“What exactly am I looking at here?” I asked, because it looked… let’s go with interesting.
“What does it look like to you?” asked the scientist, Dr. Gralz. He stood next to a holographic display that showed what seemed to be a powered exoskeleton in the shape of a spider’s body but headless. It had a human next to it for scale and if the person was scrunched up in a ball, they wouldn’t entirely fit inside the front section of the spider. However, the rear section was smaller than that. In theory, it could scrunch into most places that could accommodate tall people.
“Is it a drone or some form of automaton?” I asked. I leaned back on my throne and accepted a Bloody Maria. Think Bloody Mary, but with tequila and peppers.
Gralz reached up and dragged the human model on top of the mechanical spider. The holographic human’s legs came up like he sat in a chair, then slid into a space on the top, fitting close into it. “We have many areas of research we are looking into. This grew out of an idea. We wanted to find and harness the abilities of magically-sensitive individuals. Why not give them extra spells, extra hands, extra equipment to traverse the world in ways baseline humans can’t? Unfortunately, the size of the unit requires the controller have your homo machina abilities and that precludes magical abilities.”
“So damn glad people actually read the stuff I put in the databases,” I said.
“I won’t push homo sapiens beyond their limits by refusing to do the reading,” Dr. Gralz said.
“That looks a bit tight,” I said, nodding to the person fitting into the top of the exoskeleton.
The doctor pushed a button on his wristband and the image of the human appeared separate again. The display zoomed in on the human and textboxes appeared discussing amputation of limbs at the elbows and knees. “I have an idea on that.”
It wasn’t a bad one in this age of medical miracles and cybernetic excitement. “Is it just a variation on power armor?”
Dr. Gralz shook his head. “I believe that a significant alteration of form will open arachnoid soldiers to radically new tactics and strategies. Function follows form. Evolution often provides structures that the organism finds new uses for beyond what other animals could conceive on their own. We can imagine.” He pounded his fist into one hand. “Arachnoid soldiers swarming from every direction. Pulling enemies into trapdoors. Fighting multiple enemies with the aid of extra eyes and arms. This isn’t power armor that reinforces the human form and tactics. This is power armor to expand humanity’s fighting capability beyond two arms, two legs, and two eyes.”
He certainly has ambition. Whether he’s good for any more than that is something to be determined. “Ok. Proceed, but volunteers only. It’s better for morale and for your lives if you don’t hand the experimental new power armor exoskeleton over to someone unwilling to be hurt like this. In fact, check with the hospitals. See if anyone’s had injuries to aid the process but hasn’t yet been healed. If this is a clear advantage, I’d also like to see if we get more than just the one version. Ricca has enough one-off, animal-themed supers.”
He smiled and nodded until I then asked if they’d considered purely biological alterations like more limbs of flesh. He grimaced. “Nobody involved in the project liked the idea of human-arachnid hybrids. The projections were… hideous. We have prospective volunteers already and that is a nonstarter.”
I shrugged. “I guess. Plus, a bit easier to make cybernetic limbs look lifelike than hide a second pair of arms.” I folded my lower pair across my belly, then smiled at a notification on my HUD. My infiltrator had been dropped off in Empyreal City. “I’ll give you a call about it later. I like where this is headed, but I’m afraid I have an important call I have to take.”
I really was interested in it. I don’t like the spider design, but it’s a step in the direction I hope to accomplish. I had posters made for government buildings and everything. One half has a stereotypical figure in a ski mask and striped shirt holding a lollipop next to a baby carriage with the words “Why be evil…” overhead. The other half has the same masked person turned giant and attacking an orphanage using a giant lollipop to bash the roof in. It asks, “…When you can be really fucking evil?”
I like to think it’s a statement on society’s complacency and lack of creativity. In the context of society, I feel it highlights absurdism over nihilism. Where nihilism may embrace wasting away and going through the motion, the absurdist outlook is that the meaninglessness of life provides you an opportunity to make your own meaning and destroy an orphanage if need be.
I used my imagination as well and had built a new model of Dudebot specifically for infiltration of the Master Academy. Customs agents looked the other way and I got it shipped no problem to one of the fronts used to keep an eye on Master Academy. I didn’t even wait for the agents inside to open the box. I activated the newer, smaller Dudebot and punched my way out.
