Category Archives: 100. Reckoning

One-hundred. Reckoning.

The one-hundredth piece of our story sees Psycho Gecko dealing with the past and herself and all the mess parts of trying to redeem one’s self.

Reckoning 9

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Of course I’m alive. I woke up in a hospital wing, my HUD blinking 11:59 like a smartass and showing my location was being in the Exemplar base. Li’s the one that took debris to the brain, severing my connection. My consciousness reverted to my main body, which had transformed into Reindeer. As usual, my consciousness was pushed aside. I didn’t have a camera on Reindeer on this time. And the Flyer’s trashed. The good news is that more than 50% of it made it through the portal. Not in one piece, but neither was Li. Reindeer got me out, though.

This must have done a number on my reputation. Failed to kill a target, got all visibly emotional in public, ran from some perfectly killable Justice Rangers… people are going to start talking. The first thing they’re going to say is, “Aha! Gecko’s alive after all!” so that also makes it harder to stay on the down low.

Some of that I figured out from contemplation, and other parts were mentioned to me by the doctor who showed up to check on me. “You slept a little more than usual, but you weren’t in a coma. You’re uninjured. Do you feel any pain or discomfort?”

“Not comfortable with having my inner turmoil flaunted in public like that,” I mentioned.

“I’m only here for the physical problems,” the doctor said. He turned back to the door. “Speaking of, Medusa wants to see you. I have declined as she is not a family member. Would you like me to let her see you?”

I shook my head.

“You got it. She will see you when you’re discharged, though.” The doctor checked me over, looked at my chart, and all that. He started to open my eyelids and shine a flashlight into my eyes, before shaking his head and stopping.

“What’s the news, doc? Am I ever gonna dance again, or do these guilty feet got no rhythm?” I asked, voice no louder than a careless whisper.

“Could you dance before?” the doctor asked, scribbling things on a chart.

“I was a maniac at the macarena.”

“Well, you’ll have plenty of time to macarena out of here. Congratulations, you’re discharged. Director, you can come in!” The doctor called.

“Frell my cock off!” I cursed, only to be surprised by a guy in a uniform with a big E symbol on it.

“Medusa had to run. She had to take care of a secret fracking operation. I’m Eric. She’s asked me to arrange for your transport back to Radium.”

I pumped my fist. “Fracking, fuck yeah!”

“You don’t want to qualify that at all?” asked the Doctor.

I shook my head again. “Nah, I’m fine with it.

I didn’t really have clothes, still going all naked in my armor. Reindeer would have shredded any I was wearing and nearly trashed my armor, so they provided some clothes. Eric there seemed pretty understanding of the situation as he led me to the hangar. “Gotta get old, being stuck here like some sort of military operation, then having to chauffeur me around.”

“Many of us have nowhere else to go and chose to follow her, or are dedicated to the cause,” he said, totally not sounding like part of a cult. Totally. I wondered where they do the crazy sex stuff, but he interrupted me by continuing on. “I don’t mind flying you. You would cause more trouble on your own.”

I rolled my eyes. “Pure slander.”

“You stole the doctor’s wallet. I’d like that back, by the way,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Fine… old habit,” I said, handing him the wallet while slipping his into one of my new pockets.

“Come on, let’s get you back home and away from good people,” he said.

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “I hate you, you judgmental asshole.”

At least he didn’t try to force conversation the whole flight back to Radium and dumping me off on my front lawn with nothing but the clothes on my back and a suit of power armor capable of stopping a medium-sized army on a bad day.

Yep… back home… just deciding to live with not killing the bastard who had my parents killed, had me abducted, tortured me, taught me to hurt and kill people under pain of death, and ordered me around as his own personal hitman. He needs to pay… he really needs to pay. But I guess it’s not going to be me.

There wasn’t a huge welcome back from Qiang, because this whole thing was much less dramatic from her perspective. So instead, I spent some time in the basement, designing a new Flyer to build and looking back over at my plans for Li II and the perfect body. Li II wouldn’t be it, after all. There’s so many supers out there, so many powers. But I’m getting tired of all this back and forth, so I should prioritize movement powers. That moves a couple of supers to the top of my list. I had time to come up with a plan.

I also had time for the news. The news in 2020 is so fucked that I was barely a blip on the radar, but news came from the other world of my apparent return from the dead. Or I came out of hiding. With Lulios’s brief stint of public celebrity over here, the ensuing drama held some people’s attention. The stuff about the Psychopomp project was deeply embarrassing to the government he worked for and was a betrayal to all those people who touted him as progressive. Because it wasn’t just that he did this, but that he’d hid it for so long. He’s looking at imprisonment.

There was some neat stuff in there about the Justice Rangers. People who thought they’d gotten a bit too militant were up in arms over how they’d treated the situation. They’d known about it and kept it under wraps, even kidnapped Lulios to lure me out and kill me. Even past Rangers and alternate Ranger teams are coming out against that bunch. Weird. I don’t really expect people to call for justice on my behalf. Maybe they learned something. Wish I could have. Oh, wait, not true.

I learned that pretty much no one filming the memorial park fight caught me turning into Reindeer. Luck was on my side there. That could have ruined my reputation. And, if I’m going to be honest here, that’s not only me wanting to avoid having people think I could be a hero. I don’t think Reindeer was right about that. I’m no hero. Too broken for that. But it protected Reindeer’s reputation. The only reason the weredeer has a shot is because nobody knows she’s me. Almost a shame she can’t come out more. She and I could make a great team.

But this tumultuous little chapter in my life just wouldn’t be complete without Medusa. She sent me a text that she was coming over, so I waited. She came, like she said she would. She opened up the door to the basement and there I was, sitting in a chair facing the other direction.

“So, you thought you could just walk into my lair?” I asked, swiveling the chair around while stroking a cat.

“I expect you to talk, Gecko,” she said.

“No, Medusa, you expect me to whine!” I tossed the cat, a fuzzy grey and black striped thing at her.

She caught it, then looked surprised. “You got a real cat?” She dropped it once it started to shift and change, though it didn’t fall too far.

“Huh, not as tall as I expected,” I said, looking up at her from the body of the catgirl in front of her. I looked back down, getting a sense of it. Yep, a foot shorter than I thought I’d be. Plus the sound…

“You found some cat shifter super to steal DNA from now?” asked Medusa. There it was, weird getting used to sound with these bigass ears. I could hear stuff in the walls. I think I even heard Qiang stealing a snack from the refrigerator.

I shook my head, both as an answer to Medusa and to draw myself back to the conversation at hand. “No, I stole some unrelated DNA from a woman in Vegas, thought I might adapt it.”

“So now I’m dating Catwoman,” she laughed.

I reached up and popped my claws, then poked her on the end of her nose. I was gentle enough not to draw blood. “Listen up… you know the story now, don’t you? The man you protected, what he did?”

She nodded. “I didn’t know all that. I honestly wasn’t sure your stories about your childhood were real.”

Well, that got some blood boiling in me, but I calmed down. “I can see that, I guess. I’ve certainly lied enough, said all kinds of nonsense to get sympathy. Holy shit, this tongue is weird.” I reached into my mouth to start rubbing the tongue, which also lead to me licking my paw pads. There was a lot to get used to on this body and I meant this conversation to go differently than Medusa looking on enviously at my rough tongue. “But,” I stopped, pointing a finger at her again. “Even if you thought I was lying, I told you to stop. You didn’t know that was him then, did you?”

“No, but I had been asked by the Rangers to help look after him on this world. I thought I was saving his life. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it, but would you rather I punched you?”

I was not amused. “Yeah, punching me is something I’m used to you doing. We’ve fought and we’ve sparred. It might even seem a little backwards to you, but I draw the line at what you did. So we’re through.”

“Do you still love me?” she asked, looking into my cat eyes. It was dawning on her I was serious about this.

I sighed, which came out way cuter as a catgirl. “I don’t know how I feel about you right now. You violated a huge part of my trust to help someone who hurt me deeply. You hurt me in a similar way. I’ve killed people for doing that to me and nothing else. I’m not going to kill you, though. I don’t entirely understand why, but I guess a part of myself wants to be better. If that’s even what being better means. But if I’m going to be a person worthy of love, then I’m going to be a person worthy of respect, and if you aren’t going to respect my boundaries, then I’m going to make sure I can respect myself. So go.” I pointed off up the stairs behind her.

She was chastened. Saddened, even. I just felt weird. Like, this wasn’t about retaliation or revenge or that weird sense of righteous injustice I feel from time to time when staring into the eyes of a terrible person. This felt like an internal shoulder pat. Like I’d stood up for myself in a way I don’t when I’m killing people for petty reasons.

When we reached the door, I told her, “If you need us to move, I’m sure I can manage something. I’ll even leave Radium if you want.”

“No,” she said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a keyring. After a bit of fiddling with it, she handed over a couple of identical keys. “These are to the house. I meant that this place should become a safe haven. I guess I’ll… see you when I see you.”

“See you, Medusa,” I told her, shutting the door as she turned away. I turned and pressed my back to it, sinking down, somehow changing back into a cat while I tried to process the subtly gutpunch of the breakup.

This time, the happy ending means not getting the girl.

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Reckoning 8

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My target: General Lulios, the prime asshole. The guy who started me on this path in life, as I’ve done nothing but blather about for the past month. That confrontation in Nunuvat was the last time Medusa and I spoke in all this and I got more detail about the situation when she dropped him off. I assume he’ll have protection.

I really should speak to Medusa again. No, I shouldn’t. She’s the one who kept going when I said not to. And she’s the one who didn’t seem to understand the importance of justice for what that bastard did to me. I want to speak with her again because she means something to me and because I’m in desperate need of a companion to pour my heart out too. But damn, I should have dated a friend instead of an enemy.

Max is still a friend, we’re just not like that. Even if… nah, still a friend. “I’m thankful you saved me, and I value our friendship,” he told me when I started planning the invasion of an alternate Earth, “But I can’t join you in this.”

I stopped and looked up at him. Sam and Holly flanked him and looked just as certain in the decision as he did. I sighed and got to a stopping point before responding. “Fine. Can’t force you. I hope we can still work together going forward.”

He shrugged. “You could just hang sometime. I’m still your friend, but this is a suicide mission.”

“Don’t know what you mean. It’s me, after all. Not the first time I’ve taken on the world.”

Sam decided to join in, “Technically it’s two worlds who oppose you killing this dude.”

“I can’t let him get away with what he did just because people like him now. It’s not right for folks to dismiss all the bad shit he did.”

Holly surprised me next. “But then you’d have to justify a need to punish yourself for all the bad things you did that weren’t his fault, and it almost comes across like this is an elaborate suicide-by-cop like you used to want.”

Max stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder to draw my attention back up and toward him. My gaze had drifted down as I pondered Holly’s words, not tried to hide from them and any inconvenient tinge of truth in them. “You don’t have to do this. We can help. You can do more of the therapy you quit or take the medication you stopped.”

I turned back to my work. “Y’all might want to get out of here before I finish this D-Bomb and zip on over there.”

They left, looking all sad at the thought that I wasn’t giving up on this vendetta. The gall, bringing up my mental problems. They should know my brain is ok now. I have a computer in there, a psychic superhero did stuff to it, and then aliens played around with it. My brain is perfectly fine! And so what if I die? They think it’s a matter of suicide. I buried hatchets and ended feuds because my daughter was worth living for. This vengeance is worth dying for. The world would still martyr him, but he would be dead. He belongs to the dead. Every future of everyone he had tortured and murdered in his sick Psychopomp program, every “what if” that could have been, they all cry out for a reckoning.

I am the Psychopomp. I am his final reckoning.

And by my reckoning, they have way too big a shitload of firepower at the portal to the other Earth for my liking. My drone shouldn’t have gotten through in the first place. Maybe they still could. Maybe I’m being overly paranoid. Maybe I’m a lot of things. Maybe I’m suicidal and crazy and alone without a community and friends after a lifetime of being the monster to everybody around me. I can’t fix it. No one can fix it, not without time travel. All that’s left is revenge.

Nobody left to miss me but Qiang and Max. And after that little bit earlier, why skimp on the brutal honesty? They’d get over it.

So, back at the house, I told Qiang I had something real important to do and I might be late getting back to Firecat for supper. I took her down to the basement for a laydown. Just before I pulled back, I heard Medusa calling a greeting. She called me while I was checking things over. Operating so closely out of two bodies was going to be hard enough. I didn’t need to forget stuff, too. Not a lot to forget though. It’s Li and my main body in its armor in a Psycho Flyer, with a big o’ bomb in the transport hold that’ll tear a hole in reality. I didn’t have time to bring Firecat, and the other body I put together died from where I left it. Whoops. At least it didn’t have a consciousness in it, but it just goes to show the importance of feeding and watering your spare bodies. Remember that down, kiddos.

