Cull Or Be Culled 5

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Lori Cayet, twenty-year old college student. She had reportedly been one of a number of people to gain powers from an illegal dumping performed by several corporations in California. A whole slew of chemicals, from pharmaceuticals to industrial chemical coatings to toxic manufacturing byproducts, ended up all converging in one water table. Most people were unaffected or ended up with the usual health problems people end up facing as a result of this kind of thing. But a very few ended up in just the right situation that it unlocked something within them.

Kuill’s recent government contracts gave them access to Federal law enforcement’s monitoring of these individuals. They knew when Lori got powers, when she bought a costume, even when she was having periods. And they knew when she got shot her first night out trying to be a hero. But since it was an informant n a white supremacist gang that killed her, the government was willing to keep things out of the public eye. Kuill won the bidding for the body, especially as her powers were sound-based.

Lori’s family didn’t take her disappearance well. Her dad got into a car wreck while searching for her and is now downing opiates like M&Ms. Her mom is barely holding on, with a lot of help from Lori’s little sister. Police hassled her roommate for a little bit, caused some trouble there, but were given orders to quietly drop the investigation. And Kuill experimented with her body to see if they could use her sonic depression powers.

Lighthearted, ain’t it? But this is the kind of situation that causes me not to be forgiving, even toward myself. If Lori somehow appeared right as rain, her father still has his injuries, hospital bills, addiction. Her family still has the trauma of what they went through. The roommate still got shoved around by cops covering up for a skinhead. “Sorry” simply doesn’t fix things, and some wounds never heal.

I’d liquidated Kuill’s research department. Along with Slemmer, I made sure to tank their stock for profit and left it in fairly precarious positioning. And while I was at it, some of those emails they had about the palms they greased slipped out into the world. If humanity is to be redeemed, it will have to prove itself capable of taking responsibility. If these guys face no consequences from the sad excuse of a justice system, then they’ll face my consequences and wish they’d gotten locked up.

But I wasn’t done with Slemmer. I caught him once his doctor was leaving. He had the kind of money that gets you a housecall from a doctor, and the kind of knowledge that gets you a housecall from a vengeful supervillain. He closed the door to the doctor, then turned around to find me in his living room. “Jesus!”

“The fool hath said in his heart; oh god, my spleen, why did you pull out my spleen? Wait, don’t feed it to me. I have some important questions that need answering, otherwise we’re going to have bible study,” I told him, standing up off a leather sofa that didn’t go so well with the futurist interior design of the place.

“I told you what you needed to know before. You found the place. What more do you want?” he asked, hand coming up to the bandages on his chest. To his credit, he moved away from the door to rest against an island in his kitchen.

I walked up to the other end of the island. “One last one got built and shipped out. Where is it now?”

“I don’t know that. The Feds don’t tell us all their movements,” he said.

“Where was it shipped to, then?” I asked.

He shook his head. “This guy in a mask talked about it with the boss, immediately after you ambushed the other meeting. I can’t tell you. They’ll know it was me. Even the money I got isn’t enough to get out of the country right now.”

Gunshots and shattering glass. I grabbed Slemmer and pulled him to the ground, taking a little satisfaction in the pain from his ribs. He tried to look up, but I grabbed his head and smooshed it to the tile floor. “Stay down!”

I didn’t have to hide his face. He wouldn’t have been able to see the drones I’d sent over to help me sell this interrogation. And if he did, hey may not know enough about the difference between military-style drones and the ones I use. It would have worked better if this guy had a cake in his kitchen to knock to the floor and keep dunking his face in while “protecting” him. Sadly, I had settle for bouncing his nose off the floor a couple of times and agitating the wound in his ribs. I turned around to get a better look, Slemmer’s head near my ass, letting one rip that probably didn’t smell too good.

“Looks like they’re cleaning house!” I yelled at him over the gunfire. I threw a light orb out the window and blew up one of my own drones. “Are these the asses you want to cover?”

“Fuck no!” he yelled. “I overheard Howard talking about watching our handiwork in Minneapolis!”

I clapped him on the shoulder, knocking him into the floor and hurting him again. I stood up and tossed more orbs out, guiding my drones to get blasted apart in short order. “There… was that so hard?”

I had to park Spooklight in a hotel with staff paid very well not to interrupt her nap with an IV. It would be quicker to deploy a new body to Minneapolis. I made sure it at least appeared to be Spooklight. I sent out drones and penetrated law enforcement and Federal communications. I wanted to know if those feral hogs so much as farted.

Got exactly what I asked for when some guys were sitting around demonstrating how to cup a fart having left some radio on. Someone burst in where they were. “Hey! Stop sitting around shitting your pants. We were supposed to finish burning this and get out of here before it goes down.”

Right city. Now to narrow it down. They hard a march planned and cops were nowhere in sight. The blue-clad baconators were all clearing out documents and moving out equipment while protesters marched, sang, and danced unmolested. The problem with how I use drones is how much attention I have to pay to them. The guy in the white mask could use the Suicide Signal from anywhere, though I suppose its range is limited by whatever speakers they have. It’d be better to tie it into some sort of major PA system. Oh, like the city-wide tornado warning system. I brought a couple drones in toward the civil warning system building. In contrast to the rest of the city, that building was loaded with the camoshirts.

The drones opened fire on the guards. These guys went full Wu Tang Clan, firing rounds that were nothing to fuck with. They weren’t taking any chances with a super on the loose. My drones got some good hits in as well, but it was the attention issue. Whatsoever shall I do?

The rocket came in hot but popped a chute once it arced downward. Small jets lined it up for an accurate landing. By this point, I wished I’d loaded up some bomblets to send down first, get those guys off my case. Some of them shot at the rocket. A few others ran for cover. Then the rocket blew apart and, to all appearances, Spooklight fell out.

I landed on one guy’s shoulders in a sitting position and sent my weight backward. Steading myself on my hands, I locked my legs around his head and threw him over me, releasing and standing up. A nearby paramilitary popped me twice in the chest, once in the head. After a moment’s confusion at the lack of an effect, he unloaded everything into my torso. I tanked it all and gave him an uppercut to the groin that popped one of his little bastard-makers out his mouth. He let out a squeak and fell over.

Between that show of force and the drones, I suddenly found myself alone, confirming to me that these guys definitely weren’t military. Too much yellow on their backs for that.

The interior of the civil warning building wasn’t very large. One of those things they decided not to spend a lot of money on. The interior was deserted by now as well, a few sprays of blood on the wall. I guess mask guy doesn’t like guns.

The Signal was hooked up in the control room, next to a figure in a hooded coat. White mask turned around. He didn’t look like a big, bulky guy, but I hear the expressionless masks that look like faces can be unsettling.

“Too late. I’ve already connected the system. You can’t stop me, Willow.,” he said. “Yes, I know who you are. Willow Beech, aka Willow Wisp. Your updated costume can’t hide your powers.”

“What’s the point of all this?” I asked. I shifted some of the nanites on my armor, moving them along the ground. There were few enough of them not to draw attention, and they creeped on past the guy. He was high priority, but he wasn’t the device threatening to drive everyone in Minneapolis into a suicidal frenzy.

“To show what happens in a world without the police to keep order. The people require a firm hand to manage them. They are animals,” he said.

I folded my arms in front of my chest. “And you’re ok admitting this in the age of cellphones?”

The mask muffled his laugh. “There will always be a hate-filled mass willing to sign its own death certificate if it kills someone with a different skin color. Show them. I don’t care” He swiped one arm down and a thick, serrated knife slid out of his sleeve into his hand. He raised the blade to twirl it, an unnatural red sheen running along the edge of it. But while he did that, my little machines swept into the Suicide Signal, severing the connections to the city-wide alert system.

I put up my dukes. “Showing the the so-called necessity of fascist tactics by proving that when you don’t get your way, you’ll throw a tantrum and kill everyone. That isn’t strength, but I’ve been there. There is an entirely different strength in people who try to build each other up instead.”

“Let’s watch them build an abbatoir,” he said, slapping a button on the top of the Suicide Signal. The machine squealed, sparked, and died. White mask turned toward it as a stalagmite of nanites rose to a point and launched themselves at him. He turned to me, laughing. His coat and shirt were eaten away, joined by a protective vest under it. Under that was skin as white as his mask, shifting and bulging. The nanites that made contact with his pasty flesh went offline. “Nanomachines, bitch? Nanomachines won’t help you now, Willow.”

A holographic copy of Spooklight stood where I had been. I approached, invisible, and tried to plunge my hand into his chest from below the ribs. That’s the way to a man’s heart, or a woman’s. It pushed White Mask back while he swung his knife. It slid off my helmet which sent me an alert about extreme temperatures. The knife blade had melted a line along the helmet. White Mask was knocked onto the Suicide Signal and off his feet. I grabbed said foot, swung him around and brought him down onto the Suicide Signal. The despicable device was dashed, but I tossed him up through the roof and into the sky as well.

The tail of my armor shifted into a laser and I took aim. The same moment I took a shot, he blinked out of existence with a flash of blue. I checked all over and found nothing, except a nearby radio crackled to life. “Cutting my losses with the machine gone. See you soon, Willow.”

It left a sour taste in my mouth. I never did find him as I stalked the Minneapolis night, but my disappointment was tempered by the chants and singing of the victorious in the streets.

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Cull Or Be Culled 4

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Slemmer’s been a good enough boy, not tattling on me and my plan while I got things ready. This body that I’ve dubbed “Spooklight” has an interesting set of powers and is expendable, but I’d rather even the odds. Make the fight just a wee bit more fair. I went ahead and performed a yacht-jacking. Found a smaller one in a harbor and decided to do some quick improvements. Made it more aerodynamic, gave it a little extra oomph. Fit a couple of fanboat fans on the end, throw in a rocket booster… you’d be amazed what people are pawning for money to get by right now. Had to buy a lot of high-proof liquor for the fuel tank, but finally the S.S. Compensating was ready to set sail on a sea of shenanigans.

I went for the smaller yacht because I needed yacht-like mass, but more speed. The big party boats are so slow and ungainly. I took this thing out and turned it around, lining up the shot with enough distance to gain speed. This was going to be a tough one. The Morlock Pit was beachfront property or even next street over property. And, whew, it was a hot fucking day. The engine got the seashine, but I got the sweet tea and moonshine and tried to think of some good mood music. I cranked up “Attitude City” by Ninja Sex Party and went full steam ahead.

That was about the time a man and woman emerged from below deck. She asked “Who the fuck are you?”

I pointed to her upper lip. “You got some blood there from the dick dingers you’re doin’.”

“What’s in the hell is going on up here?!” demanded the guy.

“I’m commandeering this vessel for an adventure. You’re obviously used to the high seas. I’m just getting a little higher.” I turned back and saw I was getting off course, so I corrected. The others on the boat shifted as the boat swung around to get back on track. “Hey, do you have insurance on this thing?”

“Yeah,” said the guy, catching the woman and trying to keep them both upright.

“You’re gonna need it, provided you get out of this alive!” I called to him, laughing.

“What?!” screamed the woman.

“For someone not wearing a seatbelt, you sure are complaining an awful lot,” I told them both. “Wish I had time to set up a ramp.”

I fired the rocket booster just before we hit the beach, sending us into the air a little. It wasn’t as high as I’d like. I barely cleared a semi on the road. The couple on the boat were screaming, huddling together in a seat. The guy fished a plastic baggy out of his shorts and they were shoveling as much into their noses as they could in the time they had left to live. I ran up to the frontmost point I could stand on the boat and stood there, arms spread wide. Behind me, a shitload of ravens descended from the sky. Now, that’s not normally the collective noun for ravens. It would normally be a parliament, but that’s a more intellectual exercise. You see a huge group of ravens come down, you think shitload. The birds came down and grabbed the small yacht thanks to stolen powers bending them to my will.

“A whole new world!” I cried out, singing some Aladdin in contrast to the Ninja Sex Party blasting in my head.

We shorted it just a little. The yacht nicked a building and started to spin. I dropped down and grabbed a handle-like thing they use for ropes. The yacht landed and scraped against the street. We were on our side, so it rolled over and bounced. I heard gunshots where some of the guards opened fire on us. Once I saw us pass over the barricades, I dropped down and watched as the yacht finished its roll by crashing through into the ground floor of the building.

One of the guards ran over to me, jamming his gun into my back. I turned over in a way that put the barrel pointing at the sidewalk under me and created a light orb. I tossed that into his face. Ever crushed a watermelon with a mallet? That guy went down and a few others turned to me. Lots of guns pointed my way until the ravens descended. They weren’t prepared for my air force, and it was easier to give orders to the birds than to control various bodies and drones separately. I brought down the drones I’d brought for scouting and walked along, letting them open fire on any of the guards who got in my way. Thus I made my way into the lobby, unimpeded by the guards.

There was a mess blocking the elevators. The couple from the yacht were stumbling down, looking like a pair of mimes going to the beach from all the powder on their faces. They stepped down, crying and trying to figure out what went wrong with their lives. I took the stairs.

