Category Archives: 26. Exception To The Rule

Dark times are comin’, and everyone’s fears are exposed. Well, almost everyone.

Exception To The Rule 12

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Geez, a guy saves his own ass once and all of a sudden people accuse me of being good. I didn’t even know how I did it until the Captain explained it to me over a warm beer. The heroes wanted me to hold off even though my nanites healed me right up.

“Just between you and me, the coma worried the paper shaker. Venus.” Good thing he clarified that. I’ve noticed the occasional bits of older slang peppered throughout his speech.

“It only lasted a little bit, from the sound of things. What, a couple hours? Not even half a day.”

He shrugged. “She sounded like it didn’t usually happen.”

I shook my head and took a swallow of the nasty beer. With the lack of reliable fresh water and bottled water getting used up, everyone was boozing it up at least a little bit. Aside from getting drunk, one of the other reasons why most cultures developed alcohol early on was because it was safer to drink than unpurified water. Yet another piece of interesting knowledge y’all have gotten from me here. “I gotta be in pretty bad shape if I heal up and just don’t wake up from it for awhile. Hopefully I didn’t lose any data in my brain because of it.”

Lightning sipped his beer, then sighed with a grimace. “No one has rendered me unconscious in awhile. It’s one way to turn me back to normal. You already know the other way.”

“Hm?” I asked, bottle at my lips and eyebrow raised.

“The word. It calls the lightning and changes me if it touches me. I can use it like a weapon if you’re not careful.” He shook his head, eyes looking off into the air as he thought of something. “Heh, yeah.” He seemed to notice me there again. “My mind wanders, but you stopped me with that bomb you pulled out your chest. It really pounded me and knocked me out, so I turned back to normal. When I woke up, I was myself again. That’s proof of what I think about Spinetingler. He’s got powers over people with powers, only some people don’t know it and he wakes up the power inside them.”

I tsk tsked. “Old man, that is supremely stupid. He’s a reality manipulator. Think about it. You wake up one day with the power to control everything. Means you can sense everything, and every little whim you have becomes reality. The moment you think you wish someone was dead, they die. So he snapped like all those types and put a psychological barrier in place. He tricked himself into thinking he only does this horror stuff, and it’s started to become unraveled because of everything he’s been through.”

Venus smacked me lightly on the back of the head and took a seat on an upside-down bucket near us. “You guys are talking about Spinetingler? His only power is giving people powers, you know?” She raised her own beer and stopped when she noticed our expressions. “It fits. All he had to do was give a few of them powers like control people and keep him alive. It accounts for everything.”

“Mine fits too,” Captain Lightning said.

“Mine too, traitor,” I added.

Venus rolled her eyes. “You did the same thing to me against His Eggcellency. In fact, I know for a fact you would have sold me out if you had the chance.”

“Bad guys are allowed to do that sort of thing!”

Captain Lightning broke in while gesticulating. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Venus and I both focused on Lightning. While she suggested ways for him to procreate with himself, I told him “It’s not too late to kill you, old man. You’re human at the moment. Besides, I have a real legal fake marriage anyway. No questions! We have an attack to carry out, and we’re on a deadline.”

That surprised the heroes. “Deadline? What’s all this then?” Captain Lightning asked.

“If y’all are right about the time, we’ve got March 20th coming up. We gotta get Spinetingler killed before March 20th. Very important.” I sat back and crossed my arms, nodding authoritatively.

“Why?” Venus asked.

“No questions!” I said, cutting them off again. For those who’ve been paying attention, March 20th is one of the few times I actively refrain from violence because it’s Mr. Roger’s Birthday. They don’t need to know that. Y’all barely need to know that, and y’all are in another dimension.

Luckily, we didn’t have much of a plan. With Captain Lightning on our side and experienced with Spinetingler’s talents, I think we had what it takes. We’d even leave my loyal henchmen behind. Apparently Spinetingler’s minions have made attempts on the hole in the bunker.

Spinetingler left us holding our breath when he showed up, then scrambling around finding something to get leverage on it for. Then he took over completely and turned other people, even heroes, against us. At the end of the day, we need to just face him straight up. What worse could he do to us than everything we’ve managed to survive so far?

Spinetingler was still deep in the skull, to. It didn’t survive the fall of the towers, but he pulled it back together and kept it at the base of the wreckage. It looked like his own personal castle, surrounded by part-skyscraper, part-spinal wreckage. I looked out at it from atop twenty story building, the wind blowing through my trenchcoat. My armor was still in the shop, but I loaded up on nanites before I left. Plus, I couldn’t really use it without my power core.

“You look impressive,” Venus told me over the short wave comms. “But why the pose and the music?”

“Morale, Venus. That’s important in the year 200X.”

“I am pretty sure it’s 2015, kid.”

“Nobody asked you, Cap’n Crunch.”

“I can’t hear you over your music, kid. It’s alright. You’re young. Soon you will even find out that your dada doesn’t go away when he plays peekaboo.”

“Ok, that’s it. You’ve both ruined the moment. Let’s go in there and ransack someone’s house. You call down the lightning and I’ll reap the whirlwind. You can trust me. I’m a notorious reapist.” I told them, then took a quick route down by jumping off the building.

Venus swung out of the air and caught me. “My hero!” I said all high-pitched and enthusiastic as she carried me down to street level. A bolt of golden lightning preceded Captain Lightning zooming past us and crashing in the Skull lair between its eyes. Venus dropped me off outside, then swung through one of the eyes, which looked like stained glass. I brushed myself off and tried to jump through the other, but bounced off and helped myself through Venus’s hole instead.

“-give up now!” Captain Lightning ordered Spinetingler, hovering so Spinetingler had to look up at him. Venus stared down Skinner and Mammon off to the side.

I needed to add my own brand of intimidation to the mix. “At last, Spinetingler! My name is Pain and I’m here to meet your ass!”

“I see you brought the fool to court,” Spinetingler growled from beneath his redundant skull mask.

“He’s one more reason you won’t be walking out of here,” said Captain Lightning. Good recovery.

Venus raised her head quickly in acknowledgement of the two older minions. “This story doesn’t end well for any of you.”

Spinetingler shot to his feet and stomped on the ground. “Allow me to flip the page, then.” The Captain shot an arc of electricity at ‘Tingler and instead shattered a mirror that stood there. Mammon and Skinner disappeared in a puff of smoke as myself and the do-gooders turned to look at a reflection. Instead, we found a large three piece mirror that wasn’t there before.

“He’s pretty vain, isn’t he?” I asked.

At first, the mirrors showed all three of us, with Spinetingler standing in front of his throne. Then people began to fade until each mirror showed Spinetingler and only one of us. Then even we faded. In front of Captain Lightning, a unit of soldiers looked like they’d crawled out of a World War II zombie movie. Lightning didn’t look too happy to see them. Same with Venus upon having her old boyfriend, the Human Sloth, loom over her in her mirror.

So, what could that possible mean for me?

I turned and saw my old armor standing there. It wasn’t me in the armor that I’ve used for years and years. I could tell. It was how he stood. Chest forward, shoulders high, arms held at his sides but further from his body, with his tilted at a subtle angle. I knew that stance from a long time ago. Then this impostor and the people in front of Lightning and Venus stepped out through the mirror. “Hello Lamb,” my doppelganger told me.

“Gecko,” I said. We were teens when I last saw him. “You’re dead.”

Gecko raised his finger and shook it. “I wouldn’t say that’s true. It’s in you that I live on. You’ve gotten worse than me ever since you took my name that day. You hated me but I never did as much as you’ve done by now. How’s that for a joke, sensitive little Lamb?”

I pointed at him, feeling my lips pull back from my teeth instinctively. “Shut the fuck up you talkative asshole surfer! You don’t do this to me anymore! Nobody does. I survived. I didn’t die. I outlived all of you!”

“We’ll see, Lamb, if you’ve not gotten cowardly since then. Do we need men with guns ringing us again?” Gecko raised his arms and I became aware of two things. First, the room seemed a lot bigger than before. Second, shades of guards encircled us like back on the day I fought Gecko.

We were teens. After some mishaps involving the project’s science and nursing staff, the graduating class had been cut down and the General wanted to see a proper punishment for the lone survivor of the attempted escape from the compound. He arranged one last test: a one-on-one fight between me and the only other surviving candidate: Gecko. Spoiler alert: I won.

“Guys,” I called out, wondering where Venus and Lightning were. “If y’all are just waiting on me, you should know this isn’t something I have to do myself. Feel free to blast away. Anyone?”

Gecko charged. Wary of holographic tricks, I threw myself at him in a cross body block. I connected, though it didn’t do much more than drop me to the ground and make him stop. He kicked at my chest. It hurt, but I managed to swing around and get my feet above me. That’s important when you kick someone in the balls like I did. Hope the kids like blunt force, Gecko!

Gecko backed off a couple steps, lowering his right hand to his crotch to guard the sperminators.

I started to stand, but he caught me in the side of the head with his shin and nearly knocked me back down. He wound up and kicked again, catching me in the shoulder and my raised arm. Then he put the foot down and hopped off it to drive a boot right toward my face. He sacrificed power in doing so, allowing me to grab it and set it on my shoulder. As I stood, it toppled him.

“Ugly dog, you’ve learned new tricks!” He said while kipping up. I drove my knee into his crotch again since he’d left himself open. He grabbed my hair with one hand and punched me in the mouth. I spat teeth and blood onto Gecko’s visor. “What’s it like being worse than everybody who used to hurt you put together? I’ll find out when I’m done with you. I think that mean’s Venus’ll like me better’n you. Think, you’d have her by now if you were only as bad as me.”

Feeling my hands checking his belt for tools and weapons, Gecko jerked my head from side to side by my hair. “You’re so weak, you can’t kill her. She means too much to you. Even if she was there to save us, she never would’ve noticed you, victim.”

Wanting very much for him to shut the FUCK up, I swung wildly at his sides, at his armpits, even at his throat. That last one made him back off, then step forward and catch me in the ribs with a blow that make something crack. I grabbed his helmet, the pain at forcing me to pause as the pain forced a moan out of me. The break gave me a moment to think at least.

Get it? The break? Oh screw it, y’all didn’t even notice.

I tried to dive to the side, but Gecko caught me by the ankle and I just smacked into the ground instead. He lifted me up and spun me around so that I was right side up and he held me by the upper arm. “Rude. I’m not done playing,” he said, then took another shot at my ribs. I couldn’t help but scream as another rib broke, then another and another. Then he drove a pair of fingers deep into the soft tissue just under the ribs, giving my kidneys the sensual deep tissue massage they always wanted but never asked for.

He always preferred inflicting pain over simple murder, the bastard.

It didn’t hurt as much as it should have, though. The wonders of adrenaline and fear. Yes, I was afraid. There. I said it. Are y’all happy now? At least I had enough presence of mind to hit the seals on the helmet and tear that off Gecko. His features wavered as if they didn’t exist before, but he ended up looking a lot like his teen self, only older. Good for him. I flipped the helmet around and smashed the top of it into his face, giving his nose a fascinating new angle on life.

He dropped me. After a half second wanting to curl up into the fetal position, I used the helmet to help push me up and then swung it to meet his next punch, then his followup kick. “Catch!” I yelled, spit and blood dribbling out of my mouth. I threw the helmet at Gecko, the top aimed for his face. He caught it just in front of him this time, but I ran up and shoved my head into it, driving it into a headbutt. He stumbled back. I jumped up, feeling my lungs were at the acupuncturist’s office, and brought my head own on his forehead.

Only when I landed did I realize he’d hit me, too. Right in the right side of the ribs. He didn’t break anything, but I felt the wind knocked out of me. The fight, too. I stumbled over to my left, even as I keeled over on my right side in some of the worst pain I’ve ever taken without a giant hole in my body. I slipped to my knee then, not wanting to stand anymore.

As I clutched at my ribs with my right arm and rocked back and forth, I tried to grab for a nanite syringe with my left. A lot had slipped out or been broken. The damn body shots. I thought I had one, but Gecko took it from me and dropped it to the ground. His other hand gripped my forearm as he stomped on the syringe, crushing it. He grabbed my forearm with both hands then and pulled it against his rising knee.

An agonizing snap and tugging later, I forced my eyes open to stare at the jagged stump where my wrist used to be. “It brings back memories, Lamb. We did this before. This is when you let go. You couldn’t beat me as Lamb and pretended to be me, but a caricature.”

“I remember,” I groaned out.

Gecko let go of me and waved me to come on. “Remember the next part?”

I nodded. It was hard enough to speak, but I jumped up and shoved my profusely-bleeding stump toward his throat, just like how I killed Gecko originally. This time, Gecko grabbed it and blocked the jagged bone from jabbing him in the throat. “Did you expect that? You’re playing the same game you always played, but I can learn. You should know that when you’re dead, I get to be more than a memory.”

If I could have smiled, I would have. I settled for baring my teeth instead while looking Gecko in the eye. Then I activated my eye laser.

Gecko screamed as I fried his eyeball. I used the distraction to rip through Gecko’s throat. I forced out a laugh while he gurgled up blood. I collapsed, feeling the energy drain out of me. I was exhausted, but I knew I couldn’t fade. I couldn’t go to sleep. I did manage to whisper, “Stay a memory, jackass.”

The fuck happened to all my syringes? Right, I covered that earlier. Broken. Except a nice one in reach. I stretched for it. Ok, so it was slightly out of reach. I wiggled my fingers, trying to get it just a little closer. Then I heard the roar of a Nasty Surprise. I looked up to see Gecko crawling toward me, bloody bubbles at his throat.

I finally got ahold of the syringe and and tried to sit up. After a couple tries, I finally rose up. I had to throw it…I couldn’t throw it. I fell back, wanting so much to let go. Gecko came into my fuzzy view, ready to take my head off. With all my remaining strength, I jabbed the syringe into the side of his head, knocking him to the side while nanites flooded his body. Nanites programmed to remove every bit of matter that isn’t me or one of my various enhancements. At least I could listen to the sweet sound of his flailing as the nanites spread through his body, disassembling the foreign matter that was Gecko’s head.

