I got an odd report today. Something freaky happened over in Empyreal City. Someone blew up a laboratory over there. It was one of the top things trending on VillainNet, along with coverage of Hbomberguy’s stream. Donkey Kong’s for trans rights, but the Applied Energy Investigative Of Yonkers has been kinda hush-hush on what it’s been working on. Or it did, until it blew up. My Intel agents got a drone in there. They’re really good with those things, and we’ve rigged them up to look like normal civilian ones, but harder for police to shoot down and sieze.
That’s how I got close-up footage of what looked a lot like the portal in Canada that leads to my home dimension. My use of dimension-breaching technology has made my new home particularly vulnerable, it seems. Or, and this worried me quite a bit, these humans somehow found a way to replicate the ability.
They didn’t go into the breach, but the local intel office did their best to hunt down documentation or even fleeing personnel from AEIOY. Pagan’s a smart guy, and he realized it would be something I’d like to know about. A good example of that is the initiative he took forming a private contracting company to help with the cleanup and rebuilding of areas damaged by supers and other disastrous fighting. It’s a pretty handy business model that works all the better now that the United States government has crippled itself during my absence.
We’re doing phenomenally thanks to that. Shitload of new recruits. Plenty of low-level government officials now on the take trying to make ends meet. So much of the people meant to keep us from sneaking stuff in are either calling out sick or taking money to look the other way thanks to this that we barely even need to hide it. On top of that, we’re also keeping evidence of their indiscretions to make sure the pipelines don’t dry up when regular paychecks start coming again.
The United States is on clearance sale.
Back to the subject at hand, without Federal disaster relief, state governments, especially the stupid ones, are turning to profit-driven businesses to make up the difference. My guys got a contract to rebuild a courthouse. Now we have hidden cameras and microphones all over the place. We know the secret entrances and have backdoors past their security. Those in-roads are why my guys pounced on the contract to clean up AEIOY and raid it while nobody was sure what did or didn’t survive.
That made it even easier to get a Dudebot into the rubble to where the city police kept a small cordon around the big, wavy, glowing portal that hovered a couple of feet off the ground.
I didn’t even bother to hide it. I let the Dudebot approached. The cops called out, a couple of them raising their firearms in case I turned out to be black. When they realized who I was, they all stepped aside. “I’m getting’ paid too little for this shit,” one of them muttered as he holstered his gun.
I called down an automated quadcopter drone like the local office uses and sent it through. Bluetooth connections can get a bit iffy between dimensions. Before I could send it through, a short arrow whizzed out of the dark and exploded. It wasn’t enough to compromise the Dudebot, but it was a little more than our reinforced drones can take. It took me a moment of side thought to realize the absurdity of an arrow piercing the thing as I traced back where the arrow came from.
Moving through the wreckage was a six-person squad in grey and black, with harnesses and helmets that curved back. They held rifles with curved portions sticking out of the end of the barrel and a cord that fit into gaps running the side of the barrel. The barrel came together into one solid piece at the rear and the weird crossbow gun looked to be magazine-fed.
I suppose back in the old days I’d have killed everyone and then start asking questions, but I’m an Empress now. I’m supposed to be regal and diplomatic. I looked back to the cops, who were finishing their retreat and raising their weapons. “Relax, back there. I’m sure we can talk this out without too many deaths.” I folded the pair of arms my Dudebot has behind its back and stepped toward the newcomers. “Greetings to you, my dudes. What are thou up to this chillaxed eve?”
The squad kept their weapons trained on me before one of them held up a fist, then approached with his crossbow-rifle no longer aimed at me. “I’m Gunnery Sergeant Marshal,” he said, without a trace of irony. “We have misplaced individuals from our world,” he nodded to the portal, “We’re looking to get them back.”
Ooh, refugees from another world. The plot thickens. “What kind of individuals?”
“They’re wanted on our world and that’s all you need to know,” the crossbow-wielding Gunnery Sergeant said. “I know we’re being brusque, but it’s our job.”
“I haven’t run across any refugees from another world so far,” I said, “But I’d be more than happy to keep an eye out. Of course, I’d need to know who I’m looking for…”
He reached into a pouch on his harness and pulled out a few playing cards. They had photos of people’s faces. There were about thirteen. They didn’t all look familiar to me, but a few stood out. One looked like Paveman aka Dirtbag. Another was the fellow they called Country Outlaw but who resembled Honky Tonk Hero with a little less oil in his hair. Of greater interest to me was the Jack of Hearts, Medusa. And if y’all think I’m petty, just imagine how petty it was to name their version of Venus, “Medusa”.
