Deals and Breakers 3

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Later that evening, in our nice room, Holly and I cuddled in bed. “You have a good time?” I asked.

She smiled and laughed. “This is all so cool. I say that a lot, but I mean it.”

“Still cool after all that time with Max?” I asked.

She kissed my cheek “Jealous? He was fun. Sam’s fun. You’re fun.” She ran her hand over my belly, rubbing it.

“So when are you going to take me home to meet your parents?” I teased, turning my head to see as much of her face as I could out of my peripheral vision.

She cringed. “My parents had me kidnapped to become less of a problem a long time ago. They might have a heart attack if they found out my girlfriend’s a pregnant trans woman supervillain who murders people. God, and if they thought the baby was their grandkid…” she traced a finger over my belly. I heard the smile in those words at the end.

“I remember something about your parents not approving of your lifestyle choices,” I said.

“Mostly they focused on the drugs. I picked up a habit living up to their high standards, no pun intended. I wanted something to take me away from them and everything. You know, my mom actually told me in high school that being Homecoming Queen was like being royalty, and that I needed to set a higher standard? That’s such bullshit!” She laughed.

“Huh… in the alternate reality Venus made, she had me be the alpha bitch, but lose out on being Homecoming Queen because of our rivalry.” I shook my head. “I mean, I guess it’s interesting when you’re in it, but…”

“Yeah,” she agreed. She sat up. “Did you hear that?”

We both swam for the edge of the bed. I nearly fell on my face getting out, but I turned into a flip and landed on my feet. Holly hit the floor hard on the other side. “I meant to do that!” I made my way toward the door, grabbing some knicknack off of a table next to the sofa. I hefted a small metal statue of a fish shaped like a boomerang.

I put my ear to the door. Someone was moving around outside. I stepped back out of the way and pulled it open. I expected someone to jump, but instead a blonde woman fell in. The human companion traveling with the Mobian. The Mobian joined her, stepping over her and helping her up. “Brilliant, thank you,” he said to me. “Oh, you’re…”

I glanced down. Right, naked. I closed the door and glanced out. “What’s going on?”

“Right-” Mobian started

The woman started. “Someone’s out there with a huge sword! They killed someone! Oh dear, you are naked.”

I closed the door. Holly walked over, pulling her robe around herself and handing a gown over to me. I slipped it on. “Thanks.”

“Are you going out there?” she asked.

“I don’t know that I should. We’ve got guests now. We should probably grab some refreshments for them. They seem quite shocked.”

Holly started for the mini fridge in the room but I silently waved her off while heading over for it. “We only have whatever came with the room. It looks like water, algae soda, peeper juice, and Scla. Doesn’t even say a flavor, just Scla.”

“I think water would be best,” Mobian said. He walked over to the door to listen out. I noticed him glancing at myself and the boomerang statue, then over at Holly. “You guests for the celebration?”

“Yes, I don’t believe we met,” Holly said, putting on her accent again. “I’m Holly Snyders, of the Snyders of Hanover. And this is my servant, Delilah.”

The human woman laughed just once when I handed her a water. I set the statue down as well. “Snyders of Hanover?”

“Shh,” the Mobian said. He was listening out. “I think they’ve gone.”

“What was it you saw?” Holly asked. “A murder?”

“I saw it. Someone in a big hooded robe, like a member of a cult. He, or I guess she, was talking with someone and then pulled out a huge sword and slashed the other person with it. I started to leave and then I ran into the Mobian.”

“I was looking for her. I thought she might be in trouble. And you two? Late to be attending your mistress, innit?”

“It is my custom to be available to her in the middle of the night,” I responded.

“Riiiight,” Mobian said. He looked to the side, toward the fireplace. We had a little bit of a fire going, not so much for the heat as the ambiance. Our nightly activities began on the carpet in front of it. There wasn’t anything left to see over there, but hopefully the fire helped with some of the other smell in the place. “We shouldn’t bother you long. We’ll just be going. You have a lovely time at the party. Come on, Lily. We don’t want to interrupt them any more than we need to.”

“Pish posh,” Holly said. “She’s obviously upset. Feel free to stay and calm down a bit.” She leaned down to pat Lily on the shoulder. “You’ll be alright here.” She stood back up. “Delilah, be a dear and check the hallway for the Butler?”

I nodded.

“I’m not sure you should, “ Mobian said, moving in front of the door. “You’re pregnant!”

I slapped him across the face. “Oi! The cheek. A woman puts on a little weight…” I muttered, before pushing him aside and opening the door. I smiled when he couldn’t see me anymore. That was hilarious.

“I’m sorry,” I heard behind me.

Holly laughed. “She is pregnant. That was her idea of a laugh.”

Lily joined in. With the laughter, that is, not the slapping. I shut the door and stepped out, becoming silent on the floor. I looked down the hallway. It ended not far to my left, and across the way was a section of wall between two other doors. To my right was a longer section that I traveled down until I came to a side corridor to my right. I didn’t see anyone, around, but I could smell some blood. I made a note about the blood smelling similar to a human’s, and the possibility of whatever bleeding having a similar composition due to the similar atmospheric conditions. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the air here and at home. A few ratios slightly off, like having more oxygen and less nitrogen, but not enough to kill. So it couldn’t have been the air accounting for the body I saw having crawled part of the way up some stairs. Whatever it was trying to get to was upstairs, not downstairs with all the guest rooms.

I knew that per my role, I should scream. That’s how the story goes, but I decided to do something cheeky, to use old timey servant language. I grabbed a clean portion of the victim’s outfit and gave it a bit of a drag. I put him right at the top of the stairs, then headed back downstairs to scream at the sigh to of a trail of blood having been dragged along the floor.

Of course, that made me the person to keep getting questioned by everyone. Morigoth did it, the Mobian did it, even the Butler did it. I was whisked away to this study, a large, grand room full of books and various recording media with an impressive desk before me made of a rich, dark hardwood. I didn’t tell the story about Mobian and his companion, just that I heard something and my lady told me to go out and check for the Butler. These were true statements, even if there were gaps in between. Mobian’s questioning was the shortest, and really seemed like a way to end my interrogation. Morigoth shook his grey head toward the Butler. “Get the dear some refreshment to help her nerves. The poor thing’s pregnant, after all.”

Mobian winced at that, but I did nothing. Coincidentally, we both took a look around the spacious study.

“My, but you’ve got a lot of stuff,” Mobian noted.

I was curious about the shelves around us. The wall behind the desk and across from that one were both clear of shelves. Behind the desk was a large window and a short liquor cabinet; on the opposite side of the room were paintings and a door we came through. The other two sides were floor to ceiling shelves for the books and so on, with one side even having them angle to create a pair of half-hexagonal nooks with tables and padded chairs.

That part with the nooks seemed like the most obvious section to have something behind it, which meant the better place to hide it was in the other side. Even better would be if the window was fake and a hidden section was back there. And probably the least-suspected place would be the wall we passed through using a door to get into the room. I’d be impressed if he pulled that one off. He deserved to keep a secret if he managed that.

“I own everything on the planet. It’s all mine,” Morigoth said. Groaning, he reached into the desk and pulled out something like a cigar. He took a couple of tries to tear a tab on the end that caused the cigar to light itself.

“It made you some enemies,” Mobian said. “That woman at the party, chief among them.”

Morigoth snorted, blowing a puff of smoke out over his cigar. “Everyone here probly’ has something against me. ‘Cepting yourself, this woman, and that Hanover woman.” He gestured to me in reference to the second in the list. “That woman was Eribelle Dawn. She’s been rallying the other natives of the planet to outbid me after the default on the planet’s debt. Sir Reginald owes me some serious clams from gambling debts. And then there’s the Burgess of Meredith.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re not dead. Who was the actual murder victim?” I asked.

Morigoth eyed me. “You can go now, miss.”

Mobian helped me up and ushered me toward the door, whispering, “She was a household servant. Ah, here you are!”

The Butler returned then, with a tray. He looked to Morigoth, then to me, then nodded. “Wait outside, dear, I’ll show you back to your room.”

I indeed did wait, making sure to pick a good spot for the marker before the Butler came back, tray-less. “You’ve upset Master Morigoth,” he said.

“He talked about a threat to his life. All I wanted to know was who actually died,” I pointed out.

“She was one of the servants. The personal laundress of the master. She knows… she knew much of the happenings here.”

We’d gotten a short ways down the hallway when the door slammed open. “Help, hurry!” Mobian called. We came rushing back, with the Butler pulling out a device and pressing a button. We ran back to find Morigoth in his chair, foaming at the mouth and twitching. The Butler attended to him, trying to see what was wrong. He grabbed the device and pressed something else before calling out. “Send a doctor!”

Meanwhile, the cigar rolled lazily away. The Mobian stopped it and picked it up, giving it a sniff. We both turned at the sound of rushing boots. In ran a doctor and a pair of guards, pink-skinned like the Butler who pointed now at Mobian. “What did you do?!”

“I think it was the cigar that did it. Who had access?” The guards pulled swords and surrounded the Mobian, who looked around wide-eyed and lowered the cigar. “I don’t suppose they believe in Due Process on this planet, do they?”

“Put him in the cells!” the Butler ordered. Cheeky bastard, doing the ordering. He calmed down somewhat, brushing a hand over his bald head. “Until the new Mistress determines what to do next, of course.”

The guards led the Mobian off. As for me, I wondered about the popcorn. With everyone preoccupied, I had to show myself out to get back to Holly and Lily. I informed them of the situation and Lily went running off.

“You want to follow her?” Holly asked. “We’re supposed to stick close.”

“Eh, you can if you want. I’m going to work on some alternative ways to get him loose, if need be. Not sure it was the cigar like Mobian things, but its’ not really our business solving this. Still, wish I knew who all’s here an what grudges they had against that guy. He even had something he was holding over the head of the fish, and I don’t mean food.”

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Deals and Breakers 2

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Holly had like a sixth sense for when I was ready. She met me down in the basement while I was just finishing my fitting into a bohemian number: loose, frilled tank top, sandals, and a boho skirt with whirling patterns and dots and shit. I looked like a hippie cyborg. Hmm, that’d make a good movie. “Killer Cyborg Hippies!” Sounds very grindhouse. Added bonus, it describes a lot of Republicans who’ve had pacemakers put in. At least, they used to be hippies. They dropped that shit long ago.

“Someone looks like she hangs up signs saying ‘life, laugh, love,’” Holly said. She stepped down in an old flapper dress. Not a bad choice, actually.

“I wanted something with a loose skirt. All the better to air out my ladybits,” I said,

“Yeah, you like airing those. You really surprised the doctor when he saw a pregnant lady packing dong.” She walked downstairs and over to the table with the pocket watch on it. One click and it’ll call Torian for our adventure into the past. “I’m coming with you.” She held up a small piece of luggage.

“Is that why you didn’t mention anything to the rest of the family?” I wondered. I hadn’t said anything about it and neither did she. I grabbed my own bag, which was actually bigger than hers but more of a giant handbag. I needed enough clothes to cover up one or two helpful implements I’d packed.

“You didn’t tell anyone either,” Holly pointed out. “You want to go and do this too, don’t you?”

“Well duh,” I said, pointing to the dress. I’m not running around uncomfortable while killing someone at the sight of some sort of space party in the past. I had some robots finish off a second braid on the right side of my head. “So, our little secret?”

She winked and checked that her Mauser was in her purse. “Our secret. Let’s go to the party then, my dear.” She picked up the pocket watch. I stepped close to her and put one arm around her so that one hand rested on her lower back. I wrapped the other around her hand and, staring into her eyes, clicked the top of the watch.

We were surrounded by a grinding noise and flashing lights, before resting in an amber orb with a raised dais upon which stood The Torian. “Would it be cliché to say it’s about time?”

I shrugged. “Time travel tends to be about time.” Holly and I separated from our embrace, but we held onto each other’s hands.

“We’re ready to go on an adventure!” Holly said, bouncing just a little in her slips.

“Morigoth House, Planet Eidos Alt 9. It’s a celebration,” I recapped.