The doors surrendered to my will and let me into the Morlock Pit. A red alert blared and people ran around like roosters with their dicks cut off. A guy in most of a suit dumped a bunch of papers onto the floor and tried to set them on fire, but the match he used died out before it landed on the paper. The next time he tried, I kicked him through the window behind him. I jumped through it as well to find a few guys sitting around confused “Sup,” I told them. “Where’s the Suicide Signal research?”

One guy held up his hands. “Kind of, all of it. They put everything into it.”

“Ok, where’s all the data stored?” I asked.

“End of the hall. Are you going to hurt us?” another guy chimed in.

“Not if you keep answering these questions,” I answered. “What about prototypes, anything necessary to the whole project? There’s some sort of super tech involved, right?”

The guys all looked at each other on that one, probably surprised at my knowledge of the situation. “That would be the essential component. That’s a right at the fourway, first door on your left.” There was something they weren’t telling me there.

I nodded my thanks and hopped back out. A shot exploded one of my drones, so I hopped back in. I used the other one to spot for me. There was another guard in one of those weird pistols the other set of camo paramilitaries used. The ones who got the Suicide Signal. Another shot killed the signal from the other drone. I walked over to the door, forming a light orb. I yanked the door open and rolled it out low, slamming the door closed again just before a fist-sized hole of it disappeared where the handle had been. Tough gun. I counted a couple seconds in my head, then detonated it. I slid down to me knees to poke my head out real quick at belt level. The guard, sans a pair of legs, aimed at me, then flinched and dropped the gun. “Fuck it, I don’t get paid enough for this.”

Smart guy.

I walked out and checked for any other guards, and pulled out a container of nanites. “Here, this will stop the bleeding.”

I jabbed him with a needle full of them. “Ow!” he said.

“Baby,” I said while the medical nanomachines flooded out to stop the bleeding in the stubs where his legs used to be. We were at the fourway in the hallway. Back the way I came, the guys I’d been talking to looked out and, seeing the situation resolved, booked it for the exit. They went thataway, and I went to the room they directed me to.

The wall was lined with soundproofing thanks to all the devices there. They’d started putting together even more of these weird devices in a room with something under a sheet in the middle. I didn’t rush the dramatic reveal and instead bent over to check one of the half-assembled Suicide Signals. It wasn’t much of a digital setup. Most of it seemed to be about focusing electricity on… a limp of meat. I poked at it, my mood dropping. I sighed, thinking I should have hurt a few people as I walked over to the sheet in the middle of the room. It was a body. Looked to be a woman, some goth makeup, kept in a really cold tube. She had some pretty clear bullet holes through her chest, and chungs of her flesh had been carved off.

So, that’s the big secret. A super had suicide powers and died. They kept her body around and cut pieces off to turn into sonic weapons that can make people suicidal. I opened up the tube to be sure she was dead. Yeah. The nanites agreed.

This was some Galvani shit right here. One of these guys who experimented with electricity back when they first figured out that electricity was also present in living organisms. Thye’d set up public demonstrations where they ran a current through severed animal parts so people could watch them twitch. Even used the dead bodies from executed criminals, like severed heads. Run some current through them and watch the head “wake up” and try to scream.

The nanites took her apart piece by piece from the head, flowing across to my body, making a few changes as they integrated her DNA into Spooklight’s. I turned then, the nanomachines spreading. Metal and circuitry became the pieces of new nanomachines. The flesh, they destroyed utterly. I walked out, feeling like screaming. More than screaming. And I did.

Someone across the hall stumbled out, holding his hands over his ears. He yelled and ducked into a door next to it, a copy room. He lifted up the copier, put his head into it, and smashed it down super hard. Remember the watermelon and the mallet? This guy had some pretty good arm strength. He wasn’t the only one who heard and ended themselves as I tried to unleash the pain of their victim back onto them. But all lungs run out eventually. I stopped, gasping for breath, and headed for the server room while the staff who chopped up that girl killed themselves following my will. A wave of shimmery nanites flowed out as well, deconstructing.

No wifi connectivity for this room. I connected to see where else data might run to when called. Closed off. You had to be in the local network, in the floor, to access this. I took everything from them, erasing as I went. And once my machines had finished tearing that place to pieces, I pulled them back into me as well. I’ll have more than enough time to look into more dirty secrets, but these guy swill never put another of these together again.

It was a victory. But once I found out Kuill’s little secret, I felt we could have had more watermelons. And then the email alert came up from the big guy’s account. Kuill himself emailed them that it’s a loss they can’t recover from, but at least they got one finished and out already.

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Cull Or Be Culled 3

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They’ve survived so far. I have too. A lot of people just didn’t from when that guy set off the Suicide Signal in Compton. From the emails I’ve seen, distance and volume both play a role. But I know they got more people. I don’t like this conscience thing. But it wanted me to look and see. Then, the fucker made me feel bad when I found out a bunch of people died from mysterious suicides. The guy in the mask turned it on in the middle of population center just to take me out. I get it is the thing. I absolutely get it. It’s the sort of thing I’d do.

The hospital is keeping those guys I nabbed restrained, but there are questions. A naked woman drags in three intensely suicidal individuals, it raises a few concerns. Then, when I was visiting to check on them, the Black doctor seeing to them pulled me aside and held up a copy of the local news. “What’s going on here? Who are these guys and what connection do they have to this?”

“I was there to stop the people who did that,” I told him. “Those three in there delivered the device that did that, but I don’t know how much they’re involved with it. I managed to destroy that copy, but some guy in a mask activated it for a second and then got away while I was saving these guys.”

The doctor pondered this for a second, then laughed. “Thank you for being honest with me. A lot of superheroes try to play coy.”

It’s a convenient lie to let him believe, that I’m a hero. I just didn’t see any potential benefit to holding back the truth unnecessarily. Thing is, this guy didn’t specialize in hearing or the brain. I laid out what I knew about the Suicide Signal’s workings, but nothing I’d seen so far suggested there was a cure of some sort. The people who made it weren’t interested in a cure. They were interested in selling something to U.S. Law enforcement that would kill off protesters and bystanders while giving the LEOs plausible deniability. I think before this year, I’d have laughed at the idea that such deniability is really plausible, but there are folks out there who hear about folks getting lynched and buy hat same lie.

So one aspect of this problem is how to actually help these people. I could fly in nanites to control their bodies, but this affects their minds. And, shit, I’ve had my own suicidal thoughts to worry about for years, but that doesn’t mean I know how to convince anyone else to live. That’s a problem best left to the doctors. I get to deal with Kuill. They figured out by now that a break-in happened. Some master detective probably figured it out based on subtle clues like the window broken from the inside and a table from that office being smashed to pieces on the sidewalk below.

They should be my focus. The guy in the mask is a secondary concern. I go after that guy, I only get rid of one someone working for one particular buyer. There’ll be others. And given my history with nanomachines, it’s hard to see how this jackass gets put back in the box.

I figured I’d handle this the vigilante way: chasing down the criminals and being all intimidating. I had to make up a quick costume, black and silver, to zip on over to Los Angeles, along with a few of my regenerative nanites for medical purposes and a couple of drones for scouting.

I settled on one of the guys who came out to the office. Jacob Slemmer., the schmelt of the bunch. Newest of the top brass, and the one who seems to catch some shit in the emails. Maybe it’s a hazing thing.

Or, as I soon realized, it’s just them being immature dipshits. I stalked Jacob Slemmer to an open-air bar. He was sitting with long, dirty-blonde hair pulled back, big chin dimple wagging as he chatted up some big city slams who… I get it. One of them had on a red dress and what appears to be a pair of small coconuts shoved into the top. And I was feeling the coconut milk. If I had my armor, I’d have tried taking her off his hands. The other one, a Latina, deserved better than to be waiting on her friend to blow him off. I felt her pain from my perch in the shadows.

Black isn’t the best color for sneaking despite what everyone thinks. The lines of silver with occasional silver circles aren’t much better. The mask had the same patterning on it, but smaller. It covered the whole face, leaving a pair of silver see-through eye coverings staring out from a small hood that was there for aesthetics but didn’t obstruct my view from side to side. I had a name for this persona if I needed it, but I’d be fine without.

He started to leave without success, heading over to a nearby parking garage for his car. Convenient for me. I followed, sneaking up. He unlocked the car before he got there but paused at the door, turning around quickly when he caught a glimpse of some weirdo in a black and silver costume approaching him from behind. I ran as soon as he turned toward me and slammed into him after he turned back with enough force to crack the window. He groaned and wrapped his arms around his lower ribs, in so much pain that it put him on mute.

“Nice car,” I said, leaning against it. “Tesla? Looks like a Tesla.”

“Leave… alone…” he wheezed out.

“Leave what alone?” I asked, shattering the headlight with a kick.

He reached for his pants. “Wallet… take.”

I rolled my eyes beneath the mask. “I’m not here for money, silly. I’m here for the Suicide Signal.”

“What?” he asked.

I was getting tired of all this gasping, so I picked him up and threw him on the hood of his own car. “Suck that air in. As much as you might deserve to get slapped around, that’s really the wrong way to do this. Might even be a way for you to profit if you know what you’re doing there.” I stopped to check he was paying attention and so far that was a yes. I leaned against the car. “You and I are going to have a chat and you’ll tell me some fun stuff about your company.”

“Fuck you!” he called out.

“Pretending at bravery right now would be a bad idea,” I told him. I sat down next to him on the hood of his car.

He managed to get his breath back enough to laugh defiantly. “A superhero won’t hurt you.”

“You’re right. A superhero won’t be what hurts you,” I chuckled at that, then sighed. “I don’t want to, if it’s any consolation. I haven’t been getting so much pleasure from hurting people. Supposedly, somebody rooted around in my head to help that, but I don’t know and I don’t care for folks doing that without permission. But I recently hit a wall, and I know that wasn’t due to any psychics. I don’t want to let my past pain dictate everything about my life. And I think it’d be better if pain didn’t dictate yours for the near future.”

I turned to him. He tried to get up and move but I grabbed him by the hair and bounced his head off the hood of the car. “But here’s the thing, Jacob. Can I call you Dick? I know it’s short for Richard, but go fuck yourself. As I was saying, the thing is your company is selling a crowd pacification weapon capable of forcing everyone exposed to it to kill themselves during a time of civil unrest. That’s a real Richard move, Dick. People are going to die, Dick. Why would you do that, Dick?”

I waited a second. When he didn’t answer, I went on. “I know people are fundamentally jerks, but if we killed every human who annoyed us, the species would be extinct. These people are just fighting to improve things. And the situation’s so bad, a shitload of people think it’s ok to kill them for speaking up. Now, my own history with trying to make the world a better place is, shall we say, spotty. But I’m not going to let you guys at Kuill do this. Here’s the thing though… right now, all they know is there was a burglary. Maybe I got what I needed from there. Maybe I didn’t. I want to hear from you. Where’s the lab where they keep the research on the Suicide Signal?”

“I don’t head R&D!” he insisted.

I rolled my eyes. “You joined a company, probably invested in it, and you didn’t even take a basic tour of R&D to see what you were getting yourself into? You expect me to believe that? You’re not at the bottom of the orgy pile here, Jacob. You’re in the tippy-top. Which reminds me of a way this could help both of us.” I leaned in conspiratorially. “What I’m about to do is going to cause some problems for Kuill. Might be a good time to short some stock. Or just sell before shit hits the fan. You don’t owe any loyalty to those guys, right?”

He snorted. “Maybe you’re right.”

“See? Mutually beneficial destruction. But I need your help. Give me the deets. Deet me, daddy.”

“You didn’t have to break my rib to ask,” he said, some hurt anger in his voice but otherwise much more calm.

“Relax… do some lines off a stripper’s ass and stop complaining. Now, regarding my query…?”

He nodded. “We call it the Morlock Pit.” He gave me the address of another building where their labors filled a basement and sub-basement. I didn’t just take his word for it. I zipped a civilian-looking drone over to take a peek. Amid a guy standing around smoking outside the building, I saw barricades set up and more unidentified guys in camo standing around with rifles. One of them spotted the drone and raised the rifle. He fired from the underbarrel attachment, peppering my scout with droneshot. It didn’t go down, but I figured it was best to pull back.

It fit, but for the fact that it looks like they could have made the handover right then and there. File that away as a mystery for later. For now, I have to get ready for Spooklight to bring some illumination to the Morlock Pit.

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Cull Or Be Culled 2

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Got in some limited edition collector’s merchandise today. VillaiNet has a few weirdos who offer to sell memorabilia from famous superheros. It’s about as creepy as it sounds, especially with the barely legal heroines. There’s some creeps out there when it comes to teen girls in spandex. Pretty sure they didn’t start all these threads about the child superheroes until after my latest presumed death. The internet remains the gathering ground of pedophiles. For all my lack of trust in people in general, at least the really obvious stuff is still subject to consequences. Ouroboros and the other higher-ups seem to throw togther some reprisal squads to deal with people caught criming against kids. Seems to be some leeway with holding the children of heroes hostage, but there are standards and limits.

