“Bet you didn’t expect to see much of me from here on out, eh?” I asked the man in the doorway. He was hidden by shadow, but I could make out the cane he held himself up by.
“You tempt fate calling me,” he said.
I held out a jug. “That’s ok. I brought rum to tempt you.” I sensed more than saw the smile. The darkness enveloping the loa in that door frame wasn’t mundane in nature. My HUD classified it as a magical anomaly as well. Despite that, the loa tend to enjoy wetting their whistles. “Unless I’m getting you mixed up with the Baron. I’ve seen him in action recently, and I thought it was him at the bar in Memphis. I don’t intentionally mean disrespect. I’m just a poor, confused little mortal.”
The Back Alley Voodoo Bar on Beale Street is one of the villain bars that isn’t normally accessible to civilians or heroes precisely because of the criteria for entry that involve a representation of who I used to believe was Baron Samedi.
Papa Legba reached out and took the jug from me. His hand passed out of shadow to do so, revealing an old, thin, weathered hand. “You assumed too much. I answer the calls of mortals much of the time, but we chose Baron Kriminal to be the doorman. He likes you supervillains. And if the Baron Samedi was here, I think you would soon find yourself bearing a dark baby with dark powers in that tummy of yours.” He poked my belly with his cane.
I snorted. “He’s a little old for me by, what, a few hundred years?”
“That hasn’t stopped him yet,” answered Papa. “I would not be surprised if he tries the next time he sees you.”
“That’s going to make this awkward then, because that’s what I’m going through you for,” I said. “I believe there are protocols for your particular branch.” I put it as diplomatically as I could, considering my conflict with the Three Hares.
The Hares are a collection of stranded aliens, powerful supers who had been seen as gods once upon a time, and the human descendants of those supers. Considering they tried to brainwash me at one point and pretend I was another god, it’s possible they aren’t even immortal so much as passing along code names. The fighting ended when we found out a rogue alien named Barkiel had been manipulating events to set loose Mot, an ancient and nigh-unstoppable superhuman powerful enough to end the world as we know it. I’d taken care of Mot for them, and my allies, the hero Venus and the superhuman activist Titan, figured out something like an agreement afterward. And proved that we’ve grown way, way beyond simply giving ourselves the names of mythological gods.
Venus sent me an email about the further details of the peace they negotiated with the Hares. I should read it someday. Instead, I set about contacting the loa portion.
Legba cocked his head. “What does the Psychopomp want with an old man like Papa Legba?”
I swept my hand back to the table in the room I was in. “Perhaps you could bring me Baron Samedi and enjoy some of this hot red beans and rice I have here in the kitchen.”
I hadn’t used my own place for the ritual, but a local restaurant had jumped at the chance to be especially nice to the dictator. When you control a country, people just jump at the chance to do nice things for you. And if you happen to favor them in the future, well, that’s just being nice to your friends. And that wouldn’t count as bribery pretty much anywhere.
Legba stood up straight all of a sudden and twirled his cane. “That sounds wonderful, thank you,” he said as he stepped out of the shadows. He’d gone from old to young and horny. They looked like bulls horns a bit. He didn’t exactly let me study them while he headed to the other room.
The doorway he’d left was suddenly filled with a bespectacled man in a top hat and a black coat over purple shirt and pants. “What brings me here?” he asked before looking me over and cocking an eyebrow. “Psycho Gecko. Damn fine to see you.”
“Samedi, you ol’ horn dog. All that time I was messing around with the Hares and I never ran into you?” I walked over and gave him air kisses.
“That is truly a shame. You’re a hell of a woman.” He grabbed my ass.
I grabbed his balls and squeezed. “With long, sharp nails. Interested in being one, too?”
He laughed and we let each other go. “What are you fuckin’ around with now to give me a call?”
I handed him a jar of rum. “Thought you might be interested in helping me find out some information about some specific ghosts.”
“What’s in it for me?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I know you Three Hares types like to pretend you’re gods, but if you can’t be arsed to care about someone showing you’re asleep at the job, I guess that’s on you. In the meantime, feel free to relax. But what would I get the people who have hidden compounds, alien technology, and money squirreled away? A really good razor?”
The Baron chuckled. “Let’s talk land, head bitch of of Mu.”
Both of the loa had left by the time I was once again visited. Having become secure in other ways, and remembering how the Ghost of Christmas Present had toyed with me, I didn’t bother squeezing into the armor for this one. No, when the clock struck one and a figure in a black hood and robe appeared, transparent as always.
It found me in my own bed, nude, hands moving under the covers and a loud buzzing noise. It stepped toward me, then threw the hood back. She had a face painted like the Calavera Catrina, with her face painted like a stylized skull, with bright blue “petals” around the blacked-out makeup surrounding the eyes. As pretty as it was, the the makeup ended at her neck. That wasn’t a painted spine connecting her head to a bony chase. Whatever kind of ghost she is and powers she has, she couldn’t be mistaken for someone with powers in a costume.
She put her hands on her hips. “Is this meant to shock me? I’ve seen it, honey.”
I sat up and threw the cover up. Before it even fell from the air between us, I fired the plasma tether. The scientists thought it up. Instead of a smaller blast, this one fires as a continuous arc. The yellow-orange discharge lit up the see-through ghost, which burst and showed of the scorched wall. I powered off the plasma tether and set it aside. After applying a bucket of water to the wall, and walked into my closet to throw on a dress real quick.
I turned around and there was the ghost again, standing at the doorway. “Did you think that would stop me?”
“Nah,” I told her, holding out my hand. “But it makes me feel better.”
The spirit grabbed my hand and squeezed with an intention to inflict pain, but my grip’s pretty good too. It’s when she let go that I noticed we’d ended up somewhere, and somewhen, different. We were in my office, being ransacked by people speaking American English and dressed in civilian clothes but with SMGs and pistols around. “Dead at last, dead at last. Christ Almighty, she’s dead at last. You think they’re out there toppling statues?”
“That’s what the other team’s supposed to be doing. May not be working. If it doesn’t, the extraction team has a nuke to leave behind,” said another.
One of them held up a diamond broach and whistled. “This is a profitable mission if we’re quiet to home base.”
“Yeah, but where did she hide the schematics. Blueprints. Nuclear codes! There has to be some kind of documentation. Were the scientists the only ones who could read here?” asked one of the three. He turned to the door. “How we doin’, Frank?”
From outside came a thud.
The one who called out pulled his pistol. He eased up to the door and turned the knob. The door fell in, along with the body of another “civilian”. The two further back in the office began to pack up whatever they’d found, which seemed to be art ripped out of the frames and some jewelry. The man in the doorway’s head exploded. A blood hand stuck through it holding a pistol of its own that shot one of the others in the head. The last remaining one opened fire on his comrade, who needed the extra bullets like he needed a fist-sized hole in the head. The corpse collapsed. The owner of the fist seemingly vanished into thin air.
The last remaining looter looked for anyone. Then he realized what was up and opened swept the gun from side to side, firing wildly. He was stopped when the gun flew upwards out of his hands and a woman appeared. Blood marred the outfit she wore, with flecks on her blonde hair and just under eyes that that revealed Asian heritage. I liked the outfit, too. Close-fitting, but not skintight, with a short skirt and leggings, all dark red with gilded portions that formed a dragon soaring through the red fabric.
Her face rippled and became a smiling reptilian visage. She reached down his screaming throat and pulled his heart out only so far as his throat, where she left it.
“I like her,” I said to the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The ghost responded, “You might. She’s your daughter.”
The guy who had been shot in the head stood up and shot her in the head. She fell to the ground.
The ghost coughed. “She was your daughter.” She held her hand out for me.
I ran to the future Qiang. “The fuck is the point of this?”
“Showing you what your life is leading to,” said the ghost. “Let’s go. We have much of this dark future to see.”
“Bullshit,” I told her, looking over my downed daughter and running a finger over the wound and bullet. “This story you’re copying might be old-fashioned, but it’s about changing someone’s ways. Exactly what ways do I change to prevent my girl from getting shot in the head.” I turned and looked at the ghost, laser eye glowing.
She looked at me. “You could end it.” She seemed shocked at the words, then turned to glance behind her.
“You done fucked up now, pretty pretty,” said Baron Samedi, grinning at her from behind his skull facepaint and glowing eyes. “Tell the truth now, skeleton cunt.”
“I was told to do frame things as needed to encourage Psycho Gecko to depression and worse,” she said. “My master believes it would be easy. It’s the holidays.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.” I backed off as Qiang opened her eyes and sat up, throwing a knife through the open door. I heard a cry from the last of the infiltrators, then another thud from out there. Oh, right. There was a living guy here. Kinda lost track of it in the middle of seeing my daughter shot in the face.
Qiang shook the bullet free from her skin, which had stopped it. There were some darker colors than regula flesh in there, so maybe some subdermal bulletproof nanotube mesh? Either way, she got up, swore to herself, and ran out the door to go finish off the guy.
Samedi watched her go, too, until I hopped up and hit him on the arm. “Hey, she’s my kid.”
He turned to me. “Kids grow up.”
I grabbed his throat and started choking. He sputtered and spat a cigar in my face. I charged him. We rolled over a few times, the Ghost of Christmas Future forgotten. In the middle of pulling the Baron’s top hat over his face and punching it, I noticed her turn and fade away. Everything looked dark again, as we were back in my closet. I quickly pulled the top hat off. “You able to follow her?”
“I am the master of the dead, bitch. Her ass can’t hide through space or time, though it helped find you that you two never entirely left this room. Shit, I put my mark on her the moment we touched.” He patted my butt to emphasize the word “touch”.
I pulled his top hat back down and socked him in the nose again before standing up. “Good. I have just the team to go pay this little gaslighting son of a petaQ a visit. Commissioner Gordon, it’s time to light the batshit signal.”
“Do you want them taken alive?” asked one of the magical bounty hunters assembled before me. I didn’t like the guy based on his armor being styled after a Crusader’s armor. He wore mail under the crusader flag tunic, and covered his face in a barbute-style medieval helm with such a small T-shaped slit that it was hard to make out very much of his features. It not only clashed from a historical perspective, but I don’t usually work with militant theocrats.
I shrugged. “There will be a substantial reward for whoever finds the person doing this. You are free to use any methods necessary, and I don’t care if they’re alive. Disintegrations are ok, as long as you bring back proof.”
Crusader Rex, as he styles himself, nodded and hefted his blocky rifle. The bunch saw themselves out. The others, including a mummy, a couple of mystics in official Faustus/Hephaestus business robes, a British guy with a 5 o’clock shadow in a trenchcoat, and a woman in way too skimpy of an outfit. I’ve seen lingerie that covers more. Magic is pretty much the only way that could stay on. The last of the bunch was a guy I recognized named Skul. Bald guy, in faded pants and jacket, with a mask fashioned from the front of a human skull. I remember when he used to mug people on street corners with a cheap pistol.
Well, if he manages it, he manages it. Some mages might be so prepared for weird occult attacks that they don’t expect a Saturday Night Special. If the guy prefers to dress like he’s about to hit a liquor store in the process, that’s his business.
The Institute having secured several clocks, we had figured out that the visits keep occurring at one AM. My alarm went off five minutes ’till, with both the witch and one of the Faustus people having asked to be nearby. The witch had to be close. With an outfit that amounted to little more than a strapless bikini covering a squat, chubby body with small breasts. Actually, pulling back the footage, I’m not sure my feelings for her were entirely my own, because she had this wonky thing with one eye and a chin with its own ass crack.
