The rest of the world held its collective breath. The alien delegation to the United Nations had been attacked by Psycho Gecko, who murdered the Secretary General, one of the aliens, and a lot of security personnel before disappearing. In the aftermath, the planet Earth scrambled to salvage the situation in the hopes of averting a diplomatic disaster. Luckily, it seemed the extraterrestrials were grudgingly willing to negotiate.
Considering how little of the first part of that was true, the last part might have just been a comforting lie. From what I remember, the xenomorphs liked the idea of war. Regardless, they hadn’t actually engaged in it openly. Remarkable, that.
I didn’t have too much time to worry about that at first. I had to reach deep inside myself, find the tainted portions of my psyche, and exorcise my demons. My virtual demons, in the tainted parts of my cybernetic brain implants, that is. They’ve been dropping subtle hints here at Master Academy about seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist, but no one’s forced me. Hints decorating my room with a red couch, or dropping off some books to read that included Freud and Jung, or an anonymous gift of an inkblot poster to decorate the wall.
Not a bad room, for being buried in the basement, behind thick concrete and lead. Something about rooms for students with unstable powers. They didn’t have many of them ready, since they were rushing. Accelerating, I think, because of the recent otherworldly shenanigans. That explains the presence of a window in my room, unless they figured I liked to watch worms.
They’re just scared of me. I’m the one they’re sticking in a lead coffin surrounded by a few dozen people enemies, but they’re scared of me. At least they let me eat in the cafeteria. One of the alumni is a decent cook and has some of the students helping out fixing meals for their fellows. Odd thing to teach for a school churning out heroes, but not everyone wants to live on restaurant food.
It was kinda fun to sit there alone at a table and watch students actively ignoring me. Turning their faces away, glancing and then quickly looking away. The ones closest kept their voices low and finished lunch in a hurry. If I sat in the middle of the room, it probably would have been one of the most orderly meal services in the world.
That all ended when a loud batch of voices burst in, which wasn’t unusual itself. It’s a school, with young adults, teens, and children. The worrisome part came when an oddly familiar voice asked, “So he’s in here now?”
Where had I heard that voice before? And more importantly, was my inability to perfectly remember the answer a symptom of alien brainwashing? The answer to them, I recognized perfectly. “He is no longer the correct pronoun, and she’s over there.”
I looked over to find Venus pointing me out to one of the older teens. She looked tan, with hair all the colors of the rainbow. The full set: Roy G. Biv. It took seeing her eyes to recognize her. “Leah?” Her body looked different, more grownup, but that was the runaway I’d once mentored back when I owned a nightclub. She was dumped on me because she had nowhere else to go and nobody else wanted to deal with her. I taught her important lessons that all young ladies need to know, from powdering noses to breaking noses. Actually, I focused on the breaking noses part. Pretty much entirely the breaking noses part. But as the saying goes, “Powder a man’s nose, and you make him look funny for a day. Break a man’s nose, and you make him look funny for a lifetime, or until the next time you break it.” Venus eventually sunk her claws into the girl and sent her over to the Master Academy main campus in California, where she was probably their best student in ass-kicking class.
She smiled and ran over, whereupon I slipped away from her hug, grabbed her arm, and slammed her face down onto the table next to my food. I was still eating, dammit. She took the hit, but grabbed my right arm by the one that held her right, and twisted around to try and put me in a hammerlock, which goes around the back of a person. “Stop! It’s not hammerlock time!” I jumped up on the table, did a backflip, hooked her under the arm, and used the momentum as I dropped to my back to drag her over me and drop her on top of the next table over. I kipped up after that, then looked around. “Get me a knife. We have to check her for infiltration.” I glanced around. Plastic, plastic, plastic. Plastic knives are very much not ideal for surgery on a hostile wriggling person.
“She’s safe, Gecko. We already checked her!” Venus called out.
About that time, Leah sat up and tried to clock me with a plate full of mashed potatoes and gravy. I ducked under it and caught her in a hug as the brown and white goop plopped onto my table. “Ah, c’mere you!”