I feel like I’m on thin ice with that preamble, but my parcel that arrived was supposed to be a cowl from a speedster. It was supposed to be the DNA of Riot Racer, so I threw it right into the ol’ DNAnalyzer. It’s a machine I built to help me in my goal to build the perfect body. So far it has to work with the regeneration pool, but I’m still working on a better system. Always working on a better system. That’s why I grabbed a speedster’s DNA. One of the things I absolutely need to do is find a faster way to travel than the flight Firecat is capable of.

Might need it for this Kuill thing. You just don’t forget that someone has a sonic device that drives people to suicide. They used it pretty damn close to Radium. The Sheriff sent off a report to Medusa. I included some recommendations on sound dampening. The facelss Exemplar soldiers my ex uses are equipped with Riccan power armor I helped design, so they’re already better than average as far as dealing with loud noises like gunfire and explosions.

I also did some digging into Kuill’s corporate assets to find out where testing facilities and laboratories are. Medusa and Titan are covering the protesters, keeping an eye out for Kuill or any sign of this thing being used. Like many companies, Kuill had most of their facilities located in places like Silicon Valley or other large cities with a ready supply of cheap labor. Unfortunately, if they have a full-time testing facility, it’s not on their official books. I found press releases out of California where they demonstrated for the LAPD or out in the California desert.

See, until I get me some speed or teleportation or supersonic flight, I have to keep Li or Li II grounded back at the base, preferably while I work on scrounging up the parts for a new Flyer or some similar vehicle. The frustration soon had me thinking grandiose thoughts about hidden body-producing labs all over the place, ready to make me a body built for relevant situations in major population centers around the world. It’s a delightful thought that appeals to my wicked desires. Instead, I settled on building a rocket and packing a body in for the trip, complete with an emergency IV system and nutrient drip in case I need to set it aside for awhile. Got to fire that bad boy off and wave goodbye to myself as I headed for Los Angeles, the city where too many damn things happen. Understand, I don’t hate LA. I just hate having to be there.

The fact that I sometimes feel actual guilt over what I did to the Master Academy school around there while possessed by Mr. Omega doesn’t help. Not if part of me wants to keep reminding the rest that I shouldn’t be murdering kids if I feel so strongly about children not facing the same horrors I went through. I’d ask how people live with these conscience thingies, but I keep up with the news enough to realize a sense of morality is the exception nowadays.

One good thing about using the rocket the way I did was being able to drop it right down on top of the building I needed. This probably would have worked just fine if I went in during the day as well. It’s not like the building would be teeming with workers during the pandemic. So I plopped right out onto the helipad. If they had facial recognition, this body would seem to be a dead woman. They didn’t keep that door locked, so I headed in and stopped at the elevator a floor down. They wanted me to use a keycard, so I opened the access panel and let this body’s homo machina abilities go to work. A beep here and a boop there, and I started descending to the Kuill offices. It was nice and boring, which was a good thing in this case. They didn’t have a guard walking Kuill’s upper management floor.

I stopped in each office, plugging into each computer tower I could find so I could remotely access them and work on systematically breaking into each one. I could keep track of the progress of everything on my own HUD back home, but that led me to realize I should implement something similar in these other bodies so I don’t have to get drawn out of them for stuff like this. It’s attention-consuming, but otherwise pretty boring.

I mean, I got some decent blackmail material. These guys kept their computers logged into their email accounts for convenience. I found it super convenient to hear about this guy having to pay extra to get into their favorite vacation spots that are banning entry from the United Failed States. It’s not even because of me this time. They fucked this up themselves. Running gag here in the States, with these guys logged in. Ugh, and I had to actually read these things. Couldn’t automate that, but I didn’t even know the name of this project until I found a reference for the Suicide Signal. That’s the fun little nickname these guys throw around the office for it, second only to Nailed. That comes from the sterile name they came up with to hide what it does, Non-Lethal Despair Engine. Hell, the government has its own codename for the project, Roc-9.

I think I’ll go with Suicide Signal. Rolls off the tongue better, and I absolutely admire alliteration.

So they have this suicide signal, and they just tested it out. Asked R&D to pick some place to make sure it works outside of special test labs. Another email mentioned them wanting to personally congratulate the person who did the driving and testing. The person who sent that one sent off a different email requesting the presence of the head of security and a couple of his most reliable and discreet underlings. That was then followed by an email to the R&D people letting them know the driver was rewarded with a paid vacation. Yeah, paid to relax about six feet under is my guess.

Further back in time is an email they forwarded around to each other about the whole thing. It’s portable in the sense of needing motorized transport to move it and its battery. It functions through low frequency sound, infrasound, using some weird thing they found after a battle between superheroes and a villain. And they were warned that too intense a signal or being too close without hearing protection would cause a more intense reaction than creating feelings of demoralizing despair and depression that was the original goal behind it. The top brass here saw dollar signs and pledged to go catch a few new STDs in incidents involving swimming pools and blackout alcoholism.

I might be disingenuously reading more into their non-work activities, but at least one of these guys got chewed out by the CFO for buying a shitload of liquor, reimbursing a rental car place for a total loss, and a tooth replacement.

There, finally. After the successful test, I saw they were going to deliver the Suicide Signal to the Department of Homeland Security. DHS told them to drop it off in Compton. I checked the timestamps… oh, goody. I had twenty minutes. Time to give this body a go!

I didn’t waste time on the elevator or anything. I looked around the office I was in for the heaviest, most expensive thing in the office, in this case a really solid ebony table with what I thought was a fancy Greek vase. I tossed the table through the window and was going to keep the vase until I took a closer look. Instead of tasteful depictions of ancient Thespians railing each other, this guy had a Greek-style vase depicting the Kardassian sex tape. I went ahead and tossed it out, then jumped out after it.

I changed in midair. The body grew from an apparently-human homo machina body to something larger feline form. The biological mechanism I took off that Cerberus girl likes increasing the size of the alternate form. The other catgirl body’s base form was a housecat, so it turns into a petite neko person. This thing became a sleek, fit, black panther. I roared because that shit was awesome and dug claws into the building to slow down my ascent because gravity and I have an ongoing disagreement regarding the proper way for me to reunite with the ground. I had a couple other powers in this body, including one from the person who contributed these looks, but nothing to make gravity go easy on me.

Now, a badass transformation sequence like that deserves a badass landing. Instead, I bounced off a tree. Amazingly, I still landed on my feet. Didn’t even try. I think it’s a cat thing, like my unyielding hatred of humankind and my desire to push glasses of water onto the floor. I took off toward Compton. Now, I didn’t expect cops to take an interest in a giant panther woman running down the streets, but I guess they were still a little sensitive since the last time black panthers ran around the streets. Just be a white person with black fur and these cops can’t help but show up. I wasn’t superspeedy, either, but this body had all kinds of endurance and was a lot faster. As I soon found out, I could really hit it when I went on all fours.

I was fashionably late, by which point I found myself rounding the corner to a remote parking lot where a bunch of people in camo had a hydraulic lift raising up a bin with the Suicide Signal in it.

“Holy shit!” someone cried out. Lots of guns pointed my way. Three Kuill guys were off to one side with an unmarked van. No guns there, just one-piece jumpsuits and protective masks.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” asked one of the soldiers who seemed to be in charge. May not have been a soldier, though. No ID, no ranks, nothing identifying a branch.

“You first,” I said, checking them over. They had some conventional firearms, but their sidearms weren’t the usual. I know the military recently swapped out to a different sidearm, but these went further than that. They looked a lot heavier. One person had even drawn his and the receiver didn’t look like most standard pistols. The magazine was too long for the grip, so it stuck down from underneath the barrel.

“Who we are is none of your business,” said the guy I thought was in charge. Behind him, the Suicide Signal stopped at the top, ready to be loaded the rest of the way into the truck. A gloved hand reached out to set on top of it. I caught a glimpse of a man in a thick green leather coat. He wore a faceless white mask that hid all the features behind it. Like porcelain. Couldn’t make out any hair that might have been hidden inside the circular black hat on his head.

I tried to activate one of the other powers I’d tossed into this form, these volatile light projectiles. They worked fine at home, but not here. So while this creep in the mask reached up and poked at the side of his head under the mask, I was trying to think of something I’d done differently before and came up with not being a big panther. I transformed back, just a naked white woman. But suddenly the camo raised their guns to their own mouths. It was like the 1812 Overture out there. If I had a HUD, it could have confirmed the sound dampeners were working. But seeing as I felt no more suicidal than normal, I summoned up the white burst of light in my hands and tossed it at the back of the truck.

I took out the device, but that left me with either checking to on that guy with the mask I’m not sure I got, or trying to stop one of these guys from Kuill from smashing his head to pieces using the front hood of his van. The “soldiers” were already goners though. Even that one who accidentally hit the mag release instead of the safety on his rifle and so was in the process of struggling to pull his pistol free. Or maybe I just didn’t care.

One of the Kuill guys was trying to swallow his entire phone. I ran over and kicked him in the belly, popping it out and knocking him back against the side of the van. I wrapped him up in a sleeper hold and dragged him over to one of the others who had opened the back of the van up and wrapped his neck in a seatbelt. I transformed again into the panther and dropped the unconscious guy I’d choked out onto the ground, then sliced the seatbelt free to tie that guy up with it. The last guy, as I mentioned before, had the hood up. He’d already tried to break his own neck with it and was raising it up for a second go. I pulled a windshield wiper off and smacked him in the nuts. He bent over in response, forehead bouncing off the edge of the truck. I brought the hood down again, but I didn’t use as much force. Just enough to stun him for a moment.

While I did all that, the front of the truck sped off. And I had three suicidal guys who may or may not know the secrets of the company that devised the Suicide Signal. Secrets like how many they had, how easy they were to produce, and where the proprietary information was hidden.

Dammit, I hate this new conscience thingy. I took them to the hospital. Not the best option with the illness going around, but I didn’t have any other option. I could have paralyzed them safely if I’d brought nanites along. So mask guy got away. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll see him again. At least for now he doesn’t have some sonic Heavens Gate shit. But I am deeply unsatisfied saving these people’s lives instead of killing him.

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Cull Or Be Culled 1

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Just remembered I better add something here about us talking about suicide here. I guess if you’ve come this far, you might be used to me casually mentioning it after my own mental issues, but this involves more than just myself. So if you’re ok with that, sit back and enjoy the show. If not… um… I dunno. Eat some chocolate, if applicable?

Well I had a wonderful little break there. Robbed somebody who could use robbin’ and that had me set in a good mood. Worked out a deal in the process where I helped a guy in exchange for a DNA sample I thought would help a lot. Turned out those powers weren’t genetic. Weird, right? There’s a lot of things that shape how people develop, and you can’t discount environmental factors. One of the things the Hephaestus guys often work on is using environmental factors to try and induce powers. Not a lot of success there. We’re probably stabbing at the same problem from both ends.

I wonder if I should sell some of these powers to people too? Eh, probably not. I can just steal the money if I need it. Definitely not going to give it away for free. You want horror story? Me somehow giving superpowers to the world. I suppose there’s an argument about equality of power over random happenstance, but the main thing is everyone doesn’t have them.

I read a story once in an old sci fi anthology book, about some rich cattle rancher who is called into Congress over something to do with not paying land use fees or something. He uses the televised proceedings to bring up how he somehow figures out a cheap, simple way to build a laser with materials anyone can access. Power wasn’t an issue for whatever reason. And he mentions how this device anyone can make has variable power. At its strongest, it could cut the planet in half. Thus, with the information out there via TV and witness statements, it’s the beginning of a new world where everyone has to be reasoned with and you can’t coerce people to pay taxes. Should have been addendum to the end of the story saying that everyone on Earth died less than a day later. You can’t trust just anyone with godlike power.

Take that from someone who has godlike power and major trust issues. Just today, I got a visit from the Sheriff’s department. Trying to be more accurate there about what I call these guys. There’s the Sheriff, and there’s the deputies. A couple of deputies stopped by and knocked on the door. “Um, excuse us, ma’am.”

I opened it up in a Firecat body I had. “Yeah?”

They looked nervous, and made sure to keep their hands well away from their guns. “Sorry to bother you like this. We got a small situation and the Sheriff thought you should at least be asked about it. He don’t think you have anything to do with it, but he’s covering his bases.”

I nodded. “Ok, shoot.”

“Well, ma’am, we got some animals acting weird. Charging into things, running into cars, attacking people. We were wondering if you had anything to do with a bunch of homicidal animals.”

“Nope. Sounds freaky,” I said. “Is the situation ongoing or something?”

“It’s mostly south of town, near the Jackson farm,” the deputy said. “We can drive you there if you’d like.”

“You go on ahead or do whatever else you needed to do. I’ll fly,” I said, before going on and putting on Firecat’s fireproof costume. I can still burn hot enough to end up nude, but this will allow me to fly to a place without flashing everyone. I fired off from the road, propelled into the air by fire heading south. There were so many farms that I should have asked them to be more specific, but they didn’t know I was heading there from the air. My bad, but also I’ll take just about any excuse to fly. I love it. Whee!