“Yes, the Morigoth family purchased the last freehold on the planet. They’re celebrating ownership of the whole planet. I can provide you cover as some minor starfaring nobility. Your clothes will do; it shouldn’t be any stranger than any other attire or customs.”

“Oh, we can be sisters!” Holly said. She stopped and thought about it a minute. “…in-laws?”

“Perhaps you should be the noblewoman, and I’ll be your maid,” I said. “A put-upon, pregnant servant can get a lot of sympathy and leeway when she isn’t absolutely invisible.”

“And I get to boss you around?” Holly asked with a grin.

“So much so that you insist I sleep in the room with you, if we’re there that long.” I turned to Torian. “Is this going to somehow take a month?”

“A few days would be pushing it. It’s been so long, I don’t remember how long it took. Remember, you’re not there to solve the murder mystery. That’s going to be solved by the Mobian. You just have to fatally wound him at the end of it.”

“Any tips you can give us?” I asked. “Poisoned food to avoid or anything? Somewhere to avoid getting knifed for being a witness?”

“No, I think you’ll manage just fine without spoilers. Stay close to Mobian and you should be fine. No matter our difference in perception, he’ll move planets to keep the innocent safe. It’s why he’ll never see you coming.”

“I’d rather hope not. That’s the point of the us sharing a room,” I said.

“Are we ready for the party?” Mobian asked.

I looked to Holly. She looked at me and nodded, so I turned back and answered, “Take us to the ball, fair godmother.”

“Ha!” Mobian scoffed at me. He threw a switch on a console and the grinding started up again. When it finished, a white door opened in the side of the sphere we’d traveled in. “There. Keep the pocket watch on you. And remember, it’s a thousand years before you left Earth. Here.”

He hobbled down toward us and held out a card written in alien script that I could read. I took it off him. “Ah, we are formally invited. Will do, Mobian. See you before you know it.”

Mobian looked after us but didn’t say a thing.

We stepped out onto a swanky place, gilded and fancy polished stone with interesting natural patterns. I couldn’t call it marble. “It looks lovely and old! Look at these columns!” Holly said, walking along and running her hands along them. There was music playing, ethereal and broken up with a saxophone-like instrument on occasion. Maybe some other form of horn. I never learned the whole orchestra.

We emerged out of a side corridor. When I turned to look back, Mobian’s temporal vessel was gone. In place of it was a heavy, dark wooden door and frame. When I turned to look back where I was going, Holly had stopped and was looking to me as a bipedal, humanoid alien approached. It was bald, with bright pink skin. It wore a crisp black suit. “Pardon me, I didn’t hear you enter. May I see your invitation?”

“Yes,” Holly answered, “My servant girl has it. Here, Delilah.”

“Coming, my lady,” I said. It wasn’t hard to sound put-upon. I held the invite out. While I did so, Holly winked at me and put her luggage into my grip.

The alien butler looked it over, then put it away into his pocket. “Thank you.” I noticed he was only addressing Holly. “I can arrange separate quarters for your girl.”

“That won’t be necessary. I like to have her attend me when I sleep,” Holly said. She’d slipped into an old-timey accent and sounded like what you’d expect from a movie with a flapper in it.

“That is of course your choice, but the privacy of your affairs may become necessary. Please, let me know if that is the case,” the Butler said. He stepped to the side and beckoned us onward with a little bow. “Please, this way.”

I followed after Holly but when she brought Holly to a larger room with green wallpaper with golden leaf on it and various other well-to-do folks, he stopped me from following. “I’ll show you to your lady’s quarters so you may ready it for her.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said.

“You are quite with child,” he observed as we left the room.

“Yes. Another full-time job,” I said. “But it’s important for me to be near my lady.” And here I’d adopted an attempt at an Irish accent. It wouldn’t matter. They’ve never heard of Ireland on this planet. Hell, at this point in time, mine was the first Irish accent attempted in Modern English. The Irish would be doing bad imitations of me.

We started up some stairs, but the Butler lagged behind. “Please, allow me to take your bag.”

I was surprised, but let him hold onto my giant handbag as we ascended the stairs. Down the hallway, the doors all looked a bit different. Each one had a colored theme and different sorts of alien fauna around it. The Butler stopped at one with a predominantly dark green look to it, as well as a carved animals on it that looked like manatees with gas masks on. “Let me know if your lady shall require additional amenities.”

It was certainly a full room. Thick carpets laid over the floor, a huge fireplace carved to resemble plants climbing up to the ceiling, and a bed big and soft enough to drown in. I took back my bag from him and went over to the nearest table, an intricately-carved small one between two chairs instead of the larger one with a painting. It was from the perspective of someone peeking out of a forest of kelp down a drop-off to a plateau covered in red grass, with the surface of the ocean higher above.

“I’ll let you know when I’m done unpacking so that I can become acquainted with the facilities I will need to make her feel at home,” I said to the Butler. He nodded his head, with just the barest hint of a smile.

“Very good.”

He left me to put away the clothes, at which point I snuck some little guide strips onto my person. They would pair with my augmented reality program and create markers that only I would see. In a pinch, they could also boost radio and cell signals, but they were incapable of listening out or providing holograms. They weren’t bugs. To anyone else, they would look almost like strips of gum.

After that, I headed downstairs. I didn’t see the Butler or notice a way to ring him, in case he asked, so I headed over toward the big hall where Holly had been deposited. Along the way, I left a couple markers in case I needed to find my way.

Holly was having a good time, chatting with a large red fish in a closed-off aquarium mounted on treads. The top of the tank came up to her midsection. She actually laughed at their conversation before excusing herself and heading over to meet me. “This is so freaky and cool!”

“Is that a fish in a tank?” I asked. “I mean, treads and so on?”

“Yeah, that’s Sir Reginald. He’s some kind of war hero,” Holly squealed with delight. “I get to say I talked with a fish in a tank. Well, you know, not in a tank tank, but a tank tank!”

I understood what she meant, even if everyone else would look at her funny. “I got our room all packed away. What do I call you as far as all these people are concerned?”

Holly cleared her throat and pressed her hand to her clavicle. “I am Lady Holly Snyders of Hanover, owner of Deep Space Nine.”

I nodded. “Solid, there’s no way they’ll get the reference. Plus, Gene Roddenberry and that pretzel company owe us royalties now.”

“Eh, eh?” Holly pointed at me. “Pretty smart, right?”

I nodded. A waiter passed by carrying guinea pigs in little square, clear containers. We both stared at it as it went before I asked, “Is that food or a guest?”

“I’ve been too afraid to ask,” Holly confessed. “Anyway, is it alright if I keep schmoozing?”

I nodded. “Yeah, for sure. Let me know if you spot the Mobian anywhere. I’m going to get a tour from Jeeves for later.”

“Yeah, I bet he’ll show you around the estate,” Holly said.

“What’s that about?”

“He was looking at you,” Holly said.

“I might could use that, but I’m not going to use that, ya know,” I said. “What about you, anyone trying to marry into the family?”

I followed Holly’s gaze to a centaur-like alien with a bony plate that curved backward and could have been mistaken for a cartoonish hairstyle. “That does it for you?”

“Eh, I could see it. He reminds me of a guy I used to date in high school before shit went belly-up,” she told me. She reached over for my hand and held it briefly. She jerked her hand away when we heard someone yelling at someone else in the room.

“It was a crooked deal and you know it! You have no right to this land!” a being with slick, see-through green skin declared. She was speaking to gray-skinned man with a buzz cut of white hair. “My people do not belong to you.”

“If you insist on that then I will have to ask them to leave my land,” the gray alien said. A pair of guards the same pink skin as the butler began to move up behind the woman, who didn’t notice.

“No need for all that, thank you!” said a third person. He looked human, spoke in some sort of British Isles accent, and was dressed in a brown coat with a rainbow scarf. “I’m the Mobian, so nice to meet you Mr. Morigoth.” He held his hand out for the gray alien. Meanwhile, a blonde human woman came up behind him and quietly ushered her away from the guards, who looked to Morigoth. He waved them away dismissively while having his introduction with the Mobian.

A cough came from behind me.

“I’ll keep an eye out for that, my lady,” I said, looking like I’d been doing my job before turning around toward the Butler. “Ah, there you are. I couldn’t find you, so I thought I would check on my lady here.” Holly had gone back to the party.

“This way, ma’am. Let’s get you acquainted with the relevant portions of the estate.”

I smiled. “Yes, I think I’d quite enjoy seeing the sights with you.”

The pink alien’s cheeks turned a little blueish-purple. A blush. Holly was right. Just hope she doesn’t Captain Kirk a centaur in bed with me.

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Deals And Breakers 1

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There’s so much pressure. Everybody wants something from me. And it’s called an ultrasound. It’s considered a scandal that I haven’t bothered getting one. Why would I need doctors when I have robots?

“I’m going to find you a doula,” Holly said while eating a sandwich in front of me. I kept staring at the buffalo chicken. The chicken wasn’t moist enough. It needed a good mayo. “Hey!” she snapped her fingers. “What did I just say?”

“You wanted to get some new age woman to rub my belly and wave incense around,” I said.

“Yes, but no, but yes,” she huffed.

“We could get a midwife instead,” Sam said. She didn’t come bearing food. Wait… no, that was eye shadow. “I’m worried how hungry you are. I’ve been talking with the sister-wives and they want a specialist. Medusa’s worried that with everything you exposed yourself to, the baby might be weird.”

I glared at her.

Sam held out a sandwich. “It’s for your own good,” she said. “We’re just concerned about the baby, like you are.” I still glared, but I bit into it.

“My body is the pinnacle of health. Not like I’m going to turn myself into a regular person after having godlike abilities,” I informed her. “Sure, that was before I ate all this crap, but I’m keeping an eye on myself.”

“And were they collaborated for pregnant women?” Holly asked.

Sam rolled her eyes, but Holly grinned at her joke. Sam made a good point as well. “Remember that time you messed up your chromosomes?”

I took a deep breath. “Fine. You may convey your goddess to the vagina doc.”

Sam scoffed. “Take yourself, bitch.” She smiled at me, though.

“I’ll go!” Holly said, jumping up over the counter to kiss my cheek.

Hoping on the sleepy town not being that busy, which wasn’t a good bet anyway, we decided to go see the place in person. Since supers have made Radium a haven for our kind and our families, the town has grown and updated dramatically. At this point, very little of the town is what it used to be. They’re working on an actual hospital now, but we’ve got some more doctors. An awful lot of superheroes and villains have doctors among their friends and family, or support staff, or some of them are doctors. For reasons of trust and security, they’re asked not to wear the costumes while practicing. It could be awkward if a hero goes to the doctor and finds out his nemesis is checking his prostate.

I decided not to do a background check on the doctor inspecting my vajayjay and its passenger beyond finding out if he’s good at his job. And I had Holly with me to provide snacks she hid in her purse and keep me company. She has this cute smile when we hold hands.

Instead of the OB/GYN, the Torian entered with his back turned to me. The human-looking time traveler was the evil incarnation of the heroic Mobian. He was also older, with grey hair, and a clean white coat over his usual tan one. “Good morning, Mrs. Gecko. Let’s take a look at that baby now.”

“You’re not looking up my cooch,” I told the Torian.

“I’m not the Torian,” he said.

“Yes, you are. You’ve even got his smell, like sour decaf coffee.”

“I’m a tea drinker, you-!” He turned, revealing a fake mustache that fell off. He grabbed it out of midair and held it back up to his face. “I mean.”

Holly pulled out a Chinese broomhandle pistol and held it up to his face. “You carry a gun?” he asked.

“Yeah, that’s new,” I noted, looking at her.

She blew me a kiss. “I’ve never had a pregnant girlfriend before. I’m protective.”

“Alright,” Torian dropped the mustache. “I came because I need your help.”

“The favor I owe you, right?” I asked.

“Right,” he said, hesitating.

I sighed. “You came to me a short while ago in my timeline and gave me a crystal that stabilized an alien device that changes the size of things. You gave it to me in exchange for a later favor.”

The old time traveler thought about that. “I closed the loop. Yes. Well, you probably would have survived if I hadn’t, but things would have been much more difficult for you.”

I held up a hand. “Please, do not try to explain time travel. It’s nonsense, all of it.”