And after all that, I get a call from her. I didn’t pick up, so I get a text. “Please, let’s talk.” I’d sooner celebrate that day’s Independence Day.

I was going to do the mean thing and tell her we could talk if I survived, but it was time to be professional again. Professionalism: be polite, be efficient, have a plan to kill everyone you meet. I blocked her, closed and sealed the Psycho Flyer, activated stealth mode, and detonated the Dimension Bomb.

Every damn time I do one of these with just myself, it tosses me through the Universe Divide into my original universe and this time was no different. And it always dumps me at the site of my original exit from the world, which my would-be victims at first turned into a memorial of my cruelty and victims. Upon my return and their realization I’m not dead, they fortified it. Then it became the site of the permanent portal connection these two universes. Meaning even though I bypassed the defenses on one side of this, I still appeared only a little off the ground in an area full of sensors and guns meant to keep me out.

Alarms went off immediately upon reappearing in reality. I gunned the Flyer and dropped chaff, then almost immediately had to bank upward to escape the wall around the area portal zone. I felt impacts and the panel showed damaged armor plating falling off from where something got me before I got clear of the wall. After that, I was free and clear. They didn’t seem to have so many guns and cannons pointed outward, and stealth mode seemed to protect me so long as I stayed low enough.

I parked on a hill overlooking the nearby city to reach out and see what I could see. Not literally; the morning light was as unwelcome to my cybernetic eyes as it had always been. I went digital.

The news was abuzz with recent revelations. The Justice Rangers had kidnapped General Lulios to use as bait to kill Psycho Gecko. Hey, I’ve heard of that person. And while many of the people seemed outraged, others sided with the Rangers all the more after Lulios told them why. He actually told them about Psychopomp. About kidnapping me and other kids to torture and abuse into the government’s expendable and deniable pet killers. About how the bigotry of he and his fellow soldiers caused the project to degenerate into sadism. He even told them about the scientists trying to break some of us out and dying when we were all caught. He was currently locked in public stockade in the middle of a memorial park to fallen Justice Rangers. That would mean Justice Ranger guards, but they’re mainly there to keep him in.

It was late afternoon when I snuck the Flyer in close and dropped out of there with my main body. I recalled some of the clothing I used to wear and my holographic illusion made me appear to be no different than another person there to look at the great general brought low. Most people maintained a good distance, but nobody minded when I stepped up closer to Lulios. “Why’d you come clean?”

“It was the right thing to do. I truly wish to make amends for what I did to Gecko and my responsibility for everyone he terrorized since,” he said. He coughed. Dude’s head was dirty, with some dried plant matter and seeds in his hair.

Be efficient. That’s what I was supposed to do. Move in and kill, then worry about talking. It was a great plan, and seeing him overrode it. I stepped closer to the stockade. A blackguard stepped up to put a hand on my shoulder. I grabbed him by the arm and threw him into his comrade on the other side of the stocks. Then I took hold of the metal stock and pulled, my armor amplifying the force applied by my muscles. After a long moment of strain, something let out a wiry snap and the stock opened. Lulios tried to stand up but fell on his ass while I approached, dropping the illusion and letting them all see my armor.

“You had to know this was coming,” I told him. Behind me, most of the gathered crowd decided it was a good day for a run in any direction but toward me.

Except one young woman. She started toward us until Lulios raised a hand and yelled, “Stay back!” He lowered his voice as he looked up at my helmet. “It doesn’t make it any less scary.”

“Any last words?” I asked. Behind me, the two blackguards had gotten to their feet. One called in backup while the other advanced on me from behind with a rifle aimed squarely at my head. I snapped my armor’s tail, knocking the rifle free, then wrapped it around his waist and threw him at the other man. They both crashed into an old statue nearby of the first yellow ranger. The woman from before was still there and pulled out a stunrod. Think baton that electrocutes someone.

“Please don’t harm my daughter,” Lulios said, nodding toward that woman.

I cocked my head to the side. “You really think I’d do that? That I’d take out my vengeance both on you and your child? What do you think I am, some kind of monster?” He almost looked relieved before I added, “Well I am, thanks to you.”

I was about to put my fist through his chest when I felt weird. Tingly. I looked around for what was causing my hair to rise on end and saw a moon in the afternoon sky. A full moon. I thought that was supposed to be for the 5th, but…

Quickly, hoping this would work, I jumped into the Li body in the Flyer. It’s still basically transmitted from my brain, but I was able to fall asleep in on ebody and keep going in another, so maybe whatever freaky neuroscience was going on would save me from the transformation. I opened the door to the Flyer to see my main body cry out in pain and pull itself free of my armor. Lulios backed away, his daughter rushing to his side to help him escape. They jumped at the sight of antlers spurting out of my head and my face elongating.

I jumped down in Li and raced for the group. If I’d just been efficient, this wouldn’t be a cluster in the fuckening. The pair got a little ways away from my transforming body before I caught up to them in the other one. I pounced… and stopped in midair before swinging around in a circle a few times and getting thrown down a grassy aisle between rows of statues. I gouged divots in the grass where I dug claws in to stop myself and snapped my jaws at Reindeer standing between me and my targets.

“Play 911 by Lady Gaga,” Reindeer said. My armor, laying mostly in one piece, began to blast it out. Reindeer launched herself toward me, then dug her heels in and skid while grabbing a statue of some beetle-armored person off its pedestal and throwing it at me. I ducked under it and wrapped my tail around it, swing it down low. I hopped up and released, throwing it right back. Even if Reindeer dodged it, Lulios wouldn’t have.

Reindeer jumped up over the statue and kicked down, knocking it into the dirt. It rolled, but stopped short of Lulios and his daughter.

“How’d I know we’d end up fighting?” I asked Reindeer.

“We don’t have to, but I’m you and you hate yourself still. Look, justice is being done. Lulios’s crimes are public. He was in a stockade. You won.”

“Not until he has his final punishment,” I growled at Reindeer.

“You can’t live in a world without mercy and forgiveness,” Reindeer said. “I know you don’t care for your own sake, but the reason you hate me and him and yourself is because you think a person can’t change and move past their earlier mistakes, because you don’t think you deserve that.”

As fun as it was to talk to myself, and it wasn’t, I scampered forward and swiped at Reindeer’s calves. She backed up, lifting her legs high, then caught my tail when it came around to pop her in the face. She landed and used my tail to swing me overhead, smacking me into a marble fresco depicting some Queen of Magic person. I grabbed onto it and dug in, then used my tail to fling Reindeer into the air. I activated the natural camoflouge of this form and rolled back, bringing my tail’s point up to impale Reindeer. I remembered at the last minute who Reindeer was, though, and instead batted her to the side, cracking a depiction of a little robot with an oversized head.

Reindeeer jumped to her hooves quickly enough, but was coughing thanks to the impact and some dust from pulverized stone. It gave me enough of an opening to remember why I was there. Reindeer had me seeing red, when I should be making someone see black.

“Do you want your daughter to grow up knowing if she wrongs you once, you’ll kill her?!” Reindeer called.

That stopped me from advancing on Lulios. I whirled on the weredeer that takes over my body once a month. “How dare you?”

“I’m you, you fuckbrain,” Reindeer said. “I’ve always been you, just the side that finally tried to do what we always wanted. You have a shot at a new identity and a new life, everything you claim to want, if only you can find a way. He took that away from you, but you don’t have to be the monster he made anymore. You are responsible for your own actions now, and nobody deserves to live in a world where one mistake means death. That’s not what we want for our child.”

I was silently brooding on all this, awash in emotions. Many of them involved anger. “I’m scared,” I told myself.

Reindeer approached, wrapping her arms around me. “I know. We’ll find a way to do the right thing. You’re smart and you’re strong. For all that she’s messed up, Medusa was right that you’re a person worth forgiveness and love. If you want it, and I know you do. All you’ve ever wanted was to be the good gal.” Her voice raised as she called out to Lulios, “I’m not going to be the creature you saw when you justified killing my parents and abducting me. I’m not your child soldier anymore, you husk of an old man!”

Reindeer kept her arm around me as she gathered up my armor. More blackguards were approaching, but so was the current Ranger team. “Stop!”

“The fight’s over… we’ll leave in peace,” Reindeer said.

“Get on the ground!” called the same Blue Ranger I’d beaten back on my Earth.

“Well, if you’re going to be dipshits about this, we’ll just leave!” Reindeer called out. We both jumped for it. They fired at us, but the only blast that got close, I intercepted with my tail before it got Reindeer. With Reindeer leaping and me climbing straight up the side, we managed our way up the building I’d landed on and scrambled into the Psycho Flyer.

“I wish you’d been less suicidal when you came here,” she said. “Would have been nice to have another bomb to get us back.”

“Looks like we’re taking this right up the portal’s poop shoot, then” I said. “Hey, you’re not going to insist I have to forgive Medusa next, are you?”

“I’m lost on that, too. I’m you, remember? She lost our trust and we’ll have to figure out what’s up going forward, but we weren’t going to kill her over it at least,” she said. “We both tried to hop into the pilot’s seat for a moment, causing a chuckle and me swapping into the co-pilot’s chair while Reindeer zipped off for the portal “I think they know we’re here and where we’re going, so let’s speed this up, shall we?” Reindeer said.

I used hands and tail to man battlestations “All tails on deck. We’re a little short on countermeasures from getting here.”

One of the first signs of resistance we encountered was a pair of missiles that blasted apart easily when shot. But the wreckage didn’t fall. Instead, little robots flew out of the wreckage. Some latched on as we passed through and began to cut and dig their way into the metal. One got onto the cockpit windshield, so I activated a different countermeasure. The windshield wipers slid out. The robot tried to duel with one, but it moved back and the one behind it swept its feet. Then the one it tried to fight knocked it around a bit before the robot dropped off the Flyer. Others were taking down more armor plates and putting enough dents in the adaptive skin and projectors to expose us in patches. I unstrapped and ran to the back, tying a cable around my waist and opening the rear hatch.

I swung out and around, grabbing for a handhold on the side of the Flyer. It was not fun, but I had some divots premade by those robots. One with the misfortune to be near where I grabbed one got sent off. I stabbed another with my tail. Really liking this thing. A hell of a learning curve, but humanity made a mistake when it got rid of this appendage. Another of the robots tried hopping onto me and bringing its sawblade down on the armor over my spine. I twisted one arm completely around and flicked it off. Ball joints. Another thing humans got wrong when evolving.

I spent the entire rest of the flight to the portal zone on the outside, trying not to get blown off while destroying saboteur bots. I didn’t end up having time to clamber back in, and Reindeer had to mostly shut the rear entry. “Hold on tight!” she called out through the external comms and took us right for the portal we shouldn’t have been trying with that big of a vehicle. We crashed through the awning, ions and all sorts of energy projectiles sizzling through the air. One popped me right in the chest, destroying one of my hearts. Good thing I had a spare. Except in all the crashing through the awning, we had shit flying everywhere. The Flyer was just sliding through the portal when a hunk of jagged metal jammed down and-

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Reckoning 7

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We set up base back at my shop in Radium. If Medusa and Lulios got out, I doubt they’re working with the rangers. It’d be rough on them even if they escaped. The call was coming from this side of the portal, but it’s way up there in year-round pointy nipple territory. The frozen north. Nunuvat. Google Earth doesn’t have any photos of that particular spot on the mountain, but some borrowed satellites show a military base there with huge hangers where they’re housing something big. Knowing the Rangers, it’s a giant robot. There are so many giant robots with those guys. I don’t even know what they do with the ones they stop using. I thought back to the uniforms of the Blue and Yellow I’d seen so far. There’s always a theme, but the main thing that stands out to me is all the circles on Blue’s uniform. Yellow had some distinctive marks on their outfit, but it was more like greater than or less than signs. I hope the theme isn’t math.

I’m avoiding my house so far in case they go on the offensive. Max thought some time away from Vegas would do him some good, too. Give him a chance to regroup. Sam and Holly were happy not to be cooped up anymore.

“Who needs killing this time?” Max asked me while I wiped down the interior of my armor. He was grabbing some of the merchandise off the shelf to supplement the lab equipment he had with him.

“General Lulios, as always,” I said.

