Still blind. They’ve been real careful about healing me up, taking awhile. Gave me some drugs for pain, so at least I don’t lay around feeling my muscles be red, hot, sore jelly. But they haven’t given me access to tools to repair my cybernetic eyes. Maybe it’s a sign of how far I’ve come that I didn’t jump up and go into a murderous rage over not getting those repair tools. That might have been the wrong impulse, depending on how the whole situation might have gone.
Davilo stopped by at some point to see me and internally wrestle with the realization that he’s the half-brother of a notorious mass-murdering serial killer who tried to destroy the planet. He didn’t say anything, I just spied on him through electronic means. I let him have the space.
Shona did too. All that effort to make sure Mirator didn’t get in using my powerset, only to find out the person who killed Mirator was the OG Psycho Gecko. Might undermine her judgment a bit, and there’s potentially a lot of hell to pay for not turning me over to everybody.
She interrupted the silence to finally ask, “How are you feeling?”
I waved a hand mostly parallel to the ground, “Meh.” I reached around for a cup of water for a sip. “Davilo seems conflicted.”
“Heh, yeah. He’s not the only one. General Lulios is trying to change some minds about what happened to make you the person you are… He didn’t mention you were a woman now.”
“Much of my life hasn’t been conducive to healthy development, so I didn’t put a lot of clues together about this until embarrassingly late. What happened to that doctor?” I asked. Really, my mind was elsewhere. I had equipment to get loaded up onto the Dimension Bombs. Plus there’s a Steam sale on now. That part’s actually kind of annoying, because I didn’t want to spend more money on games. But it would be nice to get that spaceship imposter game…
She shifted around a bit and leaned on the wall. “Dr. Varsia is locked up. He’ll be getting charged with what he did, hopefully with the victim’s name sealed. With any luck, he’ll face justice for what he tried to do.”
“Justice…” I said. “I’m not used to it. I guess I wouldn’t be free either if people were good enough at it. I’ve had to tamp down on my desire to jump up and hunt him down. If y’all are going to try and hold him accountable, maybe it’s time to lay off and let it happen. Like, even my new home isn’t that good at it, but there’s someone there who thinks people can change and I almost feel like I owe her that.”
“You have boobs new,” Shona noted. I laughed a little. “I don’t know what to do with you. You think you deserve to be locked up?”
“No matter what I think, I certainly don’t want it.” I smiled, though that faded. “I hurt a lot of people. There’s a reason that guy felt justified doing what he did to me. Don’t know what it says about y’all that you helped me. Part of me wants to call you a bunch of dumbasses.”
Shona walked closer. “Some of these Earth Prime people talk about ‘rehabilitative justice.’ I don’t know what that’s about. It feels like the world’s breaking down on the axis of all its injustices. We keep hurting each other because we hurt each other in the past, and justify new hurt in the future.”
“Yeah, the cycle,” I said. “Thought awhile back maybe it’d be nice to end that.”
“You should cause a lot of people to hope. You changed,” Shona leaned over the bed. “You’ve changed physically and you’re trying to break the cycle of revenge. You’re willing to trust us Rangers now and fight to help us. You even wore the costume.”
“I oughta kill you for saying that, you goose-licking son of a goat-fucking turkey fister!” I yelled, waving my hand around.
She grabbed my hand and held it to her throat. Am I sensing some sexual tension here, or is that just me being horny? “Go ahead. I’m right here,” she said. She’s a bold one, that’s for sure. No wonder she leads her own team. She wasn’t entirely right about me, either. I built a couple of Dimension Bombs that could get me out of here if they decided to finish the job or hand me over to the law. Justice is a nice concept, but I’d still rather not face it. But I figured there was no harm in indulging this Ranger this time. I lowered my hand from her throat.
“Hmm…”she mused afterward, standing up away from me. “Maybe it’s not too late for you.” Something about those words reminded me of a teacher long ago whose ideas on redemption shook me. Scared me a bit, if I’m being honest. I haven’t always been, dear readers. I’m supposed to be the best badass in the world. To be educational for a moment, the right word in the right place can be way more powerful than a boot to the crotch. And I guess hope is, too.
I think that’s what it is. You get so used to being dragged down and only seeing the worst of things that you get comfortable there. You think you know how the world works. You can do whatever you want to people and know for a fact that you’re right. Even the fact that you’re able to get away with it just proves you’re right. Then someone dangles that fucking hope in front of you. It’s every con artist’s favorite bait, and a powerful weapon in the right hands. Hope can break a fanatic.
Hopefully, that rant is over for now.