“Well,” he pulled the white coat off and tossed it aside. “Do you think your appointment can wait?”

“No!” Holly said, waving the Mauser she held.

“What’s going on here!” shouted the doctor as he held the door open.

“Wrong room,” Torian said.

Holly had her gun behind her back. “Yeah, grandpa’s getting a little senile. He was just leaving.”

“Yes, yes. I suppose I’ll go have lunch at that place I saw in town, Maskies,” he said and left past a suspicious doctor.

I looked to Holly and rolled my eyes. Maskies was a local restaurant with a super theme that started up a few months back. The staff have uniforms like costumes, and name food after various supers. I heard I’m on the menu somewhere. They put up signs announcing new hero merchandise. I’ve been avoiding the place. Holly and Sam have teased me about it. And since I don’t want to discuss getting my body probed by the human species, I’d rather skip to that place.

“It’s not that bad,” Holly said. “Regular women do it all the time. Besides, it’s good news!”

I maintained my grumpiness as I bumbled through the door into Maskies and was immediately greated by a host in a Captain Lightning cape. “Hey folks, welcome to Maskies. We hope you have a super time with us today. How many are we seating?”

“We’re meeting someone an old British guy here,” I said.

His face brightened. “Oh, him!” He pointed me over to the Torian, who was was “fighting” off some kids in complimentary masks who were celebrating a birthday.

The host showed us to a booth near the bunch. Torian took a break and walked over, easing into his side of the booth. “Ooh. Nothing makes you feel your age like children. I suppose I don’t need to tell you that.”

“Indeed,” I said. “So, what’s the job?”

“What, right to work? Don’t want to enjoy some food first? I hear pregnant ladies have all sorts of cravings,” he said.

Holly was already looking at the menu with a grin on her face. He had a point, I just didn’t want to see. Alas, I gave in and found myself looking down at a menu offering Forcelight fries, Claw fingers, and Venus Vegan burgers. I feel like Venus might be offended by that one. They had a Mix N’Max series of drinks with things like orange drink mixed with Sprite, root beer mixed with Dr. Pepper, or sweet tea mixed with lemonade. “I don’t see me on here,” I noted.

Holly reached over and pointed to the wing menu. “You’re a sauce.”

Sure enough, Psychopomp sauce was one of the offerings. Apparently mine was a spicy and sweet dipping sauce featuring mango, habanero, and honey. “That’s nothing at all like how I take my wings.”

“They’re just having a bit of fun,” Holly said. She patted my shoulder. “Besides, you don’t like this place anyway.”

“I thought I was a bit more meaningful than a sauce,” I said.

Holly was watching me with a cute smile. A teenage waitress stopped over, dressed in a costume I didn’t recognize at first. “Can I help you?”

“Do you have a discount for actual supers?” Holly asked.

I shook my head. “Don’t listen to her. She’s the sort who has a birthday every time we go out to eat.”

The waitress laughed. “You must be the hero.” Oh, how much fun they had with my expression. “We have a discount if you come in costume, but not when you’re in your civilian clothing.”

So I tried the Psychopomp wings with a side of Forcelight fries, which are thick, spiral-shaped fries seasoned with ranch seasoning with smoked cheddar and green onions. I devoured it. As soon as I came up for air after tearing through wings and fries, Torian cleared his throat. “No wonder Mobian found you terrifying. But the truth is, he knew you were going to kill him at some point.”

“Really?” I asked. “I thought it was the murder and genocide.”

He waved that off. “We’ve seen an eternity’s worth of that. No, there was a prediction you would kill him at some point. And you know he hasn’t appeared on Earth for some time. Something’s wrong, not that he knows it, and I believe now is the time.”

“Or you want it,” I said.

“I believe I am the last incarnation he has, and after a thousand years I’m quite feeling my age,” he said.

“You’re confusing me again. Let’s stick to the relevant bit: where and when do I kill the Torian?” I said. Holly reached over and dabbed at my cheek while I discussed assassinating a legendary hero of Earth.

The Mobian reached into his coat and pulled out a small rectangle. He slid it over where I could see alien lettering that, nonetheless, I could understand it. “Oh, those translator germs are still so handy.”

“Yes, that is another reason it has to be now,” Mobian said.

The card read that I am formally invited to spend an evening in Morigoth House on the Planet Eidos Alt 9 as part of a celebration. “He’s going to be at this party?”

“He will stop there with a travel companion and they will be caught up in a plot to murder everyone when no one knows who the killer could be in a party full of shady characters. You will fit right in.”

I laughed. I got a good feeling about this. “So go to a party, kill your other self, and get out somehow?”

Mobian pulled out a pocket watch. Holly grabbed it and turned it over. “Neat.”

“I built that to signal my timeship. As soon as you’re prepared, signal me, and I’ll get you to the party on time.”

“I’ll be sure to wear my laciest, prettiest dress,” I said.

He raised his eyebrows. “Please do. They’re aliens a thousand years in the past. Dress how you like. I’m sue you’ll be perfectly disarming.”

“Happy birthday to you!” sang a line of waitresses as they came over to our table. They put a domino mask on me. Holly had her camera out and recorded it, and my glare, as they sang to me in front of everyone.

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Outlaw X Presents: Enter The Goldfish

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Cue the monthly break from my boring, over-powered ass to hearing about the lives of other villains. At this point, I’m wondering if I should even bother with my own stuff anymore. I mean, I’m glad nothing’s beating me, but it’s got to be boring.

Anyway, here’s the Outlaw X bunch. Maybe they’ll have something worth paying attention to.

**

“Hey there folks. Been awhile. Outlaw X, cuttin’ through the air again at long last. It was a hell of a time getting things settled here. I don’t want to go into details, but it’s important for us to remain independent and, more importantly, out of prison. Maybe we’ll give everyone the full story someday, but until then, we’ll be on the air to offer you hot tips, cool tunes, and stories by supervillaiins. Folks, at the end of the hour, we’ve got a special by a fellow from Hephaestus to talk about underground agriculture and tips for improving crop yields on your illicit pot and coca farms. What he has to say about the future of illegal farms may surprise you.

We would have had him in here now, but he’s been held up on his way here. He called us to let us know he was calling in a Hephaestus Acquisition Squad to get his wallet back. Some mugger picked the wrong son of a bitch to pull a gun on. We can shuffle things around. We’ve all had plans go wrong before. So we’re going to bring up one of our stories.

Some people choose to be villains for injustice or greed or infamy. There are more good reasons than there are villains. Some of us don’t get a choice. This is a story about one of those, a fellow I’d heard a thing or two about recently. There are plenty of new people with powers every day. There’s been plenty of misfortune to spawn plenty of us these past few years and the same names can’t grab headlines forever. I look forward to the fresh faces and fresh challenges of the future.”

**

I was born the child of white, middle-class parents, so of course I never thought Id’ see the day I was hated just for who I am. Just to be clear, I don’t mean that mythical “reverse racism” bullcrap. My parents actually used to mock the idea that I thought MLK was a good guy. They probably love the way things turned out.

I grew up lonely with the closest sibling in age to me being eight years older. It didn’t help that we lived out in the country in a house built by my stepdad with his barns and his horses right there with us. I didn’t like the outdoors and I didn’t like horses. They’re assholes. So once again, there’s irony there.

Being that far out, we didn’t have water lines. We got our water from a well, which meant we didn’t have any utilities if the water went out. There were filters and things to soften the water, but it was good, delicious water from underground. I used to drink it all the time. Hell, I’d drink pool water while swimming. I didn’t mean to do that, and I’ve thrown up from swimming more than once. Been blind more than once from all the chlorine, too. I liked to swim. When I was little, I’d swim in creeks, ponds, wherever. I had a very friendly relationship with water.

There was a prison out there in the country, too. Nobody wanted them in their city. And like a lot of prisons, this one needed to turn a profit and put the prisoners to work. They mixed and bottled chemicals for a petrochemical company that went overseas a few years ago. This is a lot more than I knew at the time. The community had time to learn.

Somehow, the chemicals got into the water table and kids got sick. That was all some of us dealt with. Others grew deformed limbs or had a strange skin condition, but a few died. I thought I got out of it fine until high school. First came the weird rash, then the scales. Then my eyes, my legs, and my arms. I was a warped monster. I had fins and gold scales. It was painful and itchy. I only felt better when I was in the water. That meant baths and swimming. I did so much swimming, and I quickly realized I was faster and could see better.

The doctors got more and more desperate to figure out what was going on with me. One of them, Katchadourian, got my parents to agree to let him study me while I was swimming. We set out for the Gulf of Mexico. I’d gotten a little afraid of the ocean as I got older. It was full of all sorts of strange, scary animals. It even got harder for me to play Subnautica. I was worried stepping out onto the beach. There were stares.

“It’s alright, he just has a medication condition but you can’t catch it!” my mom announced. She fanned herself while calling from the window of the Caddy truck, air conditioner going full blast. Dr. Katchadourian and I trudged across the sandy beach toward the water, him holding a beach towel around my shoulders.

“Do you just want me to swim around here?” I asked, nodding toward the closer water.

He reached over and tapped one of the devices fixed to my wrists. “These, all of these, will allow me to monitor your vitals in the water. Exert yourself, but don’t get into any danger.”

I shrugged off the towel and walked into the water. I felt so weightless. I hadn’t swam in the ocean in years. I remember thinking I’d be worried about those clear jellyfish, or weird fish brushing against me, but I could see incredibly well. So I thought to myself, why not see how far I can go?

I cheered in my head as I picked up speed. The feeling of the water flowing over me was amazing. I really can’t describe it. Cold and exciting. I think that’s what they mean when they call something exhilarating. I read a lot growing up, but I’d never been in a situation where I that word applied before. And I could see through water that had always been too murky. I dove and chased the fish. It wasn’t until I weaved between seaweed that I realized I’d been down for some time and my lungs didn’t burn or hurt or feel strained. That freaked me out, so I surfaced.

I was…. way the fuck out there. There was no way a person swims that far underwater. Not unless you’re a magician that trains for it. I started swimming back to shore on the surface. That’s how I realized how fast I was swimming. I could have been in the Olympics. I wouldn’t, though.

As I got closer, I saw people on the shore noticed me. None of them were my mom or Dr. Katchadourian. Instead, I saw little kids screaming and running around. A man with too much body hair jogged over to a truck parked close to the beach and grabbed a shotgun out of the back. When I could get my feet under me, I waved my hands in the air and called out. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

The man raised the shotgun and pointed it at me. I stopped. “What are you doing? I don’t want any trouble.” I started to back off, but he started running forward. He shot at me! I dove into the water, but I could see he kept coming. It was lucky he missed me. I tried to get away, but he kept coming and kept firing, so instead I circled around real quick and grabbed his leg. I only meant to get the gun away from him and hold him under enough to make him stop. I pulled him up onto the beach, but then I realized he wasn’t breathing. I called for help but no one was around.

I tried CPR for, I don’t know. It felt like minutes. Then Dr. Katchadourian was there and he took over. By that point, the cops were showing up, pointing guns, pushing me down. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I thought it would be fine if I went along with it. They didn’t believe me. They kept saying I was a monster. I didn’t know what they meant until they put me in the interrogation room.

My eyes were larger somehow, like the skin had pulled back from around them. Mouth was bigger. The webbing between my fingers was more consistent and my feet were kind of flippers. I had gold… well, I had yellow and orange scales everywhere, but some were pushed up a little. I ran my hand over them and buckshot fell down onto the floor. The guy hadn’t missed, but I was some shotgun-proof gold fish monster.

I freaked out again. I tore the handcuff chain off the table and started banging on the door. I tried pulling, straining, pressing my foot against the wall, and the door opened. I ran down the hallway and jumped out of the first window I came to, landing on a sheriff’s truck. I pulled myself out of the dent in the windshield and ran for it. I didn’t realize I was running to the ocean until I was headed down a hill and saw it in the distance. Gulf of Mexico in front of me, wailing sirens behind, I sprinted for the water. I’d played football and was pretty fast in a sprint, but I never would have had the lung capacity.