Having remained loyal to a woman who preferred me when I had dick for days, I woke up to my alarm clock and waited, armor ready to smack the straight out of the second Spirit. Everyone knows that’s the Ghost of Christmas Present, who doesn’t even bring a present. With a name like that, it should be mandatory. I waited for the Present to arrive. And how did I not see that mole?
It was very nearly 1:01 when I jumped up. “Anyone spotted anything weird yet?” I asked over the radio. Silence answered me.
“Not yet, Empress,” said Dr. Silence. “We thought we had a power surge, but it only lasted a moment. Have you checked with your mystics?”
I didn’t get an answer from them, so I cloaked and headed out the door. Maybe the ghost went after them first.
I stopped down the hall at the door to their room. Oh, look, a checkpoint that negates my stealth in my own facility. I knelt down beside the door and popped it open. When the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man didn’t charge out for a couple seconds, I poked a hand around and let the cameras tell the tale.
What had once been a white lab room was now a warm, inviting study with wood floor and walls covered in bookshelves except for the fireplace. A crackling fire backlit a large man in a green robe laying on a couch where the back didn’t run the length of the whole thing. Along the floor was a small feast of ham, turkey, stuffing, roast beef, buttery bread, deviled eggs, and angel food cake among other selections. The man was as big as a pro wrestler, and not fond of covering his hairy chest. He raised a torch in one hand. “Is that you, Psychopomp? Do come.”
I began to charge three of my arms and grabbed a rubber chicken off my belt. I squeezed the head off it and tossed it into the fire, past the guy. He glanced at it, but seemed unconcerned. I came charging in as flames exploded out of the fireplace toward the unconcerned ghost, intending by the energy sheaths on my gauntlet to disperse the undead being that sought me out.
The ghost disappeared before I hit it, which left me hurtling into the fire. I came out on the other side, landing in a city’s roundabout. Around me ran crowds of people with faces covered, carrying their own makeshift torches. One of them was driving a bulldozer along, pushing cars out of the way and tearing down street lamps. The city’s lights were being replaced by torches carried by protesters.
Nearby, I saw the ghost again. He would find some isolated masked person and shake his torch over them. Instead of ash or sparks, water rained down. I watched one man put down a pipe he carried, pull off his mask, and walk away from it all. “It’s a shame to quarrel at Christmas time,” he said.
“This is Paris,” I said, standing up. I found my arms no longer glowing, the energy somehow having bled off. And though I could stand on the streets, my arms went right through the people living up to Paris’s longstanding tradition of revolting.
“Yes, and look at such ungrateful people who would fight instead of enjoying their food and their loved ones,” he said.
“Dude, they’re poor people who are getting screwed out of food for themselves and their loved ones,” I pointed out. “You would deprive them of their means of seeking justice and making their voices heard just because you don’t like fighting around the holidays?”
“There are some upon this earth of yours,” responded the spirit,”who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness, who are as strange to myself and all my kith and kin, as if they were inhuman. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”
I pointed to the torch. “You’re the one influencing them to stop. You’d rather have peace than justice, and instead of telling the guys screwing people over, you want to tell the victims to shut up and be quiet.”
“And you influence them to fight.” The ghost waved his torch over to where an injured man was being helped away from the fighting. His fellows set him down while another moved in and began performing some basic field medicine, trying to set his leg and wrap the bloody wound on it with medicated gauze laced with medical nanites. “Training, equipment. You have a hand in this conflict.”
“I offer knowledge and aid. They sought it out of their own free will and apply it the way they wanted to. You want to control their minds and force peace on them at the cost of their wants and needs. I offer enlightenment and empowerment so the powerful alone don’t control the course of the world.”
The ghost swept his arm across the darkened city, smoke rising in several places. “How many people are dead because of the knowledge you loose onto the world and then wash your hands of?”
I nodded toward the protesters. “My knowledge didn’t make their government tax the poor to bolster the rich. This fighting is out in the open and temporary, but there’s been more conflict, lasting longer, cold-blooded. This will kill, what, tens? Maybe hundreds in the end from fighting? How does it compare to lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heartbreak? This is a momentary terror, but you ignore the older and more vast one, inflicted day by day, year by year, decade by decade, unseen because of its pervasiveness.”
What is it about Paris that makes people, myself included, want to give speeches?
“I think you could use a little Christmas cheer, woman.” the ghost said sternly. “I know what will help!”
The wind picked up and embers from the torch flew out. They came right at me and obscured my vision just enough that I didn’t notice the change in venue until the wind calmed. We were in a trailer now. A woman stood in the kitchen area, boiling rice and heating up canned vegetable beef soup on the stovetop. We stood in the adjoining living room area, where a threadbare plastic tree stood next to a stained couch.
“Even in these dark circumstances, there is hope,” said the ghost. He pointed toward the tree, but then walked across to the kitchen and sprinkled his torch water, whatever that’s about, onto the food. “A little seasoning of my own to help.”
“Ew,” I said. “Try not to put too much of your own ‘special sauce’ into that woman’s cooking, ok?”
“My blessings are felt more by the poor. The smallest aid helps them more.” He looked past me, to the door. A moment later, someone knocked.
The woman in the kitchen turned to the window and glanced out. She sighed. “Go away!”
The door opened anyway and one of my agents came in. I remember him as the one I extracted from Abnormal, Alabama. A local business leader who ended up leaving his family, including a son who was a sidekick to a local team of teenaged superheroes. It seems his family have fallen on hard times. “I heard about the accident. I want to see him,” my agent told her.
“You ruined his life enough,” she said.
He looked around. “It didn’t have to be this way. You keep sending back the money I send.”
“I don’t want your money and neither does he,” she said.
He set his jaw. “Easy for you to say. You aren’t the one in a wheelchair peeing into a bag. There are so many ways I can get our son back.”
“You already lost him when you chose some crazy tyrant over him,” she responded. She cussed under her breath and spun around to turn the stove down and stir the soup.
My agent turned and headed down the hallway while she was distracted. She noticed and called out, “Hey! Don’t go back there!”
I followed the father to a back room where his son sat in a wheelchair. The father hugged him. “I’m here, Tim.”
“Some fluid of my own making would be better suited to helping this situation,” I told the ghost who had followed me back. “But I suppose that’s evil to you.”
“It was you who created this situation. The son and the mother would not take it,” he told me.
“Yeah, well sometimes people don’t know what’s good for them. Same as those folks wearing government suits in Paris. They got themselves into a mess and are refusing to help themselves out of it. These folks here don’t have to work for me or anything like that. Now, maybe the son doesn’t like it, but I imagine he preferred being able to feel his penis and not living in a roach castle like this.” I looked around.
“You drove him to this and pretend good people have a choice,” said the ghost. “Taking children from parents and training people to be insurgents and killers. This is who you are in the present.”
I turned around to punch him in the schnoz, but found my fist hitting the bare metal wall of the Institute of Science’s hallway. I was back. “Fucker,” I muttered. Apparently I can’t even be philanthropic because nobody wants to take money from me and people want to pretend it’s evil to do so. Nothing but telling me to change my ways in some vague way that doesn’t held and ignores a lot of nuance. I shook my head and looked around as scientists armed with plasma rifles and mages with glowing body parts stepped into the hallway.
“Stand down. Y’all missed it,” I said. I shook my head and set off to go for a walk. I went ahead and sent my Intel head, Pagan, an email to both confirm the presence of that one agent in Alabama again, and to authorize the insertion of funds and medical nanites for his use.
They might live to regret it, but at least they’ll live to regret it.
Faced with the prospect that someone was sending ghosts after me, I did what anyone would do and prepared an ambush of the spirits. I decided to sleep over at the Institute of Science. Was a killer on my sex life, since Citra wasn’t comfortable with all the people around to see, or with the idea of the ghost stopping by. That’s fine. I don’t need her to have sex. I can fuck my own self! Who’s got four thumbs and gives a fuck to me? This gal!
Now that I’ve set the stage a bit, I was sleeping in the Institute of Science after the visit from the ghostly Good Doctor. I passed out early, which sucks because of how much worse “passing out” sleep seems to be compared to the normal stuff.
The Institute of Science was built to prevent any possibility of data being leaked out, to the extent that they didn’t even have internet access. That had to work against their research as well. I’ve authorized allowing internet access to the Institute, even if that means some remodeling on the top floors, but I’m less worried about leaks here.
The Faraday cage woke me up. It’s like a metal screen that blocks electromagnetic fields, like radio waves or some smaller electric discharges. It doesn’t keep them all out, and the Earth’s magnetic field gets through, but it’s something. It was a little difficult to sleep in the thing for me, but it was one of the better defenses to add to the thick lead walls. I could feel the disruption it created in my connections to the outside world, and then I felt it falter. I looked up to see the first of these three spirits float into the room.
I expected Ronald Reagan. I got some young-ish looking guy in a t-shirt, a jacket with shoulder pads, jeans, and hair that managed to be both short and poofy. I looked at him, and he looked at me. After a couple of seconds, he spoke, “Nice gazongas, baby.”
“Not your baby, Gordon Gekko,” I said.
“I’m not that old. I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Ok, team. Now.” A smaller version of the island’s forcefield went up as cabinet-looking things stood against the walls opened. It took a moment before they were all fixed on the ghost, who glanced at them curiously. The storm of plasma blasts dissipated the ghost’s body and left the room smelling like ozone. When everything seemed to be all clear, the emplacements stopped and the ventilation kicked in to clear that out.
“Good job, team,” I told them. “But just in case they try again, I’ll be in here. Somebody put that Korean ASMR person I like to listen to.”
The next night, Christmas Past tried again. I awoke to find him floating over me, the gun emplacements not activating. Everything stayed dark. I couldn’t even call out of the room.
It appeared to be the same ghost. Odd that the plasma didn’t disperse it completely, but not entirely out of the realm of possibility. And it found a way to disrupt the power, so it can think as well.
The literature on ghosts is wild and all over the place. Most of it, I wouldn’t trust anymore than I’d trust the pop culture explanations behind superpowers, or the Angelfire websites claiming all sorts of wild theories. The ones who would know the best are the magic types and they don’t like me. I’m not sure if they’re so tight-lipped with everyone else, but they have no desire to teach me any more than the little I know already. I’d rather not let them know it’d be futile anyway. Homo machina and magic don’t mix well.
What does work well? Redundancy. Emergency backup power. The kind of thing you wouldn’t hook plasma cannons to. Big whoop, right? Well, as the Ghost of 99 Luftbaloons reached for me, I ordered the shield generator on. Primary power didn’t kick in. The emergency did. The shield went up, intersecting with the apparition’s body. He opened his mouth as if to scream, but crackling came out instead. Then, like smoke, he blew away.
The ghost having been beat twice by a bit of brainpower, I was confident we could handle it a third time as I walked into the shower the next morning. That changed when the water stopped. I heard it and felt it, but when I opened my eyes I saw the icicles hanging from the shower head. I looked down at myself but found no similar icicles hanging from my nipples or any other body parts. Then I noticed the door frosted over and the complete signal deprivation happening again.
I grabbed a razor and loofah for weapons, having once traveled deep into the heartland of Peru to learn the deadliest loofah techniques. And how true that story actually is shall remain the secret of myself and whatever poor dickweed comes at my while I’m armed with a loofah.
Thus armed, I kicked open the door and found myself in a forest white with snow. The Ghost of Christmas Past floated nearby, smiling and watching me through sunglasses even though it was night. “Hey, glad you could make it!”
“Coming after me in the shower? That’s low. You’re lucky you don’t have any solid orifices or you’ll have to deal with the loofah.” I waved it at him.
