Author Archives: Psycho Gecko

L: Dorado 4

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Max hogged the address to himself, probably to keep me from having everything scoped out, torn apart, and nuked from orbit. It’s the only way Max could be sure. This time, we ended up in Ecuador, hiking up a mountain.

“Why are we doing this?” I said, scooting up the side of a volcano. Max was hiking, but I took the lazy way in one of my proxy bodies. I wasn’t taking my real body hiking up a damn mountain. “You don’t need exercise.”

“I want the experience!” Max declared. He took something out of his pocket and stuffed it between his lip and gum.

“No need to dip chew if you had a scooter,” I said.

He waved off my commentary. “The human body isn’t comfortable transitioning from lower to higher altitudes. We’ve done that a lot lately. It’s giving me farts.”

I know the feeling. Sam’s also really uncomfortable with it.

“Hey, can you distract me?” he asked.

“So, I kind of feel like while I find Sam attractive, I don’t personally have strong feelings in favor of dating her,” I started.

“This again. Sam this, Sam that. Do you ever get off Sam?” he asked.

“You’ve heard the moans,” was the last I said on that point. “That computer really pointed here or did you mess up a riddle?”

“You probably don’t need to be here if you don’t want to be,” he said. “There’s no reason this should be dangerous.”

“Turret gun,” I said, referring to the one hidden in the cargo container that led him to the side of this volcano.

“I had it covered. Relax.”

I took a moment to zip back to my main body in a little hotel we were in. I was in a chair off in the corner. Turning, I saw Holly, Sam, and Dr. Erishka sitting around eating, with a lot more clothes scattered around the room. Nice clothes. “Something going on?”

“Oh, you’re awake,” Sam said. “We were going to take your friend here out partying. She’s been cooped up too long.” She paused, then started to open her mouth before I noticed Erishka adjust how she sit and “accidentally” hit Sam’s shin with her foot.

“Good, I was just checking in,” I said. “Y’all have fun.”

“I still want to talk to you sometime,” Erishka said. “In fact,” she set down the burger she was munching on and wiped her face. “Come on, out the door real quick.”

I didn’t want to bother. Just let her enjoy her night. She’s been tending to my needs for months now. I never told her she needed to be there at all times… but it occurred to me I expected and acted like she would be. Ugh, I am still a terrible leader and a bad boss. So I followed, figuring the least I could do was take the chastising.

I closed the door behind us while she checked the hallway before turning to me. “You offered anything I wanted. I’ve been talking to Holly and Sam and they assure me you mean that. They told me about what you did in Brazil. You were serious that you owed me?”

I nodded. “Absolutely. I like to give people a chance to tell me what they want rather than me impose my idea of what they want on them.”

“Yeah, because you don’t know anything about me or so many others. I’m not going to cash it in. You don’t have healthy interpersonal skills and you do this where you treat interaction as transaction.”

I shook my head and laughed. “You are too nice for me. You go out and have a good time. And, not as a trade, you give me a call if y’all run into trouble. But thank you.” I didn’t want to make a whole speech out of it. We headed back into the room where I popped a really big question, “Anybody got a spare burger?”

Holly held up a foil-wrapped package for me.

Back to Max then. I’d lagged behind on autopilot and found myself having run into a boulder and tipped me over onto my side. I stood back up, brushed myself off, and raised a fist to the sky. “Curse you, Pichincha!” I picked the scooter up and tossed it aside. “Let’s do this shit.”

If there’s anything I miss from my time being imbued with godlike power by an extradimensional entity using me as his conduit, it was flying. I can’t fly, but between my power armor and enhancements, I’ve been known to leap buildings in a single bound. I spotted Max in midair; I ended up jumping past him and having to come back for him. “Where we aiming for, friendo?”

He pointed it out and hopped on my back. In midair, legs wrapped around my lower chest, he decided to hold his arms up and yell like a roller coaster. I didn’t tell him that he nearly shifted his weight enough to end up yelling from a broken leg. It took minutes to get us part of the way up the multi-peaked volcano. It was a little off the trail. It actually would have been hidden from the trail by bushes and rocks. It was no Everest Rainbow Valley, so named for all the corpses in bright climbing gear. They just leave those up there. Someone dies up here, I’m pretty sure there are animals to eat them. Instead of bodies, all they had here was a trapped case.

We could tell it was trapped by all the signs. Even if you stumbled on this thing, little devices attached to this case helpfully warned you about all the different type of explosive compounds rigged to blow you up. Max knelt down and lifted a small cover to reveal a keypad with twelve spaces. The nine Arabic numerals were there with three keys below them adding a back arrow, an OK, and a blank key.

“You sure you don’t want to take care of the bombs?” I suggested.

He waved me away. “The computer gave me the code.” He pushed three, one, nine, and then the blank key. The top clicked of the box clicked open and he didn’t blow up.

I leaned in over his shoulder. “Is this the part where we steal the Declaration of Independence?”

“No. This is saying we need to go into Quito, to a bar called Cacho Caramba.” He looked down the way we came and all the way into the city. “I wish we’d brought the Flyer after all.”

I made a holographic puppet version of Max appear on my hand and gave it a ridiculous voice, “No, this is something I want to do myself.”

“I never said that… so what’s the ETA on the Flyer?”

It took a few minutes, time Max spent smoking a joint. I didn’t even land the Flyer to drop us off when we found Cacho Caramba. Max led me in, the illusion making me look like I was wearing a dress so short and tight, a sneeze would leave me nude. It’s easy to get away with clothes that look painted on when they’re illusionary. I got some wolf whistles, to which Max bowed. “Thank you, I try hard,” he said. That earned boos. They wanted to see me some more.

Max held up his slip of paper, trying to pronounce it in Spanish. I snatched it away from him to ask everyone, “What do you call a negative fish?”

“A pessimist!” said a man in the back, waving us over. The rest of the crowd pretended to laugh along because I’m a pretty woman in a tiny dress, even though it was a silly pun. It also doesn’t make any sense translated into English, but it’s exactly my kind of pun in Latin American Spanish. Yes, there is a difference.

“Sit,” the man urged. “I will lead you down to the entrance in a moment. Please wait, I am watching my show.” He nodded to a small TV set high up in the corner. On the screen, a skinny pale guy sat at a gambling table with a bunch of Asian guys, playing some game with dominoes, a wheel, and a jellybean. I couldn’t tell what genre the show was, especially once a crowd of men rushed in wearing soccer uniforms. I’d say eight, maybe nine guys. It was hard to tell because I think there was a short guy in the back.

“Hey!” the leader said, pointing at our companion. “Fuck you!”

The man we met turned to them, glaring. He slammed his beer down and picked up his cigarette, raising it to his lips in a way that left him pointing right back at the guy. After a long drag, he blew out some smoke and said, “Fuck you.”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck you!”

It went back and forth like that for a few seconds before I interrupted to ask, “What’s going on?”

The guy we pointed at the team. “I bet against the local team. I tried to tell them they could have a share of the money if they helped, but they didn’t. Instead, so many things went wrong, they accuse me of rigging.”

“I know you did,” the lead soccer player said. He smacked his fists together. “Today, we’re kicking your ass.”

“Fuck you,” our companion said, pulling out a long, thin knife.

One of the soccer players reached into his shorts and came out with a pair of nunchucks with little soccer balls on the ends. Max sighed and reached into his coat for a dart gun, checking to make sure it was loaded. Another soccer player raised his shirt to reveal a black and white patterned revolver that he whipped out and pointed toward us. I stood up. One of the players pushed his companions aside and held up a rose. I growled, so then he wrapped it around his fist so the thorns pointed outward.

The lead soccer player, I guess the team captain, elbowed another player. “Do it. Pull it out.”

That player winced. “Do I have to? They don’t have anything else to escalate with?”

“Why did you bring it if you weren’t going to use it?” the captain asked.

Finally, the player whined and reached into the back of his shorts. He shifted a bit. “It’s stuck. Mother of God, it’s stuck. No, wait…” And then he pulled out a fucking spiked ball and chain flail. His team cheered and clapped him on the shoulders, then ran at us.

I’m trying not to kill so many people now. It was made a little easier when Max nailed one in the throat with a dart gun. The man fell to the ground, flailing. The team ignored him and ran past. I put myself between our side and theirs. The leader tried to run past me, but I grabbed him and diverted his head into a nearby wall. He broke through the thin wall and got stuck there, or just was dazed enough.

The player with the gun and the fellow who squeezed out a flail came next. I grabbed the arms with the weapons when both tried to slip past me. I kicked one away, then the second, both times preferring to act nonlethally. I kept their arms with me, though. Yep, one hand holding an arm with a gun in it, the other holding an arm still squeezing a medieval fucking weapon. By that point, the team had stopped to watch in horror. They were frozen. I decided to give them a little more of a push. I flipped the arms around so I held them by the bloody torn-off pieces, pointing a gun at the gang while swinging the flail arm just enough to make the head on its chain spin up some momentum.

“We’re done here, yes?” I asked.

The guys all held up their arms, except for a couple of them who held up just one, and backed out of the room. A dwarf in an outsized soccer uniform stumbled after them. The captain regained his senses enough to tug his head out of the wall and spit out a urinal cake, then begin wiping his face with his shirt and stumbling out of there. This was soon followed by a flushing sound from the other side of the hole in the wall.

I turned to the guy who’d caused all this trouble for us. He was already back in his seat, watching his show. “Hey, you want to get up off your ass?”

“No,” he said, making me wish Max and I hadn’t stepped in. “It’s a marathon! You want to kill me, you don’t get to the Eighth City.”

I pointed the purloined gun still grasped in its purloined limb at the TV. Our unimpressed contact took a drink, then a smoke, then said, “Do it. See if I help you.”

Max turned to me and sighed. He gestured with his hands to put the arms down, both meanings of the word. I lowered them while he slipped the dart gun back into his coat. He came back out with a syringe and turned to our contact with that predator’s grin again.

“Truth serum?” I asked.

Max nodded. “I never worked out how to stop the excruciating pain. Oh well. The truth hurts.”

I don’t even know why the contact bothered throwing that beer.
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L: Dorado 3

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Previous
The search for the Crypto Crypt continues! Fuck it, I have time to spare on this for a little bit. The only thing is, as I told the rest of the crew while we floated over Panama. “I wish I had something to try myself out on again.”

“We’re not far from Colombia,” Max suggested from his lab area. Erishka sat nearby, taking notes. She still doesn’t realize this guy’s stuff doesn’t work like chemistry. It’s super fuckery, the loophole to the laws of physics and math. A genius can design can do brilliant things, but a super genius can divide by zero and the answer will work.

“I got too much to do to get into the drug business,” I said. I sat on Sam’s lap, sinking her into the sofa while I scrolled through proxy bodies and internet feeds and everything. She wanted to hold me, I wanted to be held.

“Cocoa,” he suggested, pouring a sizzling yellow liquid into a beaker of water and watching as the mixture sizzled, turned green, and then froze all at once.

“I think it’s Africa with the child slaves,” I said. “Probably crappy working conditions here, though. Agriculture’s rough on the workers.”

Holly decided to interject herself into the conversation once she was done snapping a picture of Sam and I on her phone. “Why not go on a random killing spree?”

“No, a random killing spree is too predictable,” I argued. “They’d be onto me in no time.”

“Who’s they?” she wondered.

I smiled. “You know. They.” I pointed in two different directions. “They.”

There’s always a They. I’ve fought a few Theys in my time.

Sam grabbed my arms and guided them down with no resistance from me so she could wrap me in a hug from behind.

“You shouldn’t get so fired up anyway, the Shangrila’s coming in soon,” Max said.

He’s right. Once you’re in the right nautical systems, it’s not hard to track a cargo ship. Max continued, “This USB I have is only good before whoever is behind the Crypt changes the access code, which the organization intends to do at the first port on the other side. We can also steal one of the regular containers to cover up access to it. I hear it’s carrying a load of cocoa out of the the Ivory Coast.”

