Category Archives: 21. Nemesis

Nemesis: a goddess of divine retribution.
Venus: my nemesis, if things go how I want them to.

Nemesis 10

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Maybe I’m just a stickler for a good story. Maybe I was struck with temporary insanity. Laugh it up, I said temporary. I stayed close to the Grocery World as much as possible, fully armored and fully stealthed. I had a feeling. It could have been from the FBI chatter not mentioning anything about capturing mutated superhumans. Perhaps my text message to Venus that I moved the time up to twelve hours also contributed.

The good thing about ambiguity and having crazy inventions is that detonation by conventional means goes out the door. A lot of the time, people disarm a bomb by moving it to the middle of nowhere and creating a controlled detonation. People used drones, robots with shotguns, even bombs of their own. Imagine if they couldn’t do that because they didn’t even know what they were dealing with?

I sat on the front row courtesy of a nearby building as a team arrived. The setting sun blanketed the black SUV in orange and yellow rays as it pulled up. Agents, two in tactical gear, rushed out. Two more agents were dressed in that fancy FBI dress code of a black suit. Venus climbed out as well.

I opened up a channel to Carl and Moai as I watched the team make their way around to the service ladder to the roof. Venus spoke to one who removed his jacket and waited by the SUV with a radio, then left to join the other three.

“Carl, things are about to get loud and then very, very quiet.”

“Uh, roger. I read you loud and clear, boss. You want me ‘n Moai to come give you a hand?” I grinned under my helmet.

“Nope. You might want to go spend time with your family. Grab some emergency supplies on the way, that sort of thing. Keep the radios off. As for Moai, I wish I knew a good place for him to go. See if he wants to hang with you, or maybe he’d like to drop by Rothstein’s Sports Bar.” If a magically-animated Moai statue fit in anywhere, it would fit in at Rothstein’s. Rothstein’s Sports Bar, where supervillains are welcome and all your problems get fixed.

Except a neighbor’s yappy dog. That requires a vet. Hey, if it ain’t housebroke, fix it.

“You don’t want us there?” he asked. I hadn’t let him in on this part of the plan. I hadn’t let a lot of people in on the whole plan, actually. Not even y’all, dear readers. That’s part of the fun.

“To be completely cliché, this is something I have to do myself. It’s time to take Venus down. Time to take her down to Chinatown.”

“Boss, Chinatown’s over in-“ I cut him off with something between a sigh and a laugh.

“It was a metaphor, Carl. See you around.” I cut the call as I edged myself off into free fall. I figured out the jump, put power to the muscle enhancers, and pushed off the side, all in less than half a second.

Then I reactivated the signal interceptors. Down on the ground, I caught a bare glimpse of the agent dropping his radio. I couldn’t stare, though. I had a ladder to catch.

Venus clambered up first and was near the top. Good. The others weren’t going to be so lucky. Not when I slammed into the one just under Venus and kicked him off the ladder. He screamed, then thudded. Humans make such a wonderful variety of sounds if you hit them hard enough. I reappeared, stealth unnecessary. In fact, I wanted them to panic.

Venus looked down, but kept hurrying up the ladder. I jumped again, this time from the ladder, and did a back flip. When I came down, it wasn’t on Venus. I dropped my boots on the shoulders of the bottom-most agent, who plunged to the concrete below, sounding more like fruit being smacked with a cast iron dildo. What, y’all didn’t grow up with that reference?

The agent who had been in the middle now climbed above me, cussing to himself. I grabbed his ankle, slid my legs to the inside of the ladder, and swung him off. I smashed him against the ladder below me, then jiggled him around a bit before tossing him to the side like so much bloody, crying, bone-filled detritus. That’s right, I’ve taken to littering.

Fear my evil!

With the others taken care of, I noted that Venus had made it to the roof. That’s where I wanted her. I hit the boosters and jumped up to the top myself, but I paused a moment to let her get some distance on me. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry. The last agent, the one without a jacket, landed right in front of me after a single bound.

He was transparent, though. A beam of light the size and shape of his body trailed back behind me and down past the edge of the roof, like some sort of man rainbow. I assumed it must have rained men to form a man rainbow. I threw a punch at the head of the transparent man, but it went right through. He turned and strafed to the side, but I kept up and shoved my foot through his knee. That was odd. However, if I couldn’t hit him, that probably meant he couldn’t hit me.

I stepped to the edge of the roof to check and saw the agent himself climbing the ladder as well. Almost as soon as I saw him, something flashed in the rainbow and he accelerated through the air like he super jumped, only in fast forward, leaving behind a transparent version of himself.

On my helmet’s rear view, I saw that the real deal replaced the clear copy on the roof. I pretended to scratch at my helmet as I looked down at the climber.

He’d swapped places with that other version of himself somehow. The natural counter to someone who has two chances is to make both of them into failures.

I left a holographic double of my own standing in my place as I dropped down. When the agent lunged to put me in choke hold, he stumbled through the hologram. I helpfully grabbed him by the belt and pants and gave him a helping hand off the roof. As soon as I let go, I whipped out a chicken grenade and an explosive throwing knife. I armed the knife, tore the head off the chicken, and dropped them both on the ladder. While the agent busied himself swapping between falling and exploding, I tore the ladder out of the side of the building and threw the twisted metal away.

In the end, the agent survived, though he chose to take the fall rather than the fire.

That left only Venus, at least in the short term. I whirled and spotted her head as she balanced on the storefront sign. I jogged over, hoping she’d do what I wanted her to do. The best way to fight me appeared to be the same method to generally disable whatever I used. I hadn’t even appeared to develop a counter to it all the times we’d fought other than hoping someone else could save my ass. A song came to mind…

“Reckless creatures, always want another find. Stealing features, each a diamond to be mined. There are facets at stake, and crooks in our neck; we’re like moths to the flame. Get ready and set. Now, tarry no longer, let’s burn one another, we’re one and we’re twain, now let’s play a game…” I stopped singing long enough to take a bow toward Venus. “Hello, hello, hello beautiful stranger. How fa-miliar the danger, slipping into the shadows.”

“Don’t come any closer!” Venus yelled as soon as she spotted me. She held up that fancy new EMP rod of hers.”Just give it up already!” As if to punctuate the point, helicopters swooped in overhead. I could practically feel the high caliber guns trained on me.

The tone of her voice brought up memories. For a moment, I saw cold, pale blue walls around me and a child standing before me. It was gone in a flash, for that’s all it was, though I had to stop myself from stepping back. “No, Venus. Even if you get me, that thing’s ready to go off any time. Think you have long enough to get it clear of the city for detonation? Are you sure that isn’t exactly what I want? This is MY game! You know it’s never as simple as it looks. That’s why you’ll stand right there and let me do…this!”

I rushed toward her. Close up, I glimpsed a moment of panic in her eyes. Just a moment. She acted decisively. She rammed that EMP rod through the sign’s casing and up against the modified electromagnet, setting off a pulse that shut me off. It shut the magnet off.

I’ll admit, I’ve never been quite as clever as I seemed. I’ve mentioned before that a big part of what I do is improvisation. I’ve frequently turned circumstances to my advantage not because I planned for every little thing, but because I realized how I could use things to my advantage. Awhile back, for instance, I wondered what I could do for a doomsday weapon. I also wondered what, if anything, I could do to stop Venus’s little EMP rod on my own without any additional help.

Then I thought, “What if I created a situation where Venus felt she had no choice but to use the rod on the giant electromagnet? And what if said giant electromagnet was something that would disable the EMP? No, even better, what if said magnet could amplify the EMP?” The fact that she had no clue what my little trap was made for all the better reason to try such a general purpose solution to a guy who traipsed around in power armor.

Yes, I skidded to a stop and fell on my face as my armor and cybernetics shut down. And the helicopters went haywire and shut down. Cars, power transformers, computers, internet, radio, television, lights, air conditioners, pacemakers, heart monitors, breathing machines, airplanes; they all stopped too. The EMP rod stopped as the resulting feedback destroyed it. Most of a city shut down, all at once.

Except, as I’ve previously pointed out, my suits and cybernetics can reactivate and reboot after a momentary EMP. A continuous EMP field, not so much. But the EMP rod was down. Not that Venus seemed to know that.

When she finally finished gawking where I couldn’t see her, she hopped back onto the roof and looked around some more. She froze up a bit. What to do, what to do? Grab her rod and hope my toy was permanently disabled? Keep it going and wait for teams of experts?

“Oh no…Gecko, what have you done?”

I disabled the suit’s speakers so I sounded muffled as I responded. “Me? I’m not the one who beat up a homeless man, robbed a bank, and then fried the city’s electronics.”

She started to walk toward me, then stopped. She turned back to the sign, fidgeting, then finally turned to me instead. She unsealed my helmet rather roughly, taking the time to bang my head back against the roof as she undid it. I just stared straight ahead as she removed it and set it to the side.

Venus teared up. Just a little. “Why do you always have to be such a massive, royal dick!” She grabbed the neck of my armor and lifted me up so my head kept hitting the roof again.

“Why did I make you do it? Why did I grab your hand and press a button and then jam that rod on there myself?” I asked.

She slapped me once, then twice, then stopped, hand held in midair. “Oh my god, you flinched.” She made me.

Odd phrase. It took me a long time to understand it. I couldn’t figure out what a person was made into. In the end, I took it to be some weird English phrase meaning someone blew someone else’s cover.

She sprung to her feet and backed off. I rolled up to mine and grabbed my helmet. I spun around with it in my hand, but a kick from Venus snapped it out of my grip. I tried to turn the spin into a blow of my own, but she got clear well before I could bring my other hand around.

I chuckled and rubbed my wrist. “Ready to go down to Chinatown?”

Venus stood in her stance, teeth gritted, tears forgotten, but she growled her response. “Chinatown’s over-“

I threw my hands up, directing power into the wires that projected sheaths of energy around my forearms. “Metaphor, people! It’s a fucking metaphor! Ah well, why not go down with a woman you’re mad for?” I lept to close the distance with Venus and brought my glowing arms down. Venus threw herself to the side, but the roof cracked under the release of excess energy.

Gravity worked to convince me that I should fall. Venus’s shin smacking into the back of my skull also made a good argument. However, I had too much to do to spend all my time falling. Instead, I jumped far enough to land with a stumble on the other side of the hole.

Bereft of my cameras, I swiveled my head to find her. Good thing, too. If I hadn’t ducked, that boot of hers would have got me right in the head. Much as I enjoyed the back and forth with her, I didn’t want my eyes to be the windows to her sole.

But since she had her right leg there, I figured I might as well stand back up, grab it, and tip her over onto her back. Still holding onto that leg, I kicked my leg toward her stomach. She blocked with her forearms and grabbed onto my foot.

I guess you could say neither of us had a leg to stand on. At least I still stood. Balancing on one leg, I jerked Venus to the side by hers. Then, with a little effort, I started turning her over. She let go of my leg to try and stop that, which didn’t help her much. With my leg freed and her on her belly, I hooked my right leg around her calf and lowered my weight onto it, as if sitting.

She tried to crawl along the roof to free herself, but I leaned forward, grabbed her left arm, forced it across her throat, and pulled it back like that. It really only choked her enough to panic her; most of the pain came from pulling her back while scissoring one of her legs and forcing it down on the ground. “Now that I’ve got a little quiet time with you, my dear nemesis, let’s have ourselves a little question and answer session, eh?”

I reached to my belt and opened a pouch that contained an airtight container of solid steel with foam padding within. I withdrew a plastic syringe full of a miniscule amount of amber liquid. Three drops of truth, Ethan Basford’s note read. I had one legitimate question to ask her, but what better way to make someone burn with hatred than to force them to give up two of their worst secrets?

So I lied to Venus at dinner about planning to kill her. Obviously, telling her I was going to kill her was the only way she’d trust that I wasn’t going to poison her at dinner. Simple logic.

“Now then, let’s see what three drops of truth can uncover. Someone paid me with this stuff. Can’t say I’ve tested it, but the person called it a double-edged sword. I think I’ll start by asking how much you knew about that attempt to kill me earlier this year by your old pal, Lone Gunman. Something about the last time we talked about it struck me as dishonest. This stuff right here, it’ll make you honest.” I barely pricked Venus’s skin when she cried out. I had her left arm trapped, but she threw her right palm back at an awkward angle. Really, it was all an awkward angle for her.

It became awkward for me, too, when the syringe stabbed into my nostril. “Fucking hell!” I yelled. My grip on Venus loosened up, something not unreasonable under the circumstances of having a needle just getting knocked into my fucking nose. It stuck in something back there.

Allow me to reiterate. A needle went into my nostril and stuck in something hard back in my nose and I couldn’t get it out.

I let go and tried to scoot back away from Venus while I assessed the nostril situation. Did I want to risk pulling it out of wherever it was in? Who nose? I didn’t get much of a choice in the matter as Venus got up. I tried to hold up my hands even as I focused on the end of the syringe hanging down from me. Venus didn’t call a timeout. Instead, she ran at me.

I braced for the blow, but instead she hooked her arms under mine, flipped backward, and landed on the balls of her feet. My upper body was forced down, making things quite uncomfortable in the spine, belly, and throat area. My arms weren’t in a good position to just power out. I needed my feet under me.

“Happy now?” I asked, wheezing.

“Not exactly,” Venus grunted. The hold left her head right above and behind mine. “I have a few questions.”

Holy mother of expletive.

She popped the end of the syringe with her hand. Something spread into my sinuses or whatever sinus-adjacent areas the needle stuck in. It stung like a motherfucker, too. In retrospect, that part made sense. On this world, I often heard that the truth hurts. It caused my whole head to feel flushed and warm.

