Category Archives: 34. Local Politics

Superhuman power grabs always involve punches. I guess that’s what you call the “swing vote”.

Local Politics 16

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At last.

I finally talked Oligarch into the field. I suspect the Seals managed to wound him, or at least cause serious maintenance on at least one portion of his armor.

No more stalling. No more getting things into position. No more “let’s see what’s behind curtains one and two,” just curtains.

It all began with a curtain call that finally linked all of The Order up to one another. There, I explained just enough for them to be useful in wrecking me shit: the docks are overcrowded with hostile bee people led by a group of queens. Expect super strength, organic armor, and stinger swords. I ended the brief briefing with an appeal directly to Oligarch, “Your people need you.”

They didn’t spend a whole lot of time getting organized. While supervillains don’t make that good of an army when it comes to working together, it also means they don’t need a lot of time getting organized before a sortie. The two are kinda connected.

It also meant that we didn’t hit the docks as one body. It was more like waves. Roadkill skidded along in a steamroller as one of the first guys in, probably having one hell of a time. I didn’t pay attention to how far he went. I was curious what would happen when he hit the water, but I was too busy landing from on a crane and watching the attack go down.

Once again, my armor protected me physically and provided me with a convenient disguise. For some reason, I just don’t feel like settling for the marginal offensive and defensive capabilities of the Banshee costume. Besides, it helped me feel more like myself again.

So I looked down, laughing, as Buzzkills took to the sky in small clouds to pursue individual flyers. I had to catch my breath before I could call back to the bunker that it was go time. I’d also briefed the heroes on what was going on before I visited the villains. I’d admitted that I had some connection to The Order necessitated by being outed as a superhuman and as a need to maintain contact with the heroes themselves. I was surprised Wildflower didn’t vouch for me there, but she’d been distant lately. Enough of the heroes remembered my help releasing them that I made a good case without a character witness.

I gave them the same information about the Buzzkills. They are a menace, I tell ya! A horrible menace that threatens to destroy everything good in the world. But they were still my best bet against the swarm of bee people. Eh? I bet y’all see what I did there.

I revealed that I’d set up The Order to go after the Buzzkills. I’d had the plan in waiting ever since my people were the first to lock down the docks following the discovery of the insectoids. I know people say that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but sometimes lying about there being sugar in the spoon works just as well, because they swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

And I implored them, with every acting bone in my body, that though they may not all trust me, “Your people need you.”

So while I watched shit hit the fan at the docks, heroes departed from the base of Double Cross Tower and started hitching rides with each other to make it to the battle. This was their time for revenge. Being cooped up made them antsy and ready for a bit of action. I can’t even take credit for that level of enthusiasm. I’d gotten so paranoid about them all over the past couple days, I seriously almost pushed the button to fill the whole bunker with gas. Once, I stopped when I remembered I really shouldn’t do that. Another time, I didn’t go through with it because I couldn’t remember if I’d loaded Arsine, which is toxic, or Sexahol, which creates feelings of love, goodwill, and physical lust.

That one might be a missed opportunity there.

Knowing they were on the way and feeling about a half-ton lighter, I celebrated by jumping into the fray. I leaped off the crane and wrapped my legs around the torso of a Buzzkill humming by in hot pursuit of a man in a duster and bowler with a pair of bunny ears trailing back as he flew. He didn’t take kindly to my presence and attempted to throw me off by swinging around in a circle. I dug my fingers into his shoulderblades and clawed my way up to a standing position. With a back flip, I clubbed his head. This time, he calmed down a lot more when I held onto him with my legs. I liked his change in behavior so much, that I kept right at it. Hammerin’ away. I could barely pull myself away, it was so much fun.

Unfortunately, it also left me and the Buzzkill plummeting. I grabbed him by the shoulders long enough to get my feet on his chest, then pushed off into an incomplete back flip. It separated me from the Buzzkill, but didn’t really get me close enough to the crane or anything else.

And yet, I felt oddly at peace. No, seriously. It was being ok with falling that freaked me out. That got me flailing, which is probably why Forcelight chose that moment to grab my arm and save me from cracking open like a mussel dropped by a bird. The jolt felt like it pulled something out of the socket, though. Probably my arm. I couldn’t check until after she slowed down a little and dumped me on top of a rusty old warehouse roof. After rolling, I was able to take inventory of my physical state. Yep. It was the arm.

Forcelight’s presence created quite the buzz, and not just among the bees. Villains were all over the comms.

“Is that Forcelight?”

“What’s she doing here?”

“Alive? Not possible!”

And so they spoke, and so they spoke, those lords of Empyreal. But then heroes joined in the fray, with everyone clear they’re here.

No, I didn’t actually go with The Rains of Castamere as a way to announce their arrival. I didn’t think about that until later. What came to mind instead was a song from an album where a bunch of inmates break out and start killing their captors in order to obtain freedom.

That’s why some unspecified person, wink wink, played a short piece announcing, “Hell is empty… and all the devils are here!” Plus, I knew it’d piss a few of them off. I’m pretty sure Venus is some sort of Christian. And even if she isn’t, chances are good most of the other heroes are.

I guess it’s worth pointing out since it’s about time for the War on Christmas to start up again, but America is about 70% to 83% Christian depending on what poll you’re looking at. Then again, they screw up their definitions all the time. I saw one that asked people to identify themselves and discuss their beliefs, which is how they have a percent of atheists who believe in a god, a bunch of people who say they don’t believe in any gods but who aren’t atheists, and agnostics as separate group. It’s like saying that people with red hair are considered a separate skin color.

But that’s a tender subject that many people would prefer to treat gingerly.

Of course, these heroes were too busy fighting real enemies to worry about imagined ones. They swept up behind villain battle lines that were facing the wrong direction, and they were generally more inclined to teamwork than their enemies.

Of course, I say that like someone looking back on things. At the time, I just tried to get my arm back in and subtly apply my miracle-working super machines. That, and having fun. A line of about four Buzzkills came at me, bro. I ducked to the left and grabbed the shoulder of the one on that end. I whipped around and got that one in a facelock as I kicked off one of its buddies, then swung it down and planted its face into the roof. I immediately sat up and rammed my head into the belly of a Buzzkill that tried to impale my downed chest with a stinger sword. Another sword glanced off my back, showing that I wasn’t as unarmored as I appeared. The last one took a swipe at my throat from the side, though. Not cool.

I caught that one and twisted it, then used it to fend off another blow from the one behind me. I pulled her close and got her in a triangle choke. The parried Buzzkill took a step back and aimed its stinger sword at me, shooting out a flash of yellow energy that exploded against me and its comrade, scorcing some of the hologram system’s microcameras and creating a minor power surge. Needing a projectile of my own, I smashed my hand in the top of the captured Buzzkill’s exoskeleton and pulled out what could have been a brain, which I then tossed at its compadre. The Buzzkill knocked it aside, but took a moment to ponder in disgust what she just did.

The one I headbutted had recovered then, and I was tired of handling all of them on my back, so I jumped up and took a punch from it just so I could grab her arm. “Hey, doll. Ever been roofied?” Then I threw her off the roof.

When I turned, I saw the one standing up who I’d introduced to the roof. I also saw the one who shot me taking aim for a second shot. I walked forward and clapped the wobbly one on her shoulders. “Good to see you’re alive!” I told her, then ducked behind her for a moment. A good punch stumbled her back in the way of the shooter, but I didn’t stick around to see them get into a fight. Nor did I stick around to see the shooter discover the headless rubber chicken tied around the lower arm of the off-balance Buzzkill or the subsequent explosion as the chicken grenade went off.

