As badly as things were left last time, I wondered if anything else would go wrong. It just doesn’t work out to tempt Murphy’s Law too much. While the suggestion that anything that can go wrong will go wrong being some sort of physical law suggests a certain order to the universe, don’t get me wrong. It’s all terribly disordered in a way only possible by sapient life, which is hilarious if you remember that sapience denotes the ability of an organism to use reason.
And yet, for all the chaos in any one part, it’s all part of a system that makes sense with the proper perspective. A perspective that can take into account the entirety of all human decisions made by prior decisions, genetics, environment, and neurophysiology vis a vis the effect of experiences and memories on the people in question. Naturally, all human decisions includes all of them ever, just like the environment includes everything from the tiniest shift in air pressure to the effects of stellar bodies on the planet. I mean other planets and stars, not the bodies you see online of Slavic porn models.
But once you get all that down, you’ve basically got omniscience covered. To get down to anything with any real randomness, you need to go subatomic. And I’m still suspicious of that. I’m also not omniscient. But I do know it’s hard for things to get really chaotic unless something physics-defying happens, like a crazy guy bursts into your universe from another dimension, and that only works if there are no physical laws that cross into other bubbles of the multiverse.
It’s a good argument for explaining to Wildflower why I hog the covers. That, and pointing out that her body stays warm enough without them, though she insists that isn’t the point. It is, unfortunately, poor comfort for the times when things go wrong.
It started well enough. Man-Opener had been informed of the alien infiltration threat, related to my knowledge of the future. Knowledge which, as he pointed out, could no longer be corroborated by a the clairvoyant Fortune Cookie after her untimely murder. Apparently I catch flak for not going to the funeral. Or even arranging for the funeral. Or paying for any of it. Others had politely attended, it seemed. But I’m getting all negative again.
We convinced Man-Opener with the communication pod from the late Senator Powers, especially after I dunked it in some coffee. Much cussing was had, but Man-Opener agreed to work on quietly spreading the word and back up my claim as a separate authority. It always helps, since I piss people off.
Now, surprisingly, that’s not what happened this time around. I awoke to a video chat alert on my laptop. Since I contact most people through my head computer, I wasn’t surprised to find Captain Lightning on the other end of the line. “Hey there, Thundar the Captarian. Another beautiful day in paradise? How’s Isla Tropica treating you?”
He ignored the questions. “How are you going to handle this?”
“Eh, just stay under the radar for a bit. We can bribe the right Feds to call things off. Maybe go blow up a North Korean missile silo and claim you stopped a plot to destroy America. People eat that shit up.”
“I mean what are you going to do about Man-Opener?” To the rear of his furious facade, I could spot a giant beach ball being tossed through the air. Wow, El Presidente must have set him up with one of the nicer new beachfront condos. That’d be near some good restaurants, possibly even one not run by the secret police.
I shrugged. “Venus brought him in. Beat his ass all over the east side. Shame I missed it. Didn’t I shoot you a text about this? He’s on our side.”
“Then why is the news out of Empyreal saying he’s talking to reporters about a secret alien invasion that’s taking over politicians’ bodies?”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that right after I murder him. Stay in touch, Lightning.” I shut down the laptop and threw off the covers. Standing up, I took the first step in rushing off to deal with Man-Opener blowing our cover. The first step, though, caught on something laying on the floor, which brought me down as well. Turns out Wildflower had decided to use the floor next to the new bed as a good spot to sun herself like a plant or reptile or something. It’s the animal hybridization. At least she doesn’t lay down on my computer keyboard, like a cat.
She didn’t even stir. Just laid there like a log. First time for everything, am I right, fellas? Still, the distraction did give me a moment to collect myself. Ya know, like figure out where I was rushing off to when I hadn’t even begun to look things up. With my own personal internet connection in mind, I sat down on Wildflower’s cushiony butt and pulled up whatever news I could get, including a special insider feed from the news company I have an in with. If I hadn’t been asleep during the first half of the day, I suppose I could have jumped out in front of the story. My contacts had sent me early copy, but early copy doesn’t matter if you’re unconscious.
