I’m doing better. Not perfect or 100%, but better. The pressure’s down on my ears, and the fever’s mostly gone. I still have some unpleasant times when I wake up in a cold sweat at night. The dreams are gone, though. Back to normal as far as that’s concerned. So now, after making sure Qiang got off to school, I had to pull the house together. Then it was time to shop for Medusa.
I’m clueless. I don’t know what she wants. This might be somewhat related to us knowing so little that she wanted to take things slow. If she was here, now, I could bug her about her favorite movies and books while we watched holiday classics like Die Hard and Gremlins.
I gave her a call. “Hey, you busy?”
“Gecko, hey, no. How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Better, bit by bit.”
She sounded so happy to hear from me, even if some of the nuance was lost to my ear infections. “That’s good to hear. What are you up to?”
“I was just calling to talk and maybe see what you wanted for Christmas.”
“That’s sweet, but you don’t have to get me anything,” she said, playing hard to get.
“I mean it,” I told her.
“I’ve already got the best gift anyone could give though,” she said.
I blushed on my end of the phone. I didn’t know deer could blush, but then I’m still part bipedal chimp. “Aww, me?”
She paused a moment. “I meant a rocket cycle a friend got me. You’re great too!”
That bipedal bitch. “A friend, eh? This friend got a penis? Or a vagina? Both, maybe?”
“I don’t know, I don’t go around looking at my friends’ genitals-”
“Ah ha! So, you admit you don’t even think of me as a friend,” I accused. She’s looked at my genitalia, but this whole time, it was merely to show her contempt for me as a person.
“Hold on, you know I didn’t mean it that way. Are you ok? Did you ever talk to Max?” she asked.
I never did, but she was right that this had escalated more than it should have. “I’m sorry. I’m so bad at this. I just really wanted to give you a present that meant something to you, and I realized I don’t know you well enough to already know what to get you. I’m really not liking how bad I am at this and it’s making things worse. It’s a feedback loop, too, because then I think about how much you have to put up with me being bad at things, and how you’re always the one to forgive me being a sack of nuts, and it gets even worse.”
“That was surprisingly self-reflective of you, Gecko. I hope you keep that in mind. It’s our first Christmas as a couple, so let’s keep it simple. No gifts over $20. And no pets! Ok?”
I don’t know why she puts up with me. “Fine. How’s your quest going there? Fought the big, bad Verdant yet and turned back the magical were-animalism spreading across the face of the Earth?”
“We fought them once. It’s a couple of people in charge, and they have animals fighting for them. We caught one, and she said she’s a bear that was made humanoid. I did not expect to punch a bear when I started doing this.”
I had a funny thought. “Just don’t put her in a bear hug. They’re good at dealing with that.”
“Yeah, they are. She put a guy in the infirmary with claw marks all over his back. If you had your powers, we could use your help with one part. My mage traced something he called a residual magic contrail and he says the artifact doing this to everyone is in space. Like, on a satellite.”
“Bad timing then,” I said. “Unless anyone has a time machine handy?”
“Nope. We need to find a satellite, and it’s hard enough without things flying every which way. A friend of mine at NASA says something blew up, and we don’t know if that has anything to do with this except we can’t pin down the individual satellite.”
It was a decent update. I think they’re closing in on Verdant. They said they were looking into a secret base in South Africa, so they don’t think this will take longer. “Uh huh… famous last words,” I told her. “Don’t forget to hide a lockpick on you or something for when they capture you guys.”
“Do you think I’ll need the one with the EMP device with it?” she asked.
I shrugged to myself. “I don’t think they’ll have that kind of technology, but you never know. You might need a little plastic explosive, while you’re at it.”
“Wish me luck!” she said, enthusiastically.
“Break somebody’s leg,” I told her.
“Thanks, you’re a deer,” she said.
She hung up on me in the middle of my booing her. I got what I needed though. Sort-of. The presents are a small deal now, and there’s not a lot you can get someone for $20 that’s really special.
I didn’t really have to make a trip to the city again for such a small amount, but I prefer it to shopping in the middle of nowhere. What I didn’t count on was being recognized a few times once I parked and started walking along. People kept calling out “Reindeer!” I didn’t think one toy store robbery would get me that amount of infamy among the populace. It might be because I fit the holidays, though.
It was weird being recognized like that, in a good way. I almost liked it. Then this restaurant nearby had flames burst out of an upper-store window, and the dangers of being recognized as a hero became apparent. “Reindeer, help us!” someone called. I didn’t even see who.
I took a moment to sigh, handed off my purse to someone walking nearby, and kicked in a window. Smoke rushed out, and fresh air rushed in, but it opened another avenue of escape for people crowding at the door. I helped a mother and a stroller up to help them get over before hopping down into the middle of a lovely, dimly-lit restaurant that could have been mistaken for a hotel.
I clip-clopped my dumbass down the hallway and toward the stairs. The source of the fire seemed to be the upstairs, making the stairs themselves a pretty terrible route. I paused at the bottom of them then and wondered to myself, “What the fuck am I doing?” Because I could stand there and pretend. Fires happen and people die. Who would expect a deer woman to be the ideal hero to save people from a burning building? No one. I don’t even want to be a hero, anyway.
I thought of the Spirit of the Season, too. He has a Naughty List and a Nice List, and I’m perpetually on the Naughty List. He could always ignore my special request if I screwed up enough. If that even happened. I’ve been having so many weird fever dreams the past few days that the whole encounter with him could have been imagined. I can’t see many good reasons Santa would come around looking for my help. Then I thought of Medusa and how I keep screwing up and how patient she has to be with me. And how it would be nice to reward her patience at some point. To prove she’s not deluded by thinking I’m worth something.
Growling in frustration at both my own thick-headed willingness to do something stupid for Medusa, and the realization that this was all for the wrong reason anyway, I trotted my doe-y ass up those stairs.
I found myself looking at the tank of a flamethrower. Because it can’t just be an overzealous brulee. Nope, it’s me and my life, so a flamethrower’s involved. The world has it out for me! I suppose the people being sprayed down with a flamethrower might have it a bit worse, if I don’t do anything to stop the guy whose face was painted with some shiny, goopy paint to look like he had crosshairs over his eyes.
I grabbed a nearby vase of flowers sitting on an end table decorating the hallway and chucked it at the pyro who was turning the nozzle toward me. The vase smacked into his chest and stunned him momentarily as it broke. I ran toward him and jumped at the last second, feeling the heat from the flames underneath me. I landed behind him, slid to my hands, and kicked back with both hooves.
My hooves ruptured the tanks and sprayed me with the thickened, jellied fuel. The guy stumbled and fell, getting a lot of it all over himself. The nozzle went out before he could send either of us up like candles.
I got my footing under me, walked over to him, and grabbed him by the back harness. “I know you’re all fired up right now, but I think it’s time to nut fix and chill.” I kicked him between the legs from behind, then bounced his head into the wall until he stopped trying to stand up. Then I grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to help out those people in the room he’d been burning down. It smelled bad in there, and not just “burnt human” bad, which is a little like pork barbecue. It was gamey, probably related to the guy with the bunny ears and the scorched leg sitting in silent shock next to a guy with a long face and a tongue that flickered out. He was trying to attend to her, his hands in pretty bad shape.
Since I was playing hero, I meant to say something silly like, “No need to fear, it’s Reindeer!” but it’s hard to keep the silliness and cynicism going when you see the results of a packed room and a flamethrower. The anteater would probably lose his hands unless they utilized nanomachine treatment. Same with the bunny and her leg. Oh, wait, the nanites aren’t working for those who’ve been animalized like me.
There wasn’t really anyone out of the bunch who looked to be in good shape, since the only shield they had was a big thick table that was still on fire.
I felt pretty useless not being able to help them, even though I don’t really like to help people. All I could do was haul the guy who did it down there and hand him over. Playing hero means not even killing the guy for what he did.
People cheered. Medusa called and left a message where she sounded happy to hear about it. I ignored it and just focused on my salad, thinking that I preferred the fever dreams.
As if being part deer wasn’t bad enough, I awoke to find myself nearly deafened, achy, sweaty, and with my ears feeling stuffed full of something that made me want to shove a spike into each one. I eventually stumbled my way to the doctor, realizing I had somehow become sick.
“Yep. Looks like a nasty ear infection and the flu,” the doc said after listening to my breathing and sticking a thing too deep into my inflamed ears. “I recommend getting vaccinated next time.”
“I normally have tiny robots to fight disease for me,” I said.
The doctor looked me over, then began to type away on his computer. “How long have you been using those as your immune system?”
“Give or take an entire life,” I said, breaking out into a sweat. It wasn’t nervousness. The office went from freezing cold to super hot in an instant. I’d say I’ve been brought down to mortality, but I’m an anthropomorphic deer on top of all this. Even as a human, the nanites would affect me enough to keep me healthy. Either my transformation has given me such a radically different body type that they aren’t adapting right, or it’s magical in nature. It grew eyes for me and did something to my implants that give me bluetooth connectivity, so I’m leaning toward magic. I hate magic. And it’d be just like fucking magic to turn me into a deer for December. Right here in a small town, snow all over the place, Christmas lights up and children playing. Merry fucking Christmas.
“I’m writing you prescriptions for antibiotics. I still haven’t finished that veterinary course since the last time you visited. Take these, and I want to see you in here in two days to see check your progress.” He glanced at me. “Get a lot of rest and drink a lot of fluids. No more heroics.”
I snorted. “Trust me, no heroics here. I’m surprised you give a damn about little ol’ me.”
“I help the poor and the needy. That’s you.”
Looking him in the eye, feeling absolutely miserable, I had to ask, “No one would ever know if you gave me something to kill me.”
He turned fully toward me. “I’ll make a note about depressive thoughts. I took an oath to do no harm to any of my patients, even you.”
I stumbled my way out of there and through this happy holiday scene of a town, burning and freezing alternately and at the same time. First I had to get the damn antibiotics, which required a stop in the small franchise pharmacy they had here. Waiting took forever. I can’t be too specific because I began to drift in and out of consciousness. And when I awoke, I couldn’t completely tell. I’d dreamed I’d kicked over a few chairs in the pharmacy’s waiting area. It was all fine when I woke up. I even went up and asked if everything was fine. The young woman behind the window gave me a funny look. “It’ll be fifteen to twenty minutes still.”
Annoyingly, the word “heroics” kept looping through my head during that whole wait until I got my medicine and stumbled out into the cold.
Even the walk felt like it took forever, but I eventually cleared my head of the “heroic” loop by laughing it off. Why I get upset at that shouldn’t matter. They can say it and they can be wrong on their little TV shows. No one will even have to know it was me.
