Back To The Past 6

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Whatever damage had happened to the ship, at least it let me leave. I’d made sure Citra and our hostage were alright enough, then headed out to go see what the fuck was going on. I almost tripped over what I’d thought had been part of the wall. A column had fallen down and cracked open, spreading more of those colorful alien uniforms everywhere.

In contrast to the Cretaceous and my brief stopover in the Enlightenment, this place was full of digital noise. I’d gotten used to a lower level of signal traffic, and it was something of an adjustment for me to be here again. The ship had crashed onto a hilltop across the river and outside of a city with architecture you wouldn’t see on the Earth I’d become accustomed to. I knew this city. Home.

The city where I’d been born. It was even snowy, just like my earliest memories. The ones starting just before men with guns busted in the door. I realized a building whose unbuilt top floors I’d once used as a sniper’s nest didn’t even stand out on the skyline. That’s when I checked the date.

Oooooh. Oh no. No no no. How the FUCK did they know that date? Was there time to save myself? Should I?

That explains what was going through my head and why I wasn’t paying so close attention when Venus called out from behind me. “You seem distracted!”

I turned, throwing a wild punch, only to end up with her grabbing my arm and using my own momentum to toss me onto my back. I checked her out while slowly getting to my fight. The armor plating was flush, looking like puzzle pieces, but flexible. The boots were wider and thicker, probably for the sake of leverage. Same went for the fists. Light grey, save for a little remaining pink on the chest, it had seen better days. I found those pockmarks I’d seen on it before, along with scorch marks and thin surface cuts. The armor came up and guarded her neck where it met a helmet. That greying hair was hidden behind a helmet of armored V-shaped plates that swept from the back of her neck down to cover her eyes with one-way mirrored glass. The only skin I could see on her was her mouth.

“Done looking me over?” she asked.

I brushed my thighs off, biding some time, trying to stop the loud hammering of a tell-tale heart that gave away my thoughts on being back here and now. “How’d you know to come back now, to this time?”

She smiled. “I thought you wanted to kill me?”

“Oh, I do. You fucking used me! Just throwing my life away, taking my daughter and running. And now you bring me here. What the fuck?!” Ok, so I was bit on tilt. For the folks who don’t enjoy poker, that means I wasn’t thinking all that clearly.

“What day is it?” she asked.

“You brought me back to it, how can you not know?” I looked around, then up to where Mobian’s ship floated. “How do you know, you time-traveling limey piece of shit?!”

“I cannot tell you that,” his voice sounded from the floating orb.

As pumped full of adrenaline and emotions as I’d become, I wasn’t in a mood to hear that. I looked between that ship, then back to Venus. She took a fighting stance in anticipation of my attack. As far as she knew, I took one of my own. That’s what the hologram did while I stepped to the side. I moved around to her left before trying to catch her around the neck with a grab. The plan was to grab her and squeeze that pretty throat until her head popped or he neck crunched.

She was good, though. She didn’t react to my presence at all until I’d lunged for her. She spun out of the way and hit me in the back with a kick that sent me stumbling. Only then did I let myself become visible again.

“I don’t want to fight you,” she said.

“You picked a hell of a time and place to prove it,” I said, holding my arms straight up and activating my elbow rockets to rise to my feet.

“What’s the matter, something distracted you?” she said. She took another stance in anticipation of my attack.

And I so wanted to attack, but she was right. I was distracted. I want to just jump on her and scoop her ribs out with metallic hands. I also really wanted to go and see myself. I didn’t even remember their faces. And she brought me here, knowing, somehow, when and where, knowing I’d want to go there and do something. I clenched my teeth under my helmet. “Gonna chase me if I run?”

She shook her head. “No, but I think it’s a bad idea.”

“Yeah, you would. Out there’s a little kid whose parents are about to be gunned down. He’ll be kidnapped and tossed into a secret government program that’ll abuse him almost to death because the guy in charge has a hard-on for power. What does protecting the timeline even mean? Just protecting the devil you know for no other reason than you know it?” I put my top hands on my helmet, wishing I could run them through my hair or something. I’d started pacing around in a circle, but I jumped at her, throwing my upper right fist for a punch. What she probably missed was my lower arms shooting straight forward and pulling me along with their rockets.

Venus didn’t react in time and I caught her in the head. She grabbed that wrist with one hand, then went to smack me in the helmet with the flat of her palm. I deflected it with one of my lower arms, then grabbed her wrist with my left. I held my arms out to the side, my lower arms taking it to her belly one after the other. She jumped and wrapped her legs around my lower right, trying to drag me to the ground. She let go of my upper right as well, trying to put that one arm in an armbar. I grabbed hold of it with the lower left arm and used my upper right to pull her leg free. I swung her overhead and brought her down on the grass, tearing up clumps of it as I smashed her on the ground.

I got a few good smacks in that way before she a burst of fire shot out of her back and pulled her forward. She slipped out of my grasp that way, but not before dragging me toward her into the same torn up grass. I set my upper hands into the dirt and rolled until, with my body above me, I launched myself up and onto my feet. I landed right in front of where she was hunched over in the middle of standing. She turned and that giant right shot off her fist like a pneumatic jackhammer, knocking me flat on my cape in what was starting to become more dirt than grass. I slid a little, trying to recover my breath.

Meanwhile, the fist that had come off her about another forearm’s distance slid back along a pair of rails until it locked back on where it served as a gauntlet. But before I could even begin to get up, she’d lunged and planted her knee in my throat. She stood up over me and stepped to the side, careful of my arms.

“You are both freakishly fast. I should know, I hang around enough freaks,” said Mobian’s voice from above.

Venus ignored him. “You’d be abandoning your friends and family. You go and change time, guess what happens to every one of them whose lives you saved? No more Qiang, no more Max. Instead, Spinetingler would have Empyreal City and Ricca’s plot would have gone off without a hitch, maybe. It depends how the alien invasion would go, if they didn’t kill that henchman of yours or the statue. So I care and I know you do, too. Do you want to lose your daughter forever?”

That’s just a fucking low blow. And given my crotch situation, the only one she can pull off that actually hurts.

“You done yet?” I asked, then finished with a few coughs. I sat up. “You’re the hero. You’re supposed to be the one running around saving kids.”

“Cheap shot,” she said.

I scrambled to my feet, prompting her to back off just a little. “So, you want me to condemn myself to every fucked-up thing that’s ever happened to me for the greater good of your world.”

“And your family,” she added. “You want me to save someone even though you know it will hurt your loved ones and the world.”

One good thing about a pair of extra arms? I can flip someone the bird without compromising combat readiness. “Making some things right is just more important than your consequences. Like not being complicit in the torture and abuse of all of us in the Psychopomp Program. I’m not me yet, see. I’m some kid out there, enjoying the solstice holidays with my parents. I even have a real name!”

“You have a real daughter up there,” she raised her chin to indicate Mobian’s ship floating overhead.

“What the fuck do you want from me you turgid gurgler?!” I asked, flailing for words. I was just yelling at her at that point, fighting be damned.

“I don’t want to kill you, but I think I have to,” she said.

“You’re starting to sound like me before you decided to run off with my kid,” I said.

“I was taking her to the Master Academy!” she yelled. “You never let me explain, because you wanted to assume the worst. You disappeared in 2018 and somebody dropped Qiang off at the Academy.”

I pondered. “So this entire trip is when I supposedly died…”

Her stance tightened up again as she grew expectant of an attack. “Then you survived the ambush by the aliens and actually came after us. I knew what that meant. The timeline says you don’t go back.”

“You and that gorram timeline,” I said. “Here I thought you might still want to save me. Nope. Just kill me and abduct my daughter.”

I lunged. She moved back to put some distance between us. This time, I didn’t project invisibility. I projected a whole lot of visibility. I lit up with a bright flash of light that blinded her enough for me to sidestep and punch her in the throat. She stumbled and covered up her throat, leaving her with just one arm to counter more punches. She used her legs instead. She even jumped up, hitting her little jetpack, and staggered me by kicking with both legs. It put some distance between us and she flipped around to land on her feet. Then it was her turn to come for me.

I tried to block her punches, but that piston thing was stronger than I expected. I felt something crack in my lower left forearm. She swept my legs, but I managed to jump back and avoid it. She cocked something back on her right fist, shooting a canister out of the right knuckle. I went to swat it away but it stuck and electricity began to course throughout the armor. It didn’t do much to the armor, aside from help charge it, but it got through enough to leave me grinding my teeth, my muscles involuntarily spasming.

It only lasted a second, but was long enough to leave me open to a flying spinning kick from Venus that whirled me around. I turned around quickly and punched at what I was sure would be a follow-up with my upper left. The glowing gauntlet unloaded its energy on her right gauntlet. And that’s it. They hit, her gauntlet unleashed a couple streams of steam, and neither moved. I tried with my right lower arm, but she intercepted it with her left fist, no give, just steam. Same for my right upper, but I sent the wounded lower lefty flying for her face, only to be stopped by her grabbing my arm, raising it up, squeezing it, unloading on me with a big, pistoned left to the chest.

I lost my breath again, and lower left did pretty cracking, but she didn’t let go. I tried to fly away from the hit but she yanked me back in for another hit, this time to the head. It had me seeing stars. That strong of a hit, I thought I might even see Ziggy Stardust in a minute. Then my helmet was gone. How’d that happen? Of course, that question had to wait for me to keep getting the shit pounded out of me. It’s hard to think while doing me best impersonation of an asshole on getting a train run on it.

When Venus let me go, my chestplates had been trashed. I didn’t have a helmet. My lower left arm was broken in all kinds of places and the gauntlet was missing. Oh, and I spat up a bloody mess of what used to be most of my teeth. Venus knelt over me, looking down, even as my hands twitched around, my lower right one hunting for my belt. She raised her fist, and it looked big. You don’t know how big. So big, I musta had a concussion, that’s how big.

“I don’t want to kill you. That’s the kind of hero I was taught to be. When Master Academy was founded, it wasn’t about heroes. It was Oligarch who created it. He wanted kids with powers loyal to him. He just made it seem like we were heroes. He didn’t torture us, but he wanted to make us weapons like your general out there. We were taught that we were supposed to be better than everyone else, elitist jerk. Mender found out and confronted him. That’s how he ended up crippled, but he exposed Oligarch to the rest of us and we drove him off. Since then, Master Academy is about improving ourselves. And we can be better than we were.”

Her voice had gained a backbone then. She lowered her fist, then stood up. “You can still change.”

I tried to laugh but it came out as a cough. Instead, I settled for telling her “Fuck you.”

“You can still change the future,” she continued.

“What are you doing?” asked Mobian.

“He’s right. Some things are worth changing,” she called up. Then she looked back down to me, but still spoke up loud enough for him to hear. “I don’t want to become a murderer just to protect your status quo!”

It was almost inspiring, coming from a woman who led me into an ambush, beat the shit out of me, and kidnapped my daughter. Plus, whatever this was, this whole thing where she brought me back to before I was kidnapped to get an edge on me. These were the thoughts racing through my punch-drunk skull at the time. And I remembered something else that didn’t seem right, which mildly amused me to note. It was a bit arrogant, actually.

I raised my right hand. I think it was the upper one, because things were fuzzy at that moment. “Wait, wait, wait… one sec, hold on… before you go into any more preaching… you said just I disappeared, only me…”

A spear came flying out of the night right toward the side of Venus’s head. She turned and actually caught the thing, causing even Citra’s jaw to drop from where she threw it. Venus stood up. “I didn’t know about-” then she looked down to where a headless rubber chicken squirmed against her in my grip. I amped up the power on my suit’s leg pseudomuscles and kicked Future Venus through the chicken, causing Venus to drop the spear and sending them both flying. The chicken detonated in mid air and helped Venus carve out her own divot in the grass.

I grabbed for the spear and helped myself up, then jumped high, arcing down toward her. I don’t know where Citra got that spear, what it was made of, or what Venus’s armor was made of. All I know is that I came down on top of it with all my weight right into her mouth. It didn’t penetrate the armor on the other side of her head from her mouth. Instead, it slid and dropped me while the blade sliced upward through her skull. The rest of the stumbling I did dealing trying to catch my balance wasn’t any better for her head. I could barely even stand, barely even register what was going on as her body twitched its final twitches.

Instead, I held a hand over my face while searching through my belt for anything helpful like, ooh, a syringe! I had no shortage of places I could inject it with my armor beat to crap.

Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the glowing orb above us had started to rise.

“Come back down here!” called Citra, and I saw she now had Arsehole, Mobian’s companion, by the elbow. Arsehole was still tied up, but her leg restraints had been loosened enough to let her stand and move on her own.

“Yeah, get your ass down here, Mobian. I don’t think I’ll kill you,” I slurred, then vomited up a tooth.

“Hey, don’t leave me!” called Arsehole, and that really got him in a hurry to land. The glowing orb descended and the dark outline of a doorway appeared.

The older, British-accented time traveler stepped out into the doorway. “She changed the timeline.”

“Have that sit on a big purple dragon dildo. I changed the timeline,” I said. Citra came over to help me stand even as microscopic machines coursed through my body to mend tissue and organs. “We changed the timeline,” I said in response to my wife’s aid.

Qiang pushed past Mobian and raced toward me. Citra and I both bent down to hug my beautiful baby, despite the rather poor state I was in. The doubts I had about maybe going and saving myself washed away. They didn’t leave, not completely.

Mobian gave us wide berth as he stepped around to untie Arsehole. “I could still leave you.”

“You wanna try that again, Monty Python?” I asked, raising a lower left fist that felt stronger already. “I could still screw things up for you. Save myself, maybe build more D-Bombs, come back over early. Or, and hear me out here, we all just go back to 2018.”

He locked eyes on Venus’s corpse for a long second. “Let me bring her. She deserves a proper funeral for all I’ve known her.”

I nodded, then turned my attention to kissing all over Qiang’s face. “You smell like blood!” she said, giggling. Aren’t we a pair? Or perhaps more than a pair, the way Citra clung to us both.

“Come on, let’s get inside the ship before he changes his mind,” I said, leaving Mobian and Arsehole to drag the body of Future Venus inside by themselves.

Mobian did indeed bring her in, finding us three sitting down and cuddling, me all bloody and snotty in torn-up armor. It wasn’t exactly Christmas Card material.

“Before you go back to 2018, I have something I want to show you,” Mobian said. He glared at us, which just goes to show how he took all this too seriously. Who could glare at my little Qiang? “Something to make her sacrifice worthwhile.”

