After days of work, my latest project was completed. Amplitude had a body. A boring one, but a body nonetheless.
“Are you absolutely sure you don’t want any cool additions?” I held a mirror for Amplitude as he looked over his new body.
“No,” he said quickly.
“I can give you cat eyes.”
“Gold teeth? Literally gold teeth.”
“Gold teeth are stupid. Nobody looks cool wiping ketchup off their gold teeth.”
“You’re right…unless you do it with extendable claws, eh?”
“No!” Amplitude had gotten increasingly flustered over our conversation, but he took a few moments to calm down. “Thank you for honoring your end of the agreement. Nice job, but I am fine with this. Just this.” He then offered his hand.
Despite rumors, innuendo, and vast heaps of evidence to the contrary, I’ve always been a man of taste, so I gave his open hand a fist bump. Except for when I was a boy of taste. Of course.
I was never a baby of taste because those don’t exist. Babies were invented as an experiment by the scientific community to determine the amount of misery and poop people will put up with so long as they’re convinced it’s their misery and poop. Even though they tried to hide this fact, having a baby still calls for a shower.
With our business concluded, I at last kicked Amplitude out of our temporary hideaway. When I called up the car, Moai and the Rejects directed me to an abandoned movie rental store in South Central L.A. I missed the part where some gang tried to kick the Rejects out, but I saw the burn marks they left behind on the pavement.
I didn’t have any trouble on my way, though. Having a talking disembodied head in my possession convinced people not to mess with me. By extension, this rep extended to Amplitude, which was good for him. Otherwise, he didn’t have a leg to stand on. Carl also looked pretty badass to the normal person.
So yes, there was a big happy reunion in which I got hugged so many times that people probably thought we were filming a sci fi porno movie in the dusty old place.
Somehow, I had assembled quite the group of people around me during this whole mess. Live people, too. Not that I have anything against dead people. They made lovely conversation partners. So few of the dead ever talk back, and the ones who do always ramble on about your brains or your blood. That’s dead people for you. If you can get their interest at all, it’s only for your body parts.
Try complaining about it and they turn up the political heat through their lobby. Well, ok, it’s more of a parlor than a lobby.
The other thing I worked on during my time with Amplitude was freeing Carl. He lost weight during his captivity, muscle included. Still, he couldn’t squirm out of that suit on his own. Especially not with the neural spikes. Those nail-like protrusions into the spine were a crude measure, but they served their purpose.
Back home people either preferred ones the size of needles, or they plugged their brains into computers using synthetic nerves. Except for the ones like me.
A lot of people were confused about what happened as far as the news told. Even Outlaw X wasn’t too sure. They knew the Annihilation Eight had been successful, but that Hephaestus hadn’t been. The company had captured me, but it was a Pyrrhic victory.
There was little enough to hear between the Ebola outbreak, problems in Israel, and police brutality. Then it was pushed out of the way by news about Robin Williams, and deservedly so.
But then, who am I to comment on that?
I had my hands full trying to deal with the immediate aftermath of everything, particularly with one visit I felt was necessary.
I stopped by the Master Academy again. Repaying Amplitude and freeing Carl took priority. That’s a fancy way of saying I forgot to do it because I was too busy.
I found an adequate substitute for protective armor. This time, the students and adults were more surprised to find a troupe of people in animal costumes. It looked like a small furry flashmob had assembled in front of the place, led by a purple bunny. They didn’t hesitate to call out Venus.
They also armed their defenses. The base of the Oscar Romero statue opened up and it dropped down. A cannon replaced it, some howitzer that they aimed almost directly at the gate. The various adult faculty member must have felt like a higher caliber of fool when the furries panicked and ran for it.
Venus caught the purple bunny who revealed himself to be…some guy who had been paid to organize a furry flashmob and distract them all.
I saw the man hand Venus a note under the watchful gazes and glowing powers of her various teammates. I didn’t even need a pair of binoculars to read the words “Look behind you” on it.
Venus turned, as did the rest of the crowd. She let purple bunny man go. He obviously wasn’t me. I was me, and I was seated on their howitzer, twirling a carrot in one hand. “Eeeeeeh, what’s up, dicks?”
Venus took point on talking to me because of her experience and survival rate in such encounters. She held her arms out and lowered them, beckoning the others around her to calm down. She stepped forward, alone, until she got to about ten feet from the howitzer’s barrel. “You didn’t ask for any neutral ground this time. Is that a bad sign? What do you want?”
