Venus dropped me off at home after the family visit with a hug, appearing on my lawn. The flamingo was a simple flamingo. The lawn gnome riding a dinosaur was a simple lawn gnome riding a dinosaur. She hugged my shoulders and kissed my tender cheeks and told me, “See? I made the world better. Just like you made the world better for Qiang.”
There was something I didn’t trust about the way she looked at me. That put me off. That’s my wife, and I love her. In spite of all of this, I do love her. She’s just stubborn, thinks she’s right about everything, and puts way too much trust in the justice system. Along with the reality warping powers she stole from me that she used to change the world. But I think we can make it work.
I didn’t say anything, proud as I am. Just let her teleport out. But also, she’s objectively wrong. She erased what fragmented memories I had of my parents so she could substitute this other couple. I never tried to erase what my daughter remembered, just claimed to be someone she couldn’t. And while I’m willing to admit some of how I treated her is a bit shady, Venus is supposed to be the moral one between us. Also, I altered Qiang’s genes for my own vanity’s sake. She was my daughter before that, and she’s my daughter now.
That’s what Mom and Dad seem to think of me, but they don’t know any better. This wasn’t a choice, this was a lie of reality. And so I went inside, saw to my motherly, domestic duties, and checked on the progress of my villainous power armor and nanomachines, while doublechecking my list. I want Medusa, Spinetingler, and Pestilentia. Maybe I should see if Human Sloth wants to be a part of this. He’s supposedly a good guy.
Yeah, that’s what I thought of the parents, too. Then Venus showed up. Maybe this is foolish. I’ve beaten Venus before. She beat me, too. She changed me, before she became a god.
Fine. Improvise, adapt, overcome, eradicate, and evolve. And build a bomb.
Even without my homo machina abilities, I still had ways of tracking down the elusive Medusa, my girlfriend, the older version of Venus who had chilled out in some ways even as she cooled me off. The Exemplars don’t advertise their base in this timeline, but I knew because I guess I’d been invited to stuff as Medusa’s long-time girlfriend in this timeline, and fiance. The Office of Superhuman Resources hates it, same as in the real reality.
I’d vindicate them, but it’d be much more effective to pin the blame on someone who already hates them but won’t be touched normally. I settled on, holy shit, she brought back one of the Presidents I killed as a guy who lost an election. The whining alone shows that wasn’t a good idea. On top of that, he’s putting out a bunch of BS about supers being dangerous. It’s a whole thing they’re onto now. Tweet after tweet from his vapid supporters claiming that having any sort of superpower gives people an innate advantage. They use Master Academy taking in orphans and training young supers as evidence that supers want to recruit people’s children into dangerous lifestyles.
I hate him. Perfect fellow to frame.
I called up Medusa, “Hey dear, it’s been a little bit.”
“What’s up?” she asked. I heard gunfire behind her.
“Sounds like someone’s having fun,” I said.
“Yeah…” she didn’t sound happy. “Can’t talk about it, but we’re on coyote duty. Waste of time and resources if you ask me.”
Ah, border smugglers. Medusa actually helped get people across humanely in the real world. Now, because Venus is still wedded to the idea of heroes helping law enforcement all the time, she’s helping round up immigrants and refugees. “Ok. I was just thinking about you and wanting to do dinner. We can talk about plans later if you want.”
“Yeah, we should. This guy in charge of this, Caulfield, is totally anal about anything like this. He might think I don’t heart the idea of beating up people looking for a better life. One of these guys we’re arresting is still wearing his army uniform. His U.S. Army uniform.”
Oh right, a weird consequence of Venus letting that one President live was the United States deporting immigrant veterans.
As a side benefit of being a Shieldwall Reservist, I get some degree of access to their teleporter systems. Still don’t trust the things though. I plugged the reservist watch (which decoder function) into my computer and set to work masking the identification signautre. Couldn’t bypass that it all goes through Shieldwall HQ, but the armor helps with that.
The armor couldn’t just be the same ol’, same ol’ either. I finished an independent power source for it. It took a bit of programming to make the fresh suit compatible with the nanomachines and better able to handle the task of camouflaging without my brain’s direct interface stepping in.
I worked all day and night on it, but I still found time to send Qiang off to school. She was offered to me as an incentive when I was selling Dimensional Bomb technology by some people who did not get what they wanted and did not mean it as a family thing. Times like that make me glad to be an asshole who enforces an agreement even to the detriment of the other party. But she’s my kid. I paused long enough to reflect that Venus touched a nerve before I slipped into my armor, activated Invisible Mode, and teleported to Shieldwall Headquarters.
