Season’s Thievings 4

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As befits the holiday season, I slept soundly, with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Specifically, a couple of dancers at this one strip club, Sugar and Plum. Sugar had the kind of figure that only exists when a man designs a woman, which could mean a lot of plastic surgery in her past. Plum’s not so hourglass-shaped. She tends to fall under that “thicker, but bigger boobs” way of appealing to men. I’d been spending more time away from Master Academy, for reasons ranging from “I just don’t like them,” to “they have a telepath.”

Speaking of which, that’s where this strangely dream, strange in its normalcy, took an odd turn. Because soon, the very person I had been avoiding showed up there. A feminine figure, not so endowed as the strippers, with scales over her skin and feathers where her hair should be. Her face was somewhat warped in structure, more elongated, with the nose not standing out so much from the mouth. Psychsaur just stood there for a moment and I wondered at how she wasn’t dancing on a pole like the rest. All of a sudden, a third pole was there and she walked over to it. As she began to dance, she glared at me and said, “Enough!”

I woke up with a jerk, almost losing my balance on top of one of the bookshelves. Below me, I saw Psychsaur standing with a murderous look in her eyes.

“Aunti Em!” I said to her. “I just had a dream. It wasn’t all nice, but most of it was beautiful. And you were there!”

She tapped her foot on the floor. “Yeah. I was.”

I shot a finger gun at her. “By the way, nice.”

“Shut up.”

“No, seriously. You might be a bit self-conscious about it, being a bit different from the norm, but the scales look really pretty, and it doesn’t really matter if the boobs aren’t that-”

“STOP TALKING ABOUT MY BODY!”

I turned over onto my belly on top of the shelf.“Fine then. But it’s not like we’ve talked long enough for me to talk about your mind. Perhaps we can change all that over coffee sometime?”

She held a hand out and an invisible force shoved me off the top of the bookshelf. Luckily, I landed on a paperback copy of Atlas Shrugged, making the book useful for once in its existence by softening the landing of my tailbone on the floor.

A bunch of books flew out and started swatting me from all angles. I caught one, Catcher in the Rye, but then Choke smacked me in the throat. “Why did they even buy you? You aren’t educational!” I yelled at it.

“You’re stealing something,” said an angry-sounding Psychsaur as she stepped to the other end of the stack.

“Not at the moment,” I answered.

“You’ve been avoiding me, so I read your mind while you slept.”

Sadly, I can’t bring myself to hole in a motel away from Master Academy. I think it’s the escape clause. But I did point out that, “Have you ever considered that most people avoid you so you can’t read their minds?”

She blinked and her eye went wide. I think I touched a nerve. I know she touched mine when I felt something squeeze my balls out of nowhere, the pressure ramping up until I was sure they should have exploded by now. But what’s having balls of steel for, if not resisting the ball-crushing might of someone with psychic abilities? With a painful twist, I was pulled back to my feet by them. “You went from being the woman of my stripperific dreams to touching my balls with your mind. I sense a bit of sexual tension.” I turned my head and coughed due to the pain.

She let go and I grabbed the shelf to steady myself. “Shut your mouth and keep it shut. You’re in the middle of a heist.”

I raised a finger to tell her this was technically incorrect, but didn’t say anything. When I realized I wasn’t speaking, I raised a different finger to express my opinion on the matter. Instead, I thought it all out, explaining rapidly. “Heistkeepsmeoccupied, Iwantthenanitestohealandgetstrongagainandbemycorrectspecies, pluswe’regoingtobebetrayedbytheguycommissioningussowe’regoingtostiffhim.”

“You can talk, just talk more slowly. Explain everything or I’ll make a woman of you,” she said.

I flashed an image of myself as a woman fooling around with Wildflower. “That’s sweet of you to offer, but someone already made a woman out of me.” I explained what has led up to the current situation, though. Soon, I was sit down in a room with her, Venus, and Victor Mender, repeating that story to them and telling them our plan.

They were surprised. “Johnny Butterfly, notorious crime boss, met with a random thief off the street who pulled one job and put him in a group with a bunch of other people to do this? That sounds ridiculous,” Venus concluded.

Mender’s synthesized voice spoke up. “He will betray you.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, probably. That’s why we’re going to betray him first. We have a plan to swap it out.”

They came to the conclusion they’d like to be a part of it. And I wasn’t allowed to have nanites.

On the day in question, things went beautifully. The disguises and fake identification worked perfectly, as did my fit about recognizing that large container full of fluid that, strangely, the RadioShack people didn’t have paperwork for. I stared right at the nearest guard, almost burning a hole through his glasses with my glare. “You lost the paperwork on this government property?”

Needless to say, they became incredibly amenable to helping us load the contents of the container up. They just no longer had the equipment on site to lift the entire thing out. The lot behind the store opened up to allow such large items to be moved in and out, but that required coordination. This was spur of the moment, and forced us to quickly change our plans as well. Mr. Blue Sky and Billy Jean had to run off and swap out the trailer on the semi from the normal covered type to one of the ones that can hold liquids. It’s the difference between hauling cheese and milk.

That took a bit longer than we’d have liked, especially because we took up so much space in the parking lot. When we finally had sucked as many nanites as we could from the container, we made it a point to leave. The longer we stayed, the longer we could be found out, and the longer we made Johnny Butterfly’s people wait at the drop point.

Oh, we were still heading there. I took over driving the semi. Billy insisted on driving this nice SUV. All black, but a few stains on the interior that made me curious just what Butterfly used it for before handing it over to us.

Billy and I pulled up to a warehouse. When we asked through Butterfly’s manager where it needed to go, he directed us to this address. And this address turned out to be more than just a warehouse. It was a bonded warehouse: a place where imported goods can be stored, repackaged, cleaned, adulterated, misplaced, mislabeled, fall off the back of a truck, and manipulated until a better time to pay duties on the goods inside. It has legitimate business uses, too.

It wasn’t much of a surprise to see one somehow owned by a criminal enterprise. I bet I even owned a few back with Double Cross. The surprising part was that the people at the gate weren’t expecting us. They made a call to the back and let us in, though. Told us to drive around right on in through the big door. There, one of the guards said he had been instructed to have us wait.

“Ok, I got ya. Let me just go let my colleague know that as well,” I told him, then exited the truck to go get in the SUV with Billy. To him, I said, “They want us to wait. You think this thing can crash the gate?”

He put it in gear. “Let’s find out.”

He wheeled us around and made for the door of the warehouse, leaving the semi truck and its large covered trailer to its fate. Before we could find out how good of a battering ram it made, we discovered it made a pretty decent moving target for small arms fire. Semi-automatic, but with enough volume to take out one tire. “You still got it?” I asked as we swerved. We no longer had our right front tire.

“Take more than that to stop us,” Billy said as he held us steady, heading for the gate. Then we heard a shotgun and lost even more control. The SUV swerved to the left suddenly, and flipped, with my side going on bottom. I looked to my right, saw the asphalt screeching by, and pushed the button to roll up my window. I did not want any of that.

When we came to a stop, I spat out pieces of a tooth and turned to check on Billy. “You still here?”

He said what I couldn’t due to censorship. I don’t even usually bother to slip into multiple languages, and that one about our unknown attacker and a goat whose parents weren’t married sounds fun to use myself someday.

“Sounds like you’re still here. Okily dokily. Now we just have to sneak out of here without them noticing, if possible,” I told him. He looked at me, his lip and nose bloody.

From outside, we heard a heavily accented voice. Ukrainian, actually. “We know you’re in there. Tell us who sent you and we will let you live. Was it the Butterfly?”

“Hornswoggling within hornswoggling,” I said. “Well, we were right about Butterfly then. But don’t worry. I got us a way out.” I still reached for my disposable phone and called to the others, as planned.

Sgt. Pepper picked up. “We heard gunshots.”

“Yeah, we’re stuck at the moment. This is a rival gang’s warehouse. Guy had a Ukrainian accent if that means anything. You get the tanker away?”

“Yeah, we got it. I’m waitin’ nearby. If you want me to go and save myself, just say the word.”

“Uh uh. You wait until we’re out of here,” I told him.

Billy spoke up. “Feelgood, they got assault rifles out there.”

“Pepper, did you know that the term ‘assault rifle’ was invented by the Nazis? They made this gun called the Sturmgewehr- hold on, they’re going full auto on us.” I had to cut it short because somebody had indeed opened up on us.

“How we gettin’ out of here, man? I don’t have a gun!” Billy panicked, trying to get himself untangled from his seat belt. “The car’s gonna explode!”

“Get a hold of yourself!” I wanted to slap him across the face, but couldn’t due to my constraints.

“What are you going to do then?!” he asked in a panic. I reached over and clicked to release his belt. He fell on top of me.

“Well, sadly, it’s not an option for me to insult one of them, hop out, and kill everyone armed with nothing but two handguns, a pair of swords, and maximum effort, but I’ll go one better. I’m going to put no effort in.”

“What are you even talkin’ man?”

“No effort!” I yelled.

From outside, I heard the Ukrainian yell. “Look, up in the sky!”

“It’s a drone!”

“It’s a plane!”

“It’s a distraction. Also a superhero, or at least one,” I told Billy.

“We’re gonna catch on fire. The car’s gonna explode!” He grabbed onto me, nails digging into my suit.

I just rolled my eyes. “Car’s don’t just explode most of the time, even when they’re shot. That’s not how it works. You can toss a grenade into one and it wouldn’t go blow up. The grenade would, but not the car.”

“They got grenades?!”

I shook my head. “You do not do well under pressure. They’re not even shooting at us. Now come on, move your rear. We gotta get the driver’s side doors open.

I had to shimmy past him to open the door, then sat straddling the side of the car above the door, reaching down to give Billy a hand up. Outside, we slid down and made a hasty exit for the gate and our waiting escape vehicle that’d be nearby while a number of Master Academy capes busied themselves fighting resistance and securing the warehouse. They didn’t pay much attention to me, except for one particularly scaly one I caught glaring at me. I blew her a kiss before we skedaddled.

Just as we got into the car, though, I held out my phone to Billy. “Here, press the call button.” I didn’t get this little idea until after the talk with Master Academy’s people.

He looked at it, looked at me, then looked at it again and pressed the button. Back in the warehouse, the semi and the trailer behind it blew. Billy freaked out when he heard it and realized what it was. “Jesus! You said cars didn’t just explode!”

“Nope, but trucks do, when you get the idea to stuff some C4 into them. Relax, that way no one can say for sure that we didn’t have the goods in it, and it could have been heroes or whoever was back there alike,” I smiled at him, and at Sgt. Pepper in the driver’s seat.

Sgt. Pepper chewed on a toothpick and told us, “Buckle your seatbelts,” before driving off.

Except when we went to meet Mary and Blue Sky in the parking lot of a defunct mall, we found no truck and trailer in sight. They were still there, of course, zip-tied in the back seat of the car.

“Heya,” said Blue Sky, ignoring a glaring Mary. “Turns out Butterfly planned to screw us.”

“He found us and took the tanker,” added Mary.

“He left a note, though,” said Billy, looking much calmer after a little drive. He pointed to an envelope underneath the windshield wiper.

After we got Mary and Blue loose, Pepper read the letter to us. “Dear team, if you’re reading this, congratulations. You have met my expectations. I know this looks bad, but I fully intend to honor my part of our deal. Please meet with me in the room this Friday if you wish to get your just rewards for such an excellent job. You can choose not to get paid if you want. Thank you for all of your hard work, J.”

We all looked at each other, and at the letter, contemplating the intelligence, or lack thereof, that would be involved in meeting that date.

Mary was the one who spoke up. “You know he’s going to betray us, right?”

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Season’s Thievings 3

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So, where would a company of mercenaries hide a black project dump site? Where does someone stuff an Avrocar or flechette machine guns? I’m curious. I need to know, in case I grab something while I’m there. It’s not that I need a flechette machine gun, and I don’t really care to use guns in general, but come on, people. Flechette. Machine gun.

At one point, the U.S. Military realized that emphasizing spray and pray had reduced the accuracy of their soldiers just a bit, so they asked some companies to put together guns that fired ammo which would split apart into multiple sharp flechettes. They didn’t just go with shotguns, presumably due to limited range. Then again, if you’re having trouble shooting junk with a rifle, moving closer and using a shotgun isn’t a bad idea.

That part’s all well and good, with the project getting abandoned and some companies that participated even showing off their prototypes nowadays. What I found out at one point during my tenure as Leader of the Not-Free World was that another part of the project was for heavier guns with flechette capability.They wanted something that could be fired from a .50 caliber rifle and take out an entire squad in one shot.

I didn’t have time to delve into that kind of stuff as much as I wanted, or save it all to memory. Sadly, I don’t know if they ever considered combining flechette rounds with miniguns. I just know that if that gun is in there, I would do some really naughty things to the barrel that would mess with its ability to fire.

Maybe I’m getting my hopes up. Maybe the place is stacked with MREs laced with aggression enhancing drugs that also lower inhibitions. Maybe they cloned a giant war dodo for urban cavalry engagements. Maybe THAT is where they are keeping Gary Coleman cryogenically frozen after faking his death. It’s not for an experiment or anything. The dude’s just really got a lot of anger management problems. Some say his fury grows inversely proportional to how much he shrinks.