“Can you stop trying to fight me?” he asked. “I’m not here to hurt you.”
“You kidnapped me and dragged me to another place.”
“And time!” he added. “Check it out. Does any of this look familiar to you?”
“It’s the woods!” I said, throwing my hands up. I looked around for any idea where this place was. Still no connections, which is unusual. Still, if he’d thrown me back in time far enough, there could just be nothing to find. Take me back to the 40s and there’s not a whole lot I can connect to. But these woods did look familiar, so maybe it wasn’t that far.
It was something about the spacing. It was all so uniform, like it’d been planted just like that. Like if you planted a bunch of trees to hide a secret base but were really lazy about it. Despite thinking it’s a stereotype, it was one based entirely on this base from my childhood. It reminded me of a night, long ago… “What the shit tits are you playing at?” I asked the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“I brought you back to the earliest firm memory of what would be Christmas. It’s so cold and dark out here without the Christmas spirit.”
We both looked over as a group of kids ran by. The girl blew past everyone, headed for a fence composed of chain link with vertical panels placed every couple of feet. Behind all of these kids ran the dogs. Lean, hungry, with muscles bulging through their skin and short fur. One of the kids fell. It was hard to tell any of them apart from the others with their heads all shaved and stuck wearing the same outfit.
Speakers blared out as the girl in the lead reached the fence and hopped onto it, climbing over. “We told you the penalty for not finishing your run before dark. We are only as kind as the world. To survive, you must become greater.”
The boy that fell glanced back at the approaching canines and raised his fists as if to punch when they got close enough. One of the other kids yanked him, dragging him, until grabbing him to haul him to his feet. That one pushed the thick boy ahead of him and tried to run after. The thick boy watched long enough to see the one who helped him fall under the weight of the dogs that clamped down on his arms and legs. The kid that had been saved kept running for it over the laughter of the only other remaining boy outside the fence.
“What, exactly, is the point of showing me this?” I asked the Ghost.
“Wow,” he said, pulling his sunglasses down. “This was supposed to be an inspiring journey to help you see how much of an asshole you’ve been so you could change your ways. Or kill yourself, I guess. You just ran ahead and left them all like that?” he pointed at the girl on the inside of the fence, panting. One of the other boys stopped next to her and pointed to laugh at the last kid, the one who had been rescued. He was on the fence, pulling his feet out of the reach of dogs that could jump way too far to be canines.
I pointed to that kid. “That was me.”
The ghost looked between me and my past self. “You filled out amazingly.”
“Well, nice try showing me horrible things from my past, but you’ll note I didn’t do anything wrong here. If it’s any consolation, I killed the laughing guy.”
“Fine, we’ll go back to an earlier, happier Christmas,” he said.
I snorted. “They don’t have Christmas here, just other winter holidays of warmth and togetherness. Also, shouldn’t I be cold out here in the nude?”
The ghost looked me over again, taking a long time to enjoy the view, then snapped his fingers. We appeared in an apartment’s main living area where a heater glowed with holographic flames over it. “Dude, you left my shower behind?” I said, waving my loofah threateningly.
Everything began to warp and distort. The parents and kid that walked in didn’t seem right. Faces were missing. They were moving without walking. The walls distorted, going from clean to bloody and full of holes.
“What’s wrong with this?” I asked, closing my eyes.
“It’s based on your memories. This is the best you remember it, and the furthest I can take you back.”
I kept my eyes closed and held all my hands over both my ears. “Get me out of here, now!”
“I’m supposed to teach you a lesson,” he said, weakly as faceless men with guns burst into the apartment. I could still see it in my mind’s eye. No faces, no specifics to the uniforms, just men and guns.
“I know people who trade in magic stuff. They’ll be more than happy to bottle your ass and use you as a glorified doorbell for the rest of your unlife if you don’t get me out of here.”
He snapped his fingers again. I felt the welcome rush of network and radio chatter, and opened my eyes to find myself in the shower again. I immediately called up Pagan, my chief of Intelligence. “Get me every ghost hunter, ghost buster, and Ghostface Killah you can find. Offer Faustus/Hephaestus money. Kidnap their loves ones if money doesn’t work. I want these ghosts found and their source eliminated. If they have any family still alive, I want them dead.”
“This is about the situation with the Institute?” he asked.
I hung up on him and went to go shove myself into my armor. There was a complimentary bottle of seashine sitting in my room just waiting to be downed.
Aside from our own Thanksgiving holiday to an unnamed island in the Mediterranean that hosts supervillains, it’s been relatively boring as of late. Sure, there’ve been problems to deal with. Big influx of refugees from Central America. I think I unnerved the nearby Directors when I found out about it. They didn’t find it as funny as I did, probably because they were Honduran instead of Peruvian.
I happened to have a lot of spare food laying around from my attempt to get people to stop their Christmas obsession by threatening to take away Thanksgiving, so it worked out. Turkeys for tots. I was going to reinstate the old self-proclaimed Immigration Director, but he’s dead. Funny story, this blacksmith was moving his anvil up to the second story of his building for some reason. The Director visiting a nephew at the nephew’s two-story blacksmith supply emporium on delivery day, when they were lifting anvils up to the second floor storage. Heck of a place for a collision with a drunk segway motorist. Ran right over his head. Not really a way to save someone at that point.
So I decided to chuck it in the fuck it bucket and came up with a new idea. I just let them in. They had to register real quick, with a subtle body and DNA scan. My guys used the data to create a profile for them on the island’s AR overlay. Think of it as a digital ghost the exact size and shape of a person that is laid on top of them everywhere they go with data embedded that keeps track of money and welfare. Even if they don’t get the equipment to interact with it, it’s compatible with the banks and most vendors on Ricca. A person with the overlay can walk right up to a register, get scanned, and the computers do the rest. If they have phones or glasses that interact with it, they can transfer it person to person.
The system appears to be secure so far, using my modified operating system that branched off from the dimension I came from. Nice and easy, with an option to operate off the grid with money.
So I’m working on that sort of thing, hunting bugs and building up the registration team. I already found some new workers for the nuclear power plant, and some nurses. If the nurses can’t hack it here, we have a training program in Belgium to help their hospital workers integrate nanite healing into their practices.
There’s really no crisis for what feels like the first time in five years or so. I’m not even all that worried about holiday problems this year. I think I’ve done about all I can for Christmas, and I simply don’t know enough about Hanukkah to help out. Also, Ricca doesn’t really celebrate Christmas. I heard Master Academy had something hectic going on in their neck of the woods, but it doesn’t appear to involve either myself or any anthropomorphic personifications of seasonal feelings so I’m sitting that out.
Yep, when I laid my head down to finally sleep, my brain swimming in medication Mix N’Max claims is keeping me level, I had nothing to do but hold my hot wife and sleep. I was awakened by the sound of metal chains making a racket. I reached over and grabbed for a weapon from the nightstand.
The Good Doctor, appearing see through, stepped through the wall. To begin with, he was clearly still dead. Once again, it’s kinda tough to bring someone back from how I killed him, and he didn’t look any more alive now that he was translucent. A spike had been driven into his heart that held the thick metal chain that wrapped around his body to him. He was clearly dead as a door nail, not that I know what’s so dead about door nails in particular. But it was Good Doctor. The same face and costume, with the addition of a thick chain with embedded designs of scalpels, bonesaws, and human organs.
I nodded to him, “Sup?”
“A lot. Er, is this a bad time?”
“I was trying to sleep,” I answered.
“That, and you, and her,” he said, sweeping his hand across the large dildo I held in my hand, my nude appearance, and my naked wife who had inexplicably remained sleeping. Probably because she snores like a bear.
I pulled on a teddy to cover up. “Fine, fine. I’m surprised you’re so prudish. Aren’t you British?”
“Actually, I’m dead,” he said. “However, I have important news for you that is best delivered if you aren’t otherwise distracted.”
I stood up and slid on some panties, then ran over and tried hugging him. My arms went right through him. “Aww,” I said.
He responded with a pained smile. “Being dead has tempered the hate I had for you in life, as a partner in your misdeeds. It is… nice you still see me as a friend.”
“Of course I do! One of the few I had for a long time. A little thing like fighting to the death isn’t going to change that,” I said. “Sorry about killing you by the way. Really the only thing to be done.”
He nodded. “Yes, it was you or me. Mind, I’d have preferred it being me.”
I shrugged. “I mean, obviously I feel the same way. Hard to fault you. So how you been?”
“I’ve been dead,” he said.
“Cool, I guess. So, you’re like a ghost now? The guys at the cemetery didn’t mention that.”
He shook his head. “This is not an ongoing thing. I was brought back and compelled to impart on you a message.”
“Wow… dick move. Someone brought you back from the dead because they couldn’t bother writing an email or texting?” I asked.
“I know, right?” Doc agreed.
I leaned in to stage whisper conspiratorially. “If you know the guy’s name, I wouldn’t mind doing you a little favor. Ya know, sending him a message involving being dead the old fashioned way. Or her, I should say. I still forget that stuff, despite, ya know…” I pointed at my awesome boobage.
“Yes, well, I don’t know what force has put me back on Earth or forced me to weigh me down with the chains of my sins while alive. This doesn’t make any sense, does it?” he asked, pointing to the chains.
I reached for one and passed right through. “Yeah, gravity isn’t ordinarily something I associate with ghosts, but there are loads of unanswered questions there regarding centrifugal force and gravity that magic has to answer for.”
“Right. Including the fact I’m back and not even allowed to enjoy a nice cup of tea. Look at me, I appear to have gotten into the weeds on this. I should continue on, then we can hang out. Where was I…” He cocked his head to think. When he spoke again, it was with a cadence of recitation instead of the normal way in which he conversed. “Oh yes. I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, meter by meter. I girded it of my own free will… bugger that, you know I was forced into this… and of my own free will I wear it, which is a load of bollocks as well. Would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? I don’t even want to think about it.”
“The ending was a little weak,” I judged. “But if someone’s going to stick a chain on me after death in proportion to the evil they think I’ve done, chances are good it’d be a lot worse than yours. Now to figure out who this necromancer is and do them in first…” I set up a database search for people in the superhuman community that practice magic. The Faustus/Hephaestus organization is top of the list and probably have a more complete listing than I do. I imagine plenty of people using magic just want to go about their everyday lives instead of throwing on capes and fighting people in tights.
“I don’t know about the chain. It is just the message I was given to convey. Now I’m worried what will happen if you die and someone raises you from the dead as some sort of ghostly reaper,” Good Doctor said. He sighed and looked around. Spotting a chair next to a small desk, he sat down in it.
I pointed at the chair. “Exactly what I mean about magic having a lot to answer for. Can you believe that shit?”
“Relax, I’m tired for some reason,” he looked down at where he seemed to be sweating. “I seem to have sprung a leak.”
I waved it off. “Probably just ectoplasm. Don’t worry, the folks who clean in here are used to strange fluids in strange places. So was that it? That all you needed to say?”
“I feel as though my time is nearly gone,” he said, taking up the same cadence as when he was reciting his message, “But I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Psychopomp.”
“You’re a good guy, dude,” I told him.
“You will be haunted by three spirits,” he said.
I pointed the dildo at him. “Dammit, Doc, I will fuck a ghost up. Don’t you play with me. I’ll bust the shit out of you.”
He held his hands up. “This is the message again! There will be three more ghosts. They shall come at midnight on different days.”
I thought about it a minute. “Ghost of a friend I used to partner with… visited by three ghosts… are any of them related to Christmas in the past, present, or future?”