It’s like Sweeney Todd’s joy over finding his old straight razors to be able to use those again.

I jumped from that roof to the next and then stopped a moment to survey the battlefield. It was beautiful. Lights of all different colors lit up the sky as supers fought with themselves and the bees. The bees themselves were dropping like flies, which made me wonder for a moment about how vague the line is on who supers do and don’t kill. At this point in the fight, everyone was so worried about life and limb that I don’t think it mattered. The royal Buzzkills could have easily counted as too “super” to kill, but I saw one of them kneeling beside another downed one, doing something. She shook, so maybe the trauma of our little fight had gotten to her.

Before I could see how that one went, an angry roar got my attention. As opposed to a sleepy roar or a casual bored roar, I suppose. Another of the royals threw a dumpster at Oligarch. A burst of his boot jets sent him to the side while micromunitions from his raised left arm caught the dumpster and knocked it to the side with a detonation. A pair of tubes then pushed out of the side of his gauntlet and spewed a cone of flame in her direction. Then she let out more of a crispy roar.

I let myself fade into invisibility so I could make a call. “Hello, this is Beetrice,” said a happy, buzzing voice on the other end.

“That’s what you went with?” I asked my pet royal Buzzkill. When she didn’t say anything for a second, I reminded her, “I can’t see you when you talk over the phone. Say yes or no.”

“Yes. Who is speaking?”

“It’s me. Gecko. The one who rescued you.”

“Oh! Hi boyfriend. How is your day going?”

“This is a bad time to do whatever it is you think you’re doing right now. You know how I told you you would soon take your place at the head of your people after their numbers had been whittled down and your evil sisters were defeated?”

“We talked about it before you left. Yes. Is it time?”

“That’s a big ten-four, sweet bee. Get that shiny hiney on down here and try to keep yourself and some Buzzkills alive. Come on, your people need you.”

Lot of damn people needing a lot of other people today.

While she was busy on her way, I let myself live in the moment. Nearby, I saw someone wearing a goat’s head as a mask sweep an FN MAG machinegun across the sky. I don’t even know what side they were on, but I knocked them the fuck out with a punch. Then I saw Roadkill climbing up a ladder out of the water. I grabbed the machinegun and slung it at him. He ducked behind the ladder, which blocked the gun, but the noise attracted Buzzkills. Then, some giant rolling ball sped in next to me and separated into panels that folded up into a much smaller ball held in the hand of one of the heroes. I think that asshole punched me back at the asylum, in fact. He stuck that ball to his belt, then pulled off a blue one and a yellow one. The blue one he threw at crowd of Buzzkills. It hit one, then bounced off another’s head, ricocheting around the group until they all fell to the ground. While that ball did its trick, this big baller dropped the yellow one and kicked it over to where a bloody-mawed wolfman fought with what looked like a prepubescent girl in a red cloak and hood. She contorted out of the way of a slash from the wolfman, who then seized up as electricity arced out of the ball and formed a sort of cage around him. I put the ball guy out of business by hitting him in his weak spot from behind. You know the one. His balls.

It saddened me that I couldn’t go completely wild there, but I had a job to do. I looked around, scanning for Oligarch. I found him overhead, pushing his suit to stay out of Forcelight’s grasp while they dodged around buildings and the crane. He used his munitions to try and divert the heroine into the crane as a means of weakening her. I needed a chance to get close and jumped onto the crane itself. That’s when he chose to dive down and lead her over the water.

She was in chase mode, following him out there, but staying a little higher. It didn’t help her much when Terrorjaw flew out of the waves and chomped on her. Oligarch changed course, heading back to shore while she fell below the waters with the sharkman.

It gave me an idea. I unsealed one gauntlet and began charging up the other. Oligarch soared closer, leaving a wake as he passed over the water. I jumped out, hoping he didn’t decide to juke to the side for some reason at the last minute. He would have seen a small glow in the air until the hologram changed from showing the environment around me to showing Forcelight.

I’d timed it right. My glowing fit hit him in the back, the charged energy driving him into the ground. He bounced, even. Yeah, a bad part of having armor that’s so small and fits so tight against the body is it may not leave a lot of room for padding. That’s an issue miniaturization just can’t fix. I rolled and skidded as I came to a stop, throwing up a few sparks that I hoped no one noticed.

My facade as Forcelight continued as I stepped up to him and reached down to grab hold of the stunned villain’s neck with my bare hand.

One of the reasons the neck is so vulnerable is that it’s the only way things get between the head and the rest of the body. Brain signals, food, air, alcohol; you gotta go through the neck. It’s a literal chokepoint. Me, I implanted the equivalent of bodily wifi at the base of my head that lets me bypass that weakness in case my neck is broken or even severed. Oligarch didn’t have that on his side.

I had to work quickly as I felt my system merge with the cables and wiring in Oligarch’s armor’s neck. Armor stability could have been better. Running a bit low on ammo. That’s a problem with kinetic and missile weapons. A few heat vents were cracked, though. I could work with that. I ordered more to shut down. He had a self-destruct in the suit, too. Probably remotely activated, I would hope. A way to keep people from jacking his stuff like they did with mine. I stole the frequency, then backed off when I saw him making more purposeful movements.

I became invisible again and slipped on my glove just before water exploded out of the ocean nearby and Forcelight shot into the air with Terrorjaw riding her back. You don’t see that everyday.

She spun around, and I saw Terrorjaw fall off, then go flying as she kicked him out to see. Off in the distance, I think I saw him skip a few times. Well, he’s England’s problem now.
Back on land, Oligarch wrestled with his suit. Over the villainside comms, I heard him call out for anyone with ice powers. “My suit has a malfunction. The heat is building up. This is critical. Anyone?” He pulled his helmet off, looking like a sweaty old man with a bad case of helmet hair. He took a deep breath, then Venus swung down and clobbered him in the face so hard, I swear I heard a bong sound from her armored fist.

Isn’t that some shit? Forcelight had been on his case, then I put in the real work of beating him down, but Venus shows up at the last second to get all the credit?

I let her bask in the glory while I jumped for it. That’s about the time I noticed that the living Buzzkills had already made a run for it. Nothing left but the bodies. I saw some of them bees fleeing into the city from the vantage point I took further away from Oligarch. I didn’t know how big of a self-destruct Oligarch put in his armor, but I hoped it was smaller than city-wide.

Oh well, not worth asking him at this point.

“Look out, he’s going critical!” I yelled into everyone’s comms, then counted to three and sent the signal. The explosion disappointed. I expected a nice fireball, maybe some rocking. You know, maybe bend the crane a bit. I saw fire leap into the sky and heard people scream, but a closer inspection showed very few people actually hurt. The main one I focused on after confirming Oligarch was nothing but a crispy critter was Venus. She laid off to the side, clutching her arm and smoking a little.

Well, if she didn’t know smoking was bad for her health before, she probably learned her lesson getting blown up like that. A part of me felt bad, seeing her like that. I wanted to go down there, walk over to her, hold her in my hands…and squeeze her throat until she crapped her tights.

Sadly, this was not a day for star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet. You know, a couple that winds up killing each other.

I had a window there, where everyone had stopped and wasn’t entirely sure what to do. To the villains, I said, “Retreat. We’ll have a meeting about this later. The Order is not done, but I think it’s clear we don’t own the city anymore.”

To the heroes, I said, “Let them go. We don’t need any more fighting than is necessary. We’ve won.”

Then I called up Harlon, my guy in the news. He’s an executive who climbed to that position in part because I killed the right people and feed him the occasional red hot story. He wasn’t in Empyreal City, but he was very happy he could have his people report that a fight left the Oligarch dead and the city no longer under villain control.

