Geez, a guy saves his own ass once and all of a sudden people accuse me of being good. I didn’t even know how I did it until the Captain explained it to me over a warm beer. The heroes wanted me to hold off even though my nanites healed me right up.
“Just between you and me, the coma worried the paper shaker. Venus.” Good thing he clarified that. I’ve noticed the occasional bits of older slang peppered throughout his speech.
“It only lasted a little bit, from the sound of things. What, a couple hours? Not even half a day.”
He shrugged. “She sounded like it didn’t usually happen.”
I shook my head and took a swallow of the nasty beer. With the lack of reliable fresh water and bottled water getting used up, everyone was boozing it up at least a little bit. Aside from getting drunk, one of the other reasons why most cultures developed alcohol early on was because it was safer to drink than unpurified water. Yet another piece of interesting knowledge y’all have gotten from me here. “I gotta be in pretty bad shape if I heal up and just don’t wake up from it for awhile. Hopefully I didn’t lose any data in my brain because of it.”
Lightning sipped his beer, then sighed with a grimace. “No one has rendered me unconscious in awhile. It’s one way to turn me back to normal. You already know the other way.”
“Hm?” I asked, bottle at my lips and eyebrow raised.
“The word. It calls the lightning and changes me if it touches me. I can use it like a weapon if you’re not careful.” He shook his head, eyes looking off into the air as he thought of something. “Heh, yeah.” He seemed to notice me there again. “My mind wanders, but you stopped me with that bomb you pulled out your chest. It really pounded me and knocked me out, so I turned back to normal. When I woke up, I was myself again. That’s proof of what I think about Spinetingler. He’s got powers over people with powers, only some people don’t know it and he wakes up the power inside them.”
I tsk tsked. “Old man, that is supremely stupid. He’s a reality manipulator. Think about it. You wake up one day with the power to control everything. Means you can sense everything, and every little whim you have becomes reality. The moment you think you wish someone was dead, they die. So he snapped like all those types and put a psychological barrier in place. He tricked himself into thinking he only does this horror stuff, and it’s started to become unraveled because of everything he’s been through.”
Venus smacked me lightly on the back of the head and took a seat on an upside-down bucket near us. “You guys are talking about Spinetingler? His only power is giving people powers, you know?” She raised her own beer and stopped when she noticed our expressions. “It fits. All he had to do was give a few of them powers like control people and keep him alive. It accounts for everything.”
“Mine fits too,” Captain Lightning said.
“Mine too, traitor,” I added.
Venus rolled her eyes. “You did the same thing to me against His Eggcellency. In fact, I know for a fact you would have sold me out if you had the chance.”
“Bad guys are allowed to do that sort of thing!”
Captain Lightning broke in while gesticulating. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Venus and I both focused on Lightning. While she suggested ways for him to procreate with himself, I told him “It’s not too late to kill you, old man. You’re human at the moment. Besides, I have a real legal fake marriage anyway. No questions! We have an attack to carry out, and we’re on a deadline.”
That surprised the heroes. “Deadline? What’s all this then?” Captain Lightning asked.
“If y’all are right about the time, we’ve got March 20th coming up. We gotta get Spinetingler killed before March 20th. Very important.” I sat back and crossed my arms, nodding authoritatively.
“Why?” Venus asked.
“No questions!” I said, cutting them off again. For those who’ve been paying attention, March 20th is one of the few times I actively refrain from violence because it’s Mr. Roger’s Birthday. They don’t need to know that. Y’all barely need to know that, and y’all are in another dimension.
Luckily, we didn’t have much of a plan. With Captain Lightning on our side and experienced with Spinetingler’s talents, I think we had what it takes. We’d even leave my loyal henchmen behind. Apparently Spinetingler’s minions have made attempts on the hole in the bunker.
Spinetingler left us holding our breath when he showed up, then scrambling around finding something to get leverage on it for. Then he took over completely and turned other people, even heroes, against us. At the end of the day, we need to just face him straight up. What worse could he do to us than everything we’ve managed to survive so far?
Spinetingler was still deep in the skull, to. It didn’t survive the fall of the towers, but he pulled it back together and kept it at the base of the wreckage. It looked like his own personal castle, surrounded by part-skyscraper, part-spinal wreckage. I looked out at it from atop twenty story building, the wind blowing through my trenchcoat. My armor was still in the shop, but I loaded up on nanites before I left. Plus, I couldn’t really use it without my power core.
