Category Archives: 19. Killing Time

Time to waste, people to waste.

Killing Time 11, One Last Time

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After days of work, my latest project was completed. Amplitude had a body. A boring one, but a body nonetheless.

“Are you absolutely sure you don’t want any cool additions?” I held a mirror for Amplitude as he looked over his new body.

“No,” he said quickly.

“Tattoos?”

“No.”

“I can give you cat eyes.”

“No.”

“Gold teeth? Literally gold teeth.”

“Gold teeth are stupid. Nobody looks cool wiping ketchup off their gold teeth.”

“You’re right…unless you do it with extendable claws, eh?”

“No!” Amplitude had gotten increasingly flustered over our conversation, but he took a few moments to calm down. “Thank you for honoring your end of the agreement. Nice job, but I am fine with this. Just this.” He then offered his hand.

Despite rumors, innuendo, and vast heaps of evidence to the contrary, I’ve always been a man of taste, so I gave his open hand a fist bump. Except for when I was a boy of taste. Of course.

I was never a baby of taste because those don’t exist. Babies were invented as an experiment by the scientific community to determine the amount of misery and poop people will put up with so long as they’re convinced it’s their misery and poop. Even though they tried to hide this fact, having a baby still calls for a shower.

With our business concluded, I at last kicked Amplitude out of our temporary hideaway. When I called up the car, Moai and the Rejects directed me to an abandoned movie rental store in South Central L.A. I missed the part where some gang tried to kick the Rejects out, but I saw the burn marks they left behind on the pavement.

I didn’t have any trouble on my way, though. Having a talking disembodied head in my possession convinced people not to mess with me. By extension, this rep extended to Amplitude, which was good for him. Otherwise, he didn’t have a leg to stand on. Carl also looked pretty badass to the normal person.

So yes, there was a big happy reunion in which I got hugged so many times that people probably thought we were filming a sci fi porno movie in the dusty old place.

Somehow, I had assembled quite the group of people around me during this whole mess. Live people, too. Not that I have anything against dead people. They made lovely conversation partners. So few of the dead ever talk back, and the ones who do always ramble on about your brains or your blood. That’s dead people for you. If you can get their interest at all, it’s only for your body parts.

Try complaining about it and they turn up the political heat through their lobby. Well, ok, it’s more of a parlor than a lobby.

The other thing I worked on during my time with Amplitude was freeing Carl. He lost weight during his captivity, muscle included. Still, he couldn’t squirm out of that suit on his own. Especially not with the neural spikes. Those nail-like protrusions into the spine were a crude measure, but they served their purpose.

Back home people either preferred ones the size of needles, or they plugged their brains into computers using synthetic nerves. Except for the ones like me.

A lot of people were confused about what happened as far as the news told. Even Outlaw X wasn’t too sure. They knew the Annihilation Eight had been successful, but that Hephaestus hadn’t been. The company had captured me, but it was a Pyrrhic victory.

There was little enough to hear between the Ebola outbreak, problems in Israel, and police brutality. Then it was pushed out of the way by news about Robin Williams, and deservedly so.

But then, who am I to comment on that?

I had my hands full trying to deal with the immediate aftermath of everything, particularly with one visit I felt was necessary.

I stopped by the Master Academy again. Repaying Amplitude and freeing Carl took priority. That’s a fancy way of saying I forgot to do it because I was too busy.

I found an adequate substitute for protective armor. This time, the students and adults were more surprised to find a troupe of people in animal costumes. It looked like a small furry flashmob had assembled in front of the place, led by a purple bunny. They didn’t hesitate to call out Venus.

They also armed their defenses. The base of the Oscar Romero statue opened up and it dropped down. A cannon replaced it, some howitzer that they aimed almost directly at the gate. The various adult faculty member must have felt like a higher caliber of fool when the furries panicked and ran for it.

Venus caught the purple bunny who revealed himself to be…some guy who had been paid to organize a furry flashmob and distract them all.

Of course.

I saw the man hand Venus a note under the watchful gazes and glowing powers of her various teammates. I didn’t even need a pair of binoculars to read the words “Look behind you” on it.

Venus turned, as did the rest of the crowd. She let purple bunny man go. He obviously wasn’t me. I was me, and I was seated on their howitzer, twirling a carrot in one hand. “Eeeeeeh, what’s up, dicks?”

Venus took point on talking to me because of her experience and survival rate in such encounters. She held her arms out and lowered them, beckoning the others around her to calm down. She stepped forward, alone, until she got to about ten feet from the howitzer’s barrel. “You didn’t ask for any neutral ground this time. Is that a bad sign? What do you want?”

I unscrewed the top of the carrot and took a swig from the flask within. “I just wanna talk. Is that really such a big deal?”

She folded her arms, taking in my simple jean shorts and white t-shirt that said “puddles pity party” underneath the image of a pale crowned clown. I hardly looked threatening, but it’s not like I was a homicidal maniac who took advantage of my innocent looks to leave a trail of ass-ravaged dead bodies in my wake.

Oh wait, that’s exactly who I was.

“Sounds like you’ve done enough talking.”

In that case, they should have brought more howitzers. I grabbed the basket I brought along and dropped down from the howitzer to better address Venus and because my balls were hurting. “Oh, that. A little too much screaming during sex, that’s all. You know, we really have to stop meeting like this. Makes y’all look like idiots.”

Venus shifted her weight onto her back leg, arms still crossed. “Can you blame us? Things have a tendency to get weird and messy when you show up.”

“Those are called wet dreams, Venus, and they-“ I stopped right there as she raised an eyebrow and cracked her knuckles. After a moment of looking her in those brown eyes, I started anew. “All the same, you’re the guys who panicked over a purple bunny costume.”

Venus’s eyebrow lowered and she shook her head. A smile almost forced its way onto those lips but she snuffed it with the brutal efficiency of Edgar Allen Poe.

The crowd from the gate had been approaching slowly and they took their cues from Venus’s body language. They gave us curious glances and a wide berth as they stepped around us. Most of the students and a few of the staff dispersed, but there were plenty of people around to back Venus up if I turned violent.

I reached into my basket and pulled out a bottle. “Bit o’ the bubbly?” I offered it to Venus.

“No. I can think of many reasons not to drink that,” she said, then reached up to brush her bangs out of her face. “What brings you by so soon after terrorizing the city as a giant nudist?”

I unscrewed the lid of my sparkling red grape juice and poured some into my carrot flask. “Ah, glad to see that even in a city like L.A., I can still make a scene. Nah, I just came to find out a couple things.”

And then I sat down. In the history of warfare, few soldiers have ever infiltrated an enemy stronghold just to sit out in the open and drink, making it a situation that conventional tactics cannot counter. The outnumbered Chinese general Zhuge Liang got close when he opened the gates to a city and played a zither in the face of a huge enemy army.

He won that encounter.

As if to match my casual demeanor, Venus sat as well. I held out the bottle for her again, but she refused. “Alright, Venus. First I need to know if you’ve heard from Leah. I went to Hephaestus and they taunted me with someone, but it wasn’t Leah. And they were trying to torture me. They beat me, pulled my teeth, showed me old episodes of the Brady Bunch.” I stopped to take a swig of the sparkling grape, then faked tears and slurred my words. “Please, the horror…the memories…”

Venus, unmoved, replied in snarky monotone. “I’m so sorry to hear that you were overwhelmed with a campy TV show. It’s amazing what it took to get you to show your true feelings.”

“Oh the pain, the horror, oh how will I go on?!” I threw my hands in the air, but instead of waving them like I just didn’t care, I waved them like I cared too much.

Then someone tapped me on the shoulder. I bent a little further back and looked into an upside down face I hadn’t seen in way too long.

“Hi Gecko,” said Leah.

“Leah?! How’d you know it was me?” I put my arms around her and gave her an awkward upside down hug from a sitting position. My spine wanted to have a word with me about that.

She tried to find a way hug me back and settled on patting me on the chin. “First, because everyone panicked and said Psycho Gecko was here…”

I stood up, then spun around and hugged her normally. “That’s how it usually happens.”

“Wow, that actually looks real,” said Venus.

I glanced back at her. “What does?”

“You’re smiling,” she told me.

“No I’m not. And I would know. It’s my mouth.” I checked by popping out my eye and my face was indeed smiling. I put a stop to that in a hurry. As a certified badass, I’m not allowed to smile and squee like a little girl.

Venus wouldn’t let it go. “Your mouth has betrayed you. You practically squeed just now.”

“Belgium!” I exclaimed, using the most vile curse in the multiverse. I let go of Leah, but kept my back to Venus. “What happened? Where have you been?”

“Well,” she started. “I’m not supposed to tell you where I’ve been hiding out, but somehow these soldiers found out. They said someone called Pivot wanted me as insurance. I got away and hid for awhile. About a week ago, Venus got in contact with me and invited me here until things cool down.”

“That’s it? Hephaestus came, you ran, they never got you?”

“Nope.”

“Damn…wish Max did that more often. But you’re ok?”

“Bruises heal, as this gym teacher here says, but I’m fine.” She jumped up and hugged me this time, whispering in my ear. “They’re going to try and catch you if you leave.”

“Do you know how?”

“Nuh uh.”

“I have a way out, but do me this one little favor when you have the chance…”

I quickly explained what I wanted from Leah, then Venus cleared her throat. “This is getting awkward, you two. She’s still jailbait, Gecko.”

Leah stepped away, face flushing. She shot Venus a glare. “I’d better go then.” She turned to smile at me again. “It was great seeing you again. I’m doing good here. Just between the two of us. Or the three of us.”

I frowned. “Doing good? A do-gooder? I thought I taught you better than that.”

She rolled her eyes. “You taught me a lot and I’m glad. You were there for me, but I don’t think petty revenge is a good basis for leading a life of crime.”

I turned back to Venus, who just started to open the basket I brought along with me. I startled her and she let the lid fall on it. I narrowed my eyes at her. “This is your fault. I’d recognize your idealism anywhere. You work at a school, dammit! How dare you not grind this girl’s soul and dreams to dust?!”

Leah snorted at that, and even Venus smiled. To Leah, she said “Didn’t you have that thing you wanted to do in a little while?”

“Oh, right!” Leah stepped away and waved goodbye to me. “I’m sorry, Gecko, but I have to go do something very important.” She winked, which I took to mean that they were going to try and nab me before too much longer. “I hope I see you again sometime.”

Venus’s annoyed “Ahem” indicated that she didn’t share that sentiment.

Leah ran off. I waved after her until she was well away, then spun around and pointed at Venus. “Alright you. Fun time is over! It’s time for the million dollar question. Where is Lone Gunman? Has he been in contact with you? Stayed the night? Borrowed a toothbrush?”

She blinked and ducked her chin. “No…I haven’t heard anything from him since last year when we all fought you that last time.”

I risked taking her at face value. “Well then, I have a useful tidbit of information for you. The guy who tried to kill me, the guy who shrunk you, the same fellow who kidnapped all those people? Yep, it was him. Killed his way to the top of Hephaestus and pursued a murderous personal vendetta against me.”

“Bullshit!” Venus replied. She seemed a little skeptical of the claim.

Reaching down to my basket, I pulled out photos, a flash drive, Carl’s notarized deposition, and a banana.

I passed them all to her in turn. She looked over the banana and held it back out to me. “Let me guess, this one is actually your lunch.”

I reached over and yanked down one part of the peel. Smoke poured out, hiding the pair of us from view. I heard shouting from around us. They were probably scrambling. I grabbed the banana and tried to get my arm around Venus’s neck, but she pushed back with her hips and threw me over. I landed on my back outside the cloud of smoke.

Before anyone could jump me, I held the banana out in front of me as I got my feet under me. “Nobody move, nobody shoot, nobody even think! I got more than smoke in this thing! Keep your distance, or I set this bad boy off and Venus is gonna banana split thanks to those nanites in that cloud! You feel me, dawgs? Huh? You feel me?!”

They seemed to feel me. The escape would have gone better if I’d kept the basket near me, but I had to step close to the dispersing smoke cloud to get it. I grabbed it just before Venus rolled out and got her bearings. “Situation?!” she called out.

“Psycho Gecko’s got something. We don’t know. He said it would hurt you if we did anything!” answered a square-jawed ginger guy.

She looked me right in the eye. I got the feeling she was skeptical again. Then she said, “I’m fairly sure he’s lying.” My feeling got much stronger.

With that, I stuffed the banana in my mouth and pulled my one last trick out of the basket. I twirled the saxophone around so that the extendable bits brought it out to a full alto sax, then gripped it two handed and wielded it like a sword. “Alright, you heroic bastards…let’s kick some brass.”

That caused even Venus to pause. It gave me time to hit a key with a rocket on it and set it between my legs. Flames roared out of the bell as it shot forward, carrying me with it into the air. Laughing, I shot heroes the bird to either side.

Ah, it just wouldn’t be a visit to Venus without her trying to catch me. Some day, I may even let her catch me.

It was nice to see Leah, though. I found out she made it out ok, instead of sticking around there as some sort of hostage/student.

She let me know. She left me a message, like I asked. A big message, written all over a giant skyscraper in Los Angeles that was busy having several holes repaired.

Just in case anyone had a doubt about the final score in my little war with Hephaestus, Leah cleared that up with, “Psycho Gecko was here. Now Hephaestus isn’t.”

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Killing Time 10

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“You know, I have to say I admire your style in all this, Lonereeno. Knocking out one tooth or a few teeth, that’s fairly standard. Working over some of the others with pliers, that’s not going to impress anybody. Now, making sure the entire mouthful is ripped out, that part started to get me horny. That bit with the salt and the Sriracha hot sauce, now that was kinky. But what really set this whole thing apart, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, is that you then brought in some dentists to drill in there and attach some new teeth. Bravo, man, that was a nice touch. You’re making a good villain.”

Rather than having one of his goons do it, Lone Gunman himself stepped up to where I was chained and pistol whipped my jaw. After days spent full of beatings, a little jaw knocked out of place was only annoying in as much as I had to ease it back into place without my arms. They were chained taut to two opposite walls in this bright white octagonal room Gunman had me locked in. I was held there in the middle of the room, chains winding over my chest and holding me firmly in place.

At least they stopped the bleeding of my knee. Didn’t want me dying early, for some reason.

My little room had all the amenities. A nice bed for me to sleep if I wasn’t chained up. Fine dining laid before me very day to eat if I wasn’t chained up. Even a radio playing nothing but the latest kiddie pop hits. The guards even said I could change, but then we’re back to the chained up part of our little program here. At least they gave me a hole to squat in.

If it was me designing the room, I’d have set it up so the squat hole looped around and exited on top of the prisoner.

Plus, there was all the chatter I could stand to listen to. Whatever they had going on in that room, I could only use my dimsnensional tracker or listen in on Hephaestus chatter thanks to my stolen communications encryption.

After I was done setting my jaw back in place, I wiggled it around a bit. Felt some popping that hurt a little bit. In the process, some of my teeth felt a bit loose already. I smiled my new teeth up at Lone Gunman. “For someone who hates me a whole lot, you sure are keeping me alive longer than you need to. I thought you were smarter than that.”

Gunman pulled out his revolver and spun it around. It was black and drank in the light, no shine to it whatsoever. He held the barrel just in front of my face by a couple of feet. “Are you so eager to die?”

I shrugged as much as I was able. “Not particularly. But you have to have some reason for it. Even for being an asshole, this is getting excessive. Look at you, you even made a special visit to see me today.” After imprisoning me that first day, Lone Gunman had been absent from my cell. He just showed up, knocked out my teeth, and then watched as a bunch of scientists probed me.

Yeah, I got probed. They went in dermally. They went in orally. They went in urethrally.

They went in anally.

I’ve had better. The real pain in my ass was this big needle they stuck in the back of my neck. All that and no kiss. No visits. He didn’t even write me. I was beginning to feel neglected until Gunman showed up that day.