I spotted an area with a lot of deputy vehicles and the whole fish and wildlife bunch. They were struggling with cows, deer, and alpacas. They tried fencing them in, but the animals were all charging the metal, not even caring when a smaller deer got trampled. And the deer could easily jump the fences they were using. I landed nearby. A deputy was walking toward me when I heard a sharp crack. A game warden fell down onto the mud, screaming and grabbing at his wrist. Animals went to burst out of the fence near him and were going to trample him, so I went ahead and lit them up. I grilled them hamburgers. Venison too, and whatever you call cooked alpaca. There’s got to be a name for that, right? Not like you’d let a dead alpaca go to waste for most of human history.

Regardless of culinary nomenclature, I lit them up. Wasn’t prepared for the sounds they made. And when they realizing I was shooting flames, they kept running into the fire. I think most animals would have skirted the flames or backed away, but they went into it.

“Thank you so much!” said the game warden after he’d scrambled to his feet. Some of the deputies nearby seemed happy to be done with their duty.

The Sheriff himself stopped by and offered to shake my hand. “Thank you, though I don’t know what to call you?”

“Gecko, for right now. Maybe I’ll work out a different alias for this body,” I told him. He withdrew that hand awful quickly after I shook hit.

“Well, thank you regardless. I didn’t mean anything having those deputies come around,” he said.

I shook my head. “No, I get it. Something strange in the neighborhood with murderous animals, might as well check and see what I’ve been playing with. This was weird behavior from animals, right?”

“Sure enough,” said the game warden I’d helped save. “They went into the flames. We better get one of the other bodies and check it for some kind of disease.”

The Sheriff nodded to him. “Grab who you need.”

“Other bodies?” I asked.

“Some of them were dead already, or killed themselves shortly after we got here,” the game warden said. He showed me to where a horse laid crumpled up against a tree, neck bent. The thing had ran itself headfirst into the tree around the time they’d pulled up. “We know some of them, the cows and all. Brands put them from Jayton, south of here. Too small to be a town.”

While the animal folks tried to figure out the mystery of the suicidal livestock (and deer), I went along with the Sheriff to go check on Jayton. It wasn’t really my business, but I was mildly curious about what caused a bunch of animals to turn suicidal. I get why humans would be. The past four years could make Mr. Rogers cuss and Bob Ross ragequit a painting. I myself have survived on a steady diet of denial and hurting other people. Most people only have the denial option, and that gets old. Still, never thought I’d see the day Bambi decided to bathe with the Brave Little Toaster.

Jayton really wasn’t a town. It was more like an area where some people lived too far apart to be a town. I stopped at the first house along the way. I’d seen someone floating in the above-ground pool, dead, and figured I’d wait on the Sheriff. Cops tend to get a bit huffy about disturbing carcasses at crime scenes, almost as mad as they get about creating carcasses. Though I suppose that last point depends on if they’re the ones that killed the person. Come to find out, I’ve underestimated how many serial killers get away with it because they wear a badge.

The day was eerily silent without any birds or bugs making a sound.

If any cops killed this guy, I didn’t see it. He didn’t appear to be shot. Just floated along in the water. I mean, it was weird he floated, but then he was also partially on a pool noodle. That’s what I thought until he floated close enough for me to see he wasn’t on top of the noodle. He’d swallowed as much of the thing as he could. He’d choked himself on his own pool noodle. And here I was, investigating it without any sunglasses I could use to help me make a pun.

I guess one of us didn’t…

Imagine me putting on some sunglasses.

…use our noodle.

I checked around the place for additional wormfooded humans and found none ready for a trip to Uncle Morguey’s Snip And Saw Playhouse. Finally, the Sheriff pulled up, his truck an absolute mess. His windshield was caked with bugs. The grill of his truck was bloody and bent, with some fur lingering on it. I noticed a snake come out of nowhere, racing for the truck as he parked. The cop’s boot landed on its head and crushed it, I think by accident from his reaction. “Oh dammit, another one?!” He sounded near tears. He looked up at me. “I wish I could fly over here, too. Every animal in the fucking woods has been running out in front of my truck on the way. I am gonna have nightmares.”

“Well, they’re not yet, PETA’s most wanted. We got a dead body here and I didn’t do it this time.” I walked over to the edge of the pool. “Made sure not to disturb him, but he didn’t drown. Or he might have on vomit if choking didn’t end him first. Must have been desperate for Chinese based on the size of this noodle he swallowed.”

“Jesus, you have to joke?” the Sheriff asked.

“You’re lucky I didn’t toss him at your truck as you pulled up, the way this day’s going,” I said, enjoying the mental image.

Together, we checked more of Jayton, and found more bodies. Didn’t find too many people, but found lots of bodies. Like a woman who laid her own head on the ironing board and tried to get all the wrinkles out of her brain. Or a guy who had slathered himself in vegetable oil and laid outside on his lawn in the middle of a bunch of mirrors. He made me hungry. One of the ones the Sheriff found most tragic was the 93 year old great-grandmother he knew who used to make the most delicious pies. Looked like she tried to jump her house on a ramp and didn’t make it.

The Sheriff was pretty distraught by the whole mess. I was more curious about the fact that, as near as I could tell, all of these were self-inflicted. Float guy’s hands were palm up as he floated, and the Sheriff noted no sign of struggle on them except for pool noodle fibers under the fingernails. Ironing board lady’s hand was still on the iron. The guy with the mirrors wasn’t restrained in any way and even wore those little tanning goggles.

“Why?” asked the Sheriff, again and again. I awkwardly patted him on the shoulder. “Well, something’s going on. Good news is, if it’s viral or bacterial, the nanites keeping us safe around town have probably stopped it. Be nice if we had some video surveillance on this place, figure out how it spread or started or whatever.”

The Sheriff pointed up the road. “There’s a gas station up there. Old-fashioned place, but they have cameras. Maybe they caught something. You go on ahead, I need a minute.”

I found the store, just past a clearing where someone had been shredding some wood. The thing was clogged with animals and bugs. Next to the door of the store, a mouse lay dead with a still-smoking cigarette in its mouth. Marlboro killed Stewart Little, those monsters!

Skinny older woman working there had put herself through the pizza oven. Looks like she’d sprinkled a bunch of mozzarella on herself before going through, giving me more evidence in support of my longstanding hypothesis that everything looks better with extra cheese on it.

They had cameras all wired into this box with no internet connection. Then again, there was hardly internet out that far. I figured the Sheriff sending me along like that meant he was just fine with me examining the evidence, so I rewound it to see what I could see, only going back to this morning. Darn things were about useless. Only limited angles outside, no sound, and the colors were about bleached out from the settings. There was a little bit of traffic, including folks I recognized. The old lady with the Harley dropped off some candy she’d baked to sell at the store, which is why I was eating peanut brittle when I saw something noteworthy.

A van had stopped by briefly and gassed up. Looks like the driver had a heated discussion with the cashier.. The driver paid by credit card, but waved off getting a copy of their receipt, which the cashier then threw away. The van driver then went out, looked around, and climbed into the back of the van. After a couple of minutes, they walked back out, a pair of earphones on their head, and got in to drive away. Meanwhile, the cashier put on the pizza oven. Shortly after that is when a person driving by decided to redirect their truck into a telephone pole across the street. That guy flew through the windshield and, upon finding himself still alive, crawled out onto the road where another truck ran over him.

If there were markings on the van, the cameras weren’t angled the right way to catch them. Didn’t see the license plate either, so pretty shitty camera setup. But the receipt was still there, and somebody paid by business card. Ku Industries, LLC. Kind of a play on the founder’s last name. Howard Kuill, with a silent I and pretending the C doesn’t exist.

I radioed to the Sheriff. “Got us a lead, but one you won’t be able to follow up on. Ku Industries. Does a lot of crowd control sonic research on behalf of bigger arms companies that sell to the police and military. So good news, they’re probably not coming for us. And it’s probably sound-based.”

I dropped a text message for Medusa, too. Informed her of the situation and told her to start blocking out sounds if she or any of her Exemplars were helping protests targeted by the cops. She sent back a heart emoji and a “thnks”.

And I’m sure that’s the end of that and nothing else bad is ever going to happen related to this.

But just in case, I went ahead and added automatic sound-dampening implants to all my bodies’ eardrums and my daughter’s.

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Outlaw X Presents: Walt’s Hunger 2

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We rejoin our story already in progress. As we last left things, we were following a group of diverse Floridian supervillains taking money from a guy named Devon and a mysterious shadowy being to steal a prototype ride stolen by Disney. The ride was hidden away in the mysterious, abandoned Discovery Island in the lake by Disney World.

But they got caught.

The various villains checked their surroundings as the robed sorcerer with the pointy hat loomed overhead on his own platform at the top of twin curving stairays, flanked by robot brooms with arms. Upright brooms, not the Roombas with knives attached that some people sell as cheap robo-guards. And if you’d like your very own Guard Roomba, stick around for our program’s promo code at the end of the broadcast. The Florida Four here didn’t have the benefit of that code. They were too busy noticing, one by one, the sign reading “The Happiest Dungeon On Earth!” hanging above the room where they were captive.

“What are you going to do to us?” called out Dr. Blowhard, the Miami retiree whose right hand was replaced with a variable-power jet turbine. “Interrogate us using your brooms?”

“Put us in the spinning teacups and put them on high until we talk?” asked Funtime, the local Homo Machina hacker with electronics embedded in her arms.

“Strap us down in the Small World ride and leave us there until we go mad?” asked Big Bo Gator, the Panhandle’s heavy gator man drug- and gun-runner.

“Be really racist and splash water on us?” suggested Mimosa, the speedster from the Keys whose powers activate when someone hits him, explaining a lot about his behavior if we’re being honest.

The Sorcerer looked over them, then pointed to Blowhard and Mimosa. “You two were the closest without going overboard. You came to pry the secrets from the Island of Discovery, and so your secrets shall be taken from you for the benefit of the King of our Magic Kingdom.”

“I liked the movie Cats!” yelled Mimosa. “There, no need to torture me now.”

“Fucking Keys people,” Bo Gator said, shaking his head.

Dr. Blowhard noticed Funtime twitching out of the corner of his eye and looked to her. She held up her arm, where digital letters spelled out, “Can you hit him?”

He nodded silently. The letters on her arm changed. “Good. 3… 2… 1… go!”

Dr. Blowhard raised his turbine hand and amped up the power. The Sorcerer’s gloating was cut off when one of the brooms reached way back and punched him with its thin arm. The blow didn’t do much but get the Sorcerer’s attention. He reached into his pocket for something to deal with the rebellious robot and the other one hugged him from behind. “What are you-?”

He didn’t get to finish the question. Dr. Blowhard’s blast sent the man’s hat, robe, and body flying. The clothing lingered in the air while the Sorcerer tumbled backward out of sight.

Bo Gator roared and tried to pull apart the bars of his cage, but got distracted when Mimosa started gagging. The super with the fuzzy purple hat spat out a thin piece of metal he bent and started using on the cage’s lock. After a moment, it opened. He wiped his tool off on his shirt, then noticed Bo Gator staring at him. “What? Gotta swallow it in case I need it later.”

“Do you mind?” Gator said, pointing to his own lock.

“Oh, right,” the other villain realized. He ran over and unlocked the Gator first and was working on Funtime’s when thunder boomed. The Sorcerer had regained his footing and now held a thin gadget out, a technological wand he had used to zap Bo Gator. When the Sorcerer saw Blowhard aiming for him again, he pressed another button and the air in front of him condensed into a wall of ice. The wall took the hit and didn’t budge.

Mimosa got Funtime freed and started on Blowhard, who swept the platform for any sign of the Sorcerer. “All we want is the prototype!” Funtime called out. She typed furiously at the screens on her arms, hoping she wouldn’t have to actually fight a guy who can shoot lightning from a technologic wand.

The Sorcerer laughed and a bolt of lightning smashed into the cage she’d just left. Funtime was quite glad to not be in it, but she wanted cover. Then she found the smart device-integrated lights. With one boop of a screen, the room went dark. “Give us the gyroscope roller coaster harness ring-thing!” Funtime said. She watched as Mimosa ran over to a nearby computer work station and followed after, pushing him out of the way so she could plug in.

“You want that thing? We’ve improved it. Let me show you!”

“What do you think he meant by that?” asked Blowhard. Bo Gator, Mimosa, and Dr. Blowhard all gathered up on Funtime.

“They don’t just have a prototype,” the hacker said. A progress bar on her wrist lit up while she transferred files over and deleted the backups. “They created their own version.”

The group looked up at the rising shape. It had the roller coaster harness Devon had described. It was attached by the rear to a rollercoaster track that bent and twisted. Everyone, the tale told by these villains is that this was a track that could swing and bend, partnered with a harness that stayed upright no matter what the track did. Even worse, there was a second, intersecting track. The fearsome Florida foursome watched as the harness stopped at the intersection and slid to the side on the new track that formed a pair of arms while the up and down version bent over in a U to form a lopsided pair of legs.

