Wonderful times on Ricca. We’ve had someone get sick on the island by something that didn’t clear up on its own. I’ve got nanites in the water keeping people healthy. This is the only place where if you cut a body part off, it might grow back on its own. Somehow, a guy who drank plenty of water got sick. Making it worse, any quarantine was fucked from the beginning, since he’d been at my daughter’s birthday party. The end of that saw a fuckload of people leaving before I even knew anything was wrong with this guy.
We had a failed quarantine from the start. But a few people did end up staying the night, including my daughter’s best friend, her parents, and the inebriated superhero girlfriend of my nemesis. Once Psychsaur had awoken and recovered from her hangover, I had to pull her aside and tell her why it was potentially risky to let her leave. “There’s a chance you and every single other person was exposed yesterday.”
“What did you put in the punch and how much do you want for the videos?” she asked, feathers still looking flat in places from how she slept on them.
“Not that kind of exposed, and $10,000,” I told her. I filled her in on the presence of he disease and the fact that our nanites were unable to heal it. “We have our guys looking into it. Full body scan, figure out what’s affected, what the cause is, disease or virus. Nothing in the guy’s medical file about a genetic disorder. Can’t do anything at all about the people we let leave. If we’re lucky, this thing doesn’t pass to others very easily. But until we know more, the island’s on lockdown. No one in or out. Which means I’ve already had to send Titan a message telling him he can’t sent out through the portals anymore.”
“You’re serious,” is all she said, looking me over. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you more serious. This worries you.”
“It’s an illness unaffected by the things I rely on to stay alive and I’m trapped on the only island where it’s proven to exist. This shit is whack, yo. Worse, I’m put in the position of holding onto the girlfriend of Venus, and a kid, and her parents. It looks bad and we have to contain how many people know about this.”
“Crap, you’re right. Can you show me the guy? Prove what’s going on to me and I’ll talk to Venus. She can contain the situation out there, but she’s going to want to know this isn’t a plot. If you’re serious, I think you need to share the medical data here.”
I screwed up my face. “Yeah, because she’s a doctor? She won’t understand it. Knowing her, she’ll even use it to screw with my people. Your school there is handling education for kids and teens.”
“We have doctors on staff and as alumni, genius,” Psychsaur said, bopping me on the head.
I reached up to make sure my headdress was still ok. “Don’t fuck with my hair. My hair’s on point. I will tear a motherfucker up.”
She burst into laughter. “Oh my god, you’re so girly!”
“Don’t let the dress fool you, I’m the same Gecko I’ve ever been. Now let’s go play doctor.”
As usual, I got to feel the irritating silence of the digital blackout that came with entering the Institute of Science. We have hospitals and doctors there, but the Institute was deemed the best place for the guard’s quarantine, care, and study. It also didn’t have people all around with compromised immune systems, more careful procedures, and a lot of flamethrowers laying around in case things got bad. Then again, I bet strategic flamethrower placement could solve a lot of issues as far as doctors forgetting to wash their hands in hospitals. Hmm…
That aside, we were shown to the biological wing of the labs. We checked in with the doctor on staff who assured us the results ought to be back soon. Dr. Smith, he called himself.
“Smith, eh?” I asked, looking at the holographic interface floating in the antechamber to the isolation unit. It depicted a rough outline of a human brain that slowly, piece by piece, was refining itself. “Good job, Smith.”
“You couldn’t have told the nanites to do this?” Psychsaur asked.
I shrugged. “I have a certain amount of medical knowledge and can program them easily enough, but these were originally built for healing. Most of their code came with them. I just made certain changes, like having them only work on myself. And, well, that whole thing with taking over the world and using them to control and kill people. I actually made a pretty stupid mistake with them early on. These guys know tests I don’t and are intimately familiar with the nooks and crannies of the brain. Intimately, do you hear me? That’s why this guy pretends his last name is Smith.”
“There are concerns we could be branded as criminals,” Dr. Smith said.
I waved his objection away. “Tell them you were just following orders. People accept that all the time, even when they think they’re too good for it.”
