Full recovery made, of course. Was there any doubt? I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m the hero of this tale, but I am the protagonist. If it was good enough for Edgar Allen Poe bricking a guy up behind a wall, it is good enough for me. Oh, uh, spoiler alert for that story I guess.
Still, I woke up refreshed from my nanites and feeling like I could drink a whole cask of Amontillado. I didn’t recognize my surroundings. We’d rented some trashy motel as a quick solution to housing. This was no trashy motel. This thing was even more cramped and claustrophobic. The ceiling couldn’t have been more than a couple of feet from my face, which had grown out more than just stubble in all the time since my captivity. It really got noticeable while I was out, or maybe I the time skip made it more noticeable than a gradual change allowed. Either way, there was something even more important than my facial hair or being in a cramped little room. I was moving.
A human’s senses are one thing, but I could sense connections to the rest of the world as we moved along. Where I come from, I was never truly unconnected from the world. I could manipulate things as easily as I thought them, touching the minds of people like myself in the process. At the time, the only constant connection I felt was from my car. Dammit, someone had been messing with my car again!
My poor Black Sunshine! No ‘51 Hudson Hornet deserved to be abused so, especially not one with so many weapons. I couldn’t help myself. I kept adding them on there until I could no longer remember each and every system. I think I wrote a LisCom file, something like what’s called a Readme over here, to my memory somewhere. I never used the thing, though, because half the fun is trying out the controls and seeing what explodes.
I put more surprises than just that in there, but nobody needs to spend all their time reading an infodump of my secrets. Besides, haven’t I been plenty open with everyone, even heroes, so far?
I listened in on the car to see who was fucking around in it now.
“…and that’s how I got rid of that ugly rash and won the science fair.”
“What a fascinating story, Holly. I wasn’t aware that was possible using potatoes and ping pong balls.”
“That’s right, Sam. What do you think, Max?”
“Hmm? Oh, I wasn’t paying attention. I was just wondering if you can get a DUI riding a drunk horse.”
It sounds like I missed a good story. Max’s question wasn’t bad either. Together, they made me wonder how long I had been out.
Two fucking days?!
I had been out for two fucking days. I think that if you’ve been knocked out for two days, the qualifier “fucking” is not only justified, but darn near required.
Now, I’m not a doctor or a biologist or anything…but most likely I was pretty banged up in general with multiple sprains, bruises, and fractures, possibly some internal bleeding, all topped off with a concussion that may have involved some hemorrhaging, maybe with some separation from the connective tissues of the skull going on. Also, if I recall correctly, I think one of my nuts was popped up into my body. And that hospital didn’t even stay behind to give me its insurance information after it crashed into me, either.
“Hey guys,” I said over the speakers. “The fuck’s going on?”
“Heeeey, Gecko’s awake. We worried. Holly and Sam were just about to open betting on your life,” Max said.
Sam spoke up next. “I gave you the nanites like you said, but that fall took more out of you than you thought. You were mumbling something about it raining pudding and wearing your pants for a jacket, and then your computer did all this weird stuff.”
“Huh. You know, my dying brain isn’t half bad at grammar. It could stand to work on humor, but go brain. I got a kickass cortex.”
“Are you done jerking your own brain off yet, Gecko?” Sam asked.
“I got a lonely cerebellum. Sometimes I need to stroke my own ego. Not like anyone else is inflating it. I can tell we’re moving, by the way. Where are we going?”
Max answered me. “Shopping. We’ve got a road trip ahead of us, you know. And we’re here.”
I slid down the bed and found a step. Down that step was, indeed, a camper. One with thin blue carpet, walnut cabinetry, stupid flowery wallpaper. Not my ideal look. There was a bathroom stall on one side next to the microwave on a base cabinet and a TV on a wall cabinet with a table right by that. On the other side, a room that turned out to be a shower stall sat next to a small couch. There were windows above the couch and table, and above them were the ceiling cabinets that ran to the wall next to the couch and breakfast area. A door in that wall led to a small room with a closet and a door to the outside.
At least it was cramped enough to help me get my legs under me. Experience has taught me that can happen with brain damage. At least the cybernetic portions of my brain weren’t reporting any malfunctions. I bowled through the door and winced at the bright sunlight.
“Dammit, when’s somebody going to blow up that damn annoying sun.”
Oh, like you haven’t thought it after waking up late in the day. The other sight that greeted me was far, far worse. The camper was right up on my car, with the coupler extended in a bar that stabbed through the forward part of my trunk and down to the bottom. A bunch of wires were strung out and attached to these plugs coming from the trailer near the coupling.
“You screwed it up! You damn dirty apes!” I fell to my knees looking at my car.
Holly walked over, looking between me and the rear of my car. “The boss isn’t a mechanic like your Carl was-“
“Is. Until we find out otherwise.”
Sam sighed loudly and dramatically where she stood by my poor Black Sunshine. “Supervillains are so melodramatic. It’s like you get your idea of human emotion from TV or the movies. Were you really so shocked by what happened to your car, or did you just lose your balance?”
“Noooooooooo!” I yelled, throwing my head back and unleashing my voice upon the sky.
A moment of silence succeeded that, then Holly tapped me on the shoulder. “Which question were you answering?”
“Shut up and help me up. How could y’all do this to my car?”
Max held out his arm as he approached and Sam hooked hers around it. He motioned for Holly as well. His smile never left his lips, but his voice was soft and accommodating to my recent cranial catastrophe. “It’s just a little creative welding and rewiring to stick the camper trailer onto the car. It messed up the trunk, but we got everything either in the car or in the storage closet back there. I thought it would hold us over until you woke up. Are you coming in with us?”
