Qiang’s fine. I look after her as Firecat. Still haven’t gotten the hang of cooking scrambled eggs by hand. Power control issues. But the most important thing of keeping her there is that Qiang’s looked after. She gets that I’m doing it through Firecat, accepting that body as just another one belonging to her mother. It helps that if she gets startled and pulls a knife on me, I can still disarm her pretty easily. I’ve taught her a lot, but I haven’t held back just to keep winning. Some counters are just too advanced or require more strength from her.
Firecat’s not just there to look pretty and keep house. I’m closely monitoring the grown body for signs of problems. I don’t know what kind of issues occur when you mash too many people’s DNA together in one body and hope it all takes. I doubt I got all the issues worked out on this already. It’s the same reason I didn’t shove all the powers into my real, main body. Just my luck I’d do that and somehow melt into a pile of goo.
I have other experiments going as well. Seeing how far I can push biology in anticipation of doing likewise with technology. The one in the basement is one of my experiments in extreme biology. Black exoskeleton, hidden nostrils with filters, amphibious lungs capable of breathing air and water, a prehensile tail and tongue. A black, shiny, hard mess without any apparent eyes to even look into. If I can handle it and it holds up, the next step is to marrying it to technology. Like, nanites in it systems that can help aid in the digestive process and can replicate if I chomp on the right stuff. Instead of just having a freaky body, the body could have the same ability to shift armor plates around, add new limbs, fly. Or even growing flesh in battle. Wings. Then think if I can add powers to it. Super speed, super strength
One of many lovely distractions from the greater crisis. Ha! And my personal crisis is a distraction from all the other crises going on. A mess wrapped in a disaster wrapped in a flaming dumpster. Take all that and stick it inside a paper bag full of shit, set that on fire, and you might approach whatever the fuck’s going on with the year 2020.
But, hey, my daughter’s fed and looked after. So am I. I just had to put on a skimpy dress and pretend to be another woman working for Max. It’s a tiny bit of cover, the best I can do to keep my identity secret again, for now. Besides, Psycho Gecko wears armor, after all. The face underneath changes. Only the armor remains, protecting me from the outside world. Aggressively protecting.
That doesn’t mean I hated the nice Italian dinner at the casino. It was genuinely nice to catch up with Max and learn the story of his recent power play. “They stacked the deck against me because the knew I was a threat,” he said.
“What did you have to do?” I asked.
“They wanted me to create water from the desert,” Max said. “I was close.” He nodded.
“Water’s a bring problem here. Sometimes they go on water robberies,” Holly volunteered.
I raised an eyebrow. Sam patted me on the shoulder and told me, “Holly flirts information out of some of the low levels.”
“So they steal water, and they wanted y’all to somehow create water out of the desert?” I asked.
“The person who could do that has the right to own Vegas,” Max said. “It’s a good thing they didn’t know who you were when you challenged for us.”
“Well, hopefully what comes up won’t require turning a desert into a sea… whatever it is,” I said. “Whatever nasty tricks you have up your sleeve, you can whip them up a lot faster than what I’m trying to pull.”
“You’re on the defensive, reacting,” Max said. He shrugged. “Why haven’t you hunted them down yet?”
I shook my head. “All this shook me. It was a pretty big betrayal, against competent enemies who know how to hurt me.” I could try to justify it with other things, like these guys being good at digital security or having Venus and the Justice Rangers on their side. Wasn’t even thinking that. I needed to escape, I needed a friend, and I need to figure out how to handle a very raw situation.
I hit the alcohol a little hard, but I was so full of noodle and sauce that I handled myself well. I was able to crawl back into my armor. Max insisted Vegas honored the results of games and challenges. I wanted my armor. That way, it wouldn’t get all over the room or bed if I pissed myself.
Woke up in the wrong body. All the more confusing, it was the one in the basement. I had to process a tail and very weird visuals. The unique eye situation required a moment to get used to before I zipped over to Firecat instead. I didn’t mean to jump into either of these bodies. Then I got the buzz of a text message, but that was back in my main body. I jumped back there and had to deal with both a text communication and my own full bladder. And since the text was from Medusa, my bladder was least full of shit. Plus, shit goes through the intestines. But does Gecko ever get credit for free anatomy lessons? No! I just get molested by my girlfriend while I’m trying to murder people and I don’t think I slept off that alcohol that much.
Unlike the usual messages from Medusa, this one was as grammatically correct as a time could be and the phrase “Watch The News.” A little before noon. That gave me a little time to be hungover first before going serious. At least I couldn’t get any more miserable. And I didn’t when the time came around. Instead, all the news channels and Fox ran a brief announcement about the diplomat from another Earth, that fuckface, holding a press junket of sorts at a Toronto hotel. He wanted to allow reporters to have time to ask all of their questions after he made his announcement earlier that day.