“Why are you so obsessed with me being your nemesis?”

I wanted to lie. I wanted to bend the truth. I wanted to talk about how the time I got into an argument with a stop sign. It first! I didn’t. It felt like I spoke without any coercion.

“Because I want you to kill me. You’re one of the few who really has what it takes.” The flushing, warm feeling faded. About time.

She didn’t know how to react to that one at first. I slid my legs around under me, trying to get some leverage to lift myself up.

Finally, Venus figured out one response. She asked another question. “Why?”

I almost snorted, but things got weird with the blood from my nose and the needle tickling me painfully. Then Venus remembered to slap the plunger again and sent another wave of warmth through my head.

“I have done terrible things, Venus. It’s all been ingrained into me too much. I can’t stop. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live without these feelings. You probably can’t imagine what it’s like to derive actual physical pleasure, straight from the brain’s hormones, from eliminating another person.” I heard my accent slip to something not quite of this world. “Heh, the best I do is direct it. Mitigate the damage with inconsequential targets. Pick assholes for victims. I want to stop, but at the same time I don’t want to. Yeah, I’ve gone out of my way to spare some kids, but that EMP shut down the children’s wards of those hospitals, too.”

The warmth faded, though I rambled a bit before and after that. Considering the nature of the gunk Venus pumped into me, I couldn’t differentiate between willing and unwilling admissions. Ah, hell, I went ahead and threw her a bone anyway. “So, I guess you were right after all. I know wrong and right. I am sane.”

I shifted up onto my knees. The hold didn’t have a much to it now, though Venus stood in better position to pull and keep me off balance. Still, I slowly made progress easing the pull on my arms. “I’m not sure I was right after all. God, Gecko…” She grunted. “I don’t believe in it, but if you really think like that, why not do yourself in?” She pushed the syringe in more gently that last time, but it gave me an opening.

I stood up and lifted her up. To her credit, she held onto my arms and balanced like that, holding her body straight up above me. I burst out laughing now that I could breathe. “That’s clever.” I tried to whip her around and off me, but I did so with a bit of banter. “It’s the same reason I ever pushed myself to get through all that training and keep going. There’s only one thing I really fear: death.”

I readied myself to jump high into the air so I could slam her underneath me, but Venus dropped herself forward and let go of my upper arms. This time, she locked her arms around my throat with my head under her left armpit, wrapping her legs around my waist. I tried to jump anyway, but the pull on my head threw me off and instead we both crashed into the roof of the store. At least the needle fell out. In all that, the effects of the final drop of truth faded away.

“There’s no need to accommodate me, Venus. No hurry or anything.” Wait a second, I remembered I had arms. And they had vaguely-round things on the end I use to hit things! I drove my fists into Venus’s ribs. She screamed as something cracked, but held on. I keep using those fist thingies so much. Not with everything getting so dark around the edges and slow and hard to breathe. I hit a button and the growl of a chainsaw started up from under my left arm.

Then I took a nap.

I awoke to the sight of the stars above, groggy, with someone standing on my left arm and another person slapping me in the face. A pretty person. Noises came from the person on my arm. “…ve to wake him up so soon.”

I looked over and saw men’s dress shoes right there on my arm. The Nasty Surprise still chewed up the air, accounting for why neither one of them felt like locking handcuffs on me. How rude. Venus slapped me the rest of the way awake as she answered the man. “We don’t want him to die, that’s why.”

I attempted to speak, but Venus cut me off as soon as I opened my mouth. “Shut up, Gecko.”

Then I noticed she straddled my chest. Did I mention the camera in my eyes? I’m sure I’ve mentioned the camera in my eyes.

The agent on my arm ignored me. “We have teams down below. Another will get a ladder up the side here for us.”

I brought up my right hand and raised the pointer finger. “If I may interject, a short riddle. What is both everything and nothing at the same time?”

Venus looked me over for gadgets, at which point I noticed my chickens and knives piled up several feet away. That didn’t matter. I set my right arm back on the rooftop, planted my feet, and lifted myself up in a bridge that knocked Venus off. The agent tried to keep his balance, but a yank of my left arm sent him sprawling. I rolled to my feet and made a dash for the hole I’d previously made in the roof.

“Here’s a hint!” I yelled back. Then I turned, saluted with my middle finger, and let myself fall through the answer of my little riddle: a (w)hole.

Agent boy, or whatever his name was, told the truth. A team watched from below. I landed in the midst of them in a darkened store. Sure, they had glow sticks. And guns. And body armor. I had a jar of marshmallow goop, a bag of pecans, and several five pound bags of sugar. I left them sticky, white, sore, and covered with nuts.

Another team kept their distance as I hurried through to the produce section, but I grabbed an apple and thunked one in the head with it while they opened fire. They had me suppressed behind a cooler up until gunfire knocked a shelf down. Heads were going to roll. Heads of lettuce, that is. I chucked them into the air where free-flying bullets shredded them and gave me an opening to escape. I ran for the next aisle over, slipped, and skidded right past a wet floor sign.

This landed me next to a meat cooler. A man like myself can’t go anywhere in public without pulling out his loin, and this day was no exception. I wielded a pair of pork loins as I used the cooler to climb up to the top of the shelves.

The team down below moved to cut off my escape as one of them dropped his rifle. I saw him take out something that glowed red. The glow faded, but his eyes soon matched the color. I couldn’t watch him so much as a shot took me through the side of my armor.

The FBI came prepared. Strike that. The FBI came fucking prepared.

The red-eyed man grew larger, but hardly any slower given the way he lept to join me atop the shelves. I swung my pork to either side, hoping to catch my balance. Meanwhile, the Fed transformed further into this big monster shellfish man. He had the lobster antenna and giant claws grew around his fists.

I swung my meat like a madman as he snapped at me. Again and again I pounded them to the side, upward, or downward, but he gained ground on me and only grew faster. No wonder some holy books condemned these creatures as abominations. Anything that gave someone a chance against me was deeply wrong, especially from my perspective. I needed a change of venue. I tossed the loins at the lobster man, who caught them in his claws and mushed them with a snap.

Meanwhile, I dropped down, pulled open a freezer door, and went Captain America on his exoskeletal ass with a stack of frozen pizzas. “Special delivery! Hahaha! Wait, nevermind, it’s Digiorno!”

Then the shooting started again. Always with the shooting. I dove into the meat freezer again and came out with a turkey. One hard throw later, and the agent at the end of the aisle tasted giblets. He couldn’t help it, stuck to his head as it was.

I couldn’t help but notice how shitty the whole mess was going for me. The feds were shooting everything and I felt sure Venus and the other agent were around. Plus, that lobster man jumped down onto one of the freezers and flattened it, still growing.

I don’t know about valor, but discretion was the better part of saving my ass, so I cloaked myself with darkness. Even without my helmet, the project could cover my head. Unfortunately, working the system through my regular eyes instead of my helmet caused my vision to split up like a fly’s eye view.

The lobster man unleashed a roar as I disappeared. Odd, that. I never knew lobsters roared. I suppose the FBI could have used thermal goggles to catch a glimpse of me on my way out. Well, you know, if something hadn’t damaged electrical devices in the city.

Still, as I fled the scene of my crime, I couldn’t help but feel I’d failed. Failed in some huge, profound way, as if-

Alright, enough bullshitting. Y’all know what I failed to do. No need to make a big deal about it. If I wanted to cry over this stuff, I’d have turned myself into a bullied teen girl and surrendered like a chump. Tell anyone and I’ll gut you like a fish or a pig or a fishpig. Yeah, a fig. I’ll rain down on you figs with so much force, they’ll need Newtons to describe your deaths.

And nobody likes Fig Newtons.

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Nemesis 9

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I’ll be honest with y’all, I’ve suffered a few upsets in my plan. After our little date, Venus ran off to go beat up a homeless man courtesy of a trick by me. I liked that one. I wanted to force her to do some of the same things someone like myself would. If I had more time, I would have found a way to hide some vague riddle inside a pregnant lady’s womb, with the only way to free it being a hard punch.

So I wanted to annoy Venus while making her commit to similar actions in the hopes that it would torment her. Part of that was the code. The clue she found in that homeless guy’s new jacket turned out to be a string of numbers from zero to twenty-five. I wrote that simple substitution to prepare her for a later code. It served no other purpose in this one except to conceal the second code I used. Once she translated every number to a letter, they appeared to be gibberish.

She probably mistook it for that idiotic ROT13 cipher, one of the most basic substitution ciphers ever. It’s a simple swap of the last letters of the alphabet with the first letters, and vice versa. I wanted to trip her up more than that, so I used a variation of the cipher where I rotated every letter a different amount depending on the letter before it. It took a little more effort, though an analyst needed the code for the first number. In this case, they only needed to count up the total number of letters to determine how far to shift the first letter.

One of my favorite characteristics of this version is that it threw off the letter combinations. English tends to put certain letters together all the time, like ee, oo, ll, er, th, ch, sh, and so on. Plus, most people use a limited pool of three-, two-, and one-letter words.

Long story belatedly made short, the code was a little harder but definitely not unbreakable. I knew she’d have the resources on her side to get through it with a little help.

What message did I put that much effort into? “You can make me break me wave to me and keep secrets safely deposited in me find me by Monday or boom”. Yes, I had to leave out punctuation. Some niceties had to be sacrificed to hurt the superhero.

It gave me manly giggles to think of forcing Venus to break into a bank to find it. You know how hard it would be to obtain a search warrant for every bank in Empyreal City? She had no legal way to get in and find it in time. Of course, she didn’t know the “boom” would be limited to only the safety deposit vault.

Even if she screwed up disarming it, I wanted her to survive that one. If that happened, I’d have forced her to sit in on another date with me to find out her next target.

While I gave Venus the runaround, not to be confused with giving her the reach-around, I had to have the Rejects help me out on the next target. I don’t recall the origins of running the gauntlet, but most usages I’ve heard involved a person facing multiple foes in quick succession. I planned to make Venus run a gauntlet through a haunted house against the Rejects. I intended to send her after a school bus next, but this is where the plan went to hell.

A three-story house Carl picked out worked perfectly when done up with false walls and passageways. Unfortunately, both F-Uhaul and Michelangelo cut me off from their services. Michelangelo said I “drew too much heat to do business with right now.”

Michelangelo never said that kind of thing. He sold to villains and heroes who hated each other. He did business with street gangs and organized crime. Same with F-Uhaul, though I doubted heroes used them. That meant something big. Federal government big. I haven’t been too politically active on this Earth, but I consider it government overreach for any Federal agency to try and capture me.

I’d bet they tracked me over the past year, but now I initiated another potential disaster for Empyreal City. They couldn’t have predicted what I did to New Orleans, and I didn’t even mean to cause the storms in Paradise City, but now I threatened the city I’d already given a major black eye to.

A quick search through traffic cameras near the local FBI station office showed increased traffic by government cars. They tend to paint them very distinctive colors. Sadly, FBI regulations don’t permit an on-duty vehicle to be painted dark purple with a bright red succubus on the hood

But screw those guys, I had a haunted house to fill with radioactive mutants.

Ten minutes after I sent the Rejects off, I got a call. I stopped welding a canister to spread some BZ from under a schoolbus so I could answer the call in my helmet.

“We need to talk, Gecko.”

“Boopsie! How’d you get this number?” I started running interference in case anyone tried to trace the signal. If anyone other than Venus tried to call in or triangulate my position, they’d find themselves dealing with the phone sex line 1-900-FAT-LOVE.

“You left your number on the messages when you called about going out. You’re lucky I found it. Those things you sent, do they kill people?” I pulled up traffic cameras outside the haunted house. I couldn’t get a clear view because no streets intersected near the house.

I began a search for wi-fi or Bluetooth-enabled devices near there as much as I was able. “They’re people, Venus. Just because they don’t look like most people you encounter doesn’t make them inhuman.”

“That’s real progressive of you, but I really need you to answer me. It could mean life or death for them.”

I couldn’t access anything around there. Worse, it wasn’t just a matter of having no power or a weak signal. It felt…crinkly. I couldn’t describe it to y’all very well since the English language wasn’t designed for technopaths in mind. Shakespeare made up the word “eyeball” but couldn’t even bother coming up with a word for when someone’s brain computer-based hacking gets jammed by the FBI. Lazy son of a bitch.

“What are you going to do, kill them?” I tried to stop the van or call the Rejects up, but neither worked; they were within the radius of the jammer.

“Here’s the situation: I’m here ahead of schedule. Your henchmen are walking into a trap set by the Feds. They’re going to die or they’re going to jail. Work with me. I don’t want anyone to get killed because you want to play with me.”

“Oh? And just what do you want me to do about all this?” Something didn’t feel right. I pulled up the view of the neighborhood around the house. There looked fairly calm for a city street in the middle of the day. And Venus really was the sort to minimize the amount of death going on. I doubted she’d let the Rejects walk into whatever the FBI had in store for them.

“When you show up somewhere, things get confusing. If you come here, we should be able to get them out.” Awww, she sounded so sincere.

“I get it, Venus baby. You want some more hot Gecko chocolate. You can’t live without me and your fly is practically unzipping itself due to slickness. Well, I’m not falling for your Venus fly trap. It’ll take more than that to get me to expose myself in public!” I mean, come on. The FBI jammed everything in or out of the place, but somehow Venus called me from within the zone to offer me a deal?

Just because I didn’t know exactly what was going on doesn’t mean I couldn’t tell a trap. Venus and the FBI were working together on this one

“I- listen, this is about helping people I thought you cared about a little. These are the same people you worked with in California.” As if that would convince me.