“Not forgiving him, then?” Max asked. I felt less humor in the question.

“Some things can’t be forgiven, and that goes for me, too. What he did to me and what I did in turn, none of that just washes away. The dead deserve better.” I finished with the armor and let it hang up to dry. Then, I decided to check out the bombmaker’s bin over in the corner. You know, for budding interior decorators.

Max patted me on the shoulder as he passed by, uncharacteristic even for him. “You could have changed it, that time you and the Mobian were in your past. There’s still something valuable about this life.”

I stopped rifling around for timers and tried to think how best to word a response. I was not happy at him bringing this up. “I was a coward and the best thing for everyone would have been for me to stop it right then. I won’t chicken out of justice again.”

“Are you going to kill yourself?” he asked bluntly.

“No,” I said.

“Then this is about revenge, not justice,” he said. “You can recognize there’s value in your life. He hurt you and wronged you. I’m not saying it’s wrong to pursue revenge against him. It’s just… well, killing is always more fun if you don’t consider the ethical quandaries.”

“Ha! Yeah. Besides, if he was as sorry as he claimed to be, he’d have fessed up on the other Earth,” I added. “Now can we stop talking about all this? You’re reminding me of Medusa. And no, I’m not forgiving her either.”

It was his turn to laugh. “I won’t comment then.”

Without any more to go on than the coordinates of the base the Rangers were at, I figured that would be a good place to hit. Clear that annoying third party out of the way and allow Lulios and I to settle things mano a womano. At least Lulios seems to recognize the need for us to finish things between us, even if he knows the general details of how that story goes.

That’s why I built such a lovely bomb. It could level a small building, so it might come in handy against some of the base’s defenses. The bio-force grid the Rangers use tends to bleed off excess energy too efficiently to hope this would disable the robot they’ve got there, but I feel like I can take it in my armor. I really have grown a lot since I came to this other Earth.

Speaking of growing things, Firecat doesn’t seem to have any health issues whatsoever. Neither does the basement body. I need a name for that one. I can’t call it the Ultimate Form just yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. I practiced using it while I was here. Speeding along, exoskeleton protecting all my sensitive bits. Yeah, I made the thing fully functional. Slightly more than fully functional, one might say. What’s the whole point of being able to exceed the limits of the human form if a woman can’t have a couple of girldicks ribbed for a partner’s pleasure?

Throw in some kidneys so efficient I’ll never get hungover, perfect 360 degree vision, and all the space I saved on intestines, and we’re looking at a pretty awesome body. That just happens to look like an H.R. Giger painting. Oooh! I’ll call it Li after one of those. There was a Li II, and that can be what the perfected version is.

Li was fun to take on a run. Faster, stronger, with muscles that don’t tire and nostrils that make sure I’m never gasping for air. Max even liked it! He just put it in polite terms to hide his enthusiasm. Things like “Not have any visible eyes is freaky-looking.”

I, in Li, shrugged. “I was going to bring back the human nictitating membrane, but then I figured I should make the eyes even more secure. So now I have ten, all with amazing vision, all hidden and protected.”

Max cupped his chin in his hand, thinking. “Do you have a way to expel fluids?”

“Oh boy, do I!” I said, standing up and sliding the armored crotch plate down. Behind me, Holly and Sam walked in and stopped.

Holly cocked her head to the side. “What am I looking at here?”

“A dream I’ve had before,” Sam said.

“Nonetheless, I meant something different,” Max went on. “For chemical weapons. Perhaps we should focus on the task at hand.”

Sigh. “Fine, fine,” I shifted the plate back into place.

The raid began at dawn. Not that dawn, fuck you, that was too soon. The next one, though, I bounded across the snow up the mountain. The Li form didn’t mind the cold and interior insulation protected the nanites flowing through its veins from being negatively affected. From my veins. This is my body, and my skin flowed with the terrain, mimicking the snow. I stopped at the edge of the rise to reassess the situation. I was going to come in from the north. Max, Sam, and Holly were in the Psycho Flyer to the east of the base, with Holly flying and Sam smoking something Max made her to keep herself steady while flying. I shifted the pouch on me and the EMP spikes, because I didn’t build that into this body. I’ll need a way to protect my perfect from that weakness in the future. Maybe I should just implant my brain?

Questions for later. I put on some mood music, a band called Brighter Than A Thousand Suns covering the song Monster. I raced out onto the relatively flat, open area on the top of the mountain, trying to see just how far I could go. Blew my normal body away even though it was enhanced. I might count as having low level superspeed like this. Something noticed me, though. I saw the towers rise from the corners of the wall before I heard the alarm. The square tops opened up to reveal cannons that fired plasma at me. One missed, throwing up steam as it melted the snow.

The other winged me, giving me a chance to see how this body held up to the shot. The insulation protected my organs. I felt the heat, but not the pain you’d normally get. Nerves patterned after my armor’s energy sheathes redirected much of the energy to an internal battery made possible by improving on the design of the intestine. I flipped my tail up to aim at the turret. The tail opened with a three-way split and a crimson laser shot out. The beam cut into the protective shield on the left side of the turret barrel, but lasted long enough for me to sweep it over and get a little lick on the weapon itself.

Note to self: Li II needs built-in aim assist on the tail. Just a little dot, telling me where the tail is aiming when I ready the laser.

The whole thing was a success in resilience and firepower. Now I just had survive the barrage of deadly superheated plasma that, thankfully, got less and less accurate the closer I got to the wall where they couldn’t aim so easily. And that took hardly any time at all. One second, the cannon that tagged me lost track of me against the base of the wall. The next, I was up there, clawing its barrel off and leaping to the other tower to toss in the bomb I’d built. It was a star patterned fortress, with a turret at each angle. It took a minute to work my way through those turrets, but I didn’t have to get as many when Holly came in with the Flyer and blasted the eastern and southern ones to smithereens.

The Flyer laid down some more cover for me. Max dropped some fog from the back that engulfed the area inside the base’s walls. He’d immunized me to it so I, unlike everyone else, wouldn’t get disoriented and lose track of which direction I’m going. I saw more of those black-clad guards with their pseudo-Ranger armor, the ones I’d taken to thinking of as the Blackguard, stumble their way around. It was too easy. After sending the first few flying, it didn’t even seem like a challenge. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but these guys might as well have been rent-a-cops with nothing more than a heavy flashlight to defend themselves. Their rifles, more plasma-based weaponry, were nothing next to the light, healed burns of the turrets.

All at once, the fog was pulled in one direction. I turned toward it and saw the field clear up and four Justice Rangers walking out of a building marked “Command”. The mist disappeared into a funnel-barreled gun held by a white-clad ranger whose armor had a cloud pattern. He posed as he finished. “You’re through, monster!”

“Did Psycho Gecko send you?” called the Blue Ranger.

I laughed. “I am that merry traveler of the night.”

“You are creeping me out,” Yellow said.

The last of the four was in a shiny silver outfit that was blinding in even the dying light. That one, whose costume had a skirt, chipped in with, “Hope you don’t mind a cold reception!” She held a gun that looked like the White Ranger’s, but she used it to fire cold wind and small spears of ice at me. I knocked aside some, but rushed forward regardless of the ones that hit me. They weren’t stronger than the turrets.

I was among them in no time, concentrating on the Silver Ranger. A swipe drew sparks from her costume as it sent her flying. Behind me, Yellow pulled a wand or pinwheel or something. It had a handle and a guard, but there were a lot of metal sunflowers placed along a backing that came up from the handle. When they started to rotate, it looked more like a chainsaw sword. When I turned to her, that’s when the Blue Ranger circled around behind me. White Ranger checked on Silver.

Yellow swung at me. I tried to grab the sword, but instead she raked it over my chest, the exoskeleton protecting me from the pain of a boob punch. I whipped my tongue out, the prehensile muscle wrapping around where the top sunflower connected to the back and pulling it out of her hand. Blue charged from behind and my tail wrapped around his neck. I gave it a little squeeze, as a treat, before slamming him over my head onto Yellow.

“I’ve got to use it!” I heard Silver Ranger declare. She was running for the hangar building my Flyer was shooting up.

“It’s not ready!” White Ranger called after her.

I heard Sam laughing over the radio as she called “Yeah, get some!” in time to the bursts of fire from the Flyer’s guns.

Suddenly, a whole lot more Flyers materialized in the air surrounding the base. Sam’s fire petered out as she noticed them, too. “Uh, should we engage?” asked Holly

“This is the Exemplars! Everyone, stand down. There’s no more need for violence!” Medusa’s voice boomed out of the Exemplar’s Flyers.

Privately, I got a text message. “Is that u?” It was Medusa.

I waved up at them the same time I texted back. “Yep.”

“Gecko,” Medusa announced out loud. “I can honestly say that’s an amazing thing you’ve done. But you can stop now. You don’t have to be the monster they’re convinced you are. You’re better than that. You’re better than them.”

“You’re a freak and now you look it,” the Blue Ranger said. I still had my tail around his neck, so I picked him up and pulled him closer.

“Plz, ther’s nuthin left 2 prove,” Medusa texted. It would be so much more dramatic if she spelled everything out.

I grinned. It must have scared Blue to see me happy. He started grabbing at the tail more, trying to slip out. I pulled an EMP spike out of pouch I strapped on and gave him a stab, but just in the boot. It probably didn’t even touch skin, but his armor jolted and disappeared, leaving a frightened young man in my grasp. I dropped him.

Then the hangar exploded. The robot within looked like a robot version of a yeti. It pounded its own chest as if it needed any more announcement of its presence, then fired a much larger version of Silver’s ice blast at my Flyer. I heard the crew in there scream as Holly took it hard to the side then fought for control.

That left me and the robot. “Hey, Max, you think you can dump my armor out for me?”

“I’ve been thinking,” he answered. “Did you include a hole for your tail?”

Shit.

“Looks like I’m doing this the hard way,” I told him and started loping for the Yeti Bot on all fours.

“Stand down, stand down!” Medusa tried to call. Neither myself nor the Silver Ranger listened. Instead, the Yeti jumped and landed in front of me, shaking the ground and causing me to stumble slightly. With me slowed down, it tried to stomp me. I was quicker and jumped onto the side of its leg, claws and tail giving me the purchase necessary to start shoving EMP spikes into weakpoints, like the joints. The Yeti swiped and missed, knocking frost and icicles off. Soon, it couldn’t walk, or twist its hips. A couple spikes to the armpits and it couldn’t even swing its arms. Finally, I mounted the head and drove two final spikes into the crown of the giant robot, freezing it in place.

“Lay down your arms!” ordered Medusa. “You are all under arrest.”

“You and what army?!” called Blue Ranger.

Right on time, transport choppers flew in. Men on horseback jumped their mounts out and deployed giant parachutes of the Canadian flag, submachine guns trained on any of the Rangers and Blackguard who moved. The mounties were here. I blended in and helped my Flyer to do the same, bringing it in low enough for me to jump right into it and start easing us out of there in the confusion.

“Do you think this will stop them?” Max asked.

“Nah,” I answered. “They’ll be out on some sort of immunity, but it means this base and that robot aren’t a problem. No matter where Lulios is, we don’t have to worry about those Rangers interfering with my revenge.”

A text came in from Medusa. “U got away. So did Lulios. Sent him home thru portal.”

Fuck me. With two dicks.

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Reckoning 6

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Qiang’s fine. I look after her as Firecat. Still haven’t gotten the hang of cooking scrambled eggs by hand. Power control issues. But the most important thing of keeping her there is that Qiang’s looked after. She gets that I’m doing it through Firecat, accepting that body as just another one belonging to her mother. It helps that if she gets startled and pulls a knife on me, I can still disarm her pretty easily. I’ve taught her a lot, but I haven’t held back just to keep winning. Some counters are just too advanced or require more strength from her.

Firecat’s not just there to look pretty and keep house. I’m closely monitoring the grown body for signs of problems. I don’t know what kind of issues occur when you mash too many people’s DNA together in one body and hope it all takes. I doubt I got all the issues worked out on this already. It’s the same reason I didn’t shove all the powers into my real, main body. Just my luck I’d do that and somehow melt into a pile of goo.