“I would rather not test that,” he said. “Once we’ve found the infection, testing others will be much quicker. If anyone else is infected, even as an asymptomatic carrier, the nanite network can reveal it to us. A full map of it, virus, bacteria, parasite, or agent, will help our understanding and attempts to cure it. Then we can update the nanites to counter whatever new disease we’re dealing with.”
I raised a hand. “If you’ve seen the sort of programming in these nanites, you should know they’re pretty good at figuring out what’s unusual for the humanoid body and eliminating it. I’ve literally bet my life on this technology many times over. If this is capable of evading them, I think we’re guaranteed a major problem on our hands.”
“Holy crap, you have a third arm!” Psychsaur said. She grabbed that hand. “It’s real.”
“Had to do something with my third arm after I grew the boobs.” I’d held up a lower hand without thinking. I slipped the other of that pair out to wiggle its fingers at her.
“Why do you have two more arms?!”She took my hands and kept looking them over, prompting Dr. Smith to look away and scratch at his temple. “Did you take these from someone?”
“I built them myself, with lots of meat, calcium, and nanites. We’re talking with a doctor here.” I turned back to him, though she kept feeling around on my hands. “I’m going to need a redacted copy of his chart in digital form for her law-abiding friends back in the United States. So see to those details accordingly. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
He shook his head. “We have the resources. All we need is time to work.”
As we left, I had to pull my hands away from Psychsaur. “Won’t your girlfriend be jealous you’re holding my hands?”
“We’ve worked through worse, like her Catholicism,” she told me. “You made yourself a second pair of arms. I guess I didn’t think about what you could do with them.”
“Your girlfriend knows better than most how good I am at growing arms. I don’t suppose there’s any chance you might fail to mention this to her.”
“Yeah, no, that’s not happening. Sorry. I’m surprised you’d do all that. You said you mess up sometimes.”
I raised a finger. She examined the nails on that hand. “I messed up early on, when I first made some work for only my DNA.”
“You want to tell me how?” she asked. “Come on, stop being so paranoid about your secrets. It’s probably not something anyone can even use against you, like the arm thing.”
Now, I could come up with ways Venus could use information about me having extra arms to her advantage in a fight with me. I also knew I wasn’t going to give that kind of idea to her girlfriend. That said, that earlier screw-up wasn’t something they could really use against me, no.
“So a lot of people have a very limited understanding of sex and sexuality, especially in places where that kind of thing is considered a bit rude and risque to talk about. Even on my planet, knowledge of exactly how it all works doesn’t necessarily filter from the experts to the regular folk. So, I messed up and had it handle the chromosome issue in the stereotypical way most people would think it goes.”
She looked at me for a moment. “And? What chromosome issue?”
“When I told the nanites to work on only my DNA, that included a mapping of it. They were to make sure all of me was up to code, save for anything replaced with cybernetics. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize at the time that the body is not uniform in sex cells, nor that the sex of individual cells can affect the body so greatly.”
“Parts of me are male?”
I looked her over, from her scaly skin to her feathers in place of hair. “Parts of you are prehistoric. But possibly. The problem with the most conservative estimates on how common it is are naturally incomplete. How many people have the DNA of every cell in their body tested? Look at how diagnosis of autism increased once your doctors learned enough about it to detect it better. Long story short, these nanites could quite possibly allow anyone on Earth to change sex at the drop of a hat just by reading the DNA off cells of the opposite sex and working their magic on the organs that matter for all that. Except me, because I am one-hundred percent male.” I posed, showing off how the dress hung from my feminine frame topped by a gold headdress in my flowing hair.
We walked along in seconds, coming to the lobby of the Institute. “So that’s it?” she asked.
I scoffed. “I said it was a stupid mistake. I didn’t say it was a big one. Besides, there’s already a process involving genetic grafting and my nanites that would let me do that if I wanted to. Just think, a pregnant Gecko.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re thinking of becoming a mother?”
I rolled my eyes. “See, this is the harm in telling you heroes things. You start psychoanalyzing and projecting. Next thing you know, y’all will be trying to impregnate me to try and keep me docile. Joke’s on you though, if you have any idea how pissed-off a pregnant woman can be and add that to my natural pleasant demeanor.” I smiled at her, and not the nice one. This was the smile I like to give people before rearranging their organs with a knife. “I’ma eat ya, bitch.”
