I know I said I’d consider having Qiang schooled by the Master Academy, but I’m not cozying up to those no-good cock stranglers just yet. And if I sound mad, you try being told by someone that you MIGHT be turning good. I’m torn between my debt to the school and my desire to strangle Venus until I go soft inside her. The more I think back to her note, the more parts of it annoy me. I knew they’d be an annoyance upon my return to Empyreal City, but I didn’t think it’d be because Venus thinks it’s a good thing that I’d take a rocket for someone else. Having a kid sucks so much sometimes.
A bit of a no-win situation there at the moment. But I have other things to deal with for now. If I happen to cause excessive violence and have to deal with her trying to save people, so be it.
First off, I want to know if the dildo jugglers who set off a car bomb at the hotel I stayed at had anything to do with me. I’m quite sensitive to people trying to kill me, and blowing up a place where I’m staying doesn’t seem like mere coincidence. Then someone flew by the event I was attending and tried to wreck the place. They failed to blow me up, but they still tried. I heard I scared that one off with the explosion, maybe even damaged his flying machine. No body was recovered. Yet.
I have a few options I can explore there to see about making contact. Like Johnny Butterfly, who seemed to be in charge of the local mafia scene last time I was in town. Or even the Ukrainians, though they wouldn’t like me much. That option is less about asking questions and more about enhanced interrogation.
Instead of contacting the local organized crime, I decided to insert myself back into the scene of disorganized crime. Good ol’ Rothstein’s Sports Bar. The place had received a renovation recently. And an explosion. That explains the renovation. It’s supposed to be something of a no-fighting zone, but shit happens. Sometimes, I am that shit. I’ve always been a bit selective in following that rule, which sometimes causes people to excuse the treatment toward me. It’s a sort of self-policing. What is a bar full of villains going to do, call the cops? They have to put up with me because the cops are just as likely to try and arrest them.
My absence from the bar has likely been a sign of great good fortune for the bar, despite the alien invasions, my dictatorship over the world, a civil war, and whichever one of those caused the explosion that destroyed the front of the building. Knowing what I’d be walking into, and still a bit fuzzy from the concussion I suffered, I decided to call in a little help. All I needed to do first was make sure that my people back in Ricca’s factories had followed through.
Back there in Ricca, one factory loaded drone payloads onto trucks for shipping to the military base. They were loaded into missiles manufactured earlier and already delivered, because there is no reason to leave missiles laying where anyone can get them. One such missile was aimed in the direction of the United States. It rocketed into the upper atmosphere, where it fired off a series of smaller rockets before exploding harmlessly and spreading its pieces far and wide, probably to kill random people somewhere. Can’t make an omelet without killing a few people with random missile debris.
The rockets mostly aimed for where I was at, though a few instead headed for coordinates of some of our black market prosthetics customers. All of these rockets would go the way of the main one, leaving behind packages drifting on parachutes. They weren’t left up to the mercy of fickle winds. Propellers, acting to keep them on target, blew to direct their drift.
From initial launch to landing, packages arrived within fifteen minutes. I could have ordered a pizza from Ricca, if their pizza wasn’t crap. I’ve considered that it might be a good way to kidnap people’s children and replace them with artificial robot replacements, or even remote-controlled drone people. This time, they just brought nanites, material, and repair tools.
I spent a bit of time making sure I was ready in case things turned violent. Y’all have read this far, so I shouldn’t have to explain too much why I try to account for that possibility. The bit with the nanites was unusual, though. The brain has no pain receptors itself, so I had to go on what little I could feel from the meninges. Was neat to be dizzy one moment and then feel that fix the next. And while most concussions make it problematic to go engage in physical activity right afterward, the repairs by the nanites mean that is no longer an issue for me.
With my brain damage repaired and the armor of myself and little Qiang cleared for combat, it was time to go.
The door was heavier than I remember. I gave it a rap, but only with my knuckles. No need to spit hot fire at metal just yet. Though it looked like beautiful wood of some sort, it sounded like metal. A light above the door turned on, angled in front of me to restrict my sight. A viewing door that meshed seamlessly with the door slid open, but the light hid whoever was looking at me.
“You look new,” said a muffled voice.
“And improved,” I said. The door slid open. It wasn’t a password type of situation, but they didn’t seem to have identified me. I expected more resistance to that, though the person did try to shut the door on me when they saw Qiang. They’d already opened it, so instead my armor let me hold the door for her.
The person behind the door looked rather normal this time around. A balding man with an unexceptional build, in casual clothes. There were rooms for fancier occasions, but Rothstein’s Sports Bar tends toward the casual side. I briefly wondered if it has always been such. It’s hard to find memorabilia, despite the fact that Rothsten’s has been an Empyreal City institution since its founding in 1919 by local villains. It has a lot of history, even if its front had to be replaced recently, and a rear corner was blown off before, and cops busted a back wall in a Prohibition raid, and a former owner burned it down for insurance money. It’s like the proverbial axe that had its head replaced one year and its handle changed out the next; always reliable and always swingin’.
Qiang and I stepped in to see people checking out the football games, some of them tapping away on laptops, while a waitress wheeled around a giant cart of hot wings. “Can I have some, baba?” asked Qiang, eyeing the platters of wings in their different sauces. I favored the ranch ones myself, but…
“Didn’t we just eat, dearheart?” I asked.
“I got more room now!” she said.