I pushed my way into my house and tripped over something Qiang must have left out. Normally, I’d catch myself easily. Normally, I’m not a sick deer. So I fell.
“Tis the season for doing the right thing when no one knows,” I mumbled. Or I thought I mumbled it, until strong, mitten-clad hands helped me sit upright next to a raging fire that, somehow, didn’t cause me to break out into sweats. It felt just right. Refreshing.
I followed the mittens upward and saw a fat man standing there whose face I had never seen before, but who I recognized instantly. “You again?”
“Making my list and checking it twice,” said the Spirit of the Season.
“Is this your doing,” I said, gesturing toward myself.
He laughed. “No, no, no, but it why you are sympathetic enough for us to converse.”
“I don’t want to save Christmas again or be some big hero, stop it!” I said, throwing something of an undignified tantrum. I think I’m entitled this time. I’m one more wipe from being flushed down the universe’s toilet if I’m lucky. I was sick, tired, and had been craving nothing but veggies since I’d been turned into a reindeer.
“I never said you had to be a hero,” the jolly old elf told me. “Just between you and I, the gifts you give when no one knows say the most about you.”
I don’t like the guy, but I couldn’t resist telling him. At least I didn’t sit on his lap first. And afterward, he looked down at me, eyes glowing like the fire in the fireplace that I then remembered my house didn’t have. “I can help you.”
My laughter turned into a coughing fit. “You had something to do with this, didn’t you? You made me a reindeer.”
I felt a deep chill that ignored the fire and my fever. “I did not.” The large spirit in front of me had lost the humor in his demeanor. That coat wasn’t red, but the brown fur of a bear. And the curly whiskers of his beard weren’t backed by rosy cheeks at the moment. “This is not my doing. This is the season of death.”
After a moment, he changed, easing back toward the more friendly aspect I’d been used to. “That is why you huddle together and exchange gifts with family in the warmth. Someone is interfering and throwing the seasons out of balance.”
“Isn’t this all kinda biased in favor of certain hemispheres, though?” I asked.
“They targeted the portion of the world in winter, in my domain,” he answered, then patted me on the head, the gentle warmth of the fire returning. On top of that, I could smell cookies in the air. “It is my problem to solve, reindeer. You are sick and badly out of sorts. I would not force you to aid me.”
“Good,” I said. “I feel like shit.”
“But if you did…”
“Oh fuck, here it comes,” I said.
“You would be on the Nice list this year, and I could justify giving her that present,” he said.
“That’s kind of mean,” I said.
“It is optional, Psychopomp. No one will know if you refused or risked yourself but you.”
Well, that made it simpler. And when I woke up, I was even in my own real house, with the door closed. I didn’t feel any better, but that’s what downing antibiotics is for. And water. And shopping for extra, really illegal drugs online to try and speed this process. I’m not embarrassed about the horse tranquilizer. I’m, like, almost a horse or something. I zoned out on the computer anyway, so it’s probably just a formality at this point, but the pressure in my ears makes me want to be just about anything but awake.
Still, delivery isn’t instant. I have the fever to blame for not being able to tell if I was asleep or awake. It should have been easier to tell, if I wasn’t having some weird dream about needing to put together an ornament. A big orb. Painting it all up with festive designs.
I know that part wasn’t real because there were no weird art projects I could see around my room the next morning. I didn’t get out of my room much except to fix some veggies and noodles for Qiang before she squeaked off to school. Ugh, now I have to worry I’ll give her whatever this is, though the reality is that she probably gave it to me. So I basically fell to pieces, did some laundry, and sweated my way through more fever dreams.
Like pulling a sleigh a long distance. It’d suck as just a nightmare, because it’s the kind of mean-spirited and tedious nightmare that you’d inflict on someone as a punishment. Now imagine you take frequent breaks from it to roll around in a cold sweat, not sure where the dream ends and reality begins. I actually wondered if the sleigh had a mattress on it, or if I’d dragged the sleigh into bed with me.
After that, my ordeal became to climb a Christmas tree. An enormous one, going up and up. Lights near me began to spark. I heard a roar at one point and glanced down to see a large, black thing dragging chains behind it. I didn’t recognize the thing running around the base of the tree as Krampus until later.
The day after that, Qiang left a bowl of chicken noodle soup out for me. Aww… it was so cute. And she left it for me when she went off to school, so it was cold by the time I dragged myself out of bed like a warmed-up piece of crap. But it was so adorable, of course I gave it a try. Then I gagged, because it has chicken in it. Oh deer.
Then it was off to the doctor’s office to request he at least give me some psychedelics. Fuck, man, I’m orbiting Uranus here without ’em. I figure if I get even higher, things might wrap around.
I hate being a deer. I feel so helpless and jumpy. Yesterday, this child was feeding me a carrot in the grocery store when something fell over in a buggy and sent me running. Next aisle over, a cougar started chasing me. I don’t know if she is an older woman, I just know she’s part big cat now. We made a mess all in that store until the manager thought to start spraying the cougar down with a water bottle. I didn’t like the way she eyed me as I was leaving, though. It reminds me too much of Medusa.
I think my girlfriend’s a furry. I’m not against that necessarily. It’s kind of common in supers, after all. Batman, The Tick, Spider-Man; some of the most famous supers in media dress up as animals for a bit of fun. It kind of explains how Medusa once dated The Human Sloth, too. She’s off investigating this mess with her hero connections, but she video calls. I don’t mind the attention from her too much. I just wish I was out there with her.
But, a few days after my transformation into a deer woman, I’m still not adjusting quite right. There’s the jumpiness, as I mentioned. And the walking issues. High heels have nothing on having your feet turned into hooves. It’s like walking on a toenail.
I can’t even be useful and take out my other body because the mystery of the nanomachines seems to be that this transformation has disabled my abilities. I have to resort to typing all this up and sending it off to another dimension manually. Like some sort of primitive computer-user, smacking on a keyboard with a mammoth bone. At least for the short term, the other body’s taken care of. Got her hooked to a nutrient IV that’ll keep her alive.
So I’m just here as poor, defenseless Psycho Deer. At least whatever magic did this didn’t leave me as a buck with horns or I might have to worry about hunters gunning for me. I get more mundane problems to deal with, like shopping for Christmas presents.
My daughter, Psycho Chinchilla, has her heart set on a Limited Edition Baby Yoda doll. They rushed that thing out in a hurry, and barring a factory the size of a small moon, they were never going to have enough to meet the demand of all the people who absolutely have to have one. And my daughter is one of them. Y’all try saying no to a little girl you love who is now half-chinchilla?
It wasn’t so fun heading to the big city for this. Driving with hooves is another thing nobody knows to watch out for. Then there were the photo-ops as a few people stopped me to ask about a photo with their child. Most of those were near the little areas where kids can meet Santa and get a picture with him, but those are everywhere now.
Finally, I found the store. It was the one with sandbags out front as if it was under siege, and it really was. They were going to start selling the toy when the clock hit not this next midnight, but the one after that. I was too late to be in front of the line, which is why I went to the rear of the building. Geez, there was even a line of people trying to break in, with some in costumes pushing their way to the front of it.
Clearly, there was just one option left to me: Operation Flying Reindeer.
Most parachuting services prefer to wait until warmer weather to drop people, but most of their customers don’t hand them a big wad of cash while going, “Shut up and take my money.” I had on a big fluffy red coat for warmth. I didn’t think I’d need any explosives on this one. The toy store has a few sections of the roof that are glass. Fitting with the siege mentality, they seem to have sabotaged all the fire escaped that could lead to the roof. I watched one would-be burglar jump for a ladder, slip on some grease, and land hard enough on the pavement that something cracked.
It’s illegal as hell, but they’re worried about the bare minimum, like safety nets to catch people trying to jump from nearby rooftops onto theirs.
What they were less prepared for was a parachuting deer hopping out of the back of a plane. And since it took me awhile to arrange things last minute, it was getting dark. I lit a flare, its red light guiding me through the air. I hit the chute and used the handles to guide myself into position over the building, aiming for one of the glass sections. I pulled the line that disconnected me from the chute once I got on the approach I needed, dropping down and smashing through the glass with my hooves, dropping the flare in the commotion.
I fell in to a gigantic Christmas tree that arrested my fall as I skid down it. When I landed, I looked around to find the scene was chaotic for a different reason. A pair of Driller drill tanks were poking up out of the floor, with Drillers ransacking the place for toys. One of them stopped nearby, gaping at me, a toy Baby Yoda in hand. “Drop the toy and nobody has to get hurt!” I said.
He hefted a crowbar, so I drop-kicked him. It sounded like it hurt. When I stood, I found I’d also smushed the toy. Damn. One Driller came up behind me, holding a rifle to my back. I jumped. Deer can jump really fucking high, y’all. Part of the animal package was apparently getting some thick calves and thighs to give me the full animal experience. I didn’t go as high as when I have my armor on, but high enough that the Driller who shot instead hit another Driller who was coming at me from the front. When I landed, I knocked the gun down with my ample butt and turned to punch that one in the throat. A kick to the chest sent him sprawling.
I found another Driller trying to run for a drill tank with a bag of toys. I grabbed a nearby baseball bat and baseball, wound up, and tossed the bat at his legs. It tripped him up, at which point I tossed the ball at his back.
Another thing I miss about my armor is the 360-degree display. It means I didn’t react quickly enough when some Driller collapsed a pile of toys and forced me to run to avoid being buried alive. I ended up hopping onto a nearby model train display that doubled as a ride for children. I cleared the collapse, but then a Driller swung onto the front of it like a pirate, a sword at the ready. Two more hopped on behind me. I reached out for anything and closed a paw on one of those oversized candies. It was a big box of Sweet Tarts. Or maybe it’s a big package of giant Sweet Tarts? My sweet tooth disappeared overnight as soon as I became a deer. Instead, I eye a pack of iodized salt like it’s Medusa with a cock.
The Driller in front of me approached slowly, so I turned to keep an eye on the ones to my rear. The lead of those rushed me, a handheld drill in hand. I’m not sure why he needs it, but I have to compliment him on finding one of the situations where that would be an effective weapon to threaten me with. He charged, drill held in the middle. I brought up the Sweet Tarts to block. The drill penetrated them easily, the Driller gritting his teeth and growling in anticipation. So I tossed the Tarts away, taking the drill out of his hands. Then I headbutted him, kneed him in the balls, and threw him off the train.
