“Oxnard Falls is just the first step on my path to world domination!” screamed the supervillain. He was a slight man, his costume not doing him any favors. Not everyone has the build for skintight material, but he was leaning into it. If you have to look ridiculous, that’s one of the ways you handle it. You either become painfully self-aware, or you just don’t give a fuck. This guy, who was trying to take over a tiny town with all the theatrics of seizing a state capital, had no fucks to give. He wore green and yellow, with a brass crown and scepter. Folks probably would have laughed at him, if not for the small army of wind-up bears.
The small town of Oxnard Falls had a historic downtown and bridge, with much of the rest of it being gas stations and fast food places alongside an interstate highway. Metal bears swarmed over it, flinging bricks and whatever else they could get their hands on. They were all clockwork, a few with big keys still sticking out of their backs. I couldn’t help but feel clockwork monkeys would have been more cymballic.
The wind-up bears didn’t just have incongruous throwing arms. They still sported metal claws and metal jaws, probably part of the reason bears were chosen over primates. Those who tried shooting at them didn’t do jack shit; bullets bounced off. They’d have had to shoot into the gears and hope to jam them up. The thing I couldn’t figure out is how the hell the things thought about things.
The wind-up bears were herding up townspeople into a large circle, though ones and twos trickled out. A few people tried ramming their way through in cars, wrecking their cars. One guy went out the windshield after wrapping his front end around a bear. Another rolled to a slow stop, hood smoking and windshield cracked from a wind-up bear now trying to claw its way through after having been knocked onto the hood. That guy stumbled out and caught metal bear fangs to the back of his neck. One guy on a scooter took a look at all that and decided not to risk it.
After awhile, the bears stopped, ringing a couple hundred of civilians who looked up at the supervillain who stood atop a semi truck. “Who are you and what do you want?” someone cried. A few others spoke up with similar questions.
“I am Lord Clockwork! You, Oxnard Falls, will go down in history as the first to fall to my army. Your lives, before now worthless, will have value as the beta testers that helped me perfect my clockwork. You should all be honored that your names will go down in history. Minions, kill this nameless mob.”
If you’re wondering why I have anything to do with this, that’s because Oxnard Falls, small though it is, is only a short distance outside of one of the major cities I expected my impostor to cause trouble in. It is, in fact, the town my left a robot double in. The software in the robot double raised an alert when it detected high pitch human vocal frequencies indicative of screaming. The alternative was a high-turnout public orgy, which sadly doesn’t happen as often as it should. I’m considering lobbying the Radium town council.
I was watching when Oxnard Falls was rounded up, but not everyone. Some in the crowd were willing to fight and then the heroes arrived, such as they were. One older guy in a dark blue on light blue costume was a low-level speedster. He zipped around, but stopped after couple dozen feet or so. He had a boxy metal exoskeleton over his right arm that ended in a hunk of metal he used to pummel the bears with superspeed punches in between catching his breath. There was a child with him, a young girl in green, fuzzy dinosaur pajamas. She gave a roar and the outline of some sort of reptilian beast appeared over her, stomping down on bears where in the direction the girl brought her hands down on.
From inside the crowd came a trio of teenagers. The Black one wore a blindfold over his head and a hooded black and red gi. A pair of oversized metal wings stuck out from the side of his hood. He dodged swipes from a whole crowd of bears, tricking some into hitting the others, but an ill-advised kick knocked him to the ground. A wind-up bear loomed overhead on rear legs, roaring. A teammate of the martial artist, blonde girl with a ponytail ran up with wave of earth rising up just in front of her shoulder. The earth buried the bear and clogged its gears up. She let it fall and conjured another to catch the next closest bear as the martial artist kipped-up. The last guy dive-bombed from overhead, flying but I guess lacking any other sort of offensive capability other than a bat he’d gotten his hands on.
They were a spunky bunch. The one win the costume had a hell of a neat set of powers, actually. The bears focused on them, leaving gaps that some of the people used to escape before some of the clockwork stopped and tried to maintain a picket. Others peeled off, leaving the rest of the circle thinner as they advanced on the group of heroes who came together. The speedster lost steam, coming to a halt too early and catching an arm to the chest that threw him back and left him curling up on the ground. The others gathered around him, and the clockwork took advantage of their weakness. There was only so much they could dodge.
A grey and yellow humanoid with shimmery wings of nanomachines stepped up to the rear of their group and helped the aged speedster up to his feet, the feminine shape’s touch bringing healing and relief from pain. The dull metal body didn’t gleam, they might not have even realized it was metal. But my double stepped forward through the bunch. I caught a claw thrust that would have skewered the little girl in the dino pajamas with one hand.
“You tried. I’ll take it from here,” I said.
“Who are you, lady?” she asked.
“A guardian, this time,” I said.
Y’all tell anyone I did this, I’ll find you in whatever dimension you’re in and recarpet your floor with Legos.
I tore the bear’s arm off and whomped it into another bear with it. My wings reached out and pulled bears off the teens, smashing them one after the other into more of the clockwork.
Lord Clockwork raised his scepter toward me, then slid off the semi in the opposite direction. The clockwork bears stampeded, the ones on the other side of the civilians heading right for that group. I launched myself into the air. I dropped a set of my concussion grenades ahead of my landing in front of the rush of metal beasts. It was like my landing set off a shockwave that threw them back. I walked through them, wings using a motherfucker to smash another motherfucker. I kicked one onto its back and stomped hard as I walked over, knocking its head off. Extreme physical damage seemed to do a good job disabling these things. My hungry little nanites ate them and used them for materials as well, especially the copper they had. Some of the nanites even aerosolized to float over and help the townspeople, some of whom had injuries of their own. Those aerosolized nanites also settled on wind-up bears to eat into them, seemingly dissolving the clockwork. Others subtly collected DNA samples from those supers who had tried to protect the town in case I could harvest their powers for myself.
I even stopped and grabbed one impotent clockwork bear, tearing its head off to peer into there. Its brain was a primitive clockwork computer, perhaps? They didn’t communicate through any sort of signal I could even recognize, and I was curious if I could even link to something like this. In theory, computers can be made that are incompatible with homo machina natural technopathy. These might be an example, so I’d have to look at them.
I didn’t stop until the bears were no longer a threat to the townsfolk. I maybe could have ditched them to hunt down Lord Clockwork, but the main impetus behind intervening was protecting these people. Again, tell no one. No one! Besides, like I said, useful information on alternative computer systems and more superhuman DNA.
I pulled up a satellite view to try and hunt down Lord Clockwork while I finished trashing his minions. He was already gone. No sign of him. No cars speeding off, no apparent or submersible watercraft in the river. If he had a chameleon chopper, I couldn’t see it. That might be handy to know about in the future as well.
I tried to hold it together as the people cheered the defeat of Lord Clockwork’s wind-up bears. The little dino girl ran up and hugged my armor. These people who loathe me were cheering me saving their lives. This girl was hugging who she didn’t realize was one of the most dangerous and feared supervillains on the planet. She didn’t know. None of the know. Ugh, I even saved the cops.
I had problems processing this. I’ve mocked people, told people they should be thankful for me when I tried to make their lives better. This is just… weird.
“Thank you, lady guardian,” the little girl called out. I gently eased her away, looking like I was patting her head, then launched into the air and cloaking. I landed nearby, invisible, giving myself much to contemplate.
I hid the robot armor well and retreated back into my real body, sliding to my feet where the door and my phone application were both making noise. I snuck a peek at the cameras I have watching my door while checking the phone. Both were the same person, some woman I didn’t know.
I opened the door. “Hello! My name’s Dr. Erishka, from First Earth. Hello, I’m a friend of the Justice Rangers, I thought they’d tell you I was coming.”
I looked at her, eyebrow raised. “What are you coming for?”
“I’ve been sent to check on you? They told me you’re a refugee and not to ask about your identity, but I have these scans taken of you back in their facility. You must have friends in the Rangers. If you’re willing to let me, I want to help you look into that degenerative brain issue you’re having.”
I blinked, wondering if this was real. Dr. Erishka looked at me with an anticipatory smile, then went, “Oh!” and reached into a bag. She came up with a letter. “This is for you, from a member of your Earth’s consulate on First Earth.”
A short note, it read, “Dear PG, the doctor hasn’t been told who you are, and I know you have trouble trusting again after so much hurt on both sides. Please, let the healing begin. It’s never too late to be better. Think of it as an upgrade. Love, Leah. P.S., I think you’ll like Erishka.”
