, getting more daring. I don’t think anybody else had focused on a flying suit, but Frank was still working out something bigger with the main chunk of metal we found. He said he needed better tools to cold-work it, which is when you work the metal without heating it up. We had both worried at first that heating it might destroy its special properties, but that sword had us reconsidering that.

In retrospect, I think they were trying to lure us out. Someone made the connection between the newbies and the metal and put out an article in the news about the discovery of a hunk about the size of the one I found. A troupe of Girl Scouts discovered it and it was being turned over to a local metallurgy lab, Anvil Industries. Up until the plant let us go, we used to service them some.

Getting in was easy. I floated in and cut through the glass. Most of these alarms are really for entrances and exits only. I figured I would work my way down the four-story building, but I spotted the elevator’s floor indicator moving. I ducked into an office nearby. They were all offices that I’d seen so far. Glancing out, I saw raven-haired Latina in an old-fashioned emerald-colored 60s-looking housewife dress. She looked hot but was grouching like a motherfucker. “Move it!”

“I am moving it. Don’t hurt me!” said a guy in a button-down and slacks. “We put it over here.”

He walked her over to a door and swiped his keycard, messing it up the first time due to nervousness. He opened the door and flipped on the light.

“Holy hell, who are you?” he asked. He ducked and whizzed himself when a metal dart flew by his head and stabbed into the wall on the opposite side.

“This is my meteor!” a voice inside called. I turned to the window in the office I was in and started cutting, the jumped out. I came around to around that side of the room and found lit-up tinted windows, too obscured for me to see anything but the light. I waited at the edge and carefully cut a hole in.

“Look out below that way!” someone called out. I looked up and there was some long-haired guy wearing a bedsheet on top of a spear. I covered my face as his spear smashed through the line of windows near him and he went skidding into the room, cut up along his arms.

Things were open enough for me to see the situation. There was the meteorite strapped to a heavy metal table. Next to that was a man in an athletic top and loose pants with a bunch of thunderbolt darts floating around him. Half aimed at the woman and the other half aimed at the guy in the sheets. The woman in the dress stood near the hostage she took. Toga guy was rubbing at his arms, getting blood all over the sheets that I realized were supposed to be a toga.

He looked around at the others. “Hi, I’m Zeus.”

“Bullshit,” the woman said. “You almost ended up Eunuch Man.”

Zeus, which is one hell of a name for some random-ass guy in bedsheets to claim as a supervillain name, held up his hands. “I sense a lot of hostility here from the three of you. But not you, you’re just scared.” He spoke that last part to the hostage.

The guy with the darts didn’t put them away. “There’s no harm in telling you the name I picked out. I’m Gauge.”

“Mist,” said the woman. “Not ‘Miss,’ but Mist, like fog.”

“Awesome sauce. What about you?” Zeus was calling outside.

“How hard did you hit your head?” Gauge asked.

Down below, I heard shouting and guns cocking. I looked down and saw that in the short time all this had been happening, SWAT were spreading out with Enforcers in front of them. They might have put one in me if I hadn’t noticed them that early. I stopped hovering near the broken window and swung myself into the room.

“Hey guys, I’m,” I didn’t really have a name, so I grasped, trying to come up with something. “…the Green Falcon.”

At least I didn’t say Hornet.

“Lame,” Zeus said. Mist scoffed at that one. Gauge shrugged.

I held up my hands to show I was unarmed before realizing I still held my knife. “The building’s surrounded. Cops and Enforcers galore.”

Outside the room, we heard the elevator ding.

**

That’s all we’ve got for you this time, folks, but Outlaw X would like to remind you to tune in next time for the conclusion of this story. Will the Green Falcon survive? Will Zeus realize he sounds like a jackass? What’s that Mist woman got going on? The answer to these questions and more are in the next episode of Outlaw X Presents. This is Medley hoping to see you next time, and happy criming.”

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Freeze Tag

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The full moon, my true monthly visitor… I wasn’t sure if being on the actual moon would do something there and bring Reindeer out. Like what if I’d transformed into my weredeer form from simply seeing the whole moon on approach? Thanks to me, the entire were- community now knows more important things about the condition that various people were afflicted with after some magic environmentalists tried to hijack the Northern Hemisphere’s wintry time to make the Earth greener.

I don’t think the spirit of Winter is in bed with the oil companies, I just think he’s territorial and big on balance. It’s the season of death.

I had time to finish dinner and the dishes before my alarm went off. The moon was coming, and it’s been taking more time from me before and after. My body stayed behind while my mind took control of the Platinum Hind armor. I still don’t like power armor capable of opening this way or acting on its own, but it was a necessity in this case and Reindeer isn’t out long enough for people to take advantage.

The alarm was set thirty minutes before official moonrise. Twenty minutes before, Reindeer changed, and changed quickly. The hero deep inside bounded down the stairs. “I feel incredible! You think the moon did this?”

I shrugged. “I think lycanthropes and other such animal-thropes are the very definition of something that’s not a science.” Reindeer was bouncing, which I found funny enough. She recently discovered an ability to fly and fire beams of light from her antlers. “You sure that’s moondust you sniffed?”

“You’re getting drug names all mixed up,” she told me. She stopped bouncing up and down, though. “Are you ready? I can’t wait to go.”

I made sure my complement of non-lethal armament was still as ready to go as when I put the armor and Reindeer’s costume away, then tossed the costume to her. She had it on in no time, then went ahead and stepped into me, setting the helmet on her head. Instead of the stairs and the front entrance, she went right to the trashcan tunnel, shooting into the still-light sky. Below us, the trash can swung over from on its side to stand up over the hole again. That’s the power of science and magnets.

As heavy as the armor was, Reindeer wasn’t using the suit’s rockets at all. She flew quickly, and in an arc through the high atmosphere where she would have difficulty breathing. We came down in Minneapolis and soon picked up that something was wrong by the sight of a person on fire flying too close to an airplane trying to land.

“However good you feel, remember that jet turbines feel considerably less good,” I reminded her. She’s too buoyant and happy for my taste. It’s hard to trust a version of myself that isn’t at least partially miserable.

“I know,” she said. “Do you have to be such a backseat driver?”

“It’s my backseat that gets cut off if you take a shortcut through them there engine tubes,” I pointed out. I made sure to highlight the engines on the HUD as the “Danger Zone”. I also showed avenues that would likely get us sucked into the engines, dubbed the “Highways to the Danger Zone”.

“Who are we dealing with?” Reindeer asked.

“She’s a real Firecracker. That’s her name,” I explained. “Fireproof and able to fly using fire. Can project it out a bit as a result, of course, and I wouldn’t give her a hug.”

“You need to come up with more nonlethal gadgets,” Reindeer advised. “I’ll have to hoof her.”

Reindeer gave the armor’s rockets some juice on approach, trying to come in overhead Firecracker. “Might I remind you which direction heat travels?” I asked Reindeer. She responded by diving down and flipping around to plant her hooves hard in Firecracker’s upper back, sending the flaming super head over heels past the airplane. Reindeer directed herself away from the tumbling super and came around.

“Figure out how we intercept her to keep her from splatting,” Reindeer advised. I came up with a few plans for that based on how Firecracker fell. We kept close, but then Firecracker turned her flame off, flattened out, and flamed back on once she had her fall under control.

Firecracker turned to us and shouted, “Tag, you’re it!”

“Neat,” I told Reindeer. “Piggy radio says arson and other trouble in Minneapolis today. Looks lik the Fire Gang’s in town.”

I know I’ve mentioned them at least once. A group of supers with fire-related powers who hang out together. They’re a real niche group because if you can counter the strongest of them, you should be able to counter all of them, but the powers express themselves in different ways and with different quirks. Plus, they have numbers. Fire is a fairly common power.