I unscrewed the top of the carrot and took a swig from the flask within. “I just wanna talk. Is that really such a big deal?”
She folded her arms, taking in my simple jean shorts and white t-shirt that said “puddles pity party” underneath the image of a pale crowned clown. I hardly looked threatening, but it’s not like I was a homicidal maniac who took advantage of my innocent looks to leave a trail of ass-ravaged dead bodies in my wake.
Oh wait, that’s exactly who I was.
“Sounds like you’ve done enough talking.”
In that case, they should have brought more howitzers. I grabbed the basket I brought along and dropped down from the howitzer to better address Venus and because my balls were hurting. “Oh, that. A little too much screaming during sex, that’s all. You know, we really have to stop meeting like this. Makes y’all look like idiots.”
Venus shifted her weight onto her back leg, arms still crossed. “Can you blame us? Things have a tendency to get weird and messy when you show up.”
“Those are called wet dreams, Venus, and they-“ I stopped right there as she raised an eyebrow and cracked her knuckles. After a moment of looking her in those brown eyes, I started anew. “All the same, you’re the guys who panicked over a purple bunny costume.”
Venus’s eyebrow lowered and she shook her head. A smile almost forced its way onto those lips but she snuffed it with the brutal efficiency of Edgar Allen Poe.
The crowd from the gate had been approaching slowly and they took their cues from Venus’s body language. They gave us curious glances and a wide berth as they stepped around us. Most of the students and a few of the staff dispersed, but there were plenty of people around to back Venus up if I turned violent.
I reached into my basket and pulled out a bottle. “Bit o’ the bubbly?” I offered it to Venus.
“No. I can think of many reasons not to drink that,” she said, then reached up to brush her bangs out of her face. “What brings you by so soon after terrorizing the city as a giant nudist?”
I unscrewed the lid of my sparkling red grape juice and poured some into my carrot flask. “Ah, glad to see that even in a city like L.A., I can still make a scene. Nah, I just came to find out a couple things.”
And then I sat down. In the history of warfare, few soldiers have ever infiltrated an enemy stronghold just to sit out in the open and drink, making it a situation that conventional tactics cannot counter. The outnumbered Chinese general Zhuge Liang got close when he opened the gates to a city and played a zither in the face of a huge enemy army.
He won that encounter.
As if to match my casual demeanor, Venus sat as well. I held out the bottle for her again, but she refused. “Alright, Venus. First I need to know if you’ve heard from Leah. I went to Hephaestus and they taunted me with someone, but it wasn’t Leah. And they were trying to torture me. They beat me, pulled my teeth, showed me old episodes of the Brady Bunch.” I stopped to take a swig of the sparkling grape, then faked tears and slurred my words. “Please, the horror…the memories…”
Venus, unmoved, replied in snarky monotone. “I’m so sorry to hear that you were overwhelmed with a campy TV show. It’s amazing what it took to get you to show your true feelings.”
“Oh the pain, the horror, oh how will I go on?!” I threw my hands in the air, but instead of waving them like I just didn’t care, I waved them like I cared too much.
Then someone tapped me on the shoulder. I bent a little further back and looked into an upside down face I hadn’t seen in way too long.
“Hi Gecko,” said Leah.
“Leah?! How’d you know it was me?” I put my arms around her and gave her an awkward upside down hug from a sitting position. My spine wanted to have a word with me about that.
She tried to find a way hug me back and settled on patting me on the chin. “First, because everyone panicked and said Psycho Gecko was here…”
I stood up, then spun around and hugged her normally. “That’s how it usually happens.”
“Wow, that actually looks real,” said Venus.
I glanced back at her. “What does?”
“You’re smiling,” she told me.
“No I’m not. And I would know. It’s my mouth.” I checked by popping out my eye and my face was indeed smiling. I put a stop to that in a hurry. As a certified badass, I’m not allowed to smile and squee like a little girl.
Venus wouldn’t let it go. “Your mouth has betrayed you. You practically squeed just now.”
“Belgium!” I exclaimed, using the most vile curse in the multiverse. I let go of Leah, but kept my back to Venus. “What happened? Where have you been?”
“Well,” she started. “I’m not supposed to tell you where I’ve been hiding out, but somehow these soldiers found out. They said someone called Pivot wanted me as insurance. I got away and hid for awhile. About a week ago, Venus got in contact with me and invited me here until things cool down.”
“That’s it? Hephaestus came, you ran, they never got you?”
“Damn…wish Max did that more often. But you’re ok?”