“You look impressive,” Venus told me over the short wave comms. “But why the pose and the music?”
“Morale, Venus. That’s important in the year 200X.”
“I am pretty sure it’s 2015, kid.”
“Nobody asked you, Cap’n Crunch.”
“I can’t hear you over your music, kid. It’s alright. You’re young. Soon you will even find out that your dada doesn’t go away when he plays peekaboo.”
“Ok, that’s it. You’ve both ruined the moment. Let’s go in there and ransack someone’s house. You call down the lightning and I’ll reap the whirlwind. You can trust me. I’m a notorious reapist.” I told them, then took a quick route down by jumping off the building.
Venus swung out of the air and caught me. “My hero!” I said all high-pitched and enthusiastic as she carried me down to street level. A bolt of golden lightning preceded Captain Lightning zooming past us and crashing in the Skull lair between its eyes. Venus dropped me off outside, then swung through one of the eyes, which looked like stained glass. I brushed myself off and tried to jump through the other, but bounced off and helped myself through Venus’s hole instead.
“-give up now!” Captain Lightning ordered Spinetingler, hovering so Spinetingler had to look up at him. Venus stared down Skinner and Mammon off to the side.
I needed to add my own brand of intimidation to the mix. “At last, Spinetingler! My name is Pain and I’m here to meet your ass!”
“I see you brought the fool to court,” Spinetingler growled from beneath his redundant skull mask.
“He’s one more reason you won’t be walking out of here,” said Captain Lightning. Good recovery.
Venus raised her head quickly in acknowledgement of the two older minions. “This story doesn’t end well for any of you.”
Spinetingler shot to his feet and stomped on the ground. “Allow me to flip the page, then.” The Captain shot an arc of electricity at ‘Tingler and instead shattered a mirror that stood there. Mammon and Skinner disappeared in a puff of smoke as myself and the do-gooders turned to look at a reflection. Instead, we found a large three piece mirror that wasn’t there before.
“He’s pretty vain, isn’t he?” I asked.
At first, the mirrors showed all three of us, with Spinetingler standing in front of his throne. Then people began to fade until each mirror showed Spinetingler and only one of us. Then even we faded. In front of Captain Lightning, a unit of soldiers looked like they’d crawled out of a World War II zombie movie. Lightning didn’t look too happy to see them. Same with Venus upon having her old boyfriend, the Human Sloth, loom over her in her mirror.
So, what could that possible mean for me?
I turned and saw my old armor standing there. It wasn’t me in the armor that I’ve used for years and years. I could tell. It was how he stood. Chest forward, shoulders high, arms held at his sides but further from his body, with his tilted at a subtle angle. I knew that stance from a long time ago. Then this impostor and the people in front of Lightning and Venus stepped out through the mirror. “Hello Lamb,” my doppelganger told me.
“Gecko,” I said. We were teens when I last saw him. “You’re dead.”
Gecko raised his finger and shook it. “I wouldn’t say that’s true. It’s in you that I live on. You’ve gotten worse than me ever since you took my name that day. You hated me but I never did as much as you’ve done by now. How’s that for a joke, sensitive little Lamb?”
I pointed at him, feeling my lips pull back from my teeth instinctively. “Shut the fuck up you talkative asshole surfer! You don’t do this to me anymore! Nobody does. I survived. I didn’t die. I outlived all of you!”
“We’ll see, Lamb, if you’ve not gotten cowardly since then. Do we need men with guns ringing us again?” Gecko raised his arms and I became aware of two things. First, the room seemed a lot bigger than before. Second, shades of guards encircled us like back on the day I fought Gecko.
We were teens. After some mishaps involving the project’s science and nursing staff, the graduating class had been cut down and the General wanted to see a proper punishment for the lone survivor of the attempted escape from the compound. He arranged one last test: a one-on-one fight between me and the only other surviving candidate: Gecko. Spoiler alert: I won.
“Guys,” I called out, wondering where Venus and Lightning were. “If y’all are just waiting on me, you should know this isn’t something I have to do myself. Feel free to blast away. Anyone?”