“Can I come in? I’m here to help, if you’ll let me,” the doctor reassured.
I nodded and moved out of the doorway.
The Fake Gecko and the Dead President. Interesting pair of enemies I’ve got here. The Dead President faked his death after revoking the citizenship of every superhuman and everyone running around as a villain or hero. ICE was meant to be the dogs he unleashed on us. They’ve been building up to this. I don’t know if it was their ultimate goal. I don’t even think going against supers was the endgame, but we’re a perfect way to make this power play happen. Anyone could be a super.
I’ve had such a low opinion of humans, especially the ones in this country. I feel I’m entitled to some of that from my own history. I figured there’d be protests that would be put down as law enforcement fully embraced their role as lethal enforcers. Resistance would be limited to protesters and people complaining online. Probably the President-elect and his VP issuing some legal challenges and words in Congress that couldn’t go anywhere because of deadlock.
People didn’t stand for it. After a year of protests, all the right people were plenty geared up to take it to the police. One of the first videos after it happened involved cops trying to arrest a superhero who helped put out a fire at an apartment building, and the residents of that building getting between the cops and the hero. Elsewhere, a night raid by Icers was interrupted by regular people gathering and attacking ICE. Cops showed up and tried to keep the protesters in line, but someone else with powers put them and the Icers to sleep.
I noticed when more folks showed up in Radium, too. Some residents are working on housing, while some of us find room for the refugees. I have a small campground in my store’s workyard. I might be stacking some in my underground lair, because some of these houses put together by superspeed and super strength are amateur efforts. At least there’s plenty of work for the people who know what they’re doing.
The incoming administration refused a test and said they would be taking office regardless. “If you got a problem with the Constitution, then you got a problem with me, Jack, and I suggest you let that one marinate. The time for pushing around the American people is over. That includes all the American people, including criminals. Yes, they have rights as well. Just like non-citizens among us have rights, and all Americans should feel insulted that my predecessor believes non-citizenship is a license to discriminate.”
And on and on.
But the point was, I thought the humans would throw the “Other” under the bus. Instead, they were stopping the bus.
My humble contribution was to take a seat in my nice little chair that keeps my body healthy while I take control elsewhere. I sat down on it, closed my eyes, and opened them in Virginia, in a military base that’s been taken over entirely by ICE. The National Guard’s pretty much all at the Capitol in a stand-off with ICE forces that want to come for Congress. The National Guard doesn’t have ICE’s equipment, but they have the numbers.
I was in Top Knot’s body, looking at a mirror while she washed her hands. The mirror shook, an attempt at rebellion from the telekinetic and telepathic super. The nanites moved in and… yeah, no more problems from her. Brain’s all mine now. I felt a little sorry for her. I can say all I want about this being her fault for daring to help kill my robot armor body. I had a bunch of different ways to handle this that were less cruel. I doubt the falsified assassination would have been thwarted by me bombing the bunch, because they could have shoved a different minion in another copy of my armor. But I had other options. Instead, I’ve had nanomachines build a transceiver and eat at her brain. No wonder they used me to justify their takeover.
I finished washing and drying her hands. Less blood and brain than on mine. Then it was off to go find the rest of the bunch. They had a special tent set up for this crew, who sometimes operated in ICE uniforms. I nodded to Lister in his weird metal orb. Zotz was polishing his war club, which isn’t a euphemism. He flexed his bat wings behind him, glanced at me, and went back to his business. I left them behind and headed for the administrative building.
The guards didn’t look twice at me. I wish I had Top Knot’s telepathy. Unless it’s a side effect of my physiology’s incapability with psychic powers, I think the work I did on her brain to take control and get rid of her has destroyed whatever lets her do such things. But I have technopathy going for me. I stood off to the side of the hall, closed my eyes, and started peering out through every unsecured electronic device I could. You get enough people in one place and they just can’t be secure. After a minute, I had a pretty good idea where people were in the building.
A pair of guards went to stop me entering the conference room. I thrust my palms at their heads, nanomachines forming a pair of spikes that rapidly drilled into their heads and deposited some of themselves inside. Still bleeding from the forehead, the guards went back to attention, nanites running a basic servitor program.
“Divine Wind? Get out, you’re not part of this,” the Dead President said. He stood over a table in ICE command fatigues. Fake Gecko stood nearby, arms crossed. A few other officers milled around, one of them working a laptop.
“Did you see the news today?” I asked, transceiver in my borrowed body busy delivering data. “That speech from the President-Elect?”
He snorted. “Non-citizens and rights.” He shook his head. “This country is for us, by us, not a bunch of degenerates. Your dimension is what happens when you let these freaks run free.”
Fake Gecko stood silent. All of a sudden, though, the man at the laptop stood up. “What the…?” He looked at me, then spun the laptop around so the rest of the room could see my point of view livestreaming online.
“You shouldn’t be playing around on Youtube while you’re working,” I said, the video echoing the sentiment.
“Get her!” the Dead President ordered Fake Gecko. The impostor disappeared. Several of the officers drew sidearms. I ducked back behind the door guards who burst in and fired on them. My meat puppets took several to the chest, but that wasn’t all that important to them. With a chainsaw roar, their heads were lopped off and their bodies dropped. Fake Gecko became visible just in time to shove his fist and his under-forearm chainsaw through Top Knot’s chest. I probably had enough metal in her to keep her alive.
The livestream ended. The stream of nanomachines began pouring out of her and onto the fake’s armor. I didn’t kill the man inside, not yet. I just paralyzed him and moved the armor on my own. “Just like old times,” I said, raising the forearm and pulling the Nasty Surprise back under the forearm.
“What are you?” the Dead President asked, panicked, hitting pretty much every panic button near a podium.
“The real Psychopomp Gecko,” I explained. “Not some fake. Who is he, anyway?”
“I don’t fucking know. Some soldier willing to do his duty!” the Dead President said. He pulled a pistol with a thick barrel. It punched right through the chest plates on this old armor.
“Let me guess, that duty involves dying for someone who doesn’t even know his name?” I asked. “Say it! Say his name!”
The Dead President aimed for the head. We disappeared. He lowered the gun and fired, trying to hit the wider target of the chest for all the good it’d do him. He realized how little that was when his wrist twisted and broke, dropping the firearm to the floor. I reappeared.
“Killing me won’t solve anything!” the Dead President declared.
I shook my head. “It wouldn’t have if I did it before showing the world you were still around. Now, everyone knows you lied to them. Now, maybe your VP sticks with the program, or maybe he realizes he was being used. A lot of folks would say murder doesn’t solve any of these problems, but then we can always remind those folks who is next in line for the Presidency.” Then I shook his head right off his neck.
The nanites dissolved the armor from Fake Gecko and stood there as a shimmery mess of tiny robots in human form. “Now, as for you.”
The man who had been in my armor was getting up there. I’d say forties, bald, with a few tattoos. He raised a hand to his chest where I’d quickly patched the hole his boss had left in him. “What do you want with me?”
“Against my better judgment, a word.”
“Fuck off, subhuman trash. Can you even count how many people you’ve killed anymore? If we did all of this just to get rid of you, it’d be worth it,” he mustered as his final bit of defiance.
“You’re right about me, but I’m beginning to see that you’re wrong about so many others you’re hurting. And y’all did this thinking I was dead. Is there nothing else in your life but hate?”
The man tried to square up at me, his service record flashing before my eyes after a quick search. Career military, married and divorced a few times, with restraining orders and brief stints in jail. Child abuse charges after his son developed gills and webbing between digits.
“No, doesn’t look like you do.”
He opened is mouth as if to say something. Paused. Then, “Why do you care?”
“I’m learning. I’m probably failing, but I’m trying. I’m not the same Gecko who first wore that armor you used, Johnathon.” Of course I had his name. “I doubt the man telling you to die for him knew your name.”
“Bullshit. Knowing my name is meaningless. All of this is for show. You’ll always be a monster. Everyone like you will be a monster. That kid, the one you adopted, she’s a-”
The last bit of nanomachines keeping him alive tore their way out of his chest, opening wider the gunshot wound. They flowed to meet my nanomachine body. The man’s answer disappointed, I have to say. So one-dimensional. Was hate all he had? In spite of my earlier assertion that he wouldn’t get a second second chance, I was willing to let him go if there had been more to him.
