I would get a lot more done in my life if I had fewer mutated, three-headed leopards to deal with. Don’t y’all hate when that happens? Story of my life, I tell ya.
They weren’t that much of a problem in the end. The guys I stole this luxurious nuclear power plant from made sure to leave a few doors open. There I was coming out of the bathroom stall and there was a big, fluffy leopard with three heads. My ocular HUD recognized it and pulled up a mention of it being an opportunistic predator just before it pounced.
It was on me in a roaring flurry of fangs and claws. I screamed and punched it in an eye on its left face. The middle mouth clamped down on my forearm and the right one went for my throat. I bit down on that one’s nose with a growl and drove my knee into its underbelly.
I rolled it over, though it fought me every inch of the way. I wrapped my hands around the killer kitty as I got to my feet, pulling it up with me. Its claws caught in my clothes and skin, ripping flesh and breathable but inexpensive cotton open. It hurt like a son of a bitch. Just for that, I bit it again, this time on the side as I rotated it around.
It still chowed down on my arm, which was broken at that point. I fought to keep that arm lower, about at my belly height, but did my best to hold it away out of biting range. Howling in pain, I slammed it down in a piledriver maneuver, dropping that pussycat into the toilet. Its flailing seemed particularly wild after that, but the impact with the cheap metal forced it to release its hold on my right arm. With my left, I hit the button to flush.
In the midst of receiving a swirly, the leopard still had time to bite down with its left head on my left leg. It was hard to stand, so I braced myself on it using my teeth and its balls. It let go of my leg damn quick.
I gave it another swirly, and another, and then yet another after that! Then I picked it up and kept slamming its central head into the toilet again and again until it sounded like the Hunchback of Notre Dame had diarrhea in there.
When I stumbled out of the stall, bloody and with broken bones, I was greeted by the sight of a man who looked like he’d been melted. His skin seemed to form droopy folds over some parts of his body, though on his hands and cheeks it clung way extremely close to the bones. He looked at me, then said in his high voice, “Dang! I really had to go and the other stalls are all full.”
I waved my broken right arm at him. “Sorry ‘bout that, Larry.”
Yeah, that was Larry, an ok fellow. He was one of the rejects the former owners of this place kept around. It wasn’t my term for them. The Hephaestus files labeled them as such, but I think some were trying to take the word “rejects” back. They’ve been reading over the Hephaestus files too. I figured they deserved to see them after everything that happened’s happened. Hephaestus cut the base’s network access shortly after that, but we had pulled a tremendous amount of data over, and the base held a lot of data on its own.
I let all the rejects stay or leave as they wanted, but a lot of them only wanted to move in large groups to prevent recapture. All told, I had a little more than thirty people hanging out around the place. Obviously, my plan to unleash an army of mindless radioactive superpowered monsters on Hephaestus was trashed.
Larry tilted his head, his folds clinging to his skin instead of dangling off the side of his face. “Hey, you don’t look so good, Gecko man. You have something hanging out there.” He motioned toward my stomach. I looked down and saw that, indeed, my intestines were partially out. I probably missed it in all the other brain grating pain.
“It’s not Gecko man. I’m not a guy with the power of geckos. And this?” I ran a hand over an exposed portion of intestine. “This is nothing. Duct tape fixes everything.”
From behind me, I heard a growl as the beastie woke up.
I bowed my head toward Larry, “Excuse me, I need to take care of something real quick.”
With that, I turned and hobbled back into the stall, pulling on my intestines. As was usual whenever they were in motion, it made me feel queasy. The digestive tract didn’t evolve to be an accessory worn outside the body. It made a handy rope from time to time. This time, I looped it around the necks of the outer heads that had woken up and then I pulled. The strain and the pain was getting to me, but finally I squeezed one off and put that pussy to rest.
As I walked out again, I pointed back at the big cat. “All yours if you want it.”
“No thanks, I think I’ll wait.”
“Your choice, man. I’m just going to lay down for a bit.” Then I fell over on the vinyl floor. Checking through my pockets, I found what I needed. Except when I pulled out the syringe, it had a big claw mark in it and very few nanites. I let them drip out into my torso hole and searched for another. The second syringe had a bit more, but half of the syringe was missing. I poured it on anyway, then turned on the lab’s PA system.