“I want it,” Bo Gator said.

“We all want it, but he’s trying to kill us and he has a lightning wand,” Funtime reminded him.

Gator looked around for something to throw. “Damn. Not even a fire extinguisher.”

“I doubt it will work well in the water,” Dr. Blowhard reminded them. “If you can get it there, that will go a long way to short-circuiting it.”

“Just did something that should help,” Funtime said.

Bo Gator grabbed Mimosa and threw him at the tower rollercoaster. “So did I!” Then the gator man jumped out into the fray of the manmade tropical island paradise.

The Sorcerer raised the wand, then lowered it and grabbed a joystick. The horizontal track swung for Mimosa. The speedster had taken a little charge from Bo Gator throwing him, but the track popped him on the arm. It hurt like hell, but it supercharged Mimosa enough that he could run along the track.

The Sorcerer raised his wand, but a snowball popped it right out of his hands. The tech wizard looked down and saw Dr. Blowhard’s arm turbine and the cold fog drifting out of it. He then caught Mimosa’s shoe upside his face.

While the speedster tried to get as low as he could before letting gravity take over, the tracks the Sorcerer used as supports were being weighed down by decaying animatronics grabbing for them. Ex-presidents and safari-themed cartoon characters piled on, pushing at the base of the track. The Sorcerer stomped a few of them by accident while adjusting his stance but the soft and pliable nature of the track made it possible for them to move it a little. Bo Gator tackled a leg of the track, and that moved it a lot.

The Sorcerer stayed upright. The harness ensured that. But they dragged him along toward the water. Bo Gator withstood a few blows from the coaster and might have been knocked out until more animatronics came. The broom bots marched out of the artificial jungle in a straight line, carrying buckets of old feed that attracted flocks of the island’s remaining birds and monkeys. They wound up and threw at the coaster. A few blasts from Dr. Blowhard helped some seed and feet hit the Sorcerer, and so did the efforts of Mimosa once he managed to pull himself free of a rotten old hammock hanging around. The animals swarmed the Sorcerer, including a mean looking pelican.

It wasn’t the fastest defeat. It took several minutes for them to drag the Sorcerer and his coaster out into the water. Bo Gator didn’t stay in the water long each time he dragged a length of track out there, but it wasn’t lone before the Sorcerer couldn’t find enough purchase to walk back on land or stand up.

The Gator Man stood on the remains of the main dock and shuddered as he watched the Sorcerer sink under the waves, the spot where he fell circled by birds. Mimosa and Blowhard joined him in a minute. “Not feeling up to a swim?” Mimosa asked.

“There are things down there. Things Disney forgot, or things Disney didn’t realize got loose,” Bo Gator answered. The harness popped up out of the water in the middle of an expanding rubber raft. The Sorcerer’s elation was cut short as the birds descended again.

Dr. Blowhard fanned himself with his turbine hand. “They’ve stolen and abandoned so much, and for what? A/C?” He turned the turbine on the others, who enjoyed the respite from the heat.

Then a smaller ring of flexible coaster track road up on them from behind with Funtime strapped into the harness. “Hey, look what I found?”

“That guy better come through on the money,” Bo Gator said as they set off toward the auxiliary dock where they’d parked their boat.

“Do you want to complain to that thing if it doesn’t?” asked Blowhard.

The question became moot that night. The group had returned to Stitcher’s office. Mimosa had used some of the down payment he’d received to get his arm set after the hit from the Sorcerer, and Bo Gator had some lightning burns to see to. Stitcher directed the others to where Devon left a note with his number on it and it took the man a short while to arrive.

The first thing he said upon entering was, “Where’s my baby?”

“Right here,” Funtime pointed to the corner with a USB stick that she then handed over to Devon.

The excited man took it and knelt down by his creation. After checking it over, he pulled out his phone and sent a text. “Oh my god, thank you! All of you,” he looked around at the villains with a genuine enthusiasm not usually seen by any of them in the aftermath of a robbery. The thunking of a series of large wooden chests on the floor pulled their attention away from the scene and to the shadow thing embedded in the wall behind the four chests.

“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,” it said with a laugh before disappearing.

“That thing is so creepy,” Devon said.

And just like that, listeners, we’re done with our story. I’m sure it had all those things I promised you it had, but if it didn’t, I know a group of Floridians you can take the issue up with. Bo Gator went back to the woods of the Panhandle if you care to track him down and wrestle an apology out of him. Mimosa ran off back to the Keys, stealing everything not nailed down along the way. Dr. Blowhard returned to his retirement in air conditioned comfort. Last I heard, Funtime’s in Orlando doing her part to make Disney realize it needs to shut the park back down after a reopening.

And nobody knows what that shadow thing was, but it’s probably still fucking creepy.

Outlaw out!

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Outlaw X Presents: Walt’s Hunger 1

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

Alright, shit’s all sorta sideways, so I’m gonna keep the stories coming to give us more of a feel-good vibe. I figured we’d get one of villains doing a good deed while doing a bad deed. Plenty of us first got on the bad side of the thin blue line for a good cause.

Take, for example, the great state of Florida. Oh yeah, we’re going Florida. Whether you think it’s fair or not, America’s Dong is the entertainment capital of the criminal world. It’s not the big players, either. Ouroboros and Disney run their kingdoms, but they get away with it because they don’t do anything too crazy. They play by the rules.

Everyone, the rules are changing.

So this brings us to the orneriest small-time sons of bitches you’ve ever met. There’s romance, sex, drugs, and amusement parks.

I warn you, this one starts weird. It all starts at the mobile office of Stitcher, who went to Florida to get away from the epicenters of the virus. This fantastic move backfired because the wormbrained governor of Florida decided to catch up.

Stitcher had a few folks in his office. There’s always someone who needs patching up in a special way. Like Big Bo Gator. The Panhandle’s heavy goods runner knows his way around the swamps and woods that government Joes don’t want to be caught in without an army backing them up. Those thick scales need more than a doctor or small-town veterinarian, so he was getting patched in a crowded backroom at a closed Italian place in Kissimmee. The doctor’s office outside his territory saw a few others.

Waiting in a chair nearby was an older man in a light, colorful button-up top who occasionally scratched at where his right wrist met the boxy air turbine he had for a right hand. Dr. Blowhard was in to have his turbine’s connections checked over. He was avoiding the look of a man in unflattering white spandex and a big purple puffball hat sitting on his head, resembling the same Mimosa flower he took his name from. He stared intensely ahead, arms crossed. The last person sitting around pulled her hoodie’s sleeves down to cover where she kept tablets and phones wired into her skin. Funtime was a hacker and one of the homo machina created in recent years.

Stitcher got an alert from his VillaiNet account and looked around his combined waiting room and operating theater. “Someone’s offering to cover your treatment. All of your treatment, for a job offer.”

“Who does?” Bo Gator asked. The back alley villain doctor looked up at him, then past him at the dark shape that drew all their attention. It clung to the wall, a dark humanoid shape in the middle of a writhing mass of liquid shadow, vaguely feminine in shape.

A mousy, middle-aged Black man walked in as well. “Uh, here? These people?” he asked of the shape, which nodded. “Hi. I’m Devon. I’m here because…” he turned toward the shape. “…this person told me you could help.”

“With what?” asked Mimosa.

“Who’s that?” asked Gator.

Devon continued, “I don’t know. She said she would help me, and then she said she’d get you to help. Listen, the Mouse stole a design from me. A prototype mobile ride alternate reality experience. I need the prototype back and I guess someone can delete their files?”

“What does it pay?” asked Dr. Blowhard, scratching between his eyes with his left hand.

Devon looked to the shape, then back to the villains. The shape spoke up with an ethereal voice that reverberated. “I will take your payment from Disney while you distract them with this.” The body and liquid shadow pulled into its center and disappeared before they could argue.

“Holy shit, that’s scary,” Devon said.

Mimosa moaned, then added, “Did anyone else see that?”

“Anyway,” Devon continued, “It looks like a roller coaster harness on the inside of a ring. It won’t look like it should stand on its own. I invented a new gyroscope system. It’s amazing. You could keep a drunk upright in a hurricane.”

Funtime laughed and pulled her sleeve up to go to work. By the time Stitcher got around to dealing with her altered body, she had some information for them. “Some folks make a pastime of watching the parks from a distance. One of them who is obsessed with the history and of the original Discovery Island says they went there recently. Three months ago, a ferry went over and transported this ring object.”

Devon walked over to look at the screen she offered. “That’s it!”

“What’s standing in the way of us getting it?” asked Blowhard, trying to keep from rubbing at the replacements and refurbished connections to his turbine hand.

“It’s in the middle of a lake, so we’ll need a boat. It’s not inside the park, that’s a good thing. There are only two ways onto the island. One is a main dock that’s been fenced off and partially disassembled. The other’s a maintenance dock for employees only. Once we’re on, I don’t know what we’ll be looking at. The place has been neglected for decades,” Funtime briefed them all.

Mimosa jumped up from his seat. “They say they left the animals there.”

“That’s a creepypasta,” Bo Gator responded.

Mimosa didn’t act like he’d heard. “There’s a flesh-eating virus all around the island, and cursed costumes roam to devour the souls of the living.”

“Bullshit,” said Dr. Blowhard. “It sounds easy. No one is there to catch us. The parks are all empty.”

Mimosa started shaking his head rapidly. “Gardeners… and janitors.”

“He’s right,” Funtime confirmed. “They’ll have maintenance staff and some security even if most of the staff is gone. They see us, they can activate the park’s defenses. Remember what happened in Epcot last year?”

“What happened?” Bo Gator asked.

Funtime held up a tablet for him to watch. It showed a man in flying around, shooting red bolts of lightning from his eyes at the terrified crowds of people. Behind him, a portion of the giant globe that is Spaceship Earth opened up. Numerous small beams converged, then shot out at the hostile super in a blast that atomized the man.

Blowhard jumped in here. “On second thought…”

Devon sighed. “Yeah, I don’t think…”

“They can’t hit Discovery without risking the planet!” Mimosa said, jumping up and down excitedly. “We’re good!”

Suddenly, a few rough burlap bags hit the floor. Everyone looked up to see the dark shape on the ceiling now. It pointed to the money and said, “Down payment.” Upon closer inspection, they could see one bag was marked Medieval Times and the other was from Holy Land Experience. A few gold and silver coins spilled out of each one.

Dr. Blowhard grabbed one of the silver ones, then bounced it against the floor. “That’s real pure silver. I’m in.”

They all ended up being in. Devon stayed behind while the four villains from all over Florida headed out onto Bay Lake to steal back his prototype. Mimosa drove the boat on account of, “I’ve crashed more boats than y’all ever been in,” which didn’t give Funtime or Blowhard confidence. Blowhard never learned boating, having retired to Florida from a landlocked state, and Funtime preferred to stay indoors. Indeed, the local hacker was finding out why hoodies aren’t considered Florida summer wear, in contrast to Blowhard’s breezy shirt and Mimosa’s soaked spandex.

Big Bo Gator had it easiest of all, having kept on only his shorts and jumping into the water to swim alongside the boat. He was laughing and having a time of it, disappearing underneath the waves every now and then. “It’s crazy down there. They’ve sunk so much old stuff in the water here.”

“Like what?” asked Blowhard.

“There are statues and old ride carts. Animatronics, I think,” Bo Gator said.

“Stay away from the animatronics!” Mimosa warned. He started in on another of the boiled peanuts he’d brought along in a cup, then stopped to throw the peanut, shell and all, at a huge pelican sitting on a pole in shallower water.

“Now he thinks videogames are real,” Funtime said. “We’re right by the island, though. Maybe you should go ahead of us, big guy?”

Bo Gator nodded, then dove under the water again. And even though they pulled up to the maintenance dock without incident, Dr. Blowhard felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up when he looked around and still didn’t see the Gator man of the Florida Panhandle. “I have a bad feeling about this,” the doctor of turbine engineering said while Funtime prepared to hop onto the dock. “Wait!”

Funtime stopped and watched as Dr. Blowhard raised his turbine hand. She heard the whir of it winding up, then the whoomp of it firing and the breaking of plastic from a camera hidden on the side of maintenance entrance. “Well, I coulda done that,” Mimosa said huffily, while Funtime nodded to the doctor and set foot on land again. They had a keypad lock to get through.

She brought along a bag of stuff with her and fumbled around in there, moving a small car jack to the side to get to a spray can. She sprayed it over the keypad, revealing extensive smudging on just four numbers. The third try was the charm and the door’s magnetic locks opened up for them. Mimosa rushed in, with Blowhard stopping to examine the interior for cameras. She left the carjack wedging the door open. “Zombieland rules, always have an exit.”

“Now who believes in movies?!” Mimosa called back to them.

“We just had zombies in real life!” Funtime yelled back.

Blowhard walked with her. “Don’t let him get to you. He’s from the Keys.”

“That explains so much,” she said.

“We should wonder instead why this hallway is so clean and well-maintained. Where is the dust?” Blowhard asked. Funtime frowned to think about it.