Whether or not we unearth the resting place of Gary Coleman and suffer the midget’s curse, we still have to get in. Luckily for us, that was one of the handy pieces of info our friend Johnny Butterfly could provide. So where did they decide to hide this potentially-amazing repository of government secrets?

“Ok, it’s under a RadioShack,” said the old fellow.

“You sure, old man?” asked the young Latino.

The older crook turned to glare at him. “Call me Sgt. Pepper and his friggin’ Lonely Hearts Club band before you call me old man again, punk.”

“You got it, Sgt. Pepper,” I said, throwing out a mock salute. He didn’t glare so much at me.

Behind me, a snort revealed that our team sot had finished taking a sip and was now joining in the conversation. “Who am I supposed to be, Mr. Blue Sky?”

“Hail Mary!” said the black woman. When Sky and the Latino looked to her, she said, “It’s by ‘Pac. That or you call me California Love.”

“Probably best to stick with first impressions so we aren’t changing everything all the time, Mary,” I said.

“Who are you supposed to be then?” asked the only other unnamed person besides me.

I shrugged. “I’m the one they call Dr. Feelgood. I’m the one who makes you feel alright.”

That one did not get a lot of approval. Blue Sky immediately blew out beer. “I call bull. I am not going to call you Feelgood for this whole thing.”

It was Sgt. Pepper who came to my defense. “Then call him Doctor, Christ.”

“Hey, I only answer to Christ on Sundays. Otherwise, it’s Feelgood,” I turned to the remaining unnamed member of our group. “The world wants to know: what poorly-thought out name do we get to call you for the extent of this relationship?”

He looked between all of us and took a moment to roll his shoulders and try to put on a tough front for a second before muttering. “Billy. Billie Jean.”

I shrugged. “Well, you’re not my lover, just a boy who says that I am the one.”

“Knock it off already,” said Sgt. Pepper. “We officially called this meeting t’order, or don’t you remember?” He stabbed a finger down at the printout of the photos showing the RadioShack in question. “This is where they hid it.”

Mr. Blue Sky wandered over. “Makes sense. People expect to see a bunch of useless old junk there, but nobody ever goes in. Perfect.”

It certainly fit. I don’t know anyone who has ever gone into a RadioShack, and the stories they tell of the company’s employees suggest you could put an entire stockpile of military experiments right underneath them with no one the wiser. Or they’re just mercenaries literally being paid to act like that. Come to think of it, I don’t think this was the first time RadioShack’s name came up in relation to United States black projects. No wonder that company somehow manages to keep surviving.

“It wouldn’t matter if they go in,” Sgt. Pepper explained. “It’s all unnerground. Look at the annotations here; this guy says you pull that lever inside the toilet to get in.”

“Isn’t that the fill valve?” asked Mary. “That thing’s gotta go off anytime someones uses the bathroom. They have to all be guards.”

Billie shook his head. “Naw. My cousin, he once worked in one of these. The bathroom was out of order constantly. They never called a plumber. He said some other guy he knew moved to Tucson, got a job at a store down there. They had the same problem there. I bet those are all like this one.”

“That’s not going to be a good way in,” I said. “We can’t just waltz in, unless they’re expecting military-grade waltzers. Maybe a Waltzer PPK. Nah. We need blueprints for this place. Some better scouting around for anything. Pipes, vents, another entrance. It’s a really bad idea to only have one entrance to a hidden underground anything. Makes it too easy to lock ’em in and flood the place until they aren’t a problem.”

“Flood the place,” asked Mary. “You’re a little sick, aren’t you?”

“It doesn’t have to be water,” I said, trying to ease the dirty looks the group was giving me. “Could be urine or blood, or even a gas. Like mustard gas. Tends to accumulate lower down, so it’s perfect.”

Muttering to himself, Pepper took out a pack of cigarettes. He smacked it a couple times to wake up the cancer, then pulled out one to light. “If, by the humor of God, we take a prisoner during all this, you,” he pointed to me and took a deep drag of his cigarette, “Are not allowed to dance around and take a razor to his ear, y’hear?”

I rolled my eyes, which looked perfectly human thanks to all the hard work spent making sure they had limited ability to blend in. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I was young. I needed the money. Besides, I warned the guy to keep his hands off me. ‘Dad,’ I said, ‘I’m pretty sure nobody else’s explanation of the birds and the bees involved their dad taking them to the champagne room of a strip club looking for the student discount.’”

Apparently they didn’t appreciate my sense of humor, but I like to think I laid the groundwork to let all kinds of stuff slip and not be paid any particular attention unless it’s about the job in question. I took a closer look over some of the invoices for maintenance that Butterfly had dropped off. “Recent installation of an elevator with cameras and wireless ID access. Special maintenance of pressure sensor floors that log where someone goes. Replacement retinal scanners. This place is going to be one tough nut to crack. I wish we had more to go on than just these. If we knew how frequently they have to do all this, maybe we could get in. Or exploit a potential weakness if something really needs that maintenance.”

Mary shoved me out of the way and read something, then poked at a line item. “No. The software needs patching, but there’s no other reason this needs personal maintenance unless something is damaging it.”

Curmudgeonly old Sgt. Pepper stated the obvious conclusion. “They’re runnin’ up the costs for the govment. The system’s fine. We gotta getta ’round it.”

If not for that darn block. Retinal scans are not very secure. Neither are DNA scans, fingerprints, or hand prints. It’s not like body parts are that hard to rip off. But still pretty funny that they’re ripping people off. I wonder who, if anyone, paid the bills when I was in charge.

Geez, I’m starting to feel like an idiot.

“I don’t know why we were all picked, if there are certain skills the big Butter saw in us, but I happen to have some knowledge that’ll help us on this one. So I got some ideas. We could show up to audit the place. Suits, ties, a bunch of proper identification.”

“We’d never get in.” That came from Mr. Blue Sky. “They’ll do everything they can to hold us out and keep us from seeing things aren’t up to snuff for an audit. I’ve worked for a company before. Not this company.”

That got some interested looks from the rest of our bunch. He ignored them by pulling out another beer from the interior of his jacket and popping it open. “Before you ask, I wasn’t field operations.”

“Then forget an audit, we play agents bringing them a new thing to store,” I said.

“You got some experimental military hardware hidden somewhere we can drag in?” asked Pepper.

I shrugged. “Actually, yeah. I just might. This can work.”

And so we set about getting what we need. We all need to pick up a suit. Blue Sky and Billie Jean are seeing to transport. We need a semi truck and trailer, and some good wheels to pass as a government car. Pepper knows someone who can print up the fake ID cards. I had to take a moment with him and Hail Mary to check through information I had stored from my time in control. Information on cover agents. Hail Mary says she should be able to spoof the wireless identification if it comes down to that. Between the two of them, we’ll have conventional and digital methods of impersonation covered. She even claimed she thought she knew how to get past the retinal scanners even without anyone’s eyeballs. She’s sure, somehow, it’ll be necessary.

Who knows? Maybe it will be. Not like I can just tear out a merc’s eyes for it. I have to figure out our advanced technology. Well, not figure out. More like, steal Venus’s exoskeleton and paint it so it looks like something a soldier would possibly wear.

The best way to get something I technically should own is to just walk in like we pay for the place.

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Season’s Thievings 2

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“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” These were the words of Johnny Butterfly, who deigned to speak with me personally. A most unusual way of doing business. “These are desperate times for many people. That desperation breeds opportunity. Let’s change the phrase around then: opportunistic times call for opportunistic people.”

“These must be unusual times to be giving us this speech like this,” said one of the others in the room. An older man, with grey hair and plenty of lines. “We’re here for work.”

“He wants to pay us to sit around and listen, that’s fine with me,” said a pot-bellied fellow in the grips of middle-age. He almost had a mullet the way his curly black hair hung down the back of his head. He smelled like he’d been drinking, though this was ten in the morning. A bit early for me to be up, let alone drunk.

Butterfly took it in stride. He sat, a thin man in a pinstripe suit, clean shaven, with hair just a little gelled up. Late twenties. His tie was deep purple purple, almost black. For all his boldness, that was the extent of his unusual visual affectations. It was more than enough, especially meeting us like this. Basement or not, secret passage to the neighboring buildings or not, it’s not normal for a crimeboss to meet with some random collection of independent contracting thieves in person.

I’m all for someone doing things in unusual ways, and that’s also why I’m paying attention. I think we all are, except for the drunk. It’s me, old guy, drunk guy, a Hispanic teen trying in vain to grow a mustache, and a husky black woman with her hair dyed bright red and pulled back in a ponytail. A regular bunch of reservoir dogs are we. And utterly expendable.

“This is an unusual meeting because this is an unusual job. I am not tasking my usual men for this because the situation is so unorthodox, but at the same time I am not paying in the usual way. I wanted you to believe this is serious, because it will sound like a joke.”

“What’s the punchline?” asked our dark-skinned double-minority. She counts for double for our affirmative criminal action. Actually, she almost balances out, the way crime works. Her being black, she’d normally draw far more heat than the rest of us. But she’s a woman. Part of that whole storyline about women being fragile things that can’t work and must stay in the kitchen while the men do manly things also says women are weaker than men and therefore cannot compete. Not as fast, strong, nor can they dare to best the mighty menfolk. It tends to mean that women don’t get picked up as often, and they get shorter sentences. When men say they want women in that damn kitchen, they damn well mean they want them there instead of prison.

That means the only person we can rely on dumping all the blame on is the Hispanic guy. And I hear this latest president-elect guy’s trying to get rid of them. It just isn’t right. If they get rid of all the Hispanic criminals, white people might start getting arrested instead!

“The punchline is that this city has the biggest hidden reserve of medical nanotechnology in black storage,” he said.

“Excuse me?” the black lady butted in.

Butterfly held up his hand. “It is a secret repository for sensitive materials being used as part of black projects for the military or the intelligence agencies. This one is a private facility. Privatization is the future, so they hired a private military company to maintain and guard a site for them. These honest capitalists love to make money on the side and someone lost the paperwork for a large shipment of medical nanotech purchased by the government and so secret that this was the only set of paperwork in existence. The person who knew all this and informed me of it has passed away, meaning the company does not even know what it has in storage.”

I raised a hand. Butterfly pointed over at me. “Yes?”

“Ok, so I’m getting something of an understanding here. You want us to break into a private black site hidden somewhere in this city, guarded by mercenaries, and somehow escape with the entire thing. Because I was told my part in this would be non-violent.” Oh how I regretted not being allowed to hurt people outside of name-calling. Sticks and stones break their bones, but words aren’t a very good response to a squad full of mercs going Rambo ape-titties on me. I can do amazing things with all sorts of everyday stuff and a human body, but it’s harder to talk someone to death. Not impossible, but I’m not a little kid.

“You’re right, that plan would never work,” he said. I wouldn’t say never, but I’d have to be myself again to make it work. “Instead, we need to find a way to alter the shipping information so that the container is transported. We quietly divert that shipment and everyone goes home a winner.” Butterfly finished and flashed a smile I could almost hear ding.

“Not everyone,” said the Hispanic youth, looking around at us. “Not the people expecting that shipment.”

The older fellow guffawed. “Cocky little guy, aren’t you?”

Butterfly showed us to one of his other properties through one of the basement tunnels. We came out in the back room of a bar. It looked like the sort of worn old room they’d use for private functions, with more than an ample table for our little party. “Everything you want will be provided for here. Maps, computers, equipment. Inform Lindon the manager and he will get it for you on my tab. After this, you have no more contact with me in any way, but you also do not discuss this with any of my men. Lindon is here to provide you space and equipment. I will have everything my people know complied and sent over in the morning. Until then, enjoy your new book club or anonymous group. Whatever you call yourselves to the public.”

He shot us another sharp smile that belonged in a dentist’s commercial and pulled the wall closed behind us, leaving us milling around there. “That’s not a bad idea about the anonymous. We could pretend we’re an AA group,” said the black woman.

“Yeah right,” said the drunk. “I am not quitting for this.”

“You think you would for the sake of… this,” responded the older guy, trying to beat around the bush.

The youngest man of our bunch still preferred being open about what he did to the bush. “This isn’t right. He’s going to set us up or something.”

“Watch too many movies, kid?” asked the lush.

“Kid,” the elderly crook raised a hand. “I’m not saying anyone’s setting anyone up, but even if someone was, I wouldn’t talk about it in the man’s own bar, in a room he has a secret door to, where we’re probably being listened to.”

“Retarded.” Our token woman shook her head, looking at the youth.

I just rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Our little Foot Fetish Support Group can call itself whatever we want, even meet where we want. But there’s nothing to worry about unless we’re successful. Let’s focus on that first. And figure out why what we can all do so we can make this happen.”

Right off the bat, though, I figured myself, the young guy, and the old one definitely knew our odds of an easy walk-away on this one. Two of us just weren’t dumb enough to talk about it in a room so full of ears, the walls might as well be made of corn. This situation stank, and not just because the last group in this room loved their lutefisk.

The folks back at Master Academy didn’t even ask where I’d been this time. They were busy, and had a way to track me. Besides, they’ve gotten used to my wandering about without causing too much trouble or exposing myself. I don’t think it’s stupidity so much as the problem with constant vigilance. People always lapse.