Reindeer followed after Firecracker. Kind of easy to track of woman on fire as she flies across the sky. My better half came around the side of a building and bodychecked Firecracker. “Tag!” she called out.

Firecracker bounced back a ways before getting control again, but I could see she was smiling. She lowered down to the ground and Reindeer followed. When they were both safely grounded, she put her hands on her hips. “You’re playing?”

“What? Playing Tag?” Reindeer asked.

Firecracker smiled, her bright red lipstick going well with the all-red outfit she was in. “Yeah. If you can handle that, hero. You get to be It, but tag us and we stop doing whatever we’re doing. I’ll call it in to the others. Or you can do things the hard way.”

“Sounds fun,” I told Reindeer.

Reindeer nodded. “Sure, I’m in.”

Firecracker reached up to an earpiece. Her power definitely has some sort of area it works on other than just skin and hair-deep. “We have a player, Gang. Reindeer’s It and she’s already tagged me.” She looked around at where she was, focusing on a café nearby. “Anybody needs me, I’m going to get a smoothie. It’s hot out here.”

“Hey, who all’s playing?” Reindeer called out.

Firecracker didn’t say. She just held up a hand with all but her thumb out. “There were four, now there’s three,” she explained while folding her index finger in.

I checked around for more signs of distress. “Alright, good one, I’m picking up that someone’s leaving flaming trails at the Elko Speedway. Additionally, there’s a guy spouting flames at Capella University, and then there are little burning bipeds running around the Mall of America causing havoc. We are closest to that one.”

“Point me to it,” Reindeer said. I brought up path on the HUD showing her toward the Mall of America.

We found a man in burnt dark red robes inside the M&M store, cackling. Fire moved at his beckoning, fire in the shape of tail-less monkeys. They hopped all over the place, tossing M&Ms and trashing displays. The floor was becoming a mess of oozing melted chocolate. “Now you see the lie, Mall of America! This candy’s reputation is but a hill of lies. Lies!” When I had enough to identify him, I flashed his name onscreen: “Banisher.”

He turned around and jumped at Reindeer’s approach. With a wave of his hands, his smaller creations disappeared and a giant one appeared between Reindeer and Banisher. Reindeer pulled out one of the various helpful grenades I made her but didn’t activate it before tossing it in front of the sonic weapon on her forearm and firing it. The air it generated through the metal ball at Banisher’s robed chest and bonked him, knocking him over into the hot chocolate. Reindeer then ran and skidded between the large fire creature’s legs to grab hold of Banisher’s leg.

“Tag!”

Banisher huffed and dismissed the fire monster. “Help me up?” We did and let him walk off to drown his sorrows in the Cinnabon.

Next stop, Capella University. It was an online university, but a fellow out front was trying to make it live up to the name in person. A thick-set fellow stood out front in scaled armor, singing a capella. He had clawed gloves on his hands. Gouts of fire sprayed from devices he’d set up that provided backing sounds to his take on “Ring of Fire”. A hunk of metal around the man’s neck looked like a bear trap worn as decoration.

“That is Fafnir,” I informed Reindeer. “Big fan of pyrotechnic devices.”

Reindeer watched all this, then told me, “I have an idea.”

I landed the Platinum Hind armor in front of Fafnir just as he finished his song. Fafnir snapped his head toward me, the “bear trap” closing up and forming a fanged metal helmet around his head. The helmet spit fire at me, and it would have been fearsome for a being of flesh. It wasn’t too fun for someone relying on circuitry, but it didn’t kill me.

Fafnir turned at the touch of a hand tapping him to find Reindeer there saying “Tag. You’re out.”

The metal helmet unfolded back around his chest. “Damn. Spent too long setting things up.”

Reindeer patted him on the shoulder sympathetically and walked over to me. Before she could enter the armor, a large fireball knocked her into the building and knocked me down. Fafnir was unharmed, but scrambled to get away.

Standing before us was a man in a black leather motorcycle getup with a flame decal on the top rear of his jacket and a fireball on the helmet.

Reindeer’s furry hand-paw thing raised up out of the side of the building. “I’m ok!”

“Hello Nitro,” I said more for Reindeer’s benefit than mine. It wouldn’t help her much as she didn’t have access to the wiki page detailing Nitro’s enhanced durability and usage of firepowers to propel him in intense bursts, enough to count him as a speedster. Plus, the black leather outfit looked badass.

Reindeer threw herself out of the building and landed on her feet, firing off one of those air pulses real quick. Nitro turned to her, a fireball building up behind him. And as we’ve previously established, fire isn’t so bad for me when I’m possessing a suit of power armor. I wrapped the Platinum Hind’s arms around him from behind and turned my back toward Reindeer. I German suplexed Nitro in that direction and rolled with it, coming up in time for Reindeer to slide into the armor from behind and announce. “Tag!” We finished it up with a second suplex, then left Nitro there, the flame petering out like a fart.

He stood up, seemingly glowering, then pulled the helmet off. Guy had an overbite, a bit nose, and some really bushy eyebrows, so not nearly as hot as the costume would suggest. “That was pretty awesome, like a wrassler!” Also, he sounded like a Cajun. “Want to play again sometime?”

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Ex-Weapon 8

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“You sure you’re ok up there?” Sam asked me over the phone. I may not exactly be with Mix N’Max’s assistant but we figured we’re staying in touch. Medusa’s keeping tabs on me too. Adrian called too. I ignored the call from a hungover Senator Goatse because I don’t care what he’s calling about but the best case scenario was being upset that he paid for my trip into space. The SpaceSex rocket has been remarkably well-maintained. And it’s been a lovely experience once you get over the realization that you’re a tiny bit of metal from certain death. I’ve loved most of my life in that kind of situation.

“You’re humming again,” Sam said.

I laughed. “Was staring out a window again. I keep thinking of that Aladdin song about showing Jasmine the world. I’m actually seeing it, all of it.”

Sam sang a few lines for me before stopping to say, “I wish I could see it.”

“There’s always the feed from the International Space Station, but it doesn’t do it justice. It’s not the same as when you cross the Universe Divide, either..” I pushed off the side of the service module and toward the command module to check on the distance to the moon. “It’s been nearly three days now.”

“I’m surprised it takes so little time. We just never go anymore,” Sam said. “You bring a flag along?”

“Let’s see, I got power armor, food, toiletries, and a spacesuit with its own thong. I’m fully prepared for pretty much every situation that could come up on the moon. And for the record, it turns out the fake engines they strapped to the side were completely unnecessary. It’s a good thing they fell off with the first stage. Barring anymore modifications like that, I’m good to go.”

“Not yet you aren’t. You’re thinking of Disney tunes. You need something to get your head in the game,” she remarked.

“Ha! Save it for the lander. Which, according to this thingamabob, is actually in good condition. To be completely honest, I was half sure this thing was going to pull itself apart when the first two rocket stages fell off. Like, though when the second part fell away, it’d take part of this one with it. I headed out of the command module and through the service module. I’m also super glad I actually took the time to read the manual and some instructional videos. There’s a whole thing where the third stage separates from the part that goes to the moon and you have to flip the the ship around and dock with the lunar module. I nearly missed that. Wouldn’t want to be without the beauty I now headed for. I opened the door and got a face full of sex toys, a veritable rainbow of dildo. A plethora of peggers. A variety of vibrators. And a surplus of strap-ons, too.

The shifting mass did something. I felt something break away. I don’t know, but I made sure the door back to the command module was just fine. I think I heard something, or it was the shuddering of something breaking. In space, nobody can hear me cuss and dive into a lunar module full of sex toys. “Sam… looks like I’m on approach.”