“Bruises heal, as this gym teacher here says, but I’m fine.” She jumped up and hugged me this time, whispering in my ear. “They’re going to try and catch you if you leave.”
“Do you know how?”
“I have a way out, but do me this one little favor when you have the chance…”
I quickly explained what I wanted from Leah, then Venus cleared her throat. “This is getting awkward, you two. She’s still jailbait, Gecko.”
Leah stepped away, face flushing. She shot Venus a glare. “I’d better go then.” She turned to smile at me again. “It was great seeing you again. I’m doing good here. Just between the two of us. Or the three of us.”
I frowned. “Doing good? A do-gooder? I thought I taught you better than that.”
She rolled her eyes. “You taught me a lot and I’m glad. You were there for me, but I don’t think petty revenge is a good basis for leading a life of crime.”
I turned back to Venus, who just started to open the basket I brought along with me. I startled her and she let the lid fall on it. I narrowed my eyes at her. “This is your fault. I’d recognize your idealism anywhere. You work at a school, dammit! How dare you not grind this girl’s soul and dreams to dust?!”
Leah snorted at that, and even Venus smiled. To Leah, she said “Didn’t you have that thing you wanted to do in a little while?”
“Oh, right!” Leah stepped away and waved goodbye to me. “I’m sorry, Gecko, but I have to go do something very important.” She winked, which I took to mean that they were going to try and nab me before too much longer. “I hope I see you again sometime.”
Venus’s annoyed “Ahem” indicated that she didn’t share that sentiment.
Leah ran off. I waved after her until she was well away, then spun around and pointed at Venus. “Alright you. Fun time is over! It’s time for the million dollar question. Where is Lone Gunman? Has he been in contact with you? Stayed the night? Borrowed a toothbrush?”
She blinked and ducked her chin. “No…I haven’t heard anything from him since last year when we all fought you that last time.”
I risked taking her at face value. “Well then, I have a useful tidbit of information for you. The guy who tried to kill me, the guy who shrunk you, the same fellow who kidnapped all those people? Yep, it was him. Killed his way to the top of Hephaestus and pursued a murderous personal vendetta against me.”
“Bullshit!” Venus replied. She seemed a little skeptical of the claim.
Reaching down to my basket, I pulled out photos, a flash drive, Carl’s notarized deposition, and a banana.
I passed them all to her in turn. She looked over the banana and held it back out to me. “Let me guess, this one is actually your lunch.”
I reached over and yanked down one part of the peel. Smoke poured out, hiding the pair of us from view. I heard shouting from around us. They were probably scrambling. I grabbed the banana and tried to get my arm around Venus’s neck, but she pushed back with her hips and threw me over. I landed on my back outside the cloud of smoke.
Before anyone could jump me, I held the banana out in front of me as I got my feet under me. “Nobody move, nobody shoot, nobody even think! I got more than smoke in this thing! Keep your distance, or I set this bad boy off and Venus is gonna banana split thanks to those nanites in that cloud! You feel me, dawgs? Huh? You feel me?!”
They seemed to feel me. The escape would have gone better if I’d kept the basket near me, but I had to step close to the dispersing smoke cloud to get it. I grabbed it just before Venus rolled out and got her bearings. “Situation?!” she called out.
“Psycho Gecko’s got something. We don’t know. He said it would hurt you if we did anything!” answered a square-jawed ginger guy.
She looked me right in the eye. I got the feeling she was skeptical again. Then she said, “I’m fairly sure he’s lying.” My feeling got much stronger.
With that, I stuffed the banana in my mouth and pulled my one last trick out of the basket. I twirled the saxophone around so that the extendable bits brought it out to a full alto sax, then gripped it two handed and wielded it like a sword. “Alright, you heroic bastards…let’s kick some brass.”
That caused even Venus to pause. It gave me time to hit a key with a rocket on it and set it between my legs. Flames roared out of the bell as it shot forward, carrying me with it into the air. Laughing, I shot heroes the bird to either side.
Ah, it just wouldn’t be a visit to Venus without her trying to catch me. Some day, I may even let her catch me.
It was nice to see Leah, though. I found out she made it out ok, instead of sticking around there as some sort of hostage/student.
She let me know. She left me a message, like I asked. A big message, written all over a giant skyscraper in Los Angeles that was busy having several holes repaired.
Just in case anyone had a doubt about the final score in my little war with Hephaestus, Leah cleared that up with, “Psycho Gecko was here. Now Hephaestus isn’t.”