Instead, I was just heading to the cafeteria when Venus stepped out of a side room, dressed for working out. “Hey!” she said. “You’re just in time!”

“For what? Taco Tuesday?” Like Fried-Chicken Friday, Spaghetti Saturday, and Sundae Monday, it’s one of the special meal days staggered so that they aren’t every week.

She grabbed my arm and started walking me back down the hallway toward the gym. “Nope. I need a partner for a demonstration. You’re volunteering.

I turned and walked with her. “Ah, I was wondering if y’all taught Sex Ed.”

“Keep wondering. This is for Phys Ed.”

“Right. Instead of doggy style, we’ll go downward-facing dog style, right?”

“This is going to be fun.”

What turned out to be so fun was us walking into a gym with several students of all ages sitting around on the bench. Mats were laid out on the floor, and Psychsaur stood holding some gloves. I kicked off my shoes, then pulled off my Behemoth jacket and t-shirt, the latter of which had “Harder!” written on its back.

Venus smiled up at them. “I found someone who agreed to my demonstration. Maybe you’ve seen our guest here, Puss in Boots.”

“Remember to keep the pants on,” Psychsaur said, holding out some gloves.

I took them and slipped them on. “Remember to let me fight back.”

She rolled her eyes and stepped aside, a smirk across her scaley face.

Venus called out to me as she circled around to the opposite side of the mat. “You’re fit, right? I don’t have to handle you with baby gloves?”

I pointed to the scar on my chest. Just a scar. I’m not entirely familiar with the amount of time it takes to heal from everything they’d done to me, but a trip through the arcade machine did me some good in that regard. I doubt I’m quite as fit as when all the muscle would be repaired and maintained by nanites, but there’s no need to let Venus in on that one. “When it comes to me, we aren’t talking baby anything. But if you’re ever looking for baby gloves, I might know a guy who can get them nice and authentic. None of that faux-baby pleather.”

I pounded away at my chest, making sure I didn’t have anything loose on the inside. Body by arcade machine doesn’t normally mean good health, so it’s best to check that sort of thing before strenuous activity with my nemesis. I smiled at Venus as I did it, who returned one that had less good humor in it. “And there’s the dead baby joke. It’s going to feel good shutting you up again, even just like this.”

Based on the calls coming from the stands, some of the students clearly enjoyed out back and forth. I saw money pulled out for bets. I also saw Venus stretching. She noticed me watching. “Are you going to stare and get your butt kicked, or are you going to limber up too?”

“I think a part of me’s already lumber… I mean limber… but okily dokily.” I began a kata, which I knew she’d know was unusual for me. I even through in a couple of ridiculous spin kicks just to play around. When I saw she’d finished and stepped onto the mat, I stopped, got my feet under me, and attempted a backflip. I landed on my face and stumbled up and onto the mat, apparently still unbalanced.

I heard Venus approaching by her laughter and running. I whipped around and caught a leg that she tried to put through my back. I dropped her to the ground and got a couple of good punches in before she slid loose and rolled back. I kept throwing punches, hitting the mat as she evaded each time. Still not quite balanced, I brought both hands down where I hoped to catch the back of her head, but she got onto her knees. So I leaned toward her and put my weight on my forearms. I brought my bare feet up to kick at her face with the bottoms. That time I made contact, though the constant attacking left me in an awkward position. Probably something you’d see in yoga, actually.

We both had to take a moment, though. After the impact, I swung my feet forward and twisted around into a crouch. A few feet out of reach, I saw Venus rubbing her cheek. “That’s why you never underestimate an opponent, even one who doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing.”

I stood up and smiled at her. “If I don’t know what I’m doing, how are you going to figure it out?”

“Maybe I’ll brute force it,” she said. She moved closer and threw a couple punches toward my head to scout my reaction. Not too fast. She wanted me to dodge them. When she tried it a third time and I dodged, she brought her leg up and caught me in the side with her shin. I grabbed the leg with both hands, though. Not a good position for her to be in. So she just jumped up and caught me under the chin with her other foot while doing a backflip.

It’d been awhile since I tasted blood. Can’t say I prefer my own flavor. I like my bodily fluids either where they belong or where I put them. “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood,” I said as I got to my feet. I saw she hadn’t completed her little flip either. Rather than wait for either of us to get up, I threw my weight forward and straightened up by thrusting my knee upward about where her face was. She moved her head to the side just enough, grabbed my thigh, and lifted. I went down with her on top of me and an audience of eager schoolchildren. I still wished this as Sex Ed, but she grabbed my arm and shifted to try and put my in an armbar.

She tried to extend my arm, but I grabbed hold of it and got my feet under me. When I pulled up, she let go and stayed on the ground. I, meanwhile, shot right up and off balance. Then someone, presumably Venus, decided I needed to be back on the ground. She grabbed my ankles out from under me, sending me back to the ground but with a bit less air. Instead of my arm, she went for my leg, wrapping hers around my right leg and twisting it at the knee and ankle.

I just growled and kicked at her, trying to find a face or boob or anywhere painful to hit. “Tap out!” she called to me, followed quickly by, “Ugh!” since I found her face from the sound. She didn’t let go, though. I sat up to throw a fist into her face, but found she beat me to the punch.

Things got a bit fuzzy there for a few minutes until the nice doctor lady gave me something that made me feel real nice and started putting me through all kinds of tests. Not an MRI, but there was an x-ray machine and several needles involved. It’s like they had it all ready. When I got out of the school infirmary an hour later, Venus was even there to help give me a hand, and my clothes. “How was it?” she asked.

“I’m surprised at the rapidididity of the response,” I answered. “And why did she give me a colonoscopy?” I saw her offered arm and grudgingly took her up on the offer. The drugs were wearing off, and I’d acquired a limp. Not the sort of limp a little blue pill could fix, either.

“After all the fuss you gave the other doctors, we thought it would work better to do a work-up while you were otherwise preoccupied.” She sounded all nice and cheerful.

I’d have stopped, but at that point I wanted to get back to the library and find a nice pile of paperbacks to lay down on. “Did you just beat me up to make me go to the doctor?”

“Congratulations, your colon is clean,” she said.

“Oh? Got your foot out of there already, you unethical bastige?” So going to kill her. Gonna kill her dead.

“You can always ask for a rematch.”

I tried to take one right there, but my hand stopped in midair. She pushed it away and said, “Ask for one, with a please and a thank you.”

Screw it. Set-up or not, I’m gonna crime so hard, everything’s gonna be stolen. I’m gonna be walking around with three watches on my arm, and another two in my pocket, all stolen. Next time I see a baby with candy? Better give it over. And they better not ask me to be in some sort of school baseball team. Never mind the danger, it’s time to rip some people off like they’re Band-Aids.

The first step was finding a nice place in the library for all these lovely medical supplies I seem to have tripped over and found. I can sell the pain pills at least, but I’m not yet sure what I can use this X-ray for. Maybe reheating leftovers.

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Season’s Thievings 1

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Maybe winter can wait a bit. Just until I get a little less round and full. The heroes, those insidious people, have found a new way to torture me. It hurts. I can attest to how difficult it is for a person to commit evil in the wake of a massive Thanksgiving dinner. If people had been stuffing food into my face this much, I’d have a much lower body count. The most effective hero in the world would be The Itis.

I’d been holed up in the library, working on my new armor. I realized I needed to scale down the machine I was building a bit. It’s big enough to hold the entire armor, but it really only builds one section of the kinetic plating at a time, and it takes longer. I dislike having to assemble it this way. So slow. At least I gave the entire stand scan capability. It analyzed my current physical form, adjusted itself, and got to work.

The fabric portion almost seems like it’s being printed. It takes awhile, but it’s not too bad. The problem is the kinetic plating. It goes a step beyond ballistic plating, that’s for sure. My nuts will be protected in exciting new ways. Unfortunately, it takes more time. A lot more time. Seeing as I can’t make the undersuit out of my preferred nanofibers, that portion of the suit is actually going to be a little less resilient.

It wouldn’t do to be fighting and some guy cuts through the fabric holding the armor plates to the rest of it. Most people who wear bulletproof vests don’t have to deal with that. The average soldier doesn’t face too many people with katanas and the ability to throw fireballs. RPGs, maybe, but the last thing they need to worry about is their armor staying in one piece in that case.

In summation: I might have a little more than a sleeve done in a week. We’ll see how it goes. I might be able to tweak things.

I’ll just wait until I can move properly first. It was insidious. They lured me in with the smell, you see. Thanksgiving day, the smell of frying turkeys inundated the campus. I didn’t know they could do that. Looking outside, I’m not sure it was just for my benefit. They’ve got protesters, you see, and a great way to deal with protesters is smell. Civil rights marchers got the dogs, the national guard shot hippies, cops regularly hit college coeds with pepper spray, and the armed revolt at the Bundy Ranch got an angry look from authorities, but no one’s done much in the way of smells. Take a bunch of people standing outside all day, making them smell a big dinner, and just watch their resolve buckle.

I should know. It brought me to the food halls. That’s more than those guys got, with their “End Human Repression” and “Not In My Friendly Neighborhood!” signs. And I’ve actually killed some of their allies.

They responded with luxurious gluttony. Afterward, I made it as far as one of the tables before having to rest and try to let things digest. And plan.

I’ve also been hunting down psychics to try and see if any are telepaths capable of releasing me from my bondage. I have the numbers of several pieces of excrement in human form who do nothing but lie to people for money, and a couple of professional dominatrix services. But I’m not personally a fan of being walked on by someone in high heels unless I get to snap her neck afterward. Some people like pain. I like murder. And since I’m not a necrophiliac, it makes the sex really awkward.

Geez, I reference necrophilia a lot. I’m starting to feel like one of those preachers who goes around talking bad about gay people and claiming all we need is more family values, only to get caught snorting a line of coke off the thighs of a hairless young Latino named Jesus. Can’t say I’m into Latino men, though. Maybe it’s racist, but after sex with them, I tend to end up with diarrhea.

So now that we’ve established several things about my bodily functions, and the progress of my armor, what did I actually do?

Kept plotting my re-armament, of course. Especially because I’m not allowed to actually escape or try to get others to help me escape. Nope. But I am trying to build up resources for criminal activities to aid my goals and possibly help me help the Master Academy people. It’s complicated, and it means I’m not doing a thing about protesters and attacking militias and so on. Leave that to the Academics. They’re heroes. They took on the duty of looking out for the world. I ain’t king of the world anymore. I’m looking out for me, and thus these attacks only matter to me as far as that goes. That meant more talks with Michelangelo’s people. Odd that I can’t get ahold of him. They haven’t outright said he’s taking a vacation of indeterminate length, but I suspect it.

What makes it worse is my own lack of funds. A few years of constant warfare against the forces of good has put a severe dent in my coffers while almost completely stopping me from pursuing my particular way of making an honest buck. Unfortunately, I can’t do much about that either in this state.

With no way to earn a legitimate living through violence, I had no choice but to turn to crime. Sad, but true. Michelangelo’s people had the hook-up. In exchange for a cut, they put me in contact with some people who claimed to be able to use someone with discreet skills of property removal who also didn’t want any blood on their hands. A shame about the physical violence thing, though. The woman over the phone started to describe one job where some government contractors were moving and storing all sorts of juicy things in the city while it’s still in clean-up mode.

Instead, I claimed to be able to pull off a lovely little heist involving a necklace absolutely loaded down with diamonds. A well-connected fellow had intended to give his wife a beautiful diamond necklace on their anniversary, only for a Johnny-Come-Lately with a lot of Wall Street money to threaten the jeweler with getting his business shut down if he couldn’t have such a gift for the lady digging on his gold. Or so the very fine, perhaps even very good, fellow described the situation to me.

The Wall Street fellow broken up with the woman he gave the necklace to, but actually took back the necklace. It had been left in his townhouse. He himself was no longer around in the city, having fled as soon as possible way back when Mecha Gecko, the copy of my entire personality and knowledge in a computer installed in a giant robot, started running amuck in the city as part of the plan to draw me out and kill me. Which reminds me, I need to figure out just which members of Master Academy were part of that plot so I know who to exempt from helping. You don’t get points for saving my life if it’s your fault I almost died.

So I had my job. Break into the man’s lovely home, past all the guards he’s paying to stay in the city and look over the place, and steal the necklace. The guards are to be left alone, as are the staff. The fellow who put out for the job wants to make it clear he actually cares about the little man, as the job is at leart partially about the threats to the jeweler’s livelihood. To quote my contact at Michelangelo’s “The client believes that a disagreement between gentlemen should stay between gentlemen, and not target those on the periphery.”

She scoffed at that. I can see why. I enjoy a bit of viciousness. Sadly, that was completely uncalled for the whole thing went smoothly and easily. Insanely so. I found. The six-story townhouse had been built more than 100 years ago, but the guy went and remodeled the fuck out of the interior, including adding sprinkler systems around. I picked that up from a bit of reconnaissance that didn’t even involve entering it. From there, it was just a matter of slipping the right chemicals into the house.

There’s always a way in. In this case, a simple package containing a simple firebomb. I dropped it off while dressed as a delivery man and waited until they got it well into the house. With the help of a cameras hidden on four sides that gave me a view on my phone, I got a brief look at the interior of the house before the maid set the package on the counter in a sitting area. When she left the area and I determined no one else was around, I hit the button and sent it up in flames.