And, finally, I called up Beetrice the Queen Bee and told her she did good getting her hive out. That, and “You better not watch Deep Space 9 without me!”

I’m not too keen on knocking her up with a colony full of my illegitimate insectoid monstrosi-babies, but a job this well done makes me feel like regrowing my balls for a celebratory nut scratch.

I settled for a victorious glare on top of Double Cross HQ while bells rang happily through the streets.

You see, I learned something from all this. Having any one ego in charge can work for certain group, like Double Cross. The company wouldn’t exist without me. It is a manifestation of my will, acting in my name to accomplish my goals. They are my drones, my workers. But they have to work toward a goal. Without one, they turn out about as cooperative and focused as the Buzzkills. And even if I wanted a group of equals based on cooperation, someone’s going to wind up the figurehead in charge, like Oligarch and The Order. And getting that many powerful individuals together and trying to force my goals on them would probably turn out just as bad for him as it would for me. And I don’t need a gang of enemies. I have enough of that as is. You need some sort of crisis or change in the paradigm to control them. The most basic way is a threat.

Yeah, I learned something. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power, power corrupts; study hard and be evil.”

And since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving for those in the U.S., let me add a cheerful: “Party on, dudes!”

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Local Politics 15

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I’m glad the new queen of the bee people was ready in time before the big attack. While I’d been messing around with heroes and villains, Technolutionary had been hard at work studying the blood I’d extracted from Wildflower. To say it had been quite the cocktail would to leave out all the other animals and body parts.

I hadn’t anticipated Technolutionary actually making things work this quickly. I just figured I’d go through with this as a way to weed out the problem elements in the Buzzkills. Listen, I keep hearing different reasons. I look different. I smell different. The queen is part spider monster. I only plan to throw their lives away in a scheme that benefits no one but myself. All true. But, as we all know, problems only have one cause, and one cause only. When people do things, they do it for only one reason.

Anyway, while I may not know the exact solution to the problem, I once again determined that killing a lot of them would most likely fix things too. Really, there are few problems that can’t be solved by murder. Go ahead, think about it.

Now that you’re done with that, let’s stop thinking about minor stuff and start focusing on the important stuff: my life.

So, yeah, turned out to be a surprise when Technolutionary called me up and announced, “It’s ready!”

I knew it was Technolutionary, because that’s not a guy you let call you by surprise. You label that number. That’s not a “I’m crapping, but who is calling?” number. That’s a “Brace your sphincter” number.

“What’s ready?” I asked, remember to squeeze my butt shut.

“I have transformed your queen grub! At last, she is fully bee again. She’s very talkative. Could you come pick her up as soon as possible? She’s annoying. Get off of that!”

I didn’t think he was talking to me with that last part.

And since it was Technolutionary, I couldn’t just have Crash run over and pick up the queen bee. Nope, I had to pull on my armor and drive on over to Sigma Labs. Technolutionary met me up in the lobby in casual clothing. “Welcome! Glad to see you’re staying alive in these interesting times.”

See, this is why I’m not a leader. I have trouble managing large groups of people. “You’ve seen what’s going on?”

Technolutionary smiled as he led me downstairs. “Yes, and it’s fascinating. I’m tempted to join The Order, but why would I? I have the supplies and cooperation I need without law enforcement attention. Do you think they will last?”

I shook my head. “It’s unlikely. They’re digging in, but tensions will arise, like they always do. The Oligarch is the one pulling the strings, so his ego will bring things down somehow. Meanwhile, I’ve been staying plugged in. I have an acquaintance who knows the odd CIA and military expert. They think it’s only a matter of time before Oligarch finds himself on the wrong side of a wet work team. That’s not my concern right now. Like you said, we’re doing our thing. We don’t need the extra attention.”

When we stepped into the lab, I saw a large Buzzkill standing there, staring intently at TV screen. She was bigger than the normal, people-sized ones, but not so much as the queen had been. She also had the extra pair of legs from a middle point on the side of her torso. Under the arms, but over the legs, and approximately halfway between each. Contrary to the popular image of a lot of smutty minds, she didn’t have curves that would look good to a human. She had a bigger ass, true, but it was kinda pointed, and she had these fuzzy areas on her upper thighs and torso.

Technolutionary gestured with his arm. “Here she is! I believe she’s an adult, but she’s mentally young.”

She looked over at us, segmented eyes glittering. “I am the queen and I rule.” She pumped one of her arms in the air. Then, she stepped over to me and looked me over. “Drone. You are early.” Then she threw her arms around me and kissed my helmet.

Well, that’s great. I have a bee person smooching on me that’s been alive for, what, a month and a half at most? Plus, thanks to my helmet’s 360-degree view, I got a closeup view of what her mashed-up mouthparts look like. Nope, not nearly fully human.

After an awkward couple of seconds, she released my orange and grey armor to stare down at me. “It is how people do.”

“Isn’t this moving a bit fast?” I asked her.

She lowered her head to stare at where my mouth should have been. “You are not a normal drone, but you are right. I must see the colony before we mate. Take me.” She slipped one of her arms under mine and started walking toward the way I came in.

This is how a person gets suspected of buggery, you know.

Technolutionary stood aside, but whispered, “Have a good time, you two.”

I gave him the finger and walked along with the queen, searching the internet for bee information so I could try and figure out this thing. “Yeah, let’s check out the colony. Get those other bees in line.”

“Then we mate!” the bee said, lifting me up a few stair steps in her enthusiasm.

“Yeah, sure. I don’t really have the-” I stopped. “I’m not sure I have the time, I mean. But yes, I’ll be your drone.” It occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t let on to the queen that I didn’t actually have the parts necessary to perform the duties of a drone. I mean, I’m capable of sex, but she wants sex for reproductive purposes. So I lied to her and pretended I was useful until I could get her figured out and properly molded into what I need her to be. “But we’ll discuss all that once you get back there and get those workers in line. What do you say?”

She squealed and hugged me. “Best day ever!”

I quickly made myself a note to carefully avoid exposing her to the Disney channel ever again.

I wish I could say she solved my problems with the bees, but then we got there to find the whole place was buzzing. Not an exaggeration. There were so many Buzzkills, you could easily hear them from the street. They weren’t doing much to hide their presence, either. I could sense their hostility, as well. They wanted to beat me up, but they didn’t try anything yet.

“Stand aside for the queen and her first drone!” The queen yelled, having learned something of sounding overly dramatic from her time with Technolutionary. Or the TV. I’ma have to learn that girl some proper English, n’awmean?

Well, before I could do that, she stopped and took a big sniff of the entire place. I’m fairly certain smells have some importance to bees. They have great importance to humans, too. Some humans use them to communicate their desire for revenge on those surrounding them, particularly in elevators.

While she stood there, snorting up smells, a large Buzzkill jumped out. Actually, only large compared to me and the others. It looked about the same size as my queen, but with an extra pair of legs. “Usurper!” she yelled at the queen I’d brought. Then she grabbed for her with six vicious arms of vicious furry bee fury.

I just wanted to say it that way, that’s why.

The queen bee finally left her nose out of things and responded, trying to catch hold of her evil part-spider twin. Alas, the spider woman had a numerical advantage in limbs.

What she didn’t have, soon after, was a solid chest cavity. I charged up my gauntlets and jumped into her from behind, bursting out of her belly like some sort of majestic otherworldly being. I yelled, as is the custom whenever someone pops out of a female’s belly.