In spite of her presence, I glared right back at him. “Good, because there’s someone my daughter needs to see as well.” For emphasis, I jammed a big ol’ syringe into my neck and pushed the plunger, injecting myself with more nanites. He looked away first.

Archive Transmission Fragment 7 Complete

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Back To The Past 5

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Section 6 Complete

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“Tell me, creature, what are you and why do you interfere with the glory of France?” asked a rather pudgy fellow who spoke French with a bit of a different accent than most of his buddies. He sat facing me in a fine wooden chair he imported.

I rolled my eyes under my armor. Our audience was not quite private, but at the same time, the General had been informed of the efficacy of his weapons on me. He kept a pair of guards in there in case he needed to sacrifice their lives for his. I suspect those two young men hadn’t been told how useless their muskets were against me. I wasn’t about to take my armor off and give them a chance, especially as it would immediately destroy my credibility. Women’s chief role in warfare at this time involved sex, either as a camp follower or a victim. “Monsieur Bonaparte, I know your ambitions reach further than mere glory for France. A man such as you could rise to emperor, if you weren’t loyal to the Revolution, that is.”

That was about as close as I’d hint at it here. It may be going too far to outright say around guards that he plans to take over. That would technically be the sort of thing he could be guillotined for, though they were done with most of that by this point. Napoleon’s a man seeking only to elevate himself. That’s why, in the main timeline, he tucks tail and runs back to France when things get bad. With his fleet already sunk, that means leaving almost every other man of the expedition behind. Those who don’t die of the plague. In this siege camp at Acre, I am literally surrounded by dead men, and in an audience with one of the few men who matters.

“My loyalty remains with France. Long live the Revolution!” Napoleon said. A servant brought us a glass of wine each. I couldn’t tell if it was a good year, but I knew it was an old vintage. Couldn’t have been any more recent than 1799. Just a bit of time travel humor. Not many get it. You had to be there.

“Long live the Revolution,” I said, not downing the drink myself. Once again, the helmet was an important part of my cover. I watched as he partook, and continued on once his thirst had been sated. “And sure the best way to aid the Revolution, your men, and the glory of their general, would be to wrap up this siege as quickly as possible. Congratulations on defeating that relief force, but it still leaves you without the cannon you need to break the backs of the defenders.”

“Yes. The British confound us and the walls are strong enough that even the inferior peoples of this land may hold out against the superior cause and army,” Napoleon said, at least as much for the benefit of his soldiers.

I nodded along and projected a hologram of Acre’s defenses as the ship’s scans had presented it to me, focusing on blind spots and proposed timelines for penetration at the French army’s current strength. I could be more exact if I had the relevant info memorized, but I didn’t anticipate it being so important to my schemes before going off to fight a god of death. “Acre can and will hold out for long enough unless you accept my help.”

“You believe you can defeat walls that hold back France’s greatest army?” he asked.

I nodded. “I am more than capable of breaking through, but I believe my enemies, who originate where I come from, have a trap waiting for me. If I enter alone, I may be captured or killed, and your army never takes Acre. They won’t do anything with you and your men there with me. You get Acre. I get the renegades I’m looking for.”

“These are incredible tales you ask me to believe,” Napoleon said, leaning toward me.

I stood. “The difference between a psychopomp and a god is that belief is not necessary for men to die. Let’s go see shall we?”

I led Napoleon along as I trudged closer to the range of the enemy’s guns. He stayed back, of course, and called over a servant with his horse, a brown Arabian. “You’d look better on white,” I yelled back at him, remembering a painting not yet painted.

I started charging my gauntlets, then took off running across the battlefield toward Acre. Cannons boomed and balls bounced off the sand around me. For morale’s sake, I waited until one of them was coming right at me and gave it hell with four fists, which is normally something I reserve for an orgy. One-armed, that likely would have left me three-armed. With all four, I shattered the cannonball. A cheer went up from the French line behind me. I bowed toward Acre and turned with a sweep of my cape, walking back toward the French lines. The Ottoman forces inside kept firing, and actually got a lot closer, but I sidestepped the only one that would have gotten me. Then I jumped, showing off that my mobility was far beyond that of a normal human’s. I landed right in front of the future Emperor. “So, when’s the soonest you can attack?”

The attack commenced a couple hours later, after having given everyone time to get together. I led the charge. The Ottomans had upped their game. A shot almost hit me right near the beginning of my charge. It went right through and I disappeared, only for a half dozen more of me to appear. Grapeshot peppered some of the other mes around. Ah, holograms. The Ottomans could spend all day shooting at them instead of French soldiers. Some of the officers on the walls began to realize that as well, but by then I’d gotten rather close to the part of the wall the French had weakened the most.

On top of that, the defenders of Acre got to deal with an attack from the air, something none of them were used to. Drones hovered above them, picking out targets for potshots. People without an understanding of radiation or the speed of light got skewered by lasers. Bombs destroyed artillery emplacements that might have hit me. And I set to work on the wall, invisible to everyone. The French began to move forward while I put together a lovely bouquet of beautiful bombs to blow the wall. They could have charged up behind me, but I warned them they didn’t want to be too close when things went off. That’s why, once I was done, I jumped onto the wall and got hoppin’ to avoid being there when my work went kablooey.

It was more of a “Wawoom!” sound, truth be told. Rock rained down, the wall split open. Bodies fell and men screamed in pain while soldiers charged and cannons thundered.

“Now this is an occasion that requires some music,” I said to myself. The men around me, Ottomans with a few limey supporters, looked shocked as I became visible again. “Music, random,” I said as men pulled pistols and swords.

“Now Playing: Wow Wow,” my HUD read as I grabbed the arm of a British officer trying to tug his sword loose. Someone fired impotently at my back. I tugged on the officer’s arm, pulling his sword loose and into the belly of the man behind me. I broke it and tossed the sword’s wielder off outside the city.

A musket ball bounced off my helmet from the side. I grabbed the rifle from the man, broke it over my knee, and stabbed the jagged part of the front half through the unlucky shooter’s throat. One fellow who was just tugging a pistol free of his belt, got the stock of it in his nuts. He dropped the pistol and screamed. I shoved the stock into his mouth. “Bite down,” I said, then did a split and punched him in the nuts so hard he fell backwards from the fortifications into the city.

I was whirling, nut-crushing death incarnate, but that wasn’t my only goal here. After clearing myself some breathing space, I turned to look over the city and an entire secondary wall built further in. The French couldn’t take the city so long as it still stood. More important to that was a scene atop that wall. I saw Mobian’s timeship perched there, with Mobian and Future Venus standing there. Venus looked ready to beat some ass, but she wasn’t looking at me or the horde of rampaging Frenchmen. She was looking at man in a turban with much of his body covered, save for a hand gripping-

I jumped, having put too much power into the jump because I’d operated on instinct. I landed hard further down the wall past the man who held my daughter. She turned and yelled, “Baba!” as she stabbed at the man, but he didn’t seem to react. Problem was, it’s hard to stand on broken legs. I knelt there and tugged out a couple syringes of nanites. Then it was time to crawl.

Venus moved like a flash, a large metal fist encasing her hand just before she punched the living daylights out of the guy who had my daughter. He went stumbling back, falling over Qiang, who was then picked up by a Venus ensconced in dirty, pockmarked power armor of her own. Qiang’s knife bounced off Venus’s throat armor and fell off the secondary wall. I didn’t have as good of a few after that because turban guy’s turban fell off as his head grew into a flesh-colored spike. In fact, his whole body grew until it broke free, looking like a fleshy starfish.

Mobian yelled something at Venus, who grabbed the starfish thing and tossed it at me just as I was standing up. I threw it off to the side, getting amazing distance on it with some sort of Frisbee effect. Unfortunately, I saw it gliding toward the breach where the French were fighting their way into the city. Even more unfortunate, when I turned my attention back to Mobian’s glowing orb ship, I saw the outline of a door had closed. The ship itself began to rise.

“No, you fucking don’t,” I said. I pulled the drones away from the main battle to fire on Mobian’s ship. A light shot out, like lightning, and I lost connection with the drones. They froze in midair, then crumbled away into red dust.

“Get back here and die like a man!” I yelled and launched myself into the air. I grabbed more syringes in midair, making sure to keep myself full of healing nanites. My legs snapped with every landing, even in the sand outside the city. I reached out and let myself be shrunk and pulled into my timeship after an agonizingly long time, though hopefully not too late. Mobian’s ship never moved from its perch over the city.

I found him hailing me again as I reached the command center. “Gecko, whatever our conflict, we mustn’t disturb history. I believe it will go more or less as planned now, but we cannot continue this fight here.”

“I’ll do whatever I have to. You didn’t have to take her!” I yelled at him.

“Give us back our daughter!” yelled Citra over my shoulder.

“I understand you are perturbed at the moment, but you have a nasty habit of, er, murdering people. I want this resolved with as little loss of life as possible.”

“Yeah,” said Arsehole from where she sat on a little stool in the corner. “I’d like very much not to die, if you please.”

“So just land and hand her over now. Or you could have just left her for me, dammit,” I said. “You keep jerking my chain and someone’s gonna die!”

Future Venus spoke up on the line, “We’re afraid you’re already about to kill someone.”

And that’s when I gave up my fucks. Just whoosh, there goes the last one. I had the timeship rise and had it move to intercept his.

“We’ll all die, you can’t-” Mobian started, then my ship detected his exit from this point in time. The ship, acting according to its orders, jumped as well. The ship shuddered, sensors suddenly showing us having collided with Mobian’s ship. The top point penetrated into the side of Mobian’s orb. We appeared in space, briefly, the ship’s unusual way of telling time informing me we were in 2016. The year of the alien invasion, where I defeated the ship with a Dimension Bomb.

“I didn’t expect him to follow so closely,” said Mobian.

“It’s fine. Let’s end this,” I heard Venus say.

Over that, I heard my daughter’s voice cry out. “Baba!”

All around us, a fleet of alien vessels. “Now!” said Mobian. He tried to time jump, but my ship went with it, either due to physical attachment or the last orders given to it. At the same time, I felt the familiar pull as the Dimension Bomb blew a hole in spacetime and everything in the radius of the detonation went through.

It got really confusing then, as even the view of floating above many spreading Earths changed, the planets pulling back into one another until there were fewer.

When we came out, my ship wasn’t handling the stress that well. It fell to the ground and thumped end over end. The interior was protected, amazingly, but it didn’t look good for the timeship. And Mobian’s was still there, in the air, the side closing in where it had been damaged.

In the midst of diagnosing the damage to the ship, I discovered we’d headed back in time another couple of decades. Despite that, the signals and development of Earth definitely didn’t match up with the Nineties. Or at least, as I soon realized, not that Nineties.

“That did not exactly go as planned. Is everyone alright down there?” asked Mobian. Sparks shot out of the console for some damn reason as he began speaking and his voice sounded further away than normal.

“Yeah,” I said, before looking around. Citra was on hands and knees, throwing up. Arsehole had bumped her head against the wall, but seemed fine otherwise.

“Good here for now,” Arsehole said.

Venus almost sounded said when she spoke. “Good. I think it’s time we finally settle up.”

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Section 5 Complete

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“What would anyone want in 1799?” asked Citra.

I looked over the place, wishing I had my internet connection. “Well it’s the Middle East, 1799, blue uniforms… Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign. This alien map thing is telling me nothing, but at least I’ve got my own map in my head. We’re a little ways from Egypt, but Napoleon was all over this area. He just beat the pants off those Turks. Though…” I shook my head, getting my facts straight. “Yeah, they had pants by now. Hard to have fought in the Alps without them.”

“Where is our daughter?” asked Citra, shaking the spear she’d brought along at me.

I grabbed it and eased it away from me. “Easy there, Bard. That’s what I have to figure out. This thing’s pretty handy at following a trail it leaves behind. Particles or an energy signature or something. All I know is, it led us here, so now let’s follow it further. And, maybe if this is over quick, we can get in a little tomb raiding. This is when the French started nabbing all the good stuff, like the Rosetta Stone.”

“You know that but now why this time is important.”

“From a criminal standpoint, stealing gold and other valuables is the more important thing about this time and place.” Still, they weren’t important now. That’s why I really didn’t pay Napoleon’s army of 4,000 routing a force of 35k much mind. Killing ranked more highly for me than theft.

The computer came up with two different trails. They started as one near where we showed up before breaking off. It dipped low near the French soldiers below, where part of it broke off. The rest continued onward to the northwest, toward the water. I considered just taking us down into the soldiers and seeing how things shake out. I’m supposed to be concerned with timelines, right? Except I’m trying to think about how this goes and how killing a few people would change anything. That bunch of infantry down there don’t even have any cannons with them.

So after pondering it for a few seconds, I sent the pyramid ship into a dive toward the sands below. The French forces scattered. “Ok, I’m going to go out and negotiate for the transfer of whatever dropped off Mobian’s ship.”

“Would Qiang have survived that fall?” Citra asked.

“Not the question you should be asking,” I said, mainly because I wasn’t thinking about it. “We can’t do anything about it yet. Now, let’s go have a chat. And be us, I mean me.”

Citra looked at the viewscreen and saw all the French soldier surrounding us, readying rifles, bayonets, and swords for those lucky enough to have them. “Have fun, dear husband wife.”

I popped off my helmet and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for not insisting on coming out there.”

She grabbed my cheeks and held me. “Don’t misunderstand me. She is my daughter and I want to be your partner, but I am not stupid.”

I nodded and locked my helmet into place. Just in case, I also locked entrance and exit authorization to just myself. Then I went out, the deminiaturization process spitting me out into a crowd of Frenchmen. Fully aware of being a metal being in a flying ship with four arms, I raised a hand and gave them the Vulcan salute. “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. I come in peace. Take me to your leader.”

A man rode up on a horse with a significantly fancier uniform. He took one look at me and the ship, then raised his sword. “Fire!” Things got really loud then as every damn soldier’s rifle balls bounced off my armor with a lot of clanging. Balls. Balls everywhere. The fire stopped suddenly because these are the sorts of guns that take a minute to reload after every shot.

I waved with all four arms and stepped closer to see the man on the horse. “Am I to understand you’d like me to for war instead?”

“What manner of creature is this?” asked the mounted officer, mouth agape.