I have other experiments going as well. Seeing how far I can push biology in anticipation of doing likewise with technology. The one in the basement is one of my experiments in extreme biology. Black exoskeleton, hidden nostrils with filters, amphibious lungs capable of breathing air and water, a prehensile tail and tongue. A black, shiny, hard mess without any apparent eyes to even look into. If I can handle it and it holds up, the next step is to marrying it to technology. Like, nanites in it systems that can help aid in the digestive process and can replicate if I chomp on the right stuff. Instead of just having a freaky body, the body could have the same ability to shift armor plates around, add new limbs, fly. Or even growing flesh in battle. Wings. Then think if I can add powers to it. Super speed, super strength

One of many lovely distractions from the greater crisis. Ha! And my personal crisis is a distraction from all the other crises going on. A mess wrapped in a disaster wrapped in a flaming dumpster. Take all that and stick it inside a paper bag full of shit, set that on fire, and you might approach whatever the fuck’s going on with the year 2020.

But, hey, my daughter’s fed and looked after. So am I. I just had to put on a skimpy dress and pretend to be another woman working for Max. It’s a tiny bit of cover, the best I can do to keep my identity secret again, for now. Besides, Psycho Gecko wears armor, after all. The face underneath changes. Only the armor remains, protecting me from the outside world. Aggressively protecting.

That doesn’t mean I hated the nice Italian dinner at the casino. It was genuinely nice to catch up with Max and learn the story of his recent power play. “They stacked the deck against me because the knew I was a threat,” he said.

“What did you have to do?” I asked.

“They wanted me to create water from the desert,” Max said. “I was close.” He nodded.

“Water’s a bring problem here. Sometimes they go on water robberies,” Holly volunteered.

I raised an eyebrow. Sam patted me on the shoulder and told me, “Holly flirts information out of some of the low levels.”

“So they steal water, and they wanted y’all to somehow create water out of the desert?” I asked.

“The person who could do that has the right to own Vegas,” Max said. “It’s a good thing they didn’t know who you were when you challenged for us.”

“Well, hopefully what comes up won’t require turning a desert into a sea… whatever it is,” I said. “Whatever nasty tricks you have up your sleeve, you can whip them up a lot faster than what I’m trying to pull.”

“You’re on the defensive, reacting,” Max said. He shrugged. “Why haven’t you hunted them down yet?”

I shook my head. “All this shook me. It was a pretty big betrayal, against competent enemies who know how to hurt me.” I could try to justify it with other things, like these guys being good at digital security or having Venus and the Justice Rangers on their side. Wasn’t even thinking that. I needed to escape, I needed a friend, and I need to figure out how to handle a very raw situation.

I hit the alcohol a little hard, but I was so full of noodle and sauce that I handled myself well. I was able to crawl back into my armor. Max insisted Vegas honored the results of games and challenges. I wanted my armor. That way, it wouldn’t get all over the room or bed if I pissed myself.

Woke up in the wrong body. All the more confusing, it was the one in the basement. I had to process a tail and very weird visuals. The unique eye situation required a moment to get used to before I zipped over to Firecat instead. I didn’t mean to jump into either of these bodies. Then I got the buzz of a text message, but that was back in my main body. I jumped back there and had to deal with both a text communication and my own full bladder. And since the text was from Medusa, my bladder was least full of shit. Plus, shit goes through the intestines. But does Gecko ever get credit for free anatomy lessons? No! I just get molested by my girlfriend while I’m trying to murder people and I don’t think I slept off that alcohol that much.

Unlike the usual messages from Medusa, this one was as grammatically correct as a time could be and the phrase “Watch The News.” A little before noon. That gave me a little time to be hungover first before going serious. At least I couldn’t get any more miserable. And I didn’t when the time came around. Instead, all the news channels and Fox ran a brief announcement about the diplomat from another Earth, that fuckface, holding a press junket of sorts at a Toronto hotel. He wanted to allow reporters to have time to ask all of their questions after he made his announcement earlier that day.

An announcement of an announcement. Looks like I know when and where they want to meet me. The junket format is a decent way to get me one on one without risking me killing a whole crowd while going after Lulios. He could truthfully claim it has to do with security concerns. I groggily went and found someone to wake up in Max’s bunch and found Holly having a bowl of cereal. “We need to get to Toronto and pretend to be the press for a junket. If Max wants less bloodshed, he can come up with something to knock folks out. Otherwise, we need to get a move on. I got transport for us already.”

Between all of this, it hardly feels like I have a body. Once we had everything loaded up, I set the Psycho Flyer to autopilot to get us to Toronto pronto. I was fine, so I left my body in the armor and jumped over to Firecat to see to Qiang. We had some time to watch a movie together and for me to just be with her. Can’t fault her for wanting to go hang out with friends. I should get her a new knife.

Up in Toronto, we found the place easily enough. All the major news networks of the Americas were there, as well as the pretenders. We had stowed the Psycho Flyer and rented a van for this, with Max and the girls lying in wait. My armor flickered into invisibility and the deception of a normal woman when I stepped out toward one group of the pretenders with OANN marked on their stuff.

“Hi, oh my god, you’re One America News Network!” I said as if I knew them.

They nodded politely, except for the reporter who was having his makeup done. I leaned in close and whispered, “Hey, y’all wanna hear how the Jews are behind this whole thing?”

Well, that set the reporter’s undies on fire. That’s a metaphor, means he got moving. He led the whole crew over to the open rear doors of my van. As soon as they got over to it, Max sprayed them with puffs of red smoke that caused them all to start coughing, then followed it up with another watergun that sprayed a white smoke at them. They collapsed, and I made sure to grab the cameraman’s camera before it hit the ground. When we all left the van minutes later, the four of us blended in.

“Conspiracy theorists,” Sam said, shaking her head.

“How’d you know they’d fall for that?” asked Holly

I laughed. “Some people are so brainwashed by the people running things that if you tell them Jewish folks are to blame, they’ll believe anything you tell them. They’re so scrambled, they can’t see who’s really pulling the strings.”

“Who?” Holly asked

Sam, real quick, let out an “Oh god,” hearing her question.

“Assholes,” I said. “We’re surrounded by ’em.”

“Perhaps they’ll be more appreciative after their nap,” Max said.

“In that sleep of Max, what dreams may come when they haven’t yet shuffled off that mortal coil?” I asked Max in a roundabout butchering of Shakespeare.

“Near Death Experiences often feature visions as a a traumatized and anesthetized brain tries to cope with the chemicals running through its body. I found a way to tap into that and tweak it in a negative direction.”

“Dude!” Sam said, “You gave them a Near Death Experience of Hell?”

“Only while they’re asleep,” Max said. “If they were awake, it would be a vivid hallucination. I’m eager to see people react to that part.”

We were pretty low on the pecking order when they let us through with our press credentials. They immediately brought us to a room with Lulios sitting in a comfy padded chair with refreshment nearby. My own chair had a folder on the table in front of it. “Hello. You are?”

“One American News,” I informed him.

General Lulios nodded. “If you’ll have a seat, the folder in front of you has details about an initiative whereby my government offers support to your world in this trying time.”

I picked it up and glanced at it. Just a system to provide enough nanites to function as a stopgap measure until a vaccine for the virus is produced. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Lulios said, “That’s my folder from earlier. Please set it aside and check the next primer beneath it.”

I did so and found a file with the same information, but in English. As opposed to the language from my world that the other one had been in and I’d been caught reading.

Lulios shifted in his chair. “I wanted to give your people a chance to ask questions, because this is a matter of importance and you have been terrorized by someone using these medical nanomachines before. I hold some guilt for that. For many years, I held onto a hate that did nothing for me but give me someone to treat as less than human. It’s freeing, in a way. It freed the worst aspects of myself. I didn’t have to apologize for my temper or restrain negative thoughts. So long as I targeted the homo machina, I could indulge myself without feeling bad. They weren’t human, after all.” He almost looked happy at that. Despite that, he didn’t feel right. Maybe it was all the time spent as a kid being terrorized by this guy, but he didn’t have the same presence.

He went on. “I was wrong, and it took the enormity of my mistake to make me see it. To see that by treating these people as if they were monsters and a threat to everything, I made a monster. I tortured a poor soul until it became the monster I thought it always had been. I realized after he almost destroyed the world that his people weren’t monsters. Where we demonized them, they defended each other selflessly. Where I taught someone how to destroy a world, they stopped him. They stopped someone who learned hatred and terror from me. I can’t absolve myself of that. But I wanted to meet with you and tell you that I was wrong to do what I did.”

Y’all might think I was boiling with anger, but this was one of those times where I felt like ice. I was beyond simple anger. One coiling mass of nanites formed a tendril with a spike on the end and plunged through Lulios’s chest. It went right through as if punching a hole in air, but it obstructed the image of Lulios seated in his chair. The hologram appeared to be coming from below.

“I’m sorry for the deception as well, but I thought you would kill me before I could ever speak to you, and I needed to talk to you. For your sake and mine,” the illusion of Lulios went on. “I hope you can find a way to let go of the hate toward humanity and the world. I don’t expect you to let go of it toward me.”

I dropped my own hologram and swept the floor. There was no chair in the room over there, just a pentagonal box. I shifted the tendril and stuck the spike into it, piercing the casing. Cables flowed out of the tendril now, carried by questing nanites looking to fuse them into the wiring of the device. It was a way to recreate my natural homo machina abilities while staying armored.

“Gecko…” Max warned. There were noises outside. “I have to step out for a moment.” He took the camera and the squirt gun full of his Hell hallucinogen with him out the door. Meanwhile, I traced back the signal coming from the device.

Above it, Lulios looked on, sizing me up. “I twisted you into this. It must feel like a knife to the gut to find out I’m still alive. Those on my staff who know the truth wanted desperately to keep you from finding out I’m alive, but I knew it was impossible. You were always going to find me. Please be merciful if you can find it in you to be. They are clouded by hate and throwing themselves into a duty to protect me.”

“I’m tired of your perfidious charcuterie, old man,” I growled.

He was shut up by a blast from an energy weapon that soared over his head. “Shut up, for your own good.” The Blue Justice Ranger walked over and held Lulios at gunpoint. He turned toward me. “No one is being released. You are the key to ending this threat-” The Justice Ranger gasped suddenly as arms wrapped around his neck from behind. The hands hit the external release on his helmet and pulled it off, but kept up the pressure on his throat. He turned his gun toward his attacker, but a familiar leg wrapped around it and squeezed, keeping it aimed away.

I’d gotten the trace done by now, but I kept watching as the Blue Ranger fell back and Medusa stepped into frame, in costume but not in armor. She helped up Lulios and turned to me. “They’re going to use him as bait now they know you will come for him no matter what. I did wrong by you, but listen to me now and stay away.” Then, turning to Lulios, she said, “Come on, let’s go.”

It occurred to me once they were done that I had heard a little bit of the sounds of struggle from outside. Holly and Sam must have gone out to help Max at some point. I followed after, finding Canadian police, Mounties, and Lulios’s Blackguard. They hadn’t been knocked out first like the others. The red gas that still lingered in the air had them scratching at walls and the floor, crying, even fighting each other. I liked it. It felt fitting with the mood I was in.

I caught up to Max, Sam, and Holly in the lobby. There were a pair of police helicopters out there, snipers keeping my friends at bay with shots that tore head-sized chunks of the flooring out. “Not enough range on your squirt guns?” I asked Max.

Max gave me a friendly middle finger, then called out, “They’re loaded up for shooting through armor!”

I gave him a thumbs up, then turned and ran for the lobby doors. A nanite and armor tendril tore the front of the lobby open, the nanomachines taking some of the metal to digest and replicate. The one metal tendril split into two tentacles that pushed me off the ground, then became a single limb with a pair of jet engines inside. The engines pulled me through the air toward the first helicopter and wrapped around the landing struts. It grew shorter as I grew another arm that formed a blade to cur through the base of rotor. The rotor went up for a moment as the chopper’s body fell. I threw that off and launched myself toward the other helicopter that was maneuvering for distance. The nanites encased me, reinforcing armor plates moving over my body to form a wedge while two short arms with jet engines threw me through the cockpit and into the hold with the sniper. He tried to smack me with the butt of the gun but the nanomachines caught it and ate the gun. The man dove for it. I let him and decided to escape the falling copter too.

Seeing police vans around, I threw that wreck of a chopper at them with nanite tentacles. Gunfire rang out, and proved to be useless. The cops saw what I’d done so far and wisely ran for it, driving toward escape. The rest of my group walked out behind me, Sam whistling. Holly walked right up to me and asked, “Why did you need us again?”

“I needed my friends,” I said.

Max gave me a hug before Sam elbowed him. “Excuse me, battleground full of dead bodies and terrified people. Can we hug later?”