I tried. Maybe I failed. Maybe there was nothing to do. The nanites flowed out, eating a hole through the ceiling and roof while the room was stormed with more guards. A chopper hovered overhead, just taking off. The nanites flowed up into the cockpit and an empty seat, forming a body that turned to the pilot. “Get out!”
The pilot bailed. Smart guy. And the chopper cloaked, fun stuff. I had to ditch it before it got close to Radium, I just didn’t want the nanomachines left there like a discarded piece of armor, to be weaponized by small people full of hate. More people like me, I guess.
The Vice President, even not hearing that he’d be next in line, officially repudiated the pronouncements of his predecessor and is just looking to fill the position until the inauguration. So it looks like the solution wasn’t to kill someone this time. Or I should say the solution was to show someone was alive, then kill him. The general public doesn’t know about the circumstances surrounding the Twice Dead President, but I don’t think they’re inclined to take the word of ICE right now. The incoming President’s vowed to disband ICE. ICE is beating him to the punch, going AWOL with weapons and equipment. Might even have more stolen gold or cash in other places.
But things are changing. It’s even possible I might be changing. I’ve sounded much the same as my double did, but about humans rather than supers. And those humans stood up and rejected what these cynical bigots tried to make of them. Maybe things can get better.
I have relied on these little nanomachines for a long time. I probably owe them more than anything for my success. I’ve taken a lot of punishment I couldn’t fight through otherwise. Right now, it’s looking like a clear advantage for flesh after the loss of my robot armor, but that’s a hasty decision. It had nanites with it, and that’s given me the chance to turn that loss into a victory. That’s the second key to my success, I guess. You keep fighting long enough, losses turn to victory.
The nanites in Top Knot’s system were ordered to collect what they could to multiply and maintain communication with me. That didn’t go anywhere until she slept and they could head outside her body to scavenge for material. Even the weirdest human diet doesn’t provide what nanomachines need to reproduce and build a transdimensional transceiver under orders from a sour transgender outside of Transylvania.
But I was watching. Waiting. The whole shebang rerouted when they found out their base had been cratered. Whatever had been keeping them there, they left. Maybe it was the base itself. Maybe this whole thing was just about that base and that gold they had coming to them. The fact they left told me two things. First, it led me to another base. They didn’t go back to Paradise City. Instead, they rerouted to Whiting Field, and from there to a National Guard base in Virginia.
The second thing this showed me is whoever the person is under the armor, they aren’t me. Not even some version of me from another Earth. Not some offshoot who got quantum jiggled into landing on a different one than I did after that first D-Bomb went off. He never went back and finished it with Gavel. Never even tried.
Anyway, I was watching some breaking news on Friday. Interesting stuff. The Honky Tonk Hero was having a showdown with Elvis, who had taken back his enchanted guitar. Despite Elvis’s age and gut when he reappeared from the space between dimensions, the power of the guitar had rejuvenated him somewhat. He wore a gold jumpsuit with orange fringe and designs while standing on an exposed beam on a skyscraper under construction. “One note, and the music dies. Full cessation, wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Then, there will be only the King.” Elvis strummed on the strings, the winds around them whirling, making it hard to hear anything but the sound of the mystic musical instrument.
Honky Tonk Hero stood nearby. He wore a jumpsuit of his own, blue and yellow, with the famous pompadour of Elvi everywhere. Elvi’s the plural of Elvis, by the way. Octopus, octopi, Elvis, Elvi. Honky Tonk had no such weapon in-hand, only a shiny platinum microphone. But when he spoke into it, the cameras picked it up perfectly. “You’ve let the power and fame get to your heads. You’re high on celebrity and all manner of pills, old man. I- I looked up to you. I loved you. You inspired devotees around the world, but you’re not our hero doing this. You have to recognize when you’ve got to let the power go and make way for the next generation, or else there won’t be a next generation. What King of Rock N’ Roll would destroy music so that nobody who comes after could surpass him? That’s not nobility. That’s craven pursuit of power for its own sake. I want to believe you’re better than that!”
The reporter edged into the camera’s view. “God help me, Mark, if you cut to a commercial about reverse mortgages right now, I’ll gut you with my heels.”
“Son, when you’ve grown as old as I am, and your legacy is bought and sold so often, you learn the one thing in life you can count on is your own power,” Elvis said. Then hit a power cord that buffeted Honky Tonk Hero with hurricane-strength winds, threatening to throw the younger hero off the building. Honky Tonk, in the middle of this gale, hit a high note that cut into the storm and gave him some room to breathe. Then the King got him again and the support under Honky Tonk strained and shook. And in the middle of all this, I had to wonder what the fuck Honky Tonk was using to keep his hair up. That’s industrial strength hair gel right there.
“To be human, is to know you can count on them that come before and after, and your friends who support you now,” another voice said. The winds died down some as more people assembled. A wizened old Black man in suspenders and a button-down shirt dispersed the winds with his banjo. A middle-aged, hefty Black woman rose with her own circular platform surrounding her, catching Honky Tonk as he fell. It looked like a spotlight centered on the singer and creating a thin yellow circle for others to stand on. A wide circle, given the motley crew with her. Perhaps it was the power of that microphone, or the musical abilities at play, that let the camera overhear, “Once again, a Black woman’s got to do the lifting.”
On the platform, a young woman with a ukulele tended to the downed hero while others stepped forward, adding their voices to the harmony opposing Elvis. A punk with a bass, a flautist, a trombone player. Even some 80s throwback with a lounge suit and a keytar. They were a mess. It should have sounded like chaos. Instead, they calmed the storms and, under the leadership of the old man with the banjo, a wave struck Elvis. He raised his guitar to block it, the mystical instrument seeming to suck in the light. Then an explosion of light blinded everyone. When it faded away, only the guitar was left with broken strings. The old man stepped forward and grabbed the diminished and plain-seeming instrument. Honky Tonk Hero stepped forward and the old man held the guitar out for him. Honky Tonk took it, looked it over, then reached up and removed the pompadour wig off his head. Which raises even more questions for me after earlier events. The hero tossed both the wig and the guitar off the side of the building under construction.
The banjo player stepped back and disappeared into the air. Others of the harmonious group went their own way, like the punk running off at super speed or the trumpeter growing a pair of wings and flying off. Honky Tonk put his arm around the ukulele player and raised the microphone in his hand, holding it out in front of him as he flew with her. The others went their own way on the platform moved by the curvy singer.
“Holy shit,” the reporter said as the camera panned back down to her. Behind her sat a pair of non-plussed good ol’ boys sitting on the tailgate of their Chevy, shaking their hands and downing bottles of what looked like whiskey or maybe rye.
Then, the broadcast was interrupted by an announcement by the President. It’s like he got annoyed someone was taking all the attention and he decided to make a speech that would be talked about for a long time. It started with a bunch of normal, unassuming platitudes. He ran down a list of various world-threatening events of the past few years. I was a major part of most of them. There was a bit of a theme in that most of what he talked about centered on supers. Baseline human terrorism was reframed as being people in masks as well. Was a bit annoyed to see he brought up the aliens who invaded and the supers who were brainwashed into helping them without noting the ones who helped stop the invasions. Then, he got to the key part of the address, the real reason behind it all.
“In light of these extraordinary events, these extraordinary threats, and the inability of Congress our and institutions to deal with them through ordinary means, I hereby order all agencies of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to revoke or treat as revoked the United States citizenship of every masked villain or vigilante and every human who exhibits superpowers. All super technology, including some of the self-declared heroes, is to be seized. We are making a push to remove drugs that are the product of super science as well. To those who have no powers, or those good-hearted men and women with training who sought to do the police’s job for them, I say to you now that you can stop. If you have no powers, take off your mask and put away your cape and walk away. No harm will come to you. But if you continue past today, you will be treated, along with every superhuman within the United States, as a non-citizen with all the rights that classification entails. It will be a hard road to root out these dangerous individuals of mass destruction in our midst, but we have the loyal men and women of ICE and other government agencies to do the job for us. I am also asking Congress to undergo testing for superpowers and subject my successor and his vice president to this testing before they take office.”
And there it is. The naked grab for power. He didn’t even take questions. Instead, the nearest reporters got plasma rifles pointed at them courtesy of Icers while someone in power armor stepped forward declaring that all members of the White House Press Corps would be subject to powers testing starting today.
