Author Archives: Psycho Gecko

Unique Problems 6

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Secretly bugging heroes who have kidnapped at least one supervillain away to a secret prison. Just like old times. Too much like old times. Humanity’s learning, but I wish it’d learn faster. Just a reminder that I can’t kill my way out of every problem. I’d say I miss the godlike power, but I’m probably better off not having so much power.

No, I’m content to have the kind of power that lets me spy on a supergenius cat and a patriotic superhero, both of whom traveled from Unique, Iowa to West Virginia. The regular internet and cell signals are terrible there, but my tech doesn’t rely on that. They headed up to an abandoned mine. Plenty of those in West Virginia. A land pockmarked by humans seeking treasure that poisoned them. If you’re going to create a secret prison, it’s as good a spot as any. The fact it could collapse and is unhealthy just to live in wouldn’t much matter if you were building a secret prison in the first place.

I was able to follow their path into the mountains, finding exactly where to go, catching some of what they were talking about thanks to some hitchhikers in their ears. “Where did you get these automated defenses? Those turrets are…”

“Alien,” Bill of Rights answered. “I raided a salvage sight. The government has plenty of these. One or two missing is no big deal.”

“I counted six,” Dr. Snugglesworth mewed. “And these robots.”

“I confiscated a supply from a mad scientist. Agronomiser’s not the only prisoner.”

“How many?” I heard a weird mewl then.

“That many, and room for more. Each one is attended to by a system that keeps them paralyzed while dealing with their bodily functions. They get all the nutrients they need to live and the waste is disposed of. For their mental stimulation, and to keep them from breaking out, the headsets keep them in a virtual reality simulation where they have no powers, living a regular life and teaching them to be productive citizens.”

“What kind of productive citizens? What about individual nutritional needs? Do any of them have diabetes or gluten allergies?”

“There were hiccups at first, but I worked them out.”

“How many people died from your hiccups?”

“I did the best I could with the information I had.”

“You murdered them.”

“I didn’t kill them. They were accidental deaths.”

“Preventable deaths because you decided to lock them up. What is worth it?”

“Do you know why this city for us means so much to me, Snugglesworth?”

“Doctor Snugglesworth. What justification do you have for this?”

“The mass murder of so many people over months. Supreme Court Justices, Ex-Presidents, Senators, Representatives, cops, soldiers, doctors, teachers, mothers, even famous children’s book authors. I don’t know when it really started, but someone has murdered millions and made it look like accidents and medical issues. I’ve noticed patterns. Someone targeted them, someone like your Unicorn Goddess friend. Maybe even her. I’m lucky she’s losing her powers or she would know about this.”

“You’re doing all of this because of some conspiracy theory?” Dr. Snugglesworth sounded like he couldn’t believe it.

“I’m doing this because we need to stand together, with our powers, against someone who would go around and kill us. Some of those who died were heroes, good men and women. Heroes have to protect ourselves, otherwise who will save the world?”

“From what? What protects the world from this?”

“I can see you’re getting emotional, doctor, but remember what happens if I let Agronomiser go. He knows what we’ve done. Are you going to go straight now and let him go? Give up your patents and your fortune? Your good name? You can do so much more good.”

“I never meant to have a cost to what I do. You say he knows, then when are you letting him out?”

“When he’s the sort of person who wouldn’t hold it against us and would understand why we had to do it.”

“Would you? Could you? Could you ever have your life stolen from you like this and then thank the person for doing it because it was supposedly for the greater good?!” Dr. Snugglesworth was mad. One might say the genius cat was purrturbed.

“What are you going to do, Snugglesworth?” Bill asked. There was a pleading to his voice. Or maybe it was an edge. Emotions were easier to read when I was omnipotent.

“I don’t know, Bill. But I can’t support this. You have to see what’s happened here… you let this conspiracy theory turn you into this. You were a good man. Flawed like all of us, but now you’re locking people up and killing them. You call that protection? You can’t be a hero and do this.”

I have to give Dr. Snugglesworth credit. I didn’t think he would make a stand like this when he lied to get me out of the way and cover this up. Now that he’s seen just what this all means, he’s rejecting it. I don’t know if he’s been neutered, but the cat’s got balls. Big balls. Of yarn.

“What does that mean about us, doctor? I shouldn’t let you go either, but I know you’re a hero. We’ve worked together. We both share the idea about Unique,” Bill said. Sounded weepy there. I can’t fault him for that. If someone’s got actual principles, this is a hard conversation. The fact that I didn’t kill him in the Culling meant he had them, at least then.

“I can’t support you anymore. It might hurt the Unique Project… but if you’ve done it right, it will survive you. It has to, otherwise how would we ever hold anyone accountable for what they do wrong?”

Bill Of Rights sighed. “I…. can’t let you do that.”

“What are you going to do about it, William?” Dr. Snugglesworth asked. The cat then snarled. “Let me go! Not the belly!”

“I can’t have you showing your ass, Snugglesworth,” Bill said.

“Doct-!” Dr. Snugglesworth started.

I figured this would be a good time for divine intervention, or whatever I count as nowadays.

I appeared in full Unicorn Woman regalia, portaling in to see Bill Of Rights in full, gaudy costume, while skinny robots held Dr. Snugglesworth and were trying to shove him into a cat carrier. “There’s no need to fear, Mary Sue is here!” I declared.

“Unicorn Goddess!” Bill Of Rights said. He pointed at me with a laser pointer. Dr. Snugglesworth tried to pounce on the dot but a couple of nearby alien turrets aimed at me. The robots grabbing the cat hero dropped him to turn toward me.

The turrets fired blue balls of energy at me. Smaller portals caught them and delivered them right back into the turrets, blowing them up. The first of the robots that approached, I gored with my horn. I threw that one over my head and hoof-kicked another one so hard, its head twisted around 360 degrees. Another one tried to stab me. Me! Like blades can just stab me. The forearm-length blade stopped at my chest because even swords fear me too much. Plus, stab-proof skin. Fireproof, too, though I swapped out the asbestos long ago.

I grabbed the blade and broke it off, then pushed it through that robot’s chest. I slammed that one into another robot, then a third, and a fourth until they were all smashed against a wall with enough force to thin them out and finally impale the third and fourth on the blade.

When I turned around, a door was opening and a line of more robots marched in, holding rifles. My horn glowed and sliced across at torso level, melting a line through them. Bill Of Rights ran up and tried to sock me in the jaw then. I caught it on the cheek. Rather than turn the other one, I glared at him, then headbutted his hand. He backed off, holding it. I turned and slammed him with one of my feathery wings that knocked him off-balance. I kicked back behind me and through a portal. The hoof connected with his back and sent him sprawling.

Bill Of Rights caught a claw across his cheek as he scrambled to stand. He grabbed Dr. Snugglesworth, the impotently squirming and scratching supercat, and moved his arm back to toss the cat. That’s when he caught sight of my fist. He was too late to block with Snugglesworth. He went down, hold loosening on the cat as his brain’s hold on consciousness also loosened. I sent in the nanomachines to make sure he wasn’t brain-damaged and to keep him unconscious. Meanwhile, Dr. Snugglesworth tried to bite his nose for a few seconds before giving up, leaving not a scratch on the superhero.

The cat turned to me. “Thank you for showing up. You were spying on us?”

I shrugged. “You were both acting pretty suspicious.”

The cat glanced down at Bill Of Rights. “It was the correct call. I am sorry. You were right, about all of it. This has led down a route I truly never expected.”

“We both know that old sayings are no substitute for data and scientific experimentation, but they contain a measure of accumulated cultural knowledge passed on through time,” I mentioned to him. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

The cat nodded. “Yes.” He padded toward the edge of the platform we were on, overlooking a bunch of clear plastic containers, just under twenty of which were filled with a green fluid and bodies floating in it. Despite what Bill said, they looked skinny and weak. Their muscles had atrophied from their time floating around not using them. Just releasing them would leave them in bad shape. “They’re going to need physical rehabilitation. I wonder how I provide for it without dumping them back into prison.”

“You don’t want to send them back?” I asked.

“They’ve been through hell. The way Bill talked, I don’t think he would ever have released them. They knew too much,” Dr. Snugglesworth said. He sighed. “I don’t like the thought of facing up to what I did. I realize that means I know it was wrong.”

“Yeah. Well, I can hardly talk about that. I know someone you should call about yourself. She might work something out for you.” I summoned a card with Medusa’s business number on it. “The Exemplars have resources to help with something like this.”

Dr. Snugglesworth took the card away from me with his mouth and dropped it to stare at the number. “If you don’t mind, I’ll have to call when I get back to my human suit. By the way, can you give me a lift? I can’t get William back on my own accord.”

With a wave of my hand, I sent Dr. Snugglesworth and the card back to Unique. William I kept with me, in temporary holding only. I flooded the mine prison with nanites to disable further defenses while giving Medusa a call to let her know. By the end of the day, the Exemplars were setting up an evacuation to get the prisoners to Radium for recovery and rehab.

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Unique Problems 5

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I took to the wild, dark skies. Lightning struck around me, burning one of the chili monsters. There weren’t many; I’d had nanomachines tear apart half the field and burned the other half. Enough seeds or enough of the smaller chilis had been buried, though. The water made them grow out of control. Titans walked the Earth once more in the town of Unique, Iowa. But even titanic peppers weren’t immune from death’s pregnant embrace. Because in this scenario, I’m death, and I’m like 8 months pregnant. At least being in my Unicorn Woman form didn’t have all that belly swinging around.

It has to do a pocket of folded space… don’t think about it too hard, it’s some physics stuff I learned as an omnipotent being. Mankind’s not prepared for the unified theory. Seriously, if I gave lasers to cavemen by bringing nanites, this would be like giving toddlers a nuke linked to a big red button.

Enough about that, I had chilis to destroy. I fired a laser from by horn that bisected, trisected and downright dissected one of the peppers that was bigger than King Kong. In the constant drizzle, the parts started to grow whole new bodies, so instead, I exploded it. Another one, I teleported into the sun. One that was bigger than Godzilla took a swipe at me. I was going to tank it anyway because I can, but it missed when purple bolts struck it and made it wince. Down at the ground was Dr. Snugglesmecha.

It was a bipedal walker mech with long, smoothly sharp metal claws, a pair of triangular ears on its big, round head, and a couple of energy weapons mounted on its shoulders. Dr. Snugglesworth, the genius superhero cat, piloted it from an armored core. The rain had fueled the growth of the genetically-monsterfied peppers out of his ability to do much more than annoy. Two of them were now focused on him and I wasn’t even sure he noticed the second.

I shrunk the second into a concentrated mass the size of a penny. Then, I wrangled a half dozen of capsaicin-carrying chilis large enough to rival King Ghidorah, all smushed together by a localized, discriminatory gravitational field. I converted some of the compressed pepper into antimatter and tossed it into the middle of the bunch, blowing all the rest to salsa.

Thing is, that kind of impressive shit took it out of me in ways it didn’t used to when being a goddess. Anyone watching wouldn’t know I was kinda running on empty at that point, and the subsequent teleporting of the rest hid my weakness. That part I could do with some amazing technology I’d already built that could teleport stuff anywhere from the Sun to Uranus. It can go further than Uranus, but I like the pun. Most of them just ended up in the sun. Of course, that didn’t leave me with much as far as fixing the weather. That honor went to Dr. Snugglesworth, who raced back down there to fix the damaged weather control device while I swept over the battle farm field, looking for anything weird like a Void Ghidorah-sized red hot chili pepper under the dirt.