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Reckoning 5

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It’s been some time since I was in a big casino. Some of the nicer underground gambling spots approach the look and feel of a smaller casino, but a big, proper one has a certain life all its own. They cultivate an atmosphere of excitement, a tension that you could be on the edge of a big win. It’s a lie, of course. For every lucky $300 or $5000 win, the casino made more than that off other people. That’s nothing new, of course, but it explains why they really don’t like it when someone wins almost every single time. Like, if someone can neurologically sync up with nearby computer-run slot machines or digital blackjack. Someone with part of their brain replaced by a computer and prosthetic eyes with a HUD that can count and track cards. I’m not very good at poker, but I’m also not welcome in Vegas.

Well, Psycho Gecko isn’t welcome in Vegas, but Gecko is officially dead. So, from my base in a lovely suite, I had free rein to search the town for my friend, Mix N’Max. Last I’d heard, he’d taken a liking to Vegas and did well here with his improbable concoctions. He was a purveyor of pharmaceutical enjoyment and could craft a custom brew to better one’s abilities. Giving people luck potions and super speed pills put him at odds with the local casinos, but also built him enough money and influence to maintain some peace. Except people haven’t been hearing much from Max lately, nor from his assistants Holly and Sam.

Now, the dirty open secret of Vegas, and the whole of the world, is that having enough money means you’re exempt from laws and can do anything you want. Spending a night dropping thousands of dollars at High Roller slots showed I had that money. A friendly concierge stopped by to let me know every so often that if I needed anything at all, just to let them know. Sadly, one thing they couldn’t get me was one of Max’s unique creations, so after awhile I could try a different casino and repeat.

On the fourth iteration of this cycle, I was stopped shortly after entering the Olympus Casino by a concierge wearing a laurel on his head. It was his nod to the Greco-Roman theme of the place, with white imitation marble support columns, rubber plants, and classical statues. Nearby, a lightning bolt lit up over a slot machine to indicate someone hit a jackpot. A sign nearby pointed the way to nearby bathrooms and the Elysium Eatery. With lighter colors and strategic lighting, the place had a thin illusion of being bright and well-lit to it. Just not so bright and well-lit that they couldn’t hide cigarette smoke stains or annoy drunk, high, hungover, and exhausted customers.

Sadly, this concierge blocked my view of a lovely waitress walking around in a skimpy version of a toga and sandals while he was at it. He followed my gaze briefly and laughed. “If it’s the companionship of a beautiful woman you’re looking for, we would be happy to assist. Even her, if you’d like. Hello, I’m Richard Mendelson, concierge here at the Olympus. As I understand and hear, you’re looking for a specific fun. Have I heard right?”

I smiled at him. “You have indeed, Mr. Mendelson.”

“Madame, if you please, I would show you to the Underworld.” He led me to a pair of locked doors off to the side that had their own couple of open guards. I suspected some of the folks in the area were secret guards as well, but at least he didn’t bring any security just to escort me. That would have been a sign of distrust, maybe even hostility.

We took a short elevator ride down to a lower level and stepped out into an area with a different aesthetic. Whereas the upper floor pretended at being bright, this bottom area worked hard at being darker. The walls were a dark brown or red color with the occasional fake torch hung on them looked like it flickered, but the light itself never wavered. A trio of beautiful young with with identical hair, makeup, and black togas stood behind another fake Greek column that served as a podium. Arching over the whole entrance was a large wrought iron gate with some Latin lettering up at the top that read, “Welcome to the Underworld, all ye who enter here.”

Look at that. Took no time at all for a Psychopomp to end up in the Underworld. The concierge next to me held his arm out, welcoming me to go first. I nodded at him and stepped out toward the three smiling faces greeting me at the gates of the Underworld.

“Greetings!”

“Hi!”

“Hello!”

I smiled and crossed my arms over my chest. “I hope this isn’t going to be too repetitive of an introduction.”

“Not at all,” One of them said.

“Do you have any cash you want us to deposit for you? A line of credit?” asked the Second.

The Third nodded toward my concierge. “I would be happy to be your guide and show you what we can provide.”

I handed Second a couple hundred thousand dollars in cash and let myself be shown around by the Third, who linked her arm with mine and left the concierge behind. “I’ve been told you are looking for something to enhance your mood and state of mind.”

“Yes, drugs,” I told her.

She giggled like it was the funniest joke in the world. “Not just any drug.”

“Hedonism Squared,” I said. It was something Max has been doing for years. It’s a drug that pretty much erases or reverses all pain. Messes with receives in your brain so they interpret all signals of pain, distress, or discomfort as intense pleasure. Someone could cum from cutting a hand off, which has the potential for danger. The military even tried to buy a bunch, until they ran into the part that makes it so lucrative for Max. See, supposedly there are some really expensive chemicals involved in the process of making it. Selling it wasn’t the moneymaker. Unless a person keeps taking it, they’ll come down to find that everything, every single sensation from before, now registers as pain. It might not be much, but imagine if the wind felt like it was burning you. If laying sick on a bed brought no relief because the sheets felt like a knife’s edge on your skin. So they either keep buying more, or they pay a huge amount for a purgative that stops the whole cycle then and there.

An elegant extortion racket for the wealthy, celebrities, and professional athletes. And not just to use against them. Some of those posh old money families would buy some to keep affluenza-prone kids in line. “Do as I say and you won’t get your next fix. Marry who I tell you or you won’t get the purgative.”

They showed me through a much more sparse casino area. Most of the machines and tables looked the same as upstairs, but with higher stakes. Some few isolated cases didn’t seem to use money as stakes, and I even passed by a couple of old guys glancing between their cards and each other while the dealer sharpened a cleaver. I checked the sign and cooed to my guide, “I’ve always wanted to try chop poker.”

“Every grudge can be settle with a game here. Are you any good at Seven Card Stud?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not,” I answered.

She laughed. “Unless you can grow back body parts, I would advise you to stay away, ma’am.” There came a scream and a thud of metal on fabric behind us.

Second or Two or whatever led me to a more private, smaller alcove with a padded couch and a table. “Please wait here.”

She barely finished speaking when a young woman stopped by in one of the same skimpy togas. “May I get you any refreshment while you wait?”

“It will only be a few minutes,” Second told me. And that’s all it was, just a few minutes before she brought me back a small, clear glass bottle with a dropper top that came down into a clear liquid. I took it in hand and held it up to the light.

“Does it satisfy?” Second asked.

“Hmm…” I pretended to regard it. “It looks milky. Have you diluted it?”

“I assure you…” she trailed off when she saw me unscrew the top. I stayed away from it a bit, sniffing. “Ma’am, you shouldn’t!” she rushed forward. I moved it away from her, but kept track of it.

“H-Squared requires enough of it to form at least a droplet to have an effect on the human body,” I said. “Smelling it is harmless and can help tell if it has been tampered with. Your reaction doesn’t satisfy me. Bring me something fresh.” I closed up the bottle and held it out for her. When she hesitated, I pulled out another stack of cash. “I want to go with you, to ensure quality.”

“I can’t…” she started to say. She shut up once I pulled out another bundle of cash. “I guess I can.” That bundle disappeared into her cleavage. She led me into an area that wasn’t for guests. The walls were painted, unappealing cinderblock. She led me down corridors until we reached a larger room, an underground arena with three tiers. Stairs sloped down to the bottom floor with a large, electrified cage in the middle. The slope had seats, though most of them were empty. There was the floor we were on, and then a balcony floor overlooking everything from its ring. My hostess led me along our floor around to a concession stand of sorts, only they had it separated by a thick window. She pressed an intercom to speak to the inhabitant. “Wake up. We need something fresh.”

The lights inside brightened slowly, revealing Max, with a black eye and a nasty gash on my friend’s pale head. He heaved himself up with a grunt, looking over at us with resentment. It’s rare I’ve ever seen him without his Cheshire grin, but I also didn’t expect to see him in this state. “He’s your prisoner?” I asked. “You trust him to cook for you despite that?”

“He challenged the ruler of Olympus and he lost. We hold leverage over him to ensure he doesn’t try anything,” she said. I could hear the smugness. They must have Sam and Holly somewhere, as hostages.

“You weren’t kidding about solving anything with a game,” I said.

Second reached for the intercom. I laid my hand on hers to stop her. “What’s the game to win him?”

“Excuse me?” she asked. She took her hand away and backed off. “You don’t want to do that.”

“I do,” I said. “So, what’s it going to be? Care for a game of chop poker?” I turned toward what crowd there was, as well as the man and gorilla facing off in the middle of the cage. “We are at an impasse! They have a lucrative asset I want! I challenge for Mix N’Max!”

A loud blare cut off all other sounds. Above everything, a walkway extended out over the arena. A man walked out, turned into shadow by lights backing him. He turned sharply to look at me. Or away from me, but I’m guessing toward. When he spoke, the acoustics let me hear it easily. “You challenge me within my own casino? You are an audacious one. What is your name?”

“I’ve been called Trouble,” I called out to him. “But my name is unimportant. More important is if you shy away from a challenge… surely, I don’t scare you, do I? I want Max and the two companions you use for leverage.”

I heard a few in the crowd “Oooh”ing.

“Tell you what,” he said. “You’re asking for three. I’ll make this easy on you. We were just about to have a match. I would ask you to participate.” He motioned toward me. Second took hold of my arm from behind and began to lead me down the stairs. “Come on. There’s a good lass.”

I didn’t want to seem too eager, helped by my own disappointment. The thrill-seeking part of me hoped for a game of chance or something different than a mere fight. I can cage fight a gorilla in my sleep. Really, the secret to most mammals is to go for the groin. Well, we got on down to the stage level, but I didn’t see an opening to the cage. I looked up at the mysterious shadow owner who said, “Last chance to back out.”

“Last chance to grow a pair!”

The floor fell away underneath me. It was fun, actually. There was a slide that just kept going. How big was this fucking place? An image appeared overhead, a shadowed head with a tophat backed by bright lights. “Round one, for Samantha Hain, you face my deadly giant Brown Recluse… sorry, I’m being told he’s lost weight and prefers the term ‘Persian hermit.’ But tonight, he is the deadliest of your enemies in the slide race.” I got used to the lights, or maybe the lighting improved. Either way I saw another slide zip on overhead and come up beside mine. In the other lane was a skinny young guy in a t-shirt. He waved at me happily.

I stopped paying attention to him when something smacked me in the face. I grabbed at a small squirt gun, full of water.

“Your goal, to reach the exit which will close after the first person passes through, trapping the other in a bottomless pit. Yes, bottomless. Don’t think about it or you’ll lose. You’ve each been provided with a squirt gun full of lubricant to help speed you on your way. Good luck!” The floating image disappeared.

Ah, so not water. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as the Persian Hermit sped up, yelling “To infinity and beyond!” He had a huge soaker, dwarfing the tiny pistol I’d been given. Oh, right, that’s why I should have preferred a cagefight. I gave my gun a squirt at the slide ahead of me so I went over it. I sped up shortly after hitting the patch of lube, but a sudden turn almost threw me over the edge. I found I’d caught up to the Hermit, who had slowed down in anticipation. So I had an idea how to win. I tried to keep up with him without running out of that KY goodness. He managed to pull ahead by the time we reached another curve. I had to aim carefully to deal with the drop of liquid. And I knew, I only had a dozen shots at this. Squirt!

Like Icarus, the Hermit flew too close to the sun. It happened when the extra lubricant helped him maintain too much speed and he flew over the curve and down into the darkness below. After that, the ride got kinda boring until the slide dropped me into a ballpit in a small room. I crawled forward to escape the net enclosure of the pit and felt something below. I pulled it up to find a bloody femur.

The image of the shadowman appeared on the wall next to me. “Congratulations, you won the race. Fuck you. Anyway, your next challenge will be against an even deadlier opponent. An evil clown known only as… Giggles.”

“Is this a race or tug of war or what?” I asked. The wall slid open in front of me and an overweight clown walked in, his face an intense stare right into the very depths of where my soul would be if I had one.

“This is Russian Roulette! One of you lives. The other takes a bullet to the brain,” the shadowman said, laughing. The laughter cut off when the video did.

The clown pulled a revolver out of his pants and loaded a single bullet into the cylinder. He spun it, then raised the barrel to his temple. Click! Nothing happened. He tossed the gun to the floor in front of the ballpit. I pulled myself out of the ballpit and bent down to take the gun, then looked around. Huh, no guards. I cocked the hammer back part of the way so I could freely spin the cylinder so the round would be next in the chamber. I finished cocking it, rotating that round into place, and pointed it at the clown’s head. His eyes widened a little too late I splattered his brains against the wall.