The sprinklers and smoke detectors did their job, and soon the house staff and security were out in the streets. It took longer for security, who had presumably done a last-minute sweep while also getting on the horn to make sure firefighters and police showed up to handle this mess as quickly as possible. Oh, something I didn’t mention about this townhouse; the buildings next to it are taller. I used them to jump to the roof, since they weren’t suicidally taller, then rappelled on down into the top floor.

By the time I actually located the necklace, the firefighters had already shown up and were looking the first floor sitting room over. They’d likely discuss the clear arson with police, but they otherwise had no reason to come up to the third floor, as I was on at the time, and discuss exactly why I was lifting out a bunch of diamonds pretending to be held together by gold. If diamonds are a girls best friend, this necklace is the guy who treats them to an amazing dinner, screws them until they pass out from pleasure, then wakes them up in the morning with breakfast in bed and a single perfect rose.

And the security on it was a laughable case with pressure sensors and lasers. To be fair, I couldn’t normally make use of the trick I pulled. I’ve only recently been able to tolerate an electromagnetic pulse. In the past, ECM made me sick and weak while also disabling my cybernetic parts. They restart after the danger is passed. Those parts, my eyes included, acted the same way as the ECM went off, but I felt little different. Blind, sure, but I had kept close enough to the case and went to work. Quick and easy, I had the necklace and this fellow had fewer functioning electronics in his house. Icing on the cake.

One undetected escape later and I had proven my worth to Michelangelo’s new people. Good thing. It felt like I still had turkey in me from days before. The secretary I met appeared particularly fascinated by the necklace when I showed it off, too. I undid the clasp and gave it to her by putting it around her neck. “There ya go. Looks good on you.”

She blushed and reached up as if to take it off. “Very good. Payment will be forthcoming within two days. Will you be looking for more work, or do you plan to have some down time?”

Considering the pay, I’d need more work. “I could stand to dabble in well-paying theft where no one gets hurt,” I told her with a shrug.

“I have a job you may take part in, if you can work well with others and do not mind being involved with the superhumans.”

That got a raised eyebrow from me. “Go on…”

“I can not. I can put you in contact with the man who can. This is a big job, so no one wants to risk rumors and warnings,” she said, finally taking the necklace off. Yeah, I noticed she left it on a little. That’s why I put it there in the first place.

“Can you tell me anything about why it might be worth it to me? What priceless thing could it possibly be to warrant so much secrecy while the person putting it together has to recruit through such channels?” I asked.

“You must see him about it,” she said, holding up a slip of paper with a name on it. Johnny Butterfly, the long-time rival to the crime family that had backed up Michelangelo. Well don’t that just beat all. Underneath it was the sentence: “Choice of six-figure payment or access to medical nanotech.”

Looks like I’m going to steal something for Johnny Butterfly. That would do wonders for helping me with my human condition.

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The Thanksgiving Interlude

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“What do you mean she’s not around?” I asked.

Psychsaur stopped to shoot me a glare. “She’s got better things to do than be at your beck and call. Not everything revolves around you, you know!”

I faked a gasp. “You take that back right now!”

She did not. How uncouth. All I’d wanted to know was where Venus was so I could hide my equipment accordingly. Well, maybe not hide. I’m just assembling it in the library, but I’ve made no effort to put it in a particularly shadowy alcove or cover it with a sheet or anything. The most I did was tape a sign to it that says, “Out Of Order.”

Near the exposed bits, I even added another sign that says, “Touch. Go ahead. I dare you.” It worked perfectly. Which is good, because building this thing has been tiresome. A lot goes into a good suit of armor. Not a decent suit of armor, not generic, but good. If someone opens the wrong book in that library, they’ll find pages of stuff I wrote out just to get it somewhere other than my head. A plan. Certain materials formed certain ways, for instance, all so I can put together a machine that will assemble on me armor to make me an agent of death and chaos once more.

There’s more to it than that, to the point of utilizing some smelting in place of nanomanufacturing of it. I’m trying slightly different techniques this time. They’ll increase the bulk of the armor while making it more roomy. Going to need the extra space for computer systems, ECM countermeasures, and the new power source I’m throwing together. I’ll also have to put more time and effort into repairing the armor myself due to my lack of easy access to nanites. Building one or two by hand isn’t going to do much, after all. I’ll have to build this suit to last a bit longer and be repairable through easier means.

Yeah, things are changing. Did I call my last armor “Emperor Gecko”? I ask because that’s what I’m calling this one. We’re not yet to Mark One status yet. And it hasn’t been helped by all the shenanigans getting in my way. Venus is gone, sure, but I still get people bothering me around the library. Not sure they even have a proper librarian. It’s up to me to shut up these dumb asses, braying as they do like donkeys.

Like this pair of twenty-somethings who stopped in. They went toward the back, somewhere around the art history section. Interesting stuff there, since a lot of early art was basically propaganda on behalf of whatever murderous warlord took over a place lately.

One of these guys was selling Ritalin to the other because of tests coming up, but the buyer also asked about depression. “This new guy got elected, and like, everyone’s depressed. It’s horrible, man. God, I wish Jon Stewart still had his show. Where was he when we needed him, right?”

“Hold the frell up!”I burst through a stack of books behind them.

They jumped back. “Jesus!” shouted one.

“Not nearly, but I have been known to send a person to Hell every now and then! Been known to do it for a moron like yourselves, even.” I grinned at them.

The seller tried to hide his bag of prescription pill bottles, but dropped it. He pretended not to see it. The seller didn’t get the memo. “Whoa, someone must have left their pills. We better get those back to them.”

“Really? And here it looked like one of you was selling to the other. This is Capitalist America, boys. Sell anything to anybody and all that. No, that’s not why I’m paying y’all a visit here today, though I should also mention y’all might wanna shush around here. People could possibly be studying somewhere. Hell if I know where they’d be, especially with those girls off banging in the private study room.” I grabbed their shoulders through the bookshelf before they could run off and watch. Doing them a favor, actually. What red-blooded male wants to sit around watching a pair of school-age Asian girls enjoy a rousing game of find the g-spot? Probably none, I’m sure. Especially not a busy guy like me who isn’t allowed to detach one of his eyes that could record the whole thing. And if I couldn’t, no way would I sit around and let someone else do so.

“No,” I said, going back to thoughts of Margaret Thatcher playing baseball naked on a cold day. “I just felt it necessary to address that whole thing about the comedian, because I’ve been hearing it a bit.”

And by a bit, I mean it’s spread across the internet like porn of barely-legal Asian schoolgirls… gorram it!

“Just correct me if I’m wrong, but some sort of election happened that y’all perceive went the wrong way, right?”

“Presidential election,” said the seller, nodding.

“Right, so millions of people aged 18 or older across the nation came together to cast their vote in the largest regular democratic input of the United States’s political system after what I have to assume was almost wall-to-wall coverage of the season while it lasted. I mean, they had to start kinda late this year due to world conquest, but still. Anyway, you believe millions of people did not vote the right way as far as policy, morality, and intelligence goes because a comedian was no longer running his cable show, am I correct?”

“Um, yeah?” the buyer kinda-sorta answered.

“A comedian didn’t tell people to vote for the right candidate, so the people weren’t able to see they were the right one. Forget news and debates if there were any, the people weren’t informed because of the lack of one comedian. I’m just having some trouble following the thought process there and I once justified raping a manatee to myself.”

The sea cow was totally asking for it, swimming around all naked like that. I mean, it never said “no.”

“You make it sound stupid, man,” The buyer threw up his hands.

I shrugged, then gave them a clap on the shoulders. “There might be a reason something sounds stupid when you say it out loud. And I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with whether or not you’re right about your side, but I think a democracy’s got worse problems if that’s what messed things up. So, as a concerned citizen and possibly the only sane person around, I just want you to know, both of you,” I looked between them, “That if I hear either of you two being so mind-blowingly moronic in here again, I’ll scalp you and turn your bloody hairpieces into nipple-wigs to impress the ladies with my chest-borne virility. I’ll be Leatherface meets Austin Powers.”

I tore open my shirt, grabbed their heads, and pulled them against my nipples. “Just imagine it. The two of you, plus my chest, united at last. It’ll be so wonderful. What do y’all think? Is the view growing on you?”

They haven’t been back. I really should check on that Presidential election nonsense, see who succeeded me in the White House. I just really wanted to address those types while I was at it. They weren’t nearly as disruptive as the attack.

I heard a bunch of gunfire, with some yelling and other stuff. At first, I didn’t even care, except then I remembered I was supposed to. That’s right, something something a debt because the school as an organization took me in, kept me from dying, and is protecting me. But then I remembered the part where they decided to put some mind mojo on me that prevents me from hurting anyone, and I suddenly got happy. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Then a couple of men burst in. One tossed his pack on the table and gave me a very clear look at a soldier in urban camo with a rifle and ballistic armor all over. His friend stayed by the door and fired off a burst from a rather large gun in his arms. Light machine gun, that is. Generally speaking, the not-so-light ones are more for vehicular usage.

Not an ideal situation to be in if you’ve been mentally compelled not to hurt anyone, though I’m unsure how common a problem that is. “Warning, if your homicidal tendencies don’t appear after four hours around a six-year-old, consult your doctor and/or mortician.”

I threw the top book of the stack I’d been carrying, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” at the light pad by the door. The entire library went dark. I added a little laughter before gunfire zeroed in on my location and nearly gave me a really bad case of terminal acne.

Figuring I’d probably miss, I decided to toss a few more books at them, starting with The Grapes of Wrath. “My nuts!” One of the soldiers called. That worked better than expected. I tossed out another one, Sense and Sensibility.

“My nose!” cried the other, who started firing on the room at waist level. I threw a book of just Hamlet up in the air. It wasn’t quite as big as the others. It must have bounced when it came down, because that guy turned, cussing, and yelled something about his hamstring.

I think the next was A Farewell To Arms. I keep meaning to figure out what classical lit nerd keeps checking out all this stuff. I missed this time. According to the closer one, with just the rifle, it got him on the toes. Must have been one of those Chinese knock-offs, like Harry Potter And Fun Time With Arthur Knight King. And I was out of books, aside from all the rows beside me. I crawled quiet and low instead until a book got kicked into my face and I found myself face to toe with his boots.

“Where’d he go? Where are the lights? Get your flashlight out!” the one above me called.

The one further away indeed found a flashlight and swept it around briefly, his nearer partner following it as well. Then he brought shone it right on the partner. “He’s right behind you,” he said.

The friend went to turn around and tripped over his tied-together shoe laces. In a showing of poor trigger discipline, he shot at his friend. Correction, he shot his friend. It just took a moment to see. “Ooh,” I said, crouching over the fallen soldier, but addressing the shot one. “You gonna stand there and take that?”

“Back away,” he said, motioning to the side with his gun.

I frowned. “Back away from your friend so you can shoot me more easily? That doesn’t make any sense.”

We were at a momentary impasse. After that moment, he opened up with his LMG on myself and his friend. I think he emptied the whole belt chasing me as I ran off into the stacks and dove for cover behind the reference books. They’re incredble armor, so thick and dense they can stop a human mind cold at the first page. I heard more gunfire as pages and other debris stopped flying near me. I saw the LMG guy dropped from gunfire from his shot-up friend.

When the heroes came around, they weren’t impressed I’d only killed to guys without being able to take direct physically violent actions directed at their persons. “Just send Psychsaur around, tell her she can remove a little something and I’ll help out more,” I said to an irritated bull-headed hero.

He snorted. “Fat chance, pussy.”

“Oh, pussy, sure, that’s original. By the way, heard your mom cheated on your dad with a goat. Left him wearing a cuckold’s horns. Must have made him see red. Hit her probably, made her wear enough makeup, people thought she was a clown. Then he’d take her home and chase her around until he pulled a calf. I can go at this all night, and your mom will back me up on that, too.” I grabbed a blood-stained portion of the uniform of one of the troopers. I’d suspended them from wires in the library so that they moved if I tugged on the right strings. They wore placards around their necks that said, “I didn’t return my book on time.”

I think that helped it sink into the bull-man’s brain that I am not a man with which to frell. Still didn’t send Psychsaur my way. Nobody really stopped by to tell me what was going on, but I figured up a few things. Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s rarely a military that’s willing to shoot their own fellow soldiers as a matter of convenience during battle, and pretty much none so vicious that speak English primarily. As far as patches, they didn’t have any rank, just some nonsense collection. Liberty or Death: Don’t Tread On Me. Something about Three Percent. A revolutionary war Minuteman. Things no soldier in the United States wears because they swore an oath specifically to protect their Constitution. Combined with the incredibly low casualties and FUBAR tactics, it’s my expert opinion that these guys were a pair of jackass militia types. It didn’t help their matter that at least the official channels know about the holiday truces, so it’d take a particularly stupid or ruthless person to try and attack heroes on holiday.

So, yay, now we gotta worry about people like that shooting up a school full of supers. The news tried to write it off at first as yet another normal mass shooting, the perusal of which is what revealed to me the wave of attacks going on around the country. Supers, sure, but almost anyone who isn’t a certain rather homogeneous mold fitting one side of the political spectrum, all by supporters of this new President whose election I missed. And who was probably making people miss me at this point. People were much more united against me when I took over than they appear to be now they elected a dictator of their own.