Ooh, there, at the corner of my vision. Another syringe. If only I could do anything at all to get it.

Out of nowhere, I noticed the room felt small again. I thought the darkness at the edge of my vision was from the dying. Looking a bit worse for the wear herself, Venus knelt in front of me. Part of her visor was broken, showing an eye surrounded by puffy face.

I’d like to think she was crying over me. Yeah right. Who the fuck knows what she had to deal with with her late boyfriend showing up again.

Ya know what? After everything I’ve done and who I’ve become, I still didn’t want to die. It’s my principle dilemma. I want to die and I want to live. So that’s why I muttered out a simple “Help.”

She raised a metal gauntlet, clasping a metal spike the size of a hot dog, and shoved it into my chest.

Fuck.

***Connection Severed***

***Connection Reestablished***

Ok, this time I wasn’t gone long enough to get the flashing clock reset. Good.

Also, I felt fucking fantastic. I even had the strength to look down at the spike in my chest and recognized what swarmed through my body. The hero-made nanites! Gotta talk to Venus about a better delivery system. I looked around and saw Spinetingler standing there, back to me, smoking.

How rude. I was a wounded man! You’re not supposed to smoke around sick people. Heyo!

Captain Lightning and Venus stood in front of ‘Tingler, looking torn up and tired.

“You don’t even know why you’re fighting me, do you? You’re heroes, and I am change. I will make a city, a world, that knows peace through fear. A world where children… where no one fears losing a child…friends…a lover.” Spinetingler indicated me. “Don’t compromise. Look how much you’ll lose to the lesser evil in the long run. Embrace change.”

I wished I had some popcorn. I settled for jabbing myself with more nanites, hoping they’d work on my arm.

Lightning spat out a glob of blood. “Just like any other villain. I’ve seen your type before. You’re a shuckster. This isn’t about a better world. You’re scared. The Master of Fear is frightened because he can’t find his own daughter and he’s worried that spaz on the floor killed her.”

Was that my cue? I redirected those new nanites, and remaining extraneous hero nanites, into a skeletal hand with a blade for a middle finger.

“Psycho Gecko’s a horrible person, but at least he hates that he enjoys doing what he does,” Venus said. Definitely my cue.

I kipped up and dove for Spinetingler, shoving the blade deep into his remaining soft tissue. As soon as they touched him, I sent the signal for the last-ditch grey goo program. “Would it be too pretentious to say something deep right now? Oh, I know. WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?”

“How did you talk like that?” Spinetingler asked in a croaky voice. Body parts fell off him with wet plops. Then he disappeared in a puff of black smoke. With him went the lair, pieces of skull falling around us like egg shell.

I felt the reception before I saw the sun again. HISS! Damn sun. Somebody ought to put that thing out.

I abandoned Lightning and Venus to go work on that project and avoid talking to them about feelings and Venus saving my life again. You know, before they got any ideas. I didn’t want to risk encountering them on the day I don’t kill people.

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Exception To The Rule 11

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Okily dokily, folkily folks, here’s the plan: I draw Captain Lightning to me like some sort of rod that attracts something named Lightning. Then, Venus drops a few buildings on with explosives and moves in to shove some of my body-control nanites in his orifices while he’s occupied.

Technically, I could do that all myself, but she expects me to get my ass whooped. I expect it, too. So she’ll be there to handle putting him down.

I used the time beforehand to cook up some handy-dandy boomstuff for Venus. I also stocked up on my famous remote-control rockets and built a pair of metal gauntlets to work the energy sheath technology into. See, I looked back to a lot of stuff I’ve used in the past to try and find anything to give me an edge against Captain Lightning.

Lightning has the whole package. Superstrength, superspeed, flight, enhanced durability, enhanced endurance, a questionable need to breath, the ability to create magic lightning, and various other abilities that crop up every now and then. It’d be bad enough if he was just some font of powers all rolled into one being, but he’s magical, too. I’m sure he’s got some spells that could have made things a lot worse for everybody…and it’s entirely possible that Spinetingler wouldn’t have been capable of taking over the city without Lightning boosting his abilities in some way.

Fuck, man, I mean Captain Lightning fought in World War II over here.

I’d have built an entirely new suit of armor just to fight him if time was on my side. But time, as we all know, is like toilet paper. No matter how long a roll you got, there’s never enough for all the shit you gotta deal with.

Meanwhile, I still had myself some dreams. Venus pestered me about taking Nyquil or something else to keep me so sleepy that nothing disturbed me, but I turned her down. I didn’t trust her not to manipulate my giblets while I dreamt the dreams of the wicked. That, and I’ve been known to experience drugs a little differently than humans.

So I plowed on through to the big day, today. Moai and Carl piled into the sonic tank while I stood on top. I built the thing to be showy, at least. Yeah, it’s stupid, but there was an exposed portion of the top where I could stand and survey the damage occurring around me while driving by remote. Yeah, that’s just what you need on a class of vehicle specifically designed for heavy armor: a place to stand out in the open for anyone to attack.

I had reasons for not using this thing.

I made a few minor upgrades to its systems, as well. It needed a little fine-tuning and, voila, it was good to go. That part amazed Venus at the time. She was all like, “Is this on the same kind of power source as this place?” She waved her arm to indicate the entirety of my refugee-filled underground storage bunker.

I watched as she crawled up top. “Something like that. Not the same type as I’ve got in my chest. Actually, a hybrid system that uses helium. So if I get into trouble, I can always crack that open and make Lightning’s voice really high-pitched.”

When she got on top, Venus brushed her hands off and held out one of them for me to shake, a little smile playing over her lips. “In case something happens,” she said.

I slapped her hand away. “Put that up. It’s not like it’ll make me feel any better when he pulls out my bladder and shows it to me. Forget the handshake, do your job, and make sure nothing happens.”

She looked at me, smile trying to turn downward, then finally put her hand back down and jumped off the tank. I turned away and stepped onto the foot clamps on the central rotating top platform. Metal groaning beneath me, the tank lumbered forward.

From the ground, I heard people cheer for a moment, until Venus cut them off. “How are you going to get it out?”

Behind her, the screen blinked on and sent a signal of its own that raced along cables under the floor and into the walls, where a special tank tunnel waited to be created. With one hell of a loud boom, an explosion blew open a hole from the bunker floor to the street.

I suppose parking was another reason not to take it out frequently or at all.
Venus followed me out in her armor. She bounded after me and caught up, then raised her arms. Grappling lines fired from the underside. The material hardened as it punched a hole into the side of a building and the hook dug in. Her armored legs gave a jump which boosted her into the air. Those grappling hooks were handy, but mainly in the tight confines of the city since the line system had limited range. Venus went on ahead, to a pair of bombs strapped to her back so she could prepare the agreed-upon intersection in midtown.

I directed my car to follow as well, in case I needed a getaway vehicle.

At least I had a great sound system to listen to on the way. That was the point, in fact. I had enough saved in my computer system to give me a few options. I opened with something that everyone in Empyreal City would know and love. “Boom, boom, boom, boom!” blasted out of the focusing dishes, shattering windows and setting off a few car alarms.

I started early, but I figured Spinetingler needed time to notice me, conclude I was an ass, and then feel strongly enough to send Captain Lightning.

Apparently Spinetingler amended that plan to include throwing a bunch of monsters at me. I saw Skinner watching from an alleyway, but that’s all he did. Mr. Mammon smiled at me from a strip club and raised a glass of some sort of liquor to me as I passed, but offered nothing but a momentary temptation.

A dozen others came after me, though. Most of them had trouble standing the noise, especially the song. They may be superhuman now, but they’d been human once. Humans who had been annoyed by this song when I bombarded the city with it before.

One particularly bondage-looking guy stood in the middle of the road and gritted his teeth as we approached. Staring me down. He looked like he could take a lot of pain from the small beartrap-looking devices clamped all over his head.

Chains appeared around my legs and coiled up my body like snakes, but I popped the Nasty Surprise and cut through them. Then I turned the front three dishes on the chain guy all at once. Looked like he was screaming, poor guy.

He probably would have been able to move out of the way if I hadn’t changed the music to the same tone the Rubik’s Cube introduced me to. That lovely sonic caress of the inner ear that rendered me nauseous and unable to stand in that prison now had such wonderful effects on my enemy that he we just barely caught him under the treads.

At least it was less stupid of a death than it would have been before I had that little trick up my sleeve.

In the end, their assault failed. They ran back with their tails tucked between their legs to hide the missing balls. Still, I called back to the bunker. “Y’all might want to get that rubble closed up. The beasties are on the prowl. Repeat, the monsters are dancin’ the mash.”

“Who is this?” someone asked.

“This is God, and let me just say I’m disappointed in all of you. Do you know how boring it is up here in heaven? I tune to the planet Earth to watch some bonin’ going on or something, and for some reason y’all don’t want to touch yourselves. If I didn’t want you to use those parts every few minutes, I wouldn’t have given you such a quick reload and a mating season lasting fifty years! Hold up, I have another call.”

I hung up on them and reduced the volume on the sonic tank while popping open a side hatch. The boys inside took that as their cue to slip in the earplugs and hop out with the gear in tow before we got into, you guessed it, Times Square. It’s just such an iconic place to make a stand.

I closed up the hatch and did a slightly slower version of a donut in the middle of the place, crushing cars and shattering windows. By this time, the sweet sounds of the Vengaboys had long faded. I decided I needed some mindless self indulgence next, so I played “Shut Me Up”.

“I can’t wait for you to shut me up and make me hip like badass!”

Captain Lightning must have been listening. Dark storm clouds gathered in the sky overhead, rumbling. Something cut through them as it flew from the direction of Spinetingler’s Spinetower.

Yep. Up in the sky, it wasn’t a bird or a plane. It was Captain Lightning, man. In honor of the stormy setting, I switched tunes immediately to Fat Joe’s “Make It Rain” and directed the tank’s weapons into the sky. It crossed my mind that hydraulics would have been awesome on this thing.

The Captain flew overhead, then straight down at me, correcting for every attempt to get out of the way. I left a hologram behind and turned invisible as I jumped off the tank. “Save yourself, tanky!”

Tanky didn’t make it. Lightning flew into it right through the platform, cratering the body of the machine. Then the entire thing seemed to fly apart in pieces as a bolt of black lightning struck in the middle of it. The magical lightning arced from piece to piece, I noticed when a glancing piece knocked me down.

I called up Carl. “Tell me we got rockets?”

CL looked around, eyes glowing red. I don’t know why nobody glows pink. “That was fast, boss. Yeah, first batch is ready. Firing now.”

Lightning’s gaze settled on me and he grinned. “Found you.” Then he looked up at the roaring of rockets. I dropped the stealth act, hopping Venus wouldn’t need a lot of time and wishing I had a bit more. An idea just barely came to mind about that, but I had rockets to direct instead. I started charging my gauntlets, too.

I brought them down on him from all angles. Some had warheads that blew up, but you wouldn’t have known it from Captain Lightning unless you watched his cape. Damn thing didn’t even have the decency to tear. Others just drove into the guy, which would normally be good for an impaling. Here? Nada.

At least they gave me a chance to slip behind him and jump over him, bringing that damn cape with me. I flipped over him, bringing the cape down over his face, then turned, arm swinging out for a punch. In a phenomenal act of timing, a rocket slipped in to catch in my gauntlet from the rear of the energy sheath. At that point, it was a matter of holding on for dear limb while the Super Mega Death Punch made contact with the heroic jaw of villainous Captain Lightning. The rocket wasn’t explosive, but its fuel went up all the same.

That really fucking hurt, but rather than piss and moan over it, I crouched and dialed up the jump enhancers for a follow-up uppercut with the other fist. I expected to go flying, not breaking my left arm. Otherwise, I stood there on the ground as the dust settled and I saw Captain fucking Lightning still standing there, looking sooty and mostly unscathed. He glanced down. I did too. He’d taken a step back with one foot.

“I’m invincible,” he said.

“I’m not constipated,” I said.

I wrapped my broken and burned arms around my midsection. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to throw this fight, could I?” Meanwhile, behind him, one of the focusing dishes fell out of where it embedded in the side of a building. Electricity gathered in his eyes. I called up my car, pretty sure I’d be too slow.

From behind me, I heard, “Duck!” Oh, well that’s good. No one said “Goose,” so I didn’t have to stand. I dropped, just avoiding the rockets launched by Carl from the double-barrel. They didn’t do much except mess up my armor even more, but at least all the damage penetrated the nanite weave layer all over. They started mending my arms even as I rolled to the right and to my feet.

Swinging on a grappling cable, Moai swung by and broke his cricket bat over Cap’s head. His swing carried him safely away, but that left me still a little close to the asshole in tights. At least until the headlights of Black Sunshine started blasting him with lasers. I opened up on him with everything the car had, including the kitchen sink launcher. It ramped up and jumped over him, dropping off the anti-speedster mine from the rear trunk.

Watching all this happen, I opened up a channel to Venus. “Venus, I hope you’ve made your choice and got things ready. Because if those bombs aren’t ready to blow, then my life is about to.

I got a single word in response. “Sorry.” Then she cut the line and an explosion issued from off in the distance. Captain Lightning turned to look, a sneer etched across his face. He unleashed a blast from his eyes that leveled buildings in the way, showing him the sight of the one of the Spinetower’s buildings twisting away from the other and the central skull and dragging the skull down with it.

My little Venus. Destroying skyscrapers already. Unfortunately, she used me as bait for a now-angered immortal hero with a well-deserved power trip. In a flash, he caught me by the throat and tore my helmet off. With one hand, he tore all the rest of my armor off. “You were a distraction. A failed distraction. Spinetingler still lives.”