“I got a golden ticket to pain!” I declared,, then remembered the guy with the sword behind me. I turned and he had his arm back, ready to swing. I ducked, as did the Driller coming at me from the ear of the kiddie train who nearly got sliced. He grabbed my waist, trying to bring his arms up to lock in a full nelson. I stomped on his boots and jumped. That Driller took the blade in his shoulder and fell, relieving the attacker on the front of the train of his weapon as well. When I landed, it was just me, that other Driller, any of the other ones who wanted to join in, and no weapons. Which is in my element, especially because all this jumpiness has me acting like a cheetah high on energy drinks.
Hook! Straight, uppercut! I had the Driller on the ropes, if there had been ropes. I hopped up and wrapped my thighs around his head, twisting around so that when I wrenched backwards and sent him overhead, he and I both would land off the train. It wasn’t the most fun landing for me, since that still involves coming down hard on my back on a hard substance, but it was worse for him. If he’d known it was coming, he could have rolled with it and landed on his upper back. He didn’t, so instead he smacked the top of his head into the floor. Sweet dreams, buddy.
I arose to the rumbling sound of one of the drill tanks retreating into its hole. A few Drillers were helping their hurt comrades into the second, but they didn’t bother with all of them before they closed the doors and headed back underground.
With them taken care of, I turned to the nearest group of staff and started to say, “Ok, this is a st-!”
They hugged me. They just ran up and hugged me, cheering and smiling like I wasn’t about to rob the place. They were all so happy that I saved them. The manager came up after a minute and asked, “What’s your name, hero?”
I blinked like a deer in headlights. “Uh, I don’t have one. I didn’t really come to-”
The crowd started chanting “Reindeer, Reindeer, Reindeer!” before I could inform them I was there to rob them. The only good thing about it was when the manager offered me my pick of the toys and I grabbed an unbroken Baby Yoda for Qiang. Then I got the hell out of there, being led through the secret underground administrative passageway to a nearby clothing store.
Qiang better be darn happy for this toy, because her mom is not proud of the things she had to do to get it. Especially when I made the news. Medusa sent me a winking smiley and a link to the online article.
“The things a mother will do for her childchilla,” I responded.
“im proud of u. u should join a team,” she typed back.
“Keep this up and the news is the only place you’ll see my big, fluffy behind,” I warned her.
“I’m thinking of doing a Secret Santa for the town,” Medusa told me over breakfast one morning. For my part, I was still in brainless zombie mode from being awakened in the AM. She kicked me out of bed. Me prime, I’ll point out. She’s still not ok sleeping with both of me. So when her pretty foot sent me tumbling off the side of the bed, a groan from me let her know I was awake. And she told me, “Get up. I’ll make us breakfast.”
By the time I shuffled down the hallway, she’d already started in on the cooking. I sat down at the little table we had in the guest house and set my glasses on the edge. I don’t have eyes of my own yet. I didn’t become more awake until she set a couple plates of food down and I saw she’d made the non-puffy scrambled eggs. And as I tasted them, I found she’d also overdone the pepper. And that’s where we were when the Secret Santa thing came up.
“Getting to know people?” I asked in as complete a thought as I could muster at the time. Don’t let the complete vocabulary I use now fool you, dear reader; at the time this was happening, the Hulk could have beaten me in a speech writing contest. I finally wrangled some hair out of my face and put my glasses on.
“Making people be nice,” she said with far too friendly of a wink at me.
I grabbed a fork and speared some egg, then tried to gesture toward her. “Too perky.” The egg fell off. I pointed down at it. “Not perky ‘nough.”
“What do you have against the holidays?” she asked.
I didn’t bother to answer until I got some food in me. Too much pepper, not enough salt. “Because ever since I saved Christmas, weird holiday spirits plague me this time of year. I’m almost afraid to find out what Hanukkah and Kwanzaa want to do to me, and I think the Muslims have something going on, too.” I waved a hand. “Lots of stuff can come get me now.”
“You’re going to let that stop you?” Medusa asked. “My bold villain’s scared of a few snowballs and giving presents. Maybe I should take it easy on you and make you find something nice to do for the town.” She got a thoughtful look on her face as she ate her eggs. “Maybe that’s what I should do. We need to get this place ready for more people. It’s a good segue to what I want to do next year.”
I raised an eyebrow, then hobbled over to the refrigerator for some orange juice. I held some up for her, but she shook her head. “Frozen coffee.” I checked back in there, saw her bottle of Starbucks stuff, and brought it over to her when I came back to my seat. She continued, “I know how to handle the people I’ve been fighting so far, but we need to do a lot more next year. We need to repair the Earth itself. I don’t know where to start. We need to do more than plant trees. We have to suck up incredible amounts of pollution.”
I set my chin on one hand in order to keep my head from hitting the table, my mind still a bit fuzzy. Thinking about sucking pollution up gave me an idea though. Once I finished realizing a thing that sucks al the air through it would cause major weather disruptions if it worked well enough to fix stuff quickly, I realized I needed to take a different tack.
Medusa noticed my vacant expression, probably because of my mouth hanging open, and slipped some egg into my mouth. I paused, before chewing and eating it. “Gross, ya know.”
“Gross? What, eating after me?” she asked, having a little laugh. “Think about where you put your tongue last night.”
“It’s not the same still,” I said, trying not to think about how gross the human body is. Even the sexy ones.
After a few seconds of eating, she told me, “Anyway, I remembered you need to fix your house. Don’t worry about the rest of the town. The insurance person came by and won’t accept that getting shot up by a helicopter with an anti-tank gun is normal crime. Did you know they don’t cover acts of war?”
I pretended to slam my fork down on the plate. “Insurance won’t cover that? This means war!” I stood up, pretending I was going to walk off. Medusa, perhaps because I very likely might go fight an insurance company, stood up as well.
“Easy there. You still need your health checkup after going to space. I know someone who can help,” I said.
“Eh, I don’t know. I’ve had a look with the nanites. If Max and I put our heads together, we’ll sort it all out,” I said.
“Hush. You’re going to go to a doctor,” she said. “I’ll get it set up today and let you know when.”
As it happens, my medical needs and my holiday misgivings would both come to the forefront rather quickly. It happened shortly after I stopped by the little house Medusa got for me and Qiang. The chopper had done a number on it, but I had kept the basement closed up and heated for my machines to do their thing. Soon, I had an army of nanomachines ready and willing to do my bidding. And do they did. With the insurance seen to and the cops having pulled up their tape, nothing stood in my way any more.
I raised my hands to the sky, then remembered the lumber I was carrying. I set it down, then raised the empty hands. “Come, my minions. Your work is not yet done!”
One problem with really small stuff is the effect extreme temperatures can have on them. With nanites, the most noticeable issue involves excessive heat. Cold isn’t’ always the best, either, so it was slower going to use them to repair the house. Commanding an army of robots to fix and clean my house may seem like a petty use of my powers and resources, but it’s really not that big a leap for a world that uses the Roomba. Besides, one of the most important thing about power is using it for the petty stuff. That’s why so many people with diplomatic immunity are constantly getting parking and speeding tickets.
With that out of the way, I thought I might go see what licenses I needed to build more around the town. I don’t know what sort of shop I’d settle on, but I still need a front for my ongoing criminal enterprises.
I was just about to go when I felt all woozy. And itchy. And things hurt. It felt like my body was squirming around. I collapsed when part of my foot moved without caring about the tendons and muscles there. I felt pulled in all directions at once as something happened to me, leaving me a coughing, bleating mess on the ground in front of my property. The nanites swarmed toward me, responding to an emergency message, but found themselves in error, not sure what to do.
After a moment, I couldn’t even communicate with them anymore. Then, in the midst of a feeling like my skull was pulling apart, I blacked out.
It’s a misconception that it’s easy to knock someone out by pain alone. That’s tough. You can knock someone out by hitting them, but that tends to risk brain injury. Sedating people also carries that risk, and others, which is why anesthesiologists are so important to the process of cutting people up to help them live.
So I knew some major shit had gone down when I woke up and found myself moving toward a bright light. Then I saw an old man with a wise, wrinkled face and long, white hair come into view and look down at me. He opened his mouth and said, “Move the light back, you’ll blind the thing. You sure you don’t want a super vet instead?”
Medusa was there. “I’m sure. She’s human… mostly.”
I tried blinking away the glare of the light, but realized I was blinking. No glasses on, but I could see. And I had a really big nose in my view, tipped with black but brown along the way.
“Easy, Gecko. How do you feel?” asked the older man, who I could see now was in a white coat and turtleneck sweater.
The pain was pretty much gone. “Hot and itchy.” It smelled terrible in there, and I felt like my pants were full more than they should have been. “Did I shit myself?” Probably ruined my stash of delicious chocolate pudding I usually keep back there. “Why is my nose so big?” I raised a hand to touch my nose and stopped. My hand was… something, that’s for sure. The fingernails were much bigger and a thick brown color. Aside from that, they mostly looked human still, if you ignored the brown fur and occasional bits of white spots. I pressed my hand to my nose and felt along my face, which had been stretched forward a bit.
Unusually, I felt a desire to get the fuck out of there, my ears flicking around to try and help me listen out for a safe space. That’s when I realized my ears don’t flick and move around. After a moment of animalistic freak-out, I lowered myself back down to the able. “Drugs.”
“Is that what did this?” asked the doctor.
“I don’t know if it did, but I’m pretty sure I need some right now. I don’t like to rely on them, but when I think I’m growing fur and a muzzle, I’m pretty sure the problem at some point is drugs,” I said.
“We don’t know. Her neighbor found her in front of her house. They called the cops, who called animal control, who found her fake ID on her and turfed her back to the deputies. I heard about it by then and showed up, then figured out it was Gecko,” Medusa explained.
“Doctor,” said a woman. “You should see this. It’s another one.” I noticed her eyes flick toward me. The doctor left me alone with Medusa for a few minutes to go see to what sounds like another case of whatever’s going on.
A blinking noise alerted Medusa to something, she picked up her phone. Then I heard the voice coming from it. “Ladies, non-binaries, and gentlemen, I am here to save your world. Those in Canada and the United States are just beginning to see my plan come to fruition. Look upon them and see your future, for the rest of the polluters in the First World are soon to follow. For with my brilliance, I devised a way to put an end to your ways by transforming half of mankind into… animals!”
“How’s that supposed to stop climate change?” Medusa asked.
“You’re probably asking yourselves, ‘who is this genius? What do they want?’ the voice on the phone continued, completely misjudging our reactions. “I am Verdant. And with so many of the wealthy, the powerful, the elite, and the bloodthirsty now reduced to man-animal hyrbids, you have me to thank for saving Gaia.”
“It’s kind of brilliant,” Medusa said. She looked at me. I hope I was glaring, but I don’t even know what I am right now. “Sorry. We’ll stop him, but I think this might raise awareness. I wonder how many assholes in the oil companies are becoming the animals they wrote off as acceptable losses.”
