I’ve had a wee bit of cabin fever lately. I’ve been anxious. I paced around, had trouble staying still, even took up some nasty habits. Venus called me on it, too. “Why are you chewing on your fingers? Don’t tell me you’re a cannibal on top of being a murderous bastard.”
I just looked at her as I chewed on a stubborn bit where my fingernail went into my skin. She sat on the motel table, dress gathered close to her. The clean shorts she had left turned out to be too loose for her frame. She didn’t wear her mask, though it hardly mattered except to make her look incomplete to me. She was certainly pretty with her dark hair hanging over the sides of her face like that. Then again, that’s women for you. Pretty. Different hair, skin tones, freckliness, height, boobs, ass, legs, weight, curves. They’re certainly all pretty, even if I’m not falling headfirst for their pheromones. Besides, if women know how to fake moans, they certainly can fake pheromones.
“What’s got into you, Gecko?” she asked.
“When are we going to go in there and kill him?” I asked.
“Soon, when I can get friends clear to help us out. We can’t go in there with just ourselves. You’ve put Leah through enough already without getting her killed because you can’t contain your desire for revenge. That’s only after we deal with the biggest threat and dismantle Hephaestus.”
“That’s good and all, hiding from the real biggest threat, but when do I get to kill Amplitude?”
“You don’t. He’ll live. He’ll be in jail, but he’ll live.”
“Fuck not killing him. I’m going to turn his head inside out.”
“You’re not. You’re not doing very much at all, actually. I know there’s more you can do. You always seem to have some little deus ex machine stored away somewhere for a rainy day, even when it’s pouring. Like whatever that is.” She pointed to a half-finished gadget I had been working on. I was having trouble finishing it due to the difficulty building it in miniature and because of my intense desire to murder things. Looking back, it’s possible that my own anger over it helped make me want to kill someone.
“My life gets threatened all the time. If I pull out all my best toys every single time, it’ll get boring fast. Speaking of boring, I think I’d like to take a drill to Amplitude’s nose…”
“Gecko, shut up. You are a small, helpless man who can’t hurt anybody.”
“You two better not be fighting over there!” Leah said. She had been trying to nap. It was a break from the soreness of the gunshots, and she must have been tuckered out from setting that Hephaestus gas station on fire. That was one hell of a benefit, allowing employees to fill up for free. Shame they turned the pumps off before we could get a nice big explosion out of it. Oh, and they shot Leah. Twice. The suit stopped it, so that only made her angry. That’s two more blind people, this time with permanent face tattoos. They might make use of them if they ever start their own supervillain careers. They’d just have to call themselves “Twatman and Vagina Jackson”. I don’t know why she wrote “vagina” on the guy’s face, though. Missed opportunity.
I didn’t respond to either statement. The hand not being chewed on jerked and knocked against the table. An impotent gesture of frustration. I kept staring at Venus, though, and then I started smiling. Smiling wide.
I thought I saw doubt creep into Venus’s expression. The next words out of my mouth countered her reminder of my current impotency and flushed her face with rage.
“Have I hurt you yet?”
Benjamin Franklin, the first Pimp of the United States, once claimed that a woman was the other half to a man. It’s a primitive notion based on archaic beliefs about sexuality, gender roles, and the notion that people are broken. An odd sort of idealism, that. Imagining that people, as bad as they are, are broken. The smart money is that people are not broken at all. That the man in your closet waiting to slash your throat with a dirty broken bottle found in a dumpster is fundamentally damaged instead of a normal human being with a different opinion about whether human blood should be located internally or externally.
Venus had reminded me of something that I had pulled off before that targeted the mind more than the body. I reminded her of when I first thought I had killed her boyfriend, the Human Sloth, back in Memphis. I blew up Graceland, gassed the city, and kicked her ass. It’s quite likely I reminded her of the second and more permanent death that I gave her boyfriend. Sure, sure, I lacked delusion-causing gas and couldn’t hope to fit in my power armor, but I still had the means to deal with this Amplitude asshole on my own.
I wish I had the armor. The muscle enhancers weren’t built to be a full-blown muscle system, just a supplement. I could get in and merge with the helmet, but I couldn’t move the suit on my own.
I had once again been weakened by my associations. Friends and reluctant allies. Venus didn’t say anything as I picked myself up and dropped off the table to walk in the direction of the bathroom and the door again. I merely felt her stare daggers into my back
I got out of there and I took my car to the next destination, plotting all the while like a demon monkey imp.
My own reign of terror began. My thinking, aside from that whole repetitive thought of murder, was that it would indeed be stupid to go after Amplitude on my own. It would also be stupid to wait for superheroes and go around arresting Hephaestus personnel. It would be smart for me to inflict such horrible miseries on Hephaestus in the meantime that Venus would want to skip straight to taking on Amplitude.
That is why I flew into the first target, a Hephaestus lab, in a remote control biplane. I had rigged up the controls inside the plane. Sneaking in was as easy as sitting really still in my seat outside the door with a label that said “For Susie” like I was a birthday present. One harried-looking thirty-something with a light brown goatee cussed and carried me in, assuming I was someone’s present that got left there. Bio scans, keycards, heavy doors; they meant nothing to a toy. Child’s play.
He got me into the place, held up the plane I was in, and called out, “Frank, did you forget this?” I got a look around. Work tables, tools, and spare parts centered around well-lit central area that was almost a room of its own. It was open at the corners, but had thick, clear walls for observation and protection.