I posed, crossing my top pair of hands over my chest while the bottom arms rested on my hips. I took a few deep breaths. “I am Darth Theodore Logan Vader, Dark Lord of Eternia, from the planet Minbar. I have come here to take back those who have wronged me. My vessel, the Enterprise, is a Firefly-class vessel with the power to destroy an entire planet using the awesome power of the Force.” Here I raised a clenched fist. “Have you had any strange visitors drop from the sky recently, aside from myself?”

“Bring forth the prisoner!” he ordered, raising a sword.

“Bring forth the prisoner!” the order echoed throughout the army until a new line came back like a receding wave. “Bringing forth the prisoner!” Along with it came a soldier with crappy boots leading the same blonde, middle-aged woman I’d seen on Mobian’s ship, her hands tied together. “The prisoner is brought forth,” said the soldier.

“Thanks, dude,” I told him. I stepped over and grabbed the rope leading to the wrists of Mobian’s companion. “For your efforts, know that I shall bless your leader Napoleon. Truly, his expedition here to Egypt will be remembered for generations, and not just for the Rosetta Stone.”

“What is this Rosetta Stone?” asked the officer on horseback.

I shook my head. “I can say no more, but know that you men will be a shining example of the sort of leader he is. Huzzah!”

That started a cheer I used to end this little chit-chat. I grabbed the blonde woman and pulled her close. We stepped over dented musket balls until I got within range of the boarding device. It detected me and sucked us both in thanks to her proximity to me. As soon as we were miniaturized and safely inside the entry area, Citra started whacking the companion over the head. “Child kidnapping son of a toad!”

I let her get a few good whacks in before grabbing the spear. Citra stopped easily enough and tossed the spear aside, over by a pile of ammo bandoliers. The companion didn’t seem all that hurt. “Are you bloody well done?!” she yelled. “I’m sorry, fine, no need to beat me.”

“Tsk, tsk. Look at you. Such a soft life if you think that was a beating. Citra was being nice, since we need to have a talk to you,” I said. Citra nodded along. “But first, I need a name.”

“How about arsehole?” she suggested.

“If that’s really what you want us to call you, Arsehole, we’ll be more than happy. Citra, let’s find this Arsehole a chair.” I pointed back behind us, to the wall that closed up behind us after entering the ship. “Or I suppose you could make a run for the safety of the French.”

She looked at me a second, then turned and ran, not stopping until she bounced off the wall and fell onto her back. I stepped over to check on her. “Aaaand she’s out.” Citra appeared at my side, a bundle of rope in hand. “Ah, perfect timing. Thank you, dear.” She smiled as she handed it over and I began to tie up our new guest. “Ship,” I called out as I tightened things. A tone and momentary shift in lighting indicated an answer from the alien vessel. “Take us up a mile and begin to follow the other trail we spotted.” The ship indicated a positive response and began carrying out my will.

It having only been about a minute, it was nice to see Arsehole wake up. It meant brain damage was unlikely. “Hey there sunshine,” I said as she groaned and tried to sit up. “Wakey wakey. You’re gonna be late for school.”

Citra brought over a stool someone had left. She hefted Arsehole up onto it, who then had to swing her body around to keep from falling off. “Ow. Thanks for tellin’ me to stop before I hit that wall.”

I shrugged. “You’re a grown adult. I expect you to know not to run headfirst into a wall. Once again, my confidence in humanity doesn’t pay off. Seeing as I’d rather have a daughter than you, we’re going to go find Mobian and trade you back. But what I’d really like to know first is why y’all kept her in the first place. Come on, kidnapping?”

“They didn’t want to bring her along,” Arsehole said. “Venus and Mobian needed you. They didn’t want the girl to come with you, but you weren’t coming and we needed you.”

“You needed to hand me over to aliens to be imprisoned or, more likely, killed.” I knelt there, looking her in her eyes. It was a more difficult discussion the other way, with her tied up and unable to pierce my fanged helmet with her gaze.

“That Mot, it almost destroyed the world until the aliens showed up. They saved us, then they found out about you. You committed some crime against them years back, they remembered, so they wanted you or they wouldn’t help save the world. Earth was dying. They knew Mobian could get you, and he knew Venus had to do it. It’s just, your daughter threw a fit when Venus came back without you. She stabbed Mobian while he flew the ship. We come out here, spinnin’ like a top, and I get thrown out the ship. We didn’t mean to take her.”

I shook my head. “I stopped back in 2018. You didn’t return her.”

“Maybe she was gonna-” Arsehole started, until I slapped her across the face. She tumbled over the back of her little stool.

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” I said, standing. Actions and intention. Good acts without good intention aren’t so bad, but good intentions without good actions are just so many worthless thoughts and prayers. I mean, this is all time travel stuff here. Mobian and Venus could have lost Qiang, looked for years, and returned her to me at that point in time. No need to wait. Whatever’s going on, Qiang wasn’t being dropped off at Ricca.

“Don’t come any closer!” came Mobian’s voice over the ship’s internal sound system.

I ran for the command center to find we’d been hailed. Mobian continued. “There is a bomb here set to detonate in your vicinity. Stay away!” I stopped us. It may be a bluff, but I’d have time enough to figure that out stopping. I still set the ship to scan for any projectiles or other sorts of attack.

“I thought you didn’t like bombs, Mobian,” I responded to the hail we’d gotten.

“It’s not mine. There are… creatures here. They have a device that does not belong in this time,” he answered. “I’m sorry, but when I examined it, it started tracking your vessel. I see you survived the ambush, Gecko.”

“No thanks to you.”

“I’m sorry, as I said, but they are trying again. This bomb will blow us all up and irrevocable change history if your ship approaches too close to the city.”

I checked our location. We were still about a mile southeast of a city, near a camp of more French soldiers. Checking on the map I brought to the future, I saw we were technically within Acre as of 2018. At this point in time, the city hadn’t grown out enough to encompass the area.

“Fine. Send Qiang out with Venus, I’ll hand over Arsehole, and we’ll settle this.”

“Arsehole?” he asked.

“I asked your lady friend for a name. That was the only response I got, so that’s what I called her. You’ve been a naughty boy, not returning my daughter.”

“I’d like to, but something came up. We cannot open these gates to return your daughter to you. Napoleon has besieged the city.”

“I see that. Open the gates, let the blue bastard in, and we’ll be on our way.” I checked over the siege. The camp didn’t look too good. Napoleon didn’t have a lot of manpower. Given what he’d just done at Mt. Tabor, that’s not too big a deal. The problem was the lack of cannon. The French didn’t have enough artillery to break in that quickly. That meant this was probably after the English destroyed the fleet the French sent along.

“The French lose this one. This is the turning point of the campaign. We must not interfere. You don’t know what changes it will make to the timeline!”

“There is always a way to sneak people out. You’re on the water,” I responded.

“Er, well, about that… Qiang ran away into the city and Venus is still searching for her, but the monsters around here are making it harder on all of us. Let me disable the bomb so you can fly in and settle this without any more bloodshed.”

“Oh dear, that means I’d have to head in there by myself, where all sorts of traps could be laid,” I played up sounding concerned. I’d walked into one ambush already. I had another idea how to handle what appeared to be another one. I thought it over, once again considering Mobian’s concerns about the timeline. “I wasn’t born on this Earth. Not a damn thing that happens here is going to prevent my birth. My daughter isn’t from around here, either. It seems like I could interfere quite a bit and not drastically alter much that would threaten the lives of anyone I find important. So I think what I’m going to do, is I’m going to get the future Emperor of France and head in there myself. All of us. Just the whole French army, unless you get me my daughter. Otherwise, I’m telling the timeline to go fuck itself.”

“You can’t do that!” he protested.

I took the ship down toward French lines, wary of getting much closer to the city. “I’m doing it. You know what is required to stop it.” I grinned as I noticed a big tent in particular.

I crashed my ship right through a part of it to reveal a command meeting. The men inside did not cower, though some might say they ran to get reinforcements. Others had pistols and swords at the ready to intercept me as I appeared suddenly. “Greetings,” I announced. “I have come to aid General Napoleon’s entrance to Acre. Where is he?”

The men looked to each other, confused by so much of this incredible sight, until one spoke up. “He has gone to aid General Kléber.” One of them pointed off in the direction… that I’d just come from. I miss the internet.

“Ah, yes, he’s succeeded at that,” I said, considering ordering someone to paint me a picture of a naked woman. Like I said, I missed the internet. “I shall await his return to camp. Please inform him I am waiting. Together, he and I are going to make history.”

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I barely slept as I tried to figure out the alien languages I’d surrounded myself with. It wasn’t just the programming language and operating system; I had to figure out the alien language itself well enough to fit into my translation program. I actually passed out at the console exhausting myself. Luckily, the dreams were more of those flashbacks to memories of bad times, which me up again before I could waste a whole night getting nothing done.

I had to find her, though the her vacillated between saving Qiang from Future Venus, and finding Future Venus to murder her. Pretty sure it’d work within those rules of the Parliament of Rogues if anyone wants to make a big deal about it. And if anyone wants to give me shit about aliens in costumes, I’ll remind them this happened in the Cretaceous, like 65 million years before any such agreement existed. I still dumped the body of the alien off the ship with the others in a big cloud of bugs.

Big referred to both the size of the cloud and the size of the bugs. They were tall enough to ride the roller coaster.

Between desperation and anger, I had all the motivation I needed to shove a shitload of information into my brain. I learned to read this weird language as best as possible, which involved touch sensitivity on the buttons as well. I probably don’t even have a mouth capable of making the noises necessary to pronounce the spoken version. And while I didn’t figure out absolutely all the ins and outs of this ship, I learned enough to get it going. That part was kinda important to me. I wanted well away from the ground so as to avoid any more giant gators or giant bugs. Everything’s giant back in the Cretaceous, and here I am without a penis.

I’d lament my timing, but I have at time machine! And with it, I shall find that future copy of my nemesis and tear her apart, molecule by molecule if need be. The only shot she’s got is- no. No shot. No more. Not for this one. Having figured out how to work this thing, I’m going to head back to the time I left and I will see if they returned Qiang. If she’s back unharmed, Future Venus dies quickly and painlessly. Relatively. There actually is a more painful way to tear a person’s heart out through their ass. My favorite version involves music, interpretive dance, and a fistful of rusty, glowing hot nails. The rust doesn’t even do anything at that temperature, but a lot of pain is psychosomatic. So the nails are to mess with her mind. The Thai dragon peppers impaled on the nails, those are for the body.

But like I said, if Qiang is returned to me, I make it easier on Future Venus. I’m undecided on Mobian, mainly because I put all the blame on Venus. But figuring out all that blame won’t exactly work if I’m wrong on time travel. So, once I figured I had the systems under control, I activated Time Navigation Mode. The ship’s viewscreen of the surrounding area shifted from its strange, blue-heavy that analyzed the threat posed by whatever birds, giant bugs, and pterasaurs were flying around. Instead, it sorta whited out, like looking at a wireframe mode. I noticed something off there, though. It showed me some sort of path. When I told the computer to clarify what I was looking at, it came back with the alien equivalent of “Temporal Slipstream”. Flying closer and swapping views, it appeared to be coming from where Mobian was parked.

“Cool,” I said to no one in particular. “Let’s get this bad boy up to 88.8 miles per hour and give it some jigawatts!” I switched back to Temporal Navigation and started charging it up, setting in a course to follow this slipstream. The viewscreen showed it as if I would follow the thing, but instead it created a field around the exterior of this weird little ship to match something it detected in the slipstream. The ship then rose along the same course and existence blinked.

When it came to, the ship had moved quite a bit in various ways. Gone was the marsh, instead replaced by barren plains that grew only scorched grass. And because this is alien, it didn’t use a time system or coordinates in the same way I knew them. I tried reaching out to satellites and the internet, but the ship blocked that. So I figured I’d stop by Empyreal City. At least the ship could give me enough of a view of the planet to navigate manually.

Even from a continental level, things had changed. Where California had been was now an archipelago. Florida hung out from the southeast side of North America, but an awful lot of the east coast north of it had become a bay. China was entirely desert, the middle east was setting off radiation alerts from the other side of the world, and my country was just gone. Ricca and Mu were so thoroughly disappeared, you’d think the Argentinean military snatched them up. I’m just kidding. The Falklands know just how bad Argentina is at stealing land.

And I know just the place to stay up to date on the news. This thing could fly, too. Nice to know in case Maverick and Ice Man were wingmen any time. But I didn’t get any response at all, despite this thing likely being detectable. It became more apparent why when I came into visual range of Empyreal City. The place looked like it’d been home to a kaiju gang bang. Buildings were toppled or half-missing. There were scorch marks everywhere. Then I spot a chitinous leg sticking out of a building, its torn off portion exposed to the sky like it had held up something even bigger. I immediately checked myself for any more of the prehistoric bugs hitching a ride. Satisfied that I hadn’t somehow caused this by exposing the world’s biggest cockroach to time travel, I decided to land.

The streets turned out to be abandoned by people. Not so much cars, but there weren’t many people around. Most hid upon seeing the ship lower. Some of them outright ran when I popped out, but then that’s a normal enough reaction to me. “Hello!” I said, waving at everyone. The dirty, scared people looking back said nothing. The silence deafened, which is when I realized the amazing lack of cars and internet. The phones were almost entirely silent. Satellites? Only a few left. Shit had gone down. Empyreal City’s had its fair share of problems before, but this was a big deal.

“Hey!” I called out to somebody wrapped in an oily blanket. “What year is it?”

“You a time traveler or somethin’?” the boy called back. “It’s 33.”

I looked around. “2033?”

“No, 1933, ya dumbass,” the kid responded. Nothing in those rules I agreed to about not killing civilians.

“Y’all stopped that Mot thing, right?” I asked.

“Shit, no thanks to you, time guy.” He jerked around as a wail started in the distance, then began running for it. “Shit, they doin’ curfew early! Better fly, time guy,” he said as he ran off. Everyone did.

Well, I didn’t know the big deal with curfew, but I knew I was here looking for somebody. And there was one place to find Venus when everywhere else failed. I zapped myself back into the time ship and took off for the East Coast campus of the Master Academy.

It turned out to be nothing left but a pile of cinders and some shiny land that looked like it’d been glassed. So… yeah. Over on the west coast, I found the the original campus of the Master Academy torn to shreds. Not a single whole building stood amongst a campus dotted with crescent moon divots the length of a car. This future version of Earth had been fucked up its earhole.