She kissed my cheek. “Don’t worry, dear.” The winked at that, then took a picture and showed me.
Son of a… “At least your boyfriend that time got to have claws as a sloth. And Psychsaur is part lizard. How the hell am I supposed to be threatening as a deer?!”
She cooed and scritched my ears and the fluff that my hair turned into. “Don’t worry about it. You just be a pretty little deer and let me hunt down the bad guys this time, ok?”
I snorted, unamused.
With all the money I’ve stolen, I’m no longer down and out. But with my house chewed up by the lead teeth of an autocannon, I’m now up in the inn. Or the small guest house, as it were. Between the house getting shot up and me running off to resolve the whole thing, I haven’t had time to do what I needed to take part in the annual feast day of the United States. I hear its origins go back to this time some starving Europeans were helped out by the Native Americans they soon thereafter exterminated. Really puts into perspective how much I could have been seen as a hero if I wasn’t so often a pawn in the games of the powerful.
Little did they all know that, with the support of friends and family I could trust, this pawn would go on to be a queen.
Qiang has had a little experience with Thanksgiving, and more would help since this is her home now. Plus, who doesn’t like to have a day when you and your daughter can stuff lots of delicious food down your throats? But the turkey wasn’t thawed. The dressing wasn’t dressed. I hadn’t even cut the cheese!
Even the option of grabbing food from a Chinese place wasn’t available. They didn’t have one in Radium. So I really thought I was kinda screwed. I continued thinking so when Medusa showed up on my door, but that also involved the good kind of screwed. Especially when she smiled. I don’t know why she’s with me, but I do so love that smile. She could do so much better than me. I threw my arms around her and hugged. Qiang ran up and joined us, squealing all the way.
Medusa bent down to pick up Qiang and kiss her on the cheek. “How are you?”
“Good! Mama made pretzel snacks and I was watching She-Ra,” she responded. It’s true. Found a recipe for doing stuff with pretzel sticks, peanut butter, and dipping chocolate. Double the hands makes easier work, even if I lost a pair of arms and ended up replacing them with another body I control. I need to give her a name.
“You like She-Ra, huh? Are you a Princess of Power too?” Medusa asked.
Qiang nodded happily, then added, “I think I could beat She-Ra.”
I laughed at that. I’ve moved away from using the TV stuff as a lesson for my girl. She’s learned a lot, and she still does some of the exercises, but it occurred to me that I could just let her be a kid. Sometimes that means she wonders about fighting characters and we get a little fighting practice in that way. She doesn’t think it’s fair when I wear glasses with googly eyes for lenses though. She’s too busy laughing to fight back effectively.
Medusa let Qiang down, then looked to me. I raised an eyebrow and said, “Hey Adora.” When she cocked her head in confusion, I added, “It’s from the show. If you follow it, that was actually pretty flirty.”
I let her in and she walked with me to the tiny kitchen corner of the living room where I had a chicken in its packaging, along with a clove of garlic, a lemon, and an onion. “Looks like you’re making a go at it,” she said.
I shrugged. “You don’t just go to a place and declare it a home. And I got really lucky and remembered to grab that. It’s no turkey, but I can do amazing things when you let me shove object A inside orifice B. And we know what the B stands for.”
“It would make a good addition if you want to bring it by the school,” she said. “We’re having a get-together for people who don’t have a big family to spend the day with. A lot of new arrivals to the town have a troubled history without a lot of family in their life, for good or bad. Someone thought it would be a good idea to see if we can handle a meal together.”
“Sounds risky. What next, a hero falling in love with her villain?” I asked.
She grinned, then ran a finger down my forehead. “You fell in love with me first. Admit it, evil doer.”
“Yeah I did. Got away with stealing you, too,” I grabbed her hand. She started slightly when my other pair of arms wrapped around her from behind and started nuzzling the back of her neck.
“That’s not fair,” Medusa whined, not sounding at all like she meant it. “Neither is not having the time… or space.”
She had a point. This place was tiny, maybe Qiang shouldn’t be able to hear every single aspect of my sex life.
The redhead pulled the hair away from Medusa’s ear to whisper to her, “Fine. I would love to eat out with you. Later. For Thanksgiving.”
She’s so cute when she’s blushing that heavily. She stayed and we calmed down over cups of hot chocolate. She even, I noticed, made an effort to address my other self as me, too. See, and here I wanted to gradually try and see what I look like, but now this gives me ideas to do a twin thing. I don’t know if I’m overthinking this or not overthinking this enough, especially because a relationship is involved. That and my own weird issues about bodies. As soon as I get done questioning my own mental health due to a prolonged period without my medication and unknown alien medical treatment of my brain, I should probably see someone about that.
That little party she was talking about sounded like a good idea, except for the fact that she invited me to it. I have to wonder how many heroes, or even other villains, are going to be happy with me as a neighbor. But I went, sending just the one body and resolving to bring back a big plate for the other one. Chicken and mac and cheese for everyone! Albeit, that’s much less of a celebratory thing if you’re vegan and lactose intolerant. We all have our struggles with intolerance. Even my poor daughter has issues with dairy, which is why I used tiny machines to reprogram her body to be fine with dairy. And that’s how we’re finally going to solve issues of bigotry. Little robots that make people better.
As thankful as Medusa must be that I’m not in control of a country anymore, she seemed plenty happy to see me walk through the double doors to the school’s cafeteria, which was a pretty standard-looking cafeteria if you ignored the paper mache turkey statues everywhere. Kinda makes it worse in my view. Like those stories of Vlad the Impaler dining in the middle of a forest of his victims.
It was a diverse group, though. Pretty sure some were aliens, including at least one of those Visitors from the Hares. Medusa managed to escape from a couple of guys, one of whom was white but had these thick dreadlocks with neon lights integrated into them glowing purple and blue. “Hey! Glad you decided to come out of your shell for the holiday. More out of your shell.”
I blinked a few times and blew some red hair out of my face. That phrase tickled something in my brain, like there’s an revelation waiting to happen. I put it out of mind and smiled. “Interesting crowd you’ve got here.”
“Orphans, refugees, people who had to find a family, people kicked out of families… I do not know a lot about my own heritage as an orphan, but many have a good reason to be disgusted by a celebration of colonization. I choose to view it as a day when people who do not wish to do that can be together with family and remember their blessings,” she said.
“…Yeah, that’s one way to justify it,” I said. “Though blessings is a bit more religious than I’d care for.”
She rolled her eyes and kissed my cheek. “Good fortune then. Come on, let’s go set this food down. Qiang, let me help your mom and I’ll show you the kids section.”
“I see it!” said my daughter, running off. Another revelation tickled my mind, that even though I’d adopted that girl and then did a creepy thing where I replaced her father’s DNA with mine while giving her my “powers,” she was reminding me a lot of me.
She led me through a crowd that was half-milling, half sitting at big table. No one was eating yet, but many of those seated had the hungry look of the wolf in their eyes. One woman had the elongated muzzle and extensive body hair of the wolf. After a moment, she clutched a silver pendant around her neck, closed her eyes, and became more human. Hey, she’s more honest. Some of us monsters hide inside a regular human body.
Again, that weird tickling in my brain, like that fairy from Ocarina of Time.
I got plenty of looks, but I think most of them were aimed at the cock I set down on the table.
Then came the time I didn’t really want to do. Mingling. I can mingle. I have the capacity to mingle. I just don’t have much tolerance for it. It’s like Christmas music. You’re capable of enjoying it, but by the time the three months of holidays are over with, the last thing you want to do is mingle all the way. Luckily, this is one of those areas where Medusa complements me. “Hello everyone, this is my girlfriend Delilah.”
Between the Feds and the sheriffs, the name ended up sticking. If I’d been more serious about it, I still don’t know what I’d have gone with. Victoria, maybe? Open your eyes, Victoria… just something from a song that speaks to me.
So I got introduced around on Medusa’s arm, meeting people and trying to keep track of names. I even met an older fellow with a paunch named Dave who told me he’d called the cops on those guys breaking into my house. “Thank you,” I told him. “I could have handled it on my own, but thanks.”
He waved it off. “We’re building a community here. We all handle outside problems like that.”
And before long, it was time to sit down and eat, with folks welcome to give whatever blessings they wanted, to deities foreign, domestic, imported, and extraterrestrial.
We didn’t make it through before someone shouted, “Now I remember! You’re the bastard who stole my sidekick!” Someone threw a glass of water on someone else, who followed up by smashing a piece of pumpkin pie into the first person. Next thing I know, I’m shielding myself with a platter like Captain America and fending off some guy charging at me with a turkey for a helmet and wielding a meaty leg as a club.
I grabbed a ladle of mac and cheese and flung it into his face, causing him to skid on the tablecloth. He couldn’t stop his momentum as I smacked him with the platter and sent him flying. Lucky for him he had a helmet. It might have been a friend of his who dumped a bowl full of cranberry sauce on my head, though.
By the end of the night, Medusa, Qiang, and I all walked out of there covered in various foods. I had grabbed a bit of cheesecake before someone could fall in it and was nibbling on the piece. I reached over and offered some to Medusa. “No thanks. This was a horrible idea.”
“Are you kidding?!” Qiang and I both perked up.
“That was awesome!” My kid shouted.
“The food was good. The entertainment was fantastic. If more Thanksgiving arguments went like that, we’d all have a lot more fun,” I added.
“Aww, you guys,” Medusa said. “I could hug you, but I won’t.”
“Yeah, I got you good with the gravy!” Qiang giggled.
Medusa’s mouth dropped. She looked to me, “Can you believe that?”
I nodded. “I can. You smell delicious right now.”
It’s kinda funny that by the time Medusa finally got back to me about the situation where my house got shot to pieces, I was on the road to Detroit. “Gecko, where are you?”
“I’m on the way to solve this entire misunderstanding,” I told her.
“This is more than a misunderstanding. You’re lucky it wasn’t a funeral.”
“Eh, that hand grew back, and it would have simplified things all around if the Legionnaire I stole was killed,” I suggested.
“That’s harsh. You left her and your daughter here while you go where?”
“I won’t be gone long. I’m limiting the length of my trips. This’ll all be resolved soon. I’m just paying a visit to some bankers in Detroit. Don’t worry, they did some illegal stuff too, so it’s all going to work out in the end.”
“Promise me something?” she asked. “I am not asking much, but promise me you will try not to kill everyone. I’m not asking for much except that if you think you’re a necessary evil, don’t be an indiscriminate one.”
I considered a moment, watching the scenery pass me by as rural nothing turned into suburbia. “One step at a time, eh?”