I stepped out of the teleporter tube. It was a big room, able to hold meetings in, with the teleporters and their equipment against one wall. A control station was in the middle of the room. I had memores of people setting up a small stage on it when necessary. Someone was manning the station, a cyborg of some sort. With my memories, I knew him as Cyber-Eye or something? He looked at the teleporter tube, then at the computers. I hopped over and landed behind him, skidding to a stop because the damn floor was painted concrete. World-spanning transporter system, but nobody’s putting up money for carpet or carpet-cleaning.
Cyber-Eye turned toward the direction of the skidding, reaching up to keep his fedora on. Smaller metal hands opened up his trenchcoat, with one pair of tiny hands holding a blackjack and another wielding a short-muzzled .38 revolver. I saw the lens that replaced one of his eyes adjust as he saw me, then adjust again in fear when I lunged at him. I stopped myself bouncing his face off the console, since I need to type stuff out now. Instead, I swept his legs out from under him and tossed him on the hard floor. Then I yanked him up by his metal right arm, swinging him in an arc to smack the floor again.
I stepped over to the computer and found where his signal showed up in the teleporter hub. A few button presses later and I sent him safely on his way to a new home: Death Valley. I figured he’d be fine, and that was good enough for me to strand him. Then I added some new coordinate to this amazing machine. I finished it off by tapping the chest of my armor. “Gecko to Engineering, one to beam-”
I got the timing wrong.
“-up.” I finished as I appeared in the Exemplar base, a quiet office building in Hagerstown, Maryland. Alarms went up. Someone must have an alarm about that sort of thing. And I was in an some off-white corridor like in a really boring office. They broke up the plainness of it all with motivational posters. One featured a young hero, maybe a sidekick, hanging from a rope on the side of a building, with the words, “Hang in there!” underneath.
If this is Venus’s vision of what to do with her future self/older sister, then I detect resentment. I prepared to throw people through walls when someone rounded a corner. A guard, or perhaps soldier, in black Exemplar armor raised a boxy rifle. The barrel was wide enough to launch grenades, and my memories told me that there were plenty of guns designed to disprove the concept of “bullet proof” still. The thought crossed my mind that this was an odd thing for Venus to include in her perfect world.
The guard swept that gun across the hall, then advanced. Another guard followed, similar gun and armor. Both moved past me as I stepped to the side. They paused at one point and I looked them over, checking for wallets and other mementos. I ended up following them through a door, down another hallway, and into a room swarming with people. “We’re clear between here and the restrooms!”
“Thank you, gentlemen, for securing the crappers,” said a guy with some stunning red hair. It was a really sexy ginger color. Just an amazing color. Shit happens, I guess. I ordered the nanomachines to flow out low and eat their way through everything that isn’t a person. I grit my teeth, thinking back to how I’d have killed them all in a mess of shimmery nanite tentacles at one time. I imagined the screams. Someone bumped into me, the invisible person, from behind. I turned and got a hand over his mouth just after he let out the start of a scream. More started up when others noticed.
I doubled him over with a punch while nanites dissolved his clothes. The guards I followed in turned to me, but their guns fell apart in their hands. Their armor fell away. For my own viewing pleasure, the redhead’s clothes fell away, too. I tried to spy on him while kicking knocking out someone trying to flee out of this command center. Next thing I knew, the redhead was in front of me, throwing a punch at my helmet. He grabbed his broken hand, gritting his teeth. “What are you?”
“I’m here to make this country great again,” I said, as an implication of the person I’m framing for being behind the attack. Felt disgusting to phrase it that way, but it was true in a different sense. Still, I lost the smug smile under my helmet thinking back to my argument with Venus and her dig about me wanting to go back to a status quo. “You should look me up when I’m not on duty. But for now, I have a large bomb here.”
I tossed that guy through the remains if the door and down the corridor. He’d survive. I sent a new signal to the nanites. Most were recalled to my armor while the rest planted a bomb. The digital timer said ten minutes. The actual timer was set for five.
I teleported back out of there, stopping off at Shieldwall and stormed over to the computer. No one had noticed anything wrong yet. It gave me plenty of time to mess around with the computer, altering the records, before dropping a grenade on the console. I made damn sure it was done teleporting me before the device blew up, leaving a lovely little trail that should drive Medusa to take revenge on a politician who the law refused to arrest and try even as he now attacks the government again.
Elegant. Simple. Can’t wait to find out how I fucked it up while I’m recruiting someone else.
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