Gunman holstered his scoped revolver and snapped his fingers. The guards left the room, leaving us alone. That seemed dumb. To his credit, he stood way back from me. Ah well, it let me hang my head and wiggle my loose chompers with my tongue.

“Don’t fall pass out yet,” Gunman said. “You’re about to get your answer. All thoses tests I had performed on you served an important purpose. Man-Opener has been begging me to get his hands on you. Does he send you hate mail or something? For some reason, he acts like you have been insulting him.”

I shook my head. “Never met the guy.”

“Huh. I found out how much Man-Opener despises you during this whole operation, and I learned how he interfaces with his armor. He has cables that attach to small conductive spikes. He sticks them in the spine and they allow him full range of motion. Well I got to thinking. Brainstorming. I had the science team join in. Next thing you know, we’ve done it. A suit of armor that works the other way around.”

I glanced up. “You’re going to have to clarify that for me. In what way do you have armor that works the other way around. You surgically implant it inside of a person?”

Gunman chuckled. “No, the armor has similar harness, but allows a foreign signal to control the movements of the person and armor. I don’t like you, but I liked the idea of using you as even more of a tool than you already are.”

“Capturing me, torturing me, and then using me to kill people for you. Remind me about how you’re supposed to be one of the good guys again?” I asked, baiting him. I wanted another good hit in the head. Something to knock a tooth out. I was getting tired of all the waiting and a tooth would solve that.

He sighed. “Sadly, it won’t happen. I could have marched you through death, hell, and the grave, but your abilities interfere with that.”

“You sure you don’t want to try it anyway?” I shot him a big, wide grin.

“Not with you.” Gunman held up a finger as if in warning. Then he lifted his hand to his collar and plucked an earbud from where he kept it. He put it back in and ordered, “Repeat that.”

I eavesdropped on the Hephaestus channel. “I said we’re bringing up the slave armor.”

Lone Gunman nodded and removed the earbud again. “I still had the armor made in the likeness of your old style, but ours doesn’t require your friend to fit it exactly.”

With that, the door opened and they wheeled in a dolly with someone I hadn’t seen in a long time clad in a knockoff suit of my armor, carrying a hat box.

“Carl?” I asked.

“Boss?” Carl asked.

“Wow. Carl…I was expecting someone else. No offense. Hey, nice to see you alive and un-liquidated.”

“It’s great to see you, but I wish I didn’t have to see you here.”

“Ditto, man. Nice to have you alive. I guess it should have occurred to me they kept you around once I found out how much of this was set up in advance. How have you been?”

“My ass hurts, boss.”

“I feel your pain, Carl. I feel your pain. We’ll go out later and have some mudslides to celebrate.”

Gunman cut in then. “Carl, hand me the box.” Carl obeyed, his movements stiff. “Carl, jump on one foot.” Carl raised a leg and began to hop, but became unbalanced and fell over. “Carl, pick yourself up and slap Gecko.”

My loose tooth was on the top, so I dragged it against the bottom row. Carl got to his feet, walked over, and gave me a smack that didn’t help as much as I wanted. “Sorry Boss,” he said.

“It’s ok, Carl. Apparently this is all part of some overly-complicated plan to kill me and then frame me for some reason.”

“Not exactly,” said Gunman. “We built the suit, then we found out you wouldn’t fit, so everything about that plan is scrapped. I’m just going to have your henchman kill you. In fact, he’s going to squash you like a bug, thanks to this guy.” He opened the hat box and pulled out a head stuck in a harness.

“And this is…?” I asked, trying to get a good view of the person under all the life-sustaining equipment.

Gunman shook the head. “This is Amplitude. He’ll be shrinking you today. Again.”

“Motherfucker, does anybody stay dead around here?!” It was hard to show outrage while chained up. “I killed Dr. Typhoon, Quick Sand, Amplitude, they’re all alive. Carl was dead, he’s alive. Do you have JFK and Tupac in the back somewhere competing in a contest to see who can get laid the most? What next, is Honky Tonk Hero really Elvis? Seriously man, how have you lasted this long? You didn’t even finish high school yet! You brought all these people back to life, provoked me into blowing up half your company, even wasted time on elaborate plans with copies of my armor…why? What good is all this doing Hephaestus?”

That caused my captor to smile. He leaned down close, but not within lunging and biting distance. He also pressed something on the earbud at his collar. “It makes a lot more sense if you realize you’re not the target. You’re a target. A secondary target, in fact.” He paused, probably for dramatic effect.

I made a big show out of gasping in surprise. “Now THAT was hurtful. A secondary target? Me? How dare you?”

He rolled his eyes. “I liked hurting you, but that wasn’t my main goal. I infiltrated this group. My reputation from our last encounter helped with that, and I did good work as an enforcer. I got further than I ever thought I would, but how could I topple the organization? I wasn’t prepared to lead any sort of business. I had reason to believe they would find some way to remove me or work around me if it seemed like I was too incompetent. I needed an external threat.”

“That’s where the boss came in?” asked Carl as twisted his head.

“Exactly,” Gunman answered. “Psycho Gecko attacked Hephaestus from the east coast to the west, not Lone Gunman. As far as others will know, I’m a hero who became a villain. I’m no villain. I am the greatest single hero on this planet. But now you and I know that I crippled Hephaestus and got rid of a few supervillains permanently. Now I’m about to kill you.”

“You must be pretty confident about that part to admit that,” I said to him with a grin. I recorded all of it, of course.

He stood back up and kicked me in the mouth, finally knocking a tooth out. I kept it from falling out of my mouth. “You’ll be squashed like a bug in a few seconds. I can say whatever I want.”

I took aim and spat my tooth into his mouth. Gunman backed away and started coughing, trying to get rid of it. While he was bothered with that, I turned to my master plan for getting out: magic.

Specifically, a spell to make any restraints fall off a person. One of those things I paged over in my time with the same magic book that gave me the Boogeyman summoning ritual. I had recorded the words separately, piecemeal, over the past few days. Now I replayed them all, feeling slivers of power wind through me and the chains. Except when they touched me, something went wrong. It felt like I was burning where I was touched, and the slivers that I felt with some vague sense instead became frayed. It felt like some of the nerves in my body were on fire.

As the spell reached its climax, everything in the room was thrown back away from me, including me. I flew back only a short distance. The chains stopped me, but they didn’t stop me when they should have.

It was a bust. A bust that dislocated my arms. On the plus side, it knocked Lone Gunman off his feet, sent Amplitude rolling, and caused Carl to fall against the wall behind him.

Gunman motioned to Carl, but he couldn’t say anything. He was too busy vomiting up my tooth. A shame it didn’t get caught in his throat when he did that, but people swallow teeth all the time. He put in his earbud and turned it on. “I need men in Psycho Gecko’s cell. He just tried to kill me and he did something that blew up the room kinda. I don’t know what it was.” He slipped his gun out and trained it on me in case I tried that again.

Good luck. Felt like my vocal chords were made of magma, and not just the cybernetic parts.

The reponse over the Hephaestus channels wasn’t what he was looking for. “This is Security Chief Rollins. Take the former Hephaestus Prime into custody, if at all convenient. If he makes it difficult for you, shoot to kill.”

“Oooh, bad luck for you, lil guy,” I said, my voice gravely like I’d been yelling for an hour straight. I chuckled at Gunman’s surprised expression. He looked like that painting “The Scream” when he realized I said that because I was listening in.

He would have shot me then, but the door slid open to reveal his security team. He whirled and fired at them instead, shooting through one to hit another. They retreated in short order and the door slid shut again.

Cussing to himself, the vigilante reloaded his revolver. He swept the gun past me and to the back wall, then fired. Whatever he loaded in there must have had a hell of a lot of kick, because it slammed him into the wall. I heard wind blowing past.

Gunman turned and scrambled around, looking for Amplitude’s head. It was rolled over with him facing the floor. Gunman grabbed him by the headgear and turned him over. “Amplitude, I need you to make me grow. I need to get out of this place.”

“No deal,” said the head.

Gunman stuck his gun in Amplitude’s face, which was easy. There wasn’t really anywhere else to stick a gun on him.

Amplitude showed a lot of balls for only having a head. “Kill me or give me a body. It sounds like you can’t give me a body anymore. You want to shoot, shoot. At least I know you’ll die soon.”

“Fuck!” growled Gunman. Instead of finishing off the head, he swapped out his ammo and stuck something on the end of his barrel. Then he ran for the hole out of my sight, fired at something, and then I heard the sound of a line or a cable or something.

I figured it was time for me to make my grand escape. “Yo, Amplitude. I need a hand.”

“Ha ha. Go to hell,” was his reply. After that, security swarmed into the room and past me.

According to the chatter, Gunman was somehow repelling down the side of the building using some weird gun modification. They glanced at Amplitude, Carl, and me, but filed out of the room. We weren’t going anywhere, as far as they knew.

It was time to reopen negotiations. “I’m serious, Amplitude. You want a body? I’m the guy who can give it to you. I have the stuff to fix up any wound. I’ll just need to rewrite some parameters on the nanites and you’ll be fine. All you have to do is shrink me out of these chains and regrow me once I’m free.”

“I’m probably going to regret this…it wasn’t that long ago we tried to kill each other…but what the heck. Ummmmm, one problem. I can’t see you.”

“Leave that to Carl.” I loaded up the audio from my conversation with Gunman and tweaked my voice a little. Bet y’all didn’t see that coming back when I served as a telephone for Venus, did you? When I spoke again, it was with Lone Gunman’s voice. “Carl, get up, grab the head, and point his face toward me. I swear, the things I do to get a head.”

“Yeah, go boss! Show this armor who’s boss, boss.” He stood up and walked over to Amplitude, obeying my orders. When Amplitude was held at chest height, the decapitated villain’s eyes glowed.

Then I was shrinking amidst falling chains, like a bondage version of Alice falling down the rabbit’s hole. Good thing he shrunk me to about the same size as last time, four inches. Four inches of pure Gecko pleasure, ladies. Heh.

I clambered out and waved both arms up at Amplitude. “After 10,000 years I’m free! It’s time to conquer earth!” I turned and pointed to the hole in the wall and noticed everything changing perspective again. I was back to my regular size again.

I stepped away from the chains and checked out the armor on Carl. “They had to have put in some sort of quick release or something…”

Carl shook his head. “No good, Boss. They welded it on me.”

“Well, then, this is going to make escape more difficult and extraction more painful…but I have an idea.” I ran over to the hole in the wall and glanced down.

I couldn’t see Lone Gunman. I noticed that his lines ended about where there was a new hole in the outside of the building.

We were pants-wettingly far in the air. Too bad for anyone rooting against me, I wasn’t wearing pants. I turned to Amplitude and Carl with a wide grin. I ran over, grabbed Amplitude’s head, and brought him back to the edge to look out. “Magic Amplitude, make my monster grow!”

“Alright, set me down on the ground.”

After setting him down, he zapped me with his eye beams and I felt my body growing. Then my head crashed into the ceiling. “Jump out there, you idiot!” Amplitude yelled at me.

I did so, going for a full frontal leap of faith. Along the way, I noticed everything getting way too close, way too quick. When I brought my hand down to brace my fall, I crushed a convenience store, and was still growing.

Hephaestus had me imprisoned about halfway up a 725 foot tall building. I finished growing as I stood up. “Wow, been awhile since I saw a city like that. Mwahaha, if only the Justice Rangers could see me now.”

I heard a whistle from my left. Turning my head, there was Amplitude and Carl in my old prison. Right. I reached in and gently grabbed both of them. Amplitude was trying to say something, so I lowered my ear to my cupped hands. “Hold on! I’m going to do a controlled shrinking!”

I didn’t know what that meant, but apparently it meant zapping me to a shorter size in fits and starts so I didn’t drop anything.

Fuck that shit, I wasn’t shrinking down by that fucking building. I took a step away, smashing up a shoe store. Huge strides took me far away in no time, even as I left a few destroyed buildings in my wake.

And thus my freedom was secured once again. Naked, with a shot knee, and in debt to a head, but the rest of our escape was as easy as stealing clothes, including a hat for Amplitude, and a car.

As we drove off to find my car and allies, I watched Amplitude bobbing back and forth on the dashboard. He glared at me. “Relax,” I said. “I’ll have you a new body in no time. You know what would loosen you up? A joke. You ever hear the one about Ed the Head?”

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Killing Time 9

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I’ve generally considered extensive plans to be overrated. I’ve barely been keen on simple plans, though they are better than most. Just like with a machine, the fewer moving parts on a plan, the less chance it gets screwed up. The inevitable struggle between order and chaos.

If I had to say one came first, I’d think it was order. A nice orderly pile of all the energy in the universe and then…bang. Since then, chaos has been the great equalizer in any plan. Every independent actor has fed it.

But enough philosophical talk. It was a good enough distraction, but you probably wanted to hear about what predicament I’m in now, which conveniently undermines my point.

It started much the way my puberty began…surrounded by deformed beings while I planned how to get into a place. The place in question was the Foley building. At 725 feet tall, it wasn’t the tallest building in the city. I wouldn’t be climbing it anytime soon, though. Thanks to my own high profile crimes, the only service I knew that offered discreet flights for secretive clientele with lots of money was out of business. I was about as grounded as the mercenary pilots who had helped me.

That meant I needed to improvise a bit, which I’m none too shabby at. I ran into trouble getting the cooperation of my allies around my car. The Rejects, as a semi-official group, were being rather stubborn in their regard for conventional views on physics.

“You’re going to get us all killed.” Zane said as he pounded his fist on the hood of my car.

“Hey, watch it! I’ve got some explosives in there that are tempermental,” I berated the man with the giant version microencephaly.

“You almost killed us already, didn’t you?” Mika asked. She rubbed the bone spikes composing the lower half of her arms together. Her nervous tic irritated the rest of the group, I could tell. It sounded like bone rubbing over bone. But her flesh ended at her elbows and bone alone stuck out in conical points. There just wasn’t much she could do with that, nor could she help the similar spikes under her knees. She kept her balance with the last of her mutations, a pair of skin-colored tentacles that dangled out of her back.

I had been learning their names. Mika, Zane, Larry, Roberta, Steve, and…I glanced at the last of the Rejects, whose group identity warranted treating that as a proper noun now. The last member of the group had been nicknamed Tom by all the others in the group. In contrast to Zane, his head was perfectly normal in size. Yep, there was nothing wrong with it in circumference and so on.

It was just shriveled looking and a dark grey color, with deep, black pits where the eyes and mouth would normally be. We sometimes noticed something moving around inside the holes. He never spoke, but he chose to stick with us.

Tom had no particular objection to me getting him killed. Good man thing, that Tom. He was dependable and loyal. Possibly brainless, but dependable and loyal.

“It’s a very simple plan. Nobody needs to die, except for all the people we kill. They definitely need to die. Think of it this way, every person you scare off is someone I don’t have to mutilate. Y’all can spread out through the downstairs, cause some panic, and save lots of lives. Just leave this Prime guy to me.”

They bought that long enough for us to all get loaded up in the ice cream truck and ready to go. Moai and I sat in front, with the Rejects in back. Yeah, we saved the truck.

From the back, Larry cleared his throat and spoke up. “Psycho Man, why are we doing this in the truck?”

“Because it’s expendable.”

“Why are we riding in something expendable?”

I threw up my hands. “Look, there’s no reason to be worried. This is top of the line rocket technology like what the North Koreans use. You know, they have a very high survivability rate, or so they say through their state-controlled news service. If it’s good enough for their missile program, it’s good enough for my ice cream truck program.”

“That’s not what I asked, but I suddenly feel worse.”

I rolled my eyes inside my helmet. “Oh, you big baby. Just buckle up and grab a puke sack. It’ll all be over soon.”