The Buzzkills around hummed in what I assumed was anger due to the number of rude gestures directed my way. None of them made a try for me or the queen, even as I squeezed myself the rest of the way out of the dying mutant queen. I know, I seem special, but I take my dead enemies off one leg at a time. Without looking up at her, I asked the queen, “Hey, honey, what’s going on? There’s more of you?”

“Yes. My mother had many royal daughters. Only one can rule. We will slay them all.”

“Tis certainly the season for slaying, but does it strike you as a bit crowded around here?” I looked around at the ever-growing crowd of onlooking Buzzkills. “The little folk seem a bit restless, too. Should there be that many around?”

“No. The old queen breeds extra workers. Then she leaves with them. You killed the old queen.” She looked down at me, but I couldn’t read her expression.

I brushed bee gore off my body. “I don’t know how many times I have to say it, I had nothing to do with Freddie Mercury. That was before I got to this dimension. So, what you’re saying is, there’s like double the Buzzkills around because they were going to leave with the other queen?”

“Yes. They do not interfere with the queen fights.” She said it, but she still tensed up and raised her arms. Queen fights. Huh. I always thought that was that fighting club in San Francisco. I mean, they don’t discriminate. Straight people can and do fight, too. They just tend to underestimate homosexual fighters and thus are unprepared for the gay bashing they receive.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked, noticing that the term for surrounding Buzzkills had changed from “crowd” to “small army.”

She looked all about her nervously. “They are not supposed to.”

Amateur. I didn’t need to look around. I could see all the people around who wanted to beat me up. Seriously, I thought I dealt with this shit. Perhaps it was wrong of me to interfere in a delicate eco- and political system without any knowledge of what’s going on.

No. That can’t be right. Obviously, it’s their entire society that is wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.

“You are not supposed to rule! You are not right. Even workers know that.” Queenie and I both turned to look at a trio of fake royals approaching, all as big as the first one. A bunch of Buzzkills followed them, so I had to drop the “small” from “small army” when approximating their number. “And you have mother’s killer fighting for you.”

I reached over and patted what turned out to be Queenie’s hip. “I could kill ’em, but I don’t think you’d survive it.”

“Then we risk it. Today is a good day to die!” Queenie said. Yep, way too much TV.

“Drop that Klingon shit. You’re too valuable to me to go dying.” I ran between her legs so she was on my shoulders and jumped clear of the place. And broke something in my leg. I mean, I got healed and we still escaped, but it’s starting to seem like everything’s going out of its way to shit on me.

Crash probably figured out the sort of mood I was in when I came stomping in the hidden executive entrance followed by a giant bee woman. She took a look at me, and at a piece of…something…that fell off me onto the carpet, and said, “Oligarch has been calling…but I’ll tell him you’ll get back with him when you’re ready.”

“Anything important?” I asked as we stepped into the private elevator.

She looked down at her tablet to read back over her notes. “He’s got to delay the attack you discussed at the last meeting. He had to solve a problem with Navy Seals that paid him a visit. He wants everyone to double check their lair defenses and don’t hesitate if you need help.”

Oh, great. Now he’s killed one of those government assassination teams. I’m sure that won’t potentially escalate things.

I’m going to be so glad when I’ve dealt with him and the other royal bees. Like I said, death is always a viable solution to a problem. And while all these random things keep happening to just screw over my plans, I can at least be reasonably confident in my ability to kill my way out of this mess.

Although, sure, I have been off my game a bit lately. And I am going to be dealing with some villains who survived me in the past. Actually, been a lot more survivors lately. And now I have to go out of my way to keep some people alive.

Altogether, it sounds pretty bad. Sounds like I’ve lost a step. Sounds like maybe I just don’t have it anymore.

Where was I going with all this? Oh yeah, soon it will be time to bathe in the blood of a thousand innocents. For the good of everyone, of course, but especially me. Except the ones who are dead.

Well, there’s no use crying when there’s killing to do. When I look outside, it makes me glad I’m not you, ’cause I’ve plans to run and I’m gonna have fun with the people who are still alive.

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Local Politics 14

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On the off chance that I get offed, I have chanced to hide a statement in my computers roughly outlining what I know and what my plan is. It’s not much of a plan. Should be fairly clear by now that I’m not the planning type.

I’ve just gotten really paranoid with all these heroes around, but the natives are restless. The native heroes, I mean. When the other natives are restless, that’s when you see skeletons scalping people. It doesn’t happen often.

They’re all the problem, but Venus and Forcelight are the shiftiest. They obviously don’t trust me, despite my help. See, this is why it’s so hard out there for a pimp. I wonder if one of them knows. But if they know, you’d think Venus would have gotten frustrated to the point of letting me know she knows. I’m exceedingly frustrating. Perhaps I need to let her know that I know. Or, better yet, hint to her that I know that she knows, so that if she doesn’t know, she won’t know.

I don’t know, but see what I mean about Venus making me think all weird and sane?

Ok, ok, OK!

I don’t like her collaborating with Forcelight especially, with them knowing each other so well. But I can’t send them out. None of them. They have to stay in one place because I need to arrange things right.

I know, I could just have them all drop in on another meeting of The Order. We’re setting up shop at City Hall now. The Mayor’s former staff left it to us once Oligarch strode in with Man-Opener at his back. Unfortunately, they practiced a policy of scorched earth and took the coffeemaker with them, so we’re out of that at the meetings. It’s not a problem for me, since I really don’t care that much for coffee. But it’s the little things. You know, stuff that makes the people you’re hanging out with decide not to kill you in a pinch.

That’s important. I wouldn’t be surprised if manners improved some when you know knew that anyone around you could kill you at any time. You know, up until all the killing started. I imagine that part would be quite rude. A lot of amateurs don’t know the polite ways to kill someone. There’s even a specific way to tie a napkin at the dinner table so other victims will know you’re coming back. If you just leave it draped over the corpse’s face, the others will think you’re finished.

It’s called Deadiquette, people, and it’s becoming a lost art.

Anyway, I can’t just have the heroes attack any such meeting and round everyone up. That doesn’t work. It goes against the first point on my plan:

First, maximize the number of potential defenders against the alien attack. This doesn’t mean creating lots of conflict. Conflict doesn’t necessarily create more supers.

I’m trying to do that. I just have to come up with how. I need to keep the group in Empyreal City. I need villains. Hell, I need civilians with machineguns built into their prosthetic arms. And I need heroes. I can’t let them die off or run away, either. It’s not easy to need people, folks. I learned long ago that other people will either let you down or just make shit worse.

The thing is, I can hide. If Oligarch is around, he doesn’t strike me as the type to hide. He’s egotistical, and all about these grand plots to take over something. The sort of guy who could never spend a day just planning to make a really good sandwich instead. Busybodies like that can’t ever leave well enough alone.

Hmm, so I need to eliminate Oligarch…small hiccup, though. What are the odds the heroes would actually take him out? I mean, they didn’t even kill me. They thought about it, sure, but they decided against it. And I can’t do it as Banshee. That’s supposed to be the line that gets drawn. The other villains would give me up to the heroes, or at least refuse to help me out when the heroes come knockin’. I can’t even have people find him murdered with no witnesses around. Why? Because whenever I am forced to inevitably “come out” as Psycho Gecko, I’m going to get unsolved murders pinned on me left and right. Who knows, they might even write a book blaming me for JFK.

And they probably won’t give me any royalties either. I’m still a little nettled at O.J. Simpson for that little “If PG Did It” book he came out with. Not super nettled, but nettled.

Since I can’t make it look like an “accident,” I’ll just have to make it look like an accident. Whenever I arrange this big battle of epic proportions, I’m going to need Oligarch to accidentally die.