Still, this made a good new game. Maybe I could still get her to beat up the agents. “Well, I’m kinda busy right now. You ruined things by jumping ahead so quickly, you know. But I suppose the game can continue if you-“

“Shut up, Gecko. Shut your goddamn mouth. Maybe they aren’t your friends, but they’re your teammates. I’m not playing the game anymore. I’ve got friends. Friends like Dame. Remember that thief who helped us last year? The one with a knack for finding you? She’s not bad at getting into banks. The FBI isn’t bad at cracking codes. Altogether, we can beat you without playing along. Game over, Gecko. We’re coming for you.”

She ended the call. I scrambled my number so she couldn’t call back or trace it, then jumped up. “Yo! Carl, Moai! We need to load some stuff up!”

Carl ran downstairs. “Is there a problem?”

“We’re moving again, my good man. Grab the explosives and the Cheetos. Oh, and we’re going to need lots of string…”

Carl scratched his head. “Alright. You want me to call up the others, let them know where we’re going?”

“No, Carl. I’ve got that covered. It’s a shame, you know. This place had potential. On the plus side, it’s going to make a hell of a boom.”

I didn’t know if Venus really knew where I was. I didn’t know if she’d interrogate the Rejects when they were caught. I figured that no matter what she said and no matter how gung ho the Feds were, they weren’t going to shoot up my mutated acquaintances.

As for Big Top’s Restaurant, it did indeed make a great explosion. It started with Carl, Moai, and me, all wearing shades. I had my own, of course, and brought extras for Carl and Moai on this occasion. Carl had his own car stuffed with gear, while Moai sat behind the wheel of a pickup hauling the travel trailer behind it. We packed the trailer full, too.

Attached to the back of my car were multiple wires, because string would have been too flimsy. The wires ran through the restaurant and around the necks of dozens of spare chicken grenades lay trapped under various heavy objects.

“Alright, boys, let’s yank these cocks off and get out of the way while they blow.” I said through the radios of their trucks

Carl flinched, and I picked up what he said through his phone, “Boss, somehow you make blowing up a building sound wrong.”

I stomped on the gas, accelerating us and whipping the heads off the chickens. “Let’s do this. For those about to cock…we salute you!” It took a second before Moai and Carl started following my sudden departure, but they got clear in time as the entire restaurant went up in a great gout of flames. I soon pulled over to get out and enjoy the view. The others stopped, too, and Carl got out to join me. He held Spike Smooshyface in his hands. The puppy barked enthusiastically and gnawed on Carl’s watch. “Wow, you see that? Pretty, huh?”

Carl just stood there, looking at the scene and opening his mouth as if to speak, then closing it. He resembled a fish.

“Anyway, Carl, you said you had the perfect hideout spot in mind for us out of the real estate you purchased for us. Where did you have in mind?”

“Boss, I had a good apartment building with an old air raid bunker underneath it from the Cold War.” Carl had to shift Spike into one hand so he could lay his forehead in his palm.

I leaned on the car as I looked him over. “Carrrrrrl…”

He pointed across the street from Big Top’s Restaurant, to one of the many buildings that caught fire from the explosion. “I figured no one would look for us across the street from the place we just left.”

I looked between the burning wreckage of the Big Top and the soon-to-be wreckage of the buildings around it. I turned back to Carl. “Good thinking, buddy! I hope you had a runner-up too. Something with a little less fire.”

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Nemesis 8

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To conquer the date, I reckoned, I needed to understand the date. I needed to get inside the mind of a date. Not Venus, the date process itself.

At first, I thought a date was like a tryout. People went on one to kick ass and show off why people should want them. Then I remembered how all the dates stop and people get lazy once they got into relationships.

Dates involved more bluffing. People try to look better to a date than they really were. Some dating person would show up out of nowhere, put on a false front, give their damnedest, and hope they achieved enough victory to force an opposing force to give up. And, if someone failed, they were to hide for awhile, then go out and try on another vulnerable target.

Those tricky human bastards. Dating is asymmetrical warfare. Asymmetrical warfare I could deal with. For the entirely unknown reason that I requested a date with a heroine who would never feel anything but utter contempt for me, I would deal with it. Though, with the end of the date already decided, that should have taken the pressure off. I couldn’t ruin a date destined to go badly.

I needed to plan this mess out like an ambush. I possessed ill-gotten money and superficial charm in my arsenal of assets. I had the pick of Empyreal City, a town full of restaurants. I’d just never been on a date before.

Oh, sure, I’d had relationships. I only arrived here in this dimension because of my ex. Even if she broke up with me much sooner, I think she still would have turned on me and left me laying against that Dimension Bomb on principle. She and the others took it personally that I wanted to blow up the planet. Before I played revolutionary and dealt with the occasional groupie, my time as a supervillain still earned me attention. Those were the sorts of women and men who married convicted serial killers, though. That’s just low, getting involved with someone so incompetent that they remained in prison.

They all wanted something. I learned that from the proposition when I worked in Intelligence over there. They hoped to gain something from pursuing me. At least the ones in Intelligence attempted to off me a short time after meeting me. That saved me a lot of time in those relationships. The only one of them I never quite pegged was that last one. The whole “revolutionary movement” thing meant I never took her out on a formal date, so there’s no use dwelling on that anymore.

Instead, I needed to think up an entire new way of dealing with Venus. Dancing? No…no that’s just what she’ll be expecting.

Just like Venus expected to wear some fancy dress, a notion I dispelled when I left her a message about the date. She probably didn’t want to talk to me, but a GPS check confirmed her continued presence in the city. She’d been checking up on the scenes of my crimes. I’m sure I left some clues around, but nothing that gave her any idea what I planned to do. When I committed those crimes, even I didn’t know what I’d do.

Now, courtesy of my long-awaited shipment from Michelangelo, I knew what trials to force on Venus. 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate, or BZ, caused all sorts of interesting effects in people: hallucinations, delusions, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, stupor, erratic behavior, crying, laughing, pleading, clinging, mumbling, vomiting, euphoria, stumbling…y’all get the picture.

I knew this sort of thing. I just needed to integrate that with the American dating experience. It couldn’t be worse than covering my weaknesses with wine. That, and the laser-edged butcher’s knife were an essential part of how I planned to end the date.

Said date began on Tuesday. Venus never called me back, so I suspected she would stand me up. Imagine my amazement when the driver pulled up and she stood. In a dress! And flats! She looked like a regular person. A person who didn’t punch things. I’d seen her without the mask before, but she looked…weird. Still, I enjoyed seeing her outside the skintight costume.

As the car stopped, I lowered the window and jumped out of it. I rolled and popped up to my feet beside Venus. I popped up and offered a purple wax-dipped rose to her. Venus blinked as she looked between the rose and me. “That’s for me?” she asked.

I nodded vigorously and smiled.

Venus tentatively reached for the flower, eyebrows scrunching up. She even stopped to look over the rare sight of me in a button-down shirt and tie. That’s right. The big night was so special to me, I went out and bought entirely new boxers so I would seem especially fresh.

Remember, do right by your balls, and they’ll do right by you. That goes extra for the ladies out there.

As skeptical as a glorified cop going out with an infamous serial killer, Venus took the flower. She didn’t take me up on it when I offered her my elbow, though. Then the driver rushed out to get the door for her. It killed my thunder. Suddenly, all I’d done on the date was kinky things to a rose using candle wax.

I did stop the car to try and salvage the start of the date, though. I dropped off a jacket and a roll of money with a homeless guy seated near the pickup address.

Birds and the bees aside, at least Venus spoke to me. “You’re not going to have me dress this way, drive me around in a non-stretch limo, and give me this flower thing just to embarrass us both at a fancy-restaurant, are you?”

I noticed she sat as far away from me as she could. “Nope. That’d just make the whole situation much more awkward than it already is. Extra rules, a sommelier, bleh. It’s not a knock against you. You’d wear high heels and I’d almost certainly make a scene. You’ll still probably hate all this, but at least you’ll be slightly less inconvenienced. How are you doing tonight? Did you bring enough in that purse to take me out if things go bad?”

Venus held the purse a little closer. “I brought enough to make you regret trying anything. Where’s your emergency stash?”

I spread my hands. Then I pulled up the sleeves of my shirt. “As you can see, I have nothing up my sleeve, and at no time does my hand leave my wrist. Well, that part depends on you and any knives you get a hold of, but this is it. Heck, I even told the driver I hired that he’ll take orders from you once we reach the restaurant. You and I have a habit of getting into fights when all I want to do is talk, but that’s on you tonight. You’ll have to be less honest than the criminal.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’ve got something planned. You’re can’t even stop trying your mind games. You even did that for that bum so I’d think better of you.”

I held up my hands, then remembered my sleeves and rolled them back up. “Ok. That’s instinctive. I’m sorry. Maybe we should stay away from talking about our…work.”

Just then, her phone rang. Except the phone that rang wasn’t the phone I had wiretapped. I still received a signal from that one. “Excuse me, I need to take this. I have friends checking on me. If I don’t answer, they’ll bring every member of law enforcement in the city down on your head.”

I shooed her away then. “Alright, enjoy your conversation. As much as I like it to rain men, that’s not what tonight’s about.”

The good news: I used that time to trace her wiretapped phone back to City Hall. The bad news: she used that call to avoid talking to me all the way there.

The date did pick up once we got to the restaurant, a quirky place that featured grills at each table.

“I’m going to have to let you go. I think Gecko brought me to a torture chamber,” Venus spoke into her cell before hanging up. Then, to the host who seated us, she asked, “Excuse me, what kind of restaurant is this? My date didn’t warn me about the tables.”

The host shot her a smile. “So inconsiderate of him. Here we let diners prepare their own food at the table. It’s very simple, hon, but we recommend you are careful with the burners and come with enough time to spend with us. Are you ready to order drinks, or would you like me to slap your boyfriend first for springing this on you?”

“He’s not my boyfriend, but go ahead.”

Campy motherfucker had one hell of a wrist, I’ll give him that. I didn’t want to ruin things, but I had comebacks for Venus.

“Ow. Careful, hon. If you keep this up, I’ll take this fine fellow home instead. He’s got nice hands.”

“Ooh,” our host squealed, but didn’t allow himself to be baited into any more banter. Instead, both Venus and I opted for soft drinks over alcohol.

“You don’t have to hate me at the moment, Venus. In fact, I hope you’ve been well. And Leah, too. By the way, do you actually teach over there at the academy?”

“Yes.”

“What do you teach?”

“Fighting.”

“Oh come now, that’s a waste of a mind if that’s all. You have to have some other interests and ideas about what young superhumans need to know.”

“Sometimes I lecture about fight psychology…”

I had to coax the conversation out of her, but I soon got Venus talking about herself. People love to talk about themselves. I remembered that from my experience being hit on by guys a few times. Unfortunately, talking about myself scared them away, but at least it made me feel like they cared before they screamed and ran off.

“What about for fun? I know I don’t get out much for reasons other than, you know, the job, but I can still read and watch a few things. I bet you exercise that formidable mind of yours too, eh?” I said after the waiter took our order. It was a good time to mix things up, but she turned it around on me.

“I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to learn about me. Let’s turn this around, Gecko. You tell me what you like to read and watch. I bet you’re an anime guy. You like tentacles, don’t you?”

I stuck out my tongue at her. “I don’t watch much anymore. I’m afraid the last one I viewed for any significant amount of time was this ‘Strawberry Eggs’ thing about a male instructor who crossdresses to teach at a school that will only hire women.” I made a show of peering at her throat.

“What are you looking at?”

“He disguised his voice with a little heart-shaped collar. Not that it’d make much of a difference to me what genitals you have.”

“Get off my genitals and get back to talking, Gecko.”

“It’s a sign of a bad date to hear something like that. But fine. I find Russian literature to be quite interesting. I think I was too new to your world to consider the full ramifications of War and Peace, but there’s this fellow named Mikhail Bulgakov who had a great sense of humor…”

And so I went, boring her with discussions of my journey into the depressing world of vodka-induced literature. Which isn’t so much a generalization. Bulgakov was plagued by criticism and mental illness to the point of burning an early manuscript of his work, while another guy I read, Shalamov, was forced to claim that his stories about Soviet prison camps were no longer true. Something tells me they needed a few stiff drinks.

But then, why bore y’all with the same stuff that Venus sat through? It was, as the cat Behemoth once said while complaining, too bitter. And while that’s normally a call at Russian weddings for the bride and groom to sweeten the room up with a kiss, that wasn’t going to happen on this occasion. Despite my wish to help Venus relax, she remained cold and distant, like Siberia. Though she did actually look at my face and seem to pay attention.

Still, time flew, and we soon faced a platter full of pork strips ready to be cooked with all sorts of sauces and vegetables, and even a wok to fry some rice and eggs on.

“I suppose you know what you’re doing?” Venus asked as I got cookin’.

“Not entirely, but now’s a good time to learn.” I tossed some teriyaki on the pork.

Venus at least made it sound a little like she was joking as she said, “And now you’ll poison me, I suppose?”

I waved a pork strip at her. “Venus, trust me, I have every intention of murdering you. However, I have your death perfectly planned out. No way would I ruin that by killing you here and now. If you won’t take me at my word that I’m not going to kill you tonight, then at least trust that I won’t kill you because I want to murder you later. Ok?”

She shook her head, but she smiled a little. Victory! “I wouldn’t believe that from anyone else, but you are exactly weird enough that you’d think that.”

I held up a cooked strip for her. “Enough! It’s time for you to masticate my meat.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What’s that?”

“It’s priest,” I said. Then, as I continued, I waved it around. “Have a little priest. Is it really good? Sir, it’s too good, at least. Then again, they don’t commit sins of the flesh, so it’s pretty fresh.”

