My reign of holiday good cheer has continued. Some of it even started pushing its way up the news stories. This city really went to hell in a handbasket after all I did to it, which severely cut down on my press. It goes to show that it sometimes only takes one bad day to push people over the edge. Well, one bad day, followed by another bad day, followed by yet another bad day; the power’s on now, but it stayed for a good while and killed a number of people.
I’ve heard a rumor online that some Empyreal City funeral directors may have named their yachts after me. I tried to imagine that…
“Hey there, Bob. Is that your yacht?”
“Yes it is, Harry. The Psycho Gecko. You’ll notice that the sail says ‘Kiss my flap ass’ on it.”
Then again, I should just be glad that someone wrote an exasperated opinion piece celebrating the forced removal of “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom” from the music charts. Ever since I unleashed that on the city, it got stuck in so many people’s heads that it shot to the top. I had plans for that song, but I never did get to where I could collect royalties.
All Hephaestus had to do was pay up, but they wanted a war instead.
Speaking of wars, what has your old pal Psycho Gecko been up to since blasting the local NAMBLA chapter with my pengun?
For starters, I built the gas station a heater so my parts wouldn’t freeze. Especially my jiggly bits. I kept the food stored on the roof for the time being and slept in a pile of blankets. Somehow, I never remember Empyreal City being cold enough that even the snowmen wear jackets. I guess they didn’t want to freeze their snowballs off.
I’d have figured the weather alone would have quelled a great deal of conflict, but then it turned the city into a perfect battleground for some villains who don’t exactly run in the same circles I do. Then again, I don’t run in circles. I run in ovals.
Dead Meat was a minor villain around here. I looked him up when he made the news the other day. He had been a disabled firefighter with a bad back and a drinking problem until he tried to rush out and rescue people from a fire trap tenement near where he lived. From what’s been released about him, he thought he saw someone burning in the fire. Turned out it was a book with a human face on it. Some sort of magic thing. It bit him and screamed and did all sorts of stuff that caused him to freak out and get out of there. Something stuck, though, because ever since then, he gained the ability to control dead pieces of meat.
Dead Meat soon realized that theft supplemented his disability check incredibly well. He’d never gone so far as to march corpses around, but he’s not above assembling rampaging meat beasts that give vegans the night sweats. I’ve chuckled before when I read a little item somewhere about him sending his hot dogs after PETA activists.
The person who picked a fight with him came in from Kingscrow, actually. Killbasa, the Butcher of Kingscrow. A crazed butcher-turned serial killer, Killbasa didn’t like it when various critics and health inspectors besmirched her cuts. So she cut them. She also made use of her butcher’s gimmick to attack them with meat and gadgets designed to look like meat. Even learned how to use flails and nunchaks to make herself especially dangerous with link sausage. On occasion, she’s had an assistant who inevitably gains the nickname “Ground Chuck”.
Killbasa insists that none of her products contain any human meat, but that kind of reputation inevitably attached itself to her. She must have gotten bored, or just in over her head around Forcelight’s city. Either way, she arrived in Empyreal City while I was in jail and challenged Dead Meat, prepared to meat her match.
I hadn’t heard of this kind of gimmick grudge since the Conducter fought the Conducter over their name. There were train cars and orchestra instruments all over the place after that little incident.
If I continued spreading my brand of good cheer about the city, I needed to deal with these meatheads too. Dead Meat is no picnic for regular folks, and that’s not counting how much Killbasa shanks people.
They were sure to realize that they chose the wrong time to cook off this feud. They were about to jump from out of the frying pan and into the fryer.
But first, I needed to make a long overdue appointment.
Carl could barely believe his eyes when he opened the door. Poor guy. He must have missed my exciting life of crime. Between his own capture and then me being too busy, I hardly had time this year to try and give him heart attacks.
“Who are you?” he asked. He seemed slow at times, but other times he was quite inventive. I hired Carl and a few other thug types to help me rob a bank as part of a trap for Venus. I took a shine to him and kept him around afterward. I found him funny, but he proved to be loyal and mechanically inclined. In addition to maintaining a van that proved useful, he once built a set of walker armor out of kegs.