“I don’t suppose there’ll be anyone to beat up?” I asked.

Max shook his head. “There shouldn’t be. Anonymity is the computer’s defense.”

I shrugged. I could think of better ways to do the plan, but Max was in charge this time. As for me, I decided to head out and scout the canal. My recent wellness had inspired me. I wanted to pull off something weird. Being in Panama, the thought occurred to me to steal the canal somehow. I wanted to do the impossible, but I couldn’t come up with a way to make it possible.

Erishka was waiting outside when I got back, talking on a cell phone with red and blue lights glowing from the case. She turned to me and held up a hand. “Hold on,” she said to the phone, then said to me, “You were right. There is absolutely no sense to what he did to cure you. The chemicals he used should have killed you.”

I pretended to brush my shoulder off, “Well, you know me, tougher than tough.”

She reached up and thumped me on the head with her finger. “The cure’s useless to me, but you still provided valuable insight into the virus. I think I should monitor you on this adventure. After that, we can see about implanting a probe that lets me monitor your brain’s condition from afar.”

Huh. No more personal physician specializing in psychology and the brain just for me. I looked her over. “Hey… thanks, in complete sincerity. I don’t know what justification you needed to put up with me after everything but we both know I didn’t deserve it. I owe you.”

“We need to talk when I’m off this call,” she said.

I just nodded and went back inside. She didn’t remember or didn’t bother with the talk when she got done. We all wound down pretty fast. The Shangrila was coming through early in the morning, but not the fun portion when all the best decisions are made. No, nine AM is entirely the wrong time to make a good decision. If you’re already awake by nine, it’s because someone already made a bad decision that resulted in you waking up altogether too early. If someone needs that much of a day to get something done, they’re not too good at it.

We got up fresh and too early. It’s not like we needed help finding the canal. Not in Panama. The country only exists because of that thing and a hefty dose of Americans not wanting to spend as much money on things.

They don’t normally like villainous flying machines hover around the canals too much, so I made sure they didn’t see it. I dropped down, controlling a trio of bodies. Max used a robe to join me down there. The others stayed up top with orders not to touch anything. Sam did the best at following that order; she was still clinging to a seat and trying to avoid thinking about all the flying.

All my bodies were trying to look normal. Max didn’t bother with a disguise. Max pointed to the ship coming right up next to us. “There’s our train. Give me a lift onboard?”

I grabbed him under my arm and hopped aboard, along with those other enhanced and armored bodies. He squirmed free all on his own to start wandering around. “We need to find Container B41W8K.”

I pulled out a recon grenade and sent it some orders, free of the fear of my body turning against me for using my abilities. When the grenade activated, out popped a trio of flying robots that spread out and began checking over the numbers on the sides of cargo containers.

Max went up to the nearest container and pulled a spray bottle out of his coat. A couple of squirts and the locks melted off, along with parts of the bars that secure the doors. And then a portion of the bar. And the door of the container. He reached his phone inside, snapped a photo with the flash on, and pulled it out. “Palm oil? No.”

I hung along with him as he tried another. Socks. “Tempting. You should know Sam’s feet get cold if you two are going to date.”

“I didn’t think we were dating. She kissed me and has been hugging me a lot lately,” I said.

He looked to me and raised an eyebrow.

I nodded. “Oh. Is that going to be a problem then? I always figured you and them were a thing. Wasn’t any of my business either.”

He wagged his head from side to side. “We’ve fooled around, but I don’t want anything serious.”

I did a double-take. “Somehow I’m the serious relationship-haver?!”

Max checked another container in his own special way. “Nice, cocoa.”

“Got a sweet tooth?” I noted, hoping this conversation steered away from talk about relationships.

“I dislike slavers.” Max’s smile showed a lot more teeth and the corners of his eyes were different. It was a predatory grin. “I’m happy to take money from the beneficiaries of that system.”

I brought the Flyer in overhead and lowered the main cargo door. I tore the container open. With three bodies onboard, it was actually pretty easy to toss bag after bag of cocoa beans up into the thing before I got a hit. I stopped and pointed, “Thataway! Container’s right over there. Look for the robots hovering above it.”

Max ran off, fist pumping in the air. I concentrated on stealing the chocolate. Well, it’s not chocolate yet. Still some processing. I probably have that Brexit mess to thank for someone shipping these things through here.

Gunshots interrupted that. In what would probably be really freaky to watch, the three bodies dropped what we were doing and ran toward the sound of gunfire, near the container. One proxy body hopped onto a stack of containers. Max was waiting outside the container. He’d left some incense burning in front of the open cargo container door and had made his way around toward the rear of it. He was spraying down the side of the container, waiting for all the metal to eat away in a circle around the middle of it. He waved me over when he saw me. “Automated gun!”

Once the hole was big enough, he reached in and sprayed it a few times. Rather than head back to the front, he cracked open the back. Inside was a laptop and router hooked up to a set of batteries. He pointed to the smoke for me. “Bulletproof incense. Thickens the air to stop anything with too much velocity. Can’t fix it to let people move through it but stop swords. Any trouble going on?”

All three of my shook our heads in sync. Hmm… in sync. I could start a pop group if I figured out how to make one or two more bodies work together this well.

I motioned to the computer. “Need me to do my thing?”

“I don’t know yet. Hold on, I need to get this just right.” He took out a flask, uncapped it, and had himself a swig. Then, taking an excruciatingly long time, he lined up the USB drive perfectly on the first go and slipped it right in.

“Witchcraft!” I yelled.

He tapped away at a few things, scrolled on the touchpad. “Formal channel to meet with a guide into the Crypt, or what this thing calls the Eighth City.” Max pulled out a phone and took a photo of the screen, scrolled, then took another. “We can go now, unless you want more cocoa.”

“The Flyer’s that way, we might as well. I think they’re going to know we broke in,” I told him.”

Max winked. “I have an idea about that.”

We loaded a few more bags in before I boosted him up into the Flyer and hopped up myself. Or myselves?

“Get us just ahead of it,” Max said.

I pulled the Flyer ahead. In the cargo hold, I noticed Sam still holding tight to a chair, eyes fixated on her phone’s screen. Holly was lugging some of the bags deeper into the Flyer and off to the side. I helped out, with one body staying to watch Max. He pulled out a thermos and dumped yellow liquid into the water just off to the left side of the ship’s front. There was a groan from the Shangrila and it swerved to the right and crashed into the side of the canal.

Max walked over and pressed the door button. “I’d say we have about six days.”

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L: Dorado 2

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I like Mix N’Max. We’ve bonded pretty well as villains who kill heroes before. Max doesn’t have too many fucks to give where he gets ingredients or who some of his experiments kill, but he’s always been a straight shooter with me. You know, aside from this one time… it’s not important. But I am getting a wee bit annoyed at him being so quiet about what his plan is. I can see why folks find his smile so punchable.

We stopped elsewhere in Rio to let him grab some food and equipment. He insisted we stop in Uruguay, but came back after fifteen minutes with a box full of leaves. And there was also a stopover in Costa Rica just to spend the night. After that, we were off to Peru, where he claimed he needed to speak with someone about the Crypto Crypt. Sam and Holly dragged him in late, missing his pants, smelling of sex and alcohol.

“You’re letting that guy fix your brain?” Dr. Erishka asked. She had her stuff set up all formally next to Max’s haphazard kit that we picked up.

“I was just going to drink whatever he gave me and hope it works out for the best,” I muttered while performing a bit of maintenance on the Flyer’s electrical systems. “I don’t want to smack him over this.”

I decided to grab lunch without my armor. “Hey, hold up!” Sam called out behind me. I stopped in mid-step, foot still raised, and waited for her. She came up beside me and hooked her arm with mine. Max’s chubbier assistant with the colorful hair then pointed off toward the rear door of the Flyer. “You’re going out, right?”

“Yep. Figured I’d grab lunch. Might pick up enough for everyone,” I said.

“Cool, I’ll join you.”

Together, we set out from the lot we’d parked in to head out into the city of Lima to grab some food. “Not scared of some Peruvian cuisine, I hope?”

“I’m willing to try new things. Let’s find something we can’t even recognize!” She laughed, more perky than I remember her. She tugged me along after her. We ended up finding a nice-smelling restaurant first and picking whatever the fuck we could find that we decided sounded good. And while we were waiting, lest anyone think these events are notable as some sort of date or something.

Sam put a hand on my forearm as I sat there, my mouth watering. “Please be patient with Max, alright? This search is something fun he’s wanted a real shot at and he’s happy to have you along. He’s not stalling, he’s doing things his own special way. I’ll give him a kick when we get back.”

“Thanks,” I said. I decided to try stepping outside my comfort zone a little. “I’m worried. I don’t like to show that, but one day I’m the deadliest bitch on earth. The next, I stroke out if I overexert myself, and I don’t know where that line is until after I cross it.”

“Sucks big time. You know he loves you, right? As a friend, though, not the other way. Aside from that one time… nevermind. Not important.”

Back at the Flyer, we walked right back in past some fleeing children. I had just pulled a leg off this roasted chicken that smelled amazing when a dart struck it from inside the Flyer. I was considering eating it anyway, until the skin started boiling up and the meat melted off. Then I tossed it aside and decided to glare at the hungover Max who was downing something thick and tan from a cough syrup bottle.

“I’m so fucking hungry and you take the food right out of my mouth,” I scoffed.

He held the gun he held up with his pointer extended along the barrel, indicating to me that he needed a minute. Sam and I pulled out a table and set the food down for everyone, including Holly who ran up excited to eat. She lifted up a skewer of cuy, screamed, and threw it away. “Oh my god!” She ended up running off toward the bathroom.

I looked over at Sam, who looked at me, shrugged, and said, “Can’t take this pair anywhere.” She grabbed some cuy for herself and took a bite, “Hey Holly! Mmm, damn, that’s actually really good. Hey, Holly! Come on, you don’t even have to look at it. They didn’t kill it for us.” She grabbed this cheese-stuffed pepper and brought it along to check on her friend.

Erishka stepped up to help herself to some of the food, including the other leg of the chicken. Darn near tempting the wrath of Gecko there, if I didn’t need the doctor to look after my own health. “What’s her problem?”

“The thingy on a stick is a rodent that people where she’s from keep as pets,” I informed her. I pointed to the chicken leg. “Don’t worry, even the people who keep those as pets find them so annoying they want to eat them.”

I reached down to grab a wing off the chicken. Thwit! I felt a pain in my neck. I whirled to see Max holding the dart gun pointed at me, my hand reaching to feel it sticking out of the back of my neck. Everything got fuzzy and loopy and slow. So. Slow. My eyes flicked over to the chicken there in my fingers, so delicious-looking and uneaten. I brought it to my mouth and… almost…

Hello darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

I should have skipped over to another body. Any children still reading… wow, what, were you born during the time I’ve been writing all this? Anyway, kids, friends don’t let friends get shot full of a rapid-acting sedative knocks you out in seconds. I awoke to my skull feeling like I’d spent the entire time out used as a drum. The pain was the first part of my awakening. There was the smell of food as well. I was laying on one of the nicer passenger chairs I installed that could recline. And in front of me, on a tray, was a piece of roasted chicken.

Holly grabbed it off the plate and started eating it. And there went the spark of joy in my life. I opened my mouth to cry out and Sam slipped something meaty and tasty in there. I winced when I felt a hand stroking my head.

“Your prognosis looks good. No signs of the virus,” Dr. Erishka says. She looked over to Max. “When will the sedative be out of her system?”

“What?” I asked.

“I needed to drug you heavily to go so far inside you for the first time,” Max said. “You know, aside from that one time… not important right now.” He waved off reminiscing and grabbed one of those peppers with the cheese. “You must be hungry. Here.”

I opened my mouth. He brought a syringe around and squirted some liquid into my throat. Once again, too drugged to react like I should.

I think I managed to stew on the bait and switch the entire time I was unconscious because, while I didn’t remember any dreams I had, I woke up pissed.