“Boo-fucking-hoo. You think I’m out of tricks, do you? Well then, let me introduce you to my old friend…Melvin!” I grabbed his tight pants in the front and heaved upward. If the front-wedgie caused any distress, he didn’t show it. After a couple seconds of straining, I stopped and patted him on the shoulder. “Well, it was worth a try. I suppose this is the part where we have a big canned laugh and you let me go to face you next week, same Lightning time, same Lightning channel.”

He shook his head.

“So, you’re just gonna kill me, eh? You know what? Fine. Do it, you bastard!” It should be noted here that my balls had nothing left to lose. I had mixed feelings about the prospect of facing my death, including a warm one where I lost bladder control, but no way would I face it quietly. “No matter what, I win.”

He cocked his head. “No, you lose and my master spreads his control of the Earth.” Hmm, I had an idea on how to maybe accomplish something. I set to work, reprogramming, but I needed a moment. And I had a point.

I burst out laughing. “Yeah, sure, that’s what you think. But you kill me, it just goes to show how you couldn’t beat me. All that power, the power of a god, and you had no way to stop me short of killing me. I think I’ll being going up in people’s estimations if you do that. Everyone will know I was too strong. Plus, not that you’re interested, but it’ll set a poor example. Knock knock, Captain Lapdog. You home? That woman who just blew up your boss’s base has had opportunity after opportunity, but she has refused to kill me. You know why? She’s a better hero. A true hero. A bright, shining example of the world even while she hides away all-too-human insecurities and weakness. I’ve taken quite a bit from her and she still thinks I can be saved. She thinks you can be saved, too.”

I had to stop for air and another chuckle. “Damn funny, too. She used me. Lied to me, then gave your boss one hell of a case of explosive diarrhea. So even though I’ve been the one planning to kill her, she’s the one with the secret plot that put me in a position to die. It’ll eat at her, but the first one’s easiest. So go ahead. You kill me and she’ll falter. What she couldn’t do as a true hero will be accomplished thanks to the actions of measly little Captain Lightning. A joke of a hero.”

He raised me into the air, lightning flashing in his eyes. “I fought Nazis.”

I didn’t care. I’m just glad he let me talk a little longer. This was a classic example of stalling, because my body reacted to its imminent demise as though I was in a bathroom stall. I didn’t want to die; I deserved to die. I really didn’t want to die; I needed to die. Fuck!

“So did millions of other men who didn’t have powers, never knowing if they’d see home again. They faced a hell of a lot more fear than you did and they came out on top. Look at you. You have a run-in with Spinetingler and suddenly you’re pissing in your boots. Look at what you’re up against. I got armor and technology. Carl over there, he’s a thug with great automotive repair skills. Moai’s an inanimate fucking object whose life is tied to a guy who constantly has people gunning for him. Hell, even Optimal Outer Control shows more balls than you every time he works some crappy job instead of crying over his life. We are the insignificant little people. The ones you neglected because Spinetingler scared you so bad, you figured it was easier to hide inside and obey blindly rather than face your fears. I know what that’s like. I’ve been there. Not anymore. If I’m going down, I’m sure as hell not making it easy on anybody. Because a villain never stops.”

I hocked a mist of saliva and nanites at Lightning’s face. Time to try some mind control. Except even the ones that made it into him deactivated almost instantaneously. As an added benefit, they obscured his vision for a moment. Good, at least I got something from them.

Well, one last trick in the bag. I kicked a piece of scrap metal from my tank into the air and grabbed it.

Captain Lightning recovered and glared at me. His expression turned to confusion as I jammed the scrap into my own chest. I’d like to reiterate at this point that improvised open heart surgery with a destroyed tank is inadvisable at best and hurts like a mother. I reached in and cracked my way through the rib cage with a cry of pain.

“All that talking, just to kill yourself like a chicken.” Captain Lightning said with a smirk.

I spat up some blood. “All those heroics, but you’re just a giant cock.” I pulled out a spherical device that pulsed with a dull glow, snapping off the last few nerves that allowed my body to pull energy from it. When Lightning glanced at it, I flashed his orbit with my eye laser, causing a hell of a lot of glare and discomfort. I saw my chance when he opened his mouth. I shoved the power core in, wedging it down into his throat.

I really, really didn’t want to die, I thought as I fell to the ground and unconsciousness.

But then, how would you have been able to read all this if I died?

I awoke an indeterminate time later, my HUD clock flashing “12:00” over and over again. Standing over me were Carl and Moai. Seeing me awaken, Carl jumped up and hugged Moai.

“Damn, what’s up, yo?” I asked, feeling incredibly parched.

They ignored me in favor of yelling, the discomfort of which reminded me of other pains and aches in my body. My chest felt like I’d gotten a blowjob from a unicorn.

Venus came running over excitedly, helmet off. She actually smiled to see me unhurt. Weird times, man, weird times. She started to bend down, but stopped herself. “Welcome back. We thought we lost you when you went into the coma, but it looks like it was a short one.”

“About time.” said another voice from behind me. A man stepped around where I could see hair gone grey, a strong jaw supporting hanging, liver-spotted skin, and a proud chest now significantly smaller, but no less proud. The guy must have been more than eighty, but the resemblance showed through. “This is no time for napping, Psycho Gecko. We’ve got a war to win. Get up and live in fear with the rest of us insignificant people. A villain never stops, right?”

He may have been older for some reason, and not nearly as strong as any other time I saw him, but Captain Lightning offered me a hand up and a grin.

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Exception To The Rule 10

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Spinetingler’s not been kind to me as far as nightmares go. I like to think it’s because I’m getting to him. Forget lucid dreaming; you can’t really make that happen on command. Or you could, but the book I read suggesting that also gave tips on how to make yourself have wet dreams with anybody you wanted. I suspect gullibility factored heavily into the target audience.

So we got into a pattern. Spinetingler woke me up, I went out and hunted. Some people had imagination, like the crying girl with huge gashes on her forearms and a trail of bloody tears. I also ran into a couple people who preferred more traditional monsters. Like this werewolf I killed from London. His hair was perfect. Or this guy who pretended to be this one whiny teen popstar who never seemed to go through puberty. Actually, it’s possible he was the real deal, but I stand by my decision.

A good example is the last of such nights, when I found some house broken into. Normally, no big deal for me. If anything, it’d usually be an opportunity to critique a burglar’s technique. For one thing, going in during the night? Generally a bad idea. Now, here’s what you…hold up, Optimal Outer Control just sent me a message. Something about legal liability of his ass if I give people tips on burglary.

Moving on, then. I kicked in the door. “Listen up, everyone! This is a rob-, I mean this is rescue!” Contrary to popular beliefs, old habits don’t die hard. Nothing dies hard. You just aren’t using the right tool to kill them. In fact, old things tend to be the easiest to kill. Don’t believe me? Just go on up to granny next time and…Hmm. Another message from OOC.

Moving on. Inside the house, I found I’d arrived a little late. I can’t say much about vampire movies, but this one went ethnic. I found a dark-skinned fellow hanging out in the kitchen, sipping out of a broken skull, draped in intestines. The bloody entrails clashed with his dark purple suit. And with his short-cropped black hair. I don’t know why he thought it’d be a good idea to wear intestines as a crown, but I was intestined out at this point. “Seriously, I’m starting to wonder about everyone’s creativity. It’s always intestines with you people. And with me. We really need to branch out or expand. Like limbs or bladders. There’s an idea. I’m going to rip out your pee cantina and pull it over your own head.”

The vampire looked at me and reached over to grab a brain off a plate. Just munched on it while looking at me. I stepped over the dead body of a little kid to get to the refrigerator and look for food. Spoiled food everywhere. I suppose electricity and groceries have been an issue. And water. “Wow, they’re empty here. Good news! It doesn’t matter now. Ooh, root beer. Yep, I can take that, and some beer.” I turned around and found the vampire standing right behind me, drooling blood. I held up a beer to his mouth. He looked at me with eyes black as a shark ready to pounce. Because sharks pounce. They totally pounce. If they had legs, they’d pounce.

I stuck the beer in his mouth real quick and popped him on top of the head. With a twist, I pulled the now-capless beer free and wiped the sanguine saliva off it. “Thanks, bud. Way to be a pal.” I tipped a good amount into my mouth even as the vampire grabbed my throat and dug its nails into my skin.

Of course, y’all expect I had a plan. Why else would I just let the thing grab me? Why would it be so very easy for a fish to try and eat an anglerfish’s glowey bait ball? Why does that cute little spider look so hair and cuddly? It’s a trap, that’s why! Never cuddle a spider, never stick a fish in your mouth, and never, ever grab me by the throat. The vampire learned that last one the hard way when I spat beer into its face. That shut its mouth in a hurry.

I then knocked it upside its face with the bottle. That reopened the mouth. At this point, I shoved the bottle inside and gave it a nice uppercut to the chin. I kicked back to close the refrigerator door, then threw him up against it and pulled the fridge over so that it crushed him under it. Not a complete crushing. Just a temporary crushing. I just needed the thing held while I devised a good method to kill it.

Sunlight was out. No one’s quite sure what the light is that comprised the day around here, but there hasn’t been a sun in the sky. It’s made people cranky, and it’d really piss off the vitamin-munchers if any of them are still alive.

Stakes? Not sure on the specifics. Like I said, this bloodsucker was ethnic. That’s not really fair. Every vampire is ethnic. As refined as he was, Dracula wouldn’t have been treated very well just because he was a strigoi from Romania. This fellow sounded like this something I’d read about from India, but I didn’t know the name offhand and I couldn’t look it up. So for all I knew, a stake itself wouldn’t do the trick.

It did give me a neat idea to try, and if that failed I could still fall back on decapitation and immolation. By the way, do y’all know why they call it decapitation? Because “de” is a common way of saying something was stopped or removed. Derezzed, determination, debunked. So when you remove someone’s ability to wear a cap by taking their head off, you have de-cap-itated them.

I’m a great teacher. They ought to have me on Sesame Street when this is all said and done. I can give them a nice history lesson, because history can teach people a lot. Like when this guy named Vlad wanted to deal with troublemakers in a land thought to contain vampires, what could he do? Just stake them? Anyone could stake them. No, he needed to go big. He REALLY staked them.

And so did I. I stole nearby mailbox posts, fastened them together end to end, and sharpened one of the ends. Then I impaled our fine Indian vampire friend. Just stuck him up there on the lawn. Then I leaned against it and told him, “By the way, real rude of you not to offer me any brains in there when I was clearly hungry. I’d say you don’t look like you had any to spare, but I think you got my point.”

The sky rumbled, reminding me way too much of people at the refugee camp in my storage area. Sure, I’ve picked up supplies for them and I’m part of the reason nothing ever comes knocking, but apparently a lot of people think I’m kind of an ass. I know, I know, surprised me too. Well, this looked a lot worse than the disapproval of a bunch of people I don’t care about. This looked like a storm. A storm with lightning. No, no, let’s make this more dramatic. A storm with Lightning.

Captain Lightning came streaking out of the sky like parachuting nudist. I threw myself through the previously-broken window to hide in the house. Lightning, both the person and the natural phenomenon, struck. Rather than come in after me, he bombarded the house with bolt after bolt. Both luckily and unluckily, they didn’t function like normal lightning. Rather than follow the easiest route to the ground, it zapped through anything in its path. On the plus side, it didn’t disrupt my electrical systems as I ran around playing a game of deity dodgeball.

It would have been nice if I had my armor. I could hide and escape that way. On my own, I didn’t have a whole lot to work with. Heck, all he’d need to do is go super speedy on me and I couldn’t do anything. It’s not so fun with Road Runner’s chasing Wile E. Coyote instead of the other way around.

When’d he’d blasted the entire second story and the first floor’s ceiling off the house, he floated over to see if he’d got me. Made a whooshing noise, too. He saw me standing in the kitchen, facing the door, waving. “Come and get me, son of a bitch,” I said, tilting my head. Then I’d whip my head back to how I started. “Come and get me, son of a bitch,” I said, tilting my head. And so on.

I felt his gaze on me, but I couldn’t get a good read on him since he wasn’t much in my line of sight. It also occurred to me that I had no idea if he knew enough about me to realize I used holograms.

Perhaps I should have tried more of a Zhuge Liang “Empty Fortress”-style strategy, but that might have failed for the same reason.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him jerk his head around. He glanced back at me, then turned and flew off, leaving a crack of thunder behind him. Boy was I glad to see his crack. It is a pune, or a play on words.

It wasn’t until I got back to the storage area and shooed some kids off my tank that I found out why he ran off so suddenly. Venus practically skipped over when she saw me get back. “Gecko! You’re back!”

I hopped off the tank, jumping up and down all excited. “Venus! You’re happy to see me! Why the fuck?!” I stopped and put my hand on her shoulder. “What’s up?”

She pulled my hand off her and let it drop. “First, maybe come and have some food. I made some more tacos.”

“There’s no way this is made of beef!” cried someone watching my wrestling recordings on a leftover screen.

“Shut your face and eat it!” Venus yelled back, demonstrating strong people skills. Note to self: don’t complain about Venus’s taco. “I don’t know who he’s after, but I found out he’s vulnerable, and why.”

Curious, I sat down and motioned her down with me. There on the floor, with people eating food made of questionable meat, she told me about her night.

“I scouted his tower again, but I saw a chance when he sent out Captain Lightning. He had Mammon and Skinner drag in someone. He asked the guy what he knew about supers. I thought we’d get some help, but the man didn’t know anything. They didn’t affect him before. Spinetingler offered the guy a chance to be the one doing the scaring. When the guy said no, Spinetingler himself walked over and started choking him.”

I facepalmed. She didn’t…

“I saved the man and I threw Spinetingler around.”

She did.

“We got out of there in a hurry and had to lose Captain Lightning when he flew back. But we have an opening!”

“Yes,” I nodded. “Some people have more than one. I’m usually quite enthusiastic about adding more.”

She slapped my ear. “Shut up! He’s part of this. Not just leading it. He tried to kill someone himself. I hit him. He looks grody. I think he is looking for a son or daughter like you suggested, because this is personal to him. I think that means we can hurt him. We can beat him.”