The shadowman appeared on the wall. “That… was not how that was supposed to go.”

“One of us is dead and the other’s alive. What are you going to do, have him move on to the next challenge?” I asked, kicking the oversized shoes of the dead man on the floor in front of me.

“…moving on then. Please make your way through the door and leave the gun!”

I shrugged and dropped it before heading out the door, stepping out… into the cage? See, I was beginning to think this place made no sense before, and this just confirmed it. I turned back the way I came and saw the room I was in had disappeared. Even the door frame around me seemed to just be an empty frame, with no way to stand up.

Across from me in the cage stood Second or Two. I never bothered figuring out her name. Shadowman’s voice boomed out over the arena. “You keep killing everyone you compete against, so I’m not going to feel sorry for you this time. Bitch against bitch, you versus one of my Cerberus girls. Go at it until one of you can’t stand up anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Second said.

“Um, why? You’re going to die,” I said.

Second balled up her fists and concentrated, then her skin seemed to split and stretch, closing back up over a growing form that spouted fur from it. She looked like a nine-foot tall pit bull. It was kinda cute, actually, especially with the large boobs. Sexy, even. They were just really nice boobs. And the abs on her. Tits that big with a cut belly like that? Oooh, and those thighs.

I twirled my fingers through my hair. “So… hiya.”

“What are you doing?” asked shadowman.

I stepped forward, running fingers through my own hair to straighten it out and tried giving a flirty twirl through my hair at the end. “So… I can’t help but notice you’re naked now. It would be a shame to waste all this lubricant from the slide.”

Second cocked her head to the side in confusion as I pressed up against her and ran a finger over her rock hard abs. Then I reached up and put my hand around her head, guiding her fanged, drooling mouth down to mine.

An hour later, I kicked the side of the fence down. Behind me lay Second, weak-kneed, and unable to stand, slipping in… juices. Long story short, she was a little too weak to stand. Secret to beating pretty much any mammal: go for the groin.

I ignored the now-packed arena and called up to the balcony level. “You done up there? Give me Max!”

Shadowman cleared his throat and spoke between pants. “Yeah, I’m finished. Oh my god. Give her Max and the girls. Can you come back and do a show for us sometime?”

I ignored his questions as I walked up the steps. Behind me, I heard the mutated voice of Second call out, “My number is-!” but the applause stopped me hearing the rest.

At the top waited Max, Sam, and Holly, all hugging. They turned to me, curious, but then Max hugged me as well. “Gecko! It’s been awhile.”

“Hey Max. Looks like we both got in some trouble,” I said.

“How did you know that was Gecko?” asked Holly. She had gone back to brown hair with blonde highlights, setting her apart from Sam, who looked a lot different without all the makeup to compliment hair that was dyed silver.

“I’d know that foot thing anywhere,” Max said, sly grin returned to his face.

“Come on, I’m starving,” Sam said, grabbing Holly and pulling us toward the exit.

I shrugged. “Sounds good, but you know I’ve already eaten.”

They all groaned.

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Reckoning 4

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Can’t sleep. Won’t sleep. If I sleep, they’ll break in. Sounds like a zombie movie, but I’m sure Medusa, the Exemplars, and probably the Justice Rangers are all trying to bust down my door. It’s only Medusa I hear from.

I’ve been working down here since then. I mean, first I cried against the door, but then I figured they were coming for me and got to work. It beat thinking too long about what happened. Not just my failure, but Medusa working against me and how she did. It’s not just- nope. Gotta concentrate on my preparations.

The spare body I had up there in the hotel got out, along with the guns and other equipment I’d smuggled up there. They moved him now. They’ll keep his next location secret, but I managed to get the body to a smaller hotel and put him up there. But why even bother with that?

I told her to stop! I didn’t want that. I didn’t want it at all.

It’s weird, but I have been sleeping. I didn’t think I’d be able to, but I had my body in the armor while some things were being readjusted. I grew another body to help me out. I just… I’m scattered. I’ve been flying around in my lair from this to that, barely able to keep anything straight. Pushing my consciousness into another body felt like it helped. Probably just a placebo effect of some sort. So I had my body in my armor and was directing things through the spare when I noticed my original’s vitals had fallen asleep. I thought that would just knock me out as well if I did that.

“I promise, I’m alone out here. I wasn’t thinking and I fucked up big time. Please talk to me,” Medusa called from the doorway. It’s a trap through. It has to be. She was supposed to distract me from the very beginning. How much has she distracted me from? How much of what we had was her way of playing along to control me? I didn’t answer her. The only other person I need to answer to now is my daughter.

This town is so tiny, there’s nowhere here I can hide Qiang from Medusa. I don’t know if she’ll hurt her, but Medusa already hurt me for the sake of defending that monster. It would have been less painful if she punched me.

I’d never used the nanites for this kind of excavation before. They cleared an entire passageway for me through the ground, packing it in to reinforce the walls. I had to wait for my body to wake up before I could crawl to safety. That gave me time for other things.

The Psycho Flyer is repaired, fueled, and capable of unobstructed flight. No one’s stormed my store. My useless fucking store opened just in time for a pandemic. Probably another distraction by Medusa. Maybe General Lulios even made more trips. How many times? How many lies when I finally opened myself up to someone?

I never should have bought into it. If I’d been more cynical, I wouldn’t have this pain like someone ripped open a hole in my chest with their fingers. It hurts because I trusted her. If only she would stop yelling through the door. I want to scream right back at her what she did. I want to force her to understand why what she did was wrong, not just to my body. I deserve my revenge. That is an absolute fact. Lulios is the one person more deserving of death than myself.

Finally, finally, I realized I needed a plan. Another benefit of the detachment of this other body, this other Firecat, this detachment numbed the pain enough to work on that. I had to abandon killing Lulios for now. I don’t know where he is, and the current scramble is to extricate myself and important assets from Medusa and her whole setup. My ties to the community are minimal, but my daughter’s made friends here. I can’t stay, but I don’t want to leave her. I don’t want to take her away, but I can’t stay.

At least I can take some comfort in knowing I wasn’t the fuck-up this time. I feel like a huge one, emotionally, but it wasn’t my fault this time.

For her part, with all the screaming, at least Medusa seems to have realized she messed up with her excuses of “I misread the signs,” and “I thought it would be better than hitting you,” and all that. So at least she realizes doing sex stuff to me over my objections is part of my major malfunction. Finally, she asked, “Is there anyone I can you’d rather talk to?”

Whereas I’d usually seen not having anyone as a matter of self-sufficiency and independence, this time I didn’t. I wanted to talk to someone and let my frustrations out. Medusa was the wrong person for that. She was the enemy. Her question helped give me some idea what to do and where to go.

When after hours of my body resting, I swapped back into it. The nanites on the wall leading to my escape tunnel rapidly pulled dirt out of the way to give me access and sealed it back once I’d passed through. I didn’t close the whole tunnel up behind me as I made my way out to emerge from under my greenhouse. Shame I won’t be here to pick more pecks of unpickled peppers, but the watering system would be automated to at least keep them alive.

The house wasn’t surrounded. Or guarded. It looked, near as I could tell, like Medusa was the only other person there. I shrugged and headed for my Flyer. I flipped a sign at my store, letting everyone know we’re closed indefinitely, and then strapped in. Destination: Vegas. Because I’d rather deal with that place than risk Beetrice being too touchy and feely after what Medusa did to me.

I was still en route when I got some feedback from Firecat. I’d left her behind in case I needed to get in contact with someone. She rested in a chair in my lair, until the door was disintegrated. Medusa tried to block the doorway. “I should see her first, something is really wrong.”

“Yes, it is. Out of the way,” said a digitized voice.

Medusa walked in first, wearing her armor so they couldn’t just jostle her out of the way, and found just Firecat there, with no sign of me or my armor. “Gecko, are you in here?”

A Blue and Yellow Justice Ranger came in after Medusa, with some soldiers backing them up who wore armor inspired by the rangers, but in black. “Sweep the corners,” Blue said to the others. “He’s a master of stealth.”

“She,” Medusa said. While the others messed around with the room, she approached Firecat. “Are you in there?”

I didn’t give her anything, but she still smiled and hugged the body, whispering, “I saw your eye move. I’m sorry. Please come back when they’re gone.”

“What is this?” asked Yellow, moving in to point some sort of pistol at Firecat. Yellow held a hand to the side of their helmet. “Lulios identified her as the woman who attacked him.”

“It’s a surrogate she created. She’s had this idea lately to grow bodies and pilot them remotely. That isn’t her. She’s gone,” Medusa seemed genuinely distraught that I’d snuck out.

“Can he hear us through this thing?” Blue asked.

Medusa shrugged, though I think she knew the answer. She had her hand on my chest and had to have heard Firecat’s heart speed up at the mention of Lulios.

Yellow walked over and looked down at Firecat’s eyes. “Lulios wants to speak with you. He says you have things to work out.”

I laughed through Firecat. “Give me an address. I’ll gladly pay him a visit.”

“To ensure the safety of the General, your compliance will be guaranteed by a hostage.”

“You are not taking her daughter,” Medusa spoke with steel in her voice, raising her firsts and taking in the group packed into my basement lair. For whatever else is wrong with her, at least she still cares about Qiang. I almost wondered then if I should have given her the benefit of the doubt. Whatever loop she’s in, it’s not the most important one. I don’t have to take her back, but I can at least tell her why Lulios must die.

The soldiers and Rangers turned their weapons on her. Yellow said, “You are an acceptable hostage.”

“If you leave Qiang alone, then I’ll come with you,” Medusa said. It’s a bold move, because she has to know how much she’s hurt me. I wonder if she’d do it if she knew my grudge against Lulios? As much as I hate her right now, I think she actually would. I can’t see her ever sending my daughter to be a hostage even knowing that she would likely die to take her place.

“I affirm this compromise,” Blue said, Medusa lowered her guard then and let them lead her out.

Yellow lagged behind as they led Medusa out. “I hope you try us,” they said. “The General will let you know when you can meet him. Watch your new information programs.”

That was where the situation laid when I arrived in Vegas. I still wasn’t heading back to that house. Folks knew where it was and were probably watching it. I don’t trust this “talk” with Lulios. Just one of those ambushes to get me out of the way and pretend to be the hero. Killing the infamous Psychopomp Gecko, who he secretly created, would boost his reputation.

That was the situation when I walked into the High Stakes, one of the bright and shining casinos on the Vegas strip, a gold sequined dress hugging my body, and perused the games of chance. The carpet was a bright red, with support pillars made to resemble large wooden stakes sticking up from the ground. I walked on over to the cashier cage with a bundle of cash.

“You look like you’re here to get lucky,” said the man behind the counter.

I winked at him. “Just looking to even some odds.”

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Reckoning 3

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Whatever this is about, my window’s… fucking dammit… my window’s shrinking. I need more words. There aren’t words for this kind of angry. Sounds, aaaargh!

They did a thing. With people asking questions and shit. Shit.

Ok, now that I’ve got some rum in me, and I detest rum, I think I can force this out. Fuck it, I’m leaving in the first attempt. He did a thing with the Canadians, talking about a scientific partnership with the other dimension. They’re saving face. This world doesn’t have a lot to offer the people of my Earth outside of vastly different media. I enjoy good porn like anybody else, but it’s not “future technology bargaining chip” good here, alright?

The thing that pissed me the fuck off initially was the way both my world and the Canadians talked about General Lulios as a respected and beloved statesman. It nearly fucked up me walking one of my bodies down to install a holodisc on the wall opposite the door, capable of letting me tap in and see if someone’s going in or out. Hearing that introduction on the news, I nearly lashed out at the door with a body that didn’t even have good powers for that sort of thing. I walked him back to his room next to Firecat’s, the occasional raven outside being unusually aggressive.

That fucking monster, beloved? Yeah, so I went and checked. It… I… It meant a lot to me to know this. This guy ruined my life. There was innocent little Gecko before, a kid with parents, a birthday, and a name. I didn’t have to be what I became. This guy might be the only living person left I hate more than myself, and I thought I killed him. I thought my world of origin knew what he was. He had just been a general I killed back when it happened.

I had to alter a drone on short notice, give it a holodisc and a stronger transceiver, one with a transdimensional broadcast capability as a backup, similar to the technology I use for this blog. Flew that baby right through the portal. They don’t have a way to shut the portal down just yet, which is part of the reason this has forced either cooperation or conflict. I delivered the drone most of the way by rocket, low to the ground but off the radar. This time, I noticed more emergency measures that could be put in place to block access, but the place was still relatively open. I think it was meant to foster that cooperation, trust, and a degree of transparency. Made it easier for me to violate that trust and sneak through in the interest of murdering someone important to their cooperation.