Which is another shitty level on this. I’m not aware of any particular test for superpowers. I know people can be tricked into showing their powers if you catch them off guard or stress them enough. Some folks can’t hide it, like the ones with weird eyes and skin, or the various animal-people. Which I guess makes this authoritarian move all the more brilliant in its own way. Who says if someone has powers and is subject to whatever the government wants to do to them? A test done by the government with no oversight or clue how it works, if it works. Could just be some guy holds up an unplugged supermarket scanner and declares someone a super to be arrested because the President didn’t like them.
The President didn’t even make it off-stage when my double appeared and put a fist through the gut of the President. He’s not me, but he pulled a spine out of a stomach hole in the way I like to. It looked to all the world like Psycho Gecko had proven the President’s wisdom. The press shouted in fear while ICE opened fire on Fake Gecko. The Fake disappeared and the room descended into pandemonium. People fell and got trampled. I think I saw plasma bolts firing into the crowd.
The announcement was made a short time later that the President had died and been replaced by his milquetoast Vice President, who resolved to carry out on the dead President’s fight as long as it took, even another four years if the incoming administration proved to be supers.
Top Knot hadn’t gone with them to that event, but the base where she was at, I was able to listen in when they brought in part of the Washington National Guard detail. Among them was the dead President, healthy, laughing, and completely unharmed. He tossed an old holodisc of mine to the Fake Gecko who caught it. Then the dead President said, “I hear my retirement package didn’t make it. Let’s go find a new one in all the quote-unquote rioting that’s about to happen. What do you say?”
I say some folks got awfully cocky that I’m not around anymore before they stole my likeness to enact a fascist takeover, but I’m more than happy to help them retire. And with the way my machines are transforming Top Knot’s body, it won’t be long before they find out I never left.
“I deserve to go after these bozos. They killed my friends,” Gavel demanded when I was headed out of the casino.
He wore a costume that was two different shades of purple, with an oversized metal gauntlet on his right hand, carrying a huge hammer with him. Warhammers don’t have to be as oversized as people think, but this one’s head was the size of a cinderblock, with a handle as thick as someone’s forearm. Gavel’s hands couldn’t wrap around it, but the large gauntlet he had on could. He had a buckler shield on his left forearm as a nod to defense, but he still looked like he hadn’t had much sleep.
“And I’ll kill them. You’ll just have to make peace with that being the only justice you’re capable of.”
“I-!” he started to yell, raising his hammer overhead to swing down on me. My nanites surrounded his neck with three jagged shards of metal before he could even let gravity drop the hammer.
I turned my back on him and walked out of the casino, past O-sec. Gavel sheepishly lowered his hammer.
“They were ICE inside. We fought with them, but they held us off maybe five minutes. Then, more ICE were on us. We were in the middle of nowhere. They came up on four-wheelers and jetpacks.”
That’s what he’d said when Ouroboros and I paid him off. They were off in rural Alabama, between Mobile and Paradise City. Five minutes into the heist and Icers were on the scene. They were able to get away with armored truck they were using. Makes sense to me, sure. ATVs aren’t the fastest thing around and most people really don’t want to try and keep up with a speeding truck on the land equivalent of a jet ski. The main problem with jetpacks is their lack of range. So ICE was close and that seemed to be their shipment of gold, not Mobile’s. I did a little bit of cross-checking with satellites and nearby roads.
The guys jumped the gold shipment at what was just about the halfway point to Mobile. Usually a pretty solid strategy, they just happened to do so right near some weird compound that seems to be right where the ICE agents would have come from if they traveled through the woods to reach the road. Gavel and his friends just got unlucky. And look at that, a string of helipads. For a agency tasked with handling immigration, that’s a hell of a lot of firepower to have in rural Alabama.
If it was up to me, I’d have handed over the info to the Exemplars, but Ouroboros made a good point. “Think of all the gold in it for us,” he said. Which was somewhat persuasive, but the thing that really gained my sympathy was him saying, “Besides, they attacked and killed three villains. Our community has the right to avenge itself upon them before you call in the heroes.”
I told him to be ready to go for whenever I’m dealing with the fake. And so, after leaving the casino, I spent days with my robot armor pretending to be Gavel doing a shitty job laying low in Paradise City. Ouroboros even put out the word through some of his guys about how Gavel had been expelled for causing so much destruction to the casino. The young villain instead got comped one of bunker rooms under the casino
I was a couple days into it when I got a call from Ouroboros himself. “We have contact. My men saw ICE performing recon on the Pea Ridge safehouse. Head there and they’ll know where to send your double.”
“Weird that they’re looking there,” I mentioned.
“Heh. I was curious how it got out that the villains were staying at the casino. I told men I thought I could trust. This time, I told them I was secretly hosting him at a safehouse, but I told each one a different address.”
“Looks like whoever was told about the Pea Ridge house is about to take a long swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Some surprisingly strong currents out there,” I noted.
“He swore on his life he was loyal to me. I’ll collect this one myself. You worry about your well-dressed friend.”
The armor pulled up outside the Pea Ridge safehouse, in a neighborhood behind a movie theater. Depending on the city, it can be cheaper to rent a place to lay low, even if it’s just paying to use someone’s garage or back room. This area, the real estate’s so cheap Ouroboros can buy multiple neighborhoods for employees or to subsidize housing for the poor. That last one helps him look good and distracts from when he buys random homes that only ever seem to get used when someone needs to lie lower than the casino can manage.
I went into the house as Gavel and turned invisible once I passed into a hall where they couldn’t see in from the outside. I waited for anything to happen while going through the motions, like turning on a bedroom and bathroom light, and starting to run a shower.
A text from Ouroboros alerted me: “They’re bringing in a few vans. They really want Gavel gone. We’re ready to move on base on contact.”
I’d have smiled if I wasn’t inhabiting the body of a robotic suit of power armor. The head didn’t have eyes, a nose, or a mouth, just the suggestion of them.
“Contact,” Ouroboros said. It was a minute later the bathroom door swung open and that fake fucking Gecko walked in. He walked up to the shower curtain and pulled it aside. Seeing nothing in there, he stepped back. His reflection in the mirror turned toward him and shrugged. Fake Gecko smashed the mirror with his fist, returning it to normal.
I fell on him from above, cracking the tile floor beneath him. Looking down him, though, I pondered what I’d learned in recent days and recent years. “You know you don’t have to fight for these dipshits, right? Let them spill the blood themselves. You can step back from it. Maybe be a better person than I am.”
An invisible force pulled me through the wall and out onto the front lawn. Out there were a squad of those henchmen in the orange and grey, along with another costumed group.
“I detect no mental activity. I don’t think it’s alive,” said a woman with a top knot hairdo in a green and black robe.
A mechanical orb the size of a beach ball floated up next to her, unfolding a set of small arms with saws, blades, and an arc welder from underneath where a human face stared out. “I call dibs on the pieces!”
I jumped up to meet another shape heading right for me, a man with a war club. I caught the club and kicked him in the chest. He flew back and unfurled a pair of bat wings from behind him. Next came a woman in Venus’s costume, but not her power armor. I just stared at her after the punch. “Another fake.”
“Real, just from one planet over,” she said. Sounded like my Venus, who now went by Medusa. Even grunted like my Medusa when I smacked her away with the club that then flew out of my hand to meet the diving bat guy. I went to punch him, but top knot’s head glowed and suddenly my arm wouldn’t move forward. I took a club to the gut, but the armor didn’t have anything important there. The bat guy landed and turned for another strike. My nanite armor rose up off my back and formed into a humanoid form of its own, then ran for him. He raised the club to strike when the nanites turned into a liquid flow that went through him, leaving a hole eaten in through his chest and reforming on the other side.
“What is this thing?!” yelled one of the henchmen.
“Death. And hell follows after,” the armor said. I charged Top Knot with the liquid metal self. The pressure on my arm failed as she mashed the nanites down and encased them into a spherical shape. That let my swap back into the armor and toss a flash bang into her eyes. She dropped the nanites then, but they didn’t even land before the orb lit them up with a flamethrower. I think it got all of them.
I tossed a regular old grenade his way and cloaked. Venus cartwheeled and kicked it back toward where I’d thrown it from, but I had run to the kneeling bat guy. Went to grab his club away from him, but he looked up, the hole in his chest closing. Regeneration’s a really unfair power when people other than myself have it. He pulled me in close and wrapped me in a bear hug, calling out, “Here!”
