Imagine, if you will, Dartmoor. Rural, woody New England. A little mountainous. It appeared to be an older town in my opinion, since it had kind of a town area you could walk in. Older spots are like that, designed to accommodate people who walked or maybe had horses, because people had to get places and didn’t know cars would happen. In areas where urbanity sprung up more after the advent of cars, everything’s more spread out, and doesn’t work as well for walkers.
An old-fashioned New England church, wood and stone, stood as the last holdout in the gloom of late afternoon. The sun hadn’t yet set, instead casting long shadows and coloring the scene orange as a winged, thirsty blood drinkers circled the church like vultures. With wings like birds a color red that almost blended into the sky, they looked for an opening, a weakpoint. Every once in awhile, groups of one or two would dive down and be repulsed with a burst of bullets, light, flame, electricity, frosty whorls in the air, or even a cry of “Open bar, suckers!” and a thrown Molotov cocktail.
A group of three ran for the church; a figure in pink and gold power armor carried a smaller form and pulled a slightly bigger one after. The shapes dived between them and the church.
Into this scene, we insert a car. A fifteen year-old mauve coupe with a blue passenger door came flying over a steep hill at the end of a cross street and skidded to a frantic stop in front of a crowd of winged, pale men and women standing in the street. The car’s speakers pumped loud music into the street. The singer announced, “I will give you my all, pretty baby. I come whenever you call for me, lady, yeah!” as I got out, wearing shades over my eyes, my hair back in as close to three braids with bells on the end as I could get them after all the surgery. I wore a black leather jacket and pants, with biker boots and a white tank top rounding out the ensemble.
I faced a mass of a dozen red-winged humanoids in tunics like this was the trippiest Legend of Zelda since that Ben guy drowned. Their arms and legs were black, like rot or frostbite.
“We are here, LaFayette!” I yelled, before reaching back into the car. I pulled out a pie I immediately tossed into the face of the nearest vamp where it did no actual harm. Kept her from seeing, and even made one of his fellows laugh at her, but no real physical violence. Just like there wasn’t anything so harmful in me pulling out a can of aerosol whipped cream in one hand and shotgun that fired a stream of harmless green smoke. To them specifically, I put on an exaggerated Austrian accent, “I have enough of cream for everyone to have a taste. I’m not just blowing smoke.”
While most of them were distracted by the ridiculous notion of enemy reinforcements arriving to spray cream all over them, some prepared to fight. Except, with all their attention on me, they neglected their flanks. Venus pushed through, knocking out one of them unfortunate enough to be in the way to get those kids to safety. She might have managed it without my help, but this time I was on the right side of that little equation about how many it would take to beat me.
Yes, even though I had a small horde all looking at me and my delicious neck, I was on the right side of theat. Because I saw the others flooding out of the church off to one side. As they attacked the gathered and feather-winged vampires, another group emerged from the opposite street that I came from in a hotwired pickup truck, making use of their own ranged abilities. The second group had the teens I rode with, who I convinced to pull off this ploy by implying I am Psycho Gecko. It didn’t help that one guy kept on pestering me about it, while the driver, a pigtailed girl, just seemed mad at me. Probably because I inadvertently got her punched by a minotaur.
With myself supposedly being the threatening supervillain himself, the eager, young, nubile, presumably-flexible trainee teenagers were more than happy to follow my plan. It’d be a unique opportunity to them, as Quincy said. Or a way to avoid being hurt further, as Chloe said. Leah didn’t confirm or deny anything, and this one other guy packed in with us went from setting up his camera, testing it, and then getting lots of footage of the trip with all the focus of a college student on illicit Ritalin.
The youngsters weren’t as effective, though. They didn’t have the aim or coordination, nor were they quite so lethal. Yeah, the Master Academy supers from the church were taking every opportunity to take out heads, bodies, hearts, anything potentially lethal to the undead that they could find. They were not playing around. It was so nice to see.
Except I had my own problems, like the whipped cream and smoke gun running out, and the angry, humiliated vamp covered with part of a pie determined to get back at me for a little humilitation. She flew at me, wings stretching behind her and flapping in a way that shouldn’t facilitate flight. I tossed the can and gun aside and reached to my belt. I drew my weapon of second choice… a large peacock feather. Listen, the kind of stores I frequent in my own time is my own business. Let’s just say some of them have loads of cream, pies, and giant feathers, and leave it at that.
Grinning, my body pumping with yummy adrenaline, I jumped back on the top of the car to avoid the charge of the vampire. Sadly, she did not hit it. She stopped and raked a claw right where my balls initially landed but, oh so luckily, were no longer at. I scooted them and my legs to the side, then under me. While the vamp tried to get her hand out of the car’s metal top, I brought the feather around and used it on her vulnerable neck, the very last place any vampire expects to be attacked.
Except I wasn’t attacking. I was tickling. I saw her fangs surprisingly clearly as she shook her head and lunged at me. Maybe it’s because she got up in my face with them. Indeed, I’d hardly managed to slide back at all before the beast’s preternatural speed allowed her to catch me and begin throttling me. Just a little throttling. She didn’t make me hit 100 MPH, but she certainly aimed to break the speed limit, and possibly my neck. She proceeded to wrench my neck to the side, pressing my head against one shoulder and fully exposing the side of my neck.
Armed as I was with merely a non-French tickler, I had to resort to a less overwhelming way of trying to delight a woman out of her mind. I felt her strength falter from laughter. I also got a bit of spittle flying on me. When I jerked my head up to not have my neck exposed like a nudist running a marathon, I even headbutted her. She returned the favor. Well, no need to bite me on the neck anymore when she could just hold a glass under my nose.
I stuck the feather into her mouth and grabbed her head to keep her from sinking her teeth into me. A gentle kick helped me gain some distance, though I felt absolutely pathetic in the process of pushing myself off her, especially when I slid off the other side of the car and landed hard on the street. I used the time to fumble through my pocket for some backup. I found a flask of orange juice and some mouth spray. Gotta keep that orange juice ready. You know never know when you’ll need a screwdriver, after all. Too bad I didn’t seem to have any vodka with me.
With a shriek, a certain admirer of mine pounced from above. I couldn’t help but notice her eyes. Yellow, with an incredibly small pupil. And she seriously needed to clip those toenails, because her hands weren’t the only claws around. She got a mouthful of extra strength minty mouth spray. I tried to imagine eating something gross while she hacked and coughed. Like seafood. Some wriggling mass of slimy, stinky, spiny something sliding down my throat. Like Frenching an ugly anglerfish, as opposed to the sexy ones that swim around, teasing you with their lights. As a result of this imagination, I spewed orange juice up into the open mouth of my aggressor. It wouldn’t have been pleasant even without the minty spray.
I laughed at her for a second, heedless of the pain caused by the acidic citrus vomit upon myself. She upchucked, or in this case downchucked, blood all over me. Tasted completely gross. Just all kinds of vomit coating me, including some of my own. I almost reciprocated, which would have just gotten us stuck into a loop until one of us got an empty stomach. Then she jerked on top of me in a way that usually involves more fun and different bodily functions. The sharpened piece of wood shoved through her chest with a chunk of heart on the end also didn’t match up with most times a lady’s been on top of me.
But then, who brings a lady to their bed when they can have a freak instead?
All posturing aside, a furry hand grabbed the pointy end of the stake and lifted my opponent off me. Minotaur held her up in the air where the stake tore her a little, then smashed her head against the ground. He tossed her aside and gave a snort. Didn’t even look at me or help me up.
I had to help my own darn self up. In the process, I did find my mini-bottle full of vodka to down. Good timing.
“Is Gecko still alive?” someone asked. I had to clear a bit of dripping puke blood out of my face to see that it was Venus, standing with half a vampire in each hand.
I waved to her. “Yep. Just doing my best impression of a used tampon over here.” I walked to her, only to catch a hard left that sent me to the ground, followed by a kick to my tailbone.
“You stupid, irresponsible, egotistical piece of… you brought my students. Kids! This is no place for kids!” I got the sense she didn’t agree with my actions. Call it intuition. And pain nerves. My glasses, having made a valiant effort so far, decided to opt out of the fight and dropped off my face. For the best, really. I don’t wear my sunglasses at night, so I can, so I can keep track of the visions in my eyes. And I doubt Venus cared about switching a blade on me, shades on or no.
“We’re ok!” someone shouted.
Venus answered them with, “That doesn’t matter!”
I crawled forward to get some momentum before rising to my feet. “Make that a used tampon from a woman whose husband punches her in the ovaries. Is there running water still, or am I going to have to overcome the smell with copious amounts of liquor?”
A kneeling, balding man with a paunch and a ponytail said, “You might try Monroe’s over on Elm. There’s still some of it there. It’s not all good for lighting on fire. We still have water, though.”
Leah came running up toward me as if to check em over, but was stopped short by Venus and others of the more senior heroes who proceeded to check over the newcomers for injuries.
“You need to go as soon as it’s daylight,” said the minotaur to one of them. “Oh, I remember you.”
Psychsaur’s the one who finally gave me a checkout as I stood there, looking over the dead vampires in the setting sun. No, they didn’t turn to ash or anything like that. That helped, as it allowed me to examine them while Psychsaur probed my brain.
“You are that desperate. Oh my God,” she said.
“I take it things didn’t go as planned. Y’all arrived with pretty overwhelming force, but they got the better of you. I bet that wasn’t all of them, either. Pale, still. Probably due to the whole need for blood thing. Wings with feathers. I wonder if they transform into a type of bird, like strigoi and wolves. I think I remember some type doing that. Wings though. That’s kinda like the… let me think. Striges. Strix. Strixes? And the lilu, too. Have you noticed if they eat babies?” I reached down and into the body of the one Venus tore in half. I pulled out a heart. It didn’t beat in my hands still or anything like that.
“No, we didn’t see that. By the time we got here, most were dead. At least they don’t turn everyone bitten into more of them,” she said in my mind.
I shook the heart, then poked at it. “Still living enough in the sense that brain destruction or widespread bodily injury does the job. Taking out the heart probably helps, but the stake is unnecessary. I hope you have the ones I brought still. Even if you don’t get them in the first hit, it oughta mess them up.”
I looked up and thought back to why I referred to high stakes.
She blinked. “One of the vans blew up and stuck several of them nonlethally. We thought they weren’t attacking because they were weakened by it. You coated them with drugs? Where did you find that much?”
“Lots of students have stashes. Had stashes. For crimefighters, y’all are awfully bad at finding hidden drugs. LSD, ecstacy, mushrooms. I didn’t bother with the pot. Maybe if I need smokebombs another time.”
“I hate to be the one to save your life, but come on, get inside with the rest,” Psychsaur told me. I looked up and noticed the sun was going down and the flapping of wings began to distantly fill the air. “You’re right, we weren’t ready to kill things that look human.”
“If only you had someone here to do the killing for you,” I winked at her as I dropped the heart and followed her into the church. I stopped as a handy bit of trivia came up. “Hey, where’s the nearest grocery store?”
She pointed down the road to a small one. “You won’t have time. We need to get in stay on guard. Don’t expect to sleep a lot.”
I took off jogging toward the store. “I think we’ll sleep just fine.”
The only risk came in not making it to the meet section in time. But I did, and rounded up as much pork as possible. Pork chops, both center-cut boneless and bone-in, along with the super-cheap pork loin and Boston butt. I’ve always wondered if whoever named the Boston butt just had a negative view of Bostonion derrieres by comparing it to a hunk of pig meat.
There was one strix who landed right in front of the store as I exited. I threw five pounds of pork right into his open mouth without breaking stride with my shopping cart. I ran for the church then, building up sped and riding on the back. If a bloodsucker got in my way, he got porked. Seriously porked. And it worked. My porking them saved the day.
“Why aren’t they attacking?” asked one of the guards at the door, over-under shotgun in hand.
I rolled along, sausage links swinging from my hand. I swung them at one of the yellow-eyes who tried to accost me, right in her mouth. Some people just kiss people out of nowhere. Amateurs, I tell you! I can roll-by and stick my wiener in their mouths. A completely non-violent assault on their orifices, accompanied by the battlecry: “Pork you, mother trucker!”
I dropped plenty more in front of the church door before rolling right in on into the church. “Celebration! Cheese for everyone!” I announced.
“No, why are they just eating that stuff?” asked the guard, keeping it trained on them.
I stepped off and turned the cart to the side, noticing how absolutely packed that building was. It stank of human. Ew. I just remembered I’m human now. That stink is part of me. I have human smell. Even worse, when I get caught in the rain, I’ll have wet human smell. Ugh.
Psychsaur rushed to the door to look. Other capes joined her, but didn’t have her abilities to probe the minds of the vampires. “They’re obsessed with it,” she said.
“Quirk of the strix, which is what this appeared to be. Ancient Roman type of vampire, somewhat related to owls in the same way other types are to wolves, bats, or even rats. Can be warded off with pork and, supposedly, certain types of beans. Here, someone dump this on one, see if it works.” I tossed minotaur a can of pork and beans, one of the cheap ones. Maybe a bad example, depending on if they’re too cheap to include actual pork and/or bean, but I wanted to save the good ones for myself.
“Do you think that’ll stop them?” asked Venus, coming over to check the cart.
I shrugged. “We’ll find out, but I bet they’ll get stuffed.” I blew her a kiss. “Just think, all the ways you tried to neuter me, and here I am saving your… patooties. Frelling censorship block.” I walked toward some of the townies and took a bow, then pointed back to the cart. “If anyone needs dinner and can start a fire, I did the shopping.”
Venus pulled me aside, toward the restrooms near the front. “You aren’t supposed to be here, or even alive as far as anyone knows.”
“Y’all are terrible at secrets, by the way,” I said.
She ignored that and told me, “You need a codename.”
I looked down at myself, then took off the leather jacket and held it over my shoulder. I brushed off my cat ear headband and gave my bell a tinkle. From over in the other room, I heard Psychsaur yell, “Oh heck naw!”
“Oh Home-For-Infinite-Losers yes,” I said, looking into where Venus’s eyes would be under her visor. “You can call me Puss In Boots.” I pulled up my pantleg to show off the biker boots.
She snorted and held a hand up to her mouth to stifle laughter. She failed. Really, it’s like she barely tried to stop herself. After a minute, she fought back the laughter and regained her composure. “Alright, Puss. Since you’re here, you can help a little. But you and the others are the non-combat squad. You don’t fight again, you hear?”
“My ears certainly send signals to my brain about vibrations they pick up moving through air molecules, yes,” I said. Nothing said I couldn’t lie or obfuscate.
“He’s not planning on listening!” Psychsaur called from outside.
Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day! Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day!
“Argh! Ew! No, no, no!” Psychsaur said from the other room, hopefully backing up off my case.
Venus looked back to the door, then to me. “Listen and listen good. I know Spinetingler fought you and you want revenge, but as far as I’m concerned, none of this is your business. You are a prisoner and a patient. You’ve been let out this far over good behavior. Do. Not. Push. It.”
I held my hands up defensively. “Listen, Venus, I want to help. It’ll be fun for me. Plus, I think there’s more to this situation that y’all don’t know. Couldn’t know, because you don’t have some of my insight, both as a villain and as me specifically. And there is another reason. Judging from the costumes I saw outside, you’re missing some people, right?”
Venus nodded. “Some of us hesitated at a bad time and they have the surveillance squad captured, we think. We haven’t been able to get close enough to Angerhorn Manor to find anyone.”
“Good. Well, not good, but I mean to say I have something I can do here. I can repay a little bit of that debt I unfortunately owe Master Academy. Or is it fortunately owe? I guess it depends. I mean, if I we count the whole fight, getting wounded, and so on, it was unfortunate I needed to be repaired. But if we count from the point when I was wounded, it’s fortunate. And that’s just from my perspective, and current and past perspectives…” I stepped past Venus, heading for the door. I opened it to find Psychsaur there, eyeing me through her mask.
“He’s telling the truth,” she told Venus over my shoulder. “He’s just embarrassed and trying to distract people from that.”
I pointed a finger in her face. “You know what makes a really distraction? Those things.” I shifted the finger over toward the front of the church. She looked and peered for a second. Not finding anything, she turned back to find me gone.
I was walking into the church, announcing to one and all, arms out wide. “And if you should like to know the name of your savior this evening, who almost died out there, by the way, then count yourselves lucky to be saved by the one, the only, Puss in Boots!”
“Where’s your donkey?” asked a little boy.
Minotaur walked up behind me and clapped me on the shoulder. “He doesn’t need one. He’s already a jackass.” He walked past with a metal trash can full of wood in one hand.