Venus didn’t know what to make of me then, singing to her with food as I implored her to eat pork with a song about cannibalism. I laid it down on her plate along with some fried rice that I fried a little too much. I suppose it confused her that I sang both roles in the song. Monologuing is one thing; mono-dialoguing is quite another.

“Awful lot of fat. Only where it sat. Haven’t you got poet, or something like that?” I moved my hands up and down to indicate something skinny. “No, you see the trouble with poet is how do you know it’s deceased? Try the priest.”

I grabbed up a bit of it for myself and shoved it into my mouth. My eyebrows shot up, prompting giggles from Venus. “Forgot to let it cool off?” she asked.

I kept my mouth closed and shook my head, then quickly gulped down three-quarters of my drink.

Of course, the food also meant an end to most of the talking, though Venus did somewhat loosen up the more she suspected I didn’t mean to try anything. Finally, after picking a bit of egg out of my teeth, I leaned back and asked. “So, I assume this evening wasn’t a complete waste as far as spending time with each other?”

“I only did all this because you said I’d get a clue,” she answered. When I raised an eyebrow, she realized she set herself up for a joke and continued. “About this so-called plan to destroy the city. I’m beginning to think you made it up to say you went on a date with me.”

I smiled wide, eyes closed. “You’ll want to call in and check on things. If my timing’s right, Laser Bum should just be starting.”

I felt the hard-won ease flee the room. “Laser Bum?”

“A super villain who stays beneath the radar by disguising himself as a hobo, one of those invisible dregs that society doesn’t like to acknowledge. I asked a favor of him; he’s carrying a message for you and the next hint is on a timer.”

Venus called in and confirmed the rampage of a homeless man with some sort of laser knife. Tasers and pepper spray failed to put him down. Bullets knocked him down but failed to penetrate his coat.

I laid down a roll of money similar to the one I’d wrapped a capsule of BZ around earlier in the evening. “I’ll pay for dinner and the tip. I dragged you out here and it’d hardly be fitting to expect you to cover dinner. The driver’s paid up, too, but he’s now at your beck and call.”

I peeked one eye. Venus pulled a mask out of her purse and donned it. “What’s your game, Gecko?”

“You’ll figure it out,” I said with a smile. “Then you can hate me. Now, don’t you have a city to save?”

She rushed off then to fight the so-called Laser Bum. After beating him up, she’d realize where she saw the bulletproof jacket the guy wore. She’d find the message hidden within the same pocket that earlier held the laser knife, and possibly the money roll I handed the homeless man earlier that night when I cracked a capsule and contaminated him with that lovely BZ chemical.

At least she won’t hate me because I’m a terrible date. She’ll just hate me because I made her beat up a confused homeless guy. Maybe, in all that passion, she’ll get the joke. Not the one where I plan to drag her through the mud and make her do villainous things, nah.

The real joke is that after finishing her date with me, I still got her to spank my bum.

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Nemesis 7

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Annoying music. It sounded like a weak evil scheme, I’m sure. After all, turn off all radios and televisions and the scheme’s foiled, right? Well, sure. Except that was the other end I worked toward.

Disrupting people’s television schedules annoyed a great many people, provided they had satellite TV. And provided their cable provider received any signals to the city by satellite. And provided they used satellite internet to view videos or audio, too. There were other disruptions, as well. GPS and any institution that used satellites to send and receive data weren’t singing along to the tune, but my toys slowed and corrupted a lot of transfers.

Radios didn’t fare any better. Emergency services were hit the hardest, as I used to my advantage when escaping with the giant magnet. Police, firefighters, paramedics, animal control; I put an end to any services reliant on radio dispatches while they scrambled to find replacement methods. Plus, with the United Nations around, the various diplomats couldn’t communicate as easily with their home countries. Their bodyguards couldn’t coordinate, either. They could do little to advance international peace and harmony, so they may as well have gone home. Which reminds me: aircraft. Not easy to fly into, out of, or near a city without radio and satellite on your side. Boats had problems on approach, too. Not that they wanted to go out with the local weather service also shut down.

The city faced a major crisis, and then the rioting started up. In most cases, people from outside the city showed up because they perceived it to now be a lawless haven. You don’t see people loot their own community, but outsiders have no such qualms. They caused enough ruckus that nobody minded my crew and I heading out to do a little pre-planning.

“Easy now. Keep taking ‘er up.” I waved my arms, directing Larry as he worked the crane holding the electromagnet. As a building mover, I had little use for it. It served me much better hidden inside a sign that depicted the planet Earth.

“Excuse me!” called out the manager of the Grocery World store we were gathered in front of. “Can somebody tell me what you think you’re doing?”

I stepped forward and held out my hand with a smile. “Hey there, my man. Are you the manager?”

He nodded.

“Good, we’re the guys doing the sign work. Just a small renovation to help keep the image fresh in everyone’s minds. You know how it is.” I pointed back to the crane and the sign with my thumb.

The manager looked between the crane and me. “I didn’t hear anything about this.”

I shrugged and closed my mouth where I clenched my teeth, raising the opposite eyebrow, attempting to look apologetic or sheepish. “Things are hectic right now. It wasn’t on the schedule originally, but with everything going on, the main office thought we should get it done while we still could. Besides, if things keep up, people are going to need food to cook more than ever.”

The manager stepped close and lowered his voice. “Do you have the permits for this? I would have pulled them if I’d known you were going to do this, but you caught me offguard.”

I patted him on the shoulder. “That’s the other reason they sent us to do this now. If I don’t have the permits, who’s going to call the cops on me about it, huh?”

We shared a laugh, then I sent him back inside. From there, I turned to watch as Larry lifted the hidden magnet into place. Then Roberta plucked him out of his seat, climbed up the crane with him, and held him close enough to do the welding work with his fire breath. The protective and directive casing had been removed from the magnet, but we left it stable enough that it shouldn’t have any problems. Well, unless grocery stores got blown up. If the city got to that point, it wouldn’t need me and any contraptions I put together.

Once we put that bad boy in place, there was little to do but wait. As much of a problem as I presented to the city, I also made it difficult to get there in a hurry. That’s why it came as a surprise on Saturday when a cell phone that should have still been in California suddenly began playing Empyreal City’s favorite song. And if y’all have been paying attention, I wouldn’t have to tell you whose phone that was.

I knew Venus had been packing for the trip, I just didn’t expect her to pack her cell of all things. I suppose the suddenness of her appearance in the city made it sound less crazy. One minute the GPS put her in Los Angeles. Then, bam! Empyreal City.

Now, obviously a fellow like myself wouldn’t lie when calling out a hero, would I?

Alright, now that you’ve had a moment to stop all that guffawing, let’s continue.

At the time, I stood in my basement workspace. I’d been assembling my rubber chicken grenades and set some of the compounds involved back in my workshop refrigerator, right next to some marinating chicken teriyaki. I liked my marinade like my grenades: exploding with flavor.

I skipped over to my finished pile of grenades, about three feet high, and sat down on them. I reached over to a drying belt of my exploding throwing knives, pulled it into my lap, and stroked it like some sort of pet.

With Venus within the bounds of Empyreal City, I cut the music. Over on Venus’s end of things, I heard lots of murmuring. Then whatever the phone was packed into must have been spread wide open, because a man’s voice came through crystal clear.

“This is city hall, goddammit. This- this is my office! He bugged it? He was here?! He stood right here…don’t drink the whiskey! H-how else could he have known you were teleported in?”

Then Venus spoke up. “I think you can relax. He didn’t bug you.” Then, much closer to the phone, she said, “Hello Gecko.”

When I responded, I spoke through every device affected by my signal interceptors. The entire city answered back, “Hello Venus. How’s my fair Boopsie doing today?” I learned that pet name for when I spied on her in the past. Her boyfriend used to call her that before I killed him. He didn’t take dying well. It really tore him apart. He’s not 1/2048th the man he used to be. Mostly because he ended up in more pieces than that.

He was more liquid than solid by the end of things, so I may have reminded her of bad times.

“You don’t get to call me that, Gecko. Has anyone ever told you it’s creepy to spy on me like this?”

I kept our conversation between us from here on out. “Oh sure, try to tell a goat rapist what’s creepy.”

“What? A goat, wha?”

“Don’t interrupt me, Venus, or I’ll have to whip out my billy club. Yes, I spied on you, but if I hadn’t, that terrible racket would still be going on and emergency services would still be down. It was the only moral thing to do.”

“You don’t have morals.”

I tossed the knives to the side and reached down to stroke the cock between my legs. The rubber, very explosive cock. “You know, you’re right. You talked me into it. Let’s go put the music back on, Boopsie.”

“Wait. You have me here now. What’s this all about?”

“Maybe I just wanted to talk to you and see you again?” I pulled the chicken out of the pile so I could cuddle it close and nuzzle my cheek against it.

“I have no doubt that was your intention, asshole, but I’ve seen this play out before. You have some game you’ll want me to play before we have our big confrontation.”

“Boopsie boop, why mess with a classic? Yes, I do have something to help hold your interest. A weapon of my own making involving the same device I used to tear up the city so far. You’ve seen enough of my technology to know I can put together some terrible contraptions in my sleep. Think about how bad this one must be that I came up with it while awake and thinking of you.” I set my cute little killer chicken to the side, hungry enough to chew on it if I didn’t.

“Just tell me what I’m doing here.”

I stood up and grabbed my laser potato peeler off the table. I walked over to the fridge, pulled out a strip of chicken, and cooked it up with the laser’s lowest setting. Because I didn’t reapply the baste, it tasted a bit dry. “Alright. The first clue is: wear a nice dress. Second clue: get into the limo and-“

“I’m going to stop you right there, Gecko. We are never going on a date. Do you understand me? You won; you made me hate you. I know you have something in your head about me, but I want nothing to do with you, ever.”

“Oh,” I said, speaking softly. “Well…I guess that’s just how it is. In that case, I guess you can go back home. I mean, I don’t need you here either. Maybe there’s some other hero out there who will want to save the city from my nefarious plan to destroy it. I wouldn’t want to force you into this if you don’t feel like giving it a shot. I can always turn myself in to another hero if I lose.”

“Gecko…argh! You..I still hate you. I’m staying, but only because it’s my duty as a hero.”

I threw my hands up, peeler flying up and sticking into the ceiling. “Woohoo! Venus chooses to stay! Let’s get naked and party with balloon animals!”

“Focus, Gecko!”

“Right. Of course. We’ll party naked without balloon animals. That can be just as much a celebration if you don’t like balloon animals.”

“Focus on your scheme!”

“You’re a good evil motivator, Venus. Anyway, I’m going to bomb this city back to the stone age. Interpret that how you want to.

“It sounds brutal. More music?”

Ew, dirty hands. I slipped out a throwing knife to clean my fingernails. “Only the most authentic death metal in town, with a hint of grindcore and horrorcore.”

“What do I have to do to stop it?”

“Why, match wits with me, of course! Though some might feel that’s a difficult task considering they think my wits are scrambled like a bad egg.”

“If that were true, I wouldn’t be able to get inside your head.”

I took out some more of the knives and practiced juggling them. “Unless you’re crazy.”

“Or unless you aren’t.”

“Ow! You wound me. Or maybe it’s this knife I dropped into my thigh. How about we discuss this over dinner?”

“I would have to be crazy to do that.”

I pulled the knife out of my leg and tossed it into the wall next to various assembled components I hung up. “The first clue will be delivered to you on a silver platter. You should keep the phone. Otherwise I’ll have to find some other way to contact you when I have the place and time set up. What do you say, Booper scooper?”

“One condition: nobody tries to capture or kill the other person. If that’s all it is and I can get the clue from you, then yes. I will go out with you to save the city.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear from you, Boopsie. You know, if you try hard enough, you might actually have some fun.”

“Oh, and Gecko? We both know you have no intention of turning yourself in.”

“That may be, Venus, but if you do this right, you have a shot to take me down. See you later, Boopsie woopsie.”

After hanging up it was time, of course…to panic. Then, after I finished running a few laps around the outside of the Big Top and smacking my head into a dumpster, I sat down to focus on the only part of my scheme that left me clueless: how to have a date.

It occurred to me that I’d be more comfortable if she interrupted things to try and beat me up.

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Nemesis 6

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“How are you doing?” a female voice asked. “I bet you’re still sore from working out.”

“Yeah. I could use a massage.” answered Venus.

“Go on,” I said, leaning forward, licking my lips. Carl, Roberta, and Steve all looked at me from where I sat on the couch next to them.

Carl turned to Roberta. “Is he still listening to that wiretapped phone through his ear?”

Roberta nodded her eye stalk.

“Shh, shh!” I waved at them all to shush. I thought Venus’s friend said something, but I couldn’t hear if it was some sort of sexy affirmative.

All I heard was, “Come on, we’ll talk on the way.”

“Aww, I missed something. Let me go somewhere quieter.” I stood up.

“Try not to hog the bathroom too long, boss. The rest of us might have to go.” Carl stopped chewing on gum long enough to grin at me.

I gave him a salute with only my middle finger. “Right-o, my good minion.” I hadn’t planned to sit in the bathroom while possibly listening to Venus get a massage from another woman, but since they suggested it, I figured I might as well go in there. You know, in case I needed to take care of any bodily functions while Venus made whatever sounds she made while being massaged.

“You give a lot, don’t you?” asked the anonymous female companion of Venus.

“I have to. My body is all I can rely on out there.”

