“You’ll give me what I want, or I’ll slit the bitch’s throat, hang her upside down on a hook, and make marinara from the drippings, you understand me?!” I slammed the phone down on my desk and leaned back. I raised my feet up under the desk to stop my backward ascent before I could lean too far and possibly topple over. Steepling my fingers in front of me, I regarded the person in question. “What can you do for me that could save your life, in light of their refusal to play ball?”
The Filipino pizza delivery woman shifted nervously. “I have some extra breadsticks I was going to take home when I was done.”
With that bit of negotiation out of the way, and a hefty tip given to pizza delivery across national borders by boat, I enjoyed my delivered lunch and rubber stamped a few things from the new Directory. I know my dear readers might have some questions, and I just really wanted pizza from that particular restaurant. Sadly, they forgot my order of extra marinara, so I won’t be ordering from there again. Besides, making it out of blood doesn’t really work.
As far as the Directory goes, they’re not doing too much. They’re just confirming a bunch of the old laws that they used to live by as far as traffic, littering, pollution standards, and all that. As the guy who gets to enforce everything, they figure I should have some idea what I’m hurting people for.
It gave me something to do while figuring out my next move. If I even have a next move. The hell is my next move? Money? I got a national economy under my thumb. I’m selling bionic toes to Seal Team Six. Power? More than I’d like. What’s even the point? Revenge? I got a few vendettas I’d like to end once and for all, but nothing all that important. Love? What IS love? Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me, no more.
Until the Dimension Rangers come knocking again, my schedule is clear. It has been awhile since that was the case. I almost want to start teaching Qiang assassination techniques, but I have memories of my own upbringing that say that’s a bad idea. I wouldn’t do it the same way, but it wouldn’t hurt her to keep some more innocence.
My attempts to check on what Silver Shark and Citra are up to haven’t panned out. I stopped to knock on Citra’s door at one point. “Hey,” I started, “Are you two lesbianing in there? I just want you to know I’m not angry if you are. I’m willing to prove it, too, even if I have to stand there and just watch you two do it!”
“They left a little while ago,” Qiang said from behind me. “What’s lesbianing?”
“I’ll tell you about it later, or you can ask Citra when you see her next, how about that?” I smiled and faked a cheery, excited jump. Qiang followed along, resolving to find out what lesbians are straight from Citra’s mouth. I resolved to try and see Citra’s face when she gets that question, perhaps before asking my own.
With all that acknowledged, I guess I’ll just roll with this whole Cult business for now. Maybe I’ll get a fancy hat. Religions always involve a fancy hat of some sort. If anything, that’s the problem with starting a new one. All the best hats are taken already. Hell, the Pope keeps an entire type all to himself, selfish god-botherer. That’s why I wore a round, towering hat myself. Like a tophat, but no brim and the top cut like a crown. Might as well throw in some references to me being legally recognized as an Emperor.
I went out shopping at the local hatter’s to make it a reality and picked up a nifty bowler. I wonder if I can get them to make a copy with a razor in the brim, or maybe something stiff that can break a statue upon throwing. I felt sharp enough to take a head off with it. Indeed, as I was leaving, I ran across someone who just dropped half a box of noodles right on the sidewalk.
“Excuse me, my good lady!” I called out after her.
She turned around, “What do you want bothering me, whitey? We don’t have any hookers for you around here, unless you’re looking for those Thai man-things on Yellow River.” Yellow River’s an informal name for an area that was either centered around a lot of buildings that had been painted yellow decades back, or it had been predominantly Chinese. I don’t believe it has the best reputation now, if the context clues are to be believed.
“The laws of the land decree that such littering is illegal. It dirties your beautiful city for all of us outsiders.” I took my hat off and gestured with it toward myself.
She scoffed. “You don’t come into my home and tell me what to do. Go tell the police if you can find them.”
I shrugged. “Well, as Emperor, I don’t need any agents of the law to back me up.” I put on my best gravelly voice. “I am the law.” Then I smacked her in the face with my hat. She cried out in surprise until I backhanded her the same way. She fell and started to crawl away when I spanked her ass with my bowler. I kept beating her with the hat, and my hand at times, incidentally. It was fun.
If you think about it, being an officer of the law is a great way to take out destructive impulses. Cops can get away with stopping people, frisking them, ruining their day. Shoot them with a taser, pepper spray. Beat ’em with a stick, shoot ’em with a gun; if you like hurting people, cops are nonstop fun. And that’s before you get into making up stuff and planting drugs. I hear some places let a cop eyeball a speeding offense. And even if they’re caught on video, they still get away with it, if they’re even charged at all. The other cops have their backs.
There’s even a way to steal from people as a cop. Civil Forfeiture. Cops just take your stuff for their own use. Ok, so technically they have to believe your stuff was used in the commission of a crime, and then they take it without filing any charges, and the owner only gets it back if they can prove the cash was innocent. Citizens of the other world, if you have this law, do not eat powdered donuts and then touch your money!
Good thing civilized countries have all those laws to protect people against beatings and thefts, right?
After my public woman beating, I had to take my hat back for repairs and pick up a new bowler. Y’all know why they call them bowlers, right? Because you can tell the man who wears one has good arm strength to carry around a pair so big, they weigh a minimum of six pounds. The maximum is sixteen pounds, which is what I gave the polluter with my hat. Heyo!