That didn’t matter. Knowing the year, I was able to make a few conversions and put in a course for home. One second I hovered way overhead a reef in the Pacific, the next I was looking down on Ricca in the year 2018. A little adjusting put me back there right after the disappearance of Mobian’s time ship. I actually wondered what would happen if I tried to stop it from leaving. I’ve seen the future. Fucking up the timeline could only help these people.

Instead, I waited. And waited. And when they didn’t fucking show back up off Qiang, I set it down in front of the residential palace.

“What’s going on?” Silver Shark asked, her large, cyborg body gleaming in the sunlight as she stepped out to greet me. “Where’d you get this thing?”

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I shrugged. “Carjacked some aliens. Time traveling super bitch stole my daughter and is probably trying to raise her to hate me. I need explosives.”

She set her jaw. “How much?”

“All the explosives,” I said. “And a shitload of rusty nails.”

I loaded up my armor stand for repair and maintenance, nanites for my health, knives for Venus’s health. I didn’t know how long this bogus journey would last, but even a most excellent adventure would still end with me making damn sure that someone was going in a grave. Oh, and I brought rusty nails.

Silver Shark tried to come with me. So did Max, but I held up my hands. “Uh uh. No. This is something I have to do myself.”

“But Gecko, why?” asked Silver.

“Because technically I’m not supposed to be murdering superheroes for no reason nowadays. So I’m going to go have a very intense… discussion… with this Future Venus. A real tongue lashing. Going to chew her out.”

“So this is sexual?” asked Sam, Mix N’Max’s assistant.

“Oh, she’s already fucked,” I said. “I’m just gonna widen the hole.”

Max offered a hand. “If you ever need us, just say the word.”

I shook it with three of my four hands. “If anyone asks, I’m not murdering a super.” He nodded. I walked over to my ship and it seemed almost like a dramatic moment, but then I was like, “By the way, as long as I succeed, I’ll be right back. Like, I’ll be gone, then I’ll be here again, and you’ll all be disappointed you felt like this was a big deal.”

“Boo!” called Max’s other assistant, Holly, causing me to smile under my helmet.

So I took to the ship, got myself settled into the command center, and flew the ship up, navigating conventionally and temporally. When we blinked through time again, we were back where I’d first come into 2033. I set the ship to scanning for any more temporal slipstreams. I whirled as someone stepped into the command room. It was Citra, my wife, carrying a spear in one hand with a bandolier of bullets over the outside of her dress and handgun sticking out of a sash on her waste. “The hell are you doing here?” I asked.

She set her jaw, which made her look more pouty than anything. “She is my daughter too. I am going to kill the bitch who stole her and left you to die.”

“No, you’re not,” I said, turning around as we got a hit on the trail left by Mobian’s timeship. Citra versus Venus? Not so much a curbstomp as a footnote.

Citra walked over and held the spear out to block my access to the console. “You are my husband. Qiang is our daughter. I want to do something.”

I shrug and gesture behind me. “Whatever you do, don’t get in my way. That’s kinda important since I don’t know where we’re going. Now let’s see what time it is these Mobian folks went to…” I hit the button.

When we came out, it was over Palestine. Zooming in to see what might be significant, I found a large force of cavalry getting their asses handed to them by about 2,000 soldiers in blue coats. “Ok, Citra, you thought this would be nice and easy. Now let’s figure out what they’re doing in 1799.”

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Trapped in a big crystal, faced with a squad of aliens ready to murder me after tricking me back in time. I’d expected them to go for the kill immediately, but they had some idea of due process. Maybe they wanted to take their time. Either way, they didn’t care to talk to me, the victim of their “complete victory” as he’d so arrogantly put it. I know what Sun Tzu said, but I don’t like declaring victory before people are dead.

These alien fuckers from Omicron Persei 8 relaxed. One of them, uniform colored primarily teal, stepped over to the diamond-shaped floating timeship and pressed a hand to it. He, or whatever that species has, pressed a hand to it and disappeared. That left three. Red watched me. The brown one circled around me. Purple stared off after Venus. That part was something I had to handle later, because I knew if I focused on her, I’d get locked in a loop.

I strained to breathe in that crystal. Not entirely sure how I was able to do so, in fact, but I was focused more on surviving than exploring mysterious technology. Luckily, I knew how to send my mind outside my body. Forget meditation, I’d dropped off those drones earlier. They must have been mistaken for another part of the ambush by she-who-must-be-impaled-later. Ok, so I’d brought a couple. The laser drone could be handy for getting me loose from this thing, but I don’t see these bozos letting it finish the job. I’d packed the other one with automatic ballistic weaponry. I know, a bit of boring gunplay. Hindsight’s a bitch and it’s too late to strap a rocket launcher or some grenades to the thing.

Rounds from the gun drone loosened dirt around the base of my prison. Red took cover. The triangular remote-control weapons platforms moved in quickly, zooming to press against it. The one with the gun attached took the best position and aimed away so it could fire and let recoil add to the force. They were so… damn… close. And then it moved a tiny bit. And a little more. The purple guy walked right up to where the drones were trying to help me gather some speed. Good thing for the 360 view of my armor the way I rolled out of view.

The laser drone was essential, but the gun drone I could risk. The laser one flew up while the purple people trapper walked over, caught just as it backed up to ram the orb again. He grabbed it and said something in weird sounds I couldn’t translate. Probably something smug about me being some primitive lifeform. It’s like they’re confusing me for a damn human. Not the first time I’ve had people coming after devices I built. I’ve learned lessons. I installed explosives. The drone self-destructed in that guy’s hands. So he didn’t have hands anymore.

More than that, the explosion gave a little more force to the orb I was encased in. I rolled toward the brown guy, though. He had one job. One job. But he didn’t get a good grip on the cracking material and I bounced off, rolling. And rolling. And rolling even more. We must have been on a slight slope. It was hard to tell at that point. I couldn’t even fly the remaining drone at that point. I had to set it to hover while my internal music player started playing “Round and Round” for some reason. I didn’t have time to manage my music selection. I was trying not to throw up while trapped in a rock.

When I did finally stop, I’d splashed into the marsh. Because that’s cool. Let’s add a moat to my situation. And it’s the Cretaceous period, so there are probably dog-sized leeches around, just waiting to get Medieval medicine on my ass. My stomach was spinning, but I could at least call the drone to me without making it do loop de loops. The drone caught a glimpse of the leader tending to the guy whose hands I blew off. The one in brown ran after me while they were busy. Seeing him close in, I brought up the drone to go ahead and start taking a little off the edges. I worked on cutting an arm free by cutting down parallel to my head and neck.

The beam cut slowly. Worse, the drone had to stop firing to cool down. I wasn’t going to be able to get this guy before he started splashing into the water, crawling over roots and stepping around this giant log. On the plus side, I doubted the bastard could roll me anywhere, especially out of that muck. If I was lucky, they’d have trouble loading me into their ship. Can a guy catch a break?

Suddenly, the thirty foot log nearby raised its head out of the water and lunged for Brown, completely justifying the color of his pants. This giant fucking gator attacked like a gumbo chef’s worst nightmare, hissing. Ever hear a thirty foot long alligator hiss? It’s not cute.

Now, I don’t know for a fact that Brown used his pants as nature clearly intended. When he turned to catch that thing’s jaw and stop it from swallowing him whole, he looked wet like a guy naturally would after tromping through a swamp. He diverted its maw to the side, and I felt fairly safe inside my crystalline prison. Hell, I figured this thing was going to solve all my problems for me. Then our not-so-favorite Martian pulled laser swords out of Uranus. Glowing, thin blades of light grew from the palms of his gloves. The blades shown like the edge of a pane of glass. Alien and prehistoric reptilian predator met in a clash of lasers and primal fury.

Would have been awesome to see, but I was carving myself an arm free with the laser. And as soon as that thing was able to move a bit, the enhanced strength of my power armor allowed me to break it fully loose and start taking off more chunks, especially when I used my energy gauntlets. The good news is that it wasn’t really sticking to me in any way. Once I got enough of myself clear, the material from the orb would just fall off. One arm soon turned into two arms, then all four, my head and torso, then I was able to pull my legs out of there. I had to set the radiationthrower down in the orb’s remains as I freed myself, though.

That was about the time that gatorzilla released a last, gurgling hiss, twitching. Brown jumped off, uniform torn along his torso in the shape of jagged fang marks. Neither of us really had a moment to celebrate, as he swung one light sword at my midsection. I jumped over it easily thanks to my suit’s enhancements, but then he swung the other arm up in a bisecting uppercut. Probably would have gotten me if not for the elbow rockets on my armor. They allowed me to shoot forward just enough to stomp on his head before landing behind him. We turned at the same time, me right up in his face. With my four arms, I had his two by the elbow and wrist.

He headbutted me. I headbutted him back. He kneed me in the groin. I have a pussy. Unfortunately for him, I also had a laser drone that flew down and carved through his neck like thermite through a piggybank. Remember, kids: the word “overkill” still has kill in it. Now, just in case he had some sort of strange alien physiology that would let him stab me after losing his head, I held onto his body through its death shakes, singing to myself. “Just like me, they long to be, close to you…”

After he stopped shaking, I dropped him and got the fuck out of that water before it turns out the land I was standing on was an even bigger gator. For fuck’s sake, no wonder somebody threw a meteor at this place with those things swimming around.

Free from the swamp, and the muck, I was able to project invisibility, which likely wouldn’t do any good. It didn’t stop them form seeing me when I raided their homeworld. The red… ranger?… came over a rise on his way down, all by his lonesome. Oh, wait, that’s right, they can see through my invisibility. That’s why he didn’t have any trouble spotting me. He pressed his palms together and came away with a shorter pair of blades. Where before it was like a longsword, this pair were dagger-length.

“Wait!” I said, holding up my hands. He didn’t, so he was actually pretty close when I backflipped onto the remains of my crystal prison and kicked the main gun of the radiationthrower into my arms. I kicked that bad boy into full release and started nuking him from orbit. It was hard to be sure though, as he’d made it into the water. The radiation put up a fog as it began microwaving the water around the alien. The hissing of the steam made me glance over and make sure the big gator wasn’t moving. When I turned my attention back to Red, he’d stepped out of the fog and wasn’t looking that good.

Brown armor plates deformed and twisted off underneath the remnants of his uniform. He didn’t even have one of his gloves and its laser dagger anymore, but he kept on coming. I saw the bottom portion of his helmet deforming, crinkling, melting. He stabbed at the radiationthrower’s backpack line. I jumped as he severed it, leaving him standing there with a hose leading right to a nuclear core expelling heat all around it.

He dove to get away, splashing into the murk. When he came up, I smacked him on his weakened helmet with the gun portion again, then brought it down on his hand to keep him from directing his little stabber at me. I wanted to just bash his head in or hold him under the water until he drowned, if he can drown, but that’s too slow of a victory when the opponent has time travel on their side. Instead, I unhooked a rubber chicken grenade and pulled the red guy up. I tore the grenade’s head off and stuck it under his belt before tossing him onto the wild and loose nuclear reactor. Whatever weird trills made up his language, they rose in pitch and felt like they were stabbing into my ears until the grenade detonated. It didn’t necessarily destroy all the fissionable material involved, but it hopefully didn’t do anything too bad to the timeline.

Off in the distance, I saw Mobian’s timeship, the one I’d arrived on, rise up into the sky and blink out of existence, thoroughly stranding me. So I took care of some of these fuckers, but I’m not out of the prehistoric marsh yet.

When the diamond-shaped brick shithouse of a ship floated over minutes later, I lay unmoving on the shore. It hovered closer, then a flash brought forth the teal colored one. He walked over and nudged me with a boot. Then he kicked me. He kept going, harder, and I began to wonder if he might know I’m alive. He almost hit my remaining drone where it was hidden under my cape. I was just about to jump up and take him out when he turned toward his compatriots.

I couldn’t see the expression on his face, of course, but I’m sure it turned to surprise when one of my arms burst through his chest, tossing away a portion of what might have been a spine. Purple blood sprayed everywhere, and he soon found he couldn’t control his own arms, what with my lower arms holding them. I dragged him close to the ship then. Intertwined, I reached out with his hand. Suddenly, the ship expanded, growing larger all around us as a beam of light pulled us into it. So glad it’s not one of those deathtrap teleporters that’d kill me and make a copy on the other end.

When it finally released us, I pulled myself out of the dead body I brought with me, holding it ready to smack opposition with. Instead, I found nothing except a relatively small room. It seemed empty, except there had been one with an uncomfirmed fate. Purple, whose hands I blew off. I scoured the place, finding a pretty well-rounded ship. Group quarters, mess hall, storage, some sort of control center, and finally the medical station. The doctor’s office itself, complete with a serious of rounded pods, all clear except for one. I walked over, looking for any sort of control. I found a panel that lit up with different symbols in different places, but nothing I could use. It was when I tried tapping on the pod itself that the thing cleared out in a small radius around where I’d touched. The thing had felt more like water than anything solid. More importantly, I saw our Purple friend inside, stumps looking slightly longer than I thought I’d left him.

Remembering the way it felt, I pushed my hand against the surface harder and found it gave to my touch. They must have put him out, too. He didn’t resist at all when my hand snaked up to his throat. Oh, sure, choking him, then he tried to fight back. For obvious reasons, he couldn’t get a grip. I ended up pulling him out of that pod and holding him up in the air. One hand choked, the other three kept him from kicking me away. Finally, he fought back no more. I snapped his neck for good measure and squeezed it until it separated from his head, then tossed him aside.

With a moment to think things through, I made my way to the command center, going over stuff. Betrayed by Venus. No, Future Venus. My Venus hasn’t done this, but now I know she’s capable of it. Hell, she still might. So Future Venus left me to my fate with these aliens. Mobian’s ship disappeared. And the fuckers who had used me as just a commodity to hand over had my daughter. Future Venus and Mobian. Not exactly the easiest nut to crack.

But as I pulled my gauntlets off and pressed my hands to a control panel, I smiled. I couldn’t understand the programming language and had been a bit surprised that my body even managed to bond to this ship’s computer at all, but it had worked. All I had to do now was decipher this language. Then, I’ll have all the time in the world to bring them 1.21 jiggawatts of pain.

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Back To The Past 1

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“Nope. Nooooope!” I said, turning away from The Mobian’s timeship. I turned and began to walk away. From the 360-degree heads-up-display of my power armor, I could see Mobian, or at least an older, scarf-clad version of Mobian than the one I’d seen before, turn and look at his companions. The bleach-blonde middle-aged woman was just as clueless. It was the other woman, an older version of Venus with grey hair and a robotic right eye, followed after me.