Cop cars came around the corner. One of them tried to hit me and missed, plowing into a woman and her daughter coming out of a gas station. A deputy shot out of the other. I don’t know if it hit me or missed. He pulled up beside me and kept trying. I bodychecked his door and dented it in. The driver’s side window shattered and he swerved off, hitting a parked car. After that, I didn’t see much of them until I got to the water. Some of them were there already, trying to put up tape. Dr. Katchadourian was with them. I slowed to a stop, puffing at the air. “Doctor…”

He raised his hands. “Son, you’re going to be alright. This is all a big misunderstanding, but I need you to calm down.”

“Tell them to calm down, they’re shooting up the town trying to get me!” I said, motioning to the nearby deputies. They had shotguns and rifles aimed at me.

“I know, but you have to calm down. If you calm down, I can get them to put the guns away and we can try to figure things out from here.”

He took a step toward me. A radio crackled. The cops fired. I screamed, because I could feel it when the slugs bounced off my scales. I ran for it, knocking Dr. Katchadourian over, and bounded onto the cruiser he’d been in front of. I jumped forty, fifty feet into the ocean.

I’ve been home before, but they still want me for murder. They want me for a lot more now. I stole clothes, stole money, stole boats and stuff to have a place to live. I tried to sink a house once, but it didn’t hold together.

Dr. Katchadourian got weird. I didn’t have the devices on me anymore. The cops took those off when they first got me into custody, but somehow the guy keeps finding me. He always figures out where I am before long. Last time I spoke with him, there’s no way he should have figured it out. I was just about to sink cargo ship full of sealed containers from the company that made the fishman I am today, when he stepped out of the shadows.

“It’s not too late to stop this, Goldfish,” he said, using my alias.

“Undercuts the point when you bring those along,” I said to the others who stepped out. One super wore a white and purple costume that had an arrow pointing down. Another was in green and silver, with bulging armor pads under the tights. He had three green pyramids that rose poking out of his chest.

“You’ve become an infamous pirate. I don’t know if you’ve gotten to like what you’ve become,” he said.

I shook my head. “Doesn’t matter, does it? I’ve been treated like a monster from the moment I changed. You can’t fix people once you break them, doctor.”

“And I weep for the boy you were and the monster you’ve become, but you need to be stopped,” he said. Claws dug into my shoulder as I was yanked up. I looked up at a guy in a blue an gold costume with wings and the metal claws he was using to lift me up off the boat. I grabbed the claws, which were some sort of boots he wore, and pulled them apart enough to make him do the splits. He let go with me way up in the air. I had survived higher falls by that point.

I almost didn’t sink the boat because the doctor was there. I know he made it off because he showed up a month later in Ricca when I was enjoying some noodles with some of the money I made robbing the wrecked ship. I didn’t have to get onto it to sink it, and I didn’t have to steal from it while it was above water. I suppose with what I’ve found down there, I don’t really need to steal anymore, but then how would I go around calling myself a pirate?

It’s better than when I was a powerless monster.

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New Normal 6

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The crew of Lethac the living ship has left the Earth. Despite the fear I’d created in them of Earthlings with my brutal use of technology, they stayed long enough to stock up on a shitload of food. I paid. I didn’t know much about their crimes or what sort of people they are, but I’m giving them a chance. It’s likely my trust won’t be rewarded, but that’s the trust of being scary.

They got their second chance. And I got to walk into the United Nations with a present for the whole world. Maybe not the few remaining alien diplomatic parts who hadn’t been shrunk, but the humans, at least. And just to make a point, I was flanked by a guard of Exemplar soldiers with Medusa and Venus in power armor. In my hands, I held the orb. That sounded ominous. I held the crystal ball with a tiny fleet of ships holding steady in it.

“I demand you us our people back, barbarian!” one of the quill Grau said. He or it or whatever was taller, thinner, and dressed in a dark jumpsuit. I think the cape was for intimidation factor.

“That’s not really my decision,” I pointed out. “What, exactly brought your people here anyway?” I held up the crystal ball. “What was so important for your people about this speck of dust, suspended in a sunbeam, that we call home?”

“That is for your betters to discuss,” the caped alien said. I didn’t need to guess at his fury. I think the idea of a primitive holding his people’s welfare over him and being in a position to demand answers got to him.

I was, of course, quite angry at the whole thing.

“I think you’d better answer the woman,” said a blue and orange-skinned figure in a nice suit. Hey, Titan’s here. Not as a delegate, of course,

“Were we addressing the wrong people? I spoke with the political leaders of Earth when you are all the slaves of those aberrations who threaten your lives every day because of the powers they stole from the universe?” That outburst from this guy also brought murmurs among the UN delegates, many of whom had direct lines to their leaders in a situation like this. This alien knew a thing or two about playing us, or maybe people just weren’t that different across the universe. The fact that this guy’s such a supreme asshole seems to prove it.

That’s when a Black delegate stood up. “You have come here full of yourself and your demands in the manner of someone who holds himself our superior based on your own perception of privilege as more advanced than us. Even your selection of who to speak with betrays your belief not in the equality of peoples but in the superiority of some to decide the fate of others. This body was created to give all of us a say in the affairs of our world. Humanity, in its entirety, deserves to know why you have come to us.”

“Fine! Fine,” he declared. Ooh, arrogance and anger were easy to detect in these Grau, too. “Just give me a few seconds.” He, because I keep slipping into it mentally, turned his back and gestured to one of his underlings who had feathers around its head and carried a small black case. That one brought it over and opened it. Several nearby people strained to see it, most of them looking back and forth at each other and talking as they tried to figure it out. Some reached for guns when the assistant pulled out a device like a gun that glowed on the end, but then it hooked the device up to something. There was a gurgling sound, and then a bunch of smoke rose into the air. The Grau in charge turned back to face me, giving me the barest glimpse of some sort of glass tube back there.

The Grau delegate opened his mouth… and started coughing. He stopped after a moment and shook his head, then began speaking, the French accent fading away. “Alright, the truth is, y’all got to stop all the crazy shit up in here! You got gods doing crazy shit, changing timelines. Time travel on top of that, and we don’t even know what to keep track of out there. You done raided other planets, and sometimes we catch y’all hiding in ships or space stations like pests. People are out here afraid they’re going to have a human infestation. How many holes in the universe do you have on this one planet alone? You know how many we have in the entire Consortium? None, because we span twenty solar systems and we got there by not fucking with the fabric of the universe. You broke the universe. You have permanent holes, and that didn’t teach y’all anything?! There are people who throw black holes around and one of y’all ate a star. Who eats a damn star?”

…Ok, I expected this whole thing to play out differently. I got a lot of stares from a lot of people, too. I might have had something to do with some of those situations. But in fairness, there might have been other people doing stuff like that.

“Setting aside that you broke existence… you broke it, that’s just how it is now. None of us know how to fix it so get used to it. But there are worse things out there than Trobogorians. We know you encountered one of them already, but the more times you break reality, the more you let in powerful monsters that wanna fuck shit up even further. We’re here because you are like children, and we’re not really your parents, but you’re screaming and breaking things and that’s bad. And now imagine if you keep it up and your planet gets invaded by unstoppable monsters you can’t contain or kill, beings from outside all context of existence with their own warped morality. That’s happened before.”

Well that’s just passive aggressive there. Or maybe not so passive.

The Grau calmed down some. “Look, I know I came here throwing stuff around, but that’s just who we are. We don’t know who you are, except you’re messing everything up, being assholes, and one of y’all tried to blow some of us up. Now, ma’am, I thank you for saving those people, but we all know you’re going to use their lives as a bargaining chip. I can’t think that’s nice. I just can’t.”

“You’re right,” I said, holding up the crystal ball. I handed the crystal ball to Medusa. “Here you go. I’m no longer holding this bargaining chip. Let me know when you want them restored to their proper size.”

I turned and portaled out, leaving the person they wanted for attempted assassination in charge of the orb. She knew I was going to do this ahead of time, and I was ready to intervene if necessary. Until then, I was seeing to the size-shifter gizmo. Oh yeah, I had that thing ready to go and everything. I built a command console in the base, connected the cooling hose, and had the power hooked up. Venus called to join me so I portaled her in as well. “What’s on the menu?” she asked. She looked around. We were on an asteroid with a thick, clear crystal wall that gave us a view of outer space.

I pointed to a very small copy of myself nearby. “Figured I’d restore the fun-size version of me.”

“Cool. I like the proportions,” my wife said. Unlike the body at the UN, I was here outside of my armor. It was really thick crystal in the asteroid. She walked up behind me and wrapped her arms around me. Mmm, she felt so strong in her power armor. And, of course, she touched my belly. I didn’t mind it so much this time. “I don’t mind your other proportions.”

I fired up the size-changer. The lights lit up in a sequence for some reason. “So the weird thing about this is it isn’t computerized. No connection. Mechanical and chemical, though.”

Since Isabella hadn’t seen it hooked up, she didn’t notice the unusual whine. And this was just it being on like back at the ship.

“Oh, does this go to anything?” Venus asked, picking up this weird crystal I’d left laying around. It was the one that had been given to me by Torian as a favor to be repaid later. Lots of those debts accumulating lately. Venus grabbed the crystal and slotted it in near the base. The device went back to normal and instead, I got that other body restored. No giant explosion that would have grievously wounded someone or something. Torian never actually told me what the crystal was for, so I left it all over the place in case I needed it, and I guess this was the time. I imagined explosions occurring if it hadn’t been there, but I don’t know for certain.

“Hey, babe, the aliens want their fleet back,” Medusa radioed in.

“I’m ready,” I responded.

“Wait… ok, first they’re looking to see if there’s a hole or opening in this orb they’re in. Orb sounds too ominous, doesn’t it?”

“I think so, yeah,” I told her.

“Do you know anyone who builds ships in bottles?” she asked.

“Why would that matter? They’re spaceships, they can just fly out if there’s a hole.”

“Yeah, and they’re pretty sure there’s no hole. They said they’re just going to put it where it needs to go and then break it.”

“I’ll handle that, don’t worry,” I told her.

I portaled the orb away from her and into my hand. “Everyone in there, I’m about to start resizing you, so when you notice you’re growing, you all need to pick a different direction and fly that way so you don’t crash into each other, ok?” Then I portaled a little typewriter hammer in, because some guy once invented hammers for people to type with, and I broke it. All the little ships tried to flee instead, but I dumped them off past the moon. There, I embiggened them!

They followed my advice. They all picked directions and flew.

There were some crashes. 99% of the fleet made it out just fine. Meanwhile, Venus was on comms with me, “If you want to come back, this guy’s really pretty chill once he smokes whatever he smoke. He let some of the rest of us try it. One of their aides agreed to drop everything against Maia and I, and we were all invited to a celebration tonight if you want to go. Maybe you shouldn’t be partying, though.”

I turned to Maia and told her the good news and the party news. Then I turned to the more buff, taller body. And it said, “Oh fuck yeah, let’s do it again!”

One party worthy of an Electric Callboy song later, I can report that it’s the quilled Grau are males and feathered Grau are females. I tested both at the same time just to be sure, one of whom was the fangirl who knew me from the space opera.

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New Normal 5

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I’ve got a remote-piloted spare body on a living ship full of strange alien life forms. Some of them seem decent. They’re prisoners of some group called the Consortium of Grau who showed up here and started being assholes to Earth. One of their prisoners named Fro’Cen D’ner, used size-changing technology to help them keep even more prisoners, managed to get loose somehow. It’s a grand mystery for the ages how he got an Earth knife and got free from his shackles. But he did and managed to shrink the entire rest of the Grau fleet. He threatened Earth, which sounded reasonable until I got up here and it turned out he didn’t have a lot of prisoners on his side. I took out a creature called a Trou, and that showed the ones opposed to Fro’cen have resolved to help me out in. In exchange, I’m going to let them keep the ship and go free.

Along with taking out the Trou, which seemed to be a bundle of hostile carnivorous alien worms, I captured Fro’cen’s size device.

“Imagine how much money this must be worth,’ Gy’regl said. He was a little blue thing on a hoverchair. Opportunistic former royal of some sort. I don’t know if I like him, but I understand him.

Lha Ayn, a green and red alien, laid her red-tipped fingers over my gloved hand on the device. “Are you sure you want to spend the time analyzing it now when D’ner and his Drelek allies will realize something’s wrong any time now?”