Ignoring the way Wildflower’s thorny tail lazily wrapped around my arm, I took a look to see what Man-Opener was ruining this time…and soon found that he’d been blabbing his mouth to everyone. Henchmen and other villains were exactly who we wanted him to be careful around. Breaking into a TV station to make an announcement during the weather was overkill, just like what I’m going to do to him. Even worse, he namedropped Mary Malady, Senator Powers, and the Oligarch. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he didn’t mention that I killed Oligarch. Well, that part could have been a plus. I’m proud of it, but it would look bad to a lot of the other villains who were part of his Order.
Come to think of it, there did seem to be an unusual number of black helicopters in the skies of the city. Many were disguised as other choppers, like the sort that carry medical patients, news crews, weather men, and rich people. A black helicopter is a black helicopter, regardless of its actual color. After all, what good would they be for covert operations if people knew to keep watching the black ones?
The reason I didn’t go blabbing about aliens to everyone around is that we don’t know who to trust. Sure, it’s not like it’s hard to make a U.S. Senator your own personal bitch. It usually involves a bit of cash, but it’s still relatively easy. The problem is, the infiltration could go right up to the presidency. The President of the United States is no small enemy to have.
Oh, and no way would most people ever believe me, so that factored into my decision as well. It should have factored into Man-Opener’s thinking. Most regular people don’t want to believe someone like him, and they definitely aren’t ready to follow me. While we know Earth isn’t the sole home of intelligent life in the stellar neighborhood, I also know that I’m not the planet’s most trustworthy-seeming person.
But maybe I could use that? After all, wouldn’t it lend credence to Man-Opener if he were suddenly martyred by an assassin nobody likes or trusts? But where could I, an assassin nobody likes or trusts, possibly find an assassin nobody likes or trusts?
And since I’m coming out into the open again, maybe I can finally pick up my old car.
I headed out to find Man-Opener, whose little rampage cost me the element of surprise. The last news reports put him attacking the single most important political landmark of the entire nation. A place where the political future of America is decided. The spot where the true rulers of the country do business. Wall Street.
It was more a matter of marching through the streets and shouting his message while police tried to stop him. No protesting permit, holding up traffic, jaywalking, etc, etc. After they saw what he did to the first few, they didn’t care so much about the law. Not many people would when facing a walker like that. Ten feet tall, sleek, and white; it marched on humanoid legs and swung a pair of arms that would have dragged on the street if fully extended. There were no hands, only triads of axe heads that spun rapidly. Its rectangular torso was protected by armored plates in a V pattern, with some sort of black underlayer that seemed to coalesce against the man held partially inside the torso at its bottom-most. That was Man-Opener, with only his helmet and arms exposed outside of the armor.
As odd as it would be for a supervillain to march down the street, rampaging to raise awareness of an alien invasion, my arrival just made things stranger. I landed hard near the police cordon and stumbled a few steps until nanites could finish repairing some ligaments around my knee. I caught my balance on one of the cops and acted like I was patting him on the shoulder. “That’s enough, officer. I’ll take it from here.”
“The fuck?!” he jumped back upon seeing me.
“Here I come to save the day!” I shouted loud enough for Man-Opener to hear me.
Man-Opener didn’t bother to rotate his body. Instead, the arms rotated around toward me. His voice boomed from a speaker near the top of the walker’s headless body. “We have to expose the truth. That is how you beat a secret invasion. Face it head on, like a man.”
I reached up to adjust the rockets on the rear of my gauntlets. “Silence is golden, so let me come over there and gild your ass!” I jumped, flipped, and pushed off the top of a nearby cop car with a jump that carried me in an arc past Man-Opener. His arms rose to intercept me, but I passed between them. I landed in the street and skidded to a stop, using the last of my momentum to wrench a manhole out of the street. “Hey, watch this!” I shouted, then flipped it into the air. He did track it for just a moment, long enough for my suit to hide me in a hologram of the area around me. I tossed one of my rubber chickens at him Man-Opener, who swatted it to the side while chopping its head off. He then quickly intercepted the manhole cover, which I’d flung his way when it came back down.
