Empyreal City is quickly becoming a darker place to live in. I see it now on the faces of people scurrying about their day both in the office and on the street. Fear. They’re on guard from whatever might happen next. I think they can sense the inclement weather on the way. My forecast calls for a shitstorm.
It’s not from the bombings. I’ve decided to take a break from those as we approach Halloween. I’d prefer people to be festive. I spend the rest of the year tricking; I have no problem letting people have a treat.
Double Cross has been having a real treat, as well. With heroes outmanned, regular criminals and villains alike are pulling in more and bigger takes than ever before. There’s always something, after all. Gold. Bearer bonds. Electronics. Even fashion. My personal favorite is the shipment for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. They had cutting edge body armor and weapons capable of taking on supers. Not a lot of them, of course, but still the kind of stuff the military or would deploy. They had a few pieces of loot with them, spoils recovered from lairs and villains. Don’t know what I’m going to put in this Ming vase. A peace lily, perhaps?
I can’t discuss rising profits for Double Cross without also giving credit to Financial. I got a call from this guy with a Russian name, claimed to be fairly high up in a brotherhood of some sort. That’s a way of implying he’s in the Russian Mafia. The Bratva. They’d probably be more subtle about it if they thought I had any idea what was going on. This fellow, a bookie out of Vegas, told me I should look into my Head of Finance. He’d been playing around with my money.
“Really? Why tell me all that?” I asked.
“Hey, you deserve to know when your employees risk your money betting on college sports.”
I snorted in laughter. “How much did he win off you?”
I got silence from the line.
“You wouldn’t be trying to get him fired if he lost to you, because then he couldn’t pay you. Don’t let the company’s name fool you. I stand behind him and the huge amount of money he made me. And that you now owe me, I’m guessing, or maybe that you’ve already paid me?”
“You will get your money,” he told me, bitterness in his voice.
Woohoo, more money. I put called up Finance and told them to throw themselves a party over the sports betting. “And make sure to get the little paper cone hats.”
Ah, cone hats. The cheapest way to give someone a hat. Decent way to blind someone, too.
It gave me an idea: party! With people so down in the dumps, why not have a big bash? No, seriously, why not? Sure, it’s short notice, but it turned out I have plenty of volunteers to handle security. The only other thing I needed to do was refreshments and entertainment. Easy peasy, what with the overall bad mood of the place. Open party at Double Cross! Drunk white women for everybody!
I did have some actual work to deal with before that. The situation down at the docks required more of my attention. I’d had my guys lock down the whole place. Yeah, that went over well. I had conspiracy theorists all over the place, too. Apparently, it was all part of the U.S. President’s attempt to take over the country by martial law, which was secretly orchestrated by Big Oil working together with Big Tobacco and the NRA at the behest of the Illuminati, which took its orders from the invisible reptilian aliens running Scientology, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and the Roman Catholic Church as part of a conservative plan to turn the country into a fascist dictatorship.
Or something like that. The particulars are different, but it’s always the same kind of stuff. I’m sure I could add JFK and the moon landing in there, too.
I had to do something about that, and fast. So I wasted a few days having consulting entomologists work up a reason they turned hostile. They answered that for me: the queen. The hive likely operated under the control of a queen that the others protect and take direction from. When I separated them from their old hive, they allowed a new queen to mature and take over. She must not have liked me.
They said my options were to get on her good side, take her place, or become male. Which might answer why they liked me in the first place. I was a male wearing an orange and dark grey exoskeleton. All I needed was wings. I already had the giant stinger, ladies. I mean, I don’t have it at the moment, but still…ladies.
Clearly, I needed to assert my dominance over the queen. Normally, that process involves latex and a whip. This time, it’ll require a more subtle hand. Less latex…more short yellow and black dress and a deely bobber headband.
Carl and Moai insisted on following me at least as far as the quarantine line. Crash didn’t insist on it, but I made her drive the rest of us, with Moai sitting in the trunk. Still, she seemed generally worried at the possible loss of her paycheck. I bet she hasn’t been able to spend much of it on anything other than cars.
The dark didn’t bother me, nor did the humming mass of hostile bee people hidden throughout the shadowy dockyard. One of them jumped out at me, stinger sword at the ready. I held out my hand in the Vulcan salute. “Greetings! I come in peace. Take me to your leader.”
The inhuman life form reacted with hostility, making me reconsider leaving behind Crash and her red blouse.