I knew ahead of time I didn’t want that to happen at the big dinner we had. It was some fancy Italian place, which was really going above and beyond for the crowd they catered to. Especially Powder, who had survived getting knocked around by The Saurus. Saurus is fine, by the way. Like the other heroes, he doesn’t like laying low and letting villains walk around doing whatever they want.

I think the worst we did at the restaurant was under-tip the waitstaff. Like I said, horribly rude individuals abound. Worse, because so many of them wore costumes, they didn’t have any wallets with them to pickpocket. Most costumes don’t even have room for a wallet, but most people who wear them would never think of putting that kind of personal information within easy reach of an enemy. Which is a shame, because nothing rubs it in quite like the villain beating a hero, then using the goody-goody’s card to pay for a victory meal.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Oligarch went on at the meal. “Congratulations are owed to each and every one of you. We have taken an amazing first step in building a truly better world.”

A better world? Sounds like someone’s buying their own propaganda. He’s unstable and delusional. Tsk, tsk. It’d be a favor, really. Gotta put folks like that down before they wind up hurting themselves and everyone around them.

“I have opened negotiations with organized crime and the unaffiliated criminals of our city to join our Order, as lesser partners, of course.” He smiled. The poor, hallucinating freak. It’d be so easy to put him out of his clear misery. I mean, just look at how pained he looked eating that penne? He’s clearly drunk on pasta and power. All it’d take is one or two good stabs to the throat with the fork I had in my hand.

But no. Too difficult to pass off as an accident. No one at the table, save for Powder getting her little fix, would likely believe I just happened to trip and fall twelve feet to jam my eating utensil into Oligarch’s jugular.

Besides, I’m having the alfredo tonight, and I hate mixing red and white sauces like that.

In a more subdued, conversationalist tone, Oligarch said to me, “By the way, your idea to fix cannon emplacements around the city is great. Please do so at your earliest convenience.”

I nodded. I already had a couple more in place, hidden. Military surplus, which is how I got them so quick. I still have to rig them so they’ll work remotely under my control or as automated systems. That means autoloaders. Most buildings are not made with that in mind.

See, that’s part of the second part of my plan: infrastructure. I don’t know why aliens would pick this planet to invade, or why they’d pick this country to invade, or why they’d pick this city. In fact, technically speaking, I don’t know for sure that they do. But I’m figuring they probably do for some reason. Urban environments are not an ideal battlefield for most confrontations. They can be made even less fun if a city has defensive weapon emplacements, hidden bunkers, underground tunnels, and the occasional explosive device.

He sipped his glass of wine, then looked around at all of us. “It will not be this easy every time, but days like today give me confidence in our ability to make this world into the utopia it deserves.” See, crazy talk. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either.

“What are you on?” some guy called out in a general way, avoiding identification.

Oligarch smiled. “I think we are headed for utopia if we can make it happen. We have the tools, tools like advanced robotics, miniaturization, nanomachinery, and chemistry that goes beyond what mortal man is capable of. The pieces are there, but mankind is too enamored of the concept of independence. For the good of everyone, we must break their laws and drag them to utopia. They require a strong hand.”

This guy’s almost as bad as I am at monologuing. “If they’re so damn dumb they can’t fix their problems themselves, then why do they even deserve a paradise?” I asked.

“We give them paradise because we are their betters. Being better means granting mercy.”

Can’t say I’m big on mercy, and I doubt he would be too if he was at someone else’s mercy. Mercy is fine for the powerful, but not so much when you’ve been the bottom of the totem pole. And it’s more than humans show. Like with my nanites. Someone got a hold of them and figured out how to make more that’ll work for anybody. It’s a revolutionary invention that would drastically cut down on worldwide mortality. What do they do? They’re jumping through hoops so they can make people buy it instead. Explain how doling it out in proportion to money is merciful to a mother and father watching their son go blind from Robles disease, when it could have been given to them instead?

If you’re looking for some grand philosophical statement about how much better I am, that’s not what I’m saying here. I’m just explaining why I hate these people and want them to die.

And I need them to have any hope of surviving. Even Terrorjaw over there, whose maw smells like a skunk getting pegged by a string of garlic.

That brings us to the third part of my simple plan: cooperation. I need to get heroes working together and villains working together. Even heroes and villains working together. Under rule of law, criminals can still flourish. Under rule of Oligarch, he’s notably discriminatory against the whitey tighties of truth and justice.

So Oligarch has to go, but The Order has to stay.

“Oligarch, I have another idea in mind you might like. My company’s had something of an infestation at the docks. Giant bugs. I think it’s about time I was also seen with The Order, and we can clean out some pests. How about a show of power that lets the little people see how merciful we can be?”

Oligarch held his glass out in my direction. “Wonderful idea, my idea. You are a fine example of the cream rising to the top.”

Nope. That was just me resisting the urge to spit alfredo sauce back up in his direction.

I’ll tell y’all one thing. This invasion better be worth it, with ships and lots of enemies and huge explosions. If this turns out to be a bunch of alien bishounen pop stars trying to sleep with easy earth women, I’m going to be sorely disappointed.

Hopefully that’ll be the only sorely I’ll be, too, seeing as I’m now an easy earth woman.

You hear me, horny aliens? This taco cart is closed!

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Local Politics 13

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At last, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It was difficult to convince Venus that all I wanted to do was fake killing her. We just had to make a big enough public spectacle out of it.

On Thursday, she swung over to Double Cross HQ like she’d done so many times before. The gleaming hero in a gold, pink, and white padded costume that exposed her belly and neck. She didn’t wear the full suit of armor that Forcelight, her ally, had made for her. Instead, she wore a pink and gold exoskeleton that gave her big metal gauntlets and shoulderpads. It also included light armor plates on the sides of her limbs and along her spine. Oh, and a visor that covered her masked face.

A visor and a mask. When she says secret identity, she means secret identity. Assuming she ever did anything other than hero.

Only, this time, she carried a warrant for my arrest. She showed it off after helping herself in through a window using one of those rods she’s been using to swing around the city. Playing the role of a distressed villain caught off guard, I did what any reasonable person would do. I pulled out the spray nozzle on my kitchen sink and hosed her down.

Instant fanservice. That’s right, I managed to get Venus all wet as a woman. More importantly, it gave me a chance to legitimately get away without having to make it too obvious I was in cahoots with her. Oh yeah, baby, gimme those cahoots. And don’t worry about catching anything. I had my cahootie shot.

After hosing Venus down, I gave her a closeup of my melons. I threw them, and the grapefruits from my fruit bowl, at her head. I only had a single apple in there, but I tried to hit her in the throat with it. Then I grabbed a banana, peeled it halfway, and came at her with it.

She grabbed my wrist, easily overpowering me. I dropped the banana and caught it with my other hand, then mashed it over her visor. She picked me up by my wrist and tossed me toward the living room. It put some distance between us while she cleared the gunk off, so I ran for the terrace. I heard Venus running for me as I slipped into a harness clipped to a cord and jumped off.

Down I fell, wondering if Venus would jump after me. On the one hand, she might want to save me. On the other, she might know it wouldn’t really do her any good if I’d already jumped. When the cord stopped me, tensed, then pulled me back up, I figured I’d get to find out.

As I shot back up, I saw Venus had fired another rod into the side of the building, but hadn’t yet jumped. When she saw my ascent on a bungee cord, she swung off to intercept me. Except it wasn’t exactly a standard bungee cord, and I didn’t slow down. I unclipped myself and tried to enjoy the sensation of being flung several stories into the air with nothing around to catch me but the hard roof. Friction and gravity did some hanky-panky with my inertia, which is a property of matter, and I actually landed fairly softly on my feet.

