“You don’t play well with others.” The voice over the phone sounded pleased with himself, though I suspect that’s because I pictured the speaker as a smug bastard. He’d called up my hotel and got through to me in my room. I rigged the phone to divert it to my temporary hidey hole.
“Your command of the obvious is amazingly refined. Perhaps you could tell me where to look for the sky?” I leaned against a bar at an izakaya, in disguise. Moai stood near me, also looking quite different. I had my armor pulling double duty after a tuneup. To all the world, I looked like a Japanese schoolgirl he looked like a larger schoolboy. I wouldn’t read much into it if I was y’all.
Though I have been considering swapping out sex.
I kept my end of the conversation solely in my head and helmet to keep from disturbing the patrons around us.
“You should take this as a lesson. You do not fit in well in our country. Too messy. Too chaotic.”
“That’s one way to look at it. Except my job was to kill the rangers. I tried to do that without getting hung up on unnecessary protocol and waiting around just because it was the way things were done. I was doing well until I decided to wait after all. Then the guy who hired me got killed because his own subordinates organized a conspiracy against him. He was a bit too predictable, wasn’t he?”
“Your disobedience made him appear weak.”
“Sure, blame me some more. Good way to keep from looking at what the guy himself may have done wrong. Or what you do wrong. There are too many coincidences, so I’m wondering how much of a role you and your organization played in this.” I’d had some time to think on everything I’d seen. I’d even looked at how the other people did, that Lady Negaheart and Pienaple. Plus, Fukuda was wrapped up in things. That shouldn’t have happened. Unless I somehow got stuck with the one guy likely to keep tabs on me and wind up joining Nature Force, someone manipulated events there. Which meant I’d been set up somewhat.
I needed to take care that my suspicions wouldn’t put the Elementalist on the defensive. “I know you set all of this up. I don’t know how, but you’ve been playing me since I got to this country.”
“Your manners leave much to be desired.”
“Your lack of answers leaves even more. Manners are just a good way to keep from talking about the important stuff.” Lots of people have a way to obfuscate their meaning, even if they don’t feel like outright lying. Unlike me. I’ll lie all day long. I’ll lie like a dog. “Are you worried I’ll get mad? I promise I won’t be mad. I just want to know what happened before I leave this crazy place for good.”
“I know you think you’re important enough for the answers, but you should be lucky that your role in maintaining the balance did not include dying or injury. We’re sorry you did not get your army, but we look after our own over outsiders.” I could practically hear the smile in his voice.
Balance. That’s about what I thought. They don’t want folks like Pienaple destroying the world, so they set him up with an abandoned island. They don’t Negaheart wiping everyone out, so they manipulate them. Get them to only send one monster a week, for instance. Or mess with Vespanican so that he has to give up the gem that will create the customary red ranger.
When I try something like that, it’s just about creating or finding enough possibilities to get what I want and trying to get what I want. “It’s the red ranger I don’t get. He was the man from ODA. Do you have a precognitive on your side? Have they told you how you’re going to die?”
“Don’t worry about my future, Mr. Gecko, but yours. One way or another, you won’t spend another week in our country. You have played your part here. I hope we never speak again.”
The son of a bitch hung up on me.
I turned around, walked over to the open door of the nearest private room. Inside stood the Elementalist, standing up. He glanced down at his cell phone as something beeped on it. I wish I could have seen the look on his face when he realized I was nearby. Or the look on his face when I grabbed him by the head. I have a rough idea what his face looked like when I smashed it down on the corner of the low table he’d been sitting at seconds prior.
I noticed his hand flop to the side, fire beginning to spread in his palm. Leaving his head on the table, I brought my knee down on his neck. Oh snap. The fire died.
I didn’t know if his doubles survived and died independently of one another, but I figured I had little time for a message. I stripped his jacket off him and wrapped it around a plate of sushi from the bar. I left it there and dragged him out with me, yanking his tie up to his forehead. Head lolling around, being carried by Moai and I, tie on his head, he looked drunk. We didn’t need to go far, though. I tied him to a rocket outside and sent him hurtling off into the ocean. Elementalist, or at least one of him, sleeps with the fish.
Odd thing was, he had a text message for me on his phone in English. “Psycho Gecko. I’m sorry to use you this way,, but I’ll pay you back with time straight from the clock. Visit the ruler of the East, and do not fear to travel. No, you suck your own dick. Riddles are fun. If I told you everything, you wouldn’t get where you’re going. Love, Fortune Cookie.”
Great, there is a precognitive involved. And they’re sassy.
Asshole that he was, Elementalist wasn’t wrong about them stiffing me on my army. I hadn’t heard from Ashidaka since she’d taken over the Extinction Army. I doubt any cooing and soothing talk from her would have meant I was in the clear anyway. To deal with that little problem, I fixed up a grenade launcher with pesticide grenades for Moai to use and headed out to go see my former employers.