He shrugged. “I think so? I don’t have a lot of information about my current condition and what is compelling me to do and say these things.”
I brought the hand with the dildo up to rub my forehead, the veiny purple toy wobbling as I did so. “Just when I thought I was safe from Christmas, someone’s gone and pulled A Christmas Carol on me.”
“You think it was a person?” Doc asked. “If there is someone behind this, I haven’t met them or spoken with them.”
“Makes more sense to me than the universe suddenly changing how it works out of nowhere to spit out a bunch of ghosts related to a man-made holiday in the hopes of reforming me when I’m not even at my worst,” I explained.
“I wish you luck,” Doctor said, standing up. “I must go, and I do not know if I shall ever see you again.” He adjusted the chain. “I will be glad to be rid of this.” He looked up at me. “Good luck staying out of this chain yourself. For what it’s worth, I hope you become a better person, but for your own sake. These violent delights have violent ends, you know.”
“We’ll see how it turns out.” I smiled at him as he began to fade away. “Rest in peace, Doc.”
When I was pretty sure he was gone, I sat back down on my bed to contemplate the necromancer and ghosts trying to mess with me. Then I laid back down and finally set the dildo I’d grabbed from the nightstand back where it had been, my fingers tracing the model name on the side that read, “Big Humbug”.
I’ve been called in on a dispute between partners. A pair of villains worked together and each planned to double cross each other. It happens. The job, a bank heist, went poorly as a result and they both almost got caught. Then they wrecked a safehouse hostel they both turned out to be staying in. Their next meeting caused extensive damage to a private restaurant for villains. They sunk a smuggler’s ship, burned down a villain bar, and were both spotted at a private resort where supervillains and other criminals vacation.
Their feud’s led to the loss of facilities for the whole community due to damage and law enforcement attention, and the guys who have more or less appointed themselves the top judges of VillainNet have decided this needs to end. I don’t know who worded the opinion, but the relevant part to my interests included the line, “Whereas we do not intend to increase similar complaints by taking a side, it has been decided that both offending parties be made examples of by sentence of death, to be carried out by Psychopomp Gecko at the time of his or her choosing, but with expediency prioritized.”
In other words, they figure if they declare one person right and the other wrong for what appears to be a grudge both of the villains are pursuing, people will start coming to them to deal with similar complaints or if they’re just thinking of betraying the other guy. Suddenly, the process goes from a way to keep people from ruining things for everyone else, to people taking bribes to pass death sentences on rivals.
That, or someone doing the judging hates them both and wants to kill their rivals.
The two were still suspected to be on the resort island after making a mess of the place. I checked with the staff and found they were still open for business. A private island in the Mediterranean. “Yes, ma’am. We are still open. We have isolated the damaged sections for repair and removed the smell from the rest of the complex.”
I hope so. I’ve never worked with this Odior guy, but his gimmick is using smells. The reports for the original bank heist say that a horribly noxious smell scared everyone out just before something melted the security camera lenses into uselessness. The island resort experienced some seriously nasty stank until Odior’s rival, Voyager TI, opened a window and a few walls. As a robot, Voyager is immune to Odior’s stench, but not to the desire to use heavy firepower to blast a few walls out.
I’ll have to put aside my attraction to robots with intelligence for this one. If he’s as dumb as I think he is, that should prove easy.
So I get to kill people while staying at a resort that caters to people of the criminal persuasion. Maybe I should fuck the robot. These two got me a sweet little vacation. I brought the family along on the official Imperial private jet, known as Deadly Force One. Anyone who tries to shoot us down will find out why I chose that particular name.
We landed at sunset. I carried out my dear little Qiang, daughter of my loins. Well, adopted daughter. Whose DNA I altered so that I’m genetically one of her parents. Everyone handles parenthood differently. Some wouldn’t bring their kid along to a hit, for instance. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m not going to have her do any of the killing.
I brought Citra along as well. I thought she’d like spending time together, just the two of us. I was going to bring servants along for Qiang, but Max, Sam, and Holly volunteered to help look after her when I told them where we were going. I suspect ulterior motives from them.While Holly looked after Qiang and took her to learn what an arcade was, Citra and I stepped out onto a casino floor in a dress so skimpy, even Citra couldn’t keep her eyes off me.
In the wee hours of the morning, I had dealer point out a pit boss to me. He asked if I wanted him called over, but I waved him off and slinked over. Little dress, hair twirling in my fingers. If I’d had bubblegum, it could have gone even better. “Hey there,” I said, setting my hands on my hips once I got close enough. “I heard y’all had a dust-up here recently. A tussle. Maybe even a brouhaha?”
“A pair of villains fought and caused some damage. We have the situation under control.”
“I heard they were still somewhere on the island,” I said. “I’m sure you’re keeping track of them. Making sure none of your events go too close?”
He looked at me. “Ma’am, I don’t know what you’re up to but…” his head cocked slightly as that earpiece he had on relayed information to him. He adjusted his jacket. “I stand corrected, Psycho Gecko. I heard we were reaching out to the criminal underworld, but I didn’t realize we would attract contractors of your caliber.”
“Caliber’s nice, but my eyes are up here.” I pointed with all four arms at my peepers. “I’m here to handle some pest control for y’all, if the price is right. Who’s a gal got to spay and neuter around here to figure out how we’ll Bob Barker this up?”
“From the context it is clear what you mean,” He said. “I would be happy to relay your desire to negotiate to the owners.”
I gave them my number, loaded up on sugar and caffeine via a fresh, new Psycho Cola. Made from sugars not found anywhere but Ricca, Psycho Cola is the full-flavored soft drink that helps people lose weight while revitalizing their sex lives. It can also do your taxes for you, and is biodegradable. Plus, the company’s majority shareholder is immune to prosecution for violating false advertising laws.
I also put my armor on and set out onto the island. The pit boss whispered sweet nothings in my ear about free play, VIP suites whenever I want, parasailing, and yacht parties. “Throw in a balloon ride and a trip to the horse stables for myself and my daughter. Come on here, I don’t work pro bono. I’m a professional bono.”
They agreed to the terms I wanted. It was real generous considering I was supposed to be doing it for free. Glad I didn’t mention that to them beforehand.
It’s not a large island. I hopped out from the resort and over the village surrounding it into the rocky countryside. According to the pit boss, there was a shepherd out this way. After that were the woods, if they can be called that. They were skinny things. And they were mostly dead. By mostly dead, I don’t mean partly alive as if a small miracle could bring them back after a couple of days. Most of them were rotting where they stood, if they even stood any further.
A fierce wind had broken over this forest. That would be Odior. I checked the thermals and found nothing alive there. There was a large hill after that, and on the opposite hill rested a skeleton of columns, old foundations, and broken walls. Something putting out a shitload of body heat darted between the ruins. I landed invisible to the human eye just outside the ruins.
“Where’s the little skunk?” called a voice tinged with reverb. “Where do you hide, Pepe le pew pew?” Shots boomed out that sent a column flying right at me.
I caught it easily, fingers digging into… styrofoam? Huh. Fake ruins. I tossed it to the side and ran toward the noises and the guy creating small explosions. Voyager TI looked like a good-sized man with brown hair and a clean-shaven face. He wore tights that covered most of his body except his neck and head, and his forearms. He crushed styrofoam under black boots as he stepped stiffly around, firing the occasional shot off in a pattern at equal intervals. From his arm. He had his right arm up. The skin was missing off that forearm. It didn’t look like any gun from Earth. More like a collection of metal poles of varying lengths all aimed at the same direction.
He turned in place, pointing that gun all around but never firing at the same spot twice. “I know you are here. I have searched the island and the only place left for you to sleep is on sharp rocks just below the water of the cliffs. There is an 87% chance you would resort to using the water against me, but you lack the gills to sleep in it.”
I snuck closer, planning to detach his metal skull and beat his body into dysfunction. I stopped as I was reaching for his jaw at the sight of smoke rising from below us. He noticed it to, then noticed where the smoke bounced off me. He raised the gun toward me when the ground rumbled, then fell away.
I caught a piece of the wall. It came loose, but it gave me enough time to jam my other fists into the wall. I slid down a bit, but ultimately caught. I like to think the extra arms make me better at sticking to walls, but a recent bit of fun involving Citra and baby oil leads me to believe this is not a hard rule.
The same couldn’t be said for Voyager. He went down like a college freshman who had just been told they were so smart, had everything together, and that their opinion mattered. I had to zoom in to see how badly gravity had robothandled him. He’d splashed and smashed onto rocks and water waiting at the bottom of the hole. His arm sparked and shook as it touched the water. A man moved into my sight down there, clapping. He looked like he had on a yellow and orange outfit with one of those beer hats, except the bottles weren’t beer.
The new person, Odior, blew a yellow cloud onto Voyager that caused his skin to bubble and the exposed metal to rust. “I heard you, Voyager. You were just a little fart-ther than I wanted to go to surrender,” Odior said. I want to hate him for the pun, but it’s not much worse than stuff Ben Franklin has written. “You smelt it, and I dealt it!” He threw his head back and laughter bellowed up the hole toward me. Then he smooshed into the rocks as a few hundred pounds of rocket-powered armor popped his skull out through his sphincter.
I went ahead and decloaked as I looked down on Voyager. “You spent days hunting that guy? Truth be told, I don’t see what the big stink is.”
“Who are you?” asked Voyager. The reverb in his voice was worse.
“I’ve been sent to get rid of a couple of pests ruining things for everybody by fighting all the damn time,” I told him.
“We are not fighting now,” Voyager said. His eyes flicked to the pile of flesh and broken bones I stood in and I noticed his neck was bent at an unnatural angle. Given he’s a robot, that’s to be expected, even more so now that metal and circuitry poked out of the neck skin.
“I wasn’t sent to pick sides,” I told him.
Voyager’s left arm, having lain against the rocks, shot toward me. Where the skin met his tight suit, the forearm pulled away and extended on metal poles. The fingers went stiff and the skin opened up to reveal sharp spikes.
I caught the hand with my upper two and held it in place. My lower arms extended their Nasty Surprise chainsaws. They carved through it in a shower of sparks. I flipped the arm over. Voyager sat up and ended up deepthroating his own limb. I disemboweled him, and disem-legged him while I was at it. Instead of stuffing a turkey, I stuffed a pair of chicken grenades inside him.
He gave me the middle finger just before he exploded. The shaking didn’t stop though. The hole I’d entered into filled in, which fucked over my plan of escape. Without a lot of time to think, I ran in the same direction the water flowed. Worst comes to worst, I figured I could do a little bit of underwater walking in my armor.
The water never got higher than the knees of the my armor, but I powered through it anyway. The alternative was live burial. While I’ve been buried alive before, I didn’t enjoy it, and I look forward to it even less when it’s an entire island instead of six feet of dirt.
When I saw sunlight from a rising sun, I knew I was almost there. I jumped for it, passing through a gradually widening entrance to a stalactite-laden overhang under what turned out to be the cliffs on the opposite side of the island. The rocks and dirt didn’t follow me out, the cowards. “Not so tough,” I took a break to puff some air back into my lungs, “without gravity… on your side… are you?” I gave the cliffs the finger.
Groaning, I stood up and picked my way through the rocky, wet shore to a spot with good footing. I called the pit boss back when I reached more solid land. “The dirty deed’s done. Don’t even need to bury them. Now let’s talk masseuses. There’ll be three of us. I’m going to need someone more on the ‘Greco-Roman wrestler’ side of things to help me with my kinks. No, I have a fetish for strong men digging their elbows into my back to release muscle tension.”
Has there ever been a more block-headed species than humans?