Regardless, after that little period when the whole “anti-super” movement had been shown to be an alien plot to take over the world, I’d have thought they’d moved past this. Apparently not. It’s gone international. The UK has votes about it, even, and they’re normally so much more mild than the U.S. All over the world, people are starting to get the idea that life was better before all these super people were allowed to exist. And part of it’s because of The Claw and his advance into Asia.

He took North Korea with Beetrice, my royal queen bee-person who finally fulfilled her dream of popping out a royal grub by me, standing in as my successor after I killed the country’s previous dictator. Now, he’s making inroads elsewhere. Something went down in Sri Lanka with some revolution they’re blaming on him, even though that’s pretty far. I suppose it’s safer than Singapore, with its Claw-related terrorist attacks, which is right there by the Philippines, but he managed to take North Korea just fine despite it being right above South Korea. And while he’s doing that, the President-Elect’s going on and on about the need to pull out of Japan and South Korea while dealing more harshly with China.

I smell The Claw’s claws all over this, and not just groping the obvious spots. He’s fingering the taint on backroom deals right now. And it’s hilarious, because as long as people are pushing this idea of supers being a global threat, no supers can move against his operations without him using that to justify further crackdowns through his puppets.

It’s glorious. And possibly a complete load. I have nothing but internet-fueled speculation, and that’s about as useful as a chiropractor for about the same reasons.

Will I find more? Will Master Academy’s roll in my continued life be exposed? Will I ever be freed of my psychic leash to go on a fun-filled murder spree? Will I kill Venus?

All these and more will be answered… eventually. Probably. Maybe? Anyway, it’d have to be after Thanksgiving break at the minimum, and I doubt it’ll be that fast.

But I do want to take a moment here because Optimal Outer Control wanted a couple things said on his behalf. He hasn’t had a whole lot to be grateful for this year, or many years lately, but he’s tickled pink to know he can help at least a few people out there enjoy their lives a little more. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it makes him feel a tiny bit better. Helped him through his depression quite a bit. From time to time, he even feels like some sort of internet celebrity of extremely minor fame, but those moments don’t last long enough to lead to yelling at people asking them if they know who he is. So Optimal Outer Control wanted to take a brief amount of time when I was done talking about murder and mayhem to say thanks to the readers that help to make his day, and whose days he hopefully helps make a little better.

Don’t know why he’s acting like that, though. I’m the one doing all the work here. Eh, it’d probably be too much trouble to find a new patsy on that world anyway. I’ll let him go ahead and take the credit this time. Now go out there and stuff yourself with food as autumn ends and the Christmas wights prepare to march upon us, engulfing the entire year in snow and jingley bells, led by their blood-red king.

For after this Thanksgiving… winter is coming.

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No Quarter 6

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Of course I didn’t die. Let’s not pretend that was even a cliffhanger. Ok, so maybe it was. I didn’t actually know what beating the final boss would do, or even if the game would glitch out, though I figured I wouldn’t know anyway.

I appeared in a flash of bright light, probably because I hadn’t seen real light in awhile. I fell through the arcade cabinet, wrecking the collectible value of the none-of-a-kind Annihilation Corporation. Darn. Who wouldn’t want a game starring yours truly, besides most of the world?

First thing I did upon realizing I had three full dimensions again was to check my appearance, balls first. I had reemerged Caucasian. Long hair, no feathers stuck in it. Leather jacket that said Behemoth. Aside from my physical wounds, I exited in the same form as I entered. Good. I wasn’t looking forward to getting chucked out in one of the other two character forms and suddenly having human eyes. I like my cybernetic ones. They’re color-changeable, they’re better than 20/20, and one of them shoots a laser that could fry my brain if I turn it up too high and too long.

Having all my organs put back to standard also could have screwed me over as far as contacting y’all or holding onto all the information in my special, partially-computerized brain.

I groaned and stood up, getting used to real gravity again. Wow, the world is really high definition. So glad I didn’t pop into this world back in the early 1900s, when everything was black and white and silent. It was all wobbly and I had to brace myself against a wall. I looked up and found myself staring out a window at the darkness outside.

“Something happened! Come on!” I heard an excited voice say behind me. Thoughts of the psychic block sprang to mind, so I sprang over to grab a piece of the wooden cabinet. Whack!

“Huh, so the bottom floors have stronger glass than the second story does… handy to know now,” I said looking at the undamaged window. Then I spotted the latches on the inside. It felt wrong not to break through the window, but it got me out all the same, and into the night in my leather pants and leather jacket. My boys jingled and jangled along, not having been exposed to weather since Halloween, and they didn’t care for the reminder.

Of course, running off into the night with no plan isn’t generally the best way to play things, but I did have a clue.

Michelangelo, and his House of Negotiable Stuff.

“Do we know you?” asked a secretarial-looking woman in a suit that hid a light kevlar vest and probably a weapon. I’m guessing a knife. She met me at the back door, which now had been remodeled as a secondary entrance, with some nice wood paneling floor and a heavy-looking desk. She looked severe, sharp, with high cheek bones, thin lips and cheeks, and hair pulled back taut. The suit was black, with just a hint of cleavage at the top. She didn’t have an accent, but I would have had her pegged as Russian, which had interesting implications for Michelangelo and his business these days. I don’t know what implications, I just know it has them. Just like when you come across a crater where something exploded, you can guess something bad probably happened without knowing the exact type of bomb.

I spewed out a number with robotic rapidity, and not the same one I tossed out before when sending Venus here. To her credit, the secretary almost kept up. Almost. “Give that to me again?”

I leaned over, gave a flourish of my hand, and said, “That is what she said.”

She didn’t look amused. I repeated the number in full just to be a dick.

“Are you here to buy anything specific or just browse?” she asked.

“Specifics. I need a general-purpose ear communication device, and a cracker to help it break into local channels. Along with that, I need a bit of info on things happening. I understand some heroes paid you a visit and I would like to know where they are now, or at least what they were told.”

The first two items were easy. I got a little earpiece that fit in my ear well enough and replace some of my lost communication abilities. The cracker was an add-on to it that I could keep in a pocket to help me try to butt in on any frequencies being used nearby.

The info about where they went, which I’d passed up back at the school, directed me to a part of town buzzing with police attention. And hero attention. I imagine they didn’t catch this person as quickly as they meant to and things escalated.

Been there, done that. Probably from both sides, but I wasn’t thinking of specifics. If I had a nickel for every time I committed a crime I couldn’t remember, I don’t know how many nickels I’d have.

But I had a general area where something was happening, a cracker, an earpiece, and time. I also had a hit. A familiar voice, because very few people sound like bulls.

I found myself following the police to an apartment building with a bakery on the bottom floor. The area hadn’t yet been cordoned off, but one of the Master Academy capes stood guard at the bottom in uniform. He recognized me by my ears, I guess. “It’s Puss, isn’t it? Glad you’re here. We have a hostage situation and he’s,” He put a hand to his ear. I heard it on my end, too as someone announced he had someone in the corner room.

“Right up there!” finished the guard, pointing to a corner window. “Got any ideas?”

I looked around and spotted a pet store across the street. “Ya know, I just might…”

A couple minutes later, the bell dinged as I stepped out, a parrot on my shoulder. “Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty,” it counted.

“Good boy,” I said, and held up some of the cash I’d stolen from the register. “Here’s you a little something.”

The parrot took the money as the hero yelled across the road at me, “What the hell was that?”

I shrugged. “It was my idea.”

“About getting in there?!” the hero asked.

“Ooooh. Oh, right. Up there. Give me a moment.” I reached out my hand for the parrot. It stepped onto my fingers. I stepped back over to the pet shop, where a wide window displayed all sorts of critters just waiting to be sold to people. I tightened my grip and swung, bashing in the bird’s brains and breaking the window. I threw myself through the broken glass. As I stood up and brushed bloody glass fragments off myself, I ignored the frightened puppy whining from the display in the window and said, “There we go. That’s how I do windows.”

I exited this time with turtles, which caused the guard to cuss up a storm. I ignored it and walked over to the wall next to and below where he’d pointed to. I licked the bottoms of the turtles and pressed them to the wall. Nature’s suction cups, the turtles. Marvelous creatures. Got me up the wall in no time flat, to the astonishment of the expendable hero below.

At the window in question, I saw an older woman. The face and hair made me think woman, because the body fat made it kinda ambiguous. She had the lights dimmed, too, but I saw she held a gun against the temple of someone else. Didn’t get a good look at them in the middle of everything.

Our hostage taker, who didn’t look much like a mad scientist at first glance due to traditional glass ceilings in the insane STEM fields, turned and waved the gun in my direction. “Who are you? Get back or I’ll shoot!”

I shook my head. “No, I’m going after someone a floor up. Bitch owes me taco money!” I kept on climbing. When I got past the window, I maneuvered so I was above it and swung with my boots heading first for the glass. I broke through, getting even more bloody and stuck with glass as I rolled onto the floor toward our ambiguous hostage-taker who supposedly had a connection to my recent arcade adventures. S/he whirled around to hold the gun on me, keeping the hostage, a teenage girl, in a headlock against her.. I held a pair of turtles on her. We were in a stand-off.

“I thought you were going up a floor,” s/he said.

I narrowed my eyes. “I thought you knew better than to go never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”

“You don’t look Sicilian,” s/he responded.

I pointed to the door. “I meant him.”

They turned toward the door, pointing the gun. When they turned back, I was gone. “Where?” s/he asked before looking down at the hostage and seeing me there.

“Magic!” I said, and slammed the turtles by their shells into both sides of his/her face at once.

I didn’t kill her, though. It was a her, turns out. Found that out when I decided to see where I could shove a turtle and found I had another option that indicated sex. No, I didn’t kill her. I just hurt her, really, really badly. With turtles.

The heroes stormed in at some point, too, probably because the hostage ran out. They found me standing over the beaten woman, asking, “Why me, huh? Why’d you decide to send me in to get my balls gobbled by Ms. Pacman?”

“Who are you?” she asked. “I just wanted to test them. I have to get them right. The machines have to be right. They are my life’s work.”

“It’s your life’s work to turn people into arcade games?” I asked.

She nodded and spat a tooth out onto the ground. The tooth shall set her free. “I made a wonderful machine, but it’s supposed to let people turn back. They never turn back. Instead they go crazy after the first few days.”

“I don’t see how,” I said, remembering the lack of sleep and repetitive nature of the demo screen. “So did you target me specifically?”

“Who are you?”

“This was all just bad luck?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it bad. You contributed greatly to my scientific pursuit. You’re the first to escape! I have so many questions when you aren’t trying to kill me,” she pleaded excitedly.

“Luck,” I said. “Blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck!” I readied my turtle for insertion. Now there’s a phrase begging on all fours for innuendo.

“Enough!” I felt all woozy in the head as someone’s voice reverberated as both sound and a headache. I dropped the woman and stumbled back toward the window, pressing my remaining turtle to my head.

Psychsaur stood there, glaring at me. I raised a hand to throw the turtle at her, then stopped. “Oh for duck’s sake,” I muttered. She didn’t even ask permission this time before slapping those mental restrictions on me. No cussing, no physical violence, no poisoning, no escaping.

The Mad Developer stood up and looked to the heroes. “Why are you after me? I didn’t do anything wrong! There’s no law against what I did!”

“I find,” I started, “That heroes only like the law when it agrees with them. These types here aren’t that different from you. They’ll lock you up in a secret underground prison with solitary confinement and never let you see the light of day again. Constitution be darned.”

The Dev looked at me, then at them. She backed away from them, more toward me. I dropped the lone remaining (probably traumatized) turtle. “You’re no hero, are you?”

I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder. She jumped. “No, I’m not. Come to me, child. Let us flee.” I took my hand away and stepped back against the window.

She turned and started for me, then slipped on the turtle and went out the window headfirst. Funny thing; humans can survive falling from an airplane at terminal velocity, and die tripping over their own two feet. This one, she did NOT stick the landing. Made too big of a splash at the end. The judges aren’t going to like that one. I know the heroes didn’t. They hauled me right back to campus with faces that said, “We are not happy with you!”

But I don’t care. I have lots of packages shipping my way, just waiting to be turned into glorious armor and help me get away from this PG-13 Brady Bunch school. They’ll know about that, and I’m sure Mender will allow me to keep it so he can have me as his pet assassin before long. But they don’t know what I’ll do with it. Nor do they know about this wonderful communications gizmo in my ear. Psychsaur was much too angry and much too distracted by where my thoughts were going. To the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time, and I’ll be happy to see those nice young mean in their clean white coats, and they’re coming to take me away, ha ha!

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No Quarter 5

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Now that I know dying isn’t the end of me, at least like this, it takes some of the pressure off. Apparently I died before, but now I know I did. And everyone’s out in the world, doing things without me.

I’m just here, in my little hamster wheel, killing things. Like I can just be easily manipulated by giving me wave after wave of mindless drones to slaughter. Going through the motions. No. I’m more than that. Even death gets boring when it’s this same ol’, same ol’ bullshit.