I thought he’d died earlier this year when Hephaestus captured him. I got him back, but I spent so much time doing other things that by the time I had something to do around Empyreal City again, I’d left him out of it. Seeing as y’all know by now that I planned to agitate Venus to the point of killing me, it should make more sense that I left my minions out of it.
You’d think he’d recognize me after all our adventures. Oh, right, I didn’t have any armor on, or even the same sort of coat. I just stood there with a giant grin, arms held wide, so he couldn’t just guess at my intentions. I let my eye camo fade back to the standard white out eye. “It’s the boss, if you’re still looking for work!”
He hugged me then, “Hey, hey! Boss! Good ta see you. I thought they put you away for good.”
“Well, they wanted to leave me in there for life, but I got out early due to bad behavior,” I said.
“Don’t you mean good behavior? Oh,” Carl said after getting the joke.
“It nearly got to me, I’ll admit. They always say that you need to either kick someone’s ass or become someone’s bitch. I kicked the prison’s ass. Tore it a new one. So here I am back in town. Sounds like things have gone to pot around here, too.”
Carl looked around. “Naw, no pot. I tried it, but it’s too much of a hassle for me to find the time. Things got nuts around the EC. The other day, there was this big pile of meat that spun around and wrecked some cars in the next neighborhood over. It chased these things made of turkeys that ran around on four legs.”
I nodded. “Yes…top sirloin and turkey dogs…It’s good that you’ve survive without me. Well done. I don’t mean to grill you, but I’m going to need you and Moai to help me deal with them. Where is that lovable blockhead, anyway?”
Carl pointed off to the side of the house, which didn’t help me see through the brick walls any better than before he pointed. “He’s off in the kids’ room. He stuck around and helped out, then one day he just stood in the corner and stopped doing anything at all. I had to lie, because they thought he died. Can Moai die?”
“I hope not.” I pushed Carl to the side, against the door frame. “Moai! I’m baaaaaack!”
I heard something heavy bounding over the floor, so I tossed Carl to the side and out of the way. It was for his own protection. Moai skidded out of the hallway along the carpet, leaving part of it bald, then shot for me. I realized suddenly that things were about to get painful. I tried to back up, but that only helped so much when Moai threw himself on me. The mobile Moai statue may not qualify as a “he” in the conventional sense, but I preferred that to calling him an “it”.
Nobody likes to be called “it”. It’s insulting. No wonder people who fix computers have such a bad attitude. Their official job title is IT. And if you ever have family, like a cousin, that you just call “it,” then chances are good things are going to get hairy at gatherings.
Anyway, after Moai got done smothering me with his version of a hug and breaking a few of my ribs, he hopped up off me. He and Carl both peered down at me as I laid there on the ground, wheezing. “Not…in my…armor…now guys.”
“What’s going on out here?” asked a far too familiar voice. Tricia, my fake wife, poked her head out the door. “Oh, you came by. Great timing. What happened to you?”
I reached in my pocket for a nanite syringe and found it shattered. “Carl…kill her…and drive me…back to my base.” You try bending around to lick your pocket with your ribs after getting glomped by an Easter Island statue. Not so easy, is it?
For whatever reason, Carl misinterpreted my order and didn’t murder Tricia. Instead, he and Moai helped me into the back seat of my car, where I laid with my head on Tricia’s lap. They took the front and started driving off. I sent the directions to the computer screen for them to follow, rather than talk.
Meanwhile, Tricia explained her presence. “Harlon stuck me on your story and we’ve helped you out with it. He told me not to delve into your past, but you owe him. He said that, too. We made a lot of people uneasy with the story about how they treated you in the Rubik’s Cube. In return, he wants me embedded with you for awhile. You’ll just have to say you kidnapped me and threatened to kill me, like when we took my car. For now, mister, you owe me an adventure.”
I groaned. Not because of that. I meant to groan because of that, but before I could, we went over a pothole and that gave me a different reason to groan. After that groan, I was too groaned out to groan for the other reason.
They got me back to base for me to heal and to go over the plan that I would reluctantly allow Tricia in on. I rolled on out of my recovery area in a motorized wheelchair, head cocked at an angle. A computer’s disinterested voice spoke for me. “Now then. My glorious plan to improve the holidays. I will spread happy holidays through violence. I will destroy the day to kill it. This is the Vietnam War on Christmas, you could say.”