Behind me materialized Fake Gecko, with a glowing fist that punched through my helmet. They all stared at the space where it was, then the robot armor’s joints reversed themselves. I grabbed the Fake by the leg and elbowed Bat Guy in the face. I tossed my double into the air, where he went invisible, sure, but I just swapped vision modes. I settled in, charging up my own armor’s gauntlet for a punch. Even Bat Guy still being wrapped around me wasn’t enough to keep me from adjusting to get underneath Fake Gecko.
He stopped in midair, fifteen feet up. Top Knot’s head was glowing again. I pulled free of Bat Guy’s grasp and kicked him backwards, throwing up a line of dust. The orb tried to shock me, giving me a boost of charge that I used on the next person rushing me. Fake Venus’s chest, mushed and goopy, sprayed over the ground behind her. She gasped, squeaked, dropping some gadget she held in her hand. She still sounded like my Medusa. I grabbed her by the neck and slid her mask off.
She looked like my Medusa, too. I faded into invisibility, wanting to take a moment to examine her face despite the whole situation. I dropped her when my right arm wrenched right. My left leg went left. Top Knot held me in midair telekinetically by the two opposing limbs. Bat Guy walked up, checking on the dead Alternate Venus The orb flew in, spraying some foam onto the robot armor. Without my cameras, it was difficult to see or project, but I knew I looked like a poofy mushroom person. Like a headless Gozar the Gozarian. “Easy, Zotz, this thing’s a work of art!”
“I don’t care, Lister, we’re destroying it,” Fake Gecko said, uncloaking.
“Nooooo,” the orb guy wailed.
“Give me a clear line of sight,” Top Knot said. “I’m tearing this thing apart.”
I went for a grenade with my free left hand. Fake Gecko pulled it free and tossed it to the orb, who caught it in tiny robot arms hanging out of the bottom of his orb. I checked around for anything else to use and didn’t see a lot of options after they burned the nanite cape.
Well, almost all of it. There was a tiny bit of it that I realized I could direct. Considering distance and personal dislike, I directed a droplet of it toward Top Knot. The metal on the robot armor’s body strained. I kicked the bat guy away and reversed my joints again, punching Fake Gecko in the throat. He knelt, gasping I went for my belt again, setting off a flashbang. She didn’t drop me. Instead, all four limbs were now being pulled in different directions. Things started to come undone. Screws, bolts; it was nuts. It was like every separate piece of the robot armor telekinetically disassembled itself, leaving behind a power core that was beginning to go unstable.
“Wait! We must be careful with this!” Orb said. It swung in close, opening a black cube with those tiny arms and snatching up a power core that now refused to respond to any signals whatsoever.
“Is that going to work?” Bat Guy asked. Then he looked to Fake Gecko and knelt to check on him.
I had sources in the area, still. The nanites couldn’t hear or see any of that in the same way. They were almost useless at that point, I figured, until I got a different idea that could save face for me. Because I could have just struck the whole spot with a missile, sure. I had plenty of bombs. But now, after I dared give Fake Gecko a chance and had to watch someone I still actually care about die, they were rood enough to tear one of my bodies apart. And they’re trying to do a bunch of sneaky shit.
The nanite droplet slipped onto the robed, top knotted woman’s shoe and began looking for a nice, subtle opening. A cut, a sore, something like that.
But I figured I’d give Ouroboros a heads-up. “Turns out Fake Gecko has a team. I’m going to find out where the next hole they hide in is and kill them there. Sorry about the bathroom wall.”
After a few minutes, Ouroboros got back to me. “Most people die when their heads get torn off.”
“Most people aren’t me.” And the only other me isn’t getting a second chance twice.
Then it was up out of my comfy long-distance chair to vacuum and cook dinner, like a supervillain homemaker does in between murders.
Wow. Hell of a past few days. Way to go, 2021. You’re doing terrific.
Since the last update, a group of right-wing fanatics tried to overthrow the government of the United States and I had nothing to do with any of it. The Capitol Police just let them on through. It was the Exemplars who showed up and stopped people from taking hostages and setting off bombs. So now the President, that same lackluster appointee who came out after all the recent soft civil war shenanigans, has to sit there and enjoy his political black eye. He hates the Exemplars and Medusa, but now they saved Congress while he refused to call in the National Guard and, some suggest, might have had a hand in the insurrection itself. Now he’s being investigated, the chief of the Capitol Police has been forced to resign, and the Exemplars are pardoned in every way but a signed piece of paper. The President would have to do that himself.
But none of that concerns me. They don’t pay me to be a hero. I’m just keeping an eye out for Fake Gecko. It’s my time to relax and unwind. Take it easy. Use a small underground factory to churn out power armor for fake superpowered clone bodies and roboticization.
And a couple of heat rays so I could lay out and sun myself. I know it’s the middle of winter, but that’s what heat rays are for. I laid there in the catgirl body, enjoying the heat and sun while purring. And then something with a reverberating voice said, “That’s hot.”
I opened my eyes and blinked as a ghostly Mix N’Max, my super chemist friend, floated in the air nearby. I grabbed an icecube out of my drink and tossed it at him. He looked down at it, then back up at me. “Don’t worry, it’s me.”
“You got some sort of projector nearby? It’s crap quality, bud,” I said, looking around. I eyed the streetlight. Some people had been working on it last month and part of me wants to be paranoid someone’s watching me. Other parts of me know that the shrunken Sheriff’s department and the neighbor’s teen boy were more subtle setting up their cameras.
“No, you’re seeing me now because of hallucinogens,” Max explained to me.
I eyed my drink. “Damn, the Irish know their whisky.”
“No, I took the hallucinogens,” Max gestured to himself. “They’re really strong.”
Must be if they’re able to make other people see things. “What you been up to, dude?”
“The usual, but did you know you have an imposter?”
I pulled myself up to a sitting position, my paws rubbing over the strips of rubber of the lawn lounger under me. “Yeah, I’m looking for him. I’d love to give him some firsthand experience in what the real deal’s like.”
Max shrugged. “Well, he’s causing trouble.”
“What happened and where is he?” I asked, fur standing up all poofy. I tried to relax and comb it back down with the claws that popped out on my hands.
“I’ve been spending time near Paradise City. A few of us more senior villains invested in a gang of newbs who wanted to rob a Federal gold transfer they found out about. They got away, but they said it was guarded by a bunch of ICE. Then, your double and his henchmen showed up in Paradise City and started hunting down the newbs.”
Huh. I hadn’t sent some robot armor there, both out of professional courtesy and just not expecting the Fake would have the gall to show up there. Ouroboros, the villain who runs that town, would probably tolerate me showing up unexpectedly even if he knew I was me but it would be better to inform him if I stationed a robot there. What he lacks in superpowers, he makes up for with power and respect in the community. I’ll have to redirect the one from Miami northward.
“Federal gold transfer’s not a bad haul,” I mused. “Adds to the hypothesis I have that this fake is working for the President as a deniable hired goon. ICE is a new connection. Wonder why they’re even bothering to go after the newbs.”
Max shrugged. “They say they didn’t get anything. Maybe they did and it’s enough the Feds think it’s worth more to get it back. They’re staying at the main casino in Paradise City, so we’ll find out if they start gambling with money they owe us. More important, he’s got enough security to keep out the imposter. The Feds aren’t the only ones upgrading. But that complicates things if you want to sneak in.”
Oh, I have ideas. Got robots hollowing out a whole cavern for me underneath my store and building transdimensional communications devices. Ideas aplenty, just not so many of them ready to be put into action. “You think he’d be understanding if I come clean about still being alive?”
Max waggled his hand. “Annoyed, but understanding. You’ve been thought dead before. You might suggest helping him win the pool on when you’ll return to ease the revelation.”
“I’ll think about it,” I told my friend. I raised a drink, “You want something to wet your whistle?”
He shook his head and held up a hand to stop me, “No, I shouldn’t under the effects of these shrooms. I think I’ll go visit some other planes until these wear off. If anyone asks, they can find me at the Mountains of Madness.”
“Cool, see you around,” I said, reaching out for a fist bump. My fist went through his, but it’s the thought that counts.
“Bye now,” he said, waving as he faded away. Ah, Max. Hell of a supervillain. Could have made billions selling dick pills if he wanted, but he chose to do his own thing.
Most people aren’t aware just how big Florida is, so it took a little more than eight hours to roll into Paradise City in a stolen car with my robot armor. I need a better nickname for these things, but I’m no longer feeling Dudebot. They aren’t really robots, which is a term I’m beginning to dislike. I hear it’s starting to filter into my home Earth as a slur toward my people. Maybe Corpses and Caskets for the two different sorts of bodies I inhabit. Sounds like a neat tabletop game as well.