They rounded a corner and found rooms on either side. Mimosa stared back and forth between two rooms whose signs were missing, then down at a pair of signs on the ground so jumbled up they could have come from either one. “This one says Kinetics Lab, this one says Killbot Storage. But which is which?” He tried holding them up to each missing part of the wall to check for clues, like stains that went from sign to wall.

In the end, he looked over to the approaching Funtime and Blowhard. “I think we need to split up.”

“Not again,” Blowhard said.

“I’ll take this door, you take that one, doctor,” Funtime said with a glare at Mimosa.

Blowhard sighed and on the count of three, they both opened their door and stepped into the darkened rooms on either side. Blowhard found a switch on the wall on his side and turned it on to reveal a large room with stairs and a walkway that went over the hallway behind him to join with the room on the other side. Standing nearby was a statue of Donald Duck holding a sign that read “Welcome to the New Combined Kinetics Lab/Killbot Storage!”

He heard a “Hyuk!” from the other side of the room, where Funtime entered, and then saw a wrapped up carpet flying off, hands at the top squirming, the hacker’s screams muffled beyond coherence.

“I’m out of here!” Blowhard decided, then stared as Donald broke the sign he was holding in half and advanced, arms outstretched, on Blowhard. The doctor revved his turbine and fired at full power. The animatronic fell back and smashed its head open. It couldn’t get up, but the broken machine still stared accusingly with faceless eyes.

Blowhard ran out into the corridor to see Mimosa looking on in fright at doors opening all around them. From within shambled an array of figures dressed in suits and other high-class clothing from 1776 to the present. Mimosa watched as a decaying old Abraham Lincoln animatronic threw an axe at Blowhard while yelling, “You will not see the sun for fourscore and seven years!”

Teddy Roosevelt reared back and punched Mimosa as hard as a bull moose. The kinetic energy activated the flowery villain’s powers, causing his cells to accelerate. He took off at super speed, leaving Blowhard to be swarmed by a gang of Presidents. Or as the English majors who figure out collective nouns would clarify, a Rushmore of Presidents.

Mimosa started to slow as he approached the doorway to freedom, but it didn’t matter. He could see daylight and none of the animatronics were fast enough to catch him when his powers activate, not unless they knocked him out. Just then, he saw a huge bird bill poke into the door. A huge pelican looked in at Mimosa, glaring at the villain. Mimosa thought the bird left and that was that, until he realized, a moment too slowly, that the carjack wasn’t in place and the door was closing. Bam!

When Mimosa recovered from running face-first into a heavy metal door, he found himself in a room somewhere inside Old Discovery Island, in his own cage in a room with three other cages, each one holding another of the group they’d set out with.

“So, you thought you could come into my lair and steal my rightful loot?!” bellowed a man in a fuzzy robe and pointy purple wizard hat with stars on it. Beside him walked a pair of brooms with arms, the whirring sounds from their steps revealing them to be as artificial as the Presidents and Donald Duck.

“Oh god, I’m high and watching Fantasia again,” Mimosa said.

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Reckoning 9

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Of course I’m alive. I woke up in a hospital wing, my HUD blinking 11:59 like a smartass and showing my location was being in the Exemplar base. Li’s the one that took debris to the brain, severing my connection. My consciousness reverted to my main body, which had transformed into Reindeer. As usual, my consciousness was pushed aside. I didn’t have a camera on Reindeer on this time. And the Flyer’s trashed. The good news is that more than 50% of it made it through the portal. Not in one piece, but neither was Li. Reindeer got me out, though.

This must have done a number on my reputation. Failed to kill a target, got all visibly emotional in public, ran from some perfectly killable Justice Rangers… people are going to start talking. The first thing they’re going to say is, “Aha! Gecko’s alive after all!” so that also makes it harder to stay on the down low.

Some of that I figured out from contemplation, and other parts were mentioned to me by the doctor who showed up to check on me. “You slept a little more than usual, but you weren’t in a coma. You’re uninjured. Do you feel any pain or discomfort?”

“Not comfortable with having my inner turmoil flaunted in public like that,” I mentioned.

“I’m only here for the physical problems,” the doctor said. He turned back to the door. “Speaking of, Medusa wants to see you. I have declined as she is not a family member. Would you like me to let her see you?”

I shook my head.

“You got it. She will see you when you’re discharged, though.” The doctor checked me over, looked at my chart, and all that. He started to open my eyelids and shine a flashlight into my eyes, before shaking his head and stopping.

“What’s the news, doc? Am I ever gonna dance again, or do these guilty feet got no rhythm?” I asked, voice no louder than a careless whisper.

“Could you dance before?” the doctor asked, scribbling things on a chart.

“I was a maniac at the macarena.”

“Well, you’ll have plenty of time to macarena out of here. Congratulations, you’re discharged. Director, you can come in!” The doctor called.

“Frell my cock off!” I cursed, only to be surprised by a guy in a uniform with a big E symbol on it.

“Medusa had to run. She had to take care of a secret fracking operation. I’m Eric. She’s asked me to arrange for your transport back to Radium.”

I pumped my fist. “Fracking, fuck yeah!”

“You don’t want to qualify that at all?” asked the Doctor.

I shook my head again. “Nah, I’m fine with it.

I didn’t really have clothes, still going all naked in my armor. Reindeer would have shredded any I was wearing and nearly trashed my armor, so they provided some clothes. Eric there seemed pretty understanding of the situation as he led me to the hangar. “Gotta get old, being stuck here like some sort of military operation, then having to chauffeur me around.”

“Many of us have nowhere else to go and chose to follow her, or are dedicated to the cause,” he said, totally not sounding like part of a cult. Totally. I wondered where they do the crazy sex stuff, but he interrupted me by continuing on. “I don’t mind flying you. You would cause more trouble on your own.”

I rolled my eyes. “Pure slander.”

“You stole the doctor’s wallet. I’d like that back, by the way,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Fine… old habit,” I said, handing him the wallet while slipping his into one of my new pockets.

“Come on, let’s get you back home and away from good people,” he said.

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “I hate you, you judgmental asshole.”

At least he didn’t try to force conversation the whole flight back to Radium and dumping me off on my front lawn with nothing but the clothes on my back and a suit of power armor capable of stopping a medium-sized army on a bad day.

Yep… back home… just deciding to live with not killing the bastard who had my parents killed, had me abducted, tortured me, taught me to hurt and kill people under pain of death, and ordered me around as his own personal hitman. He needs to pay… he really needs to pay. But I guess it’s not going to be me.

There wasn’t a huge welcome back from Qiang, because this whole thing was much less dramatic from her perspective. So instead, I spent some time in the basement, designing a new Flyer to build and looking back over at my plans for Li II and the perfect body. Li II wouldn’t be it, after all. There’s so many supers out there, so many powers. But I’m getting tired of all this back and forth, so I should prioritize movement powers. That moves a couple of supers to the top of my list. I had time to come up with a plan.

I also had time for the news. The news in 2020 is so fucked that I was barely a blip on the radar, but news came from the other world of my apparent return from the dead. Or I came out of hiding. With Lulios’s brief stint of public celebrity over here, the ensuing drama held some people’s attention. The stuff about the Psychopomp project was deeply embarrassing to the government he worked for and was a betrayal to all those people who touted him as progressive. Because it wasn’t just that he did this, but that he’d hid it for so long. He’s looking at imprisonment.

There was some neat stuff in there about the Justice Rangers. People who thought they’d gotten a bit too militant were up in arms over how they’d treated the situation. They’d known about it and kept it under wraps, even kidnapped Lulios to lure me out and kill me. Even past Rangers and alternate Ranger teams are coming out against that bunch. Weird. I don’t really expect people to call for justice on my behalf. Maybe they learned something. Wish I could have. Oh, wait, not true.

I learned that pretty much no one filming the memorial park fight caught me turning into Reindeer. Luck was on my side there. That could have ruined my reputation. And, if I’m going to be honest here, that’s not only me wanting to avoid having people think I could be a hero. I don’t think Reindeer was right about that. I’m no hero. Too broken for that. But it protected Reindeer’s reputation. The only reason the weredeer has a shot is because nobody knows she’s me. Almost a shame she can’t come out more. She and I could make a great team.

But this tumultuous little chapter in my life just wouldn’t be complete without Medusa. She sent me a text that she was coming over, so I waited. She came, like she said she would. She opened up the door to the basement and there I was, sitting in a chair facing the other direction.

“So, you thought you could just walk into my lair?” I asked, swiveling the chair around while stroking a cat.

“I expect you to talk, Gecko,” she said.

“No, Medusa, you expect me to whine!” I tossed the cat, a fuzzy grey and black striped thing at her.

She caught it, then looked surprised. “You got a real cat?” She dropped it once it started to shift and change, though it didn’t fall too far.

“Huh, not as tall as I expected,” I said, looking up at her from the body of the catgirl in front of her. I looked back down, getting a sense of it. Yep, a foot shorter than I thought I’d be. Plus the sound…

“You found some cat shifter super to steal DNA from now?” asked Medusa. There it was, weird getting used to sound with these bigass ears. I could hear stuff in the walls. I think I even heard Qiang stealing a snack from the refrigerator.

I shook my head, both as an answer to Medusa and to draw myself back to the conversation at hand. “No, I stole some unrelated DNA from a woman in Vegas, thought I might adapt it.”

“So now I’m dating Catwoman,” she laughed.

I reached up and popped my claws, then poked her on the end of her nose. I was gentle enough not to draw blood. “Listen up… you know the story now, don’t you? The man you protected, what he did?”

She nodded. “I didn’t know all that. I honestly wasn’t sure your stories about your childhood were real.”

Well, that got some blood boiling in me, but I calmed down. “I can see that, I guess. I’ve certainly lied enough, said all kinds of nonsense to get sympathy. Holy shit, this tongue is weird.” I reached into my mouth to start rubbing the tongue, which also lead to me licking my paw pads. There was a lot to get used to on this body and I meant this conversation to go differently than Medusa looking on enviously at my rough tongue. “But,” I stopped, pointing a finger at her again. “Even if you thought I was lying, I told you to stop. You didn’t know that was him then, did you?”

“No, but I had been asked by the Rangers to help look after him on this world. I thought I was saving his life. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it, but would you rather I punched you?”

I was not amused. “Yeah, punching me is something I’m used to you doing. We’ve fought and we’ve sparred. It might even seem a little backwards to you, but I draw the line at what you did. So we’re through.”

“Do you still love me?” she asked, looking into my cat eyes. It was dawning on her I was serious about this.

I sighed, which came out way cuter as a catgirl. “I don’t know how I feel about you right now. You violated a huge part of my trust to help someone who hurt me deeply. You hurt me in a similar way. I’ve killed people for doing that to me and nothing else. I’m not going to kill you, though. I don’t entirely understand why, but I guess a part of myself wants to be better. If that’s even what being better means. But if I’m going to be a person worthy of love, then I’m going to be a person worthy of respect, and if you aren’t going to respect my boundaries, then I’m going to make sure I can respect myself. So go.” I pointed off up the stairs behind her.

She was chastened. Saddened, even. I just felt weird. Like, this wasn’t about retaliation or revenge or that weird sense of righteous injustice I feel from time to time when staring into the eyes of a terrible person. This felt like an internal shoulder pat. Like I’d stood up for myself in a way I don’t when I’m killing people for petty reasons.

When we reached the door, I told her, “If you need us to move, I’m sure I can manage something. I’ll even leave Radium if you want.”

“No,” she said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a keyring. After a bit of fiddling with it, she handed over a couple of identical keys. “These are to the house. I meant that this place should become a safe haven. I guess I’ll… see you when I see you.”

“See you, Medusa,” I told her, shutting the door as she turned away. I turned and pressed my back to it, sinking down, somehow changing back into a cat while I tried to process the subtly gutpunch of the breakup.

This time, the happy ending means not getting the girl.

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Reckoning 8

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My target: General Lulios, the prime asshole. The guy who started me on this path in life, as I’ve done nothing but blather about for the past month. That confrontation in Nunuvat was the last time Medusa and I spoke in all this and I got more detail about the situation when she dropped him off. I assume he’ll have protection.

I really should speak to Medusa again. No, I shouldn’t. She’s the one who kept going when I said not to. And she’s the one who didn’t seem to understand the importance of justice for what that bastard did to me. I want to speak with her again because she means something to me and because I’m in desperate need of a companion to pour my heart out too. But damn, I should have dated a friend instead of an enemy.

Max is still a friend, we’re just not like that. Even if… nah, still a friend. “I’m thankful you saved me, and I value our friendship,” he told me when I started planning the invasion of an alternate Earth, “But I can’t join you in this.”

I stopped and looked up at him. Sam and Holly flanked him and looked just as certain in the decision as he did. I sighed and got to a stopping point before responding. “Fine. Can’t force you. I hope we can still work together going forward.”

He shrugged. “You could just hang sometime. I’m still your friend, but this is a suicide mission.”