Oh look. A greenhouse. A simple, unassuming greenhouse. But not just any greenhouse! A greenhouse with a cannon. I ran in there and punched the release button to fold up the walls and ceiling.

This was the tricky part. It required precise aim. Also, a mark to let Venus know what part of the wall she needed to jump up from. It helped that I ran over to the edge and looked down. I still had access to the cannon’s fire control from afar. That’s why, when Venus landed in front of me, I just hugged her, spun her around so her back was to the cannon, and said “Hey, guess what I’ve got up here?”

I ducked and fired. The smoke and huge banging noise obscured my ability to determine if it hit at first, until I realized I felt fatter than normal and pushed Venus off me. When I ducked, she must have gone down on me. Wink wink, nudge, nudge.

Ok, so she didn’t go down that way, but she ducked on top of me. When I realized she was alive, I tried to push her off me. I had to yell at her to remind her of the next part. “The door!” I pointed to a maintenance hatch by the cannon. After shaking her head a bunch of times, she nodded and crawled over there under cover of smoke.

I joined her, picking my way over what blood and gore had landed on the roof with me. Ok, so I had to a gimmick things in case Venus dodged. I used some very special ammunition. Forget armor-piercing, hollow point, incendiary, or high explosive. This November, cannon shells come in new smokey BBQ pork flavor. Yep, a pork shell. Strong enough to kill a human at point-blank range, but weak enough to explode into gore on its own. Between mine and Venus’s contacts, any DNA tests will confirm that meat chunks are all that’s left of her.

Yeah, Venus has friends in forensics labs. Go figure. Now, they can even get away with calling her a pig.

Unfortunately, Venus still survived, but she had to hide in Double Cross HQ’s new bunker. As for me, I got a replica of Venus’s costume. You know, for reasons. Important reasons. Reasons aside from feeling it. We tore it up a bit so I could present it to Oligarch. He was so happy, it appeared to have caused constipation. Or maybe I can’t read his face that well. He didn’t seem all that happy at first.

He cheered up in a hurry when he realized it was time to declare The Order’s ownership of the city. I told him I’d rather not stand out as much, so I’d be bowing out of the press conference. Why? Because Oligarch immediately settled on Friday the 13th as the date for the big announcement.

That’s all well and good for him, but I had a prison to break. Again.

I opted not to do all the work prior to the expected date of explosion. This, I explained to Venus, is because I didn’t want to be the one to set off the explosion. All I told her is I knew one was going to happen to clear up the heroes once and for all. She didn’t know that I knew it all thanks to a clairvoyant, and she didn’t need to know how I knew. Knowing how I knew is on a need-to-know basis.

Though I did check in with Fortune Cookie again to get the exact time. I started moving in only a two hours prior. I didn’t even want to give them that much time. A lot can happen in two hours. That’s also why I had to go in that early. Some of the security measures we put in place were pretty hardcore. We buried Forcelight in a fucking block with a catheter. I’m sure there are others, but I can’t just rely on the heroes being able to solve all my problems.

That’s why, when I stepped out into the abandoned mental asylum, I looked less like a horror movie victim and more like a horror movie survivor. Jackhammer slung across my back. Chainsaw in hand. Dynamite stuck in my belt. I rolled a cutting torch kit with me.

“Hello,” one of the clowns said casually as I walked in. “Doing some work?”

I smiled at him and stepped close, my boobs showing blatant, some might say explicit, disregard for his personal space. “Just beefing up the defenses. Speaking of which, is there a camera up here?”

I turned to follow when he pointed up to one of those dark half-circle camera casings in one of the shadowed corners of the room. I turned back to smile at the guard, then proceeded toward the door. Just before I left, though, I poked my head out and burned through the camera with my eye.

“What was that?” the guard asked, looking at the camera, then back at me. I threw a stick of dynamite at him, causing him to dive behind his crappy Ikea desk for cover. I hadn’t actually lit the dynamite, so it was perfectly safe for me to set down the cutting torch and chainsaw, then walk around to the other side of the desk and snap his neck. Then I took back my stick of dynamite. Never know when you’re going to need more dynamite. Not bad for seasoning a steak, either.

Though you really shouldn’t throw it. It’s a more stable way to use nitroglycerin, but it can still go off from tossing it around. I mean, feel free to play around with it all you want, but I wouldn’t take that sort of risk.

So I walked down the hallway, pulling the kit after me and balancing a stick of dynamite on the flat of my chainsaw blade. I had an idea to turn on some music, too. Emilie Autumn’s “Fight Like A Girl,” a song that a pretty big section of the internet would not care to hear. Then again, I’ve spent plenty of time as a guy fighting a female nemesis, so it’s not an anthem I could get away with most of the time either. Odd, though. I expected more guards.

I turned a corner and saw a pair of clown guards running my way. Well, that’s right on time. “Ooh, better not drop this!” I said as I flicked the dynamite off toward one. He scrambled to catch it, then tried to figure out if he should drop it when he realized what he was trying to hold onto. While he did that, I used the chainsaw to knock his partner’s gun away and started it with a crank.

“Groovy,” I said, raising an eyebrow. I swung the chainsaw, sending blood gushing as it began to chew through the second clown’s throat. The first one was just laying the stick down when I handed him the chainsaw. “Hold this for me?”

He let it drop, the rude asshole, which made something of a Pez dispenser out of his buddy, with blood as the candy. I kicked him in the balls to double him over, then knocked him out with one well-aimed smack of a boob. Yeah, I wore my brass nipples.

It took me a couple minutes to boob him to death. I guess you could say that, as far as damage went, I really nipple and dimed him.

Shutting off the chainsaw, I made my way down the corridors, a spring in my step as I headed for the security office they used to keep a good eye on everything. Yeah, right. Stick someone in a room with a bunch of cameras and they’ll be bored and tired before you know it.

Thing is, I didn’t find anyone when I got in there. The lock was too old and rusty to lock properly, so I could let myself in, but there wasn’t anyone around. Before I could even get a good look at the monitors, I felt some wind from behind me.

The air conditioning didn’t work in the asylum.

I whirled around and got a sting in my arm as I saw a man in a yellow and green costume standing there, holding his hand out at me. I looked down and saw he had a glove with a pair of blades mounted on the wrist. One of those blades currently resided in my right bicep. I looked back up at him, with his grinning yellow mask with solid green eyes, then back down at the blade. Yep, that’s a stab wound alright. Bleeding and everything. Then I looked back up again. “You ass-guzzling skunk chingus!” I yelled as I punched him with my left.

I punched him, then everything kinda blinked and people from behind grabbed me and pulled me to the floor. Which is odd, because the only thing that had been behind me was a desk with security monitors on it. I didn’t have the luxury of thinking time because of all the costumed people clawing and hitting and kicking. Also, I think someone copped a feel and someone else made a hurtful racial remark. Just getting that on the record for any potential later civil suits. I finally got a chance to ponder my predicament once I heard someone call out for them to back off. Which is good, since it gave my mind a moment to realize I hurt like a motherfucker.

“Norma?” asked the familiar voice of Wildflower. My neck was just a bit sore…possibly worse than sore…at the time, so I didn’t bother trying to look at her.

“S’ok, Wildflower,” I gasped out, wondering when my kidneys migrated to my lungs. “I’m here to rescue you.”

“You’re late,” she said, moving into my view. She looked better than she had for awhile. “But better than never. We got out on our own. Here.” She offered me a hand. I took it and she pulled me up. I tried to stand, but then the dizziness set in and I had to lean heavily on her. “Concussion, maybe? Hey, what did you bring?”