I decided to run it by Medusa via text. “What do you think about Corpses and Caskets?”
“Dark. Hey, u in Cali?” she asked.
“Trying to intercept Fake Gecko. Diverted to save some of your Master Academy kids,” I sent back.
“Makes sense. U talk 2 them?”
“No. Saw that the camp was an Academy replacement and saved them from attacking an army base instead of catching the fake at the other.”
She called me up, “Hey, let’s just speak then.”
“Ok,” I said while my Casket passed by central Florida orange stops. They have these stations you can stop at to get free orange juice samples while they try to sell oranges and other stuff. Best OJ you’ll ever have, but I just now realized this sounds like I’m making it up to mock the state.
“So you saw some of what went on there?” Medusa asked.
I sighed, thinking of that delicious orange juice I couldn’t partake in. “Just the tail end, when the fake escaped and something exploded. Saw the bunny person and someone dressed like a wizard.”
“Yeah, ok,” she said. “And you’re still hunting that other Gecko, right?”
“That camp wasn’t just a replacement for the Master Academy that Omega destroyed while possessing you. I worked out an arrangement with the Academy. We were housing some refugees from other Earths there. Someone tried an experiment with stolen tech from Ricca and accidentally brought a town from another Earth to this one, along with doubles of some heroes and villains.”
I growled. “Were any of those doubles me?”
“The folks I talked to think I’m an evil version of their Venus, so they don’t like to talk to me, but they haven’t said so. I thought you better know, though.”
I took a deep breath, then let it out. “Ok, thanks for letting me know. Still on for dinner Tuesday?”
“You got it,” she said.
Despite those intellectual and moral complications, I thought I was all set to deal with Fake Gecko. That assessment changed when the Casket rolled that stolen car up to the front of the unnamed building Ouroboros’s casino operated out of. Everyone knew it what it was and who owned it, so you’d have to be desperate actually do something about it. You’d need military-grade weapons to stand a chance.
The taller portion of the building that housed the guest rooms was smoking. It looked like a war had taken place there. Holes gaped in it and every single window seemed to be missing. The casino’s security, or O-sec, were waiting in the parking lot, which was still packed.
They had five guys waiting when I stepped out of the car, one of them lowering a tablet while the others held shotguns at a very tense ease. As in, they weren’t pointed at me, but they were ready to point. Things were thicc, too. Looked like the barrel could be used to milk a stallion. Lower tech than I’d think of from Ouroboros. But, and this might sound odd for a guy who runs things out of a casino, he’s always loved reliability more than flashiness.
“Excuse me… entity,” the man with the tablet addressed me. He and his buddies were suits, but tailored and with vests underneath that disguised bulletproof plates. “Screenings are a security precaution. We’re afraid our guest accommodations are unavailable at this time. Are you here to gamble or for other business?”
“I see that, yeah. I’m here for business. A friend of mine made an investment that went sour and seems to have led to an uncomfortable situation. They reached out to me as a fixer.”
The man’s tablet beeped. He glanced down at it, then looked to me. “Who did you speak with, if I may ask?”
“Mix N’Max,” I answered. No use volunteering more than I needed to.
The tablet beeped again. Ah, someone’s listening. The guy in charge turned to one of the others in his squad. “Take over for me, boss needs me to escort this fixer to a meeting.” He turned back to me. “You’ve interested someone.”
“Good, I try to be interesting.” My costume could be more interesting in this case. The armor resembled my own, as if it fit a feminine form. This wasn’t something where it had big metal boobs sticking out, but it still had some. While usually I can get away with that due to advanced plating and padding, this time there’s no bones to break or boob to injure. And trust me, those bad girls are sensitive to impact.
I felt the signal weaken as I entered the bustling house of chance. That would be the thick building materials that make it unreliable to rely on the internet for cheating. All around me were the lights and the mess of noises that tickled that excitement button in the human mind. No matter where you were on the casino floor, you could hear the machines egging you on while dark carpet hid stains in between nightly cleanings. The power of transdimensional communications devices compelled the Casket (is it working as a term? I’m not sure yet) to follow my guide to a room on the side with a few guards stationed outside the door. “What’s all that ruckus with the guest rooms about anyway? Anything I need to know?” I asked the guy leading me.
“I can’t say,” he said. He pressed something on the tablet as he approached and the door before us swung open. “Please, through here.”
He didn’t follow me in. He left me alone, in a small conference room where Ouroboros sat. He stood up when he saw me, smiling through the open part of his mask that resembled the mouth of a snake. His costume looked like a rough, black close-fitting material and a pair of curved bone knives stuck through his belt. “Well, hello. It has been awhile, if you’re who I think you are.”
“I dunno, the person you’re thinking of is probably dead,” I said, wondering if he’d actually figured me out or if this was some weird wordplay.
“Well, your craftsmanship resembles a dearly departed friend of Mix N’Max whose rest I don’t wish to disturb. So, what psychopomp are you?” Yeah, he knows who I am.
“Just a Psychopomp,” I said. “What gave it away?”
He pointed to my chest. “You use a unique power source, but not unique enough. You’re here for your double, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that can drag me out of my grave and back into action.”
“He’s been here,” Ouroboros said. He nodded upward with his chin. “He’s got your audacity, and your cloaking technology. He tried to sneak in. We detected him, ran him off. He called in a trio of cloaking gunships. Shot up my guest rooms while he escaped into the city.”
“After those new villains, I take it? Did he get them?” I asked.
Ouroboros held up a finger. “All but the one who was passed out drunk in the club.”
“Good. We can find out what this is all about and we have some bait to dangle for him,” I told the other villain. “We need a place other than here to lure them to.”
Ouroboros crossed his arms. “He’s hungover and he just lost his friends. Maybe let’s take it easy on the kid right now.”
I shrugged. “If he tells us what we want to know, sure. Might be he doesn’t need to be there in person if he’s proven himself valuable in other ways.”
“Retired, but still vicious,” Ouroboros noted.
“Not as retired as you’d think, but if you want, we can make this an easier transaction. I’ll just pay him to talk and lay low for a few days. You’d be surprised how long people will stay inside somewhere if you offer money.”
Ouroboros cleared his throat, then pretended to look toward the door back out to the casino floor. I made a show of following his gaze, then turned back and shrugged. “Or maybe you wouldn’t.”
I was a little curious to hear what the internet was saying about this fake Gecko. It’s not the first time a fake has popped up. This one keeps showing up to hit targets like protests or stealing the money from a bail fund. Not the sort of things I’d do nowadays, but definitely the kind of stuff that’s in my past back when I was a dog on a government leash.
The civilian internet was a mess, as usual. Some of the right-wing conspiracy sites simultaneously believed I was an agent of the evil Deep State and a patriot fighting a global pedophile cabal. Which reminds me, it’s been a bit since I punched a bishop. But since there wasn’t any porn, there wasn’t much reason for me to pay attention to that part of the internet. I was once again seeking the validation of my peers in the villain community
Top post, they were selling porn. I thought maybe stolen celebrity selfies and sex videos. Instead, someone’s claiming a team of villains broke into a vault in Fort Knox and found the United States Secret Stash. The Porn of the United States. There’s some very tasteful Jackie O on Marilyn Monroe in there, they claim. Sounds a little bit ghoulish to me, but then these are the same people who claim to have Benjamin Franklin’s old nude engravings of French women. Thomas Jefferson’s personal library became the Library of Congress. Ben Franklin’s got shoved under the bed and jacked off to.
VillaiNet is much like the regular internet. People were selling dick pills that fell off the back of a trucks or haunted Native American artifacts and jewelry. I thought that one might be a bit insensitive, but it’s a Native American villain selling them. Anyway, I wasn’t the main topic of consideration, which is biased against me and my ego. They had a little bit there about the “Return of Gecko?” Most of the other villains don’t buy that it’s me. Wish I could say it’s because of my actions, but the most popular evidence against the fake being me was the fake’s throwback armor. They don’t even know just how far beyond simple armor I’ve gone.
I decided to distribute some more robotic armors. Spare bodies require more maintenance. You have to wake them up, move them around so they don’t get bed sores, make sure they eat and shit, all that. The robot armors, formerly known as Dudebots, lack versatility but also lack the capacity to die if you neglect them for a few weeks. Think Super Roombas versus brainless cat my mind inhabits from time to time. Er, quite a bit of the time. Those people who stole the secret porn stash better stay away from those videos of me as a catgirl dancing to the musical Cats.