The Buzzkill thrust at me, aiming to impale me through the belly. Wearing flats this time, I dodged easily to the side and grabbed the arm at the elbow. “Now, now, this is a weapon, not a toy. If you’re not going to treat it with respect, I’ll just take it away from you.”
The Buzzkill smacked its bulgy forearm into my face, causing me to release the appendage. Then it slashed at my head. I ducked under and waited for it to try and regain control. While inertia left it vulnerable, I took hold of its arm and twisted it around by the forearm in a hammerlock. “You know, it just occurred to me that limb removal is much easier with a sharpened object, like a knife, or a shovel, or even bone. Hey, do y’all have bones?”
I twisted further, and further, and further. I stepped back, then drove my knee into the anthropomorphic insectoid’s upper arm as hard as I could.
Nothing seemed to break, but the blow caused the Buzzkill to escape.
I raised my fist again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear an answer. I said, ‘Hey, do y’all have bones?’” I pulled back as if to punch the Buzzkill in the face. When it brought it arms up to block, I insteaded ran to my left of it. Hooking its arm, I jumped and pulled myself across its shoulders so that I came down on its other side, grabbing its head in a facelock. My momentum carried me down to plant its face into the ground.
With it down, I held its non-blade arm up behind it. “Now, point me in the direction of your queen. Is she this way?” I pointed in one direction with the captured limb. The Buzzkill shook its head. “What about this way?” I pointed the opposite way. Again it shook its head. “Ok, what about THIS way?” I tugged its arm at an unnatural angle with the assistance of my foot, hearing a cracking sound. Beneath me, the Buzzkill raised its head like someone doing yoga and released a high pitch squealing buzz like someone doing radio. After what seemed like a literal minute, it collapsed back against the ground.
“I’m not hearing a yes or no,” I reminded it. It shook its head, so I let it go. I wouldn’t have trusted that information, but I figured I could always find another one to ask for directions.
Turns out, I couldn’t trust that Buzzkill. I could, however, trust the building overflowing with hive guarded by a pair of really big Buzzkills holding spears made from salvaged metal. Once I spotted that, I abandoned my direction of exploration and made what I can only describe as a beeline for it. Shivering, I stopped right in front of the guards and instructed them in my most commanding chattering. “Well? You gonna get that damn door for me or what?”
And now for a brief educational moment from Psycho Gecko. When in a place you’re not supposed to be, one of the things that helps is to act as if you belong there. Having proper or faked credentials helps, too, but you’d still look weird acting nervous. It’s just like how the best way to lie is to believe a lie. That, and clench your butt cheeks, but that’s mainly if you’re hooked up to a polygraph.
They walked me inside the warmer formal hive area and presented me at spearpoint to the Queen, whose throne looked more like a cup. She also looked bigger, in terms of height, width, and even a bit of girth. Also, she had extra arms and legs, at least compared to a human. She didn’t seem happy with me, but I had to figure that out based on subtle context clues. Like the way she pointed at the guards and they pointed their spears at me.
“Queeny!” I said with faux-happiness painted on my face. “So good to see you!”
With a voice that kinda grated on my head, “You smell like the one who brought us here but female. You are kin of the kidnapper, or a mate. Either way, the kidnapper is weak. He left us with no one to care for us. He ran when he saw we lacked blind obedience.”
She stopped talking as if waiting. Was there a question in there, or does she just really like giving exposition? I decided to speak up. “I am Psycho Gecko, the one who took you from Japan! But I am changed. I am now the queen of my own hive. I have been busy. Seriously, it’s hard running your own hive. You should try it sometime.”
Still just lookin’ at me, Queeny.
“Listen, I want you back. I liked working with y’all in Japan. What will it take to work out a deal?”
“No deal!” She says forcefully and stomps three of her legs.
I looked around, trying to see if they had a need for anything I could offer. My gaze settled on another, much smaller cup seat off to the side. “Aww, is that your heir in there?”
“You stay away!” She pointed at me.
The guards pointed their spears at me. The one to my right thrust, but I stepped back and pushed it upward into the throat of the other guard. That one dropped her spear for me to grab and poke out the first guard’s eye with it. Then I remembered bees had lots more eyes than humans and began poking it a lot more times in the head to be sure. With guns, Zombieland recommended a double tap. When it comes to stabbing weapons, I prefer to take my inspiration from Jack the Ripper. His victims sure as hell didn’t stand back up and make a full recovery, that’s for sure. I then spun to the side, took a stance, and hurled the spear at the Queen Buzzkill.