And if it wasn’t for Leah being a part of how I got here, I’d suspect she was part of some plot to trap me really efficiently. The moment I thought that I had bashed in a cyborg hockey player’s head using a set of those little clacky office balls that transfer kinetic motion so only the ones on the end move. It’s a slow way to kill someone, but I have time. Too much time, and not all of it accounted for. I could have had a thousand epiphanies I lost every time I died because I didn’t know to record them.

I hate doubting my own thoughts. At least before, when being Homo Machina gave me resistance to psychic mindfuckery, I only had my own mental issues and people’s manipulations to worry about.

So I killed, and killed, and killed. Hours and days and… I think it’s been a week… of nothing but slaughter.

The music’s not bad here, though. The basement lab’s soundtrack is a forever-repeating MIDI of the song “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones. I like the sense of humor. But I’m tired of wasting my time and literal lives beating up a bunch of fake people who look like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man missed while snowballing someone and the drippings formed a person, and then that person got kicked in the head by a mule before they managed to dry up and harden.

After countless slaughter and an unknown number of deaths, I decided to find some way to break this system. Though I can at least establish that I have died at least once more and fought my way back to this level. I noticed changes after a chase section.

It was fun. The tank that started chasing me wasn’t fun, but then I stepped into this room that said “Australian Particle Accelerator” on the door. I found a kangaroo in front of me wearing tight runner’s shorts and shirt, a helmet, and goggles. He looked at me, then at the tank as it burst through the wall. I hopped on it and gave it a quick “Giddyup” with my heels.

This kangaroo ran faster than a greased taco through a human digestive tract. It gunned it, which kept the tank from gunning me. The tank gave chase, followed by more sports robots. It slowed me down a little, but the kangaroo kicked like a mule, if a mule was a kangaroo. Bam! Down goes football player with actual pistons for legs and spiked shoulderpads. A motorcycle pulled up with a pair of enemies on it. The one in front looked had a pitching machine for a head and wore a baseball uniform. The one on back also dressed for America’s past time, but its legs ended in wheels instead of feet and it had metal clubs in place of its arms. The secret to beating that one turned out to be tugging up on the roo’s tail so it crapped with the same effect of an oil slick.

So I had to fight enemies while outrunning the tank, up until I circled around behind it and started kicking its ass. A machine gun mounted on top made the chase more perilous, firing down at me. I wish it really was possible to beat a tank to death with a kangaroo. Maybe I can work on that. Perhaps cybernetic muscle implants?

After the tank finished exploding a dozen times, I dismounted the kangaroo next to a hole in the wall that led to where the elevators led up out of the lab. I took a break then to write about the experience, only to find I was no longer female. I had male parts again, and brownish-red skin. I still had long hair, but it was brown with a bunch of green feathers tied to the ends. I also wore denim jeans and a black leather vest. So, probably a Native. I suddenly felt the need to own a casino and cry when someone polluted, but I don’t think it’s that simple. For one thing, my name bar now says I’m “Coyotl,” which sounds Aztec. A look in the reflective surface of the screen confirmed that the ears on my head are now dark brown. I kinda figured I’d be black the way these things normally go. White guy, woman, minority. Sometimes the minority’s a dwarf or a robot, but usually it’s something that doesn’t count as a normal white guy.

Looking in the screen also showed that nobody paid any damn attention to the game anymore. Yeah, that’s about what I thought. That’s how it happens. Something bad happens to someone, something you know you should do something about, and at first everyone is outraged. Then a day passes, or two. Or like two weeks at this point. And it becomes hard for them to maintain that outrage because they have other shit to do. That’s a good reason why I never could trust any of them.

I don’t know why I think this, but I’ve got it in my head that beating the game will do more than just give some hint about how to get me out of here. I’m kinda thinking it’ll trigger something. Maybe some ejection sequence; hopefully one that didn’t require the machine that put me in here to be in one piece. But I keep going through the motions, fighting my way through wave after wave of people. Bah! Just because I’ve been starved of homicidal fulfillment is no reason to keep playing by this machine’s rules.

I walked back over to the wrecked tank and tore off its machine gun.

The next floor up turned out to be corporate offices brimming with men walking around in business suits with Mongolian armor over them, carrying swords, spears, and bows. I’d been wondering when they were going to get to the barbarians mentioned in the game’s opening, though Mongolians really only fit in the strictest definition of that term: someone who doesn’t speak Greek. Bar bar bar, bar Barbara Ann!

Instead of running out and gunning them all down with my new little friend, I shot my way through to the top of the elevator, grabbed the cable, and shot where it connected to the elevator car. I FLEW up, shooting through the walls, even missing the office of Genghis Khan, VP of Acquisitions. As I popped up through the top of the screen, the screen stayed focused on him. My score counted up as he poked his head through the wall and looked up and down, then shrugged.

Next and hopefully final level… the roof!

I somehow exited from an elevator car when I reached the roof, so it’s safe to say I did break the game by skipping a boss I’ve apparently never been able to beat. That must be why I didn’t have the machine gun anymore.

There, I found an orange-skinned person in a suit waiting next to a helicopter. “Ha ha ha! You’re too late! The U.S.A. has succumbed to its fear and elected me PRESIDENT Annihilation! First America, then the world! Get ’em, Secret Service!”

With that, a crowd of a dozen black suits jumped on screen and began beating my ass. It wasn’t just melee attacks and grappling. They all had pistols, and no friendly fire problem. I just had to take a beating and try to think of a way out of this. Like if I had the Panic Attack or a Special. But it’s not like I have a Z button! Just imagine if I did…

Oh for fuck’s sake. While laying on the ground, blinking in and out, I realized I could have probably just done that the entire damn time. And maybe I figured that out before, too.

When I stood up again, I pictured arcade controls in my head, including a Z button. My Panic Attack turned me into a coyote who ran past all the agents, snapping at them. I became humanoid again at the end of it and tried for a Special like I’d been hoping to pull off all game.

Everyone froze in place as I howled. The background went dark and music began playing. I pulled out knife and started dancing around, my spinning hair revealing black and yellow feathers instead. After dancing toward the center of the screen and spinning a bit, the music stopped. It became day again as I put the knife away somewhere. All the Secret Service agents dropped, too.

“Oh crap,” said President Annihilation. Before he could scramble into the copter, I grabbed a pistol from a dead agent and shot the chopper. It exploded, as such vehicles tend to do. Meanwhile, President Annihilation fell on his ass. I somehow lost the gun, but I was in cutscene mode now. He tried to wave me away while I approached. He shook when I picked him up. I know that because my plans were for something a bit worse. I fell back as his suit tore apart. A mechanical exoskeleton grew out around him, encasing him in shiny teal armor and a glass case around his head.

The final fight was on. Don’t sound impressed. It didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was getting out of here instead of wasting my time. I had more important things to do than kill fake people. But since I didn’t feel like starting all over again, I still stepped to the side to avoid it when President Annihilation’s suit’s arms turned into chain guns and he fired a two second burst at where I’d been standing.

But I was tired and cranky. And tired of being in this meaningless mess. There’s a whole world out there just begging for a little Gecko fun to be had. I don’t care how many forms this boss takes, he’s going down. Way down. I lured him over to the top of the roof. He played ball. Too bad for him, the ballgame I played was Rugby. I grabbed his leg and threw myself off the roof.

Through a combination of weight, momentum, and video game physics, he followed along. Like the world’s least fun sing-along. Follow the bouncing bodies, kids! “Aaaaa aaaaa aaaaaa aaaah!”

If ever there was a time to hit a panic button, that was it. Oh look, I just happened to have found mine, and readied to hit it. I looked down at the incoming ground with a smile on my face. Enough sitting this one out. I laughed as I looked down at the angry orange face of Annihilation. I doubt he could hear me, and I knew he certainly wasn’t capable of understanding me, but I laughed and told him, the street getting closer and closer… “And here… we… go!”

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No Quarter 4

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This is a really fucking long game, I think. I may have lost track of time, or maybe there’s some weird gaps. Like I’m reading some of my own stuff to stay caught up. Because I know I’m doing stuff, and time’s passing, but there’s no way the stuff I do has been filling all that time.

I do know I hate water levels in games in general, and this one wasn’t any better. One level only, there were spikes all around, and electric seaweed, and fish that could come at me from all sides. I think they were fish. At the very least, the smaller ones appeared to be belligerent mutated sea bass. No joke. Those things could take a man’s head off. They gave me some shiny white diving suit, almost like an astronaut outfit, that covered up everything.

The giant tentacles reaching from the darkened bottom of the screen also didn’t help matters. Every so often, there would be a gap in the ground to jump over. But you have to watch and make sure you jump at the right tme, when a tentacle wasn’t reaching out. That wasn’t necessarily easy with divers and mutated sea bass coming at me. I’m good enough that I trapped some of those enemies above the gaps. The tentacles reached up on time and grabbed them by the throats. It was fun to watch at first, but they all used the same animations for their enemy class.

So I made my way through the whole place, knocking the crap out of mutated sea bass with coral, throwing dumped barrels of waste at divers, punching big enemies who wore the old-fashioned suits with the helmets, and occasionally grabbing pirate anchors to bash in giant hermit crabs. In a fun break from reality, I even got caught at a wall after entering one wrecked pirate ship and broke through using a cannon.

The goal appeared to be this downed submarine that sat on the opposite end of a huge gap. Before I could figure out how to get across, a shriek echoed through the waters. The whole screen moved over so I had a room to move left/up to right/down, but not so much forward or back. A giant squid appeared, the top of its pointed head turned into an antenna. Wires sprouted from the base of that antenna and ran down to a monocle lens over one of its eyes.

“That motherfucker can go fuck its own mother,” I said as I watched its health bar fill up, getting tautological on its ass. I moved as far forward as I could and threw a punch. Too far away. It thrust forward toward, biting. I slid down and avoided it, then stepped back up to hit it while it recovered and bulled back. It stayed close, so I got a few more shots in, but it flapped its arms and knocked me down. It pulled back and began to raise an arm, the shadow appearing along the ridge I stood on.

The shadow followed where I moved, so I led it to the topmost corner and stepped back and forth until it stopped moving. When I stepped down, it didn’t follow, and the tentacle slammed into the ridge. Two things happened. The tentacle stayed there for a moment, the squid stunned. And the shaking of the ridge somehow uncovered a barrel of toxic waste. I punched the tentacle first while it stuck around. When it pulled back, I grabbed the barrel and tossed it at the squid.

It was a fairly standard battle like that. The more damage I did, the faster the squid got. The flesh of its tentacles dissolved after a certain amount of damage and revealed robotics underneath. Instead of just slamming down, they started to shoot a laser first. I still hadn’t figured out how to use my Panic Attack on my own, or whatever my Special was. I’ve come across little powerups that look like my pixelated head, but I can never use whatever they’re for.

So I’ve been relying on my own fighting style to get me through. It’s been painful at times, but I must have been doing ok. I killed the Cyber Squid, for instance. Beat it to death until it rose up and collapsed. Then I walked across its floating body to get to the downed sub. The game began tallying up my level score with its name for me, Kumiho, over that.

The next level was some base accessible by water and began with me jumping out of the submarine, once again in my usual attire. No shoes, short leather shorts, a black leather jacket, and my sensitive white fox ears sitting atop a head of white hair. A grey humanoid robot without a blank mannequin’s head stopped pushing a cart full of gems and approached, its arm transforming into a drill. Kick, kick, spin kick, and then a faceful of my sharp nails to its face.

“Gecko, before you go any further, we need to talk,” said a voice I’ve gotten damn tired of by now. Accompanying it was a feeling like something twisted in my gut and head.

I threw my hands up and yelled at the sky as I headed to the next screen. “What? What the hell could be so damn important that you’re interrupting me again?! You JUST talked to me a couple levels back!”

“That was a few days, Gecko.”

I blinked. A drill robot advanced on me backed up by this level’s heavy enemy, a robot on tank treads with a domed head and an arm that ended in a barrel. It pointed it at me from across the screen and fired a laser. Damn. They don’t normally give heavies a ranged attack due to balance issues. “No, it wasn’t. You were distracting me in the suburbia level.”

“Yeah. That was days ago.”

I jumped up, my legs wrapping around the regular robot’s chest below its armpits and took to bashing its blank face with my boobs. I guess you could call that a different sort of torture rack. “No, because after the suburbs, there’s the clown enemies at the boardwalk, including the clown dogs and their wet, red noses. Then I jumped into the water for the water level. Now I’m here. It doesn’t take days to do that.”

My agitation growing, I broke out the claws and began shredding a motherfucking heavy robot.

Venus let me finish before breaking in. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You don’t remember, but after this underground mining level, you show up in the middle of a basement science lab level, then there’s the skyscraper level.”

I folded my arms. “Sounds like someone’s psychic all of a sudden. Then what?”

“I don’t know. You didn’t get past the skyscraper level.”

A sensation I normally feel in my bowels before running to the bathroom passed from the base of my skull and through my lungs. “Explain.”

“You’ve run out of lives a few times when we didn’t have quarters handy, or when the group watching you got distracted. After the first time, we unplugged the game to bring it back here, but they didn’t wait for you to die before doing that. You’ve gotten to the skyscraper level twice but died. The last time is why you look like that, by the way.”

“Look like what?” I asked, looking myself over. “This is how I look. It’s why the damn game called me Kumiho in the first place.”