Wait, yeah. Panda bears.
Ok, so humans are the second most idiotic species I’ve run across so far. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. And I’m the last person most folks want behind them, myself included. I’m shifty and I know how to kill people up the ass with three hands tied behind my back. It’s a delicate art, involving lost secrets from millennia past, much like my mac and cheese recipe.
The Psycho Flyer reached us before the military or any domestic law enforcement could. They have better things to do than worry about murder most foul. And murder most of ’em I did. Super Star did what he was told and blew the fuck out of this mountain. The Super Turkey eggs have been destroyed as best as we can tell. The uncountable avian dead lay strewn over the mountain. Once Super Star finished with that, I sent him off. Told him if he wants to visit a Riccan consulate, I’d provide him with a new cell phone.
He flew out of there so fast, he could have been named Shooting Star. Didn’t even stop to wonder if the nanites were still in his system. The things wear out, pass out of the system, and so on. I could still kill him if I wanted to, but fine motor control was a little out of the question. But it’s worked out for him, too. According to the nanites, they got rid of some fungus he’d been carrying around and closed up a small hole in his heart. Still, I figured I’d stand by my deal. I like doing that sort of thing if I can technically live up to the letter of a deal but screw over the spirit. When I downloaded the latest batch of documentation for all my acquisitions, I gave them a note to drop the legal complaint against Super Star.
I don’t own every provider of these frozen glorified chickens, but I own enough to make an impact. More importantly, I bought enough of the actual product to keep it off the shelves. There’s a nationwide shortage. And to make sure everybody knew it, I slipped Facebook some money. Pay them enough and they’ll manipulate people’s feeds to make them see whatever you want. So even though I created this shortage, I also amplified it. This being Facebook, though, the most prominent stories being passed around are suggesting it’s a plot by George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and a cabal of billionaire Jews.
I put all this effort into this. I killed a Super Turkey. And they can’t even give me credit for it. We’re back to my entirely accurate assessment of humanity, though.
Unable to sate their turkey lust, I anticipated riots in the streets. Protests. White guys shooting up stores, getting stopped by black security guards, and then the cops showing up to shoot the security guards dead. I got the last one, actually, but I was overall disappointed because that kind of shit just happens these days anyway.
I stopped off at Empyreal City, my old stomping grounds. I’ve stomped it enough. The city’s rebuilding is going more slowly than I expected, but they’re incorporating pieces of damaged alien spaceships. The federal government tried to tell the city it couldn’t use unknown alien technology as buildings. Empyreal City fired back that if the government wasn’t going to release money for them to rebuild, they’d use whatever the fuck they wanted. The mayor’s office actually left “fuck” in the letter to Congress. More than one. CSPAN had to issue a content rating.
Even the gangs weren’t that agitated, and they were trying to give away food during this time of year. Well, the Reds were. The gang of militant urban communists was giving out an assortment of meats to the poor to make up for the lack of the Thanksgiving staple. They had roasts, chickens, and sausages.
The Greens must have developed some self control. Their territory had more trees and vines growing along, but it looked like people were living in peace. I caught the tail end of a caravan arriving. Vaping hipsters rushed into gang safehouses with noodles and tofu. I caught a glimpse of hairy, horned humanoids moving around inside. Bleating drifted out just before the door closed.
I didn’t see any sign of the Wolves around. There were some people wearing masks with the letter Q on them, but they worked in smaller groups and didn’t seem all that unified. New contenders, or maybe just a rebranding. Those I followed went back to middle class lives with mid-sized sedans in the driveway or golf clubs next to the door. Happy wives showed them the ribeye steaks or ham they’d bought for the occasion.
And all of them with some form of holiday decoration up already. Christmas with the Qs, Kwanzaa with the Reds. I didn’t realize so many of the Greens were Jewish though.
Worst of all was the Eastern campus of Master Academy. Winter wonderland. Ginormous tree, decorated. Stocks hung from chimneys with care, even if they had to put up fake chimneys. The Menorah wasn’t lit, but it was ready. The kitchen staff were hard at work prepping prime rib and packing in enough veggies to choke a herd of cows. Maybe even the same rabbit food used to kill what would become the prime rib.
I stared in through the windows from multiple perspectives, having brought drones to reconnoiter the place. It’s ok, I was invisible, standing in my big, invisible armor in a couple feet of snow. “The hell… all these decorations up early. Nobody complaining about a lack of proper thanksgiving food. Everyone’s just going on with their lives like nothing’s wrong.”
“Shall we open fire, Empress?” asked the pilot of the second Psycho Flyer. They were staying well away from the place, but they still had the range to open up on the place.
“No, I’m just talking to myself,” I said. “And addressing the drone. It seems rude not to, ya know?”
“Is it an AI?” he asked.
“Nah, but it’s not bad to get ready for the day they let you know they’re people too.”
“I believe they would try to kill us,” the pilot said.
“All the more reason to be nice to them before they can start holding grudges. If they’re anything like other folks, they’ll find some form of recreational substance abuse and spend all day watching crappy TV shows about the Real House Alarms of Long Island or something. That or pleasuring people’s wives. AI dildoes are going to be big, mark my words. And long. And veiny.”
After a moment of awkward silence, I decided I no longer wanted to discuss veiny dildoes while staring into a school full of children and teenagers. Irked as I was, nettled some might even have said, I decided to give it one last go. I headed to Times Square, heart of the city, full of media and people and cars. There, I would politely warn them one last time that their holiday was doomed.
The Psycho Flyer dropped me off in the middle of the Square. A car swerved to miss me, but the person behind me decided to honk and creep up on me. He got right up on me and the guy inside smashed his hand down on the horn, holding it there. I gave it five seconds, then grabbed the front of his car and lifted it up. I smacked it into the road, then lifted it overhead and smooshed the top in on the road on the other side of me a couple of times. Then I set it back down. The guy inside shakily crawled out of the hole that used to have the driver’s side window in it. He whimpered when I grabbed him by his collar and lifted him aloft, yellow fluid dripping from his pants.
“Fools!” I said, raising a fist into the air. By now, I had everyone’s attention. “I am the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca, North Korea, and Mu. I have come to tell you that I have ruined your holiday. This Thursday, know that no turkey will pass between your lips. Weep for your lost holiday and know that I can take even your beloved feasts from you as easily as this man takes a piss break.”
I stopped addressing the crowd and looked at him. So did everyone else. The stream stopped all of a sudden. “I’m a nervous pee-er,” he said sheepishly, face going bright red.
“You should be nervous!” My voice boomed out again. “For now, one of your holidays has been ruined!”
“You didn’t ruin Thanksgiving for me,” he said. “I was going to kill myself anyway.”
“Yeah! I’d rather kill myself than sit down and eat dinner with my racist uncle too!” shouted a Hispanic woman from the crowd.
“The true meaning of Thanksgiving isn’t about turkey,” said some little old lady in a red and green sweater and thick bifocals. “It’s about coming together as family and pretending your fruit cake grandson’s roommate isn’t plowing him wheelbarrow style every night in the guest room.”
Next to her, a young man gasped. “Gam gam!”
On the other side of him, another guy threw his arm around the grandson and shouted, “Yeah, Thanksgiving’s about screwing your boyfriend in his family’s house and knowing his homophobic grandma can’t do anything about it!”
“This is a nightmare,” said the grandson, covering his face.
More in the crowd started to join in. “Thanksgiving’s about togetherness!” “It’s about remembering why we don’t want to be together the rest of the year!” “It’s a day to go pretend my diet doesn’t matter!” “It’s when my husband and I see my sister he screwed in college and I get to hold it over him for the rest of the year!” “It’s about remembering when our ancestors first came to this country and started the long tradition of eating too much and feeling entitled to be here!”
That last one got a large “Yeah!” of agreement, but only from the white people in the crowd. There was one black couple in particular who backed off before their son yelled out, “It’s about food and family with the people you can’t stand, and remembering all the stupid stuff family is to one another for good and bad.”
“Hell yes!” said a homeless beggar by the side of the road. Smiling, a family turned and dropped him a a few dollars in the cup for solidarity.
“You didn’t ruin Thanksgiving for us,” said the man in my arms. “You can’t. It’s horrible. It’s one of the worst days of the year. So long as we’re together with family, there’s nothing you can do to make it worse, because family is the worst there is. But at least we get to have the holidays afterward!”
The whole crowd cheered and broke out into “Jingle Bells”. Disgusted, I tossed the man down into his own puddle of urine.
“Flyer, pick me up,” I ordered my guys. “It’s official. In 2018, America has gone off its meds in a big way.”
“And when I realized just how much it bothered me that they wouldn’t let me learn how to use makeup and dress in those clothes, it devastated me. And when I understood why it hurt, that’s when I knew. Spent the next few days listening to Strange Deja Vu by Dream Theater and choking up at the line, ‘I’m not the one I thought I always knew,’” I finished my story as we rode along, bumping over aggressive turkeys.
One of the soldiers waved his hand. “The timeline of that story made no sense. How recent was this?”
“State secrets,” I said. “I’m not at liberty to divulge that information. Look alive, now people. We’re getting closer to the nest and whatever evil scheme our dastardly foe is planning.”
“I thought we were murdering it to protect our evil scheme,” said the one soldier. Times like this test my free speech policy and my resistance to friendly fire incidents. I wonder if they’ll believe a turkey grabbed a grenade and figured out how to use it.
It’s been a small slog, as far as slogs go. It’s not so much the difficulty as the repetition. Once they turn, the feathery little buggers don’t seem to be capable of much more than pecking and biting. It’s really weird seeing teeth in a beak. Turkey beaks don’t penetrate body armor. Neither do their fangs. It turned into a literal turkey shoot. It’s boring as hell. I know hunters like to frame themselves as sportsmen and talk about “sporting chance” but I don’t see it. Just look how ineffective the half-turkeys were and they were using guns and driving vehicles. That’s why I only hunt the most dangerous game: a vintage, beta copy of Superman The Videogame for the Nintendo 64. Rumor says that seven days after you try to play it, you die.
The men killed the birds while I discovered that someone had repaired the internet around. The news is crazy, like that Nazi cell found with 30-something pipe bombs and a rocket launcher. Makes me jealous about the armory we stole off the guys around here. But that’s just more Nazis. We had something the news does Nazi every day: fucking turkeys. Ok, so that’s just TMZ’s rumor about what I’m doing, but it’s gotten out on the news that Psycho Gecko, that devious supervillain, is buying up the frozen birds and companies that sell them. We’ve created a national shortage of them. On top of that, the news is reporting that unslaughtered turkeys are disappearing as well.
That would be the ones we’re killing on our way up to where Super Star’s phone signal had rested before it cut off. They don’t even all pay attention to us until we’re running them over. The fact that we’re slaughtering living beings on the path to our ultimate plan is incidental, but helpful. It makes me feel like the Amazon of supervillains, except I just kill people instead of forcing cities to scrap affordable housing plans to put an office building there instead.
Along with the turkeys, we rolled into what had once been a small mountain town. I don’t know what they did there. I just know we spotted cement foundations and a few stubborn pieces of metal rebar where buildings had been. All the wood, sheet metal, and vinyl siding was piled up, with large holes the turkeys took to the interior. The hole was too small for the trucks.
“Ok, we need some guys to sit here with the big guns and cover our asses,” I told the commander.
Super Star jumped up to volunteer, wearing a layer of thick camo everything that some hunters had left behind. “You’re not staying behind,” I told him. “Get up in the air. Recon. See what this thing’s like.” Super Star sighed and took to the air.
