I’ve finally uncovered the geothermal plant that used to power the island nation of Ricca. The records at the Institute of Science led me to a mundane-seeming shoe store. The first hint had to be the name. “Gary’s Shoes,” is a bit unusual in a melting pot island of the entirety of Asia, but we do have the occasional Suparman among the names around here. I looked at the place, and doublechecked the address in the files I downloaded. Other than some dried, broken eggs smeared on the display window.
I waved over a work gang. Not prisoners, by the way. See, some of the people at the National Constituent Assembly were workers around here who formed protective gangs to see to their neighborhoods’ safety. Blue collar guys. Just the sort of folks I need heading down there to look in on the place, with a smattering of some other types I’ve seen milling about. The Institute had files on some of the military for potential testing purposes. They wanted to enhance loyal soldiers. Disloyal soldiers could also be used for other reasons.
These guys didn’t want to be exposed to mob justice. I didn’t want them there either, so long as they weren’t the type to go shave the skin off people’s feet and electrocute them. There’d be grudges involved that could mess with all this. It wasn’t easy to pick all this out, though. The high military command center had been in the part of the palace that I sent off into the ether, and I’ve found that the military barracks didn’t keep detailed records of who was torturing people. In retrospect, most of regimes don’t do that for this sort of reason.
So we had to work on trust. Trust, body cameras with a live view, and microexplosives. Because, as Al Capone once put so famously, “You can get more with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word.”
But more than kind words and guns, people like food. I’ve been looking into that. When the island lost power, a hell of a lot of food couldn’t be kept. Add onto that the collapse of social order and no peacekeeping force, and things got rough.
I stopped by Cape Diem to get a better look at their side of the operations. The food kitchen is one thing. I’ve seen some cyborgs there, and other types who come up as Riccan military, but I’m not going in there to drag them out. I got my ass kicked bad enough by the Claw, and I think Titan’s still tougher than him. I survived the Claw. I wouldn’t even call that one a victim. I just arranged the circumstances for him to lose even harder.
Before I go in there, I’ll see if he can meet with me about talking to any of them.
They’re giving out food for people to take home. In fact, it seems like they’re doing that more than they’re feeding people now. Last time I looked, the situation was reversed. Having power changes everything. Doesn’t keep the broken record from sounding any less annoying.
As I watched, the Titan flew back into the camp, carrying a huge liquid storage tank on his back. Other flying superhumans arrived with him, carrying people, hoses, axes. One of them rushed someone over to a tent decorated with all sorts of symbols denoting its medical usage.I tracked the direction they came from with some “TV satellites” who only sell those channels to the CIA. They had been firefighting.
I owe these guys a lot, so I slid on up to the border of their camp and waited. After several minutes and one failed game of HUD Solitaire, Titan approached. Big guy. Andre the Giant would have to look up to him. Bulging with muscle behind skin a dark blue, except where orange showed through around the eyes, fists, and some parts of the wings. The fiery eyes made it hard to look them in the eyes.
He brought a little drone with him that projected a see-through hologram of an androgynous person lacking most details.
“Emperor Psycho Gecko,” said Titan.
I nodded. “Titan. And while the Emperor part is nice, it’s not strictly required. In fact, seeing how well y’all have done organizing here, I had a proposal for you.”
One offer of an emperor-ship and long, uncomfortable round of laughter later, Titan calmed down and looked to me. “I appreciate the offer, but no thank you.”
I waved it off. “Think nothing of it.” Bastards. “But I owe you a debt of gratitude for all you’ve done for the island. Don’t take it badly if I’m trying to get make y’all useless for here, but I’d like to set up something where we help you out with land or other resources once you’re done helping out.” I offered a hand. Titan shook it. Some press people from Ricca’s propaganda office took photos from in hiding nearby.
They had been in the Institute’s directory, too. Something about microchips and implanted cameras. I swear, cybernetics are to Ricca as guns are to the United States. The right to bear metal arms, or a third arm, or even a metal laser scorpion tail.
“I”m especially glad to see you picking up the slack for us while I get stuff organized. That person brought back earlier, any idea how they’re doing?” I asked.
Titan cocked his head thoughtfully. “He should pull through. We have a fine medical team, including an amazing surgeon who just joined us. If you’d like, I can send an adviser over to wherever you’re governing from now to help coordinate with you.”
I projected a Cheshire grin on the outside of my helmet. “Fantastic.”
“He turned to the hologram person and said, “I think we wanted to start with making sure the food is actually getting to market. We’re just having trouble negotiating with the people at the Imperial Agriculture Mall. They don’t trust us, but you’re the leader. Have you stopped by there?”
“I hadn’t,” I admitted. I was trying to find actual farmers, and hadn’t known what to make of the place. It looked too corporate and clean, talking about the most advanced farming techniques in the world. You know, bullshit. Propaganda. Something the old North Korea would build to give visitors pamphlets about how they had real farming just like the big boy countries, meanwhile half the people look like they caught Anorexia Plague.