I held that one up in particular. “She’s a pretty one. What’s she wanted for?”
The Gunney took it back. “Her crimes are innumerable, stranger. Any aid you could give us is appreciated.”
Fucking sploosh. An evil Venus? You could host Olympic White-Water Rafting under my dress.
I folded the Dudebot’s arms. “How do I contact you with information?”
“Toss us a message in a bottle,” he said, pointing to the portal with his weapon. “I wouldn’t recommend bricking up the portal either.” He looked past me to where some of my Riccan “cleaners” kept an eye on the situation from afar. “We never abandon the chase.”
I rolled my eyes at that back on Ricca, but it doesn’t show up any on the Dudebot’s face. I left the cleaners to continue pulling any information, but I know my home dimension wasn’t in play here. These guys spoke English.
This being Empyreal City, there were a few different areas I could check. The Rothstein’s Sports Grill had nothing. Correction, they had ten cent wings. But aside from a motley assortment of various villains and groups of henchmen, they didn’t have any of the faces on the cards there. I’d run some of them through facial recognition and found most of them to be regular people. Good upstanding citizens, that just so happen to live in a community where somebody has superpowers and likes to save the day. So, if nothing else, the cards gave me a heads-up on some superheroes I hadn’t already known about.
As always the guy to talk to was the bartender, who was now pale bunch of tendrils and fibers holding a roughly humanoid shape. “What are you having?” he asked as I stood the Dudebot there.
“Your highest-proof drink and information on weird happenings,” I said.
He pulled out a mason jar of clear liquid and poured me a shot glass. Then, cautiously, he reached up and unscrewed the light bulb above me. I hadn’t gotten around to installing smell testers, so instead I tipped it up into the false mouth and let it seep into the spit storage area of the robot’s head.
“Cthulhu almighty, I’ve never seen that before,” the bartender said.
Luckily, my Dudebot made an ATM withdrawal from this guy who hadn’t been paying attention to who was behind him when he took money out. I slid several twenties over the counter for the barkeep. “Has there been anything lately where maybe the Master Academy seemed to be doing some infighting, or Venus was caught doing anything criminal, anything like that?”
Tendril guy extended one of the ones that served as his finger to point off to a corner where a man with antlers and a green hoodie sat. “Mangrove said somethin’ about that, but it was awhile back.”
I dropped some more cash off for the bartender. “Give me what he’s having then.”
Mangrove snorted to see me. He had a little thicker fuzz on him than a human’s supposed to have, and his fingernails were thick and dark. He’s one of those Greens that’s been smoking whatever it is that’s been upgrading them from regular hippie gangsters into something a little more animalistic.
“Penny for your thoughts,” I said, pulling up a reinforced chair near him. I offered him an IPA instead of a penny to be polite, though.
“What does the robot queen of Ricca want with me?” he asked, looking me over. “And what’s that smell?”
I shrugged. “Probably the moonshine. Listen, I heard from a little birdy who serves drinks you might know something about the Master Academy superheroes, or at least Venus, dipping their toes in the our waters. Or fighting each other. Or something where someone we thought was a hero maybe got into it with other heroes.”
He nodded, causing a bit of moss on his hoodie to flap. “I saw something like that. It looked like that fine ass rival of yours and a guy with a guitar were beating up her friends from the school.” He pointed back behind him with his thumb as if to indicate the Master Academy was back there. “I didn’t get to see all of it because Paveman turned into some sorta rock monster and went apeshit.”
I pulled out some cash and pretended to wipe my helmet’s brow with it. “Anything else you could tell me?”
He leaned forward and waved me toward him with two fingers. “As a matter of fact…” I slid closer, the money brushing up against his hand. He took it and pulled it loose, then sat back and pocketed it. “That’s all. Didn’t even see how the fight went. For some reason it was all hushed up. The most I heard about it was a gas leak by that building that blew up.”
“Huh…” I said, looking through news archives. “Must be pretty hush-hush. Only leak I see around there is in November.”
He nodded again, making me wonder how much he hates low-hanging chandeliers. “That’s the one. November.”
Interesting timing. “Thank you, my good man…. moose… whatever you are now,” I said, standing up.
As neat as the whole situation was, did I really want to go out of my way to try and kidnap an imprisoned evil version of the superhero I’ve had a crush on for years? Was this really a good use of my time? Was there any good reason to hand her back over the crossbowmen?
Yes, yes, and yes, actually. I had just the idea, and it would all begin with infiltration and a jailbreak to begin my act of malicious mercy.