An announcement of an announcement. Looks like I know when and where they want to meet me. The junket format is a decent way to get me one on one without risking me killing a whole crowd while going after Lulios. He could truthfully claim it has to do with security concerns. I groggily went and found someone to wake up in Max’s bunch and found Holly having a bowl of cereal. “We need to get to Toronto and pretend to be the press for a junket. If Max wants less bloodshed, he can come up with something to knock folks out. Otherwise, we need to get a move on. I got transport for us already.”
Between all of this, it hardly feels like I have a body. Once we had everything loaded up, I set the Psycho Flyer to autopilot to get us to Toronto pronto. I was fine, so I left my body in the armor and jumped over to Firecat to see to Qiang. We had some time to watch a movie together and for me to just be with her. Can’t fault her for wanting to go hang out with friends. I should get her a new knife.
Up in Toronto, we found the place easily enough. All the major news networks of the Americas were there, as well as the pretenders. We had stowed the Psycho Flyer and rented a van for this, with Max and the girls lying in wait. My armor flickered into invisibility and the deception of a normal woman when I stepped out toward one group of the pretenders with OANN marked on their stuff.
“Hi, oh my god, you’re One America News Network!” I said as if I knew them.
They nodded politely, except for the reporter who was having his makeup done. I leaned in close and whispered, “Hey, y’all wanna hear how the Jews are behind this whole thing?”
Well, that set the reporter’s undies on fire. That’s a metaphor, means he got moving. He led the whole crew over to the open rear doors of my van. As soon as they got over to it, Max sprayed them with puffs of red smoke that caused them all to start coughing, then followed it up with another watergun that sprayed a white smoke at them. They collapsed, and I made sure to grab the cameraman’s camera before it hit the ground. When we all left the van minutes later, the four of us blended in.
“Conspiracy theorists,” Sam said, shaking her head.
“How’d you know they’d fall for that?” asked Holly
I laughed. “Some people are so brainwashed by the people running things that if you tell them Jewish folks are to blame, they’ll believe anything you tell them. They’re so scrambled, they can’t see who’s really pulling the strings.”
“Who?” Holly asked
Sam, real quick, let out an “Oh god,” hearing her question.
“Assholes,” I said. “We’re surrounded by ’em.”
“Perhaps they’ll be more appreciative after their nap,” Max said.
“In that sleep of Max, what dreams may come when they haven’t yet shuffled off that mortal coil?” I asked Max in a roundabout butchering of Shakespeare.
“Near Death Experiences often feature visions as a a traumatized and anesthetized brain tries to cope with the chemicals running through its body. I found a way to tap into that and tweak it in a negative direction.”
“Dude!” Sam said, “You gave them a Near Death Experience of Hell?”
“Only while they’re asleep,” Max said. “If they were awake, it would be a vivid hallucination. I’m eager to see people react to that part.”
We were pretty low on the pecking order when they let us through with our press credentials. They immediately brought us to a room with Lulios sitting in a comfy padded chair with refreshment nearby. My own chair had a folder on the table in front of it. “Hello. You are?”
“One American News,” I informed him.
General Lulios nodded. “If you’ll have a seat, the folder in front of you has details about an initiative whereby my government offers support to your world in this trying time.”
I picked it up and glanced at it. Just a system to provide enough nanites to function as a stopgap measure until a vaccine for the virus is produced. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Lulios said, “That’s my folder from earlier. Please set it aside and check the next primer beneath it.”
I did so and found a file with the same information, but in English. As opposed to the language from my world that the other one had been in and I’d been caught reading.
Lulios shifted in his chair. “I wanted to give your people a chance to ask questions, because this is a matter of importance and you have been terrorized by someone using these medical nanomachines before. I hold some guilt for that. For many years, I held onto a hate that did nothing for me but give me someone to treat as less than human. It’s freeing, in a way. It freed the worst aspects of myself. I didn’t have to apologize for my temper or restrain negative thoughts. So long as I targeted the homo machina, I could indulge myself without feeling bad. They weren’t human, after all.” He almost looked happy at that. Despite that, he didn’t feel right. Maybe it was all the time spent as a kid being terrorized by this guy, but he didn’t have the same presence.