The abandoned nuclear reactor had seen better days. As dirty as it looked before, it looked worse now with spiderweb draped over it. A big cobweb hung between a pair of cooling towers, while strings of webbing hung down in other parts. I noticed various cocooned bundles strewn around the grounds outside, sinking in on themselves. I drove past it as if lost and stopped up the road and out of site.
Moai would stay with the car while I ran in and robbed the place. I told him that I’d scream if I needed him.
I snuck in with a handy burglar’s sack. That’s right, the new Double Cross brand burglar’s sack. For when you don’t want your full sack dragging against the ground. If you can’t find one in a store near you, break in and steal it!
It wasn’t that tough. I knew the entrances, knew the layout, knew it wasn’t locked. Still had to pull off some Catherine Zeta-Jones moves when I found spider-webs across some of the corridors. Ashidaka’s paranoid. It’s almost like she’s afraid someone might kill her to try and take control of her faction of monsters. I don’t know what sort of animal would do such a thing, personally.
Since I can’t have good things, I ran into a problem at the buzzkill room. That’s the room where a giant hive and several smaller hives hang around. The door had a massive padlock on it. It had a built-in electronic lock, but I don’t think any of those worked. The decommissioned power plant had power issues, and only Kade’s lab seemed to be regularly electrified.
I reached down to see what special treat I could coax out of my sack. Ah, good old thermite. I brought it along in case I needed to cut through any small locks. Unfortunately, after igniting it and watching the pretty flames, it turned out to be too big a lock for that. With stealth as my watchword, I needed to handle the situation delicately. I tore a chicken grenade’s head off and tried to shove it as far into the gap as I could.
The explosion gave away my presence. I heard skittering. Skittering is not a good sound. There’s never been a positive instance of skittering. The cavalry never rides to the rescue on a herd of eight-legged freaks. Except for Odin, but that’s a special case.
I pulled the door open and found…a fuckton of spiders. Spiders, everywhere! Why is it spiders so much lately? Huge mounds of eggs littered the room. Smaller spiders climbed each other and merged to form human-sized spider people with normal-looking main limbs and smaller spider legs hanging off their backs. They looked around, but didn’t see me thanks to my handy armor. I checked the room for any remaining hives. The ones I saw had holes in them.
Seemed like a good time to get the hell out of there and check Kade’s lab. The spider guys swept the halls, skittering up a storm. I didn’t have to worry about Kade’s door, since it appeared to be missing. Inside, I spotted Kade and Maude Squito cowering behind lab equipment. I knelt down behind him and dropped my invisibility act. “Hey, what are we looking for?”
He jumped up. His wife jumped at me. Her lips morphed into a sharpened straw-like appendage that glanced off my neck armor. I grabbed it and pulled her close. “Is that a proboscis or are you just happy to see me?”
I heard her say “Gecko!” out of the end of the thing.
“Gecko? Gecko!” said Kade as he spun. “You nearly turned me into a dung beetle. I never thought I would see you again.”
I let go of Squito’s proboscis, which once again turned into humanoid lips. “I came back to get paid. Tried to get some buzzkills and found spiders instead. I don’t mesh so well with the spiders. The buzzkills and I had a connection. I gave them pizza. Got any more?”
Kade brought clutching fists together. “We do! She tried to kill them all, in case we used them against her, but I managed to save a few.” He pointed over to a locker on the wall. I disappeared and slid over to open it up. Inside hung a handful of buzzkill hives.
“This is it? Not nearly enough. She’s got a hell of a lot more spiders in there.” I reappeared so they could have someone to talk to, but kept most of my body hidden by the locker door so I could shove all but one of the hives inside my sack. The Double Cross burglar’s sack: make one your own and make other’s stuff your own.
“The wasps will eventually spread and create more. It just takes time and sugar. The spiders require Queen Ashidaka to lay more. If the process remains uncompromised, we can win. Unless you would care to help us? We can’t pay you with anything yet, but maybe you’re angry at how she directed Lord Vespanican’s suspicions against you?” He crawled over. I slammed the locker door before he saw the missing hives.
“I already tried helping you all. Turns out everyone else just wanted to use me as a way to get rid of the last guy. And now you want me to get rid of this guy. Uh uh. I’m not stepping in this one. You made your bed, bug boy. Now you get to fry in it.”
When things calmed down, I did indeed get the hell out of there with my new minions. Had Moai leave the launcher off in the bush in case Kade goes for a walk and gets lucky. If he wanted someone to save his day, he’d be better off looking for a hero. They used me once for a bout of regime change and stiffed me. Fuck ’em. I’m under no obligation to help people who fucked me over.
So while the buzzkills shipped off with a bunch of sugar to Carl, I decided I hated the concept of heat and shipped Moai and myself off to the land of ice and vodka. Finding the Ruler of the East wasn’t too hard. It just means Vladivostok. I’m not going to walk into that prophecy, I’m Russian.