I pointed after him as he went. “Don’t listen to a thing he says. I swear, nothing but a load of bull.”
Believe it or not, Master Academy didn’t go off half-cocked. They went off fully-cocked, loading up a pair of vans. Disappointed me they didn’t have a jet hidden away somewhere, but that’s probably a good thing given the inevitable future conflicts I’ll get into with them. Besides, they made it pretty clear in all the talking back and forth that the place was only about four hours away.
This time, they took a lot more people, including Venus, Psychsaur, and the minotaur guy. They left Leah behind, though. Mainly, they sent along older, more experienced folks. I tried to climb into one already-crowded van with a bunch of them. Looked nice, though I knew it’d be tricky finding a comfy seat with all the stakes strapped to me in lieu of armor.
“Hi there, how ya doin’, make way,” I said, climbing in the door.
One of the ones in a custom costume nodded toward me. “Who are you supposed to be?”
I looked down at my costume, which literally was just the clothes they got me, wood stakes tied onto my chest, upper arms, thighs, and waist, then reached up and scratched my cat ears as if they were real. “Should be obvious, really. Pussy cat covered with pointy things… you can call me Vagina Dentata.”
The men in the van all cringed and brought their knees together while I fought an instinctive urge to do the same.
I went to go in further, but then I got pulled out and floated to the ground.
“Nope!” said someone behind me. I could guess who, but I turned around anyway to confirm that ol’ Boobzilla had spotted me. “You’re still not going.”
“But come ooooon! At the very least, I’d make a good decoy. Draw fire from the people who can fight, even if you don’t let me fight.”
She shook her head. “We don’t operate like that.”
Venus set down a bundle of stakes and walked over. “Thanks, we could use these.” She started to strip me of my own wooden weapons. Which is a lot less painful than it would have been if I sported a boner.
“You need me out there. Who else is going to miraculously save the day and defeat the forces of darkness when y’all fail?”
“Don’t you mean ‘if’ we fail?” called someone from back in the van.
I turned and yelled back, “I know what I said!” Then, back to Venus, “I can draw heat from the rest of y’all. I have a very puncheable face, an abrasive personality, and a funny name. With those qualifications, it’s either fight, or become a politician.”
Venus’s eyebrow rose. “Compared to some I’ve heard about lately, you wouldn’t be any less moral. It’s good that you’re enthusiastic about helping us, but this is a time when we don’t need help.”
“Maybe I do! I gotta kill something, or at least be involved in its killing. Do you know what I did earlier?” I talked right over her starting to shake her head. “I stalked a roach. I followed it through a couple of rooms, then into a wall. By the way, y’all have some secret passages built into the place. Anyway, I followed that roach back to a huge nest of roaches in the walls and… couldn’t even kill them. It literally made me angry with rage! If there’s anything I hate, it’s redundancy, you know. That’s why I like to remove a lung from people.”
“You’d make a good exterminator,” Venus responded.
“Leave off the ex, and just watch me go after Sarah Connor. Though I do hear you’ve got a vampire infestation on your hands somewhere…”
She shook her head. “No. We’ve got you where we want you right now. It’s too dangerous for everyone to have you on this, so you stay here.”
“Fine, accursed heroes, but you don’t know how high the stakes are… I’ll show you. I’ll show everyone!” I raised my fist to the sky and let out an evil laugh.
“That’s nice,” said Venus, patting me between the cat ears. Suddenly, I decided I didn’t actually owe her my life anymore, whenever I manage to get free of this place.
Trying to stow away didn’t work either. I just rolled off. Not much of a metaphor there. I tried to hide on top of a van and rolled off when I got to the gate. Even going after them on foot didn’t work. I just couldn’t. It may have counted as escaping… which I kinda sorta maybe thought it was an escape, but it also could have been something else they put in my head. In the end, it left me looking longingly as other people went off to have a dandy Halloween time while I sat around getting babysat. And not even the fun kind of babysitting, where a killer calls from inside the house.
But there were other things I could do that didn’t count as escaping. Like leaving and calling up an individual who would greatly prefer if I was dead. That’s not really a good way to describe someone these days, though. I mean I pretended to be some anonymous magical book dealer who heard Ethan Basford, of the famed Basford family, was still around.
Ethan and I became acquainted when I did some work for him and his twin brother in California. They’re part of a family tasked to bring about the apocalypse in order to gain tremendous magical power and live as rulers in that post-apocalyptic world. Thing is, since everyone in the family’s got that deal going on, they’re all trying to both end the world as we know it and end each other as they all know each other so they don’t have to share. I wound up offing Ethan’s twin brother.
It was bittersweet for Ethan, as he paid me back with a very small amount of magical truth potion that, predictably, worked against me. I held it against him, which is why he agreed to bring some magical reinforcements to Empyreal City during the whole alien fiasco. Vampires, actually. He had some magic box full of the things, and he used to like to hang out with them in Los Angeles. I was a bit surprised he decided to stay in Empyreal City, but at least the number I had for him was still good, as was the alias.
I found him sitting in a cafe, sipping some sort of pumpkin spice espresso. I expected him to have to fight down a spit take when he saw me, but apparently I’m still fairly unrecognizable. As if a little lipstick and makeup around the eyes mattered. And having more hair in a certain do, come to think of it. The explosion, and then subsequent surgery, took a little off the top. “Are you Mr. Alias?” asked the smiling, genteel older balding man with a strong, pointed nose. He stood and shook my hand, then gestured to a seat at his table.
“You could say Mr. Alias was something of an alias for me,” I said, settling into the chair. “And I’m not here about books, especially not some magical book that traps and releases monsters. Sorry, it was all a lie.”
Ethan’s smile faded. “Then what are you wasting my time for, you punk?”
I smiled.”A certain mutual friend of ours, someone who doesn’t like telling the truth and had to do so because of you, informed me as a matter of payment that you could answer some questions about vampires for me.”
Ethan stood up. “I don’t like where this is going and I don’t have to stay for it. Good day!”
I grabbed him by the arm. “I need to know why a bunch of them would take up with Spinetingler.”
He scoffed. “They wouldn’t. I know them better than just about any other human, and they hate that guy. All creatures of the night do.”
“Please, sit, tell me why. It could mean life and death for people I know. No need to rush off and not finish that pumpkin thing just yet, right?”
He looked at me, and I swear he drew a symbol on his coffee cup. “If you really got my number from who you said you did, you know there’s a superhuman underbelly to the world. It’s like this banana stand my family used to own. No matter how down on our luck we got, there was always money in the banana stand… because we hid several hundred thousand dollars in secret compartments inside it.You have your layer of the world, we have ours, and sometimes the two meet, but usually the supernatural and the superhuman like to stay separate.”
“Aww, the vamps don’t want to be famous supers? They’d really fit in as intimidating nighttime prowlers.”
Basford shook his head and reached into his coat. He pulled out a flask and began unscrewing the top. “Mages and monsters were ostracized for much of history. Mankind, jealous and afraid of mystical power, shunned or even executed people like me. The myths are full of superpowered heroes slaying monsters. Superheroes and villains want to be noticed, but we just want to be left alone.” He popped open the lid of his coffee to dump something alcoholic in, secured the flask, and had himself a nice sip before going on. “Spinetingler is the antithesis of the supernatural world. He can’t make true vampires, either, so the only ones he would have with him are very young and very stupid. And it would get out if too many were unaccounted for.”
“Huh… interesting. I’ve got reports of people tracking him that say he does have them.” I leaned back to ponder on this. “Is there any other way he’d have some flying humanoids with fangs and claws with him?”
Basford spread his hands. “How should I know? You’re the one who knows everything. I tell you what, if you really had that book you mentioned over the phone, that might do it.”
“Oh really?” I cocked my head to the side. “The unassuming book said to have trapped ancient monsters? You know, that does sound about right.”
“Don’t joke around with anybody else about that. That book is serious business.” He pointed at me to emphasize the last two words.
I raised an eyebrow. “Let’s just say, purely hypothetically, if that book had been seen in this city previously, before the past year or so’s widespread destruction, would it likely have any older vampires in it?”
Another sip of his adulterated espresso, or at least adult coffee, and Ethan graced me with an answer. “Lots of monsters have claws and fangs and can fly in history. Vampires come in a wide variety of forms, too. There are ancient vampire legends, but too many different types. Every culture has vampiric monsters in their history. Call my if you uncover any lil-la-ke, or lilu. The females are infertile. They eat babies, though.”
I lightly slapped the tabletop. “Sound like my kind of women. Listen, thanks. Sorry for getting you riled up for nothing, but I really need to go. Gotta make sure that book wasn’t uncovered, so I guess we’ll consider that my good deed of the day for you and yours. You just stay here and have fun exorcising your coffee of spirits, eh?” I shot him finger guns. He shot me one back while taking another sip. Good guy. Maybe I’ll consider our little issue square now, with the truth serum, even if he doesn’t know it.
He could be wrong, or lying, of course, but he had a good point. I’ve pointed it out before that supers are generally flamboyant. Whether we’re causing crime or stopping it, flying around with bright colors in the day or glaring down from a rooftop at night to intimidate people, we like being noticed. Spinetingler and his creations tend to follow that line a lot more. They want victims, so they want to draw them in, whereas Basford gave me the sense vampires just want to get by while unliving their unlives in a bit more privacy than all that. You know, like living off in the middle of the Romanian mountains and trying to kill any tourists dumb enough to hike the Romanian mountains.
Another good point came when I visited the old Double Cross Headquarters building, under which I had built a bunker. Below that, I’d buried that book that trapped monsters. It didn’t look particularly threatening, with a gray cover and leather cords binding it. Easier to hide than more exotic materials, like human leather or tendons. Even easier to hide if you stick it beneath a bunker under a skyscraper.
Except the building was gone. The bunker, too. Just a crater. I stood there, examining it, figuring up the distances by eyesight. I’d have gone down there to check, but didn’t see much point in scrabbling and slipping down broken concrete, rebar, lead, and drywall to try and fail to lift a section of floor that probably weighs more than your momma. Plus, my ride home had arrived in the form of a hovering power armor of the thick, rectangular variety. Very 1980s. I held my arms up to him. “Take me, you magnificent metal man!”
“Uh, I’m… I’m just here to bring you back to the house. Mr. Mender wants me to tell you to stop running off,” came a voice over speakers.
As soon as he set me down at the campus, I headed on up to see Mender. “They’re doomed! Doomed I say! The end is nigh!”
“The town is retaken,” he said. “Your enthusiasm is appreciated, but I will not need you for Spinetingler after all.”
I rolled my eyes. “You will. Those vamps are likely not the standard European type we’re used to. This isn’t Dracula versus Superman, with Frankenstein in Drac’s corner. There’s going to be freaky vamps. Detached upper bodies, or vampire bat skulls with intestine around them. Maybe floaters with backward feet, who knows? And on top of that, Spinetingler’s got very special book with him, a magical tome that can do some nasty stuff to people.”
I know, I know. I didn’t have proof of any of that. Didn’t need it, either. All I needed was a trip to have some horror fun. It’s a thriller! Thriller night. And I’m gonna punch a being with forty eyes right in the nuts, if there are any forty-eyed bloodsuckers with male genitalia.
“Nice try,” is all Mender said to me, before rolling out to attend his other duties.
So I had nothing to do but sit around researching old myths and occasionally trying to escape, which usually amounted to me running and stopping suddenly before going back to my preparations. Holy water, garlic, a flamethrower, and I found a workable sword in one of the weapon training areas off to the side of their gym. It slowed down work on my newest armor iteration, though I didn’t entirely mind that as I had almost nothing to work with to make the armor at this time.
Leah stopped by to see me in my isolated corner of the library, surrounded by my mess. She smiled, her hair forming a rainbow with red at the base. “Hey there.”
I winked at her. “Howdy, young’un. I’ve been expecting to see you around this place. And to have to explain the story so far to you.”
“I picked up on some of it.” She nodded. “You still found a way to leave.”
I shrugged. “Temporarily. Only to a short distance. I don’t consider a trip to go fight the vampires quite the same, I think because I might not come back. I’m a bit handicapable at the moment.”
“I might know a group of troublemakers who want to go watch what’s going on and jump in if needed. Maybe we can stick you in the trunk,” she said. She snickered.
I sat up. “That’s… actually, yeah, that should work. I mean, because then, I’d have to stay with y’all. No escaping… yes, my devious Leah is truly growing into a thinking villain…”
“I’m thinking of staying a hero,” she said.
“A delusional villain, but one readying to take down the heroes from the inside…”
“They’re my friends, Gecko.”
I grabbed the sword I’d found, a thin longsword. I didn’t put a lot of weight on it, but I did cut into the carpet helping myself up. “And boyfriends. Still with Derrick?”
She scrunched up her face in puzzlement and crossed her arms, as well as one foot in front of the other. “Have you been digging up gossip about me? I’m not with him anymore. He got weird. Or I guess he was weird the whole time, like he, like, didn’t seem to realize we were as close as we were. Then he got dismissed. Mr. Mender didn’t trust the nanites, so he gave everyone an ultimatum if they had used any or if someone they knew used any. I didn’t want to get purged either. I trusted you not to hurt me.”
I swung the sword forward, just missing her chin. “Right you were! But enough about love lives for now. After all, the car ride’s a few hours. Assemble the Gecko Cats!”
“Gecko cats?” she asked.
I swung the blade round a few more times, then pointed it straight into the air as I yelled, “Gecko! Gecko! Gecko! Gecko Cats, hooooooooooooo!”
The librarian’s “Shh!” cut me off before I could play “Thunderstruck” as a theme song.
Yes, like it or not, I have allied myself with Master Academy due to pragmatism and the sight of my impaled chest. Not that everyone’s heard. Most of them don’t even know who I am, after all.
I half expected more people to recognize me, but it makes some sense. I mostly ever appeared in public wearing my armor. When I didn’t, I tended to change my physical appearance all the time. Even my bra size a time or two. Even when I adopted the face I currently wear, I used makeup. Subtract the makeup, some hair, and a little meat on my bones, then add in a bit of head trauma for an equation that justifies when people appear to be 80085.
That’s a good thing at the moment. There’s nothing but scab between the outside world and my chest cavity in spots, and I’ve been left physically diminished in my recovery. Plus, that little calculation I like to rely on clearly shows me at a disadvantage. The one that goes, “I don’t know how many of them it was gonna take to whoop my rear (cursed cuss censorship!) but I knew how many they were gonna use.” In this case, about seven billion people. Adjusted for inflation, I might give Hitler a run for his money as the World’s Most Hated Person, all without deliberately targeting a single Jew. Ironically, that probably means the Nazis over at Stormfront think I was secretly a Jew.
I miss the internet. Nothing reinforces the reasonableness of exterminating humanity quite like the internet.
I missed having armor, too, so I’m doing something about it while learning something interesting about my thought processes. Yep, just another man to learn new things about himself in the big city. Because that’s where I went. Set foot off campus and took a bus into the city proper. The people at the bus stop didn’t even blink when someone wanted to get on with a bell and cat ears on his head, but it is right by Master Academy. I wasn’t sure if the rules they imposed on me would let me, but it turned out my suspicion that it was worth a try turned out to be true.
I walked right off Master Academy’s campus, though not through trickery or bribery or resistance to mental compulsion. I was able to leave because I had been compelled not to escape. I wasn’t escaping. I was heading out to buy a few things, then coming back. I’ve also been known to borrow something important, like a diamond or the bullets out of a sleeping target’s gun, but I don’t always give those back. People don’t always like when I give things like that back, more because of little factors like how hard I give them back, and where.
When the bus dropped me off in an area I knew, I set off. Utilizing my completely non-violent ability to rob people blind, and at least one blind person, I soon amassed enough money to afford a shopping spree at a hardware store and electronics store. Finding a junkyard was harder, and I had enough trouble remembering where I was going. I’m used to GPS.
If I needed any help getting back to Master Academy with my purchases, you wouldn’t know it. I walked along, thinking of the best place to acquire armor plating, when Master Academy heroes descended upon me like a Biblical plague of Egypt. The lesser known Fourth-And-A-Half Plague, the plague of cameltoes. The Bible missed that part because of all the tunics and loincloths they wore back then instead. I’d where a loincloth too, if it wasn’t so impractical.
I get in too many fights for that. At least if I were completely nude, the sight of my towering manhood could dissuade any limp-wristed attempts to punch me in the crotch. Cover it with a loincloth, and people are less fussy about it. The things you learn in Bangkok, eh? There’s a reason Murray Head’s song brings back memories of swordfighting with a secret order of nationalists who hate foreigners and paying foreign hitmen. They called themselves the Kokblockers.