He went on. “I was wrong, and it took the enormity of my mistake to make me see it. To see that by treating these people as if they were monsters and a threat to everything, I made a monster. I tortured a poor soul until it became the monster I thought it always had been. I realized after he almost destroyed the world that his people weren’t monsters. Where we demonized them, they defended each other selflessly. Where I taught someone how to destroy a world, they stopped him. They stopped someone who learned hatred and terror from me. I can’t absolve myself of that. But I wanted to meet with you and tell you that I was wrong to do what I did.”
Y’all might think I was boiling with anger, but this was one of those times where I felt like ice. I was beyond simple anger. One coiling mass of nanites formed a tendril with a spike on the end and plunged through Lulios’s chest. It went right through as if punching a hole in air, but it obstructed the image of Lulios seated in his chair. The hologram appeared to be coming from below.
“I’m sorry for the deception as well, but I thought you would kill me before I could ever speak to you, and I needed to talk to you. For your sake and mine,” the illusion of Lulios went on. “I hope you can find a way to let go of the hate toward humanity and the world. I don’t expect you to let go of it toward me.”
I dropped my own hologram and swept the floor. There was no chair in the room over there, just a pentagonal box. I shifted the tendril and stuck the spike into it, piercing the casing. Cables flowed out of the tendril now, carried by questing nanites looking to fuse them into the wiring of the device. It was a way to recreate my natural homo machina abilities while staying armored.
“Gecko…” Max warned. There were noises outside. “I have to step out for a moment.” He took the camera and the squirt gun full of his Hell hallucinogen with him out the door. Meanwhile, I traced back the signal coming from the device.
Above it, Lulios looked on, sizing me up. “I twisted you into this. It must feel like a knife to the gut to find out I’m still alive. Those on my staff who know the truth wanted desperately to keep you from finding out I’m alive, but I knew it was impossible. You were always going to find me. Please be merciful if you can find it in you to be. They are clouded by hate and throwing themselves into a duty to protect me.”
“I’m tired of your perfidious charcuterie, old man,” I growled.
He was shut up by a blast from an energy weapon that soared over his head. “Shut up, for your own good.” The Blue Justice Ranger walked over and held Lulios at gunpoint. He turned toward me. “No one is being released. You are the key to ending this threat-” The Justice Ranger gasped suddenly as arms wrapped around his neck from behind. The hands hit the external release on his helmet and pulled it off, but kept up the pressure on his throat. He turned his gun toward his attacker, but a familiar leg wrapped around it and squeezed, keeping it aimed away.
I’d gotten the trace done by now, but I kept watching as the Blue Ranger fell back and Medusa stepped into frame, in costume but not in armor. She helped up Lulios and turned to me. “They’re going to use him as bait now they know you will come for him no matter what. I did wrong by you, but listen to me now and stay away.” Then, turning to Lulios, she said, “Come on, let’s go.”
It occurred to me once they were done that I had heard a little bit of the sounds of struggle from outside. Holly and Sam must have gone out to help Max at some point. I followed after, finding Canadian police, Mounties, and Lulios’s Blackguard. They hadn’t been knocked out first like the others. The red gas that still lingered in the air had them scratching at walls and the floor, crying, even fighting each other. I liked it. It felt fitting with the mood I was in.
I caught up to Max, Sam, and Holly in the lobby. There were a pair of police helicopters out there, snipers keeping my friends at bay with shots that tore head-sized chunks of the flooring out. “Not enough range on your squirt guns?” I asked Max.
Max gave me a friendly middle finger, then called out, “They’re loaded up for shooting through armor!”
I gave him a thumbs up, then turned and ran for the lobby doors. A nanite and armor tendril tore the front of the lobby open, the nanomachines taking some of the metal to digest and replicate. The one metal tendril split into two tentacles that pushed me off the ground, then became a single limb with a pair of jet engines inside. The engines pulled me through the air toward the first helicopter and wrapped around the landing struts. It grew shorter as I grew another arm that formed a blade to cur through the base of rotor. The rotor went up for a moment as the chopper’s body fell. I threw that off and launched myself toward the other helicopter that was maneuvering for distance. The nanites encased me, reinforcing armor plates moving over my body to form a wedge while two short arms with jet engines threw me through the cockpit and into the hold with the sniper. He tried to smack me with the butt of the gun but the nanomachines caught it and ate the gun. The man dove for it. I let him and decided to escape the falling copter too.
Seeing police vans around, I threw that wreck of a chopper at them with nanite tentacles. Gunfire rang out, and proved to be useless. The cops saw what I’d done so far and wisely ran for it, driving toward escape. The rest of my group walked out behind me, Sam whistling. Holly walked right up to me and asked, “Why did you need us again?”
“I needed my friends,” I said.
Max gave me a hug before Sam elbowed him. “Excuse me, battleground full of dead bodies and terrified people. Can we hug later?”