I’ve been tracking the fake and trying to plant robotic armors in major cities that the fake has appeared in or might appear in. Los Angeles, Empyreal City, and Washington D.C. Were top of the queue. The one on the way to L.A. Didn’t get there before the Fake put in appearance there.
Fake Gecko attacked some old summer camp outside of town, which seemed like a fun game to me. I always favored the victim density of cities. That’s just one of many advantages cities offer to rural locations, but I still enjoy the idea of stalking people at a summer camp and murdering them one by one.
The report came in from locals, but it took awhile to reach a threshold that anyone directed the info to the Federal level. I can’t pay attention to every Johnny Law out there, and I can’t see what I’m not looking at. Spread myself too thin and it hurts my head. Only so much mind to go around. And never enough where I need it. Cameras nearby showed Fake Gecko running out of a cabin and diving into a helicopter that rose and cloaked.
Of all the bits of my technology to trickle down, the American military has cloak capacity. That was my first thought. Then the cabin exploded and gave me something new to think about. The cabin exploded in a brilliant red light. An adult man in casual clothes ran up, raising his hands toward the light, containing it to the perimeter of the cabin’s remains. A young girl joined him and made a similar gesture that reduced forced the light into a smaller space, above some device. Then another group ran up, including a person in a bunny mask and a figure in a flowing robe. The robed person conjured up a staff and did some theatrical gestures. Then light they held back was directed upward, disappearing into fireworks.
Zooming back some, I saw there were a few other campers, some who didn’t look like baseline humans. Extra limbs, flying, either some weird clothes or weird bulk.
I became interested in the target and found it going back to an LLC that sounded boring but was the same as a business that maintained the Master Academy campuses. These were displaced supers from the destruction of the Master Academy’s original campus that was, uh, my fault. Kinda. I was possessed by a godlike extradimensional being at the time. Casualties were inevitable. Flying around, carving up a campus full of young supers learning to control their powers and make responsible decisions… it could happen to anyone.
Yeah… so… I didn’t quite bring it up with Medusa right away because of that. If anything, it really made me wonder just how much Medusa had a thing for bad girls.
Judging my ex aside, I’m going to wake up to an entire factory full of chickens home to roost. Anyway, that bunny mask reminded me of another alternate Earth I’d been to, one that didn’t have me in it. Maybe this was this Earth’s version.
With all that, the robot armor I sent was just not close enough in time to do anything
Not enough eyes, not enough mind, not close enough. For all my power, I am still beholden to physics. No, not just physics. Geography!
I knew where the nearest military bases were, though. Geography, bitches. And physics, since I knew whatever system they were using to cloak an entire helicopter would be eating into their primitive power systems. Once again, it strained the mind to keep an eye on the nearest two I felt it could reach in time while also sweeping the airspace between them. I just couldn’t brain enough. It was mentally exhausting. Closed my eyes for a minute and then exciting things happened.
The base I had left off staring at was the absolute closest to the camp. The guards were scrambling to alert everyone and man defenses because of a group of kids and teens out front using their powers. You know how it is, presenting their powers to look intimidating, throwing a car or two, maybe freezing a gate and then smashing it open. The army rode deep, with some bigass guns. The kids tried charging the base and the guns opened up.
A big guy tried to take some of the hits, but he tried to cover his face and ended up kneeling after a pretty tough hit to his groin. Another kid ended up gutshot. Others hid behind one of the cars the big guy had shoved around to look strong.
Meanwhile, at the other base, a familiar helicopter materialized overhead and landed. My robot armor was minutes a couple of minutes from either one, depending on how I adjusted its trajectory. If Fake Gecko got away, he’d kill more than some small group of kids. If he was getting away. For all I know he thought he was in the clear and had no reason to flee.
Damn Medusa and everyone else who had a hand in giving me a conscience, thinking about the choice I made. I didn’t want to.
I watched as a group of soldiers approached, moving into positions, one with grenade launcher. Covering fire kept the heads of the young heroes down. The big guy, meanwhile, had folded his body around the wounded kid, shaking as a grenade rolled to a stop next to him and blew up. It shredded his clothes and left his skin red and raw.
Then the explosion overhead drew the soldiers’ attention. The being falling out of the sky was grey and yellow, slowed only by glittering liquid-metal wings. The wings pulled in as it closed to the ground and knocked the grenade launcher out of his hands. A shriek ripped through the soldiers’ radios as the armor stood up, paralyzing all of them and flopping them against the ground. A similar paralyzing scream struck the other base, where Fake Gecko was, but didn’t stop the Fake or hardly anyone else.
Back in the armor, I ran for the kids. “Bigness, get up.”
The big guy looked around and raised a hand to hit me. I slid underneath and to the wounded girl. I lifted her up, the nanomachines wrapping around her wound. “Easy. This is going to hurt doing it this way, but you don’t want to be here when these guys wake up.”
“Let go of her!” her protector yelled.
The others were all peeking from behind their cover. Someone stood up with a ball of frost in hand. The girl in my arms screamed, but I let her loose and set her free now that her wound was closed. The large fellow chasing me went for a clothesline at the back of my head. I disappeared and he stumbled to a stop when all he hit was air. He looked funny when I lifted him up overhead and tossed him in the back of somebody’s civilian truck parked near the entrance.
“Go!” I said as I reappeared, waving them to the truck.
Behind me, someone pulled himself into a prone shooting position. I turned and got him right in the face with a blinding grenade. I formed the nanites into a horn on my head with the laser mechanism inside. I probably should have just melted the tires, but I blasted the engines of every humvee I could see like a majestic laser unicorn of destruction. Note to self: start a band named “Majestic Laser Unicorn of Destruction.”
The kids finally got the hint while I was doing this. Big fella climbed down out of the truck and gathered up with the rest of them. Then one of them stretched an arm out fantastically long and wrapped it around my waist. I stopped firing my laser when I got tugged off my feet and toward their little circle that shot out of there. We raced out of there. It was less voluntary in my case, being dragged through the air behind the group.
We stopped at a fast food place off the interstate. Or I stopped. I turned to see what was up and they were gone with a Road Runner-esque puff of smoke drifting through the air behind them. A note drifted through the air in messy writing. “Thanks for patching me up, but we don’t know you.”
Well, ok. I cloaked and checked out the other base, the one where all the choppers, cars, APCs, and hummers were fleeing from. Better yet, they had their radios turned off or something, because that paralytic scream did nothing!
Congratulations, you little shitbirds, you cost me a chance to kill the Fake. Eat shit and live.
I was minding my own business this time. Everything was nice and quiet at my house and my shop. My brother and his girlfriend left to their dimension to go fight whatever it is Justice Rangers are fighting nowadays. My daughter was trying to stay up too late to play games with her friends and I kept catching her and sending her to bed. Some people were spending Christmas money on gadgets and prosthetics. I didn’t even have as many check-ups by law enforcement after the town voted to curtail the local sheriffs, and supposedly the mayor and town council were looking into attracting more high-end mental health professionals to the place. A bunch of them could actually see the point of having better mental health infrastructure when dealing with superhumans. I think they realized I’m not longer the town crazy, just a town crazy.
No, I was minding my own business, texting back and forth with Max and Medusa about different things. I figured, after recent lessons, I’d reopen channels of communication with Medusa. I’d also realized I wasn’t being too good a friend to Max, so wanted to keep an eye on him. It was good timing; he was about to hit a chemical company’s storage facility for some supplies. Meanwhile, Medusa was tracking down a conspiracy of walking enemas who were going around trying to sabotage the vaccination efforts. I’m sure she had more things going down with the Exemplars, but that’s the one she told me about.
But I figure most people are probably way too tired of hearing about drama between me and Medusa. The relationship may have gotten exciting when we were fucking, but it was way easier to sell to people when we were punching each other. And we didn’t do that at the same time we were fucking. Much. There was this one time with some choking- nevermind. I didn’t end up enjoying it. Live, learn, and get laid.
That’s where I was at when Medusa decided to call me up instead. “Hey, this is going to sound weird, but you’re not working for the government any, are you?”
“Uh, no. I’m assumed dead and not taking contracts right now,” I told her. I didn’t even try to hid what I was saying from a group of kids who were looking at a collection of swords I had on the wall. I’m a big fan of scaring annoying children. It’s a character-building exercise.