“Arrest him?” I asked, raising my eyebrow.

Venus went quiet, losing her smile as she looked at me.

“Kill him?” I suggested. She looked away. “Yeah, sometimes that looks like a real good idea.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. First, we need to take Captain Lightning out of the equation.”

“Yeah, he needs subtracting. I think I know a way to divide him.” I drew a line with my fingers.

“I want him alive.”

“Necrophile-phobe.”

“We’ll work together. I have an idea.”

It’s not a bad idea, either. Another classic Venus-Gecko team-up. Just don’t tell her she saved me from Captain Lightning when she did all that stupid heroism in Spinetingler’s tower.

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Exception To The Rule 9

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Spinetingler formally announced his presence on Sunday night. The day of rest became the day of unrest when everyone started it with the same shared dream. A sea of people surrounded a pedestal. And everyone wore what they went to bed in. It seemed to be lucid for everyone, too, because I asked the naked guy next to me to imagine he looked like his last girlfriend. He turned into a blowup doll.

Black flames appeared with a whoosh from the pedestal. When they died, Spinetingler stood in all his gooey glory, glaring out over everyone. He threw his hands up as he began to speak. “Worms, kneel before your new god. I am Spinetingler, and I declare my dominion over the rotting corpse of a city you crawl around in.”

His voice grew louder to speak over the millions of murmuring people who threatened to drown him out. “Effective immediately, there is to be a curfew. Stay indoors at night, lest my militia of monstrosities have their way with you.” He paused for effect, sweeping his gaze over everyone.

I saw my chance. I held up a bullhorn, one that I just had because I wanted one, and yelled out. “Oh god, it’s a porno setup!”

Spinetingler continued on as if he didn’t hear anything, ignoring the wave of laughter. “I will not be a fickle ruler, so long as I obtain my goal.”

I kept going, too. “He wants his baby back, baby back, baby back, he wants is baby back, baby back baby back…”

Spinetingler spoke over me, “I am looking for something. My forces will be out on the streets, searching.” He waved his hands and there appeared hovering in the air a number of unique-looking individuals. Thanks to my eye’s handy zoom function, I saw a man in a scarf with the skin removed from his lower face, and gaunt one with fangs who kept throwing a straight razor into the air and catching it. Some of them matched what I read of his past associates. “If they knock and you don’t answer, they will enter anyway. If you wander after dark, they are free to do with transgressors as they wish.”

“Just like yo momma!” I called out.

Spinetingler seemed to growl even more as he spoke, while I noticed hands rise from the ground next to me. I jumped up and landed on each one with a foot, grinding my heel in. “I am Spinetingler and I am strong that I took over your city. I’m strong enough to have defeated Captain Lightning. Anyone who wishes to quarrel with me shall answer to him.”

In a flash of black lightning, the man himself appeared. The legend who first started fighting in 1940 and hadn’t aged a day since. Though he did look he had a bad case of the Michael Jackson’s. White as a ghost of a dead Ku Klux Klansman. Instead of gold boots and gloves with a red tights and a top resembling a captain’s dress coat, the colors had changed. The gold looked tarnished, and the red had darkened to nearly black. The lightning bolt running between the rows of buttons on his chest appeared rent in half. His long, iconic white cape trailed behind him, marred by a red hand print.

Spinetingler rushed to speak before anyone interrupted his attempts to intimidate. “Surrender to the inevitable. Fear has ruled you always, and I am fear itself.”

“I object!” I yelled out. I jumped into the air and held myself there, growing a cape with a smiley face on it. “I declare myself King of Empyreal City.”

Captain Lightning was on me in a flash. There wasn’t any anger there. He stared through me, seeing nothing, face a blank mask. He grabbed me by the throat. “Help, help!” I yelled through the bullhorn. “I’m being repressed! Fear is no basis for a government!” Captain Lightning grabbed my arm with the bullhorn. He pushed with his thumb and my arm cracked as it bent upward at a painful angle. “Ahhh, fuck!”

I reached up and touched the bloody bone. But it was a dream! I just spoke loud enough that my voice carried over millions of people. “You think this is funny?” I said, laughing to overcome the pain. “You think this is a joke?” I couldn’t keep a straight face with all the pain I felt, so I guffawed and pointed at the arm. “Ok, so it is humerus.”

Nearby, a group of people in scrubs all groaned.

“Pull out his tongue,” ordered Spinetingler.

I gave ‘Tingler a thumbs-up. “Good job. I know your wife needs a toy that’ll actually get her off.”

The Captain readied his hand to plunge it into my mouth. “Wait, I have some last words…hold on, uhh…I know what I was going to say. Had it all planned out. Um…oh yeah. SHAZAM!” Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to able to leap from building to building in a single strike, a bolt of lightning shot down between myself and Captain Lightning.

It blinded me, but didn’t shut my down. Instead, it threw us apart and left me floating in my armor, with a cape. Cape’s aren’t too bad if you know how to use them. “You know what? I might be willing to step down from being king while we transition to a new government. All in favor of democracy, say aye!”

“Enough!” yelled Spinetingler, interrupting democracy in action. Damn plutocrat.

I started to yell, “Fight the power!” but darkness swallowed me. It gradually brightened to reveal an older room; an octagon with clear aluminum walls. I realized I wasn’t in my armor anymore, or did I have my cape. I missed my cape.

I found it when it appeared out of thin air, worn by someone in my armor. “Remember me, Lamb?” asked the man in my armor.

That’s when I awoke, sitting straight up in bed. Venus started and backed away from me. “What did he do to you?” she asked me.

“Depends. How much longer was I out compared to everyone else?”

“A couple minutes. Not long.” Then she smiled. “You really are incapable of shutting your mouth when it’s the best thing you can do, huh?”

I threw off the covers of my bed and stood up, immediately gathering up my clothes. “Whatever. Carl! Bring me my other eye! And the car! We got some traps to build.”

Spinetingler made a mistake. I think Venus realized it, too, but she was at least out of my sights enough that I didn’t wipe that smile off her face. Oh yeah, she’s on my bad side, too. But he’s even more-er on my bad side. Curse my inability to English good! Must English better! Fire bad. Fire bad!

The language problems tend to pop up when I think about things pre-Dimension Bomb. Stuff like accidentally using two synonyms in a row.

She insisted on hanging around the stockpile with me as I used the extra space to plan things out. Kept rambling about having some idea why Spinetingler’s acting different this time. Finally, I picked up a half-eaten cheeseburger I didn’t finish at lunch and slapped her across the face with it. She suddenly realized I didn’t give a crap about hearing her talk.

Anyway, cut to one day later. Well, one night later. From the trail of carnage the night before, I took a guess about what street would be affected next. So that’s why I leaned on an abandoned car in my coat and khakis, sporting my second eye behind my shades.

At dusk, the monster walked up Thirteenth Avenue. He flicked his wrist, sending a gleaming straight razor into the air and catching it deftly. I had to filter out the remnants of failing light from behind him in order to catch is sharp smile and ears that looked like they’d been ripped off. “You’re the Psychopomp. I know your work. I’ve seen a lot of it.” He smiled even wider, unnaturally so.

“And who are you supposed to be, Spinetingler’s version of Sweeney Todd? If that’s the case, I’m going to feed you your own meat pie.”

“I am the Jackal, but you can call me Jack. I used to be a nobody at the funeral home, dreaming about doing anything in life but becoming another sexy corpse on a table. Spinetingler made me strong enough to fight you.” As he spoke, his grin got wider, and his body got thinner. His skin took on a purple tone, like a bruise spreading across his entire epidermis.

“Should have just sat back and smoked some grass, Jackalope. Then maybe you could have been High-ena.”

He clucked at me, the smile halting. “Who talks like that? I should take your tongue first. It should net me a bonus.”

With that, Jackass stalked toward me on limbs that looked like they could snap like twigs. He twirled the razor in his fingers, causing it to whistle slightly. I let him get close, then turned and kicked off the car to get further away. He broke into a run, stepping onto a manhole cover that shot him into the air with a “boing!” I broke out laughing as the empowered human was replaced in my view with a bouncing spring under a manhole, then turned my attention to the air.

I pulled off my shades, painting Jack Mehoff with the laser in my new eye. Not to cut through him. Just to direct a guided rocket from a nearby rooftop that delivered its cream pie warhead’s payload right into Jack’s face. It also spun him around as he gravity delivered him to the ground.

Jack swung wildly, cutting through the spring and even though the street with that shiny little razor. Something told me my armor didn’t matter around that thing. I laughed at him. “You know, it’s hard to be scary when you’re getting pied in the face. Look at you. I might be scared if I was a diabetic.” Jackal pushed off with his hands and feet, flinging himself at me. I spun to the side and backpedaled further down the street.

In his blind anger, Jackal didn’t notice the bear trap. It clamped shut on his leg, gouging the bony limb and stopping him so suddenly that he nearly tripped. Jack knelt to carve away the metal teeth, leaving him open for when the laden barbell fell on his back. It knocked him forward, where a lasso surrounded an X drawn on the street in chalk. I hopped on his back and kept a boot on his razor hand as I fitted the rope around his neck.

“Ya know,” I told him, “I think all this physical activity is getting to me. I need a rest. Why don’t you go on ahead?”

With that, the noose whipped up even though Jacky Boy’s leg stayed in the bear trap. The fellow’s head popped off, arcing down the street. His body stayed behind and shuddered.

Just in case he thought about coming back as the Headless Horseman or something, I set his body on fire. When presented with the choice of being attacked by a bodiless head or a headless body, I’d rather deal with the head.

I splashed some gasoline on it. “You know, you’re not that good a minion. You keep this up, you’re liable to get fired.” I looked down at the body and ignited the gas with a more intense laser in the new eye, feeling the heat in my orbit. “Ah, that’s why this thing took so long. First I had to put the laser in, then I started taking the laser out when I realized how hot it’d be. What do you think, a little too cliche to have a laser eye? Ah hell, you wouldn’t know because you’re a jackass. A headless jackass.”

I may not be able to take on Captain Lightning, but it’s horror hunting season. American Psycho? More like American Psycho Gecko. We’ll have a Nightmare on Anal Street with some real Hellraisers.

Actually, that just made it sound like I’m branching off into dirty movies. But beware, Spinetingler’s Menagerie of Monstrosities: I know who you did last summer.

That habit is going to be a hard on to break.

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Exception To The Rule 8

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I spent all of Thursday banging objects of increasing size against the bone wall that grew up and separated Empyreal City from the outside world. It’s not like I had better things to watch on TV. Television’s down. It’s hard to call people for service with phones down except within the city. So it’s not like people can call for phone sex as much as they used to, which disappointed all the porn addicts now cut off from their favorite porn sites. The internet is down, too.

That’s why I started. I like being connected. I can have the world at my fingertips. Telepresence. Even if I don’t always use it, it’s nice to have it. Also, way too many people leave their cameras unsecured. Trust me. I use it. Don’t worry, I don’t see much. Just everything.

So I started by banging my head into the wall. When I got tired and mildly concussed, I started throwing things. Chairs, mailboxes, small pets, large pets, people. Anything bigger than that and I couldn’t throw it very easily. A more accurate verb to use is “drive”. I started my own fifteen-car pileup trying to break through that fucking wall and left not a single dent. Not an ounce of give in that thing, especially for fucks.

On my second day of crashing stuff into it, I sat down to take a break and noticed major changes to the Trade Center towers. The bigger ones were warping and twisting into a pair of spiked spinal columns that met in a giant skull with eyes that glowed red.

Gotta give the guy credit, he knows how to throw together a metal album cover. It surprised me that the air didn’t instantly fill with something like Brocas Helm or Cradle of Filth. He missed an opportunity. I couldn’t stare at it for too long; not out of jealousy but because of the pain. Something about that red glow bothered my eye.

When the semi truck failed to dent the wall, I just had to throw my hands up and walk away. Well, up until my car arrived. Black Sunshine is too nice to ram into the wall. Not my classy baby. From there, I headed back to my lair, which lately crowded with poor, huddled masses yearning to breath free. Not in my backyard!

Unfortunately, that’s where I stayed. Venus, too. Carl actually started sleeping over at his ex’s in order to protect his kids. There wasn’t much chance of monsters getting the drop on them. Not after a visit from Uncle Gecko. The first time one of the kids told Carl they thought there might be a monster under the bed, he called me over.

Between the minipistol, lasers, and Moai’s cricket bat, they’re lucky they had enough wall left to consider the room part of the interior. But you know what? There’s damn sure not any monsters under that bed. I know this, because while they were all concentrating on the bed, I slipped into the closet and strangled that one to death. Thin, gangly critter, with a four foot tongue that could stab like a sword. I used the closet monster as a hand puppet and yanked the tongue out its ass when I finished. Furry little bastard, too.

Carl looked at me when I stepped out, not commenting on my new fur boa. I think the mother noticed, but she didn’t say anything. Carl still chose to stay and watch after them, leaving me to personally interact with Venus.

As I walked in and found her kneeling on the bed holding a pillow over her own head, I had to admit it has its benefits.

“Having trouble facing the world today, sunshine?” I asked Venus.

“Shut the fuck up, Gecko,” she responded with a croak. “Better yet, can you shut that baby up?”

“I know one or two ways. You know what they say, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs.” I said the last part loud enough to be heard over the noise of all the people. You get a couple dozen folks all crowded into one space, they’re gonna make noise. There are just too many bodily functions. The only reason my room remained off limits was because I still have my reputation as a vicious killer. But if this place keeps filling up, I’ll soon have a reputation for vicious pillow fights.

“God, I wish I could let you.” Venus said. She sat up, eyes puffy. She didn’t like to take her mask off around the civilians. I stepped in and closed the door.

“You’re taking things well. Pleasant nap?” I asked.

“Yeah. This time, nobody came to pick me up. Not Mr. Master…nobody.” She shook her head.

I shrugged. “Alright. I guess ‘Tingler’s learning where people are sensitive at. Hey, I gotta go do a thing. You want to come with me?”