She started playing “Fly Me to the Moon” from the Bayonetta soundtrack.

I had to dig my way through the toys to the computers and cross-reference the data it gave me with my brain’s info on the base. The register in my store has a more advanced computer than this old thing. The base we were looking for was on the other side of the moon, but those manuals made it pretty clear I had to get this lunar bit away from the rest before I could even think of bringing it down. I wasn’t able to tell Sam I had to let the lunar module get miles away from me until the song was over.

Despite all that, the descent mostly went ok. Took me a long time before I came around on a course for the ICE base, which seemed unaware of me. I was quickly relieved of that thought when I saw through the windows that the base was looming close and various pieces on the outside of it were rotating around toward me. They had at least spotted me. “I could use that music now, Sam.”

There was a brief snippet of her voice, followed by just silence. Oh, right, we were on the dark side of the moon. I guess I’ll have to supply the music. “Gloryhammer” by Gloryhammer ought to do nicely. I believe it’s from their album Gloryhammer. Perhaps a key why was in the belting of Angus McFife XIII: “Galaxies swarming behind me, nebulas lying ahead. This can only mean, that I have arrived into space, oh yeah.”

While Angus sang about feeling the astral fire inside him, I was noticing that the moonbase didn’t fire on me. Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe they didn’t have exterior turrets set up for people invading. They’d have to get them at some point, but much of this moonbase looked like they’d taken prefabricated buildings and worked them in with moon cement in a ziggurat with a wide, flat top on it sporting radar dishes and communications towers. A pair of large metal engines poked up from the dusty moon’s surface on either side, almost like a sci fi power plant. I brought the module in for a landing on that roof, right near one of the things that was watching me. I hopped right out and kicked the thing away, it turning out to be nothing but a camera.

“Well, maybe this will be easier than I thought,” I meant to say, but the intense cold hit me like a bucket full of ice cubes got shoved under my skin through all of my holes. I saw a huge thermal signal nearby and headed toward it. My HUD identified it as a heat exchanger. An important piece of equipment, it kept my nibbles from flaking off and I knew there’d be an access point. Sure enough, they had a roof-mounted airlock for all the sensitive equipment up there. I quickly let myself in and started cycling it.

Just like that, I was in and using the power of holograms to blend in with the environment. I managed before a gaggle of guards in spacesuits came running up with ICE-issue plasma rifles. I clung to the top of the corridor, which wasn’t that far above everything, and projected a hologram of someone cutting into the airlock from the other side, throwing up smoke that didn’t hang around. The Icers readied ther rifles and spread out for maximum lines of fire.

The cutting stopped suddenly, as did the appearance of any effect on the door. As one, I and my nanomachine tendrils pantsed the entire group. I grabbed the two nearest me while they were trying to figure out what was going on and slammed them into the others, creating a bloody, panic-firing mess of guts and flesh. I left them all behind and headed to the next section, thinking, “Suck it, Vader, I’m not even breathing hard.”

The next room, the door behind me sealed shut magnetically as soon as I was through. Visible or not, the doors still open and close. According to my suit, the atmosphere outside was thinning out. The room wasn’t hit or anything. They were venting the corridor on purpose, which was a neat way to make an advantage out of their use of prefab building sections. They didn’t count on me appearing and charging up the energy sheaths surrounding my gauntlets. Weight is an entirely different thing on the moon, but mass and energy are universal. I smashed a hole right through the floor, and the next floor, and into some sort of large, impressive command room. I bounced off a statue of someone on the way down, but I don’t know who. Ended up coming to a comfy bounce next to a man in a uniform with way too many medals. He even looked like the statue.

“Who are you?” I asked the guy near me as I came to a comfy bounce. I was going to ask their wifi password, too, but I’d cracked that easily. I guess they didn’t figure someone else would just come in off the street up here and steal internet from them.

Various people in ICE spacesuits and DIE jumpsuits surrounded me with a variety of weapons. One guy even had what looked like a pointed drillhead spinning between two chainsaws. Nice. Impractical, but nice.

The man drew himself up to look more imposing. He also edged away slowly. “I am the Supreme.”

I left a holographic double of myself in place while following this Supreme guy. Didn’t like the way he was leaving me standing in the middle of a bunch of armed, hostile people.

“You have come here to the moon and invaded our base,” the Supreme declared. “Surrender now, and we shall allow you to live while we analyze your armor.”

The hologram of me looked around at everyone, then up to the Supreme. “Nah. Guess you better kill me.”

“Do it!” I yelled from Supreme’s position with a sample of his voice. I clamped my glove over his mouth while the various people charged forward. I shushed him and showed off a pair of my round orb grenades, a regular old blower-upper and an incendiary. I tossed them into the puzzled crowd, who were watching as the guy with the drill-saw combo tried to take the hologram’s head off.

“So, Supreme guy… what are the,” I for the explosion and resulting screams. I went ahead and threw a third one over my shoulder to silence those. “Neat place here. Must have taken a lot of work interfacing with the alien systems. But what I really want to know is where are you keeping your prisoners. Like, a big metal box in a Faraday Cage.”

I moved my hand away to let him answer. “The girl has friends in high places.”

Yeah, about 238,900 miles up. “I’m her best friend. Now, not too long ago I’d have killed everyone just for making me come all the way up here, but I like to think I’ve changed. I don’t know if I have, but I like thinking it and am going to try a more peaceful method of resolving our conflict. Give me the woman you captured and we will leave.”

A piece of one of his minions plopped off the nearby statue to himself.

The Supreme raised a hand slowly, then offered a handshake. “Dangerous stranger, you have a deal.”

I shook. “The name’s Gecko. Psycho Gecko. And I fully intend to keep my side of the deal.” I glanced up at the statue, “Say, who’s the loser who needed a giant statue to himself?”

I was shown to a room with four Tesla coils surrounding a metal cage with a big metal egg inside it. The coils were powered down, the cage was opened, and the sides of the egg glowed as they were split apart. My prime body fell out, looking a little more trim and a lot more stinky. I swapped, letting my prime body put on the power armor. The guards were curious, but stayed too far away for harassment when the proxy body transformed into a large panther. My prime body, armored up, mounted the panther form as it began racing down the hallways.

I was passing through the corridor where I’d killed the first set of guards when the alarms went off. “Danger! Evacuate! Self-destruct triggered!”

They really ought to have done a better job keeping people off their wifi. And for fuck’s sake, don’t make your self-destruct internet accessible, even on the moon. Still, they gave me the woman and I am leaving. By that point, they were too busy trying to get into their own rockets to worry about us squeezing into the lander and tossing out a few to-go gifts on the way up. Oh, neat, the bottom legs and such of the lander stay there when you launch it from the moon.

The bad news came when the fuel light came on as soon as we made liftoff. It went off about halfway up, when the fuel ran out and we began a long drift back around. Swung us far enough around the moon that we didn’t get caught by the explosion. The kaboom was not earth-shattering, but it tossed one of the escaping rockets into our orbiting command and support modules, blowing the whole mess up.

Fuck

I didn’t want to be stranded. I expected other fallout. A facility that used abandoned alien space engines to hurl projectiles at Earth’s surface is a game changer. All military forces are restricted from space by international treaty. They can get around that, especially if the possess such a military facility already created by a third party. Possession of giant guns is 12/10ths of the law. But just like I’m not weapon anymore, and the moon won’t be either.

