Micro-managing my island is fun and all, but I’m missing all the fun stuff. Despite being a dictator, it’s considered bad form to just kill any of my citizens I’d like. I CAN, of course. Even the Directory’s pretty well gutted at this point. Security, Intel, and the military are all my guys. But it still benefits me not to be a malevolent dictator. Follow along here. If I’m an asshole, that spreads a lot more resentment than necessary and I get people willing to cooperate with coups and assassination attempts. If I keep everyone poor and without the basics, that opens me up to Robin Hood situations.
Machiavelli once asked if it was better to be feared or loved. In The Prince, he concluded that it was better to be feared. He was also a proponent of democracy who argued that the tyrant to be feared should live within a conquered city and arm the citizens of the city. I’m not listening to Machiavelli on this one. I’m just a feared assassin and dictator living in the city I conquered while allowing my people free access to all kinds of goods being smuggled or shipped through- FUCK!
Well, all the more reason not to piss off everyone. And all the more reason to put tiny machines I can control into the water supply.
I think it’s pretty clear I’ve gotten antsy waiting around. Y’all see it. Max has noticed it. Holly actually approached me one day asking if I had any fairy dust to sprinkle on her and help her fly, so she definitely noticed.
I tried to channel that energy toward building more stuff, Dudebot modifications, armor maintenance, etc., etc. And I didn’t take Max’s medication anymore, but I’m willing to think about it. As soon as negotiations are over.
Speaking of negotiations, I finally got word back on that. It happened while I was sitting in on a court hearing. Bank robbers helped themselves into a passing car. They forced the driver into the backseat at knifepoint and tried to escape from Security. Security laid down a tack strip at Wong Way, popped the tires, and now there was a hearing about possibly charging him as some sort of accomplice. The Imperial attorneys figured he might have brought the car along and pretended to be kidnapped to save his own skin.
I showed up to make sure the courts were working smoothly, but I think I’ll have to take a look at finding some way to keep something like this from even making it to court. The attorneys representing the Empire need a little shaking up over it, and I might implement some sort of public defender program. The guy’s just sitting there without an attorney, ignorant of arguments, procedures, motions, and all that.
The judge was quicker on the uptake than the Imperial attorneys. He banged his gavel and declared, “I am not inclined to press the matter further with someone whose only crime was being borne on the Wong side of the tacks.”
I nodded and got up to leave when I saw Barkiel standing there. One of these purple humanoid aliens of the Three Hares, he favored jeans and a denim jacket, projecting a disguise of himself as just another guy with sandy blonde hair. This time, he let the human projection fade into one that more accurately showed himself in a uniform that included a short jacket with poofy upper arms that reminded me of those fancy uniform pants, the jodhpurs.
I raised an eyebrow. Barkiel clicked his heels together and stood up straight. “I have an official announcement for Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca and North Korea.”
“Can we take it outside?” I asked, quietly. Looking around, it didn’t seem anyone else had noticed the projection. I walked through the projection and the door to find a more suitable place for receiving an emmisary from a hostile group. My first thought was to sit on the nearest throne, but… fine, ok, I led him to the lobby of the courthouse. “A most unconventional audience, Barkiel.”
“Thank you for seeing me, Empress,” he said, floating over to stand in front of me and perform a formal Western-style bow. “My superiors wish for me to inform you of the receipt of your message and our desire to meet with you and representatives of the other belligerents.”
“As it happens, my island is a great place to have such a meeting. Here, in the Directory Building, in a week.” I tapped my toe on the floor, figuring the impatience and annoying sound might mess with Barkiel.
He kept his voice calm and downright monotone as he responded, “Your island is unacceptable. We suggest Jerusalem as an alternative.”
I shook my head. “First, that’s insulting to my island. You should go outside and apologize. Second, that’s not happening. Just about the only thing Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in that city can all agree on is that I’m not allowed there anymore. Which is really stupid, because I was Pope once. That changed before I could do anything about the kid-fucking too, and the world’s worse off for it.”
Barkiel tried not to laugh. “We need a neutral location. We propose Switzerland.”
I was going to propose Mu, but Switzerland isn’t too bad… “The Island of Mu.”
“You maintain a client state on that neutral location. Should you agree to a meeting in the public square of Place du Bourg-de-Four in Geneva, we would be willing to acquiesce to your desire on the date.”
A public square isn’t a bad idea. It’d be much harder for them to pull off replacing everyone around like in that John Wick movie, and being outside gives a lot more options to get away if it’s an ambush. Plus, I can keep an eye out with satellites and even launch on the place. It’s bad form to launch missiles at Switzerland, but it’s not like they’ve helped any of the major world powers out in a war lately. The thing about neutrals is that they have enough sympathy to your cause not to attack you themselves, but they’re more than happy to stand by and watch your enemy throw your corpse in a ditch.
I nodded to him, “You bring your leaders, we bring ours. And we meet in a week, when the autumnul equinox has brought me to my full power.
No matter what, my preparations shouldn’t take too much longer, but I have to have time for Titan and Venus. So a week from when we talked: September 24th. And the part about the equinox is just a straight-up lie that might put doubts into someone’s head if he tells them about it. Never be afraid to lie to your enemy… it’s kinda their fault if you’ve killed a bunch of their people already and they choose to believe whatever you say.
Barkiel didn’t stay to goad me into anything. I think someone had a way of keeping an eye on him, because that alien’s been helping me take down his people. Well, technically he’s been helping me kill off the divine part of the Three Hares. He even helped me escape from them. I don’t know what game he’s playing, but I know he’s not entirely opposed to me succeeding.
I immediately sent off a transcript of the conversation to Titan and Venus and called up everyone to check on how we were doing. Still no vaccine. The island shield seemed to do well, but they found some more issues when testing it. Something about regulating the flow of electricity and concerns about heating. They’re working on it. It’s not the first shield the Riccan Institute of Science has dealt with, even with the post-Claw brain drain. It should be ready in case anything goes down when I decapitate the Hares.
But first, it was off to dinner with Citra. My poor wife has gone through a lot. Not labor, ok, but she used to be my made, then her mother and I had sex and I agreed to marry her, then married another woman and made her pretend to be that woman for awhile. Such is not the origin of a happy marriage, but I’m at least trying not to be a complete asshole.
So I took her out. I’d wanted to get all dressed up and go to this fancy place, but a little bit of Max’s beer prompted me to get the novel idea of asking her what she wanted to do. “Dance with me,” she said. And so instead of fancy dressing up that I enjoyed, we threw on skimpy clothes and went out to this dark club with pounding beats. I don’t normally dress like that, as I’m a villain in the streets and a freak in the sheets.
It was there in the club I discovered my wife is considered something of a hotty. Or at least a lot of the guys thought so when they saw her in a leather skirt and stripper heels. Which, if I’m not mistaken, explains where my pair disappeared to. We should really go shoe shopping together.
Stripping can be good exercise, and you never know when you’ll need to fight using poles. Plus, the heels are really good for inserting into enemy weak spots, like eyes or urethras. I have trouble getting them in on the first swing, but I am known for my dogged persistence. And doggy-style insistence. Which explains why Citra preferred to dance up on me from behind and whisper in my ear, “I got a new strap-on.”
I wrapped my arms around hers, holding her hands and keeping her close to me. “I’m a poor excuse for a husband.”
We danced way too slow for a place with a spinning discoball that helped reflect multicolored lights through the black lights of the dance floor.
“You’re my wife though,” she said, whispering in my ear before giving the lobe a little nibble. “Evil supervillain Psycho Gecko is concerned about taking time off for her wife.”
“I may be sleeping around, but this is supposed to be a partnership between you and I, but I’ve forced you into roles you were never prepared for. Mother to a child you didn’t want or ask for. Wife to one of the most hated people on Earth. Empress to a nation you were a servant in. You’ve had no say in this, and that’s not what I want. So, to once again drag out that most interesting of questions… what do you want?”
I felt her press a kiss against my hair where it covered the back of my neck, then return to my ear, speaking a little louder to be heard over a new song that started up. “I’d like to go to college and be the second best Empress on Earth. And I want to have you all to myself. And I want to put a baby in you.”
That brought a raised eyebrow. “I can think of two ways that last one’s possible right now, and I have to warn you that I’m not into unbirthing.”
She giggled in my ear. “Max has some ideas about that provided you don’t give your daughter and her best friend a baby half sister first.”
I rolled my eyes and leaned back against her. “Just not a lot of guys I feel that way about… and the thought DID occur to me. It felt symmetrical in a freaky way.”
“Mhm, I bet.” I let her turn me around to face her. The face I saw wasn’t hers. It was Dame’s. “Maybe this is the woman you would like a baby with?” She held up her phone and pressed a button, at which point her face began to change again through what I recognized as nanite plastic surgery. After a few seconds, she had Venus’s face. “Or her?”
I smiled in a crooked, skeptical sort of way. “You really don’t want me messing around anymore, do you?”
She winked at me, then noticed something over my shoulder. Her smile faded. “It’s Wong.”
“I mean, if we both agreed I could do it, it wouldn’t be, but clearly that’s not the case here.”
She pointed over my shoulder. I turned to see one of the Directors I recently sent home on indefinite leave. It was him and a half dozen other guys with Uzi pistols and swords that looked like short machetes with handguards, known colloquially as butterfly swords.
I broke into the DJ’s computer and made an alteration to the playlist. The crowd were understandaly confused when the song changed to “Danger! High Voltage” by Electric Six. I kept dancing along with Citra as irritated people left the floor, making plenty of room for Wong and his gang to surround me, illuminated by the colored lights from the discoball spinning overhead.
I pushed Citra down my body. Lower, lower… until she was safely on her knees while I faked moans.
“I knew if I watched, you would make a wrong move,” announced Wong.
“Oh yeah. Right there. There, there, there, oh my ME!” I yelled, raising my face and firing my eye laser. The discoball redirected the laser all over the club and the men who came to voice their vociferous opposition to my tyranny, frying them and catching parts of the club on fire.
I laughed as Citra stood up and checked out the corpses. “As hot as this has been, it’s kinda dead on the dance floor now.”
She smiled and took my hand to lead me off to a night of spousal fun, telling me, “I don’t want to set the world on fire. I just want to start a flame in your heart.”
Sitting around and waiting isn’t much of a life for me, but it does give me time to catch up on doing things that need doing. For instance, we had a successful first test of the shield generator. It’s more my design, but the guys at the Institute of Science said they built in a few redundancies for the sake of security. When I asked for specifics, since the entire thing’s made for our security, they showed me fake panels on it that just look like you’re doing stuff if you mess with it. Now that it’s functional, they’re going to wire those panels so that messing with them sends a signal to myself and the men and women of the Riccan Armed Forces.
It also gave me time for a nice lunch meeting with Hu that I didn’t rush. It was overdue, but I wanted to prepare first. Part of that preparation involved a nice lunch outside on a balcony. Yes, I have balconies. I’ve sometimes imagined I’m never going to keep finding rooms and other areas on this house. I’m going to notice a door I never opened before, look inside, and find an entire dead menagerie of exotic animals. The smell will be horrible. But at least I knew about the balconies. Being outside, missing them would be particularly egregious.
I munched on some lumpia as Hu was sent out to meet with me. “Hey there, Hu,” I said, waving him over with the fried, flaky roll in hand. I moved a file folder out of the way as he sat in the only other chair available. Instead of files, I pushed over the plate of lumpia. “Care for one? I made them myself.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” he replied.
“You’re welcome.” I set one on a plate that I pushed toward him. “They’re not really all that authentic, since I focus on meat and don’t care for the normal mix of veggies. But I didn’t say they were authentic, just that I made them.”
“Are you alright, Empress? Have you been drinking again?” He took off his shades and pulled out a wipe to clean them off. He appraised me with bare eyes and I gifted him with a smile. He set his glasses down to try a bit of my lumpia.
“No, silly. Just offering you food here. And I offer all my people of Ricca my protection and services as the sovereign. I am the state, so they don’t have to. I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy ruling. And despite the fact that I am a vicious killer known to utilize chemical, sonic, and dimensional weaponry, I’m trusted with both. You trust me to rule, and you trust that I didn’t poison you on a whim just now.”
He looked down at the roll he’d taken a couple bites of. Then he looked up at me and sat back. I held up a hand to reassure him. “Nope, I didn’t poison you, but the point is that you know I cooked it and you trust me. It’s just lumpia.”