“Next time ask if I’ve been checked before fighting me!” she yelled, but then hugged back.
“Not my fault you forgot how to fight since joining these people.” I looked over at the various staring students. “Yeah, I said it. I’m ethicist. Stupid good people, coming to my side of the country to take away hard-working villains’ jobs. There oughta be a wall.”
“Relax, you.” Leah said, slipping out of the hug this time. “I came here with the shipment of the MasterFrame and our super cracker, A-Plus.”
I shook my head. “Leah, what have I told you about racial insults. If you’re going to use them, make them mean something. Nobody in the world is bothered by being called a ‘Cracker’. Hell, there’s a white rapper out there who called himself Uncle Kracker. First time I heard of him, I thought it was a joke.”
She pushed me away. “Um, let me down. I’d stay and chat, but I have to change my clothes now, Gex.” I gave her some space so she could leave and attend to her precious fashion sense. Then again, I also know the difficulty of walking around in public with a mess of delicious chocolate pudding on the back of my ass.
She and the rest of Master Academy were apparently as good as their word. From what they explained to me, the MasterFrame was a project created by IT and other early brilliant supers around Silicon Valley, and upgraded over the years by similarly great computer minds. They think it’s one of the most powerful computers in the world. The one they brought is the smallest one they have.
Their cracker also looked tiny. For those who are curious why a side item for soups came with a computer mainframe, “cracker” is the proper term for a White Hat hacker. A “good guy” hacker. Most people just know the other term due to the actions of Black Hats. Personally, I think 1950s representations of fictional cowboys’ clothing doesn’t make a very good classification system for computer users, but that’s why I’m the strange one here.
We all went over to the administration building, which hadn’t yet been finished, and they installed the three of us in what they hoped to be the server room. First they got the MasterFrame into place, then A-Plus and his computer station, then a comfy chair for me, then my ass in the comfy chair. Then A-Plus awkwardly held a Thunderbolt 3 cable and looked me over. I raised an eyebrow. “Where do you think you’re plugging that in at, Weird Al?”
He blushed so much, I thought he’d shoot blood out of his nose like an anime protagonist around women. “Better get ready, because my head is no place for the meek.” I snatched the cable away from him and stuck it in my ear. “Shake my hand. Come on, boys, won’t you shake a poor sinner’s hand? Are ya ready? Are ya ready? Transformation central, reformation central, transmogrification central! Can ya feel it?”
“Worst. Disney. Princess. Ever.” A-Plus mentioned as he settled in on his screen.
I’d like to say that the resulting battle in cyberspace involved people in skintight suits with glowing neon lines and chakrams that doubled as driver’s licenses. Or maybe something where A-Plus tried to look cool in a black coat and shades while hiding a small armory in guns on his body. However, cyberspace just isn’t quite that cool, even with someone else joining in. It’s all code. Even the sexy bits. Especially the sexy bits.
We had to go deep. Real deep. The Master Boot Record. Most cyber infections are eliminated by reformatting, and I assumed I got it because there were no more symptoms of infection, but it looks like that rascally piece of malware just hid deeper. Fucking Master Booter. Instead of acting overtly malicious, it provided access for commands from afar.
Heh. Wow. I’d been worried about people running around with those communication organs growing inside them, but it turns out the real traitor was in me the entire time. That’s entirely the wrong sort of Aesop to take from all this, though I’d say it fits my life story perfectly.
It was dirty, boring work to deal with the partition, partially because that part of my brain doesn’t run on anything like a normal operating system. He had to leave me alone a few times, too, but I had too much data to sift through to call him out on it.
I know, anticlimactic. There should have been something epic, like throwing a frisbee at a giant face in a tube, or fighting a personification of a virus with a personification of me. The best I could do was imagine I was stomping around a battlefield in huge power armor, burning through malicious code while shouting, “Die, xeno scum! You will be purged in the name of the Gex-Emperor of Mankind!”