Tricia goggled at me. “You don’t look like you can make war on anything. Are you going to be able to do any of this yourself?”
Carl patted her on the shoulder. In a panic, Tricia whirled on him and grabbed his arm, hip tossing him to the ground. When she tried to back up, she tripped over Moai, who had dropped to the ground behind her. All at once, the four of us all stood up.
“You’re fine!” Tricia blurted, pointing at me.
Carl patted me on the shoulder then. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. The boss here recovers lickity split.”
I took a bow. “That’s right. You can’t keep a bad man down.”
Carl raised an eyebrow. “I thought you can’t keep a good man down?”
Tricia rolled her eyes. “You can’t keep any man down in my experience.”
Carl and I both turned and stared at her. Belatedly, Moai turned as well. She looked back at the three of us, cheeks reddening like a slapped baby. I gave her a thumbs-up. “Now you’re getting the hang of the group dynamic. Anyway, I’m going to do what other people won’t. I’m down in the dumps. The city has the blues. We’ll cheer everyone up by taking out various problems in the way that only I can. The current number one priority is this meat war we’re dealing with. Dead Meat and Killbasa have to go. We need to handle this before Venus does, too. She has this annoying tendency not to kill people.”
Moai and Carl nodded along. Tricia spoke up. “Isn’t that a good thing? Wouldn’t you be dead if she killed people?”
“Yes,” I told her, looking her in the eyes. Then I turned around whipped the cloth off a worktable. “Now then, I was thinking we could make a special delivery of our two meaty friends to the North Pole. Got to keep them refrigerated, you see. Plus, if anything carnivorous is roaming around, you could say this pair would make a rare treat.”
Carl and Tricia both groaned. I just smiled and looked over the two man-sized remote control rockets that sat there, doors open and harnesses not yet closed.
“Are you going to blow them up, boss?” asked Carl.
I walked over and ran a hand over the warhead on the tip of one of the rockets. “Yeah, I was thinking something incendiary. Get a little ice melting. Have a bit of a barbecue up in the great white north. I still might change it out for something that’ll make radioactive long pork out of the main dish.”
“You can’t use a nuke!” yelled Tricia. I rolled my eye.
Surprisingly, Carl agreed. “Boss, isn’t that really bad for the environment? You’re usually a lot better about that’n people think.”
I smiled at the both of them and walked over to a rolled-up poster on the wall. I pulled it down to reveal a map of the earth within a jester’s motley. The Fool’s Cap map of the world. I had to draw in lines for all the various countries from after the time the map was created, and next to them all were approximate population numbers.
“It works well with my new goals. Lady and gentlemen, I’m expanding my horizons. See, I had an epiphany in the big house. Venus was right. I do want to be a better person than I am. Why should I limit myself to merely killing whoever I’m hired to or whatever poor sap crosses my path? Why should I think merely of my own entertainment? I didn’t lie when I made the excuse that I sometimes killed the people who needed killing. Lots of people need killing. Dictators don’t take power on their own. It takes more than a single man to create a system that treated me like the Cube treated me. And I really should treat the world’s villains as kindly as I do the heroes.”
Carl frowned. Tricia had her mouth open, but then closed it. She crossed her arms and shook her head. “I have to see this.”
Carl turned to her. “You’re not worried? You got scared of everything else and bossman just said he wants to kill everyone.”
“Well, chances are good I won’t wipe out everyone, but at some point, roughly around the three billion mark, we’ll reach a collapse of global civilization. Iranian theocracy, Chinese dictatorship, North Korean totalitarianism, and the various corrupt democracies. Everyone wants change, but no one wants to tip over the glass.”
Tricia giggled. “I’m not normally the type to say the glass is half full, but there’s no way you can manage this. Don’t be offended, but you’re going to be caught before you can do anything like this.”
I leaned over the worktable, steadying my hand on the door of one of the rockets. “Are you going to be the one to stop me?”
She shook her head, but stopped giggling and lost some of that mirth. “I’m here to observe. I’ll observe when you’re caught if you let me stay that long. That’s all.”
I think I got what she meant. She didn’t have to try and stop me because someone else almost assuredly would. She might have been right about that. “Anyway, back to the most pressing part of this entire thing. Folks, let’s figure up how to round up some venison denizens.”