“It’s a kid!” one of the agents yelled.
“That’s Empress kid,” I said through the Dudebot’s face. I’d taken a good look before I ever sent it off. I tried to make this kid look as generic and plain as possible. It was a robot in the form of a 9 year old boy.
“Do you need help getting in, Empress?” asked one of the agents.
I shook the Little Dudester’s head. “I think I’ll be fine blending in. Do you have those clothes I requested?”
The agents bowed and handed me a bag.
“And the extraction team?” I asked.
“Ready,” answered the more senior agent. “May fortune favor you.”
If this went well enough to stay quiet, I’d walk right out of there with Medusa. If we had to make a hot exit, I have a Psycho Flyer deployed with a few soldiers ready to lay down cover fire and haul me out of there.
At least as far as infiltration, fortune did favor me, giving me no problems walking onto campus as the sky turned to dusk. I skidded on an icy walkway toward a scorched main door, but nobody seemed to recognize me as a stranger. Probably more on the lookout for adult strangers instead. I guess they had a fight here recently. The vague smokey smell in the foyer backed that up.
Man, I really need to stop coming here. Of all the places in the world I could be committing crimes, I keep going here. Is it sad yet? It feels sad.
From personal experience, I knew exactly how to find my way to the door to the prison hidden under Master Academy’s warm wooden furnishings. The extend-o-matic legs on the Lil Dudester lifted me up high enough to check the panel on the wall. Handprint recognition, retinal scan, and a microphone. I raised the pointer finger of the Lil Dudester. The eyes on the Duderino Jr. went cross-eyed as I targeted opposite sides of the panel and walked eye lasers along until I’d opened it up. The 360-degree cameras didn’t show anybody the wiser, and the little bit of smoke didn’t trigger any fire alarms.
I began playing around and popped out a cable from my robotic infiltrator’s wrist to plug into a circuit board and begin a little persuasion. It was the best I could do without the abilities of my real body, but I managed to fool it into resetting. The door next to me unlocked with a click and I opened up the sneaky tin can’s mouth to spit a bit of glue onto it. I thought it’d be a good surprise if I was caught and cornered, just hock an adhesive loogie into their face. But the setback of the microphone forced me to improvise. If they were smart enough to set up voice recognition, they should have been smart enough to add personalized passcodes. Mimicking handprints, fingerprints, eyeprints, and voiceprints are much easier than trying to recall some special word or phrase for a person. But all security can be broken or bypassed in some way, which is why security is more of a continuous process.
It wouldn’t take much to give away the tampering with the panel, which screws up some of what I wanted to do. I rushed down, checking out some of the other changes they’d made. It had been much more Spartan in my time down here, but they’d added milquetoast paintings on the wall like a doctor’s office. There was one next to each doorway, in fact. Curious, I stepped up beside one examined it. Ah, a digital display. I tapped on it and the painting was replaced by a screen showing the interior of the cell on one side and touch screen buttons on the other like “open/close,” “lights,” “intercom,” “temperature,” “humidity,” “fire,” “medical,” and ‘sedation.”
That cell held one of the others from the cards, a lowly four of clubs wrapped in black gauze like a ninja-mummy. Neat idea, might have to use that as an alias. King Hotep Hazashi. Tutankamehameha. Wait, that second one’s Polynesian.
Moving on, I kept checking, even running across some domestic villains being held in this unaccountable prison. They had the power collars on. Great. Master Academy went from helping me hunt down the people responsible for infecting everyone with a way to shut off our powers, to using the collars that make it happen.
I really oughta come back here and give them a break sometime, but this trip had a specific goal in mind. Finally, I found her. Medusa didn’t have a collar to get in the way of the push-ups she was in the middle of when I hit the intercom button. “Hey there. Ready to get out of this joint?”
“Stop messing with me, fascist,” she responded.
I snorted. “That’s offensive. I’ll have you know I run a representative democracy. As the Empress, I get the sole deciding vote. It’s a really efficient system. The trains run on time.”
And the elevated tracks serve as beautiful hanging gardens. Some people who live near near them even use them to grow supplemental food somehow. They’re doing amazing things with hydroponics these days.