It felt very liberating to give myself one last reboot, blink my eyes, and remember I had a physical body. I sat up suddenly, quoting the first thing to come to mind, “’He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.’ Huh. Wonder where I heard that. Johnson?” I cocked my head, checking my memory and spotting some things I didn’t quite remember, then looked to where A-Plus sat at his computer, a couple days’ stubble on his face and a nearly-spent two liter of orange soda at his side. “You didn’t download some new stuff into me, did you? That sounded like something you goody-goodies would want me to have read.”
A-Plus held his hands up. “Uh uh. I didn’t have any time between helping you and building the backup.”
I blinked, then jumped up. I yanked the cable out of my ear with a grimace, then stepped over to his computer. “Destroy it. Delete it. Kill it now, and then probably burn wherever it’s saved. And the MasterFrame, too. Get rid of it.”
He jumped in his seat and leaned away from me. “Alright! Jesus! I’ll get rid of it!”
I bent down and looked him in the eyes. Didn’t say a thing. Just growled. Then I stood up and started stretching. “Why’d you ditch me in there, anyway? You left a few times.”
“Um, to eat and sleep? I haven’t done much else these days.”
I ordered up the date on my HUD-based clock. I’d spent almost two days in the chair. Well that took longer than I thought. On the plus side, that should have given Crash enough time to make the arrangements I asked of her.
Stumbling upstairs and feeling rather unclean, I pushed open the door to the outside and immediately regretted it. Gah, the sunlight! It burned! Not literally, but it burned like a giant light in the sky that I hadn’t seen for two days. Perhaps that simile can express why I hated the sight of it so much, though the mobile, prefabricated building with the bee people guarding the front was much better to look at. About time the Buzzkills got out and about. I’d almost felt like I was letting down my anthropomorphic bee minions by using them for so little.
Moai slammed the door open, giving Leah a piggyback ride that ended with the both of them rushing over to me. Moai stopped short and leaned over, throwing Leah off onto me. She knocked me to the ground. “You’re back! Did it work?”
I nodded. “That’s right. I’m officially free of viruses.”
A pair of pretty bare feet with pointed toenails stepped up on either side of my head. “I could have told you that,” spoke the owner of those body parts. I looked up to see Wildflower there, hands on her hips. She didn’t look happy, but then I hadn’t been talking to her since she dragged me here.
“Have you two met?” I asked, pointing between my probable ex and the teen I mentored who had at one point apparently had a crush on me.
“We’ve met,” they said at once, with differing tones. Wildflower gave Leah a hand up, but slapped mine away when I tried to get some help.
Before I could come up with a witty remark, Victor Mender’s computer-generated voice called out, “You should not be laying around at a time like this young man. Events are unfolding beyond our ability to control. We need your expertise.”
“Oh? You need me for something? I feel like we’re missing someone in whose face I should rub this. Awkward sentence, that. Possible cybernetic brain damage?
Brain damaged or not, I still felt smarter than the people that Mender showed me saved on his DVR. They reopened negotiations. Not only reopened, but this time they expected the Earth delegation to undergo a process that would grow them a translator. The first one to get the procedure done himself smiled and pointed out that it was a painless procedure that left him feeling great. “I hear that the process enables me to use some of our new friends’ amazing technologies. Don’t be afraid of this step for peace. They are our friends, and they have much to share with us. This is the dawning of a new golden age for Earth. A utopia, in our lifetimes.”
As a show of goodwill, the aliens were even landed a medic team of those suited, flowing guys who toured a hospital and started treating patients from the Emergency Room.
I have a pretty good idea what these “translators” are that they’re getting stuck in them, and what some of this medical stuff is. It makes sense, too. The guy at the UN mentioned war, but it’s a different sort of war. A war that saves the maximum number of usable bodies for their interstellar feud.
“Their idea of war is a lot more subtle than I figured, but effective enough for what they seem to need,” I mused. “Unless this is the other side that won out. The ones who don’t want war.”
“You may enjoy our protection and sanctuary young man. I ask you to let us speak with The Order of Villains to add allies. The battle for humanity requires Yin and Yang. Do I have your aid?”
“Oh yeah, I can put you in touch with them. Huge group of Yangs, but they won’t deal with me very well. So if you got the balls, I can get my hands on some Yangs.”