I took off quickly, counting on getting my bearings in the air. On the outside, it was supposed to be a toy company. On the inside, it was some sort of robots lab. They were there in all shapes and sizes. Disc-shaped robots meant to roll across the floor. Robots with human sizes and shapes. Robotic torsos on wheeled mounts. Those office drones I saw at the first place we hit. There was even a hulking headless robot, somewhere around eight feet tall I think. It had armor plating covering its upper chest, most of its thighs, and its fists. The first two locations were meant to protect vital areas. The third was one reason I wouldn’t be getting into a fist fight with it.
I made a pass at the drones first, firing at them with pen-sized lasers that hung under the wings of the plane. A quick count put them at a dozen. Thin blue beams lanced out, burning holes in them. I got some decent hits on four of them.
The men and women hurried to activate their projects. The drones activated, nine of them lifting off. A loud whine began from the big robot with the armor. I was quickly becoming outnumbered. I was, as some people say, in the “danger zone”. Or at least that’s the excuse I used to justify cranking that up on my own internal music player.
Six of the Hephaestus disc robots activated as well, but a curious thing happened. They sought out a network. That was good news. I had something else to play “Highway to the Danger Zone” on! Oh, and I also set them to target everything moving that wasn’t me. It was easier than micromanaging them while dodging my micromachine around lasers from the attack of the drones all up on my ass.
Just to be clear, here, I’m not a trained pilot. I do have one skill that helped when flying that plane in an aerial dogfight with office drones. I am insane. I remember two of them got on my tail. Others worked to cut me off. I saw one flit up into view ahead of me near a crowd of technicians. My lasers got some lucky hits in on the front two rotors of the drones, dipping it down. It wasn’t able to correct in time and fell to the floor, causing a technician to dodge out of the way and right into my path. I barely avoided his head.
The wind from my passing blew his hair up. Way up. A hairpiece. It caught on one of the two behind me as they passed overhead, then got sucked up into the rotors. That one stopped suddenly, fake hair clogging it up. The drone swung wildly into the other next to it, driving them both into one of the protective walls. That was six down by my own efforts.
I flew high, trying to get a sense of where my foes were. I saw a drone holding position, tracking me. A plume of fire engulfed it from below, causing a small crackly explosion. The drone shut off and dropped onto one of the disc bots.
I noticed one of the little disc bots stalking a man who typed away at a computer. As it got close to the man, its upper half rose up and metal sawteeth snapped into place. It sliced through a man’s ankle. He spilled onto the floor. He kicked, he cried, he tried to crawl away. He didn’t. I began to like these little robot guys. It was like “Attack of the Killer Roomba” in there.
Lasers sizzling against the ceiling and walls near me drew me back to the ever-important task of not being killed by flying drones. This was made more complicated by the big headless robot which had finally begun to move. I flew right at it, drones on my tail or moving to cut me off on the other side of the big fellow.
He took his sweet time, but finally threw a punch. I dodged it easily. So did the two drones on my tail. I did a barrel roll, but stopped when I was upside down. As soon as I passed under the thing’s arm, I aimed for the ceiling. The two drones waiting for me at the big robot’s backside missed me with their shots. When I came to the robot’s shoulder, I made another quick turn. I looped over its shoulder and down under it to come up behind my pursuers. I fired.
One caught a beam in the tail. Another crackling explosion and it fell. One of the drones already facing me got a shot off. The tail of my plane melted off. That was bad. I was nowhere near a retail store. The drone caught two shots in return. One destroyed its laser; the other felled it.
I banked to my left, missing a shot at the third drone I saw rising up. Nine down, three left. As I banked, I caught a glimpse of one of the disc bots self destructing in the middle of a group of techs, knocking the exit door of its hinges along with it. I briefly considered it odd that no sprinkler systems came on, but then I remembered these guys were building and testing robots with flamethrowers in them.
As I came around toward the front of the big robot again, I noticed the three remaining office drones waiting above me, ready to tilt down and catch me that way. I banked from side to side, serpentine, but one of them shot the propeller.
I didn’t have a parachute. Didn’t need one. I jumped and promptly splatted against the armor of the big robot. Well, it felt like a splat, but all my splattery pieces were still inside and unhurt.
I caught a hold of the armor plating and scrambled around to the inside portion. The drones stopped firing willy-nilly and instead began to scan the body of the robot, looking for me.
I climbed up, directing the remaining disc bots toward me. I had three left. I knew one had self destructed, but it wasn’t until afterward that I learned that drones had eliminated another two. They served as targets for the drones once more as they approached. At least it kept the drones from finding me long enough that I noticed I wasn’t far from the computer core of the robot. It sat behind the thickest of the chest armor.
I lost another disc bot to the drones, but they managed to burn one out of the air with the flamethrower. It looked like quite the standoff until the headless robot reached out and closed its hands around the two remaining drones.
The battle was mine. So was the lab and the robots. I figured I’d share the good news.
“Gecko, where are you?” Leah asked when I called.
“Put me on speakerphone, I want Venus to hear this.”
“Alright, go ahead,” she said.
“Hey, Venus, I’m glad you said we needed to take on Hephaestus first. I really took that to heart. By the way, just curious, just how great it is it now that I have my own robot army?”
Strangely, she didn’t think it was that great at all.