The other side was more militarized. Like on the Canadian side, they had it mostly open except for an awning overhead, but the area was walled off instead of fenced off, with several round blisters on the wall that housed discreet gun emplacements. The memorial had been cleared away. That made sense. On this ground had sat a memorial to the defeat of their world’s worst villain, to remember the victims and make sure people knew what the original looked like in case the fiend ever returned. They never liked that I actually did return, and the tear in reality that stayed in place probably left them paranoid about infiltration by me. Or maybe I’m giving myself too much credit just because they were so happy to see me gone that they built a monument to my defeat.

I flew the drone out to clearer ground, careful of potential lag. There’s already some reason I can’t access their infonet from this end normally. I brought the drone out and hovered it on up to the top of the wall, settling it there while I concentrated on the more overwhelming task of immersing myself once again in an entire other world’s interconnected information network. It wouldn’t tell me anything, but it could tell me a lot, unless they were going for a Great Firewall situation. That kind of separation is tricky and relies on collaboration from those who provide such a service.

General Lulios. He reappeared shortly after my defeat, at first hesitant to trust homo machina. He was seen with the folks speaking out against leniency and amnesty toward my followers, most of whom had been left in the dark about my attempt to destroy the world. They turned on me and helped stop it, which argued in favor of reconciliation. Along with that, the sheer number of them who had been an abused minority fighting for equality made it a delicate situation. Maybe don’t remind people who were capable of threatening the entire world that you don’t want to treat them like people. Better leaders emerged in the aftermath of my apparent death. Not much of a challenge if you compare them to me. I wasn’t so much a leader as an opportunist. Finally, the Justice Ranger team at the time came out publicly in favor of reconciliation, with General Lulios in the background of the Red Justice Ranger’s speech. After that, he spoke publicly in favor of the idea.

Articles about him make it sound like it was a journey for the General. They didn’t seem to know about what he’d really been doing in the military with the Psychopomp Project. Geez, I don’t think they really know about it outside of stuff I said. And that kind of stuff gets lumped together with some conspiracy theorist nonsense, trotted out by the kind of asshats who believe a shadowy cabal of a certain ethnic group rules the world in secret.

Lulios didn’t reveal his part in my origin. Instead, biographies painted a picture of a guy who has learned he was wrong about past prejudices and who was learning to be better. Naturally, they propped him up as one of the good oppressors, especially since he brought a lot of institutional legitimacy to reconciliation efforts.

I still didn’t see signs of what his grift was at this point. There’s always something. People like him don’t become public figures unless there’s some motivation, usually money. It’s true in both of these worlds. Maybe he was getting donations. Maybe sex was involved. All I know is, he got a lot of people very interested in him and his injuries, all the more so when it was revealed I caused it. The anti-me bias was so strong, nobody stopped to think about if he deserved it.

It all seems pretty simple. The whole time I was here, he was there, being held up as some icon of changing one’s mind. Someone who moved past prejudice, he claims. A humanitarian. A hero who cares about homo machina. Bullshit. Pure bullshit, with little bits of corn floating around in it. Yeah, they were right. The guy’s reputation is great. It’s a lie, but it’s great.

I lifted the drone off and spun it around to find some sort of cover. There was a little bit of a wooded area to the east. Nothing so big as a forest, but something that can provide cover. I rested it on some branches on top of a tree and had the holodisc stay on to mask its presence while the drone itself went into hibernation. I left a timer on to remind me when I needed to do something before pulling back to the real world. The world where General Lulios, the man who tortured and abused me, turned me into a murderer, is beloved by everyone who hated me for what he made me.

I “woke up” to find my arm had gone numb because I was laying on it on my sofa. Medusa brushed my hair. “Hey, sleepy.”

I sat up, rubbing my arm and moving it around. “You’re back early.”

“Yeah,” she said, looking a little sad. “We need to talk.”

I decided to treat this like a traffic stop. “About what?”

“Have you watched the news today?” she asked.

“Should I have?”

She sighed. “Ok, so you know. That makes this easier in some ways, harder in others. Listen, I was informed that general was going to visit as part of negotiations. His staff wasn’t specific, but they had concerns about you. I’m going to be clear here, I can’t let you attack him.”

I laughed and laid my head on her shoulder. “What are you going to do, fight me?”

She kissed the top of my head and put her arm around me. “I’d rather not. I want to cuddle you.” She reached over and took my hand in hers. I think she felt the same thing in those muscles as I saw in the hotel clerk’s face: control. Which meant I was only pretending to be fine. “He’s just some general, right?”

I forced a smile she saw through. “Yeah, sure.”

“Where’s Qiang?” she asked.

“Spending the night with a friend.”

My opportunity came a short while later. While I remained in Medusa’s arms, with her silently reassuring me, I saw confirmation of Lulios returning and a trio of bodyguards taking up stations outside his room. My body went limp as I shot out to more firmly inhabit Firecat.

I blinked, finding myself in bed in a pitch black room. I clicked on the light to the side and let my eyes get adjusted while standing up and stretching. The body, nice as it was, might be an acceptable loss, but it’d be unacceptable to lose it before I kill that fucker. I walked it over closer to the hallway and looked up at the ceiling. Right up there was his room. I set up a chair, which is all I needed to comfortably reach the ceiling. I grinned and extended her glowing energy claws. It was like a burning pressure in my fingers, begging to be released. And I released them, swiping through the orange peel texture and drywall. I paused to listen for movement, signs of awareness. I heard quick shuffling, heading toward the door. Fuck subtlety then.

Flames burst through the floor, stopping escape through the door. The floor of the General’s room crumbled against my claws as I rose, fire alarms wailing, propelled up by a pillar of flame under my feet. Such a grand entrance, I could have smirked any other time. But it was General Lulios. It was the man who made the monster. The man who made me. I don’t even know how the room caught on fire. It was like the heat and anger radiated out from me without my control.

“Gecko sent you,” he said to me. I don’t know when the last time was I heard that voice.

I was distracted a spank. Who the fuck’s spanking me when I’m trying to take my revenge?! It came again, along with the feeling of my skirt being pulled down. Except Firecat was in pants. I blinked and felt my consciousness pulled back to my house in Radium.

“What?” I asked, looking at Medusa.

“Where’d you go?” she asked. “And why did my phone start blowing up with an alarm saying Lulios is being attacked.”

It was difficult to concentrate on the question, or my assassination attempt, with her fingers running along my the front of my panties. “What are you doing?” I whined and wiggled.

“I’m not going to fight you,” she said with a mischievous smile on her face. Something pushed me to the side. No, that was Firecat, up in Canada. I whirled her around toward General Lulios, growling and trying not to pay attention what Medusa was groping with her hands. I swiped with a claw, but stumbled off balance when, back at home, Medusa decided to fold my legs up against my torso. The door burst open. One of the guards grabbed Lulios and pulled him to safety while the others opened up with pistols that burned holes through my chest. The pain didn’t last long, which meant I fucking failed.

I pushed Medusa away and stomped off to my basement lair, panties and skirt left behind on the couch.
This-
I-

So fucked up!

End transmission.

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Reckoning 2

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“Babe, what are all these hatchets for?” Medusa asked me the other night. She’s been guarding Lulios, but she had to come back for her phone and then I did the distracting. And then she woke up in the night because she still had to get back to work, and found me throwing hatchets in my lair. I printed off photos of some authority figures for target practice. Cops, politicians, even military bigwigs. Ya know, like generals. It was a bit of foreshadowing on my part, along with seeing if there’s anything she wants to tell me.

She still hasn’t let on about the General’s visit, and I don’t know what she knows. It’s plausible she wouldn’t know who he is and what he means to me. The other side of the portal knows I’m over here and it’d be normal for them to not want me around. I haven’t bugged her or broken into that phone of hers. Some of it’s a matter of trust, but I also don’t want them realizing I’m onto them. A shift in a person’s actions likely means they’ve acquired new information. One of the downsides of Medusa imploring me to build some form of mass entertainment for the town is that it caused a change in how I act that can be used to cover for what I now know.

It’s all Headology, as a character in a beloved fantasy series says. Don’t need to use much magic if you know Headology. Note to self: robotic killer animals I can control remotely? No, too risky with the enemy having homo machina of their own.

I’ve been the big fish in a little pond with those abilities. Lulios has at least one of them looking after him. More by now, if they’re smart and this is a time to prepare for the smart scenario. Just before she left to head back up to her Exemplar duties, Medusa asked what I was building. I told her the gadget I was working on was a way to shock people just a little bit. I’d once seen an arcade game where children held onto these handles and were gently shocked more and more. It didn’t hurt them at all, just made their hands and arms feel numb. If they held on until the end, they’d get tickets.

“That sounds iffy,” my heroine girlfriend told me.

I shrugged. “I’ll make sure there’s a warning about it.”

“Maybe you should look up if any of that’s safe. I don’t want you giving someone the electric chair by accident,” she said, giving me that look that said, “I’m amused by what you’re doing, but I’m serious, too.” I see that one a lot from her.

“Also,” she said, turning to where a few different guns were all sitting on the kitchen counter.

“I was thinking I’d do one of those BB target shooting games, but why settle for the wimpy rifles?” She knows me well enough to know I don’t do much with guns. Even that incident with the poachers, I took a gun along to use as a hidden explosive instead of to shoot someone. They just don’t interest me and it seems like a boring way to fight. And that’s why she didn’t bother calling me out on the over-under shotgun, the lever-action rifle, or any of the rest. That, and most assassination plots nowadays would probably use a more modern pump-action shotgun and an AR.

After that, it was off to look at land around the town of Radium. I already had my shop, which was seeing some customers. It’s not like most people around here can afford a rocket-powered skateboard, but folks need TVs fixed or a cheap pair of earbuds. I keep a lot of the latter in their own section marked, “Ear Pals”.

So on one of my many meandering trips away from my responsibilities, I looked around. That was for my cover. It occurred to me that my fantasies of setting up an evil amusement park to hold and torture Lulios in while would-be rescuers face its dangers is just not feasible for me. I don’t know how long he’s in town and every moment I spend not killing him is a chance for him to finish what he’s doing and go back through the portal. And I need info. I need to know how long he’ll be here and what he’s here for. I’m not saying I’ll avoid killing him if it’ll lead to an interdimensional war. I just want to be aware of if I’m starting such a war. This Earth might decide it’s easier to hand me over. Medusa, too.

If I just charge in there and kill him right under Medusa’s nose, where she knows for a fact it was me, that might be the end of us. That would hurt. She’s far too kind and forgiving of me, and it’s amazing to have someone safe to be with. But I can’t imagine it’s easy for someone with her morals to balance who and what I am with however she feels. I see it sometimes, when she looks up from texting with her friends. Or when she discusses her old gang at the Master Academy. I’m not the only reason she broke away form conventional superheroing, but I’m a sticking point. I wish… I don’t know. Not something I can put into words. And now part of me thinks maybe it’d be for the best to drive her away, like that little voice speaking up when you stand on the edge of a cliff, imploring you to jump.

After a few minutes lost in thought, I stopped staring at a cow pasture with a bunch of curious bovines in it and headed back to the shop. There, I could continue work on a different project near and dear to my heart. The ultimate body.

It’s not so ultimate yet, but it’s a start. I managed to get a couple of different powersets to work in the same body. It’s tricky, because most human chimeras have DNA that’s more similar. In this case, a chimera is when you have an organization with two or more sets of DNA in it, not a mythological beast that’s a bunch of different animals mixed together. One example of that is this woman who had her kid taken away from her because it turned out her womb came from an identical twin she’d absorbed before she was even born. Genetically, her daughter was the offspring of her partner and the unborn sister whose womb and eggs she got instead of her own.

But that still involved siblings. I’m mashing together people. And unlike cheetahs, who faced a genetic bottleneck about 10,000 years back, human genes are varied enough for organs to reject each other. The process Technolutionary and I worked out to turn a human into a homo machina is useful, but I’m not transforming a baseline human. I’m finding a way to keep both sets of DNA and the powers somehow associated with them, both active.

It’d be easier if I was ok with my body looking strange. A lot of supers with animal-based mutations have been affected at a genetic level. Or, like, if I wanted to give myself the powers of one of the bee people, the Buzzkills. I could have a body with a shark’s mouth, Buzzkill wings and exoskeleton, and reptilian scales. Now that’d be a chimera.

