Wow. Hell of a past few days. Way to go, 2021. You’re doing terrific.
Since the last update, a group of right-wing fanatics tried to overthrow the government of the United States and I had nothing to do with any of it. The Capitol Police just let them on through. It was the Exemplars who showed up and stopped people from taking hostages and setting off bombs. So now the President, that same lackluster appointee who came out after all the recent soft civil war shenanigans, has to sit there and enjoy his political black eye. He hates the Exemplars and Medusa, but now they saved Congress while he refused to call in the National Guard and, some suggest, might have had a hand in the insurrection itself. Now he’s being investigated, the chief of the Capitol Police has been forced to resign, and the Exemplars are pardoned in every way but a signed piece of paper. The President would have to do that himself.
But none of that concerns me. They don’t pay me to be a hero. I’m just keeping an eye out for Fake Gecko. It’s my time to relax and unwind. Take it easy. Use a small underground factory to churn out power armor for fake superpowered clone bodies and roboticization.
And a couple of heat rays so I could lay out and sun myself. I know it’s the middle of winter, but that’s what heat rays are for. I laid there in the catgirl body, enjoying the heat and sun while purring. And then something with a reverberating voice said, “That’s hot.”
I opened my eyes and blinked as a ghostly Mix N’Max, my super chemist friend, floated in the air nearby. I grabbed an icecube out of my drink and tossed it at him. He looked down at it, then back up at me. “Don’t worry, it’s me.”
“You got some sort of projector nearby? It’s crap quality, bud,” I said, looking around. I eyed the streetlight. Some people had been working on it last month and part of me wants to be paranoid someone’s watching me. Other parts of me know that the shrunken Sheriff’s department and the neighbor’s teen boy were more subtle setting up their cameras.
“No, you’re seeing me now because of hallucinogens,” Max explained to me.
I eyed my drink. “Damn, the Irish know their whisky.”
“No, I took the hallucinogens,” Max gestured to himself. “They’re really strong.”
Must be if they’re able to make other people see things. “What you been up to, dude?”
“The usual, but did you know you have an imposter?”
I pulled myself up to a sitting position, my paws rubbing over the strips of rubber of the lawn lounger under me. “Yeah, I’m looking for him. I’d love to give him some firsthand experience in what the real deal’s like.”
Max shrugged. “Well, he’s causing trouble.”
“What happened and where is he?” I asked, fur standing up all poofy. I tried to relax and comb it back down with the claws that popped out on my hands.
“I’ve been spending time near Paradise City. A few of us more senior villains invested in a gang of newbs who wanted to rob a Federal gold transfer they found out about. They got away, but they said it was guarded by a bunch of ICE. Then, your double and his henchmen showed up in Paradise City and started hunting down the newbs.”
Huh. I hadn’t sent some robot armor there, both out of professional courtesy and just not expecting the Fake would have the gall to show up there. Ouroboros, the villain who runs that town, would probably tolerate me showing up unexpectedly even if he knew I was me but it would be better to inform him if I stationed a robot there. What he lacks in superpowers, he makes up for with power and respect in the community. I’ll have to redirect the one from Miami northward.
“Federal gold transfer’s not a bad haul,” I mused. “Adds to the hypothesis I have that this fake is working for the President as a deniable hired goon. ICE is a new connection. Wonder why they’re even bothering to go after the newbs.”
Max shrugged. “They say they didn’t get anything. Maybe they did and it’s enough the Feds think it’s worth more to get it back. They’re staying at the main casino in Paradise City, so we’ll find out if they start gambling with money they owe us. More important, he’s got enough security to keep out the imposter. The Feds aren’t the only ones upgrading. But that complicates things if you want to sneak in.”
Oh, I have ideas. Got robots hollowing out a whole cavern for me underneath my store and building transdimensional communications devices. Ideas aplenty, just not so many of them ready to be put into action. “You think he’d be understanding if I come clean about still being alive?”
Max waggled his hand. “Annoyed, but understanding. You’ve been thought dead before. You might suggest helping him win the pool on when you’ll return to ease the revelation.”
“I’ll think about it,” I told my friend. I raised a drink, “You want something to wet your whistle?”
He shook his head and held up a hand to stop me, “No, I shouldn’t under the effects of these shrooms. I think I’ll go visit some other planes until these wear off. If anyone asks, they can find me at the Mountains of Madness.”
“Cool, see you around,” I said, reaching out for a fist bump. My fist went through his, but it’s the thought that counts.
“Bye now,” he said, waving as he faded away. Ah, Max. Hell of a supervillain. Could have made billions selling dick pills if he wanted, but he chose to do his own thing.
Most people aren’t aware just how big Florida is, so it took a little more than eight hours to roll into Paradise City in a stolen car with my robot armor. I need a better nickname for these things, but I’m no longer feeling Dudebot. They aren’t really robots, which is a term I’m beginning to dislike. I hear it’s starting to filter into my home Earth as a slur toward my people. Maybe Corpses and Caskets for the two different sorts of bodies I inhabit. Sounds like a neat tabletop game as well.
I decided to run it by Medusa via text. “What do you think about Corpses and Caskets?”
“Dark. Hey, u in Cali?” she asked.
“Trying to intercept Fake Gecko. Diverted to save some of your Master Academy kids,” I sent back.
“Makes sense. U talk 2 them?”
“No. Saw that the camp was an Academy replacement and saved them from attacking an army base instead of catching the fake at the other.”
She called me up, “Hey, let’s just speak then.”
“Ok,” I said while my Casket passed by central Florida orange stops. They have these stations you can stop at to get free orange juice samples while they try to sell oranges and other stuff. Best OJ you’ll ever have, but I just now realized this sounds like I’m making it up to mock the state.