“I know there’s a good person in you. You just need help bringing her out,” Medusa told me.
“I don’t deserve you,” I told her.
She laughed. “Yeah, you don’t.” Wow, just slide the knife into my heart all casually. “But I want to make the effort for you. You annoying nuisance that stays under my skin and then jump in front of a rocket to save a little girl. You’re better than you think you are. Remember that, and get home soon.”
That explains why I was in a surprisingly happy mood when I walked into the lobby of the bank corporation’s building. I looked like just another woman in a dress. I could say I was being inconspicuous, but merely being a woman in public works against that often enough. Someone else got on with me, a young man. “What floor are you looking for, ma’am?”
“Seven,” I said. “Do you know Frank Morton?”
The man pushed the button for me. “I don’t think so.”
“Older guy. Piercing blue eyes. Dark hair that’s starting to turn grey,” I described the guy I’d looked up. The guys got a lot friendlier after I started shoving money in their hands. They worked for this guy who worked for the bank, but didn’t want the bank to know what they were doing. Morton was a clever one. He even had a way to trace money based on scents humans can’t detect. Hiding the helicopter, now that’s the part that seems tricky to me. He’d be a clever guy to have on my side, but I see how he treats his business partners here.
His was office 707. “Hello, how may I assist you?” asked the woman sitting at the desk in the waiting area to his office.
“I’m here for Morton,” I told her.
“What’s this regarding?” she asked.
I glanced down at the nametag on her desk. “Miss McBain, this is regarding a sensitive matter. Perhaps you’d like to tell him it’s about that helicopter rental he hired recently. Or a matter of some discrepancies in the amounts stolen recently. I have a feeling he knows how the details keep getting out to the press.”
She fired off a text using her computer. I could feel it racing off through cyberspace. “Mr. Morton is in a meeting right now, but I’m sure he would be happy to hear what you would like to talk to him about. If you’d like, you can wait in his office.”
I leaned in close. “Yeah, you know too, don’t you? Needed the money?”
She looked at me and stayed very still. And very quiet.
I nodded. “Not a lot you can do sometimes but take the money and look after your own. Will he be long?”
“I don’t know,” she mumbled.
I waited in the office. Five minutes later, two men who were not Frank Morton walked in. They found me lounging in his chair, behind his desk, tapping away at his computer. “Something I can help you boys with?”
They wore polos and khakis, but didn’t look like that was their normal attire. One adjusted a pair of gloves on his fists. The other looked around the office from behind a pair of thick glasses. The one with the gloves threw a fist at the air. A fiery fist flew from his gloves and in my direction A second one caught me from behind somehow. And I’m in my armor. I can see all around me, but the guy who threw the punch stayed in front of me.
I ducked to the side, but the one from behind caught me and spun me into the desk. Well that didn’t seem like much of a threat, until I saw a hole open up in front of me. I looked through it into the face of the guy with glasses, who dipped out of the way and let the guy with the gloves reach through. He tried to pull my head into the portal. He soon found why his punches were so ineffective. I tugged back, and grabbed his arms.
“I wonder what happens at the edge of the portal?” I asked, then yanked his arms down. I heard a cry from behind me as I looked down at two severed arms. The portal closed in front of me. I jumped to my feet and looked down from near the ceiling. I pulled my head back down just before the portal snapped shut.I kicked back and sent the fried remains of the computer monitor toward them, but caught it in the face thanks to the portal guy. Then he took the leg I was standing on off at the ankle.
I fell, adrenaline surging through me at the same time I suffered the mixture of sudden loss of feeling except for pain. There was also some phantom itching in my foot. I knew this guy was clever, and I didn’t have much time before my blood made it really obvious where I was, so I turned invisible and rolled to the side.
Glasses approached cautiously, trying to get a read on where I’d gone and how I’d gone. I hopped up and exploded his skull with my fist before he could finish me off. With no one left to consciously try and stop me but the punch guy, who looked to be in shock if he hadn’t bled out already, I took a moment to gather my body parts. That meant holding my ankle back to me while the nanomachines populating my armor realized they needed to put two and two together. And in the right direction.
A quick examination while I sat there healing showed that those metal gloves worn by the puncher were lined with circuitry. I didn’t get such a good look at the glasses of the teleporter because those were nearly in as many pieces as his skull. The frames were all bent and didn’t appear to be any higher technology than whenever this dimension invented eyeglasses.
Marvelous invention. Think how many geniuses or fearsome warriors were neglected throughout history for being too near-sighted to be seen as anything but a burden to this burden or that hamlet. I couldn’t see any way these were special, but I pocketed them along with the gloves. Regardless of how Medusa would feel about the bodycount, I felt she’d appreciate that I was keeping potential weapons out of people’s hands. So maybe I did it for her instead of for me.
I stepped out the door, calling, “Miss McBain…” She was gone, having skedaddled at some point while I waited or fought. “…when you get back from vacation, hold my calls.”
I took up her place at her computer, which had been left on and unlocked. I’d say that’s sloppy, but loose ends often worry more about being tied up. There was the program she used to text her boss.
“Would you like me to have lunch brought to you outside the conference- %&!(%,” said the corrupted message. There’s not a lot of room to work with, but there was enough for me to embed a tracer. It reached him, and then I knew where he was. The 12th floor, Meeting Room C. Ouch, not even important for the second-class meeting room. No wonder he’s been skimming.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” I yelled upon throwing open the door of the meeting room. They had the lights dimmed and were projecting a presentation off a laptop. I spotted Frank Morton near the front of the seating. I stayed near the back, just some bombastic woman. “Please, don’t get up. I am become Death, destroyer of worlds, and I’m here for one person in particular. Now, can anybody tell me who that person might be?”
People instead pulled out their phones and started to call. I dropped the holographic projection and let them see the armor. “I’ve already killed several goons in the personal employ of one of you. I doubt the rest of you have much better to offer. And, as I said, this is a special offer for Frank Morton alone.”
He was opening some sort of app. I sent his phone into airplane mode, then shut it down. “No, don’t bother calling in anymore of your friends. You oughta know after the first seven henchmen you sent to threaten and steal from me, and the helicopter with the autocannon, and then the two fellows with superpowers currently stinking up your office that I am a little more than you can handle. I am, in fact, an outside-context problem to your little scheme. Anyone know what I’m talking about, folks?”
“This is the criminal who has been robbing us!” Morton said, hopping to his feet and pointing the finger.
I bowed my head. “True, but lucky for the rest of you, I didn’t take nearly as much as Frank here says I did. Isn’t that right, Frank? Somehow, some fake money got into those armored trucks and into that vault? Then reports get out of more money stolen. I wonder which amount ended up being told to the insurance company, Frank.”
There was a murmur at that, but that could have been anything. They were panicked. I’m pretty sure one old lady shat herself.
I walked around the seats toward Frank, who tried to race around the other side. I lept the seats in a bound and caught him under my arm, giving him a noogie just because I could. “Not enough you used some thefts to cover up skimming, but you got greedy. You wanted the stolen money, too. And that, Frank, is where you met a problem. Me, specifically.”
“Why should they believe a thief like you?” Frank spat from under my arm, finding out it was tougher to pull out of my grip than he expected.
I rubbed my knuckles into this hair like he was a playful rogue. “That’s a great question. Could be some of these fine folks are in on it… in which case, you should know I’m recording all of this. And as much as they might hate losing this money to a turncoat, I expect they’d hate having such an open and shut case hand-delivered to banking regulators of all nations. Even the IRS would have to get off its ass and pull out the snappy latex gloves to dig up y’all’s asses and find those undeclared earnings.”
That seeped in. Truth is, after decades of being gutted, I’m not sure how many teeth the IRS has left when it comes to banks with lots of cash. But I know some people still fear them. Even worse, other countries have competent regulators. Banks really like doing business across borders.
I let out a faked chuckle, then lifted Morton up by his throat. “But, really, if I can’t trust the goodness of their hearts or their greed, I can trust you, Frank.”
And with that, I reached up his ass and felt around. He screamed, as most would do when given an unexpected fisting that tore right through a business suit. It stopped when I pulled down. I didn’t get the whole spine out of his asshole. I could have, but I felt it made a better image to leave it half-unfinished.
Maybe call it optimism. Maybe call it pessimism. Either way, it isn’t survivable, and I call it being done with this.
“And make sure everyone who wants to follow up on those thefts with violence toward me and mine gets that message,” I said, tossing the twitching form of Frank Morton up onto the table at the front of the room and disappearing.
I tried to call Medusa about getting these cops to let these guys go, but she’s super busy right now. Something about a time-sensitive kidnapping and a rich guy trying to build anti-super robots. I’m pretty sure that project is doomed to failure, but she insists she needs to deal with it right now. I tried letting the sheriff who took my statement know instead, but he insisted they knew what they were doing and I didn’t need to worry.
Medusa’s not around as much as I’d like. I might have to start pulling some crimes that will draw her attention. Make her chase after me. Mmm. I’m beginning to understand why Catwoman teased Batman so much.
But that’s for later. I’ve had my armor checked over. There were some connective issues with the hood and the rest of it. I made sure to recolor the thing, and get rid of the symbol that resembled Mr. Omega’s. See, if you have a gimmick or a certain sort of name, it’s so much easier to have a symbol. Medusa can just go with an M stylized a certain way. Someone with fire powers or ice powers has any number of flame or snowflakes to go with. I favor smiley faces, but that’s pretty generic. Eh, generic might be a good look for me if I’m in hiding again. I went ahead and left the chest blank, but figured I could always project a symbol if I need it. I’m hoping to have more time to build up my resources before most people know I’m around.
Yep, the armor’s better off. My worktable is coming along. The green house is up, but not powered yet. And Qiang’s studying math. She’s got a study buddy. It’s cute. Also pretty meaningless, because I could just build her an internal calculator to figure all that up, but at least part of the problem later on is knowing enough about a situation to figure out which equations to apply. I dunno, might have to wait on that until her body’s stopped doing so much growing.
I thought we were doing just fine as far as the bank’s thugs, too. The ones who got caught posted bail soon after the judge set it. No big hassle or fuss. One of the sheriffs knocked on my door one morning to let me know the four who had been arrested had gotten out and were staying at the Flamingo. It’s this tiny motel by the highway. More the sort of place for people who need to stop for the night, from my evaluation using a drone. I’d call it crappy, but no more so than any other aging highway motel that doesn’t belong to one of the big chains.