No one was around. My HUD clock took a moment to reset. It was Tuesday. No one was around. I was still pissed. I heard shouting in the distance. I rolled off the chair and called to my nanomachines, letting them swarm over me for a check-up. Skull needed a bit of mending and I had to get rid of a catheter. I launched a drone from the Flyer in the hopes of finding where the hell the team went. The search was short. They were racing down the street toward us in the back of an old truck, jeeps full of soldiers and a few supers giving chase.

Erishka was bandaging Sam’s belly. Holly had some of my custom grenades. She dopped one beside their truck that belched smoke and impeded the view. Since the road was straight, the jeeps didn’t crash or anything, but I think it helped. Max spun his dart gun and syringe gun in each hand, looking for a shot.

One of the supers, who glowed under his skin with a pulsing yellow light, emitted a blade of yellow light, then pointed to the drone. It was too far away to hear what he said, but it drew Max’s attention to it. He looked up, then put his guns up to pull out a phone and text me: “Get us ready to fly out of here. We’re going, not fighting.”

Growling as much in frustration as in hunger, I docked the drone again and started up the Flyer. The truck came rumbling up into the hold. Holly dived out and hit the button to close the door behind them.

“Go!” Erishka called out.

More growling. I took off, just ignoring the rounds bouncing harmlessly off the Flyer’s armor. One of the Peruvian supers flew up beside the the Flyer. I giggled to myself and swung the aircraft to the side, bonking the Super and sending the guy falling to the city below.

“Where to?” I asked. “Sorry I wasn’t up for whatever that was any sooner. I was a bit hungover. My skull was killing me.”

“Panama!” Max called out.

“This is no time for singing, Max.”

“The country,” he added. He pulled out a USB. “This is what we needed. A key that will unlock the computer system and allow us to track down a ship that delivered equipment to the Crypto Crypt. Ship’s called the Shangrila.

I rolled my eyes, “Fine. And what about me? If you’re done knocking me out, that is.”

I checked down below real quick. Some people trying to scramble jets. I canceled the order, made sure we were hidden from radar and visual. “Keep in mind, I’m flying us,” I reminded everyone. “Sure would be bad timing now if I had a seizure.”

“Enough, you’re fine. The virus doesn’t appear to be in your system anymore,” Erishka spoke sternly. “Now, stabilize this craft so I can work on Sam.”

We leveled off right about then. We were far enough up and all, looping back around for a curved approach to Panama, a country so nice it got a Van Halen song about it. Of course I helped Sam out; my medical nanomachines were the best suited to treat a gunshot that missed the stinky bits of the lower body organs but would have kept her from ever enjoying a drink ever again.

It was just the kiss that surprised me is all. “Uh…” I said, looking back down at Sam , who was still really close to my face and had her arms around my head.

“You never wanted a ‘glad to be alive’ kiss before?” She grinned up at me.

Eh, why not? Of course, Erishka broke us up a couple minutes later. “Can all my patients stop making out? Thank you!” she got between us and had us both sit down. Sam got the all clear pretty quick, while the doctor decided I needed further observation.

“Come on… I know why you’re saying that, and I must say I approve of the double entendre.” I gestured to my crotch and the boner poking up through the skirt.

“Put it away or I’ll turn off the horny section of your brain,” she said.

“That’s located down there as well,” I joked.

“Here,” Max said, shoving the best-smelling bag in history into my hands. I opened it to find another roast chicken all for myself. A couple minutes into my meal, I noticed the stares from Erishka.

“That kind of thing shouldn’t be possible. Are those extra sets of teeth? Like a shark?”

I tried to clear some of the food, but a leg fell out of my mouth. My prehensile tongue shot out and snatched it into my mouth where I swallowed it whole. “What?” I asked her. “I still put on my skirt one leg at a time.”

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L: Dorado 1

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“Gecko, it’s time,” my old supervillain friend Mix N’Max’s voice said over the phone. And just like a vampire whose sleep was interrupted to drive a stake into their heart, I was groggy and a little unpleasant.

“What’s time?” I asked.

“It’s the progress of the physical universe along with space, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is I found the Crypto Crypt. It’s time.”

I shook off sleep and looked at the time. This better be important, calling me up at one in the afternoon. I had way too much banana pudding moonshine the night before to be up this early. “Max, the Crypto Crypto Crypt’s a myth. A legend. Like Champ or Mothman or the Jersey Devil.” And really embarrassing if it turns out to be true, because I, of all people, should have been able to find a secret cache of crypto-currency calculating supercomputers.

“You killed all of those!” Max argued.

I nodded to myself. “Exactly. You’re chasing after something that doesn’t exist anymore than those things did.” Mothman in particular went down easy. I just needed a bright enough light to bait him in the first place.

“Have you searched the entire world over for blockchain network activity?” he asked.

“No, but I think a supercomputer network doing that would have stood out. Come on, this will be fun,” he insisted.

“I’m kind of in a bad spot here, medically-speaking,” I said, catching onto the humor of that just before he laughed.

“Patch yourself up and come pick me up,” he suggested once he’d finished laughing.

I shifted to get a mess of hair out from under me, then pulled a bunch of it out of my face, “It’s not that simple. It’s a virus that does weird things. My nanites don’t work on it.” I tried programming them to recognize its structure, but the nanomachines lost that scent almost as soon as they began hunting. The data was purged from them.

When I told Dr. Erishka, she hypothesized that the virus itself, because of its creation from homo machina brain tissue, allowed it some control over the nanomachines as well. The thought did not sit well with me.

“A virus? No big deal. Stop by and I’ll give you something that’ll wipe it out for you. I’ve been working on a panacea, but I can always custom-design something for a friend who’s helping me rob the Crypto Crypt.”

Hey, if getting cured means I spend time around a friend chasing down his version of Bigfoot, I might as well. It couldn’t hurt to give him a bit of my time, and he could very easily cure me. I told him, “I’ll check with the doctor looking into this, but I’ll guarantee you she’s not going to like it.” Her goal isn’t so much to keep me alive but to learn more about all this and figure out to help deserving people.

So of course her response when I met her at the cafe in town ended up being, “I think it’s a worthwhile idea.”

“Really?” I asked.

She sipped her coffee, then explained, “We need a cure, even one where superpowers plays a role. Maybe he does something we can replicate with our technology. Just because we don’t have these superpowers doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from them and see if they’re worth studying.”

“I’m pretty sure you can’t replicate this,” I said.

“It’s a good thing the world isn’t as narrow as what you’re sure of,” she said, taking a verbal shot at me. I deserved it. I’ve been through too much shit to start thinking I’m omniscient.

As I realized looking at the cafe’s meaty sandwich selection, I am omnomniscient. I was going to need one of those bad boys in my throat. “You want to come with us then? You can watch him do his thing, get a sample of what he makes, send it off, and keep an eye on me to see how well it works?”

“I will not be personally involved in any criminal activity,” she said. “But I’ll come.”

“Goody, I can see how well the new Flyer design adapts to people sleeping in it.” But first, I needed a sammich.

I told Qiang I’d be gone in my kinda-sorta way.. Despite how readily I run into these situations, I wish she wasn’t so used to me being gone in some capacity, but I needed her to know why there might be complications in case the proxy bodies back here stop working for some reason.

I’m glad I had some spare bodies, which Erishka decided to check on our flight down to Brazil to pick up Max. “Maybe you somehow got them infected. Maybe the virus is still running around.” Plenty of maybes, and they’re good points. She and her colleagues are still working to figure out how long the virus can survive outside a homo machina body and still work against us. It’s all a bunch of fancy medical stuff, but it’s useful to know and helps me. Plus, she’s mentioned the possibility of using the same processes to generate organic biorobotics. Every setback a chance at progress, though I’m hoping this isn’t the kind of progress that decides people with genes like mine are better off producing those things.

So I went to Brazil. It’s that big place in South America that speaks Portuguese instead of Spanish. One of those countries having itself a fascism revival lately. According to Max, he was waiting for me in Rio de Janeiro itself. I thought it was cliché as hell. Rio’s where the bulk of the tourists go. It’s got parties for intoxicated Americans who like liquor and drugs. It’s got a giant statue of Jesus for the religious people who like to hide the liquor and drugs they do.

About the time we pulled into the country, Max sent a text about where we could find him exactly. “At Devoted Sisters of St. Grobian. Hurry or miss the party.”

I kept the Flyer cloaked, because most countries don’t like it when I show up. I made a quick stop before hitting up the Devoted Sisters of St. Grobian set up near where the Olympic housing had been.

I’ve seen worse places to hang out at. Nice building, solid walls, hidden steel plates, well-dressed guards with tastefully concealed weapons. The doctor patted me on the shoulder as I watched the zoomed footage. “Your proxies are clean and I am not going in there.”

“I’ll suit up then,” I said. By appearances, I wore a pinstriped pantsuit with a corset under the jacket. You bet I’d have rocked the look, but it was an illusion masking bullet-proof and stabproof alloys in a feminine shape. Thinking I might drop it, though. It’s not skintight thanks to padding and subsystems, but the fact that it tries to conform to my shape still creates problems. Or maybe I shouldn’t bother; my life’s not worth a lot.

I approached from down the street and walked toward the door like I belonged there. That’s a pretty good way to get into a lot of places, but these guys were wise to that. A man in some seriously nice shoes with gold buckles stepped up to block my entry. “What do you want?”

“I was invited,” I told him. “My friend Max is inside.”

“Max?” he asked.

I raised a hand. “About this tall, pale skin, always smiling, long hair, travels with a pair of women. Has a shirt with poofy cuffs.”

The man pulled out a used but well-cleaned pistol and pointed it at me. “You better be here to negotiate him out or he just got you killed.”

I rolled my eyes, a gesture that transferred to the projection. Crossing my arms, I told the guard, “Fine, who do I talk to about getting my friend out?”

They led me in past a waiting room where some party boy frat types were doing lines and to an office. I heard some sexy moans from further back. The guard who brought me in stood guard as I sat down, soon joined by another guard while a third ran to get someone. After a few minutes, the third guard returned with a cheap flip phone, pressed a button to call it, and slid it over in front of me on speakerphone.

“Who is this?” I asked the phone picked up.

“I am the owner of this establishment. I have your friends. What ally of Mix N’Max am I speaking with?” he had a deep, rich voice. Guy could have been an audiobook reader.

“I am the one you least want to piss off, but I’m willing to keep the bloodshed to a minimum,” I said.

“You are the Psychopomp?” the man on the end asked.

“I am that merry wanderer of the night,” I answered.

“Then it seems I have no choice but to turn them over to you or meet my maker.”

I was impressed. “You don’t want proof?”

The man on the other end of the phone laughed. “The room you are in has cameras that show me what you look like and machines that show me the armor you wear. I am disappointed that I do not have more time to keep Max, but I feel it is pushing it to ask a price of the walking death.”

“That is intelligent and generous. I do not meet many who are both. You have my respect. I will leave you a number where you may leave a message and ask any one job of me. You know, except for killing family and friends. That includes Max, by the way.”

“Thank you very much. Soon, your friend will be brought to you.”

And even though the guy hung up, I did indeed meet up with Max again. He sported a bloodied lip and his usual Cheshire grin, but hugged me happily. Sam and Holly did too when they were let in.

“Let’s go before they change their minds,” Max insisted. Just as we left, he looked back over his shoulder and waved at everyone, then said to me, “I’m surprised you didn’t murder you way through everyone.”

“I told you, she’s trying not to kill people. It’s really boring,” Sam Hain said. Yes, Sam Hain, but not pronounced like the holiday. She had a bright orange she-mullet this time. Holly Wayne, Max’s other assistant, had gone for a shorter pixie cut of brown hair. And all three of them rushed out ahead of me.

“Geez, someone’s eager,” I called after them.

“Where are you parked?” Max asked. I pointed off in the direction of the cloaked Flyer. “See the rope just dangling there out of nowhere?”