I heard his belt click as he whined one last time, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

With that, I gunned the truck and flipped a switch to activate the jury-rigged rockets attached to the sides of it. They added to our acceleration but would never be enough to achieve liftoff. That’s why we were driving into a rubber band. Yep, a bigass rubber band stretched between two taller buildings. It caught us perfectly as we drove into it on top of a parking garage.

I adjusted the rear view on the driver’s side to catch a glimpse of the Foley building. We pushed against the taut rubber. As we drove off the garage, we were embedded in the band enough that it didn’t let us just fall. When I thought we had about the right angle, I killed the rockets.

The rubber band flung us at the building, leaving me feeling like my stomach had turned into a screaming killer frog. My frog stomach got worse as we flipped end over end, but I activated the rockets long enough to slow our rolling. That was hard with me smacking into the windshield like I did. Lucky Larry and his damn seatbelt!

Thinking of Larry reminded me of what he called me, Psycho Man. That put a little song into my head. “Psycho man, psycho man, does whatever a psycho can. Kills a group of any size, he’s got cybernetic eyes. Look out! Here comes the Psycho man.”

Still, I got a front row seat for my moment of triumph, or so I thought. Instead, I saw a figure step out onto the balcony facing us. The person raised a hand, and suddenly we shifted slightly downward. There was no loss of inertia, no glancing blow on a shield or anything. We were moving in one direction, and then it changed suddenly with no loss of speed.

“Cushion with the soft serve!” I called out to everyone. That too was part of the plan, back when it seemed more unpredictable. I didn’t get a chance to see how well they followed it because my head was spinning along with the truck.

We hit just below where we meant to, the truck cracking the glass windows and blasting a crater into the marble floor. I was first slammed back into my seat, then through the windshield. Some of my favorite body parts made wet thudding sounds as I flew end over end along the floor through some sort of aquarium and then into a water bed, which halted my movement but ruined the bed.

I curled up in a ball there for a good minute, nanites flooding into me from the busted quilted layers in my armor. I would have said the pain was excruciating, if I could have made that out. Really, it was like everything hurt so much at once that I couldn’t tell any one individual hurt nerve ending from any other.

Then I heard a voice call out, “You couldn’t direct him down to the street, Pivot? Really, you dropped him into my living space?”

I crawled out of the busted bed frame amongst leaking water tubes. When I felt like enough of my leg bones were solid again, I stood up and pointed a finger in the direction I hoped that voice had come from. “Listen here, Prime! It is I, the Great and Devious Psycho Gecko, here to, to, to, to…” I got caught on that word for no particular reason that I can remember. Then, something stoney bonked me on the head and I realized I had more to say “…to put you on ice cream!”

I turned and high fived my rocky helper, who turned out to be Moai. He just stood there, facing off to the side. My addled brain figured out I should check that direction, but didn’t yet remember the 360 degree view on my helmet.

Pivot stood there, the Annihilation Eight stepping up to form a line in front of her from where they’d been scattered about the place. All eight. Wait, eight?

Yep. Gorilla Badass, Man-Opener, Motley Sue, Terrorjaw, the polka-dotted guy, and Rumble were there. So was a mass of shiny, shifting pieces of something metallic mixed with sand. Quick Sand, or more like Cyber Sand. And Dr. Typhoon, who wore some sort of new collar and helmet within that swirling localized tornado he had created around himself.

That shit just wasn’t right. I killed those guys. They were supposed to stay dead.

“Moai,” I whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, “bring me my red underwear.”

He didn’t respond to the bit of horribly-timed humor. Instead he looked to the second story landing of the penthouse we penetrated. There stood two familiar facies in suits. I recognized Pivot, who had ruined our landing with one wave of her hand.

I knew the other, a young man, as well. He had put on some muscle and height since the first time we crossed paths. Back then, he had been a sidekick who followed me to my hideout and was tortured hysterically for his trouble. I knocked him repeatedly with a frozen bratwurst. Holdout, who had taken the name Lone Gunman after I killed his mentor. I should have used a knockwurst.

“Going to try and run away again, Great and Devious one?” asked Pivot with a smug smirk as she leaned over the railing on the second story. “You didn’t think the heroes were the only ones who could reverse engineer the life-support systems of your armors or that handy surgical nanotech, did you?”

“Is there anybody else who wants to come back from the dead around here?” I asked, looking about. “My day would just about be complete now if Uncle Ben and the Wayne parents showed up looking to kick my ass too. Anybody?”

Shifting metal behind me provided a disappointing answer. Looking back through my helmet’s rear cameras, I saw the Rejects climb free of the totaled ice cream truck. They were each covered in cuts, bruises, and various flavors of ice cream, but they all looked like they would live. Even Larry, who stopped to throw up all over himself.

As I said, they were not a sight for sore eyes. On one side, you had a superhero and nine villains. On the other you had six untrained mutants with powers, my minion Moai, and me.

I didn’t know we were busting into this place while Prime, aka Lone Gunman, had the whole frickin’ team of Pivot’s here. Like I said before, I didn’t want these Rejects to die. I didn’t like the idea of anybody dying for me. I was more sure of that as the group stepped up behind me. They readied sharpened claws. Their powers made the air glow. I joined them, gathering energy in the sheaths surrounding my gloves.

With the tension so thick, the fight would start at any moment in a deadly dance of chaos and blood. I turned to Moai while I had a moment. “Well, Moai, you better promise me that no matter what, you’ll get these guys out of here alive.”

He turned his face toward me, just staring.

“Come on, man. If we’re separated, and if the odds look like they’re against me, you get these guys out, ok?”

Moai nodded reluctantly.

“Good,” I said, then I slammed both my fists into the ground just behind me. With a series of loud cracks, the otherwise ineffectual double punch unleashed too much energy into the marble for the floors to handle. A very confused mob of mutants fell through to the next floor. According to the blueprints I stole, that would put them in the executive offices. They could evacuate in comfort with the VIPs and VPs.

I looked to Moai, who stood dumbfounded beside me. Then I gestured toward the hole. “Well?”

With a slump of his stone shoulders, Moai jumped through after the Rejects.

Even before Pivot shouted “Get him!” Man-Opener rushed at me, with Dr. Typhoon and Quick Sand moving through the air to flank me.

“You dare come at me, bros?! I am the Great and Devious One!” I yelled, disappearing and making three holographic copies of myself. The holograms split up. Quick Sand cut through the one that headed for him and began to spread out as much as he could to find the real me.

Lightning crackled in Dr. Typhoon’s funnel before he struck out with it. It curved away from his ideal path toward my hologram and instead arced through Man-Opener’s armor. The other man’s armor shut down momentarily due to the electromagnetic pulse. I hopped up its knee and then to its shoulder, then leapt high into the air over Dr. Typhoon.

A sonic blast knocked me into the ceiling and against the glass window, but not before I dropped a headless rubber chicken grenade down the eye of Dr. Typhoon’s personal storm. The explosion flung him onto a leather loveseat. I couldn’t see if any bloody bits were sticking out because I had a rock villain to deal with.

Motley Sue rocked a rapid fire solo, shattering the windows behind me and slowly pushing me towards the edge. I gave my gloves a reduced charge and thrust my hand into the floor. It broke part of the way through and gave me a grip. Another punch with the other hand gave me another. I pulled myself along the floor.

Gorilla Badass threw himself in front of Motley Sue’s hair amps and let himself be hurled toward me by the same force pushing me back. I was still invisible, but that hardly mattered with the holes I was leaving behind.

Badass flew at me and instead of making another handhold, I threw my hand into his chest. Bones gave beneath my fist. I brought my helmet close enough to his ugly mug for him to hear me over the notes that pushed against us both. “I am the Prince of Pain.” I tossed him away.

Before I could make any more forward progress, Badass’s chain belt wrapped around my wrist and I was hauled back. I saw the gorilla clinging to the edge of the building. I held on tight as gravity took me down, figuring I could break through lower on the building and make my own escape. As I was swung against the glass, however, a yellow portal appeared and I was pulled through it by the man in the purple tights with the yellow polka dots. Portalmeister.

I was back in the penthouse, but when I threw a punch, another portal appeared in front of my hand and sent it somewhere. It was still attached, but just not occupying the space at the end of my arm. Portalmeister grinned under his headset gadgetry. “You’re the one who denied me a chance to prove my superiority.” He fell back, taking me with him through another portal.

We ended up somewhere dark and huge. I brought my knee up into Portalmeister’s gut. “I don’t know what rivalry you’re even talking about, but I’ll deny you a lot more in a second, for I am the Executioner’s Blade.”

I went to throttle the other man, but my hands warped somewhere else again, followed by the rest of me. This time, the area appeared like a kaleidoscope of bright colors. Reds, yellows, greens, purples. Whatever strange excuse for light suffused the place, it left me visible. I went ahead and shut off my stealth in that case.

Portalmeister followed me into this strange dimension that I hurtled through, falling with no bottom in sight. Portal after portal appeared beside me as he flew out of one and into another to keep me from catching him. “Sixgun was mine to kill! I was going to make him kill a civilian. I was going to make him shoot himself!” He babbled on about Lone Gunman’s mentor. Gunman, back when he went by Holdout, served as a sidekick to a Lone Ranger knockoff named Sixgun.

“So you thought you’d work for his fucking sidekick to get back at me?” I asked, throwing a kick at him as he zipped out of a portal.

The question hit him with more force than the kick had. “What?”

I spun around and caught him by the collar so I could address him face to face. “Lone Gunman is Holdout! You’re being ordered around by his old teenage sidekick with the short shorts. Geez, were you somehow deaf for the big press conference he held?” I projected images of Holdout and Lone Gunman overlaid on one another.

Portalmeister finally found his ability to speak again. “I was in prison when it happened…I didn’t know. The Lone Gunman hid this information from me…” He growled. Hey, if I could be cheesy by calling myself the Prince of Pain, Portalmeister was allowed to growl.

“Drop me off back there,” I proposed. “In all the chaos, I’m sure you’ll get a clear shot at him. Drag him into your freaky kaleidoscope chunks-blowing land here.”

Portalmeister summoned another yellow portal and pushed my grip loose to fly through it. I was lost in that shifting landless dimension for a few seconds until he swooped in from above me and hurled me into another of his portals. Then, I popped back to reality on the floor of the penthouse. I slid along the marble and knocked over a lamp.

Rumble jumped at me, trying to squash me like a bug. In his case, he could squash a Volkswagen Beetle without much effort. The downside was that I rolled forward. His foot broke through the marble and I launched myself into what would normally be a knockout blow. My fist caused a bit of testicular torture to the man, and then I grabbed them to swing between his legs and onto his back.

I put my arms around Rumble’s head and locked in a sleeper hold, putting pressure on the massive man’s massive arteries. “I am your pointless death,” I announced to him.

Rumble tried to grab at me, but his boxing gloves made that difficult. He had trouble gripping me with them on. He threw punches, but I slid from side to side and he beat himself instead.

I was pulled off when Terrorjaw hurtled Rumble, clamped his mouth down over my head, and yanked me off. It was less fun than being yanked off normally sounds. I could see down his gullet all the way to his stomach. I brought my left hand up and activated my Nasty Surprise. The miniature sawblade extended out from under my left wrist and chewed through Terrorjaw’s belly tissue. Terrorjaw’s resistance soon ended entirely. I plucked him off me and threw him into Rumble’s face. “I will bring you to your afterlife.”

I dodged another blow from Rumble that sent him down into the next floor and turned to a reactivated Man-Opener who charged with his blades brought to bear. I pulled out my laser potato peeler and aimed for the exposed helmet of the pilot. The peeler sparked and refused to fire.

Fucking ice cream truck crash.

He swung at me in a ponderous arc, but I was able to jump forward. I wrapped my arms and legs around the massive arm of the machine, too far along for his blade. He brought the other one up to chew me off with its sharp teeth, but I let go with my arms and hung upside down with my legs. The saw on the arm I held onto stopped as the other arm’s blade cut into the armor and wiring underneath.

I saw my opportunity. Man-Opener looked up at me. I chuckled as I looked down at him, then jumped high into the air, pulling energy from the core in my chest into the sheath around my fist. I would bring it down and crack the skull of my enemy. I yelled for all to hear, “I am Psychopomp Gecko!”

High in the air, I saw Portalmeister sneaking up on Lone Gunman. The Gunman whirled and pulled a scoped revolver, executing his mentor’s old rival with a single shot to the head that blew his headset to pieces. All of the yellow dots on the deceased villain’s costume disappeared as he dropped.

While I was focused on them, I wasn’t paying as much attention to Pivot. Right as the gun fired, she redirected my motion with a wave of her hand and conked me against the ceiling. Then the wall, the elevator door, through a hundred and twenty inch television, against the floor, through another wall into the kitchen, up into a light fixture, through the kitchen sink, into the bathroom, through the toilet, and then face down into the floor right in front of Man-Opener.

Before I could get to my feet or roll out of the way, a shot rang out. The Gunman had faced me before. He knew what it took to pierce my armor. I roared with pain as my kneecap burst apart.

Nearby, I heard Motley Sue playing. The notes raced higher and higher, as if trying to run up a sharp cliff. Then they sank downward, bringing with them a sharp stab that cracked the armor on my lower back and embedded some of the shards into my skin.

At least it took my mind off the knee pain.

Gorilla Badass flipped through the air and landed on my left arm before I could make further use of my Nasty Surprise. Quick Sand piled himself onto my right and pressed down hard enough to keep that one down.

“Cut him loose,” ordered Pivot.

“But only loose from his armor,” added Lone Gunman.

Pivot turned toward him, furious. “This again. You gave me this job and you’ve been countermanding my orders every step of the way. At New Orleans over and over again and at Three Mile Island. Now here. If you want him dead, why not kill him now? Why all the games?”

Another shot rang out and Pivot dropped as well from a hole to her head. “Thank you, Pivot, that will be all.” Gunman twirled his gun and then blew on the barrel. With a grin, he holstered the gun, then leaned on what was left of a railing. “You heard me, just his armor. He has a power source hidden in him. Pivot’s orders would have killed us all if you had cut into it.”

Man-Opener nodded and turned his remaining arm to the delicate task of slicing through my armor. Gorilla Badass pulled it loose from me, leaving my skin covered in blood as the connective nerves were torn loose prematurely. Once, on my chest, Man-Opener cut too close and opened me up about a half inch deep.

Soon I was dropped like a sack of potatoes. A naked sack of potatoes covered in blood, with more pouring out a chest wound.

“Gorilla Badass, would you be so kind as to hogtie him? We wouldn’t want him escaping like his friends, now would we?”

I tried to struggle, only to find my mouth filled with sand and what looked like small robots. Not nanites, but sand-sized mini machines. Quick Sand really was Cyber Sand, it seemed.

To add insult to injury, a security team arrived through the elevator. They didn’t even need to stay on alert around me. Hell, one squeeze of the trigger by an excited idiot and I could have died thanks to them.

Naked and bound before a hero who had every reason to want me dead, I didn’t have very high hopes for the situation. Don’t get me wrong, I was ready to try anything. That wasn’t what Lone Gunman had in mind, though. He walked calmly down the stairs and over to me, then knelt. He looked pristine in that damn business suit, with an obnoxiously charming smile to boot.

“I wanted you dead. It was the most pragmatic thing to do, but now I am so glad you could be taken alive. My new people here at Hephaestus can take apart that dangerous power source of yours. They can carve out those cybernetics, like those eyes there, and learn how to build them. Improve on them. Would you like to know we can make you obsolete? Do you want to hear how your dissection will let me build the world I want? That’ll have to wait. I have something more important in the works for you before I grant you the mercy of death.”

He patted me on the head, then stood and buttoned his suit jacket. His security detail parted to allow him access to the elevator. He got in, turned around, and smiled at me. “You once introduced me to your form of torture. I think I’ll show you mine. It is new and improved too. Boys, let’s find the ‘Prince of Pain’ a room of his own, with thick chains to keep his hands from roaming.”