“I come begging for help and you turn your back on me? Since when!” she said, hurrying to grab my shoulder.

I turned. “As much as I love to hear about you coming and begging me, future Venus, you said no daughters. An awful lot of stuff I get dragged on seems to take a month of my time, and that’s a bit too long for me to leave her alone.”

She looked me where the eyes of my helmet should be and walked around to block the direction I had been walking. “We need the world’s best assassin. Do you want your daughter to see kill people?”

“My daughter’s been through some shit.She can handle me turning someone’s skull into my own personal dickpuppet, but what I don’t think she can handle is me just dumping her to go run off for a week or a month or however long.” I poked her in the chest, noticing that the tattered top she wore was less like her hero outfit and more like scrounged-up body armor.

The Mobian poked his old, grey-curled head in from the side. “If I may, my timeship does not operate by what humans call ‘San Dimas Time’. I can return you to the instant after you left.”

“And if something happens, then I’ve just suddenly disappeared from her life. Either Qiang travels with me on a journey throughout time, or you can fuck off to Transexual, Transylvania looking for someone to do the Time Warp with, gramps, got it?”

“We need you,” Venus said, moving closer and crowding me in.

I looked between Venus and Mobian, then leaned in, brushing my upper hands through their hair. “Shh. Shh. It’s ok.” Then I reached down and slapped a lower hand on their asses at the same time. “So, how serious are y’all about needing me?” They stood there awkwardly for a moment before I let go of their heads, stepped past them, and pushed them behind me with both sets of arms. “Get the fuck outta here! Killers are a dime a dozen. Like that guy.” I pointed off to the distance where Specialist St. John sat by a fountain, his giant alien blaster shotgun taken apart for cleaning. “Dragoon there used to be a mercenary. Killing for pay is the mercenary way.”

“We’ll let you bring your daughter along!” said the blonde woman, marching up behind me. Venus glared at her and the Mobian bit his bottom lip briefly.

“That is a bad idea. She’s a child,” Mobian said.

“No, fine,” Venus said, turning her glare to me and trying to fight it down. “If it’ll get you to come along, bring her. We’ll look after her.”

Dear reader, do you ever get that feeling like you’re not being told the whole story?

“You need me that bad, eh?” I looked to Venus, focusing on her. “Must be something pretty important. Why do you need me? Come on. I’m not a tool here.”

She blinked her biological eye and crossed her arms, standing with feet spread just a little. “We need you. In fifteen years, Mot awakens. It is an ancient god of death and pestilence that consumes everything. It empowers its followers to kill; it spreads filth and disease wherever; it takes the powers of whoever it consumes and sends their ghosts and corpses to round up more for it to eat. It’s unstoppable. Mobian finally came when we had no other options,” she gestured to Mobian, who bowed his head sheepishly. “It’s too powerful now. We have to go back to when it was weaker.”

“I’m following along with you so far, but why me?” I asked. I pointed over at Dragoon again. “Mercenary. Works for cash.” I pointed at myself. “Untrustworthy psycho. Gonna try to love you up and turn you into a horny toad.”

It’s a testament to how rough a future she comes from that this got Venus to smile just a little. She got control of her mouth, but it still happened. “It does things to people. Mot forces people to confront the worst about themselves. It brings out every bad thing about them and makes them see it.”

“Like depression?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “Worse. Most people can’t put up a fight.” I don’t think she has much experience with depression. “We know where it will be at one moment, but we may only get one chance to destroy it. We know, don’t we? You know the truth about yourself?” She laid a hand on one of my forearms. “I can’t think of many who could get close to it through all of that.”

I cocked my head to the side. “What about future me?”

“You were dead. Will be dead.” The tense problem was just one portion of the awkwardness in those words.

“ You’re going to have to tell me how that happens,” I said.

“It’s a deal,” she said quickly. “Come help destroy Mot, and I’ll tell you how you die.”

“The timeship will be parked well away from this depression aura thingy, right?” I asked.

“Why?”

“For Qiang, of course. It was already agreed I could bring her.

“Yes,” Mobian said. “We wouldn’t want her to experience anything so terrible.” He looked between future Venus and myself. “We are agreed. Gecko, gather all you will need as well as your daughter.”

And I did. I grabbed Qiang, loaded up a couple extra rubber chicken grenades, and brought the radiationthrower back out of its carefully-sealed lead refrigerator. I don’t often get a chance to just drag the thing out, but it seemed like a good time to carry around an unlicensed nuclear reactor in a backpack. It helped conceal another thing I figured would be useful, especially if this depression aura was real. I’d been hoping to make more use of drones, and my brief time on the alien world attested to that. I snuck a couple of smaller drones under my cape, attached to the battery pack back there, as well as the back of my belt.

“Hey baba,” Qiang said, taking one of my free hands. Yet another advantage of having extras. “If we’re going back in time, can I see mama again?”

Hoo boy.

I squeezed her hand. “I sure hope so. I’ll see if they can do that, ok?”

I left a message for the Directory that I may or may not be gone for awhile. I’d let them know if I was leaving, and not to go selecting anyone else to take over for me too quickly if I don’t come back from the trip I may not go on. Mobian’s timeship was still where we’d left it. The blonde kept an eye out for me, though she spent more time checking out the various supervillains leaving. Most had been on their way out already, but Mobian’s vessel didn’t strike any of them as a good omen. As much as he was a hero, he was one who tended to show up around the time things were going wrong. It wasn’t so much that he caused problems, but he tended to be where problem were.

“Hey there,” Future Venus said, smiling warmly at Qiang in a way she’d never managed for me. Qiang ran over to go hug her. An idea flitted through my head of adopting more and more kids until she was forced to love me, but that obviously wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t even be fun, not even to watch from the outside. Might be a handy way to start my own gang of villains if I’m willing to put the years into it, so I decided to put it on the list of Possible Future Schemes. It’s right up there underneath “Engineer Global Ice Cream Shortage”.

I’d expected the inside of the ship to be all cluttered, with weird hoses and levers all around. It was a lot bigger on the inside than I expected, with a floor of some cloudy amber material. The walls were way more white than I preferred. A bit hard on the eyes there. The Mobian was standing atop a raised platform made of some dark metal that clashed with the rest of the interior. On one of the walls was a doorway of brass, perhaps, that led to further interior. Perhaps there were rooms there. Out here in this section, there was only the raised platform Mobian stood at pressing things, and the blank area for the rest of us to stand.

The opening we’d entered by closed up, cutting me off from the world’s information once again. “Are we ready to bid this millennium adieu?” Mobian asked, then leaned down to smile at Qiang. “It’s a smooth ride so you won’t need to buckle up.”

“Can we go see my mommy?” she asked in the Riccan pidgin.

Mobian’s friendly demeanor faltered for a moment. “I’ll see what we can do.”

“You speak Riccan?” I asked him.

He winked and pointed up at the ceiling of the ship. “My ship ensures we understand each other. Everyone who travels through time on it is linked, but the field dissipates if not soon renewed. Buckle your unnecessary seatbelts, folks!”

Despite that, the blonde woman was leaning on the side of the raised portion where it met the floor in a gentle ramp, holding onto the lip for support. “It’s ok,” I said. “I’m sure this nuclear device will be fine if it’s jostled too much.” I raised the radiationthrower. “Where are we going, anyway?”

“The where isn’t as important as the when. Tell me, have you ever been to the Cretaceous before?” Mobian asked. A part of the white wall cleared up like a fog, showing us lowering onto the edge of a marshy area. “If the location is important to you, this would be the continent Laramidia.”

“I think I caught that once,” I said. “So, this is is where an ancient god of death. Hey, after I kill this thing, I call dibs on its title.” Huh. Can a god of death be killed? Interesting question, but I suppose it depends on the type of god. My brief look into this Mot critter before leaving the present didn’t turn up a lot of info. Lived in a pit, ceaseless hunger, covers the land with filth. I actually had so much of a hard on for killing a god of death, I didn’t even want to pull out the social commentary, like wondering if this was Rush Limbaugh’s house or something.

The door opened and Venus volunteered to show me the way. “We’re far enough way that the ship won’t be affected. I’ll lead you as far as I can.”

I nodded and knelt down to look Qiang in the eye. “I gotta go deal with this thing, then I’ll be right back. Until then, this people are supposed to be nice to you.” I reached out and booped her nose with one of my lower hands. “See you in a bit, dumpling.”

We hugged. “See you soon, baba. Don’t get eaten by monsters.”

I patted her head. “Don’t worry, sweetie. Monsters hide under the bed because they don’t want me to find them.” And they don’t like it when I try to cuddle in the afterglow. I hugged her for a few seconds before breaking it off and standing up.

Once we’d exited the time ship, Future Venus pulled out a device and pressed a soft button on it. It created a conical hologram in front of her with lines marking ranges and a beeping dot in the distance. “This way,” she said.

We walked on for a bit, her not really responding to my attempts at conversation. Stimulating stuff, too. “And if that wasn’t bad enough, then Napoleon’s guys are just like ‘fuck it, kill ’em all. It’d just be cheaper to buy new slaves,’ and start gassing folks.”

“Do you just look at the worst humanity has to offer?” she asks.

I shot her a look. “No. I just figured I’d learn about the Haitian Revolution someday. It’s just your history, and it’s interesting. And those worst of humanity types come along naturally. Unfair to classify them as different. They are humanity.” We took turns hopping over portions of the swamp that we were circling around.

“Your daughter’s half that, too.”

“Yeah, she is. She gets to be my daughter. How fucked is her life going to be if people hold it against her, right? But that’s why I’m taking some of those lessons you tried to teach me to heart.”

“Bullshit,” Future Venus said as she stepped over a root thick enough to rival many a tree.

“I trust you with my daughter. I trust you enough to drag me to Jurassic Park. And I’ve been trying to do things to make the world a little better. I don’t want Qiang hurt because of a cycle of revenge that started with me.”

Venus hurried to get further ahead of me. “We’re almost there.”

“What, my attempt to be a tiny bit more responsible offends you, my dear Venus?” I jumped in front of her and turned around.

She stopped, of course. Even with the years on her, Future Venus was still beautiful and stubborn. “You’re bringing up some conflicting feelings, and it’s not easy knowing what’s coming left in your life and mine. My life from back then,” she gestured back behind her, toward the ship.

“Yeah, I plenty of conflicting feelings about you too. I hate you, but at the same time you’re so wonderful. A strong, unflinching hero with your stupidly naive goody-goody ways. I suppose Captain Lightning is too, but he’s not the one who seems willing to die for the belief there’s a better person in me.”

She crossed her arms. “And he’s not as pretty as me.”

I shrugged. “True, but I just learned it’s not an age thing at all, beautiful.”

She smiled and turned away, shaking her head. “You talk some shit.”

“Yeah, I do. But, ya know, I could always make someone look like you. They’d just never mean as much to me as you do,” I said. It felt a little warm under my helmet, but what the hell? I’m dead when she comes from, and present Venus won’t know any of this. “There’s a reason I can’t bring myself to kill you.”

“Yeah, because I can still fight you off.”

I handed off the radiationthrower to my lower set of arms and popped my helmet off so I could blow her a kiss. “Keep flirting like this and we’ll see.”

That got a laugh. When she stopped, she looked at me for a moment, pondering. Then she put her hand on my shoulder, leaned in, and something magical happened. “The-” she started to say before I made a little more magic happen. She didn’t let me go on forever, pressing a finger to my lips. “There. We’ve tried it. A man from your past and a woman from beyond your future.”

“Well see,” I said. When she backed off further, I put my helmet back on and redid the seals. “Unless changing the timeline makes you disappear, you could always stick around with myself and Qiang.” And my wife, too, but I wasn’t so stupid to mention that when I was on a roll.

Her smile faded and she looked down, shaking her head. “That won’t work.”

“If you’re afraid I’ll die on you, you’re supposed to give me that info anyway,” I reminded her. She sighed and walked past me. That… got chilly in a hurry.

“We’re almost there,” she said.

“Ok,” I said. I stayed quiet, hoping to give her time to think and sort all this out. Probably some hero hangup she’s dealing with?

I don’t normally enjoy nature hikes, but the day’s events made this one just awesome. If Mot the death god was trying to bring me down, he wasn’t doing shit. Maybe that’s what got Future Venus, but I wasn’t feeling a thing. I was thinking on that when she stopped, staring down at a strange stone that definitely looked out of place there from the glow within. The smooth obsidian orb just sat there. “This our Mot guy? A bit on the small side, and I thought there’d be a pit.” Behind me, the drones dropped out from under my cape. One took off for cover, the other headed up into the tree tops.

Venus looked back and up, trying to follow the noise, but didn’t seem all that concerned. “That leads to Mot. I’m not going any further, but wait a moment,” she turned and patted my shoulder. “I was going to tell you when you died, now, before you touched it. I can’t now. I hope you can understand.” She stepped back.

“This Mot aura’s really doing a number on you… Let me just deal with that. You tell me afterward.” I turned and walked toward the orb. “What do I do?”

“Just touch it,” she said. Nice words to hear coming from her. I went to nudge it with my boot and-

It was like it blew up on me, but not explosively. One moment it’s a rock on the ground, the next it’s surrounding me, everything held in place in rock or crystal or whatever’s the fucking difference when I’m trapped like that.

I could still feel the drones at least, but before I could direct them to fire on the thing, a diamond-shaped thing flew through the sky. It was even smaller than the timeship, but when it touched the ground, four beings appeared. Four humanoids, each wearing a different primary color with black and silver as secondary colors. The same damn things that showed up at the end of the big villain raid on the alien planet that created the Deep Ones and experimented on the mercenaries who accidentally found the portal.

The lead one in red made a sound that, after a moment, shifted into English words. “Go.” Venus turned and jogged away, sparing me one last glance. Red guy turned to me then. “You understand this language?” he continued in English.

I’d have nodded, or given him a middle finger, but both were hard to do. “Yeah, fuckface, but if you really want to speak my language, let me out of this thing.”

“You are Psychopomp Gecko, member of an infant race, leader of a group who attacked the society of your superiors. We will exact punishment for your trespass. You can not escape. You have no allies. Our victory is complete. Our power, overwhelming. Resistance will only bring pain.”

“Oh, you have no fucking idea,” I growled from inside this crystal ball that encased me as I stared out at a a foursome of aliens who decided to commit suicide the world’s least fun suicide.