I lifted the plate up so I could grab one underneath it and throw the empty plate at the floor, smashing it.
“Empress?” asked Hu, still no longer touching his lumpia.
I smiled. “I wanted to be dramatic and smash a plate, just not while wasting the food. I think it’s damn good lumpia.” I set the plate down and continued. “There is an enormous trust placed in me that is not put in you. You are not the one people look to when things go wrong. When rebels storm the palace to throw someone’s neck into a guillotine, it’s mine they’re after, not yours.” I grabbed the file and set that on his plate, then flipped it open. “These signatures creating a paper trail, though, are not mine. Some people know how much I dislike paper these days. Plus, I’m a career criminal even if you don’t count my time in politics. Creating more evidence someone could use if a team of heroes decides to make their name delivering me to the UN? Not smart for me.”
“I can explain,” he said.
I nodded. “Good, because that’s why I invited you. I want to know why you’re issuing orders in my name for the sorts of things only I can sign off on. It was apparently quite the secret.”
“You hadn’t been entirely well after returning from captivity. I’ve been led to understand your nightmares are worse. You had been irritable, more murderous. Instability is the bane of nations. I used my own judgment to moderate your impulses militarily so that your disregard for human life did not extend to the grandiose crisis created by your predecessor. I feared you would lash out and create a similar situation to the one that required his removal.”
“What about my demeanor and drinking?” I asked. I wanted to keep the questions as open-ended as possible. Let him create a story to be tested and knocked down, if need be. Knowing how much I was messed up, I went back through the recordings of my memories.
“Your substance abuse convinced me I was right. Heavy drug and alcohol usage is a sign of distress after a traumatic period. I began researching therapists as well, but this is a delicate and private matter.” Hu picked up his glasses and tapped the side. A file appeared in my own augmented reality with a few names of therapists with dossiers attached. I checked to make sure they were real, then I skimmed to see if he’d done more work than a Wikipedia entry. Everything looked legit from that brief view.
“Doesn’t matter. Talk to me. Question me constructively. Suggest better alternatives. Let me know when I screwed up. I welcome that kind of interaction to help me improve. It’s better than not figuring out my mistakes until I have Eschaton halfway up my ass. And by all means exercise your power to do what you think is best. Issue your orders. But you don’t get to issue my orders.”
Hu sat there in silence for a minute after I stopped, then bowed his head. “Empress.”
“Intelligence Chief Pagan will see to your replacement. Take the day to organize the files for the continuity of your successor. Then you will be put on leave for the immediate future while Pagan decides your reassignment.”
Hu sat for a moment, then reached for his lumpia. He took a last, deliberate bite. He set it down and stood up, then bowed low. “By your leave, Empress.”
I got to eat another one before my next meeting was shown in. She sat across from me, smiling. “Hi baba!”
“Hello dear. What’s this I heard about you making fun of another student?”
“I don’t know.” She bowed her head but looked up at me.
“You don’t know?” I asked. I moved aside Hu’s plate and tore a roll of lumpia in half for her on her own plate.
She took it and began to munch happily, at least until she remembered what this was about. “The kids at school made funna this boy who had a bow in his hair and I said ‘Did you assume his gender?’ like you do to be funny and everyone laughed.”
I may have made a mistake. “Hon, let’s have a little chat, and then we’re gonna make a deal that involves ice cream.”
It’s a good thing most kids can understand all this gender stuff pretty easily. I explained to her about the differences between gender and sex, and how some people might be a certain sex but realize they’re a different gender, and this is just how people are. “And you shouldn’t make fun of people for that,” I finished, not adding that it’s really too lazy. Any asshole can make fun of someone for that, and they do. Just a constant stream of identical assholes, all needing to be torn up. “And you helped me realize that joke I made is a lazy one that works like how those bullies act even if I didn’t mean it that way. So from now on, I want you to let me know if you catch me saying it. Let’s try it for a week first. If we both get through it without using that joke, we’ll have big sundaes.”
She giggled. “Ok, baba.” Of course, then she had to sit up all excited and go, “I get it, because, because, because they’re just like you!”
I looked at her, wondering how I was going to explain the thing that is Psycho Gecko to my daughter, when she hopped out of her chair and walked over to hug me. “I’m sorry, mommy.”
Ok, let’s just leave that behind and focus on the other big major meeting that’s way more important and relevant and not gushy and in no way involves warm, fuzzy feelings or ideas about raising a child to be a better person than the parent or anything at all like that. We are dropping further discussion of Qiang calling me mommy from here on out. It’s dropped. It’s done.
After another day of observation to see how, if at all, Mix N’Max took my discussion with Hu, I invited him along to go fishing with me. Just the two of us on a little catamaran, switching off playing Kevin Costner as we headed out into the water. We each brought our kit: dynamite for me, pescacide for him. That’s fish poison, and that’s why I wouldn’t eat seafood from our fishing trips even if I did eat seafood. And even if he claims to have a way to treat them to make it safe.
Far out in the water, we opened a cooler, I pretended to drink, and began setting our lines. He took a jar out of the cooler and tied it to a rope before poking holes in the lid. I fetched out a bagged chicken, threaded it with fishing line, stuffed the dynamite inside, synced a blasting cap to a detonator, shoved the cap in there, and tossed the chicken overboard. The secret is to get good distance on the throw, and to include a bobber that lets you know when it’s a safe distance away to detonate. You really don’t want to lose track of an explosive cock. It’ll sneak up behind you and, bam!
I let us enjoy the fishing for a bit. Even set a timer for it. Max noticed when it went off. “Is that the Godfather theme?”
I reached up and squeezed the tip of my nose, shutting off the alarm. “Yeah, just to remind me of something.” I checked around to see where my bobber was. I’d had some nibbles, but nothing big, so I pressed the button. The water blew, causing the boat to bob a bit. I waited for the seas to settle before standing. “Well, guess I better get that net.” I walked on over to where we had this big net on a pole in the middle section. Max was sitting on the rear of it, legs dangling out over the water in some cheap flip flops. He’d smeared himself with something to avoid darkening his gothly-pale skin. “Hey, Max… just why have you been drugging me?”
He turned to look at me, standing there behind him next to a pile of dynamite, a net and pole in hand. “Are you going to kill me?”
“I’d rather not. I’ve buried enough friends. But I want to know what you’ve been doing to me and why.”
He shifted to the side so only one leg was dangling and he could better look at me. “I wanted to help you. I was trying to medicate your mental health.”
“Without discussing it with me.”
“You’ve been worse than ever and you never want to work through this stuff with anyone. You keep collecting traumas to carry on your psyche without ever offloading it.”
“Why the fuck is everybody so fucking worried? I function! I do more than function, this is how I win. It fucking sucks, but it’s made me the awesome being you see before you today.”
“Nice sarong by the way,” he said.
“Oh, thanks,” I showed off a little. I’d picked that shade of pink for its potential to cause blindness from how the brightness, and because it matched my bikini.
Max tied the end of his rope to a metal loop, then turned all the way around to face me while sitting. “It’s great that everyone is worried for you. It means you have people who care. That’s new for you, because you were alone for so long that you resented that and saw it as weakness. You’re still kickass, but think how much better you’d be if you were healed up there. Not to take away who you are as a person, but to get rid of the damage that’s keeping that person from being 100%.”
That made a frightening amount of sense to me, and I’d made sure my drinks on the way out here weren’t spiked. I turned away from him to contemplate this and scooped up floating fish from my dynamite blast. After a moment, I called back, “Never do it again, dude. And seriously, you’re on some Buddha level shit right now.”
“I haven’t felt my face for days!” he called back happily.
I feel like I’ve finally found an occupation that fits my contempt for human life and the whims of the little people’s lives. But seeing as I’m not a god (don’t tell anyone I’m not, dear reader), I’ll settle on enjoying being a sovereign instead. Getting the courts figured out is a difficult thing, but I think I killed enough people to make it work. I just kinda, sorta, maybe had to make an executive decision to take back all power related to the courts. Had to rearrange some things, make a few more judges, that sort of thing. I’m trying to give people a fair shot in a post-authoritarian society, but the only people with experience are the people who used to work for the last authoritarian regime.
It helps that I’ve been unusually focused lately. I dunno, it’s like I’m getting into a new swing after my imprisonment. Fixing things that need fixing, reprimanding Directors, and working on some special projects. I think the shield generator project is going to work out, but I’m also wondering about a better system of high speed transit to and from the island. A mag lev bridge is too unwieldy a public works project right now, but I’m considering gauss transportation.
I was talking it over with Max the other day. Load passengers up in an appropriate container and use electromagnetic forces to hurl the container at high speed across the ocean. I was trying to work out the appropriate velocities over some more beers Max brought over and just kinda lost interest. Seemed a bit farfetched and dangerous. I put it aside to figure out some new laws I was rubber stamping. And writing. If the Directory’s going to screw up so much, I’ll just have to take over all that. For fuck’s sake, one of these guys made a list of prohibited names of men divorced women are allowed to date all because of his marriage going south. I’m not going have my Security guys waste time arresting women for screwing every Tom, Dick, or Xue who comes along after they divorce.
But, hey, I made it up to them by sending the Directors home for a holiday. They’ll be fine. Makes it easier for me to handle peace treaties and all that, too. I find myself sympathizing with Simon Bolivar’s advocacy of a military dictatorship to walk a people toward democracy because they had no experience with self-rule.
It seems as though the Hares might be working at the problem from the other end. A militarized hierarchy that handles most of the important stuff, but has a problem with volunteers and possibly resources because everybody’s so independent. The aliens do their thing, the various pantheons and other groups do theirs. It’s entirely possible the regular ones on the ground don’t even know about the power collars. Dame didn’t, before all this. If I have to go public in some way, that might help me splinter them. But if it that was such simple leverage, why didn’t anyone in the group try it already?
It bugs me. I can’t help but wonder if they’ve got a trump card hidden to deal with that.
In the hopes of finding that out, I managed to get a bit of time to talk with Titan. It wasn’t easy, though. I ended up dropping in with a Dudebot where Titan was busy clearing some mines away. It was a stretch of land in one of the Stans where someone had decided they didn’t want some tribe or another moving up into their country and dropped a bunch of mines that have also been taking off the legs and destroying the vehicles of pretty much everyone moving through. Hold a gun to my head and I still wouldn’t tell you I cared which Stan it was. The one that really likes that rapper Eminem, maybe? Anyway, Titan was there stomping through, trying to cause as many vibrations and step on as many mines as possible.
While moved from the south, I approached from the north to find a bunch of guys in sandy camo sitting around on trucks. “Let him, “ one was saying to another who checked out the scene through binoculars. “We’ll set more tonight. He won’t be back for months.”
“Not worried about saying that where he might hear?” I asked via the Dudebot. They all turned to point their rifles at the remote-controlled robotic copy of my armor.
“We’re an authorized military checkpoint. We’re allowed to be here,” said whoever I took to be the ranking officer of the dozen men all aiming at me.
Another Dudebot seemingly de-cloaked nearby. The group swung their rifles around, then back to the first one. “Mmm, but if you were publicly using mines, you wouldn’t be letting them destroy those, would you?”
The leader raised his voice. “Somebody has to protect our people, even if the worms who call themselves our leaders will not! Identify yourself and step back!”
For Titan’s sake, I made sure to record on my end. “I’m Psycho Gecko.”
Disappointingly, the leader signaled “Retreat!” They all hopped in their trucks and began speeding off, kicking up dust. I could have gone after them, but I was having a pretty chill day. Sittin’ around in my granny panties, breaking open another of these six packs Max brought me, farting whenever I felt like it.
The soldiers weren’t too far off when I caught sight of Titan on approach. The guy’s wings shouldn’t lift him, but I guess that’s the benefit of being insanely strong. On the other hand, he’s going to have a hell of a time trying to get a colonoscopy done.
He landed near me, folding his wings up and doublechecking the discs he held onto. “Psychopomp. This is a surprise. You didn’t kill them?” he nodded toward the trucks trying their hardest to blow out their engines escaping.
“I dunno, felt like letting them go for some reason. Of course, I only announced myself so no one could connect you to their deaths when I sent in video. I really oughta go kill them, though. Otherwise, they’re going to drop more mines as soon as you’re gone.” I pointed a thumb back toward the areas where Titan had been having a blast.