Gecko charged. Wary of holographic tricks, I threw myself at him in a cross body block. I connected, though it didn’t do much more than drop me to the ground and make him stop. He kicked at my chest. It hurt, but I managed to swing around and get my feet above me. That’s important when you kick someone in the balls like I did. Hope the kids like blunt force, Gecko!
Gecko backed off a couple steps, lowering his right hand to his crotch to guard the sperminators.
I started to stand, but he caught me in the side of the head with his shin and nearly knocked me back down. He wound up and kicked again, catching me in the shoulder and my raised arm. Then he put the foot down and hopped off it to drive a boot right toward my face. He sacrificed power in doing so, allowing me to grab it and set it on my shoulder. As I stood, it toppled him.
“Ugly dog, you’ve learned new tricks!” He said while kipping up. I drove my knee into his crotch again since he’d left himself open. He grabbed my hair with one hand and punched me in the mouth. I spat teeth and blood onto Gecko’s visor. “What’s it like being worse than everybody who used to hurt you put together? I’ll find out when I’m done with you. I think that mean’s Venus’ll like me better’n you. Think, you’d have her by now if you were only as bad as me.”
Feeling my hands checking his belt for tools and weapons, Gecko jerked my head from side to side by my hair. “You’re so weak, you can’t kill her. She means too much to you. Even if she was there to save us, she never would’ve noticed you, victim.”
Wanting very much for him to shut the FUCK up, I swung wildly at his sides, at his armpits, even at his throat. That last one made him back off, then step forward and catch me in the ribs with a blow that make something crack. I grabbed his helmet, the pain at forcing me to pause as the pain forced a moan out of me. The break gave me a moment to think at least.
Get it? The break? Oh screw it, y’all didn’t even notice.
I tried to dive to the side, but Gecko caught me by the ankle and I just smacked into the ground instead. He lifted me up and spun me around so that I was right side up and he held me by the upper arm. “Rude. I’m not done playing,” he said, then took another shot at my ribs. I couldn’t help but scream as another rib broke, then another and another. Then he drove a pair of fingers deep into the soft tissue just under the ribs, giving my kidneys the sensual deep tissue massage they always wanted but never asked for.
He always preferred inflicting pain over simple murder, the bastard.
It didn’t hurt as much as it should have, though. The wonders of adrenaline and fear. Yes, I was afraid. There. I said it. Are y’all happy now? At least I had enough presence of mind to hit the seals on the helmet and tear that off Gecko. His features wavered as if they didn’t exist before, but he ended up looking a lot like his teen self, only older. Good for him. I flipped the helmet around and smashed the top of it into his face, giving his nose a fascinating new angle on life.
He dropped me. After a half second wanting to curl up into the fetal position, I used the helmet to help push me up and then swung it to meet his next punch, then his followup kick. “Catch!” I yelled, spit and blood dribbling out of my mouth. I threw the helmet at Gecko, the top aimed for his face. He caught it just in front of him this time, but I ran up and shoved my head into it, driving it into a headbutt. He stumbled back. I jumped up, feeling my lungs were at the acupuncturist’s office, and brought my head own on his forehead.
Only when I landed did I realize he’d hit me, too. Right in the right side of the ribs. He didn’t break anything, but I felt the wind knocked out of me. The fight, too. I stumbled over to my left, even as I keeled over on my right side in some of the worst pain I’ve ever taken without a giant hole in my body. I slipped to my knee then, not wanting to stand anymore.
As I clutched at my ribs with my right arm and rocked back and forth, I tried to grab for a nanite syringe with my left. A lot had slipped out or been broken. The damn body shots. I thought I had one, but Gecko took it from me and dropped it to the ground. His other hand gripped my forearm as he stomped on the syringe, crushing it. He grabbed my forearm with both hands then and pulled it against his rising knee.
An agonizing snap and tugging later, I forced my eyes open to stare at the jagged stump where my wrist used to be. “It brings back memories, Lamb. We did this before. This is when you let go. You couldn’t beat me as Lamb and pretended to be me, but a caricature.”
“I remember,” I groaned out.
Gecko let go of me and waved me to come on. “Remember the next part?”
I nodded. It was hard enough to speak, but I jumped up and shoved my profusely-bleeding stump toward his throat, just like how I killed Gecko originally. This time, Gecko grabbed it and blocked the jagged bone from jabbing him in the throat. “Did you expect that? You’re playing the same game you always played, but I can learn. You should know that when you’re dead, I get to be more than a memory.”