Venus grabbed a water bottle off the floor next to my bed and unscrewed it. “I’m not going to walk on the bad side of the law. I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but I’m no bank robber. The money’s worthless, anyway.”

I rolled my eye, “Nah, we’ve got plenty of toilet paper for now. I think we can stand to get out of here for awhile. You don’t have to do anything bad unless you want to.”

“The people.” Venus pointed to the wall by the door.

“We’ll leave them some guns and explosives. Either they’ll be fine or we’ll solve the noise problem.”

That’s how Venus and I got out of there and went to do a little exploring in an old subway maintenance tunnel. I led the way, more because I was the one who knew where I was going than because Venus expected traps.

“If we get all the way down this ladder and I find out we only took this route so you could stare at my ass, you’re going to be exploring some new bruises tonight,” she called down from above me as we made our way down one particularly long ladder. “Where are we going, anyway?”

“Well, some people think you can find objects of great power by walking into any mental hospital in any city of America and asking for a certain person. I’m sure it’s symbolic of something. Anyway, I have some stuff in storage down here.”

“You didn’t think to get it out before now? Why don’t other villains use this place?”

“Hell if I know. I’m sure some have in the past. Ah, dry land ahoy!” I set my feet down on the floor at the bottom and moved out of the way. As Venus approached, I stayed focused on her butt. “Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout. Call me a pirate, because I see some booty.”

Venus’s leg shot out and smacked me in the side of the face. I grabbed it and yanked her down so that she landed on said booty when hitting the floor. She glared at me a little, but we didn’t get into a fight. Being trapped in a city makes for strange bedfellows, not that we’ve gone there. Yeah, I know I have to point it out. There are people out there. Strange people, who have decided that Venus and I are like a couple. They’re just waiting for all of this to end with me staying home to bake cookies for little Venus Junior and Psychomina. Well, y’all should know that as far as Venus is concerned, the hot dog cart is closed!

I held up a hand to stop Venus before she could walk around. “Alright, now be very careful, my dear Venus. I have a top notch security system in place and it’s tied to the lights. If we don’t do things just right, we could wind up pounded, penetrated, pruned, pummeled, and pickled. That’s not even covering the Rs. You probably wouldn’t like it in the Rs.”

Venus’s head lamps showed her tilting her head at me, probably annoyed. “You’re a real pain in the Rs, Gecko.”

“Yay, you got it. Anyway, time to enter my security code…ahem…” I brought my hands together and clapped twice.

The lights turned on, revealing a giant room with a concrete floor, walls, and ceiling. It stretched five hundred yards in each direction, with a ceiling twenty feet up. Old projects laid around covered in sheets, including a mecha arm and, as Venus so eloquently put it, “Is that a tank?”

“Is it?” I turned and followed where she pointed. I lifted up the sheet and jumped over it the thing, revealing that it was, indeed, a tank. “Huh. Yep. A sonic tank. Double size, too, that’s why it’s got the back end that can pivot.” I hopped on top of it and walked over to lean on one of the focusing dishes up top on Venus’s side.

“You had this here the entire time?! Why haven’t you used it?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Forgot about it.”

Venus stared at me, her jaw having some difficulty closing. She shook her head and regained the ability to flap it. “How do you forget about a tank?”

I pointed down at it. “Well, excuse me, but I haven’t been down here in a couple years.”

“Tank, Gecko! You didn’t think about it when fighting me and Shieldwall, or against Hephaestus?” She facepalmed.

I down, legs dangling off the edge. “It’s just not lethal enough. It only fires concentrated sound bursts. It can’t even kill a person.”

Venus stomped over and kicked the tread. “It’s a tank. You can run someone over.”

“Hah! If someone stands where a tank can run them over long enough for it to do the job, it’s not murder. It’s suicide. Or natural selection. Not murder.”

Venus threw up her hands. “Ragh! You have a computer brain and you just forgot you had a tank! I, oh god, I need to breath.” She stopped to catch her breath. After she calmed down, she grabbed her belly and started laughing. When she had a good chuckle, she turned. “You have some elaborate joke setups.”

I shrugged again. “What joke? I really forgot this thing was down here. Just because a computer’s got all your files and dirty pictures stored on it doesn’t mean they’re all up on the screen all the time.

That silenced Venus again, who looked at the concrete floor and shook her head. When she looked up, she pointed at the big mecha arm, the shoulder joint of which stuck out from the sheet. “What about that? Is that anything usable?”

I hopped off and walked over, lifting up the sheet to show the fist to her. “Eh, just a mech arm. I was trying to build a giant robot to destroy a city based on this prototype I made out of wood first. The wood one didn’t survive too long, and it’s really a lot of work for one man to build a giant robot. Shame, too, because I wanted to put this giant energy shield in its hand. To activate it, you had to extend and raise the middle digit.”

Venus lightly and playfully smacked me in the back of the head. “You’re an ass. You know, if this place wasn’t so out of the way, we could probably relocate everyone down here. Why don’t other villains use all this?”

“Maybe they forgot?” I suggested. She shot me a look. A mean look. A foot long look aimed at a tight asshole.

After a couple seconds, Venus turned back to the ladder to the maintenance tunnels. “By the way, we better get going. I’m already getting hungry. Is there anywhere we can get tacos?”

I nodded, “Yeah, there’s probably near where we come out. But let’s go this way.”

I walked over to what looked like a column from two of its sides. I led Venus up the portion that was a relatively short staircase. As soon as I opened the door and revealed a subway platform, Venus kicked me in the ass out onto it. “There was a shorter way the entire time? I’m holding in pee over here.”

I picked myself up and brushed the old dust and grime off. I turned and smiled back at her. “Let’s face it, you enjoyed the nice scenic trip to take your mind off stuff, didn’t you?”

She nodded.

“Plus, I forgot about this entrance.”

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Exception To The Rule 7

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Leverage is when someone uses an object as a force multiplier to exert greater influence over an object or person. Children make excellent leverage. I know I’ve saved a few before in my adventures, and some of y’all may be doubting my villain cred because of it. You know, just in case the murdering hasn’t convinced y’all yet.

Hear me out: people will lose their fucking minds if you take their kids. Parental instincts tend to rearrange people’s fears. Anything you can do to remove an opponent’s ability to think rationally in a conflict with you is handy. Like groping them, making sexist comments, yada yada. In the case of hostages, random people create an obligation for a hero. For a villain, they create a shield. But whatever person Spinetingler seems to be after, he’s showing a hell of a lot of interest in them. Maybe it’s not his kid; maybe he wants to murder that person.

He’s still sending me nightmares, so I don’t understand why he hasn’t been able to find the mind of whoever he’s after. This last one involved undead heroes I killed, like Pink Pixie and Miss Tycism. A crowd of them surrounding me and dragging me down. He’s starting to cost me sleep, all to get me to do his dirty work for him.

Either way, I figured I needed to get a hold of this person and tell ‘Tingler to get the hell out of my city. He’s showing me up, and he can’t even bother being more stylish about it.

Carl, as a parent himself, objected. We got into a very handy argument about it. There he was, on Sunday, pointing his finger right in my chest. “You don’t go after a man’s kids!”

I looked down at the finger. I felt like breaking the finger. I gave Carl the finger. “You think he doesn’t? You think every time there’s a massacre or explosion, the kids are magically left out of things? There hasn’t been a war yet that doesn’t drag children into it.”

To keep from doing what I wanted to do to Carl for poking me like that, I turned and walked over to the refrigerator to rustle up a drink. Carl didn’t follow and poke me from behind or anything, just talk. “Boss, this isn’t war. You don’t have to fight him. We could just pack up and leave. Just don’t target a kid.”

I turned and took a sip of my drink. Good stuff. Some sort of Mexican fruit punch soda. Try Generic Hispano-Pop today! “This is what I do. A villain never stops. Hell, if Spinetingler spent any time whatsoever looking me up, he’d-.” I stopped, pondering. Then I stopped pondering and let out a laugh. I took another swig of my drink, shaking my head.

Carl just looked at me, waiting on me to finish. I held out my hand. “So that’s what he did. Son of a bitch, that guy’s a glorious bastard. Or I think he is. I could just be wrong about this.”

Carl ran his hand over his stubbly cheeks and kept watching me expectantly.

“He waited a couple of months before heading here. He showed up just in time to keep me from leaving, though that timing could just be coincidental. Then this conflict between us. On the one hand, ruining a plan sounds like something he’d do, but he said some crap about not liking the body I left him with. So I think he tried to provoke me in the hopes I’d oppose him. Then he just had to keep on looking until I caught on to what he was doing, so I could search in ways he can’t and lead him right to her.”

Carl pinched his nose. “That sounds like a stretch. He’s been looking really hard, too. Why do that?”

I shrugged. “Hell, it may have gotten him some decent information on his own.”

“But he’s got the heroes after him, right?” Carl asked. Good point.

“Not all of them. He’s done something to a lot of ’em. Still got Venus. So she’s looking, too. Hell, she’s probably ahead of me on it. So I’m the backup. Or she’s the backup. Or we’re both the backup.” I took another sip. Carl didn’t look convinced. “Well, it’s less of a stretch than being pissed at me for destroying a body he could just fix in a second. Guy didn’t die, after all.”

“Boss, what about the kid?” he asked, going back to the root of our conversation.

I shrugged and tossed the bottle in the trash from across the room. “Not going after Spinetingler Junior if Spinetingler Senior wants me to. Think we can head out on that vacation again?” I called out to Moai, who laid on the couch. “Yo, Moai, get my bags! The luggage, not the bodybags!”

“We’re just leaving?”

I facepalmed. “Dammit, Carl! Make up your mind! I say stay, you wanna go, I say go, you wanna stay.

Problem was, we couldn’t book anything. Some sort of outbreak at the airport, when we got someone on the phone. “Are you sure?” I asked. It was hard to hear the person on the other end. Lots of screaming.

“Problem, boss?” Carl asked, loaded down with all the essentials I decided to bring along at the last minute, including a set of dumbbells.

“Zombies, from the sound of things. Probably an outbreak with the TSA. It was only a matter of time before they started looking for some brains of their own. Boats, maybe? A car trip, perhaps?” I headed into my sleeping area for a little special project of mine. I scooped up my eye-in-progress and slipped it into a little box with lots of padding. So fucking close, my little eye. When I walked back out, I found out why everyone had shut up all of a sudden.

A shiny silver, pink, and gold superheroine in a suit of powered armor greeted me, because of course she did. Why not? What time does Venus show up? The worst time. She looked at me carrying my eyebox and remarked, “I hope you’re not proposing, Gecko.”

“Oh, dearest Venus. I dream of the day when only at death do we part. Lucky for you, that day is today!” I reached over and grabbed some ball bearings off a workbench, throwing them at her feet. “Eat chemical doom!”

Venus backed off and pressed something on her helmet. Rather than wait for her to realize nothing would come out of the balls I threw at her, I set the eye box down and dove for the minifridge. I had to unzip this one. I needed a weapon. I got beer instead.

I felt Venus’s hand on my shoulder as I shook it. Turning, I popped the top and sprayed foam in her face. The battle bukkake blinding her, I spun out of her grip and back to my feet, then up to throw a kick at the back of her neck. It caused her to stumble forward slightly and it made my shin hurt like a motherfucker just fucked me instead of my mother.

I landed on my side and rolled to get some distance and my feet under me. I glanced at Moai and pointed at Venus. He charged her and smashed her into the bathroom.

I cheered after him. “Come on, Moai! Swirly time! Don’t forget the chainsaw!” I barely spoke before the bathroom sink crashed through the door and knocked me down with a glancing blow to the belly. Before I could catch my breath, Venus slid along the floor toward me.

She slammed her fist into my back, then pulled me up by my shirt. She held the knuckles of her other gauntlet against my face. “Are you done fighting, or do I zap you?”

“I hate you, Venus,” I told her. She used the hand on my shirt to pound me into the ground real quick, then lift me up again.

“Who’s my bitch?” she asked.

I shut my damn mouth. Then Carl tapped on her helmet with his minipistol. “Let him go.”

“We talked about this already, remember?” she asked Carl, then snatched the gun away from him with the hand she had held to my cheek. I lunged to escape her grasp, but she picked me up, spun me belly up, and then dropped me hard on the floor again. She straddled me and spun the gun around to train it on Carl. “Are you under arrest, or can we talk like civilized adults for once? What are you doing?”

Against all my instincts, I laid back and tried to relax. Hard to do that with a threat right there, practically sitting on my lap. Hard, I tell you. Joking aside, my entire body screamed “Danger!”

Well, except for the part of me between the legs that went, “Help a brother out. Come on; a hug, a kiss, a handshake, anything.”

I rested on the floor and crossed my fingers, laying my hands on my belly. “I’m getting out of town, Venus. You were about to have yourself a holiday from me.”

Venus poked me in the chest. “Bullshit. You’re not scared of Spinetingler. Are you working for him?”

I rolled my eye. “Yeah right. Like he’s got anything I want. Wait, does he have anything I want?”

Venus brought her leg over so she could kneel next to me. “No, he doesn’t. I know he’s looking for something. You know it too. The kid in the apartment. Thanks for saving him, by the way.”

I waved off her thanks. “Ok, so he’s looking for something. Or someone. Probably his kid, the way all this works. That’s why I’m leaving, and why you should come with me. Because I bet your first instinct was to run your own search using more modern methods, right?”

Venus nodded. “You think he’s using us.”

“Yup. And now that we know it, we don’t have to go through with it. So go screw yourself, I mean to go on vacation. Stir up trouble in North Korea maybe.” I sat up and scooted away from her. While we’d been talking peacefully, Carl and Moai gathered up our scattered bags.

“I can’t do that, Gecko. I can’t take the chance. I have to do it, even if it’s a trap.” She stood up and offered me a hand. I took it.

“Stupid hero,” I muttered.

“Apathetic villain,” she told me. “I’ve never seen you look the same for so long. You still look like that guy with the cane.”