After I was convinced we weren’t going to be killed by any killer cayenne, I descended to find the cat piecing together the weather control device, complete with a small arc welder and miniature welding mask. I scanned it as well but came up with nothing new to offer. He was on the right track. Some of the stuff that had been torn out were redundancies, but he was going to restore an important actuator that was key to distributing power to all the correct circuits and parts. I could have sped it up, but it gave me time to monitor the outside and try to recover my power. Another thing about not being a god is I can no longer eat stars. Instead, I grabbed some of these excellent chicken sandwiches from Pakistan.

I left one next to Dr. Snugglesworth for his benefit. “Pretty rough work,” I commented. I quickly added, “What they did to it.”

“Yeah,” he mewed at me. He put aside the welder, then reached over and tried a switch on the wall. It powered up. “It’s like they tore stuff out until it stopped working. Except they knew how to call in a storm. That was not today’s weather. I check the forecast every day.” A couple minutes later, the rain stopped and the clouds rushed away.

“Well, who all knows you have that here?” I asked. Then I thought to ask, “And who knows you have this base under the house, and who knows the significance of water to your crop?”

“There aren’t many,” Dr. Snugglesworth said, nibbling on his chicken sandwich. He moved the bun aside to chow down on the crispy breading. “The first person I should speak to is also one of the most important. He’s one of the leaders of this community. Not the one funding it. A lot of us put money in. My patents have made me a lot of money.”

“Makes it a bit harder for someone like Agronomiser to make money,” I pointed out.

Dr. Snugglesworth gave me a kitty scowl. “Agronomiser’s brilliant enough to find work at any lab that would take him.”

“Yeah, lots of places are lining up to risk their security clearances and funding by hiring infamous super felons,” I noted.

“Moot point. He’s a criminal who hasn’t stopped yet.” From the tone of his adorable voice, I think I hit a sore point on Dr. Snugglesworth. By stealing the work of others and incarcerating the people who really did it, he’s hurting a chance at livelihood outside of crime. Sure, some of us don’t stop even with money, but a lot of people are just looking for fame, recognition, and cash. And in the case of Long Life stealing my nanomachines, their lack of understanding of the underlying programming allowed me to go in and pull off some pretty scary shit. It took a few years of testing, trials, production, and distribution, but it was worth it.

Dr. Snugglesworth decided a trip to see that prominent citizen, who he said I’ve seen before: the jovial fellow in the shiny new truck. William Offwright. His superhero identity was not very well-hidden. We walked into an office seemingly carved out of one giant piece of oak and adorned with flags and patriotic memorabilia. A starred and striped mask sat on the desk next to his nameplate. “William Offwright – Bill Of Rights.” In one corner of the room was a display case with his gaudy costume, a silver eagle forming armor across a chest covered in stars, stripes running up the legs of pants that must be incredibly tight.

“Snugglesworth, and the Unicorn Goddess, my my!” He stood up, beaming, and gesturing me forward. He reached a hand out. “Nice to meet you at last. I hoped you’d be interested in our project here. You know, being a part of this would be a huge boon to us. We could even build you a temple if you’d like.”

He really laid it on thick, but Dr. Snugglesworth let out a noise like he was hacking up a hairball. Bill looked down at him, concerned. “Are you alright? Can I get you some water?”

“I was just clearing my throat, William. This isn’t a social call. As you know, the Unicorn has appeared at my farm a couple of times now. Perhaps you’ve heard there were problems with my efforts.”

“You told me the destruction of the first crop was necessary and the problems would be worked out in time for a second,” Bill said.

The cat shook its head. “That was a lie. You know it. I can smell the nightcrawler castings on your shoes. You were out at my house today and you sabotaged the weather control device.”

“Damn your cunning nose, Dr. Snugglesworth,”Bill said. He held up his hands. “I had to be sure all of the peppers would be destroyed. I know where you got them from. I was there! If anybody looked into them and found supervillain hanky-panky, it’d set the whole town back. I thought a town of superheroes could handle the resulting problem. Mel, I’m sorry. We’ll figure something out, but we can’t let it get out that you got rich off what you stole from supervillains.” Dr. Snugglesworth avoided looking at him after that last bit, probably shamed by the reminder that his livelihood very likely caused people to stay trapped in a life of crime.

Bill took a break, then focused on me. “You understand, right, Unicorn Goddess?”

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“You’re a good woman and a hero. You understand. We all hide things and tell lies to maintain our cover. This is just like that. I mean, unless you inherited wealth, it’s damn hard to hold down a job and use our gifts to better the world.”

I was going to do a summation making it clear that I saw their theft, corruption, and willingness to risk innocent lives as no different than the supervillains they fight, but I decided to head back to the other reason we burst in here. “Where’s Agronomiser?”

“That’s right!” Dr. Snugglesworth backed me up. “You said you were taking him back to prison but he never went back to the prison he escaped from. I looked and there’s no official record of his recapture. What did you do to him?”

Bill opened his mouth, looking between myself and the cat, then said. “I don’t have to answer that. All you need to know is the world is safe.”

“That sounds like a murder,” I said. It wasn’t the biggest leap from what we knew. When people are disappeared and don’t show up for awhile, there are only so many potential fates. One of them is death. There are still women demonstrating in Argentina hoping to learn what happened to their loved ones who disappeared in a conflict that ended in 1983. And if I leverage the most extra thing Bill Of Rights did to Agronomiser, I figured he’d either give it away or he’d walk it back and tell me he “just” tortured him or something.

“It’s not a murder, nobody’s murdered!” Bill assured Dr. Snugglesworth and I. “But I’m not telling you. Take it from me by force.” He held his arms open wide.

“You want to take care of this one, Snugglesworth?” I asked.

“Doctor Snugglesworth,” the cat said. “I earned that degree. I will take care of this, Unicorn Woman.”

Yeah, I didn’t trust this shit. Instead, I shed some nanomachines with orders to hitch a ride and report back. I turned and walked through the door, and then through a portal back to my base. That was where I monitored them when Snugglesworth, figuring I was gone, said, “You’re right, William. I’m implicated in this, too. We will handle this internally, but we will handle this. Is Agronomiser alive at least?”

“Yes, Jesus, you think I’m some sort of murderer?” Bill answered. “I’ll even take you to him if you want.”

“Yes, you do that,” I muttered to myself. And then, just to sound badass to myself, I added, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

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Unique Problems 4

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They let me stay. It took a lot of hard work, determination, and pointing out how many times I’ve saved the world. I mean, it’s right there in the secret town charter that villains need to also be given a chance and not thrown under the bus, plus I did fix both the people and things damaged in the recent pepper incident. There might also have been some sort of probationary conditions, like sharing my findings about the pepper analysis with the supers investigating on behalf of the town council.

Another condition of my probation was community service. And I like my home, so I agreed. My daughter should have friends and community, and so should my kid. They were actually willing to accept something easier on a pregnant woman, but I opted for something that would get things settled more quickly. There were a couple heroes on the city council. And so I ended up agreeing to work with one’s brother for some community service in a bit.

I guess I could have taken the offer from Unique, but I just didn’t trust it. There had to be something wrong with all those heroes together in one place. There would have to be some sort of supremacist plot or something. I went to investigate in the most obvious way: I turned into… Unicorn, I guess? I need a new name other than Unicorn Goddess since I gave up being a goddess. Let’s call me Unicorn for now. Or maybe Unicorn woman. Either way, teleported down to near Unique while in Unicorn form and flew over the fields. I found the house nearest to it and landed on the porch.

Unlike when I overused my powers, I remembered I could use nanomachines. I’m a genius, y’all. So I sent some of those in on a breeze to scout around. Someone was walking around, which meant getting his attention was as simple as a knock on the door. Someone called out, “Coming!”

I leaned against the doorframe as the inhabitant opened it. “How’d do do?” I asked.

He was just slightly taller than average and a little scrawny. “Can I help you?”

“Hey, I’m here to ask you a few questions about your pepper fields here. First off, fields full of peppers? You know how hard that’s going to be to go through and pick?”

“You’re the Unicorn Goddess, right? Do you have something to do with the FDA or something? Why are you here talking about my peppers?” He asked. He stopped and held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Mel. You might know me better as Dr. Snugglesworth.”

Dr. Snugglesworth is a super genius cat. I looked him up and down. “You look taller in-person. I’m dropping the Goddess thing nowadays, so you can just call me Unicorn. And I’m here because I was examining your peppers recently and found they are inhabited by monsters.”

Mel shook his head. “Whoa, this is a lot. You’re not a Goddess?”

“Don’t think about it too long,” I said. “Anything about the rest of that?”

“Well, I don’t know what you’re talking about monsters,” he said.

I teleported a pepper into one hand and a spray bottle of water into the other. I gave it a squirt and let him see as the pepper grew a mouth and began to roar. It grew in my hands, but I slammed it into so much salsa before it could get out of hand. “That seems to be the case with every single one of your peppers. Haven’t you noticed anything while watering them?”

“They’re desert plants. I don’t really water them,” he answered.

“You didn’t think it was odd that a domesticated species of plant didn’t require any water but still grew to ginormous sizes?” I asked. “Where did you get these seeds from?”

“I made them. I’m a genius! I decided to dabble in genetic modification of plants in order to alleviate food shortages.”

“And you went with peppers,” I pointed out. “Not potatoes or corn or wheat. What’s going to happen when a storm comes through? Come on, what’s going on here? Are you secretly a supervillain cat?”

Mel was nervous and sweating. “No. Listen, let me explain.”

I disappeared the crushed pepper into the sun and the water bottle back to my garden, replacing them with a notepad and pencil. I quietly repeated what he said as I wrote it down. “No. Listen, let me explain…”

“I didn’t know about the monsters or whatever you say is making them grow like that,” he admitted.

“How?” I asked. “If you designed them, how? What’d you take the DNA from?”

Mel shook his head. “I don’t know. This is technology I stole when we stopped a supervillain. He claimed to have a way to use food to take over the world, but then my team broke his jaw before he could admit it and now he’s in prison. I took all the stuff he built, filed some patents, made money off it. He only had it ready for peppers, but I figured once I had enough room to grow and test them, I could find something to extract and splice into other foods.”

I sent the notepad away and created an image of the creature I’d cloned, showing a sped-up version of its growth and the experiments. “The DNA spliced into those things makes this. Has anyone actually eaten any of them?”

Mel shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of. And they won’t now. There’s so much water in the human body. You have to help me destroy the entire field of peppers!”

“Done,” I said. I sent out a swarm of nanomachines to rot all of them on one side while I floated above the house and summoned a wall of flame that I pushed along the other side. Passerby gathered, including that shiny new truck from before. Mel ran out along the drive to meet the locals and assure them this was a good thing I was doing. It helped that I worked super fast. The speedster they were using didn’t even show up in time before I’d scorched the entire field to ruin. It was fun, too. Unleashing fire is just so great. Burn it all down!

I held in my laughter. It took quite a bit of power and restraint to hold myself back from enjoying the joy of the cleansing flames. As soon as I finished, I blinked over to floating over Mel and his buddies. “Alright, that’s taken care of. We should be good now.”

“What do you have against our town, lady?!” asked the guy who first gave me a ride to these very fields.