My armor went from showing none of me to showing three. One stood in the street with arms crossed. Another grabbed a trash can from the curb, and yet another ran to the opposite side of the street where someone had abandoned a stroller. Unfortunately, it really was abandoned, which I knew since that me was the real one. But then, what is reality anyway, except for a tangible thing that exists whether you’re there to experience it or not? I grabbed it with my left and signaled my armor to concentrate power into a sheath of energy held just around my right fist.
Man-Opener stood still, paralyzed with indecision at the three of me. At least until the headless rubber chicken grenade got tired of trying to cross the road behind him and blew up. The road is such a cocktease like that, as any truck driver will gladly tell you.
The explosion stunned Man-Opener. What it lacked in damage, it made up for in opportunity, though. I rushed him while tossing the stroller ahead of me, regretting only that it did not have a baby in it during this encounter. Man-Opener either didn’t care or didn’t think, because he brought both arms down in time to shred the stroller. It gave me cover enough to run up and deck him in the snoz with enough force to make a brick wall ask for the lube.
What actually happened is that he brought one of his arms fully against his helmet to protect his body from debris, and my punch hit it instead. My fist warped and embedded in the metal as the energy sheath added to the force of the blow and did fun things to the metal. The blades, only a couple short feet away from me, sputtered to a stop. On that arm, at least. Man-Opener brought the other one down. I pulled as hard as I could to free my arm from the damaged limb, and I did throw myself back away from him, but I ended that fall with five fewer fingers.
“Fucking son of a pirate cunt with a chest full of picked dicks!” I screamed, obviously taking the situation well. I was losing a lot of blood, too. At least the little nanite quilt layer under my armor had been damaged enough to open some of the packets in the area. It works better with blunt trauma, but it’s still a way for me to mitigate significant non-thermal damage in the middle of a fight without taking a moment to inject myself properly. I realized as Man-Opener advanced that they’d be out of a job soon if I didn’t move my ass. And move it I did. I rolled back and ordered my armor to charge energy around my left arm.
“It looks like my arms beat yours so far, little Gecko. Will you regrow that like a tail? I’ve always wondered,” Man-Opener taunted me. The last laugh would soon be mine, however.
I bolted at him as if to do the exact same thing all over again. He held the useless arm in front of his body as a shield, no doubt ready to swipe off another arm or even a leg with the working one. Probably caught him off guard when I jumped onto his arm instead and used it as a platform to leap into the air. He swiped at nothing, then tried to get a better view at my ascent, an ascent I arrested with the rocket under my gauntlet. It flared to life and drove me down. This time when I connected, metal shredded like a Slayer song and his one good arm locked up at his side. The blades on the end began to stop and start jerkily. He brought up the first bad arm then to try and knock me off. This time, I remembered to use the same muscle enhancers that allow me to leap small buildings in a single bound and back flip off before he could hit me again. And this time, the rocket fired to bring my good fist crashing against his helmet. It didn’t break his head, just a bone or two in my hand. It also stumbled him as a result of the punch, forcing his walker to take a step back.
I backed up as well so I could fetch a syringe of nanites out of my belt. In spite of my success in battle, the dizziness caused by blood loss threatened to snatch defeat from the jaws of my victory. Also, I’m really fond of my right hand. My helmet showed me Man-Opener reaching for something on the side of his walker with his real arms, but I didn’t think anything of it until he shot something green at me that burned my armor and melted it partially to my body. The inside of my suit suddenly smelled like a steakhouse, or at least a barbecue shack. Holding up my left arm to protect me only succeeded disarming that one as well when the energy sheath wiring sparked. Had it been charged, the sheath could have potentially blocked the plasma being fired at me, or at least taken most of the oomph out of it.