“So you saw some of what went on there?” Medusa asked.
I sighed, thinking of that delicious orange juice I couldn’t partake in. “Just the tail end, when the fake escaped and something exploded. Saw the bunny person and someone dressed like a wizard.”
“Yeah, ok,” she said. “And you’re still hunting that other Gecko, right?”
“That camp wasn’t just a replacement for the Master Academy that Omega destroyed while possessing you. I worked out an arrangement with the Academy. We were housing some refugees from other Earths there. Someone tried an experiment with stolen tech from Ricca and accidentally brought a town from another Earth to this one, along with doubles of some heroes and villains.”
I growled. “Were any of those doubles me?”
“The folks I talked to think I’m an evil version of their Venus, so they don’t like to talk to me, but they haven’t said so. I thought you better know, though.”
I took a deep breath, then let it out. “Ok, thanks for letting me know. Still on for dinner Tuesday?”
“You got it,” she said.
Despite those intellectual and moral complications, I thought I was all set to deal with Fake Gecko. That assessment changed when the Casket rolled that stolen car up to the front of the unnamed building Ouroboros’s casino operated out of. Everyone knew it what it was and who owned it, so you’d have to be desperate actually do something about it. You’d need military-grade weapons to stand a chance.
The taller portion of the building that housed the guest rooms was smoking. It looked like a war had taken place there. Holes gaped in it and every single window seemed to be missing. The casino’s security, or O-sec, were waiting in the parking lot, which was still packed.
They had five guys waiting when I stepped out of the car, one of them lowering a tablet while the others held shotguns at a very tense ease. As in, they weren’t pointed at me, but they were ready to point. Things were thicc, too. Looked like the barrel could be used to milk a stallion. Lower tech than I’d think of from Ouroboros. But, and this might sound odd for a guy who runs things out of a casino, he’s always loved reliability more than flashiness.
“Excuse me… entity,” the man with the tablet addressed me. He and his buddies were suits, but tailored and with vests underneath that disguised bulletproof plates. “Screenings are a security precaution. We’re afraid our guest accommodations are unavailable at this time. Are you here to gamble or for other business?”
“I see that, yeah. I’m here for business. A friend of mine made an investment that went sour and seems to have led to an uncomfortable situation. They reached out to me as a fixer.”
The man’s tablet beeped. He glanced down at it, then looked to me. “Who did you speak with, if I may ask?”
“Mix N’Max,” I answered. No use volunteering more than I needed to.
The tablet beeped again. Ah, someone’s listening. The guy in charge turned to one of the others in his squad. “Take over for me, boss needs me to escort this fixer to a meeting.” He turned back to me. “You’ve interested someone.”
“Good, I try to be interesting.” My costume could be more interesting in this case. The armor resembled my own, as if it fit a feminine form. This wasn’t something where it had big metal boobs sticking out, but it still had some. While usually I can get away with that due to advanced plating and padding, this time there’s no bones to break or boob to injure. And trust me, those bad girls are sensitive to impact.
I felt the signal weaken as I entered the bustling house of chance. That would be the thick building materials that make it unreliable to rely on the internet for cheating. All around me were the lights and the mess of noises that tickled that excitement button in the human mind. No matter where you were on the casino floor, you could hear the machines egging you on while dark carpet hid stains in between nightly cleanings. The power of transdimensional communications devices compelled the Casket (is it working as a term? I’m not sure yet) to follow my guide to a room on the side with a few guards stationed outside the door. “What’s all that ruckus with the guest rooms about anyway? Anything I need to know?” I asked the guy leading me.
“I can’t say,” he said. He pressed something on the tablet as he approached and the door before us swung open. “Please, through here.”
He didn’t follow me in. He left me alone, in a small conference room where Ouroboros sat. He stood up when he saw me, smiling through the open part of his mask that resembled the mouth of a snake. His costume looked like a rough, black close-fitting material and a pair of curved bone knives stuck through his belt. “Well, hello. It has been awhile, if you’re who I think you are.”
“I dunno, the person you’re thinking of is probably dead,” I said, wondering if he’d actually figured me out or if this was some weird wordplay.
“Well, your craftsmanship resembles a dearly departed friend of Mix N’Max whose rest I don’t wish to disturb. So, what psychopomp are you?” Yeah, he knows who I am.
“Just a Psychopomp,” I said. “What gave it away?”
He pointed to my chest. “You use a unique power source, but not unique enough. You’re here for your double, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that can drag me out of my grave and back into action.”
“He’s been here,” Ouroboros said. He nodded upward with his chin. “He’s got your audacity, and your cloaking technology. He tried to sneak in. We detected him, ran him off. He called in a trio of cloaking gunships. Shot up my guest rooms while he escaped into the city.”
“After those new villains, I take it? Did he get them?” I asked.
Ouroboros held up a finger. “All but the one who was passed out drunk in the club.”
“Good. We can find out what this is all about and we have some bait to dangle for him,” I told the other villain. “We need a place other than here to lure them to.”
Ouroboros crossed his arms. “He’s hungover and he just lost his friends. Maybe let’s take it easy on the kid right now.”
I shrugged. “If he tells us what we want to know, sure. Might be he doesn’t need to be there in person if he’s proven himself valuable in other ways.”
“Retired, but still vicious,” Ouroboros noted.
“Not as retired as you’d think, but if you want, we can make this an easier transaction. I’ll just pay him to talk and lay low for a few days. You’d be surprised how long people will stay inside somewhere if you offer money.”
Ouroboros cleared his throat, then pretended to look toward the door back out to the casino floor. I made a show of following his gaze, then turned back and shrugged. “Or maybe you wouldn’t.”
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