And, seeing as I did a good thing, the universe is making me pay for it, leaving me stuck on the moon with no food or water. All the times I’ve been to space and this time is the one to do me in. Gave me time to contemplate and speak to myself: “Shit. Fuck. Blown on up. So that’s it. Trapped on the moon, three days away from Earth.” I paused for awhile. A minute, maybe. “I regret killing Forcelight. Lone Gunman, too. Miss Tycism. Good Doctor. I don’t even know all the names, but there are a lot of folks who could have done much better without me in existence. So many possibilities and so much potential lost because I was so powerless I had to kill everyone. And now, because I kept being so kill-happy, I’m stranded on the moon without any food, water, or fuel.” I let out a sad laugh.

Imagine my surprise when I got an answer. A jittery see-through image appeared, like a big green mass of pixels that became a rough face. I noticed other shapes moving in and out, forming little green humanoid ghosts off back behind the face. “Psychopomp Gecko, I can save you in return for your fealty.”

I laughed.

The face continued. “I need agents in your time. Serve me, kill for me, and you do not have to die.”

Figures. Fucking figures.

I shook my head and tossed a vibrator at the face. The toy bounced off the window and drifted back, wagging back and forth past my head in the low gravity of the moon.

“Is this a no?” the big green pixelated face asked.

“Correct,” I said. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but you’re gonna lose. Maybe not because of the me, but there are people who can fight you in ways I can’t. You’ll never see them coming. As for me, I’m nobody’s weapon anymore.”

“Pathetic,” the big green head said before disappearing. One of the humanoid ghosts stayed, for a moment before the images completely disappeared. Weird, but I’m due for some sort of time travel adventure this year still.

All of a sudden, a teenager appeared behind me, my HUD labeling him as Dean from Radium. I turned to glance at him. “Hi. Welcome to the moon. The fuck you doing here?”

He shifted uncomfortably, tossing aside a big latex horse dong. He tossed it aside. “I’m glad I didn’t end up with that in me.”

I shrugged.

“Anyway, hey, I’m Dean. You saved my life the other night,” he introduced himself. He held a hand out for me. “Medusa and Radium thought you could use a hand getting home.”

“How’d they know where to find me?” I asked.

“You’re still transmitting,” Sam said on the line with me. “I let Medusa and a few people listen in.”

I didn’t like the sound of that, but I grabbed Dean’s hand. Everything darkened around me, and then lightened back up. Myself, my panther double, and a load of adult toys fell into the streets of Radium right near my house. Adrian and Marianne ran up to help me up and hug me. Dean’s parents helped him up and beamed at me. Even the moon, very nearly full, looked a lot happier since we left so many toys for the man in the moon to play with.

Sam hung up before I could start asking who all heard my little confession of regret.

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Ex-Weapon 7

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Agent Skitwell and I sat across from each other at the Grease Garage. We each had finished a rather large meal. Steaks, fries, onion rings, and chicken drumsticks were all devoured, impressing the restaurant’s staff and a few regulars. The Grease Garage isn’t the sort of place to have a $100 dollar steak free to anyone who can finish the entirety of it. If it was, it would be a $100 burger, and most of the meal’s value would be on the oil market.

The meal was done. All that was left was the check. We stared daggers at each other over the check and the question of who should pay. I felt he should. After all, he ruined me getting my body back. Of course he disagreed on the matter. “Do you know how expensive those robots were?” He asked.

I shrugged. “The kind of meat you make people out of is really cheap to grow, but you see it as more valuable. Like my body, for instance.”

“You look like you have plenty to spare,” he gestured toward me.

I cocked my head and gave him a mean smirk. “You got way more Enforcers than I have real bodies, and you seemed determined to put every single one of them in my way.”

“You destroyed an Enforcer first. They saw you as an enemy and acted accordingly.”

“Your robot landed on me first. I was dealing with the problem you decided wasn’t important. How’d you even find them?” I wondered.

“It was a white suburb full of ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flags. FBI policy is to wiretap anyplace with too many of those in case they turn out to be meth labs. They came forward when the kidnappers called to offer terms. You couldn’t stand being rescued by someone like me, or maybe you’re so irredeemably aggressive you’ll attack anything once you get in the mood.”

“My my, what a fine establishment to find you two in,” a Southern accent said. It was a man walking in with Medusa. The man wore dress pants and a polo shirt, but he left some sort of nervous assistant over by the door. “I’m Senator Goatse, from the great state of-”

Skitwell raised a hand to gesture as he stood up, “I know where you’re from, Senator and who you represent. What are you doing here?” Like Skitwell, I too didn’t care about whatever hole Senator Goatse crawled out of.

I nudged the check over toward Skitwell’s side of the booth. He noticed and went to push it back toward me.

“What’s this, a dispute over the bill?” the Senator said. He grabbed the bill. “I can pay this easily, for these important people doing important work.”

“Important people?” Skitwell asked.

I raised an eyebrow. “Important work,” I noted.

The Senator grabbed a chair from a nearby table and beckoned Medusa over. “Ladies first.”

Medusa held her hands up and sat down at the nearby table instead. “No thank you. I’m here as a facilitator.”

“And protection,” the Senator said, as if Medusa could actually stop me from killing him if it came down to it. I guess the illusion was important to him. “Miss Medusa brought me here to see a golden opportunity. A wise man can hear opportunity in the wind, to paraphrase a book I quite enjoy.”

“Senator, at best there is an uncooperative supervillain who got herself mixed up in my business,” Skitwell insisted.

“You visiting me is what made them think we were dating,” I muttered.

The Senator slapped his hands on the table to shush us. “Now, hold on. This lady,” he turned to me, “It is lady, now right?”

I nodded. He continued, “Skitwell, you might be our police force, and we don’t have our army, but this lady is our nuclear deterrent.”

I sent some side eye Medusa’s way. She texted me a “SorE,” and I’m 99% sure she’s spelling that bad on purpose.

“There is a new Earth full of people just as good and bad as ourselves with a major technological advantage over us. Now, do you know who they’re afraid of?” he pointed to me. “Her. That’s why you leave her to herself and stop getting her into trouble. Hey, can we get a pitcher of beer over here!”

Somehow, the meeting became even less enjoyable after all of that, but the jist of it seemed to be that we had a blank check. I don’t even know where Medusa ran off to. She just up and vanished soon after the beer appeared, not even helping herself to a drink. Important people doing important work. At least she didn’t send another text. The Senator stayed, though, and drank. He kept on until mumbling “You treat her good, Skitwell. Blank check, anything she wants,” just before he leaned back to rest his bloodshot eyes and fell into a drunken sleep. I went ahead and grabbed the guy’s glass so I could scan it for fingerprints.

“What are you thinking?” Skitwell looked up from his phone. He’d been working off it since shortly after the Senator invaded our little meeting.

“He said you should give me whatever I want,” I said. “I have it recorded, along with his fingerprints here. We can probably make good on that.”

“You can’t run off with the entire U.S. Treasure,” Skitwell warned. “The continuing resolution doesn’t cover that much.”

“It’ll cover a trip into space,” I told him, my eyes projecting some very sensitive authorization forms that were now being endorsed by Senator Goatse. “I’m not sure you get much out of it, though, unless you just like the idea of sending me to the moon.”

Skitwell set his phone down and tried to look me right in the eye. “I think the idea of you being some sort of walking nuclear bomb to scare people into not attacking is disgusting. Reprehensible. Irresponsible. And I’m beginning to see your point. Tell me I don’t look like that.”

I smiled. “Well, that guy didn’t make vague threats of consequences. I have problems and neither of you care about me. You unleash me, you’re hoping I have more care for the lives of others than you show to me. I can’t guarantee that, which is my own problem. But right now, I need my body back and it’s in a secret moonbase run by your enemies. Damn, declined.”

“What?” he was typing away at his own device, but nodded toward the images in the air. “That’s Cyrillic.”

“Yeah, the States doesn’t send up its own stuff anymore. You guys really fucked something up, though. These rates are terrible.”