He stared after the retreating soldiers, the sun gleaming on the sweaty blue and orange skin of his exposed arms. “Thanks for the consideration. I’m sure it’ll be handled.” He turned and checked back to where they’d been stopped, then looked to me. “What brings you to my neck of the woods?”
“Just a chat. Some questions I wanted to ask you,” I told him.
He nodded. “I got a minute if these don’t blow first.” He hefted the discs he had stacked up.
“Mines?” I asked.
“Duds,” he answered. “Or probably duds. You never know with mines. They sit out in the wild and degrade. You could walk on an old mine with nothing happening, then something slots in just right and blammo.”
Or some are just designed to allow two or three activations before going off, but he doesn’t need to hear about Riccan products, especially ones that count as war crimes moreso than regular minefields. “Yeah, I know how that works. I really don’t mean to take up much of your time, so this can wait until you’re finished.”
He shook his head. “Since you’ve been spotted here, that means I’m confronting a potential threat to my operations. Looks bad to let you sit around watching.”
The Dudebot shrugged on my command. “Ok, fine. Titan, considering your name and powers that seem to live up to it, I need to ask how you came across those powers.”
“Name and… ? Is this because the Hares think they’re gods? They went after my people too. If I was working for them, they wouldn’t have needed a sleeper agent. Those storage depots wouldn’t have had mysterious accidents.” He glared down at me. It was probably hard to stare down a robot with three camera “eyes” arranged in a triangle, but he gave it a go. “It’s possible the people who gave me powers were related to the Hares, but I don’t know.”
I waited for a moment, letting the Dudebot rock on its heels until Titan continued: “I’m not telling you my origin story. You wouldn’t be able to verify anything and if I were a Hare, I’d just be lying to you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
He had a point there, so I figured I’d move on to Plan B. “Just curious what our endgame is. Figured we’d all have a talk on it. I know you wanted some revenge against them, but I somehow doubt you want to kill them all like I might be inclined to do.”
“I want the disease done away with completely,” he said. “They created an unstoppable disease. It’s already hurt a lot of people. We could be facing a global pandemic if it mutates. I want to hurt them for using my portal network, except then I have to call it restitution.”
“So revenge is a part of it, good. Gotta be honest, I’m not sure if talking with them is going to work out, and it’s not like we can just hand them all over to governments who don’t even know they exist. There’s not really a way to contain any of them.”
“What about the Academy?” Titan asked. He grabbed one of the mines separately and began messing around with it. It was a delicate job that he somehow managed despite the large fingers.
“I broke out of there and I didn’t even have the ability to turn any doorway into a portal to another place. I’ve already been trying to get people to notice them, but I think we have to force them to reveal themselves.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, but Venus and I are talking a space prison,” Titan said.
I hopped up and down, clapping. “That sounds awesome! On every level except practical, that’s cool shit. Let me know if you figure anything out and I’m just going to keep on having my guys wreck their shit until they set up a time and place for the meeting.”
“Let us know, and feel free to send along more tips like the last one,” he said, waving to me as I jumped away with the Dudebot. I left the bot hidden a few countries away, in Egypt. The tomb’s already been looted, but they do not want to open that particular stone box and risk the Dudebot’s curse.
Also neat, turns out I didn’t have to do anything about those guys. I kept an eye on the news for that region out of curiosity, and it turns out the minefield wasn’t completely cleared away. An army unit was moving along that highway for some reason when it was caught by mines in an area that suggests the field extends further than government officials previously indicated. Titan apologized and vowed to keep someone around there clearing it all up until they can be absolutely sure.
And then the news came down. Hu called me up with news from some negotiations with the Privateers, those former UN counter-insurgency guys who set up a base off Africa, and they believe they’ve narrowed it down to a city in the Iberian Peninsula. That’s Spain, or Portugal, but nobody’s cared about Portugal since the 1700s.
I almost ran after it myself until Max brought me this mixed drink with a little umbrella in it and I got distracted for awhile. By the time I got back around to thinking of it, I guess I’d sent orders for a team of elite operatives to go in, figure out where all this was coming from, and blow it up with an Earth-shattering kaboom. Hu had a copy of the signed orders in case I doubted them.
Which is odd, because I don’t really sign orders. As many a dictator has done throughout history, I prefer not to leave a record definitively proving my connection to anything. So I think maybe it’s ok for me to sit this one out, seeing as I need to have a chat with my Intel liaison and my friend about how my diet appears to be affecting my job performance.
“You did what?!” yelled Venus at me through the phone.
She interrupted me in the middle of proceeding over a bit of judicial housekeeping. One of my judges was taking kickbacks to imprison people. Unlike the Americans, we don’t give private prisons contracts that depend on them keeping a certain percentage of rooms occupied. This situation puzzled me as a result. Hu dropped me the details: he’d been taking bribes from gangs to give rivals longer sentences.
I pulled the guy aside for a chat, just the two of us, over drinks in one of the island’s many fine establishments of seductive delight. “I am honored by your presence, Empress,” he told me upon my approach to meet him at the entrance. “But I do not believe this is a respectable establishment.”
“Despite your profession, I wouldn’t judge the respectability of the workers herein if I were you.” I slipped my arm into his to guide him inside. I even paid the cover for him. I’m classy like that.
Inside, I guided us to a table next to the wall. A female Deep One with an epic rack sauntered over. “Get you something to drink, handsomelings?” she asked.
“Are those real?” I asked stopping myself short of groping the bouncy pair.
“Yeah. All natural. Touch if you want.” She jiggled them from side to side for me. “You know we mate with humans, don’tcha?”
I gave them a squeeze. “Filthy habit, laying down with those ugly humans.” I turned to the judge. “No offense.”
“Of course not, Empress,” he said, averting his gaze as I motorboated the amphibious fishwoman, raising a hand with a wad of cash from the judge’s wallet. She snatched it out of my hand and was happy to let me take as much time as I needed until I was pulled away by Venus’s call. I had to leave the judge getting a lap dance from a woman whose tattoos moved and changed.
That brings us back to Venus yelling “You did what?!” at me.
“What did I do?” I handed a bouncer some money and he ushered me through the door into the private rooms.
“You know what you did,” she responded.
“Yeah, I know what I did, but I don’t know if you know what I did. I’m not ‘fessing up to anything until it turns out you already know.”
“This is no time for jokes. You know what I mean,” she said.
I shook my head, even though she couldn’t see it. “I swear to you, Venus, and you should know I wouldn’t lie about something like this… I never do only one thing you think is unforgivably wrong. If only you know where I stuck my face earlier, for instance. Let me know which horrible thing you’ve discovered and I’ll let you know what I think about it.”
“I know, I know, I let her live. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of being judge, jury, and executioner, it’s that many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Not many, but some. Maybe one in a billion if I’m being generous. Really, the ratio is heavily on the living people that deserve death side of the equation, but I didn’t indulge this time.”
“You raped her mind!”
I flopped down on a heart-shaped bed. “That’s being a little dramatic, isn’t it? How much of a mind could she possibly have?” She hung up at the worst possible moment. I’d just decided I liked the bed. They had really fluffy pillows.
Venus had kinda ruined the whole trip, so I headed back out, despondent, to find the judge enjoying the show and a beer. I slid into the seat next to him as the next girl came out. A cat screamed and the multicolor lights around the stage flickered. Rough, droning guitars began to play, a song I recognized as “It Took The Night To Believe”. A pale woman appeared on stage, her loose white dress not really working with the usual strip club aesthetic. She swayed and took a step forward, then the lights flashed off. When she reappeared, she was crab walking, showing off enough leg to see the garter for tips. Another flash, she was upright, her head twisted at an angle usually accompanied by a loud snapping sound and the cessation of life. The next flash left her spinning around the pole, arms twisted around and her mouth stretched unnaturally open. That’s when the dress came flying off, showing tattered lacy bra and panties.
I was in love, and soon short of cash. I even used some of my own money.
Sadly, this whole meeting was business, not pleasure. I dragged myself away after her dance and back to the judge. “I’m having fun, but you seem to be taking things a little too seriously. You gotta relax.”
He sighed. “It’s difficult to relax around one’s sovereign in a gentleman’s club.”
I shook my head and stood behind him, massaging his neck muscles. “Here, let me help you loosen up.”
“I’m not sure-” he started, until I slammed his head forward into the table, busting the bottle.
I grabbed his hair in one hand, the bottle of the broken bottle in another, and jammed the jagged glass into his neck. The blood sprayed into the air over a table dancing vampiress, as did the cash I threw out while yelling, “Make it rain!” The vamp ran her hands down her bloody breasts, mouth open wide in a hiss.
Venus got back to me about 6 AM locally, but I had the call routed through my brain. “Hello?”
“I’ve had time to cool off and get some sleep. We need to talk.”
“Sure, sure. Glad you don’t feel like yelling anymore.” It made it easier to keep from waking anyone on my bed up.
“You’re quiet. Are you breaking in somewhere?”
“No, I just don’t want to wake up the vampire.” Though, with her snoring…
“What are you doing with a vampire?”
I smirked. “Daisy chaining.”
“It’s like sixtynine, but I also had the fish woman and the onryo woman… I don’t think she’s really one, because I’m pretty sure those are ghosts, but I figured I’d ask her over breakfast. I make fantastic eggs, something you’d know if you were so lucky.”
She cleared her throat. “You’re trying to avoid the subject.”
“I’ve made my family safe from an enemy who is inexplicably good at finding me and who works for our enemy. Our enemy. She fooled you too. She’ll never be able to fool me again and it got us valuable information.”
“You don’t do that to people.”
“You don’t. I’m responsible for a nation. Millions of people rely on me for prosperity and safety. That means I know things they would hope never to find out about. When their lives are threatened, I eliminate the threats. When someone infects them with a disease that could kill them or take away their abilities, I’m the one who failed them. Turns out I have the perfect moral temperament for a world leader.”
She said, “You’ve gone full Nixon. You never go full Nixon.”
“This is morality, not legality. Remember how slavery used to be legal in your country? But seeing as I’m the Empress here, you don’t have any way to punish me anyway. All you can do is wake me up in the middle of some very lovely sleep and chastise me for invading Dame’s head.”
“It was despicable,” she said.
“Despicable and right aren’t necessarily incompatible. But, if it’s any consolation, tell her I’m sorry.”
“Wow. Oh my god, do you mean the nation of Ricca, is that what you mean?”
“No. I, Psycho Gecko, am sorry. I’ve gotten to know her more closely than anyone else. And whenever you remember she betrayed you too, and you get all pissed off, I want you to let her know that she may seek asylum here. There are advantages to being someone I know can’t act against me.” I felt the woman I was spooning with start to stir. Her dark hair twisted out of the way as her face looked back at me, almost completely turned around backwards. I pressed my lips to her for a kiss, my tongue dancing with what felt like a couple of tongues in her surprisingly roomy mouth.
Meanwhile, seeing as the call went through my brain, I just thought further responses to Venus that came out on her end as sound. “Geez this stripper’s hot.” As I said, my thoughts. “Anyway, I’m going to have to set up a formal meeting with you and Titan about our endgame. How’ve you been doing?”
“Surprised you’re thinking about how this all ends. Your tips were good. We found where they stored stolen artwork and other valuables in one. Another had a server farm we’re looking over. We took a few people into custody but we had to put them in the hidden cells. We can’t just beat up people guarding a building and insist the cops arrest them because of some conspiracy they’re tenuously connected to.”
“I have video evidence. And I ooooooh… sorry, real life stuff happening… and I followed that guy who was dead.” I squirmed as the Deep One stripper’s hands groped and fondled me fondly.
“The fact that you’re involved committing crimes in other countries makes it questionable. If that’s all we have, the cops will be useless.”
“Yeah, you might see if there’s a way to make them useful. Use some influence with politicians if you can to prep them for this going public. I’ll do what I can on my end, but Belgium’s of limited use as an ally in this regard.”
“You’re allies with Belgium?” she asked.
“We’re still in talks. Medical aid and technology exchange deal, but the Belgians are starting to waffle,” I told her.
“Anyone would if they had to put up with you using that joke as often as I’m sure you do.”
I started to answer, but instead I squealed like a stolen Ferrari in a getaway.