I didn’t like her talking about him, for some reason. “I’m going,” I said shortly, turning away from her. “Since the airport’s got some sort of zombie thing going on, I’ll just have to see about a car or maybe we’ll head to one outside the city…”

Venus stiffened. “Zombies at the airport?”

I could have offered her the package I got from Max, but that would have been helpful. Even though a zombie Venus hit way too close to my dream, I’d still rather risk her death by zombification. Unless they were the sort of zombies who could still think. I might be screwed, then. “Yeah, that’s what they were screaming about when I called them.”

She whirled and walked to the door. “I still have people to save. A hero never quits.” She threw open the door and stopped suddenly. “Fuck!” She turned back to me, “Nobody’s going anywhere, Gecko.”

I walked over to take a look at what she meant, then stepped out with her and started walking all around the lair to get a better view. At some point in all that, Venus disappeared. Probably off to try and save some days.

I had to throw on the armor to get a better view, by jumping to higher and higher buildings until I could clearly see it. The sky wasn’t right. Rather than, ya know, sky, it was a twisted mass of…I don’t know. It looked like another world over us. A world of too many angles in too small a space, with mouths and eyes in the architecture. Off at the edges of the city, a wall grew up.

I got a chance to see it in person when we got close. I wondered if the whole mess might have been some sort of illusion. I know a thing or two about illusions. What I found instead was that Empyreal City was trapped with in a wall of solid bone under a twisted sky.

Which would be great if I wasn’t here. Since I’m stuck here, looks like Spinetingler really wants me to find that person for him.

That’s why, when it looked like Venus and a bloody band of traumatized survivors were facing their last stand, I dropped in front of them and opened the package from Max. From inside, a couple of brains jumped out, growling. Gooey brain juice saliva dripped from their fangs. Then they pounced on their prey, burrowing into the zombies’ heads and emerging with a new fangy brain in tow.

I turned around and tilted my head as I asked Venus, “Here’s some food for thought. Why do you think the city got cut off right after I decided to stop looking and leave?”

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Exception To The Rule 6

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Good news, everybody! We’re taking a trip to Planet Doom in the Galaxy of Mind-Shattering Horror!

Alright, that’s the end of my Prof. Farnsworth impersonation, but we did get good news. Spinetingler’s not just causing random collateral damage, going after heroes, and distracting me with nightmares.

By the way, the most recent one involved me splashing down into the middle of the ocean. Petty, I know. Using the power of nightmares to try and make me wet the bed with a dream about swimming until some massive dark shape swam by overhead and blocked out the sunlight. Well, joke’s on Spinetingler. I slept on the new toilet.

Good luck catching me with my pants down on the new throne. Heated seat, reclines, built-in massage function, ejector seat, retractable strain bars, and chainsaw built in the rim for those pesky underworld underwear invasions. That feature scared Carl, but I insisted on its importance. I told him that if he didn’t like it, he could handle the next wiggly, body-violating creature. So we have a chainsaw in our toilet.

Actually, it’s a bit primitive. I might need to upgrade it. I could go with nanomolecular blades, but chainsaws tend to heat up. Nanotechnology is vulnerable to extreme heat. Lasers would be nice, but the difficulty is in containing them. An energy sheath like on my fists just wouldn’t work that well. It has to do with how energy is transferred with blades as opposed to blunt weaponry. Maybe a heating element that lets it melt through stuff…but at the same time, I’d rather not cauterize any wounds I cause. No need to make it easier on survivors. Perhaps a combination of a ballistic knife and chainsaw? Ah well, it’s something to think on. Back to the matter at hand.

Spinetingler may have thought he distracted me, but it takes more than that to divert my attention. I’ve kept an eye on the news, police, city hall, the villain bar, and took a few patrols as nanite-controlled civilians.

Spinetingler may be strong, but he’s got a problem. Ever see Jason trolling camping forums? Leatherface buying skin lotion off Buffalo Bill’s Ebay page? Freddy Krueger looking up porn Actually, Krueger’d have another problem with that last one considering he liked ’em young. My point is, rarely do harbingers of terror use the internet, so ‘Tingler’s been leaving a big mess as he goes about his business.

He’s looking for something. Attacks on police precinct records departments, City Hall records, newspaper archives, hospital records.

I figured he wasn’t just looking for something; he was looking for someone. If the cops knew, they kept it out of their computer casefiles. Instead, they contented themselves with screwing with the crime scenes before I could get there. Not exactly like I could call in and tell them, “Hey guys, let me have first crack at it.”

Wait a minute, I actually could have done it that way. Ah well, my way worked out, too. Spinetingler gave me a tipoff on one of his attacks another way. It was at an apartment complex; some big square thing with an open courtyard in the middle. I planned a patrol with this woman who lived there, only to find that while the nanites were fine, she definitely wasn’t. Most people need heads to live.

Though when guys say they need head to live, ladies, it might pay to be skeptical.

Anyway, she was dead. On the plus side, my notes showed she brought her kid in too. I laid back on the toilet, hitting the lever next to the handle so it would recline.

I closed my eyes and started the broadcast, receiving the data from the son. I looked through his eyes, heard through his ears, felt through his skin, and smelled…crap. Ok, so the kid got scared. Probably in elementary school. I also spoke to him. The nanites intercepting the signals from the ear drums sent him my message. “Kid, I need you to remain calm.”

He jumped. Well, of course. Wouldn’t you if I suddenly showed up to whisper sweet nothings in your ear? He squeaked, too, then covered his mouth.

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’m a friendly voice in your head, but you’re not crazy. I’m here to help. Now, can you tell me what’s going on? Why is everything dark?”

“I’m in the closet,” the kid whispered to me.

“Ok, I can deal with that. Lots of people are in the closet. Why are you in there? I have…sensed, let’s say, that something’s happened around there.”

“There’s a monster out there. It came through the ceiling an tore up mama’s kitchen.” He raised his hands to his eyes, which watered. Choking back sobs, he told me, “I think it got my mama.”

I gave him a few seconds to cry it out. I don’t particularly like to dwell on a maternal figure dying. Plus, he’d be more useful to me if I let him get the crying out of the way. Then he heard a crash from elsewhere in the apartment. He quieted down. Time suddenly became a precious commodity, so I spoke up. “Is the monster still around?”

He nodded his head.

“Can you take a look out the door real quick and tell me if you see anything?”

He shook his head in a vehement “No”.

“Okily dokily, then I’m going to have to do something here. Stay calm. I need to take over for a little bit and do some things.”

That got his heart racing. “You’re gonna make me go out there. I don’t wanna!” He shut up again as another crash seemed to respond to his declaration.

“Kid, I need to go out there. I promise it’ll be ok.” Empty promise. If things were going to be ok, he wouldn’t be trapped in a closet after something killed his mom. However, I didn’t plan on letting the kid die if I could help it. You know, because I needed his body in order to investigate a possible connection, of course. That’s all.

“There’s a monster out there,” the kid whispered, shaking.

“Don’t worry. I’m a monster too, but I’m a monster who kills other monsters. And I’m a meaner monster than the other one. If you like, I’ll make it so you sleep through the scary parts.”

“I don’t…” he started. Traumatized little bastard. Ah well.

“I am assuming direct control,” I said out of his mouth, with his voice. His vitals grew calmer as I cut off all sensory input to his brain, receiving it in his stead. It’d be better than walking him through what I figured would come next, but not as good as my real body due to the lag.

I stood up. Yep. He wet himself. I told y’all how fear works. Those motherfuckers back at the Psychopomp project dosed me with that drug that stimulates emotional responses to help us learn how to handle extreme fear. I’m good, but this kid didn’t ever realize that the only thing to fear is death. To avoid death, I would do anything.

Yeah, I know. Amusing, considering what else y’all know about me. There’s a reason why my deportation from my world occurred after a failed attempt to blow it up.

So I gave the doorknob a turn and peeked out real quick. A dark-colored quadruped chewed at something in the kitchen across the hallway. I was nearly six feet away. I didn’t have time to get that good of a look at the thing because the door squeaked. It’s always something, isn’t it? No matter how you squeeze in, there’s always a noise.

It jumped at me, so dove to the side while throwing the door wide. A fang nicked the kid’s foot, but its momentum carried it into the closet. Rather than try to close the door and hold it on the creature, I scrambled to the kitchen. One good thing about a kitchen is that there are weapons everywhere. It’s just a matter of finding them.

When the canine-like monster charged at me again, I pulled a cheap toaster off the wall and smacked it in its face. It still body-checked me, but just to knock the breath out of the boy’s body. I decided to cut the pain feed after that. It made recovery much easier.

I noticed its eyes finally. A line of eyes ran from the middle of its elongated head down its back. I wrapped the toaster cord around its throat and jumped on some of its eyes, wrapping the kid’s legs around its belly as much as I could. It started bucking.

As it did, its spittle flew all over the place and started smoking where it landed.

For about eight seconds, its attempt to play at rodeo prevented me from giving it a good choke. I had time to glance around and try to find what else I could use on it. It’s a good thing the kid didn’t feel anything when it finally threw me off, either, because I smacked into the stove kinda hard. I planned to get off there, since the mother had left out a cast iron skillet. I figured she wouldn’t mind if I took it. The beast sure didn’t use it when it decided to have her for dinner.

“Bitch ass.” I swung and connected with the thing’s head. “Punk ass.” I caught its head again on the back swing. “Ass!” I yelled as I brought the skillet right down on its skull. It collapsed to the ground, snorting from the two pairs of nostrils on the sides of its muzzle.

I jumped up by the stove and pulled the big butcher’s knife off its nail on the wall. The monster started to stir when I straddled it from behind, yanked its head up, and slit its throat. I dropped the knife and jumped back as the kid’s skin started to burn where the blood landed on it. Fucking thing had highly acidic bodily fluids.

I tried to stop it early, but the kitchen barely had any food, let alone any strong basic chemicals I could have used to stop the burning. It’s not my fault; I just don’t have much experience with that kind of burning sensation, ladies. Uh huh, that’s right. Clean as a whistle. Why don’t you give it a nice blow?

You know what? Telling y’all what I did while controlling a little kid’s body is probably not the best time to say that.

I originally wanted to gut it and choke any remaining life out of it with the longer entrails, but the acid made that a dangerous proposition. That said, I needed to make sure the thing was dead.

What better way than my favorite way? I just had to find a little something to help…ah, Crisco. It’s a brand of vegetable oil-based shortening. Women have been fucking themselves with it for decades. There’s a nice argument for when your partner doesn’t think you’re big enough. If you’re too short, why are they getting off on shortening?

I threw a glob of it on the beast’s butt. Then, I pulled on a ratty old oven mitt and, got that skillet again, and took a running start at the heinous hound’s hind end. I didn’t quite make it. That kid needed to do more push ups. However, the confirmed-dead doggie gave birth to a healthy baby cast iron skillet, weighing too damn much. It was truly a beautiful occasion that you’re all happy you didn’t have to witness.

That accomplished, I began my investigation. The kid was right. The critter crashed through the ceiling. I could see a hole into the next apartment up, and one to the next one, and one to the next one, but in different spots on the ceiling. He didn’t fall due to weight, that skinny fuck.

The place didn’t have any elevators, so I made the long climb up the stairs. Once I got to a certain height, I began checking the apartments to see if they still had holes. Most people had fled or were no longer alive to object, though I had to break into one of them to check it. Nice place. It’s a shame somebody stole a bunch of jewelry out of one of the rooms.

One more floor up, my bling blinging self ran across a hole in the wall, not the next ceiling up. There, it all ended. The body in that room sat tied to a chair. Mostly. Some parts of it were scattered. I swear, dead bodies are worse than dealing with Ikea; there tend to be lots of parts leftover when people are finished. That, and apparently they make really great meatballs.

Cheap furniture and meat products. Those go together like sweatshop labor and a need to hide dead bodies of workers.

They restrained this person. Torture? But then they unleashed the hound. That beast had claws incapable of tying ropes. That’s why sex with animals is wrong, folks; they can’t participate fully in the bondage community. So someone was there in person, tied the person up rather than kill him or her, and summoned the acid wolf thingy.

I rifled through stuff, looking for an indication of what might be going on. Looked like a guy living alone, based on the pictures in the living room area. Some were of a man and woman, smiling and looking happy. Then there were more of the guy alone, and he didn’t look all that happy. Finally, there was a single older one of him looking like he’d been caught unawares. He had a lot less hair and a few new wrinkles in that one. In the photo, he was holding a young dog, maybe some sort of bulldog.

Guess we know where the monster came from.

The bedroom had the guy’s briefcase. Social worker. Children and Family Services. The guy had a retirement plaque with him thanking him for his decades of service.

Are y’all thinking what I’m thinking? Guy hits up records about hospitals and city services, then pays a visit to someone from Children and Family Services? So much for that collateral damage being entirely random. If I had to guess, Spinetingler was looking for a kid. I figured I’d put out some feelers and see if Beacon had any young siblings or kids himself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Spinetingler squirted out a little ‘Tingler of his own. He did some time, wanted to find the kid, checked the newspapers to see if anyone had been active with similar powers, or at least that’s my guess.

“Is anyone in here? Help is here! I’m a superhero!” I heard a familiar woman’s voice call out from the entry. There’s my Venus. It worked out. This kid was a bit hurt. The foot clotted up, but he got burnt and likely bruised from the rodeo upstairs. If anyone would make sure he received medical attention, it’d be her. As for me, I had to account for this new perspective on things in my own search. A kid is a valuable bargaining tool.

So I left our poor, wounded meat puppet there, within crying distance of a hero. Sure, he’s a little worse for wear, but I got him through dealing with a disposable danger. After all, sometimes dealing with monsters requires a monster of your own.

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Exception To The Rule 5

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Someone’s been painting nightmares upon my dreamscape. I don’t believe it’s had the desired effect. Fear is both a physical and psychological condition. Then again, anything psychological is also physical to the degree that brains exist. Trust me. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve touched a lot of brains. Same reason I’m qualified as a proctologist. I’m working on being a gynecologist, too.