“I know some people who can get you there,” Skitwell said. “It’s not going to give you a lot of room to bring anything back.”

As it turned out, being cramped wasn’t the only issue with it. We met at the site the next day, where they’d gone ahead and rushed everything together. When Skitwell showed me the SpaceX rocket that would be carrying me to the moon, I knew something was fucked. Like my head if I went through with this. “This thing looks like it’s going to fall apart. Tesla should be ashamed to have their name on it.”

“Tesla’s name isn’t on it!” said a guy with a messy mop of long hair and a pink button-down with pictures of bananas on it. “We might call it TheSlut instead.”

I glanced at Skitwell, who grinned. “The government sold a lot of old equipment to make a buck. Behold, one of the last Saturn V’s ever built.”

It sat in the California desert, its pink exterior blending in. It was currently fueling up a pair of fuel rounded fuel tanks on its sides, also pink.

“And it’s not SpaceX,” the long-haired man said. “This is SpaceSex, the next stage in science fiction pornography set design. We are one-hundred percent certain that it has an eighty-percent chance of reaching outer space.”

“My people checked it out on our way over here. It’s old, but it will work,” Skitwell tried to reassure me. By now, my expression had gone from skepticism to whatever they call it when someone tells you they visit Pornhub for the informative nature documentaries. “That is a rocket designed to deliver astronauts to space.”

“I’d sooner believe it dropped off seamen,” I responded.

“I was thinking a Cold War period piece,” said the guy with the banana shirt. “A sexy svelte KGB spy sneaks onboard and has zero-g sex with an American astronaut.”

“I hope they didn’t strip away all the seats,” I remarked. “I’m going to need a lot more than the edge of one.”

“You’re going to want the seats completely replaced,” Skitwell advised.

The long-haired guy nodded along. “Yeah, those were some dirty scenes. You might get pregnant.”

I don’t have the equipment for that, but he makes a good point.

Skitwell’s phone rang. “You guys again. Yeah, I saw your light show.” He put them on speakerphone for me to hear.

“The ICE age begins soon, and if you want to see your lover again, you’ll aid us. Turn over the Enforcers to us.”

“That’s a lot to hand over for the life of my girlfriend,” Skitwell turned scrunched up his face as if to communicate that he was just doing a bit. It keeps me alive, anyway. They still have me in that weird Faraday Cage thick metal coffin, passing food and diapers through a slot too small for me to squeeze through.”

“Let’s sweeten the pot then. Our warning shot should be reaching Bangor in five,” the voice said before hanging up.

Skitwell looked up at me, then quickly walked off. I watched him go, then turned to the other guy, “How long before you can get this thing absolutely loaded the fuck up with a week’s worth of food?”

He shrugged. “Try DoorDash?”

The news started coming in ten minutes later. Something had been ejected from the moon at high velocity. A big, aerodynamic metal chunk that was moving more than a million miles an hour. Another twenty minutes after that and people were talking about these big alien engines left on the moon from when an alien conqueror tried to extort the Earth from Psycho Gecko by playing chicken using the moon.

And a few hours after that, Skitwell pulled up a safe distance away from the launch site as my giant pink rocket pierced the heavens, loaded down with fuel, food, equipment, and a proxy body.

Listen, I don’t blame myself for leaving those engines up there. I haven’t been Empress of Earth for like four years now. Someone else really should have gotten around to it. But I was already planning the trip and it turns out they have some really big beds on the rocket already. A lot of cameras… might keep some of the spacesuits though.

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Ex-Weapon 6

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You know that feeling like you’ve been confused for the girlfriend of someone who wants to force you to work for him as a super-cop and imprisoned by his enemies in a big metal Faraday Cage-ensconced casket, and then you get an itch on the bottom of your foot?

No? Must just be a “me” thing. Now, being held captive in a way that messes with my ability to access things outside my own body has come up before. I’ve devised ways around it using the same transdimensional tech that brought me to this universe. That’s why I wasn’t completely helpless. I had proxy bodies and I was currently occupying one. The problem is they caught my real one. Everything I’ve seen so far suggests that if that body dies, I die.

That’s why I had to go to my ex, Medusa, hat in hand and ask for her help. And she contacted Skitwell for me. The Office of Superhuman Resources agent has been courting me to help him out with his army of anti-supervillain robot cops. This time when we met, it wasn’t at my store with him bringing burgers and fries from the Grease Garage. We met in an Exemplar base, with me inhabiting a proxy body grown to look different. Medusa had arranged the meeting, which took place in a hangar that smelled of oil and gasoline. A fitting enough place for me to drop a bag from Grease Garage on the table when Skitwell stepped through the door.

He stopped, and even with those sunglasses on I could tell when he was checking out the bag and when he was looking at the much more fit proxy body with a different face. After a second, he took off his glasses and folded them up. “What brings you to meet with me, Psycho?”

I shrugged. “Your enemies decided to kidnap your girlfriend. You remember her, right? You keep taking breaks to head to a tiny little town and have lunch dates in her shop.”

His jaw dropped, then he let out a single disbelieving laugh. “What?”

“This is what I call a proxy body,” I explained. “I can access these from anywhere in the world, and most places off it. My real body was hit by a really big truck and dumped in a special box that can do a decent job of holding me for now.”

“Oh my god,” he started to laugh. He turned away for a moment, rubbing his mouth and chin. He turned back to me, “Someone left me a note! They warned me to back off or my girlfriend would die. I didn’t have a clue. They meant you?”

I waved off the concern he might have had for the growing urges hidden behind his smile. “If you’re anyone but me, this is pretty funny, so go ahead and get it over with.” While he did that, I opened up the bag and pulled out some food. I was halfway through my burger when the joy petered off and he joined me at the table and the extra food and drink I’d laid out for him. He was nice enough to not poison me, so I returned the favor this time.

I decided to go forward with my proposal as we finished up. “Now, these enemies of yours haven’t indicated who they are to me, but they’ll have to make themselves know to you for their plans. I work with you and we get my main body back with a minimum of homicide. Or I do this without you and give the concept of collateral damage a great new example.”

“Working with you isn’t as good an idea as I once thought it might be. What do I get out of this?” he asked.

I rolled my eyes, “Less loss of life. The destruction of your enemies.”

“You’re already going to kill them, and you’re supposedly redeemed. Or are you working on that still?” He grinned. It’s this self-interested desire to get something out of it that makes me leery still. He thought he had me, so he put the squeeze on me.

I shrugged and finished up my food in silence. “Guess I’m taking my ball and going home then,” I told him, walking away.

“Hey! Wait, I thought we were negotiating!”

Yeah, that’s what he thought. I was offering, not negotiating. I’m sure the kidnappers will pull a phone call, but before they did, I used my multiple proxies and robot bodies and other assets to triangulate and pinpoint the location of my prime body. The suburbs of Chicago were calling me. So was Medusa, but the text messages said it’s because Skitwell wanted to bug me.

He should have taken the offer where he could have had his cameras watching my moves anyway. Now, people have to die in some gated community. Yeah, gated community. Not a bad place for a rogue government agency-turned-terrorists to hide I guess. The walls and guards cut down on scrutiny and those sorts of communities have a long history of favoring only the sort of people the Icers like.

Now, I don’t know for a fact that every single person in this place is my enemy. But I don’t not know that. I parked the Flyer nearby and let the proxy body out in my armor. Recon drones took to the skies, unfortunately scattering a few birds nearby out of their trees.

Hmm. Why haven’t I disguised helpful drones as birds? Clone up some birds or some cats with computers for brains. Maybe bigger animals if I need other bodies… I may be getting too far afield with my ideas, especially because none of those were ready by the time I approached the community, Manchineel Estates. Heh. ICE hiding out behind a name derived from Spanish. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I took a few minutes to spy on the guards at the gate so nothing they carried would get lost on me, too.