“You sound like you’re occupied with something else,” Venus said. “Let me go now.”
“No, you don’t have to hang up. Stay on the line. Hey, how husky can you talk?”
She hung up.
After eventually escaping my bedroom and fixing a lovely breakfast, I left the strippers pleasantly chatting with my wife, daughter, and ex-girlfriend who all showed up at the first sniff of food. I had a pretty damn important piece of info I needed to confirm with Max and Dr. Creeper over at the Science Institute in a conference call in my study.
“I’m sorry,” Max told me. “Without a vaccine, any cure is only a temporary reprieve from the disease.” He referred to the one that afflicted the brain with the condition that allowed superpowers of all sort to be disabled by the power collars.
Dr. Creeper’s faux-German accent came from the phone set between us. “Doctor Smith has failed to find a vaccination method. If subjects have a reaction, it is the severe one that risks death. Perhaps if ve could integrate the cure with the human body or nanites?”
“No can do on that,” Max said, shaking his head. “That’s now how it works.” He nodded to me, then over toward the minifridge. I nodded and he walked over to fetch us something to drink.
“You could just try!” Creeper said.
“Doc, if Max says he can’t do something with chemicals, that generally means it just can’t be done.” I waited a moment before remembering I could try to soften the blow. “But thanks for your zeal. The fact that you care so much is why I trust your people are doing their best.”
Max tapped me on the shoulder with a beer. Not my favorite, but it was a breakfast beer anyway. Seems like he’s been wanting me greased with alcohol a lot lately. I grabbed it and took a sip while he popped the top off his own. “Creeper, how are we on that shield generator project?”
“Ve vill be ready for a test soon. Do you anticipate needing it vithin the next veek?” he asked. Is it just me, or is he emphasizing his “w”s more than usual?
“Hopefully not. I just always like to have more weapons and gadgets in my arsenal. Never know when you’ll need to pull them out and surprise someone.” I said, whipping out a serrated rocket knife for emphasis to a man who couldn’t see anyway. Meanwhile, Max looked behind me, trying to find where it came from. “I want us prepared for the peace talks, because I’m going to make peace happen no matter who loses their head over it.”
Everyone wants to keep me away from the fighting for all sorts of reasons. Mental health. Thinking up a plan. Signing off on laws. Clearly, my heroic and neutral allies, and those around here on my island, are trying to prep me for being the diplomat of the bunch.
One thing I did to try and work on my skill at diplomacy involved a nice dinner for some of the top Directors, just to help the flow of information both ways. I even cooked for them myself. I could tell these top brass were quite uncomfortable being in my presence at such an event, even more so that I personally saw to the food. I figured I’d break the ice with a little joke as I sat down at the table with the rest of them. I took my seat, raised my hands, and announced, “Truly, I tell y’all, one of you will betray me.”
All conversations and faces fell. Suddenly, one guy on the end jumped up, knocking over his chair. He ran for the door of the building I’d borrowed for the occasion. I grabbed the gravy boat off the table and threw it. Tricky as it is to throw something that’s spilling viscous fluid out of it, it clanged off his head and he fell down. A pair of the security detail stepped in, looked at the groaning man on the floor, then up to me. “Have this one eliminat- no, ya know what? He’s a Director and he might be useful. Throw him in a cell somewhere and find out who he works for.”
I looked around the table to all the other Directors I’d invited. The guys supposedly making laws about all the important things but who had instead gotten into fights subsidizing personal businesses and a funny fight about naming certain roads that has some walking along the intersection of Ug Lee Street and Wong Way. It’d be funny if not for the fact that part of the reason I’m getting so much paperwork from the courts is because they’re doing that instead of reinforcing the courts and writing laws to fill in the gaps.
“Now then, gentlemen, I hope the rest of you stay and enjoy this meal as we have ourselves a productive conversation about the proper place of the judiciary and why I value not having to spend all my time running Ricca.” I smiled around the table, prompting many a fearection from the gathered Directors. “After all, you’ll find I miss the gravy more in this meal than I do any one Director’s company.”
I think it went well, but it was only the first step in what I was doing. See, I’d gotten this idea into my head that perhaps I don’t necessarily need to destroy the Hares. I just had to sit down and have a proper thought about it while drinking some cocktail Max gave me. I dunno, it’s like things became clearer, though it gave me some terrible dry mouth.
So one thing I know is that the portion of them that are aliens have convinced the whole group to hide their supers. Because the aliens are just sitting around waiting to be retrieved, but their government’s liable to just blow the crap out of the whole place if it looks really dangerous instead. No wonder they targeted me. Being dangerous enough to justify orbital nuking is what I do best.
Dame didn’t like being kept under lock and key with that group, and they already kept most members out of the loop about what was going on. As a result, she doesn’t know what prompted them to start doing things now. She hadn’t really been brought in on anything until Master Academy called her up to help me. They left out the virus and the power collars, but the phone call started with “We are calling upon you to serve as one piece of our apparatus.”
That’s the same sort of language they used for Funhouse, who no one’s seen since the multiplier was apparently gassed for not following orders and leading me to a site that let me identify and hunt down the Three Hares.
That hands-off approach is why she was able to hang out with people who can literally read minds without problems. And it’s why, ultimately, I decided to give her to her friends in Master Academy. I even made a little ceremony of it.
I escorted her to the Cape Diem camp. A small crowd gathered around us, curious. Everyone likes a show, especially people working. I held onto her with one hand. She didn’t put up a fight and knew she couldn’t. Merely having the power to control her like a puppet with my fist up her ass didn’t mean I had to exercise it. I could do a lot of philosophizing about the nature of power, but it’s just a simple thing. I’ve spent most my life with a hankering for human life and the ability to kill almost everyone I’ve ever met. And I only tried to kill everyone on Earth the one time.
I slipped a scroll out from between my breasts and flicked it open. “Our lovely nation of Ricca has only grown stronger by the contributions of the best of all cultures on Earth and a few from below it. As an outsider to this island, I know this more than most. Ricca has given me family and a higher purpose. But this goodwill does not extend indefinitely. And so I am formally removing the supervillain known as Dame from the island and evoking my right to Jus Primae Calceus, otherwise known as the Right of the First Boot. Begone, woman!”
I stepped back and kicked Dame’s lovely, if skinny, ass over the border into the camp. She stumbled but caught herself and turned. I shooed her away. “Go. I’m sending you back to the heroes. Let them deal with you. You’re not my problem anymore.”
She was more than happy to run into the arms of nearby Cape Diem personnel who were to escort her through the portal. She might even miss the island. Sure, I was horrible to her, but I’m her enemy. That’s to be expected. She’s going back to people she’s known as friends who now know she was working with the Hares. She thinks she’s heading back to friends.
Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in her head or because of my bout with temporary sanity, but I almost hope it’s not too bad for her. I sent off an email to Venus letting her know that, just in case they have irreconcilable differences, I might be willing to be the island of last resort for Dame.
Note to self: don’t do this brain and memory thing ever again if I can help it. It makes them way too sympathetic, and I found myself looking out from the wrong body more than once.
With that taken care of, the next thing I had in mind required waiting. It would have been less of a wait, but the Director who ran turned out to be working with the Chinese. Despite that setback, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be waiting long.
Yeah, right. In my dreams.
I was enjoying another night of overpressure and screams. Just being caught in an endless fight, bare hands, no armor, endless enemies and no way out. Dimensional bomb right there, and I understood I activated it. I was running to get away while people swarmed me. Every time I killed them, they’d rise right back up. I could tear off faces and they’d stand back up. Snap necks, up again. Pull out a person’s heart, stand right back up, hole and all. Just me being clawed at by a never-ending mass of undead who would claw or bite chunks out of me. When I finally got to the edge, there she was. The one who betrayed me. She smiled and waved. The shield went up and trapped me in there with the never-ending army and the bomb in the middle.
I just kept fighting, never knowing when it was going to go off or I’d finally be too exhausted to keep fighting. Now, all that was fairly normal up until I looked up and a giant bug stabbed through all of it. Think Tyrannosaurus Mantis. A big, stabby mantis. It carved through all of that, then turned to me and scooped me up in its arms and lifted me up to where a teen boy stood on top of the giant mantis. I was set on the insect’s head and just took a moment to breath and look around, but the guy reached up for me. It felt like we were jumping and things got fuzzy.
I woke up gasping as I tried to breathe, my body being pushed down into the bed. I looked up to see the same boy on top of me, hands around my throat. I went to move my arms, but then something stabbed through the upper pair that were outside the sheets and pinned them to the bed. Looking up further, there was a giant mantis again, though not dino sized. More like basketball-player sized, with me being bounced like a basketball while the little guy choked me.
This one, I didn’t want to give a laser lobotomy to. I opened my mouth and dropped the fangs I’d installed. Handy things. Also handy? Forearms, but less so when bitten by fangs. To my surprise, he kept choking with one hand and used the other to punch me in the nose. Which means no more mister nice bitch. My laser eye lit up and I took both his arms off.
He fell back screaming, and the mantis parked next to me growled. I didn’t know they could do that. It raised its claws brought them down toward my head, but I got all four arms up and grabbed them.
Now, a standard mantis body can’t content with a standard human body even if made bigger. Just wouldn’t work as far as things like breathing and circulation, but there’s also the neat thing about muscle becoming less efficient as the size of the animal increases. Humans have bones and muscles enough to support all their bones and muscles. I had reinforced bones and unnaturally strengthened muscles. And, after a moment of pushing, I also had a pair of torn-off mantis claws for souvenirs. I shoved one through the giant bug’s head, then turned to the screaming, cowering, pantless little assassin trying to crawl away from the foot of my bed.
I jumped off the bed and landed with my knee planted in his back, probably fucking up his bladder. Boo-fucking-hoo. I kept him pinned there as I tore his shirt open and began to carve. “Stop squirming, ya baby. If I make a mistake, I’ll have to cross it out and rewrite it, and you’ve only got so much skin.”
When sending a message written on the back of a living victim, it’s important to be as clear as possible. That’s why I broke out the thesaurus and made sure to use the most precise words possible, no matter how long. I decided to hurry when I noticed more and more flies and roaches gathering in the room. The guy commanded a big bug, so it occurred to me he might have the loyalty of smaller ones. They all scattered their own way when I finished and put the final exclamation mark on the matter by driving the claw through the guy’s skull.
The next day, I had Hu and the Intel people pick him up and prepare to drop him off at the site of the next raid. For all the time I took writing it, it’s a simple message, really. Just seeking to have a chat with folks from the Three Hares and see what we might do to convince them to stop the proliferation of both diseases and power collars.
But, while simple, no message is quite so impactful as the one carved on the body of the assassin sent to kill me.
“Dear crazy conspiracy asshats: I, the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca, Destroyer of Worlds, Mistress of Mayhem, cordially invite you to make the necessary arrangements for a diplomatic summit wherein we shall gather and discuss the terms of your surrender, nay your unconditional acquiescence. To that end, I also request that you stop sending assassins. If you do not, I will send one of my own and will not need to send another. Especially not another five. Get the message already. Hugs and blowjobs, Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca, Destroyer of Worlds, Mistress of Mayhem. P.S., Now I’m just fucking with this guy before I kill him.”
Greetings again, dear readers. I come bearing news and fingering the bunghole, but that could be too much information for y’all. Maybe a little working the taint, I dunno. Regardless of what I do in the privacy of my own kitchen, it gets results. And so does Intel.
Hu got a hold of me. They traced back the shipment of collars. It’s a good new lead, and one Dame didn’t know about. This suggests Max may have been correct in criticizing me for not thinking and going a bit, shall we say, wonky there. But Hu trusts my judgment still. As an underling, he has no choice but to trust me or risk that judgment. He brought me the whole story one day while I was sitting in the Directory building, checking over some judicial appeals and other important documents they thought I should look at. Looks like the Vatican’s extradition request for that priest isn’t getting approved!
“We traced the collars to a ship called the Rangoon. In deference to your desire to better acclimate to current events and focus on your family, I took the liberty of authorizing the interception of the Rangoon.” Hu said. The captain proved more than generous with information once he learned we had no desire to uphold or be held to maritime law, and access to shitloads of valuables. Literal shitloads, including the finest in ancient golden chamber pots. Caught between the carrot and where we might stick it, the captain pointed us to an outpost he called the Flying Dutchman.