Alright, I think we’ve had enough social commentary this round. But before I left the city to go visit the cultist hicks living out there, growing all our food, I had to go meet the members of that corporation who sell people power at the cost of their soul. I’m talking, of course, about Faustus-Hephaestus, purveyors of magical artifacts, superpowers, and abnormal technology, depending on whether you’re discussing Faustus or Hephaestus. One handles magic, the other deals in science, both calm and mad.
The name used to be the other way around, Hephaestus-Faustus, but they were infiltrated by a hero supposed to take them down who had a grudge against me. They turned on me instead of paying me for a job, so I destroyed some of their logistics and hidden bases, causing a bit of trouble. In the end, the hero was discovered and ousted, the Hephaestus side was weakened and made to look foolish, and the Faustus side took prominence. I’ve been caught up in my own stuff for so long, and less magically inclined, so I haven’t much associated with the new guys.
Now, I’m Emperor, and I reached out to them. They flew in to the airport. Think northeast, other side of the military base. I waited out there as they exited their private jet, a delegation led by a man in a polo shirt and khaki’s carrying a torch and chanting.
“Seriously?” I asked, interrupting the chant. “You feel how damn hot it is out here, and you’re carrying a torch?”
Behind him, three figures stepped out of the jet in heavy black robes pulled up over their heads. They walked across the tarmac toward myself and the stopped aide before one of them stopped. “Oh my Gaia, this heat!” He threw the robe off and began fanning himself.
The one in front of him turned back. “Jesus, Dave.”
The leader stopped and bowed to me. “Greetings, Emperor Gecko. We represent Faustus and Hephaestus. I am Lord Alhazred. With me are my associates,” he motioned to the others. “This is Mr. Pickman, and David Hero.”
The one who threw off the robe waved at me. “Hullo! I’m Hero, but don’t hold it against me.” He stepped past Pickman and offered his hand. I shook it. “Hot as hell out here, isn’t it?”
“Indeed it is,” I answered. “That’s why I was suggesting your helper here cut down on the torches. Now, come on. I was going to grab some sandwiches on the go and head on out to the Ag Mall. Thought we could talk on the way to this ritual the local Cult’s cooking up.”
They all froze at that one before Alhazred asked, “Cult?”
“Yeah, bunch of hillbilly American types who want to feed the world. They’re going to summon up some legal help to deal with Scientology.”
They all relaxed. “Bloody Scientologists again,” muttered Pickman. “I’m all for sticking it to them. One of them tried that audit with me once. I fed him to a- well, I’m not sure what it was, exactly. I suspect it was the descendent of something old and powerful forced upon a mortal being of this plane. It made a terrible mess. Would anyone like to see?”
“Give it a rest already!” Alhazred said, and I caught a hint of an Arabic accent in his frustration. “Let’s get changed and have some lunch, shall we?”
Over a pleasant lunch in the back of an army transport, we discussed business. I was willing to let them do all kinds of stuff here if they paid good money for it. No more operating in shady locations. They could set up a permanent location here to sell wares of magical and technological empowerment.
They asked about what I might offer in return as far as knowledge and technology. They had been barred from Ricca in the past and were eager to take a look at inhabitants who had been upgraded and made superhuman. I didn’t let them know that the Institute of Science was basically still a barricaded mess that I hadn’t fully cleaned up, but I told them I’d be willing to help provide pieces to them that otherwise are available only to select clientele. If you think about it, a villain could make a good living off a gimmick centered around that radiation thrower.
“Beautiful country,” said Dave, looking at the landscape around us. “Are there any ruins on the island?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I always thought the Claw had this place made somehow, and I haven’t had time to go traipsing all over the western and northwestern portions.”
“If you don’t mind, I would love to take a trip to see the sights,” he said, smiling.
Pickman, who appeared to be quite scrawny and with a bad case of robe hair, gestured to get my attention as well. “Do you suppose I could borrow some of your people to model for me? I am something of an artist.”
“Ask them,” I said. “See if any will volunteer. I won’t force them one way or another, but you’ll probably find someone. We get all types here.”
Alhazred shuddered at that. “What?” I asked him.
He held up a hand. “Nothing. I just felt something… strange. They must have had many. You’re sure they only want legal help?”
I nodded. Alhazred didn’t say anything more, but I think he felt the ritual happen, because we arrived to find a large tree growing up in front of the Agriculture mall, tall like pine, but with branches jutting out. Every branch held a body close against the trunk of the tree, blood smeared out along the length of each branch and over the leaves.
“This wasn’t here before,” I mused.
I saw Hoodless and a few of the other cultists gathered around some wannabe queen on a camel had its own crown. He looked over and waved to me happily. “We got tired of waiting. Come on over here and meet Paimon! We’re gon’ have a dinner for him. I hope you like potato salad!”
Nothing to see here. Nothing unusual. Just a cult, an emperor, a demon, and three representatives from an occult corporation all sitting down for a picnic under some sort of sacrifice tree.
The oddness didn’t come until a ways into it when I silently answered a call in my head from the Intercept team. “Emperor, we thought you should know as soon as we confirmed it. We’ve had a bloop in the water. A big one.”
I smell something rotten, and I didn’t do it this time.