“About that, who are the Dreleks? What is Fro’cen D’ner species-wise, any weaknesses or quirks? Remember, Earth doesn’t much socialize with the rest of the galaxy aside from repelling alien invasions like the Fluidics and the Trobogorians.”

“Fluidics? Who are they?” asked an alien whose words were translated into a French accent. That would be the Grau prisoner of the bunch, Aerno.

“Black, slimy, look like oil,” I described. “They have a solid core in there somewhere that’s their brain.”

“Them?” Aerno asked. “Why’d you pick a fight with them? That species, they’re the nicest beings I’ve ever met.”

“Ok, first of all…” I was interrupted when Lha laid a hand on my shoulder. Real touchy-feely, that one. I got vibes of like a white person who’s really hardcore into Zen and all that, with a vicious streak that showed through. Like if you tried to extort her crystal business, she’d jam a thing of quartz through your eye socket. It’s a little hot.

She interrupted me to say, “You can take the device with you. We still need to find the fleet and take control of the vessel.”

“This thing has some sort of command center, right?” I asked. “Probably where they all are.” I examined the device on the pedestal, trying to tell it apart from the ship. For one thing, it was distinctly inorganic. The ship is alive and I don’t know if that means it’s actually made of metal, but the floors and walls looked porous. Like if skin was made out of a soft yellow-brown shell. This was brown metal, leaking some white fog or smoke from where a tube connected it to the pedestal. “What’s this?”

The alien prisoners looked to each other, but none had an answer. “Great.” I looked to Lha specifically. “You said I could take this with me.”

“It detaches. I don’t know what it attaches to or for what purpose,” she answered.

“Can anyone tell what this gas is before I go removing stuff?” I ask.

Gy’regl crinkled his ugly little nose. Like, it pulled into his face slightly. “It smells like the rest of the air, only it’s a cold fog.”

So, cooling then. So while I figured out the rest of this, Gy’regl and Drahlo went off on their own to fetch us some rations. “We shouldn’t be long, but if you hear fighting…” Drahlo looked to Aerno.

Aerno hefted her double-barreled sci fi minigun. It has two rotating barrels and fires some sort of laser bolts or plasma projectile. I didn’t get its formal name.

By the time they got back five minutes later, I had extracted the device from its tower and the rest of us had grown bored. I even got some text message updates from Medusa that the suits kept finding reasons to delay and listen to this or that objection, so she was looking for alternative means to get to space. Highlights a bit of a weakness in the Exemplar organization and its attempt at legitimacy with this government, especially since she has to navigate the whole “wanted for attempted assassination” thing.

Of course, that left everything up to me. Even controlling an amazonian body with abs to die for, I still had to deal with the occasional interruption for snacks. So many cravings. That’s why I was just a teensy bit distracted when Gy’regl zoomed in on his hoverchair. “They’re right behind us!”

“Us?” Aerno asked.

Drahlo came running up, barely avoiding a blast by ducking his head. He skidded to a stop and yelled, “Dreleks!”

A voice came out of the internal announcement system. “Dreleks, kill anyone who interferes!”

A cheer came up from the hallway. I turned and projected a wall. A bunch of these brown-clad aliens came running around the corner. They had a mishmash of different shades and different styles, but I didn’t have time to evaluate their sense of fashion. Aerno looked to me. “Blast ’em, it’s not solid!” The Grau smiled, but I think it was more predatory teeth baring. I kept wanting to read the cues I was used to into their body language, but I couldn’t even tell sexes apart on the Grau. Lha didn’t even look mammalian the way her skin shimmered, so I wasn’t even sure how that chest worked. Kinda curious, though. I wanted to see how her shimmery skin looks all over.

After the first bunch of blasts into the brown-clad other aliens took a couple of them down and scattered the other six, I dropped that hologram and used one of the nanomachine tentacles to toss an armed explosive knife into their mix. The remainders were so stunned, Aerno and Drahlo were able to get close and disarm them. One jumped up and tried to knife Aerno, but Gy’regl shot a this ornamental hook off one of his armrests into the back of the Drelek’s skull. The hostile alien collapsed. The one hostile to myself, at least. “Good, they didn’t find that,” Gy’regl said. Drahlo looked over the former ruler with what I suspected was grudging admiration.

“That all of them?” I asked, slipping the shrinking device through a portal to a safe room in my multidimensional base I needed a clever nickname for. The safe room was somewhere no one would get hurt if the device exploded or something, on what remained of Earth after a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States. Lots of empty room there now.

I knelt down to look at some of the dead and some of the survivors. Short, smooth noses, eyes a little large than a humans, no earlobes, much wider mouths, ridges on their foreheads and necks, and mosaic-patterned skin. “Interesting,” I said, reaching out to caress one’s face. Yes, skin.

The others were all looking at me. Gy’regl said, “Someone get me the frell away from this planet.”

“Oh sure, humans were behind the prison ship and the Grau and whatever happened to land y’all in here. We made you come here and everything,” I noted defensively. “Up we go, all of you.”

After some coercion and quite a bit more grumbling about the need to get as far away from Earth as possible, we were all marched into the command center with these Dreleks holding their weapons on us. There weren’t as many as they’d sent out after us, and they all drew weapons on us, but one with a solid collar of solid mercury who stood next to Fro’cen held up a hand. “Why didn’t you report ahead that you took them prisoner. And why is that one crying so much?” He pointed to me, where a hologram was depicting my actual body at the time.

“I’m a horrible, evil person,” I said through tears. I tried to sniffle and got caught making a loud, stopped-up sound.

I commanded one of nanite-controlled Dreleks to speak up. “Damage from the fight! We couldn’t call in.”

“Now, commander-” Fro’cen started. The lead Drelek pushed him aside and drew his handgun on us. I had the controlled Dreleks step in front of the prisoners, who ran for cover while pulling weapons. Fro’cen took cover behind a control panel.

Now, the ones I controlled weren’t that good at aiming, but why bother when I can open portals in front of their guns and right behind the heads of the other Dreleks. Holy shit, portals are fun and gamebreaking. I let the rest of the Dreleks drop, dead even if they weren’t that way before we walked in.

“You! You’re one of those from the planet below. What sort of place is this?” Fro’cen asked.

“The sort of place you don’t fuck with. Earth is under my protection.”

“That is good to know,” the giant maggot said, somehow. These are excellent translators, even if the lips don’t match the words. That’s when I realized how the Drelek commander figured out something was wrong.

Suddenly, my remote avatar stared way, way up at Fro’cen, and the entire rest of the command center while a medallion attached to his chest or underside or what-have-you stopped glowing. It exploded, and then his body burst like a sack full of blood. Aerno stepped up, her weapon clicking, and dropped it. She looked down at me. I had been miniaturized. So I portaled in a replacement body.

“I’m starting to feel like maybe it’s a whole ‘nother level of unfair for things to fight me.”

The prisoners all looked down at the miniaturized body, and then at me, and then back again. I portaled out the smaller one.

“You could do that the entire time?” Drahlo asked.

“And you didn’t get us out of here?!” Gy’regl complained.

I shrugged. “Looks like Fro’cen D’ner’s been fried, I still have the shrinking device… only one last thing before I send you on your merry way. Though, if you’d like, you can also partake of a post-fight meal on Earth. I know y’all are familiar with a few of our franchises.” Mall food is everywhere in space.

I’d seen the snacks they came running back with. That’s my pregnant, fat ass ended up dining in a food court along with four alien prisoners, keeping a close eye on a small, clear ball containing an entire alien fleet like it was a decorative bauble. They stocked up on extra pizza, chicken-fried rice, and Cinnabons. Little Gy’regl was zipping all over the place. “Calm down, you’ll have a heart attack,” I told him.

“Ha!” He’d done a lot of laughing. “I have three of those. I can have all the heart attacks I want, just gie me more. I don’t care what it takes, what underground deals you need to make, just give me more.”

“Please do not,” Lha said, laying a hand over mine. I was without my armor at this point, so I could feel she was room temperature. It’s hard to describe what her skin felt like. Stringy? That’s not right. It didn’t feel like normal skin. And her skin was so pretty.

Drahlo pulled me away from her. “Watch out. Her people do that.”

“Do what?” I asked. Then I gritted my teeth. “Ooh, headache.”

“That.” Drahlo huffed. “We better get out of here.”

I nodded and tapped my chest. “Right. Captain Gecko to engineering, four to beam up.” I made my body play the transporter sound as I opened portals under all of them but Gy’regl, who instead couldn’t stop in time to avoid flying through his, and dropped them all off on the ship.

I sat down, rubbing my head, and put a hand on the clear ball containing the Consortium fleet that came to bully Earth around a bit. I called up Medusa and Venus real quick. “Ok, scrap the space expedition. It’s take care of, and I got us a hell of a bargaining chip.”

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I suppose I should do something about the giant maggot, but Medusa and Venus didn’t ask me. The visiting aliens wanted the both of them on suspicion of attempted assassination, but those two beautiful losers were still going to save them. They didn’t ask me to take part. In fact, Maia, better known as Medusa, kissed Holly and told her, “I don’t care if you have to tackle her. You keep her and my baby safe.”

Holly giggled. “If she gets out of line, I’ll have to use the cuffs on her. Or let her use them on me.”

I swallowed some of my buffalo chicken sandwich with extra jalapenos so I could yell, “Don’t you think you can just control me with sex!”

“She’s right,” Sam jumped in, arms crossed. “We can trap her using food, too.”

“I’m the deadliest person on this planet!” I reminded them, then caught some falling chicken to shove into my mouth.

“You’re beautiful, glowing, and carrying my baby!” added Isabella to all this. The time-displaced Venus was as correct as her older self in claiming parentage over the hellspawn growing inside me.

I felt the baby kicking. “You tell ’em, Alexander.”

“Aww,” Holly was there in an instant, hand on my belly. I glared at her, tired of people just feeling entitled to touch my belly.

Sam sensed my mood and pulled her away before I got hungry for human flesh. “She’s a bit hangry right now.”

“I hunger,” I said in a deep voice. Raising my head up, multiple metal tongues waggled in the air before I devoured the rest of the sandwich hole, the nanomachine tongues grabbing all of it and helping me not choke on it.

So they didn’t spend much time with me. They had to go figure out a response and a plan to faction. But I was right there. I had a plan. See, the giant maggot had actually shrunken down to get back into the living ship. I created a spare body that was, like, pure hot muscle. Wonder Woman would get jealous. Abs for days, and thighs I could use to crush coal into diamonds. No exaggeration, I gave her superstrength. And then I sat down in a nice little chair in the basement that hooked into me and maintained my vitals. I closed my eyes and opened the Amazonian beauty’s eyes.

For reasons known only to a devious criminal mastermind like myself, I had made a metal and leather bikini with loincloth for a costume, but I reluctantly decided to go with my second choice of costume. I put on a larger copy of my armor. Which, by the way, is no mere power armor. All that time as a god, I learned stuff about chemical bonds and alloys. This was armor fit for a god, and worn by the best one Earth ever saw. The size of the body meant I had the largest nanomachine cape I’d ever thrown together.

I teleported right onto the living ship. It rocked violently. Ugh, I thought I left the nausea behind in my pregger body. A small blue alien floated along on some sort of hover chair, stopping when it saw me. It backed that thing up out of sight. “Come back, Sparky, I just want to find out where the big worm is. I’m the early bird.”

I turned the corner and got jumped by a muscular, hair, braided guy in a red robe. He swung at me with a wide sword. I ducked out of instinct and did a split punching him in the balls. I tried to be gentle enough not to cause castration, but I can’t guarantee all his sperm survived. I grabbed his leg and tugged, sending him onto his back and giving me time to hop up and dust myself off. “Where’s the maggot guy? I’m putting a stop to this.”

A bolt of light struck the wall next to me. I ducked behind it, leaving a holographic copy to stand in my place. “What’s all this about guns?”

Another alien approached unloaded on the hologram with a large gun that had a couple spinning barrels side by side, firing these little glowing fireballs. I suspected plasma, but a little different than the way we shoot it on Earth. All she got for her trouble were plasma bolts flying through the hologram, which was unhurt. This one was a Grau with feathers on its head and along its lower jawline.