This Dutchman, unlike the mythological ship or its Disney version, turned out to be a semi-submersible oil platform off the coast of Mauritania. Hu spoke about it like he knew, but I’d never heard of it. “In fairness to your Imperial majesty,” Hu told me when I murmured something to that effect, “The best kept secret is that in the news of any African country other than South Africa.”
“So who runs the Dutchman?” I asked.
“That would be Colonel Duray, formerly attached to the United Nations Taskforce On International Stability. They were originally meant to travel around the world and bolster governments threatened by socialist revolutions during the Cold War. After the fall of the USSR, the task force was downgraded and repurposed to combat terrorism. It saw a resurgence following the United States’s last presidential election, when they began to shirk their UN and NATO duties. Last year, the United States attempted to completely defund and disband the task force after it was ordered to intervene in the U.S.A. Duray took the unit AWOL instead. Since then, they’ve functioned as a mercenary force called the Privateers. They stole from the United States and other nations with the justification of keeping weapons out of the hands of those who escalate conflicts, but have seen action as pirates.”
With that information to go off of, I knew where to search. This isn’t the first time my decision to stay in America upon coming to this world left me ignorant of world events. “Quite a story. If they were any closer, they could be frequent customers or enemies. We need to find out if they’re related to the Hares though. I wonder if the Psycho Flyers have the range for this…” I stood up, tossing papers aside.
Hu caught a bundle and handed them back to me. “Surely every action we take does not require you to attend to it personally. You are the will of our nation. Decide what must be done and we shall do it for you in your stead.”
I coaxed him in closer with a finger. “Cut the bullshit. What is this?”
“Empress, you are too important to run around after every single problem. You are a ruler now, not one of the soldiers to be risked and captured if need be. If word of your capture had gotten out, it would have threatened the new social order and risked plunging the island into anarchy. While I’m being frank, there are rumblings about your mental health as of late. You are scaring your people.”
I ground my teeth and took a seat, pondering. As much as I felt insulted over him calling me out over my sanity, it has always been my policy that underlings be allowed freedom to speak and criticize me. A supervillain who kills people for telling her things she doesn’t want to hear is a supervillain who is the last to know if security systems are shorting out or someone defected and snuck out through a secret tunnel. Plus, there’s a lot of minutia I don’t like to handle and it’s easier to delegate it if people think they’re allowed to have thoughts of their own.
I took a deep breath and released it before continuing. “It’s been a hell of a year. Any particular recommendations on where I should focus my attention on this matter from here on my throne?”
He bowed. “Respectfully, Empress, now may be the best time to increase the pressure on the Three Hares by allowing your allies to raid the locations you have learned about.”
At the time, Titan was the one most likely to be awake with how time zones work, so I called up Cape Diem first. I snapped my fingers for a Directory page to bring over a mirror and nanites. I was trying out skin tones and making some alterations. I called up Qiang and let her watch from my perspective as I changed up a few features.
“I like your eyes! Baba, can I have eyes like that?” she asked.
“Sure thing. You want them with this angle or…” I moved a few things as far as inner and outer angle. “Like this?”
“That’s neat. I want to look just like you!”
I smiled. “Fine, but only if I get to look like you too.” My nose shifted to a button nose like hers would probably turn out to be once she grew up.
“Hello, Gecko?” asked Titan’s voice from elsewhere in my head.
“One moment, gotta extricate myself from how I was passing the time,” I said, before swapping back to Qiang and telling her I needed to handle a very important call. Then, I could come back to Titan. “Heya. You sound a bit out of breath. Did I pull you away from something important?”
“No. I finished my business before I got here. Your friends are kidnapping refugees.”
“I’m not aware of my friends doing anything. Max has all the ingredients he could want right now.” To my knowledge, there haven’t been any additional attempts on my life. With Hu’s concerns, he might have intercepting people, or maybe Max has been looking out for me.
“The refugees were kidnapped by a cabal of low-level magical supervillains. They escaped, but I managed to recover the victims,” Titan informed me.
Huh. I bet that’s why I got that invitation for beer and bratwurst from those guys I don’t know. “Was this around Poland?”
“Yeah. You know what’s going on?” he asked
“Nah, just vague stuff I heard through the grapevine. I’m not really part of the normal villain social scene. They don’t like me. I invited myself along to Secret Santa one year and they all converted to Judaism on the spot.”
“Venus said you liked to tell pointless, unrelated jokes.”
“I wanted to talk to you about the Hares. I got a few spots for you to check on.” And a sudden urge to RSVP in the negative to that beer and brats invitation.
“Shouldn’t you get Venus on the line for this?”
“She’s probably asleep,” I told him.
“She’s a hero. She patrols. Hold on.” I heard beeps, then the sound of distant sirens.
“Hello?” came Venus’s voice.
“Venus, it’s Titan. I have Gecko on the line. Do you have a minute?”
“Yeah, I guess. The Question are long gone.”
I spoke up here. “The Question? I have questions.”
“Pro-government anti-government terrorists. I don’t understand it either. They wear masks with the letter Q and just blew up an NPR affiliate. They like riddles.”
“Huh. Never heard of them, but they sound fun. Listen, it’s about time I shared some of the love with y’all as far as the Hares, if y’all aren’t too busy.”
“Let us worry about that,” Titan said.
“I’m emailing a map along to y’all with relevant info I obtained from a high-value prisoner who grew up in the Hare conspiracy. The individual did not particularly enjoy the isolated lifestyle of the Hares, but I believe I’ve located more important sites than what we’ve run across before. I have important duties to attend to instead.”
“How are you doing after your capture?” asked Titan.
“I’ve been saner,” I said.
Venus spoke up, “I can recommend a good therapist.”
“They’d have to be bulletproof,” I said, laughing it off. I went ahead and sent the emails. “The encryption key is 12345. I know it’s the sort of thing a moron would use for their luggage, which is why it’s the last thing they’d expect from me.”
Titan sighed. “It’s one of the most widely used passwords. If that’s everything, are you sure you can’t give me a tip about the refugees in Poland?”
“Sorry guys, I should really see to these things around here. I’ve got to shampoo my hair and look over some judicial business… oh, I’m getting attacked by ninjas. Gotta run, buh-bye!”
I hung up on them and stood up. They had all they needed from me. I checked out the mirror. “What do y’all think? Like the new look?”
The trio of ninjas who had dropped into the Directory building took fighting stances. No stage pajamas here. They were in tight black outfits with balaclavas pulled over their faces, light armor vests and plates on their limbs. One held a couple of kunai, another wielded a metal claw, and the last had a handscythe with a chain attached to the bottom of its handle.
The Directors scattered, which made quite a sight since many of them had adopted the practice of wearing sashes in some attempt to out-bling each other.
The one with the scythe, a kusarigama as they like to call it, swung the chain at me, sending the weight on the end of the chain right at my face. I snatched the chain out of the air. That ninja pulled it back, scraping some skin off my hand. I took a step in that direction and that’s when the kunai came for my head. My head snapped back.
When I lowered it back toward them, I held the kunai in my mouth, the bladed end held deep in my throat. Claw guy came at me then. I grabbed the kunai and tosses the wet end at his face. He swiped it to the side with his claw. He brought it across again at my torso. I threw myself back on my throne, laser eye blaring to life and searing a letter Z through his torso, smooth as Zorro.
He fell, only for the kusarigama’s weighted chain to come swinging for my face. I got a hand up. It stopped a lot of the damage, but still left me stumbling and trying to spot the ninjas between all the circling birds. I raised my hand in time to block an overhead stab from the guy with the kunai. Better my palm than my eye hole.
“I got one of those, too,” I used one of my spare hands to whip out a thin trench knife and cut him from cock to Adam’s apple. Smoke appeared all around me, burning at my eyes. The kusarigama’s chain smacked the head of its dead, deceased compatriot to the side.
So there I was. Knife versus chain and scythe. I’d already killed two. I was an assassination target on the edge, willing and able to sate my rampant murderlust. I stepped forward and the chain forced me back. Again and again, the remaining ninja used it to keep me at bay, my knife sparking as the chain slid across it the last time.
I pushed a lever on the side of the knife and tossed it in the air in frustration. “Fine, I get it, I shouldn’t have brought a knife to a chain fight.” The rocket in the handled of the knife fired suddenly, more like a momentary explosion. Only momentary, as the blade lodged itself in the chest of the remaining ninja. He reached up to grab it, then refused to pull it out. Then he dropped his weapon and turned to run.
“This is what happens when you buy your ninjas American. Adios, cowboy. ” I reached under my dress and came out with another rocket knife, one in each hand, and switched them on, aiming. The ninja fell dead with four knives in his back. “Knife meeting ya. Man, I hate missing all the action.”
The Munich raid went well. The point of the thing was to blow a hole in that big ol’ privacy fence around their compound. The Germans are investigating it now, and finding all sorts of weird things scattered around. Drugs, a couple of stolen artifacts, uranium; all sorts of things that will draw a lot of attention to that compound and have people investigating. Expose them, force them to run again, exhaust them.
I’d had… feelings. Thinking of a plan, part of me remembered all the kids and innocents there. Attacking would risk killing civilians, even if a lot of them do have powers. I lived among them, danced with them. I drank beer with them and perhaps even Frenched one or two of them under the influence. I spent a night rocking back and forth in a chair, thinking about what to do. I was practically distraught.
But now, I had video showing they were all ok. The local news reporters provided that glimpse, but I quite enjoyed the view from various drones flying high above it. Can’t blow shit up in Europe without a few different militaries becoming interested. So seeing everyone come out of this fine and dandy, it was such a relief. Such a relief, I started laughing. And, my oh my, it seems my finger slipped on a button in the middle of all my laughter. Looks like someone shouldn’t send up drones for recon with their payloads.
It was so sad, I had to laugh about it. It’s a natural way to handle this sort of bad news, after all. Laugh so as not to cry.
If the cruel fate of the Munich compound wasn’t enough, the Hares themselves are playing on my emotions. I’ve letters expressing the feelings of the Three Hares. The night of the bombing, for instance. I got up to handle some business in the bathroom. I was going over plans for a new island shield and crapping when the jacuzzi began rattling. The nozzles burst out into the tub and streams of water stretched out and formed into a person, a woman with a metal visor with a single big, round glass eye on it and gems on either side.
“Psycho Gecko! Prepare to die!”
I put aside the hologram I was working with and reached for the rear of the toilet. “May I at least have a courtesy flush first?”
“I guess?” she said. Small gems began to light up leading to the glass eye, three on either side. I reached back behind the toilet. As I’ve mentioned before I often keep a gun there in order to clear up any problematic clogs. That’s why I whipped out the Smith & Wesson Schofield. I missed that first shot, causing the cyclopean assassin before me to duck and charge more of those gems up. Another miss, then a hit on her shoulder. When she turned, the final gems lit up, and that’s when I popped her in the central glass eye.
“Fuck shit!” she screamed, grabbing at the eye. I dove off, pulling my panties up. I wasn’t there when she took her hands away and instead shot lasers from the six gems leading up the glass eye. Three smaller beams shot out, putting holes in the marble toilet. But since these were three all along a band, beams were flying all over the place. They bounced off mirrors and mirrored surfaces, so it’s a good thing I was staying low and crawling behind her. When she stopped and looked around, I tackled her from behind and pushed her down.
She cracked her chin pretty good on the lip of the toilet where the seat didn’t cover. I grabbed a handful of her hair and pushed her face down into the bowl to let her gurgle on dinner. I had the Schofield still in hand and gave her a shot in the back. Then I lost my grip on her as she turned to liquid again and flowed down the toilet, flushing it in the process. I jumped up and pointed the Schofield down the bowl, then noticed the blood smeared on me and smiled with an idea. I wiped blood onto my hand and pushed it into the toilet bowl, making a minor programming change.
The pipes in the jacuzzi, toilet, sink, and shower began to rattle. A huge chunk of the room shook. Blood began to spurt from the sink. It started to fill the jacuzzi. The shower head shot off as bloody water rained down. Finally, the toilet reversed and sprayed water and blood all over the ceiling.
When those of the household who cared about my health came running, they found me laughing and soaking wet with blood and water. I shut the bathroom door as I saw Max and Silver Shark run up.
“What’s going on?” Max asked.
