Just because I have an assload of heroes on my island, eyeing my ass, doesn’t mean I’m going to play nice.
It helps that there are all kinds of celebrations going on. I try to do outreach, but I am woefully ignorant about all the holidays over here. They’re gearing up for another big celebration, and one of my Directors I kept around has been running around trying to get things ready for the Lunar New Year, which is especially a big deal among the Chinese population of Ricca. With the Year Of The Pig on the way, they’re organizing a massive parade, with some “God Of Fortune” character, dancers, pop girl groups, and dragons. Between my temporary erasure from the timeline, spending time with my family after my return, and all the kidnapping in the United States, it’s hard to keep track of it all. It’s a good thing I pay people to handle some of it for me.
It’s been a good way to keep the heroes’ attention away from me specifically, though I’m sure they’re trying to spy on me. I know, because my spies spying on them told me so, as confirmed by the spies spying on my spies. That one with all the Hawaiian shirts leads me to suspect at least some of the heroes are taking their visit as seriously as it deserves. If I aided that by quietly directing a visiting C-pop girl group to stay in that area and rehearse there, well, it’s on their end to stay vigilant. I’m not doing the heroes’ job for them.
It has been more difficult keeping Medusa away from them. I didn’t set her up in the palace with me and the rest of the family. Maybe it’s because I don’t like her. I think it’s about time I built for guests what my current home was to me: luxurious guest housing. Until then, she’s staying at a safehouse. It’s harder to keep a constant eye on her that way. That means sticking some undercover Security personnel on her. It also meant getting a call from my Security guys that they had moved in and stopped Medusa from beating the crap out of my Director of the Interior.
I was disappointed, so very disappointed, in the Director. I don’t know what he was doing recruiting dancers at a strip club. That’s his business and it’ll probably be a hell of a parade. With him, I just expected better than to get tangled up with someone who appears to be one of the world’s foremost superheroes that his Empress is apparently going to marry. Almost makes me regret how good our medical care is that he won’t even get a scar to remember that decision by.
I’m fine with the Security officers, though. They got a bonus.
But then there’s Medusa. Hungover, horny, frustratingly beautiful Medusa who can’t even beat up a couple of guys in power armor at the same time. She just refuses to be what I want her to be. I have to wonder if it’s me. Am I holding her to too high a standard? Is it somehow wrong to force someone to be their good doppelganger in violation of a lifetime of instinct? Is my obsession with Venus blinding me to the true, but different, potential of her evil double from another dimension?
Nah. The problem’s obviously not me. The problem’s never me. I should have Max up my dosage of whatever he gives me for the PTSD and the other stuff just for considering it.
When she woke up on my couch, her beautiful face drooling all over the cushion, I greeted her with some breakfast spring rolls: scrambled eggs and sausage rolled up in paper-thin lumpia wrapper and fried until light brown on both sides.
She jerked awake from her snores and pulled a pillow over her head. “Oof,” she said before I shoved a roll in her mouth. She sat up then and tried to hit me with the pillow while reaching for the breakfast roll. I pushed the pillow and her hand aside and pulled her into my lap to continue feeding her breakfast while strokin her hair.
She tried to say something around the food in her mouth. I couldn’t make it out over all the muffled noises, so instead I leaned down and whispered, “There, there. Eat up.”
She humored me for one roll before sitting up and backing away from me, then jumping up from the drool she just got on herself. I snorted. “Aren’t bodily liquids the best?”
She wiped at her pants. “What was that?”
“Drool. Don’t worry, it’s yours,” I told her.
“That doesn’t make me feel any better… gimme another of those,” she held out her hand for a roll, so I provided.
“I think you and I haven’t gotten on very well,” I told her.
She didn’t bother to swallow before answering, “You think? You have a hard-on for me, but you’re dumping me in some apartment. When you do want me around, it’s to try and teach me to be Venus. Oh, and your cops beat me up when I tried to have fun.”
Ok, so there’s a chance the problem might have something to do with me, too.
“I think I’m still getting the hang of leadership,” I told her.
She pointed her half-eaten breakfast roll at me, “I don’t want leadership.”
I leaned back and pondered. Medusa sat herself across my lap, helping herself to another roll and my attention in the process. I looked into her eyes, raising an eyebrow as she ate. “You’re too controlled,” she said at last.
