There’s nothing quite like a nice, relaxing ride through the countryside with a couple of people who have no choice but to listen to you. That’s probably why Holly and Sam cranked the music so loud for an hour. It might have been tolerable, but they were rocking out to some pop station. I can understand a nice love song, too, but is it so hard to shred a guitar and yell while doing so?
At least one or two were enjoyable. I know I made some comments about Bruno Mars during the Superbowl one year, but at least you don’t have to claw out your own ear drums to survive his songs. Finally they turned it off, leaving us in silence as we rode along a surprisingly empty highway, even passing some lone gas station. They wouldn’t stop off there, though. “Mind if we stop, fellow females? I need to drain the ol’ mole hole.”
Even with them being rude toward me, this whole trip wouldn’t be much to recount on its own. Not the time we passed the bathroom break by. And now the time we passed the next one by. And the third time, still with no music, when I realized that they really liked that gas station company. Didn’t even have any others within forty-five minutes of each other, and the landscape seemed awfully similar. Hell, I even timed it out for the next one. Forty-five minutes later, on the dot, we passed by the same type of station, even with the same sort of bush out by the road.
“Glitch in the Matrix…” I muttered.
“That’s a bad sign, right?” asked Holly from the passenger seat, finally including me in their conversation. I hadn’t really been listening to them, something about TV shows. Sam glanced at her, probably to tell her that engaging me in conversation was a bad idea, though they really should have been bothered by what I’d been doing instead of talking to either of them, Moai, or just myself. Like I was lost in thought.
“Yeah,” I told her. “In the movie, at least, they said that when someone experienced deja vu, because it was caused by localized changes. In that case, changes made to trap them. With all y’all’s chatting up there, has anyone noticed that everything keeps looking the same?”
“I didn’t want to say anything at first,” said Sam from behind the wheel. “But we should have stopped for gas. The gas gauge isn’t going down.”
“It’s not going down? Crap, it’s become like Holly,” I noted. When Holly raised an eyebrow, I continued with, “Sam’s been going all this time and not once have you offered any road head. Grass, gas, or ass, baby. Which one are you providing?”
Sam eased the car over to the side of the road. “Like you’re any better.”
“Sure, sure, whine about me and Moai not doing our part.” I reached out and patted Moai next to me.”
Sam turned back to me. “What are you talking about with Moai? He’s covered.” She nodded toward him.
I turned to see what she meant and found Moai looking like Bob Ross as imagined by Willie Nelson. That is, he wore an afro and beard made of marijuana. I don’t even know where he got it, or how long he’d been holding. I wasn’t even sure I paid him, actually. And what would he use it for, anyway? If anything, I figured he’d smoke rock, not blunts.
“So, we’re finally ready for a bathroom break?” I asked, indicating the desert scrubland. “Or are we possibly going to go on a little hike? I hear there’s this pleasant little desert community called Night Vale. We could stop by for a slice of their pizza, if you don’t mind that they no longer use wheat or wheat by-products. Whatever those are.”
“Driving forward isn’t doing anything. Let’s try going back.” Sam made a 180 and headed back. “I know that’s what everyone does in this situation, but we have to try.”
When we got to the gas station again, I sat up and got my feet under me. I’d really prefer not to piss where I have to sit for several hours, especially in some sort of weird spacetime distortion. I mean, come on. Then I’d have to sit in it even longer. And one of the disadvantages of no longer having a penis is an inability to pee out of a moving vehicle safely. Though I did consider hanging over the side or back and just letting all my problems disappear along the asphalt.
I was just about to jump, too, when I heard “Fuck it,” from the front seat just before Sam put on the brakes. Luckily, I landed on the dash, and there weren’t any other cars to risk crashing into anyway. Neither of Max’s helpers seemed all that surprised. Sam just told me, “Go on, you first.”
Now, I’ve often heard the cliche that men just want to see women in the bathroom, and I am notably…well…myself, no matter what physical sex I am. So some might be surprised that I didn’t insist on them joining me. Really, that’s because I don’t find anything arousing about watching someone urinate or defecate. I do know there are some people for whom that’s a turn-on. Apparently a lot of people, to hear about the cliche of men wanting to go into women’s bathrooms. However, I am not one of them. It doesn’t mean I hate anyone who does. I mean, I already hate most people anyway, but I don’t hate them for that.
So I made my way over to the building. It didn’t look brand new or anything, but the doors opened and the lights were on. There wasn’t anybody at the register, and considering the strange events I immediately figured this was all a trap. And I was right, too. I made it out of sight of the others when everything went black. Just a wave of darkness surrounding me, except for an extremely bright light from above. I raised my fist to the light and said, “Aha! God, I presume? Well, if you’re here to kill me, you’re gonna have to put up a fight!”
I didn’t actually expect a deity to show up. Instead, I got my arms immediately grabbed by thin cables that pulled me up into the sky to meet what looked like a tiny flying saucer, at least before it tried to close up on my head and eat me. Well, my nails were fairly useless, since they weren’t digging into the metal cables that held onto my arms. And my fangs would have been fairly useless against it, too. I hadn’t reloaded them with nanites. I didn’t have many nanites to spare, ya see, and I had used most of them up on Forcelight. Have to conserve them.
With my head held close to its body, the now-flower-like unidentified flying object sported more cables that that tried to wrap around my neck. Well, shit. Whatever this thing was, I figured it was alien, but they basically sent a really advanced whipping boy at me. And it might have worked. I wasn’t able to bond with this thing. But I didn’t have to.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes. It happens. Heck, I’m pretty sure I can’t blame all of them on the influence of alien malware. After all, it’s not like they used my credit card to buy stuff when they had the chance. But I’ve still made a lot of stupid mistakes, so it was nice this time to remember that I have a fucking laser eye! I cranked that bad boy up and carved through the cables around my throat and arms. The thing dropped me, but I kept my eyes on the prize. And it was my prize. It gave me a nice, warm feeling to see that thing’s metal cover melt partially open.