“Nothing,” I assured him. “It’s just there was an unlikely series of events that caused me to get involved in all this. It really is that simple sometime. There’s not even a huge, world-ending plot. Well, there almost was. Who’d you steal these peppers from?”

Cut to myself, as Unicorn, and Mel standing in the administrative offices of a prison in Florida. A tired fellow in worn but smart office wear sighed and gestured toward the aging computer monitor in front of him. “I’m telling you, he’s not here. He was never returned after he escaped. You say Agronomiser was caught a month ago?”

“Yes!” Mel said. “He was escaped six months ago and then was caught as part of a scheme to sell giant killer melons.”

“Really? My wife could use a pair of those,” the administrator said.

“Ha,” Mel responded. “I was informed he was going to be brought right back here.” He said it to me as much as to the guy in front of us. “They took him away and I looked around the lab. You know how that went,” he gestured to me.

“Well, whoever told you that was lying,” the administrator said. “We haven’t seen him since he escaped on the back of that Flying Spaghetti Squash Monster.”

Mel was clearly agitated as we left. I could tell this didn’t make sense to him. He turned to me. “By my calculations, you should have some form of omnipotence if you were at your thus-demonstrated power level.”

“Not anymore,” I told him.

“That makes this harder. Because the one who was with me, who assured me he was taking Agronomiser to back to prison, was Bill of Rights,” Mel said. “I don’t like the thought of confronting him, but I dislike the implications of this revelation even more. What did he do with Agronomiser? Is he dead? Is there a secret prison somewhere?”

Yes. I didn’t admit that to Mel, but I know of an actual secret prison under the Master Academy. There are also various governmental ones in different countries. Those had a disproportionate number of guards and administrators caught in the culling.

“Let me check one of the secret prisons out there real quick?” I blinked us back to his porch and was going to drop him off there, except we heard the thunder and saw the dark clouds the sun from view. The air was tense with a storm.

“It’s not supposed to storm today. Or every, over this farm,” Mel said. “I have one of the weather control devices they use in Florida.” Lightning flashed. Mel raced inside and toward a basement door. He hit a switch on the banister and the stairs turned into a slick slide that he dove down, coming up in a basement where I was already waiting thanks to the power of teleportation. What looked like a high tech directional buoy was sitting there, sparking, its guts torn open.

The thunder rolled and the lightning struck. “Another love grows cold on a sleepless night,” I muttered to myself. It wasn’t my fault the weather was singing.

Mel shook his head. “We need to be ready. There’s an excellent chance that-”

The bottom fell out. Even in the basement, we heard the loud pounding of a sudden outburst of water from the sky.

I decided to finish the thought. “…that a bunch smaller peppers fell and got mixed in with the dirt enough, or there were seeds in the dirt deep enough, that the fire and my other methods didn’t catch them.” I nodded.

The howling from outside confirmed the idea. “Did you have to use quite so many seeds?” I asked him.

“Did you have to give up the power of a god?” he asked me. Mel’s face contorted then and rose up along with a portion of his chest cavity. Inside sat a shiny grey and black cat glaring at me from behind a pair of small eyeglasses. Dr. Snugglesworth meowed at me.

I shrugged. “Come on, let’s see if kitty’s got claws. We’ve got some chili con carnage to stop.”

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Unique Problems 3

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Most county fairs I’m aware of wait until the end of the year when things are cooler. Unique, Iowa decided to hold its early as part of a big marketing and recruitment thing. The town’s much bigger than last time. I guess the speedster they’ve got enjoys construction. Not sure if they’re good at it yet, but there are many more buildings up.

I appeared with my daughter Qiang and my girlfriends Holly and Sam. Isabella and Maia weren’t able to get away on such short notice. Maia, aka Medusa, and the Exemplars have had an easier time of things since I culled the Earth, but there’s supposedly an organ harvesting ring they’re chasing down. Meanwhile, Isabella, aka Maia’s time-displaced younger self who stayed and decided they’d treat each other as sisters, aka Venus, is on the trail of a librarian gone mad and somehow unleashing monsters. They both know they need me, but part of the reason they first caught my eye is that they were a match for me in combat. That was several upgrades and one godhood ago, but I don’t step in on their cases unless they ask for my help.

So it was just the henchgirlfriends and the henchdaughter visiting Unique. Sam and Holly insisted on walking to the fairgrounds. I think it was mostly Holly. She was the one shouting out, “Oh my god, I want to see the little town!” Sam just rolled with it and I wobbled. I didn’t want to draw even more attention to myself by flying.

The fairgrounds weren’t far out of town because the town was still under construction. We’d heard the music since we’d appeared, and it only grew louder. The bass stood out in particular. Qiang danced along to it some while skipping and Holly joined in. I looked at Sam, who hid half her face behind a long set of bangs that didn’t exist on the buzzcut side of her head. “I’m good,” she said, refusing to join in.

“Me too,” I said.

“I wonder who these others are,” she said, nodding toward various cars and other pedestrians.

“They’re probably wondering the same about us,” I said.

Sam patted my belly. I laid my hand over hers for a moment, to touch her. She smiled at me and blushed. After a moment, she laughed. “I’m thinking of you flying around pregnant in spandex.”

“Careful, they probably think you’re the hero. You have the boobs for it,” I pointed out.

“So do you you!” she said. “Especially now they’re getting into milk mode. You going to let me have a sip?”

I rolled my eyes, then remembered to make them look normal. I went with brown.

“Pretty,” Sam said. “Oh yeah, you hid the rest of the stuff that makes you stand out.”

I shrugged and we headed for the ticket lines. Qiang got in free. My invitation was worth a free admission as well, except Holly stole it off me, so Sam and I had to pay. Holly laughed at Sam and I paying the price of admission. “Ugh, these thieves!” she teased. I stuck my tongue out at her but Sam flipped her the bird.

At least they gave us lots of awnings. Awnings everywhere. Awnings in front of the giant turkey leg stand. Awnings in front of the fried cheese stand. Awnings in front of the beer vendor where Sam bought a big mug full of the stuff and passed me root beer. Awnings at the rides where Sam too Qiang off to go get on something that would spin them around real fast or throw them upside down. Most importantly, awnings in front of the fried Oreo stand and the fried Twix stand. I nearly bit off Holly’s hand when she tried to take those away from me.

“This can’t be good for the baby. I’m pretty sure I can see bacteria in the air dying from exposure to all this deep fried shit,” Holly told me.

“I will devour a deep fried Oreo or I will devour your soul!” I declared in a raspy voice. I was in the middle of a pregnancy-induced feeding frenzy. Holly was lucky she had all her fingers left after she handed the Oreo back over.

She held up the invite though. “This thing says we have a little bit. How about we play some of these games?” She looked around. “You want to win me that big stuffed dog?”

I wanted to become a big stuffed bitch, but once the fried sweets were down and my hands were clean (I’d installed dermal teflon), I figured we could give it a go. First up, the darts. “$10 for five darts, get five color balloons and you get the biggest prizes. I saw your friend pointing out Mr. Pooch,” said the darts attendant.

I paid him his money and took the darts. “So where am I throwing these at?”

The attendant held up his hand to point at the backboard behind all the multi-color balloons. I threw. “Fuck- ouch!” The attendant looked at his hand pinned to the backboard. “What the hell, lady?!”

“I’ll take the big stuffed dog or the next one pops your balloons,” I said, lowering the angle of the next dart in my hand toward his crotch.

“Fine!” he pulled the dart out and wrapped his hand in his shirt, then handed me the dog. I handed it over to Holly.

“Fine work not giving yourself away, mistress of disguise,” she said.

“Ooh, I like when you call me Mistress,” I cooed.

“How about the strength test? Try not to go all out and break the thing,” she said.

“Why?” I asked. “You already got the stuffed dog.”

“Yeah, but I want Mr. Pooch to have a girlfriend,” she said.

I rolled my eyes. “Hey there, little lady. Your girlfriend going to show off for you?” the guy asked me.

“Actually, I thought I’d let her do the showing off,” Holly said.

I held out the money. The guy hesitated. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” I said with a smile.

He shrugged and took the cash. “Alright, I guess I’ll put it on the easiest difficulty for you so you don’t hurt yourself.”

I looked to Holly who mouthed, “Don’t.” I looked back to the guy. I took a long moment of consideration. Then I shrugged and knocked the bell off the top of the damn thing. Send the metal dropper thingy flying into the air. The guy practically threw the dog at me; a nice fluffy mate for Mr. Pooch.

Of course, then we passed by the weight-guessing game, with all its cheap, crappy prizes. None of them cost more than the price of playing it. It was a good game to dump newbies, but the person running it that night was over-confident. “Come right on up, lady, you’ve got plenty of weight to guess, don’t you?”

I looked to Holly, who nodded and pulled out her phone to record. I walked back over to the guy at the Test of Strength, tossed him some more money, and grabbed the hammer. I dropped it back off for him while carrying a whole bag of useless little toys. He winced and gave me a big plush caterpillar, too. I smiled and told him, “Thank you!” I picked up Holly again while she finished getting a closeup of the Guess Your Weight guy as he rolled around on the ground with his hands between his legs.

After all the fun and games, it was time to go see what this whole meeting was about. I texted Sam and Qiang who said they wanted to ride more rides. Holly and I went by ourselves, with the invite getting both of us in somewhere this time. With a nod of approval from the guy at the flap opening, we entered the hot, stuffy tent with a few dozen other people.

I didn’t recognize the guy who stepped up to speak, but he was well-built. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re here, there’s something special about you. You’ve dedicated your life to something higher. Something nobler. It’s tough, isn’t it? Not just the fight on the streets, but the fight at home. Worrying about jobs, rent, your family. The lies add up. So, partnering with some friends of mine, I came up with the idea for us to have our own place. A town designed to have everything to support us. A town full of superheroes, where no villain would dare go after your families. A town where we can even be a little selfish. Take a sick day. Use our powers to help our families. Attend ballgames and graduations. Isn’t it time the world paid us back?”

That got a smattering of “Yeahs” from the crowd.

“We’re completing new housing all the time, with affordable financing options that-” blah blah blah, that’s where they lost me.

At least it didn’t sound outright hostile, but I wish I hadn’t attended. Not like I was getting answers on whatever monster they crossed their crops with. Around the time I noticed Holly playing a game on her phone, I nudged her with my elbow. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” The guy at the flap gave me a card anyway, in case I felt like moving to Unique.

At least the rest of the fair was nice. Hot as hell, but nice.

So then I wake up the next day and find a letter from the City Council of Radium. “On the agenda this Wednesday is the issue of your eviction due to repeatedly bringing hostile situations to the town of Radium. We will give you a fair, private hearing.”

Oh come on, I haven’t- ok, yeah, there’s been a few different problems related to me. Mafiosos, time travelers, giant pepper monsters, horny teenage neighbors with frisbees…

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Unique Problems 2

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I wobbled into an office at the sheriff’s. Between being one of the most feared and powerful beings on Earth, and being like seven months pregnant, they’re not trying to stress me. I think this is the same Sheriff as last time I dealt with one around here. They change every now and then and the position seems ceremonial in a town full of crimefighters. But I’m trying not to rock the boat too much, so there I hobbled. The Sheriff stood up from behind her desk and gestured to a wooden chair in front of the desk. “It’s not the most comfortable, but they don’t pay me a lot. I’ve had some guy from a town called Unique breathing up my neck, asking about that pepper monster. He’s pretty sure it has something to do with a teleportor who stopped at the Unique super chile pepper farm. And as far as anyone knows, the monster came from your store. Tell me what’s going on so we can get this figured out without blowing everyone’s cover, please.”