I pointed at the door in all my giggling, then waved my hand. “You don’t wanna go in there. Whew!” I couldn’t hardly finish speaking for all the laughter.
Speaking of funny incidents, another occurred as I was enjoying a quiet night in my study, just working on some new material for this joke I’m playing on the world. Mix N’Max walked in and passed right by me to address a chair. “Gecko, you’re doing it again.”
Dame fell to the floor as I awoke and she scampered out of there. I yawned and looked up at Max from my chair. “Whoopsy. Can you blame me for making sure an extra pair of eyes watched out as I slept?”
“I can blame you if they’re her eyes. Look, Gecko, we go back and I’m afraid I have to suggest something is more wrong than usual with you,” he knelt down in front of me to look me in the eye. Even his smile looked apologetic.
“I must use any and all resources to protect myself, Max. It’s the way of the world. Besides, I’m rehabilitating Dame,” I indicated his grin. “So turn that lack of a frown upside and around.”
“How is holding a woman as a slave in her own body rehabilitation? You’re better than this,” he told me.
“I AM better than this. I’m so good, I made Dame perfectly trustworthy. Never again can she betray me for anyone. Always there, in her mind. THAT’s why they wanted me. The world’s changing, and I’m like a god of the new world order.”
“You’re not a god,” Max said, pointing his finger at me. “Remember the rule on godhood.”
I rolled my eyes. “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes. Everyone knows the Aykroyd Rule.”
“No, the other rule. The one about supervillains who start declaring themselves gods. Does that ever end well?”
He held up one finger. “Nebuchadnezzar.”
“Gesundheit,” I said.
He cocked his head to the side in a look that said “Really?” even though he didn’t.
“Fine, tried to consume a ball of energy bigger than his own head a little too fast. Blew up.”
Max raised a second finger. “Aria.”
“Used a device to boost her powers, but someone managed to block them long enough and record her super voice to use it against her,” I answered.
“Following the pattern?” he asked.
“Technically it isn’t a pattern until there’s three incidents,” I reminded him.
Max looked at me, lowered the first two fingers, and raised the third one, the ring finger. “You want to be this one?”
“That’s hardly-” and then I shot up into space without crashing through roofs or walls. And it wasn’t really space. I’ve been there. I was being thrown with force instead of drifting without gravity.
I crashed into an asteroid and was thrown at another nearby one while the first one broke in half. The second did as well when I hit it. I bounced off and then stopped in the middle as the asteroids. Those four then crashed into each other, breaking in half. They kept colliding and breaking until a bunch of baseball- and basketball-sized pieces banged into me. Finally, one the size of a large dog slammed into me and sent me hurtling through space again. I landed on a small planet, or possibly one of those things Pluto is, and bounced off in further defiance of physics. The next planet I headed for grew a face and a pair of arms. It slapped me between both hands.
The planet on this trip through Disney’s Fantasia planetarium skipped arm day. I’ve taken worse hits. Didn’t even squeeze any organs out of me. The two arms grabbed hold of me from either side. The planet opened its mouth wide, exposing the glowing liquid hot magma. It unleashed a volcanic roar.
“Get some Jupiter!” I yelled back as it lunged for me.
Then I was laying down on the floor of the study, yelling at the ceiling, which looked to be missing a ceiling fan. I noticed books laying around and crawled off a broken chair. I found Max wobbling from side to side with a pencil-thick needle in hand, standing over a woman in a green catsuit who was foaming at the mouth.
“How’d you see through all that?” I asked. “I think I got beat up by a solar system.”
“Oh Gecko. Precious, vanilla Gecko,” Max said. He winked at me, then looked back down at the catsuit woman. “She has the Three Hares on the back in a shade of green barely lighter than the primary coloring.”
I staggered over to confirm it. “Another damn assassin. I think I need to send a message back to the Hares.”
“You’re mad with power and determined to kill them all. What do they have to lose in sending killers after you?” he pointed out. “That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Here, help me with the body.”
“She’s still dying,” I said.
“Give it time,” Max said, bending down to grab her by the feet. I took her shoulders and helped, with us stopping in mid-carry for Max to spray some air freshener when she shat herself in the throes of death. Outside, I saw a lot of the rest of the place jumbled up, with Citra and staggering around.
“Where’s Qiang?” I asked her.
She pointed upstairs. “In bed. Are we safe?”
I stopped beside her as we carried the dead woman around and kissed my wife on the cheek. “Safer than those who attacked us.” Then it was off to see to the respectful treatment of the dead.
We dropped the corpse onto a table in Max’s suite while Sam and Holly recovered with some drinks. “What you’ve told me about their isolation and heredity, the Hares’ DNA could provide amazing insight into superpowers as they relate to genetics,” Max observed.
“Plus, you want to do things with her beautiful corpse,” I added.
He patted her boots. “You know I only care about what’s on the inside. Pass me the scalpel?”
I tossed it to him and started cutting the woman free of her clothes for the autopsy. “I guess I’ve been a bit screwed up. They took my memories from me, and they’re mine. But for that brief time, I was clear of every fucked-up thing of my past. It was… clean. I had morals, and ethics, and I think even a conscience. The did it to use me somehow, and then that whole thing. It reminded me of Elizabeth, back in the other world. And a phrase Venus has been using lately.”
“Oh?” Max asked. He stepped closer to start carving into the sternum. “What’s that?”
“I’d rather not say, but it was the closest thing to washing away so much of what keeps me from changing and being better.” I looked down, which had me staring into the eyes of the corpse.
“It’s tempting,” Max commented.
I nodded. “Even for us. Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do to someone is show them another way. A ‘what if?’ scenario.”
“I like to take the wrong lesson from my enemies,” Max said, peering inside the woman’s chest cavity. “They had more of an endgame than killing you. What’s your endgame besides killing them? Right now, you’re like a dog chasing a car. You wouldn’t know what to do with it if you,” he paused and took his hands out of the woman’s chest to pantomime catching something in midair. “Caught it. What do you want the world to look like at the end of this that doesn’t involve you trying to claim you’re a god?”
“Good question,” I leaned on my elbow, looking down into the woman’s eyes, my eyes taking the same turquoise tint.
“So as you see, Dame, information on my enemies is ever so important,” I said over tea. I had Dame across my lap, like a dog or a cat or some other manner of pet. After ensuring her civility, I also had her physical form reverted back. When she didn’t look right without the blonde hair, I threw in a quick hair bleaching, too, and threw her across my lap. I rocked back and forth with her, alternating between idle chatter with her and speaking with my forces elsewhere as we rested in an armchair in what turned out to be a billiards room, complete with guest smoking jacket. So I sat there enjoying a spot of tea and my new pet’s warmth on my lap, while having a video conference in my head to catch up on local events.
During my captivity, Intel found some of my guys seizing items off incoming and outgoing shipments for personal gain. They’re dealing with the guys, some of whom were in Security and Military. What’s really interesting is that they found some power collars in the mix. Nobody reported bringing those through the island.
Ok, let’s recap a little. Things have been confusing, time’s passed, and we all need a reminder from time to time. I held a birthday party for my daughter and people started getting sick. That shouldn’t happen, because I put stuff nanomachines in the water to keep them healthy. We discovered a disease someone created that affects the brain of people, resists efforts of the nanites to clear it out, and interacts with these collars. When someone with this disease gets one of these collars on them, they’re incapable of doing anything an unpowered human can’t do. Training’s still training, but it even stops me using my extra arms or my in-born ability as homo machina to connect to computers.
The people behind the disease and collars are the Three Hares. I raided them plenty of times, even got briefly captured. I’d say I almost forgot about the collars, but they wiped most of my memory for awhile, so I definitely forgot about the collars.
No matter what, these collars aren’t allowed anywhere on the island, something that didn’t need to be made a rule to be understood. And while I’m extremely lax about what’s brought in and what goes out, this is a different matter that someone should have reported. And my first instinct, that involves blowing ships sky high, but Pagan, the head of my Intelligence agency, has other ideas. The official liaison between myself and Intel is Hu, former head of the agency, and he had the task of talking me out of my desire to blow some boats sky high, like a fucking Sputnik. But no, it makes sense. Follow them back to where they came from.
That’s good. That gets us into infrastructure. Finds me more assets of these Three Hares guys. Because so far, the only thing I really have on these guys are where they’re keeping people. The Munich compound, for instance. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
And that brings me back to the present, which I relay to you know in the past tense because it was only the present at the time. I held Dame, her brain having been messed with quite a bit. I could tap into her memories and see the delicate treatment she faced at the hands of my people. I was glad to see they kept Qiang out of it. I cut out after she got a boot to the stomach from Max. Dame wasn’t much of a fighter. But she’s not entirely who I thought she was either.
She was one of the kids. Not one of the “gods” who are just the really powerful supers with some form of immortality. All that stuff about being gods, the kids all know it’s bullshit. It’s what they were thought to be, once upon a time. When they had temples and cults dedicated to them. Before the aliens crashed, and the groups fought before working things out and hiding to avoid extermination by aliens. But the terms are all ingrained. Gods for the really strong ones, folks who’d be up there with Spinetingler or Captain Lightning if anyone knew about them.
Then there were the demigods, like regular heroes, and capable of infiltrating the superhero and villain worlds. Finally, you have the unpowered family members of the gods and demigods. Dame had been one of those, part of a New England branch. It goes back to how craziness is for poor people; when you’re wealthy, it’s called eccentricity. Old-school aristocrats are allowed to keep to themselves.
She acted out by stealing. Got good at it eventually.
I remember when I saw the news of an explosion in a suburb. Sitting in some diner after relieving a drug dealer of his stash. Didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Took a noseful for myself, but I didn’t like partying that way after that time I woke up at a dipshit’s house without my bra. Lindsey brought me there and told me to chill. I left that punk’s sorry ass behind. He called me later, a lot of times, but I ignored him.
So I’m in this diner, drowning a coke hangover with the best coffee. The news flash came up. Some dumbass in Golden Oaks blew his house up. Or Shady Willows. Hmm. If some survivalist blew up his house planning to blow up a courthouse or a Planned Parenthood, there might be good guns around. I bet I could get in there and steal whatever rifle he’d been jacking off to from under the cops’ noses.
They evacuated most of the families by the time I got there. They had vans, people in hazmat suits, buses, but weren’t too pushy with the lawyers and soccer moms. These people want to speak to your manager!
My dirtbike had been in rougher scrapes than the backyard sandboxes could give me. The house that exploded wasn’t hard to find. It was the one that wasn’t there anymore. I cut my bike a couple yards over and climbed fences so the cops wouldn’t be onto me. Tied my hair up and hid it under a violet bandana and zipped my black jacket up to hide my Taylor Swift t-shirt. The sun would be up in an hour, so I needed to get in and out so I could get home.
The house was wrecked, but enough of the walls stood to keep the cops out front from seeing me. There was a basement door in the backyard, blown off the hinges from where it connected to the house. I saw flashlights moving around down there. FML, right? I turned to check out the shed he had there and saw the beast of a lock on the door. Fuck it, I’d been reading how to do that and watching videos. I didn’t give a crap about school, but stealing gave me money the parental units didn’t control. Turned out I liked studying locks. It was so easy to find a lockpick set for sale, too.
“I kissed a girl and I liked it,” I sang quietly to myself. I hated that song since it came out last month, but I knew my mom would freak if I talked about kissing other girls. My dad almost choked on his OJ when he first heard me sing along. Then I got the song stuck in my head for real.
I thought the lock would put up more of a fight than it did but it was so awesomesauce doing that! This wasn’t a cheap padlock like the drug dealers had. This one had girth. I dropped the lock on the ground and opened the door.
I couldn’t see real well in the darkness, but I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. I turned around fast, in case something was in there with me, and kept an eye on the darkness while I reached for my flashlight. The small light’s LEDs lit up a work table on the opposite wall, and a pair of wood shelves built into the shed on either side.
I saw wires and shit. No guns. Like, electronics and other crap, but nobody wants to buy someone’s homemade vibrator. I and opened the door to go when I noticed lights aimed at the wall of the shed next to the door.
“Hey!” someone called out.
Shit, shit, shit, shit!
I closed the door, quick, then cursed to myself. I could have tried to run, but now they’ll catch me. I won’t get in permanent trouble. The family and the gods make sure of that. But shit, I’ll never hear the end of it if they get me. I reached around, shining my light. Maybe I could slip something in the door latch… oh yeah, that’s outside. Cockgobbler!