Since I’m horrible at foreshadowing, they didn’t have anything to do with my trip. Instead, some guy stepped out of an alley and tried to stick a knife against my throat. I blocked it with a bag and stared him down, the two of us eyeing each other. Him, some random mugger; me, a mass murdering serial killer super villain hiding in plain sight with some mind wammy on me stopping me from hurting people. Clearly, there was only one course left to me.
“Gimme your money!” the guy said, edging around.
I dropped my bags and tore at my shirt, screaming while revealing my nasty-looking chest. Then I reached down and yanked my pants open, letting my Lynyrd Skynyrd enjoy the brisk Fall air, free as a bird now. I pushed them down and kicked them off, then waved them around over my head by the leg, yelling all the while. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabugoffaaaaaaaahhhhh!”
“Pluck this,” he said, and turned to run back down the alley.
I stopped to take a breath, shoved my pants into a bag next to some of my purchases, and gathered them up to go. I didn’t go far.
Quicker than you can say “Watch out, that Thai hooker’s actually a woman!” I found myself surrounded by Master Academy capes. They were more than happy to escort me back, though they kept distracting me from my work afterword by bringing in Psychsaur and some other telepaths to examine me. I tried to ignore them rooting around my brain, but it wasn’t easy. I mean, at least I’m used to hearing other voices in my head from time to time. The little room we were all in was crowded, and not the best spot to build stuff, but I had bought tools of my own and could work off the floor if need be.
“It must be the computer somehow,” one of them said.
Another suggested, “Maybe it wore off. Sometimes compulsions can do that.”
A third voice spoke, “Has he been under any unusual stress?”
“Don’t talk about wearing off, and it wouldn’t have been that. The computer shouldn’t mess with anything. And finally, don’t you know who that is? Stress, really?” Psychsaur fielded all the questions in one burst.
I just stripped a little wiring that I’d worked into a glove. “Hey!” I said in my mind. “Y’all are the psychics, shouldn’t you have it figured out by now?”
“Stop talking about us in there,” said one of them. “We don’t speak that language.”
“That explains a few things,” I said. “But I figured y’all would have Occam’s Razored your way to a solution by now.” I brought up the list in my HUD, in English, and concentrated on it.
1. Cause no physical violence
2. Make no attempt to escape or convince others to help me escape
3. No bleeping cussing
4. Do not use poison, allergies, or medication in an attempt to cause physical harm.
5. Never oppose an OCP officer
“Who’s the OCP officer?” someone asked. “Is someone on duty?”
I pointed in the direction of that voice, behind my back. “Your lack of appreciation for the finer arts disgusts me. That is one of the classics of cyborg cinema. How dare you denigrate my people, you fleshist.”
“It’s a pop culture thing,” said a guy with three eyes.
I pointed at him next, “Right you are, Tien. You’ve won a Zeni, as soon as I find a way to counterfeit them. But what I meant before is that I didn’t violate the rule about attempting to escape because I wasn’t attempting to escape. Turns out, there really is a difference between, say, stealing and borrowing.”
“There’s a loophole?” asked Psychsaur. “I guess your intentions matter.”
I started running wires up a sleeve. “You know, your completely separate observation matches up perfectly with my ideas about morality through some odd coincidence. Good response time, too. Was getting chilly out there.”
Triclops said, “No one wants you loose. We’re taking a lot of risks as-is. Mender and Venus must have been crazy to think we could keep you a secret to the rest of the school.”
That reminded me. “By the way, there was a student here who I think is on hero duty sometimes. I haven’t seen her around, but I know she was here at one point. She’s an old friend. In a good way, not in that way that made y’all look at each other.” Keep in mind, I didn’t look up when I said this, so they were shocked I noticed. They’d have been shocked I knew they were shocked, too. “I’ve been chalking it up to timing, but with almost everybody dropping in on me today, I have to wonder where my old trainee Leah has gotten to.”
“That’s not for us to say,” said the person staying behind me. “Stop doing whatever you’re doing. That’s a weapon.”
“A weapon? No, no… it’s just a glove designed to channel energy to the fists to be discharged in a physical blow. There are a ton of civilian uses for it, like smashing watermelons and breaking cinderblocks. Besides, I can’t use it as a weapon. And I might be inclined to check for more loopholes if nobody wants to tell me what happened to her. She looks like this.” I remembered back to Leah as I last saw her without her mask. A misfit teen, or at least a runaway who feared for her life after a hero wound up killing a villain in a fight. She accidentally used her powers in a crime and fled, not being sure about the reasonableness of the people on the lawful good side of the D&D table.
“I told you, we can’t say,” said the one behind me. In retaliation, I remembered that Shia Lebouf meme where the actor stands around shouting stuff like “Do it!” and “Just do it!” in between yelling at people to follow their dreams. My brief stint as Emperor of the World gave me some insight into that; the CIA was testing an experimental mind control device on him that had to be primed with a chemical in LSD. The mindchanger didn’t work, but the added chemical led to a lingering high.
The door to our little room opened and Mender rolled in. “Well?” he asked.
Psychsaur looked at him for a moment. Mender then rolled around to observe what I was making. “This is a form of your armor.”
“Yepperoony. Figured it’ll come in handy if the safety gloves are ever taken off me. Kinda wishing that was the case since they’re all being evasive.” I nodded to Psychsaur and Triclops, then back in the general direction of the other voice.
Mender said, “That is not your concern. You should get better.”
I tossed the glove carelessly behind me, where I heard it slap someone. “Didn’t know you were there,” I said in way of explanation, then addressed Mender. “If you want me to give a dam about you and your school, it’d be a good idea to start by telling me what’s up with the only friendly person around here. Did you do something to her because of me? Did someone else? I think I’d have seen her around by now unless you sent her to the West Coast, in which case you’d have just told me she’s over there. I will ride your ass on this if you don’t. Level with me here.”
If he was put off by my mention of a method for blocking water and a domesticated animal, he didn’t show it. He couldn’t show much with his face. “We are handling the situation.”
I’ll take “Phrases that never end well for $800, Alex!”
“Unless the situation is a kitten, I don’t know that that’s true.”
Pyschsaur grabbed her ear, and I wondered if she had a normal earlobe. She turned to Mender and whispered something in his ear.
“Aha!” I pointed at him. Then, whoever in the room was a telepath lifted me up and I found myself floating upside down, probably giving some of them a view of my barely-clothed rectum to varying degrees of their enjoyability. I crossed my arms over my chest as I floated around like that, slowly rotating. “You know I’m right. Something went wrong, and I bet the person I was conveniently talking about is now in trouble. Am I right? The Law of Narrative Causality is a fickle mistress.”
“Yes it is,” Mender said, “But not for the reason you think.”
The door burst open and a spandexed-up Master Academy hero started to run in, but stopped abruptly. I couldn’t quite placer until she spoke. “Uh, hello,” she said and began to circle around.
“Speak of the devil!” I said. I tried to keep her in sight as I spoke. “Or should I say the girl who once had me as a devil on her shoulder. Hey there, Leah.”
“Oh my god, Gecko?! Is that Gecko?”
I felt her hug onto me from behind, putting her face somewhere near my other pair of cheeks. All at once, everyone started coughing. Mender’s computer-generated voice even said, “Ahem. Ahem. Ahem. Cough cough.”
“Leah, I’m a little detained at the moment. Think you can get all your friends a lozenge? Also, stay away from my chest. It’s a little tender.”
“I thought you were dead!” She let go and I floated where I could see her again, smiling.
I couldn’t help but smile back. “As always, rumors of my death precede me to the grave. Apparently, Mender decided I was worth salvaging instead of letting me die. But I don’t think you came here for me. By the pricking of my thumbs, bad news this way comes.”
Her elation faded and she turned to Mender. “We have a problem.”
“There is its,” I said.
“That’s it, you shut up now,” said Psychsaur. She backed it up, too. Couldn’t say a thing after that, just keep rotating around in the air.
“Sir, we ran into problems. We were watching him like you said, and followed him to Vermont, to a town called Dartmoor. He holed up in Angerhorn Manor. It’s got a repuation for being haunted.”
“I received the updates. Please, what went wrong?” Mender asked.
Leah stopped and took a deep breath. “The observation team sent me out for groceries near dusk. By the time I got back, the hotel was overrun. They looked like vampires; pale with fangs and claws. They flew and had super strength. I watched for awhile and saw them carry the others off, then got back as soon as possible.”
“Why didn’t you call?” asked Triclops.
I raised a hand and waved it around.
“I left my phone in the room but it wouldn’t matter because the phones weren’t working anywhere I checked. It’s like the entire town was cut off,” she answered.
I pointed finger guns at her. She got it in one. Classic horror trope, phones not working, both because the vast majority of horror stories have taken place in pre-cell phone times, and because the ability to call for help with them renders it necessary for modern horror stories to find a way to screw up the phones.
“We will get them back. Thank you for letting us know. Go, write it up for everyone, then get some rest,” Mender said. Leah nodded and turned to wave at me before rushing out of the room. Mender looked to Psychsaur, “Let him down, and let him talk if he wants.”
Surprisingly, they didn’t just dump me on the ground. Probably because Psychsaur remembered that time she caught me and my chest popped open. I bet I’d smell good to vampires. And as I drifted gently to the floor, I finally got to say, “I’ll do it!”
“Do what?” asked Triclops.
“I’ll help! Spinetingler and vampires in rural New England, with a small town and a manor? Sounds like fun!”
Psychsaur had something to say about that. “This isn’t about your fun. These are our friends’ lives.”
I grabbed the glove I’d been working on. “Right, and I just so happen to owe people some lives here.”
“No way. You just want to kill and escape,” she argued.
Mender hadn’t spoken yet up to this point, so I ignored her and looked to him instead. “Come on, drop the idealism stuff. THIS is what you kept me around for.”
Mender just said, “Yes, it is, but you are not getting out yet. We have the resources to help ourselves. You have a glove and a hole in your chest. You stay here.”
With that, Mender and his retinue left me alone to work, though I did eventually find a decent spot in the library to keep at it while looking up that Dartmoor place.
Oh, I am going, no doubt about that. This has been too much of a disappointing October, and I deserve vampires! And a manor!
I don’t care what those heroes say, I’m going to save their lives whether they like it or not.
Wow, put that under “list of phrases I didn’t expect to say.”
Ok, so the awesome quotient seems to have dropped off a bit since I’ve been stuck here. But that doesn’t mean it’s all been bad. Though I think my little rebellion has come to somewhat of a less satisfying ending.
I didn’t immediately run to a phone or computer, but that’s because I have to get ready. The voicebox was one part. Getting these glam covers off my fingernails was another important thing I managed. They’ve banned me from the workshop. It’s downright impossible for me to throw together something to build nanites with them keeping a close eye on me, nor do they have those tools available in that little room, since that’s set up for students.
I’m pretty sure they’ve got better facilities for that and heroic activities somewhere on campus. I know certain doors that look like they go to basements are sealed up with multiple forms of access.
So nanites are out, which complicated things. And they keep an eye on me to keep me out of there, which isn’t helped by this bell around my neck. It isn’t just about annoying me with sounds, either. Either the ears or the bell has a tracking device in it of some sort. And while I have no reason to think this outside of what I would do if I wanted to be a jerk, I suspect the tracking device is also tied to the location of the ears and/or bell so that it’d be abundantly clear if I removed it. If it were me, I’d have it send out a very loud alarm if I so much as tampered with it. I could put up with them if it was just a bell to keep track of me, or trying to humiliate me by making me wear cat ears, but I really don’t like them tracking me.
So I decided to be a male genitalia as a way of getting myself treated less like a cat. First, I followed Venus around for a whole day. It’s easy, especially in a crowd and with someone who knows how to look innocuous. A little bit of stolen makeup, some hats, doing up my hair, a few stolen outfits, and I blended right in. At least until I noticed her going in circles while talking on the phone. She made a loop in this section of hallway that went around a janitorial closet several times until stopping and turning to look right at me. “I found him, nevermind.” She walked right up, patted me between the cat ears, and said, “Want to go get lunch, kitty?”
I’m beginning to understand why felines plot against the people they live with. I’m really getting in touch with my inner cat. “Stop all the cat jokes. Fine, I could eat. And no fish or milk or fluxing Meow Mix.”
So we had lunch. Made it easier to keep track of her for a bit, though she didn’t seem to care for the silent treatment from me. Or the constant glaring. I take my villainy very seriously, and that includes the ability to eat in a menacing manner. You don’t just wave an electric knife at someone when they bring up a subject. No, there’s an art to conveying evil intentions in mundane activities. Like when Obadiah Stane in the first Iron Man movie even managed to drink like a villain.
Venus asked, “Anything you’ve been thinking of doing? You could sit in on some classes if you’re interested in anything. Drama club is rehearsing for a musical. You seem to like those.”
“What kind of musical?” I asked, slowly raising my glass to my lips.
She opened her mouth, then stopped before she could say anything.
I moved my glass just out of the way as I spoke, not yet having sipped. “Well?”
“Cats,” she said. My eyes drilled into hers like a pervert with a blowup doll as I took a shallow drink, then set the glass down. “How are you feeling, then? Any shakes? Withdrawal symptoms?”
“Still got a sore chest. Still a little under the weather. Definitely wish I could kill people, but things are somewhat better compared to being stuck in a tiny box underground. So thanks, I guess. Still wish I could get into the workshop… or anywhere better. You know, some nanites would be nice, too. Maybe get this bell off.”
She gave me the same bit about learning to trust each other while I’m in their custody. Just figured I’d give them a chance before going through with stuff.
I continued my plan later that night. Most of the school goes to sleep, but I’ve found there are a surprising number of night people. Some of them are the spandex brigade patrolling or staying ready in case something big happens. Others are students or faculty who don’t sleep well. Powers can do interesting things to brain chemistry.
Now, the main dorm building, aside from having rocks partially carved to fit as bricks while also providing a rock-climbing experience on the outer building, is one of those places where I suspect they’d keep a closer eye on me. I’m probably an extra bleep on someone’s security panel somewhere.
This evening, that beep would have led them to the adult floor, and to a nice little room occupied by a certain nemesis of mine. It took only five minutes before I heard footsteps come rushing. I left some trash out there, but nothing he’d likely slip on where it was. Just some boxers and an empty box of condoms. The footsteps stopped, and it took the person or people out there a couple seconds to knock on the door.
Now, here’s where my lack of preparation came up. I really wanted to get a recording from a porno to play when they came. Alas, it turns out that they had their actual super computer people lock them down. I tried everything. Porn sites, porn bulletin boards, even certain filesharing sites that don’t make it obvious in terms of names. Sadly, it appears someone here can match my encyclopedic knowledge of where to find naked people online. And, for some reason, they blocked any sites I reached from searching for “sexy thoroughbred horses.” As if I’d whack it to horses.
Anyway, without any big, beautiful horse rears to admire, It should be no surprise when people find some of my clothes left behind outside another person’s dorm room here. After the knocking didn’t get anything and calling out just made Venus snort and turn over in bed, they burst in. Light stabbed in and awoke the primal vampire within Venus. She hissed and threw her arms over her head. “What the Home For Infinite Losers are you doing in here?” And yes, that’s me covering for more cussing, for Puck’s sake.
“We tracked the Special Guest in here!” said a softer, lighter voice that could have been male or female.
Venus looked around, then dropped down into a crouching stance to check under her bed, which was one of the places I considered hiding. I even had this idea about my new voice box and any special toys I found down there. I call it “Star Wars: Episode Ungh!”
Mark my words, that’s coming to a dirty website near y’all soon, if it isn’t out already. I couldn’t doublecheck due to the aforementioned restrictions on my browsing habits.
Venus, along with a pair of the spandex brigade, then threw open the door to her closet, releasing a spring that launched a cream pie right into Venus’s face. There’s the money shot. It’s like comedic bukkake.
Thus humiliated, they stepped toward the middle of the room. The one who hadn’t spoken moved his hands around. My translation program recognized it as American Sign Language. “Did he sneak out?”
“Maybe,” Venus said before trying to Sign. Her lips said “Maybe,” but her hands said, “Ugh, why is there custard on my finger?” Maybe I got that mixed up with her trying to clean herself off, though.
The cat ears dropped down and landed right at Venus’s feet. Slowly, the three looked up, realizing they’d fallen into one of the classic blunders, along with going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line and starting a land war in Asia. Technically, I’ve done both, like when I set off that Mongolion invasion of Russia. I ain’t a nice drunk.