Meanwhile, the commander began picking out guys to stay behind, making sure everyone had gear and ammo. He picked up a semi-auto shotgun with tubes that swap around. “We stand at the ready, Empress.”
Six stayed behind. Six went in with me, sweeping helmet-mounted flashlights around. “Not meaning to cry foul, but didn’t we follow some gobblers in here?” I asked my guys.
One of them cried out, startled, firing. We turned but found him checking the walls and ceiling. I switched my HUD to thermal and looked around. Fat butterballs of body heat moved behind the thin walls and ceiling. “They’re in the walls. Stay alert.”
I’d barely said it when several jumped out at us from all angles except below. Wait, scratch that. There was one that popped up from where a manhole had been replaced with a stop sign.
It was a confusing melee with bullets and pellets flying everywhere, but my guys’ armor was proof against it. Still hurt like hell for any of them to get shot in the wrong place. My weapons were my own hands and feet, though. I grabbed a foursome of the would-be ambushers and swung them around by their necks, pummeling the plumage off ’em.
At least it was slightly more sporting this way, but we made easy enough work of the aviomorphs. When we reached the end of the tunnel, we found ourselves stepping outside again to see piles of debris, having passed through a ring and come out the other side with feathers pasted to us by sticky blood.
“Welcome to Sesame Street!” I announced, switching off the thermal vision. “Now where’s the big bird?”
“Empress,” said one of the soldiers. I turned to see him pointing his microgun at a smaller pile nearby that held a clutch of eggs. “Is it a female?”
“I don’t know, but stomp ’em. Break any of them you see.”
The soldier nodded and started stomping them into mush when Super Star floated down. “Found the big one yet? Is it popping out eggs?” I asked.
“Well… in a matter of speaking. It’s in the middle.”
He led us past piles of leaves and branches to where I could finally catch sight of the Super Turkey. It was man-sized, with vibrant grey plumage, enormous breasts, a bright blue face, a deep red wattle, and an engorged snood. That’s the bit that hangs off the beak. It also had a hell of a penis to hear the racket coming off the turkey hen it was humping away at. “Good news, men. It isn’t a queen. Bad news, men. It’s a man and can knock up every female it’s called here.”
Super Star cringed. “We should take off. I can nuke the sight from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”
I shook my head. “Not with that thing alive. It already spanked you. Now I have to spank it.”
“You do that,” he said to me and stepped back. He slipped, then looked down at his borrowed boots. “Argh! Crap. Oh, hey, my phone!” He bent over, then stood back up. “I’ll get a new one.”
“Don’t fire until I’ve engaged it,” I ordered. I stepped forward, covering myself in a veil of invisibility to approach the monstrous babymaker. I did, in fact, step on and break a twig as I got close, but the Super Turkey was giving a hen some gravy at the time and didn’t notice. I snuck up on it from behind and began to charge the energy sheaths around my hands. The glow penetrated the hologram, but it didn’t notice for fairly good reason. I was tempted to tell it, “Get away from her, you bitch!” for some reason, but instead just punched right for its back.
It chose that moment to raise the glorious tail. It cut off the view of the back and I snapped its tail and scorched its tail feathers. It gobbled furiously and spun around, catching the glow. It puffed its chest as I threw another punch toward its face and blew. I flew back and embedded into a mound of trash. A great gobble echoed across the mountain. The Super Turkey advanced, still pushing me with its breath that, I soon realized, coated my armor with frost. I held up my arms, but the glow began to dissipate as the cold air drew away the gathered energy. When it got close enough and stopped to catch its own wind, the left hook I gave its blue face sent it flying into another pile with what little remained. Like me, it stepped out mostly unharmed.
It glared at me. Crimson glowed from its eyes. I activated my eye lasers as my HUD read a rise in temperature around me. Our opposing beams fired through one another. Super Turkey shook its head, one of its eyes singed to ruin by my armor’s lasers. I ran at it. It charged me. It swung a wing at me. I caught it with my upper left. It tried with its left, and I caught that as well. My suit’s artificial musculature strained against the thing’s super strength. “Gotcha!” I said to it. My lower arms began pounding its breast. It raised a leg and kicked at me. “Hey, stop it!” I called, kicking at its legs.
We were deadlocked, kicking for leverage at one another. From the side, the half dozen soldiers I brought with me directed fire into it from their microguns. The bullets bounced dropped softly from its feathers where its skin stopped all of them.
Super Turkey turned its head to zap them with its good eye. I grabbed its waddle and pulled its head close enough to headbutt. It hissed at me, as giant birds do, revealing a pair of fangs bigger than fingers. It snapped at my head. I pulled my head back and instead shoved a loose hand in there. The fangs failed to find purchase on my armor’s bicep. It chomped away, pressing down. It didn’t let up even as a Nasty Surprise, the forearm-mounted chainsaw blade, popped out inside it and tried to carve the bird.
From its reach, I’m not sure it did anything but make it angry. I reached around for my rubber chicken grenades, then saw a better tool. Super Star floated off to the side, palms raised toward us but not firing.
“You’re too close, I can’t get a shot off!” he yelled at me.
“I don’t need you to get a shot off. I need you to get a shot in!” I said. Still holding his wings at bay, I let go of the thing’s waddle and used my last free hand to push up on Super Turkey’s beak. With that partially levered open, I popped the Nasty Surprise back in and pulled my hand out so that it was pushing the bottom part of the beak down.
Super Star cowboyed up better than I thought he would. He flew in and stuck his palm right underneath the same fangs that had gotten him before. Size isn’t everything, but it was enough of a thing that doing so impressed me. “I hate Thanksgiving,” he muttered. Then the world blew the fuck up for a brief moment.
When I peeled myself out of the next wall I was embedded in, it was the big outer ring and I had Super Star in my arms. He’d been thrown back there with me and knocked himself out. I tossed him onto my shoulder and jumped high into the air to survey the damage.
Super Turkey was just gone, leaving nothing but large bones scattered around and a rain of feathers. I checked all over, figuring he’d at least be pissed off enough not to hide if he wasn’t dead. When I landed, I rushed over to the squad of soldiers, who had ducked behind some piles that had merged into something like a trench. “Did you see what happened?”
“It blew up like it ate too much rice!” one of the soldiers said.
The commander nodded. “It is dead. Hail Ricca!”
The soldiers saluted and repeated “Hail Ricca!” back.
I dropped off Super Star with them. “Slap this guy awake and let’s prepare to get out of here. As soon as this guy’s conscious, he’s going to help blow this place and every turkey around to smithereens and we’re getting out of here.”
“Then what?” asked the commander.
“Then, we announce to the Americans that I have completely ruined their Thanksgiving, and watch them abandon Christmas to save the lesser holiday,” I informed him, grinning wickedly under my helm.
“Jesus Herbinowitz Christ,” I muttered. “Either this thing’s a lot smarter than we expected, or we’re in a Mediacom market.”
I was referring to how, despite being in the suburbs, we were in such a dead zone that it might as well be the mountains. It wasn’t even an abandoned one. Just a town on our way to the Super Turkey. It had seemingly settled in somewhere, doing a little moving around but generally staying within an area a few hundred yards across. Nice to know if I ever want to destroy internet service for half the country, I just have to nick one cable with a shovel somewhere. I tried a comedy podcast called Big Data that came up with a ridiculous way to shut down the internet and even their version wasn’t as stupid and simple as cutting one wire.
The replacement Psycho Flyer was closing in and would meet us there, but I diverted it. One of my turkey company rivals was about to have one hell of an industrial accident after refusing to sell out to me.
Even our route through this little town helped our goal. Every excuse for civilization we passed through, it didn’t take long to swing by the local supermarket and drop a grenade into the frozen turkey section. It’s not as effective as keeping them from arriving, but every little bit helps. Even here, as we tried to escape, my guys made good use of it for training purposes. As cop cars followed us, some of the guys tossed turkey they’d stolen onto the hoods of the cruisers. Others practiced their aims. If it happened to penetrate the glass of the cop cars, all the better.
On the plus side, the lack of internet and communications service in the area helped us paint the town lead without attracting nationwide attention.
That’s not to say all my plans were so crude. Hell, my radios still worked. I’d managed to talk turkey with other companies, convince them to sell us their stock. And we’d even managed to cut a deal with Wal-Mart. I talked them into withholding their generic birds until the last minute so they could charge exorbitant prices with no one around to challenge them. It’s technically illegal, but that only matters if anyone tries to hold anyone accountable for it. Kinda like how, in the United States, a cop murdering a black man is technically illegal, but they’re so rarely punished for it that it’s effectively legal. Or if someone commits perjury in front of Congress. You can prove they’re lying all you want, but it doesn’t matter if nothing gets done about it. It’s called decriminalization.
Right now, drop someone in a suit enough money, and I can decide what’s decriminalized for me and mine. It’s illegal for them to take a bribe like that, but pretty much only if I hand it to them in a cartoon bag with the word “Bribe” written on it.
Ugh, riding around in some gun nut’s mudding truck hasn’t been good for my attitude. Or maybe it’s because the shoddy cell service is screwing with the signal from Super Star’s phone. The trip’s treating me better than it is him, though. He’s been strapped to the hood of one and kept warm by so many thick coats wrapped around him, he could be mistaken for a small bear. They’ll prevent him from losing anything too important, and I enjoy the finishing touch someone added. One soldier found a cap with a pair of moose antlers on it and stuck it onto the guy’s head. It feels like the cherry on top of our little hunting party.
We knew we were getting close when we started running into turkeys on the road. Just plowing through them. Gobble, smack! Feathers and blood everywhere. The really bizarre thing happened when another truck pulled up beside us, flying the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It weaved around crazily, which didn’t seem out of character for them until we were overtaking it and found people with long beards, flannel shirts, and feathers growing out of their faces in the driver’s and passenger seats. They’d been bitten, but were not yet fully turkeyfied.
The Turk-Man at the steering wheel fumbled to prop up a pump action shotgun. The passenger over there leveled a Glock as best as he could without all the fingers on one hand. I raised a middle finger toward them, then swept the hand down. At once, four Riccan soldiers opened up with microguns that carved through the cabin with a stream of 5.56 mm bullets. The truck swerved toward us, then off the right side of the road where it hit a tree.
One of our gunners opened up on the other side of us. While we’d been distracted with that poultry threat, more had come around us on ATVs that jumped a crest. The Turk-Men yipped and gobbled. Except for one waving a katana around, they were taking potshots at us with handguns. One got right beside my truck, the middle one, and shot into the rear tire a bunch of times. We jerked to the side, and I grabbed a couple soldiers to keep them from going off the back end. They hung off the left side when one of them poked his microgun’s ring of barrel’s right in the tire-flattener’s face. Gobble, roar. Feathers and blood everywhere.
I pulled them both back in and set them down in the bed of the truck just as the one with the sword tried to swing at them. I doubted it would have done anything; I just really wanted more hands free to kill that one. I reached down and grabbed his neck, slapping the sword away with free hands. I tenderized him with a few choice punches, then really dove in. I shoved my hands in and came out with some sweet meats I used to pelt the other ATVs with. “Remember, always remove the giblets,” I said, laughing. I changed my grip to hold him by a leg and dangled the other out for one of my soldiers. “Grab a leg!”
He did so. I cackled into the rushing air as I yelled, “Ok, make a wish!” We both pulled, splitting more than just the wishbone as we tore the man in half. One half went over the right of the truck. The other half, I tossed into one of the ATV riders.
“Barricade ahead!” called someone from the front truck. Ahead of us, just past a bend, someone had erected a blockade out of cars, sheet metal, and plywood. If I had to guess, it was the half-human, half-turkeys standing there taking aim at us.