I didn’t feel like talking much and just motioned down to the cutting torch. Then I touched the strap on my shoulder. “And a jackhammer.”

The escaped heroes helped themselves to both, causing me to wince when they unstrapped the jackhammer and the touched my arm wound. “Ympe got you clean. We can patch it while we work on Forcelight and the others.”

Wildflower picked me up princess style. “I thought this would be easier than you walking like that.”

“My hero,” I said sarcastically.

She laughed. “I couldn’t have gotten out without you.” She set me down, then had someone else pass her a first aid kit so she could at least stop the bleeding. Ympe, the green and yellow man, let a bunch of heroes crowd around with my tools. Then the entire group disappeared. It was then that I realized we were in something of an infirmary section. Geez, I hope the first aid kit isn’t from when the hospital was open.

“How’d that happen?” I asked. Then I winced as she cleaned my wound. Geez, want to stick a hot poker in there while you’re at it? Yet another way in which nanites are superior to sterilizing a body with alcohol and sewing it back together. It’s basically a matter of sticking the body parts in the right place and hoping they grow together.

“I told you I heard people. We found a way to communicate, and I overheard from the guard that they had C4 tripwires on the doors. He talked about it with you, and I have really good hearing. They didn’t expect me to be strong enough to overpower them, but I have you to thank for that, too. We passed along information and arranged a breakout using morse code and here we are.”

Morse code? Who the fuck uses morse code nowadays?

Well, heroes, I guess. Whew. Glad that wasn’t my fuck-up.

“Tigerlily, we’ve got to go,” I told her.

She nodded as she took out a needle and thread to start sewing me up. See? That’s how it happens. “We’ll go when we get everyone out. It shouldn’t be long with the equipment you brought in. You were really here to break me out, huh?” She looked up at me and smiled, showing sharper teeth than I remember. It looked like she had a little reddish substance on them, too.

At first I winced again as the needle pierced my skin, but I got over that soon enough. “Yeah, that’s why we need to go. Oligarch’s claiming the city as his. Don’t ask how I know, but he’s planning to blow up this place in less than two hours. If you can get everyone together, I have a bunker where y’all can all hide.”

“Hide?” she asked. She bit through the thread easily enough and packed the kit up.

I sat back against the cool wall, trying to let my aches subside with my eyes mostly closed. “If y’all all go out on your own again, they’ll just get you all again. I think we need one big fight between everybody to settle this. Just how did they keep a teleporter here, anyway?” I had wondered about that seeing that Ympe person in action.

“He takes people and things he’s touching with him. He says his power feels him and things touching him out so it won’t take half a person, but it can’t teleport anything too big. He has to know where a place is in relation to his current location to get there, too. Someone asked about that, because even in those chains he could have gotten out to the police.” She walked over and knelt by me, looking me over.

I opened my eyes the rest of the way to look back at her. “What?”
“Thanks. You tried to get me out.”

“Sure, I try to do my good deed and get the shit kicked out of me by a bunch of your friends. Yep, you’re grateful. This is why I don’t do favors for sadomasochists.”

She giggled at that, almost starting me on it until my chest remembered it hurt. “I am grateful. Don’t go taking advantage of my gratitude, now.”

I raised an eyebrow as I looked her in the eyes. “Me? Take advantage of your gratitude?” Moments like this made me glad to have a mental condition characterized by superficial charm.

The heroes had rounded up most of the guards except for the ones I had handled, and the place hadn’t been built with a line going to the outside, so there’d been nothing to slow them down or alert The Order to the breakout. Nonetheless, we all got out of there with plenty of time to spare, with a few windowless black vans meeting us at the other end of the sewer tunnel I took to get there.

I had to pull those vans off elementary school duty, but I figured it was worth the loss in profits from weed. Hey, don’t act like that. It mellows those bastards out. Besides, when we tried to sell them candy instead, they just ran away screaming “Stranger danger!”

In the end, Wildflower, Venus, Forcelight, and all the other rescued heroes save The Saurus gathered around the TV sets in the bunker to watch as Oligarch demonstrated the power of himself and his Order by destroying a random target. Olirgarch hovered over the city in his armor, then raised an arm in the direction of the old asylum. An arm plate shifted to the side and a rocket fired, much bigger than his usual micromunitions. One news chopper managed to zoom in on them enough to show a resemblance to a Minuteman missile.

Ah. Giuseppe. Oligarch must have wanted him around to design that for him. I guess even the former head of the Master Academy can only build bombs so small. Say what you will about Giuseppe, his work is da bomb.

The Miniman intercontinental ballistic missile didn’t have enough range in that form to nuke Russia, but it easily reached the asylum and detonated with an explosion that created a mushroom cloud and absolutely wrecked the sturdy old building and a few other nearby through a combination of raw nuclear fission and the resulting shockwave. The Starbucks across the street will be serving its Chernobyl Mocha Machiatos from now on. Fortune Cookie was right about the chances most of these costumed crimefighters could have survived that. As a side note, I know we had a Mastermind Cafe nearby that’d be getting a lot more coffee business from now on.

“There goes the neighborhood,” I said, ignoring the dirty looks from the heroes around me who realized I was joking. Venus in particular shot me a look. I swear, sometimes I get the feeling she doesn’t like me no matter who I am. I guess I just rub her the wrong way.

On that piece of mental imagery fanservice, Gecko out.

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Local Politics 12

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On this episode of “World Domination in Retrospect,” I’m going to discuss important tips for pest control. Now, if you’re not careful with extra candy, it’s possible you could end up with a T-rex infestation. It’s horrible. You go to open the closet one day and there, scampering away, is a T-rex escaping through a T-rex hole.

Not everyone can identify a T-rex hole by sight, but I have a handy tip that can help even the amateurs figure out if the whole they’re dealing with could be a pest problem. First, take a look at the hole. Is it large? Does it appear to have been made by a dinosaur? Is it between your mother’s legs? If you answered yes to two of those questions, you’re probably looking at a T-rex hole. If you answered all three in the affirmative, your mother might be getting some Jurassic penis.

Now, if you find you have a T-rex infestation, the first thing you’re going to want to do is lay down some bait. Cows, pigs, and your mother in a nightie are all viable options for tempting the creature out into the open. Just make sure it can distinguish your mother from the cows and pigs.

For example, The Order used pigs for bait. Oligarch mapped out a rough area where The Saurus often patrolled, made all the more predictable by The Saurus’s size, and then led an attack on a police precinct. Once again, I served as an observer, except to keep other precincts from interfering. Word got out from assault, but any attempts to mobilize reinforcements failed when radio, phones, and even emails all stopped working for Empyreal City. Kind of a scorched earth way of cutting communications, but I didn’t have the time or give-a-damn to pinpoint each and every cop’s work and business phone.

A calm voice told callers “In the face of almost certain death, smooth jazz will be deployed in 3…2…1…” and then they got an earful of Judas Priest singing “Breaking The Law”. Why be honest about the smooth jazz? Plus, it was decent accompaniment as I watched Powder take a shotgun to the chest as if the cops were shooting spitballs at her. She took the hit, grabbed the gun away, and dug her fingernails into the skin around his mouth. He shook, then collapsed in the throes of overdose.

The other villains made quite the mess out of the cops there, though a Pinkerton detective managed to give them a bit of a scare. He had a bigger sidearm than anyone else, and it packed enough of a wallop to shoot Powder through a wall. Didn’t kill her, but it took the head off Patches when she ran to assist Powder. One moment, the scarecrow woman knelt down, face obscured by burlap sack and sewed-on button eyes.The next, that burlap sack is fluttering in the wind beside a gooey, blood-soaked hole in the wall. Which sounds like an intriguing beverage, now that I think about it.