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The Knights Illuminati 9

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“I’m trying to tell you this is real!” shouted a red-faced fat man on a TV screen. “It’s the god-damned Illuminati! It’s the demons that are getting in because of the fluoride in the water supply that’s turning all the frogs gay. This is how the apocalypse starts, people! So I’ve heard from a credible source that all the world’s supervillains teamed up and formed a secret society. They invaded an alien planet, folks! The same aliens who came to this planet a long time ago and built the pyramids. They built the pyramids and, and, and, they genetically engineered humans into evil fish monsters. They made the soy that’s turning men into women. It was the Greys and Bigfoot teaming up together! Now they’re pissed because the Super Illuminati, the Black Knights Templar, stole the Roswell UFO and flew there. It was that fucking Psycho Gecko over there in the Pacific. He did it when he stole the nuke! The nuke, people! Wake up and smell the mushroom clouds!”

The red-faced man tore his shirt open and reached down. He came back up with one of his shoes, which he banged on his desk over and over until they cut over to where a gay guy with a swastika armband started talking up some sort of herbal supplement meant to help people think better, the camera moving quickly to avoid lingering too long on the part of the label that mentioned soy as one of its ingredients.

Satisfied that Infowars ran with the info I leaked them, I got away from there. I’ve had most alcoholic beverages known to man and a few unknown to man, and that website was killing more of my brain cells faster than any seashine the Deep Ones cook up in their stills. But that was kinda the point. After the debacle of electing that one moron in 2016, nobody with any sense is trusting the sort of people who believe that fucking channel. So glad I killed that fucker. I’ve probably been nominated for a peace prize or something.

With all the loot we took from the alien planet, people were eager to spend. And spend they did. I took from them most of what they took from the aliens. But, hey, they got free t-shirts. I even threw in the sleeves, complementary. Those are high quality sleeves; I coulda charged them $50 a sleeve.

I’m not all take and no give, though. The villains who attended this little shindig got themselves some nice door prizes. For instance, the Patches. High tech, low maintenance, these thin little computers utilize the latest and greatest super science has to offer allowing villains to stay Patched into things like the internet, bluetooth capable devices, and VillaiNet. That’s what they settled on for the name. It’s got a social media function, including the ability to post videos, but there are also forums, live chat, an auction-site setup, and a site for those of us who produce things for sale. Instead of each needing a different place, they’re all connected in one spot for ease of browsing and ordering. There are some pretty nifty augmented reality functions inspired by Ricca’s use of it.

But it’s not like a wrist computer or eyeglasses or anything. Both of those can be pretty clunky in combat and mess with a person’s costume. They can be slapped onto the skin of a user to access its functions with an incredibly thin monitor that doubles as a keyboard. And only works on the skin of a villainous user. It reads the DNA of the skin it’s attached to as a biometric security measure, with a database kept up to date and stored here on Ricca. Extras have been sent out in case people need them, but also to bring more people into it. They can slap them onto their skin, have their DNA scanned, and have a registration process start up to make sure they’re actually a villain. They don’t even have to stay on; there’s a sequence to detach it. They can be reattached anytime, no problem.

I think this went well. As I said before, this wasn’t about a Legion of Doom and some big plan to defeat the Super Friends, though not for lack of planning. If they were real, I’d start things off with a canon aimed at Apache Chief’s junk. Timber! Well, it’d be pretty hard for him to have any timber after getting shot there, but y’all get my meaning.

See, it’s like I said at the last big meeting of all of us, where the Patches were being shown off and distributed. I could have just described the inventors talking up all the features and getting things synced up, but those guys love to hear themselves talk. Not like me. I’m great at talking, so everyone loves when I talk, not just me. Completely different.

Ouroboros, as the guy really in charge of all this as far as organizing, was once again in the middle of the whole tent, shushing people down. They’d gotten all excited about the Patches. Everyone was eagerly anticipating theirs. I already had access to the network, because this is me we’re talking about and I helped get the whole thing set up. I’d get one in due time but I was much more interested in what was coming next, which involved Ouroboros hogging the spotlight with an address of his own.

“My fellow villains, I know we generally disregard the rules.” That drew chuckles from the audience. “Despite that, I believe in what we’re doing here. Psycho Gecko is right. The heroes are organizing. The world we grew up in is becoming less certain. This gives us a chance to survive and even thrive in the coming chaos.” He poked a tablet on the table before picking it up. “These aren’t much more than a code of the rules most of us followed. Don’t murder a fellow super. Don’t put them in a coma. Those are capital offenses punishable by execution.” He gestured to me.

I waved at everyone, “Hey everyone. I just got a new necklace made of ears!”

Ouroboros continued. “Exposing another’s identity, attacking or outing another villain’s family, permanent disabling, near-murder, or sexually assaulting another super are to be judged by the community. There are a range of non-capital punishments they may decide on, including beating, theft, and shunning. We’ve left open the possibility that the community can vote for capital punishment.”

Well, not exactly what I was hoping for there. I mean, it’s nice for them to codify that, but I figured a bit of rape might be worth a visit from me. I heard some booing, but for all I know they disagreed with the idea of that being punished at all. Someone else called out an important question as well. “Who’s going to judge us?”

Ouroboros’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “I would eagerly take the job if not for the vote you evidently missed. The allegation and evidence will be posted for everyone to see. We all get a vote in it, except the accused and the victim or victims.” Huh. I’m sure some people were looking forward to being some sort of judges or capos or something. Easy way to make lots of bribe money and get a lot of power over people. Ouroboros looked disappointed to me, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

As someone who regularly hates and uses masses of people getting caught up in stupidity, I can see this system going badly just as easily. Hell, at least with Ouroboros, you know it’d take a big bribe. Some of these guys knifed their own mothers for a nickel. I’ve seen their records, that’s not an exaggeration. It’s not off the table now either. But while I’m excellent at seeing the flaws in things and plans that take advantage of that, fixing things is generally out of my wheelhouse. But I’m trying. And one of the best things you can do when confronted with a nigh-insurmountable problem is to keep trying different things. If cyanide doesn’t work, try a spiked mace. If they shrug off the mace, unleash the killer mutant sea pigs. And on and on.

But I left several outs, like all good plans. Gotta have room for improvisation. Areas where I can show a little trust. They disappointed me with the lower sentencing for sexual assault rules, but there was something in there I’m sure was a canny decision by Ouroboros. The rules said supers, not villains. We’ll see how that language plays with the heroes when they find out about this. I mean, we’re talking villains here. Someone’s going to yap about it. In the meantime, as Ouroboros was saying, “These rules apply to all supers. If heroes violate them, they will be subject to the same punishments to be executed by our fellow villains.”

I caught some glances sent my way at the word executed. He gave an “ahem” to get people’s attention again. “We won’t officially help you with civilians who break these rules, but you can always obtain help through VillaiNet. However, these rules will also be applied to members of law enforcement going forward. These rules will not be retroactive to save us from a lot of finger pointing and retaliation as soon as we get out of here. Any change to the rules of our new legion of rogues.” Ok, now he’s just fucking with me, “are to be adopted only after receiving 90% of the vote in polling.

You know how hard it is to get 90% of a group to agree on something? That’s like “nine out of ten dentists agree that brushing your teeth is good for you” territory. And there’s still the one fucking dentist.

With all that adopted, there wasn’t much left to do except help kick everyone out. As much as people seemed to enjoy their vacation, I’m sure they were ready to get back to robbing people and trying out their new souvenirs. I made sure to find Spinetingler before he could depart, and not just to oggle his daughter. Though he was talking to her when I ran across them. They were in the middle of the fountain at the villain village, having some sort of discussion about the water.

“A baptism ritual would work, I know!” she said, stomping a heel against the ground.

Spinetingler, in his black leather outfit with a hood obscuring his head, nodded. “Yes, I envision a twisted cult mass. We need to find the proper cult leader to empower and prey upon the latent fears of… hello Gecko.” He turned, taking me in with glowing red eyes in the darkness.

“Hello, Tingles,” I said. I don’t think he cared for the nickname, though his daughter giggled in a way that made me wonder just what her mental age was. “I just came to say thanks for stopping in.”

He clenched his fist. “It provided an adequate vacation for my daughter. Otherwise, the meetings wasted my time.”

I shrugged. “Sometimes, just being around is enough. But I just wanted to let you know I don’t consider our agreement superseded by the new rules or anything. Let’s just say if you happen to cross those lines, I might be in the middle of a bath when they call. Or have difficulty finding you. All I ask is you don’t make it look obvious if you can help it.” I held out my hand for a shake.

He took it and squeezed, leaning in quickly as if to try and make me jump. Joke’s on him, I had to stop myself headbutting him. “Agreed,” he said, then abruptly turned and walked away. “Come darling!”

His daughter eyed me as she passed by before her heels disappeared into flats and she jogged to catch up to her father.

Whew. It was good to get that out of the way. I was looking forward to getting into some trouble myself, though. Maybe see about some new shit to steal. Kidnap some more staff for the labs. Ooh, and work on a custom VTOL stealth vehicle for transporting small squads of people. I had so many things that needed doing when electricity crackled out of nowhere. Suddenly, a glowing orb of white light appeared, lightning arcing off it. With a boom, it was replaced by a larger glowing orb settled on the ground. An outline of a door appeared in the side of the orb, which was about the size of a tall shack. The black outline soon filled in and out walked an old man in a brown coat, vest, slacks, and a scarf. “Psycho Gecko, I need your assistance.”

“Oh you do, do you?” I asked, looking over the old man and the vessel that registered on my HUD as The Mobian’s vessel. “Who are you and what are you doing with this thing?”

“He’s the Mobian,” said a middle-aged bottle blonde. “And if you have trouble believin’ that, you’re not our guy, guv.”

“I need your help,” the Mobian said. I would have sworn the guy was younger. I still haven’t seen him since I set off that Dimensional bomb really close to him and a fleet of fluid-based aliens intent on enslaving everyone on Earth to use as soldiers in an alien civil war.

“The only thing I don’t believe is that you’d ever come to me for help,” I said, setting my helmeted chin in one hand and using the other three to prop it up.

“If we had any other choice, we’d have taken it,” came a familiar voice. I looked over to see who else would be joining us from out of the time ship. I was rewarded with the sight of a tired, weathered Venus with grey streaking her hair. A scar split her brow and the skin of her cheek underneath the crimson glow of her prosthetic right eye. She raised her left hand, spinning some blocky gun of a make I’d never seen before along a lever on its underside.

I jumped up and clapped four of my hands. “Oooh, does this mean I get to take my daughter along on a trip to the future?”

“Daughter?” asked the blonde woman. “Where we’re going, we don’t need your daughter.”

Mobian set his hand on my shoulder. “I need you, to go back with me… to the past!”

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The Knights Illuminati 8

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I bounded across the face of a pyramid under a green sky. Behind me, an orb the size of a beach ball approached. It was hard enough running along the smooth, angled side of the thing, though much easier than the side of a skyscraper. It’s much harder when a floating piece of glass rides your ass and tries to blast it off with a laser beam the diameter of a beach ball. I dropped and slid down the side of the pyramid to keep from being pegged by excited photons.

The beam followed, trailing molten whatever. I was invisible, but that didn’t matter to that thing. I’m guessing the natives of this world see some different stuff than most people from Earth do. I considered using my gauntlets, either to deflect the beam or to absorb part of it, then deflect it. They were built to handle Justice Ranger small arms, but it has an upper limit. I was never capable of deflecting the sorts of attacks their giant mecha could produce. I’d rather not test them against this energy weapon unless I have no other option. Still, I began to charge up my lower pair of arms and I had the projectors stop trying to render me invisible if it wasn’t going to work.

I banked on it only being able to maintain that beam for so long, then come back and smack it with my dick. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I’d blow it away with my cock, but I don’t know what my rubber chicken grenades are going to do around this place. Without roads to cross to the other side of, they might run around like chicken with their heads cut off. But dodging I can do. Some might call it “running away” but I argue that facing unknown energy beams capable of disappearing a torso is not the time to argue over valor. I really need a reliable method of defending myself from a distance. Or, as is more accurate in my life, preemptively defending myself. I have to defend myself from people’s attempts to kill me for trying to murder them.

Then again, all the eye lasers in the world are pretty useless if you can’t use them because the thing is a giant laser orb behind you that you can’t take the time to try and shoot because of the big-ass laser beam. I think it’s just really easy to complain when you’re close to involuntary ass hair removal via big-ass laser.

Having founded my guess on the idea that most weapons can’t attack continuously for very long without running into power, cooling, or ammunition problems, I was rewarded with the thing stopping. Unfortunately, the sliding thing was tougher to stop. I had to put my fist into the side of the pyramid. It didn’t go too far. Just far enough to break some fingers on my upper left hand. When you’re as punchable as myself, you get used to a lot of pain. I leveraged myself up and jumped for the orb. The first punch with my upper right knocked it back, but didn’t shatter it or anything. Then I gave it the ol’ one-two with the bottom pair and they put cracks all through the bottom. The orb dropped and began to roll down the side of the pyramid.

I’d been heading out a little further to see what I could see of this place. Wherever we’d entered this world, it didn’t seem to be the same spot they’d sent people through before. There had been no sign of the big tentacle thing that tried to get me before, and no other real defenses. Based on how there had been a drop of a few feet, I think moving the crystal on our end affected where we came out. One of the first villains through, Powder, used her super strength to put together a mound made out of what I assume are the local personal transportation. Some of the villains were swarming all over triangular things and I’m sure some of have already been tossed through whole.

“Hide your kids, hide your wife, we’re takin’ everything ’round here!” I called down to crowds of fleeing aliens. That’s what I’m going with, anyway. I know what dimensional travel is like, so I’m guessing this is mere interplanetary stuff. And not a racially homogenous one, either. I saw all sorts running around. Pale things with long, thin limbs and big heads walked around like greys in denim. No, seriously, whatever they were wearing looked a lot like denim. Denim overalls, denim jeans, denim jackets. I saw a big ape-like furry thing in a toga and sandals, so even alien fashion isn’t so horrible as to include socks with sandals. That was reassuring, actually. Some of these things were reptilian, some had green skin, some blue. They had aliens every color of the rainbow around here, fleeing as we wreaked havoc and stole whatever we could.

“I can’t be the only one noticing it’s hard to breathe here, for sure?” asked someone. I had the comms lines in my helmet turned down low so they wouldn’t interrupt anything.

“No, you’re just a fatass,” someone else responded.

“No, he’s right,” another voice jumped in. “It’s the atmosphere.”

