The heroes had a job for me. Venus called me up in the middle of pulling a little prank. “Are you busy right now?” she asked.
“I could normally work through it, but I’m about to lose you in a minute. Electromagnetic interference. You’re not riding the rails on the surface, are you?” I grit my teeth a little as I delicately bent some wires toward each other with the aid of some insulated tongs.
“We’ve been analyzing the situation over here using their version of the internet, knowledge from the defectors, and information we’ve all learned in our activities.”
“Our activities? I’m the one who interrogated hostages. What did y’all do?” I’ve been out here stealing shit. I haven’t seen these heroes out and about, helping me blow shit up.
“After we fought off the planes, we have been helping out. We’re healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and helping protect people from gangsters called the Kah. We’re trying to utilize all our abilities, which brings me back to why I called. We have a few anthropologists and sociologists among the secret identities. They think-”
“Hold that thought in your pretty little head, dear,” I said. The wires touched and I fell back as my cyborg parts rebelled all at once. It took a few seconds to shake everything off and try to stand up, which got harder when some trains and individual cars started to land all around me on the cold Uranal dirt. Others smacked into the rails above me, but none overcame the magnets. It was only a brief power surge all along a kilometer of track, but it disrupted the flow of people and goods between places.
While I waited on everything to stop falling and to explode if it was going to, I called Venus back. “Ok, I’m back.”
“Do people need our help?”
“Probably. There’s probably injured,” I said. I paused as a man screamed on his way down from the tracks. He landed with a thud, then cried out again. “Yeah, definitely going to need some medical help for collateral damage.” A metal groan drowned out the man’s screams, followed by a falling train car plowing into the man. “You know, nevermind. I think the casualties took care of themselves.”
“I’m sending them anyway. Do you need a ride?” she asked.
I looked over where I left my tread cycle. I stole it off a Kah courier. “I’m good.” It disappeared under another train car. “You know what? A ride would be nice. I’m out here kinda far. Transmitting coordinates now.”
She briefed me as I waited underneath the rails in case any-friggin-thing else decided to fall off. Annoyed me, too. I liked that cycle. I want another one, with built in rocket launchers and machine guns. I’ll paint it red and call it “Minstrel II: Electric Boogaloo.”
The info I’d picked up was puzzling. I hadn’t pieced it all together yet, but a picture was starting to form of a severe labor shortage and a highly nationalistic culture where only a minority of people bought into the ideology.
Venus explained. “At some point, their capital was Earth. We don’t know what happened. The Republic’s line is that it was destroyed in some way. We don’t know what that means. Now, it lives on with a colony on Uranus that has to rely heavily on resources from provinces, which seem to be other conquered worlds. It has been a long time since they heard any news of new conquests, so they think the provinces are having trouble and that’s where they keep the majority of their military.”
I tried connecting a few dots myself. “So Paldrin was a provincial leader, maybe with a world or part of a world under his control. He went after us with his own forces that were more like the provincial garrisons or auxiliaries. Then I took him out and the main military invaded us. If you’re right about the military situation, I wonder why they threw good money after bad?”
“We wondered about that. How did you kill Paldrin?” Venus asked.
“It was a super weapon. Kinda meant to destroy everything within a certain radius, but untested. I didn’t know how much it would destroy. It was derived from D-bomb technology, but the Dudebot I sent it with didn’t get shot back to our dimension until a week later or so.”
She was quiet for awhile after hearing that, probably coming to terms with the idea that I might have killed a planet. It was self defense, but still. Whatever I am to her, I don’t expect her to take genocide well. Though I suppose I think genocide has more to do with specifically targeting a certain ethnic group to wipe them out, including using methods like sterilization. An entire planet is really too indiscriminate to be genocide.
Regardless of all that, when Venus next spoke to me, she cut to the chase. The heroes have gaps in their knowledge, and they want to figure some things out. They want me to infiltrate the primary military command center, the Tower Perilous, located in the capital city. It looked like a tall, vaguely phallic cement building inside a number of smaller stone buildings that radiated out in a sunburst. I took a good long look before I left the Domeship. Venus didn’t see me off or have anything to do with the briefing. They had Honky Tonk Hero handle that, though I noticed. Odd choice, and I suspect he lost a bet from how happy he seemed over it.
The whole thing would have been much easier with the aid of my power armor. Too bad that got dissolved away by the Praetor, eh? On top of that, they don’t seem to really bother with women in their military, and most folks don’t just have an extra pair of arms. But, fuck it, I didn’t want to stick around on the ship while everyone but my half-insect daughters gave me dirty looks. The desire to kill me was palpable, and yet they need me. It’s all feels familiar.
As if to emphasize that point, I spotted my old nemeses, the Justice Rangers. I nodded toward the red and green ones, “How ya doin’? Enjoying the ride?” As one, they gave me a salute that would be an insult in our dimension of origin. I gave them the ol’ Spaceballs salute right back.
Clone stuff. It’s all clone stuff around here, not nearly enough cybernetics. They put so much work into building things because of that. It also made it more difficult for me to throw some armor together. Luckily, I had an idea on that front. I made a people suit. Before people start getting upset, I cloned a suit of grey skin to hide myself inside and some padding to disguise my milkmakers. Grey people are allowed to have extra arms on this planet. Pour one out for Buffalo Bill; truly an inspiration.
