In the days after the bombing attempt on my daughter, I left most of the negotiation strategy to Titan and Venus. Titan, Venus, and Psychopomp. Maybe it’s just paranoia or pareidolia, but I’m seeing a pattern. Really, the culprit be chalked up to some shared concepts. Both our worlds had Greeks. One of those threads I’d pick up before dropping it to focus on the plan, only to grab at it again.
My household had a pretty good idea I wasn’t in a good mood. Most steered clear of me. Max kept offering me sane juice, as if I wasn’t taking my meds. I’m perfectly sane at the moment. I’m just pissed as hell. And I did try to relax a little when it was hard to sleep. Then I found out one of my favorite ASMR people retired all of a sudden in July and I went straight back to being fucking enraged!
Aside from that, I stuck to my own preparations. Missiles built, nanites stored up, and making sure a Dimensional Bomb was ready to go. I didn’t care to talk with Venus and Titan about the plan before I met them, or even after. I stepped through the Riccan base’s portal to Cape Diem headquarters where an attendant offered to take my cape or helmet. I waved them off. “Then allow me to show you to where you can meet with the others,” the guy said. I nodded and followed after, all four arms behind my back.
“Hello Gecko,” said Titan.
Venus nodded, “Gecko.”
They’d been enjoying a cup of coffee in Titan’s office. It looked warm. Not expensive, but he had a few things he liked in there, like books and a few photos. One with him smiling next to a woman with a bow in a Cape Diem uniform. One with a different woman and a girl missing a front tooth smiling. His powers may not be related to the Greek gods, but his libido might be.
“If it’s all the same, I think it’s for the best you two take the lead on this one. Let me stand there looking mean, as if y’all are keeping me from killing them,” I suggested.
“That’s a great idea,” Venus said.
“Just one more time… in order to agree to a peace, the following conditions must be met. Point one, they provide us with a vaccine and cure. Point two, they go public with their existence. Point three, they allow people to leave their group who wish to do so.”
“That’s new,” I said.
Venus said, “Dame told me how insular and controlling they are. They had to keep them like that as part of staying secretive. When they go public, there’s no reason to do so anymore. What do you think?”
“Fine,” I said.
“Is your head in this, Gecko?” asked Titan, straightening up.
“Yep. I’m here. My brain’s here. Everything’s accounted for,” I told him.
They shared a look. They didn’t know what was up, but they knew something was.
As a trio, clad in our respective garb, we all set out to the Cape Diem base in Switzerland, merely a portal hop away. I had a pair of Psycho Flyers on approach before this to throw off the Hares. Didn’t want them assassinating anyone. That’d be my job, after all. The Flyers broke off their approach to Geneva, which we were fairly close to, and instead landed a good distance from the city. Even better for my plants, they could swoop in and drop off a couple squads of my Dragon soldiers in no time.
I wish I had tanks I could bring in, but I think we’re at a point where I can outfit infantry with the firepower of tanks and enough armor to make it count well enough. The nanites provide a boost to healing that aids in muscle growth and stamina, along with a few subtle alterations to skin resistance and bone density.
I put Elda on a more intensive version of the program. She was flown off to the United States, to be dropped off in the midwest with her new armor, sword, and supplies. By the time I was appearing in Geneva, she was waking up to find herself stronger and faster in a country raged by civil war. It was her choice whether she stood up for the weak or took advantage of the chaos for her own advantage. I left a way to track her… a ring on her ring finger. It gives me GPS and even her pulse, should I care to keep an eye on it.
She’ll hate me, but I’m good at being hated. Even though the world might be caught offguard by what I aimed for, they really couldn’t be surprised.
Light rain sprinkled down as we stepped into the Place du Bourg-de Four. As impressive as a group as we made in our unusual party, the folks meeting us couldn’t help standing out either.
I recognized Ares. Smart choice for screwing us over. I thought they’d have Apollo, but they instead had a dark-skinned man with eyes the color of clear water and short, light brown hair. Despite the suit he wore, I caught a glimpse of wave tattoos running up his neck, with others on his face; a dolphin underneath his chin and some other fish bent like it was leaping over his eye. Or maybe not his neck. Their face was more feminine than I expected, and I couldn’t get a close enough look at their chest.
Another pair included an exceptionally pale woman with black hair that covered half her face, with a svelte, muscular body like a dancer’s. I labelled her “Rhythm” on my HUD because I found it funny. She was with a swarthy Asian man with an epic curled mustache. Aside from Ares, that bunch were all dressed in something like normal formal wear. Ares, old hippie that he was, more closely resembled Willie Nelson or Tommy Chong. He even had sandals on.
The last two of their group had another person I recognized. Barkiel stood there without his disguise. I recognized him from when he announced their agreement to these talks. The person next to him was taller, with a long jacket, the bottom of which swept out stiffly instead of hanging loosely. This one had a light, short fuzz of yellow hair on her pink head, and a horizontal scar cut through her right eyebrow. I assume it was a her because of the way her chest stuck out further than Barkiel’s did. This species either had mammaries, or something close enough to it.