“Some of my people got arrested. We have an informant who tells us the President has been pushing to find some way to execute my people before he’s out of office. Legally, it’s impossible. They haven’t even been put on trial yet. But now, we’re hearing he’s hiring the best assassin on Earth to deal with them extrajudicially.”
“Aww, and you naturally thought of me, that’s sweet. But no, no one’s approached me about that kind of work. I get the occasional email to some old contact addresses I set up, but nobody with my number has come calling. Not even the Holy Inquisition, and they’ve got a lot of witnesses they’d want disappeared nowadays.”
“What?” Medusa asked.
“Relax, I’d be more likely to kill the pedo priests than the victims. Almost makes me wish I’d stayed Pope…”
“You’ve got to tell me the story behind that once, but we’re getting off-track,” she said, swinging us back to the point of her call. “Actually, nevermind. I think I need to find someone for a jailbreak.”
“Where are they at?” I asked. “I’m good at getting people out of jail. I practically have my own J.D.”
“No, jail destruction. It’s a much less well-known degree. But I can stop by on my way home from work and break them all out. It’d be easier if you could let me borrow a Flyer, though. I’ve got something here, but it only seats four, maybe five at the max.” Old Mrs. Johnson got her Chevy Impala back with the flight modifications removed. She wasn’t happy it took so long to get her car back to her. I, however, am happy it yielded so much useful data. Still, my current model of flying car, built out of spare parts both new and from wrecked cars, isn’t quite up to the high standards set by the Psycho Flyers I designed.
“Be careful. Cops and the military are gearing up. Higher calibers, plasma, laser weapons, along with new body armors and gadgets. They’re adopting tech from your world and others. The jail you’ll be breaking into is run by federal marshals.”
“Oh yeah? What jail am I hitting?”
“It’s called the Colonel Clink, in Kentucky. One of the last things the Turtle ever pushed through before you took care of him. He held up relief money and other legislation for months, but he had time to create a Federal-controlled jail. Get this, they even put Arpaio in charge.”
I could hear the loathing in her voice and matched it with my own. “The guy who bragged about building a concentration camp gets put in charge of a jail that holds supers? I’m surprised you didn’t come to me about wrecking this place sooner.”
“I know this won’t matter much, but try to keep the casualties to a minimum. Some people are just doing a job,” Medusa insisted.
“Right, sure, don’t hurt the people who are just following orders. We’ll see. Now, about that Psycho Flyer?”
Which isn’t what stopped to pick me up. “What the hell is this?”
The Exemplars had parked something in my shop’s year workyard that looked related to my design, but slicked back and a little larger.
“What the hell is this?” I asked, armored hands on my armored hips.
“Flyer 2.0,” said one of the Exemplar pilots. Looked like he was in updated armor as well. “The old design had flaws. The Riccans updated it and made improvements. This one’s a good eight percent faster and more efficient. Guns are in different positions. Handles better than the original. I’m Peterson, co-pilot. Marks is the pilot. We here you’re going to help us pick up some friends?”
“That I will,” I told him and walked up. I brought an armored duffel with me. I had a few party favors in there, gadgets to give me some versatility. I’m the unexpected nobody truly expects, but even I can be surprised.
They were right about how well it handled. Harumph, I say! Actually, what I said was that I still obviously have plenty to learn. Was a bit more cozy inside, I think. My original design was meant to have spare space. A supervillain’s flying machine must have room for hostages, stolen goods, or superweapons. That’s just basic stuff. This one even changed up the rapid entry/exit portal and made it a bigger, rectangular trapdoor with multiple cables hanging overhead someone can latch onto.
We made good time to Kentucky’s Clink, but as we paused overhead, the pilot called me from up front. “Psycho Gecko, odd question… you didn’t bring friends along, did you?”
“No!” I called up, not sure how well the intercoms worked here.
“You’re going in hot, then. The place is already under attack and we’re hearing chatter from below that it’s Psycho Gecko and a gang of henchmen.”
Someone’s trading on my name. And the conspiratorially-minded part of myself is pretty sure it’s related to the President wanting the Exemplars dead before he leaves office. I headed back to the trapdoor and hit the controls, tossing myself out into the whirly, windy sky. With the Flyer’s cloaking systems still active, it looked like I fell out of nowhere, just a form-fitting advanced power armor parachuting with a pair of liquid-metal wings. Someone figured out I was there was I got close. The guard towers were a bit occupied by orange and grey-clad henchmen in body armor with some chunky rifles. I saw a few of the minions point to one tower that had a guard barricaded in it. They raised their chunky rifles and barraged it with shot after shot of projectiles that cracked sonic booms and the metal of the tower alike. The tower collapsed in on itself.
I collapsed onto one, my nanomachine cloak covering the five of us for a few moments. By the time it settled, that was four henchmen down and me examining one of their rifles. It used a batter to power an electromagnet that flung an iron slug at supersonic speeds. A railgun, or Gauss rifle. I’ve played around with the technology before, but I have reservations about working too closely with powerful electromagnets. Even ones strong enough to nudge another rifle away if it got too closer.
A few other henchmen noticed me, I saw. Another group of four who had been focused on firing into the crumbling side of the jail facility. They raised their rifles. I raised my nanomachine cloak to hide where I was. They fired at my last location, well below where I was then. I tossed one of the rifles up and swung another at it like a batter playing baseball, the magnets helping power a swing that sent a rifle flying hard enough to embed itself in one of my assailants’ chests. I flew at another from a few feet up and grabbed him.
One of his colleagues opened fire. I seemingly ducked behind the man I’d captured, avoiding shots until the henchmen shot into his friend and splattered him into red good. He approached, looking for me, and that’s when I dropped my own cloak, did a split, and uppercutted him in the sphincter. I arose as a human puppeteer. I left him on my fist as I jumped at the terrified final henchmen before me and bitchslapped a motherfucker with another motherfucker. I left those last two piled on top of each other while I headed deeper into the facility toward a group of Exemplar homing beacons embedded in the prisoners.
This was one area where the President’s special attention made my job easier. A normal facility would have spread prisoners out, maybe sent them to different places. Concentrating them all in one place was bad for any other reason than killing them all off. I launched myself onto the roof, “accidentally” tearing off sections of roof and any walls underneath with the nanomachines that I used to help push myself along. Sure would be a shame if lots of people escaped custody. Some were already making their way out through walls wrecked by the “Gecko” attack.
“Marks, Peterson, go down on me,” I ordered.
“Sluttiest jailbreak ever,” Marks responded, bringing the Flyer down low to meet me just above me and following along. I slid to a halt above the beacons and formed an atomic-thick blade to carve my way through the roof. One good thing about the place being run by a fascist dipshit is I didn’t have to go through an insulation area to land in the middle of the cell.
“I looked around at the startled bunch all in one penned-in holding area. I heard screams further off. A guard outside the pen turned and raised a bulky pistol. He fired six shots rapid, and he’d have put a serious dent into armor plates. This armor was more about absorbing the blow and pissing me off as it drove the breath out of my body. I’d be feeling that bruising in the morning.
“See? That didn’t do shit. You’ll want to work on your cardio now,” I said. The guard took the hint and ran for it. I looked around to the others. “Go up on me if you want to live.” Right then, the Flyer dropped cables from its trapdoor.
The Exemplars got busy climbing up while I kept an eye out. I tried the fence, got shocked a little bit, and tried to connect to the prison network. Huh, it was a closed network with no outside access, like a wired LAN.
But just before I left that LAN party on the last remaining cable, I got a glimpse of the ultimate party pooper. Some stupid fucker wearing some old mark whatever armor of mine. Enough of my old stuff is in custody to help someone make reproductions. And note to self: see a less hostile doctor back on my world of origin about homo machina mental degradation.
I cocked my head to the side seeing this imposter, who also cocked their head to the side. Exit cable in one hand, I raised the middle finger on the other. “First, who are you really?” I raised my index finger. “Second, how badly do you want to die?”
“I’m-” the fake Gecko started to say, but the cable reeled me back up to meet the rest of the team before I could hear the rest.
“All accounted for and aboard. We’re done here, aren’t we?” Marks asked back over the intercom.
I closed the trapdoor. “Yep. Confirmed. All that. We’re done here.” No need to risk the mission over a personal grudge. I’m the best at what I do, and sometimes that means personal sacrifices.
And there’s no sacrifice quite so personal as ripping out the heart of someone pretending to be me.