I kept an eye on them. That was all I planned to keep on them. If I had any plans of murdering them, and I’m not saying I did, they involved waiting until the guys left. Less of a headache for people around the town that way. I know, it’s silly, but I might as well not be a complete ass to the people who looked after my daughter while I was hurled into the deepest reaches of space to contend with space Nazis and produce a space opera. That was fun, but I have a family to look after. That sometimes means not painting a couple of hotel rooms red with the blood of four hapless thugs who thought they could intimidate me.
I was actually cooking dinner when the attack came. I was frying porkchops when this roar started. I saw the wall above the stove tear open and I dropped to the floor. Oil and egg spilled everywhere, burning the crap out of my right leg before I crawled out of the splash zone. It just did not let up. Down in the basement, I had my puppet stand up and ready my suit. In the kitchen, I crawled for the basement door. It took me longer than normal to get there, maybe five seconds to scoot over and fling myself down the stairs. Longer than it should have. The sudden rush of adrenaline and the constant roar of what I realized had to be bullets cutting my house in half combined to make time feel slower than usual.
I got dressed about halfway up the stairs and crawled my way up. The nanites living in the suit were working on my burned leg when I went to pull myself up the stairs on while the gun made another pass in the opposite direction. One moment, I have my hand on a railing at the top of the basement stairs. The next, I no longer have a hand. This was disturbing in a couple of ways. Allow me to list them.
First, AAAAAAARGHGH! Fuck that fucking hurt like a son of a bitch.
It’s not much of a reason, but it is the one I fixated on for a minute before the nanomachines closed up the mess where my right hand had been. It wasn’t even taken cleanly at the wrist, instead having something of a tiny stump of a hand and a thumb still there.
Second, that meant the person was using a hellaciously powerful and expensive weapon. That’s like Warthog jet anti-tank cannon stuff. I ducked down into the basement, reaching out. It took some looking in the cameras outside before I found one that caught a glimpse of the helicopter out there. It was a bigger one, but not military. They had a really long autocannon sticking out of the doors of the passenger compartment.
I was going to see what I needed to do to crash it or throw them off long enough to get outside and take it down, but then I saw a sheriff’s truck pull up. It had one of those coverings on the bed that made it look like an SUV or something, but that split apart and a turret rocket launcher rose up.
This asks the classic question: explosions? Explosions!
The police fired first. In most circumstances, this might be an objectionably turn of events, but not when someone’s shooting at me with an anti-tank cannon from a helicopter. That same helicopter went up in a brilliant fireball, rising briefly before coming to a rest on my lawn. And then I had to realize I just got saved by the cops. Ugh. So, let’s add anti-aircraft defenses to the list of building projects. I’m thinking lawn gnomes with a flak cannon or a wind vane that doubles as a SAM launcher.
The sheriffs began to disembark, which is why I took the time to make my armor appear to be just normal clothing. When they opened the door, they found me holding a flip-flop and ready for war.
“Easy, ma’am. We got ’em,” said the lead deputy through the door. The one behind him had her gun out, showing off some unusual glowing parts for a revolver to have. He turned toward her. “Check around.” He turned to me again to add, “Now I know why your friend Medusa said you were the one we’d have trouble with. What have you got yourself into?”
I folded my arms across my chest. The illusion didn’t wince like I did, and seemed to have both hands. “Nothing. Maybe I just made a withdrawal from a bank that really doesn’t like losing my account.”
He looked at me, then back out to the street. By now, of course, a bunch of people were watching the helicopter’s fire die out. “Now you’re becoming a pain in my ass.”
“What’s up is something I didn’t think would follow me here,” I told him. “And when it did, I tried to take steps to make sure it wouldn’t come back here.”
He turned to look outside as the ambulance and fire truck pulled up. “You are making it hard for me to protect you as a member of this community, you know that? Do you need to see the paramedics?”
I shook my head. “Nah, not even just one. Listen, give me a few days to clear this up, nip the problem in the head, and you won’t have anymore awesome action sequences involving rockets and helicopters to worry about.”
“Or what?” he asked, looking back at me. “I wasn’t aiming to arrest you, not unless you’ve got anything you’d like to confess to.”
“I must confess, I’m perfectly innocent,” I said.
He snorted. “I doubt. I’ve seen your girlfriends. Not judging.” He held up a hand. “If they keep finding you, we might have to move you into protective custody is all. You can’t raise a little girl in a house that keeps getting shot up by miniguns!”
“In this case, a minigun would be smaller and less powerful,” I pointed out.
“My point is I’m not your enemy,” he said, “but we need to figure out some way to stop whoever this is from attacking our community. Do you know of anyone who might want to hurt you?”
“I do, but I’m invoking my Fifth Amendment Rights on who that is.”
Frustrated as the sheriffs were over this whole mess, they eventually left me, my backup body, and my daughter in peace when she got home. Having so far spent a lot of time around me, she was used to explosions and gunshots, and thus didn’t see a good reason to run toward them as so many other people did. But with our home currently a bit under the weather, we had to back up our things and move into a room for rent at this person’s guest house. At least they lived near the school. Unfortunately, there was no salvaging the fried pork chops.
No, I left the pigs well enough alone. And when, in the dead of night, four large guys snuck through the crime scene tape at my little house and started looking around, I circumvented the piggies yet again.
I appeared behind the last two, arms draped over their shoulders. “Now, this can go two ways. One of them involves violence, like I know y’all are instinctively wanting to do. Except, well, I doubt y’all are packing anything better than that autocannon in your trousers, no matter how happy you are to see me. Eh?”
The ones I grabbed froze. One of the ones in the lead jumped for cover and came up with an end table from Ikea as good at stopping violence as their meatballs. The other put his arms up and asked, “What do you want?”
“I want option number B. Letter two, you might say. You tell me some things that allows me to resolve this situation with a minimum of death for y’all. Because that’s what’s for sake with this bunch here. I won’t torture you, where you can hold out hope you’ll be saved. Nothing where the cops will burst in. Just death. Those you love never know what happens to you. Maybe they think you didn’t care and disappeared on them. Maybe a partner figures you really were cheating on them. Maybe your child grows up thinking you abandoned them and hated them. The party train keeps on rolling, but you’ve been tossed off.”
The guys with my arms around their shoulders seemed particularly aware of how close they were to me while I talked simply of their deaths. Just a matter of fact, like going out to the grocery store and picking up chicken feet for a meal.
The guy with his arms up looked at them, then glanced back at the guy holding up a nightstand. The nightstand fell apart. “In my defense, I didn’t put that together,” I said.
“What do you want to know?” asked the spokesman.
I grinned under my helmet and removed my arms from the two immediately in front of me. I rubbed them together and asked, “First, how’d you track me? Second, who do you work for? Third, where do I find them? Fourth, do you want the money I’m paying you as a bonus in big bills or small bills?”
I had what I needed. Money, a home, pork loin marinating in the refrigerator, and the satisfaction of a crime well committed. I even got my Riccan homeopathic capsules, several of which I took, reprogrammed, and spat out. Others were used to give myself a diagnostic while I sat back and enjoyed No Fucks To Give. The show really has a lot better of a cynical comedic vibe to it ever since the actors all got told they’re out of a job at the beginning of the season. I don’t think the alcoholic doctor was even written to be an alcoholic, and the hooker he brought with him kept trying to hide her face from the cameras.
Now, I can explain what the nanites found in me in between a little bit of plastic surgery, but not why. My brain is a bit different. Could be the aliens, could be Omega. The same ambiguity goes for why I’m no longer infected by the parasite that enables super powers to be stripped away. That turned out to be something myself and the stolen power puppet have in common, but with her, it’s because she has very little of her original brain left. As a matter of fact, I took her out to run some errands while my own body stayed back at home.
Yeah, I kept her. Maybe there’s something to Medusa saying I have weird control issues. It wouldn’t be unheard of to see me walking her body around and using it for my own ends as ghoulish or jambalaya or some other Cajun meal. But getting rid of her also means, like with so many of those Legionnaires, letting some official agency euthanize them. Which is a problem because the people who made them were part of an official government agency, and the law here isn’t keen on even compassionate murder. In my mind, it’s not a big leap from “allowing someone to die because it’s better for everyone involved,” to “killing that asshole over there because it’s better for everyone involved,” but I understand most people’s morality is a bit different.
So despite Medusa frowning on it, me keeping this Legionnaire for myself fits right into an ethical and legal grey area that I can exploit the hell out of. I guess the question is if I want to. That’s always the question, right?
Like with this whole bank and money situation. It’s not really my business that the bank’s been lying. They technically used me to help cover something they’re doing, but I got millions of dollars in cash. I need to launder it, but I’m otherwise in the clear. Better than that, I’ve got a tub full of little robots digesting chowing down on a shitload of old computer parts and phones and spitting out more little robots. I’ve started on a multi-armed monstrosity of a worktable that can build things and maintain my armor for me.
All I need to do is find a way to explain why I have all this money. It looks odd for cash to suddenly appear, especially large amounts of it. Plus, I have to deposit some of it in the bank to handle things like online shopping. Banks have to report if you deposit $10,000 or more in one go. Hiding that by dropping off $4,000 one day and $8,000 the next won’t trigger the mandatory report, but banks still keep track of that. It’s part of a pattern of suspicious behavior that causes folks to look into a bank account and where the money is coming from.
I need a cash-based business of some sort. Unfortunately, Radium is a town in the middle of nowhere. It’s growing with all the money Medusa and her Exemplars are pouring into it, but it takes some time. For now, I’m trying to avert suspicions by claiming to be an artisanal pencil sharpener, but that’ll only last so long. That’s why I sent out my power puppet to try and look through the town, see what I could see. I figured I might run across a redneck trying to build a sawmill. I already have a couple of ideas about starting my own business, including one where I might get a greenhouse for the backyard and start growing some plants, but this is all in the opening stages. It’s not like the homeopathic nanite pill business is going to stand up to any scrutiny here in the ass end of nowhere.
My redheaded alter ego made her way around, bundled up more than she probably needed to be given her fire powers. I got her something to eat, finding out her body enjoys some different things than mine does, lik onions and walnuts. I got her some clothes, too, making small talk with some people at the store about people hiring and people starting businesses. And from there, we talked about what the area was known for in the past. There’s not a lot I can do with “sprung up along a rail line” though.
It was all fairly boring until I realized someone was following me. That was tough here, not because I’m remote-operating someone else’s body. It’s such a small town, it’s hard to walk far enough to find out someone’s following you. But I figured it out. I’m starting to actually get familiar with this town, and so far, nobody here has been a car full of tough, Robert Z’Dar-looking motherfuckers who look at me through binoculars while talking on phones. So I walked her out of town a bit, to a couple crosses on the side of the road next to a farm field. The car stopped and the everyone but the driver got out. One of them pulled a small revolver out of his jacket while two others popped the trunk and brought out a metal baseball bat and a crowbar.