“I am having difficulty controlling our vehicle,” my driver mentioned. Tossing the two in the bed onto the rear truck bed for their comrades to catch, got an idea.
“Lead truck, veer out of my truck’s way and slow down.” I hopped onto the cab of the truck, tore out the windshield, and tossed driver and passenger off into slowing former lead truck’s bed.
This next part was going to require a lot of math, a lot of luck, or rockets in my armor and a whole lot of not giving a fuck. Guess which option I was banking on?
I rode my armor’s arm rockets into the air thirty feet, then cut them. I made sure the pseudomuscles in my leg armor were prepared to put a lot of force into a jump as I started coming down. My feet hit and I jumped, forcing the front end down suddenly enough to bring the back end upward. It flipped, but not on me. I was in the air again, having jumped. I had to hit the rockets to bring myself back down enough to grab the tail of the truck, and then came the delicate part. Holding on tight, I threw the truck up higher with a flip of my own in the process. I rocketed after it and grabbed on enough to give it one last change in velocity, chucking the spinning truck at the barricade ahead of us. I stayed in the air myself this time though.
The people manning the barricade did what comes natural and got their asses out of the way of a spinning, flying tuck that had just been thrown at them. Any of them expecting a big explosion had to settle for the force of the impact throwing shrapnel every which way and starting a fire.
My lead truck took the scenic route over the sharp shoulder. They had to go slow and would have been lit up by gunfire if the barricade’s defenders weren’t too busy pissing and running. The rear truck, that crazy SOB took advantage of the truck’s raised frame and the way the metal and plywood bent inward. He ramped it, crushing one hobbling Turk-Man under the wheels as he landed. Gobble, thud. Blood and feathers everywhere.
I landed on the slower one that had been in the lead before. They were still slowed down from going around, and now from having to clean the windows after our hood ornament had himself an accident. Super Star ruined some perfectly good coats, all because he couldn’t control his bladder while being strapped to the front of a truck in a shoot out.
After that, it was smooth sailing. What ATV riders we hadn’t killed didn’t like their chances anymore, or maybe they wanted to help their fallen brethren.
From there, it was clear sailing into what we soon found to be a no man’s land. Instead, as we approached some small mountains, we found flocks of turkeys threatening to blow out the sky. They were all flying toward a mountain right ahead of us.
We stopped for gas soon afterward at a small rest area along the way. Just a Waffle House and gas station setup, with no people around but signs of a struggle. More damn feathers, too. The rate we’re going, the trucks are going to look tarred and feathered before we get close.
Most of the unit took a break to eat and relax a little. We even let Super Star down for a bathroom break. One of the guys even got him new clothes. With my nanomachines in his system, I was much more comfortable with him having those explosive palms free, so I even let him cook himself up a meal at the Waffle House. Meanwhile, myself and the unit’s comms specialist worked on trying to boost the signal of a radio and my own internal system to triangulate. The closer we get, the more precise we have to be, though what we found didn’t surprise me. The part that did was when I received a forwarded news alert from my envoys where turkeys nationwide had suddenly started a mass migration to the very same area we were now in, the same mountain.
“It’s like we thought men, and Super Star,” I announced to the diner. “That mountain is our target, and it’s going to be an uphill battle. Make sure you’ve all got plenty of ammo and sharp knives, because the Super Turkey’s calling in reinforcements from around the nation. And someone remind me to hunt down whoever’s bright idea it was to make that thing so I can lose a boot up his sphincter. On the plus side, this gives us an excellent opportunity to use the skills of our guest.” I motioned to Super Star.
He looked up, letting eggs drop off his fork. “No. I’m not part of this.”
I nodded. “Oh yes you are. You helped set it loose. You’re going to go in there and help me smoke that turkey and all his little friends, too. In exchange, I won’t press charges for all the crimes you’ve committed.”
“You’re a-! Shit!” he said, realizing the situation in which he found himself. He raised a palm toward me, but nothing happened except he went paralyzed.
“Now let’s not blow this out of proportion,” I said to the hero. I motioned downward and he lowered his hand. “I have a stick to go along with the carrot if you don’t want to help, so just make this easy on everybody and let’s go blow up some birds. You’d think a superhero would want to save the United States from an evil turkey uprising.”
“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth.
Somehow, my personal security detail didn’t manage to track the super turkey on its way out. I could go out and find a bunch of camo-clad rednecks capable of hunting the damn thing down now. A dozen soldiers with some of the most advanced technology on the planet though? Not a one of them knew which way it went. The best we got was a direction from the Psycho Flyer’s radar before it flew too low. It’ll have to be enough, unless I put out a call for hunters. I’d need a six pack of Milwaukee’s Best. It’s that or use deer urine, and the deer urine’s slightly more drinkable.
It took me a little bit of time to get the armor back in working order. Time, materials, tools, and some nanites we’d smuggled in. Customs is nice, but there’s only so much it can do to detect machinery that small. Whatever gunk they’d used to hold the super turkey in its sarcophagus, it didn’t like certain compounds. The metals and nanoweave on the armor held up, but a few minor touches were eaten off, like some finish, rubber, etc. Most of it wasn’t anything necessitating an immediate repair. Lack of finish can be detrimental over time when weather and dirt build up, but this is a short-term situation. That said, I absolutely needed to be able to jump and run reliably. Skipping and moonwalking are optional, but recommended.
While I worked on that, I sent the Psycho Flyer out with my personal guard. They were to check along the route we did manage to spy the super turkey heading along. See if they can find anything. The Flyer was our best bet at covering any ground with speed, and I wanted to minimize the risk to my guys being separated and picked off one by one. It’s what I’d do. It’s what I’ve done.
My accountants and diplomats would have to see to their own transportation. They’ll get reimbursed. My lawer can go to hell, because he lives there, but he’ll be going with them to see to some other stuff. We have lots of turkey shipments to buy up before they reach distributors. And we need a couple more companies. We want a monopoly, but the Foreign Minister came up with a scheme to hire people to claim our monopolistic control and ability to keep anyone from getting food unless they jump through my hoops is actually the best thing for America. He called them Libertarians.
My guys saw some trees knocked over after a certain point and dropped low to check it out. Also helped avoid all those annoying requests from the air force to identify themselves. I’m quickly making them regret that diplomatic immunity. I went out too. I couldn’t cover as much ground as the Flyer, but I figured my ground-based perspective would help.
After a couple hours of that, I was about ready to break out the Milawaukee’s Best and leave it to them. I’d checked on a few false leads, and all I got from it was scaring the crap out of a guy wandering around in a Big Foot costume.
Right when I hoped something exciting would happen, something exciting happened. A tree in front of me blew up. I bounced off one that spun me around, but still activated my suit’s invisibility projection. I fought to keep from dropping a projected duplicate of myself, but I didn’t have the range to put one outside of the blast radius.
Another tree exploded further back where I was headed before the tree got in my way. I ignored it and headed back to the clearing created by the first of the arbor-trary destruction. I looked up to find Super Star flying there. The hero floated there, pointing misshapen palms around. Feathers poked through the fabric of his costume above his butt and along one of his arms. Something was wrong with him.
I maneuvered until I was underneath him and ran the numbers. I jumped and hit him across the head volleyball-style, knocking him down and into the branches below us. When I came down, it was planting my boots in his belly and pushing us both the rest of the way through the tree. He squawked as he hit the ground. I tore off his mask. I didn’t care about his identity, but I had questions about his plumage.
I used his own costume to truss him up with his hands on the ground just below him. I don’t think he’s overly tough compared to baseline humans. I had to call the Butterball lab back. “This is Empress Gecko of Ricca. Have y’all found the scientists responsible for this thing? I need to talk turkey.”
They put me through to the Gob Hobbler. “I’m the only one left from back then.”
“Not even a lab tech?” I asked.
“I was a lab tech! They needed someone to scapegoat for the Super Turkey accident, so they demoted me and put me in charge of being a janitor and a jailer of it. The others left.”
“Seems wasteful and inconsiderate,” I said. Below me, I heard Super Star groan. I reached down to a pouch and pulled out a nanite syringe. I sent them special orders via my magical wifi ability. Anyone in range would have detected a private, encrypted wifi hotspot called “Secret Alien Invasion Force”. The nanites went in to check what was going on with him and to knock him out. The guy’s got a face where his mouth is stretched open unnaturally and a beak is growing out of it. His hair fell out while he lay there with little quills poking out of his skin. His internal organs didn’t look much better.
“It’s pretty important I get someone with more knowledge of that on the phone,” I told him. “Somehow, this guy I have here is turning into a turkey. It’s not genetic or anything, so it’s fixable. I just need to know how.”
“Is there a bite?” Gob asked.
“Let me check. Already stripped him nude. He’s pretty fucked-up looking from the avian parts. Plus, a lot of human parts look pretty dumb, but that’s normal. Silly little humans.” I began going over the guy, looking closely.
“That’s really weirding me out, Empress boss lady. Do I call you Empress or boss?” Hob asked.
“Boss is fine for now. But yeah, you know anything about this or know anyone who does?” I asked.
“They’re all gone. Dead from accidents that weren’t really accidents. You should know what happened. Don’t you have all the old files?”
I checked the documents we’d received. Normally a company would cover that up, but I guess my demon lawyer really is that good. Yep. Series of convenient accidents eliminated the five-person science team who left. That left the Gob Hobbler as the sole survivor. “I see. What I don’t see are is any documentation. They destroy those?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m the only remaining loose end. Whoever you have should have a bite mark. There was a budget cut that forced the team to consolidate experiments. One group was working on a meatier turkey. The other was working on a way to make more turkeys quickly, by bite. They were supposed to have failed.”
“Well, somehow they didn’t. Is it possible, somehow, maybe it was that gas that shot out?” I asked.
“It numbed and pushed back when he tried to move. It shouldn’t have that effect.”
“Was it supposed to try and dissolve my armor too? And this is a friggin’ turkey. What would its bite look like?” I was rather irritable considering I just checked the taint when I said that. I wasn’t expecting anything, but I know enough about humans to figure I can’t rule out anything like super bestiality.
“It had fangs.”
I blinked. Checked the neck. Nope. I had a bad feeling about this and made damn sure the nanites had him out. Then I rolled him over. It took more effort, but I found it on the hand that had bulged out so much under his gloves. He had star marks on his palms, and a pair of fang marks on the wrist. “Look at that. It succeeded after all.”
“Empress!” came a call over my radio frequency with my personal team.
“Gotta go!” I told Gob. I hung up on him and focused on my guys. “I’m on the line. Report?”
“We found a small village with a turkey in it. Upon landing, we’ve been swarmed with them. Turkeys with fangs attempting to bite us. Before we could call you or retreat, a giant turkey flew in and destroyed the Flyer. The pilot is gone. We have fallen back to a defensive position in a nearby gas station. We believe we killed the majority of the animals, but the big one may be present.”
“I’m on it. Anyone get bit by the betoothed feast foul?” I said, then looked down at the naked super. I shrugged, tossed him over my shoulder, and bounded off.
“Negative, Empress. The pilot is the sole casualty. It is, as the Americans say, a turkey shoot.”
I had the position still pinged, even though it took me a few hours to get there, hopping like I was. I kept in contact though. Made sure the men were there, pulled up satellite feeds to try and track it. The domestic United States is some of the most-watched real estate on Earth. Just pick a country with satellites and you’ll bet someone’s got an eye on things. It took a bit of time to flip around and see if any of them were focused on a tiny little town in Virginia.