I let my head flop dramatically toward her while sizing her up. “Really?” I leaned my head in close ot hers. “Reeeeaaally?” I noticed her armor start to shake a little as she held in giggles. I pressed my helmet to the top of hers and whispered a quick, “Reallyreally?” She stopped holding them in then, laughing.
“You shouldn’t have a kid in here,” the bartender said. That got us some looks, but nobody else said anything. It’s not like it was hardcore sex exhibition night at the bar, nor was it ever likely to be the way they turned down my suggestions in the past.
I walked on over to the bar and helped Qiang up to a seat. “Ok, you can have a couple, but that’s it. Eating too much can make you sore.” I waved at the waitress.
“A child sidekick, eh?” asked the bartender.
“Just keeping my kid safe and well-armored,” I said. “By the by, I haven’t been around here in a long while, so I had a question or two.”
The bartender paused. “Really?” he asked, prompting another giggle from Qiang. He glanced at her, but then said to me, “If you’ve been around before, you should now how little I’m supposed to talk about what I hear here.”
“Here, here!” I said, raising an invisible glass and throwing back a nonexistent shot. Then I held it out for him, opening my hand to reveal a hundred dollar bill. “Barkeep, perhaps you can help me lighten my load.”
He took the money from my hand and went to clean a glass. I looked at him a moment. He looked down at the glass, avoiding my gaze. Finally, he said, “Thanks for the tip.”
Yeah, pretty sure they didn’t know who I was. Must be the new armor, or the lack of a body count so far. “Ya know, hon, instead of waiting on the cart, maybe you can just run over and grab some wings for yourself,” I told Qiang. She eagerly slid down out of the stool, pulled off her helmet, and left it sitting next to me while she ran over to the waitress and the wings.
I raised a finger and wagged it to beckon the bartender closer. He leaned forward. “You know you can’t threaten me,” he said.
I projected a smile over my helmet. “That’s fine. I wouldn’t dream of threatening you. Catching you, maybe. Finding you leaving here late at night, picking off whatever weak little security detail you manage to scrounge up. You try to run, only I break one of your ankles with a sledgehammer. You try crawling away, but I’ve got pair of scissors I’m just jamming into your Achilles tendon. And, brother, you are no Achilles. Hang you upside down, shove a funnel in your ass, dump an ant farm in there. Maybe a hornet or two for good measure. Then I tie off your penis until it’s not getting blood flow and we start a game of Twenty Questions.”
I noticed it when he hit a panic button. “Who do you think you are? Do you know how many people come in here with power armor running on Duracells, thinking they’re big and bad because they swear they’re gonna be the next Psycho Gecko?”
“I’m actually interested in finding one of those guys. But don’t worry about me. I will never say I’m going to be the next Psycho Gecko,” I said with a little haha-ing at the end.
“Good, or my friends will have to teach you a lesson,” he said, indicating the doorman and then a pair of people over at the stairwell, one of whom had a hand replaced with a tendril of black fluid like the bodies of the Fluidic aliens who invaded recently.
“They could stand to brush up on it themselves, starting with history.” I had my armor project an image of my old armor. Instead of this bulkier style, it suddenly took on the appearance of a top of grey armored strips with orange along the chest meeting a rounded helmet with a glaring visor. The legs were lightly armored, almost light tights except made of nanomaterials with armor pads on the front. “I’m the original Psycho Gecko. This can end in either another tip or me paying funerary costs. I’m trying to be nice in front of my daughter there. Come to think of it, you did say she shouldn’t be in here. Maybe you’re right, maybe she should wait outside…”
I turned as if to call to her, but the bartender’s hand was suddenly on my shoulder. “Wait.”
I turned right back around, smiling to myself. “Yes?”
He got cooperative in a hurry. Funny thing is, the bartender realized he wasn’t protecting anyone much worth protecting. After the Fluidic invasion, the government had issued a wide-reaching amnesty that could be accepted. Many villains took them up on it, but their numbers have seemingly been made up for by technology and substances getting out that created new villains. Some of them are almost certainly linked to those militia idiots getting grafted with cybernetics and provided equipment by the Ukrainians on behalf of the Russians.
The guy I was looking for, Quadmaster, might have been one of those. The bartender didn’t know. They just know he walked in one day, hitting his quad rotors on the door and making a big stink over the door not being big enough. He then managed to get kicked out and banned before too long by hurling racist insults. “He didn’t get why we all thought he was a piece of shit,” The barkeep said. “The guy calls everyone every name under the sun, then he starts talking about free speech and how he should be allowed to say whatever he wants. He even tried to claim it was all a big joke right before the Leland booted him out.” He indicated the doorman with a nod of his head.
I nodded. “Any news on where a guy like me with a penchant for asking questions might find him?” I had begun to wonder if he was another of these militia members converted into a superhuman, the way he’d been acting. They probably still want me dead.
The bartender nodded. “I know where he likes to fly a lot. And when you do catch him and do whatever you do, I’d consider it a favor if you could tell him the words ‘like a bitch’.”
Quadmaster may be pretty fly for a white guy, but it looks like he likes to hang out with the dogs. I get to go bird-hunting in Wolfpack territory, that gang of low-life extortionists. Right after I let Qiang recover from her hot wing binge the long way. No nanites. She’ll live, she just won’t like it too much and maybe she’ll learn something from this experience.