I shrugged and told her the story. A guy gave Qiang and I a ride to the chili pepper fields full of giant peppers. My daughter and I each stole one. Hers slipped out at Disney World and grew giant on the waters of Thunder Mountain. I put it down. The one I’d stolen and sent back to a refrigerator in my store lair somehow got big enough to trash the store and wreck things around Radium. I kept some power after my descent from godhood, but cleaning things up made it pretty clear I can’t fix the whole world anymore. It took several hours just to fix a town.

“We would like to cooperate with a town like Unique,” the Sheriff said. “We don’t want trouble like giant monsters crashing around again. But it sounds like there’s nothing really to cooperate with.”

I shrugged. “I have my own garden. I was interested in how they got them so big. I dropped them off in a refrigerator at my store and took my daughter somewhere fun. When I came back, the thing was gigantic. I think it had to do with moisture. Maybe there was a leak or something. Can’t examine the fridge now, though.”

“You didn’t do anything to it?” she asked.

I shook my head. “That’s literally it.”

“Teleporting out of the fields where they could see you was risky,” the Sheriff said.

I nodded. “True, but I didn’t figure there’d be a giant monster pointing out where I went. We could also use the fact that I went to Disney world to hide it. Maybe instead of me, one of their people visited Radium at some point and dropped one off. It’s a big field, it’s not like they can stop someone nabbing a little pepper. It may not even have had a rhyme or a reason. There are a thousand different ways it could have happened”

The Sheriff leaned on her desk, clasping her hands together. “I hate this. I didn’t want to spend my life in a shitty, cramped office lying and covering up the misdeeds of the rich and psychotic.”

I laughed and stood up. “That it?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said.

That didn’t stop someone from trying to follow me from the Sheriff’s office. Not a deputy. They barely have any of those nowadays. A town full of superheroes, why not defund the police? Good luck pulling a bank robbery in this town. Hell, the supervillains might get to the robbers before the heroes, and then they’ll be begging for the heroes to take them into custody instead. Sure, banks are all insured, but many villains take it personally when you touch their retirement fund. They’ll straight up 401kill a bitch.

It could have been OSR. Office of Superhuman Resources likes to keep tabs on Radium, and especially on me. Some of them know to just come to me directly. Others want to pretend they’re fancy spies. I wouldn’t have spotted them if I’d teleported away, but the doctor thinks I need a little exercise instead of relying on nanomachines and superpowers. He’s supposedly got experience with supers, so I’m swallowing some pride here and following doctor’s orders. Especially orders that lead me past a bakery. They have these delicious glazed old-fashioned cake donuts. I grabbed a dozen so I had something to offer when I rounded a corner and the guy followed.

Plaid shirt, jeans, and boots. Not your standard government suit type of thing. “Heya.”

“Shit,” he said. He put his hands on his hips. “Hey.”

I flipped the box open. “Donut?

He walked forward and sheepishly grabbed one. “These are good,” he said.

“Yeah,” I nodded, grabbing one for myself. “So what’s this thing going on?”

“Listen, my boss paid me to come up here and keep tabs on whoever the Sheriffs called in for a few days. He figures I’d find out who stole the pepper.”

“This is a lot of bullshit about a pepper,” I said. “If I had analyzed that thing, I’d have found something out, eh? You know this is making me much more suspicious of y’all than I’d have been if this was all water under the bridge, right?”

“I can’t say why this is such a big deal,” he said. “Can you tell me who you are at least?”

I winked at him as I took a bite of half a donut, chewed, swallowed, then answered, “I’m just someone who wants to be left alone.” I left him with that, but I kept the rest of the donuts.

In between fixing chicken breasts with asparagus and roasted potatoes, I teleported to the landfill and grabbed a piece of the pepper for analysis. Apparently someone wants to make a deal of it. Better to go into a fight with as much information as possible. I left the nanomachines in the basement to crawl over the thing and analyze its DNA. I had to figure out a counter to the lemon juice on the chicken breasts. My gut said porcini mushrooms, but my brain said honey.

The analysis came back over dinner. Mostly Capsicum anuum, one of the standard five species of chilis. That species is the same one to include cayenne, bell peppers, jalapenos, Anaheim, cascabel, and so on. Anuum can crossbreed with a couple other species of chili, but that’s not what the mostly is about. Someone incorporated DNA from another source. I’d say the creature was some sort of animal, but it isn’t related to other living things on Earth. Could be extraterrestrial, bioengineered, or even from a sufficiently-distant parallel Earth. I set the meat vats to following the instructions of the code in its DNA so I could see what kind of a creature they’re putting into peppers.

I mean, they got me curious, and this is way more interesting than beating my daughter at Mortal Kombat. The game, dear readers. Qiang doesn’t like to spar much nowadays, but I’d never rip her spine out. Not out of the game. Besides, she still has Fortnite. I’m not a fan.

So everything was fine. After dessert, I got the “ding” from nanites and the meat vat. The monster was done. As for the critter that grew, that thing was more along the lines of “abomination”. Like a meat sack with points all over that swept around like limbs. It didn’t narrow down the origins of the thing, but I decided to test it.

First, I observed it for ten minutes. After its initial creation, there was continued growth, starting with the dermis. Curious, I tried removing the air and pumping in air with no moisture in it. That stopped its growth right there. I should have waited longer, but the science was already fucked up. I aimed a drop of water at something that could be an orifice. That led to a small explosion of growth. It was 25% bigger or so. I tried a popular brand of soft drink next. It didn’t experience as much growth, but it grew.

I’m going to go ahead and guess this thing, whatever it was, wasn’t something you wanted to put into your mouth with all its moisture. I sent in the nanomachines to disassemble it. I’d seen all I needed to see. It explained the growth of the peppers. Don’t know how it tied in to people spying on me or building up a superhero town. Maybe they’re worried about their brand? But then why not just fucking stop?

I didn’t have much of a good routine here during the summer while school’s out. I like to let Qiang sleep in. Sure, I used to push her into the fighting lessons and all, but I’m easing off. I still have little tests to make sure she hasn’t lost everything, but part of the reason I agreed to come to this town and settle down is I want her to have a better life than me. Apparently she’ll have time to fight when she gets old enough to date speedsters and go on time-traveling adventures.

That’s probably why they waited until noon. Just before twelve, that big, new, clean truck drove up and stopped in front of my house. The defenses aren’t sent to automatically eviscerate anyone during the day; there are many polite reasons someone might come onto my property at that point. The neighbors, gawky teenage boy included, already learned that if they’re playing frisbie golf at night, they need to keep it out of my yard. The lawn gnome’s always watching.

I didn’t like this guy being here. When the defenses gave me an alert about him, I didn’t tell them to kill him even though I knew it’d save me a lot of future trouble. It might also cause me a lot of future trouble to get rid of him that way. Instead, I let him come up the walkway and knock on my door. Since I had nothing better to do and he’d just snoop around anyway, I got up and answered it.

“What?” I asked, opening the door.

“Nice to see you again, ma’am,” he said. He folded his hands. “I’m sorry to bother you on such a pretty day as this.”

“So sorry to bother me that you stalked me to my home.” I folded my arms.

“I’m sorry about that, but I think we can help each other. You’re a superhero, aren’t you?” He took my wince as an affirmative. “Now, I’m not here to cause problems. I’m here to offer you a unique opportunity.” He reached into his coat.

“Unique like the town or unique like the adjective?” I asked.

He laughed at that and pulled out an envelope sealed with a sticker. He handed it over. “People like you, well people like us, can have a hard time finding homes that’ll treat us right. Too often, we have to hide who we are from the world and those we care about. Unique is about giving people like us a place in the world.”

I opened the envelop, curious. It was a free ticket to the Unique Town Fair, allowing people to come and enjoy a superhuman-themed good time. This invite entitled me to enter a membership drive talk in the Paragon Pavilion. The invite promised live music, fun rides, and delicious treats.

“I’ll consider it,” I said. It would be a neat thing to take Qiang to.

“That’s all I ask,” he said. He looked around. “It’s a nice place you got here. We can do you better.” He held out his hand. I shook it so he’d leave me alone.

So, these asses may be riding my dick, but at least I get something fun to do before I get rid of them. And if they have those peppers there, there might be fun violence to partake in. Or at least fried foods what were never meant to see the fried of day.

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Unique Problems 1

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This is my life now. Housewifing it. Sometimes checking on my shop, which is going well with Sam or Holly working it alongside my automated cashiers. Sitting around watching TV and percolating Alexander the baby.

I guess aliens are dealing a lot with Earth lately after all the shenanigans both I and Isabella pulled with my godlike powers. They’re still safely hidden away where no one would think to look. I mean, I made myself like the perfect body before I gave them up, so I’m taken care of. I’m still a little nervous about these aliens roaming around though. Tensions have eased ever since that one ambassador toked up and told us all off. He stuck a nerve with people. At least they’re finally being cool with the space automatons we let settle in the solar system.

And on another channel, they were covering superhumans who used their powers to farm. They were showing off someone in a growing “super” town the next state down: Unique, Iowa. A little close for comfort to me. Someone had brought a bunch of money to Unique, turning it into a whole thing. They showed signs talking about future sites of theme parks and museums and shit. I liked the new motto they came up with, though.

Unique: It’s not unusual.

They were focusing on a guy named Magnificence and a bunch of peppers he was growing. Felt like a bit of a challenge. I have some out in the back for personal use. This guy’s talking about selling Unique Peppers as a whole town branding thing. 100% superhero-grown peppers. They were huge, too. There were dogs smaller than these things. That’s not an exaggeration. It was ridiculous. It’s like the giant burgers from that Good Burger movie, but peppers.

As much as I say I’m going to stay out of things, I have a bit of a busybody streak. Should be obvious by now, since the world’s not exactly crying out for Psycho Gecko. They cry out for the Unicorn Goddess or Reindeer. I can be either, or both. Maybe I should. But first, I should also take care of my kid.

I brought Qiang with me on a little road trip to Unique. Told her I’d see if there was anything interesting there, and then we’d skip out and go to Disney or something. Normally, that’d be more of a drive, but I still have a whole base hooked up to portals. Probably going to have to talk to some aliens about that.

Qiang and I appeared in the air above Unique first, floating. I wanted to make sure I had clearance so I didn’t appear inside someone. When I had the all clear, I zipped us through another portal and out onto the street.

Unique had been a ghost town for like a hundred years. Now, it looked like some small town USA. This was the kind of place they had photos of in Disney. There was the Unique Drugstore, the Unique Post Office, the Unique Grocery Co-op. A speedster raced around in a blur, finishing off the Unique Diner as Qiang and I watched.

“That’s kinda cool. Can I have superspeed?” Qiang asked.

“You want to go fast?” I considered it. I could pull that off. It’s a little impossible to put into words all the stuff I know about the nature of superpowers after my stint as a god.

“Howdy, folks!” said a guy hanging out of an oversized truck. One of those shiny, brand new giant trucks from the commercials about the towing capacity to haul Mt. Rushmore or something.

“Hey,” I said with a little wave. Qiang waved, too.