I waved them off.
Still, Sam had a point. I did learn most of this planet’s version of English from popular culture. Books, TV, movies. I never knew how to properly pronounce “ameliorate” until I witnessed a particularly hairy member of ZZ Top use the word in conversation on a forensic detective show. I took issue with her calling my style overly dramatic, though. Fun, stupid, corny, those all work. If I was dramatic, I would have tried to get Holly and Sam to distrust each other for no reason, or I would have stolen somebody’s girlfriend by pretending to be in love, then ditched her as soon as I had what I wanted.
I wasn’t idle during the time I spent waiting for them. Sure, I covered it with some info I dumped into your brains, but I was actually working on something of my own. I had a call to make. I recently served as a phone for Venus to call Master Academy. Sure, a private academy of excellence that trains superheroes in California may not appreciate a call from me, but this was the same number their girl Venus called in on. They took her in, raised her, trained her, made her their poster girl. Bad turn of phrase when people in our line regularly wear skintight outfits.
I called in on that old number and identified myself as that ally of Venus who needed to contact her.
“This is Venus,” she answered quickly.
“Don’t hang up, it’s Psycho Gecko.”
“You have ten seconds to give me a reason to talk to you.”
“Where is she?”
“Somewhere safe. Eight.”
“That wasn’t a second.”
“I want to speak to her.”
“I’d say she has reason to be scared of you. Five.”
“What happened to six?”
“Dammit, shut up and stop being some law-abiding paladin of righteousness with a high horse stuck halfway up your ass! If you and yours were really so much more noble, why did all these heroes turn their back on a juvenile criminal and leave her in my hands? Just like you heroes, you only fight when it’s convenient for you.”
“I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t have turned my back on her. Like you’re one to talk about fighting when it’s convenient; you gassed an entire city just to get to me. You made me hallucinate and fought me in armor. This is all I do. I eat, breathe, and sleep this mask. What gives you the right to say I’m the opportunist?”
“Because you can take off the mask. You have someone to be other than Venus. Someone whose name isn’t in criminal databases and watch lists all over the world. You can be someone who looks at the world and doesn’t have to try and punch it into the right shape.”
“It’s always got to turn into an argument with you, Gecko. Don’t try and play the sympathy game with me. You’re toxic. Everything you say and do is to try and come out ahead. If I’m nice to you, you use that for personal gain. If I’m not nice to you, you claim persecution because no one’s giving you a chance. What angle are you playing with Leah?”
“No angle. I miss her.”
There was a silence for a couple seconds.
“I miss her. As creepy as it is that I’ve spent so much time with her these past months, try and remember that she was offered to me as a mindfucked love slave and I didn’t take her. I wanted what was best for her and that meant giving her the choice about what kind of person she wanted to be. As in, she didn’t have to stay a fugitive. If she chose neutral, that’s fine. If she chose hero, that’s less fine. Either way, that crap I said about things not being over last time, I may have come across as overly threatening toward her. I don’t mean her any harm.”
“I can’t believe I actually think you’re telling the truth. You declared war on Shieldwall for trying to catch you. You’re going to forgive Leah for helping us with this, just like that?”
“I’m eccentric. I’m allowed to forgive her. You and your law-and-order friends are the ones legally prevented from forgiving people.”
“I’ll pass on the message for you, but that’s all I can do. She’s starting over and it’s best if you don’t see her until she gets her feet under her.”
“…Thhhhhh…hold on a moment, I’ll get the hang of this yet…ahem…thhhhhhhh…aaaaay. Maybe if I try it this way. They ink a female sheep.”
“They ink a ewe?”
“You’re welcome, Venus.”
“Hey…oh, I get it. Can’t make yourself thank me, can you?”
“That’s completely not what I was saying at all. Thane coup.”
“You’re welcome, Gecko.”
She hung up.
I rushed over to my car. Not in the trunk…not in the back seat. I checked the storage closet just inside the travel trailer and found my suit. My body responded to it eagerly as I put it on, forming connections with the systems. The helmet caused some itchiness thanks to the hair on my face, but it did nothing to mess with the connection as the location on my eye HUD transferred onto the helmet’s HUD. I powered up the jump enhancers in the legs and took to the air.
I traveled along roof tops one jump at a time, taking longer and longer leaps each time. I had sent a pulse through to Venus’s phone to trace it as we talked. She was staying in one place. If I caught up to her and stayed out of sight, there was my chance to see Leah again.
After a good fifteen minutes of travel, my target was just ahead of me. I couldn’t see Venus, but there were no taller buildings in the way. I focused on the signal’s endpoint and set it as my destination, dialing up power to the enhancers more than I needed to.
When I jumped, it was a farther distance than I had tried for a long time. We’re talking “slam dunking from a football field away” distance. As my altitude sank and I approached the rooftop in question, I could see…nothing. Well, not quite nothing. I saw a discarded cell phone laying on the roof. I’m surprised my landing didn’t put me through the roof, but maybe that was rolling with it. Still, I came down hard on my right knee and ankle, and the rolling didn’t exactly help. Especially when I went helmet-first through a rotating vent on the roof and flopped onto my back with some new aching bones where fewer solid bones used to be in my leg.
“Fuuuuck!” I yelled as I helped myself to my left and hopped on it.
“Fucking, argh! Sturdy motherfucking construction on this damn roof! Shit!”
My apologies if this seems unusual, but while it’s easier to downplay pain and injuries in retrospect, this one was also coupled with finding a note under the phone.
“You can’t win them all, Gecko,” it read.
Win ’em? Darn near rectum!