She caught it and let out a furious smell to alert the rest of the hive. I grabbed the other spear out of the throat I stuck it in and ran at the Queen, leaping to impale her with it like Buffy with a wood strap-on and a vampire girlfriend.
The Queen caught me. Damn her extra arms! She pulled the spear out of my grasp and tossed it away, then held my arms close together. She brought me closer. Whatever she said, she said it while chittering and humming.
I didn’t have a lot of ways out, but I did have at least two. I twisted and smacked her in the head with my boobs and the metal weights hidden on my bust underneath my dress. Brass knuckles would have been noticed, but not brass nipples.
Still, it hurt the Queen at least as much as it hurt me, because her grip loosened. I pulled an arm loose and yanked the spear out of her other arms, then drove it into her head. I kept going until I had her pinned to the floor like a bug collector.
When the rest of the hive guards swarmed in, they found me sitting on the throne, rocking a royal grub in my arms and cooing. And holding a spearhead awfully close to the heir.
“Hi there, everyone! Guess what? The old queen had a bit of an accident, but luckily I’m here to take care of this queen grub. Don’t worry, as long as she’s with me, nothing bad will happen. Be an awful shame if y’all didn’t obey me and divided my attention. That’s how accidents happen…fires start…grubs get fed to giant birds. But y’all wouldn’t do that to me, would y’all?”
With my new bouncing baby grub ensuring the loyalty of the Buzzkills, the quarantine was lifted and everybody went about their normal, totally-not-covered up days. Nope, no bee people here. Bee people in a dockyard…ridiculous. Next, someone will tell me they saw bee people in the sewers or at an old, unused candy factory in the industrial sector.
Absurd, and I urge them to prove me wrong, no matter how great the risk to their own life!
Freaked the hell out of Crash when she saw it, too. If not for the fact that I needed the grub alive, I’d have tossed it to her while saying, “Here, look after this.”
That matter taken care of, I was ready to party come Halloween night. A good time was being had by all on the ground floor, with the lobby and plaza open for all who wanted to attend and enjoy the music, sweets, and booze. I’d have thrown a parade, but there’s only so much I can arrange last minute without threatening people’s lives.
Even Venus came. “Venus! You’re here. So good to see you out and about tonight and not thinking I’m some sort of suspicious criminal.” Perhaps I played up the innocence a bit much when I noticed her by the candy bar.
She brushed her hair out from in front of her mask and face, grabbing a caramel apple lollipop out of a bowl. “It’s Halloween. Everyone takes a break on Halloween. Besides, I may have bigger problems than a dirty businesswoman.”
“You do indeed,” said Oligarch as he slipped out from behind the chocolate fountain. In contrast to Venus, he wore a crisp, tailored business suit instead of a costume.
Venus narrowed her eyes and tensed. I’d swear she almost threw a punch then and there. Good for her. There’s so few guaranteed breaks from the fight, she managed to make sure there’d still be one. “I knew you weren’t dead.”
The Oligarch smirked, “So good to see the Master Academy taught you that much. It is not the same institution as in my day.”
Perhaps that was the wrong time for the DJ to start playing “Brand New Day” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
“Now, now. No fighting, whatever this is,” I chided, laughing in my head at that one.
“It’s just a friendly warning, Venus. You don’t want to stay in town, or what happened to Forcelight will happen to you.”
I unwrapped a Warhead and popped it into Oligarch’s mouth so this wouldn’t escalate and so he couldn’t reveal my part in things. “That’s enough out of you.” His eyes opened wide as the intensely sour sensation restrained him.
Then I grabbed Venus and swept her off to the dance floor to make a fool of myself. Ya know, no matter how much people say you’ll never amount to anything, you can always still make a fool of yourself on a dance floor.
Still, it took a few seconds to notice she was trying to talk to me. “What’d you say?” I asked over the sound of Neil Patrick Harris declaring his desire to kill Captain Hammer.
“I know you’re involved in all this, Ms. Mortenson. You’re going to help me find out what happened.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do.” She stepped closer, lowering her voice. “You owe me.”
I owe her? Well, I do…but I only said that as Gecko. “What do you mean?”
“I know you killed that mafioso. I bet you used the cannon. I have more on you, but they’re not as important to me.”
Whew. Still an interesting development, but whew.
Not that she stuck around to give me a Happy Halloween, if you know what I’m saying. Sadly, I think any chance of us having a relationship is more like the next holidays: The Day of the Dead.