Bingo. Those aren’t standard-issue calibers. The heat coming off those powercells marks those as energy weapons of some sort. They also told me some warm objects were hidden in the various decorative plants outside of the fence all the way around. That speaks to the likelihood that the neighborhood is mainly ICE.

I ordered the recon drones to float over and pinpoint the house where I’m being held, and get a good look at the houses nearby. Then, I ordered some pizzas. I wanted to see the guards’ reactions and give them a last meal. It takes a little longer to get a pizza these days, but a pizza guy did arrive. “Who are you? Where’s your ID?” asked the younger of the two guards. He was a little heavier in the belly, but kept a close crew cut.

“Relax,” the delivery guy said. “It’s just pizza. Someone ordered it delivered to you two.”

“What’s this stupid mustache, a disguise?” the young one said, reaching out for the young man’s face.

The older guard, more fit but with a streak of grey in his dark hair, stopped the younger one from grabbing anything. “Relax.” The older one checked the box. “It’s just pizza. Maybe this was a prank. Are the pizzas paid for?”

“Yeah,” the delivery guy nodded. “Take them, throw them away, they’re yours either way.”

With the exit of the delivery guy, who wasn’t me this time, these guards’ time was almost up. The marinara in the personal hourglasses that marked the time they had left slowly drip-drip-dripped to the bottom. Like the drop that landed on my arm just before I grabbed the breadstick headed for the older guard’s mouth and forced it down his throat. The other guard reacted swiftly, reaching with one hand for his gun and another toward the alarm button on the desk. Before he could, I slammed him against the back wall, appearing before him with a big, goofy, curled mustache hologram on the helmet of my armor. I made a show of “tearing” off the hologram.

I opened the pizza box and smooshed pizza into his face to muffle his cries of warning. The hot, greasy mess added some screams of pain to it, and they were cut off by me ripping his throat out. The other guy just about had his breadstick out of his mouth. I kicked him in the balls and shoved it back in, then snapped his neck. That left two bodies, one with his mouth full and the other with an eyeful of pepperonis. Maybe Charon will need a snack while crossing the Styx.

I hid the bodies in a bush behind it, but left the dropped pizza and boxes around. Let people suspect a dinner gone wrong and two embarrassed grown men leaving to get stuff to clean things up. Now, those hot little things they had were these Tesla coils that could extend and zap anyone getting too close. Nifty. I activated them and hopped the gate near me, the night undisturbed except by the sound of some distant plane passing overhead.

I approached invisibly, cloaked by the power of holographic projection. The house wasn’t even that well-guarded. Probably some heavy locks and strategic steel plates. The kind of thing that wouldn’t keep me out. It was all going so well, so of course that’s when a bunch of Enforcer robots parachuted in. One of them landed right on me, a smaller and less-armored variant. I stood back up, snapped it in half, and threw it away. A bigger Enforcer nearby turned and spotted me, showing that I’m not the only one to design ways to give myself sight beyond sight.

I growled under my breath. The Armored Enforcer tried to grab me. I punched it in the gut and it stumbled back, throwing off green sparks. Huh. That’s some stern stuff. Two more came at me from the sides, getting right in the way of the reason all of us would be there. I reached for their heads and activated the laser claws. I snapped the head off one Enforcer, and carved deep into the chest of the second. The second fell, but the headless one continued on until I plunged both sets of claws into its chest and then tore out to the sides. The one I’d punched originally kicked me in the crotch, showing they’ve put some thought into fighting. It didn’t do a lot to me, but with everything happened, I had my Flyer lift off and set it to rendezvous over my head.

Back in my main body, somebody knocked on the big metal casket. “Hey there, girl. Your boyfriend must really like you. I think it’s time we show him this isn’t something simple he can just get rid of.”

I scratched at the walls of my container with those laser claws. I’d never intended to bring that stolen DNA into my own body, but I didn’t have a choice once. Sadly, they were as effective on this tin can as my eye lasers.

“You going to kill me now?” I asked. In another body, I stopped slapping an Enforcer with its own hand and rushed the house. Out there, I could see the ball lightning drifting out of the house, followed by a column of light that surrounded the house. A group of smaller Enforcers shot their extendable arms out; one of them caught me. I grabbed a lawn ornament nearby, and heaved it through the chest of that Enforcer. The robot went down with a flamingo embedded in its stomach area, doubling it over slightly. I slipped free, but it was too late.

The house disappeared in a bright flash. But I wasn’t dead. My real body wasn’t gone. “What happened? Where are we?” I queried my captor.

“You felt that? Very interesting. When we’re done, we should do an intense physical examination of your remains, if there are any. But for now, I’ll tell you. You can’t do anything about it. Welcome to Luna Base Twelve. You’re on the moon.”

The next armored Enforcer I got my hands on, I tripped it, stuck my boot on its chest, and pulled its head off. I scribbled a note on the cheek for Skitwell. “Thanks for fucking things up again.”

The next smaller Enforcer that tried to wrap me up, I evaded and tossed the head at it. Then I jumped up to catch my waiting Flyer.

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Ex-Weapon 5

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Some torturous son of a gun brought me a guitar to see if I could tune it. Stared at that thing for a minute or two before pushing it back over the counter and telling him he needs to go elsewhere. I don’t know if it’s because this place looks like some sort of sci fi pawnshop, but I am not the one to involve in music. I think the local music store’s been revitalized by the growing community of supers. Sometimes people retire and want a hobby.

But that was never the extent of my problems. Not with Skitwell sending an Office of Superhuman Resources auditor to take a fine tooth comb through my colon. It’s just a bit of harassment at this point over the fact that I didn’t join his little club and teach his robots how to better kill people like myself. That quickly erased any goodwill he might have built up confronting ICE remnants. I don’t think they’re all secretly on the same side. It’s important to remember that sort of thing in a harsh and complicated world. This time, I look not to The Art of War or The Rules of Acquisition, but to The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries: the enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. Nothing more. Nothing less.

It’s a saying I choose to apply depending on how I want to justify my suspicions. I don’t like Skitwell. And, as I said when he walked into my shop yet again, “Isn’t it kind of counterproductive to your job to spend so much time here, harassing a small business owner like myself?”

Skitwell, that rather innocuous agent of the Office of Superhuman Resources, was here today absent his suit jacket and in a more mundane pair of brown slacks. He brought a couple bags of Grease Garage food for me. “I brought lunch.”

I waved him over to the counter. It’s difficult for me to pass up food that someone else paid for. I went for the fries first, even if I was suddenly loathe to confirm for him again that I like them.

“Relocating all these people here is a waste of talent,” he started in on. I gave him some eye, so he held his hands up as if conceding defeat, then reached into the bag for his own burger.

“You made that point. It’s boring, and it’s wrong to force people into serving others like that. This country’s had enough of compelling a class of people to work for others based on their physical attributes, hasn’t it?”

That got a pause in his eating. Dare I say, I think he looked a bit guilty at that. We ate for a couple of seconds before he started in again. “If you were only Delilah or Lady Guardian, I wouldn’t be so worried about you. If so, I would love your help on the technical aspects of the Enforcer. That armor is something else, and I saw what you did to that ICE APC. If you wanted to, you could have taken them all out.”

He wiped his hands off with a napkin. “Relocating all these people isn’t just a waste of talent, it’s a nightmare as far as tax forms. I mentioned we have people to help folks with their taxes. They took a look at the documents that got you set up in town. They’re a joke, a useful one. Some people don’t know not to mention your real identity.”