“Who are you?” she asked, looking at the door.
“I am the terror that wedgies people in the night. I am Gecko. I run a country that doesn’t hand over criminals and if you want out of here, we’d better get going now.”
I went ahead and opened the door for her. When she poked her head out, all she saw was a kid standing alone in a corridor with a smile on his face. I held out the Lil Dude’s hand “Come play with me.”
“Fuck that shit!” she said and ran out, punching me it in the face. She pulled her hand back, cussing. “What the hell?”
“I’m working through a robotic body, dear Medusa. If you’re quite done wasting time, I have a change of clothes here.”
She wasn’t so shy about tossing the simple uniform they’d given her and getting redressed right in front of me, showing off a body not quite as fit as Venus’s but close enough to fool people. Hopefully they won’t think much of the highlights in her hair.
“These are a perfect fit,” she said. “What are you, Good Medusa’s stalker?”
“She’s called Venus here.” Medusa laughed at that. I shrugged the robot’s shoulders. “I know, marketin decision or something. Come have the new Venus action figure with karate chop action and ridable dinosaur.”
“Does she have a dinosaur?” Medusa asked.
She looked like she was fully dressed, so I started moving back along the corridor we came from. “Not really hers, but there’s Thesaurus and Veloci-raptor. And Veloci-raptor’s evil cybernetic nemesis, VelocityRaptor, but he’s not a dinsoaur. And even if he beats Veloci-raptor, he’ll never quite be free of him, carrying his rivalry forever in his name.”
He’s in the middle of another attempt on Veloci-raptor’s life, too. He got permission to run off and do his own thing with some big game poachers in Africa, trying to lure out some deadlier game. Even if he loses, it means some poachers end up dead or in jail. That’s the good thing about using scumbags for henchmen.
“Nice blurb, but I’m not reading the novel,” Medusa said.
We exited onto the ground floor unnoticed and I took her hand like a normal kid might. Unlike Venus, Medusa hadn’t been given the treatment to turn her into a homo machina like myself. “Just act natural,” I said.
“Where I’m from, natural in a place like this means being willing to gut stab another orphan at the first sign of weakness,” she said.
I hummed along as I lead her to the door.
Then someone called out “Venus?” Off in the distance, Psychsaur, of all fucking people, approached just as we were turning into the foyer. I pulled Medusa along into it pushed her toward the door while I stood right around the corner and signaled the extraction team. When Psychsaur rounded the corner, she got a splash of adhesive across the eyes. The glue set quickly, blinding her until its removal. Medusa grabbed a chair and went to swing it overhead at the psychic, reptilian humanoid, but staggered and dropped it. She clutched at her head for a moment, then gasped.
“Christ that hurt. She screamed in my head!” Medusa leaned on the chair for stability.
I grabbed her hand again. “We need to go, now.”
“That didn’t hurt you?” she asked.
I pointed to the Dudebot’s head. “No brain, no pain.”
We burst out the door and skidded over the walkway’s ice. I did my best to keep Medusa upright but the Lil Dude’s legs flew out from underneath and I took a pratfall. Medusa laughed, then wobbled and fall to her side in a pile of snow.
I sat up and ran my eye lasers over the walkway to thaw it out. It’d be wet and would soon refreeze in this weather, but it’d be wet enough. Medusa got to her own damn feet and helped pull me up, too. “I hope you have a hovercar nearby.”
“Hovercar? Where we’re going, Medusa, we don’t need hovercars.” I told her. A gust of wind and a dull roar heralded the arrival of the Psycho Flyer. It wasn’t easy to make out against the night sky, but a cable dropped with a vest attached. “Strap in,” I ordered her.
A laser beam severed the cable. A gleam from the doorway reverted the newborn night to dusk. While we were fixated on that, a giant snow arm emerged from the powder covering the lawn and grabbed Medusa. Before I could do anything about that, a teen boy with golden skin and red hair flew right at us. I stopped him cold with a punch stronger than he likely expected, but he smirked and grabbed for me. I got a hold of his wrists and it turned into an evenly-matched arm wrestling contest. But I didn’t come to wrestle with teen boys. I came to spank them.
Ugh. This is why I don’t try to go after teen heroes.