“Good, girls, move it!” he called.

He said it and then a thick fog wafted out of the house. The guards out front got a good whiff of it, started tearing off their clothes, and began humping the building. That’s right. One guy went down on the floor. Another groped the door’s knockers. Still another banged the storm shutters like a hurricane.

Max hurried back to grab my arm where I was watching all this. “You didn’t think I actually got caught again? Now come on before things get messy and the drug wears off.”

Holly, meanwhile, was trying to push Sam’s butt while Sam struggled to climb the rope that led to the Flyer’s trapdoor. I sent a signal to system to real that one in. Holly grabbed onto it at the end and joined her up there while another rope came down for Max. Speaking of coming, I heard some groans coming from a second story window where a man was thrusting his cock into the slit created by opening a window a short amount. And then I heard a scream when his orgasmic clenching slammed the window down.

I hopped up after everyone and closed the trapdoor. We were off then, free and clear of St. Grobian’s. I got a call from the man I’d spoken to. “Kill that son of a dog!”

“Sorry, no friends and family, but once you calm down and think of something better, we’ll do business,” I told him before hanging up.

“Do you guys always do this?” Dr. Erishka asked from the co-pilot’s seat, eating a bag of microwave popcorn.

“Hang out with us and you get to have some pretty crazy times,” I told her. Then I laughed as we passed by the Jesus statue that now sported a huge grin and graffiti of another huge, curved thing hanging out of his robe. I even circled around to show off the last part of my vandalism to the exasperated doctor: written on his back, the sentence, “I love you this much!”

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One Night At The Big Top

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The full moon has come and it has gone. For those who have been paying attention for the past year, you’ll know that means another lovely time with my monthly visitor: Reindeer. An overzealous animal rights group decided to turn people all over the planet into weres and some of us retained that condition upon the defeat of that group and the reversal of a lot of magical things they caused. That included Reindeer, who emerges every full moon to show everyone how much better she is than me while acting as a superhero.

This time, I stored my consciousness in the Platinum Hind power armor while my body went through the change. Reindeer tugged on her costume and looked over at the armor. “Think you can get me some civilian clothes next time? I’d appreciate a wardrobe.”

I projected a thumbs-up into the air, then zipped over to a computer-assist system I added onto her costume. For that, I added a computer on her left forearm with more useful features that would have a couple eyes appear in it when I’m occupying it. “I thought I’d hang around like this tonight, in case our brain does weird seizure things.” Now that my doctor’s identified the apparent cause of my brain condition as a computer virus that generates a biological virus, she’s still got to find a cure or treatment before I’m 100%. I want to keep an eye on Reindeer and help out, but I’m also not as helpful like this as I’d otherwise be.

Reindeer patted the eyes, then went upstairs. “Hey Qiang! Want to have dinner somewhere?”

My daughter raced out of her room like she’d been chasing cocaine with Red Bull. Or, as it’s known in the villain community, Speed Potion. She ran up and hugged Reindeer. “Is it somewhere fun?”

“I don’t know yet. Let’s find somewhere!”

“Yay!” She jumped up and hugged Reindeer.

The pair took off and borrowed the Flyer. I bugged Reindeer from her forearm. “Is this some sort of heroics plan?”

“Nope,” she responded. “You got a birthday party with her. I only get to come out once a month. I’m her mom, too. And I can give her an extra birthday dinner. It’s extra fun for her, and I want a life outside of appearing once a month to beat someone up.”

“Is this going to turn into some Killer Frost stuff like on the Flash?” I asked.

“That would be weird. I don’t know how that’s going to happen… but we know what this world’s like. If it happens, don’t kill me, ok?”

“Back at you. And no arresting me, right?”

“You got it,” she said. “Hey, mind helping me scan for anything interesting a kid might like in any states around here?”

“There’s a recently reopened children’s restaurant with a bunch of games. Looks noisy, bright, and you earn tickets for prizes. Absolutely terrible. I bet she’d love it,” I said.

“Make it so, Number One,” Reindeer ordered. “Also, we’re going to cheat and get her a shitload of tickets for anything she wants.”

“We need to establish a couple of ground rules… first, how open are we to stealing tickets?”

“No. And no candy from children, either,” Reindeer said, pooping on my party. “I think I know what your second point is, and no breaking into machines, either.”

“Fine…”

I expected a glorified Chuck E. Cheese knock-off. I got a glorious Chuck E. Cheese knock-off. The building was designed like a circus tent, with an animatronic lion dressed as the ringleader by the door to welcome people in. I left an augmented reality marker noting it as “Target One” in case something goes wrong and/or we end up robbing the place. Reindeer’s got goody two-shoes on those hooves of hers, but I still hold out hope.

The tables for eating were set around the perimeter of the ring, where the audience would normally sit. A server in a mask with a clown face design helped seat us. We ended up near a small stage where they had an animatronic band set up to pretend it was playing music. That included an elephant nudging a rubber ball across a keyboard, three mice dressed like clowns and standing on each others’ shoulders to play the bass, an orangutan in a strongman outfit on drums, a singing female tiger in a trapeze artist dress, and a rabbit dressed as a magician playing a double-necked guitar. The necks of the guitar were even arranged so that the instrument resembled a bunny’s head. I liked it. And then I realized something.

“I did not consider how amusingly you’d fit in when I picked this place,” I told her from my position in her forearm computer.

“Thanks for saying so,” she said, then waved to some kids. “I don’t know if they think I’m part of the show or if they know me as a superhero.”

“When can I go play?” Qiang asked, eyes on a center ring full of all sorts of games. It was a jungle in there, pun not intended. It was what came to mind when I saw how, even with the place being so your view of the center ring didn’t extend too far into the games. Of course it was tempting to a kid.

“Go ahead,” Reindeer said to her. She reached for a purse of mine that she took and pulled out some cash. “I wonder if this place uses tokens or those cards?”

“I’ll go find out.” Qiang grabbed the cash and ran off with a giggle. Reindeer laughed as well and turned to this little computer the host had dropped off with us to order our food.

The food was nothing to write home about, so I won’t.. The entertainment, on the other hand, had some decent 90s music. Nothing too circus-y, unfortunately. I enjoy a good calliope organ or the clown song, but then I also like clowns. After helping herself to a salad, Reindeer glanced down at me, “Call her again. She’s missing dinner and they’ll probably take everything away if I get up to find her.”

I called and didn’t get an answer, so I skipped on over to her phone. I found her in a room elsewhere, somewhere beneath the center ring according to the GPS. She raised the phone and used the camera flash to momentarily stun someone in a Ringleader costume. Then she was running, dragging another girl with her. They started heading up a ladder, but the Ringleader was chasing and gaining. I tagged the spot where I’d remember it and hopped back into Reindeer’s computer. “She’s in trouble, let’s go!”

Reindeer was up in no time. I projected a holographic arrow to direct her toward Qiang, and she jumped, landing on top of a Mrs. Pac-Man cabinet and probably making a collector start bawling somewhere. Once we got close, we heard the high-pitched screams. Reindeer’s enhanced hearing didn’t do her any favors as we dropped down next to an access panel that had been hidden beneath a racing game. There was a ladder headed down. The girl I’d seen from Qiang’s phone was at the top of it, calling for help, a gloved hand on her thigh trying to pull her down. Below her on the ladder, my daughter was kicking at the Ringleader.

Reindeer pulled the girl free, then Qiang, and then hopped down to confront the Ringleader.

“Oh. Oh no,” the man in the outfit said. “You don’t want to catch me.”

“Why not, perv?” Reindeer asked. Her antlers were glowing in the dark underbelly of the circus ring, littered with non-functioning game cabinets.

“Because I already activated the robots,” the Ringleader said. We both heard the screams from above. The man cackled and turned to run.

Reindeer snorted and jumped to land a kick on his back. I hopped over to the Flyer, raising it out of the parking lot and smashing my way through the highest part of the big top. Like all good parents, I would never forget to bring a spare suit of power armor along for my daughter. Not after that time when she snuck onto the Flyer to help me fight zombies. I dropped it down to her at the end of a climbing line and she quickly pulled it on. A goofy giraffe in a tutu smashed a game out of the way with its huge neck and reached for her. I spun the line around and wrapped the giraffe in it. Then I pulled up, yanking the robot out into the air. I halted the Flyer’s ascent and then dropped it so that the giraffe robot flew higher up and nothing at all was behind it when I opened fire with the guns. The giraffe twitched, plastic and metal falling off its body, and it slowly rolled its way through the line like a ribbon dancer.

I left the Flyer in an autopilot hover mode while I went back to Reindeer, who by now had the Ringleader zip-tied and tossed onto the floor of the restaurant next to Qiang. My daughter pulled on her helmet and sealed it.

“What were you shooting at?” Reindeer asked me. Beside her, the giraffe embedded itself in the racing game, throwing up some pieces but leaving us unharmed and it still.

“That,” I answered.

Reindeer checked the Ringleader over. “He doesn’t have any sort of trigger on him. What’s making them attack? Can you hack them?”

I had already been checking on that. “They have no wireless accessibility. I don’t know how they knew to attack them.

Qiang spotted something. She chased after it, stopped, and grabbed the soft hammer from a whack-a-mole game. In front of her were the three clown rats, who had moved quickly. She bopped one, knocking it down from where it peeked out from behind another game. She swung for another but missed, smashing a hole in the cabinet. It’s small armor, not weak armor. The other two clown rats evaded her for another couple of swings before she cloaked, then hauled them both out by their throats and smashed their heads together until they burst open with gears and circuit boards.

“Let’s clear out the robots,” Reindeer said to Qiang. “Gecko, set sonic weapons to fun.”

I also sent out a mass text to all phones massed around the building to evacuate. It sounded like no one really needed my direction for that one. People were running around.

Meanwhile, Reindeer ran for the loudest screams. She found the elephant there, spitting balls out of its trunk at people. She looked around, saw the skiball machine, and kicked it hard enough to release the balls. “Oh, sure, no breaking into the machines…” I joked.

Grinning, Reindeer grabbed a bunch of the balls and chucked them at the seal bot. The first two sank into its body and left holes. The third one shattered its head into pieces and put an end to it.

Meanwhile, the orangutan drummer swung in from above and tried to nab Qiang. Together, they swung up into the trapeze ropes hanging in the air, then the orangutan fell with Qiang on top of him, pummeling him. The robot didn’t even try to defend itself after landing. With a grunt of exertion and frustration, she picked it up overhead. “I’ll break you!” she shouted, and brought it down on her knee. The robot fell in halves.

“She’s growing up so fast,” I commented from Reindeer’s arm.

A roar drew our attention to the tigress clawing at a man’s back. Reindeer threw a basketball at her hard enough to knock her off. “Bad pussy!” I taunted. She jumped for Reindeer and got a hoof planted in her face, knocking her down. Qiang ran up with a hammer stolen from a strength-testing game and slammed it down on the tigress, flattening her back while Reindeer stomped the head.

“Unless there are others, that leaves the lion from the door and the bunny… hey, where’s the guy you grabbed from below?” I swapped around to different cameras to catch everything around Reindeer. Behind her, the rabbit magician robot was working on freeing the Ringleader from below.

Meanwhile, the lion appeared and pounced on Qiang. She screamed, then giggled as its claws failed to penetrate her armor. Reindeer grabbed it and threw it toward the basketball game, leaving it dunked in the hoop. Then she tackled the bunny robot, the pair of them bouncing off the back of one machine to land at a Guitar Hero game that activated a free game as an error.

Reindeer and the bunny both rose quickly, with Reindeer grabbing the guitar and strumming on it, then pointing a sonic weapon at the bunny. The soundwaves rattled it and dropped it to the ground, at which time Reindeer pulled the guitar free of the machine. She beat the bunny bot’s face in with it, then laid it on top and dropped an incendiary grenade to burn the both of them Jimi Hendrix-style. Then it was back to check on the Ringleader and the lion, who was also dressed as a ringleader. The human one was trying to wiggle free. The animatronic was still stuck in the hoop with Qiang throwing balls at it.