I also put a call out for Ricca to send over another Flyer, more supplies and men, and tried to order pizzas delivered to the town. Too far out of any distances nearby, those monsters. By the time I got there, the men had voted on a sacrificial lamb to send out and test the waters. He checked in on the wreckage of the Flyer, bagged the pilot’s body, and brought back ammo for the microguns on the soldiers’ armor.
When they called in, the orders were simple. “Get us some fast vehicles. Trucks. The kind that can handle rough terrain.”
What I found when I got there was a trio of technicals with lifts painted cammo with dried mud smeared on them. The soldiers were sighting in the light machine guns. “Geez, guys, where were those in the Flyer?” I asked, landing near the bunch and checking out the hardware.
Another nearby stepped forward, bowed, and answered, “This is what we gathered here, at a house with many obese turkeys. We believe they were hoarded by a terrorist cell. We only lack the target to aim at.”
I dropped Super Star, then bent down. I put my knee on him to make sure his hands palms were up agains this back. Then I woke him up. I was very gentle. “Wake up, dammit!” I said, slapping him on the ear.
“Fuuuuck!” he said, then tested his mouth. “My mouth! I’m not a bird!”
“That’s the word,” I said. “Now, I don’t have much incentive to help you out here. You turned into Harvey Birdman, attorney outlaw, and tried to kill me. So you tell me what you know about the bird, or I’ll dress you.”
He looked down at himself and squirmed. “I’d like getting dressed,” he said.
I leaned my helmet in to his face. “Not the way I mean.”
“Shit. After I left the Butterball place, I saw a big turkey. Too big. I thought you had something to do with it so I followed it to get it on camera. I found where it started to dig in and got it on camera, but it noticed me. It bit me and ate my phone. I didn’t know what was happening to me after that. My body began to change. I grew feathers! My mouth was torn open. I couldn’t think straight. That’s all I know.”
I thought it over. “Do you know your phone number?”
We have a way to track it.
A few days ago, I was lounging around on my throne, seeing to important matters of state when a quandary crossed my mind. “You know, I thought having the Pacific Ocean between me and the United States would cut down on all the Christmas stuff on TV,” I said to no one in particular. “So why the hell are there so many American channels and Christmas movies on our TV?”
My latest Intel person, who introduced herself as my attache, stepped forward in an instant and bowed low, holding it out of respect. “Empress, if I may explain to your most glorious eminence…?”
I shrugged, scratched an its on my side, checked by belly button for lint, then told her, “As you wish.”
She stood up from the bow. “The Ricca Broadcasting Service steals cable from the United States.”
That explains a lot about how little I had to deal with the Ricca Broadcasting Service. It leaves me with plenty of other questions, though. Questions about how we’re an island on the other side of the Pacific tapping into American cable.
I was interrupted before I could get to it by a question from my attache. “Empress, do you bear animosity toward Christmas? We anticipate celebrants. By your will, we can have them imprisoned for offending you.”
I waved it off. “Nah, I don’t actually hate Christmas, so no need to do all that.” I have every reason to hate Christmas though. Had to help save it a few years back. Ever since then, all sorts of holiday spirits try to get my attention this time of year. “Savior of Christmas” and “Evil Empress” don’t go well together as titles. Well, unless I’m Pope again.
But as I pondered the weird obsession some people have with it and the advertisement about Hallmark Channel being halfway through its “120 Days of Christmas” event, I had a funny thought. I looked up to see the attache frantically typing on her augmented reality keyboard in the air above her wrist. “Something wrong?” I asked.
She looked up to me, then glanced back down. “I was told to note when you get ideas.”
I ran my hand over the arms of my throne where I’d inconspicuously installed a giant red button that read, “Trap Door Button For People Who Lie To Me”. Glad I don’t have to use it now. “I won’t say I’m not a little disappointed that my own people are doing that to me. On the other hand, I have to say I’m impressed you were able to tell.”
“The Intelligence Service prides itself on recruiting and training only the best spies on Earth,” she told me.
“What was my tell?” I asked.
When she didn’t immediately speak up, I pressed on. “Come on, was it a weird twitch? Some unusual inhalation of breath? Did I do something with my tongue?”
She pointed down, at my chest.
I looked down at my bare chest. I had trouble deciding what to wear today, so I went with nothing. It’s only a short walk between the palace and the Directory building, in which barely anyone works anymore. Plus, I put a lot of effort into this body. It’d be a downright shame if nobody saw it. I could probably get a doctorate for my work in butt curvature alone.
I didn’t see what she meant, so I looked up and shrugged. “Your nipples,” she said. I glanced back down. Oh yeah, they were hard.
“Hmm. I’ll have to keep that in mind next time I play strip poker or hatch schemes in the nude. Anyway, yes I have an idea. An idea so devious and, more to the point, distracting. I’m going to force those decadent Americans to cut back on their incessant Christmas carols and songs and bells.”
“Are you going to steal Christmas?” the attache asked.
“No, already. I’m not stealing Christmas. Any idea how hard that’d be? And they’d probably just end up coming together and pretend to believe in togetherness while singing a sappy song. No, we’re going to make people value something they take for granted by taking it from their granted.”
“That is a confusing sentence,” she told me.
I waved it off, then hopped up and threw my fists into the air. “I will make them cut back on Christmas by… stealing Thanksgiving!”
“I am at your disposal as always, Empress. May I begin by fetching your clothes?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes and sat back. “Sure. We’ll have to find some excuse to head to the States for it anyway, so I’ve got time.”
“I’ll alert Chief Pagan that you have acknowledge his email about the United States relenting and recognizing you with diplomatic immunity,” she said without looking up.
“Aww, that takes some of the fun out of it,” I said.
“And I’ll get a mop,” she said, looking down between my legs. Turns out I have another tell.
Indeed it did. In the days after the declaration of my plan, Intel brought my Director of Diplomacy in on things. The guy did a phenomenal job with our alliance with Belgium that sees us helping them with medical advances and technology. Yeah, he’s got his own staff, all paid for by bribes. As near as I can tell, it’s very lucrative pretending I might want a lot of horrible stuff and then taking money to talk me out of it. Accountants tell me I made a lot of money almost releasing super lice on Laos.
No one will tell me if I meant over-sized lice, or just really good suckers. I feel it’s an important difference.
Instead of flying in under the cover of darkness, we landed, snuck our stuff in through diplomatic means, and then took off in a diplomatic Psycho Flyer to North Carolina. There, we began the first stages of my master plan. My plan to steal all the turkey in North America and deny the Americans their Thanksgiving.
I’ve already set up a special email address for all the thanks and congratulations I’ll get from grateful family members not wanting to have dinner with people one bumper sticker away from shooting up a synagogue.
So our first step began with the hostile takeover of Butterball. I burst through the door of their offices in my armor and swinging a morning star from my lower hands. “All your ass are belong to me!” I yelled to the people who hit the deck all around.
A group of accountants and members of my foreign service walked past, ignoring me, so they could go about meeting with Butterball’s people. Despite the hype, my bureaucrats decided to handle this the boring way of just buying up the company. There are a couple smaller producers my guys are talking to about just buying their full stock, wholesale. Wal-Mart’s being difficult, so I’ll probably have to blow stuff up there, but it’s otherwise a lot more boring than when I first thought of this. I waited around in the lobby instead, practicing with the morning stars. Like all swinging weapons, including a certain body part I now lack, it takes practice to use them correctly, and far more expertise to use them incorrectly. And if I wanted to use them incorrectly and somehow shove one up my ass, that takes no knowledge whatsoever.
I was trying some neat tricks as far as tossing the handles from one arm to the next when a dark shape appeared in the doorway, followed by an earth-shattering kaboom. Before I could contemplate whether I’d just had an encounter with Marvin the Martian, I had to finish crashing though several walls, explode again, go through a tree with a bird’s nest in it, and another wall. That’s the point when I briefly blacked out and came to with tinnitus. My stomach didn’t agree with standing up, but I did anyway. A man in a striped costume covering every inch of his skin floated in, arms crossed. It was blue in between stripes of black with white dots on it. There was a yellow star on the face, knees, and on the palm of the hand he held out toward me.
I left a hologram behind and dove for it, coming up underneath him. I had a pretty good shot at his nuts when he shot a star-shaped beam of light from his palm that impacted the big metal thingy I’d landed against. The resulting explosion blew us both away and filled whatever weird, white linoleum room we were in with gas.
I couldn’t see real well, but I could make out something moving through the gas, then the sound of smashing, and a flapping sound.
I was more concerned with this star man here and ended up slipping from condensation or something. I didn’t get a real good look around until air began to clear from the ventilation system and the hole in the wall. That’s when, while holding the star guy in my arms, I looked up and saw the big thing he’d blasted open was a metal sarcophagus. And there, standing on the other side of the room, was an old man with a cattlepunch in one hand.
“My god… it’s loose!”
“What’s loose?” I asked.
“What the hell’s going on here?!” bellowed a tall man with pink skin and a pair of short horns in the midst of accountants and my foreign service.
“Rocky?” groaned the star guy in my arms. He looked up, then raised a hand to me. My hand went to his throat. My HUD finally got an ID on him, Super Star.
“Get your hands off my client, you damn, dirty hero!” yelled the pink guy. We both turned and looked at him.
He approached and held out some papers. “This is a restraining order. You must vacate my clients’ land and leave her alone.”
“W-what?” asked the guy. “She’s a supervillain!”
“Diplomatic immunity, bitch,” I told him.
The demon lawyer kept going though. “The woman you attacked is legally allowed to be here, on her own land, in her own buildings, with her own property. I’ve called the police and reported you for assault, battery, breaking and entering, and destruction of property. When I’m through taking you to court, they’ll need a plastic surgeon at court to give us your ass, Super Star”
Instead of choking the hero, I figured I’d hold onto him. It’s not every day a supervillain gets a hero arrested for attacking her, but the slippery bastard tore the his suit to get away and flew out of there like a shooting star.
I readied to jump, but lost my footing on the floor again. “OK, what is this gunk?”
“It was the only thing keeping Chester weak enough to be contained,” said the old man in the gask mask. He approached, pulling off his mask with one hand and offering the other for me to shake. “I’m the official Gobble Hobbler for Butterball Labs. Chester is, or was, an experiment in creating super turkeys. The scientists went too far. What they created is mutant the size of a man with wings so strong they can create tornadoes and legs that’ll kick a man’s skull out his anus!”
“Cool. How many do we have? Can I ride one?” I asked.
“Chester’s the only one, and now he’s loose in the wild,” the Gob Hobbler said.
I rolled my eyes in my helmet. “Yeah, but I don’t care about ethics, especially because soon I’ll own a controlling stake in turkey.”
The demon lawyer stepped close to me. “As your counsel, I advise you not to dismiss this. I’ve heard your plan and I like it, I really do. I only question how you’re going to make people miss turkey for Thanksgiving when there’s a mutant super turkey loose killing folks and giving the entire species a bad name.”
Damn. He had a point. I patted him on the shoulder. “Thanks for the advice. You’re a real Beelze-bud.”
And so my plan has hit a speed bump. Ladies and gentlemen, it is up to me and me alone, plus my small army and air force, to hunt down and destroy the super turkey.
I went to jump and again slipped. When I stood back up, cursing, I again ignored the explosion-related warnings on my HUD and checked my boots to find the soles were gone. “Huh. Guess I better to do some repairs first.” I said, then I pointed a finger at the demon lawyer. “I don’t suppose you’re interested in buying these worn old things off me?”
He shook his head. “I’m not interested in you selling your sole.”