I looked around with my light and saw something glint. It was like a net sleeve made of wires and it gave me an idea. I slid it on and raised it up as the door opened. “Don’t come any closer or I’ll zap you with my super high tech death beam gauntlet!” I yelled. I closed my fist and hit a button on the inside of it, and suddenly I was dropping through the ground.
Oh my god, I screamed so hard. I couldn’t grab onto anything and I saw all sorts of freaky shit, like bugs and skeletons. I was clawing at the anything to climb up and I somehow came up in the backyard behind that house I’d been in. As soon as I got to the surface, I pushed that button again and clamped my mouth shut. I put both hands over my mouth and ran for my bike.
That’s the day I… fuck, she graduated to demigod. I was doing that the entire time, wasn’t I?
“Ugh,” I said, putting my hand to my face and shaking blonde hair out of my face. That caused me to roll out off of the person I’d been sitting on… damn. I looked down and realized I’d done it again. A moment later, I blinked with my real eyes, or at least the cybernetic replacements I use instead and stood next to Dame. I released her from my mental grasp for a moment and caught her as she fell, weeping. And there was that feeling I get sometimes when part of me doesn’t like what I’m doing. It’s been stronger since my memories got flushed and then returned.
I left her to rest, her still not wanting to talk to me. But, I mean, she gets a much nicer cell now, with good food and everything. With her skills, it’s not like it’d be difficult for her to escape from the residence. The difference is my being able to control her from anywhere around. That’s really handy for trust.
It’s why I had no issue sleeping in the same building as her, with my family there. It’s why I didn’t even worry when I left her there the next day and headed to the military base to oversea the briefing and departure of a raid team aimed at blowing open a hole in the wall of the Three Hares Munich compound. And it’s probably why Max left me a “Thinking Of You” card where he wrote, “We need to talk about how nuts you’ve been since coming back.”
Which I’d grabbed and read using Dame’s body because I was busy on the toilet at the time.
They’re called priorities, people.
Venus was kind enough to offer me the hospitality of the Master Academy while I waited on my ride. After everything that happened, we all agreed I needed access to as many showers and fresh clothes as possible. Plus, and she didn’t actually state this, I think she was worried about all the laughing I’d been doing. Couldn’t help myself. It kinda had to do with the intersection of Gecko and Tripura. She was so nice, and she was me.
Too bad she had to kill. I just can’t catch a break, even when I don’t know hardly anything. But she killed to save an entire city, except for that part when she murdered someone for being a dick to her. The ratio of assholes to innocents makes it clear how much better a person she was. I could try and argue something about tabula rasa, but most people have really weird ideas about that. Like, they think being born with genetic preferences that can change over time somehow means the mind is born with knowledge. You know, because we should really call a baby’s inborn preference for cinnamon at birth “knowledge”.
Eh, this Earth will grow out of that at some point, maybe realize that a stream bed’s curves determine what path the water travels, but it’s not a stream without the fluid.
This sounds nice, but part of the reason I was tittering to myself so much is my ability to recall the name of that thingy on the table that salt falls out of. A mind is a terrible thing to lose, and now I’ve got mine back. And so many things are being reevaluated that it’s caused me the legitimate giggles, and some instances of laughing to spite the alternative.
It disturbed everyone around Master Academy West. They sat me in a common room with, like dark woods and a tv and books all around. If it was a social spot, it wasn’t after I got there. So I kept staring off into space, comparing memories, reconciling things, and catching up on the news. Like, seriously evolutionary psychologists? A paper about why the Jews are genetically predisposed to dominate the world? No wonder the brownshirts are marching.
In the middle of sitting down, arms around my legs, laughing my head off to myself in a dark room with the lights turned off, I noticed a guy arguing with Venus. “How long is she staying here?”
That snapped me out of my thousand-yard stare. “Hey, stop assuming my-”
“She’s a criminal, a murderer, a- a- I don’t even know what she’s committed so many crimes. And she’s transphobic,” said the teen boy to Venus.
“I’m not transphobic. There are very few people I hate more than I hate almost every one of you damn humans,” I said.
The guy actually responded. “I don’t hear you dropping the N-word or any other racial slurs.” He walked into the room, staring at me. A bit androgynous and chubby, with a wide nose that almost makes me think it’d been smooshed as a kid.
I grabbed him and pulled him onto my lap, cradling him with four arms. “It’s ok there. Shh, shh, shh. Let me tell you a little story.”
“Gecko, let him go,” Venus said. I held up a finger.
“Just a quick story and he goes free unharmed, deal?” I asked.
From my lap came the teen, “I’d rather just go if I have any say in this.”
I patted him on the head. “Hush, Venus is speaking for you.”
“You promise not to harm anyone? This is just a story?” she asked.
I nodded a bunch. “I wouldn’t dare hurt the snuggly little Master Academy students here.” I gave the student a shake. The wind picked up in the room and blew some curtains a bit too much to be the AC. “It’s just a brief story of an assassin who learned how to use medical nanomachines to perform reconstructive surgery to alter the assassin’s looks. Colors were easy, adjusting flesh and cartilage as well. Muscles, harder, bones harder still. So many things were changed… face, hair color, eye color, even skin color. And in all that time, nobody who knew the assassin’s identity questioned anything about the assassin’s personality over the fact that the assassin changed appearances so often.”
“That’s not strictly true,” Venus spoke up.
I blew her a raspberry, then continued. “Then one day the assassin grows a bodacious pair of boobs and starts wearing skirts. Suddenly, everybody starts wondering if they should call the assassin something different over THIS change. THIS change was unusual. This change caused them to worry about the assassin’s mental state more than usual.” I chuckled at that part. “The assassin just changes and doesn’t think much of it. The assassin thinks it’s stupid to assume anything off about a person just because they want to be a woman.”
I pushed the teen off my lap. “Story time’s over kid. Now get out of here.”
The tean dusted himself off and looked at me. “Inside, what do you feel you are?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. I’m always just me, no matter what.” I closed my eyes and sat back, hoping they’d get out of my long, beautiful hair.
Venus ushered the teen out, then turned to me. “Maybe it would help you with all your self-loathing. That can be a sign, you know.”
I waved dismissively. “Not all that important right now. But thanks for the tampons and the brief tutorial.” I opened an eye just to wink at her.
“I know about your self-loathing. Do us all a favor and find a version of yourself that’s happier. And just because changing sex isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s a small thing for someone to be made whole on this Earth, you douchecanoe.” Venus crossed her arms as she looked at me.
“If you hate me so much, if the world’s better off without me, why save me?” I asked her, leaning forward, and maybe squeezing the gals a bit for better viewing. She’s not immune to boobs. Hell, these days, the power of boobs reaches far beyond men to all sorts of genders. “Not like anyone there knew what was happening. You could have let me die.”
“We have this talk a lot, but I refuse to go through life believing the best way to solve my problems is to kill everyone,” she said.
I cocked my head to the side, “But isn’t saving me a way of condoning my actions, especially when I kill people like The Claw?”
She shook her head. “Your choices are your choices, but I’ll always hold out hope for you, and I’ll always be here if you want to change. It’s never too late.”
Ugh. It’s like she’s got a psychic around to figure out the best way to annoy me. Oh, right, she’s fucking the only surviving psychic to be in my head. I was more than happy when the Psycho Flyer arrived with an honor guard of soldiers in power armor. We made quite the sight, Psycho Gecko walking up a ramp flanked by Riccan soldiers while a force of Master Academy heroes stood guard.
One long, long, long ass trip later that involved a stopover in Mu for refueling, the Flyer passed right over the military base and landed between the Palace Residence and the Directory Legislature building. The Directors were quite curious to see what all the hub bub was about, and were surprised when the soldiers lined up and I stepped out in my armor. Not a copy, or a replica. Not a Dudebot. Me and my armor.
One of the Directors was pushed by his comrades to come meet me. “Empress, we weren’t aware you were away. We have been denied news and prevented from an audience.” He quickly bowed.
My bow wasn’t so deep, but then I’m the Empress. “It was necessary, unfortunately. If it’s any consolation, I’ve missed y’all too and I’ll be more than happy to provide more information after I meet with my family.”
I maintained a properly dignified dictator-walk until I reached the stairs to the Palace Residence. That was when Qiang got loose and came running down the steps to meet me. I pulled my daughter up in a four-armed hug and carried her up to the top of the stairs where I pulled in Citra, my (politically-motivated) wife. Then Mix N’Max, Silver Shark, everyone I could grab. Even that friend of Qiang’s, Kayla, and her parents who I’ve banged.
I got the 411 inside while snuggling Qiang. Max had a whole presentation lined up, starting with the slide, “Infiltrators, Detainment and Punishment, A Play In Three Parts”
“You may be wondering what we did with Dame, the woman you informed us was made to look like you,” Max said. “First step, identification.” The first slide after the start showed photos of the crowd all photoshopped to wear different clothes. Sam Hain, Max’s assistant, looked very pretty in Citra’s dress. Another slide showed a picture of me labeled “fake” either hugging or kissing.
“Second step, capture,” Max said. The next slide showed Sam’s head pasted to the body of a black lingerie model, perhaps to make it obvious this isn’t Sam’s body. Then a cage falls on the fake me. Then there’s a trapdoor, followed by a picture of an alligator, a school of piranhas, and a train.
“This movie sucks,” I said. “The pacing’s terrible, the acting’s subpar, and what’s with this sound design? Nobody knows how to hold a boom?” Max, ever-present grin on his face, flashed me the middle finger.
I held up one of my own toward him, then made a circle with some fingers and moved it up and down around the middle finger.
“Ahem,” said Holly, the preppier of Max’s assistants. “I worked really hard on this, and would appreciate if you paid attention.”
I didn’t pay much attention to the punishment stuff. More photoshopping, along with stills from movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Passion Of The Christ. “Bottom line,” I asked once we reached the end, “Where is she?”
Max sighed and clicked on to a last slide that said, “TL;DR, she’s in the military base.”
“Thank you,” I said, standing up. I hugged Qiang to myself, then set her down. “I’ll be back in a bit, sweetest of hearts. Mommy has to go see the bad lady.”
And I did. The men, human and Deep One alike, were happy to have me back. They showed me down to a special room, one that’d be hard to find for anyone not familiar with the holding cells. Recently, I’d been the one sitting in a darkened room, with a circle of light. She knelt in the circle, arms and legs held to the floor. She was covered by a thin white dress, barely more than a scrap. I could practically see through it.
I stepped up and pulled out a can of spray cheese. “Wakey, wakey, dearest Dame.”
She looked up wearing a copy of my face. She started to say something, but I filled her mouth with cheese so cheap. I had to find the can in a flop house by the dock where sailors passing helped themselves to a high while they were on the island. “I don’t know how much they’re feeding you. I assume some food’s involved. Wow, I know how to put together a body shape, don’t I?”
She fought to get through the cheese. Since she had nothing to say, I kept on going. “This whole game of spy versus spy and who is better at planning and counterplanning, it’s just needlessly complicated and annoying. Never knowing who to trust… it’s just no fun. So today, I make you a promise. If you cooperate, I won’t kill you. Won’t order you killed or anything like that.”
“Your guards beat the shit out of me every day,” she growled through cheese.
I patted her on the head. “And they’ll stop now because you’re going to be my own personal project.”
Her eyes fluttered and she shook her head. “Whaaaaa-why is everything… doing that?” She looked all around.
I knelt and stroked my lookalike’s hair. “It’s just the nanites, dear. I made sure you only go the best cheese.” I held up the can and shook it, smiling under my mask as if she could see it. Then I sighed. “Not quite so fun knowing what’s going to happen.”
“What are you doing?” she asked, kneeling forward, trying to rest her head on the floor.
I rubbed her head sat beside her, moving her head into my lap as the nanites set to work. “I don’t like where your mind’s at, so I’m changing it. Making a few alterations where I can. Looks like you’ve got that little disease that can inhibit superpowers too, even if you use a gadget for your fun. I had a lot of time on my flight to review everything we know about Unity, the same drug they used to make me thing I wasn’t me. Same drug I bet you were trying to steal from Ricca when they first captured you. Neural pathways to access long-term and short-term memory. Funny thing is, it’s entirely possible to start using these nanites to replace parts of a brain with a, what do you call it, cybernetic alternative. There may be a few hiccups, but that’s why I’m trying this trick on you instead of someone I care about.” Here I felt a little bit of Tripura tug at me. Dame started to scream until I forced her to stop via well-placed nanites.