That little meeting inspired me to see them after all.
The Mall lived up to its name in appearance from the outside. I knocked on the door and found it shoved open with a half dozen double barrel shotguns shoved out against various parts of my body. “Easy there,” I said. “And whoever’s holding that one real low, I’d appreciate you not attempting to feminize me. Not that you could.” That last comment caused someone to cock a gun loudly for a threat. What still bothers me is that none of these guns had pump action.
A man’s voice called out, hinting at age. “Who is it? We don’t want any solicitors! You see the sign?” One of the shotguns edged toward the side. I turned and saw a sign, written in Ricca’s pidgin. “Private Property: Trespassers make great fertilizer.”
“I’m the Emperor,” I said.
“Emperor?” asked the voice from inside. “What Emperor?”
“Of Ricca. You know, this country you’re in?”
“Oh, that Emperor.” The door opened and out stepped an older Caucasian man in a set of overalls and a straw hat. “Howdy there, Emperor. My name’s Old Man Hoodless, but you can just call me Old Man.” He grabbed for my hand and shook it enthusiastically. “This is some mighty impressive armor, son. Mighty impressive. Come on in and meet the family!”
It was a lot to take in. The “family” turned out to be people of all ages and colors, dressed in simple clothes. Some of the guys had really long hair. A pair of young women had flowers in their hair. Another one had a tie dye shirt on. “Hippies?” I asked. The one with the tie dye raised her eyebrow and a gun that pointed upward at the ceiling. “Not quite hippies,” I added.
“I’m Tideflower Rainbowheart,” said one of the young women, stepping forward. “We welcome you with this laurel and hardy expression of love from Gaia and the Spirit of Humanity.”
I took it and threw it on top of my helmet while browsing lists of cults. “Nice to meet y’all. It’s nice to finally get over here, but we hope soon to have it where y’all won’t be aiming guns every which way to fight off bandits or anything. The island is slowly coming back to order.”
Old Man Hoodless put a hand on my shoulder. “Mighty fine armor, boy, but we ain’t armed on account of bandits. We got to protect ourselves from them damn puth varmints! We heard chatter from our spy they’re launching a unilateral attack.”
Puth…no, PUTH. People for the Unethical Treatment of Humans. Militant offshoot of PETA that kills people’s pets and farm animals. Unlike PETA, they also kill plants, since they’re smart enough to do math and communicate by sound, figuring that humanity will be better off once it has nothing to eat. Since they don’t want to be hypocrites, they also murder people so they won’t slowly starve to death in pain because all their food is gone.
From outside, I heard an explosion. Old Man Hoodless raised his gun. “Okey dokey, let’s bust a cap in these PUTHies!”
The family scrambled to their positions, opening up small windows to fire out.
I raised my hands. “Please, people, there has to be some peaceful way to resolve this!”
Everyone looked at me until I started laughing at my own joke. Then I turned, reopened the door to go out, and instead fell underneath the pounce of a lion. Its fangs glanced off my helmet before it lowered its maw to my throat. I grabbed its jaws before they could close on my neck. While it wouldn’t be penetrating my armor anytime soon, a lion could easily crush a human windpipe with its mouth. A Gecko’s armor, though, can tear the jaw off a lion. I opened its mouth so wide, its head came off. Then I wore that as a hat as I stepped outside.
A helicopter had landed in front of the compound, moving its floodlight over me to highlight me and mess with my vision. My armor and eyes collaborated to dampen my light sensitivity so I wasn’t blinded. A half dozen men and women had spread out, aiming guns at the place. Something about the light made them seem eerie for a moment, faceless men with guns, until one of them shouted and broke the spell. “You monster! You murdered one of nature’s most majestic creatures!”
“You brought it to a fight!” I yelled right back. “But if you like animals, I got a chicken for ya!” I pulled out a chicken grenade, tore its head off, and tossed both into the helicopter. I don’t know if the ones who jumped on my cock thought they could save it or because they instinctively figured out what it was, but they weren’t fast enough. The helicopter went up, along with four of the attackers.
The others didn’t let that stop them. Once we all managed to get back to our feet, the remaining four raised their guns. Three of them were immediately blasted off their feet by the Family. The last one pointed at me and sent a flock of hummingbirds after me before his head exploded courtesy of Old Man Hoodless’s complementary buckshot sampler.
The hummingbirds swarmed me and tried to find an opening to peck me, but I grabbed my cape and used it to gather them all up around me. I stopped, dropped, and rolled around, crushing the angry, pointy little birds under my body.