“What brings you to Unique? Heard about the new home for superheroes and decided to pay us a visit? Or hoping to move in?”

“Just taking a look. This has grown quickly,” I said. “Hey, where’s that field with the giant peppers? I’m a bit of a chili enthusiast.”

Qiang sighed loudly and rolled her eyes.

“Well why didn’t you say so? We’re heading there. Why don’t you hop in and we’ll give you a ride?”

Anyway, pretty boring trip to go see giant peppers. It’s not superpowers or soil additives either. I snuck one of the smaller ones off the branch well before it was giant for me to analyze better at home. Sent it to the fridge in the lair under my store so I could grab one of the drinks I’d gotten in there from a smuggler I let stay there. After Starlight, Coke’s going to unleash Coca-Cola Kaiju. If I had to guess, it’s kind of a cucumber and melon flavor with some spiciness like wasabi. I like it for some reason.

“Ok, we saw the farm, can we go to Disney now?” Qiang asked impatiently.

I ruffled her hair. She knocked my hand away. She’s getting so big and annoyed with me now. “Sure thing. You ready?”

“Wait, I left my purse at home,” she said.

I didn’t bother to hide any of this from the guy who brought us and was standing around curiously. I pulled Qiang in for a hug and we disappeared.

Disney was fun. We went in the old fashioned way. I’ve had run ins with that corporation before and figured it’d be better not to antagonize them unless I needed to. After all, they bent over backwards to get me to the front of the lines. Qiang was loving that. They just didn’t want to let me go on anything too bouncy, the cowards.

The trouble started shortly after Qiang got done on Splash Mountain. She was all wet and happy, waiting on her photo. I had to wait it out because they were concerned for my health. I mumbled as much to myself. “They oughta be concerned about that giant pepper monster over there,” I said.

A large, red Jalapeno was growing out of the water. Teen feet tall, twenty feet tall, thirty, and sprouting limbs. Not tree limbs, but arms and legs. Part of the skin opened up to reveal sharpened seed fangs. Holes opened to show eyes like chili pepper flowers. The pepper monster roared and grabbed the next float of people coming down the big drop. They found a way to scream even louder.

“I didn’t do it!” Qiang yelled.

“Right, you didn’t steal one of the peppers from that field,” I nodded to her. She nodded back. “I’d say we should probably do something about this, but you aren’t doing any of it without your armor.”

“But moooom!”

I waved my hand and sent her to the interdimensional base. It had a copy of her armor and I’d taught her a little bit about using the portals. It was better than sending her back there and having her mess around with controls she doesn’t know the first thing about. I sent my own body back there, too and brought out my other side. The Unicorn Goddess may no longer strictly be a goddess, but she also doesn’t look pregnant.

“It’s ‘cornin’ time!” I announced.

I opted for silvery, metallic armor with room for a pair of wings to stretch out behind me. My horn was still split and curved as a nod to Reindeer after I absorbed my were-reindeer other half, along with tufts of fur around my wrists and a pair of hooves. And it would behoove this giant pepper to cool down.

Instead, it was growing larger while shaking the cart from the ride. The thing’s legs were still in the ride’s water. There was plenty of it to feed the plant, but the pepper decided to chow down on something else. It opened its mouth and raised the cart of people toward it. Many were trying to pull open their restraints. One guy put his arms in the air in anticipation of the drop. The pepper monster let go.

I caught the cart and flew it out of the way. The pissed-off pepper roared indignantly at being denied its meal. “Alright, hot stuff. It’s time for you to SHU.” I looked at the nearest person trapped in the cart. “You know, like Scoville Heat Units? SHU?”

I think the pun only pissed off the monster more. It breathed a fireball at me. My horn glittered and a shield dispersed the flames before they could harm anyone. “Enough of that,” I told it. I teleported the cart to the ground in a safe place well away from myself and the monster. “Time to bust a capsaicin in your ass.”

The monster groaned in pain, but that also might have been due to the large, muscular man in the Hercules costume punching it. Nearby, an Aladdin flew in on top of a magic carpet while a blue-clad fairy godmother zapped the pepper monster with her magic wand. “Bibbity, bobbity, biznitch!” she called.

Damn. If we’d done this at the Disney Studios park, I could have met a Jedi and flown in the Millenium Falcon. Either way, a protracted battle would just give this thing time to whip out another superpower or get even bigger. Instead, I flew right down, opening a bunch of portals inside of and around it. I created a wedge of energy around me in the shape of my horn. I passed through one portal and through the next, shredding it. It toppled and I, floating at the bottom, caught the main body of the plant. It wouldn’t do any good to let the seeds fall into the water. “Come with me, hot stuff!”

I blinked us over to the sun and threw it in. It burnt up, probably screaming. In space, I couldn’t hear it.

Instead, I appeared back at the interdimensional base to find my daughter just finishing suiting up. “Ready to fight?”

“Yeah!” she pumped her fist in the air.

“Too bad, just got done with it,” I said, then paused. I transported us both to Radium.

My store was toast. Holly was tending to Sam in the street near a toppled pepper monster. Various Radium citizens hung around, some in costume and some without. It’s still bad news to attack a town full of supers. It hadn’t had the time or water supply to get as big as the one at Disney. I floated Qiang and I down to my girlfriends, healing Sam’s wounds. With a wave of my hand, the basement under my store came together to hide the parts that led to the lair. I think people know that’s all there, but it’s best not to strain their deniability.

“What happened?” I asked. “Nevermind, shit, I think I know.”

“Right, you didn’t steal one of those peppers from that field,” Qiang repeated back to me with a smirk. I shrugged. I checked around for injuries and prioritized reversing those first. Between actually knowing magic and giving myself healing powers when I dropped the god act, I kept anyone from dying and was able to restore them. The buildings came next, as much as I could. It was actually a strain without the package of infinite energy and reality warping. I had to land and take it slow.

The police were, of course, wanting to question me by the time it was all over, but it was night. It had also given some out of towners time to arrive. I saw that shiny new truck pull up and get stopped by the sheriff. I decided to tap a star directly and juice up so I could finish that last bit, then teleported out of there. I’d deal with that. Of course I had a message waiting for me the next morning, taped to my mail box. The sheriff knew better than to brave my yard at night.

“We request the pleasure of your company at the Sheriff’s office in order to understand why a monster originated from your store. P.S., why are people from Unique, Iowa in my damn town?!”

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Outlaw X Presents: The Great Cleansing

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This is Gecko. I just got back from time traveling and, as a bit of revenge, the Mobian pranked Holly and I by letting us out at a Renaissance Faire. We got out of a time vessel and saw a knight charging. After we got all that settled, we found out we’d returned to Earth the same time we left, just a long way away. I got us back easily and we had an easy chunk of time on our hands. Everyone’s acting like I’m crazy for going off on an adventure, except for Holly, but that’s because they don’t know the body I built for myself when I stepped down from godhood. Maybe the doctor’s figuring some of that out, too.

Anyway, while I’m busy being a boring homebody getting taken care of by my wives and girlfriends, I figured I’d turn to Outlaw X for entertainment again. It beats thrilling y’all with the latest exploration of Dr. Jackson, OB-coochie explorer.

**

“Ya heard it on the X from your girl Rebel Rebel. Hey, we’ve all had a lot of alien shit on Earth lately. Some people are saying we’re going to start the Federation. I think we have a better chance of the Firefly universe, but with even more slavery and racism and all that. I’m not a fan, folks. The Browncoats are the same people who used to shoot up abortion clinics.

That probably proved my villain credentials more than completing the First Bank Marathon of Boston. For those who aren’t familiar, that’s where you rob every bank in Boston that has “First” in its name. No one calls themselves the second or third national bank. I knew a guy who called himself the 69th National Bank, but that’s because his last name was Bank and he wanted to make a sperm deposit in me. Last I heard of 69er, the only thing he was doing was time. I’m hoping the time’s not doing him right now.

Moving on from that depressing story, I have a weird one. See, we get a bunch of stories. Some are bullshit, some are full of so full of exaggerations they might as well be bullshit, and some are sick puppies. Not a lot of those last ones coming in nowadays as a matter of fact, but there’s stuff in the archive that would turn Malcolm X white. Some of it’s also so badly written or typed we can’t include it anyway. So that tells you we actually have a process. And since I’m picking the story and I want to hear about aliens, that process means we’re getting aliens. They’re boldly going where every man has gone before: Earth. And they’re here for nefarious purposes, I’m sure of it!

**

I love fried chicken. God, that lingering smell. You cook some up without burning anything and the house smells delicious. Even with everything tanking in my life lately, knowing my wife was making fried chicken at home was enough to energize me.

Ordinarily, I would spend Friday night pulling petty crimes or planning larger crimes. But not on fried chicken night. Missing that delicious cooking would be, well, it would be criminal.

I am Big Brain, a supervillain might of mind and able to grow twice as tall, twice as strong. I augment my slight physical advantages with the devices I build. My favorite is the lash gauntlet. It creates a prehensile rope of plasma that has a variety of uses, as long as those uses involve burning whatever it touches. I have a claw glove for more delicate jobs. It’s like the jaws of life on my hand. And both were unnecessary for fried chicken.

My family knows. My wife prefers to rob pharmacies and chemists for chemicals that help to stabilize her powers and body chemistry. She has the opposite of acid powers; she has basic powers. She can use her abilities to burn people, but what really attracted me to her was that she took the time to learn more about her powers and how to apply them. I’ve seen her burn through glass like caesium hydroxide, burn guards like potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide, generate water like lithium hydroxide reacting.

My favorite crime of hers was when she held a goldfish hostage. Its owner was a billionaire who used a little of his money to have a literal gold fish designed. It was a giant, living carp made of gold. My wife threatened to throw the pH off and kill the thing if he didn’t pay up half what it cost to engineer the thing. We considered asking for the full amount, but we figured he’d find it easier to grow a whole new one and let us do whatever with that one.

I love her. I love her creativity and her dreams. She dreams of holding all the Earth’s oceans hostage some day, and I want to help her achieve that dream. Her code name when in costume is Basic Bitch.

Our son is getting in on the family business, too. He’s a junior in high school. Maybe you’ve heard of him, Blockhead? He generates perfectly-smooth iron blocks that he manipulates with his mind. And then there’s his little sister, Maxine. She doesn’t have a codename yet because she’s not in on it, but we’re hoping. We’ve seen her change her face and hair color using some shapeshifting powers.

Big Brain, Basic Bitch, Blockhead, and Maxine. We’re your typical suburban supervillains, excited for a night of amazing fried chicken while everyone else was out doing what regular people do on a Friday night. Even Blockhead, who’d been moody and isolating himself like teenagers do, made it home early.

“Good day at school?” I asked.

“It’s fine,” he said. “Chicken ready yet?”

“Noooooo!” Maxine groaned.

Blockhead sighed and dropped his backpack on the floor. He dropped into one of the living room recliners. I raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to buy the next one when you break that one?”

“Yeah, I still have money from the ice cream store.” He worked one whole day at an ice cream place before they fired him for stealing ice cream. A month later, he came in with a bunch of cash, having robbed the place blind and stolen some giant tubs for us to enjoy.

“Did you see Lisa when you robbed it?” Maxine asked, saying the name sing-song.

“Shut up, you little dweeb!” Blockhead said. He created a Rubix cube-sized block in midair. Maxine snarled back, growing fangs.