Reindeer knelt down by the Ringleader and pointed between them. “Look at me… I’m the ringlea-deer now.”

The man groaned at the pun, then cried at the approaching police sirens.

“I think we’re just about done here,” Reindeer called to Qiang. “Just one thing left.” She grabbed a grenade, ran up, dunked it right between the animatronic’s legs. It didn’t hurt the robot, but the concussion grenade rolled down its shirt and stayed there to blow it to smithereens, civilians protected by all the machines in the way.

Reindeer’s no more inclined to deal with police than I am, and even less so when she and Qiang are robbing the ticket prize exchange for all their best stuff, including game consoles, giant plush animals, and a lifetime supply of erasers.

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Outlaw X Presents: The Raverobber

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It’s that time of month again! Time for me to relax and let someone else do the storytelling for a bit. I have shit to build and medical treatments to seek. This guy sent me a letter offering to sell me holy water with magical curing powers, so I’m busy making a package that’ll explode and send feces flying whenever he opens it. I think I’ll make it sound like an old lady sending in a bunch of coins.

I suppose I should also prepare for the full moon.

While I’m doing that, y’all deserve something fun. This story, again, comes from our friends at Outlaw X.

**

Ya heard it, ya heard it, ya heard it on the X! Hey, Outlaw X back with you people. First off, I have an announcement about the House Music House Party segment. We’re not sure yet if we’re going to replace it for the second annual Funk You And The Horse You Rode In On segment this year. The inaugural event was fantastic and for every thousand raised, we added another cow to the stampede through the Vatican. We’re not sure we can manage the same thing this year. We’ve got something else in mind, but it’s going to take time to collect all the pigeons.

With that out of the way, let’s open up the archives. This one’s a little late for St. Patrick’s Day, but it fits and the author threatened to feed my mother to an alligator if I didn’t have it read on-air. We worked out a deal where I’d put her story out there and she’d go ahead and toss my mom to the gators as payment.

I love a good story of mutual aid, and an interesting tale alcohol, cults, and the power of believing in yourself. Coming up on Outlaw X, it’s The Tale of the Raverobber.

**

Hello out there. My name is Mary. Or it was. I’m going to tell you about the worst day of my life. The last day of my life, in fact.

It started at a party. If you want to get technical, it actually started about noon that day when I woke up and set about getting ready for a job interview. It was over the phone, so I didn’t have to worry about clothes, hair, and makeup. I opened my laptop, prepared to do research, and instead had my attention pulled to the yawning void where my stomach was. Noon. No food since dinner. I’m used to only eating one meal on my days off, but the upcoming interview was triggering some metabolic effects in me and I wanted something to chomp on. Being hungry makes being nervous worse.

I ordered a pizza to be delivered from a place nearby. Oh wait, no, I found out I ordered a pizza carryout. Fine. I figured I had time to get the pizza, bring it back, and have a bite while reviewing for my interview. Then they called early when I was about to turn into the pizza place. And that’s when the motorcycle rear-ended me.

I didn’t even have my vaccination shots yet, but my depression didn’t care. It wanted me to go out and do something, anything, any last little thing to give myself something enjoyable after that pile-up of disasters. It didn’t matter that this was about gong to a bar that might kill me; I needed some kind of win to be good enough. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been there.

It wasn’t enough to just open up a bottle of moonshine my brother got me as a gift. I needed to get out and do something stupid. So I went to this Irish pub nearby and ordered an Irish Hand Grenade. After that, I had a Bushwacker. Before long, I’m dancing to some silly country song about dogs and trucks and hunting and farms. The next big thing I remember, I was sitting by the bar, starting to sober up and drinking a big green drink out of a mason jar to prevent that, talking with this group of people. They all knew each other, so maybe I was going to make friends. I didn’t have many friends.

Things were fuzzy, but I remember leaving there that night. These new people, whose names I still didn’t know because I was in it to win it, were so nice. They would give me a ride home in their van. I got so sleepy from all the drinking and covered myself with this black blanket they had back there.

I eased into wakefulness. “She drooled on my robe, dick! Why’d you let her use it as a blanket?” a voice was asking. A bit of sleep had cleared my head a little bit, or maybe they got me out of there before I could have enough of my green drink.

Someone else answered the first person who complained about the drool that I wiped up with the blanket on me. “She went to sleep. You want to explain to Drunky McDunkface why the route home took her through the woods to a graveyard?”

By now, some of the meaning filtered to my buzzed brain to tell me it was time to get excited. I woke up, screaming, and pushed for the backdoor of the van. Yeah, I’m so smart I didn’t check to see if the van had stopped moving. I grabbed for a handle, pushed the doors open, and ran into a guy in a black robe carrying something. I bounced for a moment, then he swung and I fell back against the rear of the van, tasting blood on split lip and a hurting face. Hands grabbed me and held me down. Someone grabbed my hair. Someone else punched me in the stomach. Someone else grabbed my boob. Then the really hard thing smacked me in the face again. I crumpled like a drunk who’d been smacked in the face with a shotgun twice.

“Jesus, Jones, what are you doing? You didn’t have to hit her again!”

“First, we’re a coven. Why are you calling out for Jesus? Second, the ritual will still work if she’s braindead. Is she braindead?”

“She came out to the van after bozo over there spilled his drink on her skirt.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was comforting to know that was the reason my skirt was wet.

They tied my hands, which began to awaken new thoughts in my head, but I was too beat the fuck up to consent at the time. They shoved me a bit, led me somewhere, and I walked into a tree at one point. My concussion probably had a concussion. Oh, and that’s when I discovered my nose was all bendy and ouchy.

We reached a clearing where they tried to push me onto a table someone set up. I hit it with my hip and yelled, “That hurt, fucker!” It’d been long enough that the daze had worn off but the adrenaline couldn’t kill the intoxication all the way. I leaned on the table and tried kicking, but the shotgun was aimed at me again and the guy holding it said, “Let me hit her again.”

“No!” said another guy. That was the one who had the hood of his black robe down. That was the guy I’d met at the bar. He turned to me. “Could you please cooperate and get onto the table?”

He got elbowed out of the way by a woman who walked up and pushed me onto the table. “We’re gonna kill her! Stop pretending you’re getting laid tonight.”

I tried to punch the new girl, but more of them piled on and held me down while they tied me with bungie cords. Someone held the handle of a shovel against my throat to help keep me down and quiet until they shoved a sock in my mouth. I tried to bite through it, because my brain was still drunk. They left me there while they did some stuff.

“Hey, get started digging!” one of them called.

“Why?”

“We’ll need a grave and you don’t want to be here all night, right?”

They gave me lots of time to work on the bungie cords, but I wasn’t forgotten. The guy I’d first met started hanging out by me after a bit as if he still had a chance. He looked a bit sheepish as he pulled the sock out of my mouth.

“So, like, I know we got off on a bad foot here…”

“Oh my god, you kidnapped me to kill me for your weird cult stuff, do not hit on me right now!” I yelled back at him.

“Fine!” he jammed the sock back in and stomped off.

In a lot of stories, this is where I turn out to have a knife or nail file hidden away, or they didn’t tie me down as well as they thought. I had no pockets and no idea where my purse was. Oh boy, they tied me down well. I strained and didn’t get anywhere when the whole bunch of them surrounded me, ominous Latin chanting playing from someone’s phone. One of them held a big book in her hands, the cover looking like it had old tree roots stuck to it. He approached, chanting some separate gibberish, and the circle around me grew smaller.

Of course I tried harder to get away when I saw the knife in the hands of the cultist next to him. I looked around and saw all of them had knives. Even the one with the book had one under the bottom cover.

Suddenly, an alarm went off that interrupted the Latin chanting. The man with the book closed it. “It’s time. That means we’ve reached the prophesied hour. Now, brethren.” He held the book away as he raised his knife. They all did the same.

And then they fucking stabbed me. Worst day of my life, getting stabbed by a group of like six amateur cultists. And when I didn’t die right away, because they aimed for my belly, they all tried again. And again. Then the leader shoved his into my chest and left it there. When I kept screaming behind the sock is when one grabbed my head, tried to hold it down, and dragged his blade across my throat. Weak and cold, I choked into unconsciousness on my own blood.

I woke up from a cold nap with a bunch of dirt in my eyes and pressure on top of me. I pushed, clawed, tried to see. The dirt gave way easily and I sat up, looking around at how different everything was. It was night, but… not. I could see more clearly. Things were brighter. There were shapes in the deepness of space. I looked around better and could see, now that I wasn’t trying to escape bungie cords, the cemetery surrounding us. A nearby angel stood with her head in shattered pieces at her feet.

The cultists huddled together facing away from me. Leathery pages turned. After a moment it stopped and I heard a poking sound. “There! See, we did the sacrifice!”

“What’s this down here?”

“What?”

They seemed confused, but I felt amazing. Better than I ever did in my life. I got a nasty, fun idea when I spotted the shovel nearby. I eased out of the grave, grabbed, it and started sneaking up on them.

“This says the leader of the order was supposed to be the sacrifice!”

“Hey, I didn’t want to die to empower the rest of you. Is that a crime?”

“We just murdered a girl. Yes, it’s a crime.”

“Shush, this says ‘he who braves the sacrifice gains the power,’ so why don’t we have these super magic powers now?”

“Uh, is there any chance, since it talks about the leader doing it, that it means the sacrifice is the one who gets powers?”

“That doesn’t make any sense…” that seemed to be their leader who said that and turned around. I bonked him on the head, except I messed up the swing and had the shovel turned sideways. It made it most of the way through his head. He fell, drenching all of us in a hilarious shower of blood!

“Jesus!” someone else called.

“Hi guys!” I said, giving a little wave with one hand. I brought it back to the handle and swung. The shovel connected with the flat and loudly cracked someone’s skull. I pulled it back and speared it at another one of them who turned to run. It knocked him down, the spade embedded in his back. He tried to crawl away, but I hopped on it with both feet like a pogo stick. It sliced deeper into him and he screamed a snotty, drooly scream. I giggled and did the pogo stick thing again, hopping up with the shovel in hand. It lifted out and then stabbed into him between the shoulder blades. One more time and it went through his neck. That screaming stopped. There was other screaming going on from the remaining cultists who were running.

One of them tripped and fell into an open grave. The screaming stopped from there, so I ran after another who I could see heading for an old cast iron fence. She stopped when she got to it, since it was one of those fences with a bunch of rods close together, poking up to the sky with pointed tops. She pulled off her robe and got caught in it momentarily, then freed herself and tossed it onto the points above her. She climbed then, using the robe itself to help her up the fence.

I like it. It was clever. And just when she swung one leg over, I dropped my shovel, grabbed the one on the leg on my side, and reached through the bars for the other.

“Fuck no,” she said.

“Fuck yeah,” I answered and pulled her down. Things got messy and shaky and I decided to leave her to die in peace with a metal fence spear in her mouth.

“I’m going to leave you to work out all the dying stuff. If you’re lucky, it might go as well as it did for me.” I picked my shovel back up and tossed it over my shoulder.

“Gurgle,” she responded.

I left her to it to get back to the guy I saw get into a grave. Or wasn’t there another one? Well, the one in the grave was hanging onto the edge, trying to pull himself up but not able to climb out so easily. I kicked him down and walked around, looking at him. It was the guy I first met, the one who tried to hit on me when I was tied up. “Hey, this is great, isn’t it?” I asked.

“What? No, it’s terrible. You killed my friends!”

I scoffed. “You killed… me!” I raised my hands like “come on, dude!”

“And so did your friends!” I added.

“It wasn’t personal,” he pleaded. I poked him a little with the shovel. He swatted it away, but I poked him some more. “Hey, stop.”

“Pokey pokey,” I teased. “Hey, you ever been stabbed in the chest before?” I patted my chest, which didn’t feel hurt. Actually, I hadn’t felt any pain. And if my throat was cut, how did I talk. I looked down and pulled my top out a little. Nothing but scars and boobs.