I shrugged and stopped eating, setting aside the food. This guy started at enslaving people for folks he didn’t dislike. Poisoning me would be fruitless, but he’d still try. Speaking of fruitless, I reached over and pushed a button. A four-pronged robotic manipulator lowered from the ceiling, then slid over to hang above a bowl of fruit by the wall. It selected an apple and brought it over to me.

Skitwell watched all of this with nothing but a small shift to readiness when I pressed the button and the limb came into view. “Do you know what this is?” I asked him.

“An apple.”

“Through some sort of misunderstanding or translation or something, some say this is what the fruit looked like on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But since this isn’t one of those lying Red Delicious motherfuckers, it’s actually just a delicious fruit. Knowledge brings obligations. You might have certain obligations now if you really know what you claim to know.” It was much more philosophical and elaborate than I meant to say, but it sounds kinda cool. I like being dramatic. It helps to moderate my desire to snap Skitwell’s neck and hide the body in my garden. That would solve some problems, but also create others and jeopardize the whole town. Then again, if he actually knows who I am, the town’s already in jeopardy. I think he’d be pretty much obligated to bomb this place to smithereens. He already knows his Enforcers can’t beat me in a fight even without my armor.

He relaxed and leaned against the counter to eat. A power move, which tells me he’s in a weak position. “If I had my way, you wouldn’t be here. It’s not up to me and Medusa is serious about this town being a haven. I don’t know what you’re planning as Lady Guardian, but I know you’re not reformed with your criminal doctor office.”

I cocked my head, then smiled. “Well, do whatever you’re going to do then.”

He finished his burger and then he left. Guess he didn’t have anything left to say or anything to really threaten me with, or so I thought at the time. I still figured I’d pay attention. I don’t know what depths Skitwell will sink to, I just know the ones he can sink to. That’s why I was actually happy to see him run into a few problems of his own.

It was all over the news because of the aftermath. Someone was outside a bank, cutting open the ATMs with a sword while an accomplice stuffed money into bags. An Enforcer responded and demanded the pair toss aside weapons and money, and get down on their knees. Video shows the guy with the sword tossed the grey-green blade aside and put his hands behind his hooded head. Looked like he had big grey-green bracers as well.

The Enforcer approached to cuff the swordsman. It got real close and the guy reached hand out suddenly. The Enforcer grabbed it, but the sword shot up from the ground and cut through the Enforcer’s arm. The swordsman grabbed it and jumped up, cutting the Enforcer in half at the waist. The Enforcer grabbed for the guy’s sword arm, but the swordsman stepped back and took the other hand off. They left the damaged robot fumbling around there and took off with the money.

I toyed with the idea of seeing if I could steal a piece of the Enforcer, but that was more an instinct to annoy Skitwell. I preferred to have him off tending to other stuff. He’s annoyed me too much. Maybe if he spent more time seeing to his job than to me.

I didn’t want to get involved. And then, walking home after work, a semi decided to run over me. It was my original body, too. That meant it hurt and it meant it was the real me they tossed in some extra-reinforced metal box in the back of the thing. They were out of town before I had my proper senses back.

Fuck me getting hit by vehicles lately. The strain of thought that kept repeating in my head for the first ten minutes there was “I wish my brain doctor was still here.” I didn’t shake off the daze of having dented an eighteen-wheeler until I passed out and then woke up. Bonking my head on the casket they had me in didn’t help!

I just fixed this brain!

I tried cutting my way out with my eye lasers. Didn’t do the trick. I couldn’t get a signal out through conventional means. The thing was like a Faraday cage, which might have messed with me getting my brain working right. Even my laser claws, that nifty superpower I copied from a refugee kid, didn’t make it through the container they stuck me in. And as much as I hated that, I also realized I needed to study this thing for tips in case I need to hold someone like me prisoner.

It was hours later that my sarcophagus was raised up into a standing position. Something opened up at the bottom, just a thin strip. The coffin was too narrow for me to bend down and the opening too small for me to squeeze through.

“Hello in there,” called a voice.

“Fuck you, asshole. Let me out so I can drill you like a long haul trucker who carries viagra delivering a load to your momma personally.”

“Damn, Skitwell’s superhero girlfriend’s got a mouth on her!” someone called to laughter.

The fuck?! “Who’s fucking girlfriend?!”

“We’ve been watching the tight-ass. We’ve seen your lunch dates. The way he keeps visiting you in your weird town. You’re our leverage over him if he thinks he can shut us down.”

I didn’t have to worry about keeping myself calm anymore. I had surpassed my anger to become calmly furious and told them, “You’re all going to die.”

“You’d better hope we don’t before we slip you some diapers and food. And if you try anything, we’ll still feed you. We just won’t give you the diapers!” That got a bunch more laughter from the walking dead men outside.

This was no time to pull a “Do you know who you’re messing with?” on them. For all I know, they had me dangling over a volcano with this surprisingly-thorough trap. They didn’t underestimate me, unless I was really good at hiding the ability to fly, and I wish I was.

At least they dropped in a diaper first. There wasn’t a lot of room to wiggle into it, but it was better than pissing all over myself inside that container. Dinner was a pair of hot dogs that I ate in silence.

“That enough for you, princess?” someone asked. I’d have loved to ask for them to shut off the Faraday cage and give me more of an opening. Instead, I ate in silence and activated the dimensional transceiver.

I awoke back at my house, in one of the spare bodies. I felt a little fuzzy around the edges because of the Faraday Cage, but technically I wasn’t sending a signal outside of it. I was sending a signal through a gap in time-space. I can’t say whether it was that or the fact that someone successfully kidnapped me after mistaking me for Skitwell’s girlfriend.

I called up my ex instead. Medusa, head of the Exemplars, and person who is now helping out Skitwell after he demonstrated a willingness to go after the police and remnants of the fascist organization known as ICE.

She was kind enough to avoid letting me hear her laugh when I explained the situation. But then she said the words I knew but still didn’t want to hear: “You know we have to tell Skitwell, right? He’s going to have a better idea than either of us who his enemies are.”

I let out an irritated growl.

“Look at it this way,” Medusa tried comforting me. “He’s going to finally see why it would have been a terrible idea to recruit you.”

“I will tear their souls apart,” I interrupted.

She snorted. “You don’t even believe in souls.”

“I’m going to invent them, then rend them into pieces. Then I’m going to swallow them with a dinner of Waffle House eggs and baked beans.”

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Ex-Weapon 4

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Skitwell’s got himself in a little hot water now. Medusa and the people of Radium aren’t the only ones interested in what these Enforcer robots are going to do. Some of the press spoke with an Office of Superhuman Resources spokesman about them and raised a good question, “There are states passing laws to inspect children’s genitalia before they can participate in sports. Will your Enforcer robots be participating in this?”

“The Enforcers will adhere to Federal guidance on sexuality and gender identity. The Enforcers have no place upholding those laws,” the spokesman said.

“So now you’re picking and choosing which laws to enforce?” someone among the reporters asked.

“Scaring children doesn’t rise to the same priority as stopping murderers and catching thieves,” the OSR spokesman responded. Ooh, I wondered if that might be off the cuff. Someone might be annoyed over there.

“What about rioters burning down cities?!” someone else asked.

“Everything action of the Enforcers is recorded. That function doesn’t turn off. We at the Office of Superhuman Resources feel confident that the Enforcers are capable of identifying if anyone steps out of line of protest and anyone who attempts to illegally prevent a protest by force.”

“Are you saying your Enforcers might side with the protesters?”

The Spokesman smiled at that one. “Do you have reason to believe that stopping riots and siding with protesters is the same thing? No, what I said is that the Enforcers are programmed to enforce the law and protect people. They can’t lie and they can’t cover for anyone on any side.”