“Hey, what did I tell you kids about fighting in the house?” I folded my newspaper and gave them both a stern look.

“Use the basement so we don’t get blood on the furniture,” both of my kids responded at the same time.

“That’s right,” I nodded. If they kids want to let out some aggression on each other without going too far, that’s fine. It’ll help train them in their powers and give them experience fighting other superhumans, but I don’t want the living room looking like OJ Simpson lives here. We already have hardwood floors, no matter how much I hate them, because of how hard it is to get blood out of carpet. Instead, we have to sweep constantly because everything shows on a hardwood floor.

“I don’t want to fight anyway,” Blockhead said. “Still weirded out from school today.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “Anything you want to run by me?”

“Someone vandalized the school with green slime and then some people acted weird today. I kept making jokes about mind control,” my son said.

“That is interesting,” I emphasized the “is”. “On my way to work this morning, I passed a coffee shop that had been slimed. I thought it was a promotion.”

“Why would they slime themselves?” Blockhead asked.

“Back in the 90s, slime was everywhere,” I told him.

The doorbell rang. “Now who is that?” I asked. I got up myself to check on it. I tried the peephole, which connected to a security camera and radar system that showed a lot of people standing around out front, swaying and drooling green goo.

“Who is it, dear?” Basic Bitch asked, stopping by after leaving the kitchen.

“Do we know anyone who mind controls people with slime?” I asked.

Maxine called from the other room. “This one’s got a hammer!” Glass broke in the room, with Maxine screaming. Basic Bitch and I looked at each other, then she took off for the living room. I tugged on a broken-looking part of the coat rack and pulled it downward. The ceiling opened up and mechanical arms strapped my lash gauntlet and claw glove to me, then presented my costume. I grew large to fit into the special armored lab coat.

Meanwhile, the slime zombies pounded on the door. I meant to check on the kids, but the door burst in and a barista collapsed to the floor. Behind her, a construction worker drooling green goo advanced, reaching for me with slimy hands. I grabbed him in the claw and threw him at the next person in line, an old woman. I turned toward the living room.

My wife had melted a couple of people. My son had conjured a group of four blocks and was moving them to keep out the wave of slime zombies crawling in through the big window.

“To the basement!” I declared. I lashed someone coming at us from the front entryway and held him sideways to block the open doorway to the living room.

“We can take ’em!” Blockhead said.

“Blood on the carpet!” I called out.

“We can’t leave the fried chicken!” Maxine screamed. She had grown her fingers into claws and was slashing at the slime zombies between her and the kitchen. I heard a crack above use and raised the claw. The roof gave way from the weight of more slime zombies. It took all I had to keep my wife and son from being buried under rubble.

Suddenly, a bright light lit everything up. “Greetings, people of Earth. Rinvok the Cleanser has arrived!”

“Great, an alien invasion on top of this!” I yelled.

“Or this is the invasion!” my wife said, grabbing a slime zombie and melting his face off. It absolutely ruined the recliner.

The weight shifted, eased up a little. “Anyone alive in there?” the booming from before asked.

“No, now go away!” Blockhead yelled.

“Afraid I can’t do that, folks.” I felt support beams pulled up and then torn off. A thick purple alien in a blue jumpsuit landed next to me, the living room now open to the night sky. “Hi, I’m Rinvok. I have a work order here to clean up a biohazard that landed in your town. The space robots put the word out and the Consortium hired me to come do the remediation.” He pulled out a spray bottle and sprayed down the nearest slime zombies. They began to shake and fall down. Rinvok sprayed indiscriminately.

Blockhead, Basic Bitch, and I shared a look. I ran for the wall and tore it open. In the hallway, we found Maxine struggling in the arms of a slime zombie and pulled her free. Blockhead knocked him into the living room with a block as the rest of us headed to the kitchen.

“Thank Satan we made it,” Basic Bitch said as we all spread out to devour the chicken before the alien janitor’s cleaning chemicals altered it.

Dinner was saved, but at what cost? My recliner, for starters. I approached the alien janitor afterward, full of fried chicken and carrying the recliner in my claw glove. “Hey, since you’re here, how good are you at getting blood out of fabric?”

“Tsk, tsk,” the alien said with a shake of his head. “Blood? Blood’s hard to get out. Plus, I’m union and there are channels to go through.” He turned and raised a vacuum cleaner, shoving it into the oozing mouth of another zombie. The zombie’s eyes rolled upwards as the vacuum sucked up green slime through a clear tube into a container on Rinvok”s back. “Maybe for the right price…”

Any proper villain would recognize a shakedown attempt. I leaned in close and slipped him a chicken leg. “There’s more where that came from if you do your job.”

Rinvok the cleanser unzipped his jumpsuit and slipped the leg into an inner pocket. He nodded toward the recliner. “Is that it? You got a deal.”

It was easily done. In all the chaos, nobody minded the grocery store’s poultry section being robbed. Just another odd thing blamed on the invasion of the body slimers and the “Great Cleansing” that Earth got billed for.

**

“Rebel Rebel back. See? I mean, it wasn’t that kind of cleansing, but maybe that’s just what they want us to think? For all we know, they put the slime on Earth in the first place. I need pictures of this Rinvok. He’s a menace, I tell ya!”

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Deals and Breakers 7

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So here’s how it laid out. Lacastra was behind the plot to kill her brother, using Mickledorn who had a laundress poison him. Micledorn was then killed by her Security Chief. He was framed in part thanks to Grurn, who murdered the Butler for her. And now all this was revealed. It would be time to slap the cuffs on her in a police procedural, but she had her poofy-sleeved house guards who outnumbered us. Also, Grurn got his sword back, revealed he was working with her, and was also part of the people opposing us who were armed.

On the other side of things, there was the Mobian, his companion Lily, Sir Reginald the fighting fish, all the other guests who haven’t already been murdered, my girlfriend Holly, and myself. If not for the fact I need to worry about other people surviving, this is just a fun time with some future dead bodies.

“We don’t need to turn this into a bloodbath,” the Mobian offered.

“It would be difficult for the staff to clean up, but that’s what they’re there for,” Lacastra said.

“Except for the bit where you kill them freely in all this,” I said.

“They’re good for that, too,” Grurn said. I noticed some of the guards looking at each other. The beat-up Security Chief had crawled to the rest of his guys. He’d admitted to killing Mickledorne for Lacastra, and had not been treated well in return. The beating was my part, though. He decided to eliminate me for my suspicions. One helped him up and he whispered to him. The guards backed away from Lacastra and Grurn, then turned their polearm-rifles on Lacastra and Grurn.

“What is this?” Lacastra asked, outraged. “I demand you turn your weapons on them!”

Grurn slowly sidled over toward a side door of the garage. One of the estate’s maids closed and locked it before he could.

“Are you going to come easily, Grurn?” Sir Reginald asked from his fish tank on treads.

Grurn raised his Tarn blade, a local design to this water/swamp world. “Prepare to be sushi, Reginald.”

“No, he’s ours!” said a bunch of squeaky voices all at once. Guinea pig-like creatures swarmed out of the group of guests, headed toward Grurn. He swung and missed with this sword as they climbed onto him, nibbling enough to make him drop his blade, but carrying him to the ground, gnawing away.

Holly leaned in close. “I’m glad I didn’t eat one as an hor d’oeuvre.”

“So they were guests then?” I asked.

She furrowed her brow. “With the staff turning on them… I still don’t know.”

Regardless, the guinea pig things left us with the sight of an alien skeleton picked clean of meat and ligaments and fat everywhere that wasn’t covered by clothing. Grurn had become the prey of a vicious pack of appetizers. Or maybe some sort of hive minded rodent party guests.

“I think I’m going to barf,” Lily said, covering her mouth and looking away.

The Mobian edged toward Lacastra, who looked as shocked at the consumption of Grurn as almost everyone else. “You should come along peaceably.”

“Per my inheritance of my brother’s stake in the planet, I am the law here,” she said.

Sir Reginald blubbed. The front base of his water tank unfolded to reveal the barrel of some sort of projectile weapon. “I shall extradite you to my liege lords landholdings for trial immediately, followed by similar trials for the crime committed against the other gentry present.”

Lacastra made one last attempt at avoiding responsibility. She turned to the Security Chief. “Do something!”

“What’s my name?” asked the Security Chief.

“What?” the owner of the planet asked. “Why? It’s… Bob?”

“Stand down, men. Let them take her,” the Chief said.

“Letting someone live actually helped a situation,” I whispered to Holly. I noticed Mobian gesture toward Lily. They left the aristocrats to deal with their issue, and started heading down a side corridor. Holly and I followed. “Wait up!”

“Oh, you two,” Mobian said. “That worked out rather nicely if I do say so myself. And I do.” He smiled at his own joke. “You were both astonishingly useful, it was a pleasure to meet you.”

“If you’re ever on Earth, you’ll have to look us up,” Holly suggested. I gave her elbow an elbow.

“Oh, you’re from Earth?” Lily asked.

“Yeah, you’re from Earth?” Mobian wondered. “Bit early for that,” he pointed to my eyes.

“Well, we’re on a bit of a trip outside our usual time and place,” Holly admitted. “A friend said we simply had to attend this party.”

“Your friend has a weird sense of humor,” Lily said.

“I appreciate your help regardless,” The Mobian said. “Perhaps I will see you again.”

I nodded. “Yeah, you definitely will.” I held my hand out for a shake. He took it. I squeezed. He pulled back, but I puled him toward me, onto a nanite blade that pierced one of his hearts, then broke off and went after the other one. “Sorry about this, but you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.” After all, it was another incarnation of Mobian who made a deal to help me out in exchange for this attack.

“NOOOO!” Lily screamed. I let Mobian dropped and let her cradle him as he died. Except he didn’t just die. His skin began to glow. He looked like he was aging rapidly.

“Gecko, I left the watch in the room,” Holly said. She waved me on with her, then started running. I ran after. I think we’d both decided it’d be better to get out fairly soon after the assassination. I’m not sure if it’s really an assassination if it’s part of the plan for the target to come back to life, but that’s close enough for the Dark Brotherhood.

It didn’t seem all that necessary. When Holly and I barged into the room, her winded and me not so much, I checked the hallway behind us. “I don’t think anyone’s coming.”

“Fine, then I’m taking some of this stuff, too,” Holly said. She grabbed some of the shinier metal objects around the room. I shrugged and grabbed the fur rug from in front of the fireplace, as well as a painting I liked of a warped penguin with a beaklike-mouth on top of its head.

“I wish we’d planned this so we could have robbed everyone else,” I said.

“You’re the one who went and killed him right then,” Holly said. She sat on the bed. “Ugh, wish we could take this bed with us.” She sat up suddenly and lunged for the nightstand. She held up the pocket watch The Torian gave us to call him for our escape. “I got it!”

I rushed over with the rug and painting, then hopped onto her lap. She pressed the button on the watch.

We both dropped into time vessel. Amber colored walls and floors swirled with yellow energy all around us. We looked around toward the platform where Mobian and Torian control the vessel from. Torian looked a lot worse than I remembered. He staggered down the steps, coughing, the sat down on the steps. “Did you have to cut it so close stealing everything?”

I shrugged. “Not like Morigoth or Lacastra are going to notice it gone.”

He shook his head. “Not what I mean. That adventure took place quite some time ago to me. At the time, I didn’t understand. I held a grudge against you. This far along, I understand why you did it, and why you said that to me.”