“Moai to the Level Two southwest restroom, Moai to the Level Two southwest restroom. Bring nanites. And a big sack. And can someone ready the catapult?”
“And some more toilet paper!” someone called from another stall.
I added that to my announcement. “And extra TP.”
I rested while Moai was on its way, chuckling to myself despite the pain. We’d dealt with almost a dozen mutated leopards at that point, though usually with me armored. After the second one, one of the guys made a suggestion. He looked like he had microcephaly, but with a bigger head than most people.
That is, he looked like he had a real big face while the back of his head tapered to a much smaller point. Then again, calling it microcephaly when his head was bigger than normal kinda defeated the nomenclature. Still, people tended to use pinhead, the other widely recognized name for the condition, as an insult.
Anyway, he suggested we find some way to chase the kitties out. I took the idea to its natural conclusion and ordered a cannon built so we could fire them from the island. Unfortunately, I was reminded by Moai that cannons required more forging capabilities than we had at the time. So I instead opted to get rid of the cats by catapult.
When Moai showed up, he found me still conscious and bleeding slightly less. “Moai, I need you to stick me with the nanites. But do it gently. This is a bad time to stab me in the wrong place.”
It nodded and leaned over me cautiously. Right when he touched me with the needle, I spasmed. “Ow, fuck! “I said softly. “Here, let me have it.” I flexed the fingers of one hand which I was having trouble getting to move quite so much. It was a bit cold, too. Moai dropped the syringe into it. I swung my hand over, letting it jam the needle right into a cut as my arm flopped around like a horny squid without a Japanese girl nearby.
Moai bounced a roll of toilet paper off my head when he realized I was messing with him.
“Oh the abuse! The pain! Why must you turn on me, Moai? Hey, can you give me a lift to the control room for a little bit?”
He gave me a ride back as nanites coursed through my body. They forced wounds closed and sacrificed themselves in reactions to replace lost flesh, muscle, and blood. Bone was broken down and fused back together, but the cybernetic parts of my body were left alone. In some parts, the nanites themselves just had to sit there and hold me together. Without my power, that wouldn’t have worked so well.
On the way, something scurried over the ceiling above me, then matched Moai’s pace so it could look down on me with its one red eye. The red eye was on a stalk attached to an oval-shaped body that was tan with brown spots. Six legs sprouted from that fleshy mass, each ending in three thick, curved claws. They were bigger than a human hand and dug into the ceiling to propel the creature along. It’s eye stalk grew from the center of its body. From the wider end of its body sprouted a tube which lowered itself to just near my face.
“Are you gonna be alright, sugar? Looks like that one got you somethin’ good.”
“I’ll be fine, Roberta,” I gave her a thumbs-up. Truth is, no one knew if Roberta was female. Or if that was her real name. Or if she had ever been human. When she had the time, she liked to look through the files to try and glean anything she could about who she might have been. “How are you doing? You find anything out about yourself?”
The red eye blinked a few times and pulled closer to Roberta’s body. “Thanks for asking, but not yet. I found some things you might want to see in the overseer’s email.”
“Thanks, I’m heading up there to check it out now. I could use a rest.”
“How about some food? A group just came back from town with some groceries. I could fix you a pizza,” she hummed quickly through her mouth tube.
“That’d be nice, thanks. I could use that.” Pointing to my broken right arm, which was setting itself, I added, “Some assembly required.”
She laughed at that and scurried off to find a break room refrigerator with a pizza in it.
The rejects needed clothes and food, and I had spare money. Plus, they were free because of me. Hephaestus probably thought they’d be as feral as the leopards, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, we got along well and shared the place while they tried to figure out what to do next. It was a match made in Taiwan, or wherever matches are made.
The nanites took me out of critical condition by the time Moai dropped me in a comfy leather chair in the control room. They also took some height and muscle mass off me, but they only took inches I could afford to lose, if you know what I’m saying. Hopefully that one didn’t go over your head, because I was aiming for innuendo.
It hadn’t been all fun and games and near-death experiences, though. There was lots of fun and reading, too. I spent the past few days working my through the personal and professional emails of the site overseer. Now I thought I’d read over what Roberta saw in there.