“Something I can help you gentlemen with?” I called out to them.
“We seem to have misplaced some money,” said the one with the gun. “We were hoping you would be a Good Samaritan and help us find it. After all, it’s the holidays.”
“It’s not the holidays until you pry the calendar out of a Thanksgiving turkey’s warm, dead wings,” I responded. I turned the redhead around to face the bunch. For intimidation factor, the driver revved the car.
The one with the gun, the spokesman of the group, continued, “You better tell us or your kitchen’s going to get a bit hot under the collar. Maybe you haven’t heard what happened to your accomplices from the robbery.”
I checked real quick. Machete Jones, a local Detroit small-time theatre actor, was found dead in his apartment of an apparent break-in gone bad. I checked the cameras out front of the house and found a van parked out front. These looked less stereotypically intimidating, but they had a couple of hefty guys who could probably move bags to go along with the wiry fellow who paced back and forth looking over the house. I decided to head down to the basement and pull my armor off the worktable.
Back by the side of the road, I decided to butcher the metaphor. “You do that and you’ll find you’re out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
I sprayed fire and ducked to my left behind the wall of flame that obscured the view between myself and the thugs. Considering what they brought, they’d probably just leave, but I heard a few gunshots from the guy who brought he revolver. I came jumping through the flames, tossing a fireball at him, catching his coat on fire. He dropped the gun and tossed the coat off before his friends pulled him into the car to race out of there.
I let them and started walking the redhead back to the house.
The same house where I heard the sound of a window breaking just after pulling the hood of my armor on. My armor wrapped me in invisibility as I headed upstairs to find the crew that came for the money had busted a window on the door. The wiry guy stood checking out the door while the two bigger guys were coming in, looking at the layout of the house to figure out where they needed to go.
The smart speaker I kept on a side table came to life. “You should have known, the price of evil, and it hurts to know that you belong here, yeah…” sang Avenged Sevenfold.
The TV flickered on, paused a second, then flipped to a new channel. It repeated that, going from channel to channel.
Now, one of the big guys took a couple of seconds to realize something fucked up was going on and barreled out the door past the skinny guy. “You fucking scared of some weird smart device shit?” called the lookout. He turned around, asking, “You believe this?” of the third guy, who stood staring at him with a scared look on his face. A face that looked back at him from on top of his back, about 180 degrees out of place.
From all around the lookout who smashed my window came a growling voice. “GET OUT!” including from the TV and the speaker. He ran, leaving me to start taking my armor off and directing my redheaded puppet to stop by the hardware store to get a good price on a replacement window.
Ten minutes after the van peeled out of there, a couple of sheriffs stopped by. I didn’t know if they’d just barge in, so I met them at the door with my blind self, probably giving them some reason to be suspicious of me. “Hello out there, officers.”
One sheriff looked to his partner, who raised an eyebrow and stopped approaching. “Hello, ma’am. Neighbor called and said they heard the sound of breaking glass and saw suspicious individuals in the area. Is everything alright?”
“Just a break-in attempt. I guess they got scared off when they realized I was home,” I said.
“Right… if you don’t mind, we’d like to have our crime scene technicians out to take fingerprints.” I wasn’t a fan of the idea. I thought I did a good job hiding it, but the sheriff approached, voice lower. “I understand that we’re getting a lot of new citizens who have unusual lives, habits, even unusual… physiques. Might even be some folks with a past they aren’t proud of. It’s best for everyone if we don’t start upsetting apple carts, but I think everyone’s in agreement we don’t want anyone coming here to mess up our town and our people. Even new people. Even people with a past.”
I don’t know if this is some formal thing, but it sounds like these guys know I’m a supervillain. I wonder if they know who I actually am. But either way, these guys seem to see me as someone to serve and protect too. Weird. “Ok, they can come out and take fingerprints.”
“What about a statement?” asked the sheriff in front of me.
“If you think there’s any truth to be gained from it…” I said.
“A lawyer would say to stick to the relevant details only,” he said.
So I gave a statement and avoided showing the cops the compost bin out back that’s a little bigger than it used to be. And then, at the end, they revealed they fucked up. I had just shown them out when the one I hadn’t given the statement to came jogging up. “We think we have them. We’d like to bring you in and let you look at the lineup.”
I went. And was able to tell them, honestly, that none of the four Robert Z’Dars broke into my house. They pulled over the wrong guys. And even though I pointed out it wasn’t them, they’re still holding these guys because one of them had a recently-fired gun on him.
Crap. I wanted to scare them all off in part because I thought I could keep them away from this place. But whoever it is that sent these toughs just ended up with a pretty good reason to come to this town and make sure nobody’s going to talk. I better get that greenhouse and some planters built. I’m going to need a place to dump some bodies.
Wake up, send Qiang off to school with a kiss and a lunch, and add some stuff to the compost pile. Bring in the morning paper, update a list on groceries we need, and catch the latest episode of the canceled hospital-based soap opera “No Fucks To Give.” Then, I move onto business.
It might have taken longer to figure out the bank I needed to go after, but he local papers made mention of it. Oddly enough, they reported more thefts than the two I pulled. Seemed like an odd thing to make public.
I’ve said it before, but most money is kept in computers, not in vaults. I could take more touching the right computer in the place than helping myself to the vault. As ridiculous as I get at times, I am a big proponent of being smart about all the chaos going on. So I scouted the place out. Put on my sunglasses, grabbed a walking stick, and walked in looking for donations.
“Excuse me, can I help you?” asked a polo-shirted employee, no doubt taking in the lovely face I wore. For the sake of the villain whose features I’d appropriated, I made a few alterations, like wearing a wig using subtle makeup to emphasize different features.
“Oh, hello shuge. I was just hoping to set this in here and collect donations for a friend. She’s going through a real bad time right now, what with the diabeetus and the cancer.” I held up the plastic coffee container I’d turned into a makeshift donation can. It wasn’t as deep on the inside as it looked. As hidden compartments go, this one’s pretty crappy. I mean, I’m not working against kickass spies here.
He looked me up and down, not being too subtle about it. He didn’t think I could see, after all. “Are you a member here?”
“No, I’m afraid not. I’m trying to leave these places where people have money. Like, muddin’ tires money,” I told him. He smiled at me playing up the accent and stereotypes. People love feeling superior. His problem is that I’m objectively superior, and he’s too caught up in an accent to realize he’s being played.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I really don’t think we can accommodate you,” the guy responded.
“Really?” I pouted.
He didn’t realize I could see him rolling his eyes at me. “I can speak with my supervisor, but I can’t promise you anything.”
“Oh thank you, that’d be mighty kind of you,” I said. I love plans that hinge on the enemy thinking they’re taking advantage of you. It’s all about knowing their weakness. What will they jump on? What are they compelled to do?
The man walked away into a side room that was kept closed. I caught a glimpse of a refrigerator and microwave, so probably the break room. After a couple of minutes, he came back. “Ma’am, I’ve spoken with my supervisor. I tried to make the case, but I don’t think we can let anyone leave that here. Maybe if you had an account with us, I could persuade him.”
I patted around in my pockets and pulled out some hundreds folded in a way to differentiate them from other currency. By now, y’all shouldn’t be surprised how well money greases the wheels. They got me set up with a bank account under a false name, completely understanding how I didn’t have a driver’s license.
The bank gives these guys an incentive to look good by creating accounts. It’s nothing so shady as the guy claiming I miscounted and was short a hundred or two, but he still decided to lie and take advantage of a blind woman trying to look after a friend. Sure, I can see, and sure, the donation can is just here to help me rob the place. He doesn’t know that. Honestly, he shouldn’t even think that. Therein lies the danger of Psycho Gecko. I can be anyone, anywhere, anywhen provided I hijack the Mobian’s time vessel.
With that taken care of, I didn’t need to stay close. I had chicken and dumplings to cook for my little dumpling. Helping Qiang research cultural heroes of the past is pretty mundane considering my life, but I’m done trying to save the world. The banks can have their incentives, the customers they screw over, the workers who frantically race around the maze looking for that cheese. I’m saving my help for the people who want it, and my give-a-damn for the people worth a damn.
Qiang was off playing in her room and I just finished cleaning up the kitchen when I figured it was time to make my play. The donation can vibrated and the top I’d cut a whole in swung open on a small hinge. The drone hidden in the bottom rose from it and began a circuit of the bank, taking it all in and mapping it for me. Whoopsie, and causing some problems with the cameras. Those darn laser lights are so common nowadays, and closed circuit tv cameras are so easy to zap and render useless.
The vault was a big, heavy piece of work. Nothing I’d want to be trapped inside or try to force open without a bit of help. It was a pretty good one for any bank considering going up against supers. A Vimes 9-7, to be exact. The Vimes series is basically dedicated to be a pain in the ass. Their philosophy seems to be to make themselves inconvenient pains in the ass. They’re dumb safes, too. No biometric scanners, no number pads, no electronics of any sort. Not even any way to wire them for live closed-circuit camera viewing, and the whole thing’s too full of lead and Q-metal for wireless signals to penetrate. Just a duo of combination locks on a rectangular door with a handle that requires a weightlifter to turn.
That’s the Vimes for you: too dumb to fool. So why did the hinges on the door look so different from the catalog?
Yeah, we get the catalogs, too. You know, for our own valuables and doomsday weapons. Makes a good place to trap a hero. And it helps us break into the vaults, which convinces banks to buy newer models of vault. Everybody wins, except the bank. To put that another way, everybody wins.
It was a mystery, but not a very important one. Weak hinges don’t matter a whole lot unless the door’s unlocked. I parked the little drone back in the bottom of the donation can. Then, it was time to get cooking.
The next day, I visited the bank again, once more in disguise as a harmless blind person. I had a box with me. Just a plain, ordinary cardboard box. “Excuse me, I need to rent a safe deposit box,” I said loudly upon entering.
The same guy who helped me before swooped in like a vulture. “I would love to help you with that. Mind the ladders. We suffered a minor electrical issue last night. Is that box what you would like to keep in our vault?”
“This? Oh no, it’s what’s inside the box,” I said. That’s right. Be annoyed by the country bumpkin.
He laughed. “Why don’t I show you to my desk and you show me what’s in the box?” His laugh turned into more of a nervous chuckle when he saw what it was. “A lava lamp?”
It was my turn to laugh, faking it this time. But since I’ve become a woman, I’ve gotten great at faking it. “No, no… well, yes, but not just any lava lamp. This is Andy Warhol’s prized Faberge lava lamp. There’s quite a story behind it.” I sat there quietly for a few seconds.