“Shoot it!” the downed man yelled.

“I am shooting it. It’s not being shot!” the Grau yelled back

“Everyone shut the fuck up!” I yelled. The hologram raised her hands. The firing stopped. I turned on the invisibility, the armor projecting the environment behind me for anyone to see from any given angle. I circled around my hologram and these two beings. “I am from the planet below, and I just want to end this useless little conflict we’ve all been forced into before something actually happens. Also, how do I understand all of y’all?”

“Microbes in the air infest the language center of your brain and communicate the meaning between different infectees.” said the Grau.

Ah. So these guys are spreading universal translation germs all over the place. They even got me. But more importantly, that kind of question paused the hostility for a moment.

The Grau spoke again reaching a hand out to help out the downed guy with all the hair. “We don’t mean you any harm. We’re criminals, but we don’t care about your world.”

“Bold of you to say that after trying to kill me, but fine, I’ll extend a little leeway. Maybe in your culture, murder is considered a greeting,” I told her.

The hair guy spoke up, “In my culture, I should kill you for striking my mivoks. It is not an honorable way to fight,” he sighed.

“Yeah, but it’s effective,” I said.

He grunted. “Yeah, that’s why we don’t like it. I’m Drahlo.”

My holographic double nodded. “My name is Gecko. I am a protector of Earth.”

“Aerno Va,” the Grau said.

“Stupid! You’re supposed to kill it, not invite it to lunch!” yelled the little blue thing on the hover chair.

Drahlo pointed to that thing with his sword. “That is Gy’regl, former pompous bag of flatulence of Louria.”

“Glorious,” I said, rhyming with what I heard the guy’s planet was called. Or maybe Louria was something else. “And what about that big worm guy?”

Darlo cocked his head. “That is Fro’cen D’ner. He worked for these drelnats. I saw when they hired him to use his shrinking technology to improve their capacity. Smaller prisoners means more prisoners.”

The Grau lowered its double-barreled gun. “One of the guards talked to me. Said D’ner was caught stealing funds and killing someone who found out. He got free somehow.”

“Have any prisoners sided with him?” I asked.

“Only the Dreleks and the Trou,” Gy’regl said.

“I don’t think the Trou is sapient,” Drahlo said.

“And the Dreleks are greedy opportunists who would snurch your amnexus if you turned your back…” muttered Gy’regl.

“Sound familiar,” Drahlo looked at Gy’regl while he spoke.

The little green guy in the hover chair gathered his robes in one small hand. “I do not snurch. I procure.”

“Is the danger past?” asked a thin, bald, red and light green being in light, irridescent robes. The way portions of its skin shimmered in the shifting light was pretty. I made a note of it to copy onto a body later. Might make a good tattoo.” This alien glanced at the hologram, then turned to where I stood instead. “I presume there is a reason you aren’t showing yourself.”

I dropped the invisibility. Drahlo growled and Aerno raised the gun slightly, but neither tried any more hostility. I shrugged. “Y’all were attacking me.”

“Fair,” Aerno said, dropping the gun so that it hung from a sling on its shoulder. “Gecko, this is Lha Ayn.”

“Greetings, Gecko the assassin. What brings you to our prison?” Lha gave an Eastern-style bow.

“I intend to disable Fro’cen’s device that shrunk the fleet, and steal the shrunken fleet itself. Maybe use the first part to figure out how to restore the second part, after a bit of negotiation to see what freedom’s worth to the Consortium.”

“You’re going to restore the Grau?” Drahlo asked. He spat at the floor.

I held up my hands. “Like I said, after a period of negotiation. They came here to strongarm Earth. Their being shrunk is a handy bargaining chip.”

Drahlo raised his sword and pointed it at me. “We will not be prisoners again!”

I nodded. “Fine.”

“We want the ship,” Lha Ayn blurted out. “Do what you want with D’ner and his ilk, leave us the ship, and we will aid your forces.”

“Eh, it’ll probably just be me,” I said.

Aerno scoffed. “How many vessels and soldiers do you command?”

I shrugged. “I have one atmosphere-only vehicle and a handful of people who would fight at my side.”

“Your planet, how advanced is it?” Drahlo asked.

“We made it to the moon and can land robots on Mars,” I said. “Internal squabbles halted space exploration for awhile there.”

The aliens all looked at each other before Gy’regl said what they all seemed to be thinking. “Primitives. Our salvation’s in the hand of savages.”

I rolled my eyes. “Ok, first off, where’s the shrink ray.”

Five minutes later and a couple floors down, we peered down a hallway that looked like a set of ribs with metal skin wrapped around them. At the far end was a large room and a door made up of thin, wing-like layers that pulled away from the center. It was open while a ball of wiry tendrils pulled itself around the room and the glowing podium in the middle. A red light blinked on top of it, and a hose from the side connected lower down on the podium, leaking a white mist.

“That’s the Trou, a fearsome beast that constricts and tears apart multiple pray. I thought they were stories to frighten children into eating their fungus,” Drahlo instructed.

“Cool. Stay here. I’ma punch it in the dick,” I took off running for it, charging the energy sheathes on my gauntlets. Potential energy gathered in a glowing layer above my gauntlets, ready to become kinetic. The Trou didn’t seem to have any sort of face. Or body?

Aerno called out from behind me. “They’re a collective of carnivorous worms!” Aerno raised a gun and took some shots at the Trou past me.

Cool. Just before the Trou pounced, I made sure the armor’s environmental seals were locked. The punches I unleashed didn’t do much even with the excess energy. I think I split a couple of these tough worms that wrapped around my limbs and throat, lifting me into the air. My nanomachine cape split into a bunch of tendrils of its own then, lunging for the Trou’s and eating into it. I heard a roar made up of dozens of squeals at different pitches as part of it severed. I reached in and tore the Trou collective in two, tossing one against a wall long enough to turn and encompass the other with my cape, seemingly devouring it. The nanomachines invaded the alien’s cells, tearing it apart at the microscopic level.

The other Trou tried to roll away, but I bounded toward it. I landed in the middle of it. It tried desperately to wrap around my neck or force itself into my armor. The nanites formed a shell around us, then compressed inward until there was nothing left but myself and the nanomachines returning to cape form.

“How did you primitives not kill yourselves yet with this technology?” Aerno asked. She and the rest had approached, watching in morbid fascination as I took their boogeyman apart with ease.

“It helps that I’m one of the ones who does most of the killing,” I answered.

“Perhaps you should come with us. I could use a bodyguard when I retake my throne,” Gy’regl offered.

“Sounds fun, but I’ve got a family here to consider,” I told him. I nodded back toward the device.

“If we’re at the mercy of a planet of these, we’re doomed,” Drahlo quietly confided in Aerno.

“I much more prefer our chances now,” Lha Ayn told the both of them. Louder, to me, she added, “We will accomplish our goals better if we work together.”

Ah, of course. As usual, working together meant waiting until I did the work, then them jumping in to pat themselves on the back. Still, better inside pissing out than outside pissing in. “Sure. Let’s steal ourselves a ship. Hell, let’s steal ourselves a whole fleet!”

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I hate being nice. I could have fixed so many problems by now just jumping in and not giving a shit about consequences. Maybe paint an M on my head and call myself Majin Gecko, then whine and blow myself up when I remember I like getting laid and having feelings. Then maybe beat up some kids who point out my references are as dated as the beginning of Naruto was to the end.

Enough being a cranky old woman. I was a cranky pregnant bitch who had to deal with a bunch of shitbags stuffed into suits. Like Senator Robson, a replacement for one of the many people I culled when I had the power to make life just blink out. He’s not as bad as the guy he replaced, but that’s a low bar. He got me a place on a diplomatic shuttle to the alien fleet. Sam, Holly, and the interns were excited, with Sam squeezing her eyes shut. She doesn’t like flying, and the lack of windows in this cricket-shaped vessel didn’t soothe her any. The interns and Holly strained looking for somewhere to watch the ascent into space from, but the aliens didn’t put windows in their spacecraft for some reason.

I played the theme to Star Trek: The Next Generation to calm us all down. Meanwhile, a blue woman with cloudy skin you could see into just a little bit walked along and set out drinks and little bags of snacks. I popped off my helmet long enough to try the small carbonated liquid and the bag of some small starchy snack covered in tiny mineral crystals. As far as potentially-dangerious alien foods go, they were fine. They just weren’t enough. When no one was looking, I portaled in a fresh foot long corndog and a plate with some fun sauces like marinara, ranch, yum yum sauce, and mustard. Mmm.

One of the aliens looked at me like I did something weird, like eat them all at once. I hadn’t even finished by the time a calming noise reverberated through the vessel. “Welcome to the diplomatic battleship Odo, where peace happens or else.”

“That’s calming,” Sam muttered, opening her eyes at last. She leaned against me. “You better get rid of that.”

I winked at her and slid the remaining half-foot of wiener and breading down my throat, pulling the stick back out without the meat. I tossed the stick and plate through a small portal to the auto-kitchen. I added some robot arms to the kitchen. They’re very handy, and they double as an anti-intrusion measure.

As the restraints released, Sam and I both groaned on standing up. She had her dislike of flying and I had a belly that was messing with me even though the armor made sure I wasn’t sick. Uh, I swear my nanites are working overtime in my aching ankles. Who am I kidding? I think I graduated to cankles. I just wanted to be pretty and have the child I always wanted with Medusa and Venus, and now it’s made me a hungry horror with fucked-up hormones and time travel shit where I have to do it to complete loops.

I sniffled. Sam patted me on the helmet. “Aww, you crying again?”

The others were all filing off, leaving Holly, Sam, and I behind along with the blue alien woman who stepped up. “I must ask you to leave all of your weapons behind on the transport pod.”

“You let us get all the way up here with weapons?” Holly faked a gasp. “What if we need to defend ourselves against others you let come with guns?”

The alien didn’t catch the sarcasm. When she spoke, her mouth didn’t match the words we heard either. “We are aware of cultural differences regarding personal armament or the medical necessity of power armor for some species, but at this point you must comply with the ship captain’s non-aggression policies. For the good of everyone, except the ones who are dead.”

“Weird way to phrase it,” Sam said. “Hey, what’s your species called?”

“I don’t have a species,” she answered. “The Consortium created me to serve them.” I couldn’t read her expression to see if she was enthusiastic about that. She gestured with a slow wave. “Please disarm, or you will not see your loved one. We detect several weapons, primitive and otherwise.”

“I’m getting tired of putting this thing just to take it back off again,” Sam muttered. She and Holly looked to me.

I sighed and began pulling off the gauntlets of my power armor. “We’re being nice.” That got a triumphant hmph from the servant, so I figured she supported her masters after all. The energy sheathes don’t function without them. I set down the exploding knives as well. I didn’t keep a lot of extra weapons on me, and that meant I wasn’t that much disarmed. And they didn’t seem to understand my eyes had lasers built in. Hell, I barely remember I kept some other abilities when I gave away my god-like powers. Meanwhile, the girls had to get rid of shoe knives and so on. After a few minutes of that, they all let us go in.

Some of the Grau were waiting for us, a designation I use for lack of a better idea what to call them. They’re the main species in any position of power in the Consortium of Grau, so that’s what I call them. We got right out of this transport pod where the rest of the delegation was finished going through a customs check involving a scanner arch and a pair of bushes with eye stalks. I spotted that one silver-haired agent again having made his way through it. I know he noticed me, but a group of Grau were waiting for us.

“Greetings, Psychopomp Gecko. You can travel with us to the prison ship,” one of the Grau said. He was dressed in the nice, clean uniform. Two more behind him had darker outfits with clear armor padding. With them was a tripedal reptilian with these little flaps that moves on his head, who was paying close attention to a pale alien that looked like a giant maggot with eight little arms all tied up in cuffs. That thing had a metal disc covering what would be the chest area.

“This is a prisoner transport, not a tour,” the reptilian said. He pointed at my belly. “I do not need a pregnant mammalian on my prison ship.” Unlike the French accent of the Grau and their servant, this guy had a Spanish accent, complete with sounding like he had a lisp on some words.