I headbutted the golden boy, then rotated the Lil Dude’s head around in a way that’s fatal for people. A man in white and blue tops and a black top hat with holly on the band emerged from the snow near Medusa without leaving a hole. I severed the snow arm with my eye lasers. She dropped to the ground and turned, catching her opponent in the gut and following it up with an uppercut that dropped him into a snowbank. He left a hole that time.
While I was distracted, golden boy bent my arms closer to each other, then crossed over and pulled my arms fully across my drone’s chest. I brought the head back around and fired the eyes. He ducked, then his eyes glowed read as he looked right into the Dudebot’s eyes. The Dudebot’s eyes showed complete structural failure. More specifically, they were slag from a laser directed at the sensitive inner workings that don’t work so well when coherent light gives them a full-on caress. Golden boy dropped to his knee though and wiped at his eyes, giving me a opening. I didn’t make this thing’s vision dependent on eyes.
Checking the Flyer, I found it had lowered itself and more of the cable through the bottom entry hole. I turned and grabbed Medusa, then tossed her up. She didn’t quite make it it to the hole, but she made it to the cable hanging out of the hole. The soldiers hauled her up as I ordered them. “Get her out of here and to the escape point.”
A punch from Golden boy leveled me while I was distracted. He had his arm up, covering his left eye with his forearm and peeking out with his right eye through the fingers of his hand. I spat glue at his feet. It might as well have been water.
He looked up at the Flyer, though, then around until he saw the hole where his snow-manipulating friend was taking a nap.
“Damn,” he said, then began to rise into the air toward the Flyer that began to streak off.
I don’t know if he could have caught it, but I knew I wasn’t going to let him try. I grabbed his leg with one hand. The fingers of the other opened up to the sound of whirring drills that I jammed into his crotch.
You ever seen one of those gags about an opera singer hitting a loud, shrill note at just the right frequency to shatter glass? This was like that, with the guy singing a high soprano.
He was done holding back, though. He caved in the Dudebot’s head and tore off its arm. I sent a laugh through what remained of the sound system. It came out warped and distorted just before a bright flash and intense heat emanated from the Dudebot as it melted down and disposed of its secrets. Not that they’d have any trouble figuring out who was behind this anyway, but a bright light couldn’t have been that good for the guy with the hurt eyes.
I lost the feed from the Dudebot and instead checked the satellites, where Golden Boy took a good thirty seconds to recover. And as many a teen would discover, it takes more than thirty seconds to keep up with me. And I’m right back to being glad I don’t have some big rivalry going on with teenagers.
Others from Master Academy ran out to check on Golden Boy and to wave some smelling salts under Snow Man’s nose.
Venus called within the hour, by which time Medusa was already on a flight out of the country.
I took it in my room, laying on the bed and kicking my feet all excitedly. “Heya Boopsie.”
“Don’t ‘hey Boopsie’ me,” she said.
“You sound angry.”
“I don’t like jailbreaks,” she said. “What’s your angle?”
“You’ll just have to find out,” I said. “I’d love to hear how you somehow have evil versions of superheroes locked up at Master Academy. It sounds like fun, but it couldn’t have been. If it was a fun time, I know you’d have invited me.”
“What we do isn’t about fun. You’re not entitled to an invitation or to invade our home.” She took a moment, then added. “You didn’t like people wrecking it when it was your home.”
“Going for the nonexistent testicles on that one,” I told her. “If you really want to know what’s going on, I’d be more than happy to tell you over dinner in my country. You, me, no witnesses or pesky backup…”
“You and I aren’t happening! I can’t let you keep an evil version of me,” she informed me.
“Well, you know what you need to do if you want to talk or negotiate about it. Otherwise, I guess you can keep an eye on the news for when everybody sees how happy you are in your new relationship with me…”
She hung up. Mmm. As much as I do have some interesting feelings toward her, some of the teasing is specifically to get under her skin. Just a joke, ya know? But she did inconvenience me some. Now that my move is known to them, it’ll be much harder to replace Venus with her otherworldly double and ship Venus off in Medusa’s place to another dimension. Why settle for having assets inside the government when I can have a criminal version of Venus working for me inside the world of the heroes?
Why be merely evil, when I can be really fucking evil?