I got to meet a member of Max’s family. It occurred to me as I exited the highway and tried to find my way toward a destination deep in rural north Louisiana that this could be taken as a sign of trust. It could also be a sign that he hates his family.
The place was out there, though not off in a swamp. The road to the house was a good example of how out there it was: not clay, gravel, or asphalt. Good ole of dirt and grass. I waved to some pigs as I bumped along. That wasn’t lingo for cops, either. One of the houses along the way had goats and pigs.
The nearest town was tiny. A couple hundred people at most. With a name like Eros, you’d think it’d be a bit sexier. Nope. Total sausage fest. Biggest gathering of residents I had seen were those pigs I passed on the way to get my stuff. I hadn’t seen such a poorly-named place since that time I showed up in Mount Desert Island, Maine to scout it for a hidden hideaway. Who would think to look for a supervillain’s lair on Mount Desert Island?
It didn’t work out, though. The place was overloaded with fear-themed supers who started using Maine as a year-round vacation spot thanks to all the horror stories set there. Then that brought in a tourism boom and the whole thing got a little too corporate. I heard the homeowner’s association had a thing against skull-shaped castles. Too much of a hassle.
Eros, Louisiana didn’t have the problem of too many supers running around. It didn’t have too many people running around. If a bus crashed, they’d lose a quarter of the town’s population. Having nailed that point in to death, let’s move on.
I pulled up in front of an old house that was in somewhat good repair. I didn’t see my car around front. There was a small pickup truck outside, but that was it. I pushed on the horn, which caused the stolen Beetle to briefly honk the tune of “Ride of the Valkyries”.
Faces darted by in the windows, then the door opened up and a figure in black stared out from behind the screen door. I got out, my armor disguised as a casual jeans and t-shirt outfit. The rear bumper fell off as I slammed the car door shut. About time. I had been trying to get rid of that thing for awhile with a sledge I picked up cheap out of the skull of a hardware store owner. Hitler was no longer the shit-ler on my ride.
I waved to the woman standing behind the door. She waved back, but didn’t approach. Black pants and a black long sleeve shirt. If I was dressed like that, I’d avoid the sun, too. Hell, black hair. Close shaved on the sides, but pulled back over her head in the middle. “Hello there. I’m looking for Max’s sister. He left a bunch of stuff for me. A kickass car. An animate statue. Oh, and a cramped trailer jury-rigged to the kickass car. Any of that sound familiar?”
The midnight-wearing minx with the lip ring spoke up finally. She had a surprisingly deep voice. “No offense, but I thought you would be white. My brother’s description didn’t do you justice.”
I took a bow. “Justice and I have a complicated relationship involving whipped cream and chains. He’s barely ever said a word about you, and half the time I can’t tell if he’s talking about you or y’all’s brother.”
I heard an “ahem” as a man stepped up beside her and put an arm around her. Ah, they had that sort of relationship. Well, it was way out in the rural wilderness of Louisiana. So long as they didn’t have a banjo-wielding kid, it was no skin off my back.
“Ah, this is the brother? I’m not judging. Just show me to my stuff and I’ll be on my way.”
“Hey!” the guy shouted defensively. I wondered if they were going to try and restrict access because I said something. Ah well, I still had flamethrowers to scare them off.
Nope, the woman put her hand on the guy’s arm and told him to relax. To me, she said, “Come on, it’s all hidden around back.”
She walked outside and led me around to the back, sticking to the shade of the trees. “Don’t pay much attention to any insults from me,” I told her. “I think it’s instinct by now. Sincere apologies are significantly more rare, and usually just as bloody to match. But Max has been a long-suffering friend-ly type person toward me. Yeah, friendly type. ” Yeah, I hesitated. Not a word I wanted to use, but mistakes happen when trying to be honest. I’ve always been a better liar than a truthful person, I think.
She waved off the apology. “Max said you were a major bullshitter. He didn’t say you had such a prominent smell. Don’t worry about it. He obviously didn’t tell you very much about me.”
“That smell is just concentrated pheromonal goodness. Max didn’t mention how hot you were, in both attractiveness and temperature. Seriously, it’s July. It’s got to be sweltering. You’re going to start stinking too. If I was your boyfriend, I would make sure you were good and wet as much as possible.”
She threw back her head and laughed. Then she looked at me and winked. “He said you were funny too. I think it’s on the psychopath checklist under ‘Superficial Charm’. But I wouldn’t know what to do, racing around to all those big cities. I prefer things here with my very monogamous boyfriend,” she pointed to the house, “My bones,” she then pointed to a wind chime in the tree made of small animal bones. “And my birds, even if they have a lot of attitude.” She kept pointing into the tree, where I noticed a birdhouse, also made of bones, which housed a crow.