“It was a shame to do it. That’s the nicest you’ve ever been to me,” I said. I stood up and helped Holly up as well.

The Torian, the villainous incarnation of the Mobian, laughed. “That was our first encounter.” The laughter turned into coughing. “And this will be our last, sort of.” He smiled at that. His skin began to glow. “The good die young, but I didn’t last forever.”

So we ended up getting a view of of the reincarnation process after all. When the glowing stopped, the old man who sat before us turned out to be a gawky, middle-aged man. Same clothes, but his coat was all the wrong size. “Hello, ooh,” he felt his teeth. “New teeth.”

“Hey, which one are you?” Holly asked enthusiastically.

The time traveling alien looked himself over. As he talked, I noticed his accent had changed quite a bit. Maybe a bit of Welsh in there? Space Wales, maybe? “So stuffy. I’m back to my old self, I think. Or my new self. But don’t worry, I don’t hold a grudge. It really had to be done, because it’s how it happened. You killed me, and then I incarnated as him.”

“So the Torian sent us to make sure he would be born, in a way,” I said.

“That’s right,” the newest Mobian said, smiling with some big front teeth of his. “It really hurt, you know. I should hit you for that, but, you know.” He gestured to the belly I carried.

“This explains something of the heretofore-unexplained tension between us, “ I said.

“Mm,” the Mobian said. He walked up the steps. “I better get you home then.”

“No offense, but I hope we don’t have our timelines so closely entangled going forward. Hope in one hand…”

“Actually, Mobian, I have an idea for a stop before you get us home!” Holly said, holding up her hand.

Cue the trip back to Vermont, years ago. The Mobian exited his time craft with us. “Vermont, home of the whitest of bread.”

Holly pulled me along. “I’m trying to remember… there we go.”

“Where are we going?” I asked.

She kept pulling me along, though she had to stop. She’d already strained herself running around the Morigoth Estate, and we hadn’t gotten even a full night’s rest there. It bugged me that there was nothing for me to connect to, putting this firmly pre-wifi and bluetooth. We ended up stopping off near some park where a teenage Holly was arguing with a teenage boy.

“If you stopped being such a stuck-up bitch and just went with it, maybe you’d have some fun with your privileged life!” the boy yelled at her. He grabbed the younger Holly. She was crying and swaying.

The older Holly called out. “Hey! Let her go!” The boy panicked and let go of young Holly’s wrist, then booked it. We came running up.

“If Mobian were here, he’d say some weird stuff about timelines and interference with yourself probably,” I said.

“Just come on!” Holly called back. Her younger self had fallen to her knees and was crying to herself. The older one knelt down and hugged her. “It’s alright.” She looked up at me and said, “She’s high as fuck right now.”

“Who are you?” young Holly asked. She brushed her hair out of her face. “This can’t be real.”

“I’m you from the future, and I want you to know it gets better. You get out of here and you meet people who care about you.”

“And who’s that?” asked young Holly, pointing at me.

“That’s your girlfriend.”

I waved at young Holly, who gawked. “I’m a lesbian?!”

“More bisexual, maybe demisexual,” Holly answered. “But she’s a hot kickass cyborg assassin and she loves going down on you.”

“Can we phrase that in a way that doesn’t make me sound like I molest teenagers?” I asked my girlfriend.

“Come on, let’s get home,” Holly said. “The future’s going to be amazing.”

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Deals and Breakers 6

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Everything looked like Mickledorn the centaur had something to do with the murders. It’s even possible he did have something to do with the murders, except he himself was murdered. And while I know for a fact there’s more than one murderer around the Morigoth Estate, I know that I didn’t kill him. I considered it, because it would have taken suspicion off the Mobian, but I was considering killing a lot of people. Maybe not Sir Reginald, just because flushing him down the toilet would have left little to no evidence of a murder. Also, I think he’s funny.

The Mobian, his companion Lily, and I were investigating Mickledorn’s room, where we found proof of the poison used to kill Morigoth. We hadn’t found the sword he supposedly used to slay the laundress, though. I don’t think that was high priority for Lacastra, Morigoth’s sister. She already ordered the guards, who had been at this room when we arrived, to look for that sword. It was supposed to be a local type of blade, so I’m sure they’d find something. If Mickledorn came in his own transport, I have a feeling that’s where it’ll conveniently pop up.

I told Holly to keep an eye out for anything about Lacastra specifically. So, naturally, she snooped while I pretended to snoop. Or half-heartedly snooped. I was still curious about the sword, even if I doubted I’d find it. It wasn’t up the chimney, under the bed, or beneath the pillow. I was working on the rack of parasols when Holly got back to me.

“They moved the body before I could get a close look, but I saw him fall. Lacastra was in the middle of the room with the guards keeping anyone away. She had a few people escorted to her, but the lighs blinked off when Mickledorn was on his way back. You could see him start to fall in the dark. The captain of the guard, you can tell because he has a scarf on, ran up to check on him first, then pulled out the bloody quill.”

“That seems odd,” I said. “You said you saw him fall in the dark?”

“Yeah, he glowed a little, so he must have had that poison on him,” she answered. “I didn’t see a quill anywhere until after the head guard got there.”

“Yeah, shit stinks,” I acknowledged.

“I should examine his vehicle myself,” The Mobian suggested.

“I’ll go with you,” Lily said.

My first instinct was to separate myself and see who I could pick off or who would pick me off. I fought back the urge and decided to stick with Lily and Mobian. “Me too. I don’t feel safe separating.”

The security chief stuck his nose in it. “I think we had better escort you to your Mistress to check in.”

Mobian looked at me. “Go ahead. We’ll be fine until you get back. It’s not your fight, after all.”

I wonder if he knew what was going to happen when he said that. Regardless, he went his way and the Security Chief insisted on escorting me personally to meet Lady Snyders of Hanover, Holly’s alias. Funny thing was, we weren’t headed back to the ballroom where they’d isolated all the guests to be a witness to Mickledorn’s murder. Nope, and we didn’t even head back over to the room Holly and I were sharing. If they had any hidden surveillance devices, they probably realized Lady Snyders was fooling around with her servant. Not a foreign concept to this bunch, I’m guessing. Instead, we started heading up to the veranda, as the Butler called it. It was a large balcony, great for dining outside, with large windows to take in a planet that was all either water, swamp, or technologically-reclaimed land like the Morigoth Estate sat on. It could even be retracted.

I hadn’t realized it was storming. Water slammed into the window, drowning out all but the brightest bioluminescent lights of sea creatures in the water. Mysterious underwater moving lights, interspersed with the pounding of a light monsoon. The house is soundly build, with lots of sound dampening between it and the exterior. “Why would she come here?” I asked the Security Chief as I stepped out further onto the Veranda, standing next to one of the solid metal tables. It looked and felt like cast iron. I ran a hand along engravings that looked like waving aquatic flora. Everything was aquatic with this fucking planet, but then it’s not like they’re going to have orchids and deer. Seacows, maybe, but not deer.

I turned to catch a glimpse of the Security Chief leaving. The door clicked and the windows started to retract. I grabbed the table and hurled it into the door. It left a dent, but not a break. Damn them and their foresight for a broken window caused by a storm! That said, it’s not like storms regularly pack their own lasers like the ones in my eyes.

I threw the door off its melted hinges and stepped into the hallway. The Security Chief was there, meeting with more of his men. He looked surprised to see me. Fun. “Miss me, boys?”

I turned and hit the button on the inside that reversed the windows, moving them back into place, and meant I didn’t have to worry about catching a flounder to the backside while fighting. They lowered their polearm-rifles too slow. I got inside the range of the barrels. I grabbed one by the rifle and slammed him into the wall, pushing the gun’s frame through his chest. The other tried to aim at me. I pulled the rifle out and tossed it. It embedded in the second guard’s head. That left me and the chief.

The Chief was running away. Ok, that left me chasing the chief. I checked around for anything else to throw and found something small and metal. I grabbed it, threw it. A metal fish in the shape of a boomerang banged into the Chief’s back and knocked him down. By the time he got back to his feet, I was on him, grabbing him by the back of his poofy-sleeved shirt and smacking him into the wall a few times. “Let’s have a talk, shall we?”

He pulled a knife.

“What are you going to do, C-section me?” I asked.

“I’m going to clean you like a fish!” he threatened. I melted the knife out of his hands with eye lasers. He gasped and grabbed his hand, but I grabbed his neck and pushed him up against the wall behind him. He kicked, so I threw him to the other side of the hall, through a much weaker door than the one to the veranda. I found him crawling along in a room with a heavy table, as well as sticks and balls set up. I grabbed for a ball and threw it at his hand while he tried to get a stick. The next ball thumped him on the head. He stopped moving.

“Shit,” I said, moving to check his vitals. He was alive. His lungs breathed and his heart pumped. “Great, now I have to wait for you to wake up!” I took a moment to check in with Holly. “Hey babe, their Chief of Security just tried to kill me. How’s things there?”

“I was just curious who made those uniforms. The sleeves are such a stand-out fashion decision., all big like that. Say, give me one moment, let me get something from my purse…” Ah, she couldn’t respond just to me because of guards around.

Bam! Bam! Bam, bam, bam! Well, no more guards around anymore. “Sorry Gex, they were trying to escort me to the boss lady. I got suspicious.”

“That’s a pretty safe assumption. Where are you?” I asked. I prodded the chief with my foot.

“Corridor outside the ballroom. I don’t know where they were taking me, but this isn’t near the study or the rooms. Let’s meet up.”

“Last I saw of the guards, they were posted around Mickledorn’s room. May not be there anymore with everyone splitting up. Oh, that’s a lot of guards.”

“I’m on my way,” I said. I grabbed the Chief and threw him over my shoulder before hauling my ass out of there and heading toward the twin markers of the ballroom and Holly. I slipped one into her purse next to her Mauser. If she had the gun, she had the marker.

It ended up being pretty stereotypical. I turned a corner and saw her, then ran into her arms for a hug and a kiss. We even spun around a little, the security chief’s head and my girlfriend’s pistol swinging around with us.

I went in for the tongue, but Holly, giggling, pulled away. “Stop. Who’s that?”

I gestured to the Chief. “Head of security. He’s pretending to still be knocked out.”

“Right. Nice to meet you, Chiefster. What about Mobian and Lily?”

“Screw them,” I said, biting her lower lip. She gently pushed me, so I backed away. “Fine. Last I saw, they were going to the garage.”

That’s the name on the marker. The Butler, who I hadn’t seen in a minute, had a longer name for it, but he winked and said, “The garage for short.”

So, still carrying the Chief, we headed toward the garage. We picked up a tail. Some of the guests had left the ballroom by now and figured out something was happening. As we got close, we could make out Lacastra standing with her back to us, a line of guards to her front. All their backs were to us, as well. We had to sneak up on them to hear her declare, “Yes, it was needlessly convoluted; Mickledorn bribed the Laundress, then killed her when she’d finished. The Butler administered the same poison to Mickledown, but every step of separation protected me more, at least until someone decided to kill Mickledorn like that. Your friend the bulging pregnant primate must be some sort of infiltrator.”

“Hold up, I did all that for you and you’re not even grateful?” The Chief asked from my shoulder.