“Boom!”

A loud noise and searing heat pushed me forward into the grave.

“Holy shit, Clive. Thank God you showed up. God damn I love you and your shotgun right now. Help me out!”

It hurt… a little. I heard some grunts of exertion and stood back up when I thought they weren’t looking. Sure enough.

Clive, I guess, was kneeling down helping pull the other one out. He saw me, and he saw me rub my hand over my back and come away without blood on it.

“Shit, hurry!” he had time to yell before I threw my shovel into his face. It lodged there, cutting into his eye hole and the skin and skull.

The guy who lured me out fell back with Clive’s body on top of him.

“I think I’m stronger now.” I knelt down and traced a finger over the guy’s face. The living guy’s face, not the one dying and pooping himself.

“Please, you don’t have to do this,” he whimpered.

“What was I doing?” I asked.

His voice squeaked, “Killing me.”

I shrugged. “If you say so.” I grabbed my shovel out of his friend’s head, pulled it loose, and knocked this guy unconscious.

I don’t know why they left the grave empty, but it felt like a waste to leave that dirt there. And I felt good. Real good. I filled that hole in real quick, and it was a lot deeper than the one they put me in. Mmm, and that guy didn’t have that new strength and endurance and ability to live through a shotgun to the back.

I kept the shovel and the book. I’m learning so much. I didn’t get the job, but screw that. I put on my ravewear and stole a shitload of cash. And I partied and drank and for once in my life wasn’t too scared to fucking live it.

All it took was dying on the worst and last day of my life. Now I have a new unlife as the Raverobber.

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Gems and Holograms 6

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As much as I didn’t want to, I decided to discuss this whole situation with my doctor. It’s less about medical need and more about the fact that I don’t discuss killing people with the retired heroes I know in town. Or, as Dr. Erishka put it, “It sounds like you don’t have any friends or you know you’re doing something wrong.”

“Nevermind,” I waved her off.

“If you’re actually asking for my help and aren’t trying to trick me again, maybe it’s worthwhile. What’s happening?” she asked.

“If I kill off the final guy, there’s a chance I unleash an imprisoned monster that could cause a lot of trouble. Or I kill it easily, I don’t know yet. Or I let this guy go, but he’s all amped up and under the belief he’s being hunted because I’ve been hunting him. Something bad’s going to happen, and I have some responsibility here.”

“Sounds like it’s harder for you to let him live. You’ve become emotionally invested in him dying. I need you to swallow these nanomachines for me and do not interfere in their programming. A colleague has something he wants others to test and I think its worthwhile.” She held out a pill for me, along with a small glass of water. I downed both. As expected, the pill didn’t make it down my throat before the nanomachines spread out and started heading for my brain.

“I guess it’s an affront to me. I offered them shelter and help. They stole from me. They really didn’t know who they were messing with,” I said.

“Yes. That makes sense. You’re hiding here. What happened when you asked for help?” she asked.

“I didn’t. The cops are useless dingleberries even if I wasn’t a criminal myself. The heroes hate me. The villains… I mean, I don’t want to lose my reputation.” Despite the recapping of my feelings, it was exposing me to the fact that I didn’t pursue my options here.

“You’re either in hiding or you have a reputation. You could have done things differently, and you feel bad realizing it would have been better if you had, right? There we go. We’re going to leave those in. You know, for someone who talks about the problem-solving aspect of murdering people, you don’t seem that smart. Everything you’ve got, are you only good at killing. It ends the same way or it’s the same threat every time. Oh, thank you, that got those neurons firing.”

She had me thinking outside the box. Or, in this case, outside the coffin. She had a point. It’s a reminder I’ve needed in the past, not to get stuck in one way of thinking. And with it clear what I needed to do, it was just a matter of letting my mind wander into all sorts of fun ways of doing things. Yeah, don’t even know what I was worried about. I got this.

I was right to be worried what Yoshi would do. Desperate people do desperate things because desperate times call for desperate measures. People got wind something was wrong in Fort Snelling State Park when every living thing began to die off. Trees and bushes all rotted and fell apart. Bushes, too. Even the grass just died. Being the same power as whatever rusted out Marco’s truck, I have serious questions about how that thing works. It skipped over the part where they reproduce.

The news got there at one point, talking about park rangers not returning phone calls. They got set up and had the camera rolling when they saw Yoshi walking along, glowing from three different points on his body, everything around turning brown and black with decay. When the reporter turned to camera, her hair was graying. Her skin sagged and I guess Yoshi’s got the hang of those rotting powers, because she fell down dead a second later with others screaming.

It was definitely the guy I was looking for.

I still had the armor I used to save some people once. Metal, female in shape even though there’s no flesh in there, silver and yellow. The nanite “cape” that I like to give my armors now resembled shimmering wings. It was an angelic look by design. And my armor’s already shown itself to be resistant to what Yoshi does by happenstance. Still, when the Lady Guardian armor descended from the heavens, or at least the cloaked Flyer in the sky, it did so as one of many in a ring of holograms.

And while those distracted him, the Flyer also began to lower a metal box. It’s the same one I’m thinking outside of, and it was tough to do. Believe it or not, I don’t have a lot of practice at crane games. The setup I made to allow me complete remote control without consciousness projection is going to leave some lag and flaws.

“You’re the thing hunting me!” accused Yoshi.

“I’ve handled this poorly, as have you,” I said through the armor. “But I want you to know that I’m going to give you a chance because you’re the last of your bunch to still have these gems. You chill your shit out, and we can both leave here free and unharmed.”

“Fuck you!” he yelled, turning every which way, trying to rot away as many as he could find. I dropped the illusion right about the time one shoved a mask over his head from behind. I didn’t leave him entirely blind. After all, one of those is embedded in his eye. I didn’t want him seeing, and that wasn’t ruined by me yanking that eye-gem out and shoving it inside a large, armored gauntlet.

That happened fast. He went all intangible as I tried to grab his arms, but the mask stayed on. So I pulled out a taser and shocked the shit out of him until he was wiggling on the ground. Because one of those weird things I remember from past experiences with Dame, the thief who uses a gadget to become intangible, is the electricity has a way of disrupting all that. It creates a barrier that even the intangible can’t pass through, I’m guessing because of electromagnetics. So, shocking him on occasion, I shoved a gauntlet onto his hand. A metal box settled around us as a secondary containment measure; its walls electrified as soon as I detached it from the Flyer’s lift hook.

It’s a contingency. Insurance.

This gave me a chance to check the gauntlet. It held. Hooray for redundant engineering! If I’d lost that gem anyway, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world, but it works better this way.

I left off the shocking long enough to shove a stick into Yoshi’s mouth, then tased him again. And then I shoved the gauntlet onto the same wrist that held his other gems of power, turning it on. I think the teleportation gem fused with him again. He popped out of there, the tracker heading to Minneapolis.

Well, darn. I hoped the taser would mess with that, or that maybe the electrified walls would disrupt his ability to get out. But, as I said, I already turned it on. It took a moment for me to get eyes on Yoshi’s exact location in Minneapolis. He was the screaming guy laying in the street, clutching a cauterized stump while a big metal gauntlet was yanked along by the three gems inside trying to fly off.

It took a little longer to enact the next phase of my plan on account of Yoshi teleporting away. But at least I built the thing with a tracker of its own. It’s very important for the next part that I know where it is. Lady Guardian recovered the gauntlet before it could escape. Heavy hunk of metal I trapped them in. Too heavy for them to fly around so easily. The gauntlet and those three gems are now all just buried in my lair, behind walls of concrete and lead. I was originally going to blast them off into space, but I didn’t want to hitch a ride and I don’t have any rockets that big. If I ever need these things, I know where to get them.

The way it worked out with Yoshi, I didn’t need to do anything. Cops might look into him over the video footage, if they can even identify him. Meanwhile, he’s in the hospital. Being repeatedly electrocuted, having your eye pulled out, and then having your arm sliced off by a fancy glove with a saw in it isn’t a good day for anyone. But he’s alive, and that’s more than most of his friends can say. Maybe it’s a bad idea for me to leave him like that, too. He knows where to find me and knows I have valuables. He also knows I can take more than just an arm and an eye if I need to.

It worked out surprisingly well. Took a bit more time than just killing him, but that would have been as simple as sneaking up behind him and shoving an ice pick into his brain. A sniper could have stopped him for the cost of one round, and while that cost has gone up lately, it’s a lot cheaper than the cost of containment.

Yoshi gets to live. Gil got to live. I was going to give Marco a chance, but Yoshi killed her. What happens next isn’t up to me. I even considered sending Yoshi a prosthetic arm before figuring he’d probably see that as a taunt. Nah, if he wants one of those, he knows where to find me, or wherever he left the others.

It feels like a meaningless victory, but then it was a pretty meaningless conflict in the first place. The only meaningful part came when the doctor came by to check on the probes she’d sent into my brain. They reacted with her scanner to give her information that had her pumping her fist in victory. “Great!”

“What?” I asked.

“You have a virus!” she declared, projecting a hologram for me to see.

I had started to object before realizing this was a physical virus. “How?”

“I wish I had put it together, but your data was important due to your relative isolation to First Earth’s infonet. We believe it’s a data virus contracted through direct neural exposure to the infonet. The host body is forced to produce physical viral structures while the original data is destroyed to prevent anyone from realizing what’s happening. That’s what we think so far. Because the resulting virus is just as much a mixture of flesh and computer as its victims, it blends in. You don’t directly control every nanomachine, but it would see the virus as either a friendly foreign component like your replaced organs or a natural part of your body.”

“Now that I know, can’t we just wipe them out with the nanomachines?” I asked. My solution to everything. They were another idea for dealing with Yoshi, even. Paralyze him. Thing is, I didn’t know if they would remain in him if he went intangible, and he’d probably have been capable of teleporting around anyway. Cutting him up was the solution I wanted. What? Personal feelings can be a factor in a problem’s solution.

Just like my personal feelings this time was wanting this virus out of my brain as quick as possible.

Dr. Erishka shook her head. “That is unlikely to work at the moment unless you go through and visually target each one, which is made difficult by what it has already done to you.”

I thought about it. “No one who matters to you would blame you for walking away now that you have all this juicy data.”

“You wouldn’t, but I’m better than you. We’re all better than you thought. That’s why you’re going to cooperate and say ‘thank you, human,’ like a good girl.”

The thought of doing some sort of submissive roleplaying with Erishka didn’t sit well with me. Soured the entire mood of relief that came with knowing, at last, what the fuck is wrong with my brain. But I gritted my teeth and said, “Thank you, human.”

Not feeling too grateful after she made me say it, though.

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Gems and Holograms 5

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My doctor did not approve of my years-long haphazard approach to mental health. “Telepathic intrusion, usage of every known psychoactive drug and several unknown ones, pseudoscientific advice, alien healthcare involving energy fields, an unstoppable parasite that can restrict superpowers when in contact with a certain alloy. What does this Earth have against proper mental health treatment?” she asked.

“They’re not the best, but I do think my experience is exceptionally bad as far as all that,” I told her. “I wish we did something about that thing with the powers, though. Even though it ended up less deadly than expected, there’s just something wrong about it forcing everyone to be all mundane and conform to humanity if their abilities are greater. Like, who says it doesn’t affect the brains of people in other ways to enforce conformity?”

“If you didn’t rely so heavily on implants to survive, I would suggest we use that as a treatment,” Dr. Erishka says. “As you are now, it’s too dangerous.”

It’s not that my brain is always thinking to make parts of myself work, it’s that my body is connected to stuff to provide energy and make them work in a way that would be disrupted. Plus, there’s the stuff in my brain and my eyes.

“It doesn’t help that whatever this is, it’s even taken my main way of coping,” I muttered.

“What is that?” Erishka said, suddenly paying much more attention.

“You know, killing people. With my own two or more hands and assorted other body parts.”