Davilo still stopped by some, but we didn’t end up talking before the alarms went off again. Or Leah, which is odd and led me to figure they must have been restricting access to me. Which, I realized, might be why I’d been attended to mostly by machines and computers. Let the robots heal me up and monitor me nice and slow so there’s a reason to keep me isolated from people I might hurt, or who might try to hurt me. Which is another way of saying “who I might hurt,” despite my mercy toward my assailant this once. Not a bad plan while they figure out how to handle me. At least until the alarms hit.
I’d heard plenty of alarms hanging out with this bunch, but it wasn’t until I heard lots of shaking, screaming, and people being rushed into the infirmary that I bothered to investigate this one incident. There were enough cameras and unsecured digital devices to pick my way out past people, but it got a bit chaotic at times and supplemented that with guiding myself with walls. People didn’t seem to bother with me, even as I pulled on some pants. At least they did my laundry.
I found my way to a chaotic command center at one point, where an entire wall aired the ranting visage of Carriox. The winged leader of this bunch of villains declared, “Soon, I will destroy their command center. With the Rangers destroyed, no one can stop me. People of Earth, you have no hope. No savior is coming to save me. I will mine your world, use you for labor, and sell the meat when you fall from overwork. I will pick. Earth. Clean!” And he cut the video, because it’s awkward to stick around after that kind of line and start laying out your 12-point management plan.
There were staff there doing their jobs, including someone who wheeled in a cart full of rifles that they started passing out. I approached, though he declined to offer me one. “Hey, what’s this about destroyed Rangers? What happened?”
“Shit, you’re up. Carriox destroyed the transformers and the keys we used to unlock their powers. They’re trying to find a replacement power, but Carriox is attacking now,” he told me.
“Awfully forthcoming with that,” I noted.
I watched through a corner-mounted camera as he shrugged. “We’re already fucked no matter what you do or know. We’ll never hold him off long enough for them to return, and if he destroys the command center, they can’t port back.”
Hmm. I was having some really disturbing thoughts around that time. Conscience-y thoughts. A bunch of nonsense about second chances and living up to them. Invasive little buggers about these humans having pretty good reasons to want me dead and not doing so.
“They’re outside!” someone called.
The guy I’d been talking to told me, “We’re going to seal off every section, so you better decide where you want to be.”
I nodded and headed out of the main command room and toward the entrance. That room’s entrance closed off and I heard large locks shift into place. The rest of the command center wasn’t built as defensibly and the main entrance was being pried apart. The prying was being done by this quartet of large, bent-over crab guys who looked like they could have been monsters of the week on their own.
“Hello!” I called out. I waved and walked toward the opening.
“I recognize you. You fought two of my men!” Carriox announced. He sat on a throne held aloft by Lab Rats. He had a huge crowd of them packed in around the carrier. There were hundreds of the Lab Rat minions. They were squeaky enough, I didn’t need hijacked cameras. Looked like there was a little bit of an entourage there, including a rotund catfish-man and a bug-man with a long, pointy, tube-like nose like if a mosquito was a coke addict.
I clasped my hands together. “Aww, you remembered me! Nothing personal, just one of them attacked me and the other was pretending to be me. Which… I guess is personal after all.”
“I will feel your bones snap and mount your skull in a pike,” he boasted.
I shrugged. “You could do that, or you could win. It’s really up to you. But I just want to take a moment and offer you a chance to walk away. I get it, humans are terrible and the Rangers can be insufferable. They look ridiculous, they pose like models instead of fighters, and they have bad morning breath.”
“What?” asked the bug-man.
“What, huh?” I asked the questioning monster. “I didn’t say anything that made this weird. You did. That was you. Um. Anyway, I don’t know what they’ve done that’s made you so mad at them, and I’m really not in a place to say you must forgive them for it. But this bunch seem to be decent for Rangers, and some of these humans can surprise you in a good way, if only you give them the chance.”
The monsters all looked at each other. Even the Lab Rats stopped their incessant squeaking to look around and then stare at me. The catfish-man started laughing before explaining. “All they did was stand in the way of us cracking this planet open and selling off the guts.”
“Ah, so y’all aren’t likely to stop,” I said. “That’s unfortunate.” And it turns this into a moral problem for me.
“She’s shaking!” Bug-man yelled, pantomiming shaking knees.
“Unfortunate for you,” I informed them. “I’m retired from genocide.”
The Dimension Bomb appeared in front of the door. The four crab monsters warped and melted in the wake of an oncoming dimensional breach that threw up dust and dirt. I walked out of the cloud, arms behind my back and said, “One last chance.”