“I am going to chew out John so bad for that. So, you know how games have multiple characters you can select from? One of the guys watching you thought it would be fun to select one of the others for you to play as instead of yourself.”

I rubbed my forehead. It wasn’t being transformed into a woman that bothered me. I’ve done that to myself, though there’s a huge difference between doing it myself and having it done to me. Just like masturbation, in fact. “So I’ve died a few times. Several, I guess, because I ran out of lives, and I don’t remember it?”

“You’re down two extra lives so far this time, too.”

“How close are you to finding the puddle of monkey piss who did this to me, then?”

“There is good news there, and bad. The bad news is the machine that put you there is no longer functional one way or another because of testing.”

“Unless the good news is a blowjob from Ryan Reynolds, that’s going to be a hard one to counteract. And yes, I’m aware that now I don’t even have that part. Geez, what’s my third character, a dwarf? Or some sort of jokey bonus character?”

Venus ignored the last part of that. “We arranged for the hostess to escape under surveillance, and with a tracker on her. We think she’ll lead us to who we need. It’s better than waiting on you to finish.”

“Well excuse me, princess, but sometimes it takes a little more time for a woman to finish, especially if no one’s pushing the right buttons. I can’t seem to use my Panic Attack or my Special.”

“Oh, they use the Z button.”

“The fuck’s a Z button? I don’t have buttons. I got arms, legs, and any other body parts I want to use to beat wholesale ass.” That brought something to mind. I turned to stare at my butt. No tail, great. I didn’t have a tail in my Behemoth look, either, so at least the game was consistent like that. Not a bad ass, either, but that kind of thing is difficult to tell with this few pixels. “If I’m still in this body when I get out, want to help me find my G button?”

“No. Just, no. Ew, oh God no.”

“Glad to see you’re as tactful as ever, Venus.”

“I couldn’t help it. You’re wired into my thoughts like this.”

I shrugged and headed a screen over. Dirt fell from the ceiling and a pair of miners dropped down on me from above. I looked around for something to take out some frustration with and found a pick axe. The first one got it upside its head, then upside its crotch. The second, I kicked it into the air and let it fall on its back onto the blade. Then I grabbed its legs, put my foot between them, and pulled them off. When another pair popped up through holes in the floor, the pieces of that robot gave me a leg up on them.

After some cathartic disassembly of enemies, I asked Venus, “Still there?”

“Yes.”

“I’m thinking of a number. It’s an account number for a black marketeer. Normally, I don’t bother, because I’m a very distinct client, but they’re handy in case you need to send a minion to pick something up for you. It occurs to me now that the broken machine that Tronned me in here could be of use. You need to find a guy named Michelangelo. Should be either at the address I’m thinking of, or linked to it. No way you could operate in Empyreal City without some familiarity with his family, though I suppose he could have switched addresses by now. That account number is absolutely good at Michelangelo’s House of Negotiable Stuff. I’ve done a lot of business with them in the past, and I’m pretty good on credit. I suspect my reputation and curiosity over how you know it will get you in. He might have sold parts used in that machine, or bought something similar from the guy who made it. Normally, sharing info about other customers is taboo, but you’re heroes. Just try not to hurt him or arrest him, if possible. Negotiate. You put him in jail, he’ll just get out and be harder to find next time.”

“You don’t want him hurt?”

“He’s done right by me in the past, at least to my somewhat warped standards. Do right by him in return and he’ll give you trustworthy info. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to beat.” I advanced to a new screen. A giant drill opened a hole in the wall behind me, then opened up. Robots spilled out and zeroed in on me.

“Why bother? It’s not solving anything and you’re just not beating it. There’s no reason you can’t rest somewhere.”

I smiled as punched a pile of rubble and a gemstone fell out. I grabbed it and tossed it at a nearby robot. I knew she’d hate the answer, but it made sense to me. “I choose to,” I told her. After a moment’s contemplation and taking a drill to the face, I added. “And even if I die again, at least I can get back to the body I started with. Who knows what the consequences will be if I end the game like this?”

“You’d be hot,” she said, quickly adding, “Ew.”

“Too late, I’m counting it!” I said. I didn’t get to celebrate it because I took another punch. I had a bunch of enemies on both sides now, due to how they can move back off screen to get behind me “Now, somebody hit my panic button!”

I felt myself freeze up, then start flipping and cartwheeling forward. Any limb not on the ground slashed out, knocking enemies away as I gained ground. It left me to the right side of the screen with all my enemies conveniently behind me. Eight of them. One of me. One extra life, and no matter what I do, the near future will almost certainly be a near disaster.

I guess the stakes don’t seem too high, but there are times in life when someone has to remember that, no matter how fucked-up things get, they must always remember to fight, even if the best they can do leads to nothing but breaking even. Those are the times when someone has to fight the most. The battles that try men’s souls. The spirit that- oh fuck it, I’m gonna rip those drills off these fuckers, take ’em behind the woodshed, and see how they enjoy a traditional game from the woods of the Appalachian mountains called “Squeal Like This’d Be Illegal If You Were Human,” but with fewer pigs.

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No Quarter 3

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In hindsight, once you know it isn’t the end of the world, it’s not too shabby kicking ass in an arcade game. Or now that I know I don’t have a choice. Maybe it’s even my rage breaking. But now that I’ve stopped worrying and analyzing the world I’m currently trapped in, I find my homicidal tendencies very useful in getting back to the other world I’m trapped in.

In a way, it’s quite cathartic. Outside, being a mass murderer makes you a villain. In here, the ability to kill a small army with nothing but my own hands and whatever I find makes me a hero. And I’m finding some good shit.

The first boss, for instance, was a big hulking punk who carried his own motorcycle on his back. After giving him a more civilized beatdown that utilized only my fisticuffs, he threw a hissy fit. He began pulling his motorcycle around so he could ride it and charge at me. I did a pretty good job of avoiding the chain he swung and checked around for anything I could use to wreck his shit. Trash can, manhole, a knocked over street light… the background had people watching from the windows. From the way they cheered and had hair all colors of the rainbow, I suspected they were backing up their boss. I walked over to one window, broke it with a punch, and hauled out the woman inside. When the boss charged again, I threw her in his path.

Motorcycles look cool, but anyone riding one is at a severe disadvantage in terms of protection. There’s a reason why the military nickname for motorcyclists is “Organ Donor.” It turned out this held true for the arcade; perhaps it defaulted to conventional physics when I did something it didn’t expect. Either way, the boss skidded over his minion and went over the handlebars. It did a lot of damage and got his own cycle to skid into him, but he survived. When he stood up, he started to pulse red over and over again.

I walked over and grabbed the bike, which suddenly floated up over my head. I got the feeling that was originally meant to be done by the giant boss who stood up in front of me. I brought it down on his head, knocking him down. I smacked it down again, and again, and again. Instead of bashing in brains, I ceased my esteemed opponent’s rapid color blinking. He stood up one last time, swaying, and a voice called out “Annihilate!” I shoved my hands into his giant mouth and spread them away from each other. It didn’t hurt. My muscles could strain as much as I wanted without pain. The boss’s face, on the other hand, couldn’t. I tore his head apart, reached in, whipped his spine out, and tied it around his neck.

I think I’ll name that move something special. It’s certainly no Columbian Necktie… more like a Headless Horseman’s Ascot. And that boss’s ascot kicked.

I grabbed another woman out of the window behind me, hopped on the bike, and rode off the right side of the screen while my score started adding itself up in the middle of the air.

I next ended up in the suburbs area, flipping in. Guess I wasn’t supposed to kidnap a woman or ride off on a stolen motorcycle, but that’s part of what makes me incompatible with heroism. Beating the ass of a pair of mutants is much more my style. This time, when the pair jumped out of the sewer, I caught the manhole and tried feeding it to one of them. When it didn’t go in one’s mouth no matter how hard I tried, I approached the problem of the second one from the other direction. Didn’t fit up that hole either.

Some lab coat-wearing scientist type stood in the next screen over and ran off. A couple more screens of mutants rampaging in suburbia found me at him again, civilian corpses all over the place. Text appeared on the screen. “That should be enough time. Arise, mutants, and stop him!” He ran off as the corpses stood back up, now mutants. I was now heavily outnumbered.

My favorite kind of outnumbered. Wait, that only applies if I’m heavily outnumbered by the dead bodies of my enemies. Living bodies aren’t so fun.

Let’s just say the resulting fight was would make “Leatherface goes to a rave,” look dry by comparison. Because everybody needs a bit of mindless fun, even when they’re trapped in a horrible situation. Hell, especially when they’re trapped in a horrible situation.

After that, a couple more screens found me where the scientist appeared alarmed to see me and jumped on a hovercycle, leaving behind an unopened canister of mutagen, all the while some yippy little Shih Tzu hopped up just barely above a fence, yapping at us. As he took off, I decided a chase was in order. I grabbed the canister, opened it up, and poured it over the Shih Tzu.

The dog grew giant, with a single curved horn sprouting from its nose like a rhino. It tore through the fence and started after the shiny object fleeing into the distance. I grabbed a handful of fur and held on tight. When I had properly mounted the beast (easy there, gutter-minds), I moved on up to the neck and pointed after the rapidly approaching hover cycle. “Onward, Pookims the Power Puppy! Onward, to die historic on the fury road!”

All of a sudden, a tiny VTOL airplane almost took my head off. It passed me, then accelerated back in my direction, turning and aiming a barrel at me. It fired, but projectiles work differently in this world. Instead of it breaking the sound barrier and being way too fast, it shot out where I could easily see it and allow me to duck under it. The most it did was chip a piece off the Shih Tzu’s horn.

I grabbed the drone and swung it down at the ground, where it exploded with a small, colorful mushroom cloud. The next one, I headbutted down onto the dog’s horn, where it struck and exploded, but apparently did no damage to the dog. A third one swung around, and I prepared to dodge, but then it felt like I had someone’s fingers in my guts and brain.
“Gecko, can we talk?”

Pow! I blinked as a bit of health fell off my bar. I’d done a great job of keeping it high after the initial beatdown Venus had me take. It helps when you know where all the food is hidden. I mean, sure, it’s a full turkey leg from a destroyed trash can, but they don’t have germs here. Still, that didn’t mean I could take shots all day and night like someone watching a presidential election. I jumped up and flipped over, landing on the drone with my back and crashing it to the back of the Shih Tzu. Without gravity to worry about so much, I didn’t even slide off the dog.

“A little busy here, Venus. Shih Tzu just got real,” I said. I grabbed more fur to steady myself as I stood up. A drone tried ramming me again, but I threw a bunch of fur up in the air in front of me and dodged it. It went right through, still accelerating, but something got caught in the fur. “Someone’s a bit hungover,” I said, watching it spin around and around with one propeller tangled in hair. “Hair of the dog?” I jumped up and hit it with an axe handle smash, blowing it up. It didn’t even singe the dog’s fur.

“I know, but I wanted to check and see how things were with you. We’ve been watching and thinking, and it seems really fucked up for you to be trapped in that world like that.”

I ran to the front of the pooch and perched on the head. “Not the first time I’ve been stuck in a horrible world against my will, dearheart.” We rapidly approached now, the professer a mere dozen feet ahead of us and losing ground. He braked suddenly and jumped off the cycle. The dog scooped up the machine in its mouth and kept running, so I jumped off and rolled, landing right near the guy.

“Impossible!” he screamed. Behind me, the hovercycle and the dog both went up in a much bigger explosion.

I brushed myself off. “I have learned never to discount the impossible, especially among those who just want to watch the world burn.”

Venus threw her two cents in. “You’re very cynical, you know that. It’s not a bad world. People just make mistakes sometimes.”

I scoffed. “Mistakes might be acceptable, even for those who are supposed to be competent, if they at least learned from them and didn’t make them again. Give me a few years and I could be elected president of the world. It would be no less of a mistake.”

“…and that is why you will never defeat Annihilation Corporation!” the mad scientist finished his monologue.

“Sorry, you mind repeating that? Missed the whole thing,” I said. He pulled out one last vial of green liquid and swallowed it. “So that’s a ‘no’ I guess,” I said, watching him grow bigger. Meaty tentacles spurted out of his palms even as his arms grew thicker than some trees. Great. The game’s stereotypical, too. It gave the nerdy character tentacles.

He swung one at me, but I sidestepped it to my left, moving up the screen. “Hentai!” I called at him.

Even though I clearly had better things to do, that didn’t stop Venus. “You don’t give up on people just because they make mistakes. That’s why I never give up on you. You still have to help people.”

“No you don’t!” I said. I ripped a post of pixelated white picket fence out of the background and swung it to meet an approaching tentacle. Turns out, two dongs make a right. It stabbed into the meet of his tentacle and counted as a hit against this health. “And Venus, there comes a time when people deserve to have to deal with the mess they make. That’s the point of getting something wrong. You face the consequences. Bad things happen to me all time. You think I don’t deserve them? When I’m a lying, cheating, scamming son of a bitch who runs around molesting people, I deserve it when people hate me and refuse to trust me! I nut up and work through it! Just like this. I’m fine. I’m FINE!”