“Good job, I reckon,” said Old Man Hoodless as he helped me up. He brushed off my shoulder, then turned to everyone. “It’s safe to come out now. Let’s give thanks to the great spirit of humanity for this blessed day!” The rest of the Family stepped outside and joined hands in a circle to sing with me in the middle.
“For a bunch of hippie-like people, you’re not that concerned about the loss of life?” I asked once they’d finished and the Old Man showed me in. He had most of the others run off to gather up the corpses while a little girl ran ahead of us to go fetch tea.
“We’re not hippies,” Old Man Hoodless insisted, then swung a door open out of the lobby area and into an elevator with clear sides. It shot up to show me their Mall.
The area of the mall would be large enough for a conventional farm the size of, well, a mall. This wasn’t just farmland under a roof. It was like a parking garage of crops. One floor might be wheat, the ceiling a set of UV lights mimicking sunlight. Next, corn, or rice, or an orchard. Drones flew about, tracking everything. I saw a floor where they flitted about the trees, removing applies in swarms and delivering them to a basket.
They even had layers with animals like cows, chickens, and goats, even sharing their environment with a few plants they wouldn’t mess with. More of this Family were shoveling shit and transferring it to other layers.
“My Family believes in old-fashioned values of hard work and returning to the land,” said Old Man Hoodless. “As well as communal childrearing, communal property, and communal bathrooms.”
“Any problems with people sharing bathrooms with someone they’re attracted to?” I asked.
He scoffed. “People are shitting in there, gotdangit! It’s no place to fall in love.”
“I’m surprised you’re using drones,” I said. “Returning to the land and old-fashioned hard work, ya know…”
“That’s fool talk. Just because we’re returning to the land doesn’t mean we’re stupid. Technology and science are a gift from the Spirit of Humanity, sent to help lead us to a self-made promised land on Earth. We spread the good food, then the good news. I like to think it works better. You think the Amish could put together an operation like this?” He pointed through the window at members of his Family shearing several llamas.
“Clearly not,” I said. Almost as if in response, the elevator quickly returned to floor level, where the door opened to reveal the young girl from before holding a cup of tea for myself and a mason jar of it for Old Man Hoodless.
Hoodless grinned as he took his from her. “Ah, my youngest here knows her way around the kitchen.”
“Your daughter’s a lovely girl,” I said as a meaningless compliment, but Old Man Hoodless shook his head.
“My youngest wife. We accept that the Spirit of Humanity doesn’t want us to deny ourselves as many lovers as we wish to take. The last guy who talked to us from the guvmint used to threaten us over it.” He squinted at me.
I shrugged. “Hey, so long as it’s consensual, I don’t care who you’re nailing. Just not the animals, please. As this one vampire once said, ‘If you’re going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.’”
“Hot damn!” Old Man Hoodless clapped me on the shoulder, his hand lingering a little longer than I’d have preferred. “I can’t wait to tell my husband!”
Seeing as I’m not so much into old men who like touching me, I changed the subject. “You’ve been growing a lot here. Did you lose it when the island lost power?” I held the tea up to my helmet and activated a new function I’d added. A straw extended down into the cup, though an interior filter system tested it first for anything harmful.
He took a big sip of his. “Naw. We got backup generators and big freezers. Been keeping everything stored up, waiting for things to get better. We had ta run off all sorts of folks wantin’ what we got. We didn’t want to send it to market only to get shot up without enough people keepin’ the peace. We had so many bodies for the soil, we had to hang some of them up in the freezers.”
Analysis complete: just tea. “Well, I’m the new law in town. The new Emperor. And I’m happy to help y’all spread the good food to the people of my island. And if anyone thinks to gorge themselves, well…” I looked up to see some of the Family wheeling the wheelbarrows over toward the elevator.
Old Man Hoodless held his arm out. “Pardon us. As Gaia feeds humanity, so too does humanity feed Gaia.”
I nodded to him and stepped out. “I think we’ll get along. I also enjoy the occasional bit of farming. Sadly, with all the idiots I’ve planted, none have grown into a dumbass tree, and none have had a green thumb I could rip off to replace mine.” I turned back to him after we’d let the cultists and the bodies hit whatever floor they were going to and swapped hands with the tea. I went for a handshake. “I’ll supply the murder, the guards, and the market. You supply the food. How’s that for a deal with the devil?”
Old Man Hoodless grinned and took my hand, shaking it firmly. “Provided you’re as blind to our religious freedom and recruitment as the last feller, I think it’s mighty fine. Yessir, mighty fine indeed. A’course, we’ll remember the man who made our holy mission possible when we join with Gaia and the Spirit of Humanity.”
And once again, the day is saved, as I officially team up with a murderous cult to protect the proud nation of Ricca. On the other hand, I think I’ll hold off on taking Qiang to see all the animals. I’d really hate to have to kill my main food growers. I’d do it, but I would not be happy. Welcome to Ricca; enjoy food fresh off the cult corpse pile.