I tried not to laugh hard enough for everyone on the island to hear. But, being a wise dictator, I was at least willing to hear her out. When I calmed down, and she’d finished her current roll, she leaned close, chest pressed to mine, and asked, “What would you do if you didn’t have that stick up your ass?”
A couple hours later, I was the middle spoon between Citra and Medusa and reaching over Medusa for the plate of breakfast rolls on the nightstand. Medusa turned to me with a smile. “Mmm, got anything else in mind?”
“Actually…” I said, taking a bite. “Why don’t we go steal something together?”
Citra actually helped us pick out the target. It was fun just shopping around. Targets ranged from tourist traps (such as the Great Wall of China, Maine), to the culturally and historically significant (the cuneiform tablet of the world’s oldest beer recipe), money (the Lost Bitcoin Exchange) and the technologically significant (a prototype anti-gravity car developed by Ferrari).
That last one intrigued me. The latest I or my guys know is that, outside of a few mad scientists with unreliable designs who don’t keep blueprints for fear of others replicating it, are still way behind figuring out anti-gravity. By now, there’s plenty of leftover alien technology after all the invasions, but understanding is a huge limit to recreating it. Imagine if people in the Middle Ages acquired an atomic bomb: they could probably figure out how to use it, possibly even without killing themselves, but could they ever make a new one? Did they even know how to think in order to study it? Could they safely dismantle it? Even if they understood it, what about the tools and processes needed to recreate the materials involved?
Medusa’s desire spoke to a more base one. “Fuck me, I want a flying car!”
I sent her off to a costume tailor in the city to get dressed for success while I researched how best to nab this lovely new aeromobile.
Ferrari finished a public demonstration couple of weeks ago, meaning we’d missed the most dramatic time to grab it. Amazingly, when I reached out to Intel Chief Pagan, he had some a useful message to pass on to me. Someone within Ferrari had reached out to Ricca through our Vatican City consulate offering to provide pass codes and radio frequencies to defeat security at the big demonstration, as well as an unassuming email address to contact to confirm our participation. He had no reason to believe it would interest me more than anything else, and we aren’t prioritizing “stealing cool shit” as a country, so I hadn’t been told.
Even though the demo had come and gone, I sent the address a message. “Give me a location and the car disappears.”
The recipient got back to me within the hour, pointing me to Malta International Airport, the only airport on the Isle of Malta. It surprised me, though. Fort St. Ferrari looms over the city of Birgu on the island. It serves as the fortified repository of Ferrari’s most important research, prototypes, and trade secrets. Plus, the on-site test track features some bitchin’ views for photo ops.
It was a little disappointing that we weren’t just busting in there to take it, but Medusa’s maybe not up to that just yet. I didn’t let her know. Upon her return with a garment bag, I instead swept her up into a cuddle and a kiss. “Good news,” I told her upon breaking the kiss. “No need to spend all day hunting it down. I know exactly where we strike. Plenty of time for more fun…”
She winked. “Maybe later. I’m fucking hungry.”
I guess she’d worked up an appetite. And then some gas. Despite that, she was more than happy to hang out with my daughter when Qiang got in from school. With Medusa looking just like Venus, my kid seemed to get on just fine thinking a teacher from her friend’s school had taken a liking to me.
So it was that the day of the Lunar New Year arrived, and yet we were zipping off through the sky at the inhumanly early hour of 10 AM, Riccan Standard Time. That’s the island’s name for that time zone and any others can go to hell.
The Psycho Flyer came in low and camouflaged, dropping Medusa and I off just outside the airport. We hopped the out fence easily enough and approached tight to a hangar. “They must have been letting someone have a private test,” I guessed as we waited. We’d gotten there early, but only by about ten minutes. One reliable thing about pretty much any other air travel in the world besides my Flyers is that airplanes are late all the time but never early.
We stayed there, Medusa enjoying the weather and myself enjoying Medusa’s outfit. It looked remarkably like Venus’s, but with a different grouping of colors. Instead of the white, gold, and pink of Venus, Medusa wore black, silver, and amber. Venus had swapped to a powered and armored exoskeleton in those same colors some time back, but this outfit looked like pants and a jacket with armored plates in the fabric. Venus’s mask covered her face and even her nose; Medusa’s did all that with wild swirls at the top where all three colors repeated in stripes like the warning coloration of some snakes.