We were just getting into the Imperial confiscated convertible when one of the research assistants sprinted out of the building. He came to a stop right next to me. I think he might have bowed, but he was so busy trying not to puke and sucking wind that I couldn’t tell. “Easy there,” I told him. “Catch your breath. Unless you’re a member of the bomb squad, then tell me that first.”
He shook his head and took a minute to get his breathing under control. “Empress, we found it and they are writing a program to patch into the nanites. If it pleases you to wait, we will have it shortly and you can see the results firsthand.”
I looked to Psychsaur. She shrugged. “I’m fine.”
Whoever they had working on the nanite programming, they worked fast, or maybe they’d already been building an app while the rest of the team was hunting this thing down. So we waited in the lobby and a half-hour later, Smith brought us a laptop personally. He set it down, eyeing Psychsaur, then switched it from hologram to augmented mode. The he activated the app.
An outline of the island appeared that filled in with buildings and rough patches to signify the forest and temple ruins off on the other part of the island. Then, pinging off each other, little dots began to appear. The regenerative nanites were meant to coordinate together in order to better repair the body and fight disease. I’ve used that coordination for tricks before, like triggering the grey goo protocol when an enemy needed to be disassembled, or to hold the world hostage during my brief tenure in control of the entire world. This time, it went through and kept jumping through the population of my island, even down into a couple of the sewer crocs by the looks of things. Soon, what looked to be most of the island filled out. More red dots kept appearing rapidly, in ones or twos, sometimes with larger groups.
I looked up to Smith, who looked pale. “Is that just the people it’s scanned, or is that the people infected?”
He swallowed. “Infected.”
Then the view expanded, showing North Korea and Mu as well, who had copied our waterworks and where people were just generally exposed to the nanites for medical care. Our colonies on the formerly-sunken continent appeared to be clean, but the infection was spreading from Pyongyang about as fast as it did here on the island.
“Empress, based on my rough estimate of the rate of infection, I believe it likely the infection first appeared on the day of your daughter’s birthday.”
I threw my head back and laughed, which made Smith jump. Once I had a moment to quiet down, I heard Psychsaur punching buttons on her phone. I turned and slapped it out of her hand, then grabbed her throat and lifted her off the ground. “You’re not warning anybody. Which one of your little friends was it?”
“I don’t know!” She kicked at me, then grabbed my wrist. Her telekinesis squeezed my fingers and forced them open. She dropped to the ground, and I suddenly felt a tingle in my head like she was up to something. I heard Smith fall, the tablet clattering with him. “I didn’t have anything to do with this. I don’t know what’s going on, I promise. But you know you can trust me. You can trust Venus.”
I thought back to my encounter with Future Venus. Willing to give me up to pay some aliens back for helping stop a threat. Willing to kidnap my daughter and do what she thought was best, keep her as a hostage of Master Academy. I could feel Psychsaur buzzing in my head, trying to get in. Ah, the benefits to having a brain that interfaces better with computers than psychics.
I threw a punch. She caught it with her mind. Another with a free hand. Again, she caught it. The same happened with the third and the fourth. I smiled, then went for a headbutt. Now, her catching that surprised me. I think she’s been practicing.
“I don’t want to fight you. I want to help you, please,” she said.
I also thought back to the red dots here in the lobby. The doctor, the assistant who tripped over himself running away from the fight, me, and Psychsaur. And while it pissed me off to no end to see myself represented there, that wasn’t the only thing to take away from it. “You’re in my world now, not your world. And I got friends on the inside.”
She collapsed into unconsciousness as the nanites in blocked the blood flow to her brain just long enough to knock her out. The invisible pressure on my limbs ceased and I grabbed her by the leg. I turned to see Dr. Smith standing up, looking woozy. He had a little bit of yellow vomit dripping from his mouth. “Glad you’re up, Doc. Get Creeper. I’m going to need our best anti-psychic testing chamber prepped for a guest. And forget the chart for her friends. Someone just gave the whole island a disease and didn’t even have the common fucking courtesy to kiss us on the mouth first.”
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