Here’s the deal. The physical response is the part that either paralyzes you or activates the flight or fight response. Adrenaline starts pumping, dulling pain. Things speed up. Your heart races. In order to make the human body quicker, it sometimes dumps waste like urine and excrement. That’s why people pee themselves when scared.

The physical response is hardwired in and usable. Some parts of it are the same thing that happen whenever people play sports. It’s good. That scared response of not knowing if you’ll win and desperately wanting to.

The physical response is the bomb. The psychological aspect is the trigger. Timed, proximity, motion sensor, radio detonator, phobias, darkness, the unknown, spiders. By far, the unknown is the best one to abuse. People’s imaginations can scare the crap out of them far worse than some specific threat created by someone else.

That’s why Spinetingler’s nightmares didn’t bother me too much. It made it hard to sleep when I spent the night trapped in a dark sarcophagus with a catheter and feeding tube stuck in me. That was the dream, not the reality, by the way. My bedding arrangements aren’t usually so elaborate. Time moves differently in dreams. Spinetingler left me there for what felt like days.

A taste of his own imprisonment in the Rubik’s Cube.

The next night, he sent a clown after me in my sleep. A smiling, laughing one with blood trailing out its nostrils and the corner of its mouth. I ran from it through the remains of a children’s birthday party. Then I asked myself why I was running from a clown. I’m not scared of clowns. It prompted a lucid moment from me and suddenly I realized I was dreaming.

Oh dear, a lucid dream with a clown in one corner and me in the other. He died slowly, but I brought him back to do it all over again. My head, my rules, and I hoped Spinetingler felt or saw it.

Speaking of feeling sawing it, I got rid of my toilet tentacle infestation. I needed more damage. Sometimes, my own fists just don’t work, and those slimy flailing limbs avoided my energized fists or absorbed the blows. I damaged them, but not how I needed to. Sure, the effects of my energy sheath blew Pink Pixie’s mind, but a skull is much more rigid than pervy octopus leg and my fists aren’t inside the tentacles.

Now that’s a new combination. Fisting tentacles. Porn artists, get to work!

That’s right, a tech-savvy fellow like myself knows about porn. And that brings us back to my thinking when I took on the toilet tentacles.

See, I figured I’d go mano-a-mano. Or, in this case, tentacle-a-penis. If you think about it, there’s a lot of similarity between the two limbs. Both are used to stab people’s sexy body holes and insert either eggs or slime to make someone pregnant. Readers, feel free to save this paragraph for when you have curious kids asking where babies come from.

So that’s why I strapped a chainsaw to my crotch. I ran into the bathroom holding one of those two-pronged grill forks and a pair of nunchuks, yelling like a maniac. I switched the nunchuks into my right hand and started swinging them around safely away from any of my vulnerable body parts. With my left hand, I skewered a tentacle and swung my hips.

You wouldn’t believe how fucking awesome it felt when those teeth bit through the grey flesh of the tentacle and left it flopping impotently on the floor. I smacked a tentacle away from my face with a nunchuk, then speared it and gave it the hump of death. “Eat vibrating doooooom!”

And I do mean vibrating. When I told you it felt fucking awesome, I meant the vibrations. Oooooh, yeah. It reminds me of a book I read. This one recon marine told the embedded reporter to lay belly down on the ground as a tank rolled by because of how it felt. Good book. Most people have this view of battle as something orderly, fought by heroic men of valor who know exactly what to do. In reality, warfare is actually a lot closer to what y’all read here: a man with nunchuks using dick-mounted heavy machinery to saw through his enemies.

The tentacles didn’t just grow smaller offshoots like when I shot them. Uh uh. Something roared from below. The tiles warped and buckled. The toilet strained upward as something emerged to join the remaining tentacles. The great throne of all business dirty quaked, then shattered. A jagged piece almost hit me, but for the nunchuks. They caught the piece in the chain and fell to the floor, leaving me nunless and chukless.

It came from beneath the shitter. The body of the beast from under the butt emerged, oval-shaped. Its mouth opened not like a human’s, from side-to-side, but from top to bottom, with folded grey flesh at the top. A portion of that slide up to show off an orb the color of the infinite void to stare into me.

I’d heard stories of men encountering creatures that drove them mad. The angles, the writhing mass, all of it created some sort of deep existential terror that left them gibbering wrecks. Somehow, such abominations could never be described fully because some aspect of their appearance drove men mad. Like Cthulhu.

Pussy.

No, that’s what it looked like to me. A grey, moist vagina. Sure, it drives some men crazy in a different sort of way, but I wasn’t about to lose my mind over it. Maybe Lovecraft’s characters just never went down enough.

The coochie creature spread its lips, revealing uneven fangs on either side. Somebody spent a little too long tapping into latent male fear of female anatomy.

“Vagina dentata, eh?” I pivoted the crotchsaw around toward it. “Well, you’re about to be vagina dented.”

The poon monster roared. I leapt onto it, grabbing the roots of two tentacles above the eye, and thrust the blade deep. “Fuck you!” I yelled as it shook. Grey tentacles whipped at me, cracking against my armor. I wiggled my hips the opposite direction of the side-to-side shaking, feeling just incredibly as the blades met resistance.

Finally, two of the tentacles squeezed between its body and my armor. They threw me off. I crashed into the sink and slid to the floor, the weapon between my legs slowing, then turning off completely.

I started punching the thing, then tried tugging on the cord to get it started again. “Hold on a moment,” I told the voracious vulva in front of me, “I swear, this never happens. Give me a moment and I’ll be ready.”

Don’t you hate when your weapon breaks and leaves you feeling impotent?

It didn’t give me a moment. I’d have to finish it off by hand. I hoped I’d be able to find some sensitive spot I could abuse. Tentacles lashed out and yanked at my head, pulling me toward the loathsome labia that opened wide to welcome me with their pointy teeth. No way was I sticking my head in that.

As horror fans have known ever since Lovecraft, never stick your head in crazy. If you do, you’ll likely get a nasty surprise.

Did I say nasty surprise?

The minichainsaw burst through the other side of the tentacle around my neck, roaring to life. The flesh of my attack sloughed to the floor and I got my feet under me. More tentacles reached for me. If this demented donghole wanted me so bad, who was I to argue?

I ran, dodging blows when I could and pitching my weight around to maintain my footing when I couldn’t. The maniacal maneater opened wide for me, drooling. I shoved my fist and the Nasty Surprise blade inside. Fangs clamped on my arm, but I kept swinging away wildly. Finally, I drove upward, hoping it had a brain somewhere behind that eye.

With wild abandon, it whipped the walls, the floor, and me. Then, it shuddered and laid still.

When I stepped out of the bathroom, Carl nearly popped a shot off at me. He and Moai waited behind a barricade made of the couch, worktable, my stool, scrap metal, and some of the appliances I used for parts. They’d dragged the TV back inside to watch while I was occupied in the bathroom. Carl had his minipistol trained on the door; Moai had the double-barrel bazooka nearby and a cricket bat within reach.

“Anyone got a light?” I asked, patting at my belt. Carl looked around and grabbed a lighter off the floor. He tossed it to me. Damn, I thought we had some matches around, but Carl didn’t smoke. Neither did Moai and I. I projected a cigarette into my hand and acted out lighting and smoking on it for a puff. Then I opened the door of the restroom and waved the lighter around a bit before throwing it in there. “Nobody go in the bathroom for at least thirty minutes. That was a doozy in there. Quite a strain. I had a little bit of bleeding, but in the end, I put it down. It’s going to stink for awhile, though.”

That’s true. The monster voided its bowels when it died. Very nasty. What? It’s not like humans have a monopoly on that sort of thing.

“So, y’all brought the TV in. Any word what Spinetingler’s up to? I know he didn’t stop by just to give me fun dreams and a lesson in paranormal plumbing. This is a distraction while he does the things he needs to do.” I pointed to the TV, which had one of the all-day news channels on, but muted.

Carl shook his head and started righting the sofa. “Nope. People been noticin’ that heroes are disappearin’ though. Venus is still patrolling, but a lot of the other guys are missing.”

Hmm. I figured I might need to send out some of my nanite minions on a quick search around their homes, see if they could stumble over anything. And if they did stumble over the wrong thing, I could humiliate Spinetingler by having some civilian escape or somehow kill whatever pet monster he sent out. Better yet, I could look up local folklore about haunted sites and send in the drones instead of risking myself.

His reliance on the narrative ties his hands somewhat. He could kill lone people connected to a group, but most stories have a way for at least one person to survive and escape. It doesn’t guarantee it, but there are a lot better odds than if it was two people. Especially if one’s a man and the other is a virgin woman.

I’ll have to see how it works out.

“You sure he’s after somethin’, boss?” Carl asked. He grabbed a bag of potato chips off the barricade and settled down to eat them and watch TV.

“I think so. He’s got something planned that he’s worried I’ll disrupt. I’ll show up at the wrong time, destroy the wrong artifact, blow up the wrong building, kill the wrong hostage, maybe all of the above. If the TV looks at you the wrong way, shoot it. We can always steal another TV.”

I decided to ease back into things. Try some things that reflect but aren’t mirrors. After all, he didn’t bother to send maggots crawling out of my eye or anything like that. What better way to keep an eye on a reflective surface than to project entertaining moving pictures through it?

As for me, I’m considering writing a book about my experience fighting the toilet monster. It’s got it all: action, drama, humor, chainsaws, whipping tentacles, grey vagina monster. I think I’ll call it “50 Blades On Grey”.

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Exception To The Rule 4

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I’ve been working hard to get things ready. Make sure the armor’s tip-top shape, getting the eye ready, stealing materials to melt down and turn into nanites. The usual. Haven’t heard from Venus, but I have spoken with the man of the our. Spinetingler. We had ourselves a pleasant chat on Saturday after I got a few things ready.

Oh, and I tried poisoning the tentacles. I took a bunch of Fruit Loops and coated them with some Arsine, then tossed the box in there. Once they tore the box open, those tentacles couldn’t help but try and force themselves through the little holes of the O-shaped cereal. The crumbs and stuff stuck to the writhing, moist mass of ass penetrators, which then dropped them off in the toilet for the consumption of whatever made up the other end of this thing.

It didn’t clear up my little problem.

I found a nice cafe and claimed to be doing a hidden camera reality show. After an appeal to the manager’s greed, I had Carl and Moai hang a large mirror on the wall while I pulled on my armor. Moai and Carl high-tailed it out of there, leaving me, the confused staff, and the mirror.

“Spinetingler, Spinetingler, Spinetingler,” I said, looking into the mirror.

The lights dimmed and flickered. I looked at the seat opposite me. I leaned over to check in case he was really short. Nothing. Somebody tapped on glass, and I noticed movement on my right. The mirror. I turned to look and saw Spinetingler in the mirror sitting in the seat opposite me. My reflection didn’t appear at all.

“Spinetingler, I take it. I’ve never had the pleasure, but I’ve seen some pictures. You lose some weight?” I looked him over, wondering if he projected an intimidating image or a realistic one. He looked…gooey. He had the hood and a skull-like mask on over his head, the hood part of a cloak that hung open. Inside were ribs covered with charred flesh and a thin layer of sheen over the bones and other bits. Somehow, his intestines stayed coiled in his belly.

He coughed. Or maybe laughed. “I see you’ve got guts.”

I pointed at the mirror. “Yeah, I noticed that about you as well.”

He laughed again, then settled into his seat. “I heard of you before they locked me up in the Rubik’s Cube. I’ve seen a lot more since I’ve been out.”

“You know me? I guess I have been in the news lately. I was actually in the Cube with you, as it turns out. I blew it up.” After a moment’s pause, I waved over the waitress. “Would you like anything to drink?”

She didn’t respond.

“Hey! Girl! Whatever your name is, bring some menus.” Still she hesitated. I threw the napkin holder at her and hit the wall by her head. That woke her up. She walked over, keeping an eye on the mirror. I reached up and pulled her chin down so she looked at me. “Ahem!”

“S-sorry. What do you, I mean, do you want- what can we do for you?” she asked.

“Sweet tea for me. Whatever my guest wants,” I told her, then addressed Spinetingler, “Pardon me. The guest usually goes first, but she has an attention problem.”

“I’ll have black coffee. Set it on the table and I’ll take things from there,” Spinetingler said. “You broke me out? I don’t know if I should thank you or…hrrm…worse.”

“Were they nicer to you than they were to me?” I asked. My armor’s analysis of the mirror would normally tell me at least if the other villain’s appearance was a magical anomaly. The image in the mirror appeared “Undetermined”.

“They restrained me at all times in a lead sarcophagus too thick for me to escape. They lined my cell with every material resistant to psionics and magic they could find. I know this because they told me. They announced it to me using a video in a single-use TV screen that informed me about the feeding tube and catheter they installed. They say hell is other people. I disagree. Hell is yourself, alone, for years.” As he spoke, the cafe in the mirror warped and rotted away. The waitress dropped off our drinks and fled from the table as soon as she glimpsed that.

“You want to hurt me for getting you out of there. It makes perfect sense,” I said, raising my tea as if to sip it. It spilled down the front of my armor as the glass clinked against my helmet.

What’s that? You, dear reader, don’t want to read among mad people? Oh, you can’t help that, I say. We’re all mad here.

“You are responsible for my stunning new look. It fits, but I used to be a man.” He pointed down at himself and his previously-described state of looking like last night’s dinner of ribs and haggis. “Now, I am meat.”

“And bone,” I added. “And still alive.”

“Hrrm.” What do you call that, I wonder? A growling sigh?

“Listen,” I started. “It’s not altogether a surprise that I rubbed you the wrong way already. After all, my life in supervillainy began with a tragic porn fluffer accident. By the way, that lady eventually got her cat back. Ya see, I do a lot of damage to this city and its people on a regular basis, so I thought I’d call you up and find out a few things as a professional courtesy. Just so I know if I need to get out of town for a few days, that sort of thing. If you don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine, and at least you’ve gotten a cup of coffee out of it, right?”