The heroes forgot to look up… and so they found me, clinging to the ceiling in a hospital gown. I “stood” up, the gown and my long black wig both fixed so they didn’t hang down according to gravity. Because why settle for thumbing my nose at only mortal law? My face and arms pale, I opened my mouth wide and let out a long, loud croak.
It freaked the freakin’ freaky out of all of them for a moment before Venus threw a glob of cream at me. “Get down here, Gecko!”
I stopped croaking to ask, “Or what, you’re going to call the physics police? You don’t have jurisdiction over gravity!”
She responded with some pie custard. Shame. It gave me something to plug my ears with when the bell sounded its loud alarm right there in the adult dorm hall in the middle of the night.
Needless to say, I got called into the Principal’s office the next morning. Well, more like dragged in at super-laser-blasting-fingerpoint. And by next morning, I meant right then, since it was technically morning. Victor Mender wasn’t in a good mood, but that happens when people interrupt your sleep. “We give you an inch and you attempt to take a mile,” his computer spoke for its disabled master, the offending cat ear headband and now-removed bell choker on desk between us. The choker didn’t have any clips or anything, just two ends that went together so smoothly, you’d think they had been cut apart.
I opened my mouth to speak, but a cannon popped out of the rear of his wheelchair and began to track me. He continued speaking, “We bent over backwards to give you the most lenient incarceration and saved your life in the process. Do you know we saved your life? Anyone else would have left you to die.” He stared at me with eyes desperately wishing they belonged to a man who could Force Choke people. “Everyone else left you to die.”
His computer screen rotated around to show me in the aftermath of the big fight against Mecha Gecko. There I was, floating in the water. Another picture, a forcefield surrounds me. Me being pulled out. A crowd aiming possibly every gun in Empyreal City at me. Not just civilians, but cops and soldiers too. And I didn’t look too good, either. Had metal sticking out of my chest and a big gash in my head. Master Academy covered me with a sheet, maybe even fought off some people trying to go all Benito Mussolini on my body.
He showed me photos and videos, even a news broadcast of a very hasty burial done form me. A fake burial, I shouldn’t have to point out. They didn’t bring helicopters and a platoon along for a twenty-one gun salute, I figured that much. Or if they did, they meant to wait until I showed myself to be alive before they commemorated and proved my death. The concrete poured on top of my body was a nice touch. The newscaster even stopped to point out that the restored United States Government refused to squirrel away my body for autopsy, burial at sea, or cremation because all three would lead to further rumors I had survived somehow, “like Tupac.”
I pointed at the screen for that point and looked around at the others in the room with me, “You know, some of those sightings were me. There was awhile where I was listening to his stuff a lot. Nobody rats on Tupac to the POPO.”
In all my thinking of escape, I’d glossed all over the part where being caught in an explosion would have left me on death’s door surrounded by people willing to kick me over the threshold. I crossed my arms in front of me, which got me a few more glowing heroic body parts waved at me. “That’s not necessarily something I thought about, except for the easy hard time. I got a bit caught up with someone trying to dress me up as a cat boy. But, as dishonorable and disreputable as I am, I owe you and yours my life. Blech, the words taste bad to say, but they’re true nonetheless. If you want me back in that cell, I’ll go, though I will try to find a way to get out. If you want me to behave, I will, but I’ll still want freedom. It’s just part of who I am. No genie wants to be stuck in a bottle.”
But I still reached out, reluctantly grabbed the bell collar, and put it on my own neck this time. The ends fitted together and the whole thing tightened up to hold the bell against my throat and prevent someone from slipping it off me. The ears went next, a little more quickly because the alarm really is that annoying.
Y’all think I liked that? No. But the Evil Overlord List has it right on this point: when someone saves your life, you should make it worth their while. A Lannister always pays his debts, and so on. Which is probably why Cersei and Jaime Lannister should have learned not to screw around with the other as kids.
The monitor swiveled back around. “I may have some wishes for you, genie. The Claw is on the move and Spinetingler may soon reach out. The world is primed for chaos.”
He must have stopped when he saw me smiling. I liked the bit about chaos, but I had to fight it back down as I considered the implications of what he said. “If you’re meaning to turn me into another member of the spandex brigade here, that is going to end poorly. Square peg in an ash hole. Hydroelectric dam I wish I could cuss right now.”
I tried to ignore the brightening of the glowing body parts to keep watching Mender as he spoke. “I am glad to inspire a generation of idealists. Sometimes we bow to pragmatism and opportunism. Everyone else, leave.”
“Sir!” several people said.
“This is not a request,” Mender said. The lighting in the office soon became much more palatable as it emptied out considerably. Only when we were absolutely alone, which involved a barrel popping out to shoot an invisible person with a paintball to get them to leave, did Mender continue, “I do not know where Spinetingler is, but consider consider the Academy your home until he is no longer a threat.”
“That’s a bit much…”
“I know where to find Technolutionary. I have friends who put him in North Korea, working with The Claw forces and your captive bee friend. They say he has taken an interest in your alleged heir.”
I nodded, “Sounds like fun… for a hitman, not a hero. Fixing things there is going to require handling a few supers with a permanent solution. But obviously I’m just assuming more than I should about the permanent thing. After all, you’re a hero. You’d never want even a rogue element like myself to make that judgment call in the field.”
See? This is why it’s not good to have friends. Then, even when you already owe someone your life, they can hold those friends over you as a bargaining chip.
I couldn’t let Mender have the last word though. I may owe him, but there’s always a potential dealbreaker: “I’ll help you, but if I find out Boobzilla messed with my head tonight to influence my thought process, everybody here dies. I’ll seriously tip you over in a bathtub somewhere, let you drown in a puddle of crotch wash.”
So I guess that makes me Psychpomp Gecko, Great and Devious assassin in temporary service to Master Academy, with a bell on. Which probably doesn’t mean much to them. They might not believe me. Y’all might not believe me. But a little thing like saving my life matters, and so does me deciding I’m going to try and not put up a fuss with my captors.
Besides, the sooner Mender ships me off to far-away North Korea, the better. Then my escape plans wouldn’t involve violating whatever piece of shriveled honor still remains in me like a senior citizen donkey show. Now there’s an idea for when I get my hands on Technolutionary… donkey sodomy! Just like the old commercials used to advertise. “Good ol’ fashioned donkey sodomy, just like Granny used to make.”
“Gol dack piece of frelling dren!” is what I tried to say, but the sound quality’s really gone downhill quick on my voicebox, so it sounded more like a bunch of sounds even I could barely hear. Of course, the audio issue was secondary to the main cause of my little rant.
That particular storm of words had to do with me looking for any kind of science or engineering lab so I could work on something, but instead I had to pretend it didn’t hurt when one of the capes , some minotaur-looking mother pucker, stepped in front of me, looked me dead in the eyes, and poked me in the chest. Then just walked away. Some people make really sore losers. I hope he remembers that when I carve his skull a new fun hole and pump that biscuit until it’s full of white gravy.
Yeah, the chest is still a bit tender. Some of the pain in my chest gets pretty annoying, and the itching doesn’t help. And I’ve lost a little muscle mass, so getting around isn’t as easy as I thought it’d be. My infection’s over and done with, but I’m STILL recovering. I miss nanites. Getting hurt isn’t as fun without them.
So that’s one of the bad things I’ve had to deal with lately. The list grows. Woe is me. Feel sorry for the bad guy, feel hatred for the good guys. Bah, y’all don’t read this to see me in a pitiful state. Y’all read it because I’m funny and awesome.
Speaking of which, I’ve begun my experiments on what’s going on. Like testing how those rules work. Still can’t cuss, for instance. It’s a country-fried shame, though it somewhat amuses me that they thought of the children when they made that rule. Just to remind myself, I created a note in my HUD that lists the first few of my latest ninety-nine problems.
1. Cause no physical violence
2. Make no attempt to escape or convince others to help me escape
3. No bleeping cussing
4. Do not use poison, allergies, or medication in an attempt to cause physical harm
5. Never oppose an OCP officer
As far as the no physical harm rule goes, I’ve found it to be somewhat flexible. I knew just who to test it on. I found minotaur guy. He was standing in the hall near the cafeteria area, not paying attention to me; too busy shooting the bull. I balled up my fist… and nothing. Couldn’t throw it. I deliberately reached way back in the cartoony way, then willed it fly against him. All it did was bring my fist forward really, really slowly. Frustrated, I wanted to try one last time, so I practically threw my arm all the way back, good fighting sense be damned, and felt it hit someone. I turned to find girl with thick glasses and pigtails standing there, holding her nose as it started to bleed.
I smiled wide and held up my hands in an exaggerated shrugging, since I wasn’t sure she’d be able to understand me. I held my hands with palms against each other, finger’s pointed up, like I was praying or doing some other word that begins with “B” that I refuse to say about this incident. I pointed to my throat, then to the guy behind me, then punched my hand, then pointed back to him.
She didn’t catch on to what I was saying, so I pretended to look behind her, widening my eyes. To her, I mimicked holding some sort of long object and raising my head to the sky, while opening my mouth as if to go “Awooo!” Then I held my arms up all wobbly. After that, I walked two of my fingers over my rotating fist, back and forth, and pointed behind her.
I escaped by the time she turned back to where I had been less than a second before. Ha! Fell for the old “Look out, it’s an elephant balancing on a ball,” trick so infamously pioneered in the Second Punic War. What are they teaching kids these days? Actually, I’m in the right place to figure that out.
A second round of tests came up on that subject later, when fixing myself lunch. The kitchen they have here is seriously stacked. So I fixed myself a delicious provolone cheeseburger with the buns done as garlic bread. Afterward, I had a banana and tossed the peel to the floor with the bottom, seed-bearing portion still in there, where it stayed until someone happened to walk through the door.
My visitor, a young woman who could have been one of the older students, slid forward, her other foot held up in the air. She tried to catch herself on this one counter, but then that foot flew out from under her and deposited her right on her razz.
I grabbed a spare banana and split. I had a hypothesis to test. Again, I sought out the bullheaded bully who poked me, getting further acquainted with the layout of the school. I found him in the gym, working out. He looked pretty built, but the weights on that barbell were well within the range of standard human strength training. It made me wonder if he had a power, or if that physique was it.
So I got to stare at people working out until he went to go change. I walked on over to the locker room in time to see him heading in for a shower, so I went over, helped myself to more banana, and found I couldn’t drop the peel. I could drop it if it didn’t matter, but trying to use it to hurt someone just didn’t work for me. In frustration, I squeezed it so hard, the seed shot all over my face, followed by mashed-up banana.
Sadly, I had to abandon my quest to hurt him for the time being, leaving that locker room a disappointed guy with a sore throat and white gunk all over my face.
I finally found a shop, though. I was wandering around the classroom area when I came across the joyful sound of a saw blade. It’s a beautiful sound, especially paired with the tearing of flesh. Though, if anyone out there does try to use it like that, wear some goggles. Wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.
I interrupted a shop class with a dozen students all working in group projects, one of which looked like a done, and a teacher huddled over helping one group with the saw. They all looked so ordinary, too. No tights, no capes, no masks. The teacher was balding, even. One of the students had a light green skin, another horns, and I think someone had glowing hair, but a fairly normal bunch of teenagers. They didn’t seem to know who I was, either, since the most comment I got was someone asking, “Hey, isn’t that the guy who wrecked the refectory?”
I just ignored them and looked around for some tools. They had bigger tables for people to work at in a two rows, with tools and materials on counters set against the outside wall of the room. I found really thin and long screwdriver easily enough, but it took some doing to hunt down something to grab. In the end, I happened across a pair of pliers that would do and grabbed them. Along with a hammer, I set up shop at one of the tables.
“You need some help?” asked one of the ones working on the drone while I practiced holding the screwdriver and pliers. I shook my head, then held the tools above me. I looked straight up, opened wide, and lowered them on in. I had to fight my gag reflex briefly, but it wasn’t the first time I took something that long and hard down my throat, though having two tools in there at the same time was a new sensation. Well, in that orifice.
“Oh spit,” said- oh come on! Not even if other people said it?! The somanabatching icehole who did this to me made it work so thoroughly, I can’t fargin’ describe how a bunch of bastiges talk? This is bullstein! If Psychsaur had a cork, I’d cut it off and put it through a meatgrinder!
Anyway, these horny teenage boys got to see me deepthroating a screwdriver. Tricky bit of business. I felt around in there, and had to get the angle just right, until I reached the prosthetic vocal cords, which are a bit different from normal ones. I installed these manually the first time around, so at least I didn’t do something as stupid as making it where only nanites could really fix them. I used the screwdriver as a lever to hit a couple of release switches, then lifted them out with the pliers.
“What are you doing?” The teacher asked, calling out to me from where he sat by the saw. He got a better look at my face when I pulled the cybernetic prosthetic out of my mouth and set it on the table. That’s when he pulled out his cellphone and started calling someone. Meanwhile, I just worked away, hunting down any pieces and parts I could find. I was in no position to buy or machine new ones, though I did get to gather a few pieces from student projects when the teacher herded them all out.
I didn’t bother to address the teacher at all, not just because I was busy, but because I lacked the natural pieces this thing replaced. See, back near the end of my training, some of the scientists involved in the Psychopomp program grew some testicles on their consciences and tried to set up an escape involving a fire and the destruction of the base’s main generator via a bomb. They’d waited so long, and the consequences of our escape had been so drilled into us by then, that we didn’t cooperate. In my case, I fought one of them who stabbed a guard and tried to lead me out. More of them caught up to us, so he held me in front of him and ducked down. His knife bit into my neck. Not wanting to be a human shield when facing a pair of men who already treated us as fairly expendable, I pulled myself away. The knife opened up my larynx, doing quite a bit of damage and leaving me mute. The man’s replacement helped build me something to replace what he cut, though I learned to make my own before long.
I bought my life at the cost of my voice. It was a good deal, and that’s cutting me own throat.
Even if I did have my own voicebox the setting I had in there would have kept them out of the way. That’s the part my body had merged with, and it included a reinforced ring on the outside to make sure my windpipe couldn’t close up at that point for any reason. Yeah, let’s just say my anatomy is slightly different than most people’s by now.
By the time whatever security forces the school had just for me showed up, I had my head up again and was right in the middle of lowering my partially-repaired prosthetic down my throat.
“What are you doing?!” demanded a voice behind me. I turned to find the minotaur there, along with an unusually blubbery man and Psychsaur. Pretty sure it was Psychsaur. She was the one with her hand on her head and scales instead of skin. I winked at her.
The minotaur grunted. “I just got on duty and you’re pulling something.”
“What’s he up to?” asked the fat guy. He looked to Psychsaur.
“Repairing his voice,” she said. “He’s not doing anything to hurt himself or anyone else, though he’d like to hurt you.” She glanced at the minotaur as she said that.
I had to catch all this out of the corner of my eye until I finished getting everything settled in. When everything seemed connected, I lowered my head and looked right at them. From my mouth came a horrible screech that alternated between two different tones, then the words, “This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system. If this had been an actual emergency, nobody would have invited the heifer along.”
“Hey!” said the fat guy, then looked at the minotaur. “Oh. Nevermind then.”
Said bovine hero shook and clenched his fists. Meanwhile, I went through tests. “Figaro, figaro, figaroooo! Fat-bottom girls, you make the rockin world go ’round! Hello I walk into empty hallways tell me not to hurry.” I closed my mouth. “Good, seems to be all fixed now. Speaking of fixed,” I looked at the minotaur, “You might want to steer clear of Texas, know what I’m saying?”
“Imma kill him!” he shouted and threw a punch with way too much telegraphing and way too much power behind it.
I dodged against the wall, where I started chipping away at the wall with the screwdriver in my hand. “Time to get busy livin’, or get busy dyin,” I said in a rich voice that could have narrated a vasectomy and still kept people fixated on the events in question. I had a moment since the minotaur had gone over the table and was pulling himself up, inadvertently giving away that I had at least some indirect method of causing physical harm to a person.
“There’s a door!” Psychsaur called out, though nobody tried to get between me and the bully to stop this little conflict.
I dropped the screwdriver, hoping it’d roll into my assailant’s path, and exited the door. I even closed it properly and looked to the crowd surrounding the classroom. A few adults were trying, and failing, to overpower the curiosity of children of all ages. I took a bow, then raised a hand and looked into the air, adopting a smarmy British tone, “To be, or not to be, that is the question…”
Behind me, the door banged, hard. “Some people would answer that for me, however.” I started into the crowd ahead of me. Just in time, too. The door broke into a left, a right, and a bottom around his head, a chunk of wood sticking in one of his horns. “You monster!” I called back, the crowd refusing to open up for me. “There was a knob!”