“Gosh, thanks for the vote of confidence.” Awww. Venus was right, but you don’t say that when you’re about to get a sensual massage from someone. Wait a minute, maybe she only likes guys. Awww. But I’m a guy! Woohoo! Still, no hot massage.

“You’re alright, kid.”

“Hey, my hair!”

“You just worked out. Everyone will understand.”

“I have friends who don’t know I have powers yet. I don’t want to explain to them why my hair was mussed up by the superhero Venus. What about you? I hardly ever hear of you going out into the regular world for anything but patrols.”

“I…don’t, not really. Not often. I barely know anyone who isn’t part of all this.”

“You don’t think that’s weird?” asked the newbie hero.

“I don’t know. It’s just my life. I’ve spent so much of it like this that it’s hard to imagine being normal, or having a real secret identity.”

“You need some time off. Hey, we’re here! Time to chow down.”

Whoa, ladies, ladies, what ever happened to playing coy and warming up a partner with strategic fondling?

Venus sounded just as enthusiastic. “Alright, I can’t wait to try the taco. Tacos are bitchin’.”

Over here in Empyreal City, someone knocked on the bathroom door. “Boss, are you still in there? I need the toilet, boss. I tried to fart and I think I…um…didn’t.”

I threw the door open, tossed my pants in his face, yelled “Go away, I’m in the middle of something!” and slammed the door.

Things got even more interesting as I listened in once more from across the country thanks to Venus’s compromised phone. She cooed in delight, “Ooh, I didn’t expect kielbasa. Big kielbasa.”

I decided then that as soon as I finished doing whatever I might be about to do, I’d look up transgendered young heroines in California. But later!

“Ugh, I hate sausage. And someone already took the cups of jello.”

Kinky.

“Relax, kid. There’s nothing wrong with having a slice of pie every now and then.”

Yeah, you tell her, Venus!

“You sound like my mother.”

Possibly kinky. I wanted to see where this went.

“I’m definitely not your mother.”

I liked where this went.

“Fine. I’m going to have a Coke to drink and I won’t eat my broccoli.” Eh…what?

“That’s fine with me. We can sit by that window. That way, no one’s around to watch you eat that taco.”

“Why would they watch me eat a taco?”

“Think about it…”

“Oh my gosh!”

Well it’s about time the innocent little teenybopper figured that one out! Still, it upset me quite a bit to realize I’d missed an invitation to have lunch earlier instead of an invitation to have a massage. It upset me so much, I kicked the toilet hard enough to knock it out of its setting. I hurt the fuck out of my toe, too.

When I came limping out of that bathroom, red-faced and pantless, Carl looked at me and asked, “Did you just…ya know…so hard you hurt yourself?”

I grunted and tucked one hand into the rim of my boxers. “It’s got a bit of recoil.”

“Aww, boss,” Carl looked into the bathroom and found the water leaking out from where I’d knocked over the toilet. “I got to use the Ladies Room and then we’ll have to fix that.”

For some reason, the Big Top Restaurant had bathrooms for only one person at a time. When we were done setting up the workshop, computers, and giant screen in the basement, we’d have to bring in someone to work on that. Maybe the guy who’d sculpted my throne in my old club. I heard he went to jail after doing something to his ex with the lasers I paid him with, but that’s hardly an obstacle. In fact, I’d be doing the jail a favor. If there were no criminals outside the lock-ups, there would be no reason to have jails to put them in. All that money would have been wasted.

Speaking of things being wasted, Carl and I had another project to worry about once he was done sorting out the plumbing problems he and the Men’s Room had. I know I said we perfected the electromagnet weapon before, but that turned out to be somewhat of a flawed initial assessment.

For my next trick, I needed to adjust lots of buildings in a relatively short amount of time. Flight would be ideal in terms of speed, but there were other impracticalities. For one thing, we had a really heavy magnet. Trust me, I knew about that problem. I had not forgotten that characteristic of the damn thing.

Other problems involved carrying enough power. That could have been solved by hooking myself and my power core into the machine. While I long ago told y’all to not worry about how I powered my armor and other bodily cybernetics, my run-in with the superhero super team Shieldwall almost a year ago let that cat out of the bag. Which was a shame, because I worked really hard getting that cat in the bag. I meant to toss a dog, snake, chimpanzee, and a corrupt politician in there with it. There goes my little Halloween prank on the White House, thank you very much! Now what am I going to light on fire and trick the President into stomping out?

Oh, and there was a law I’d be on the wrong side of if I flew the magnet around. Normally I don’t care for laws, but this one involved equal but opposite reactions and the fact that I’d be using a small, unstable aerial vehicle to tug on metal portions of large buildings affixed to the ground below.

Flying was out of the question. But I thought up a solution. It wasn’t rocket science, after all.

So as I drove out the next morning, unarmored and pantless, I thought to myself that I was wrong about the rocket science part. I spent the night designing and building a half dozen rockets that I attached to strong points of the exterior of the van in order to help us speed through the asphalt jungle named Empyreal City.

To get us in the mood for the task, I had Carl put on the classic Guns N’ Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle”. He drove, with Moai shoved into the passenger seat. I stayed in the back, stuck to the magnet by my anatomy rather than by fundamental forces of the universe. Unless someone out there wants to think of my anatomy as one of the fundamental forces of the universe. That’s a pretty good nickname for the fellow, actually.

Hey ladies, anyone want to feel my Strong Force? That’s not gluon your face, but that is pion mine.

While we busied ourselves with a little creative redecorating of Empyreal City, the Rejects scrambled throughout the city to reconfigure a few broadcast towers and satellite dishes for me. It involved little more than hooking up a simplified interface to just a couple of wires on each.

I had my reasons for controlling the airwaves.

While they set up the simplified signal interceptors for me, I unfolded the back of the van and went to town on the city. I didn’t hit the skyscrapers, but my targets were larger buildings of at least five stories. The first rocked the hell out of the van, too. I focused on a building, not piercings. Rebar and fittings and girders. Worse, they weren’t slummy old apartment buildings. Or they weren’t all slums, at least.

Realizing this wasn’t going to be as effective unless I got lucky like the first time at the piercing parlor, I pulled out my ace in the hole. I didn’t keep it in my hole, of course. That was merely an expression, this time. I asserted my incredibly attractive force and hit the rockets, pulling the weakened structure over. Then I reversed the magnet at full power, cut the rockets, and magnetically threw the van along the road.

Rinse and repeat.

Cops showed up to intercept me at the fifth building. Five of seventeen minimum that I needed. Funny thing about cop cars; they’re magnetic too. I turned on them and pulled one into the air, then reversed the force and embedded it in the car driving up right behind it. I tossed the third into the air so it went over the building. When I tugged on that building, the cop car smashed through it from the other side and helped knock it down.

Nifty way to do things. Buildings six, seven, and eight went down with more cops. Then they tried to keep their distance, but a passing bus helped me nail building nine. That line had commendable service. They helped me and they stopped right there in someone’s home.

By the time I finished, we were stopped in the middle of a four-way intersection. SWAT vans surrounded us. Damn SWAT. I should have known they’d show up. I had a reputation for being fly, but being fly tended to make people want to SWAT me.

Come to think of it, I couldn’t remember if bullets could be affected by magnets. Not that I worried about that. I had only one magnet and they had me surrounded.

One of them approached ahead of the others with a megaphone. “Pantless man, step away from the device or we will be forced to open fire. Repeat, we will open fire if you do not back away from your weapon and put on some pants.”

“Guys,” I spoke into my personal radio to the Rejects. “Did you get everything into place?”

They sounded off one by one, save for Rattler. Whether he had a brain or the giant millipede thing controlled his body, that fellow had a bit of a language problem. At least Headgame Zane translated for him. “Yes, we’re all set.”

“Good. You’ll want to turn this radio off now. Or not, I happen to like this one.”

I sent out a signal and the effects were immediate. The various officers, detectives, and patrolmen kept radios on their persons or nearby. That became problematic for them when my little interceptors, now spreading their influence throughout every radio and satellite signal in Empyreal City, began playing music. Loud music.

A little song I once tried to obtain the rights to. The wonderful ear worm, “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!” that some people unfortunately labeled annoying.

The cops were too focused on protecting their poor, molested ear holes to accost us as we escaped.

Little did they know, the horror only just began. I intended to keep this song repeating non-stop until Venus herself arrived. I didn’t make my goal too difficult to understand, I think. Not after pulling down enough of the city to form the name “Venus” in destroyed buildings if viewed from above.

As the song says, “This is what I wanna do, let’s have some fun. One on one, just me and you. Boom, boom, boom, boom!! I want you in my room.”

And so Venus must face her fate, or Empyreal City will be destroyed…by annoying music.

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Nemesis 5

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After the grand electromagnet heist, things quieted down around the city. Nobody reported any sort of proof that the two were linked. As planned, college officials and police assumed Empyreal City State University pulled some sort of elaborate prank. They’ve been going over the ECSU campus with a fine-tooth comb, but they’ve also been entertaining other hypotheses.

I sent out the Rejects, Carl, and Moai to commit a few more Venus crimes, which also hid the connection. Carl had been eager to try out his newest mini-pistol. He and Ray X blasted a beauty salon apart. They got along real well too. According to Carl, Steve seems to remember being involved in some shady stuff in the past as well.

Another thing about this entire Venus mess: a lot of businesses with that as their name focused on beauty in some way. Dermatology, hair, dance. Roberta, aka Winsect, was particularly easy to manipulate into a rage over that. She did most of the work when I sent her and Moai off to take down a women’s gym.

About the only one’s who didn’t care were Tom the Rattler and Larry the Meltman. Tom never seemed to care about anything but trying to stay indoors and stay warm. Probably something to do with the giant evil millipede thingy in his head. I’ve suspected the bug’s calling the shots there. As for Larry, he enjoyed watching daytime TV and cuddling up with Spike Smooshyface. Spike didn’t mind. The pup chewed everything he could get his maw on.

At least I had F-Uhaul to help me out. They still delivered for Michelangelo, who happily provided me with what he could at a deeply-inflated black market price. I think I made him uncomfortable. Well, more uncomfortable than usual.

I felt like he knew something I didn’t. He still agreed to get me the chemicals I needed. It’s just that he seemed hesitant about everything, and now that I think about it, he acted surprised to see me.

Maybe chemicals set him on edge. Different people have different standards, but few folks, hero, civilian, or villain, would think to use mundane chemical weapons. Gimmicky chemical weapons get used all the time. Like with Mix N’Max. He’s crafted concoctions that could do just about anything. Aside from the Kingscrow drug trade, they tended to be single-use or limited run batches.

I’ve crossed a lot of lines. It wouldn’t be the first time someone wanted me for the criminal equivalent of a war crime. I’ve been accused of all sorts of things upon leaving the bathroom on burrito night.

You could add cyber stalking and invasion of privacy to my ever-growing list of charges, too. I didn’t spend this time just directing attacks by my cohort. I hunted down information on Venus.

I failed to find a way into whatever servers they had at the Master Academy. Instead, I relied on whatever dossiers, interviews, public speeches, and background checks I could pull. Anyone could have lied about the public information, but I figured on finding some kernel of truth within. The best lies are those that the person telling them believes as well. One way to further that while maintaining consistency is to grow a lie around a seed of truth.

My contact Harlon made finding this all immensely more easy. He was a fat executive for one of the major news networks. Vice president of this or president of that, I stopped keeping track. I didn’t kill him, helped him get promoted, and then saved him from a mugging once. That guy hadn’t been shown much companionship in his life to want to spend time with me. The meeting of our minds helped both of us, though. His network got some recordings and exclusives from an anonymous source in the super community. In return, they disseminated talking points that benefited my side of things. Being an agency concerned with reporting, they funneled information my way.

When Harlon’s news channel started speculating that a link existed between the electromagnet theft and the Venus attacks, they looked a little crazy to most people. Sometimes, crazy isn’t crazy. Sometimes, a crazy person just looks that way because they know a lot more about what’s going on.

In thanks for his cooperation, I sent him a fruit basket. He then called me up to tell me he didn’t appreciate a basket being delivered by a team of campy gay male strippers wearing little more than thongs and body glitter.

That Harlon, what a kidder.

There were puff pieces. You know, the sort of interviews that make a hero look good and nice for the kiddies. Interviews that sell toys. Entire transcripts about nothing but serving and protecting people. Venus mostly shied away from political talk. That didn’t mean she was shy, though. This blowhard on Harlon’s own network tried to draw her into a discussion about politics and began to use fancy insults when she refused. Words like “pinhead” and “bloviator”.

He came across more like a bully. Then, after the commercial break, his shirt and hair were a little disheveled and he behaved more politely.

There was so much to go through, I had to make use of a nifty little ability people with normal eyes don’t have. When my eyes were replaced on my world, the new pair came with many superior features, including a search ability. A secondary function of the facial recognition search was the ability to find a certain word in a document held up in front of me.

I checked transcripts for references to “past” or “history” or “family”. From there, I found an old interview from years ago. She had just taken down a troublesome villain: Matthias Darkstone, the Stellar Man. Afterwards, she sat down with investigative reporter Mei San Olivier.

When I found that, I shoved Larry out of the way and sent the digital file to the TV for viewing.

I’ll toss in some relevant pieces here.

Mei: “Were you nervous knowing you faced a man with inhuman abilities? He trapped Los Angeles under a night sky for sixteen hours, after all.”

Venus: “I’m not going to sound very heroic, but yes I was. That is, I was nervous. There is a major difference in pressure when you think about lives being at stake, but I never doubted my training. I trained along superhumans at the Master Academy. I grew up with them and I sparred with them. They don’t believe I’m not superhuman, hehe.”