If I could have smiled, I would have. I settled for baring my teeth instead while looking Gecko in the eye. Then I activated my eye laser.
Gecko screamed as I fried his eyeball. I used the distraction to rip through Gecko’s throat. I forced out a laugh while he gurgled up blood. I collapsed, feeling the energy drain out of me. I was exhausted, but I knew I couldn’t fade. I couldn’t go to sleep. I did manage to whisper, “Stay a memory, jackass.”
The fuck happened to all my syringes? Right, I covered that earlier. Broken. Except a nice one in reach. I stretched for it. Ok, so it was slightly out of reach. I wiggled my fingers, trying to get it just a little closer. Then I heard the roar of a Nasty Surprise. I looked up to see Gecko crawling toward me, bloody bubbles at his throat.
I finally got ahold of the syringe and and tried to sit up. After a couple tries, I finally rose up. I had to throw it…I couldn’t throw it. I fell back, wanting so much to let go. Gecko came into my fuzzy view, ready to take my head off. With all my remaining strength, I jabbed the syringe into the side of his head, knocking him to the side while nanites flooded his body. Nanites programmed to remove every bit of matter that isn’t me or one of my various enhancements. At least I could listen to the sweet sound of his flailing as the nanites spread through his body, disassembling the foreign matter that was Gecko’s head.
Ooh, there, at the corner of my vision. Another syringe. If only I could do anything at all to get it.
Out of nowhere, I noticed the room felt small again. I thought the darkness at the edge of my vision was from the dying. Looking a bit worse for the wear herself, Venus knelt in front of me. Part of her visor was broken, showing an eye surrounded by puffy face.
I’d like to think she was crying over me. Yeah right. Who the fuck knows what she had to deal with with her late boyfriend showing up again.
Ya know what? After everything I’ve done and who I’ve become, I still didn’t want to die. It’s my principle dilemma. I want to die and I want to live. So that’s why I muttered out a simple “Help.”
She raised a metal gauntlet, clasping a metal spike the size of a hot dog, and shoved it into my chest.
Ok, this time I wasn’t gone long enough to get the flashing clock reset. Good.
Also, I felt fucking fantastic. I even had the strength to look down at the spike in my chest and recognized what swarmed through my body. The hero-made nanites! Gotta talk to Venus about a better delivery system. I looked around and saw Spinetingler standing there, back to me, smoking.
How rude. I was a wounded man! You’re not supposed to smoke around sick people. Heyo!
Captain Lightning and Venus stood in front of ‘Tingler, looking torn up and tired.
“You don’t even know why you’re fighting me, do you? You’re heroes, and I am change. I will make a city, a world, that knows peace through fear. A world where children… where no one fears losing a child…friends…a lover.” Spinetingler indicated me. “Don’t compromise. Look how much you’ll lose to the lesser evil in the long run. Embrace change.”
I wished I had some popcorn. I settled for jabbing myself with more nanites, hoping they’d work on my arm.
Lightning spat out a glob of blood. “Just like any other villain. I’ve seen your type before. You’re a shuckster. This isn’t about a better world. You’re scared. The Master of Fear is frightened because he can’t find his own daughter and he’s worried that spaz on the floor killed her.”
Was that my cue? I redirected those new nanites, and remaining extraneous hero nanites, into a skeletal hand with a blade for a middle finger.
“Psycho Gecko’s a horrible person, but at least he hates that he enjoys doing what he does,” Venus said. Definitely my cue.
I kipped up and dove for Spinetingler, shoving the blade deep into his remaining soft tissue. As soon as they touched him, I sent the signal for the last-ditch grey goo program. “Would it be too pretentious to say something deep right now? Oh, I know. WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?”
“How did you talk like that?” Spinetingler asked in a croaky voice. Body parts fell off him with wet plops. Then he disappeared in a puff of black smoke. With him went the lair, pieces of skull falling around us like egg shell.
I felt the reception before I saw the sun again. HISS! Damn sun. Somebody ought to put that thing out.
I abandoned Lightning and Venus to go work on that project and avoid talking to them about feelings and Venus saving my life again. You know, before they got any ideas. I didn’t want to risk encountering them on the day I don’t kill people.