Cop unions lost their shit at the idea that. Some people said it led to even worse rioting by them that night. The part where I came in was the night after that one. Qiang and I were finishing up a dinner of fried morels when there was a ding dong at the door. My security spies showed me Marianne and Adrian outside, along with a group of people on the older side. Folks from around town that I don’t know the names of but nod to the more we see each other.

I met them at the door while Qiang ran off to go shoot people in videogames. They grow up and snipe people so fast.

“Marianne, Adrian,” I acknowledged them. “Should I be inviting y’all in?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Marianne said.

“Our kids are in trouble,” one of the group said. “We need your help.”

“All of you?” I glanced over the crowd. “Well, come on in, then.”

Here’s a story. A bunch of superheroes’ superpowered teenagers have been making their own fun. One of them has a way to teleport people and he’s been taking their clique to protests. The supers started helping out along with the Exemplars, but they feel differently about teenagers joining in.

“Larissa called,” explained one tearful mother. “She said Dean’s been shot and can’t get them back. ICE is there, but we’re not getting any word from the Exemplars. There are explosions.” Her voice had sped up while she talked.

“Bring their kids back, please,” Adrian pleaded.

Of all the things, to have heroes begging me for help instead of to spare them. Asking me to be the savior of their kids, rather than the bogeyman. I could have been smug about it, but instead I just nodded. “They have cell phones on them?”

Marianne shook her head. I smiled, “Smart of them, kinda.”

A few of the parents got their phones out and showed numbers, different ones. The husband of the woman who’d been crying kissed her cheek and held her. “She said it was a burner. Can you find them?”

I set about tracing. “I think so.

I have assets all over, hidden away, waiting. They’re robot doubles more often than proxy bodies, which have biological needs. I fired up my personal Flyer. If their teleporter’s alive, I can stabilize him and patch him up. Try to get them all back that way, if possible. If not, I’ll shepherd them somewhere safe and keep them there until our ride arrives. It’s one of the classic hero plans, the Shaun Classic: lay low in the Winchester, have a pint, and wait for this whole thing to blow over.

And speaking of blowing, there’s plenty of it in the clusterfuck. I checked the news while I got everything powered up to see what was going on. ICE Remnants are still active there. The protests got more intense and then they blew up a few buildings all in a row. Cops took that opportunity to break out lethal force and readily accepted the Icers’ help. Looks like there aren’t a lot of Exemplars left to help out.

My Empyreal City armor was encased in a fake gargoyle. The armor flexed, strained, and broke through the treated plaster. I pulled the snarling gargoyle face off the head of the Lady Guardian armor, revealing feminine grey and yellow armor. I flexed the shimmery nanomachine wings, worthless for actual flight. Instead, I latched out with them to guide myself through the raging, fiery Empyreal City night, hunting for wayward teens using their burner phone numbers.

The thing about burner phones is that you get rid of them once you’re done. The kids aren’t done. They were also across the city from me. Nothing to it but to travel over everyone, where possible, and check out the scenes below.

People are staying shut up the closer you get to the epicenter of the situation. Some emergency vehicles are speeding along. The police cordon was a mixed sign. They weren’t letting paramedics through and were trying to detain anybody who wasn’t police who came their way. Well, less “detain” and more “beat the crap out of and handcuff.” It irked me, and I don’t like being irked.

I landed in the middle of them, my wings splitting apart to reach for every baton, every gun, and every pair of cuffs around. The arrested stood up, now clearly outnumbering the cops, and made a break for it. I popped open a police van nearby and let them out, too.

“Are you crazy?!” some guy in SWAT armor yelled at me. He threw a punch. I didn’t pretend to react, just tripped his legs out from under him and launched myself into the air to climb above everything.

The kids were a few streets over. They were smart to leave their phones behind and bring cheapos they could dispose of. They weren’t so smart leaving the SD cards in instead of swapping them out and destroying them after that call. The teens were all gathered around each other, taking shelter under an awning at the entrance of a store. A few regular people were sticking around nearby for whatever protection was offered by the person with the a staff crackling with electricity. Another of them formed a pair of short dagger blades out of ice, but she couldn’t keep from shaking. No way was that group all from Radium.

I emitted a soft glow and lowered myself slowly in front of them. People gave me a wide birth. The guy with the electrical staff pointed one end of it at me. “Stay back.”

“I’m here to help,” I said. “Your parents called. Where’s Dean?”

“He’s over here!” That was from under the awning. There’d been enough people in the way to block my view, but then they parted for me. I jogged up to the unconscious boy. Chest wound. I plunged the nanomachines inside, commanding them to close the wounds, repair him, and replace the blood.

“Has he been out this whole time?” I asked.

“I gave him something for the pain,” said a girl next to him. “He’s hurting too much to get us out. You’re Lady Guardian, right? How do you know our parents?”

“It’s my town, too,” I reached out, checking on the situation. Mostly, I focused on police radio chatter. They were approaching, but not just them. They’re mentioning Icers. “We need to get moving. That way’s clear, but we need to go.” I pointed off in the direction of the opening I’d made.

The girl picked Dean up and threw him over her shoulder. The guy with the staff twirled it and started waving them all down the street. “Come on, we need to go.”

Yeah. I could take ICE and the cops, of course, but I hate escort missions because then I have to keep someone else alive. Lots of someones in this case. Teenagers, ugh. Almost as bad as herding kids. I had to stay overhead, guiding them along while watching their rear. We were too far for me to get a good look at the cops, but that didn’t stop them firing off plasma. Their existence was an affront to me. I could have wiped them out. And then what would the teens do while I was busy?

Then the ATVs came whizzing up. They had the ICE logo on them still, each one packing a driver and a gunner. They melted some building facades aiming for me, then fired blindly into the crowd to make room for themselves. I swiped with atom-thick blades and left them halved on the sidewalk. I’d say so much for my heroic reputation, but this was ICE. And then an APC of theirs rolled along, running over protesters without stopping. The nanite blade struck deep into it and pulled my robot double along after it. I ended up halfway inside the top of the APC, pulling and cutting until I’d torn its armored shell open before rolling it over onto its back and letting the driver and passenger spill out under the heavy metal. If only they hadn’t already unloaded elsewhere.

While I was busy with that, I realized the kids had made pretty good headway. I jumped back to where they were, frozen in front of a line of bright lights and men. I landed in front and spread my wings out. “They are under my protection.”

“No,” a voice said. It was Skitwell, but not in his usual suit. This time, he wore an OSR uniform and led a group of Enforcers, both the bigger kind I’d fought, and slimmer human models that spread moved past us toward the Icers and cops. “You’re all under my protection,” he declared. “Move along and go home.”

Huh. “I guess that wasn’t all talk,” I said to him as we passed by. He eyed me curiously, but smiled as the teenagers cheered both him and the awakening of Dean.

The guy with the staff folded it up to something the size of a tall can of tea, then hugged Dean. Afterward, he put his hands on the other boy’s shoulders. “Feel like you can get us out of here?”

“Yeah,” Dean nodded his head. “I don’t know what you did.”

“It was her,” said the girl who’d been tending to him, pointing to my Lady Guardian armor.

“Room for one more?” I asked. I moved in close, the nanomachines taking plenty of samples of these kids in case whatever powers they used could be copied genetically.

It was like everything around us went black, as if the world fell away. When it came back, we were standing in one of Radium’s streets where a bunch of angry and concerned parents crowded us. The kids thought they were free and clear until their parents started yelling about groundings. I think Dean got the worst of it. After his mom was done hugging him, she grabbed his ear and started screaming about never seeing the outside until he’s thirty-five.

If they expected me to save them from that bunch, fat chance. Though I guess it was nice seeing Marianne and Adrian wave at me in thanks.

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