He didn’t care, just stepped through the broken door. I turned to look at him, crowd of people behind me, which I refused to think about. “Now, I know what you’re thinking: do I punch him in the face? I can give you at least one Van Damme good reason not to.”
I saw him pivoting to throw a punch, so I did a split. Apparently the “no physical violence or harm” rule doesn’t apply to myself, as my balls and hips informed me.
I heard a smack of fist hitting flesh, and an “Oooh” from the crowd.
Looking up, I saw the cowman holding his face in a flinch, teeth showing in a kind of “Oops,” look. Twisting around further, I saw a certain ponytailed girl with tissue up her nose being held up by those around her.
“I tried to pull it,” said bovine boy.
I popped up right next to him, looking along his arm to the the girl, then to the bull fighter’s face, then back along the arm. “What did you do? She was just an innocent bystander! You punched her! And in front of all these people, too. Have you no conscience, man?”
He growled and turned. Before he could do anything,
“Now, now,” I started to tell him. I didn’t get to finish because a brown mass crashed into him and knocked him back through the doorway. I followed it back to its source and saw it was ponytail girl’s ponytail. They stuck up, reaching forward and growing into a huge hair mass that had pummeled the minotaur back into the room. She glared at him, tried to adjust her broken glasses, and spat out a couple of teeth.
“What the fell is happening here!” shouted Venus at about that time, causing the crowd to turn in her direction, then part.
I wonder how that confrontation went. I wouldn’t know, because I seemed to disappear. Like magic, or a guy who moved quietly through a crowd pickpocketing people. Got two wallets, a condom, and my very own Hello Kitty watch. I assume they looked for me for awhile, and there was probably a bit of lying about my part in things. Regardless, they must have called off the search since no one interrupted my sleep on top of a metal rack in the kitchen.
Indeed, I woke up to find that myself almost completely unmolested. Just a blanket over me… and a headband with cat ears on my head… and somebody had put a collar with a bell around my neck. And while I can get the gorram ears off, the collar stops everything I try, including kitchen knives and the shop class saw. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I found out that somebody designed the bell to vibrate and sound an alarm if I keep the ears off my head for too long.
They’re REALLY pushing this “can’t hurt them” thing.
So here I am, stuffed away in my closet, valiantly recovering beep by bloody beep. I don’t use bloody enough in that context, which is a shame. And I am making it back, little by little. I just jumped the gun this time, along with the cafeteria.
After all that, the heroes could have justified a lot worse treatment for me, or even no treatment for me. Aside from increased guards during meals and visits from medical staff, they haven’t done much to me. They even went brought in some thick, clear cube to protect the therapist to get around the clearly non-existent doctor-patient confidentiality problems. They forced the guy on me; I somehow doubt they wouldn’t know what we talked about if I ever talked about anything real with him. Though, now that I think about it, a lot of what I would have to say could be shared anyway, on account of me wanting to keep committing crimes. Bummer. What if I wanted help? Somedays, it just seems like the system is rigged against cold-blooded killers like myself.
That thought popped into my head again one day when I woke up to the door opening and three of my least favorite people entering. Venus, because she’s always gotta be there for some reason. Victor Mender, who I suspected wanted a word about my little escape attempt, and Boobzilla. I don’t know her name, but she’s the reptilian one with mammaries, so it seemed appropriate. They spread out with Venus on my left and the other two at the foot of my bed.
I raised my fist toward Mender. “At last, we meet again. How bold of you to walk right into my lair. You should make peace with whatever god you didn’t give enough money to, for your doom is imminent. Guards, sieze them!” The first turned into a pointing finger as I yelled that last sentence. Boobzilla actually turned her head quickly before getting herself under control.
“Ha!” I said, pointing at her now. “Made you look. But seriously, people, what brings you to the United Dictatorship of Geckovania, as I’ve taken to calling the room? I’d provide more chairs, but the GDP’s a little low right now. I have an economic plan in the pipeline to boost my trade deficit with a combined amusement park and whorehouse. Which, if you think about it, really would make it an amusing park. Anyone want to ride Big Thunder Mountain?”
Turns out, she’s got a mouthful of really sharp teeth. She let me see them. I don’t think she meant it as a good thing.
Venus, as she’s increasingly getting used to, slapped me upside the head. I glared at her in turn. “You know y’all gave me brain surgery recently, right?”
“Gecko, Venus, enough,” said the computer-generated voice of Mender. “We need to have a discussion. How do you feel, Gecko?”
I shrugged. “A heck of a lot better since the Stockholm Syndrome started. Ever seen a guy suck a ping pong ball through a garden hose before?”
“Please speak honestly,” Mender said. “My student did not want to touch your mind. She may have done harm when she shut you down.”
“This time, I’ll be on the lookout if you fake it,” said Boobzilla. “And that is NOT my superhero name.”
Ha. Like she can make me change it. Anyway, Psychsaur screwed up her magnificent face, a mere glimpse of which was too good for me. I should be so lucky just to find myself worthy to be in her presence. Wait a minute… “Hey!” I yelled.
She opened her eyes and shook her head, then smirked. “Can too make you change it. What are you typing in your head, anyway?”
Banana hammock! She squinted. “Ew.”
Mender interrupted the telepathic lovefest going on. “Get out of his mind. Gecko, be honest with us.”
“Yes, sir,” said Psychsaur and I at once. I glared at her as I realized that.
“If you must know,” I said to Mender instead. “I don’t think I’ve had any particular medical problems related to what she did. The headaches I get predate that, and I don’t hold her personally accountable for reopening my chest wound.”
Mender looked at me for a moment without saying anything, so I looked to Venus and Psychsaur. For her part, Venus held her face as stony and emotionless as possible, even under the mask. Psychsaur just studied me and gritted her teeth. It didn’t take a psychic to realize how pissed I was at her.
“That is good. We do not want to keep putting you together again. I presume you do not want to be sick and hurt all the time. Your freedom is non-negotiable, but it has been suggested that you would be willing to behave if certain needs were provided for.”
Mender barely got the sentence out before Psychsaur blurted out, “Ew!”
I turned my head and looked Venus in the eye, catching her red-handed about to slap me. “Hey, he told her to get out of my head. And you,” I turned to Mender, “My lack of freedom is non-negotiable. We are at an impasse here. You might be humoring her,” I nodded toward Venus, “But you at least seem to realize that there’s nothing you can do that’ll get me to stop trying to escape and stop being the person I am.”
Psychsaur raised her hand to her forehead. I felt something get all cloudy in my mind, and offputting. Like nausea while sitting still and a burning wire strung in one ear and out the other. I turned to Venus and felt the urge to tell her how I felt about her, “In another life, we could have been great together, but I’ll never forgive you.”
“Stop,” Mender commanded, his machine apparently not managing an exclamation point. I looked at him, as did Psychsaur. “We have a way to enforce any deal between us. Venus?”
It’s weird that the program managed to imply a question mark like that. Venus exited the room, then reentered pushing a wheelchair. I looked between her and Mender, skeptical of what that was for, then added a bit of Evil Eye toward Pyschsaur because she jumped right up near the top of my “Will Fucking Kill” list. Yeah, there’s a list. I take the “Fuck, Marry, Kill,” game very seriously.
Mender drove on over beside it and said, “We are going to take a walk outside. Join us,” and then left the room along with Venus. Psychsaur added a glare to it, but she took her scaly ass out. As for me, I got into the wheelchair and found it motorized. As much as I didn’t want to trust anything of theirs, I also didn’t have much of a choice. Just walking around my room was a challenge.
The door, oddly enough, opened for me, and I followed the heroes out and down the hall. Venus slowed down enough for me to catch up even as the other heroine put distance between us. Venus took the handles on the chair and took over pushing. “Trust us.”
“That’s a lot to ask of me,” I said.
“We’re treating you remarkably well after all you’ve done. Reciprocate,” she whispered to me.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not like I hurt anybody in my escape attempt. Except maybe that girl who cheated on her test, but that builds character. If she wants to make it to the big time, she’d going to have to learn to cheat better. Teachers aren’t doing cheaters any favors by coddling them like this. It’s an insult to crime, you see. We’ve come a long way from the days of random strangers asking to hold people’s pocket watches before stealing them all because people considered distrust to be rude. Herman Melville’s amazing in the field of confidence scams shouldn’t be discounted so readily.”
“You talk like you’re a native now,” Venus said.
I gave her the finger. “Go ahead. Keep on. I’m like a native to this world. I’m human now. Still almost escaped. Sisyphus, you see, is happy.”
“Why do you say he is happy?” asked Mender, who waited for us in the elevator.
“And who is Sisyphus?” asked Psychsaur.
Dammit. Lecture time. “Sisyphus was a devious and cruel man who committed the sorts of crimes against man and god alike. Murdering guests, stampeding people, and raping cattle; that kinda stuff. They were so determined to ensure his death that they sent Thanatos, like their grim reaper, after him in person with special chains to bind him. Sisyphus then tricked Thanatos into the chains, escaping death for some time and preventing other people around the world from dying in the process. Another version of the myth says it was Hades instead of Thanatos, but the rest is pretty much the same. Later, while dying, he set off a plot that culminated in him deceiving Persephone into being allowed to return to Earth. So then the gods decided that he got to spend his afterlife pushing a heavy boulder up a mountain, only for it to roll back down continuously.”
Truly, he was an inspiration.
“You think he was happy?” asked Psychsaur.
I winked at her. “Well, kinda. It’s more of an illustration of a point. His determination not to die, challenging even the Greek gods, who were total dicks, is a goal I understand. And in a way, he did somewhat win. He still existed in the story. Maybe he’d have been completely annihilated or something if he stopped, but he still went on and pushed that boulder. It’s a metaphor for how we all struggle for what we want most in a reality where it is impossible to succeed. An absurd task, especially once you realize it, but we can still make what we want of our unpleasant circumstances and spit in the face of a universe that doesn’t particularly care for us one way or the other.” I gathered a bit of spit for an illustration, but she looked into my eyes and I swallowed it.
“I hate telepaths,” I said.
Venus asked, “That’s how you view the world?”
I shrugged. “Eh, sometimes. Also important are themes of being myself in the face of a world adverse to that, but someone might say that’s a bad lesson. Then again, taking me as a role model or teacher would be an… interesting choice, to put it mildly. But no matter what, I gotta be true to myself, even if I change my mind, and especially if it’s fun. And every instinct tells me not to be a prisoner, no matter how much I may deserve to be one.”
“Sounds like you’re not exactly a man of conviction,” she responded.
I smiled. “I’m certainly not looking to get convicted. That means someone held onto me long enough to have a trial. Besides, I can’t go and be one of those gimmick villains who does stuff like steal donuts and blow up donut shops because of a rabid anti-donut agenda. For starters, donuts are fucking delicious, and anybody who says otherwise is either a communist or a fascist, depending on what the person hearing this statement hates more. Hating donuts is like if Hitler was also cancer. Who wants to have Hitler cancer? Not me. Do people who disagree with me do it because of Hitler cancer? I don’t know, I’m just asking questions.”
Mender started to speak until the ding cut him off and we all moved out into a familiar hallway, albeit to the opposite side I’d headed for. “You will learn to appreciate her. She is why we can afford to trust you so far. Here is my first offer: agree to let her input temporary changes in your behavior and you may travel freely on campus.”
My eyebrow raised. “How long is temporary?”
It was Psychsaur who answered me. “As long as you want. Before you ask, the rule we would make you follow are no physical violence, no attempting to escape, no cussing, and no attempting to convince people to help you break any of your rules.”
Venus spoke right into my ear, hoping to convince me with such an intimate approach, something she probably figured would work thanks to the blabberpath over there, “You can visit the library, watch TV, play some games, even cook for yourself.” Mouth still open from that, she jerked her head around toward Psychsaur, “Add something about no poisoning, using allergies, or messing with medicine to harm people.”
“Damn, y’all caught that one,” I said. “How do I know that’s all you’ll do to me? For all I know, she’ll make me impotent, or give me telepathic Alzheimer’s or something.”
Mender said, “There are risks on both sides of this agreement.”
Then Psychsaur butted in again, “What’s the matter, don’t think you’re strong enough to handle me? Afraid of what I’ll do in there?”
I rolled my eyes. “Pretty much anyone would dislike letting someone change their behavior through mind control. At least when I made people do things, I didn’t force them to like it.” Doesn’t help that my brain chemistry used to protect me from most telepaths but apparently doesn’t do Jack Squat with a ten foot dildo now. “Quite the conundrum. Either keep my mind clean,” That statement got a snicker and snort from Venus and Psychsaur, respectively, “And stay locked in a room, or consent to a bit of mindfuckery and obtain more freedom. I think y’all spent way too much time talking to Mecha Gecko.”
Psychsaur and Mender, who were ahead, stopped at a door. Mender rotated around to look me in the eye, his computer announcing. “This is the moment of choice. Do you take this door or return to your room?”
I stood. “Pretty big choice y’all ask of me. You’ve certainly tried presenting it to me in an honest and open way, considering you could have done this to me already. You even brought me out to what you claim is an exist. By the way…” I opened my mouth and went to blast the tone again, but I felt something heat up. The vocal cords screwed up and all I got was a whine that faded away.
I closed my mouth, mostly, except for an awkward smile and a shrug as Mender’s own chair hummed and began emitting a force field. Two arms unfolded from the back of it into some sort of weapon that trained on my chest with three laser dots each. Venus had adopted a fighting stance, while Psychsaur held one hand to her head. I put my hands up and slowly turned to sit back down in my chair, aware all the time of the fact that I had just lost one of my most valuable tools.
I went to speak, but everything came out distorted and unclear. Quieter than usual, with pitch and timbre off a bit, too. I stopped for a moment, then tried speaking slowly and clearly, which is two-thirds of how you make people understand languages other than your own. Just add loudness and you have instant linguistic comprehension in others. “Is. That. Deal. Still. On. The. Table?”
Psychsaur at least, didn’t try to make it too painful. Freakin’ headache, but I suppose that monkeyfighting telepath and telekine could have done worse to me. Venus was all giddy, like a schoolgirl finding out her uncle’s visiting with a van full of candy. Mender… doesn’t seem to have much in the way of facial expressions.
And then, for good measure, that frollickin’ gown was waaay too thin for the cold-ash weather outside. Luckily, they said they’d get me something to wear so I’m not bear asp around the many impressionable young minds in the school.
But I can get through this. There are plenty of psychic fish in the sea, you see. And plenty of loopholes. I’ll have to make sure they didn’t throw in anything they didn’t tell me about, but I’ll do my best to test it without making it obvious that they should have also added a bit about lying or obedience in there. Fix my voice, make a few phonecalls, access a few bank records, and then I’ll not make my grand escape. Nope, totally won’t. I’ll just sit right here for a bit, invite some people in with no intention of convincing them to help me escape, and if something should happen to the school around me so that there’s no longer a place or group of people to escape from, that’s just how things will go.
Soon, they’ll regret thinking a mere psychic compulsion could stop the Great and Devious Psycho Gecko! And soon, Boobzilla and all the others’ll find out what happens when they find a stranger in the Alps. Oh yes, and then it’ll be time for those fancy cows to get sluiced, right up their dam intakes.
In which we start out with me in bed and a foursome of people in skintight outfits enters. Sadly, I didn’t get to start the encounter off by saying, “I’ve seen how this movie goes.”
They pumped the room with some sort of gas to paralyze me while they came in and readied me for transport. I didn’t recognize any of them but Venus. There were four total, with Venus the only one not in these stock Master Academy super suits, their faces hidden behind dark blue masks and dark red visors. Those were the colors for them, I guess. Most of it was dark blue, with a red M stretched across the chest, a red belt, and black outlining and highlights on stuff like the belt loops and the M’s outline.
Perhaps due to my performance with the handcuffs, they ziptied me to the wheelchair I was in, wrists and ankles. They’d be reasonable precautions if I was in decent health; in my current infirmity, it was overkill. They hooked me up to a mobile monitor that beeped on the back of my chair. Sadly, nobody thought to clothe me, or even cop a feel. Shame. I mean it’s really advantageous for a perv like myself that the signature clothing choice for superheroes is so tight.
Those that say it doesn’t leave much to the imagination clearly aren’t using their imaginations right, because it gives mine all sorts of fun thoughts. Like this one lady. She had feathers instead of hair, but the mask’s gap around her mouth showed a lack of lips and scales instead of skin. Though, to quibble, scales tend to grow out from skin, not replace it.