Not to self: secondary body project named Chimera?

Either way, I had a body with a couple different powersets. And I needed to be in more than one place at the same time. Whatever shall I do?

When I had idle time, I connected to the transceiver merged into the biomechanical brain of the experimental body I had so far, codenamed Firecat. She had a darker base skin that would tan up well, but ginger hair. I got her dressed, took some spare cash and some identification stolen from supers a cult tried to raise as superzombies, and I took off into the sky.

I love flying, even if it’s not as effortless as when I had the powers of Mr. Omega. Then, wind resistance and friction just weren’t a thing. Now, I found it helped to have an aura of heat and a helmet. If I can find a super with forcefield abilities, that’d be great. I had to sneak Firecat across the border, but that was no problem. Between the various fascists taking power and the civil war that broke out, Canada’s improved their border enforcement. It’s still a huge border.

And just like that, I was in Canada with a body, making my way to a city. That’s when some of the secondary abilities from one of the powersets really hit me. The “cat” part comes from one of those refugee kids. She had these energy claws, but she also seems to have some weird sight where she can see hints of electromagnetic waves in the air. It was a bit trippy in the city where the portal resides.

First thing’s first, a little bit of shopping to look more presentable. I needed some luggage to stick the helmet and clothes into. After that, I needed to get made up and have my hair done up a little. I didn’t want to spend the time on it, and it does take time, but it was a real part of my plan. I needed to look better than if I just walked in off the street so that I could walk into the hotel and act like I was a woman of some means.

“Howdy,” I said, playing up my apparent American-ness. It would also help. “I’m looking for a specific room to stay in here.”

The woman behind the desk looked like she was barely out of high school, but she smiled at me and set to work on her computer without looking. So she had at least some experience. “I’ll happily look that up for you if you give me the room number you’re hoping to reserve.”

You’d be amazed at the kind of detail drones and spy satellites can give you. I gave her the General’s room number. It was a nicer suite, the kind of thing you’d need money to afford. “When would you like that room?” the woman asked.

“I would love to have it tomorrow night if you could, or by Sunday at the latest, if it’s possible,” I said.

Her expression changed slightly. If you know to look for it, you can tell when someone’s professional demeanor has to be plastered on to cover up disappointment. The expression goes from natural to stiff. “I’m sorry, that room is not available on those dates.”

“Well… when is it available?” I asked, crossing my arms and trying to look impatient.

The woman didn’t click on anything else. “That room isn’t going to be available until the 4th of July. Do you want me to go ahead and book a reservation?”

I shook my head. “That’s going to be too late, shit.” I pulled out a cheap prepaid smart phone and pretended to look at it. These days, you need something like that to complete a disguise. I’ve even got a load of auctioned-off police-seized broken cell phones I could use, but they’re still not in at the shop.

Now, if they were any good, they’d have booked the rooms on either side of the General’s as well. That’s an easy way to gain access to a high value target, either through the windows, through the walls, or by setting off a bomb right next to all of it. Through my own brain computer, I checked the hotel’s website to see if it’d be possible to do an online booking of the room below the target’s. Humans and homo machina both have the flaw of checking for threats from around, but not above or below. That one was still good. I smiled a smile of relief and exited out of the website, “Oh my god, honey, thank you. It’s a good thing you didn’t book that for me and I checked. I gave you the wrong floor.”

Asset Firecat is inserted. Hmm. If I have time and more samples that work right, I wonder how many of these rooms surrounding Lulios I could fill with my bodies, like one fucked-up Brady Bunch opening.

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Reckoning 1

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“Giant Gummy Bear Defeated By Exemplars!” read the headline. Another one for Medusa’s stack. Nearest I can tell is a candy factory’s evil manager created a gummy concoction imbued with hatred and a desire for destruction. But since it was a giant gummy bear, her team ended up blowing it up.

There were the protests, and other things going on. Elvis was spotted at a burger place in Utah, trying to eat without getting swarmed by fans ever since he got pulled either from another dimension or from the space between dimensions. There’s also a story going around that aliens tried to take over the world using robots hidden as various metal statues. It turns out they’re vulnerable to shorting when completely submerged in water.

The world does its thing and I just do my thing. Maybe I take a few genetic samples sometimes. Nothing much to it. A swab here, a hair sample there. Medusa doesn’t approve, but at least she’s focusing on the self-improvement and consent stuff. There’s also a possibility of me raising a super clone army.

“You can’t just steal someone’s genes,” she said to me while I played around with this little holographic projector I had set on the table. I was eating a bowl of cereal while I showed her my plans. I hadn’t yet shown her how far along I was. Not that I was really far along, but she didn’t seem fond of the idea. And while I was messing around with cereal, she chomped down on some breakfast bar. She had to go

“Maybe I should turn this into a wrist-thingy or a watch,” I said, looking over it. Then I shook my head. “Wait, no, this is for you to see. But I don’t get what you’re complaining about here.”

“That’s someone’s genes!” she said, “That has to belong to them. It’s what they are!”

I waggled my hand. “I mean… between the effects of both physical development and environmental factors, there’s some legitimate debate on if genes make a person who they are.”

Medusa’s flat look made it clear my argument didn’t impress her. “You can’t honestly believe that.”

I looked back at her for a moment, then rolled my eyes, “No, I don’t. But I’m not going to make a copy and run around pretending to be them. I’m just going to use their genes to try and create the most powerful body possible to inhabit. No one gets hurt, and it’s not like anything’s really stolen.”

“This is wrong,” she said. “You don’t need to do this.” Her phone dinged and she glanced down at it for just a second.

“If it doesn’t hurt anybody and it makes me better, why not do it?” I asked. “Would it somehow be right if I was in a wheelchair and it was the only way for me to walk? I got robo eyes, remember? Should I take these out and just be blind? There’s nothing virtuous about forcing someone to stay in a body they don’t want.”

She quickly chowed down on her granola bar while I talk so that she was clear to respond. “You’ve already fixed that, but you’ll never become who you want to be until you make peace with who you are. A certain amount of ambition is a good thing, but not when you get lost in stealing people’s DNA to become all powerful. Remember Mr. Omega? You had more power than you knew what to do with. You flew around blowing things up and killing friends of mine. I know he was messing with your mind, because I know how you feel about yourself. Doing that again won’t make you stop hating yourself.”

I seethed. Some of it is because I have good, legitimate reasons. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be in an ideal body, or even to have a body that doesn’t stay fixed to one look. Hell, I think part of the reason I stopped being suicidal came from realizing I’m a woman and doing something about it. “Being in the right body helps more than you realize,” I told her. “And I know you prefer when that body is Reindeer’s and she’s all heroic and everything you really prefer.”

Medusa sighed. “You’re getting really defensive right now when I think we should have a clear, open-minded discussion. I want you to know I love you. I want what’s best for you. But I need to ask, are you feeling inferior to your changed self?”

“No, I feel like you and everyone else clearly prefers that thing that takes over my body to me. And if it came out personally and I stopped existing, everyone would be happier. It’s different than when everyone just wanted me dead,” I told her.

Medusa started forward, then her phone beeped again. She looked down at it and sighed, then back to me, “That’s not what’s going on with Reindeer, but listen: Qiang and I both love you like you are, without wings or horns or shooting fireballs. And I, shit,” she stopped what she was doing as her phone beeped. “I swear I’m going to throw this thing. Listen, I want to talk about this with you, but I have to go do this thing today. You’re important to me, but this is one of those where someone could die today. Is it ok if I go deal with this?”

I nodded to her. The sooner she leaves, to sooner I can do my thing. And what she was trying to get across is that I’m still important to her, but she really needs to tend to something. “Yeah, go on.”

She pumped her fist and ran up to kiss me real quick before running off to go use the bathroom. I sat there wondering what, if anything, I was going to do today when she ran out of the house to get picked up. I had a lot of potential subjects in town, which is easier but risks exposing my plan more. There were way more at Master Academy, but that would be riskier. Finally, there were villain bars, which are more spread out, have fewer powered people than the other choices, and have at least an equal chance of turning violent as the school full of superheroes and superhero trainees. But nobody really cares about villains, so there wouldn’t be a lot of objections to it.

I also did the more substantive work of growing some bodies for testing purposes. Essentially clone bodies built to test if they retained the powers of the person the DNA was taken from. Of the ones I had so far, I didn’t get good results. Just the one, that let me generate fire. Still didn’t know how to incorporate it into another body, so the next set of experiments was to determine if fire powers would under other circumstances. Like, would the powers work if the brain and my transceiver were in another body? Was it just the body itself that had the powers? Is it a combination? Then there’s figuring out how to blend more than one genetic sequence to retain the powers while doing something else.

I figured a bathroom break would give me time to think it over and that’s when I found Medusa’s phone. When it beeped again, I could see part of a message on her screen. “I hope you distracted Psych…” it trailed off. I could break into it. Should I break into it? No, there’s that whole trust thing. The next thing was “! Lulios arrived early!!”

Weird name. One like they’d have back where I’m from. If she was meeting with people from my dimension, no wonder she wouldn’t want me and them to meet. It could be worse, though. It could be the Lulios I knew. But he’s dead. Blew him up.

Ya know, maybe I better peek around and make sure. It’s a common enough name, but still. I left the house and headed out to my greenhouse, just so I wouldn’t be found in the same room as the evidence if something were to confirm my paranoid fears.

I zipped my consciousness up along the information superhighway to Canada, where there’s a portal to my old world. They don’t like me being there in-person. Some people hold grudges over the whole “nearly destroying the world” thing. I spied through phones and cameras. They’d gotten better about wifi-accessible cameras in the area, but good luck getting people to give up their phones. And then I felt another presence in the digital landscape, trying to block access.

I hadn’t had to hide my presence that way in a long time, so it kind of snuck up on me and shut me out of the first one. After that, it knew I was there, so I changed tactics. I pulled back and scrambled my signature, then rerouted and bounced through various intermediaries, including some around the world, then traced back the homo machina blocking me. If I was better at this, or this person wasn’t, maybe I could finesse my way in. Instead, I brute-forced things while this person’s attention was elsewhere.

I was in a body. Not fully in there, just looking. The person was holding their head and looking down. “What’s wrong?” asked an older voice. A hand grabbed the body and pulled the face up to check on. I didn’t get a good look at that person because I was checking out the crowd around the person as fast as I could while this person concentrated on expelling me. They kicked me out pretty easily, then tried to trace me. They couldn’t just kill my consciousness out there. That’s still there in my brain. But it’d probably be bad if they found me. I got out of there, even though I had to sabotage some things behind me as I went. Bluescreened a computer, sent a driverless car off into a pond, and I activated the self-destruct sequence in a wifi coffee maker. With enough distance, I took the time to scramble some of my tracks without destroying CPUs.

In the end, it left me resting my hands on a table in the middle of my greenhouse, going back through the brief video I’d recorded. The old man I’d seen was dressed in one of these suits favored by military veterans on my world. Not the same sort of thing most people wear, something closer to a uniform but for someone not in the military any longer. His face had been a little mish-mashed from where fresher skin had been regrown to cover up injuries to a lot of the rest of a face that had grown older and wrinkly. The younger skin helped me recognize him, too. He’d been older when I knew him and thought I killed him, but not a young man.

I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. When I didn’t pick up, they sent a text. “Its Medusa, did I lv my phone @ home?”

“Yeah,” I sent back. “Also, I got a strawberry growing in my garden!”

“!” She replied, if that even is her, “Ur plant grew?!” Ok, it’s probably her.

No big deal. I left her phone where it was. Didn’t get paid a visit by anybody. No need to let on just yet that I know the guy who used to run the Psychopomp Project is somehow, infuriatingly, still alive. And that Medusa somehow knew he was coming and was supposed to distract me.

I kept watch thanks to the United States’s own satellites, and maybe a Chinese one or two. Everyone’s got eyes on everyone else, but right now they’re my eyes and they spied on the car that took General Lulios and his delegation to a nearby hotel.

The only question is if my subtlety is going to involve actual sneakiness, or if it’s the kind of subtlety where I sneak a bomb in, blow things up, and go on a loud murder spree.

Huh, another text message from Medusa. She forgot to say something before, but she wants to know if I can think of something fun to build for the town, like an amusement park or arcade. Damn woman, even her distractions are giving me ideas. An evil amusement park with killer rides? Murderous animatronics? An arcade with games that brainwash people?

I’m horny with killjoy.

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