What made it difficult was all the mundane stuff to look through. The amount of bureaucracy surprised and bored me. The guy had to fill out a form for everything, then upload it to two different websites and fax a request to another person. One of those guys had an annoying tendence to send back the requests and insist they be corrected. Not major mistakes, like an extra zero. Just minor typos like misspelling “the” as “teh”. While annoying if you’re reading for pleasure, such a mistake is probably excusable as part of a secretive multi-million dollar criminal organization.
I heard there was a downside to being evil, but I didn’t imagine fate could ever be so cruel to people. They sucked all the fun out of doing illegal things.
They couldn’t even word things in an exciting way. It took reading one email three times to figure out they trashed one guy’s immune system, zapped him a bunch of times, injected him with a cocktail meant to induce powers, then shoved radioactive rods into his orifices to see what would happen.
Death. Death happened. Why let that bother them when their test subjects were kidnapped?
Oh yeah, I got glimpses of that part of their operation. They dealt with foreign governments to take disappeared political dissidents. They paid human smugglers to divert a few people their way. They even bribed private prisons to say they were sending prisoners to solitary where they died of complications. I wondered which group Larry and Roberta fell into.
Roberta hit on something big, though. Really big. She found a series of emails from mid to late February talking about how they were going to deal with Psycho Gecko. That name sounded familiar. The new head of Hephaestus, going by the name Prime, wrote that he wanted all sites to secure themselves against possible infiltration and gave a list of recommendations, like reinforced doors, increased communication, and close examination of anyone seen entering at the wrong time or place.
Then there was the email that got circulated amongst various high-ranking members of the group asking for suggestions on a team they were assembling to take me out. They didn’t want an army, but they needed a big enough group to overwhelm me. “Membership should be include those with capabilities specifically capable of negating the target’s ability to deceive people. If possible, find resources who have a personal stake in defeating the target.”
It was Pivot who suggested eight would be a good number. She suggested Dr. Typhoon and Terrorjaw would be ideal candidates due to their strength and how well they could find me. “I don’t feel it’s in the best interests of our goal to recruit someone who has a personal vendetta against him. They are likely to disobey orders and compromise the entire operation.” Others had a few ideas, like hiring heroes to join the team or creating a crop of superhumans tailored to defeat me.
I found it amusing that the Three Mile Island overseer claimed he had one man who could do the job all on his own. Amplitude, he assured them, would squash me like a bug. Prime’s response was simply “Approved.”
At some point while I read over everything, Roberta brought me a pizza fresh out of the oven and set it down next to me, then set two of her claws on the back of my chair and started reading over my shoulder. I hooked a foot under the console so I wouldn’t tip back from the extra weight.
After reading up on me, Pivot suggested they do their best to separate me from Mix N’Max too. That, along with her suggestions lining up better with Prime’s wishes, got her the team. She was told to take over recruiting and coordinating the group with regular Hephaestus resources. He told her to step on as many toes as she needed to get this done. That worked real well with Faustus, didn’t it?
Why dwell on the past, right? Aside from that personal stake bit, what possible use did any of this information serve? Setting aside my own interest in how they threw it together, I asked myself the same question. They put a lot of work into this just because they didn’t like how I wanted to be paid.
The last reply that went out to everyone on that teambuilding email even showed Prime informing everyone to “Ignore Psycho Gecko’s threats. He likes to bluff people and get what he wants through his reputation. If we put that reputation to the test, we can break it.” The date on it was March 1st.
This Prime guy bothered me. Something about that tone, how he acted like he knew me, this insistence on going after me. I checked back through specific conversations I had saved as being linked to this whole mess, all the way back to when Hephaestus hired me to raid a place. That’s what started the whole mess.
It made me sit up and reexamine those emails. Startled, Roberta shuffled around next to me. “What is it?” she asked, behind her mouth tube so it wasn’t too close to my face.
Prime didn’t come after me to make himself look better or to make Hephaestus look like a major player. “It wasn’t because they didn’t want to pay me with song rights. It wasn’t even because I was an ass to the contact person,” I told her. My little review showed I pulled the Hephaestus job on March 9th. ”I didn’t give them an excuse to want to kill me. They manufactured one. I think whatever’s going on here is personal.”