I got hit by a tentacle. Ok, so not fine. But fine enough. I went flying back and picked myself up. I’d gotten worked up now. Distracted. And I was having none of it. Because, dammit, I was in a bad situation. I deserved to be a lot more angry. I jumped on the giant tentacle mutant. Landed right on his shoulders and kept poking him in his eyes, through his broken glasses. It was a lot less brutal than it sounds with the way the game worked. I doubt we were exactly E for Everyone. If only I had an insane vampire in a schoolgirl outfit and a really hot voice around, maybe I could manage M for Mature.

Sadly, I couldn’t use the raging boner elicited by thinking of that particular daughter of Malkav to hurt the raging Mutant. He tossed me off before I could choke him to death with it. At least he didn’t throw me face down. Not sure if I’d have broken something or bounced like a pogo stick, but it would have been unpleasant either way. Instead, I landed way too close to the pointy fence post. I grabbed it and it and charged. Defying the game’s rules, I ducked under a swinging tentacle and just shoved that post into his chest, again and again.

I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. “I’m not going crazy in here! You’re the one who is crazy. All of you are!” And then the laughter started. Ever tried to stab a mutant with a fence post while laughing mad? I wouldn’t recommend it. Physical exertion isn’t good when you’re using up that much oxygen on something else.

My frenzy overwhelmed his damage counter and kept him too off balance to retaliate. It all happened so fast, I barely registered it when I heard a voice call out, “Annihilate!” and realized the boss was now standing there, swaying. I jumped over him and landed behind.

I gave him an uppercut to the ass! And another! He fell over onto his knees. I grabbed his tentacles, pushed him over, and held onto the lengthy appendages while forcing my boot into his ass. I wasn’t being particularly careful about only getting in the whole for a reason. When my food finally shot in, his head shot off, still attached to the spine. I stomped over his back, grabbed the skull, lifted it up, and smashed through it with my erection.

I just stood there afterward, panting and looking down at him, having run out of laughs. Venus had gone so quiet, I thought perhaps she had left. She brushed aside that assumption when she spoke up, “I still have hope for you and for others. The world deserves saving.”

I spat on the corpse and stomped off the edge of the screen. “It was better in here before you intruded into my little world. Stay the fuck away and leave me to my work. And the world deserves exactly what it asks for, no more and no less.”

On the plus side, I got an extra life. I like to imagine it was the boner that did it. You know, like how other video game characters get a small mushroom or a smaller copy of themselves? I got those, sorta. Little Gecko the Fun Mushroom, in my case.

And it’s safe to say that after that little intrusion into my night, I really, really, really needed to kill something. If only I had some sort of alternate world to frolic in and take care of such desires. And who knows? Maybe my special brand of violence can make y’all feel just a little bit better about any suck-tastic world y’all are stuck in.

What is the internet for, if not for enjoying the world being taken over by a sociopath who wrecks the economy, plays chicken with the moon, and who will save the planet from alien invaders even if he has to slaughter billions of people to do it?

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No Quarter 2

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alldemoandnoplaymakesgeckoadullboyalldemoandnoplaymakesgeckoadullboyalldemoandnoplaymakesgeckoadullboyadultbookstoresandyoplaitmakegeckoafunboy

Sorry about that. Just a little bleed over from something else. I’m fine, by the way.

After extensive testing, I’ve determined that I am the only truly thinking being existing in this game. Then again, I only begrudgingly say otherwise about the real world, so that alone doesn’t say much. But I mean that I’ve tried a number of experiments. Granted, most of this was about enemies on the demo stages. They were capable of punching, kicking, hitting things, grabbing things, throwing things, and otherwise reacting violently. They couldn’t choose to avoid an obvious ambush, nor could they successfully navigate a maze. I couldn’t believe that one, either. I mean, even the Pacman ghosts can make it through a maze. Mice do mazes.

Trying to hold a conversation didn’t work either. They appear to have a standard list of taunts, and the occasional cuss cloud. They appear to be incapable of taking in food or generating any waste. Their bodies disappear after a second of being killed, though that could just be the way things work in games. I’ve refused to let myself because I enjoy living.

Even though living involves repeating the same loop every few minute. Demo scene, story appears on the screen, I appear on the screen. Credits. Another demo scene, the one I wrote about last time. The high score page, currently with nothing but developer-inputted initials, and back to the beginning. At least Bill Fuckin’ Murray (I believe that’s his legal middle name), had an entire day, at least in theory. Sometimes he’d check out early, with a jump, or a toaster bath, or by offering an oncoming car a hug.

But I’m much more civilized. I use my repeating loop to do things like try and dissect people. I say “try” not due to any lack of ability or tools on my part. Instead, cutting into my enemies doesn’t do anything. No blood, no penetration. I can stick the knife through them, and it can even appear on the other end of them, but it’s like it’s going through a hole. They suffer no ill effects of any attack on them that should cause injury up until their health bar depletes. They have a health bar, but I have to squint just right to see it. It’s easier than looking into the upper right corner of the screen. However, they also lose health for pretty much anything. I can kill a guy by giving him a titty twister if he’s low enough on health.

I tested all this exhaustively. Exhaustively. It took so long until I got a response in the real world that I was starting to consider writing my own book on the myriad of ways to murder people. I had just picked out the title when I noticed heroes rush the restaurant through the screen. I was thinking of calling it the Harmya Sutra. I didn’t have time to think up how I’d divide it into chapters before I saw Venus peering in through the screen. I stopped bashing a bald punk with heavy sideburns against a car by his twisted nipples and waved at her. Since I broke the grapple, the guy tried to punch me, but I appear to have a block button, then unleashed my four-hit combo. Right punch, left punch, foot stomp, ball punt! Standardizing it like that just felt right in here.

When I looked back up, I didn’t see her. Then, things felt really weird. Like someone had reached inside me, but not telepathically. Physically. Instead of ghostly thought-fingers in my brain, it was more like actual fingers were poking through my guts and running over my spine from the inside.

“Hello? Gecko?” asked a feminine voice in my head.

“Yes?” I tried saying. Words don’t work very well here, but she responded.

“It worked. This is Venus,” the voice answered.

“You sound different. Must be your inner voice. Is this REALLY Venus, or am I just imagining stuff?” I asked.”Maybe you should tell me only something Venus would say.”

The possible Venus answered, “That wouldn’t matter. Anything I told you would be something you’d think I’d say, so it’s still something you could come up with in your head.”

I facepalmed and disappeared as credits covered the screen, talking about phoney directors and producers and designers and so on. “You’re really not making this easy on me, Venus.”

“It’s not my job to make things easy on you.”

“How’d the raid go?” I asked.

“After we got your message, and Victor really wants to know how you did that to the Master Academy website, we questioned your friends again. Don’t you think it is creepy to be getting so involved with kids, by the way?” she asked. I began to wonder if getting distracted had something to do with being Homo Machina.

I’d have crossed my arms and tapped my foot if I could, but I didn’t have a body at the time. “Not a question a Roman Catholic can ever ask me. I’m a surprisingly easy-going guy. You’re getting off-topic an awful lot for something that’s not supposed to be a figment of my imagination.”

“We brought your friends in and did more recon. After catching the workers on their way in, a team came in to clear the interior. We are doing so now, with updated information coming in from the interrogated employees. I cleared making contact with you if you really were trapped in an arcade game. This is really weird, even for you.”

“Ha! Nothing is weird even for me. Things are weird because of me, in spite of me, and even nowhere near me, but nothing is weird even for me. You do you even know how much bestiality I’ve committed? Do you?”

“No, and I don’t-”

“More cock than the Colonel! Oh, hold on. Demo time.”

This time, I flipped in from the left side of the screen and landed in a suburb. Women in short skirts and men in cardigan sweaters fled past me. A duo of mishapen men with green pimples stepped forward. A dog on a leash led a kid past lower down on the screen, but I grabbed the end of the leash. The kid kept on running, but I swung the leash and smacked the grin off the face of one of the mutants. The other circled around behind me. I turned and tossed the dog at him, doing damage. Then I grabbed him and threw him through his friend, killing the friend. While he was down, I got in a car left around the street and pulled it around to both crash into the mutant and cover a manhole in the street. The mutant died, and then the car rocked. A pair of cussword clouds appeared underneath it where the enemy reinforcements were meant to appear.

I got out and laid down on top of the car. “Ok, I got time again. That breaks the sequence until the scene’s over. Tell me you found that big round machine that did this to me.”

“We did.” I pumped my fist.

“Ok, now to find the the ‘reverse’ switch and suck me out of here before I contract scurvy and end up in a pirate level.”

The voice in my head took a contrite tone. “There isn’t one.”

I rolled my eyes, as best as I could. I don’t know what it looked like on the other end of the screen. “There might be. This game world is wacky and cheesy. I wouldn’t put it past me to fight evil pirates in a boardwalk scenario. I bet there’ll be dolphins jumping up out of the water and I’ll be able to grab one to use as a weapon. Or maybe that’s the surfing level instead.”

“Stop it. You know what I said. Stop pretending.”

“You came right to me, didn’t you? You didn’t use your,” and I strained that word to a painful degree, since it should have been our or my, “powers to look in the other machine? There has to be a way to reverse this. I am NOT getting stuck as nothing but a non-adult toy!”

“We’re searching for the creator of the device to see if he knows anything. I tried looking in it, but I don’t understand any of it. I know parts of it are restricted, and I can’t get around it. It’s the same way here. There is no obvious way to reverse this.”

I jumped up off the car. I just had lots of things well up to the surface. Peeves I didn’t know existed. “Incompetent piece of,” cussword cloud, “You… you aren’t fit to wield my powers! I was born with them! I suffered because of them! Do you know what I had to go through because of what I was born as? Now you’ve got them and you’re just a waste with them. You and probably everyone else that stupid mad scientist gave my powers to. Those were my powers. My powers! Mine! I deserve them, not a useless piece of trash like you!”

I feel it’s way too obvious to state I have issues this late into this tale.What I didn’t have was my eye on Venus, literal or metaphorical. All of a sudden, the title screen appeared, with “1 Credit” showing below the title. After a sound, it cut to the demo scene, but this time I couldn’t move on my own. A midi version of “Anarchy in the U.K.” started up. I entered from the left, the punks stopped beating people up, and I just turned away from them and blocked in the opposite direction. They walked over and began hitting and grappling me.

Ok, so I should have figured I’d “play” this game at some point. I’m in it, after all. Circumstances don’t align to transplant me into an arcade game for nothing to happen at all, most would think. I kinda lost track of that in the loop. I think through the realization that it’s not fun being a video game character.

Getting beat up by a bunch of punks accentuated that. I couldn’t fight back, and a glance through the screen at Venus who watched as my health depleted. This wasn’t some mental block… it was programming. I was paralyzed. Unable to stop as I was thrown outside

Paralyzed…

I was about to try the implants and possibly scream, when the game decided to do it for me. I pulled my pants off, swung them around over my head, and dashed forward, singing “Whoop, whoop, pull ova, dat a$$ too fat!” At least, that’s what the speech bubble over my head said. All the enemies around me were knocked away during that quick dash and the pants somehow immediately appeared back on me. I somehow knew that was called a Panic Attack, which built up from taking damage and could be used wit a special combination of buttons. Neat mechanic. Didn’t kill all of them.

But you know who could kill them? This guy. After the Panic Attack, I could move. I pulled off my pants again, wrapped them around the neck of the nearest punk who stood up, and snapped it tight. It counted as a grapple, but reminded me of the dog thing. I pulled him so he stumbled into a nearby enemy, which hurt both of them. I jumped on top of the other one’s shoulders. The punk got a closeup of my junk. I punched him in the head, which didn’t hurt me in this world, but hurt him just fine. He stumbled back over the course of three punches, and a fourth sent him down. A jump and a stomp on his throat emptied his health bar.

Another punk advanced on me. Remember that way pain and damage works here? I grabbed his head and pulled it down into my thrusting hits. “Right eye! Left eye! Nostril one! Nostril two! Aaaaaaand…” I turned his head to the side and jumped as I pumped my crotch against the side of his head. “Ear!” He dropped to the ground, health bar empty.

The next one, I picked up and choked out. One squeeze, two squeezes, broken neck. As a side effect of the damage system, broken bones have no effect on either myself or enemies. This guy died anyway. The last one came at me with my pants still around his neck. I grabbed the legs and kicked him in the crotch, but he slippd out of the legs. I pulled out the belt and smacked him in the head with it once. “Call me daddy!” He didn’t, so I gave him a taste of the belt again. That knocked him out, and got me another 1,000 points.

On the building in the background, an arrow light blinked on to point further to the right once, which indicated the enemies in this section were all done. I turned and held up my hands, then pulled on my pants. With them on, I grabbed an awning out of the background, pulled a trash can under my head, and finally laid down to get some sleep.

Before I finally traipsed off to slumberland, Venus bonded with the game again. “Don’t talk to me like that again, alright?”

“Whatever,” I said. “I haven’t slept in days.”

“Fine. I’ll let everyone know to leave you there for now. It’s probably better if nobody messes with the game anyway. You didn’t control yourself until I stopped.”

“Good. Let me sleep and stay rested so I don’t die, but then we’re beating this game.”

“This is no time to play around, Gecko.”

“Venus dear, don’t you know anything about video games? They put the full credits at the end. Besides, it’s something to do while y’all chase down leads. Now I must sleep the sleep of the unrighteous.”

“Night, Gecko.”

“Hate you, Venus.”

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