I nodded. “Nice. Not bad. Well, if you do ever feel like wandering or getting better acquainted with strange men, Max is pretty good about getting a hold of me.”
Giggling, she showed me around to the back, where there was…shrubbery. That was a bit of a let down. “Max should get a hold of you more. I think I should warn you, the reason you get his siblings mixed up is because it’s just him and me. I know people will use the pronouns they want, but Max doesn’t have a sister.”
I looked him over. “Huh. Damn you’re pretty. Nice to meet you, I’m Psycho Gecko.” I held out my hand.
He shook it. “Octavius. You can call me Octi.”
“Offer still stands, by the way,” I told him as I bent low and pressed the section of my helmet that covered my mouth to his hand.
He withdrew his hand and said, more firmly, “That’s sweet, but no thanks. I’m monogamous too and I quite like my boyfriend.”
The sound of a shotgun pumping drew my attention back to the house. The boyfriend, who was apparently not an incestuous brother, held it as he eyed me from the back porch.
“My very affectionate and jealous boyfriend,” Octi added.
“I see.” I turned away towards the wall of leaves and plants and threw my hands up, “Well then, you have a car to conjure out of this mess.”
Octi walked over to a clothesline pole and yanked on the clothesline closest to the foliage. All the undergrowth fell away, revealing my hidden car and trailer in pristine shape. The door to the trailer slammed open to reveal Moai.
I raced over to him and jumped to try and catch him in a full body hug. I didn’t catch hold in time and bounced off to land on my back on the grass.
“I’m fine!” I raised an arm and gave a thumbs-up.
“It looks like you already have a special friend!” Octi called out to me.
After I got up, brushed off, and made sure everything was still in working order, especially my reverberating sperm spheres, we all parted ways. I even gave the boyfriend a hug too, just a little happier than usual that someone didn’t try to betray me by doing something stupid. So many were betraying each other lately that it was making my paranoia act up. There’s no ointment for that. Can’t slather on any lotion to reduce the inflammation of irritated paranoia.
But that’s not the only way I spent my time. No, no, no. I had a stolen radio-like kajigger from my last encounter with Gorilla Badass. With my handy trailer of doom back in my possession, I stuffed my armor in its maintenance and repair cylinder. I should have given that thing a formal name.
But enough of the past. Back to the future, which I was getting to. I dicked around with the electronics a bit, disabled the tracker, then powered it back on. Static and voices greeted me. Figures. Ah, the great outdoors. Civilized people like myself should never spend time in it.
Ah well, Octi and her guy were more than eager to have me off their property, so I left them with their brand new Beetle and left to hunt down better reception. Moai drove, to the mysterious extent that it’s able to, and I expanded my mind. No drugs were required. It was more a matter of looking for reception with my brain cybernetics.
I tried sending out a test signal while roaming around the nearby cell towers. I followed along as best as I was able, but that’s not easy. There were folk tales way back on my earth about my people throwing their consciousness so far out of their bodies that they lost themselves in the data cloud. Full download. Bodies withered away and died. Sometimes the rumors said they died with their bodies. Others claimed they downloaded their minds and lived as a free-roaming mass of data. Shave and a haircut, two bits.
So that didn’t work too well except to tell me that Hephaestus piggybacked on the cell networks out there, using any brand to their advantage. The really interesting part I noticed when I had Moai take us on a heading back toward Empyreal City. I didn’t have any better ideas, but I did want to crack the Hephaestus network. That meant some random driving and heading for areas that were better serviced. That interesting bit was actually when we were still in the middle of nowhere.
The signal went off the cell grid. Vanished. Alakazam! Where did it go?
You dump the right signal on a system, you can cause it to screw up big time, like what I did to the televisions in Memphis. This time, I blew up a bunch of rural cell towers, including a hidden tower. Companies have been hiding towers for years to make cities look better. Hell, I think I heard once that some cities hid oil wells inside trees.
This one was disguised as possibly the only palm tree in Tennessee. When I first saw it, I just stood there laughing for a good three minutes. Some technician had a sense of humor in Hephaestus, that was for sure.
Accessing that system clued me in on the whole hidden network, stretching across the country.
“Moai, turn this baby around,” I said, looking up the nearest center of heavy activity and the individual sites that were responsible for that traffic. I was glad I came up on this side of Tennessee, too. If I’d been on the other side of it, Nashville would have drawn my attention. Nashville. I’ve never figured out how no one blew Nashville up yet.
Memphis, on the other hand, now that place was a lot more fun. A shame Hephaestus didn’t have more resources there. Ah hell. I went to all that trouble to wreck the place last time I was around. Might as well go back and give Hephaestus a taste.