Come Thursday, my merry cross country trip met with a bit of resistance when our lovely caravan made its way through a ghost town. Not an expression, either. There are still a few old Wild West towns out there with some restless spirits. They’re nice enough folks, if a bit backwards. This one guy kept wanting to feel me up outside the ruins of his old shop. I had to threaten to burn it down to get him to give up the ghost. I guess it wouldn’t be much of a threat in most of those old places, but they’re a bit of a tourist attraction, so they used some of the money to renovate. So he went from skulking around the ruins of his old, deteriorated ice cream shop to trying to grope me outside his fancy Howard Johnson’s.
Could have just grabbed my armor and energy-punched him to undeath, what with the way the energy can affect ghosts, but whatever. It got solved and we got enough gas. Like most tourist traps, it’s really becoming commercialized. It’s only a matter of time before someone puts a call center there or something.
The gas and the groping weren’t the problem, though. It was when someone shot the bottom half of the beer bottle while I was downing it. I looked over and found some rickety black bag of bones. Which sounds like a special operations skeleton instead of the old, goo-covered bones that had shot me. Somehow. Half the gun was lumpy rust, so I didn’t know how he managed that, though I figured out the hat with the hole in it had more to do with hiding the core.
The aliens’ latest attack really pissed me off. It’s not because I’m an alcoholic, or because they’re getting to me. No, what really pissed me off was that, of all the times for me to fight an undead gunfighter in a Wild West ghost town, it had to be this idiotic stopover. Not even a whole stay, with a horde of skeletons coming after me! Just some random alien-controlled undead gunslinger. How dare they steal that really cool experience from me?
So I lowered that broken beer bottle and spat out some of the glass and beer in my mouth. “Well, cowpoke, I hope you’re feelin’ frisky. ‘Cause I’m the quick, and you are so very much the dead.”
It ground its teeth, a molar falling out, then raised that old revolver again. It cocked the hammer back, at which point I saw some of that black goo slide down into the mechanism. When it fired, the goo shot out as fast as a bullet and winged my cheek.
While it reloaded and tried to go off fully-cocked, I ran to the side and threw the remaining bottle piece at its gun. It really didn’t do much, since it wasn’t all that heavy. The alien skeleton cowboy decided to move its nonexistent ass, trying to dodge to the side, but I was a bit faster. It’s a matter of stability and durability.
Most people in my situation would run directly at a gun-wielding assailant, but of the many differences between myself and most people, two were relevant in this situation. First, I’m smart enough not to charge in. I mean, I know some people try to claim that trained gunmen couldn’t effectively draw and fire on someone charging within twenty feet, but I’ve never known a trained gunman who didn’t appreciate the target sticking their face against the barrel. It makes aiming easier.
I even saw Lone Gunman pull that off. Some nut, maybe a grieving family member, ran at him and pulled a knife when he got close. The same amount of time it took him to pull a knife, Gunman had his pistol out and was firing into him point blank. Probably didn’t help that Gunman had a LOT more experience and muscle memory drawing a gun than the other guy had with a knife.
Oh, I got so into all that ranting that I never mentioned the second different thing about me. That would be the laser eye. Which I made use, sweeping it across the thing’s body while the skeleton stopped any pretense of needing to reload and starting putting holes in my holes. And I don’t mean I was shot in the vagina. That I still have due to my critical nanite shortage. But I gotta give the skeleton a hand for its courage under firing at me. Someone needed to, after I carved off its gun hand.
I expected it to fight to its death some more, but then a glowing forcefield covered the cowboy hat’s holes. Every bit of black goop pulled up into the hat, leaving the skeleton to fall the rest of the way apart while the hat hovered there, then began to fly off. Trying to zap it revealed the forcefield could deflect anything my eye could dish out without burning most of my face off.
I’ll admit, it was really cool, in a stupid and cheesy way. As much as I wanted to nab that hat, I also had a lot of blood to try and keep in my body. Standing there with my enemy fleeing in a far too intact state, I knew I was going to feel those shots in the morning. And with a pinky, given the size of the hole in my arm, my hip, my gut, and my chest. Luckily, it completely missed my boobs, and almost missed one of my lungs. Funny how you lose track of all those in the middle of a fight when the adrenaline kicks in.