“That’s therapy to you?” she asked.

“Early on, I was steered to believe that the one piece of control I had over things was how I killed people. I know it’s unhealthy and I’ve realized there’s a great deal of control and power in mercy or doing good things for people that they can’t. But sometimes mercy and doing good deeds means killing someone, and I tend to fall back into that. It still feels good, to take the power from people who are used to getting away with it. I get to be the consequence they can’t run away from. Plus, I find it to be a stimulating puzzle. How to kill a person who can make my body come apart when they realize I’m a threat? How do I kill someone who can disappear with a thought? And even better, how can I do it in a way that entertains me?”

“That is the kind of thing I wish we could have treated open and honestly this entire time and I doubt you restricted your murderous therapy to people who evaded justice as much as you believe,” she answered. She made some notes on her tablet. “You are fucked in the head.”

“You sure you should be saying that, doc?”

She gave me a Look. “It can’t be any more harsh than what you’re doing. I’ll treat you. I made a vow and studying you could help innocent people. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. Back to bed, and no more remote control.”

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. She’s right to distrust me either way. I’m still killing people, I’m just relying on robotic servitors to do the job for me. I’m really liking the flying orb shape. It’s just so versatile. I made more like Zero-Two, full of missiles and seeker explosives. Others haveIt m different weapon systems. Again, I like solving the puzzle of how someone with powers is about to die. Robots with drills and other sharp bits are my preemptive problem solvers. Like “what’s the shortest way to get this robot to the other side of this person?” Call me crazy, but I think the answer involves a rotating bone saw blade. But it could still involve a drill, and that’s why I made so many different ones. They even helped drag some scrapped cars and parts into the underground lair to work on a bigger project.

I figured I should be prepared for Yoshi and Marco the Girl. I had the O-bots ready, so named for their round shapes. I didn’t send them in blind. Yoshi still pops in and out all over the place, but he’s hanging out in Minneapolis for the most part. I know exactly where he is, and a small swarm of my bugs descended to infest the location, an apartment, and keep me abreast of what was going on.

It sounded pretty mundane at first, with him talking to Marco the Girl. As the nickname foretold, she’s a woman. Then, after a bit, she left. “I found a guy who might help us. We should go separate.”

“Splitting up gets us killed, like every other time! We stand a better chance of fighting back if we’re together.”

“You were there when that thing got Mack. Did it help?” Marco asked.

“No. But who is this guy you’re looking for anyway? No one knows who that was at the store, other than she’s new. No one knows about freaky metal enforcers.”

“This old guy found me, somehow. I got away, but I got this card he dropped and gave him a call later. I was curious, so sue me! Anyway, he says he knows about our situation with the gems and the danger we’re in.”

That’s news to me. Unless Ouroboros is pretending to be old now, I don’t know who’s tipping this pair off about me. Curious, I decided to wait. I’d gather my forces and keep them nearby, ready to strike. But let’s see who and what this old man’s about.

Marco went to the airport to pick up this old man. “Mr. Gutierrez?” she asked of the old, white-bearded man in the coat and scarf who rolled a travel bag along to the truck.

“Miss Marco, I am glad you called me. I am even more gratified to see you came alone as I instructed.” The old man spoke with a pronounced Spanish accent. Spanish as in the country, not Spanish as in a general accent related to the various hispanohablantes of the New World.

“You better have a good reason for that. I don’t like hiding things from my friends.”

“He won’t be your friend for very long. The gems you found cause discord between the bearers eventually. It wasn’t intentional.”

“How? Why? What, even?” Marco asked.

“The Great World War I. Everybody experimented with radical new weapons. Italy began a weapons program on the island of Sicily.”

“You were one of the scientists, weren’t you?” Marco asked.

“How damn old do you think I am? That was before my grandfather. No, I am a keeper of secret histories of the world. I know many things. Did you know there is a secretive conspiracy of aliens and demigods…”

Marco interrupted him, “Focus on the gems.”

Gutierrez went immediately back on track. “They created a compound that would cause chemicals in the human body to crystallize. It was horrifying to look at. The leader of the project wanted worse. His son had died on the battlefield, and he sought a weapon so terrifying it would put an end to war. One night, as he refined his compound, something happened. He claimed he dropped it. Others think he did it deliberately. He exposed himself to it and was transformed, but did not die. It was remarkable. They found that when he came into contact with others he transformed, he absorbed them into his mass.”

“Sounds like he became a monster. I’ve seen horror movies. He tried to kill everyone, didn’t he?” Marco asked. Smart assumption.

“Yes, but he was clever. When they sealed him, a portion of his hand was broken free and outside. It shattered into six pieces that they attempted to use, each with a portion of his powers. But mankind grew proud and corrupt. They turned on one another, even friends. It happened time after time, and the crystals either returned to the cave in Etna, or were taken by the killer. The crystals could not get in, but there was some belief that all six could return and free the doctor turned destroyer, Distruttore. The final time, Mussolini’s soldiers executed the holder of the last gem and captured them in a device that appeared decorative, to be saved in case of an emergency. Il Duce never obtained the crystals before the Italians killed him. The gems were passed along as a curiosity… until you and your friends stole them.”

Etna was the location the gem I tracked flew off to. A quick search of some archives I have mentions Italy having disastrous World War I experiments

After a bit of a contemplative think, Marco asked, “So you think Yoshi’s going to kill me on top of whatever psycho killer’s after the both of us?”

“I think your friend Yoshi is the psycho killer. There was never a guardian of the crystals. He is using it as an excuse.”

“Ahem, well, actually…” said a floating orb near the window of Marco’s truck. The two people inside it both yelled out in surprise. “Easy there. Interesting story. Now, I’m not actually anything to do with the crystals.”

“You’ve been killing us? A little ball?” Marco asked. She scoffed, then noticed all the others floating around. “You’re controlling all these.”

“Smart! Yes, I’m the person who gave you shelter and I am no one to fuck with. I’ve killed every other member of your crew other than you and Yoshi. Tracked you down. What do you think the odds are I’d unleash some sadistic killer glass man who has gone insane after a hundred years of solitary confinement?” I asked.

Gutierrez shifted uncomfortably, as many people would do when faced with a bunch of spherical robots armed with drills, saws, and missiles. He stumbled over his words before stopping, taking a breath, and answering, “I would not risk it.”

“Guess that means I should leave one of you alive,” I said.

Marco, black-haired but pale with a tinge of yellow to her skin, turned to the O-bot and pleaded, “I had nothing to do with robbing you.”

“Don’t lie,” I said.

“Fine, I grabbed the box of robot limbs you had. Thought we could get good money for them. Yoshi got so nervous at you hunting us, he botched the deal and had to dump them,” she admitted.

“Better,” I relayed to her.

The O-bots went armed all on their own. Defense protocols. Yoshi appeared in the bed of Marco’s truck, knife in hand. He started to yell something, but a drillbit O-bot flew at his head and he had to pop. He appeared near Marco’s window and reached in to grab her. She went see-through and his hand passed through. She slammed the door open but he popped again before it or a sawblade O-bot could take him out. The next I knew of him, it’s because O-bots began to malfunction. Micromissiles exploded against a portion of the terminal.

The engine of Marco’s truck roared and she began to speed out. It got a few feet before it died and rolled to a stop, with Marco falling through the rusted-out floor. She did that thing again, where she was intangible, to let the truck pass by her. As soon as she was clear of it, Yoshi popped in, and then popped back out with her.

The O-bots lifted up; they’d spotted the pair in the air up there. Since I’d designated Marco a “friendly,” they didn’t just blow the pair of them up. That’s what cost me. After a moment, Yoshi disappeared and Marco came screaming down past the rising O-bots to thud off the hood of her truck. Of course, right about then is when all the cops were showing up and were arresting Gutierrez until they figured stuff out, so I recalled the O-bots.

Yoshi’s on the move again, and I think I’ll go ahead and kill him anyway. Even in my diminished state, I think I can take that Distruttore guy. That, or maybe I can get three of those gems for myself.

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Gems and Holograms 4

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I collapsed going down the basement today. Another brain scramble for me. That’s one way I’ve been thinking about the stuff happening to me. It’s all fun and games until you have a seizure going down the stairs and you fall down. Qiang heard and came running. I didn’t want her to see me like that. She cried her head off, which didn’t exactly make me feel better and it turns out I’m shit at comforting people.

She sniffled and I don’t even know if she heard me when, as I came out of it, I asked her, “Call the doctor. Erishka.” My daughter was too busy latching onto me instead. When I stood up, her holding onto me caused me to stumble. As near as we can tell, my eyes and organs are safe, but I hate being so utterly cut off from everything as I was at the time. The doctor got us a landline and a spare cell phone for the purposes of calling safely.

The doctor didn’t want me to continue. “Do you want me to call Medusa?” she asked, helping me onto the couch for a check-up.

“I want you to keep my brain, my perfectly healthy brain as far as all medical checks confirm, from killing me the next time I use it to look up porn,” I groaned.

“If only that’s what you were doing, looking up swarthy bodies,” she said.

I raised a finger, even as she rolled me over to check something. “It turns out that there are racial connotations to that word. Thought I’d let you know. I didn’t realize them, either, but the English are really obsessed with skin tones.”

“Stop trying to distract me from the issue and this health check,” Dr. Erishka ordered through what sounded like gritted teeth. After a minute of cold things pressed to my skin, she rolled me back over and looked me in the eye, worried. “I need your help now. I’ve been in contact with my colleagues on our home planet and they tell me these cases are accelerating. One collective believes they’ve found the answer, but it may not be true. You can’t order me to make you better because there is nothing that cures you. I need your cooperation.”

I’ve seen a lot of looks in people’s eyes. Lots of mistrust, deception, and especially fear. Fear of all kinds. This woman, who I at one point tried to kill along with the entire rest of my planet, was afraid for me. After everything, she wanted me to live.

I looked away. “Sorry. Sure thing. What do you need?”

Apparently, she needed me on bed rest and only in my own head and body. So it looks like my meaningless quest for murderous revenge will be right back… after these messages! If I’m going to be stuck in a room, I might as well use my smart TV to help me hurt people. Yes, with older models, I had to hit people with them if I wanted to hurt anyone. With smart TVs, I can hit anyone around the world with a TV!

Like over in St. Paul. Lovely, lovely St. Paul. In St. Paul, Hector was finishing piling up every errant bit of evidence in the “safe house” these guys used, which was a house with an eviction notice on the door that they used to meet up in. Hector was admirably thorough; loose receipts, mail, and tools were doused with lighter fluid, along with the walls. The metal would survive the fire, but wood handles and the fingerprints on them would burn. I guess Hector never got called up to the big leagues, nor would he ever.

I’d dropped off a robot. Not a drone, a robot delivered by another robot to spy on the location and . It looked like a large roach and could plant more of my trackers. No fancy holograms or weapons that defy its size. It heard the popping noise that accompanied Yoshi arriving. I updated its orders and sent it creeping up on Yoshi. I knew where Hector was and could firebomb the place with him in it; Yoshi was even more unpredictable since gaining the ability to appear wherever he wants.

“Why not use your power?” Yoshi asked.

“I don’t know where stuff goes when I do it, maybe the FBI building. I know where it goes when I light it on fire,” Hector said.

“You’re just a pyro. Alright. Finish up here, I got to find out who’s hunting us. I got a friend checking VillaiNet for us,” Yoshi told him.

“Go. I’ll call you when it’s all ashes,” Hector said. He must like to be thorough. I like him. Going to kill him, too.

Another good thing about making it so basic and light is that when Yoshi stepped on the thing, it didn’t make too unusual of a crunching noise. Believe me, I tested the robot. I was aiming for a light crackle instead of a Dorito chip. One of the last packets of information my bug sent back to me was successful tracker placement. I knew it wasn’t an error created by destruction when the tracker appeared back in Minneapolis. Outside of Gil and the guy they dumped in Phoenix, they seem to stick around the Minneapolis area.