I’d have smiled, but what good would that have done? Instead, I projected a Cheshire Cat smile across the front of my helmet.

“Professional…courtesy…” Spinetingler drew out the phrase. Give the guy a staff with a spinal column worked into it and he’d probably go and try to find some elves to fight. Like I said last time, I like the narrative too. But there are a lot of times when the narrative is worth jettisoning. Most times, actually. Stories have their places, but the heroes tend to win in them, which greatly reduces my desire to emulate them.

I scooted my chair around so it faced the mirror and leaned over, watching him through my helmet’s top view. “Yeah, s’right. I’ll defend myself if I have to, but your business isn’t any of my business, so why should I stop you taking care of business? Though, you have kinda interfered with me handling my business. There appears to be some sort of creature in my toilet that violates space, time, and the human anus. It’s making it really hard for me to sit there and poop. It wants to participate.”

Spinetingler laughed again in spite of himself. That, or he’s working on a hairball. After he had a moment to settle, he told me, “Collateral damage. I set many things in motion at once. The urban landscape is rich in ways to grip the plebes with terror.”

Right. After coffee, why not order your orcs to march on Gondor?

I shrugged. “Yeah, I like to shave my plebes. Keep them from getting long and curly. So, my takeaway is that you don’t have a lot of control over your Japanese seafood friend, so I need to take it out myself.” Whether he could or not, I preempted him with cooperation to get on his good side. See? I have people skills! Fuck you! “Empyreal City is sorta my city right now. If you’re after something, I can help or offer advice. I can even just stay away from wherever you’re doing your thing. Makes the whole thing easier on us. No need for some big fight over who gets to terrorize the place, with flexing and seeing who has the shinier cock ring. No need to do the heros’ job for them, right?”

“Psycho Gecko. Hrrm. You would cut to the chase to accommodate both our agendas?” He held out one boney hand toward me, as if offering. Then he raised his glass of coffee and pulled away the skull mask to drink. The face underneath looked much like the mask. The coffee spilled down over his entrails. I guess he didn’t have the stomach for it after all.

A red light glowed out of the empty orbital sockets of Spinetingler’s face as he spoke. “I want you to leave the city.”

“One moment.” I raised a finger, then called over the waitress again. The poor dear shook and refused to face the mirror. “Excuse me, could you taste this for me?” I held up my drink. The waitress took the cup, squeezed her eyes shut, and drank a sip. “More.” She tipped it up further. “Good, now don’t swallow. I don’t say that enough, by the way. Just so you know. File that away. Let it sink into your brain. Now, face away from me.”

The waitress turned back toward the counter. I reached around and popped her in the belly, causing her to spew the tea and start hacking. “Good girl, you can go.” Coughing, she dropped the cup and ran for the safety of the counter.

I caught the cup in midair and took another sip, the drink harmlessly pouring down the outside of my armor. Then, turning towards Spinetingler again, I told him, “So, that’s my reaction to your offer. My counter offer is as follows: I don’t leave.”

I know, I was about to take a vacation before the ‘Tingler here locked down the airport, but now he’s being a dick and wants me out of the city. It’s like running from a cheetah or trying to take a bone from a dog. Even if the dog ignores that bone every day, the moment you challenge him, he’s gonna bare teeth. It applies to people, too, and is regrettably predictable, but sometimes doing the expected is the last thing the enemy will expect.

Within his shiny reflective glass, Spinetingler stood. The view of the cafe behind him faded into darkness. “You will interfere. You can’t help it. You’re a dog without a leash and I won’t have you spoiling things with your unreliable nature.”

Under my helmet, I smiled. “Ya know, you reminded me of a father figure I once had. A General. He worked so hard on me, but he said something incredibly similar just before he tried to kill me. It didn’t end well for him. I’m staying.”

“Then this discussion is at an end.” Spinetingler glared out at me from his mirror. The darkness surrounding him writhed now. I could barely make out faces in the darkness. Faces with large mouths and sharp teeth.

I jumped up and pointed at him. “Oh no it isn’t. I’ve got one more question to ask you and it’s a biggie: why February? I know we had Friday the 13th, but you’re really more of an October kinda guy. Couldn’t you have waited a bit?”

He didn’t answer me. Instead, one of the faces came closer. A long, slathering maw slowly extended out of the mirror. I grabbed my chair and swung it at the mirror itself, shattering it into pieces. The method of transport gone, the head of the snot and saliva-covered beastie fell to the ground without its body on this side of things. Looking at it, I noticed Spinetingler still in the mirror, his image spread across multiple broken shards. I knelt down to look him over. “Well, well, well. Good luck taking me out of the picture now, ‘Tingle Tingle. I’ve got seven years, guaranteed, even if they’re supposed to be full of bad luck.”

Wordlessly, Spinetingler turned and walked into the distance of his mirror land.

Reflective surfaces were the first thing to go when I got back to the lair. Anything big enough to send something threatening through, it got thrown out. After all, I’m not Stupid Gecko.

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Exception To The Rule 3

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The wraith came for me in my room. I pivoted my head and saw it there, floating by the door. Light through the window caught the ragged scraps of blue grey cloak that covered only shadow. It hovered over the floor and reached out for me. I couldn’t see a hand through the cloak, but I felt it take hold of my throat and begin to throttle me. For a second, I couldn’t move.

Then I sat up, throwing a punch at empty air and roaring. Moai and Carl burst into the room, minipistol at the ready. As always, Moai dressed appropriately. This time, he wore a white short sleeve button-up shirt with a red stain on the pocket. “We heard something. Are there more tentacles?” Carl asked.

Oh sure, I get assaulted by perverted tentacles on the toilet and he didn’t help. I slipped him some of laxative in his beer. One run to the bathroom later and he believed me, alright.

“Nope, no tentacles. He sent a nightmare this time. Pretty nonspecific, too. Nothing in there about trying to fuck my mother. Probably because I don’t remember her.” I reached for a bottle of water by my bedside to wet my parched throat.

“Boss…I may be wrong on this, but are the walls bleeding?” he asked then, looking at the hand he’d set on the wall when he burst in. He held it out to me and something covered the palm. Then he flipped the light switch.

“Huh,” I said, looking around as thick red blood oozed out of the corner where the wall and ceiling met. “You don’t see that everyday.”

“Don’t you think this is a problem?” asked Carl, backing slowly out of the room.

“Not really. Smells a bit coppery in here. Hey, can you get me a bottle or something? I’ve always wanted to do a DNA test on bleeding walls.”

“Really, boss?”

“Aren’t you curious whose blood keeps oozing out of haunted houses? Do those houses have themselves their own genetic code, or is it borrowing from other people? Is our lair having a period? If this is its first one, should we throw it a party or something? What blood type does a building have, termite positive? Hey, there’s an idea! If this shit is O, this place could be a gold mine.” I jumped up and clapped my hands together.

“Boss. Bleeding. Walls.” Carl pointed at the walls as if I hadn’t noticed.

I ran over and grabbed him. “You’re right, Carl. We need to sell this place immediately. This will be worth a fortune on the vampire real estate market!”

I still don’t understand his lack of enthusiasm and curiosity, but I hear that’s one of those intrinsic differences in people. Some people, when confronted by a new or startling situation, react with fear. Others, with curiosity. There were interesting studies proving this, but they didn’t continue because the scientists had mixed feelings about the conclusion.

Speaking of studies, I’ve been studying up on Spinetingler some more. I had to haggle with the Pinkerton Detective Agency through an intermediary. Harlon, actually. It pays to have friends who help run a company known for investigating stuff, so his government contacts came in handy. Ok, maybe his particular news channel isn’t known for actual investigations, but people still take their calls. He also had reporters pump their sources for information on Spinetingler. It paid off for him since I’m an anonymous source who confirmed that the cause of the strange events lately is Spinetingler.

Oh, and my extensive recordings of Venus’s voice came in handy, too. She had enough pull to assuage some doubtful record keepers. Her celebrity had its uses.

I also used the time to work on my replacement eye and finish repairs on my mobile armory.

Spinetingler’s an older fellow, or possibly a legacy villain. The earliest incident was in ’79. A small town vanished off the map. They suspected some cult performing human sacrifices when they found people’s heads had been drilled into and all the bodies in the graveyard had been exhumed from the outside. They found every mirror in town, even on cars, shattered. Later notes on the photos note that the shards fell far out from the mirrors itself, not straight down. They never recovered the bodies from the cemetery. They recognized it as a Spinetingler incident after more occurred thanks to a photo on a roll of film, and a drawing made in some flaking brown substance on the wall of an elementary school.

Both showed a man in a hood with a skull where the face would be. That went on to be his signature look. He’d wear a hoodie, black robes, a jumpsuit; whatever. But he’d always have some sort of hood and a mask like a skull.

Subsequent sightings never involved the total extinction of a population. In one case, a bank appeared to be sealed up tight from the outside. When a hero finally broke in, the bank sealed up behind him. Events inside the bank looped. Everything appeared normal at first, then the lights went out. One of the tellers, Derrick Skinner, inevitably disappeared, found something sharp, and removed most of the skin off the lower half of his face. After that, he began stalking and killing off the rest of the staff.

The hero’s after action report told how he could never restrain or beat Skinner himself. He’d kill everyone else, chase the newest teller to the door, and tear her throat out with his teeth. The whole thing ended when the hero intervened in just the right way at the end. He distracted Skinner and wound up injured, while the woman found a shard of broken mirror and used it to off Skinner. That time, the doors to the bank opened and the loop ended.

Then they found out all the money was missing, as was Skinner’s body. Closed circuit television cut out of the events of the loop, but showed the man with the hood and skull mask stepping into the bank and walking over to Skinner’s teller window.

Next, he attacked Wall Street here in Empyreal City. The building locked down tight and the only calls to escape were indecipherable but for the sound of screams. When SWAT broke in, they found an abattoir. They found blood and corpses everywhere. A few of the bodies had been partially burned, just through their shirts and onto their skin over their heart. They reeked. A lone survivor was found, talking to himself. He finished carving a hooded figure with a skull for a head, then charged the officers with a letter opener. Naturally, they defended themselves. Like some of the others, he had a burn mark on his chest and smelled like rotten eggs.

A few years later, the authorities spotted him in California. Someone anonymously bought up Thrillworld Amusement Park. Personal assistants spoke with employees on his behalf: fat, penny-pinching Mr. Mammonne and Mr. Dee, who always covered most of his face with a scarf as if he had a cold. Over the course of two years, complaints piled up. Accidental maimings from rides. An animal show going out of control. Food poisoning. Inappropriate touching of children by Billy the Thrill Lizard. Disappearances.

It actually added to the atmosphere when they altered the park to scare people in October and temporarily changed the name to Chillworld. They even changed the Billy costume from being a happy, grinning green lizard to a grinning black lizard with a sharper smile and a head that could open up as if biting. They called him Chilly and he had his own haunted house: Chilly’s Kill Cave.

Chillworld provided half their revenue for the first year. The second year, a man walked into the park during Chillworld and started shooting at mascots and food vendors. He was last seen lighting a Molotov cocktail and walking into Chilly’s Kill Cave. The fire burnt down a quarter of the park and damaged a lot more. It also revealed a few skeletons in the closet. Well, not the closet so much as stuffed inside the walls of the Kill Cave. They found the man, dead, with a huge bite taken out of his neck next to what investigators later confirmed was the body of his son who went missing the year before.

The same time all that happened, pretty much every ride went wrong in some manner, killing dozens. Fleeing witnesses described a man in a hood with a skull for a face watching from in front of Chilly’s Kill Cave, flanked by what appeared to be a pot-bellied demon and a man missing the skin on half his face. They disappeared by the time emergency services arrived. No one ever found Billy/Chilly either.

There were plenty more stories, including a feud with a hero named Beacon. That’s when he was at his most active. Six attacks over twelve years, from ’85 through ’97. All those attacks only diminished his threat as he failed, over and over, to kill the hero. It didn’t help that some of the attacks bordered on ridiculous. I think the fifth one took place at a petting zoo. A killer petting zoo, but that setting made Spinetingler a joke for awhile.

Then he killed Beacon. The flame-haired firebrand, or so the old trading cards called him. Caught him on vacation during winter. Beacon froze to death near a burned-up hotel, with no other shelter around. Exact details aren’t known because Beacon can’t exactly talk anymore, but the last thing he ever mentioned before the phone line cut out was “Spinetingler’s here.

The former Army Ranger-turned vigilante’s luck ran out. Joke’s over. Rimshot. Ba dum tish!

The early stuff gave me a bit of insight into the man. Sure, his crimes followed, in a sort of way. The first one, he got acclimated to his powers. Then he robbed a bank for capital, which he then invested on Wall Street. He used the funds to purchase the park. For what purpose? More horror stories. The same with Beacon. A recurring foe, tested by great evil, survives the encounters until those stories become unpopular.

He enjoyed the narrative, something I sympathized with. He’s never been witnessed killing with his own hands, but he often altered circumstances. The improbable happened. Mechanical failures piled up, locks stuck, lights shorted, and people tripped over nothing. He also empowered others, turning them into monsters that he watched stalk prey. Like his own personal horror movie.

If Venus knew this, why didn’t she tell me? Eh, maybe she thinks I’d work with the guy for more power. Which actually makes me curious. They killed Skinner, or so that hero said. Stabbed in the back of the chest, repeatedly, with a mirror shard. Really, it would have been most effective the first time. Probably broke off inside the guy like that. Still, that’s a tough one to survive without tricks like mine. But that’s nothing I can’t do already.

I prefer to be the devil people deal with, than the one making deals with the devil.

However, the collection of Clive Barker stories that made up Spinetingler’s life gave me an idea on how to talk to the fellow. I’ll have to use it soon and find out if Spinetingler’s in the mood for a reboot.

That, and if I’m going to need the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis to summon a plunger strong enough to clear my toilet of its Lovecraftian infestation.

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