See? Stupid aliens totally ruined my chance to have an epic fight with undead gunslingers all on their on. And I had to grab something from Max that he assured me would likely heal me. Given how he’s normally pretty good at throwing concoctions together, I could only assume it became iffy because healing wasn’t the primary goal of the bubbling liquid I poured into my gullet. If anyone’s wondering, it tasted like carbonated grape soda foam mixed with codeine.
Shortly after drinking it, I awoke to find myself being driven by Moai, with everyone else’s cars far to the rear. Sam was tracking Moai and I with binoculars, they were so far back. I think I saw her hand something to Holly, too. Either way, whatever Max gave me fixed what ailed me. At first, I thought it filled the holes in with some weird purple scabs that felt remarkably smooth, until I spotted them on my hands as well.
Yep, I’d been polka-dotted.
To get the bad taste out of my mouth, I screwed around with the radio until an appropriate song came on. In this case, “California Love,” by Tupac.
Not that it mattered to those our little trek had picked up. We aren’t exactly alone anymore. There’s this biker gang for starters, Satan’s Poolboys. Maybe all the good biker names were taken, though I suspect it has more to do with the message I saw on a pair of their jackets. The first, worn by a man whose handlebar mustache was big enough to have its own handlebar mustache, said,“I love to ride my Harley.”
The second, worn on a burly biker with covered in enough tattoos to shame a Yakuza, had on a jacket that read, “I’m Harley.”
Some of those flyers who had been following us from Los Angeles were hanging back still, but within sight. Probably still on the fence about joining up with us.
Then there were the Moonies. The Moonbats. It’s not an official name, but their bus had their website’s URL on the side, and I figured they deserved the name once I read it. I guess it’s not completely crazy for there to be a militant abductee support group, but no extraterrestrials Earth has ever encountered were as focused on the human anus as the ones they claimed to have met. The fact that real aliens are out there means people can’t completely dismiss those types, however.
They sped up to wave hello to me, many not practicing proper gun etiquette vis a vis where they pointed the things in relation to other people. They had a couple of supers with them, though. One guy had blades all on his skin. You know how there’s a generic spiny super in a lot of shows, movies, and comics? Like he’s just got spikes or quills sticking out? Imagine that, except with half-saucer blades that orient themselves along the skin. He was bound to be more useful than the lady holding onto the outside with her suction cup hands and feet. Not all powers can be winners, folks.
Even with all that help, something was missing. Parts of my body, for one thing. As easy as the skeleton was to take down, and as much as any of these folks could have done to it, I realized I needed more on hand. I didn’t have any explosives to speak of, no trusty laser potato peeler even.
Seeing an off road to a town coming up, called back to Max to lead the group while I made a pit stop for something more befitting my trip. It wouldn’t take long. I just needed two stores, and a hardware store was one of them.
When we caught back up to them half an hour later, Moai still drove. I stood on the rear of the car, past the back seats, with bungee cords holding me to the car by my belt loops. Our car blasted out “Careless Whisper” with me pretending to play along on my new saxophone until I got a break and angled the mouth of the sax up and to the side. With the press of a button, a gout of flame spewed into the air. It nearly hit one of the flyers who had been following us, making him regret catching up for a moment.
Got me nice applause from the Moonies, at least. I made sure to wave at them as I passed by, and called out, “May you ride eternal, shiny and chrome!”
The flyers were not to be the last of our recruits on this leg of the journey, either. I’d picked up one in that little town. All black skin, weird legs that curled under him like a clawed frog. He had little glowing teal spines sticking off his back and some points on his arms. They complemented his slitted red eyes and the trace amounts of luminescent teal on his curved horns and straight tail. Shadowcrawler, he called himself. Apparently a big fan of mine, or at least he had become one when I decided to fight the aliens.
But he wasn’t the only one to join up. The next day, after I forced Ethan Basford to give him a ride, we got a still more welcome sight.
Coming from an angle, a cargo plane adjusted course to match us, then came lower and lower, showing off the pilot’s impressive gonads and the golden claw symbol on the side. The rear of the plane opened as it dropped still lower and moved in front of us along the road, turning that highway into one hell of a no passing lane. One by one, three buggies dropped out of the back of the plane, moving aside with uncanny precision to not only stay up there ahead of us, but also to move aside in time so the next could exit. Then a car dropped out and the plane climbed.