And before anyone says anything, I’ll have y’all know that there is a proud tradition of education linked to supervillainy. A good supervillain has to have some education, hence why Carmen Sandiego did such a public disservice by giving the next generation of villains good ideas about where to steal the best stuff.
I’ve gotten off the topic. So I was in a chair, gained back the ability to feel my body and move it if I’d been in a movable state, and perving on this female lizard lady, when I was like, “Hey Scaley… why do you have boobs?” Because scales and feathers are more of a bird or dinosaur thing, but those don’t normally have a big bouncy pair. Sure, birds are well known for having breasts, and getting those breasts into as many hands as possible is a profitable venture even for those prudes in Church’s, but they don’t tend to be the kind of breasts most people find erotic.
I don’t think, anyway. I’ve seen some people use food that way, and it turns out that isn’t my bag. I know I’ve made some comments about cannibalism, but that’s kind of a separate thing. I mean, generally, that’s for when you don’t have normal food. Otherwise, keep chocolate sauce off any penises I want to use, and keep severed arms and legs out of my mashed potatoes.
Anyway, I asked about the boobs and this one other escort, a guy, tried his best to sound intimidating as he said, “Shut the hell up, scum.” They started to wheel me out of the room.
In lieu of raising my hands and wiggling my fingers in the air with fake shock, I had to resort to finger wiggling where they were. “Oooh, scum. That’s such a scary title. All the people who called me a psychotic madman need to take note of you. I’ve looked into the eyes of kids as they welled up, begging me, ‘Please, Mister Gecko, I don’t want to put the lotion on my skin!’ But now that someone’s called me ‘scum,’ here comes the regret. I can feel it washing over me like the delicious tears of little orphans. It’s the salty sweetness. Orphan tears have just the perfect balance, you see. And if you can keep them locked up well enough, the veal-”
We’d literally just gotten past the doorway when Venus yelled, “Back in the room!” She grabbed the wheelchair handles and whirled me around.
“Wait!” I yelled and she added more whiplash to my problems by stopping on a dime someone dropped on the floor.
She leaned down. “Yes?”
I gritted my teeth. “If I were to say something apologetic, it would reflect my feelings in this matter.”
“Are you sure? I don’t think they heard you,” she told me.
“Good sir, I wish to convey a desire to make amends in much the mater I would tearfully suggest if it were your funeral.” I spoke more loudly so people could hear me. Venus swatted the back of my head, so I added, “Though, ’tis not your funeral.”
“And M-, and the other person you offended,” the male voice suggested.
“I’m sorry to you as well, and would love it if everyone else can give us some privacy us so I can really get my apologizin’ on,” I rocked my head back, trying to back away from the door.
A raspy female voice, which I assumed belonged to the scale girl, then said, “If you and I were alone the way you clearly want, apologizing is the only thing you would be doing.”
That brought a chorus of “Ooohs,” all around, even from me. “Ouch, don’t normally feel something like that unless a hooker’s putting a cigarette out on me. Your wannabe boyfriend could learn a thing or two from you when it comes to insults. I don’t suppose you’re into guys and bondage, are you? Not that I have a choice about the bondage part right now…”
A hand in a red glove settled on my shoulder and squeezed hard enough to reveal the presence of claws. “Sorry, I don’t date humans,” said raspy lizard lady before pulling back.
“Right where it hurts. You’ve wounded me, whatever your name is. Wounded me so bad, I’ll clearly die right now,” I laid my head on my shoulder and stuck my tongue out. The machine beeped on.
“We know you’re not dead, Gecko,” Venus said.
The other guy, who had a deeper voice, chimed in, “Is he serious?”
Venus patted me on the back of the head. “It’s hard to tell, but I think it was an escape attempt. Sorry, Gecko, you still can’t control electrical signals to computers anymore.”
I brought my tongue back in, but didn’t say anything more. “Oh.” I don’t think I quite kept the disappointment out of my voice. “Right… Are we going back in the room already or…? I mean, I know y’all don’t want to do this.”
Venus turned me around, more gently this time. I didn’t look up at any of my escorts as they fell in around us. They wheeled me to an elevator, which went up a couple of floors, and let out into a hallway with windows. I could hear the natural ambient noise of teenagers and children in the distance as I peered out and caught a glimpse of blue sky, white clouds, and a few leaves. “They’re turning already? Seems like it was just summer.”
I’m prone to talk to myself anyway, so I didn’t really expect an answer, but then Venus spoke. “It went by quick. You have to stop and enjoy things while they last.”
“Believe it or not, it didn’t feel like I had that many chances. Spent most of it trying to fix everything this year. Aliens, then y’all wanted me on trial, then I tried to make the world better.” After a moment’s pause, I smiled a little.
The heroes had to have their say. “You were a dictator who murdered people,” said the non-deep guy. If I had a name for him, I guess his costume wouldn’t have done its job.
I rolled my eyes. “I doubt any world leader hasn’t had some blood on their hands. I’m just a failed one that everyone was determined to hate. That same sentiment is why I knew I couldn’t trust any of you to do the right thing.”
“We do the right thing,” The raspy lizard lady began adding her two cents, “You can’t think you help people like we do.”
I shook my head. “Nope. Unlike you, who are all nice and trained for a career at maintaining the status quo by barely keeping the world on track, I tried to change it. To move it forward. It’ll all be reversed in no time. I bet even the nanites will be ignored.”
Venus swatted me on the head. “You brought it on yourself. A good leader doesn’t make things happen by tearing everything down. They build people up, too. You have to help people on a personal level.”
“You’re right. What do I know about helping people on a personal level? You wouldn’t be here to hold me prisoner if I hadn’t saved all y’all’s ungrateful asses, by the way” I responded, then hurried to add, “But, even if we’re in a bit of a disagreement, thank you for this, in spite of me being me. It really made my day.”
The gratitude surprised them. They didn’t have anything to say to that, so I sighed and lowered my head. “Don’t hold this against it against me, ok?” I slid the sharpened shard of plastic out from underneath my wrist and held it up. Just held it up. Someone knocked it onto the floor where lizard lady grabbed at it. I didn’t look for long. Just lowered my head to my chest. The omnipresent beeping behind me slowed, slowed…and then became one long beep.
I felt them turn me. Someone slappd my face. Venus yelled my name, which I recorded in order to add sexy music to later. It sounded like her face was right in front of me. I suddenly raised my head, knocking her upward in her nose, the annoying tone of the beep speeding up into a rapid series. Having already used the plastic, I reached across with a free hand to slice through the remaining ziptie with my fingernails. I reached down and grabbed the wheels of the chair, giving them a hard spin. “Let’s crank this bitch!” I called out before opening my mouth and releasing a rather infamous tone of my own.
For those who don’t remember so well, I was once held prison in a place called The Cube. They removed any and all electronics from me that they could get their hands on, including my eyes, and used a special tone that induces paralysis in order to interact with me safely. My cybernetic vocal chords can reproduce this tone, though doing so really wears on the equipment.
As a result, all four of the heroes around me slumped. The way now paved for me, I left them eating tire tracks. At the end of the hall, I skidded into a left turn. Behind me and to my right, a blast of purple energy struck the wall and turned some of what could be cinderblocks into dust. I heard rapid footsteps as well, so my banshee scream didn’t put them down for long after all. Now firmly in chase mode, I pulled up Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” on my internal music player and hit it. Almost clipped a middle-schooler, too.
On I raced. Forward, right, left. They’d put a lot of work into the place and I no longer knew where I was going. I couldn’t even use GPS to aim, though it occurred to me that I probably should have turned toward the same direction I saw the leaves at. I took another turn to try and head back around to that direction and found myself speeding through open double doors into a cafeteria. I headed down one side past confused students toward the kitchen doors, figuring to head for whatever delivery area they had, wheelchair access be damned!
Unfortunately, one of the workers closed the doors, which then shimmered with some sort of field around them. I drifted a turn to avoid it, heading behind a couple of those buffet podium things people serve food out of, grabbing a couple of drumsticks. At least they fried chicken ok. Truth is, that’s a weakpoint for me. Probably wasn’t very healthy for a guy whose chest could open up from a hard enough jolt, but I wasn’t in a situation to bother with health a whole lot. I came out the other side to see one of the escorts standing at the doorway, and not one of the pretty ones. Though maybe if he shaved that mustache, I dunno.
I tossed the spare chicken leg I’d grabbed and tossed it at him, yelling, “Food fight!” His shot sent more chicken flying from the podium thingy I’d just gotten out of, but the real fun didn’t start until I grabbed somebody’s abandoned cup of milk and threw it as well. It left a trail of white through the air that splashed onto onlooking students and prompted them to return fire on me, my pursuer, and their own opportunistic targets with whatever edible missiles were close at hand.
I turned at the end of one table to cut across the room. More shots went wild, this time caused by my enemy taking greasy chicken skin to the face. It blasted one of the tables into a steep ramp that nonetheless aimed up toward a second-story window above the double doorway. Granted, the window showed a fluorescent bulb at that angle, but it was better than being cornered.
I spun out in the middle of the floor with a devilish screech, then gunned the wheels as fast as my arms were capable, aiming for the ramp. Just before I hit it, I opened my mouth and used my artificial vocal chords to sound out a car horn playing the first few notes of “Dixie”.
Now, as I went airborne, it feels appropriate to pause here a moment and remember that I had to make some pretty rapid decisions without a lot of time, and shooting for the windows of the cafeteria just wasn’t a viable option with the ramp at that angle. No matter what, that Psycho Gecko was at it again.
Unpause and I crash through a window, now bleeding from multiple lacerations and rather hoping the new soreness in my chest didn’t have anything to do from a particularly adventurous shard. Unable to stop myself very well in that condition, I slid into a room where a teacher showed footage of JFK. “Oswald was framed!” I yelled out as put on more speed to aim for a door on the opposite side of the classroom.
That took me into a darkroom where I saw a surveillance photo of a man with a man with a finned baseball cap taking money with boxes of FEMA personal hygiene supplies all around. I banged against a counter in there, then changed direction and rolled out as quickly as I could. “That guy works for Terrorjaw!” I hit a different door hard and popped it open, probably ruining the photos anyway, but couldn’t stop myself before sliding through an open doorway across the hall.
There, a preteen girl stood with a forced smile, frozen in the act of taking a paper with an “A+” written on it from the teacher. My bleeding, tired ass was heading right for a thick wooden desk, though. I heaved upward and jumped, managing to land on top, though the computer monitor tripped me up and sent me flipping off. I landed on my wheels and slammed through another door, but not before calling out, “She cheated!”
Amazing how all those doors opened outward, though maybe a school for supers just had cheap doors on the assumption that superpowered adolescents would likely break them accidentally. The next one looked like a break room, so I still had no reason to slow down, not even to call out “The Claw’s a dick!” when the news on TV read that The Claw had supported “Queen Beetrice’s” play for the now-vacant throne of North Korea.
Well, I was just saying he was a dick anyway. The full extent of the news graphic didn’t hit me until I was out of the room with formerly-relaxed superheroes standing up and a window replacing an exterior wall right in front of me. This one…actually stopped me. Must have been that skyscraper glass.
“Ow,” I said, attempting to alleviate the pain with understatement. Hearing people approach, I scraped my nails down the window, cutting into it. After reaching the floor and feeling hands tug on my chair, I snapped my ankle ties and jumped into the carved section of glass. It gave this time, sending me out to freedom and the safe landing of a friendly tree.
Except my face stopped a few feet short of the tree. I just stayed there, in midair. Looking around, I spotted the lizard chick holding her hands to her forehead in the standard pose. I think they make heroes do that to indicate they’re using their powers as a sort of warning to others. I didn’t see her for long, though, as the amount of blood that came dripping down onto my face seemed to indicate things may have gone a bit haywire with all the painful glass sticking in me. If she’d spun me around, I could have been a fantastic kaleidoscope.
Then lizard lady went all “Argh!” and I woke up in my room bed. Like I’d just been daydreaming or something, except my internal clock showed twenty hours had passed.
I looked around, feeling all sorts of pain and bandages even from that. I looked at my hands to see my fingers covered in little rubber tips. I tried to pull them off, but I couldn’t. I felt even weaker than I’d gotten used to, as well. My skin had an unhealthy pallor. Also, my chest felt like my heart wanted to kick me in the balls, but was stuck in my chest. It was still trying, but it hadn’t gotten far yet. A check under my gown showed fresh sutures in my chest and some marks on one side that did not look good. I think I opened up the end of the chase.
So I just kinda laid there and let out a soft, “Fuck.”
At least I have time to work on my William Howard Taft slashfiction.
“Ma’am,” the secret service agent said, stopping the curvy blonde bombshell from stepping out further onto the beach. “You can’t go out there. The President is using the ocean.”
She sauntered up to him, laid a wink on him, and said, “I put on this swim dress, but nobody said I’d be riding a wave. Now stand back; you wouldn’t want to get splashed…”
The epic continues! And how epic it is when I have trouble making it to the bathroom and shitting all over myself. Yep, don’t I feel like a human being. Those heroes sure raised the quality of my life, didn’t they? Eh, it’s not like this is meant to be a hotel stay. I made sure to use some of that while I worked over the psych person this time around.
I’ve been observing him, you see. Trying to get a sense of who he is and what makes hi tick through his appearance and behavior. Noting how he doesn’t wear a wedding ring anymore, for instance. He’s got this little light bit of skin around his ring finger to show he used to wear one, but he doesn’t anymore in a recent sense. That could mean a few things. Could mean he’s a widower. Could mean there’s been a divorce. Could just mean he didn’t want to wear the ring and give me information to possibly use against him. I hoped it wasn’t the third option.
I hoped for the second one, the divorce thing. Figured I’d play to that first when he stopped by and asked how I was feeling. I let him know I was still upset, but “I get why they’re doing what they’re doing… it makes sense. Maybe not the part with seeing to my physical and mental health to this extent, but that’s a bit of a values clash there. I tend to deal with problems a bit more permanently. And then I have Venus there, taunting me. I’m really getting sick of having her in my life, ya know? Just constantly inserting herself now, with her rubbing my face in how helpless I am. Taking pleasure in my impotence…not, ya know, that way, but just general, non-sexual impotence. I’m sure I’d be perfectly capable, but I doubt she’d bring along a woman for me or anything.”
His response? Stress reduction techniques. Meditation and breathing, that sorta deal. I guess it was too much to hope he’d jump up and be like “That bitch reminds me of my whore of an ex-wife!”
So that’s going to take more time. Time I’ve spent attempting to study my lodgings. With them watching me, I’ve got to be subtle about it. Which, in this case, means I’ve taken to trying to pull open the door again. Not too hard. Everything’s still a bit hard on me and I’ve spent days unable to get out of bed, but I can still go up, give the door a tug, and went all Predator with my eyes. They have alternate vision modes, usually used to help me detect people in conditions where normal human sight doesn’t work so well.
Ugh. Just remembered I’m one of them now. I feel so dirty. I mean, y’all seem to be human, too. And that’s ok. That works for y’all. But I used to be something better, ya know?
So I stared at the lock, swapping vision modes, trying to see what I can see, but it’s not looking good. Mostly it looks like a door, but I know it’s not one that only opens from the outside. Except, near as I can tell, it’s got an electromagnet. If I’d actually stuck one of the more metal pieces of myself right against the door latch, I might have figured that out sooner.
Still, that’s something. Hell, it’s more exciting than saying “I sat around trying to recover.” There’s not much there, you see.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have anything about this, but let’s just say that any escape training I received in the Psychopomp program was limited by the very nature of the program.
A couple years after they first abducted us, they were starting to ease up on us. Maybe not let us see the armed guards as much. Come to find out, there were some conflicting thoughts about the project by people a lot higher up in it. Differences in ethics and philosophy. After a pretty nasty introductory period, they went softer on us. Instead of yelling, it was more like guilt-tripping us, especially since we got that far.
I know, they were all kinda fucked up. You think a guy like me just pops out of a normal life?
One of the first signs that we weren’t all necessarily on board with the Psychopomp Program, even a nicer version, would have to be when they started to teach us basic escape ideas. The usual stuff about escaping from restraints of various sorts. To this day, I’m not convinced those were all just acquired for that exercise. I’m fairly certain somebody saw a bunch of children in a legal black site and realized this was the perfect opportunity for all those smaller handcuffs and ballgags they’d been stockpiling over the years. Some son of a bitch was determined, you might even say bound and determined, to not make a “business or pleasure” choice.
None of us became experts, but we picked up basic escape and lockpicking techniques. That’s because, as would seem inevitable to anyone actually thinking about the situation, it didn’t work out the best for them to treat their kidnapped and disappeared involuntary charges to a lesson about how to escape from a place. And it’s not like we did so en masse. Many of us were downright terrorized by what happened. Others tried to point out the adults would never teach us anything we could use to escape.