“Never!” the fat catfish said, pulling out a bearded axe with catfish whisker engravings on the flat of the blade.
“As you wish,” I said, bending over and holding my hands out in the Freeza stance I’ve taken to using sometimes. A tendril of nanite goo and metal wrapped around my waist and pulled me back into the cloud. And into the armor I brought along with the spare D-Bomb originally intended to be my ride out of here.
My armor looks fairly form-fitting, but there’s a shitload of padding and veins of nanomachines. My heavier armor would be more effective, but I’m going to be plenty effective as is. My cloak, more nanites, reformed briefly into a back pair of jagged metal legs like a centaur, then into a tail, then into a pair of wings.
“Fire!” Carriox ordered. All of the Lab Rats pulled out grungy pipeguns. I formed the nanomachines into an atomic-sized blade that I stabbed into the middle of the crowd as they shot at me. The Rats who happened to be in the way fell. The others shot at me to no effect. Bug-man jumped into the air and stayed there, hovering on two pairs of see-through wings. Catfish guy threw himself onto his belly, bouncing once before hugging the ground. Then a surge of nanites allowed me to split the blade in two and sweep them to either side. All the Lab Rats fell, thrashing before going still. I pulled back my nanites and gave the survivors a chance to rethink their lives and deaths.
Catfish stood up while Bug landed next to him. Carriox growled from atop his throne. “Inconvenient. Gulper, Sucker, remove this speedbump.”
“Uh… you sure you don’t want another army of Lab Rats to do it?” asked the catfish, who I guessed was Gulper. The bug I assumed was Sucker spread his hands, a simple spear appearing in his hands. He held out one pointed end and I saw it was a hollow spear with the points being sharpened edges around the hollow center, like a straw of death. Sucker charged, screaming like a kid on coffee.
I grabbed spearstraw near the end. He slid it back out of my grasp, then quickly thrust it at my belly. My HUD warned of partial penetration, meaning it didn’t go all the way through to me.
Gulper tried to come around me, axe ready overhead for a downward swing. My nanites grabbed the weapon by its handle and held it long enough for me to turn an punch him in the face. I pulled Gulper toward me while Sucker tried for another stabbing. I was hoping Sucker might pop the big fish, but he turned his spear away and the pair crashed together without drawing blood on one another.
The pair turned to me, Gulper roaring. Suddenly fins on his elbows and the top of his head stood up. He threw spines at me, also fucking up the how catfish work. Unlike the pipeguns or even the spearstraw, these went full penetration. Nanomachines already poured into the wounds on my armor and body to close things up and repair damage Sucker jumped forward, aiming his spearstraw at my face. I rolled under it and came up behind him, kicking back with both legs and sending him stumbling. I had to throw myself to the side to avoid an axe and came up with my nanites forming a tail that I stabbed toward Gulper. He held up his axe, eyes going wide as my tail dissolved the metal.
“No!” Carriox roared. Above, five streaks of colored light shot through the sky and toward the command center. Sucker tried sneaking up behind me and wrapped his arms around mine. Gulper dropped the handle of his axe and slashed at my armor with his spines. Carriox called out, “Finish her, then we press the attack.” He might have felt desperate hearing the sudden cheers that went up from inside the building.
Heh. I admit, the thought of what Carriox would next get to deal with amused me a little bit.
See, in all this time, none of them had bothered with the cone-shaped device that had arrived with my armor in what had become a shallow crater a couple inches deep. Sucker at least should have wondered why my tail wasn’t making death sausage out of his intestines. That’s because I figured now was a good time to reach out and grab the small D-Bomb. I pulled it close, knocking Sucker back just a bit. I kicked back Gulper just enough, just to make sure the range was correct, and I activated the D-Bomb.
Traversing universes is more mind-bending than the grid-like patterns of Justice Ranger teleportation. It’s like you’ve expanded out from a galaxy and then every galaxy and everything else to see multiple copies of the universe all reaching out and splitting off. First Earth’s had become entangled with Earth Prime thanks to all my meddling, and soon I spilled out into the workyard behind my shop, along with half of Sucker and an important third of Gulper. I left Carriox behind. Just him, a pile of dead minions, and chunks of his dead subordinates versus a team of Justice Rangers with a new set of powers.
As I understood it when I finally got an answer back from my ex and her group of vigilantes, Carriox ended in an explosion that took out the remains of his fleet. I didn’t get back to her when she texted, “Ur bro wants 2 no if its k 2 visit.”
I left the message unanswered while I had a small feast with my daughter, who was so excited to have me back, she asked if I could make my original self look like a kitty too.