Six of them to three of us. Not ideal if they hoped to escape, but I know enough to be wary of Barkiel. He’s got tricks.
We stopped twenty feet or so from them. The alien visitor with Barkiel looked to him. Barkiel stepped forward. “Greetings, honored foes. Welcome to the negotiations. Allow me to introduce our party. Representing the Old Gods are Olokun of the Orisha and Ares of the Olympians.” For reasons of politeness, we shook hands. I had the advantage there, being able to shake both their hands at once.
“On behalf of the humans, we have here Margaritte Manx and Ian Borjigin.” Nice names. They’re gonna die.
“In the name of our group of visitors to your planet, I have here Captain Israkeel, and I am known as Barkiel.” Maybe it’s because I’m used to her looking at me with the expression, but I could tell Venus took particular exception to Barkiel upon his introduction.
Venus looked to me after he was done, as did Barkiel when he had stepped back behind his Captain there.
I stepped up. “I have brought with me Venus, champion of the Master Academy of superheroes, and Titan, leader of Capie Diem, dedicated to serving all and saving the day for everyone. I am Psychomp Gecko, Empress of the rogue nation of Ricca.”
When I stepped back, Venus spoke up. “We have come to see if we can come to an agreement over your unprovoked attack on our peoples and our response in kind or if this must continue until one of our sides is destroyed.”
Israkeel nodded, then raised a hand in front of Barkiel and gestured. Barkiel turned and clapped. The waiters from a coffee shop rushed out, setting up a folding table between our two groups. They ran back to get the chairs when Israkeel turned to Barkiel, “Did you want to try out that gizmo to keep the rain away?”
He smiled, “I’m afraid I left that apparatus behind.”
They brought us an umbrella with the chairs and took our orders. Barkiel and I both declined.
The silence was tense enough while we all waited, though at one point Olokun looked to me and asked, “You were our Tripura Sundari if I am not mistaken.” Their voice was soft then, feminine.
“One of your tricksters used a substance meant to hide my memories and called me by that name,” I responded.
Olokun looked to Ares, this time speaking with a voice that suggested the ownership of dong. “Many decisions were made without my input.” When he turned to look at me, he smiled, his voice softening once more, “I hope you were welcomed warmly into our hospitality.”
When Titan spoke, everyone noticed, “It’s an old tradition among various gods that hospitality is to be respected. Each of us welcomed one of yours with hospitality and was rewarded with betrayal.”
Olokun folded their hands in front of them like a prayer, “I must apologize. Again, there were questionable decisions made behind the backs of the chain of command.”
“With all due respect,” Venus jumped in here, “how can we expect any agreement here to be honored by your people if it is normal for them to ignore your chain of command?”
Olokun shared a look with Israkeel. Israkeel raised her nose before answering, “You have our full attention now and we give you our word we are instilling discipline and respect into the ones who lack it.”
“And we’ll just take your word for that?” I asked.
Israkeel smirked, “We are all here to give our word to an agreement.”
“It’s about trust,” Venus said, nodding to Israkeel, who returned the gesture.
Things kicked off in earnest once they all got their drinks. Israkeel opened things up at that point. “Empress Gecko’s message to us incorporated the phrase ‘unconditional surrender.’ I should hope this was mere affectation.”
Venus responded for me. “We have conditions. First, if you want us to stop dismantling your operations, we will need a cure and a vaccine.”
Barkiel leaned over to whisper something to Israkeel. I cranked up microphone sensitivity enough to hear him tell her, “Gecko is in possession of a cure.”
Israkeel said, “Agreed.”
Except Olokun and Borjigin were whispering back and forth too, with Olokun asking, “You said we were twenty years from a vaccine.”
“I said thirty years, but somebody panicked. You can’t agree to this, because it’s not physically possible” Borjigin told him.
“We agree to whatever they want. They can’t kill us for trying to vaccinate them,” Olokun whispered back. Then, loud enough to where he or she was supposed to be heard, they said, “The gods agree.”
Borjigin tightened his jaw, but added his agreement as well. I saw the other human put her hand on his forearm. I think they all knew they didn’t have a vaccine ready.
“The second thing we demand for is that you allow your members to leave if they want,” Venus said.
Olokun shook her head. “Unacceptable. Our people must stay with us for our protection and theirs. The world would find us out.”
“Our third condition is that you let the world know about your group anyway,” Titan said, grinning.
Manx nodded along to that one. “We would lose our status and become pawns to be used as leverage to co-opt our powers for the worldly governments. We just want to protect ourselves.”
“You lost the right to talk about protecting yourselves the moment you used my portals and their countries to distribute a virus that’s killing people and trying to handicap supers,” Titan said through a smile that could make a shark back off.
“As I said-” Olokun started, but they were cut off by Israkeel.