He stopped after a moment. “I hope you can feel the burn, Gecko. You were looking jiggly around the hips the other day.”
I threw my arm and a half up and hollered to the sky. I’d quote me, but it’d be redundant at this point. Just imagine lots of As and lots of exclamation points. At least five of each ought to do it. Man-Opener was more than willing to advance on me as I inexplicably lost my footing in the middle of a nearby intersection. He stalked forward, turning down this new street…and then I stopped to look up at him. “The last burn I felt was a leftover from your mother’s cooter, jackass.”
It’s a shame his back was turned. He missed the epic moment when a sleek black 1951 Hudson Hornet crashed through a blockade of a pair of police sawhorses to ram into Man-Opener’s back. I happily jumped on top as it came right for me as well, up until I noticed how badly it hurt the black paint and orange trim of my remote-piloted car.
We wrestled on my car, and I managed to knock his plasma pistol away with my growing right arm. That was a point in my favor, but then he gained one of his own when he pinned me against the front of his armor with the arm that couldn’t spin its own blade anymore. He actually reached out to try and choke me with his regular arm, before the car suddenly stopped and threw us both into the first corner building it had sped across since Man-Opener got his hand on me. The car’s cameras showed us flying through the front door of Moe and Lester’s Meat Mart together.
Ah, the butcher’s shop! Such a fun place for conflict. Just imagine what the meat slicer could do to someone you don’t like if applied to all sorts of places on the body. The landing took a bit out of me and I had to brace myself against a stand of alligator jerky to stand up, but Man-Opener’s bulky machine took longer. That gave me time to see inventory my assets. The right arm was coming back, but still pretty weak. The left arm couldn’t use its energy sheath, but I think the rocket could still work. If not, I’d be out a left arm.
I ran over to a counter display we shattered in our dramatic entrance and grabbed a big, bloody steak. Like a thick ribeye, I think. I know human anatomy better than I do cows. Man-Opener stood up and started throwing displays out of the way, though his attempt to clear some room made me curious about just what pickled chicken feet tasted like. I turned, swung, and released the steak right at his helmet. It slapped there and clung, possibly disrupting his vision but maybe not. I haven’t yet determined what he can see in his armor. But I did rush in, tried the rocket, and smashed my fist into his steak-covered head hard enough to dislocate some of my fingers. The rocket sputtered and ejected though, a fuel leak having rendered it useless save for that blow.
No matter. I kept wailing on him. “And now you meat your match!” I dodged a blow from the arm without functional blades and grabbed a hanging line of sausages. When worse comes to worst, trust the wurst. I whipped them out and wrapped them around that arm. When he raised it up, I swung in and kicked him in the face. “I’m going to be frank with you here, you’re a bit of a wiener.”
He tried to maneuver me over to the other arm, still locked in one position, but still with some blades that stopped and started. I dropped, and noticed the steak flop to the ground as well. So I jumped close and started headbutting him. I rammed my helmet against his again and again and again until I was rewarded with a crack on its front. It cracked like a bloody egg and showed me an eye inside.
“That eye looks pretty bad. Let’s put something on it!” I grabbed the steak again and swung it at the hole. It smacked him, doing little actual damage but still getting wet meat juices right in his eye.
I didn’t expect that hit to finish him off, but he slumped, then spun to drop to his back. The realization hit me that I was wrong about him being defeated right about the time the barely-functional blades of the locked arm swung up and started to chop a cut of meat off my thigh.
Ever been held in one spot while something like a giant chainsaw chews through your leg? Not fun. When it stopped for a moment, I threw myself to the side and felt something catch. Could have been bone, could have been tendon. Either way, I didn’t get away until the blades started up again and pulled me over him. Whatever it was that caught, it didn’t stay caught, and I landed on the opposite side of Man-Opener, gritting my teeth and sucking in breaths.