“This is a matter of diplomacy. You do your job as you are paid to,” the Grau who was in charge told me, stroking his quills. I’m just assuming when I use “his” here. For all I know, none of these things even have different sexes. Or they have twelve. But the reptilian dude backed down and we got back on the transport pod with all of our weapons hidden on it. The weird maggot prisoner actually snuck away one of the boot knives. I winked at it, then went back to not paying attention to anything. Hey, a prisoner escape could be handy to me.

“So, it’s your ship?” I asked the reptilian.

“I am Skarzu, Commander of the Lethac, my ship. My living ship. A dedicated ship for prisoners so they are not kept with the soft ones who talk.”

And the grand prize for this test of blather and patience? Holly, Sam, and I finally got escorted down a hallway past solid doors with small windows for food until the Grau stopped and indicated a door. I stepped up and tested it with a shave and a haircut knock. I received two bits in return. “Boopsie?”

“Jesus, Gecko, you’re here?”

“I’m here, I’m queer, get over it,” I responded.

“We’ve been so sad without you,” Holly told her.

“Yeah, and none of these aliens are fuckable,” Sam said. Holly and I nodded along while Medusa laughed.

“I came to see what’s going on. I heard they’re looking for your sister, too. I guess they’re all pretty sure the person looks like you,” I mentioned.

“Well, I didn’t. I don’t know what’s going on, unless this is someone who doesn’t like me handing me over as a scapegoat. I walked over to the food slot and reached a hand through.

The Grau guards stepped forward. “Hands away from the prisoner!”

I rolled my eye, the other one slipped into Medusa’s palm. The suit provided me a holographic copy to fool these guys. I put my hands up. “Easy, just trying to touch her again for the first time in I don’t know when.”

The ship jolted. “What was that?” Sam asked.

Holly steadied herself on a wall. “Why did this thing do that? Shouldn’t the thing creating artificial gravity keep us from experiencing that?”

“What?” I asked, looking at her.

She shrugged. “I went to college, remember?”

“No!” I declared. Another jolt.

The guards looked at us, and one ran off. The other called out, “Stay here. Don’t touch anything!” then ran off.

A door nearby slid open and curly mess of tendrils grabbed the guard, pulling him in. Another door opened as well and some jiggly pink thing crab-walked out quickly, heading down the corridor. I looked to Medusa’s. No such luck. “Point the eye at the door, Maia.”

“Ok!” she called out. “Pointing!”

I created two portals back to back. Medusa stepped through one on the inside of her door and stepped out outside of the door. She jumped into a hug and asked, “I love you. What did you do?”

“Nothing this time, I think.” Alarms went off. They sounded a lot like human alarms. Makes me glad that the sound some other species uses for an alarm wasn’t the sound of, like, sex noises. “Prisoner escape! Harder daddy, harder, harder! All hands to battle stations. Pull my hair!”

I reached out and… did not see the fleet. The satellites around Earth no longer showed it present. Instead, it showed the massive maggot thing and the ship we were on. It rumbled all around us. “Lethac crew and prisoners. I, Prowbst the Grand, have broken free and altered the core of this ship to power my size-shifting technology to its full potential. I have stolen the rest of the Grau fleet and will hold them hostage. I will free all prisoners, who have a chance to serve me and go free. Together, we will take revenge on those who would lock us away.”

“Alright, let’s get out of here,” I said. “Huddle up, team!” Holly, Sam, and Medusa all joined the huddle.

“How do we get out of here?” Sam asked.

“Ready, break!” I clapped my hands together and stood up. The four of us were back in my basement.

“That was easy. We’re getting good at this,” Holly noted. She was shut up by Maia grabbing her and kissing. Sam too. Maia nearly knocked me down when it was my turn.

Of course, I got an incoming message on the public line from Senator Robson, the guy who did the favor of speaking up and ask for me to go on that little journey. Medusa popped my eye back into its socket while I reluctantly answered that.

After the first five straight seconds of screaming cut out, there was just that old guy yelling, “Ah, save me, save me, save me!”

“You probably should save them all,” Medusa said with a groan. “I hate saying it as much as you hate hearing it.”

“Fuck those guys,” Sam said. “Those French aliens were stuck up.”

“Yeah, but you think maybe that big worm is going to be a jerk?” Holly wondered.

I didn’t have an answer to that question until about an hour later, when the alarms started. Of course it was in the middle of fun time. “Pull my hair!” I yelled at Maia.

“Wait, you hear something?” she asked.

The computer switched from playing Fatal Attraction by Midnight Danger to the sound of that giant maggot. “People of this planet. I am your new ruler. All who disobey will be shrunk to the size of a small creature and squashed! Mwahaha!”

“Fuck!” I yelled, lowering my head where I could look back at my knees on the bedspread.

To my surprise, Maia reached her fingers into my hair and gave it a tug. The world could wait.

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Maia, aka Medusa, has been arrested by someone in connection to an attempted bombing on the U.S. Capitol when an alien envoy was present. There are dozens of different ways she could have been framed. I don’t know why the aliens are here, but they’ve got a fleet parked in orbit and I think we all want to avoid yet another alien war. It’s getting old at this point, and there are more aliens than there are people on Earth, so the numbers are against us.

Sam and Holly, other girlfriends of mine, took the news well. Sam pulled out her bronze knuckles and Holly grabbed a morning star off the wall. I held up my hands. “Let’s not go off half-cocked here.”

“Really?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, I’m still putting together armor. Also, I don’t know who actually has her right now. I figured I’d try diplomatic channels. First thing’s first, I’m trying to talk to Isabella.” I thought Venus would be getting back to me in no time, so but she told me she needed to talk later. Meanwhile, I’ve got whole villainous base mobilizing. “Creating clones, assembling nanomachines, and manufacturing drones, too. But mainly, I’m trying to get the armor right.”

Sam patted my shoulder. “Baby, you don’t need armor. You’re not fighting in person.” She reached out and touched my belly. Ever since I got this damn belly, people just touch it without asking. Holly set the morning star down and reached out to rub my belly, too.

“I am the most dangerous person on Earth. I’ve got a loaded pregger hole and I’m not afraid to use it!” I declared. I got a ring back. My eye HUD told me I had a call incoming. “I gotta take this, it’s Venus.” I backed away to try and escape their hands. I turned and headed downstairs to my basement lair. “Isabella, my baby daddy, what’s the situation?”

“I am at the Master Academy. I cannot believe I have to hide here. Alright, Maia, right; they think it might have been me instead and they want me arrested by the government and turned over to them. I think that means it’s the aliens who have her.”

“Any idea what they are? They don’t look like Fluidics or Trobogorians. Or Cercopagus Lysis. Or those guys with the space opera-”

“I don’t recognize them either, but they call themselves the Consortium of Grau. That may not be their species. This is all my fault.” I had never seen Venus so uncertain of herself as she’s been since we resolved the issue where she stole godlike power from me and tried to fix the world.

“Did you blow up the capitol? I mean, you know I’m not snitching,” I said.

“No,” she said.

“Then it’s not your fault. Duh.”

“They’re here because of what I did. They detected it through fancy high tech alien whatchamacallits and came to make sure Earth wasn’t going to fuck everything up. That I wasn’t going to fuck everything up.”

“You’re not, so there. Issue resolved. Moving on,” I said. She stayed quiet. I sighed. “Ugh… ok… as much as I don’t get rehabilitation, you’re generally a force for good. You even… ya know… me. And I did a lot worse than you ever did. I’m proof that not only are you not terrible and the worst person in the world, but that people can change for the better. And it was thanks to you. Oh my god, kid! Your baby won’t get off my damn bladder.”

She laughed. “Ok, the Grau took her up to a ship, but you can talk to them at the Capitol. They’ve landed delegations in major nations’ capitols around the world. That’s if you want to talk. I’m reaching out to the Exemplars for when that fails and we have to beat my sis out of them. I think they have a spaceship in case of complications.”

“Smart. I’ll talk since the aliens don’t want me dead as far as I know. Plus I have that bit of space celebrity from that opera. I doubt I’ll get anywhere, but maybe I can arrange a visit so we can pin down her location.”

“You might need to put a tracker on us,” Isabella suggested. “Something other people can’t track like a phone.”

“Funny how I’m the violent option on Earth, and the diplomat to the stars,” I mentioned in parting.

Sam and Holly insisted on coming with me, so we had to get a babysitter for Qiang. I trust Qiang… within reason. She’s getting up there. The stuff with the altered reality interrupted her latest birthday party, but she’s getting to the age where I can tell she doesn’t want to spend time with me and might even be embarrassed by me. I guess that goes double now that I’m puttering around all aching, fat, and gassy. We figured she wouldn’t need a sitter for long. For the sake of the sitter, I hoped she was prepared for a challenge.

The pair even donned a pair of costumes. I saw them when gathering up my gear at the store and prepping the Flyer in case I needed it for a diplomatic mission-turned-fight with aliens. Scattered around were boxes, containers, a few drones, and snacks. Lots of snacks. Snacks were absolutely essential. I’d already gone through half a bag of Dove chocolate and a package of smoked gouda pretzel sticks by the time my other girlfriends showed up. And also a few pickles. Some nutella. I ordered a Hawaiian pizza because I wasn’t sure how long they would take and it actually sounded delicious to me right now.

Sam wore a shiny red corset, white jacket with red studs over that, and pants trimmed in white. She protected the short mohawk she was going for with a red armored helmet and tinted white visor. She had on reinforced biker boots. Holly’s outfit was looser, with a shorter maxi skirt over the pants that had red leopard print spots in places. The back of her top turned into a hood with stiff supports to hold it up or retract it when she needed to. And her shoes were practical as well; modified Under Armor Ubers that The outfits looked like they were all about fashion because of the subtlety of the armoring and some of the gadgetry built into it, like electric stun pads in the gloves, hidden boot knives, and radios.

Sam was Rose Red and Holly was Snow White.

“Wow,” I said, seeing them in that in person rather than memory.

“Yeah. We liked the costumes from memory,” Holly said, twirling and making skirt go spinny.

Sam walked over, working those lovely curves. She put a hand on my chubby mommy belly, because of course she did. “You’re just wearing this outfit?”

I was in a loose boho skirt and tank top. I pointed behind me to the small treaded vehicle the size of a small car headed up the ramp from the extensive underground base under my store. “I got more clothes in there.” It settled in next to where some body doubles of me were seated on chairs. Unlike me, these weren’t pregnant.

“Good, you’re not going into a fight yourself,” Sam said. She took my hand. Holly took the other one. A moment later, we appeared in my portal lair. When I got my hands on wormhole technology, I exploited it to create a base that combined pieces of various dimensions and locations within the universe. We appeared in a cave with air portaled in from over a section of ocean higher than the tallest ships and lower than any plane that would be traveling that far from civilization. I activated a giant monitor and a hologram station to give me a complete view of the alien fleet over Earth.

I had a moment of viciousness. “I could just… wipe them all out. Every single one. Crack them in half, douse them in the heart of a star, suck them all into black holes, vent atmosphere, flood them with deadly creatures. Drowning, electrocution, throwing a planet at them. I am death incarnate… except I need Maia and I don’t know where she is. And if I kill them, maybe they send another fleet. Or they send someone with the ability to negate wormhole technology. Or they just destroy Earth from afar before we even realize we’re under attack, doing to us what I do to them.”

Sam squeezed my hand. Holly booped my nose. “Boop. Why so serious?”

I shook my head. “Heh. Guess it’s a good thing I had so many mental problems before. I was mad without power, so I already know to be careful. Ok, enough with the boring-ass introspection. Everyone ready to go deep into Congress’s tightwad?”

They nodded. A door opened in front of us, with me humming the Twilight Zone theme. We stepped through and out into Congress near to various people in suits. I tapped one of them on the shoulder. “’Scuse me, I need to see an alien.”

“Who the hell are you?!” asked a startled man somewhere around his thirties with a bit too much forehead and chin.

“I am the Psychopomp and I request a meeting with the envoys. Take me to them.”