Our anonymous turncoat had provided the details of the plane flying in our experimental flying car. I smiled under my armor and pulled open the door of the little plane, then turned and held out a hand for Medusa. “I’m going to need you to trust me a bit.”
Medusa looked between myself in this small prop craft and the cargo plane coming in for a landing. She hesitated long enough that I began pumping the chorus from the song Umbrella out of my suit’s speakers. With Rihanna assuring her, “Said I’ll always be your friend, took an oath that I’ma stick it out ’til the end,” Medusa blushed, smiled, and took my hand. I pulled her in, busted into the dash, and started that baby up without the key.
The target plane had landed by then, going right by us. It began to taxi around in the direction of a semi truck with a bare trailer on the back. The black horse of the Ferrari logo reared up from the door of the truck. We passed in front of it, my bottom left hand taking the wheel so the top left could give them the bird. Have I mentioned I’m petty? I feel that might have come up once or twice.
Medusa reached over and grabbed my forearm as we headed right for the plane. Seeing us, the pilot tried to turn. We headed right for that low-sitting belly, turning to meet it. Just before impact, I grabbed Medusa and put myself between her and the oncoming collision.
The propeller on our own vehicle made a pretty good attempt at stabbing me in the back, the traitorous son of a gun. Quantifying the pain is also kinda tough. There was the propeller, the engine, the wall of the cargo plane. It all blended together, but Medusa took it much better than I did.
That’s probably why she was so quick to stand up and catch her breath. My 360 display told me there were other people around, most of them down as well. A half dozen, but I still doubted Medusa’s ability. My lungs told me to slow the fuck down and pull them up out of prostate. I tried sitting up and quickly slammed myself back to the floor. My back had decided to clock out early. So, knowing I was going to hate myself, I activated the spinal transceiver meant to keep me going in the event of paralysis.
Nobody could hear me yell when I forced myself to stand, but they might have seen me free a syringe from my belt and free a glove to quickly push the nanomachines and saline into my body. I shaved a glove back on and turned to see someone in coveralls falling. Medusa stomped on the foot of a man in security business casual: trousers, dress shoes, button-up shirt, tie, and holster capable of carrying a holster. She grabbed the gun, dodged a punch, dropped the magazine, ejected the round in the chamber, and beat him in the eye with it. He raised his hands to shield his sensitive, jelly-filled light sensors and she rewarded that caution with a spinning kick that knocked him to the ground.
Another guy in coveralls jumped her from behind. She flipped him over her, then grabbed his head and put him in a hold until he passed out. If anyone else around us was capable of fighting, they didn’t bother trying. I grunted to myself with every step toward the rear of the plane. Medusa ran on ahead, either into a separate room or just around a bunch of wrecked metal caused by our unique boarding action.
I walked after. Step after step, grunt after grunt. One guy in khakis and a polo shirt grabbed a big monkey wrench. Maybe he thought he was sneaky. I turned and caught his arm in midswing. I gave him a few slams into the wall, floor, and ceiling before tugging the tool out of the other tool’s hands and jamming it into his neck. It didn’t take many turns to unscrew his head, but by then I heard the sound of a car engine cranking. I pushed myself through the pain to reach the bay proper and found Medusa behind the wheel of a sleek crimson Ferrari with a low body and four glowing rounded stands in place of wheels.
“Checkit out!” Medusa called, “It makes engine noises still!”
I hobbled over, raised the passenger door that opened up, and settled myself into the front seat. Medusa reached across and patted my arm. With a wink, she flipped a switch and the car rose into the air. Spinning the wheel brought us around to face the rear of the plane and what had once been a functional door. She pushed up on the wheel, moving the steering column forward and bursting out through the door. It dented the hood a bit, too. “That’ll buff out,” she said.
“That’s ok,” I assured her. “I like big buffs and I cannot lie. Now get us home. The only pigs I want to see are the ones in the parade celebrating the Year of the Pig.”
“Oink, oink!” she said, punching the accelerator. The car shuddered and hung in the air.
I opened a channel to the Psycho Flyer. “Hey guys? We need a tow. I think I know why they needed the plane.” I pulled my helmet off then and freed my hair. In front of us, the Psycho Flyer decloaked and began to ease back around us. “Just one thing left to steal.”
She turned toward me. “What’s that?”