I suppressed a groan. “Hey, you can’t call me the Prince of Pain. That phrase is only allowed if it makes me sound badass. Besides, torture? Oooh, scary. You think there’s a kind of pain I’m not familiar with? Here, have your guys check up my ass for any damns I may have smuggled in. Reach way down in there and see if I have one to give. Don’t worry. My ass won’t bite.”

Lone Gunman shrugged and spoke softly, but got his point across nonetheless. “I’ll go see if our surprise guest is ready for the big reunion.”

Leah.

With the battle over and the adrenaline subsiding, pain that my body was able to ignore was visiting with the latest bunch of it settling all throughout my system. It was hard to force myself to talk loud enough like that, but I managed a glare at him as I said, “You know, Holdout, you used to be a little shithead, but you’ve grown up to be a real bastard.”

“I had a good teacher,” he said as the elevator door closed.

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Killing Time 7

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All things considered, I expected my enemies would assemble to kick me out of their laboratory sooner than they did. The arrival of the Annihilation Eight was heralded by a call coming in live via the control room. Pivot, of course. I wondered what her angle was in all this. With the revelation that her new boss had a personal vendetta against me for some reason, maybe she was trying to move up in the organization. Maybe we had sex once and she wasn’t satisfied?

That was a joke. Ha ha. Fat chance. I haven’t had sex in a loooooooooooooong time. Some people have posited that this fact explains a lot about my behavior. They weren’t there the time I had a girlfriend and tried to destroy the world. Then she betrayed me and left me, battered, leaning against my own dimension bomb.

I guess you could say it worked out in the end. You might even say she dropped quite the relationship bomb on me.

But I digress.

Pivot called and I shushed the rejects around me before taking it. I had my armor on, though. I got to see her masked face and blonde bun, but all she saw of me was an eye filling her screen. “Hello,” I answered, “Kong residence. You calling for King?”

“I have someone with an animal name in mind.”

“You want Donkey then. He’s off getting smashed with his brothers. I swear, that guy’s practically off in his own little land half the time.”

“Cute,” she said, annoyance creeping into her voice like some sort of creepy creeping thing that creeped. Like an Aye-Aye with a pornstache shooting finger guns. She reached up and adjusted the corner of her domino mask.

“Alright, I’ll go easy on you, Pivot. What are you calling about? Is the master plan coming together? Is the masturbator coming? Or is this more of this little taunting thing you’re trying out?”

“I don’t need to taunt you. I just wanted to see the look on your face when you realized I have all my team at your gates.”

“All your team but the guys I already killed,” I reminded her.

“Even you can’t fight them all off. Rumble said you were so small you offended him.”

“Uh huh.” I nodded along as if I was listening. She couldn’t see the nod, so she noticed when my eye wandered off to the side. I was pulling up the exterior video feed, which showed six supervillains at the entrance gate. Rumble walked over it like it wasn’t even there.

“Well, we’ll see how your guys like it when I go medieval on their asses. Ready the catapult!” I called out to no one in particular. Improving on an idea from the Middle Ages, I decided to automate the catapult which you’ll remember fires cats. Irradiated and mutated leopards with three heads. I activated it from afar and watched as cages tumbled through the air. We only had three living ones, but I had them save some of the corpses too. More ammo.

I had been anticipating an attack for awhile.

Motley Sue blasted one crate out of the air with the power of rock. Gorilla Badass pulled the chain off his belt, but then he did something and a glowing blade grew from the end of it. Dextrous with both hand and foot, he whipped the chain around and carved through a cat carcass like it was nothing.

Geez, if I’d known friggin’ lightsabers were part of this struggle, I’d have cloned some troopers to fight these guys off with. I would also clone David Bowie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Andrej Pejic for personal reasons that should not be elaborated on at this time. Spoiler alert: the whipped cream would get eaten.

Rumble resorted to punching in order to solve all his problems, but that left him with a loose leopard. That wasn’t good. There were few enough situations where loose leopards were acceptable, and there was too little beastiality going on for this to be one of them.

Despite their best efforts, two of the leopards got loose and Terrorjaw got a mouth full of kitty carcass.

In the midst of all that, I caught a glimpse of the final members of my opposition. The first stalked forward in a suit of power armor that fell into the size range of a “walker”. It was about as tall as Rumble, headless, and bright white. Two thick legs that bent similarly to a human’s rose up into a wide torso. From the capabilities of the armor itself, it seemed a stylistic choice that the pilot’s helmet and armored arms extended out of the torso.

From the shoulders extended arms that were nearly long enough to reach the ground if fully extended. In place of a hand at the end of the limb, it had three heavy duty axe heads spinning around a central axis. The blade shaft in the middle was held between armored shafts that matched the same rectangular design as the rest all along the walker. These bright white plates ran diagonally with the interior corner at the lower end, on top of some sort of black underlayer that barely showed through at the corners. Where they met in the middle, they formed a “V” shape that protected everything but the exposed helmet and arms of the pilot. That was hardly a weak point; experience had shown that this suit could take a lot of punishment in that supposed weak spot.

“Huh, Man-Opener, eh? Interesting choice, Pivot. Tell me, is this one of those guys who has his own grudge against me?”

Man-Opener stomped straight through, not pausing at all even as he brought one arm forward and chewed through a leopard that put distance between itself and another member of the team. That guy was the final member of my opposition. He wore green boots, green gloves, and purple tights with yellow dots all over it in various sizes. The tights came up into a mask that covered his face, but there was something else on there I couldn’t make out. He was a let down after Man-Opener.

I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Pivot’s reaction except to note that her voice had an edge to it, like she was tired of talking to me. That happened to most people who deal with me on a regular basis. “You’ve been doing some reading, I see. Frankly, I’m surprised you can sit still long enough.”

The Eight hacked their way through my stalling attempt relatively quickly, with Man-Opener in the lead. I closed the blast doors on the entire place.

“Trust me, Pivy baby, unlike some men, I know when it’s time to stay nice and still for a woman. Wait, that’s not what I meant to say. Damn! Anyway, looks like you have breached my outer defenses.” I switched to interior cameras in time to see the man in the purple step out through a yellow tinted portal. He turned to watch Man-Opener carve partially through the door before it was knocked against the opposite wall by Rumble. He and Man-Opener crouched to walk through halls designed for regular folk.

The group stayed somewhat close together as they made their way down the hall. Just to be an ass, I switched off the lights.

“Yep, they’re in. So much for the leopards. Should call them leopeasy instead. Of course, they still have to get all the way through the power plant, then through the corridor to the lab. If you’re recording this to see some shocked reaction of horror, you’re going to be disappointed. Or your boss is, since he’s probably the one making you call me up. Am I right? This thing where you get a taste of my reaction, it’s for the benefit of Prime’s video archive, isn’t it?”

Pivot smirked. “You act like you’re smart now that you have access to our internal documents. That doesn’t take a keen deductive mind, Sherlock. If it wasn’t for the sight of you finally laid out on a slab, I would love to see you react to more of our surprises. You still don’t see them even when they’re right in front of your face. Every time you talk, it gives it away.”

She smiled as she held her hands up, palms toward me, fingers spread. “You think you’re sharing these big revelations, but you provide a showcase for your own ignorance instead. You petty, pitiful man. Your personal touch of madness is that you think you’re free even though you keep playing to someone else’s script. Like how you want to gab with me instead of running or fighting. I taunt you, you can’t help but taunt back. Tell me more about your brilliant insights while my men come closer and closer.”

She grinned like a mustached stalker in the night who had me alone. “I hate our conversations, but if it keeps you too preoccupied trying to prove you’re smart, then I’ll at least use that.”

I detected some hypocrisy there, which would make the next knowledge bomb I meant to drop on her even more delicious and destructive. I checked the cameras.

Yep, her team was in the corridor to the lab. I took a seat on my trailer couch then, between Roberta and Larry. “You know, when I showed up and took over Three Mile Island, I implied that I could blow the place up with a few pushed buttons. Truth is, it takes a lot more than that to convert a radioactive core to a nuclear weapon. Plus, I had my hands full just keeping that core maintained by my lonesome. So I thought ‘Hey, why not start disabling some alarms?’ So when Moai and I hightailed it a couple days ago, I left the place with only automated maintenance and a program to force a meltdown from a distance. Which I activated.”

Looking like a deer caught in a pair of headlights, Pivot said, “We cut outside access. You shouldn’t have been able to get anything to or from that place by internet.”

“True, true. Perhaps this is a bad time to point out that your soul-sucking bureaucratic procedures involved faxing things. Why bother hunting down how you folks got internet service behind those thick walls when I had a fax landline right there to get me in?”

“That’s a nuclear power station, Gecko! You won’t get away with this!” She restrained herself from baring her teeth at me, but I could see she was grinding them.

“Pivot, do I look like the world’s most charitable pimp all of a sudden? I only ask because I wasn’t aware I gave a fuck. Hey, you think you can have your guys pick up a box of Hot Pockets we left back in there? They might be cooked in the middle this time. Did you know that if you pay close attention to a person’s hair, you can find out their astrological sign? Before long, it’ll be obvious they’re all cancers. Cancer? I don’t even know her! You know what’s a good cheer for small teams? The micro wave.”

Pivot quit the conversation in a rage, presumably to try and get a hold of her team. I took off my helmet and smiled at my various rejected companions hanging out in the trailer. I mentioned Larry and Roberta. There were others, like the pinhead guy, but I didn’t have their names quite down. Boring names like “Bob” and “Steve” were always harder for me to nail down than interesting ones like “Sunbright” or “Arctica Blitz”.

“Ooh, how did she take the meltdown?” asked Roberta, swiveling her eye stalk around to look me in the face.

“She did not care for it. But you know what they say: if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the meltdown,” I said.

Microencephalic Man, which was purely a placeholder name, nodded. “Most of us didn’t like that plan either.”

True. That was why I only had six rejects with me out of the thirty or so who had stayed at the place. The others went their own way. Of the six with me, the other two were in the car with Moai, driving us to our destination.

“Did you warn them where we’re going? Please say you didn’t tell them that,” whined Larry next to me. I think he didn’t really have anywhere to go.

I put an arm around his runny looking shoulders. “Nope. We’ll have the run of L.A. before they even know we’re there.”

Another reject, who I think was named Steve, spoke up then. “Just to be clear, I didn’t sign up to get killed in a hail of gunfire. I want to survive getting a little payback on them.” His skin, muscles, organs, and blood vessels were all clear. His skeleton wasn’t. Unlike many of the other rejects, he had regained his confidence fairly quickly by wearing a hoodie and long pants. I didn’t know how he could see things, but I knew I didn’t want to face him in a staring contest.

I started to answer, but then Roberta jumped up on my side excitedly. “And I want to go sight-seeing! Rodeo Drive, the movie studios,…um…the Hollywood sign?”

I put an arm around Roberta too. It didn’t fit well because of how her legs worked. She leaned back against my arm, so I think she appreciated the sentiment. I looked over at Steve seated at the breakfast table. “We’re going to play this smart. Hell, if y’all just want to sit back and watch the fireworks, that’s fine with me. I never planned to bring a team along and I’m not much of a leader. Just help me out how y’all can and remember to enjoy yourselves. Uncle Gecko’s going to take Prime out to the shed for a little game of hide the bacon. It’s a fun one, for me at least.”

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Killing Time 6

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I would get a lot more done in my life if I had fewer mutated, three-headed leopards to deal with. Don’t y’all hate when that happens? Story of my life, I tell ya.

They weren’t that much of a problem in the end. The guys I stole this luxurious nuclear power plant from made sure to leave a few doors open. There I was coming out of the bathroom stall and there was a big, fluffy leopard with three heads. My ocular HUD recognized it and pulled up a mention of it being an opportunistic predator just before it pounced.

It was on me in a roaring flurry of fangs and claws. I screamed and punched it in an eye on its left face. The middle mouth clamped down on my forearm and the right one went for my throat. I bit down on that one’s nose with a growl and drove my knee into its underbelly.

I rolled it over, though it fought me every inch of the way. I wrapped my hands around the killer kitty as I got to my feet, pulling it up with me. Its claws caught in my clothes and skin, ripping flesh and breathable but inexpensive cotton open. It hurt like a son of a bitch. Just for that, I bit it again, this time on the side as I rotated it around.

It still chowed down on my arm, which was broken at that point. I fought to keep that arm lower, about at my belly height, but did my best to hold it away out of biting range. Howling in pain, I slammed it down in a piledriver maneuver, dropping that pussycat into the toilet. Its flailing seemed particularly wild after that, but the impact with the cheap metal forced it to release its hold on my right arm. With my left, I hit the button to flush.

In the midst of receiving a swirly, the leopard still had time to bite down with its left head on my left leg. It was hard to stand, so I braced myself on it using my teeth and its balls. It let go of my leg damn quick.

I gave it another swirly, and another, and then yet another after that! Then I picked it up and kept slamming its central head into the toilet again and again until it sounded like the Hunchback of Notre Dame had diarrhea in there.

When I stumbled out of the stall, bloody and with broken bones, I was greeted by the sight of a man who looked like he’d been melted. His skin seemed to form droopy folds over some parts of his body, though on his hands and cheeks it clung way extremely close to the bones. He looked at me, then said in his high voice, “Dang! I really had to go and the other stalls are all full.”

I waved my broken right arm at him. “Sorry ‘bout that, Larry.”

Yeah, that was Larry, an ok fellow. He was one of the rejects the former owners of this place kept around. It wasn’t my term for them. The Hephaestus files labeled them as such, but I think some were trying to take the word “rejects” back. They’ve been reading over the Hephaestus files too. I figured they deserved to see them after everything that happened’s happened. Hephaestus cut the base’s network access shortly after that, but we had pulled a tremendous amount of data over, and the base held a lot of data on its own.

I let all the rejects stay or leave as they wanted, but a lot of them only wanted to move in large groups to prevent recapture. All told, I had a little more than thirty people hanging out around the place. Obviously, my plan to unleash an army of mindless radioactive superpowered monsters on Hephaestus was trashed.

Larry tilted his head, his folds clinging to his skin instead of dangling off the side of his face. “Hey, you don’t look so good, Gecko man. You have something hanging out there.” He motioned toward my stomach. I looked down and saw that, indeed, my intestines were partially out. I probably missed it in all the other brain grating pain.

“It’s not Gecko man. I’m not a guy with the power of geckos. And this?” I ran a hand over an exposed portion of intestine. “This is nothing. Duct tape fixes everything.”

From behind me, I heard a growl as the beastie woke up.

I bowed my head toward Larry, “Excuse me, I need to take care of something real quick.”

With that, I turned and hobbled back into the stall, pulling on my intestines. As was usual whenever they were in motion, it made me feel queasy. The digestive tract didn’t evolve to be an accessory worn outside the body. It made a handy rope from time to time. This time, I looped it around the necks of the outer heads that had woken up and then I pulled. The strain and the pain was getting to me, but finally I squeezed one off and put that pussy to rest.

As I walked out again, I pointed back at the big cat. “All yours if you want it.”

“No thanks, I think I’ll wait.”

“Your choice, man. I’m just going to lay down for a bit.” Then I fell over on the vinyl floor. Checking through my pockets, I found what I needed. Except when I pulled out the syringe, it had a big claw mark in it and very few nanites. I let them drip out into my torso hole and searched for another. The second syringe had a bit more, but half of the syringe was missing. I poured it on anyway, then turned on the lab’s PA system.

“Moai to the Level Two southwest restroom, Moai to the Level Two southwest restroom. Bring nanites. And a big sack. And can someone ready the catapult?”

“And some more toilet paper!” someone called from another stall.

I added that to my announcement. “And extra TP.”