Turns out, the second group wasn’t entirely correct. A few of them managed to slip out late at night after someone got lucky and nabbed some keys off a guard. So they get up in the middle of the night and manage to sneak out of the dorm with them. I can’t recall which of them made that move specifically, since it was dark and things got a bit confusing. A few more went after them, though Barracuda changed his mind and slipped back in. At least until the alarms went off.
Once that happened, all hell broke loose. At least, if your definition of hell involves a horde of post-traumatic screaming children running around in the middle of the night, screaming. Which does fit some definitions, I’m sure. It kinda depends where it’s going on, too. Screaming kids in the middle of the night at a sleepover? Irritating. In the woods while camping? Not ideal, better than the sleepover, and a good way to remind other animals why it’s better to let humans live separately. In the middle of a parking garage with no lights on and a foreboding sense that you’ll never find your car? Find something to bash their little fucking brains in. Bonus points for cricket bats.
It was a mess. Kids running everywhere, because we were all worried at that point. I was more worried about survival. Yep, little me wasn’t the crazy asshole y’all all know and love. Back then, Gecko was the sadistic bigger kid who used the opportunity to beat the shit out of Barracuda. I was Lamb, and I headbutted a guard in his cup while sliding between his legs, scampering to freedom once I realized they might just kill us all anyway. They cornered me near the bathrooms, before I could try and squeeze through what I suspected to be the biggest and busiest vents in the place.
They didn’t immediately go into brutal mode again. Things only gradually got worse, up until part of the staff mutinied. When they finally got around to further education about breaking and entering, they waited until I was more easily controlled.
But that’s a story for another day. Hell, as slow as things are moving now, maybe next time. As it stands now, I don’t have the explosives or other chemicals I’d prefer for getting through the door.
Probably the only other thing of significant interest was Venus popping her bubbly head in. Upon seeing the slump of my shoulders and hearing the heavy sigh escape me, she frowned. “It’s not that bad having a visitor.”
“Will you just leave me alone you manic-depressive martial arts she-bitch! First you’re mean, then you compliment me, then you want to kill me, then you shove a cookie into my mouth. There are traffic cops with Parkinsons who give off fewer mixed signals than you. I’m caught. Stop pretending to act friendly at me. You’ve done your job. Just walk away.” I held my hand up over my face and adopted a deeper voice. “Just walk away.”
She cocked her head to the side as she stepped in, carrying my dinner. Macaroni and cheese with ham in it. “Was that from a movie?”
“Mad Max. And motherfucking macaroni and ham. Why? What did I do to you?” She set it down in front of me, where I checked the brownie. “Sweet Liberace on a dildo stick! Nuts in a brownie! You monster.” I shook my head slowly at the disappointing discovery.
She just laughed and I loathed her happiness. I just set my head in my hand. “Stop it. I’m serious. Whoever’s making this can’t cook for shit. Granted, mac and cheese is deceptively difficult if it’s baked, but this is just…ugh. I could do much better than this. And I definitely wouldn’t serve a meal with a cartoon of apple juice and no straw, that’s for sure.”
Venus attached the tray to my bed rail. “Nobody trusts you with a straw yet.” Dammit, there goes that plan of escape. “If you settle down, you could cook for yourself. You have to trust us and we have to trust you.”
“What’s your angle?” I asked.
She looked me in the eye. “First of all, yes, I am happy you are here. You can cry like a little baby all you want and feel sorry for yourself, but it’s your fault you’re here. You made a choice every day to follow the path that you took. You even controlled the world and used it to tell people who to hate rather than lead them. Come on, you have to realize that or you never would have fought the other Gecko. You dropped everything because you knew he was just as bad as you, and you think you deserve death for what you’ve done. Am I happy? Damn straigh I am. I beat you, and not in a fight this time. I beat you with my mind and with my new powers.”
“You don’t deserve them,” I shot back. If only words were bullets, eh? “I went through all kinds of hell because of those. Now you got them and I’m nothing but a human cyborg.” She started to open her mouth, but I cut her off. “Enough of that shit. I know your boss said I’d never taste freedom again, but can I at least find out if Moai made it? And maybe see the real sky again? Hell, even just a window would be better than nothing. I’m weak, I’m sick, I’m at heavy risk of dying from either infection or this food. I want to check on a friend and see a cloud. Would that be too much to ask?”
She crossed her arms. “It’s nice you asked, but you forgot something.”
After a couple awkward seconds of my puzzled expression, she added, “Please.”
“Glad to see you’re so eager. If I’d known that, I’d have asked for a blowjob instead. By the way, has the train left the station on that one?” I pointed down at my crotch.
“Will you please see how many licks it takes to get the center of my Tootsie Roll Pop?”
She slapped me upside the head. “You know what I mean. I can help you. This is your opportunity to grow as a person. Learn not to be a threat to yourself and others. But we won’t hand it to you. You’re our prisoner for good reason and the world doesn’t have to bend over backwards just because you think it’s so unfair we won’t let you kill everyone. Start treating us better and we’ll return the favor.”
I shrugged. “I didn’t say anything about bending over backwards, but that would be entertaining to see.”
She slapped me upside the head again, grabbed my untouched tray of food and started to walk out.
“Wait,” I said. Yeah, yeah, being an irritated asshole might be fun sometimes, but I’ll never get anywhere that way. I needed to at least pretend to acquiesce to her request. I even needed that tray of food. And like a sexually repressed virgin getting dragged out of a whorehouse on Penny Wednesdays, I wasn’t gonna to come easy. My nemesis waited, though, as long as it took for me to finally force out the word she wanted to hear. “Please.”
She smiled. “Good. And…?”
For all my faults, I’m not completely oblivious to social graces. “And I’m sorry. I’m having a bad… rest of my life, I guess.”
Venus walked over and reattached the tray to my bed. “Good. Thank you for apologizing. We’re not monsters; you are. We gave you a chance to be human. You can make this better for yourself. You deserve to be here, but this place doesn’t have to be hell. Master Academy is my favorite place,” she said, sounding like a Scientology recruit forced to make a video telling her family not to come bust her out, “This can become a place of peace for you too. If you’re good, maybe I’ll bring you books to read. For now, I’ll think about letting you see the sky.”
She started to leave again, but I had enough of some of this eyerollingly-goody goody behavior. “Ok, seriously, why the fuck don’t you want to even punish me if I’m as bad as you say?”
She turned and this time her smile didn’t look quite so nice. “I am. You’re trapped here. You’ll never escape. You’ll never hurt anybody ever again, just like I promised my friends. We took your powers. We took your ability to affect the world. If we ever let you see it, you’ll have to live with knowing that you can’t do anything to change it now. You can’t answer any challenge or insult. Soon, you’ll fade away from public memory, but I’ll still be a hero. You’ll just be known as some guy Venus beat. And if you don’t want to be miserable, you’ll play ball. If things go well, Psycho Gecko will die. You’ll admit it’s for the best when he’s gone and the new you is here.”
Great, so happiness hiding vindictiveness and the promise of brainwashing. That makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than her perpetual hopefulness in my reformation seemingly overriding her hate of me. I can work with that. Just like I could work with the tray. Thin, light plastic, sure. Covered in horrible food, absolutely. Also, it blocked the cameras while my blackened zirconium nails scraped off a thin shard of plastic and began to sharpen it.
No phenotype reversals. They turned me human, but they didn’t undue any alterations I’d made to my body other than going in and grabbing my power core and connection parts. Maybe they missed that when interrogating Mecha Gecko. The thought of what I could do with those nails and sharp plastic made me salivate, because the food sure didn’t.
Then I moved my tongue back into my mouth and flicked my fangs down briefly, tracing over them. They were never part of my DNA either. I just had my nanites build them into me. But I couldn’t stop checking them, incredulous at the oversight. I slid them back up and tucked into my meal. And though the “om, nom, nom” of me digging in sounded human enough, they seem to have forgotten my cybernetic voicebox, or that nice little paralytic tone I can emit that I learned from a previous prison stay. Or they’ve come up with a countermeasure to that one they’re confident in and just don’t want to remind me that I can try it.
And when the Frog asks, “Why did you stab me?” the Scorpion replies, “It’s in my nature.”
Compared to the days prior to my stay at this facility, things have significantly relaxed. You just wouldn’t see that much in me. First off, I am still in the same place. I thought it was a hospital at first, but those “authorities” the doctor mentioned last time took their sweet time getting to me. I’m sure I left a big mess to clean up. When someone finally entered, it turned out to be Victor Mender. The crippled leader of Master Academy felt perfectly safe conversing with a prisoner despite only having the use of his eyes, a hand, and a wheelchair that could probably carve through a tank. How the mighty Gecko has fallen.
They gave me a whole ‘nother night, I assume. The lights turned out at one point and my “window” turned out to be some sort of video on a screen. Had trouble sleeping, too. The usual stuff. Explosions, violence, people trying to kill me. Pretty much the same thing I go through awake, only when I’m meant to be resting. I should have had my armor. Anyone could sneak up and get me in my sleep without it. I sleep better with it on. At least I didn’t have to struggle too far for the bathroom, though I thought people like me got bed pans?
Then again, what nurse would want to come and take crap off me, eh? They didn’t even deliver food, so it’s not like I had much to worry about from that end.
Then, as I mentioned, the head of Master Academy showed up and I started gathering the most important resource of all: Vespene Gas. I mean information. Information is often more important than any sword. Especially if you’re facing someone who has a sword and the information is where to find a cannon.
“So I’m at the Master Academy,” I said as soon as I saw him. I tried to keep my hand near the cuff still attached to the side of the bed. I’d given it the slip, but I couldn’t walk very easily. My injuries and surgeries enfeebled me. Then the damn door wouldn’t give. I don’t know what they got on that thing, but that’s no simple door. So I had to hobble my ass on back to bed and hide that I’d gotten my hand free.
“Correct. Please, don’t get up.” His computer’s monotone voice spoke without a hint of emotion. “You are in no shape to escape and would likely die in the attempt,” he fixed me with a look. I imagine he meant it to be some sort of stern parental or teacher thing, but the teachers I had growing up preferred feeding us to hungry dogs.
I tried to take a deep breath despite the incision on my chest. “I ain’t no proctologist, but I know I gotta get my ass outta here. Where am I, those rooms under the campus?”
“Yes. So if you do escape a room you can’t open the door to and walk up to ground level despite needing a wheelchair, you have to fight past the biggest collection of superhumans on the East Coast. Once you manage that, you need to find even one man or woman on Earth who would help you that is also qualified to treat you. The doctor tells me you have an infection and the flu. With all that and the sedative in your drip, you managed an impressive walk across the floor. Yes, we have surveillance in here.”
I looked around before settling on the window monitor and the little machine keeping track of my heartbeat.
“You won’t know where they are. You will find yourself much reduced in capability,” continued Victor. I whipped my head around at that, glaring at him. “I’m loathe to entertain the idea of removing anyone’s gift, but you left me no choice.”
“My ‘gift’ is a product of my birth. It’s in my genes. It’s my fucking species,” I growled.
“Yes,” he said.
I went on. “You changed my DNA. You don’t know how to do that. There aren’t many who would.”
…You gotta be fucking kidding me. “Technolutionary.”
Victor locked eyes with me. “Yes.”
I wanted to throw the bed and Victor both through the wall, but I stood up too fast and had to lean against the bed, on the opposite side of it than my captor. I ended up sliding down to the floor, trying to catch my breath. Raising his voice, Victor explained, “He said that the adjustments to your phenotype will stay in place, at least until new skin and hair takes its place. Some of us were curious what your really look like. Also, anything connected to you at the time of his treatment is still connected. That is why your eyes function. I believe it would hurt you to pull them out and your body would no longer be able to bond with them once disconnected.”
“You cut into my head!” I yelled at him, panting. “My chest!”
“I used information obtained from your gestalt double and an anonymous surgical team to disable your remaining advantages.” His chair hummed as he moved around the bed, but didn’t approach. “You have been a menace to the world for too long and I took the steps necessary to keep you contained. You are now the first resident of this prison. You won’t receive a trial, but you will never be free again. If you try to escape, you will find worse things than my students waiting for you. This is what you deserve.”
I looked over and found him looking down on me with a softer expression than I expected for that statement. Or maybe I’m just imagining things in the midst of my poor health. “You also deserve food. I will have them send down a meal. The doctor left and didn’t inform us of your awakening, and I must discipline students for doing nothing but watch you through the cameras.”
Ha. It’s ok to lock me up in some unknown prison outside the justice system, perform all sorts of nonconsensual surgeries on me, and work with a supervillain to fucking alter my fucking DNA to remove my fucking powers…but someone’s going to get in trouble because they didn’t feed me? “Ha!” I started, and soon I couldn’t stop. Laughter poured from me, and soon I wrapped my arms around my own upper body to make sure my chest wouldn’t burst, all the while my lungs began to burn from the lack of oxygen.
I didn’t see whoever stopped to bring me a tray of food. It smelled fucking awesome. I contemplated not even eating. Ya know, just let myself waste away and force some sort of drastic measures. I mean, the gravy was bad enough that I probably should have. Not to mention, they put onions in the salisbury steak. Heathens! I swear, it’s like they’re trying to kill me in here.
It’s not fighting aliens or trying to hold onto the world, but it’s a dire challenge standing before me now. I’m going to need my strength. And a giant robot…no, that didn’t work out the best and it’d be wrecked by now. And I couldn’t pilot the damn thing anyway. Shit. I keep running into more and more tricks I can’t pull off without that now. But I’ll get out. Somehow. It was just time for my yearly incarceration, is all.
Even though this is no damn time for sulking, they sure wanted me to. They sent in a shrink. Another unnamed doctor, probably to protect them from legal or lethal consequences. They brought in a medical one as well, overseeing my continued recovery, but I figured out this one was different when he sat down to ask me, “I understand you’ve been having nightmares?”
“It’s the rape, doc,” I told him. “I’m just not getting enough of it. Used to be, I could walk out the door, get drunk at a bar, and wake up ass down in a pool of someone else’s bodily fluids. It really validates my existence, you know.”
“Really. It’s a little boring in here. Is there any sort of music you like? Maybe something that relaxes you or makes you feel contemplative?” he asked. “You’re in a bad enough state as-is due to your surgery. It’s understandable that you would be upset right now.”
“Upset?” I asked, grinning at him from my bed. If he put it any milder, it’d be a sauce at Burrito Bell. “I guess I am. I’m missing a concert by my favorite Israeli band, Final Solution. They play death metal.”
So it goes without saying that guy left a bit frustrated, and probably with even fewer psychological insights to share with the people already keeping me secretly imprisoned. Though I do have to question how much of a secret it could possibly be with everyone they’re letting in on it. Then again, I suppose that’s a secret you could shout on the streets in the middle of traffic every day and everyone would pretend they didn’t hear anything.
And then, after I’d already used my perfectly good rape joke, did they send in the person I least wanted to see. You know her, you hate her, ladies and gentlemen, it was Venus! And if that sounds like too much of an introduction, you should have seen the clapping that went along with it. “My hero! She’s finally arrived! Tell me, you set any more clones of me loose on the world while I was out of it?”
She crossed her arms. “I came to see if you were alright. I’m trying to show you I care.”
I rubbed at my head incision with my middle finger. “Pardon me if I don’t see it that way. You know how people like to say they’re fighting fire with fire? You went up to a burning house and decided, ‘You know what I should do? Whip out the flamethrower!’ But you’ve managed a fine end to my little tale, haven’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” She raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, you know. Lock me up. Take away my powers. Forget about me in the sub-sub-sub basement. Let the world recover and forget about me. But I’m telling you now, I’ll get out of here. You haven’t seen the last of me! I’ll be free and then the world will fear me once more! Plus, I’m totally gonna get back at you. Kill ya you dead. D-E-D, dead.”
I went for the theatrical raised fist and everything. Venus just patted me on the head. “There, there.”
“Stop!” I tried brushing her hand away.
“I understand this is hard on you,” she said while continuing to pet me in the spot that doesn’t traditionally get hard on me upon physical contact with a woman. “Want a cookie?”
I crossed my arms. “I don’t want a damn cookie! I want to pull your heart out through your belly button and use it like a football. And maybe turn your tongue into a sextoy, that’s part optional. I’m not really a necrophiliac, you understand. Not that I’m judging. After all, I know one of your boyfriends IS dead.”