She giggled then with a smile that scrunched her face up in a cute way. I realized I’d never seen her smile. Perhaps I just needed the right tools? Headgear of some sort, or some sort of chemical that freezes a face in a grin.

M: “What went through your mind when you beat the Stellar Man and had him in your custody? Did you have any hard feelings, did you feel any pity?”

The question caught Venus off guard. She sat up straighter but took a moment to mull the question over. She kept her mouth slightly open, tongue against the inside of her cheek. Then she blinked and looked back to Mei.

V: “Sorry, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t sure myself. Mostly I was glad. I don’t know if you know this, but it’s hard work fighting someone like that. I was so relieved he went down and I could cuff him. Then I worried he might escape me.”

M: “Oh no.” She said it with a laugh, leaning forward to pat Venus on the knee.

Venus laughed too. She seemed really young in the video. I called up stills of when I last encountered her and when I first encountered. She definitely aged over our run-ins. She held herself differently, too. Straighter and more stiff, even when she shouldn’t have for her fighting style.

Odd. In all our fights, I don’t remember shoving a stick up her ass.

Perhaps my newest project would dislodge it. You wouldn’t think a guy like me would want a big electromagnet. After all, they do such interesting things to computers. It would be like fighting a pyrokinetic while covered in gasoline. Or like a paraplegic taking up lap dancing.

Well, this is one lap dancer who isn’t afraid when things get hard, even if I had to bring Carl in on it to figure out how to transport the damn thing.

When we got that thing figured out, though, I think we had ourselves one heck of a menace to society.

So, tired of a day wasted on admiring Venus’s laugh and smile, I invited Larry and Spike Smooshyface along to test the thing out.

This involved a quick trip to a local piercing parlor in the van, which had been rebuilt and re-purposed. Remember how I said the Venus places tended to be linked to beauty? Venus Piercing kept that fine tradition alive. I would have given them credit for exploring less conventional ideas about beauty, but I also wanted to hurt somebody.

Larry skidded to a stop with the rear toward the outside of the stucco building, annoying everyone on the two-way street and earning us a chorus of horns. The nearest drivers stopped when the rear of the van folded away and the magnet emerged on a hydraulic arm. To protect and better direct it, I gave the magnet a casing and barrel.

Just because I stole the thing doesn’t mean I’m eager to get stuck to it.

The barrel also helped because of the enhancements I made to the design. Once again, there were benefits to having a head full of information from a more advanced planet.

I stood off to the side and activated the magnet. It drew from batteries filling the van to power itself as portions of the parlor’s building bent toward the magnet, then broke apart as various piercings flew free of whatever held them in and brought those construction nails and screws with them. I caught a glimpse of a Prince Albert covered with blood as it flew out.

That seemed painful, and I didn’t need all that sticking to my new toy, so I used the other nifty feature of it. One flip of a mental switch and the forces reversed themselves. Instead of attracting all that nice wonderful metal, those tiny bits were flung back with enough force to once again shoot through the exterior wall and speed back to where they belonged. Roughly. Very roughly. The kind of roughly that drew blood and cries of anguish.

I knew for a fact that whoever got that Prince Albert wasn’t going to let a little thing like having his piercing ripped off stop him from getting screwed.

I toyed with the place, swapping between attraction and repulsion, up until I saw the larger, five story building behind the parlor shake itself to collapsing.

Huh, you’d think a simple urban engineer would have thought to plan around magnet-wielding supervillains. This is what happens when you rely on engineers claiming it should stand up to attacks instead of testing it with real cataclysmic conditions.

Same for those piercings I yanked out and then violently returned to people. How dare that store sell defective piercings that couldn’t even stand up to some playful tugging?!

I fully intended on taking up my dissatisfaction with the management of that establishment, but then they were buried under a collapsing buildings. Ugh, some people will do anything to avoid hearing criticism.

Still, my test was a success. I had Larry crank that sucker and we sped out of there with the assistance of the repel setting and the cars behind us. Because sometimes you need to use the laws to your advantage, even if they’re a fundamental one in physics about equal and opposite reactions.

After so much time spent perfecting my magnet and reading up on Venus, I think I know what it takes to attract her to Empyreal City.

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Nemesis 4

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I never realized how many places in Empyreal City had Venus in their name. Neither did anyone on the news up until they reported on the string of crimes that have occurred recently while I sat watching on the sofa at the Big Top.

“The mysterious fire that claimed the New Venus Restaurant was just the first of an epidemic. Then a clinic specializing in beautifying people’s skin, Venus Treatments, was destroyed by a colorful group of mutated-looking humanoids with super powers.”

“Then a group of people attacked a dance studio. Reports say they just waltzed in, wrecked the place with pickaxes, and waltzed out. Police are still investigating a chemical weapon used at the crime that caused fog and oxygen deprivation in those nearby.”

That was fun. I’m not the most prolific of chemists, but I’ve learned a lot more than just which ones go boom by now. Just like when I first faced Venus in Memphis, I really enjoyed breaking out that knowledge again. The prep work became a minor problem, but I had a lot of helping hands. I still hadn’t contacted my old black market contact, Michelangelo. I’d been fairly loyal to Michelangelo’s House of Negotiable Goods ever since shaking him down for information one Christmas. Michelangelo would still be more than capable of getting me the other treat I had in mind.

The news segment on the Venus crimes ended with the camera panning over an intersection, the voice over saying, “Whatever the reason for this spate of attacks, police and heroes are hard at work solving the cases. We urge anyone whose business is named after the Roman goddess of love to practice caution.”

I switched off the TV and hopped up. “Typical speculation…I could be some crazy guy obsessed with astronomy. For all they know, I was planning to attack Uranus next.” I headed over to my nearest worktable, where Spike Smooshyface chewed on my saxophone.

“Shoo, go chew on something hallucinogenic or electrified.” I suppressed my urge to punt the little guy and set him on the floor. While I messed around recalibrating the sax, I called out to Roberta. “You got the floor plan?”

She perched on a bar stool in front of a movable podium with a computer on top. “Got it right here!” She chirruped, tapping a few keys. Images of Foley College, a local center for higher education, replaced a fascinating news piece on an upcoming cheese festival.

I couldn’t tell if that story was gouda or bad. I figured it was a queso bad scheduling. What’s that, y’all don’t appreciate the jokes? Were they too cheesy?

Back to Foley College. It existed prior, but the guys in charge renamed it in honor of a nigh-indestructible hero. He had no super strength or speed, and he could suffer all manor of minor injuries so long as they didn’t kill or permanently disable him. He dubbed himself “Wreck” and set about becoming a world-renowned humanitarian aid worker, entertainer, and children’s author.

The pictures showed a friendly but fenced-in campus. There were four entrances, with only two open on a regular basis. Entry required a keyfob or identification by a security guard at the main gate. The buildings had custom brick work. It looked more like decorative slabs of rock made up the exteriors. They looked like you could climb the outside of a building with just a little rock climbing experience.

I stepped out in front of them and pointed at the outer fence and checkpoints with the sax. “As y’all can see, the security here is incredible at keeping out overprotective parents and particularly frail old ladies. It may even stop a turtle with dementia.”

Carl raised his hand. “Boss, I don’t understand.”

I shook my head. “You’re right, Carl, I didn’t make it clear. The turtle has dementia. The security doesn’t somehow cause dementia in order to stop intruders. If it could, this would be serious business.”

“No, why are you putting this much effort into this? Normally we just bust in and take what we want.”

“Good point. Team, the reason why I had Roberta research this, and Larry print copies of the floor plan, and Tom collate…by the way, do a better job next time, Tom…is because college campuses are a supervillain’s worst nightmare. After all, it’s full of doctors and professors. How many times have you heard a superhero named ‘Professor This Guy’ or ‘Doctor So-And-So,’ huh? They didn’t all pass medical boards, and there are only so many jobs for a professional graduate student. Which brings us to the students. Superheroes go to high school all the time. It’s the story everyone’s heard. Teen gets powers. Teen practices powers. Teen, being immature and stupid, tries to protect people and right wrongs. Then what? Teen goes to college. Teen is away from adult supervision and can set his own hours around easy classes. Plus, everyone’s all idealistic in college. People learn that shit is going down in the world and they want to fix it, just like most people do who haven’t had their morality’s cherry popped like a drunk freshman at a Greek mixer. By the way, if you get a picture of a hero taking advantage of that, you have them by the balls for the statute of limitations. Any questions?”

Steve raised his hand, a bone glinting in the light. “Yeah, is this going to be on the final exam?”

I nodded and smacked my worktable with the sax. “Yes! My exams typically consist of a dozen essay questions and an interpretive dance segment. Now, back to the plan…”

We went in that night, Monday evening, with me in my armor for this one. There were no parties going on to distract potential student heroes, but their weekend hangovers and sleepless shenanigans gave us an opportunity. Plus, almost all the professors and doctors were gone at night.

Entry was easy. I faked our credentials by stopping at a nearby liquor store and mugging a guy who showed up to buy a keg of beer.

We had to park the van off to the side. The science center rested under a portion of the campus. The entrance rested at the bottom of a small amphitheater. Those at the top could just take stairs up a few steps and walk over the building. Maybe peer down in the middle of the area to see a small courtyard.

We all hid our appearance in trench coats and fedoras as we entered. Moai, Roberta the Winsect, and “Ray X” Steve climbed up to take their positions near the courtyard. We received a few looks, but one of the advantages of working a college over is that no one bats an eye at anything you wear. The three on top of the building took pulled parts of a simple pulley system out of their coats and began erecting it.

The rest of us went inside. They didn’t bother locking it, but we still ate up time spreading out to find our target: the college’s shiny new research six foot diameter, two ton electromagnet, as reported on by the school paper. I had plans for that bad boy.

We found it being fawned over by a pair of grad students.

“Carl, Headgame, these two didn’t see anything.” Carl advanced and Headgame lunged forward with stretchy arms. Once they had the two scared students well in hand, it turned out they really hadn’t seen anything.

“In fact, I wasn’t even here tonight. I was with my girlfriend. Yeah, that’s it!” I nodded to Carl, who released the captive collegiate. That guy scampered out to live up to his alibi. I turned to the other, still safely clutched in Headgame’s coils.

“I, uh, I…was washing my hair?” My eyes flicked to his hair. Short and buzzed. The scalp was visible He looked like a peach.

“Try again,” I told him. “Come on, you’re smart. Tell yourself something you can believe. Maybe something happy if you want. Trust me, it’s about to get sad for you around here.”

“I was with his girlfriend.” He nudged his chin towards his fellow fleeing student.

I waggled my hand in the air, then gave Headgame a thumbs-up. He let the inventive academic run off as well.

“Now then…” I turned to the magnet, which resembled an expensive Ferris wheel for dolls. “Let’s hope we don’t attract any attention.”

Carl and the Rejects groaned.

I joined in soon enough as it took me a good twenty minutes to get the thing out to the hallway next to the courtyard. Jumping is one thing. Punching through a human head is another. Carrying that heavy, delicate piece of shit without bending or wrecking it was quite another.

When I got to that hall, I set it down, then promptly collapsed.

“Somebody, break those windows,” I ordered between huffs and puffs.

“Which windows, boss?”

“Carl, dammit, the windows to the courtyard! I can’t point right now and I think my water just broke.”

“I always thought you were a man,” Larry the Meltman interrupted.

“Meltman, either my water broke or my organs are trying to escape to safety through my asshole.” I groaned and stood up as I heard Carl begin shattering the windows to the yard. He swung the butt of his new mini-pistol against it. Good guy. Firing the combination minigun and handgun would have made more noise than that. He even opened the glass door and busted it.

Then, for the last time, I had to heave that heavy son of a bitch up onto failing muscles and machines and carry it carefully out into the night. Luckily, Moai, Ray X, and Winsect were more than ready.

I had the others slide the harness onto the massive machine while I laid down on the cool earth, looking up at Moai above us. “Do it…and somebody go move that fucking van closer.”

“How are you doing down there?” Ray X called down.

“I think I pulled my everything!” I answered.

Steve gave a thumbs-up. “Don’t worry, we’ll have it up in a jiffy.”

With that, Moai jumped over the edge in his harness to serve as the counterweight. He raised the magnet off the ground easily. That made me all the more glad that any time I had to lift him, I did so with his momentum on my side. Mostly, I just took in the glorious sight of that magnet being raised by something else.

Then I realized I had a clear view of Moai as he began falling on me. The breaking feeling in my legs was even more clear, but it couldn’t compete with pain coming from my newly-flattened ball sack as he landed right on top of my little guys.

I didn’t mute my helmet in time and the screams broke all the rest of the nearby windows around the courtyard.

We did get the damn thing out of there, though. In no mood for games, I had Larry fetch the van, drive it down the amphitheater steps, and crash through the doors. Then Roberta tore a hole in the side so the magnet could ride in there with them. I didn’t have much say in that. I was too busy dealing with the pain of nanites piecing my crushed lower body back together. They didn’t return any urine to my bladder when they sealed it up, though. Then again, I don’t think there was any left in there by the time they set to work.

After all that, the team realized they couldn’t fit the magnet and me in there, so they did the only sensible thing: they strapped me to the roof in full armor as I healed. “Remember guys, leave the letters ‘ECSU’ around somewhere they can see.”

They didn’t tie me to the roof well enough with that pulley cord, I soon realized. They did donuts in a campus lawn to spell out the abbreviation of a nearby rival college and nearly lost me three times in the process. Still, at least the cover of a college prank would keep things low key for a short time.

I just had to lie back and heal. And I did, up until a couple of people at a red light shouted at the driver of our van.

“Hey man, what the hell is that thing?” One of them asked from the next lane.