I leaned in to whisper to Dame. “You know, I felt so normal and innocent there thanks to what your people did to me. Then I get my memory back. All of it. Poor Tripura… but that time gave me so many wonderful ideas about how to deal with you, them, and any other problems that come up. Losing my mind has been incredibly refreshing; I highly recommend it.”
I stood up. “Don’t worry about screaming. You got a mouth, but you won’t be able to. New process like this, I told it to take it’s time. A couple of days and I’m sure whatever you’re feeling will go away. Or you’ll suffer brain damage. Either way, I’ll be back later to pick your brain.” I stopped and waved my hands, jazz hands style. “I’m thinking something old school, maybe wrinkly, but cute and… ya know, pink’s a great color.”
I giggled at her shaking her head and waved it off. “Oh, don’t worry about your silly opinions. I’ll replace those later.”
I don’t know how much it fits my memories, but I have a rough idea of a lot of California being desert, especially to the southeast of Los Angeles. There were suburbs, that’s still a bit of a desert in its own way. And it was near one of those the clouds dipped to the ground.
I’d tried zooming in to figure out what that whole mess was since I got close enough for it to cover a lot of the sky for me. I know something like half the state’s on fire, but this stuff looked different. Things didn’t smell like someone was having a barbecue, either. Not even of people. Wow, I really know what that smells like. I want to say pork is involved?
I noticed something a lot weirder than that as I walked into this suburb, though. There was no movement among the carbon copy dwelling cutouts that made up the suburbs. Variations on a theme. The same style might have a bush in one spot and a tree in another. I thought there weren’t people at all, but then I noticed the dog. At first, it looked like just another part of the bush, until I saw the ear of corn. That seemed out of place, more so when I followed it down to the dog standing next to the bush, hidden under corn leaves. I took a closer look and found corn growing from a car, corn growing out the open window of a house. Even, it turned out, an ear peeking out from a baby carrier next to an affected woman standing in her driveway.
I really missed my environmentally sealed armor in that moment, even though I couldn’t remember it myself. Less than an hour later, I saw where a crowd of corn soldiers picked their way through the houses and cars. They’d walk up, grab a bunch of corn, and assemble it into a new soldier for their army.
I don’t really know how they noticed me. It’s not like they had eyes or noses, only ears. Regardless, they finally picked up on my presence. I waved at them. “Greetings. Take me to your leader.”
A sound went through them like a breeze through a corn field and they advanced on me. I held up my hands. “It’s ok, no need to grab me. I can get there myself. Just looking for this Centeotl guy.” I remembered the guy’s business card. It was a wrinkled, scorched mess, but I still had it and held it up for them. They stopped where they were upon “seeing” it and opened a path through the middle for me.
“About time I got some respect around here,” I said as I walked through.
From then on, I followed the road and a few corn soldiers to the big camp. The guards there didn’t just let me past when they saw their boss’s business card. These children of the corn escorted me along to where Centeotl stood. He wore dark brown slacks and no shoes. Shame, because while sneakers clash with slacks, they didn’t clash as much as the shirtless look and the body paint, and provide comfort for athletics. And his chest had thick lines of body paint at sharp angles, all in black. He sat sharpening a knife as I approached. Behind him sat a large, round pod of pale yellow material that spat a constant stream of something into the air, forming those ominous clouds.
“Heya, how are you Sam?” I asked.
He looked up at me. “Why did you come back?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know why she let me go exactly. Something about her getting a message that you were going to attack the city and her school.”
He studied my face, but I’ve recently become an expert on acting like I don’t know anything. It happened around the time I suddenly stopped knowing things.
“Who said that?” he asked me.
I shrugged. “No clue. We were walking along, my hands tied and all, when she started fighting the air. After a couple seconds, she looked at me and asked what was going on, how I was making holograms. She said it was a guy with a jean jacket and jeans and a bigass mohawk. Don’t know what she was talking about, but she held a conversation with whatever she heard. Then she just said ‘fuck it,’ and ditched me to get back there quicker.
“What is Barkiel interfering for?” Centeotl asked.
“Who?” I asked.
He pointed up to the sky. “One of the aliens you might know as visitors. He watches the world and tracks our interests. He agrees with me, as would anyone who has seen so much of humanity.”
“So he’s one of us, or at least on our side, but he’s acting against you. Is there… ok, so I haven’t spent much time around the visitors. What’s their deal? You know, is there any reason why they might want different things than the gods and their relatives?”
He waved me over to where a couple of corn soldiers dropped off a metal folding chair for me. I took a seat as he explained. “The gods of the east were already retreating from the world when the visitors crash landed. They heard of creators and gods of the forge, and sought them out to repair their ship. The world and the gods weren’t capable of fixing the vessel, so they were forced to send a message back to their people. They got an answer many years later, time enough for demigods to be born, grow old, and die. They were long-lived and their people would send someone to help, but they lived a great distance away in space and their people here were not important. I’ve had drinks with Barkiel and he said his government often ignores the needs of its people.”
He shifted looked at his knife. “Lookin’ sharp,” I commented.
He nodded and slid it into a sheath on his belt. “Their leader, Tetra, spoke with us and told us to be careful. Their government doesn’t care about their own people, but they are easily threatened by other species. If there were too many gods, if our powers spread inordinately, if our people advanced too fast, our planet could be treated as a threat.” Centeotl pointed at my shorts. “Are you hurt?”
I looked down at a drop of blood on the crotch of my short shorts and thought of how slowly I wished I could murder that guy who called himself Apollo and who claimed he reset my menstrual cycle. Because I’m not supposed to have a menstrual cycle.
I looked up and shrugged. “Just some maintenance I haven’t been able to get here lately.”
Centeotl screwed up his face. “Someone must have tampons you can take around here.” He waved to the houses around us.
I leaned back and crossed my legs over the other. “Yeah, sure, but this is interesting. I haven’t heard so many of these stories.”
“I’m not surprised. You must have been isolated for a long time to avoid the same fate as your pantheon.”
I let my face fall. “Um, can we not talk about that? It’s just wild. Sometimes, I wish I knew as little about it as the presidents and prime ministers.”
He chuckled. “The aliens warned us of computer records, but my favorite story is Operation Snow White. Scientology paid for itself when we discovered the United States had started to find evidence of our financial dealings. They were left with stories of aliens telling them to infiltrate the government, and we stole the documents they obtained about us and destroyed them.”
I clapped for him with all four hands. “Nice. Do you use cults often?”
“I don’t. Barkiel loves them. Did he tell you about that Applewhite man?”
I shook my head, but then the projection of the Denim Dude showed up between myself and Centeotl, standing where he could see each of us with just a turn of the head.
“Speak of the devil,” said Centeotl.
“Talking about me were you?” Denim Dude/Barkiel said, looking between us. “I’m so glad you two met.” He winked at me before turning his attention back to Centeotl.
“Tripura is returned to my custody. It’s a shame to come this far and back away, but I can’t justify an attack now,” Centeotl told him.
“Sure you can. She tricked Tripura and sent her back here to kill you,” Barkiel said, cocking his thumb my way.
I pretended to stretch, with two of my hands moving back behind me. Only the ones with all fingers, though. I pushed the safeties off.
“I hardly see how,” Centeotl said.
“Even if she wasn’t secretly Psycho Gecko in disguise, she still has a pair of guns with her,” Barkiel told him.
I pulled the 1911s and fired into him from the hips before raising one in both hand. I fired my eyes as well as the pistols. The recoil would have been worse for someone with standard human strength, especially one-handed and side by side where I can feel the pressure from each firearm firing. Between my strength and sitting feet from my target, that didn’t matter so much. I was looking him right in the eye with my laser eye, and that counts for something.
Centeotl slumped to the side, to the road, his body twitching. I looked down though to a pain in my chest where a sharpened knife stuck in me. I dropped the guns and reached for the knife, seeing how deep it was in. Deep enough to hurt like hell, turns out.
“Not too bad an assassination,” Barkiel said, looking at the corpse, then looked up to me. “You’ve got a problem there.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” I said. I grabbed the knife, counted to one, and pulled it out. I dropped it, not even caring, because it hurt just as damn much taking it out as it did going in, except with the extra feeling of my eye laser shooting into the wound at a lower power setting to fry the whole bloody mess.
I cut the laser as I started to cough, which caused more pain and some tearing from inside the wound. Then came more bleeding, more cauterizing, more pain. Then I tried standing. Want to guess what I felt then? It hurt like hell to breath, to stand, to walk. Barkiel’s presence didn’t help. “Good going, champ. You saved the day and stopped the corn army.”
I looked around to see the corn soldiers had indeed all crumbled. Then I took a moment to do what so few people do. I looked up and saw the clouds were still there. A glance at the big pod showed it had stopped, but I wondered how soon before it came down, or if it even had a real purpose it could still fulfill. Between that and the pain of walking, I figured it was as good a time as any to steal a car, even though I had to pull a stinky, sticky mess of a teen girl out from behind the wheel of the mini Cooper. Sure, I’d forgotten hotwiring a car, but that part’s unnecessary when someone leaves the key in the thing.
I didn’t bother paying attention to see if Barkiel had left or not. I was more concerned with getting the hell out of there, and he didn’t follow. All the corn made driving out of there difficult. Not easy to navigate a maize. Ha! I knew I had some corny puns left in me.
A funny thing happened on the way back, though. The sky fell. Before I’m accused of being a little cock, it was the clouds of whatever Centeotl had been pumping into the sky. I closed everything up as tight as could be and gunned it, now clear of all corn. But I wasn’t going to make it. I had to find shelter. So I gave the wheel a sharp turn, popped the tires as I jumped the front porch, and plowed through the front door. I continued on through a sofa and slid to a stop in the living room just as the opening of the Simpsons stopped playing on the flat screen hanging off the wall.
I sat there, waiting. And waiting. I reached for the door handle, hissing in pain, then remembered that somehow, for some reason, that stuff would fall just as soon as I opened the door and got out. It felt like a dumb enough action it would force laws of the universe to change in order to punish me. Twenty seconds after that, the stuff in the air fell with a dusty impact.Some got into the house, but the dust cloud dispersed before it got past the foyer.
The first cough didn’t hit until soon after I stopped the roads were no longer covered and I felt safe ditching that thing for that didn’t give off sparks when I drove. I had to stop at the next gas station and hack up blood to the confusion of everyone around. The coughing caused more pain, and I couldn’t stop myself putting a hand near my wound.
I felt a leaf poking out of it. It felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t breath in and something tickled my airway. It looked like I’d gone from being a plant in their organization to being a plant in a gas station parking lot. I opened the car door and tried to walk to a new car, but my foot caught on something. It caught on roots growing down through the concrete. I tripped over and fell there on all fours.
I heard the squealing of another car, then footsteps running closer. I looked up to see Venus there, reached up to her.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a protective case, like for glasses. When she opened it, she had a vial there surrounded by padding. She knelt and raised my chin up. “Even not being you, you ran off to kill someone anyway.”
I hacked out an “It’s what I do,” around bloody spittle. I felt things pushing inside me. Pushing around and pushing through.
“I know. I hoped to have a better you as long as possible. Forgive me, Gecko,” she said.
“Who I am, what I’ll be… why save me at all?” I asked. I felt an enormous pressure in my head and something start to grow and block my throat.
Venus tilted my head back and poured the nanites in. “It’s what I do.”
She held me as the nanites disassembled the mass growing inside me, as well as scar tissue and cauterized tissue. It killed the corn trying to grow out of my holes, and made me whole. And as I stayed there, I felt it all start flooding back. Every nightmare, every trauma, every time I had to sacrifice a part of myself to survive.
It was enough to break me once.
But with it came every success and accomplishment. Killing some of the biggest and baddest motherfuckers around. Every fond memory of friends and family. I can’t wait to see my daughter again. And every skill and resource I’ve been able to build up.
I’m not just the me who broke. I’m the me who shatters cities and makes buildings crumble. I’m the me who scares away people like Spinetingler and who destroys alien fleets. I’m the me who nearly killed a world.
And I’ll be enough to break the so-called “gods”.