Their security is shit on this planet. I rode the train like anybody else, got into the capital like it was no one’s business. There were some delays when the trains had to divert around messed-up rails and underneath bomb scanners, but it’s not like anybody wanted me back with the heroes quickly. From there, I had to navigate the landscape of glass and local concrete that was the big city. People looked, but not twice. As someone with grey skin and a leotard, I was someone they didn’t want to get on the wrong side of.
The Tower Perilous was easy enough to find. That one had a security wall around it to keep people out, but any big wall like that has its weaknesses. Unless you have people watching it all over, it’s simple to hop the thing like I did. I checked some of the outer buildings on my way toward the jackpot in the middle. They looked like a combination of storage and trophy room. Golden statuettes full of precious gems looked a little fancy to be in a storage locker, but there they were, packed in with gold in all kinds of shapes and sizes. If every one of these buildings had that kind of stuff in it, they were fucking loaded.
Which, I realized with a smirk, is exactly the problem. You dump that much gold on the economy all at once and it becomes worthless.
They had soldiers in honor guard uniforms who nodded to me on my way through. I wouldn’t be surprised if their vents are big enough to walk through upright, these people. It was a bit tough navigating, but someone in a nice uniform smiled and approached. “May I help you?”
“Praetor M,” I introduced myself. “I have been sent to see to the Grand Executor’s files.”
His brow furrowed. “The new Grand Executor hasn’t been appointed yet.”
“The old Grand Executor. I must see to his files.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. I walked past him, toward the elevator. He followed along into there with me, not calling in security if that’s what he meant to do.
I looked to him. “We have discovered an existence of a technopath among the invaders. I need to harden the encryption on the Grand Executor’s system, whether there is a new one or not.” I held his gaze until the man punched a button on the elevator. At least this machine wasn’t too convenient for them to do away with.
The Grand Executor’s office was one nice piece of work. I think the guy had rugs on his rugs. All sorts gems, bottles of stuff, incense, bundles of scrolls, and odd little clockwork sculptures. This guy had weaponry bling all over the place, as well. A small, if ornamental, armory hung on one wall: rifles and handguns shared it with naginata, swords, and a large fang. This was not the office of a professional general, and his unfamiliarity with our world compared to Paldrin might mean I was barking up the wrong tree.
“Leave me in private,” I told the aide who showed me the way as I stepped around an ornate desk carved to resembled the base of a great redwood. The chair behnd it had the same touches, carved so that the legs looked like trunks and spread into roots at the bottom.
“Are you sure? What if the technopath attacks?” He asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Nothing you could do would stop them. Thank you for your help. I will handle it from here.”
Frowning, he left me in private. I ran my hand over the screen of the flowing shell material that made up the exterior of the computer on the man’s desk. Its curves encompassed the monitor and keyboard. I checked around for the tower. A cable ran down from the shell into the floor itself. I pulled back the rug under the desk and found the tower was the floor, hidden behind a layer of glass. I checked to make sure nobody had slipped in while I was preoccupied, then I pulled up the sleeve along one of my lower arms and dug my fingers into the skin around the wrist. A trail of blood circled the wrist where my fingernails cut it. I pulled the skin off like a glove and slipped it into a pocket. I dialed back my eye laser to cut through just the floor, just enough to get my hand into the oversized circuit boards below.
It was actually an older version of the same sort of software on their tanks and the Domeship, so it took a moment to orient myself. And then, worlds opened up to me. I established a link with the Domeship.
“Gecko here. Analyze this,” I started uploading key parts of the data. They were right. We were fighting something of a vestigial empire. Its provinces were other versions of Earth, and almost all were in rebellion or close to it after to much of their military power had been drawn off. One was successful, having almost completely routed their local Executor and Governor after all contact with other worlds had been lost for a week. “Oh wow. Turns out I didn’t kill that planet,” I said, putting that up on the screen for the heroes to see.
I thought about it. I had access to emergency overrides for Dimensional Relay Towers they used in the provinces and on Uranus to travel to other dimensions. I grabbed as many files on how they worked and began deleting the copies they had.
I had something to say to the heroes though. “I could end this right here and now. They have a force here… token, really… but I could shut down their vehicles. I could stop the trains. Cut off the cloning labs. Or I could turn them on each other. Clone soldiers loyal to us. Ram the trains into each other. I could render them helpless on all their worlds, and here. I could use their own relays to tear them apart. They’d never threaten anyone again.”
“Please, Gecko,” Venus said on the Domeship. “Shut them down. I don’t want that much death on our conscience.”
“If all we do is turn stuff off, there’ll still be plenty of death when we bring the fight here. You’re trading their lives for our lives. Lots of heroes there who may not like you speaking for them on that.”
Warman joined in. “That’s our decision, you son of a bitch.”
“We became heroes to shield the innocent,” Eschaton said.
I got flooded by hundreds of agreements. It was an overwhelming cacophony, but in the middle of it I could focus on Venus and her discussion with someone. I don’t think they knew I could hear. “Do you trust him?”
“I want to trust her,” Venus emphasized that last word. “I think she’s more than what you want her to be.”
I sighed. “Fine, emergency shutdown initiated. They’re wide open for you. Have a happy revolution doing things the hard way.”
“It’s the way that lets them live and doesn’t give them cause for reve-” Warman was saying before I cut the audio feed.
If the heroes want to kill themselves, who am I to argue? I’m getting sick of Uranus anyway. Though it did make me smile to realize my nemesis isn’t quite sick of mine yet.
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