“Don’t know what you mean. It’s me, after all. Not the first time I’ve taken on the world.”

Sam decided to join in, “Technically it’s two worlds who oppose you killing this dude.”

“I can’t let him get away with what he did just because people like him now. It’s not right for folks to dismiss all the bad shit he did.”

Holly surprised me next. “But then you’d have to justify a need to punish yourself for all the bad things you did that weren’t his fault, and it almost comes across like this is an elaborate suicide-by-cop like you used to want.”

Max stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder to draw my attention back up and toward him. My gaze had drifted down as I pondered Holly’s words, not tried to hide from them and any inconvenient tinge of truth in them. “You don’t have to do this. We can help. You can do more of the therapy you quit or take the medication you stopped.”

I turned back to my work. “Y’all might want to get out of here before I finish this D-Bomb and zip on over there.”

They left, looking all sad at the thought that I wasn’t giving up on this vendetta. The gall, bringing up my mental problems. They should know my brain is ok now. I have a computer in there, a psychic superhero did stuff to it, and then aliens played around with it. My brain is perfectly fine! And so what if I die? They think it’s a matter of suicide. I buried hatchets and ended feuds because my daughter was worth living for. This vengeance is worth dying for. The world would still martyr him, but he would be dead. He belongs to the dead. Every future of everyone he had tortured and murdered in his sick Psychopomp program, every “what if” that could have been, they all cry out for a reckoning.

I am the Psychopomp. I am his final reckoning.

And by my reckoning, they have way too big a shitload of firepower at the portal to the other Earth for my liking. My drone shouldn’t have gotten through in the first place. Maybe they still could. Maybe I’m being overly paranoid. Maybe I’m a lot of things. Maybe I’m suicidal and crazy and alone without a community and friends after a lifetime of being the monster to everybody around me. I can’t fix it. No one can fix it, not without time travel. All that’s left is revenge.

Nobody left to miss me but Qiang and Max. And after that little bit earlier, why skimp on the brutal honesty? They’d get over it.

So, back at the house, I told Qiang I had something real important to do and I might be late getting back to Firecat for supper. I took her down to the basement for a laydown. Just before I pulled back, I heard Medusa calling a greeting. She called me while I was checking things over. Operating so closely out of two bodies was going to be hard enough. I didn’t need to forget stuff, too. Not a lot to forget though. It’s Li and my main body in its armor in a Psycho Flyer, with a big o’ bomb in the transport hold that’ll tear a hole in reality. I didn’t have time to bring Firecat, and the other body I put together died from where I left it. Whoops. At least it didn’t have a consciousness in it, but it just goes to show the importance of feeding and watering your spare bodies. Remember that down, kiddos.

And after all that, I get a call from her. I didn’t pick up, so I get a text. “Please, let’s talk.” I’d sooner celebrate that day’s Independence Day.

I was going to do the mean thing and tell her we could talk if I survived, but it was time to be professional again. Professionalism: be polite, be efficient, have a plan to kill everyone you meet. I blocked her, closed and sealed the Psycho Flyer, activated stealth mode, and detonated the Dimension Bomb.

Every damn time I do one of these with just myself, it tosses me through the Universe Divide into my original universe and this time was no different. And it always dumps me at the site of my original exit from the world, which my would-be victims at first turned into a memorial of my cruelty and victims. Upon my return and their realization I’m not dead, they fortified it. Then it became the site of the permanent portal connection these two universes. Meaning even though I bypassed the defenses on one side of this, I still appeared only a little off the ground in an area full of sensors and guns meant to keep me out.

Alarms went off immediately upon reappearing in reality. I gunned the Flyer and dropped chaff, then almost immediately had to bank upward to escape the wall around the area portal zone. I felt impacts and the panel showed damaged armor plating falling off from where something got me before I got clear of the wall. After that, I was free and clear. They didn’t seem to have so many guns and cannons pointed outward, and stealth mode seemed to protect me so long as I stayed low enough.

I parked on a hill overlooking the nearby city to reach out and see what I could see. Not literally; the morning light was as unwelcome to my cybernetic eyes as it had always been. I went digital.

The news was abuzz with recent revelations. The Justice Rangers had kidnapped General Lulios to use as bait to kill Psycho Gecko. Hey, I’ve heard of that person. And while many of the people seemed outraged, others sided with the Rangers all the more after Lulios told them why. He actually told them about Psychopomp. About kidnapping me and other kids to torture and abuse into the government’s expendable and deniable pet killers. About how the bigotry of he and his fellow soldiers caused the project to degenerate into sadism. He even told them about the scientists trying to break some of us out and dying when we were all caught. He was currently locked in public stockade in the middle of a memorial park to fallen Justice Rangers. That would mean Justice Ranger guards, but they’re mainly there to keep him in.

It was late afternoon when I snuck the Flyer in close and dropped out of there with my main body. I recalled some of the clothing I used to wear and my holographic illusion made me appear to be no different than another person there to look at the great general brought low. Most people maintained a good distance, but nobody minded when I stepped up closer to Lulios. “Why’d you come clean?”

“It was the right thing to do. I truly wish to make amends for what I did to Gecko and my responsibility for everyone he terrorized since,” he said. He coughed. Dude’s head was dirty, with some dried plant matter and seeds in his hair.

Be efficient. That’s what I was supposed to do. Move in and kill, then worry about talking. It was a great plan, and seeing him overrode it. I stepped closer to the stockade. A blackguard stepped up to put a hand on my shoulder. I grabbed him by the arm and threw him into his comrade on the other side of the stocks. Then I took hold of the metal stock and pulled, my armor amplifying the force applied by my muscles. After a long moment of strain, something let out a wiry snap and the stock opened. Lulios tried to stand up but fell on his ass while I approached, dropping the illusion and letting them all see my armor.

“You had to know this was coming,” I told him. Behind me, most of the gathered crowd decided it was a good day for a run in any direction but toward me.

Except one young woman. She started toward us until Lulios raised a hand and yelled, “Stay back!” He lowered his voice as he looked up at my helmet. “It doesn’t make it any less scary.”

“Any last words?” I asked. Behind me, the two blackguards had gotten to their feet. One called in backup while the other advanced on me from behind with a rifle aimed squarely at my head. I snapped my armor’s tail, knocking the rifle free, then wrapped it around his waist and threw him at the other man. They both crashed into an old statue nearby of the first yellow ranger. The woman from before was still there and pulled out a stunrod. Think baton that electrocutes someone.

“Please don’t harm my daughter,” Lulios said, nodding toward that woman.

I cocked my head to the side. “You really think I’d do that? That I’d take out my vengeance both on you and your child? What do you think I am, some kind of monster?” He almost looked relieved before I added, “Well I am, thanks to you.”

I was about to put my fist through his chest when I felt weird. Tingly. I looked around for what was causing my hair to rise on end and saw a moon in the afternoon sky. A full moon. I thought that was supposed to be for the 5th, but…

Quickly, hoping this would work, I jumped into the Li body in the Flyer. It’s still basically transmitted from my brain, but I was able to fall asleep in on ebody and keep going in another, so maybe whatever freaky neuroscience was going on would save me from the transformation. I opened the door to the Flyer to see my main body cry out in pain and pull itself free of my armor. Lulios backed away, his daughter rushing to his side to help him escape. They jumped at the sight of antlers spurting out of my head and my face elongating.

I jumped down in Li and raced for the group. If I’d just been efficient, this wouldn’t be a cluster in the fuckening. The pair got a little ways away from my transforming body before I caught up to them in the other one. I pounced… and stopped in midair before swinging around in a circle a few times and getting thrown down a grassy aisle between rows of statues. I gouged divots in the grass where I dug claws in to stop myself and snapped my jaws at Reindeer standing between me and my targets.

“Play 911 by Lady Gaga,” Reindeer said. My armor, laying mostly in one piece, began to blast it out. Reindeer launched herself toward me, then dug her heels in and skid while grabbing a statue of some beetle-armored person off its pedestal and throwing it at me. I ducked under it and wrapped my tail around it, swing it down low. I hopped up and released, throwing it right back. Even if Reindeer dodged it, Lulios wouldn’t have.

Reindeer jumped up over the statue and kicked down, knocking it into the dirt. It rolled, but stopped short of Lulios and his daughter.

“How’d I know we’d end up fighting?” I asked Reindeer.

“We don’t have to, but I’m you and you hate yourself still. Look, justice is being done. Lulios’s crimes are public. He was in a stockade. You won.”

“Not until he has his final punishment,” I growled at Reindeer.

“You can’t live in a world without mercy and forgiveness,” Reindeer said. “I know you don’t care for your own sake, but the reason you hate me and him and yourself is because you think a person can’t change and move past their earlier mistakes, because you don’t think you deserve that.”

As fun as it was to talk to myself, and it wasn’t, I scampered forward and swiped at Reindeer’s calves. She backed up, lifting her legs high, then caught my tail when it came around to pop her in the face. She landed and used my tail to swing me overhead, smacking me into a marble fresco depicting some Queen of Magic person. I grabbed onto it and dug in, then used my tail to fling Reindeer into the air. I activated the natural camoflouge of this form and rolled back, bringing my tail’s point up to impale Reindeer. I remembered at the last minute who Reindeer was, though, and instead batted her to the side, cracking a depiction of a little robot with an oversized head.

Reindeeer jumped to her hooves quickly enough, but was coughing thanks to the impact and some dust from pulverized stone. It gave me enough of an opening to remember why I was there. Reindeer had me seeing red, when I should be making someone see black.

“Do you want your daughter to grow up knowing if she wrongs you once, you’ll kill her?!” Reindeer called.

That stopped me from advancing on Lulios. I whirled on the weredeer that takes over my body once a month. “How dare you?”

“I’m you, you fuckbrain,” Reindeer said. “I’ve always been you, just the side that finally tried to do what we always wanted. You have a shot at a new identity and a new life, everything you claim to want, if only you can find a way. He took that away from you, but you don’t have to be the monster he made anymore. You are responsible for your own actions now, and nobody deserves to live in a world where one mistake means death. That’s not what we want for our child.”

I was silently brooding on all this, awash in emotions. Many of them involved anger. “I’m scared,” I told myself.

Reindeer approached, wrapping her arms around me. “I know. We’ll find a way to do the right thing. You’re smart and you’re strong. For all that she’s messed up, Medusa was right that you’re a person worth forgiveness and love. If you want it, and I know you do. All you’ve ever wanted was to be the good gal.” Her voice raised as she called out to Lulios, “I’m not going to be the creature you saw when you justified killing my parents and abducting me. I’m not your child soldier anymore, you husk of an old man!”

Reindeer kept her arm around me as she gathered up my armor. More blackguards were approaching, but so was the current Ranger team. “Stop!”

“The fight’s over… we’ll leave in peace,” Reindeer said.

“Get on the ground!” called the same Blue Ranger I’d beaten back on my Earth.

“Well, if you’re going to be dipshits about this, we’ll just leave!” Reindeer called out. We both jumped for it. They fired at us, but the only blast that got close, I intercepted with my tail before it got Reindeer. With Reindeer leaping and me climbing straight up the side, we managed our way up the building I’d landed on and scrambled into the Psycho Flyer.

“I wish you’d been less suicidal when you came here,” she said. “Would have been nice to have another bomb to get us back.”

“Looks like we’re taking this right up the portal’s poop shoot, then” I said. “Hey, you’re not going to insist I have to forgive Medusa next, are you?”

“I’m lost on that, too. I’m you, remember? She lost our trust and we’ll have to figure out what’s up going forward, but we weren’t going to kill her over it at least,” she said. “We both tried to hop into the pilot’s seat for a moment, causing a chuckle and me swapping into the co-pilot’s chair while Reindeer zipped off for the portal “I think they know we’re here and where we’re going, so let’s speed this up, shall we?” Reindeer said.

I used hands and tail to man battlestations “All tails on deck. We’re a little short on countermeasures from getting here.”

One of the first signs of resistance we encountered was a pair of missiles that blasted apart easily when shot. But the wreckage didn’t fall. Instead, little robots flew out of the wreckage. Some latched on as we passed through and began to cut and dig their way into the metal. One got onto the cockpit windshield, so I activated a different countermeasure. The windshield wipers slid out. The robot tried to duel with one, but it moved back and the one behind it swept its feet. Then the one it tried to fight knocked it around a bit before the robot dropped off the Flyer. Others were taking down more armor plates and putting enough dents in the adaptive skin and projectors to expose us in patches. I unstrapped and ran to the back, tying a cable around my waist and opening the rear hatch.

I swung out and around, grabbing for a handhold on the side of the Flyer. It was not fun, but I had some divots premade by those robots. One with the misfortune to be near where I grabbed one got sent off. I stabbed another with my tail. Really liking this thing. A hell of a learning curve, but humanity made a mistake when it got rid of this appendage. Another of the robots tried hopping onto me and bringing its sawblade down on the armor over my spine. I twisted one arm completely around and flicked it off. Ball joints. Another thing humans got wrong when evolving.