Fun fact: no matter how fast a craft goes on Earth, there’s a limit to how fast humans can go. I was once surprised by the survival of a pair of antagonistic meat-based supervillains related to this fact. Go fast enough and your body just can’t take it. You can black out or worse. A two pack of killer robots, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about their human squishy bits getting hurt. I even worked out a way to launch things like that without causing as many problems in the town. Rocket launches can be loud, and even cause a bit of light pollution. Launching from my Flyer when it’s already in the air doesn’t cause so many issues, or witnesses.

They’ve undergone limited real world testing but they also come with some really big self destruct explosives in case they really fuck up. And they sent the information back to me. I controlled nothing, though I could break in if needed. My medical condition necessitates relying on these robotic servitors to kill people for me. Things are going to get interesting.

The rocket broke apart in the air a few hundred feet up. The robots’ parachutes unfurled, which gave Hector a chance to spot them. He was watching the fire burn from across the street, either to be thorough as he said or a pyromaniac as Yoshi said. I get it either way. Fire is beautiful.

Robots are also beautiful. The parachutes cut off before landing so they could maneuver without getting The first to land was a more basic and conventional design from this Earth: a sloping square pyramid design with four wheels on the bottom. It moved forward, horizontal clamp and top-mounted pick-axe arm ready. Yes, Zero-One looked like a BattleBot. If not for the flamethrower, it would have been a good competitor. I mean, you can only watch so many robots explode when their fuel supply gets hit in the right spot before concluding that it’s better to waste the napalm on fleshy bits instead of metal.

Zero-One lit its pilot light and then disappeared from existence. Hector had his left hand up, the middle joint of pointer finger merged with a pale yellow gemstone that let him bend the finger still.

“What was that?” Hector asked, looking over at the parachute Zero-One had left behind on the ground. Then the second parachute drifted on top of Hector and covered him up.

Zero-Two is based more on knowledge I’ve stolen from my Earth and from all those delightful alien computers I’ve tapped into. The floating spheroid is riskier in case I got something wrong or didn’t have the optimal materials. Its sides opened and it released a seeker explosive. I combined the joys of chemistry and explosives with those programmable little robots that I used recently in an outing with Reindeer. Except this one is guided by Zero-One, not me. It zipped in close and around back, then blew up and took Hector with it. I knew I got him when the footage from Zero-Two showed the pale yellow gem zoom out of there.

It makes for boring TV. Not a lot of drama, no extended fight scenes, and I didn’t even get a chase scene out of it. That’s by design. A good assassination should be sudden. Assassinating someone who can disappear you like you insulted Stalin’s mustache should especially not be drawn out. I hoped to get more useful data out of Zero-One than just “poof, you’re gone.”

Zero-Two waited around incognito while I fetched a laptop and started checking on the trackers. Yoshi was still hanging out in Minneapolis. But the other tracker I planted was on Gil’s gem before I cut it off his finger. It was on the island of Sicily. I immediately began to wonder if this was some old fuckery of the Three Hares. The conspiracy of aliens, ancient supers, and their superpowered and mundane family lines are pretty much the first people to suspect anytime something seems to be connected to old legends. I don’t know this is related, but Italy makes me assume it is. The only way I’d be more suspicious is if the tracker ended up in Greece.

I figured I’d send a text to… the leader guy. I feel like they had a leader who I knew. We didn’t like each other, but we understood each other.

I’ve been trying to hide or explain away other times when this happened to me. I can usually look it up a little bit. This whole record has been invaluable. Maybe Dr. Erishka’s wrong about it accelerating and my condition’s been really bad for so long that I’ve been lucky to avoid the seizures up to now.

I ended up texting Medusa, asking her to see if a Three Hares person could answer some questions for me and eating a block of cheese to feel better.

My one-bitch pity party was interrupted by Yoshi’s location changing. Zero-Two doubled up on that and went live with footage of another seeker zipping toward the man. The boss of the thieves reacted by disappearing and reappearing elsewhere with a pop, then using his aging power to deactivate the seeker. I wondered a little if the electronics aged into failure before the compound that goes all kablooey.

Regardless, when Yoshi disappeared a second time, he didn’t return. It was back to Minneapolis for him. After a few hours of waiting, Zero-Two started on it sway home. Just a brave little robot on a journey through a harsh and unforgiving world of humans, with nothing but a lot of spunk and a full bank of micromissiles to see it safely on its way.

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Gems and Holograms 3

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When your enemy can teleport, kill that teleporter dude first, to quote Sun Tzu. It’s right before the section on what to do if, and I’m quoting here, “your crew is rolling in mad swag.”

I still find him a useful research, even if it took Maurice de Saxe to bring the helmet back in vogue for warfare. I’m such a history nerd for this world. I guess it makes sense. I specialize in making people history.

Enough bragging. Taking out the teleporter next has its downsides, but I tried to alleviate them. Using Gil’s phone, I got in contact with Mack. According to Gil, he just pops in and out of places. There’s a popping noise, but no wormholes or portals hanging in the air. “You up?” I asked, sending the message off with just a teensy bit more data attached that would report back to me on the person’s location.

Gil was hanging over my shoulder, cut finger heavily wrapped in gauze. “I don’t want to fuck him,” he hissed at me.

“Nobody likes a back-seat texter,” I admonished him. “Which one of us has shown skill at luring people to their doom? Huh?”

“It wasn’t my doom,” he noted.

I popped my armor’s Nasty Surprise mini-chainsaw. “Still could be.”

He held his hands up and backed away. I pulled the Nasty Surprise back in. The phone dinged as a new message arrived. I turned back to it, though I didn’t need to. I was connected to it, though not with my inherent ability to do so. “Need a lift?”

“Yeah, I need to speak to Yoshi. Can you bring him over?” I answered. That was Gil’s nickname for the one friend who led the crew. Calling it a “crew” might be giving them too much credit. These guys sound like a bunch of friends who all help each other steal stuff from time to time. They got supremely lucky, then greedy. Yoshi, Mack, Gil, Hector, the guy I killed already, and Marco the Girl. Their nickname, I guess. It’s because she’s a woman.

The response from Mack came pretty quick. “I’ll bring you to him”

I thought about it a moment, then told Gil, “Leave the room real quick. Hide, then leave once we go and never come back.”

Gil ran for it. I took on his appearance with the power of technology in thrall to my will. I also sent back a reply to Mack to go ahead, that I was in “my” room at “my” sister’s. He appeared with a pop. He looked familiar, but the gem in place of his eye was new. I reached out to him. Gil said that’s how it was done before, that he needs to touch you. I let him touch me. He frowned for a moment, and we appeared very briefly in a room with another of the thieves. Then we popped into existence high up in a cold, snowy mountain.

Mack tried to let go of me. I grabbed onto his sleeve and reached out with my nanites. He kept popping us in and out, messing with me. One moment we were on a mountain, then in a forest, the ocean, on top of a building. That last part must have given him an idea. We changed positions on the building, with me over the edge. I fell, but I dragged him down with me with my nanommachine tendrils. He chickened out of falling off the building and instead we appeared over a steep incline on a hill. I landed first, then him on top of me.

We popped back into the building, Mack calling out, “Help!

Yoshi, a pot-bellied guy in his early forties, raised a fist with one knuckle replaced by a brown gemstone. My proxy body weakened. I don’t know how to explain it. Bones snapped where I was. I transferred to the armor instead, which flattened a bit as it fell over and I played dead. Mack stood up and kicked at me a couple of times, then looked me over, trying to find an opening on the armor.

“What is this thing?” Yoshi asked.

Mack looked up at him. “I don’t know. It was pretending to be Gil. As soon as I touched it, I knew it wasn’t, so I tried to take it away and leave it. It held on. Got this goo all over me,” he said, looking over the metallic nanomachine goo that I’d been using to grab him.

I decided to open the suit, just to mess with them. They were both already dead, but it couldn’t hurt to give it a little ceremony. The suit opened and the pair backed away. I’m guessing it didn’t smell nice in there thanks to the process that caused the skeleton of my proxy body to fall out.

Mack thought that was spooky, but the look on his face when the nanomachines starting dissolving him was even better. Eye, nose, ears, and fingernails bled, and then even the blood disappeared. “Oh my god!” yelled Yoshi, raising his fist. He didn’t know what to aim at, though. He got some of the nanites, aging them into breaking down, but they must not have counted as a unified mass the same way my proxy body did.

Mack reached out to Yoshi. The leader of the gang panicked and kept his fist training on the teleporter. Mack himself began to age and wither. My nanites felt his heart stop from one reason or another, and the gemstone in his eye pulled free. This time, instead of flying off to South America like the one I tracked, it zipped toward Yoshi. The leader turned his cheek in anticipation of the hit, so the cheek is where it embedded and fused with his flesh.

Mack dropped down, the nanites feasting on his body and pulling the matter over to my proxy’s body. Others reached out, forming a spike aimed right at Yoshi’s face. He popped out of there, leaving the nanomachines to take Mack’s body apart and recycle the flesh around my bones. It gave me an opportunity to examine Yoshi’s powder and match it up to what happened when they robbed my place.

Mack had aged. It’s not like he’d been stuck in time dilation where he had to sit there and let it happen. It’s like his body underwent accelerated aging. That would fit with the mines that had been aged to ineffectiveness, or the nanomachines reaching the end of their life cycles. At least Yoshi stopped while Mack still had some blood. I’d need a lot of milk and protein to get the new body I was making up to snuff from having been snuffed.

Aside from that, I checked out the area I was in. I didn’t get a good look at it before between Mack’s teleporting and Yoshi rotting me to bone. Global positioning put me in Minneapolis and my armor’s cameras put me in a large, dark room. Plastic storage tubs nearby held my cybernetic parts.

Light cracked the darkness. A door had opened, and in stepped a man in a large coat with fur trim, flanked by stiff and mechanical humanoids. My armor adjusted to the light to show me a villain in a blue coat with white trim flanked by androids resembling a snowman and a yeti. “Whoa, what is this?”

“Just something between me and the guys trying to sell stuff they stole from me,” I said, more from the armor. The vocal cords of my new body weren’t done yet. I was actually turning out to be a little smaller than before.

“You look, uh, pre-occupied,” the villain said. He pointed to the tubs of cybernetics. “Go pick those up, snow goons.”

The robots stepped forward, but didn’t pay me any mind. A big slime of nanomachines hopped onto the yeti and ate through the metal. What parts they could use were transformed into more nanites ready to do my bidding. Those formed another body, symmetrical and multi-limbed. They walked over to the robot snowman and latched onto its shoulders. The snowman swiped at the legs of this creation, but might as well have waved its hand through a waterfall. The body of my many-limbed liquid metal monstrosity formed into a point that fell through the robot. The snowman fell apart, cut in half and the nanomachines rose as one large blob.

The villain in the coat watched all this, then cussed, “I knew I shouldn’t have given them a deposit first. I don’t know who you are, but they made you mad somehow. I didn’t know. And you know, I don’t want to know anymore. I’m going to go. You have fun.”

And with that, he turned tail and escaped.

My new body rose a couple minutes later once I’d taken the time to get things right. My skin showed the color of unpainted steal in places from where I’d integrated some of the snowgoons into the new body. It was a nice body, but I was done in Minneapolis. The only thing left was to leave a message letting Yoshi know the score, if he decided to come back.

“Three dead, three not yet dead,” I cut into the wall. It gave me something to do while waiting for my flyer to arrive. I was keeping the cybernetic parts. These things aren’t like cash, which I can get from any bank. That’s the benefit of being a celebrity supervillain: you walk into a bank and ask to borrow the contents of their vault for a night of hard partying, the only thing the manager says is, “Ow, you’re hurting me. Hey, what’s with the drill? Don’t put that against my teeth and gums!”

Truly, I live a pampered life.

Seizures are getting worse. Not much better with me sneaking around doing this without telling the doctor. I’m sure she knows anyway.

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