At least our car ride and the chopping had released more of the nanites hidden in the quilted layer. That’s about all I could say, because there weren’t a lot of other good things. I had to take a moment there, because that shit hurt like a night of tap water and ex-lax burritos delivered straight from Mexico.
“How do you like those cold cuts?” Man-Opener asked as he, too, took a minute to recover. Then we heard the approach of heavy footsteps. Looking up, I spotted Venus in full, gleaming armor. It was heavier than mine, and bulkier, but still armor instead of a walker. Just thick, with big boots, big legs, big fists, big everything. And a golden visor that covered her face. She came equipped with the whole shebang this time. “Man-Opener, Gecko what are you two doing here?”
I pointed over. “Nothing much. Just beating my meat. Care to watch?”
The speakers on her armor distorted her voice, but not enough to lose the contempt. “You have the right to remain silent, Gecko.”
“Nah, that implies I’m being arrested.”
“Take him in! I got him nice and wrapped up for you!” Man-Opener said.
Venus pointed an a finger at him. “You too, Man-Opener.”
“Come on!” we both yelled.
She shook her head. “You’ve both caused too many problems, too publicly. I can’t just ignore this, not when you two are ignoring everything to carry out some personal grudge. This will be sorted out and dealt with, don’t worry.”
I sat up, pretty pissed. This isn’t just some big formal alien invasion. Oh, hey, how ya doin’, mind if we invade? They were going to kill me. That makes this top priority! I just hadn’t told her that yet. “Don’t deny me this, Venus ex machina. I owe this asshole a death for what he’s doing. He’s only in this to make me look bad, but this is my life we’re talking abo-ack!” She shot me! In the back! It was with a metal stake, too, which pierced my armor and electrocuted me too much to think of any more jokes. That was probably the intention.
Man-Opener started the slow process of climbing his walker up, but Venus shot it, too. Its legs locked for a second, then continued. Meanwhile, I tried to reach around with numb, tense hands, but the straining muscles didn’t have the dexterity to pull that thing out of my back. So I tried to get my feet underneath me instead. It was hard going, and it felt like I was grinding my teeth down to the roots, but I finally stood up. Venus turned to see how I was doing after knocking MO back on his ass.
I didn’t say anything, but instead signaled my car. It roared as it backed up, angled itself, and then fired a harpoon from the hubcap. Even though it knocked the stake out on impact, it was too late to avoid the course I’d taken. I gave Venus the finger as my car accelerated and dragged me after it, leaving her to clean up Opener.
I had to roll to dodge another two while Venus busied herself with putting down Man-Opener. It wouldn’t take long, no doubt, so I ran for the open front and dived into the open door of my car.
…So that’s it. I headed back to my penthouse, full of anger, denied vengeance, and urine. And the trip to the bathroom only solved one of those. The other two I carried with me past Wild Flower, who watched me with the impotent empathy of someone who wants to comfort an angry murderer. The elevator dropped me down to the art gallery, past the few dumb little exhibits that made it look vaguely like its cover. I deposited my armor in its little repair silo for the automated systems to assess the damage and begin rebuilding based on the blueprints. I grabbed an extra syringe of nanites to get me back up to fighting fitness in case Venus chose to pursue her goody-goodiness further.
And then I walked over to a table holding a sheet and a number of bulky things that fit under a sheet. I pulled them off to reveal parts and pieces that, with a little bit of elbow grease, can fit together to form a rather unique sort of device. A device that ruptures the fabric of spacetime in a limited area, doing catastrophic damage. The first one I ever used was built to shunt half a planet into another dimension and utterly destroy any life on it in the process. That didn’t work out, though it turned out such a bomb could be contained and used to transport a whole organism into another dimension.
I was there working on the Dimension Bomb late into the night and early into the next morning, stopping for bathroom breaks and the sandwich Wildflower left for me by the door, when word spread around the world of a flotilla of unidentified objects in space approaching the Earth in a decelerating velocity.
Ready or not, here they come.