I rested while Moai was on its way, chuckling to myself despite the pain. We’d dealt with almost a dozen mutated leopards at that point, though usually with me armored. After the second one, one of the guys made a suggestion. He looked like he had microcephaly, but with a bigger head than most people.

That is, he looked like he had a real big face while the back of his head tapered to a much smaller point. Then again, calling it microcephaly when his head was bigger than normal kinda defeated the nomenclature. Still, people tended to use pinhead, the other widely recognized name for the condition, as an insult.

Anyway, he suggested we find some way to chase the kitties out. I took the idea to its natural conclusion and ordered a cannon built so we could fire them from the island. Unfortunately, I was reminded by Moai that cannons required more forging capabilities than we had at the time. So I instead opted to get rid of the cats by catapult.

When Moai showed up, he found me still conscious and bleeding slightly less. “Moai, I need you to stick me with the nanites. But do it gently. This is a bad time to stab me in the wrong place.”

It nodded and leaned over me cautiously. Right when he touched me with the needle, I spasmed. “Ow, fuck! “I said softly. “Here, let me have it.” I flexed the fingers of one hand which I was having trouble getting to move quite so much. It was a bit cold, too. Moai dropped the syringe into it. I swung my hand over, letting it jam the needle right into a cut as my arm flopped around like a horny squid without a Japanese girl nearby.

Moai bounced a roll of toilet paper off my head when he realized I was messing with him.

“Oh the abuse! The pain! Why must you turn on me, Moai? Hey, can you give me a lift to the control room for a little bit?”

He gave me a ride back as nanites coursed through my body. They forced wounds closed and sacrificed themselves in reactions to replace lost flesh, muscle, and blood. Bone was broken down and fused back together, but the cybernetic parts of my body were left alone. In some parts, the nanites themselves just had to sit there and hold me together. Without my power, that wouldn’t have worked so well.

On the way, something scurried over the ceiling above me, then matched Moai’s pace so it could look down on me with its one red eye. The red eye was on a stalk attached to an oval-shaped body that was tan with brown spots. Six legs sprouted from that fleshy mass, each ending in three thick, curved claws. They were bigger than a human hand and dug into the ceiling to propel the creature along. It’s eye stalk grew from the center of its body. From the wider end of its body sprouted a tube which lowered itself to just near my face.

“Are you gonna be alright, sugar? Looks like that one got you somethin’ good.”

“I’ll be fine, Roberta,” I gave her a thumbs-up. Truth is, no one knew if Roberta was female. Or if that was her real name. Or if she had ever been human. When she had the time, she liked to look through the files to try and glean anything she could about who she might have been. “How are you doing? You find anything out about yourself?”

The red eye blinked a few times and pulled closer to Roberta’s body. “Thanks for asking, but not yet. I found some things you might want to see in the overseer’s email.”

“Thanks, I’m heading up there to check it out now. I could use a rest.”

“How about some food? A group just came back from town with some groceries. I could fix you a pizza,” she hummed quickly through her mouth tube.

“That’d be nice, thanks. I could use that.” Pointing to my broken right arm, which was setting itself, I added, “Some assembly required.”

She laughed at that and scurried off to find a break room refrigerator with a pizza in it.

The rejects needed clothes and food, and I had spare money. Plus, they were free because of me. Hephaestus probably thought they’d be as feral as the leopards, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, we got along well and shared the place while they tried to figure out what to do next. It was a match made in Taiwan, or wherever matches are made.

The nanites took me out of critical condition by the time Moai dropped me in a comfy leather chair in the control room. They also took some height and muscle mass off me, but they only took inches I could afford to lose, if you know what I’m saying. Hopefully that one didn’t go over your head, because I was aiming for innuendo.

It hadn’t been all fun and games and near-death experiences, though. There was lots of fun and reading, too. I spent the past few days working my through the personal and professional emails of the site overseer. Now I thought I’d read over what Roberta saw in there.

What made it difficult was all the mundane stuff to look through. The amount of bureaucracy surprised and bored me. The guy had to fill out a form for everything, then upload it to two different websites and fax a request to another person. One of those guys had an annoying tendence to send back the requests and insist they be corrected. Not major mistakes, like an extra zero. Just minor typos like misspelling “the” as “teh”. While annoying if you’re reading for pleasure, such a mistake is probably excusable as part of a secretive multi-million dollar criminal organization.

I heard there was a downside to being evil, but I didn’t imagine fate could ever be so cruel to people. They sucked all the fun out of doing illegal things.

They couldn’t even word things in an exciting way. It took reading one email three times to figure out they trashed one guy’s immune system, zapped him a bunch of times, injected him with a cocktail meant to induce powers, then shoved radioactive rods into his orifices to see what would happen.

Death. Death happened. Why let that bother them when their test subjects were kidnapped?

Oh yeah, I got glimpses of that part of their operation. They dealt with foreign governments to take disappeared political dissidents. They paid human smugglers to divert a few people their way. They even bribed private prisons to say they were sending prisoners to solitary where they died of complications. I wondered which group Larry and Roberta fell into.

Roberta hit on something big, though. Really big. She found a series of emails from mid to late February talking about how they were going to deal with Psycho Gecko. That name sounded familiar. The new head of Hephaestus, going by the name Prime, wrote that he wanted all sites to secure themselves against possible infiltration and gave a list of recommendations, like reinforced doors, increased communication, and close examination of anyone seen entering at the wrong time or place.

Then there was the email that got circulated amongst various high-ranking members of the group asking for suggestions on a team they were assembling to take me out. They didn’t want an army, but they needed a big enough group to overwhelm me. “Membership should be include those with capabilities specifically capable of negating the target’s ability to deceive people. If possible, find resources who have a personal stake in defeating the target.”

It was Pivot who suggested eight would be a good number. She suggested Dr. Typhoon and Terrorjaw would be ideal candidates due to their strength and how well they could find me. “I don’t feel it’s in the best interests of our goal to recruit someone who has a personal vendetta against him. They are likely to disobey orders and compromise the entire operation.” Others had a few ideas, like hiring heroes to join the team or creating a crop of superhumans tailored to defeat me.

I found it amusing that the Three Mile Island overseer claimed he had one man who could do the job all on his own. Amplitude, he assured them, would squash me like a bug. Prime’s response was simply “Approved.”

At some point while I read over everything, Roberta brought me a pizza fresh out of the oven and set it down next to me, then set two of her claws on the back of my chair and started reading over my shoulder. I hooked a foot under the console so I wouldn’t tip back from the extra weight.

After reading up on me, Pivot suggested they do their best to separate me from Mix N’Max too. That, along with her suggestions lining up better with Prime’s wishes, got her the team. She was told to take over recruiting and coordinating the group with regular Hephaestus resources. He told her to step on as many toes as she needed to get this done. That worked real well with Faustus, didn’t it?

Why dwell on the past, right? Aside from that personal stake bit, what possible use did any of this information serve? Setting aside my own interest in how they threw it together, I asked myself the same question. They put a lot of work into this just because they didn’t like how I wanted to be paid.

The last reply that went out to everyone on that teambuilding email even showed Prime informing everyone to “Ignore Psycho Gecko’s threats. He likes to bluff people and get what he wants through his reputation. If we put that reputation to the test, we can break it.” The date on it was March 1st.

This Prime guy bothered me. Something about that tone, how he acted like he knew me, this insistence on going after me. I checked back through specific conversations I had saved as being linked to this whole mess, all the way back to when Hephaestus hired me to raid a place. That’s what started the whole mess.

It made me sit up and reexamine those emails. Startled, Roberta shuffled around next to me. “What is it?” she asked, behind her mouth tube so it wasn’t too close to my face.

Prime didn’t come after me to make himself look better or to make Hephaestus look like a major player. “It wasn’t because they didn’t want to pay me with song rights. It wasn’t even because I was an ass to the contact person,” I told her. My little review showed I pulled the Hephaestus job on March 9th. ”I didn’t give them an excuse to want to kill me. They manufactured one. I think whatever’s going on here is personal.”

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Killing Time 5

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Paradise City never knew what hit them.

Located as it was in Northwest Florida, the city was in danger of catching hurricanes. The Gulf of Mexico had a nasty habit of strengthening storms, too. None were predicted heading toward it so far. It should have been safe.

That didn’t last. Out of nowhere, a huge front rolled in and formed a distinctive spiral. From Tropical Storm to Category Three in no time flat. Unlike how they normally behave, it stayed there, sitting over Paradise City. Even more unusual, it was gaining strength there. Hurricanes have never gotten stronger over land.

During my discussion with Ouroboros, I mentioned buoys communicating with a Hephaestus weather station. There was a chance some other villain or organization happened to spring some weather control shenanigans right there when Ouroboros found out more Hephaestus people were in his city. I wouldn’t bet on it.

This was horrible! I needed to ask Ouroboros if he had any giant drills I could use up here. I knew some people had those things out there. I looked them up. I found out they were a popular car accessory in the Sixties. Nobody I knew seemed to sell any of the damn things. Maybe Michelangelo knew someone, but he wasn’t taking my calls.

There probably wasn’t anything wrong with him, though. He never liked taking my calls.

I know, you’re probably wondering why I never thought to look online for something big to drill with. The answer is that I never needed an accessory to help me drill. Booyah!

Attacking a place intended to contain deadly amounts of radiation presented a whole host of challenges. I couldn’t name them all without putting y’all at risk of arrest, I think. If you go to jail, devoted readership, who will be left to worship me? I won’t let them take you!

I racked my head coming up with ideas on how to get in. After that, I racked Moai’s head. When we still came up with a case of fighter’s block, we racked other people’s heads. It wasn’t easy. First we had to chase them down, then strap them to the bed, and then we had to run out and grab more grease for the cranks.

Then we had to deal with the bodies, which was nasty business without the requisite preparations. October! That’s the best time of year for randomly killing people. No clean up necessary; just chuck them on someone’s lawn somewhere.

After I was done restocking the local Wal-Mart’s meat section, I still had to think up a way into the base. My little worker ants had done their job, mapping out the power plant and part of the laboratory complex. They scurried around, performing their errands and occupations, and the tracers stored everywhere they were going. I pulled all the data out when they got back outside the thick walls and had myself a three-dimensional map.

To protect y’all, I’ll skip over the specifics of the power station. The lab was interesting. They situated three floors under the old reactor core. The upper level had a large testing around with observation rooms in the four cardinal directions. A corridor ringed those rooms and connected them all to various other rooms. Storage, data entry, medical stations; I couldn’t figure that with what I had.

I didn’t get as good a look at the next floor down. It looked about the same, but there may have been larger rooms connected to the outer ring on the east side. I got barely any of the bottommost floor, but it looked to be copying the same plans as the other two. There could have been more floors, but I had nothing to show them.

For convenience, I’ve labeled the core level as Floor One, and the three testing rooms as Floors Two, Three, and Four going down. I considered making it Floors One, Six, Two, and Eighteen, but my initial sinister glee was dampened by the need for convenience.

I can’t help it. One part of liking people for their minds is that I occasionally want to fuck their minds.

Anyway, that’s where Moai and I found ourselves. Ouroboros was out of touch, though he wouldn’t have helped us much. Michelangelo wasn’t taking my calls to provide me anything handy. Mix N’Max was vacationing in Las Vegas. My brain was being a dipshit.

At first, I thought of going in through the stack, but that wouldn’t put me anywhere nice. Just vented on. I considered hitting up the coolant intake like what happened to Generator One originally, but the most that would ever have done was get me circulated next to an active nuclear core.

I needed a way to open it up so I could open a can of whoop-ass.

Lightbulb! That gave me the idea I needed. Pulling it off required very little in the way of effort and resources, too. That von Hammerstein-Equord guy really knew what he was talking about when he said the lazy smart people were cut out for high leadership.

The next day, local workers from a vending machine company visited Three Mile Island. They were checked at the gate, where their cover of replacing some machines was met with enthusiasm by the guards. The guards patted them down, then allowed the two men to wheel in the machines on dollies. After a stroll and a few turns, they stopped at a break room and, after much grunting and sweating, made the switch. They left unmolested, taking a decades old snack machine and drink machine with them.

I gave them twenty minutes to get away. Twenty minutes of passing drinks through a slot. Oh, didn’t I mention it? Moai and I were in the machines. I guess you could say that brilliant infiltration method was a real Gecko ex Machina, eh? Eh? Anybody?

At the twenty minute mark, someone else stepped up to order a drink.

“Hawaiian Punch…Dr. Wham…Rape Soda. Rape Soda? Hey, Donnie, take a look at this. They screwed up and left off the G. Eh? Rape Soda. Guess I better watch my ass if I order that one.”

Another voice joined in. “Ha! That’s good. Huh, they have Kickin’ Ice? I thought that was a slushy.”

“Maybe it’s new. I think I’ll give it a try.” I braced my feet against the front cover of the machine.

The button lit up indicating that, yes, he had chosen Kickin’ Ice. He got my kicking him in the face, tearing the front of the machine open in the process. I climbed out and found I was in a little room with a round table in the middle and a counter on the opposite wall with a sink and a microwave. I grabbed my customer as he stumbled back against the table and spun him around. “Drink up, icehole,” I told him just before kicking his ass so hard his head went into the microwave.

Out in the hallway, his friend booked it out of there as fast as his legs could carry him.

I stretched a moment to get the feeling back in all my extremities, then turned and slapped the button for Dee’s Nuts on the snack machine. Moai burst out of it wearing a black jumpsuit, a pair of night vision goggles on his forehead. He tossed me the peanuts I ordered. “Alright, time to show them who’s got the power,” I said as I turned on the microwave and walked out of the room.

Alarms began to blare as we stalked the corridors, looking for the access tunnel to the lab. On the way in, I tracked the turns we took and compared them to the 3D map I assembled. Guards we ran across fired the first couple of times with regular handguns, then backed off.

When we rounded the corner to a checkpoint right in our way, we found a lot more of them. Eleven men were assembled there, each one holding a rifle that looked like it had a vent on the front. A few stood ready to intercept, but most were in the process of putting on silver hazmat suits. I activated my armor’s invisibility, left a hologram in my place, and ducked behind Moai to watch what happened.

When the guards fired, the darkened interiors of the guns lit up pale blue. No visible beam was produced, but the spot where I had been standing set my helmet to crackling from the radiation. That explained the suits.

Unfortunately, seeing nothing happen to my hologram caused one of them to smash open a panel on the wall and hit a button. A blast door slammed shut, creating a dead end behind them. That wasn’t very nice.

I slid around in front of Moai and jumped up, kicking off him to send myself into the mob of men. I landed on one man, knocking the air out of him with an “Oomph!” I stood, stomping on the first man’s groin, then threw my bag of peanuts into his face. He was protected by the hazmat mask, but he reflexively raised his hands. I reached down, grabbed his balls, and squeezed. His voice almost had as good a range as the alarms that still echoed through the place.

With me in the midst of them while they were half dressed, security couldn’t fire willy-nilly at me. I used that to my advantage. I picked up the guy whose nuts I had grabbed and tossed him headfirst into another fellow’s crotch. Another swung his rifle at me, but I ducked under it and rose in an uppercut aimed right at his cornhole. I tore his asshole a new asshole and lifted him off the ground.

After rotating him sixty-three degrees on a random access I swung him and let him fly off my arm with a sound like a squelch. He hit that button in the panel again, but nothing happened to the door. Another guard bonked me on the shoulder with a baton. As I turned around, he dropped it and raised his hands. “I’m sorry, man. I won’t do it again, I promise, just let me go.”

“Let you go?” I asked. He nodded quickly, sweat pouring down his face. “If I let you go, why, that’d be…nuts.” I kicked him between the legs, knocking him into the air until his crotch was at face height. Then I punched him in the balls hard enough to send him flying back a few feet where he curled up pathetically on the ground.