Lacastra turned toward us, as did the faces of the guards. The Mobian and Lily were in front of that group as well, Mobian holding his gadget. At his feet was the body of the Butler, impaled on a sword. I turned so the battered Chief could speak more easily. “You… I did it for you. I murdered that ass Mickledorn when he tried to extort you for more money. I got beat up by this land whale for you!”

“Hey, I can still break whatever your species has for a jaw,” I said.”I’m pregnant and not even that big for being pregnant.” I dropped the Security Chief. “Carry your own beat-up self.”

“Wait, so Lacastra did all this?” Sir Reginald said, rolling up behind us.

“I’ll take my sword back, thank you!” Grurn said. The aristocratic big game hunter started for the body of the Butler. The guards in the way raised their weapons.

“It seems we’re going to make quite a dent in the local gentry,” Lacastra said. “My brother always knew how to throw a party.”

Grurn kept walking. The guards kept their rifles up… but pointed at the rest of us. Grurn grabbed his sword out of the Butler. “I’ll thank you not to dispose of me before the uprising’s over at least, Lacastra?”

“Of course, partner,” she said with a smile, her guards aiming for the rest of us.

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Deals and Breakers 5

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Lily and I crept along the hallway. By now, she was deeply suspicious I wasn’t a regular servant girl. We’d taken an innocuous side door to get out of the ballroom where guests and servants were all being gathered. It was locked, but I finessed it by using my skilled fingers to break the lock with brute strength.

“So, that back there… you’re some sort of cybernetic robo-nanny, is that it? Part maid and part bodyguard?” she asked.

Sure, let’s go with that. “Yeah. Lot more to me than meets the eye. You’re perceptive.”

“Are you from Earth, too?” She stopped, checking behind her.

“Hey!” Someone called out.

Lily started to run, but I grabbed my belly and groaned. I leaned against the wall. She stopped, panicking. “What’s wrong?”

“The baby’s coming! My water broke!” I called out. The pair of guards who approached weren’t human, just humanoid. They had the same general shape, but one was the same sort with skin like a mosaic and another had big teeth and a fuzzy, tapered tail. They slowed as they got close.

“What do we do?” the rodent-like one asked.

The other shook his head. “I don’t know, get a doctor.”

“Down here,” I said, pointing below my legs. “Get a doctor.”

One of them leaned down. I captured his head between my thighs and squeezed, then grabbed the head of the other, the rodent. Him I threw lifted over head and smacked into the hardwood wall behind me. He crumpled to the ground. I then strangled the one between my legs until he passed out.

“Did you kill them?” Lily asked.

“Probably not,” I answered. I looked around and spotted a door that could have been to a closet. Opening it, I found it was a storage closet for taxidermied animals. A couple tied-up guards fit right in with the collection.

“That lot was heavy. I thought they had us there,” Lily said. “You’re pretty good at using that for sympathy.”

I shrugged. “Might as well. None of these guys know what human pregnancy and birth looks like anyway.”

I took the lead, taking us toward the basement. There were some guards posted. I looked around for anything I could use and a covered dish. I lowered it down to my skirt and let ‘er rip in it. “Just follow my lead.”

I turned a corner toward the guards. “Evenin’ gents. Here with dinner.”

The guards looked at each other and barred the door with their polearm-rifles. “Why did they send you two and not the regular staff?”

I acted surprised. “You hadn’t heard? One of the cooks was in on it. Gossipy lady, knows a nurse and something. They don’t trust the domestics, so Lady Snyders of Hanover offered our services.”

“I’ll check that,” one of the guards said. He lifted the cover, then got a waft of the trapped fart. He started coughing. “That smells horrible! Go on through.” He withdrew his polearm-rifle as much to have something to lean on as to give us entry. The other guard followed suit and we made our way downstairs.

“That was something. I don’t know what, but it was something,” Lily commented.

“It got us in. Getting us out won’t be hard.” We headed downstairs up until one gave way underneath me. I pitched forward, grabbed the handrail, and turned it into an uneasy flip, turning around so that when my forward motion followed through, it was my back hitting the wall and not my belly. Lily clung to the stairs further up while the Mobian came out from behind the stairs.

“Oh my, are you alright? I thought I would get a guard, not you. What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Saving you, you pain in the ass,” I backed away from the wall where an old nail had indeed poked out just enough to give me a sharp pain to my butt cheek.

“She’s a bodyguard or something. I couldn’t have got here without her,” Lily said.

The door at the top of the stairs opened. “What’s going on in there?”

“Damn stairs!” I called out. I nodded for Mobian to get into hiding and moved over toward the stairs with, pretending to be laying on my front down in front of the gap. “Owww…”

“Move, get out of the way,” the guard called out. They both came in, pushing Lily aside so they could get to me. One stepped over the gap, then put his polearm-rifle aside to bend over and try helping me up. The other stood on a step just above the one that collapsed. As the one helped me up, I saw Mobian using some device on the underside of the step that the other was on.

“Oh shit!” I called out as I “accidentally” pushed the guard back down the stairs. The one behind me reached out, but the step gave way and he fell through, collapsing onto the hard stone floor of the wine cellar. The one I’d pushed tumbled down, very nearly bonking his head on the nail that got my butt. Instead, he was knocked out on the wall. I begrudgingly checked him over, pressing my fingers to his neck as if to check for a pulse while a native colony of nanomachines transferred over to check his vitals. He had a little bit of an aneurysm they repaired real quick so he’d survive. Meanwhile, the Mobian and Lily struggled with the other guard until Lily knocked him out with a wine bottle to the back of the head that then bounced loose.

“Ok, brilliant job,” I said sarcastically. I stood up and brushed off my dress.

“Is he dead?” Lily asked. “Did I kill him?”

“No,” Mobian and I said at almost the same time. Then he looked to both of us. “Where is everyone?”

“Ballroom,” I said. “Rounding everyone up to be addressed by Morigoth’s sister, something like that.”

“We need to get back there,” Mobian insisted. “If she picks someone as a scapegoat, this could get nasty fast.”

“Fasty, some might say,” I added.

“What do we do? Do we know who did it?” Lily asked.

Mobian shook his head. “I’m not certain. Not yet. But whoever is murdering people, they want someone to think it’s connected to the locals. I saw the luminescence when Morigoth died, indicative of one of the local natural poisons derived from sea plants.”

“The person who was killed, the laundress, they got her with a distinctive local blade,” I said. “That one centaur guy, Mickledorn, he seemed surprised to find out she made it upstairs.”

“No way she did that,” Lily said, shaking her head.

“You think someone posed her there?” Mobian said. “But why?”

I answered that one. “So I could see if anyone was surprised she’d made it up there. Anyone else would just know she crawled up there. The killer, or a witness like Lily who saw it happen, would know that’s impossible. I figured it’d rattle them, give a reaction.”

“And?” Mobian asked.

I shrugged. “Mickledorn’s the only one I’ve seen with that reaction, but they don’t let me into the hobnobber groups here. Kept the staff and guests separate in the ballroom.”

“Let’s get up there. We won’t learn anything sitting around in a wine cellar,” Mobian said. “We should check Mickledorn’s room,” Mobian suggested. It was awkward getting back upstairs with so many of them out of commission, but we didn’t have to figure out a way past the guards anymore. We opened the door and got out of there, heading toward the rooms. I’d left a marker by Mickledorn’s. It sounded like there was enough excitement elsewhere to hide our approach.

“Gecko, where are you?” called Holly through our communicators. “Something’s wrong. Someone’s dead.”

“What?” I held my finger to my ear. “Did they execute someone, or…?”

We turned a corner toward Mickledorn’s room and ran into a rather large crowd of poofy-sleeved security guards with their polearm-rifles.

“I got this. They don’t know humans, right?” Lily said. She stepped in front of us and growled. “Out of our way, or I’ll burn you with my fire breath!”

I facepalmed.

Some of the guards raised the polearms, stocks and barrels withdrawing to make usable rifles, but immediately one of them with a sash draped over his shoulders pushed the barrels down. “Mobian, Lady Lacastra asks for your aid.”

Mobian brushed off his cuffs and stepped in front of us. “That’s good to hear. What changed your mind?”

The guard nodded toward the door to Mickledorn’s room. “Shortly after he finished speaking with the Lady in the ballroom, Mickledorn was killed. The lights went off briefly, and when they came back up, he was bleeding out all over the ballroom floor.” He looked to Lily and me as well. “These two were with you?”

“Yes, they were coming to get me. So that makes us three the only guests who couldn’t have done it. Other than the guards, of course.”

That rankled the guard, I could tell. “We do our duty to House Morigoth.”

“Oh do you?” Mobian asked. “So we have three dead people because you were doing your duty?”

The lead guard had to hold those rifle barrels down. Then he looked past us. “Lady.”

We turned to see a well-dressed gray-skinned alien with black hair approaching in a pale blue gown. She looked us over. “I am Lacastra.”

The Mobian once again pushed to the forefront. “I’m the Mobian, but you know that because we met briefly. My companion Lily,” he gestured to Lily. “And, uh,” he was at a loss for me.

“Delilah, servant of Lady Snyders of Hanover,” I answered.

Lacastra’s eyes flicked down to my belly briefly. “Right now, you are the only ones I can trust.” I could hear the rankling. “Come with me, let’s look into Mickledorn’s room. Perhaps you can tell me why my late cousin was killed.”

“How he was killed would also be useful,” I said as we moved past the guards into the bedroom of the dead centaur.

“He was killed with an enameled quill,” Lacastra said. “There is a type of fish that lives in the coral shallows, adorned with hardened quills from the coral they eat. The quills are used in various local weapons, including blow guns and concealed daggers.”

The room was messy, but well-carpeted. What confused me was the horse-guy-alien had so many spare sets of hooves. “What’s with these?” They looked just like his hooves, but more of them.

“Spares,” Lacastra answered as if that was enough. I bent down to see inside, then reached a hand in. They had a place to hold.

“He had hands in these things?” I asked.

“Yes,” Mobian confirmed. “His species don’t like to walk on their hands, though. It’s dirty, so when they walk on fours, they keep those spare shoes around. It’s hard to go around on two legs on a planet like this, but they can do it. They keep a pair of their front hands when situations require them to walk on those as well.”

“There!” Lily pointed toward a blanket hanging off the bed. “That’s the cloak worn by the person with the sword who killed the laundress!”

“So he hid under a blanket, walking on two legs to hide it, in case anyone saw him,” Mobian said. “But where’s the sword he used?”

“This didn’t take long to wrap up,” Lacastra said, even though we still had a weapon to search for. “I’ll have the guards start looking.”

I called Lily and Mobian together. “You know this is convenient, right?”

“There’s usually nothing especially complex about murder,” Mobian said. “Especially over long-lost love.”

“Yeah, but then who killed Mickledorn?” Lily asked.

Mobian broke the huddle to walk over toward a shady corner of the room, a sitting area with a small bookshelf all its own. Some of the books were on there unevenly and he pulled them loose. “Look at this…”

It was a pouch of some sea grass, a pale white one with beads of red fluid on it. “That could be our poison.”

“I feel like this is wrapping up. I’m almost embarrassed I had to call on your help now,” Lacastra said. She glanced at the door where her guards stood watch.

“Holly,” I didn’t vocalize the message where I was in case they heard, but it came through clearly in Holly’s ear. “I think this is a big setup, and it’s getting clearer to me who’s pulling the strings. Keep an eye out in there. Watch the guards, especially, but if you saw anyone else close to Lacastra especially.”

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