They dropped back to us as a group, each of the buggies carrying six masked men in yellow, loose-fitting shirts with a black claw insignia on the front. Their masks had built in goggles that reflected the sunlight and hid their eyes. They looked ungainly at first, until someone in the lead car made a circle gesture in the air and they pulled off a part that revealed nose, mouth, and ear holes. Credit where credit is due; the Claw may be a vaguely racist stereotype Asian Pacific island supervillain dictator, but at least he cared about his minions’ comfort.
As I pulled up beside the lead car, I saw he sent more than just minions. A woman with metal teeth and segmented metal tail waved the scythe-like metal claw that replaced her right hand at me. She must have been a newer underling, or the Claw’s internet agents are just that damn good at censoring outside information.
She slapped the driver, another of the regular Claw minions, on the arm. He waved at me politely, but concentrated on his driving. In the backseat, though, were more. I recognized Podling, that being the nickname of this round stone carved with symbols and runes. Don’t let that fool y’all, though. When it comes time to fight, that thing floats around and does all kind of magic shit. And it sat right beside a Japanese mercenary named Senpai who had a fondness for knives and bondage that mixed interestingly with a voice capably of compelling people to do what he said. He blew me a kiss through the gag strapped to his face.
“Oh what a day,” I told Moai as I tuned up my new rocket sax before me and my allies had a chance to make the sweet music of battle. “What a glorious day!”
Meanwhile, in a diner a few miles outside of Kingscrow, Forcelight sat humming to herself with The Good Doctor and Lone Gunman eating dinner beside her. Doc focused on the TV, then on a tablet in front of him.
“Plotting something?” asked Gunman, gripping his fork a little tighter. Forcelight reached over and broke off the head of the fork, though that still didn’t solve the problem. It just left him with one jagged piece of metal instead of four smoother ones.
Doc looked up, eyes flicking briefly over the broken utensil before looking at the others. “In one definition of the word, I am. I am attempting to ascertain why these cities were picked and why only these cities. Surely they could accomplish their perceived goal better by dousing the entire planet at once, correct?”
Forcelight nodded at my command. “Sounds right.”
“Maybe they only have so much,” Gunman suggested. “They have to spread it out.”
Doc ran his hand through his hair, gripping a short-trimmed mane that had many more grays in it since he went to prison. Then again, the Earth currently has more grays on it than when he went to prison, too. “That is one idea. Infect a wider range of countries and in so doing make it impossible to isolate anyone. Note that Madagascar has already closed their borders, however. I don’t feel that is the full picture, but neither is my original theory that they must have limited supplies. If that was the case, why these targets? Political capitals are understandable, right? Empyreal City is a populous city as well, noteworthy for its superhumans. But Johannesburg? That is not a large city.”
“That still could support the containment theory,” I said through Forcelight, still controlling her like a puppet. I didn’t even have to stick my hand up her ass to work her mouth. Unfortunately. “Although…hey, has anyone actually seen ships passing by any of the other cities?”
“Other than Empyreal City,dear?” It was weird seeing Doc looking at me like that, though at least I knew it was because I was controlling his daughter’s nanite-enslaved body from afar. “No, as a matter of fact, they have not.”
Gunman sat up straighter as he thought through this little riddle. “They could be using airplanes instead, but someone should have noticed if they were.”
I, by which I mean Forcelight, frowned. “I think we have a mystery to solve before we meet up with the villains.”
“We should have plenty of time.” Gunman nodded.
Doc raised one finger before politely correcting him, “I checked, and it is technically only forty hours of straight driving time to get from Los Angeles to Empyreal City. If Psycho Gecko has enough people to drive constantly, it won’t take long at all.”
Huh. He was right, too. Might have to slow up a bit, both to help gather people along the way, and to give this group time to figure out the cloud thing. It’s an intriguing question, and suggestive of either weakness….or strength. Yes, dramatic dots, it’s that intriguing.
“We’ll have to hope he gets distracted,” Forcelight said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll decide to touch up Mt. Rushmore before fighting the aliens?”
Goal one: reach the city full of an alien army where they conveniently removed their shield in order to meet my challenge. Goal two: figure out why they haven’t yet gassed the entire planet into being their puppets. Before we get the fat lady warmed up to sing, I better look into how my Admiral Ackbar sense is acting up, because my mind can’t repel tingling of that magnitude.