Looking around, I decided to ask someone how to get that open, but the problem was finding someone to ask. Moai had laid out five other guards on his own, but there was one right between us. The unlucky bastard recognized he didn’t stand a chance whether he ran for it or stayed.

I picked up a spare rifle from the floor and approached. “Hey there. Easy now. Easy. I take it you’re looking to come out of this with a minimum of pain, correct?”

“Yes!” he practically shouted, eager to say whatever he needed to in order to survive.

“Good, good. Now, my friend and I, we were looking to get past that door.” I pointed to the blast door. ”Open it.”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Damn am I ever sorry, my man, but that, what the one guy did, that wasn’t reversible. Well, it is, but not from this side. It was a special emergency button. Even up in the control room, they can’t get it open.”

I examined my map on my HUD. That blocked off corridor was the only way to or from the laboratory. I projected the map for the guard and pointed at the laboratory section as I asked, “Are there any other ways over there?”

He shook his head. “No, that was it. I’m sorry man. It wasn’t me. I didn’t design the place. I think it was an Asian dude. Short guy. One of those short, efficient Japanese guys who works too much and looks like they’re constipated from all the sushi. You gotta believe me, if I built this place, I’d have three or four other corridors, maybe like an elevator that moves sideways.” He moved his hand from side to side to indicate the blast door.

I kinda liked this guy. For one thing, he gave me an idea.

“Which of these rooms is the control room?”

He obediently pointed to it.

It took a few minutes to get there, but the door on the control room wasn’t hard to breach. It was no blast door or vault, and few regular doors stood up to Moai’s bulk once he got going fast enough. I stepped through the control room doorway as he rolled to the side off the door and then to a standing position.

“Congratulations, everyone, you can turn off that fucking alarm. You’ve all got the rest of the day off. If anyone objects, they can have the rest of their life off. Understand?” I hefted the rifle I still carried and pointed it into the air. Resting on and partially around the barrel was the lone guard I chatted with, his neck hanging at an unnatural angle. I squeezed the trigger on the rifle and the guard’s head expanded slightly before exploding outward in a spray of blood, bone, and brain.

Thus began the stampede out of the control room. I really did let them go.

Tossing the rifle aside, I stepped toward the blood-soaked main control panel and unsealed my gloves. “Moai, watch the door,” I ordered while removing my gloves. I sat down and pressed my hands to the control panel. Soon I was in, nerves connecting to circuit boards and wires to link me directly into it. I wiped and replaced the passwords, then activated a speaker system that let me communicate with those trapped on the other side of that blasted blast door.

“Greetings, Hephaestus workers. You will all be happy to know that the emergency is over.” I cut the alarm. “This has merely been a test of your security procedures. You failed. I, Psycho Gecko, am in control. Do not adjust your monitors if you have any. That’s right, go right on watching porn while your boss isn’t looking. Just don’t stay long. I want you to open that door and get your asses out of my new base of operations pronto. Shut up! Did I say you were allowed to object?”

I couldn’t hear anyone objecting, but if anyone did, I probably freaked them out saying that.

“Funny thing is, your secrecy works against you here. You’re not going to call for the cops. They want you too. Then the audits start and the Internal Revenue Service starts looking into every possibly corporate connection to nail down members of your organization. Hephaestus won’t be asking the military to come crashing in and save your asses anytime soon, I think.”

I laughed as I thought out exactly what I wanted to do with the place.

“Don’t mind the outburst. It’s not like there’s any reason to make this all so serious anyway. Just open the door and shuffle your asses out. Go home. Play with your dogs. Play with your kids. Play with yourselves. Or I play with this nuclear reactor and see how big a bang I can make.”

Not one minute later, I got a call on the control room’s landline from the lab’s control room. “Hello, you’re on Radical Radiation Radio with your host, Psycho Gecko. What’s on your mind, caller?”

The voice on the other side sounded harried, like the owner of it had just caught her breath. “I’m the overseer around here. You wouldn’t blow this place up! There’s billions of dollars worth of research here! And you! You’re too close. You’d kill yourself.”

“I suppose I could always start the process, disable the alarms, leave some automated monologues in the speaker system, and skedaddle while you’re all- while you’re all- while you’re all-“ I acted like I was a recording glitching out and stuck in a loop. “Oh, whoops, maybe I’ve already left.” I turned on the alarm that indicated a meltdown for a few seconds, then shut it off.

The overseer wasn’t amused. “You…fuck!”

“Not lately, but most people think I should do so at least once, preferably with myself. It sounds uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as you explaining that you lost this place to me, but at least a living person can talk. What’s it going to be?”

In the end, they relented, marching out past Moai. I watched them leave on camera, maybe a hundred people all out of a job.

Once they left, I locked down the whole complex and checked over my new place to make sure no intruders were left.

Hephaestus cost me a night club and a hideout. I got a nuclear power station and a new hideout from them. It almost balanced out.

With all the toys and abominations that were left behind, it’s safe to say the life expectancy of Hephaestus just dropped to a half-life expectancy.

Rimshot, please.

Ba-dum tish!

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Killing Time 4

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We made record time reaching Pennsylvania. The “Most Cop Cars Cut Through With A Giant Buzzsaw Strapped To A Car” record, to be exact.

The trip gave Moai and I time to feel out the situation with Hephaestus. The Annihilation Eight was still intact. Pivot’s little anti-me task force still had its superpowered muscle, and they were flexing it. In an extremely transparent attempt to goad me, they were pulling jobs in different cities.

Days after I left Memphis, Motley Sue showed up there and tore up the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum. Over in Kingscrow, where Mix N’Max usually hung out, Terrorjaw was seen swimming the rivers. He chomped his way through boats and used the remains to block off the sewers. Then he blew up one of the bridges that were crowded with traffic. Rumble was also out and about. I hadn’t run into him yet in my battles with Hephaestus, but he was leaping around Empyreal City in his boxing shorts, knocking over banks. Literally. He was something like ten or eleven feet tall and gave tanks penis envy.

Hmm. I meant that in terms of strength and durability, but I hadn’t thought of how the man’s erection might factor into a fight until just this second. I made a note to make sure I didn’t fight him while horny. While he was horny, at least. I didn’t need an extra limb to dodge. I could be as horny as I liked if I wanted to.

Anyway, he would give his battle cry of “Let’s get ready to Rumble!” Then, he just walked up to a bank and punched his way through. The boxing gloves he wore didn’t protect the vaults any better than they did the exterior walls.

They weren’t content to just show up and make scenes in three major cities I’ve caused havoc in lately. They also left insults directed at me at the scenes of their crimes. The usual juvenile stuff was included, like “Psycho Gecko’s so stupid, he can’t even read this,” but also some more sophisticated insults like “We declare Psycho Gecko obsolete.” How obsolete could I be if they’re using three teams of two people to take me on? That’s right, teams of two. I had my suspicions about that, but it was Motley Sue who confirmed them. She tried to go after the Stax Museum. That time, she got into a fight with Honky Tonk Hero, who brought Gorilla Awesome along. That’s when Gorilla Badass revealed himself and helped Sue out. The two villains got away, but revealed that their antics were part of a trap.

I haven’t figured out who they teamed up with Rumble and Terrorjaw yet. Maybe other heroes will respond and clear that up for me. Forcelight’s company, Long Life, was still in Kingscrow. Empyreal City had…uh…I don’t know…Lone Gunman, maybe?

Terrorjaw and Rumble probably teamed up with the last two members of the Annihilation Eight. The ones who hadn’t been revealed yet. That, or they were still lugging the dead bodies of Quick Sand or Dr. Typhoon around. That sounded like a great briefing. “Go out and hunt this asshole. Your only backup on this mission is this dead dude that he already killed. Have a ball. Make jerky or something.”

That’s what Pivot’s team was up to in order to draw me out. While they were busy with that, I would strike somewhere that would cost them.

“There it is, Moai. Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station.” I filled in Moai as I held up a pair of binoculars to the visor of my armor. I didn’t need them with my visor’s zoom, but that wasn’t the point. It was part of how I wanted to reconnoiter this place.

“Located on Three Mile Island, on the Susquehanna River three miles down from Middletown, Pennsylvania. So, you can see where they got the name.” I tossed Moai the binoculars as if they were big enough for him to use. I zoomed in with my visor and pointed out the defenses to him. It was as much an exercise for myself as it was for him. But not so much for y’all, so the specifics on what you need to circumvent to break into a nuclear power plant are left up to y’all’s imaginations.

“Good spot for an evil lair. Few visitors, thick walls, sinister overtones. See, in 1979, they had a partial meltdown around here. Generator One was shut down and Two was workin’ it instead. It was shakin’ its nuclear booty and making it rain delicious energy on people around here. Cooling system screwed up. That’s why nuclear plants are on the water, to cool them down. Radiation is like an old man in a strip club. It takes more than thinking about baseball to end any dangerous spikes. In this case, the line of cold beers to old man radiation was interrupted when crap piled up on the strip club floor and the normal systems failed to clear it away.”

Pointing to the tower that didn’t have smoke wafting from it, I told him, “That’s Generator Two, where the meltdown happened. Anyway, the steam generators stopped working. Yeah, nuclear power is basically steam power with nuclear materials heating things up as opposed to coal or gas or whatever. So it was sort of like there was a cork in old man nuclear power plant’s sphincter. Or maybe the plant wasn’t eating enough fiber and it got constipated. Technically, in this case, it was too much fiber that clogged it up, but no analogy is perfect. Can’t spell analogy without anal. As happens in those cases, pressure and heat built up inside in a dangerous way. This triggered a shutdown.”

I stopped pointing and began to gesticulate. I wished I had sock puppets. Wait, why didn’t I have sock puppets? I used my suit’s holographic systems to display sock puppets on my hands. One wore a nuclear stack as a hat and had a long grey beard on its face. The other was blue and had a hydrogen atom drawn on its head. “Despite the shutdown, there was still an erection growing bigger and bigger in the pants, and since the steam generator wasn’t working, it was building up and building up.” I bulked up the blue sock.” They were supposed to have some secondary stuff start up and help cool the thing down, but all this happened during some maintenance and they didn’t, which was where they violated the rules. You’ll notice that point in any nuclear disaster. ‘And this is the point where they weren’t doing what they were supposed to.’”

“So Generator Two here,” I waved the stack-hatted puppet, “He was still constipated with nuclear decay heat and getting one hell of a radioactive boner. This caused him to open his mouth, or as they call it in power plant terms, his relief valve.” The stack sock began to move its mouth like it was talking. I created a pair of holographic socks with gigantic hooters and thongs drawn on them. “Like most people who open their mouths, it didn’t stop when it was supposed to. This marks like the hundredth coincidental failure or so to happen, by the way. The little bit of beer he had to keep him in check spilled out. The control panel falsely claimed the old man’s mouth was closed.”

Moai nodded, having turned the binoculars so he could see through one of the lenses. He was looking through it at my sock puppets. “This caused drooling.” The stack puppet began to bounce a basketball up and down. “Not dribble, drool.” The hologram changed to water dripping out the sock’s mouth. “Steam pockets were created that misled the people looking at the old man, who thought all the drool was spilled beer. There’s no use crying over spilled beer. The old man began hooting and hollering as one of the girls did this pole dance with an upside down flip from a pole hanging above the stage, but this warning sign was ignored at first.”

“His handlers thought he’d cool off on his own with all the beer already in his system, but instead the beer just fueled his raging hard on. A zipper malfunction later, and the head was exposed. One hydrogen gas explosion later, the radiation had been released.”

I swapped out the sock puppet strippers with a new pair. “Anyway, at 6 am they brought in new people who noticed something was wrong. Then they declared an emergency around the guy’s table.”

I turned off the holograms. “Luckily for everyone involved, no one got any radioactive ejaculate on them. Heck, no one even got cancer from it.”

I then pointed at the active stack with smoke puffing out, “That’s Generator One. That puppy’s still active. I’m not sure what that means for us taking this place apart, but it may mean something. It provides the power and the space where Generator Two was provides the hideout for Hephaestus. Come Moai. Bad choice of words. Walk this way. We have more recon to do.”

Sitting there, putting things in perspective with sock puppets, I had an idea. We were there in time to see a shift change. It reminded me of the phrase I’ve used before about when I’m outnumbered by powerful people. “I didn’t know how many of them it would have taken to kick my ass, but I knew how many they were going to use.” In this case, I didn’t know how many of them it took to run the one active generator unit, but I knew how many they had.

That led to a hectic little situation where I hunted down the various plant workers over the next couple of days. Like a fellow I approached in the grocery store. He was minding his own business, looking over the cheeses in the dairy aisle. I came up behind him and slapped him on the butt.

“Mmm, that’s nice,” I said. He jumped and stiffened up, then turned around to look at me. He didn’t see me, as I had climbed into the bin with the cheese while I planted a tracker on him. I dove off onto the floor as he whirled around again. He was going to spin again, but I was done. This time when he twirled around, he tried to flail and hit at whoever was touching him. He found no one, lost his balance, and collapsed against the shelves. He slid to the ground covered in packs of singles.

I pretended to help him up. “You alright? With all that sharp cheddar, you’re lucky you didn’t cut yourself.” He stumbled on a pack of cheese, ripping it open. Singles spread out and he nearly tripped. “Easy there, man. Just because you’re intolerant of lactose is no reason to try and cut the cheese.” He pulled away from me, looking confused and hurt. Maybe a little bit embarrassed, too.

I left the store with one more shift worker checked off my list and headed east. Along the way, I noticed another person from my list. She was walking along with a dog. I reached out and gave her a boobs a grope. “Hey there, these are just boobtastic.”

Ha! I’ve fought girl scouts who knew how to punch better than she did. Still, straightening out my nose gave me something to do until I ran into the next person at a Middletown bus stop.

He was a rotund fellow, big enough that I could have parachuted with his pants. I walked right up to him and gave his boobs a grope. “Boob-fucking-tastic.”

He flushed with embarrassment and started to thank me before trying to push me away. That’s when I moved my hands down his sides and tickled. He squirmed and giggled, then threw a chunky ham hock of an arm at me. I let him go ahead and hit me. I sold the hit too much and stumbled out into traffic, where I caught a ride from a passing motorist. The driver soon realized I was holding onto the back, and I saw a cell phone come up to dial the cops.

I didn’t stay on long. Just long enough to reach my stop, a tiki-themed stand that sold shaved ice. There was a prop statue next to it wearing a grass skirt and a tribal mask that had a blow dart pipe sticking out of the mouth. I leaned against it. “How are you doing, Moai?”

In response, the pipe fired. Across the street, a jogging woman’s head snapped to the side and she bonked it against a tree. She stumbled a few steps, then fell down, a large dart sticking out of her cheek.

I patted my disguised henchrock on what passed for a shoulder. “Good job. I’ll go get this one.”

One tracer later, I pulled the dart out of her and hid it. “Nasty spill there, ma’am. You bang your head?”

She shook her head and pulled the hair out of her face with her pinky. “Ungh, I, yeah, I guess I did.”

I offered her a hand up, “Need some help?”

“Sure, thanks,” she said as she took my hand and got to her feet. As she walked off, I gave the tracers a check. All twenty-three we planted were still working.

Instead of charging in blind, like the Greek Tiresias, I’d handle this smart, like Daedalus. Thinking of old horny guys reminded me of the Greeks, but I felt no urge to join the local NAMBLA chapter. I was going to get balls deep inside a nuclear generating station and whatever lab was hidden beneath it.

Yep, I wasn’t coming at them from the front. I was going to nail them from beyond and reach around to give them the shaft. I’d have to avoid the taint of radiation, but I was confident I could toss them around like so much salad.

Like a jogger sedated by a tiki statue, Hephaestus is never going to know what hit them.