I spent the entire rest of the flight to the portal zone on the outside, trying not to get blown off while destroying saboteur bots. I didn’t end up having time to clamber back in, and Reindeer had to mostly shut the rear entry. “Hold on tight!” she called out through the external comms and took us right for the portal we shouldn’t have been trying with that big of a vehicle. We crashed through the awning, ions and all sorts of energy projectiles sizzling through the air. One popped me right in the chest, destroying one of my hearts. Good thing I had a spare. Except in all the crashing through the awning, we had shit flying everywhere. The Flyer was just sliding through the portal when a hunk of jagged metal jammed down and-

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Reckoning 7

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We set up base back at my shop in Radium. If Medusa and Lulios got out, I doubt they’re working with the rangers. It’d be rough on them even if they escaped. The call was coming from this side of the portal, but it’s way up there in year-round pointy nipple territory. The frozen north. Nunuvat. Google Earth doesn’t have any photos of that particular spot on the mountain, but some borrowed satellites show a military base there with huge hangers where they’re housing something big. Knowing the Rangers, it’s a giant robot. There are so many giant robots with those guys. I don’t even know what they do with the ones they stop using. I thought back to the uniforms of the Blue and Yellow I’d seen so far. There’s always a theme, but the main thing that stands out to me is all the circles on Blue’s uniform. Yellow had some distinctive marks on their outfit, but it was more like greater than or less than signs. I hope the theme isn’t math.

I’m avoiding my house so far in case they go on the offensive. Max thought some time away from Vegas would do him some good, too. Give him a chance to regroup. Sam and Holly were happy not to be cooped up anymore.

“Who needs killing this time?” Max asked me while I wiped down the interior of my armor. He was grabbing some of the merchandise off the shelf to supplement the lab equipment he had with him.

“General Lulios, as always,” I said.

“Not forgiving him, then?” Max asked. I felt less humor in the question.

“Some things can’t be forgiven, and that goes for me, too. What he did to me and what I did in turn, none of that just washes away. The dead deserve better.” I finished with the armor and let it hang up to dry. Then, I decided to check out the bombmaker’s bin over in the corner. You know, for budding interior decorators.

Max patted me on the shoulder as he passed by, uncharacteristic even for him. “You could have changed it, that time you and the Mobian were in your past. There’s still something valuable about this life.”

I stopped rifling around for timers and tried to think how best to word a response. I was not happy at him bringing this up. “I was a coward and the best thing for everyone would have been for me to stop it right then. I won’t chicken out of justice again.”

“Are you going to kill yourself?” he asked bluntly.

“No,” I said.

“Then this is about revenge, not justice,” he said. “You can recognize there’s value in your life. He hurt you and wronged you. I’m not saying it’s wrong to pursue revenge against him. It’s just… well, killing is always more fun if you don’t consider the ethical quandaries.”

“Ha! Yeah. Besides, if he was as sorry as he claimed to be, he’d have fessed up on the other Earth,” I added. “Now can we stop talking about all this? You’re reminding me of Medusa. And no, I’m not forgiving her either.”

It was his turn to laugh. “I won’t comment then.”

Without any more to go on than the coordinates of the base the Rangers were at, I figured that would be a good place to hit. Clear that annoying third party out of the way and allow Lulios and I to settle things mano a womano. At least Lulios seems to recognize the need for us to finish things between us, even if he knows the general details of how that story goes.

That’s why I built such a lovely bomb. It could level a small building, so it might come in handy against some of the base’s defenses. The bio-force grid the Rangers use tends to bleed off excess energy too efficiently to hope this would disable the robot they’ve got there, but I feel like I can take it in my armor. I really have grown a lot since I came to this other Earth.

Speaking of growing things, Firecat doesn’t seem to have any health issues whatsoever. Neither does the basement body. I need a name for that one. I can’t call it the Ultimate Form just yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. I practiced using it while I was here. Speeding along, exoskeleton protecting all my sensitive bits. Yeah, I made the thing fully functional. Slightly more than fully functional, one might say. What’s the whole point of being able to exceed the limits of the human form if a woman can’t have a couple of girldicks ribbed for a partner’s pleasure?

Throw in some kidneys so efficient I’ll never get hungover, perfect 360 degree vision, and all the space I saved on intestines, and we’re looking at a pretty awesome body. That just happens to look like an H.R. Giger painting. Oooh! I’ll call it Li after one of those. There was a Li II, and that can be what the perfected version is.

Li was fun to take on a run. Faster, stronger, with muscles that don’t tire and nostrils that make sure I’m never gasping for air. Max even liked it! He just put it in polite terms to hide his enthusiasm. Things like “Not have any visible eyes is freaky-looking.”

I, in Li, shrugged. “I was going to bring back the human nictitating membrane, but then I figured I should make the eyes even more secure. So now I have ten, all with amazing vision, all hidden and protected.”

Max cupped his chin in his hand, thinking. “Do you have a way to expel fluids?”

“Oh boy, do I!” I said, standing up and sliding the armored crotch plate down. Behind me, Holly and Sam walked in and stopped.

Holly cocked her head to the side. “What am I looking at here?”

“A dream I’ve had before,” Sam said.

“Nonetheless, I meant something different,” Max went on. “For chemical weapons. Perhaps we should focus on the task at hand.”

Sigh. “Fine, fine,” I shifted the plate back into place.

The raid began at dawn. Not that dawn, fuck you, that was too soon. The next one, though, I bounded across the snow up the mountain. The Li form didn’t mind the cold and interior insulation protected the nanites flowing through its veins from being negatively affected. From my veins. This is my body, and my skin flowed with the terrain, mimicking the snow. I stopped at the edge of the rise to reassess the situation. I was going to come in from the north. Max, Sam, and Holly were in the Psycho Flyer to the east of the base, with Holly flying and Sam smoking something Max made her to keep herself steady while flying. I shifted the pouch on me and the EMP spikes, because I didn’t build that into this body. I’ll need a way to protect my perfect from that weakness in the future. Maybe I should just implant my brain?

Questions for later. I put on some mood music, a band called Brighter Than A Thousand Suns covering the song Monster. I raced out onto the relatively flat, open area on the top of the mountain, trying to see just how far I could go. Blew my normal body away even though it was enhanced. I might count as having low level superspeed like this. Something noticed me, though. I saw the towers rise from the corners of the wall before I heard the alarm. The square tops opened up to reveal cannons that fired plasma at me. One missed, throwing up steam as it melted the snow.

The other winged me, giving me a chance to see how this body held up to the shot. The insulation protected my organs. I felt the heat, but not the pain you’d normally get. Nerves patterned after my armor’s energy sheathes redirected much of the energy to an internal battery made possible by improving on the design of the intestine. I flipped my tail up to aim at the turret. The tail opened with a three-way split and a crimson laser shot out. The beam cut into the protective shield on the left side of the turret barrel, but lasted long enough for me to sweep it over and get a little lick on the weapon itself.

Note to self: Li II needs built-in aim assist on the tail. Just a little dot, telling me where the tail is aiming when I ready the laser.

The whole thing was a success in resilience and firepower. Now I just had survive the barrage of deadly superheated plasma that, thankfully, got less and less accurate the closer I got to the wall where they couldn’t aim so easily. And that took hardly any time at all. One second, the cannon that tagged me lost track of me against the base of the wall. The next, I was up there, clawing its barrel off and leaping to the other tower to toss in the bomb I’d built. It was a star patterned fortress, with a turret at each angle. It took a minute to work my way through those turrets, but I didn’t have to get as many when Holly came in with the Flyer and blasted the eastern and southern ones to smithereens.

The Flyer laid down some more cover for me. Max dropped some fog from the back that engulfed the area inside the base’s walls. He’d immunized me to it so I, unlike everyone else, wouldn’t get disoriented and lose track of which direction I’m going. I saw more of those black-clad guards with their pseudo-Ranger armor, the ones I’d taken to thinking of as the Blackguard, stumble their way around. It was too easy. After sending the first few flying, it didn’t even seem like a challenge. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but these guys might as well have been rent-a-cops with nothing more than a heavy flashlight to defend themselves. Their rifles, more plasma-based weaponry, were nothing next to the light, healed burns of the turrets.

All at once, the fog was pulled in one direction. I turned toward it and saw the field clear up and four Justice Rangers walking out of a building marked “Command”. The mist disappeared into a funnel-barreled gun held by a white-clad ranger whose armor had a cloud pattern. He posed as he finished. “You’re through, monster!”

“Did Psycho Gecko send you?” called the Blue Ranger.

I laughed. “I am that merry traveler of the night.”

“You are creeping me out,” Yellow said.

The last of the four was in a shiny silver outfit that was blinding in even the dying light. That one, whose costume had a skirt, chipped in with, “Hope you don’t mind a cold reception!” She held a gun that looked like the White Ranger’s, but she used it to fire cold wind and small spears of ice at me. I knocked aside some, but rushed forward regardless of the ones that hit me. They weren’t stronger than the turrets.

I was among them in no time, concentrating on the Silver Ranger. A swipe drew sparks from her costume as it sent her flying. Behind me, Yellow pulled a wand or pinwheel or something. It had a handle and a guard, but there were a lot of metal sunflowers placed along a backing that came up from the handle. When they started to rotate, it looked more like a chainsaw sword. When I turned to her, that’s when the Blue Ranger circled around behind me. White Ranger checked on Silver.

Yellow swung at me. I tried to grab the sword, but instead she raked it over my chest, the exoskeleton protecting me from the pain of a boob punch. I whipped my tongue out, the prehensile muscle wrapping around where the top sunflower connected to the back and pulling it out of her hand. Blue charged from behind and my tail wrapped around his neck. I gave it a little squeeze, as a treat, before slamming him over my head onto Yellow.

“I’ve got to use it!” I heard Silver Ranger declare. She was running for the hangar building my Flyer was shooting up.

“It’s not ready!” White Ranger called after her.

I heard Sam laughing over the radio as she called “Yeah, get some!” in time to the bursts of fire from the Flyer’s guns.

Suddenly, a whole lot more Flyers materialized in the air surrounding the base. Sam’s fire petered out as she noticed them, too. “Uh, should we engage?” asked Holly

“This is the Exemplars! Everyone, stand down. There’s no more need for violence!” Medusa’s voice boomed out of the Exemplar’s Flyers.

Privately, I got a text message. “Is that u?” It was Medusa.

I waved up at them the same time I texted back. “Yep.”

“Gecko,” Medusa announced out loud. “I can honestly say that’s an amazing thing you’ve done. But you can stop now. You don’t have to be the monster they’re convinced you are. You’re better than that. You’re better than them.”

“You’re a freak and now you look it,” the Blue Ranger said. I still had my tail around his neck, so I picked him up and pulled him closer.

“Plz, ther’s nuthin left 2 prove,” Medusa texted. It would be so much more dramatic if she spelled everything out.

I grinned. It must have scared Blue to see me happy. He started grabbing at the tail more, trying to slip out. I pulled an EMP spike out of pouch I strapped on and gave him a stab, but just in the boot. It probably didn’t even touch skin, but his armor jolted and disappeared, leaving a frightened young man in my grasp. I dropped him.

Then the hangar exploded. The robot within looked like a robot version of a yeti. It pounded its own chest as if it needed any more announcement of its presence, then fired a much larger version of Silver’s ice blast at my Flyer. I heard the crew in there scream as Holly took it hard to the side then fought for control.

That left me and the robot. “Hey, Max, you think you can dump my armor out for me?”

“I’ve been thinking,” he answered. “Did you include a hole for your tail?”

Shit.

“Looks like I’m doing this the hard way,” I told him and started loping for the Yeti Bot on all fours.

“Stand down, stand down!” Medusa tried to call. Neither myself nor the Silver Ranger listened. Instead, the Yeti jumped and landed in front of me, shaking the ground and causing me to stumble slightly. With me slowed down, it tried to stomp me. I was quicker and jumped onto the side of its leg, claws and tail giving me the purchase necessary to start shoving EMP spikes into weakpoints, like the joints. The Yeti swiped and missed, knocking frost and icicles off. Soon, it couldn’t walk, or twist its hips. A couple spikes to the armpits and it couldn’t even swing its arms. Finally, I mounted the head and drove two final spikes into the crown of the giant robot, freezing it in place.

“Lay down your arms!” ordered Medusa. “You are all under arrest.”

“You and what army?!” called Blue Ranger.

Right on time, transport choppers flew in. Men on horseback jumped their mounts out and deployed giant parachutes of the Canadian flag, submachine guns trained on any of the Rangers and Blackguard who moved. The mounties were here. I blended in and helped my Flyer to do the same, bringing it in low enough for me to jump right into it and start easing us out of there in the confusion.

“Do you think this will stop them?” Max asked.

“Nah,” I answered. “They’ll be out on some sort of immunity, but it means this base and that robot aren’t a problem. No matter where Lulios is, we don’t have to worry about those Rangers interfering with my revenge.”

A text came in from Medusa. “U got away. So did Lulios. Sent him home thru portal.”

Fuck me. With two dicks.

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