“I’m sorry, is that it?” he asked.
“No, but I don’t feel like telling the story,” I said. “How much would it cost to stick this valuable piece of pop culture history in your vault?” I rented a safe deposit box and he showed me back there to the vault, open now, and through the daygate. That’s what they call that interior gate that lets them lock the vault while not closing it. Ah, there’s nothing so lovely as seeing cash neatly piled up in a bank vault next to a pair of counting machines.
“Whoops!” I said, dropping my cane and “accidentally” kicking it back out of the vault when I bent down to retrieve it. After a moment’s focus on my bent-over rear, the guy helping me out pushed past me.
“Here, let me get that for you.”
I followed him out. “Oh, thank you.” When he turned back toward me, I took the cane from him and then smacked him over the head with the lava lamp I glued a bunch of broken stained glass onto. Some of it crunched as he dropped to the floor. I whipped around the vault door and broke the lava lamp on the top hinge, making sure to get as much of the goop on the inside on both of the hinges.
I don’t know what was up with their hinges in particular, but I know that vaults have to be opened for some business during the day. And I know that a door built to be inconvenient and hard to swing open or shut really has to hope nothing gums up the hinges and makes it impossible to open… or shut. Think of the mess I stuck in there as a reverse WD-40.
That’s when I signalled the interns. That was my name for the job opportunity I posted online. I could have recruited off VillaiNet, but I’m still lying low. Instead, I turned to the endless stream of out-of-work entertainers and poor interns who could always use some cash. Many of them were quite eager to toss on a balaclava and rush in. Even arming them didn’t cost so much with all the early Black Friday gun deals. One place even threw in a discounted five-pack of Colombian military surplus machetes. That explains why one of the first interns in wore a pirate tricorner hat on top of his ski mask and declared. “Yargh, the dread pirate Machete Jones is here for your booty!”
They had security guards, but the ones up front surrendered pretty easily. There were a pair back there near the vault who had advanced on me once they realized I was up to something, but they’d gotten distracted by the interns. I tripped one with my cane, knocking the wind out of him when he hit the floor. The other had been in the middle of radioing in the problem when I popped him in the crotch. I grabbed the radio away from him and spoke in his voice. “God dammit, it’s one of those stupid prank shows. We’re good here.”
“Really?” Came the response. “Is Ashton Kutcher there or is it the kid from Stranger Things?”
Huh. Ashton Kutcher’s still a thing? I actually felt like I was getting stuck in another mental loop pondering that one. Pretty sure pondering Ashton Kutcher’s career is how Buddhist monks reach enlightenment these days. Regardless, most of my work was done. The interns were eager to load a shitload of money up into bags they brought and daisy chain them out the door into a waiting van. They had the vault empty of cash in five minutes.
I let them go their own way with most of the money, keeping a healthy few bags for myself when they dropped me off at my car. It wasn’t entirely about the money, after all. Which is good, because it turned out that the money wasn’t entirely money either. And when the news announced the millions of dollars stolen in the heist, I realized there’s no way the numbers made sense. If a bank planted hundreds wrapped around fakes to fool robbers, that’d be one thing. But to then report that the fake money was real?
I’m not the only thief involved here, and I don’t mean the career debut of Machete Jones, Pirate of the Great Lakes.
Despite the fact that Medusa is putting me up in a house and paying for my daughter to be educated, I’m still broke and in need of resources. A lot of stuff was tied up with Ricca, and I was always easy-come, easy-go with money and stuff before that. Now, this place already has a musty old basement, so that’ll probably do for a home mad science lab. I need more nanomachines, and the easiest way to get those is to have some in the first place. I have a plan for that, but I need some capital to start with.
There’s not much to the FDA, especially now that the President’s being impeached over that nasty scandal involving stealing soldiers’ corpses and using them as his own private, unaccountable wetwork team. Even before the more recent sudden collapse of the government, it wasn’t the most well-funded of agencies. I dunno, I guess Americans like spit in their food. One weakness is that they don’t give much of a crap about supplements. You could put anything in there. Just think about homeopathy. You want pills to treat lead poisoning? They take a little bit of lead, dilute it with so much water that it’s no longer considered there, and sell them in pills and stuff. Now available at your local CVS.
For all I know, just importing Riccan water might be ok. I don’t keep close enough track of all the regulations about food. But I bet I can get some water imported and sold as some sort of medicinal thing. This water actually would cure what ails people. More importantly, I can command them to break down other materials and create more of themselves, then have them do all the heavy lifting and moving to make some equipment I need. It would have been a whole lot simpler if I could just extract some from my armor… but I tried that. Apparently, after all the recent injuries, I was running on empty. Or if I wasn’t, I was close enough to it not to matter. So I need nanites to do refill this bad boy, too.
I suppose I could try to hunt them down elsewhere. I’m kinda liking my anonymity at the moment, though. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee any particular hospital’s going to have it. So, I dunno, just easier to go with my plan. Or maybe it’s just the first thing I came up with and I like it. Minimal risk of hurting or exposing me. Don’t worry, I’ll expose myself at some point.
See, they’re just the first step. I need a machine to repair and maintain my armor, even upgrade it as necessary. I need one of those for me, too. That talk with Medusa… I don’t know, I still want to steal Dame’s body for some weird reason, but I want to try wearing a different face.
Speaking of putting on a happy face, I finally heard back from Max. Something about switching up email accounts and then Sam had taken a short break from reading me, however she does that. He’s got some medicine in the mail, but he’d love to examine my head sometime. Now, I don’t know the guy to be particularly well-versed in human anatomy, so I’m not so sure about that. But he says it sounds like I’ve been relatively stable since I’ve been away and that maybe the aliens rooted around and fixed something in me. I responded that this can’t be true, because I was still crazy enough to come back to this damn planet.
With that on the way, I just had to find a nice spot for a quick day trip. Like Detroit. Big city, with banks and such there. The trip would have been quicker with a car, but I didn’t have that yet. I really should hunt down my old one, Black Sunshine. Or maybe see about hijacking one of my old Psycho Flyers. If anyone has a right to one, it’s me. Anyway, I waited on the interstate, keeping an eye out for some Monday deliveries. Oh look, a nice, juicy armored car. I hopped up from where I was sitting, invisible to the world, and then hopped on top of the heavy armored vehicle.
I didn’t make the stealthiest landing. There’s a limit to how you can manage that with something that weighs as much as myself in my armor, plus the bags I brought along. The people inside kept driving, probably radioing out that they had an emergency. I went ahead and set the first bag down. I’m not a fan of the encroachment of Christmas on other parts of the year, but this time I emulated that jolly old elf himself by bringing a bag full of goodies. I just had to stand back and light the magnesium fuse. It wasn’t long before the bag started burning a nice little hole in the roof of the armored car, big enough for me to drop in and hop out. This is another area where a car would be idea. Much easier to carry more bags, with additional space for loose bundles. Just like with so much women’s clothing, though, my armor doesn’t have pockets. So while this thing burned, I unfolded the duffel I brought and prepared.
When it looked all clear, I hopped down. A guard stood down there, back against the wall separating the rear of the armored car from the driver’s cabin. His eyes were fixed on the hole in the roof because I was still hidden behind my holographic invisibility. He was waiting to take his shot until he saw whoever it was meaning to come in. So, while he waited, I took one of my own. Right to his balls. I think I knocked at least one of them up inside his torso, which is none too pleasant of an experience. Then I grabbed the gun away, breaking some of his fingers in the process, and tossed it out through the hole.
After that, it was as simple as filling a bag with a bunch of cash and leaping free. The guard didn’t put up the biggest fight, but I guess he figured he’d taken enough of one that no one was going to accuse him of not doing his job. And I got away with enough money to place a down payment.
After that, it was time to do some shopping. As always, I frequented the little electronics store around Radium. I know places where I can get bucketfuls of spare cell phones for parts, but it’s a police auction website. I’d rather not pay the people who want to hunt me down if I can help it, so instead I paid some eager middle-aged guy who hadn’t seen this kind of business in his entire life.
After that, my nefarious plan involved getting a few new dresses, tights, pants, skirts, boots, blouses, coats, and the number of somebody who can do manicures and pedicures. What? A big part of being a villain is presentation and style. And apparently Medusa’s idea of a joke is to give me a wardrobe with, like, lumberjack shirts and superhero fan t-shirts. I’m not going to walk around with a new “Honky Tonk Hero is My Homie” shirt on any longer than I can. I used to be suicidal, after all. That kind of shirt is a health risk. And a real downer that he ever sank that low. Damn, Elvis being back must have put a damper on his career.
I also had enough money to get myself a car, and the pieces I needed to make a few upgrades to it. That would come in real handy for the next job. I said I had enough for a down payment. The costs of turning water into homeopathic cough syrup are a little higher than that. So I set out once again, parking well away from the interstate. This time, I set a second burn off, this one smaller and above the same area a guard was sat last time. I reached down and saw, yep, a guard there at the ready like last time. I think it was even the same guard. I poked him in the eyes, causing him to cover them up and fire widely.
I dropped through the other hole, arms loaded with bags, and tossed them onto the floor of the compartment. The guard dropped his magazine out of his pistol and went to put a fresh one in, looking out with one eye from behind his hand. He could see the bags, but not me. I made my presence felt by dropping to one knee and giving him a solid straight to the sack.
He doubled over, trying not to puke. “Oh god, the other one.”
“Hey, don’t throw up,” I said. “If you throw up, it’ll make me want to throw up.” I helped him upright. “Breath, ok. Just breath.” I turned visible again and raised a hand, holding up fingers. “Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?”
“Three?” he said, looking at my hand, then looking me over.
I tossed him against the compartment wall. “Not the question I asked!”
With him disoriented, it was easy enough to grab some zip ties off his belt and hogtie him. Then I started filling the bags, even tossing one out with the top open to create a distraction. The cops will have a hell of a time getting the roads cleared with that many hundreds around.
I heaved several bags into my car and didn’t find out it was all Monopoly money until I got back to the house. Those… urgh! It’s more embarrassing than anything, but think of how mean that was to the guard. That’s two nuts I hit him in. I’m assuming that’s all he has, but you never know. The man might not have children, when he could have just sat around not trying to stop anything this time.
I know what y’all are thinking. The old me, the less secure, less stable Gecko, would have burned the bank that did this to the ground, hunted down the CEO, and impaled him on a pole. But I’m a changed woman. A caring mother. I don’t have time for all that when I have a child to take care of and feed. She’s got some sort of history project coming up she needs help on, after all. And I still have to see about getting my nails done.
So I’ll settle for everything in their vault and the satisfaction of knowing I’ve still got it.