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Killing Time 3

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There’s a phrase that’s been attributed to Al Capone, a rather famous gangster, that is incredibly illustrative about how easily villains like myself can do things. “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”

I was also surprised to find out the man possessed a wonderful sense of humor like when he said, in reference to the suburbs of Chicago, “This is virgin territory out here for whorehouses.”

But back to the kind word and a gun, and I didn’t bring this up to knock guns yet again. Guns were an example. Force. Fists with sheaths of energy, knives, extortion, blackmail, political influence, huge wads of cash, gritty cigar-smoking llamas with katanas strapped to their hooves; all of it makes your goals happen more easily.

I think by now you’ve seen that I don’t like Hephaestus and I’ve been working against them. I’ve built up an arsenal of dirty tricks, some of which can be wielded with all the power and authority of a man with a shotgun informing a younger man that he will be doing right by a knocked up daughter. Like the virus. I meant a virus was a dirty trick, not that daughters are viruses. Well, maybe Rhea from King Lear, but only because she was such a goner.

Joking aside, it was more like a Trojan in that it left me a backdoor into the communications network. I dived in with a computer that wasn’t part of my brain and pinged the whole thing. It took a bit of time, but I expected they will eventually catch on to how their businesses got exposed.

The chatter was interesting as well once I spent some time listening. After that, I set up a program to identify various words of interest in different languages, including my name. The computer archives a transcript for me to review later.

“Comms unit” has been established as a catch all term for various methods of wireless communications, but I lucked out stealing this thing from Gorilla Badass. The radios I ran across had too short a range to be useful for this, and the computers sent stuff via the internet. I never would have been able to handle a check of the entire world wide web including the deep and dark webs. Hell, even cell phones were too widespread to be useful, but their network and encryption has been cracked before. This lovely little belt-mounted receiver and earbud setup made things much easier.

If I’d thought about it, I could have done all this sooner and much more effectively.

Monday provided an opportunity to put my speaking and threatening skills to work. Monday, I gave Ouroboros a call. For those who don’t remember, Ouroboros was the guy I briefly worked for back in Paradise City, a party and tourism city on the gulf coast of northwest Florida. Everything went fairly well until a hero I attacked dropped hints about the Wishing Stick. It was a stick that granted wishes, a fairly easy concept to grasp, and Ouroboros kept it in the vault under his casino with other valuable prizes.

Bullshit. After a pitiful attempt to ignite a gang war between the others vying for a piece of Paradise City, I was captured by Ouroboros to be handed over to a super group of heroes called Shieldwall who were up my ass like a condom full of cocaine. A big fight broke out and I escaped, but I broke the Wishing Stick when it turned out that it refused to grant wishes for morally reprehensible people. For his efforts, Ouroboros got an F-bomb dropped on his city in one of the last jobs before those illegal flyers got arrested and convicted of their general flight hooliganry.

Ouroboros and I didn’t have much to talk about, but Hephaestus got on both of our bad sides. I thought that was enough. One problem: I lacked a giant screen. It has been awhile, so I’ll remind y’all that a giant screen is a big monitor that allows two-way visual and audio communication in an impressive and intimidating way. Handy for making demands. Many established villains have been known to make use of them. I heard the UN keeps a few handy as well. I haven’t nailed down whether they have them to just receive demands or if it’s because some of their members like to make the demands. Except North Korea. It was well established, after the latest Kim took power and he tried to threaten the South Koreans, that they don’t let North Korea access their screen. On the plus side, I heard that the Starcraft II multiplayer map the South Koreans painstakingly crafted in his likeness was real popular for a couple of months.

I was too far away to steal a screen from the United Nations in Empyreal City, so I had to improvise. I had to use the tiny little television set set into the wall cabinets of the trailer. I gave it a camera and a receiver to make it useable for my purposes.

I dressed in my armor to actually make the call. It was a formal thing. People like Ouroboros were way too into protocols for my taste, but I wanted him to do what I wanted him to do. Ouroboros didn’t pick up when I called. Instead, there was a woman of Asian ancestry in a black dress that covered her cleavage filing her nails. She didn’t seem to notice the screen at first. She gave her nails a few more good rakes of the file while calling out to someone in Japanese.

“Yo, Tokyo Rose. Yoo hoo. Hi there.” I waved. Her lack of response had me worried that something was up with the camera. My concerns were allayed by a response, finally, as the woman set her file down, crossed her arms, and looked squarely at me.

In English touched by boredom and a hint of an accent, she asked, “How can I help you?”

“I’m calling for Ouroboros if he’s still alive. Tell him it’s Psycho Gecko and we have something to discuss.”

That got a little bit of urgency out of her. Muttering something with the vitriol of a cuss word under her breath, she stood and walked out of view. I didn’t see her again, but it wasn’t long before Ouroboros appeared. His black-scaled bodysuit looked untouched by the brawl that occurred last time I was in his city. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the portion that covered them and much of his face before curving down into two large fang portions on either side of his mouth. He had his curved ivory knives looped through his belt on either side of his hips. He didn’t bother taking them out as he sat in front of the screen.

“Oury! How good to see you again. New secretary?”

“My organization had room for growth and advancement. She dislikes you enough without you calling her a secretary. You didn’t call to discuss my job openings. We left each other on too bad of terms to go into that again. Does this call pertain to recent news of you going to war with the people who made me what I am today?”

I couldn’t read much emotion off him with only the mouth to go by, and he kept that stoic. I thought he was amused, but he could have been annoyed at the same time.

“It does, in fact. I’m sure you’re aware that I’ve done more than kick them out of just one city. It’s their own fault, really. Even with you trying to turn me over to a gang of heroes that probably would have stuck me in a hole deep underground, you still paid me for my work. As well you should have, considering how Black Raptor, your errant do-gooder, flew off to go help my enemies. Well, Hephaestus didn’t pay, so now they’re gonna pay.”

Ouroboros held up a finger on one hand. “Well said. What does this have to do with me and my business ventures?”

I clasped my hands together under my chin. “Weeeeeeeeeell, I don’t know how much it affects your business at this point, but it may affect your diet if the presence of Hephaestus facilities in Paradise City leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.”

He leaned forward, lip twitching. “You can confirm this?”

“Hey, Anaconda Part Infinite, I’m nowhere near your city. I can’t go up and do the recon, but what is it going to cost you to have some people check into a couple of businesses?”

He leaned back. “I’m not chasing wild geese because you want to be a jackass.”

“You will, my good man, you certainly will. I know that they have something on the grounds of the Paradise City Aviation Airport, which appears to be a private airfield. I would guess they were testing planes there or teaching some flying, but oddly enough that appears to be it as far as bases go. What’s stranger are the transmissions off a number of buoys in the water that get routed through some sort of local weather station. Aside from that, it’s mostly just individual chatter from a few well-placed individuals, including some pain in the ass called Shryer who has been monitoring you.”

Ouroboros steepled his fingers. “That is a lot of specific information that can be checked. If they are here, they are mine to deal with.”

I maintained a jovial tone as I spoke. “They’d better be, or I’ll pay you a visit and wipe them out. It’ll be a surgical strike, like when someone removes an entire limb to get rid of gangrene. Really, all I want is Hephaestus to get their teeth kicked in wherever possible. I think we’re of like mind about that.”

That was the gun to my “kind word and a gun” approach. Ouroboros definitely didn’t want me visiting again.

He nodded slowly. “For now, at this time, yes. I will have my people look into this. You stay away and do whatever else you do. Go bother them elsewhere?”

“Any recommendations?” I asked, projecting eyelashes and torn-out puppydog eyes over my visor. I blinked them a few times.

“You are so good at tracking them, I doubt you need my help. Make sure you visit Three Mile Island soon, though I hear they’ve gone Hollywood to bilk celebrities out of their money. I can not imagine what they do out there unless they found a way to provide inconspicuous abilities to people with more money than sense. It suits the style of the head of Hephaestus, anyway. He had a lot of ambition and a desire to know important people.”

I shot finger guns his way. “Bang bang! That’s what happened to the old boss, I hear. Don’t know if that’s who you meant, but they have some new guy in charge who likes to pick on poor, defenseless supervillains like myself. Oh well, think of me as karma’s bitch-whippin’ stick on this one.”

“Hmm,” was all Ouroboros said about that.

“Anyway, y’all have your fun down there and I’ll find my own fun up here. And remember: put your boot on, then insert it into a rectum. Unless you like having dirty feet. Not my fetish.”

I cut the feed. That went surprisingly well. I needed to inform Moai of our new destination. It, though I often think of it as a he, was outside, trying to rustle up some grub and grilling. I kicked the door open to find him by the cheap grill that Holly had picked up for the trailer way back near the beginning of this roguish road trip. He grabbed a plate and threw it at me like a frisbee. The burger on it flew apart but I caught the patty. Slipping off my helmet with my other hand, I began to chow down on the cheese-covered meat disk. “Thanks, Moai. So, how’s the grilling going?”

He turned back toward the grill, over which an Indian man was tied to a rotating spit. No one was likely to complain about the sight as we were parked inside this old building that had never been completed. It was a solid, imposing edifice of concrete and rebar. It was also mostly private, save for kids and the occasional graffiti artist.

The man on the spit mumbled for attention through the whoopee cushion covering his mouth. I stepped over to him and looked him over. He was a new arrival to the city that had been transferred to work at the urinalysis clinic’s lab at a bad time. Upon arriving in Memphis and driving by his new place of work, he found it cordoned off by the police. It was his call in to ask for further instructions that tipped me off to him. Nobody else could have known he was around.

Now, he spun around, picking up a nice tan as the heat from the flames streamed over his body. I set my helmet down and pulled a cooler over. I took a bottle of water from it and poured it out over the prisoner’s face to help keep him awake, then sat back on the cooler. “Well, look at you. You’re certainly a rare find in captives. Don’t worry, you’ll be well done before long. Maybe even buffalo style. Moai, remove the gag.”

Moai shuffled by between me and the unfortunate scientist. When I next saw the other man’s face, his mouth was free of the whoopee cushion. “What do you want?” he groaned.

“My own pet Tyrannosaurus Rex and world peace. I’ll settle for information about Hephaestus.”

“I don’t…” he started to say, then trailed off. “Fuck. You-you already know. I’m just a research technician, but I’ll tell you as much as I can.”

“They have a base in California?”

He dropped his head as if to nod, but he was at the lower part of his rotation and didn’t bother to raise it again. “Yeah, they have a huge operation in Hollywood providing powers on the down low. Things that won’t be noticed like great bodies or high drug tolerances. They even stopped some movie stars from aging.”

I had been enjoying the hot beef in my hand, but I stopped to question him. “Got an address for me?”

His head dipped from side to side. “No. Never worked there.”

I splashed some more water on him in thanks.“How about this Three Mile Island place I heard about?”

He closed his eyes as he was turned with his face toward the sky. “You’re good. The complex under that nuclear plant is secret, with some of the highest protocols to keep people from finding out. People stay away on their own after the meltdown in Generator Two back in ‘79, but the other is still functional. It provides energy and a spot where nobody wants to wander around.”

I walked over to the grill and turned the heat down. “What’s the place studying? If I walk in there, what will try and bite my head off?”

“Radiation and how it’s used in combination with catalysts to create mutations and superpowers in people and animals. I don’t know about security. They have the test subjects, I guess, but they’re inconsistent. Sometimes they turn out bad. Real bad. I can’t get you in. I’m not cleared for it anymore and they change passwords all the time!”

I patted him on the head, then lifted up the spit and set him on the ground. “I believe you. Moai, help our friend here out of those handcuffs and help him stand up.”

“Thank you, thank you, oh thank you. I won’t tell anyone about this. God bless you.” He was real chatty as Moai released him, but then he stood there, eyeing both of us and rubbing at his wrists. “Can I go?”

I waved him off. “Yeah, go ahead. Enjoy the rest of your life.”

His eyes grew wide and he almost skipped as he ran away.

“Alright, Moai, let’s get this stuff packed up. We’re heading to the site of a nuclear meltdown.”

He helped me toss the ice and water from the cooler out onto the grill to put it out, then we picked it into the trailer. He took the back as I slid into the driver’s seat. With a flick of a switch and the selection of a program, the car shifted in appearance thanks to the its own adaptive camouflage.

Before, it looked like a black ‘51 Hudson Hornet with orange trim. Now, I appeared to be driving my own pimptastic, gold 1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a single deep purple stripe down the center of the vehicle. The trailer looked the same, but that couldn’t be helped.

I drove out of there, checked around, and found what I was looking for. The released technician, running to freedom. I turned and sped for him. He never even knew what hit him. Just made a thumping noise, rolled along the hood and up the windshield. Then he smacked against the trailer, fell under it, and acted as a minor speed bump for the trailer’s right side tires.

I turned to Moai and shrugged. “That didn’t take long. He probably enjoyed it.”

Three Mile Island, here we come; out of the grill and into the nuclear reactor.

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Killing Time 2

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Thursday, July 10th, 2014, the Missile Patriot saved Memphis from the evil machinations of a Hephaestus pee tester!

Alright, so it wouldn’t have made the most exciting of headlines, but that was part of how Hephaestus does things. Evil organizations aren’t made of disposable soldiers and military bases, you know. Behind the unassuming façade of Uri-Ka Testing was a devious intent.

It was easy enough to figure out once I knew they had a lab under the place. Prisoners released on probation would be subject to all sorts of conditions. Urinary screening has generally been part of that to make sure released convicts don’t take up drug use. Hephaestus set up a lab to provide this service using a shell company and found a way to dose the people who showed up to be tested. Maybe they pumped something into the waiting room’s air. Maybe they smeared something on the seats or door handles to act on contact. Hell, maybe they conked them on the head while peeing and gave them a nice little shot. If I had to guess, I bet they put something in the waiting room’s water cooler.

When I walked through that door in my red, white, and blue superhero costume, the prune-faced old receptionist took one look at me and stiffened up like a pedophile at Disney Land. Maybe it was the combat helmet and body armor. Maybe it was the armored codpiece that had “Bunker buster” written on it. Maybe it was even the rich red cape and the rockets attached to my forearms. Whatever it was, I made her nervous. Hopefully not too nervous, but if there was ever an ideal place to pee your pants, we were there.

“Do you have an appointment, sir?” she asked, her hand moving surreptitiously to press a button on the phone.

“Yes,” I responded as I walked swiftly to the window. “I’m down as Ignacio Pendejo Freely.”

She raised her clipboard up to better focus on that than me or my costume. “I’m afraid I don’t see that name on here. Would we have you down under another name?” She set the clipboard down, careful not to glance at the phone in front of her and its urgent blinking lights.

“I suppose I may have used my initials…I. P. Freely!” I yelled the last part as I threw a punch. Briefly firing the rocket attached to my right arm, I swung a punch at the woman right through the hole in the plastic guard. I modified the tips of the rockets when I had a chance, adding a bit of weight and rounding out the ends to deliver a better, but hopefully nonlethal, punch.

I caught her in the nose with the rocket and knocked her on her back. Her chair went down too. I wanted to do more, but alas, it’s frowned upon for heroes to shove a balloon up a woman’s vagina, then inflate it and make balloon animals. Hell, heroes got in trouble for trying to kill me when I burnt down a few neighborhoods, and the folks back in New Orleans considered me around Hitler’s level in terms of likeability.

I settled for knocking her lights out.

“The fuck?” asked a loud individual sitting down in one of the plastic chairs around the waiting room. I turned to see they had a few real patients that day. A fellow with dreadlocks had his arms up, a newspaper in one hand.

“What seems to be the problem, citizen? Not reading any seditious materials, are we?” I asked, layering on the cheese.

“You can’t just come up in here, beating people up. Yo, you need a warrant. This a fucking piss test place, man. I got to have this for my probation.” He stood up and walked over, getting in my face.