The alien captain bowed her head, “We took the course of action we felt was best. We have reason to believe the growing population of superhumans is a threat to the entire Earth, including our loved ones among you.” Israkeel smiled over at Borjigin, who flushed.
“Is that why you sent my daughter a bomb?” I asked. Venus went bolt upright at that, as did Titan a half-second later when he’d processed it.
On the other side of the table, the Three Hares delegation looked between each other except for Barkiel and Israkeel. The Captain looked right at me. “None among us did such a thing.”
“Allow me to remind you then,” I projected an image of my shaking daughter holding the box. “Fingerprint scanners to activate a timed detonation. Gun-style, uranium rings and uranium core, with just enough deuterium and tritium to make it spicy.”
Israkeel laid her hands down on the table, palms up. “We’ll do whatever you want to assure you we weren’t behind this and make this right.”
I pushed the table over between us. I punched right through to grab Israkeel’s throat and squeezed, then got another hand on there. Any human and I’d have been crushing spine while blood spurted, but the alien was tough.Venus grabbed at one of my free arms and tried to pull me. She didn’t have much luck until something severed the choking hands. Titan grabbed onto me as well and lifted me in a bear hug.
Venus, at least, had time to notice the lack of blood coming from my wrists, and the lack of flesh within the armor. Then the D-Bomb went off, setting off a cascade of events.
First, I lost contact with the Dudebot I’d given four arms to as the D-Bomb within it tore a small hole in reality, big enough to take Venus and Titan with it. Their intervention stopped me from having to give them a hug. At the same time, another bomb activated on Ricca, disappearing from the bomb lab Dr. Creeper had kept the device in.
Titan, Venus, and the Dudebot reappeared in the Directory building where I sat on my throne in my real armor. In Geneva, another new one torn in reality spat out the shell of the nuclear, hollowed out but sitting on top of a large, black, rounded bomb of the sort seen in cartoons. If the Hares had a moment to read, they’d might have noticed it read “That’s all, folks!” written on the side of the cartoon bomb in white paint. It went off before they possibly could have.
I could have gone nuclear, but for Max’s medication. People hold nuclear weapons as particularly awful, no matter how few their death toll in comparison to conventional arms. A terrorist bombing in Geneva would be glossed over. I was a supervillain. I do things like that. A nuclear attack on a foreign country is harder to walk away from without your metaphorical nuts in a literal vice.
The Psycho Flyer began to move it, the soldiers onboard getting instructions and photos showing them who to make sure is dead.
“What did you fucking do?!” Venus yelled at me in the Directory building.
“They tried to kill my daughter. Peace is off the table,” I told her.
“I should take you in right now. This alliance is over with!” she yelled back at me.
I just laughed, a short and cynical bark. “They tried. To kill. My daughter. And probably me along with her. I warned them. I told them it would happen. If they sent another assassin, I’d send one of my own, and it would be the only one I needed to send.”
“You’re just a scared bastard,” she said, walking up close to make tuning her out harder. “You don’t care about making the world better anyway. You say you want peace for your daughter, but you’ll never get it. You’re too scared of giving peace a real chance in the end, because if people can put aside hate and revenge, they can improve and you’ll know you’re wrong, you’re wrong for killing them instead of giving them a chance, because you’re a hurting, jealous little man who wishes he was a hero but has to settle for killing everyone he thinks is wrong with the world except the worst part of it. Himself. Yourself. You have to make sure everyone stays wrong so you can prove yourself right!”
She slapped me across the helmet, once, then again. Then she punched me, grabbed my helmet, and slammed me to the ground. She raised her fist and extended a spike that I knew could generate an electric current. She didn’t know it wouldn’t penetrate anyway, but still all I did was look up at her and ask, “Are you going to kill me?”
“I should. Do you know how many people are going to die?” She asked, and I swear there were tears in her voice.
“Every Hare I can get my hands on,” I said. “But not me unless you want that speech you gave to apply to you, too.”
She pulled the spike back in, but gave me a punch to the belly that knocked the wind out of me. She stood up and began to walk out, accepting a wing draped over her by Titan.
I smiled to myself in spite of the discomfort and pulled myself back onto the throne of Ricca. Words can be weapons too. I prefer bombs when available, though. They were effective enough in Geneva, as my soldiers soon reported back they had the remains of five individuals in the middle of a wrecked street with some big water main busted and flooding the area. Manx and Borjigin were a mess. Israkeel was in slightly better shape, meaning her body had been blown into a nearby building where being impaled through couple of support beams finished her off. Olokun had stayed relatively intact better than the humans, but that was a moot point with identifiable body parts scattered all over.
That just left Barkiel. The other one who hadn’t ordered a drink. The one who, upon playback of satellite footage over Geneva, disappeared all on his own around the same time our side of the table had.
Tricky little Barkiel. I’ll find him too.
If even gods bleed, I know what he’ll do.