Suddenly, I was back in the gas station, except it was a rather old and rundown. Clearly not open. The doors were propped open as well. The split second I used to take all that in, the flying saucer used to try and smash into me. It dove and caught my ankle when I tried to dodge at the last second. Split seconds and last seconds aside, that still gave me another second to stare it down, which is a bad thing to let someone with a laser eye do. It responded by flying into my torso to carry me against the wall behind me. It straightened its edge into the saucer-look again as well, but I still pushed off to the side. That’s the problem with round shapes, folks.
Well, it did crash into the wall, and I set to work carving into it even more. It seemed to accommodate me by turning upward, spilling little bits of black fluid along it, but it took the opportunity to fly right through the ceiling. The fluidic alien assassin saucer escaped, slightly damaged, but entirely able to come at me again, bro. Unfortunately, with the bathrooms shut down and my enemy not dead before me, I had to find a new spot to pee.
The rest of our trip out to Lake Tahoe went by slowly, but without anymore such incidents. I explained to the girls about my close encounter of the hostile kind, and they shared with me that something weird happened and they found themselves turned the other direction on the side of the road right about the time they saw the flying saucer smash its way through the roof like a model drone Avrocar. We collectively agreed that it had somehow warped our perceptions until it could get me alone to kill me. We were all pretty sure that killing me was its goal. I had evidence, but I think Holly and Sam were working off wishful thinking.
Finally, we reached our destination: a cowboy-themed lodge called Tahoedown. The place was packed, and it seemed like there were a lot of other cars, camper trailers, and so on about. Lots of prayer circles, too, which made me look back to the cars and see a higher-than-average number of religious bumper stickers. This should be an interesting stop.
We ignored all that and went inside, Moai trailing behind me with my bags while Sam and Holly led us to the suite Max had rented. Max rushed all Sam and Holly with a hug as soon as they walked in, then looked at me. “Who are you?”
“Did I not tell you I had a boob job, Max? It’s me, Gecko.” I struck a pose to show off.
“You will have to give me the name of your surgeon for my brother. It’s great to see you again!” My pale-skinned supervillain colleague hugged me, having always been one of the few to be all that affectionate with me. At least he hadn’t changed much. He had black hair, but with a streak of red in it. Still wore the same maroon coat and one of those old-fashioned white goth shirts underneath. The white ones with the puffy sleeves. I think he once invented some sort of perfect laundry detergent that keeps his clothes fresh no matter how many years he wears them. How is that villainous? Think about all the money it’s costing people in clothes and inferior detergents, for one. Plus, I think he’s extorting the detergent companies.
Evil wears many faces, but at least it doesn’t have to worry about its colors fading.
Max also welcomed Moai with a big hug, then turned toward this big window that showed a prominent stretch of the lake. The water looked amazingly clear closer to us, and almost cartoonishly blue the further it went until reaching the opposite side’s pines and mountains. Yeah, I could see why people liked this place, even if water attractions don’t really appeal to me when the temperature is fifty Fahrenheit. “You took longer than I expected, but you’re still in time!”
“What’s the plan, Max?” I peered out, noticing that a rather lot of the religious tourists were heading toward the shore of the lake.
“These people are making a pilgrimage,” he answered.
Sam spoke up then. “Cole Osmium, you know, the preacher? He has one of those megachurches that meets in a stadium. Someone asked him on a TV interview what he thought of the aliens and he claimed it was a sign of the apocalypse. Then he made this big sermon about the end of days and the need to re-anoint Christ’s flock and show their devotion to the Lord.”
“With a big check and a show of religious faith,” Holly added. “Mass baptism at Lake Tahoe. I bet that’s him.”
She referred to the shiny new helicopter that came into view from the east. “Didn’t we see that thing at the Vegas airport?” I asked Moai. He shrugged. The chopper lowered itself onto a flat part of the shore. A man in a white suit stepped out, his smile improbably wide and shiny. Behind him followed a couple of others who carried a camera and a light; the better to film him.
The sound of beeping distracted me for awhile. Turned out Max had made popcorn. We got a few more snacks together while waiting on the festivities, whatever they were. “So you didn’t answer before. What’s the plan?” I asked, helping myself to a handful of popcorn out of a big bowl.
“They are going to get exactly what they want,” Max said with a smile.
And they did.
Osmium didn’t waste any time once he had things set up. I’ll give him credit, he at least didn’t shy away from walking balls-deep into cold water in a nice suit. His first guest was a perky teenager, whose dip under the water proved that she was quite perky indeed.
“Max,” I commented, “You hound. I didn’t think this was all about studying the effects of cold water on women’s shirts and nipples.”
He didn’t answer, and he didn’t have to. Less than ten seconds after submerging herself in the waters, the girl began to float up into the air, the clothes falling off of her. A collective gasp arose from the crowd. It was followed by murmuring as Pastor Osmium’s legs also floated up, dumping him into the water briefly before he also wound up a nude floating man. The remaining faithful made a rush to get into the water then, to the point where a few fights broke out over people getting in other people’s way. Soon, they turned into a reverse waterfall of men, women, and children, all nude, all drifting up into the atmosphere.
And, I noticed, not a one of them stopped to think about what would happen once they hit the edge of said atmosphere. And while I lamented the loss of potential cannon fodder, I did have to join in on laughing with Max in pure rapture. Besides, with mad chemistry skills like that, I might have found the perfect way to stealthily deliver a bomb to the heart of this Fluidic alien fleet.
Some look to a god for deliverance. I look to superscience.