Carl must have rolled down the window, because I heard him yell at them, “That guy on top? The hunting season for them just started. I bagged him when he came right up to me and asked too many questions.”

I moaned in pain loud enough for the guy asking to hear. “Ooh, help. My balls. They rolled off into the road a mile back. Help me, please. Go back and find them. They’re the ones that are all bloody and squished.”

The car next to us revved suddenly and took off, not even waiting for a green light first.

If I had paid them to help me, that’s when they would have been sacked. They were not on the ball. I know those jokes were painful, but don’t worry. I only had a pair of them.

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Nemesis 3

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On Friday, I took Carl and Moai out to eat at a restaurant. I planned to reconnect with them both while getting away from the Rejects, whose presence I increasingly resented. Especially their cheeriness. The latent misery reverberating off our waitress tasted better than the sirloin I shoved down my gullet.

“So you want to Venus to come after you, boss?” Carl asked while chowing down on his own chunk of cooked cow.

“Correctdiddly-doo, Carl. This is something I think I have to do. Something that, at the very least, will take my mind off a disturbing trend lately.” I cut off another slice of beef and held it in my mouth, mulling over the taste. Too much pepper, and marinade that hadn’t sank in. Overpriced, and yet another chef mistook spiciness for flavor. Some people just haven’t learned that sometimes subtlety can be more appetizing.

Then again, I’d probably eat teriyaki sauce on everything from cookies to boobs if I could get away with it.

“What kind of trend do you mean?”

“Oh, just that things have been more serious than they need to be lately. I think we could all use a nice period to let off some steam and blow things up.” I tried the garlic potatoes. Delicious. “Mmmm, these potatoes are fucking my face with flavor!”

A couple at a nearby table glanced over. I looked right back at them. “What? It’s all very tasteful. Don’t be so prudish about what you swallow. Especially you,” I said, pointing to the woman. She looked like she just licked a skunk’s backside. Her husband gave me a smile and a thumbs-up that disappeared as soon as his huffy wife turned around.

“Whatcha got in mind, boss?” Carl lowered his voice as he leaned closer to the table. His eyes swiveled around the room, keeping track of anyone coming too close. Moai leaned over the table as well, ignoring his glass of mineral water.

“Alright, so we all know, I’m here, and Venus is here.” I moved the salt and pepper shakers to opposite sides of the table. “I’m the salt, because people who know me realize I’m made up of poisonous and explosive elements.”

Moai and Carl nodded along.

“Ok, so as salt, I need to spread myself around so much that people need some of her to offset the taste of me in their mouth.” I flicked the salt over the table. “Now, of course you can have plenty of salt and see no need for pepper. After all, the Feds are going to get off their asses eventually. So I need to make it clear who I’m a-salting. To do that, I erase any pepper and anything similar to pepper that I find around here.”

“Boss, is this still a metaphor, or are you going to do stuff with real salt and pepper?” Carl asked, trying to shield his plate from my excessive saltiness.

“Don’t be silly, Carl. I have no beef with spices, save for fresh garlic. Let’s drop the metaphor. It’s not enough for me to do my thing around here. There’s always someone who will try to stop me. I need to do it in such a way that targets Venus even though she isn’t here. Nor does have any belongings or real estate here, so it’s not like I can bust her stuff.”

“Maybe you could spy on her. Maybe she has friends here?” Carl suggested.

“Not a bad idea. I’ll see what I can do about invading her privacy, too. But for now, we focus on the classic call-out.” I winked at him.

“What’s that, boss?”

“The classic call-out is a way that villains have often gotten the attention of heroes. While you can pull one off by attacking monuments or museums that have significance to a hero, a common form of it is to attack some place which shares the name of the hero. Some of the crimes appear innocuous or random until someone starts checking for similarities. Venus being a deity’s name, there’s all sorts of places that use it. There’s even a restaurant that goes by that name.”

Carl looked at me, then I saw his eyes light up in understanding. “Aww, boss, I’m not done eating yet.”

“Better get it to go, Carl.” I reached down under the table and whipped out my saxophone, yelling in Spanish, “Saxofón!” I raised it to my mouth and skipped over the rocket key on the instrument. Instead, I hit the button with a plume of flame on it.

My newest toy, a flamethrower built into the saxophone, did its job. By that, I mean it threw fire in a stream that set ablaze a the leftovers on one table and flash fried the ice cream set in front of the occupants for their desert.

I shuffled forward, ignoring the screams around me, and sung to the ceiling. “I’m never gonna dance again; these guilty feet have got no rhythm. Though it’s easy to pretend, I know you’re not a fool.” I cut to the sax part of the song then so I could incinerate fleeing patrons and waiters.

Sure, to everyone else, it sounded like roaring flames, the jingle-jangle of overturned dishes, and cried of anguish. But I heard a mournful sax from a song about a guy cheating and feeling bad about it.

The music was soon accompanied by the sounds of gunshots, then something cracking, and body tumbling to the floor. I turned to find Carl grabbing a gun off the floor next to a dazed host and a broken plate.

I danced over and motioned for Carl to move aside. One he stepped back, I leaned low and gave my would-be assailant’s head a full solo. Then I tossed the sax to Carl at my side. “Here, hold this for me, will ya? I need to use the restroom.”

At least that host couldn’t say I didn’t at least try to put him out. Actually, he really couldn’t say it. Pretty sure his tongue was cooked by that point. Still, it’s the thought that counts. Then again, I fried the brain too.

With the New Venus Restaurant burning down around us, we couldn’t really stick around. Unfortunately, none of us managed to snag a box for our food on the way out, so instead we drove into a delivery boy’s car and stole a half-dozen pizzas to bring back for everyone.

When we walked into the Big Top, there was Larry, watching a big screen TV on the wall from on top of a couch. The formerly-dusty place was spotless.

“Alright, just drop the pizzas wherever…heya Larry, anything exciting happen while we were gone?”

Larry munched on some chips as he watched Moai and Carl set down the stolen pizzas. “Gravity shut off in Russia for some reason. Nobody knows why, but due to a parliamentary loophole involving pigs, they were forced to legalize gay marriage there. Hey, how’d the flamethrower work?” He nodded to my sax.

“Very well, actually. Just had to rework the engines of the rocket part. It was a lot better than trying that Heatflasher again, too.” I checked around. Even the cobwebs were gone.

“Yeah, I been cleaning that some. What’s stuck in there? It’s like something was burnt to it.”

“That’s my arm. Or it was. Luckily the new one is a lot less burnt. It got a bit messy there, and that’s why the arm-mounted Heatflasher is not as practical as I’d like it to be. Speaking of cleaning, did y’all have someone come in? I didn’t think I left that number out for y’all.”

He waved a hand at me dismissively. “We got bored and cleaned the place up.”

“Where are the others, then? The basement? They’d be better, because I saw some rats down there, and we all know rats are ambush predators.”

“No, they went shopping for food and decorations to brighten the place up.”

I called a huddle with Moai and Carl. “See? They’re way too nice for most of this stuff. You’d think all the torture would have hardened them some. It’s almost- wait, let me check.” I turned away to address Larry again, “As far as decorations went, they didn’t happen to go shopping for stripper poles, did they?”

Larry shook his head.

I turned back to my minions. “It’s almost like they’re too nice. They didn’t even go out and start robbing anyone when they were bored.”

“Boss, I never robbed anyone because I was bored. I did it because I was poor,” Carl helpfully suggested.

“You’re right. They just need some tough love. Wait, shit, that’s why I said I’d take them in. We need to corrupt them.”

“Is this going to involve tequila, boss?” Carl wondered.

“Nope. But we should force them to help us. And I think I know how…”

Just then, the rest of the Rejects burst in carrying an assortment of chairs and food.

“Gecko! Carl! Moai! You got a package,” Roberta called out with gusto.

“Well, yeah, had it for awhile.” I raised my right leg and slapped the thigh. “Easy big fella. Oh, did you mean a delivery?”

“Yup! It’s from that Basford guy, too.”

Ethan Basford, the wealthy scion of a family that made a deal with magical beings long ago. They got a lot of magical artifacts and a questionable amount of power. My dealings with Ethan were complicated. Evil twin and dead family members kind of complicated. But he did pay me, so I had no particular reason to kill him.

Roberta shifted the various bags around in her arms, then held out a box, little smaller than a shoebox, wrapped in brown paper.

I took it from her. A note on top read “E. Basford”.

I hoped it wasn’t from Ethan’s dead brother Emilio. I opened the note. It read. “Don’t worry, this is Ethan Basford.” Whew. “Inside this package is a bonus for you: Three drops of pure truth. Get them into a person and they will be compelled to answer a statement as faithfully as possible. They will hold nothing back, not even from themselves. Do not imagine I give you this only out of thanks. It is like you; a doubled-edged sword.”

I tore the paper open and cut through the tape with my laser potato peeler. The inside was padded with plenty of bubble wrap. Ah, bubble wrap. That by itself would have been a bonus. This “liquid truth” of his turned out to be contained within yet another box. Why not? Rather than a third box, there was a small crystal decanter, also taped up.

The three drops of truth took up little volume. And I never realized truth was amber in color.

Still, a magical truth serum right that showed up when I planned to get my hands on someone and make them hate me?

Basford must have taken a liking to me after all.

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Nemesis 2

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Well, we made it.

To steal from a famous champion of the people: finally, Psycho Gecko has come back!…to Empyreal City. In stereotypical fashion, one of the first things I did upon entering the city was step out of the car and breathe deep. Coughing followed. Empyreal City needed a stick of deodorant.

We had stopped by Central Park to allow everyone proper space to stretch their legs. The Rejects ran around, drawing little attention. Empyreal City had long cultivated a reputation as the city that never gave a fuck. In this case, people mostly left them alone. No matter how deformed, no matter the claws, no matter the uncanny valley, it didn’t matter. So long as none of them had brown skin, cops wouldn’t stop them.

Roberta drew some looks. The first time a cop approached her, he soon found Tom standing behind him, rattling and skittering echoing forth from his odd head. The bad thing about people not paying attention to dangerous-looking things is that such recognition evolved as a survival trait. That cop survived, for instance. His underwear didn’t, but he did.

We were soon joined by a welcome face poking out the open window of a tan town car. “Hey boss! Glad to see you made it back! Who are your friends?”

I got a running start and jumped through the window. We both tumbled out the door on the opposite side of the car. I dragged my rescued minion to his feet in my embrace. People did stare at that. I quickly let go and brushed him off. “There you go, just helping you up after your unfortunate tumble there.” I glanced around to make sure people weren’t watching us anymore.

If only I had something to kill everyone in sight on the streets…Ah well.

Carl grinned. “It’s good to see you again, boss.”

“You too, but if anyone asks, that hug fell off the back of a truck.”

“The boss is stealing hugs, now, huh?”

I shrugged. “Hugs, panties, kisses…no offense, but I’m not kissing you. If you’re the sort for panties, though, I can get you some nice ones. Maybe Hello Kitty brand.”

“Aren’t those for kids?”

I gave him a light punch on the chest. “Hello Kitty is only for kids until you get to the panties. You pull down a woman’s pants and see ‘Hello Kitty’ staring you in the face, then it’s more like a street sign. ‘Now entering Pussyvania. Population: You.’ Might as well sell men’s boxers that have a picture of a rooster and say ‘Hi Cock’ on them.”

Moai bounced up next to us. “Hey buddy!” Carl said as he gave Moai a hug as well.

See, this is how villains lose street cred. Contrary to what a bunch of uptight religious assholes think, the only thing public displays of affection hurt is the reputation of murderious maniacs like myself.

Like with the Mafia, for instance. They’ve been involved in some shady shit throughout history. The way they hug and kiss all over each other out in public, you know they aren’t destroying the world anytime soon. The inverse, that people who never get any public nookie are going to crush the bones of everyone beneath their boots, hasn’t ever been true on its own. I just think it’s harder to make a credible threat to blow up a continent when the person you’re extorting can go, “Or what? You’re going to hug me until I give in? Smooch me to death?”

If I get like that, I guess I’ll need to kill even more people. Dammit! I hoped to reason myself out of this big group of companions.

Such companions were lined up on the other side of the town car. They knew Carl, but I’d last introduced them to him before they became active in crime. This time, I had new names to put to the faces.

“Carl, old buddy, I’m going to have to re-introduce you to some new partners in crime.”

So I gave Carl the rundown on the new names used by the Rejects out in the field. Zane the pinhead was now Headgame. He stretched. Shy Mika, with her limbs ending in bone spikes, now went by Bonedancer. Larry chose Meltman, probably because of the melted-looking parts of his appearance. We called Tom Rattler because of the rattling noise his shriveled-looking head makes, probably because of the giant millipede thing in there. Steve looked like a walking x-ray, hence why he’s Ray X. Finally, Roberta’s completely inhuman appearance led me to name her Winsect.

“And who is this? A shapeshifter?” Carl lifted up the puppy the Rejects got all on their own.

“No, that’s a dog. He’s their responsibility.” I nodded to the Rejects. “And in order to defuse a small civil war, his name is Spike Smooshyface.”

“What about that thing Moai’s carrying around half the time?” He brought Spike to his own face and cuddled it. Passer-by whipped out their phones for photos. I jumped behind the car to avoid being associated with cuteness.

Undeterred, Carl walked around to ask, “Hey boss, what are you doing?”

I jumped up. “Nothing, nothing at all. Certainly not plotting to murder any animals that are part of a conspiracy to make me seem cute.”

“Oh, right. So, what about Moai’s statue?” He pointed to where Moai bounced around with his little moving Venus statue balanced on his head.