“This is the United States of America, citizen. The greatest nation on this or any other planet. You certainly have the right to free speech, as well as free press, freedom of religion, free assembly, and to petition your government for a redress of grievances, all wrapped up in one convenient amendment. But tell me, citizen, do you know what the Fifth Amendment guarantees you?”

Dreadlocks shook his head from side to side, confused. “Means I don’t have to say shit in court.”

“That’s correct, you have the right to shut your mouth. Let me help exercise this most sacred of Constitutional rights.” That led to another restriction on my ability to express myself with violence. I wanted to knock him the fuck out. I settled for making him eat his newspaper.

“Everybody out, I’m here to kick ass in the name of freedom and democracy. Oorah!”

The waiting patients ran out, with me personally sending dreadlocks out with a kick to the rear. I pointed after him. “Remember that, citizen. Unless you want to fully digest the news, you’d better not have a cross word with me.”

I headed back inside where the nurse was staggering to her feet. “You don’t know who the fuck you’re messing with!” She glared at me and pointed one wrinkly old finger my way.

“I’m messing with a secret conspiratorial corporate oligarchy poised to do a great injustice to proud, correctionally-challenged American citizens. Does your evil know no bounds? You’re nearly as bad as…the communists!” I pointed at her. She stood too far out from the guard for me to punch her again. I kicked her in the face this time instead. You know what they say: act like a biddy, get kicked with my eleven point fitty. Maybe it lost something in the translation from the original Japanese.

I didn’t have time to wait for the nurse to recover and call me into the back. Plus, I doubted she felt like it, so I went back on my own. The receptionist, tough old bat that she was, stumbled out of her little room just in time for me to shove her against the wall and tie her up with some plastic ties. I never bothered with learning police procedure, so maybe I shouldn’t have tied her hands to her ankles.

She survived. If humans couldn’t survive a lot, I would have had a short stint as a hero.

From there, I hunted down the back rooms for any doctors. It would have embarrassing if anyone saw me. I broke in doors, pointed into empty rooms, and started to say “You’re in-!” Even the spacious bathroom, with its mirrors and wide open spaces, failed to hold any other wrongdoers than myself.

Where did they hide? More importantly, why did I ask y’all?

Bah, it’s a good thing I paid attention to the noises coming out of the janitorial closet. I slid that squeaky little door open curiously and found one of the walls slid back and a balding man in a labcoat. I clapped my hands together excitedly. “You a doctor?” I asked.

“Uh, what…yes? What are you doing back here?”

“Yes, yes yes!” I then pointed at him. “Urine trouble!” I thought I’d never get to use that one.

He didn’t know what to make of that. He stood there with his blinking and his gaping mouth, looking like a caught fish. His wits returned to him about the time I stepped inside the room and he realized things weren’t right. I jumped up and gave him a dropkick where I put most of my weight on him. He fell to the stairs underneath me, but I maintained my footing on his chest and abdomen. I surfed the spiral staircase downward, grateful to whoever kept the place nice and waxed.

When we reached the base of the stairs, I found myself in a short hallway that formed a crossroads with another hall. Large windows showed three offices and a laboratory were the main rooms.

I held up a hand, palm outward. “Stop!…in the name of nuts!” I kicked with my rear foot, popping the balding doctor in the nuts. He gasped and grabbed between his legs, indicating he was alive and not a eunuch. Good people, eunuchs. Somebody had to guard harems, run the ancient Chinese bureaucracy, and sing castrato. It was like some scissor-happy man went into a bar and ordered up some men, but not on the rocks.

The doors to the closest offices on either side of me opened up to reveal a confused woman and a sweaty, worried man in nurse’s scrubs. They were just in time for the rest of my musical number. I ducked and threw elbows to either side as I passed. “Before you break my nuts!”

It was a risk, rhyming nuts with nuts, but it was hard to lyrically kick butts. While I wanted the place with little fuss, it was still fun to hear Dr. Woman cuss. The last person thought surrendering was a must, only she too had a bust. Worry not lest you get the angina, for I showed her the pain of a punched vagina.

I mused on the deviousness of the whole setup as I tied them all up and hauled them outside for the cops. Testing chemicals on prisoners. It was all spelled out there in black and white because everybody’s boring about their text color. They made sure the filler and control substances wouldn’t screw with people. At the same time, they tried out doses of whatever experimental formulas they were using to inseminate people with powers. If anyone had a bad reaction and was found to have unusual drugs floating around in them, it got blamed on the already-untrustworthy folks whose drug testing was mandated by a court of law. If they actually got powers, it was no big deal.

The hilarious part is, if a released convict got superpowers and wound up back in jail, only to get released again, you know what Hephaestus got out of it? They got to test him again when he had to go back for more urinalysis. Or at least they would have, if the public exposure of a drug screening company as a Hephaestus front hadn’t royally screwed up their plans.

I didn’t like letting the authorities have all that information about how to induce powers. Unless I wanted to break my cover, though, I just had to trust in the incompetence of people. As a matter of fact, that mostly set my mind at ease.

Friday, I meant to hit the other major center of Hephaestus activity in Memphis, a tractor company off the northeast side of the city. Yeah, right. I saw the light off the flames all the way from the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway. Damn Honky Tonk Hero, taking down my marks. He probably didn’t practice any police brutality, the softy. Sick, compassionate bastard probably didn’t hit any of them in the balls. That could have been because the guy flying around shooting lasers at him was in some sort of power armor/hovercycle amalgamation. As cool as it looked, it wasn’t quite ready for prime time, not the way Honky Tonk tore through it like tissue paper, guitar shining in the sky like another star. A country music star.

I watched long enough to see the armored cycle spiral down and hit the pavement like gravity’s abused girlfriend, then got out of there.

I couldn’t even head over to the Beale Street Back Alley Voodoo Bar. The disguise kept anyone from knowing that the Great and Devious Psycho Gecko was in the neighborhood, but that also meant they would spot me at the usual hangout spots. Despite his original disguise as Rushmore, my sidekick, Moai’s ability to disguise itself was too limited to trust with all these assholes gunning for me.

I needed to nibble away at Hephaestus. I needed to break their kneecaps and thumbs. I needed to disperse their team and pick them off one by one, slasher style. Most immediately pressing of all, I needed two dozen bananas to deal with this asshole in the truck who ruined his engine so he could spew smoke back on anybody following him.

I put a lot of work into my car. A lot of work and a lot of weapons. And adaptive camouflage. And an advanced computer system. And leather seats. And a bitching stereo. Also, heated seats. No way would I ever let some fucker get away with blowing smoke on my car just because he wanted to “roll coal” or whatever those ignorant reactionary assholes are doing who hate cars with slightly better gas mileage.

Let’s see how much coal he rolls with enough bananas in his tailpipe to satisfy a potassium-deprived gay pride parade.

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Killing Time 1

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I got to meet a member of Max’s family. It occurred to me as I exited the highway and tried to find my way toward a destination deep in rural north Louisiana that this could be taken as a sign of trust. It could also be a sign that he hates his family.

The place was out there, though not off in a swamp. The road to the house was a good example of how out there it was: not clay, gravel, or asphalt. Good ole of dirt and grass. I waved to some pigs as I bumped along. That wasn’t lingo for cops, either. One of the houses along the way had goats and pigs.

The nearest town was tiny. A couple hundred people at most. With a name like Eros, you’d think it’d be a bit sexier. Nope. Total sausage fest. Biggest gathering of residents I had seen were those pigs I passed on the way to get my stuff. I hadn’t seen such a poorly-named place since that time I showed up in Mount Desert Island, Maine to scout it for a hidden hideaway. Who would think to look for a supervillain’s lair on Mount Desert Island?

It didn’t work out, though. The place was overloaded with fear-themed supers who started using Maine as a year-round vacation spot thanks to all the horror stories set there. Then that brought in a tourism boom and the whole thing got a little too corporate. I heard the homeowner’s association had a thing against skull-shaped castles. Too much of a hassle.

Eros, Louisiana didn’t have the problem of too many supers running around. It didn’t have too many people running around. If a bus crashed, they’d lose a quarter of the town’s population. Having nailed that point in to death, let’s move on.

I pulled up in front of an old house that was in somewhat good repair. I didn’t see my car around front. There was a small pickup truck outside, but that was it. I pushed on the horn, which caused the stolen Beetle to briefly honk the tune of “Ride of the Valkyries”.

Faces darted by in the windows, then the door opened up and a figure in black stared out from behind the screen door. I got out, my armor disguised as a casual jeans and t-shirt outfit. The rear bumper fell off as I slammed the car door shut. About time. I had been trying to get rid of that thing for awhile with a sledge I picked up cheap out of the skull of a hardware store owner. Hitler was no longer the shit-ler on my ride.

I waved to the woman standing behind the door. She waved back, but didn’t approach. Black pants and a black long sleeve shirt. If I was dressed like that, I’d avoid the sun, too. Hell, black hair. Close shaved on the sides, but pulled back over her head in the middle. “Hello there. I’m looking for Max’s sister. He left a bunch of stuff for me. A kickass car. An animate statue. Oh, and a cramped trailer jury-rigged to the kickass car. Any of that sound familiar?”

The midnight-wearing minx with the lip ring spoke up finally. She had a surprisingly deep voice. “No offense, but I thought you would be white. My brother’s description didn’t do you justice.”

I took a bow. “Justice and I have a complicated relationship involving whipped cream and chains. He’s barely ever said a word about you, and half the time I can’t tell if he’s talking about you or y’all’s brother.”

I heard an “ahem” as a man stepped up beside her and put an arm around her. Ah, they had that sort of relationship. Well, it was way out in the rural wilderness of Louisiana. So long as they didn’t have a banjo-wielding kid, it was no skin off my back.

“Ah, this is the brother? I’m not judging. Just show me to my stuff and I’ll be on my way.”

“Hey!” the guy shouted defensively. I wondered if they were going to try and restrict access because I said something. Ah well, I still had flamethrowers to scare them off.

Nope, the woman put her hand on the guy’s arm and told him to relax. To me, she said, “Come on, it’s all hidden around back.”

She walked outside and led me around to the back, sticking to the shade of the trees. “Don’t pay much attention to any insults from me,” I told her. “I think it’s instinct by now. Sincere apologies are significantly more rare, and usually just as bloody to match. But Max has been a long-suffering friend-ly type person toward me. Yeah, friendly type. ” Yeah, I hesitated. Not a word I wanted to use, but mistakes happen when trying to be honest. I’ve always been a better liar than a truthful person, I think.

She waved off the apology. “Max said you were a major bullshitter. He didn’t say you had such a prominent smell. Don’t worry about it. He obviously didn’t tell you very much about me.”

“That smell is just concentrated pheromonal goodness. Max didn’t mention how hot you were, in both attractiveness and temperature. Seriously, it’s July. It’s got to be sweltering. You’re going to start stinking too. If I was your boyfriend, I would make sure you were good and wet as much as possible.”

She threw back her head and laughed. Then she looked at me and winked. “He said you were funny too. I think it’s on the psychopath checklist under ‘Superficial Charm’. But I wouldn’t know what to do, racing around to all those big cities. I prefer things here with my very monogamous boyfriend,” she pointed to the house, “My bones,” she then pointed to a wind chime in the tree made of small animal bones. “And my birds, even if they have a lot of attitude.” She kept pointing into the tree, where I noticed a birdhouse, also made of bones, which housed a crow.

I nodded. “Nice. Not bad. Well, if you do ever feel like wandering or getting better acquainted with strange men, Max is pretty good about getting a hold of me.”

Giggling, she showed me around to the back, where there was…shrubbery. That was a bit of a let down. “Max should get a hold of you more. I think I should warn you, the reason you get his siblings mixed up is because it’s just him and me. I know people will use the pronouns they want, but Max doesn’t have a sister.”

I looked him over. “Huh. Damn you’re pretty. Nice to meet you, I’m Psycho Gecko.” I held out my hand.

He shook it. “Octavius. You can call me Octi.”

“Offer still stands, by the way,” I told him as I bent low and pressed the section of my helmet that covered my mouth to his hand.

He withdrew his hand and said, more firmly, “That’s sweet, but no thanks. I’m monogamous too and I quite like my boyfriend.”

The sound of a shotgun pumping drew my attention back to the house. The boyfriend, who was apparently not an incestuous brother, held it as he eyed me from the back porch.

“My very affectionate and jealous boyfriend,” Octi added.

“I see.” I turned away towards the wall of leaves and plants and threw my hands up, “Well then, you have a car to conjure out of this mess.”

Octi walked over to a clothesline pole and yanked on the clothesline closest to the foliage. All the undergrowth fell away, revealing my hidden car and trailer in pristine shape. The door to the trailer slammed open to reveal Moai.

I raced over to him and jumped to try and catch him in a full body hug. I didn’t catch hold in time and bounced off to land on my back on the grass.

“I’m fine!” I raised an arm and gave a thumbs-up.

“It looks like you already have a special friend!” Octi called out to me.

After I got up, brushed off, and made sure everything was still in working order, especially my reverberating sperm spheres, we all parted ways. I even gave the boyfriend a hug too, just a little happier than usual that someone didn’t try to betray me by doing something stupid. So many were betraying each other lately that it was making my paranoia act up. There’s no ointment for that. Can’t slather on any lotion to reduce the inflammation of irritated paranoia.

But that’s not the only way I spent my time. No, no, no. I had a stolen radio-like kajigger from my last encounter with Gorilla Badass. With my handy trailer of doom back in my possession, I stuffed my armor in its maintenance and repair cylinder. I should have given that thing a formal name.

But enough of the past. Back to the future, which I was getting to. I dicked around with the electronics a bit, disabled the tracker, then powered it back on. Static and voices greeted me. Figures. Ah, the great outdoors. Civilized people like myself should never spend time in it.

Ah well, Octi and her guy were more than eager to have me off their property, so I left them with their brand new Beetle and left to hunt down better reception. Moai drove, to the mysterious extent that it’s able to, and I expanded my mind. No drugs were required. It was more a matter of looking for reception with my brain cybernetics.

I tried sending out a test signal while roaming around the nearby cell towers. I followed along as best as I was able, but that’s not easy. There were folk tales way back on my earth about my people throwing their consciousness so far out of their bodies that they lost themselves in the data cloud. Full download. Bodies withered away and died. Sometimes the rumors said they died with their bodies. Others claimed they downloaded their minds and lived as a free-roaming mass of data. Shave and a haircut, two bits.

So that didn’t work too well except to tell me that Hephaestus piggybacked on the cell networks out there, using any brand to their advantage. The really interesting part I noticed when I had Moai take us on a heading back toward Empyreal City. I didn’t have any better ideas, but I did want to crack the Hephaestus network. That meant some random driving and heading for areas that were better serviced. That interesting bit was actually when we were still in the middle of nowhere.

The signal went off the cell grid. Vanished. Alakazam! Where did it go?

You dump the right signal on a system, you can cause it to screw up big time, like what I did to the televisions in Memphis. This time, I blew up a bunch of rural cell towers, including a hidden tower. Companies have been hiding towers for years to make cities look better. Hell, I think I heard once that some cities hid oil wells inside trees.

This one was disguised as possibly the only palm tree in Tennessee. When I first saw it, I just stood there laughing for a good three minutes. Some technician had a sense of humor in Hephaestus, that was for sure.

Accessing that system clued me in on the whole hidden network, stretching across the country.

“Moai, turn this baby around,” I said, looking up the nearest center of heavy activity and the individual sites that were responsible for that traffic. I was glad I came up on this side of Tennessee, too. If I’d been on the other side of it, Nashville would have drawn my attention. Nashville. I’ve never figured out how no one blew Nashville up yet.

Memphis, on the other hand, now that place was a lot more fun. A shame Hephaestus didn’t have more resources there. Ah hell. I went to all that trouble to wreck the place last time I was around. Might as well go back and give Hephaestus a taste.

 

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