“You look like some fat woman with two cosplay chi- oh my God,” he backed away when I warped my body away and replaced it with a spare body wearing a set of my armor. I had armor for myself, but it looked better without the rounded belly. Someone ran up, Capitol Police. Holly and Sam were ready, but the guy I’d scared held up his hand. “Officer, this group needs to be shown to the alien envoys. Take them there immediately.”

The officer took his hand off the very large gun and held them up to show he wasn’t going to do anything, then waved us toward him. “Sorry, right away.”

We walked through what they call the halls of power. There, the slimiest and most craven of power-grubbers oozed around looking for ways to collect checks and prestige without doing anything. And that’s after I’d killed all the malicious ones through accidents when I was a god. Finally, we were shown through a cordon of guards, including aliens in power suits that hid everything but their body shape and number of limbs. To play nice, I stepped back out with my real body and my sore cankles to look less threatening.

“This is cool!” Holly said.

“It’s lame,” Sam countered.

“I could really go for Korean fried chicken,” I said.

The cop presented us to some guy in a suit, who presented us to a room with a big table where Americans in suits sat with teal aliens who had lion-lake manes made of quills or feathers depending on the alien. “Psychopomp Gecko, and guests.”

“Thank you,” I said to the cop. I handed him a fiver. “Tell you what, go buy yourself some really cheap love.”

He stepped away, and my group stepped up to the table where some confused Senators, ambassadors, and aliens all stood up at my presence. One of the feathered ones turned to me and said in French-accented English. “You are the opera star. This is an uncommon delight.”

“Hon, hon, hon, now you send celebrities?” a petite quilled alien asked, directing the question to the politicians.

“I am not here as a celebrity, though I will sign autographs after the meeting,” I announced. Holly pulled a black marker out of her utility belt for emphasis. “I am here because you have arrested my wife under suspicion of trying to blow you all up and would like to negotiate for her release.”

In one back corner, I saw a silver-haired agent in a much cheaper suit whispering into the ear of a man from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The small alien gestured to another in its group. This one was larger, and had a couple of rings gathering up quills on opposite sides of its face. “That is not possible. What she did was a violation of the sanctions of safe harbor and diplomacy of the Consortium.”

“Let me visit her then,” I said.

The Senator from the SSCI spoke up, “We would consider it a personal favor of goodwill if you honored the request of Psychopomp Gecko to see her wife.” I glanced at him and nodded my appreciation. That’s Torian and now this guy I’m going to owe favors to.

“You have a child from the prisoner?” asked the alien who recognized me from the space opera I’d been in a little bit. That feathered alien reached out across the table for my belly, then actually climbed across it to place her hand on my belly. Holly and Sam both snickered.

I sighed. “Yeah. And if you let me up to see her, I’ll let anyone in the room who wants to touch my belly do so, on top of the good will incentive.”

I’ve never had so many hands on my stomach. “It is agreed!” the quilled alien with the slight build declared. “We will provide you with what you Earthlings call a conjugal visit, eh?”

“That’s not,” the one Senator who helped me out started to say.

I held up a hand. “Speak for yourself. I fully intend to get up there and conjugate her brains out.”

“We will have you on the next diplomatic shuttle,” the petite envoy declared. Meanwhile, the one who recognized me pulled out a plush doll of me for an autograph.

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New Normal 1

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Welcome back, dear readers. After the restoration of reality, there were loose ends to clear up. As much as I liked having a cult, I had to get them to close up shop. I saved some commemorative merchandise from it for myself, but I don’t want these guys selling the worship of me now that I’m back down to normal. From what I gathered, the memories of the other world changed people a bit. Lots of introspection. Not so much with my family, since they knew what happened. Medusa and Venus also took a lot of time to get reacquainted with their parents and to help Venus deal with her mental issues. She’s taking her failure as a goddess hard, even after I reassured her she didn’t even have to drown everyone on Earth.

And without the god-like power, I’ve had to get used to gravity and biology again. Science sucks. Morning sickness caught up to me and I’m showing my preggerness. I’m fat with little Alexander and obsessed with dipping tacos in ranch with a side of chocolate chip cookies. Cooked garlic in chow mein. Carrots in Cool Whip. I feel like the floor shakes whenever I walk into the kitchen. I’m fat and gassy and I look terrible. And I can’t stop crying!

“How do you feel, babe?” Sam asked cautiously, watching me eat strawberry jam out of the jar while watching an episode of Farscape on TV. I sniffled and wiped my face with a napkin. “I’m great. This is a funny episode. Crackers don’t matter!”

On screen, a Floridian astronaut was beating up aliens. An alien in leather bondage gear and a Hawaiian shirt suggested he murder one of them and have pizza with margarita shooters. Ugh, I can’t have alcohol. I never felt more like drinking than now.

“You going to get around any?” she asked.

I sniffed. “I’m a blob. An ugly, ugly blob.”

“You’re beautiful, you would just be more beautiful if you had a shower and stopped eating everything,’ Sam said. She reached out to rub my belly. “Here, let me help you up.” She helped me get to my fat feet with my fat ankles and fat calves and helped walk me into the bathroom. I went for a bath in the tub I’d designed to be big enough to let me lay down. I floated there, singing whale songs to match how I felt.

“Hon, I left a dress out here for you!” Sam said. “You’re a beautiful, beautiful butterfly!”

“I just farted and it smelled like cheap salisbury steaks! I haven’t had those in a month,” I answered. Aside from that, I enjoyed the hot water relaxing my skin. I could have fallen asleep, but it was one in the afternoon.

My relaxation was ruined by Holly shouting through the door. “Hey hot chunk, your sister wives are fighting a giant turkey!”

“Thank you, Holly!” I did not feel like thanking her. I think she calls me hot chunk for the angry sex. Except lately, it’s been hangry sex. There was mixed reception to me keeping a spicy turkey sandwich on the nightstand while we fucked. I groaned and pulled myself out of the water.

I wasn’t impressed. It was a turkey. Venus’s head came up to its shoulder. It breathed flames that nearly engulfed my depressed baby daddy-momma. Father of my kid, without sperm or penis being involved. I reached out my consciousness. When I returned things to normal, I also gave myself back all of my implants and resources I had in the past. That includes a base with dimensional portal technology, swarms of nanites, and the ability to connect to both remotely.

“Need a hand?” I asked Venus.

She sighed in her power armor’s earpiece. “Yeah, if you don’t think I’m chicken.”

“Assisting you would be a poultry challenge,” I said. I created a portal and sent out a mass of nanites that fluttered through the air like a flight of butterflies. The turkey turned and flamebroiled some of them, which was smart of it. Due to their smaller surface area, nanotech is susceptible to temperature extremes. I had more metal than it had fire; they formed into a hand that wrapped around the turkey and pulled it into the portal. I opened a portal to a cave deep underground with a bit of air and dumped the turkey there until I could see what the heroes want done with it.

“Thanks dear,” Venus said. “We need a good codename for when you’re all heroic like this. What did you do with it?”

I explained to her. I avoided exasperation over her calling me a hero. I’m not a hero. “And now I’m running back into the moral conundrum of what to do with it. Either turn it over to an immoral, corrupt justice system, or send it into an unaccountable system of secret prisons. Or just kill the thing, I guess.”

She sighed.

Everything seemed fine. We’re just moving toward a new normal after the recent fuckery. Like, now that I’m subject to biology. “Anyway, I need to go see this doctor in town about my coochie passenger.”

“Ew. Fine, go make sure our baby’s going to be fine.”

I hung up. Sam was going to go pick up Qiang, while Holly accompanied me to the obstetrician. She was down to help me with all the extra paperwork of getting five months pregnant without having seen a doctor yet. Since it’s the town of Radium, the older guy just sighed, looked at my cybernetic eyes, and said, “This is superhero-related, isn’t it?”

I shrugged. “Well, a hero knocked me up. And then I didn’t have to deal with any health matters for other reasons having to do with power and all.”

“Alright. Let’s open up the hood and take a look. Why don’t you tell me about your diet?”

“This is going to be interesting,” Holly said, holding my hand. I wasn’t in any danger, I just wanted to hold her hand. Her skin is soft.

Everything’s fine. I’m just a fat, hormonal woman forming a human up my vajay-jay.

Of course, just as things are getting into some sort of normal rhythm, that’s when the aliens appeared. Huge swarm of ships covered the sky, that whole deal. I didn’t get a call about it. Elsewhere, some weird multi-limbed thing out of Lovecraft’s wet dreams. Also, somebody with superpowers tried to blow up Capital building. All shit that nobody called me about or attacked me over.

I even got to talk it over with the god squad on game night. I used portal tech to get there this time. Baron Samedi greeted me, “Gecko, you’re glowing!”

“It’s about time,” said voice both familiar to me and unfamiliar to the setting. The Torian, an evil version of the time hero The Mobian, more likely to use time travel for his own benefit.

“Hello Mobian. Looking to use up one of your extra lives?” I grunted. Folks wouldn’t describe someone with a big belly like mine as threatening. “Or just here to check on the aftermath of everything?”

“The latter,” the old man said. Considering he was like hundreds of years old, he looked good for his age.

Tom Waits stood up and pulled out a chair for me. Argu the Observer, an alien god, scooted its chair away from Torian. I thanked Tom and took a seat with a graceful “Ugh. This pregnancy shit…”

“Now you know why I don’t like being a woman,” Torian said. “You really got rid of the power this time.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m regretting that decision already. What’s the game tonight? I’ve had to miss recently for reasons.”

“We know!” Argu argued. “My people found out what’s going on in this planet and it alarmed them.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.

Samedi nodded gravely while Tom Waits dropped the game Pandemic on the table. I groaned from the game choice. Samedi ignored it and filled me in, “Argu was telling us how Earth is like a cosmic dumping ground for discarded energies and technology that promote superpowers.”

Torian scoffed. “Different civilizations tell different stories for why humans get so many superpowers, and they’re all lies. None of them know. They pick on Earth because they can and because they don’t see it as an equal and they don’t like superpowers let humans fight back. You called out their ineffectual peacekeepers and made friends with their former slaves.”

Argu folded some of its starfish body in on itself. “You threatened all of reality.”

“I put it back together,” I said.

“The aliens are concerned, and the humans must tread carefully,” the Baron added.

I shrugged. “They’ll call me if they need me.”

We played Pandemic, aiming to stop a disease I nicknamed Disco Fever. In the end, Disco Fever overran the planet and spelled the doom of humanity. “Maybe they need doctors more than gods,” I noted.

Torian stopped me. “I need to warn you about something, because I know if I do, you will survive and can help me in my future. And I have some fondness for this planet that you are a lethal guardian of. Also, you’re going to kill Mobian at some point and bring him closer to being me.”

“Huh. Sounds like the right calculus,” I mentioned. He might have some game in mind, or he might just be that selfish. I yawned and looked at the old geezer. He was in Victorian casual, I’d say. A nice embroidered vest, slacks, pinstripe shirt. He normally went with a suit jacket and top hat, but this time he had on a tweed cap. “What’s up?”

He held up a color-shifting crystal attached to a small chunk of porous rock. “You’re going to need this. You’ll figure out when, and you could make it without it, but it would cost you time and someone important to you. This will save her life.” He held it out for me.

I took the crystal, which felt warm in my hands. The rock was room temperature, but the crystal felt like it generated its own heat. I looked back to the Torian. It was a biological-crystalline growth, a fact that popped into my head somehow. Likely a residual memory of omniscience. It’s not like I lost all the knowledge I’d actively looked for or browsed out of boredom. I still know “Fine. Deal, I guess, unless I find out something later.”

I wiped my palm on my dress and reached out to shake on it. Torian removed his cap and kissed the back of my hand. “Charmed to have helped you.”

Back at my house, I had a message waiting from Medusa, the version of Venus who didn’t get sucked out of time and who grew to care for me and lose a lot of her uptight, strict adherence to the law in favor of vigilantism and social justice. “Hey, Gecko. I wanted you to hear it from me. I was on security when someone tried to blow up the Capitol with the alien envoy present, and they claim it was me. I guess I should tell you to stay out of this and let justice prevail, but I don’t trust any of this. Clear my name and come get me, please. Try not to hurt too many of them.”

Well, well, well. Looks like some aliens need stabbing with a crystal.

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