“Dammit! Everyone’s too friendly around here, running around with friends and pets and all that. Carl,” I pointed to him ”I need a bomb.”

“I think that’s a bad idea the way you’re talkin’, boss.”

“See? People always think the worst of me. I complain about companions and all of a sudden no one wants to give me a bomb. It’s this kind of stigma that makes it difficult to connect with people.” I wiped an imaginary tear from my eye.

“Aw, boss, that’s not what I meant. I was just worried what you’d use it for. I can go help you pick up parts for it later on. I know you weren’t going to use it to blow up your new friends.”

“Aha!” I grabbed his head and shook it. Lightly. Not enough to hurt him. “See? The moment I have lots of people and animals around, you automatically assume I’m not going to blow them up. That’s why they’re hurting my rep. Get me away from these people! Say, don’t you have a base to show me?”

“Alright. Hop in and I’ll drive you, boss. I’m not sure how you’re gonna like it.” We both slid into his car and started off. Then I had him pull a u-turn and double back to the park so I could toss Spike Smooshyface out the window.

The new base turned out to be an interesting choice. A place like Empyreal City, all sorts of quirky buildings ended up abandoned over time as people lost profits and walked away. In my case, the building featured a large clown sign hanging over the front façade. People didn’t so much walk away from this place as run screaming, given this world’s unusual dislike of clown paint. The door read, “Big Top’s Restaurant”.

Part of the building near the front appeared to be some sort of display area. “What’s that for?” I asked.

“They used to have trinkets, displays, even a little freakshow. I thought maybe it’d work with the new guys.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Not everyone takes ‘freak’ as a compliment. But, if we open this puppy up as a restaurant, they might like showing off for people.” I crossed my arms as I looked it over.

Carl shuddered. “You really don’t like that dog, do you?”

“I’m not liking all the new people. You were there. It’s hard just to keep up with the names. However, I really meant that if we make this a social place, it’ll be harder for people to go and raid it. Like last time, we can trade in on our status as oddities to cause the heroes no end of trouble. Or, even better, they can do that public stuff up here and I can plot doom from a basement. I won’t even have to deal with all the new people so much.”

“Hey there!”

I spun around and grabbed Carl, preparing to throw him at whoever called me out. Instead, I found a round face smiling out from the window of a car. Too many people were smiling lately.

“Geez, boss, no need to be so uptight. That’s just my ex.” Carl informed me as I set him down.

I raised an eyebrow. “Your ex-wife is here and you want me to calm down?”

“Carl,” said the ex. ”This must be your friend you were buying for. I brought the keys over for you.” She stepped out of the car, bringing with her keys and a folder. She offered her hand. “I’m Pam.”

I grinned and shook her hand. “So you’re the one I’ve heard about. I wasn’t aware y’all were doing this together.”

She giggled. “Oh honey, I’ve been in realty so long, I know all the ins and outs. Now, why don’t I show you in?”

I lagged behind Carl and put my arm around him as she went ahead of us to unlock the place. I pulled him close and whispered. “Carl, I don’t know if you know this, but I know a guy who likes killing people. Won’t even charge you anything. Special rate.”

“No,” he told me, pushing me away. We stood there, looking at each other a minute. Finally, he added, “That would be wrong.”

“Took you that long to come up with a reason and that’s all you got?”

He put his hand up next to his mouth to keep Pam from hearing anything, then said, “I’m getting on her good side this way. She used to say I would only get the kids over her dead body. Now she’s smiling at me.”

“Carl, you’re not giving enough credit to the ‘over her dead body’ part of that statement. I really think you should look into that more.”

“Boss, you just don’t like memorizing people’s names.”

“Here we are, gentlemen!” Pam said, turning back around to us. She showed us in to the new lair.

I walked in past Pam and looked around at the musty old place. Pam joined me at my side. “So, what do you think? Carl said you’d like it, but I think we can back out if it’s not your style.”

I put my arm around her then. “From here I shall conquer Venus. Laugh with me, Pam. Laugh! Mwahahahahahahaha!”

She gave in to the laugh for a moment, then stopped, confused. “Wait, you’re an astronaut?”

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Nemesis 1

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I swung my unarmored fist, smashing through the wall of a building. “Ahahahahaha! Run in fear, you miserable little ants. I’m a glue-sniffing grim reaper! When I’m done, there will be a tombstone with the planet Earth engraved on it!”

I pounded the sand, crushing a simple mound-like building erected by the child next to me. The kid, a little girl with pink overalls and pigtails, began crying.

Nearby, frozen parents watched from underneath the “Kingscrow Children’s Sand Castle Contest” banner. Not frozen literally. That would be ridiculous. These people just didn’t know how to react when an adult barged into a kiddie sand castle contest and went King Kong on stuff.

There’s just something about crying children that makes me smile. Like the teary-eyed, squishy-faced munchkin next to me whose face looked like some sort of prune due to the redness and squishiness. Squish.

I liked the sound of that. I even reached over to her snot-nosed snotty nose and gave it a little squeeze. “Squish!”

I didn’t know what that pipsqueak was crying about. I was the one with mucus on my fingers. I thought it was a booger, but it’s snot.

The reporters sent to cover the boring human interest story were delighted that something interesting happened. I waved to the camera held by a large black guy. The reporter, a young woman of some mixed white and Asian ancestry, turned toward me, telling them all about how I was menacing the folks there.

As for me, I used the my little cranial computer to put on some music and started shaking my groove thing. “California knows how to party. In the cityyy, of good ole Watts.” That gave a couple of parents time to drag their son away from the castle he was hugging onto. As soon as he was away, I jumped up and belly flopped onto the thing, smooshing it flat.

And that was terrible.

The police soon joined our little get-together, which I found disappointing. For one thing, nobody thought to confront me on their own. It would have ended badly for them if they used violence, but not a single person even walked up calmly and tried to deal with me. They occasionally yelled at me or at their kids, but no talking it out.

Two squad cars pulled up two dozen feet from the reporter and a quartet of officers approached, guns drawn.

They yelled in my direction. “Put the weapon down!”

“Down on the ground!”

“Hands over your head!”

The cameraman tried to turn to record their arrival, at which point the officers opened fire on him. He dropped under the camera before he’d even finished facing them.

Cops these days. They were overreacting so much, I almost thought Max put something in the water to make them stupid. If so, he managed to pull it off on a national scale, and he hadn’t had that kind of time.

One of the cops spoke into the radio clipped to his shirt. “Shots fired. Suspect got violent and resisted arrest. I think he might have had a knife. He’s really big, too. And the sun was in my eyes. Over.”

“Officers! What are you doing? That’s the guy over there!” the reporter shrieked. She pointed right at me.

I pulled the sobbing snotty pigtailed girl close. “Now honey, that’s what we call justified use of force. The officers put down the mean criminal man and now the liberal media is going to try and spin this whole thing as if it was a bad thing.”

“Are you sure, ma’am? He’s awfully white to be a criminal.” The officer who spoke looked between me and the reporter who knelt by her dead comrade. He scratched his temple with the barrel of his gun.

Well, almost dead. He gasped, which caused one of the cops to frantically push the reporter away and blow the cameraman’s head off with a shotgun. “Whew, that was close, ma’am. He nearly raped you.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you people?” she screamed.

“Shush, you emotional thing. You’re upsetting the kids. They shouldn’t be exposed to that sort of language.” The cop with the shotgun put his hand over her mouth.

“Officers,” I spoke up, glad I’d chosen to look white this time around. “Don’t look now, but I think she has a camera…yeah, right there on the ground next to her and the perp. I think she might try to tape all this.”

The officer shushing her held her at shotgun point while two others tased her and maced her face, getting it all in her mouth as she tried to scream. The one who called in on his radio spoke into it again. “We’ve got an accomplice in custody. Resisting? No, so far she’s not resisting. We’ll let you know if there are more shots fired.”

The parents had collectively lost their shit and were hightailing it out of there as all this happened. In the midst of it all, someone left little miss snotty with me.

I stood up and brushed myself off, then guided the kid along toward the cops with my hand on her upper back. “See? These brave officers just risked their lives to help us.” Turning to the one doing all the talking, I asked. “Hey, if it’s not too much trouble, think I can get a picture with you?”

“Sure,” he said, and we put our arms around each other. “Where’s your camera?”

I slipped his smartphone out of his pocket, careful not to disturb the raging erection in his pants. I tossed it to the little girl, “Here, take a picture of us, sweety?”

To her credit, the little pre-schooler had no trouble snapping a couple of us. The other cops posed behind us, as well. It was a good public relations opportunity, after all. They had to be mindful of that these days. After we were done, I shook the officer’s hand, then acted startled and pointed to the kid. “Look out, she’s taking a video of everything!”

Three of the cops dog piled her. I think I heard the taser again. Meanwhile, the cop next to me was busy on the radio once again. “We have an armed hooligan. Looks like she’s taping people without permission.” Then, to me, he asked. “Sir, is this your daughter?”

I shook my head. “Never saw her before, officer. By the way, I think she tried to cop a feel, so why don’t you nail her for solicitation? Oh, and truancy. Gotta keep these kids in school, ya know?”

The man gave me a firm nod, then spoke into the radio again. “This little bitch is going down for a long time. We got ourselves a little hooker here. I should have known with those pouty lips. She was all dressed up for the schoolgirl fantasy, too.”

“Gecko!” called out someone behind us all, making me flinch. I glanced back and saw Steve approach, dressed in a concealing hoodie and slacks. The hood was pulled up over his face.

The cop pointed his gun at Steve. “Stop right there! Do we have a problem here?”

“Officer, there’s no problem. This guy’s a friend of mine.” I positioned myself between the two as I walked over to Steve. “He’s got a bit of a skin condition, but come on. Does this guy,” I pulled down Steve’s hood so the officer could see the skull beneath the clear skin, muscle, and blood vessels. “look like a criminal to you?”

I also helpfully pointed toward the dead black cameraman, whose brains were scattered over the park.

The cop sniffed, then rubbed at his nose. “No, I suppose not.” Then he looked me over. “Your name’s Gecko? That’s an unusual name.” He spoke into the radio again. “Dispatch, do you have anything on someone named Gecko?”

“Is that a first or last name?” responded the dispatcher. The policeman looked to me.

“Officer, you misheard my pal here. He called me Lizard. It’s an old family name going back to my great grandmother, Lizzy.”

“Lizzy, you say?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Lizzy Borden. Maybe you heard of her. She practically invented hair removal. Yep, she was known for her wax.” I nodded, Steve copying the gesture.

“Alright. That’s very informative. Why don’t you wait by my car ‘til we can get a statement from you?” He pointed towards one of the squad cars they arrived in.

I turned toward it, grinning. “My pleasure, officer.”

After quickly disabling one of the cars through creative rewiring, Steve and I took off in the other. “So, what’s on your mind, Steve-arino?”

“I was going to ask you that. You ran off without telling us anything. One moment we’re shopping, the next nobody can find you. They stayed to get everything else we need here, but I left to find you. What’s up?”

I shrugged. “Not much. Just had to get out of there, ya know? It was like an arsonist being surrounded by gas cans and matches. I was gonna go off on someone if I stayed there much longer.”

“In a grocery store? Are you serious?”

“I once destroyed a helicopter with a pineapple. If I fight someone in a grocery store, it’s going to be epic. My nipples just went hard in anticipation.” I reached down and gave one of them a rub.

Steve held up a hand to block his view of that. “Why would you get violent with us? Were we annoying you?”

I hit the lights and the siren, then sped through an intersection, causing a school bus to skid and turn sharply. It avoided us, but then a minivan crumpled against its rear. I took my eyes off the rear view mirror to address Steve. “There are some bad drivers around this city, aren’t there? Ah, Steve, it wasn’t y’all that made me want to kill things. Or at least that’s what I’d tell you if I was lying to you. Yes, y’all annoy me. I’m not good with people, but I can somewhat control myself. I don’t like that. It’s boring. Know what I mean?”

“No. You’re not happy? Don’t you have any habits?” said Steve, shaking his head.

“I kill people.”

Things got quiet for a minute. Up ahead, I saw a woman crossing the street with something in her arms. I put on the breaks and rolled the window down. I reached out and slapped her across the face as I skidded by.

The poor lady screamed and almost dropped her bundle, which turned out to be a baby. That made my actions utterly reprehensible. I put into reverse and slapped the baby too.

Then I put us in gear, heading back to Mix N’Max’s lair that we were all staying at. He let us crash there while we were in town. Apparently he was on a hot streak in Vegas. Something about spiking the craps table dice with trans-dermal laxatives. No matter what people rolled, it kept coming up number two. Once their booties started begging to go, their hands made crappy rolls.

Or maybe he used that to extort casinos. When you have trans-dermal laxatives in a casino, the opportunities become like the smell of bathrooms: endless and ripe.

I broke the silence first. “You’re right, Steve.”

Slowly, he inquired, “About what?”

“I need something more. Not just survival; I need to work toward what really makes me happy.”

When he didn’t ask what that was, I went ahead and spoke anyway. “And that, Steve, is Venus. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe any of that stuff implying a relationship between us. When I say I want to be more than enemies, I want to be the villain that defines her. I want an arch nemesis. I’ll never do that if she stays in California.”

Steve stared at me. I couldn’t read much from his expression. People get a lot of their cues off facial expressions, but all he had was a skull. To find out what emotions skulls have, you usually have to crack one open and stick something in the brain. “Are we going back already?” he inquired.

I chuckled. “Don’t be silly. California’s sucks. I’m going to call her out and make her come to me.” I threw back my head, maniacal laughter echoing out past the sirens as I plowed through a smart car, which felt like hitting a speed bump.

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