“Anyone know how to read gibberish?” someone else broke in. “I don’t know what I’m robbing. Is this a Whole Foods or an electronic store?”

Yet another person broke in, which just goes to show why I didn’t want to pay a lot of attention to all this. “Shove it up your ass. If it doesn’t vibrate, it’s food.”

A voice with an accent I couldn’t place broke in. “That is how I know you are an American. You would fry it first.”

“Guys, not to interrupt this wonderful attempt at recreating Reddit with real noises, but I’m getting shot at over here,” someone said.

“Fuck off.”

“Walk it off.”

“Shoot them back!”

I broke in. “Cooperation is a part of this. Let’s get some people over there before we find out they have guns that turn people’s crotches into poisonous snakes or something.”

“Woah, I saw that on TV before. There’s this big purple snake thing in another country-”

I cut them off. “That’s nice and we can discuss the penis snake once we’re back on Earth. Look at it this way, you get to steal gear from this place’s version of cops or soldiers or whatever.”

I think that did the trick. There wasn’t a good way to get a sense of where people were outside of whatever they discussed over the comms, and I didn’t like paying attention to all that. Still, those sorts of weapons and equipment were high on the list of goods to take, just like on Earth. They’re valuable, easy to carry, and easy to sell. It wouldn’t be Earth’s first encounter with alien technology, but I’d try to make sure my country gets whatever insights they have to offer first. Until then, I had to do a little robbing of my own.

I landed on what I took to be a sidewalk, right in front of a fleeing thing. I’d say feminine in appearance, but I didn’t have a basis for comparison with this thing’s species. Thin, with blue skin that took on an iridescent glimmer at the curves, and some folds of loose skin where the hair would be. “Stand and deliver,” I said, pulling a rubber chicken out of my belt and pointing it at the alien ominously.

It babbled something in a language my translator program began to work furiously on figuring out. “Your money or your life!” I said again, poking at the alien with the rubber chicken. I looked it over for valuables and found it had a number of bracelets on. I grabbed for those and slipped them off, the alien giving little resistance.

I was admiring them when a pair of those triangular vehicles came humming up the street nearby. The bodies of the vehicles turned as whatever they had instead of wheels moved them from side to side in order to deftly dodge fleeing civilians. The alien tried to pull one of the bracelets away from me and, when I refused, began waving its arms at the vehicles. They came to a sudden stop next to us and these domes on top retracted to reveal three beings in each one.

They got out, another mixture of various aliens. At least one of them looked more like the one I’d just mugged, but red-skinned instead of blue. One of them held the palm of his glove-covered hand toward me and shot some little disk thing. I caught it out of the air and looked at it, at which point it began to shock me. If it had hit and attached, that would have sucked. Unfortunately for them, it clenched my hand and I crushed the darn thing. Still made me stumble back, but it also helped charge up the energy sheaths on my gauntlets thanks to how I’d redesigned them. Three of the others pulled out extending sticks, not narrowed like batons, while the last brought out a staff. I went ahead and tucked my stolen bracelets away.

The three with the sticks came at me all at once. The things looked like wood, but clanged off my armor. A punch each put the three down, but not dead. For most people, they’d be gooey salsa on the sidewalk after one of those. These guys were still intact and holding themselves, though only the sasquatch-looking guy seemed anywhere near close to getting up for another go. It was staff guy’s time for a go while the one who tried to tase me checked on the others. He gave my leg a half-hearted poke that I didn’t think anything of until a metal clamp extended out and wrapped around my thigh. Then a yellow light on the middle part of the staff lit up. He picked me up and smacked me into the street a few times before smacking me onto the armored battery pack I wore on my back.

I didn’t have to worry about the charge in my last hand anymore. I raised all four of my hands for a moment before I got my feet under me a little. I fired my suit’s elbow rockets at the same time I jumped, pulling the staff clear of the alien’s grip. My suit was at least a match for the clamp, able to tear it off, and the alien peace officer himself was less resilient to a flying person in power armor gut-checking him.

The last one fired off another pair of his shocking little gadgets at me as I approached. Once again, a ranged attack would be nice. A laser shot out from the side, severing the thing’s hand and ending the pain and involuntary muscle contractions. And, I might add, leaving the red-skinned alien standing in front of me while I had four charged gauntlets ready. Yeah, no need for the laser now. The others survived a punch each with no problems. Turns out, a couple such hits at the same time will salsafy these guys anyway.

I turned to the person who had helped me. Escorpio Encantador stood on the back of a gleaming gold and black scorpion that went along perfectly with his scorpion-motif armor. “I am sure you would have killed him without my assistance, Emperatriz Gecko. I merely hurried his death along so you have more time to do what you love.” He gave me a bow.

“Yeah, yeah. Now help me get these guys’ pants off!” I said, perfectly happy to have less attention on him helping me out. He politely refused to help me rob the downed cops blind, claiming he had to get over and help with the tentacle monster. I just made sure to gather up as much of the armor and equipment I could, including that taser-launching glove, a couple of sticks, and what may have been an advanced alien jockstrap. That’s a question for the scientists to answer, though.

I was broken away from my robbery reverie by the increasing panic from the various voices on the comms. “Tentacles everywhere!” someone called. Another person was like, “It touched my mouth, ew, fuck it! Fuck all of it!” And that last statement was not good fuck it.

Grabbing my loot, I made for the portal. I found that the fleeing crowds in that area were supervillains who were trying to get away from a large, flesh-shaped slug covered with tentacles. If it was the same one from the other portal, it would be the remnants of one last mercenary. Yeah, they did that to a human. Giant tentacle slug.

Suddenly, a large crowd of the aliens ran for the portal as well, from the other direction. What I thought would turn into a counter attack instead became a massive surge of aliens all throwing themselves at the thing, trying to beat, claw, and bite it to death. It wasn’t until I was jumping my way closer that I saw someone moving more slowly in the midst of them without being trampled. A woman with a face I’d seen plenty of times, though she now wore a form-fitting black dress. Spinetingler’s daughter.

Spinetingler himself soon appeared, though he appeared unconcerned with the writhing, wriggling mess of tentacles. When tendrils came close to slapping him, he swiped them clear with a quartet of blades on the fingers of one glove. He approached the thing and laid a hand on it. By now, I’d landed relatively close by and nodded to the guy’s daughter. I felt her telepathic abilities claw away at my mind, protected as it was by the unique neurophysiology of homo machina. Something about the way our minds interface with computers screws up conventional psionic abilities. My understanding is that it takes a hellaciously strong psychic to break in. “Everything ok here?” I asked.

She nodded. Her voice had a deep echo to it. “My father has this handled. I think everyone should go.”

I nodded again and cut into the comms. “Okily dokily, folks. I hear we better get a move on. Spinetingler’s doing something to the squirming mass over here and I think we’d better skedaddle.”

“Roger, skedaddling commencing,” someone with a mechanical-sounding voice said.

“Keep an eye out for anyone lagging behind. Anyone get caught? Anyone injured?” I asked. I was interrupted by Dr. Creeper stomping by back to the portal in a barebones robot that was more a pair of large chicken-legs with a small tank cannon on top. From his cackling, he was having the time of his life.

Meanwhile, Spinetingler finished whatever he was doing and flew past through the portal as a bunch of bats. Short as he was a few in his belfry, if he was hightailing it, that was a sign. Kinda like when you notice the bomb disposal guy running with a line of pee trailing after. But I stuck around. I got to see as the thing that had once been a man and was now a giant flesh slug began to grow and take something like a humanoid shape. It didn’t get all the formal body parts. It stayed all lumpy and flesh-colored, but it had a pair of legs, a torso, and arms, all with little arms and legs twitching out of its skin. And whatever led it to come after us villains didn’t seem to be in control anymore. It took a swipe at a nearby obelisk, sending it crashing onto more of the extraterrestrial cops.

“Sound off if you are still past the portal!” called Ouroboros over the comms.

“Gecko here. I’m still on alien soil, watching aliens soil themselves,” I answered.

After a few more seconds of comms silence, Ouroboros replied, “We’re waiting on you.”

A bolt of red energy missed my head and zapped a piece of the mound underneath the portal. I turned to see a group of four beings in multi-colored outfits walking toward the scene with short capes on the back of their outfits. They had black and silver running throughout the costumes, but each wore a different color primarily. It was the lead one in red, way too big and wide to be a human, who was aiming a sort of cross between staff and rifle at me. I got the feeling I met his gaze, despite the helmets we both wore.

“Yeah, time to go I think,” I said to myself, as well as the rest of them all. I turned and jumped through to see everyone else milling around the military base. No one had been allowed to leave just yet, as enforced by all the guys and drones with guns around.

There was just no way to handle the raid from within the Institute of Science. Sure, it had the computers and the nuclear-powered toasters, which are always handy to have in a conflict. It was too crowded. Hard to get people in and out, or get booty out. Getting a lot of people in and handling booty is as important for a raid as it is for running a train on someone. I also hated being cut off the way the Institute does to me as a consquence of being built for information security.

It turns out the crystal can be handled and moved. I had it brought out to the military base. It had plenty of room for everyone. Plus, this time all the guns would be pointed at my enemies. That includes if any of these assholes got the idea to strand me over there. Which is why they were keeping a close eye on everyone until I gave the order. “Guns down and power off. At ease.”

The soldiers relaxed. Even the surface-to-air launcher wound down and pointed its payload at the sky instead.

“Trust issues, Gecko?” asked Ouroboros, twirling his knives around.

“What? Me? Naw… just didn’t want anyone leaving before we got ourselves a group photo,” I said, pointing over to the nearby bleachers where a pair of photographers were all set up. “Come on, let’s finish comemmorating the new world order. Say ‘stolen cheese’!”

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The Knights Illuminati 7

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I didn’t turn around and immediately lead some villainous expedition into another world for the sake of getting rich on tech so commonplace, they gave it to science projects. They gave a lot of interesting stuff to science projects, and I had to gather up the scientists, including Dr. Creeper, Mix N’Max, Dr. Quincy, and myself, to try and figure out what had been done to these people to better understand what we were facing. Quincy didn’t appreciate me dumping the tentacle on him, not least of which because I literally dropped it in his lap while he was eating calamari. He didn’t finish his lunch for some reason.

He tried to argue with me. “I specialize in plants. Does this look like a plant to you?” he said, waving the tentacle at me.

I shrugged. “That’s what we’re hoping to find out.”

“I do not have a response to that. Fine. I hope they didn’t wreck the entire lab.”

They didn’t, in fact, wreck the whole lab. It came pre-wrecked, but it was intact enough for us to bring in the gear we needed to perform a bunch of autopsies and figure out what we were facing. The ones assigned to the metallurgy of the guns and ammunition I figured found something valuable, as they soon claimed it was all mysteriously destroyed while testing the strength of the metal, ammo included. And some shiny new watches fell off the back of a truck onto their wrists.

They soon left me alone to escape the Institute and leave me to punching dead bodies. I was boxing against one of them hanging on a hook like Rocky in the meat freezer as just part of my testing. I had to get a good idea how much punishment the bodies could take.

I took a break though, intending to go fetch Qiang. It’d be good practice for her. I stopped into Max’s work area first, to see what he was up to. “Knock knock,” I said.

He didn’t look up from where he mixed some liquids in beakers, then poured them on a leg of one of the mercs. “Hey Gex. Bored?” I noted that the liquid fizzled a bit and started to eat through the skin.

“Thought I’d bring Qiang on over, give her some experience with weird dead bodies. Father-daughter stuff. Looks like you’re figuring out clean-up.” I leaned against the doorway.

Max turned to me, perpetual Cheshire grin on his face. “You really love her, don’t you?”

I shrugged and, in the process of figuring out what to do with my extra arms, traced the fangs on my helmet. “There are some questions you don’t ask a guy.”

“Fine, guy,” he put extra emphasis on the second word there to remind me of my current sex. “I remember you hating children.”

“Yeah, I do. Hyperactive, loud, spoiled, stupid little sons of bitches. And they so rarely grow up to try and avenge their parents, despite what all the movies and TV shows tell you.”

“So she’s special to you,” Max said, winking.

I checked around to make sure we were the only ones able to hear. “Orphan taken in by a government determined to train her and use her for their own gain. They gave her to me.” I don’t know if he fully understood what that meant as far as the sort of person they expected me to be.

“Now she’s your daughter.” Max set the beakers down and turned full to me, putting his hands out cautiously, palms toward me. “Are you trying to make her like you?”

I caught myself with my fists raised and before I got close enough to actually land a punch. I’d instinctively tried to beat his ass for that question. I lowered my fists and moved to lean back against the wall. “No, ya Goth bastard. I want her to have an infinitely better life than mine. Why do you fucking ask?”

“Because since I’ve been here, you’ve taught your daughter martial arts and how to butcher an animal. You wanted to bring her to have fun cutting up dead people. You’re a doting father… mother… but are you teaching her the same things you learned?”

I pondered the question. “Well, yes, but not all the things, and not at all like I learned. No gun to her head, no threats of execution, no competition to see who has to fight to the death as the lowest scorers in the group. And like I said, I’m not going around teaching her the best way to sexually violate the human body. I mean, maybe once she’s old enough I can provide some sex education, but she’s too young for that.”

“I don’t mean to tell you how to raise your kid-”

“Then don’t,” I said, cutting him off. He kept going anyway.

“But I don’t think a kid you want to live a better, healthier life needs to poke around dead corpses all the time as part of her education. Unless she wants to be a doctor, of course. I’d be happy to tutor her.” He smiled brightly again, trying to redirect the conversation to something more upbeat.

There are more than 7 billion people on this planet I would murder for a suggestion like that. The one about what I should and shouldn’t teach my own kid. Max is a friend, though. And he might have a point about laying off on the number of corpses I show to Qiang. I know I’m contrarian by nature, probably because someone once told me not to be, but I figured I could at least think it over. I mean, it’s not like I’ll ever really be short of dead bodies to show her if I need to.

That became less important of a point though when Max turned around. “Look what we have here.”

I stepped up behind him. “The good news is, you found a compound to get rid of all those nasty wrinkles and blemishes.” He’d dissolved dermal layers alone, giving us a much clearer view of some of the modifications made to the human. Underneath the skin was a layer of hardened scales. Reminiscent in color to those of the Deep Ones, they were nonetheless tougher than the fish monsters. It’s just that without the skin to cover it up, the resemblance was pretty strong as far as the shape of the thing with the scales. The claws matched up, but Deep Ones were weaker there, too. And these guys didn’t have the fins the Deep Ones had. “I’m going to go round a few people up and send for someone to nab some DNA from a Deep One. This is worth a little bit of looking into.”