She shoved the cookie into my mouth and gave me a hug. A hug! Me! Shit like that is seriously overloading my monthly exclamation limit, and that’s sticking to only one per sentence.
After a rather unmanly scene where I most certainly did not cry unless I somehow get a chance at winning an award, she left. And while I don’t always understand my odd little nemesis, I have resolved one thing for sure. After I get out of here, I’m going to kill her. No, seriously, I mean it this time. Doesn’t matter how many damn cookies she gives me.
Because I came to this world to give people a piece of my mind and kick ass. And I’m all out of my mind.
The way things ended last time, y’all might assume we’d cut straight to me in a dungeon or cell somewhere. Well, this oughta be a kick in the head. The fight wasn’t over that quick.
Kinda like the one or two I took from this weird amalgamation of Mecha Gecko and Spinetingler. The battle raged on. Deprived of my networking advantage and my mecha’s arm laser, I threw buildings at him and clambered over some to gain distance and time enough to figure out a plan.
The first step seemed obvious enough. I needed a bath. The weather wasn’t accommodating, but luckily there’s this big puddle of water near Empyreal City called the Atlantic Ocean. I figured, hey, why not hop down into the harbor? This thing could survive that kind of dip long enough. Better yet, let’s not even go that far! My opponents let me put some distance between us, probably due to Spinetingler’s love of inflicting fear over efficient killing,and I knelt the Colossus down by a fire hydrant. One swipe of the right hand knocked the hydrant over and a gusher of water flowed out to clean off the gunk I’d been inflicted with.
Almost instantly, that hand smoked. I pulled it out and saw the goop reacting with the water, bubbling, and falling off with chunks of liquefied metal. So…yeah. Turns out, good thing I didn’t wash the entire thing.
Just then, the amalgamation of Mecha Gecko and Spinetingler leaped atop a nearby building and unleashed two sets of booming laughter. Rather than finish me off quickly, they pounced. I quickly grabbed a nearby billboard advertising a sale on baseball bats at a sporting goods store and swung it. The sign broke, but the motion of the giant hands knocked them to the side more than it did. I stomped on their back and jumped straight up. I cocked my arm for a punch and, as I began to drop, a motorjet in the elbow activated and accelerated the blow. Mecha Gecko rolled to the side, so I lost some power stretching out for the hit. When the blow hit, it put a dent in the flesh-covered chest armor of Mecha Gecko. The jet popped off, a disposable booster having done its job.
It also shattered that hand, which had already been partially dissolved by the reaction with the water.
The laughter started again. The mouthy limb that grew out of a lower spot on the chest scraped and scrabbled. I heard it against the armor of the cockpit and threw the Imperial Colossus back. Mecha Gecko rose, pushing itself off the ground with skeleton-thin growths stretching from its back.
I pointed past it with my left hand. “Look, a fire!” When it turned its head to look, I added, “Wrong direction, here, let me help you,” and swept the arm back toward it to activate the flamethrower. He didn’t look in the right direction, but he found the fire anyway.
It swept toward me with brownish-reddish wings, grabbing that arm with one hand. Claws dug into the metal. It brought its other claw up and lunged for my head, but I met it with the stump. Good ole stumpy.
Despite everything, we were still evenly matched in terms of strength when I heard Spinetingler in my head. “Gecko. Wake up, Gecko.”
“I’m not asleep.”
“Oh, but you are. All of this is just one big dream. Haven’t you ever realized it? No one can really win as much as you. This is all some fantasy cooked up in your head while you sleep off a coma. In reality, you live in a trailer infested with roaches and hide from your depression using literature and video games. There are no superpowers, no heroes. You swallowed a mouthful of pills to end it all, but it didn’t stop. They found you, alive. A roach crawled out of your open, drooling mouth.”
“Shut that glory hole you call a mouth, French Tingler!” I shot back. Metal groaned around me. Mecha Gecko adjusted his footing and Imperial Colossus bent back just slightly more than it should. The enemy robot slowly pressed its advantage and I realized I didn’t have any better footing.
“It’s time you woke up. Time to go back to the real world, where the only ones who care are all the companies sent to collect on your debts. Leave the fantasy behind and embrace real life. It’s so much better. At least there, you might finally lose your virginity. All it costs is fifty dollars and your dignity. Maybe you’ll find the love of your life in a toothless meth head street walker. So much easier to find one of those than someone like your Venus. Even in your own head, she’d rather do the unthinkable than submit to you. Wake up. The roaches miss you.”
He made a mistake. I spotted it immediately, just in case anyone thought I believed him. How can anything be unthinkable and surprising if it exists in my own head? I gritted my teeth, hearing something snap in the right arm. Then Mecha Gecko activated his disposable elbow jets. My left almost gave, but I still had one there to push back. It was the right that couldn’t hold until it locked up in front of me. The limb it struggled against slipped off and dug its claws into the shoulder, tearing the entire thing away. Then the claws took the head off. I could have sworn I felt a breeze from up above. Regardless, I lost most of the sensors when the head went.
I gave with it and pushed, jumping back. My robot’s left hand stayed in Mecha Gecko’s right, even a the rest of the arm came free. Mecha Gecko cocked its head as I caught the Colossus’s balance now that it had less weight distributed differently. Spinetingler continued, “Don’t you know it’s not healthy to live in a fantasy world?”
“I expect people say it isn’t,” I said over speakers. “People with good lives. People with plenty of money and no imagination. But even if you were, somehow, telling the truth, why the fuck would I want to go back to that life? Why be mundane? That’s what you and everyone else wants. Give up being awesome. Make a living as a pencil pusher? Live in a world where the only action I have to look forward to is a bunch of pissed-off people blowing each other up for no good reason? Where every good guy turns out to be just a bad guy on the right side?”
I raised the stump of my left arm. “That’s giving you the finger, so you know. I’d rather have the robots and flying men of steel with ideals, even if I hate them, even if I doubt they live up to them. I’d rather have a life like mine. And even though I hate those spandex-wearing boyscouts out there, I’d rather be part of a world where someone tries to exemplify the best of humanity. Where supposedly ‘good people’ try to live up to it! And where, when I run around killing and enslaving people, most people realize I’m a villain and an asshole and treat me accordingly! Even like that, I’m more someone to aspire to than any dirty politician or hypocritical prophet who wants to excuse what they do because a bunch of people listen to them and have a majority vote about what’s good and bad. What do you say to that, O Great Ass Clown the Prostate Tickler?”
Mecha Gecko pointed down. I checked the remaining sensors and found some tendril had squirmed its way across the streets and damaged buildings to wrap around Imperial Colossus’s ankle. It heaved and threw me into the distance to dig a long scar into a road. Ok, so they’re doing a great job of distracting me. For someone who tried to convince me this was all a coma dream because I somehow survive, they missed the part where they’re kicking my ass. Besides, I don’t always win. I just manage to get by because I can think. It’s not my fault nobody has actually put much thought into how amazing a technopath could be, even if I’m restricted to physical touch.
Well, I was. And, sadly, I didn’t have many trump cards left aside from making myself able to network again. But that would cost me the robot, and it’s not like either of those two have nanites in them. Somehow, I doubt killing everyone will convince them it’s useless to kill me. Even if I were to go all “grey goo” on them, like I did that one other time around here.
Hmm… now that gave me an idea.
I bullied the Imperial Colossus to its feet and made a run for the harbor.
Mecha Gecko managed to catch up when that was almost within reach. A shadow passed over the sky overhead, drawing my attention up to find his robotic body floating overhead on giant bat wings, robotic head writhing with whipping tentacles. It landed on the back of my Imperial Colossus and dragged me down. Mecha Gecko’s digitally distorted voice asked, “Where do you think you’re going? Water you think you’re doing, committing suicide?”
“If that’s what I’m doing, why are you keeping me away from the water?” I answered his question with a question. I kicked the mecha’s feet, squirming ever so slightly toward the ocean despite the extra weight.
“Yes, why are we keeping him from the water?” asked Spinetingler’s deeper voice from the mouth growing out of Mecha Gecko’s chest.
“Because he wants to go into the water. He has a plan, even if I can’t think of it,” Mecha Gecko said.
I decided to point out something. “Or I don’t have a plan, but I want to make you think I have one so you don’t throw me into the water.”
“See? Throw him in!” urged Spinetingler. The mouth reached up and turned toward the robot’s head, arguing.
Mecha Gecko slapped it away, giving me a chance to slide a little further out from under him. “No, he’s just saying that to encourage me to throw him in. He knew I’d question why he was going in the first place. This is all a trap to get in my head and make me keep him away from our biggest advantage over him. Yeah.”
Mecha Gecko rose up and grabbed the Imperial Colossus. I heard metal protest as he lifted me overhead. “It’s almost like you’re in my head!” I exclaimed. I really had to get that sentence across.
He didn’t throw me away. He paused for a moment, then said, “Yes, you are in my head. Ha! Figures you’d think that’d work on me. Uh uh, not buying it, but damn good try. Into the water with you!”
“My head hurts,” I heard Spinetingler say before Mecha Gecko threw me into the welcoming embrace of the Atlantic Ocean. I put on Dethklok’s “Go Into The Water” even as I heard it rush in. It was a struggle, between the melting exterior of the robot and the added weight, to get it vertical. In the end, one of Imperial Colossus’s legs fell off and I had to settle for sitting up only. But I was out of the water and the armor was dissolved.
Oh, and so was any of that gunk blocking me from reaching out and connecting with the rest of the world.
I laughed to myself as I sent out a signal. I didn’t have to go far. The evacuated nanite infected of Empyreal City weren’t too far out.
“Wait a damn minute…fuck!” Mecha Gecko stomped his way over. I dive bombed him with grabber drones to slow him momentarily, to give me time. “He’s got the damn nanites and anything else again!”
“No he doesn’t!” yelled Spinetingler. The mouth shot more goop at me, but it just pushed the Imperial Colossus back into the water, dissolved more of it, and left me sinking in my armor, which does seal up and recycle air.
A giant metal hand reached down and grabbed me nonetheless. Mecha Gecko pulled me up and brought me face to face with its armor. “What did you do? No, no time. Better to just kill you know and deal with it all later. I guess it’s sad to know you couldn’t beat me, but that’s why you’re afraid of me, isn’t it?”
“I did beat you!” I announced to him. “I just didn’t want to ever see another me again. I deserve to die, and so does any other me out there!”
The lamprey-like head rose in the air underneath me, glistening, gleaming teeth threatening to catch me should I fall. “And me? I remember you thought you could take me once. You foiled me…temporarily. But you can’t kill fear, little Psychopomp Gecko. Search that trash heap you call a soul and tell me, truthfully, if you can.”
“Kill you? Maybe. Maybe not. But I don’t have to kill you. I just have to beat you. And distract you until reinforcements get here.”
“Reinforcements? You have no reinforcements. Nobody gives a shit about you! Nobody would die for you!” Mecha Gecko started to squeeze until a Moai statue flew through the air and smacked into the side of its robotic head. Moai landed on Mecha Gecko’s shoulder but soon the copy swept him up with a tentacle and brought my loyal minion around to his face. “This is who you called? You risked our loyal Moai. Why do you serve him and not me. I’m just as real, but at least I didn’t do everything he did. I’m just a copy. I didn’t kill anyone before the heroes let me loose on this city. Join a better team, Moai.”
Dammit. I didn’t call Moai. I didn’t even know he was in the area.
Moai shook his head.
“Come on. It’s me, Gecko. Your boss. Compadres. Hermanos. You saved my life,” Mecha Gecko insisted. That’s one of those things glossed over about clones and copies. All the memories of being the real person, but it’s like suddenly everyone you know has decided you aren’t really you. And they’d be right. Then again, the asshole did try to use that as a feature. He made his bed, now it’s time to lie in it.
Except, when Moai shook his head again, Mecha Gecko went quiet. Then his head tentacles tightened. I heard something snap and crack. He tossed Moai away, but I couldn’t see what happened. He went out of sight. Fucking hell, I didn’t call Moai into this! I didn’t need his help. No one gives a shit about me anyway, so I make do without. I am Psycho Gecko!
I am Psycho Gecko. When I thought it, a sort of stillness settled over me, just like the bad old days. Just like when it was either kill another kid or be executed. Like bombing some conference because the Psychopomp program ordered me to. Like squeezing the life out of some bright super warrior’s neck because they defended those same old generals. Tearing apart dozens of people too stupid or willfully ignorant to know they were on the wrong side.
Let the panic go. There’s no place for that. No bargaining around here. Nobody here but Psychopomp Gecko, who lacks friends, family, or a fuck to give. Just a necessary evil to do, for one reason or another. I looked up at Mecha Gecko and told him, “For the record, that was entirely unnecessary. He’s not who I called.”
Under my dangling feet, Spinetingler growled. “Then- what the hell is that?!”
A wave of nanites flowed over the city, drawn from hundreds of millions of the closet people in the entire state, with more being drawn toward me in a general recall order. They came for me and began to envelop me, eating through the hand around me and working their way up the arm. Mecha Gecko tore it off with his other hand and stepped back, careful to avoid the massive flowing greyness that enveloped me. He tried his flamethrower, but I swung out with a blade of nanite that cut that arm off at the elbow.
My voice reverberated out of the mass of nanites that held me up and began to form a body around me. “Just who the hell do you think I am? I’ll tell you. I am the pirate signal. Let me in. I am the word virus. Let me in. I am the ear worm. Let me in. I am the brain pathogen grammar. I am the dreamer’s dream. I am what I am. Let me in. Let me in. Let me in. Let. Me. In!” I punctuated the last sentence by driving a flowing arm into Mecha Gecko’s side. He tried to dodge, but the arm curved in midair to follow at the speed of my perceptions. Spinetingler tried more of his acid spit, knocking some parts of my new fluid mecha away, but a sheet of them curved up from below to sever the second head and begin crawling in through the wound, dissolving anything they touched.
Mecha Gecko shook as my nanites chewed through his robotic body into the cockpit, where I found a damaged and burned mainframe hooked up where I would have sat. The parts that had broken off looked to be replaced by tumorous growths, likely Spinetingler’s addition. From the speakers of the other robot, I heard him announce, “Here, catch!”
And the robot exploded, flinging heat sensitive nanites away and coming for me. I didn’t notice when it reached me.
I awoke in a hospital, handcuffed to the bed, with a hell of a pain in my head and chest. They had me in a private room. And even though my eyes worked, I realized I couldn’t connect to anything. Which sucked. I JUST solved that problem before. But a quick check confirmed that I didn’t have any gunk on me. Scars, yes, and now stitches on my head and chest.. A bigass fucking, sutured-up incision on my chest. What the fuck was going on? At the very least, I could answer the internet question with an internal diagnostic.
I was missing several key pieces of my internal router and wireless interface. Somehow. The fuck? Handcuffed, no ability to connect, big scars on my head. The fuck happened after that thing exploded? Spinetingler better not have fucking been right. I tried my laser eye. Nothing. Another diagnostic said that part showed an inability to connect to those parts. Which meant more damage. As a last resort, I checked to see if my spine and transdimensional implants were working. At least they appeared to be all ok. Then I remembered what someone might want with my chest and realized I couldn’t feel the familiar inner warmth of my power core.
A machine I was hooked up to set off an alarm as I began to panic. What can I say, the discovery of my various surgeries surprised me. I reached over and placed my hand on it, figuring maybe I could shut it up. And waited.
I turned to keep an eye on the door and found someone looking in, just watching me hold my hand there without anything happening. He calmly opened the door and stepped in. “You’re awake. That is something. Hello, Mr. Gecko. Are you feeling alright?”
I kept my hand on the machine. “Not really. Feels like I was anally probed in the chest. Mind telling me what the hell happened that necessitated y’all digging into me?”
The man glanced down at a clipboard and pulled a pen out of his pocket. He doodled something on there. “You are remarkably lucid. That’s good. They weren’t sure about your tolerance level and ability to heal. I cannot reveal much about the procedures undertaken while you were unconscious, but I am supposed to warn you not to struggle and agitate your incisions. I’m supposed to say that, but you gave my wife a seizure for double parking. She was a brilliant, beautiful woman that I didn’t deserve. Now she wears diapers. While I’m informing the authorities that you’re awake, I won’t be able to respond if anything opens up.”
“What authorities? What’s going on? What did you do to me!” I called out. Didn’t have a clue about any wives given seizures.
The man just turned and stepped out, then poked his head in one last time. “And leave the machine alone. You won’t be able to do anything with it if that procedure worked like they said it did.” He smiled at me without warmth; just sheer animosity. “I don’t care what they say, you don’t deserve to be called human now.”