It took me a half hour to get a Deep One over from the Drone Division. I brought him, I think him, in to the same lab where Mix N’Max and the rest of the Superhuman Science Crew were gathered. The Deep One gave a croak at seeing all of us there and a dead body with scales on the table. “My Empress, what do you ask of me?”

“Did that thing say Empress?” asked someone in the crowd.

“Shush, that’s not important right now,” I waved off the question, then addressed my soldier. “Just a tiny bit of DNA testing. We were attacked by beings from another world who we’ve just realized bear some resemblance to your people. We just wanted to confirm a few things.”

It doesn’t take much to test DNA, so he lived. He even got a good look at the thing on the table courtesy of Dr. Creeper. Seeing as I’d discarded the same handy-dandy quick tester I’d used to confirm the identity of Spinetingler’s daughter, it took slightly longer for us analyze the DNA and get a good look at its makeup. It was Dr. Quincy, he of the plant biology, who took the lead on this one. “We have samples from standard humans, a Deep One, and one of these creatures to compare to. We would need more samples to gain a fuller understanding of Deep Ones, but utilizing what we have here and the map of the human genome, it appears humanity and the Deep Ones share a common ancestor.”

The Deep One himself scratched at its chin before speaking in a croaking voice, “My people have mated with humans many times in our history.”

“Yeah, there are a stories to that extent,” I said. “That raises the question on whether the Deep Ones are so closely related to us because of all the crossbreeding, or if it was allowed beforehand.”

Quincy shook his head. “The crossbreeding could only have occurred because of how closely we’re related. It’s similar to how neanderthals interbred with early humans. That brings us back to this guy,” Quincy pointed with the tablet he held to the corpse on the table. “As strange as it seems, this thing that used to be human within its own lifetime now shares less DNA with homo sapiens than Deep Ones do. This thing might be so distantly related it may not be able to interbreed with us. If it were alive, I would add.”

It was a valid point to bring up. Technically, it’s hard to breed with a corpse. That’s why it’s important for horny teens to remember that you can’t get pregnant with a dead body. Joking aside, this whole DNA thing was making me glad they didn’t take me for a sample. I mean, homo machina are an offshoot of humanity and there doesn’t appear to be a problem with having someone be half homo sapiens, half homo machina, but I don’t know if it can occur naturally in the bedroom. And then there’s the idea that I might be more closely related to a human than a Deep One is.

“Empress,” the Deep One said, once again calling stares onto me. He walked right over, so it’s not like anyone was confused enough to think there were any other female heads of empires around. “There are elder truthsayers who carry ancient stories. They speak of beings from another world who made many things, such as great pyramids. They are even said to be our creators and gods for a time. May I bring one to you so that you may hear his wisdom?” He knelt before me.

On the one hand, stories about things from another world building the pyramids never struck me as particularly truthful before, but context is important. I patted him on the head. “Sure, go bring me one of those elder things.”

And so he did, leading in a being that proved you can be both scaled and wrinkled at the same time. It’s not a pretty sight, and I’m not entirely sure this guy could see anymore, but he came in to try and regale us with a long-winded tale of the creation of the Deep Ones. I actually fell asleep, but my armor kept recording so I was able to get the jist of it, which is basically just what the one guy said. Broad strokes, the Deep Ones have a creation myth going back to gods from another world creating their god and themselves before nonbelievers from the island of Mu refused to bow down. They were being beaten in battle by the gods, until a small group, aided by traitors among the Deep Ones, were able to sneak into the holy temple and destroy the path between the two worlds.

They thought they had failed, because they disrupted the rituals at the sight of the path, or more likely portal, but it didn’t fade away. In desperation, one of them stole a sacred relic from the gods and fled. The portal began to shrink then, and the gods warned that unless the relic was returned, they would fade away. This was when they retaliated by creating the monstrous Cthulhu, who was sent to sink Mu in retaliation. Or, more likely, he was insurance. Like “return the glowing crystal or your island gets it!”

So this glowing thing we got is probably that thing. And I bet those weird ruins on the west side of the island are the ones that hid this thing until someone, probably the Claw, dug it up and started studying it.

Which means… I’d better bring extra explosives for the enemy. And extra underwear for my allies. As the head of the ACLU once said in the future, don’t mess with Earth. And kill Zoidberg.

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The Knights Illuminati 6

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I was in the middle of a very important hair braiding experiment with Qiang when the alarm went off. The system set up by the Claw, the prior ruler, had the city broken up into different sections with an alarm going off in the center of the section to narrow down important areas of conflict. The alarm would lead responders to where a disaster or crisis occurred, while also letting civilians know to steer clear. It wasn’t as convenient for myself, but I got ears. Lots of things I can listen through have ears. I lost a little time protecting the tangled hair, knotted hair from Qiang’s braiding, but it turned out I knew where I was going. So I grabbed Mix N’Max up from where he played some VR game and dragged him with me.

There’s a good reason Claw had the Institute of Science set as the center of its own alarm section and the host of one of the alarms. I wasn’t the first there by any means. Drones had beaten me there and fired the occasional laser beam when something took a potshot at them with either gunfire or blue bolts of energy. Dr. Creeper was outside as well, huddled behind a car and occasionally firing at the entrance of the Institute with a Luger that shot lightning bolts. Next to him was one of the missing mercenaries I’d sent in there to clean up the place, having lost a significant amount of gear and wearing some sort of breathing apparatus. He held a ridiculously over-sized rifle that he used to loose a violet spread of glowing darts back into the entrance of the Institute. The Baroness was present as well, standing on the side of the building as easily as if it was the ground, plunging a knife into an arm that reached out of a hole in the wall to hold her ankle.

The Institute of Science was built to keep a lot of hidden knowledge secret. To that end, it had been built with limited entrances, including a lack of windows someone might use to spy on anything. That made the front entrance one hell of a choke point. I just needed to see what we were choking.

I landed from a low-angle jump, skidding around and lowering myself to one knee as I came to rest against the same car as Dr. Creeper and the merc, setting Max down as well. I asked them, “Sounds like the neighborhood watch has spotted some damn busybodies. What’s going on?”

Max pulled off some gloves he’d been wearing for his VR thing and reached for his syringe gun. “I second that question.”

“I was running tests on the glowing thing!” Creeper said.

Before I could deploy a Told Ya So, the merc spoke up, “Damn glad you did, gramps. I’d be back on that alien world if you hadn’t opened the gateway again. Specialist St. George, reporting for duty!” He stopped yapping and stood up to loose a burst of darts. I noticed several lights on the side of his gigantic gun that shifted from the same color of violet to white after the shot. He knelt back down, keeping an eye on it.

“Just what in there is so eager to get out, Specialist St. George?” I asked.

“The rest of my squad, sir,” he answered, giving the entrance the finger. “The things on the other side of that portal captured us and started messing with us. Experimenting, one man at a time. The last of us managed to make a break for it, made it back to the portal. It looked like we were making our last stand until it opened again.”

“And whatever’s come through can probably hold it open from our side. I’m the only one of us with a shot at sneaking past these guys. I’ll check on the Baroness, make sure she’s good to go, and pop in from where she’s at. The rest of you, keep them pinned down here. Georgie Porgie, anything special I need to know about these guys? They got a prehensile knife-dick now or anything?”

He shook his head. “Not that I saw. Most of them look barely human now, and they don’t go down easy. It’s like they have chain mail for skin and it’s harder to get through to their brains.”

“Thick-headed and slow to fellate I can deal with,” I said. “I’ve let Drone Division know to back you up in keeping them pinned down.” I also advised the Directory to stay well away from the palace grounds underground train entrance and sent orders for Security and soldiers to head there. The loyal Riccan speedster, VelocityRaptor, was already on seen keeping an eye on it and itchin’ to see some LARP-looking motherfuckers poke their heads up from underground. Max had already warned Sam and Holly what was going on before I could get word to Citra or Silver Shark, so they were all hightailing it too.

“I don’t think they’ll push anyway,” St. George said. “They’ll want to bring in as much firepower as they can before break out.”

“Then I better break-in and break ’em before they break out,” I said.

Max put a hand on my shoulder. “Are you good to go?”

I nodded.

“Why wouldn’t Gecko be ready to fight?” asked Creeper. “Did something happen? Is he wounded?”

I shook my head. “Nope, it’s just a holiday for me today. It’s supposed to be a wonderful day in the neighborhood. Looks like it’s time to go introduce myself to some new neighbors.”

I jumped for the side of the building where Baroness had made it too. She had gone higher, avoiding any more handsy soldiers from inside. Where she just stood on the wall in defiance of gravity, I had to at least pay the law of physics some mind by smashing a fist into the wall and grabbing hold to keep myself up. “Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,” I sang, “He’s broken every human law; he breaks the law of gravity.”

“Do you always audition for American Idol in the middle of a fight?” she asked.

“A life and death situation is no time to stop taking things lightly,” I told her. “You ok? They didn’t get you or anything?”

She shook her head and showed off her knife, slick with dark blue blood. “They tried. Careful if you go in expecting veal. These things are cooked well done and tough.”

I nodded. “I’ll make sure to tenderize any of them I need to kill. First, I need to bust on in up here so I can get in and stop them from bringing in all their friends. You got plenty of room for keep-away if they come through the other way, right?”

She let out a laugh and swept her arm over the side of the building.

“I don’t normally say this, but I’m just going to assume that’s an affirmative. Now watch your legs, I’m going in,” I charged up a fist. Energy gathered in a field around the armored gauntlet. I punched the side of the building. The gathered energy converted into kinetic form to bolster the force generated by a reinforced exoskeleton and enhancing pseudomuscles. The wall cracked easily and I forced my way through the weakened outer shell of the structure.

I ended up in one of the upper floor offices and activated the hologram system. Though not as evenly distributed, the system on this armor was still capable of hiding me from the vast majority of prying eyes. No telling if the modified mercenaries I’d be facing still had eyes I could fool. So, as would be prudent, I decided to experiment.

A room over I found the hole and transfigured merc who threatened the Baroness. He was busy repairing the arm that had been sliced nearly through, holding some sort of device over it. He looked thicker alright. He was down to underlayers on whatever uniform he’d been in. Fingers ended in claws. His bald head had little nubs along it. And his arm slowly oozed dark blue blood instead of the normal red. It was through the cut skin that I saw armor below the skin. Little overlapping armor plates caused the nubs. They were hidden as flesh and muscle rapidly grew and knitted together under the device. That seemed handy.

I decided to get a closer look, so I grabbed his head and twisted it around. Its eyes were covered in mirrored lenses and the mouth could no longer close properly. Some metal thing had been installed with a tube that twisted back around to connect to something on the front of his chest. He growled me, though, it seems the neck was of higher quality than most humans’.

I stepped back as he brought his arms around to reach straight back for whatever had given him a new view on life. I moved to the side to see if he’d follow. Nope. So it looks like I was invisible to these guys. I put my arm into its chest and pulled out one of its hearts. Then the other. Yeah, a little tougher.

While I learned a lot from pulling out that guy’s hearts, like most good science, I had to move on. I had a lot more of these mercs to sneak past as they shambled around the Institute of Science. I didn’t think I’d sent in this many, which was another thing to make note of, but none of the things I encountered as I moved down through the facility appeared to be anything other than human in origin. I stepped over a couple of their dead bodies as well and even took a gun from one’s cold, dead hands. Sturdy, heavy stuff, designed to help resist recoil from ammo that didn’t look like brass, steel, copper, or lead. I set it down just before rounding a corner, right in time to trip up another of the transmogrified mercs as they rounded it.

By the time I’d gotten to the weird, glowy crystal room, I’d stopped getting passed by so many of the mercs. Inside the room, I found the central podium lit up. Instead of a crystal or a container, I saw a green sky and dark pyramidal shapes further away that could have been buildings. It was all wavy, though. A flesh-colored shape approached, but the portal got all wavy and I couldn’t see too well.

On this side, though, one of the former mercs stood at a console, a cable running from it to the base of the podium. I walked over and knelt down. Something rumbled as I got closer to the portal. A tentacle shot out at me from the portal, more literally once I pulled the cable apart and the portal disappeared, leaving behind the glowing crystal floating in its place. And the tentacle. The severed appendage slapped into me and knocked me on my ass. Meanwhile, the merc furiously punched buttons on the console before picking up his rifle and firing at me. I still had a tentacle draped all over me, after all.

The impacts rang my bell, but I found they weren’t all being deflected. I grabbed the tentacle and got to my feet, swinging it like a whip to knock the gun away from the inhuman soldier of fortune. I also tried reaching outside the Institute to let everyone know they could move in, but the place was still built in such a way as to keep people from transmitting data out.

I set that problem aside for later and jumped over, my knee smacking hard into the merc’s throat and sending him toppling with me on top. I reached down and grabbed his leg, bending it over him so I could hit in him the face with his own boot. “Why you kickin’ yourself? Why you kickin’ yourself?” I asked. He punched at the invisible fellow on top of him that he still couldn’t see. I’ve taken harder hits off bongs.

It seemed as good a time as any to see about an autopsy. Sure, he wasn’t dead yet, but that was a minor detail easily rectified by me pulling his organs out one by one until he expired. Then I had to race for the surface. The mercs had barricaded the entrance to keep any potential counter offensive’s at bay. Unfortunately at them, I’m a master at being offensive, and the threatening phone call was coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!

They hardly noticed the trio of headless rubber chickens that marched along, trying to find a road to cross. They exploded before making it to the other side, destroying the barricades and killing more than a few of the assembled post-humans. I stepped among them, stomping on heads and kicking balls until I got close enough to send out a call they also didn’t hear. “Portal’s closed. Let’s move in and secure the Institute. Soldiers of Ricca, we’re operating under Gecko’s X-Com Protocol: try to take one or two alive if convenient and safe, but don’t worry if you have to kill each and every one of them.”

Then, while drones, supers, soldiers, and peace officers flooded in, I put out another call. “Ouroboros, I think I found ourselves a group bonding activity,” I bent down to pull one of those healing gadgets from the hands of a wounded merc. I dropped down, smacking the crotch of my armor against its face until it went still from the malicious teabagging. Or whatever it’s called when you don’t have teabags at the moment. “And I think it’ll make people some serious money.”

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