Patches shouldn’t have bothered anyway, but she really liked sewing stuff. Problem is, this time she reaped what she had sewn.

Powder propped herself up and fixed her shoulder back into its socket, her flesh already closing up. Meanwhile, the Pinkerton ran out of there with all the motivation of a man whose life depends on it. To his credit, he managed to gather a couple other survivors in one of the back rooms and the three of them all made it out. While it wouldn’t have done them any good to die in some futile last stand, it would have entertained me. If only Oligarch gave him a shot, right? Nah, Oligarch floated in the front parking lot near Man-Opener and Terrorjaw.

I’m not amused that the two are seen as reliable heavy hitters nowadays thanks to helping to beat me up that time. I’ll do something about that.

Once the coast was clear and prisoners were rounded up, the three higher-ups took up positions in the area. Man-Opener laid in wait on the top floor of a parking garage. Terrorjaw concealed himself in a fountain out in front of the station. I didn’t see what Oligarch hid behind, but I have to assume he found some way to keep from being spotted.

See, this is one of those notorious gray areas. If I’d given up the safehouse The Saurus stayed at, I could have saved a lot more lives. I’d be a regular philanthropist, relatively speaking. See, The Saurus isn’t like most superheroes, who can just take off the mask and blend into a crowd. Mostly because he’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s such a distinctive feature that he pretty much has no secret identity. He could, but that’d probably involve standing around in a museum all day, trying not to chow down on vandals from the Institute for Creation Research.

The attack brought The Saurus running. More than that, it brought Saurus Jr., too. That smaller T-rex should have been doing my bidding, not running around at the side of the hero his genes came from. The traffic cameras showed Saurus nipping at Junior along the way, trying to get him to back off. That’s a fairly normal response to kids, actually. Annoying little brats. The Saurus tried to slow down and check the situation out tactically, or at least as tactically as possible for him. His young clone ran on regardless, perhaps thinking the whole outing was a race.

Say what you will about villains: we get the best lines, we’re allowed to wear horns and spikes on our outfits, and some of us look awesome in bikinis. However, we are not the most disciplined sort. I speak, of course, about villains beside myself. Of course. First to strike was Roadkill. He sped in behind the wheel of a semi doing 240 in a thirty-five. Junior overshot the crossroad he was stationed beside, but Roadkill managed to turn the truck and smack it into Junior’s rear. It smacked the young dino forward, then caught it on its grill and smashed into the front of a donut shop. And out the back. And through the back of the building behind that.

It was a little harder to make Oligarch out as he chastised the rogue villain, probably through clenched teeth. “Roadkill, I didn’t give the order to attack. That was not our target.”

Roadkill crawled his way out of the architectural and automobile damage to shrug. His earpiece survived, too. “Get me something else good to drive. I can go all day.”

He can. Roadkill is one of those few gifted with superspeed. Unlike the more conventional definition, though, his speed only activates when he’s on some sort of vehicle, in conjunction with it. He can see just fine and breathe just fine, all while trying to break the speed of sound with a golf cart. Well, he probably can’t go that fast, but who knows if he’s tried that in a car designed for speed? Personally, I’d like to see what he could do on a horse. I asked him about that once, and he actually revealed to me that what happens is, “Fuck off, bitch.”

Unfortunately, he also appears to be effectively immune to any crashes he’s involved in, and there have been numerous to test that. Roadkill likes to use cars as battering rams. And, as his maneuvering against Junior shows, it’d be a mistake to assume turns are his weakness. That’s another one of those speedster powers that he’s lucked into.

“Mini Cooper over here. No keys,” someone chimed in.

“Don’t need ’em,” Roadkill said, “Just tell me where ‘here’ is, dipshit.”

Speed was of the essence. Thanks to Roadkill’s premature acceleration, The Saurus knew this was a trap. With Junior now stuck firmly inside it, though, he knew he had to charge in anyway. He roared, and I swear I could see windows vibrate from an aerial view. “Correction: tell me where it is and keep that emu off me.”

I couldn’t tell from the angles if Saurus saw Roadkill, but he stomped right for the endpoint of the crash.

“I’ve got him!” Powder said, running out into the street with speed borne from superior strength and stamina rather than superspeed. The Saurus waited until they’d closed the distance between each other to skid on his foot claws and turn to the side. With one swipe of his tail, he knocked Powder for a home run.

Roadkill stopped to stare at that when he got out to the main street. “Anybody else want a go?” he asked. For a second, nobody answered. Then, everyone heard a clang, a whine of servos, and a whumping sound like helicoptor rotors starting up. Man-Opener’s gleaming white armor had dropped down onto its chicken walker legs behind The Saurus. His walker stood half the height of The Saurus, so the long arms on the side of the wide, headless body could easily reach the T-rex’s neck with its rotating axe-like blades.

Accompanying him, a pair of miniature helicopters descended. They opened up with their tiny guns and rockets, doing practically nothing to the tyrant lizard king. The Saurus took a moment to throw his dictionary at one of them, missing. Then he continued after the last known location of Junior, crunching a Mini Cooper on the street in the process.

“Roadkill, are you still there, or are you, ya know, Roadkill?” I asked.

He hurried out from behind a mailbox he’d hidden behind. “Momma said there’d be days like this.”

“Your mother said this kind of stuff would happen to you?” I asked.

“Momma did a lot of drugs,” he answered back.

The Saurus didn’t actually do much to confront any of them, even Roadkill. Instead, he smashed his head into the building to find Junior. Once he found the clone, he pulled him free. Then he worried about the approaching villains. Roadkill cranked up a mail truck. Man-Opener stomped forward, blades womping. Terrorjaw circled the fountain, then jumped out. Oligarch hovered on jets of flame under his feet and at the rear of his hips.

“Remember, guys, get him over to the area we set up in the street,” I reminded them. We dug, cut, and blasted away a portion under the street and in the sewers big enough to hold The Saurus. Get him over it, blow it, let him fall into our little canyon, then cover it over enough that he can’t get out. Then it’s just a matter of food and waste management. Or so we were told. If Oligarch’s going to blow the roof off the asylum, then I bet he never intended to merely capture The Saurus.

“The center cannot hold. Things fall apart. We shall improvise, Banshee.” Oligarch raised both arms. Panels opened along the bottoms and tops of the forearms, the shoulders, the thighs, and his calves. On his back, a circular panel pushed itself open. A seemingly endless number of bullet-sized micromissiles fired, trailing lines of smoke that weaved a tapestry in their targeting patterns. They closed in on The Saurus, who tossed Junior a neighborhood away for safety before they tore up the ground under his feet. He fell from lack of proper footing, at which point the micromissiles tore into the supports of the already-weakened buildings surrounding him. It was nowhere near as clean, painless, or deep a burial.

“I am afraid this one must die with our original plan for containment scattered to the winds,” Oligarch said.

I talked to him while shooting emails over to R&D. “Belay that. I’ve got room in a lab. It’ll mean public association, but I think we’re close enough to our goals that we don’t need to worry about that, eh?”

“Are you sure?” Oligarch asked.

I tried to sound as enthusiastic as Technolutionary. “Think of the research! With the right equipment, I could make an entire clone army of these guys to do our bidding…”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Cloning isn’t really that useful yet, especially accounting for aging.

Roadkill whooped at that, and even Terrorjaw got a chuckle out of the idea. “That sounds awesome!” Powder yelled into the comms.

“Powder, you’re alive?” I asked.

“I landed in a pond in Central Park with a bunch of bodies and a truck, if you can believe it.”

“I suppose I can. So, Ollie, what do you say to some dinosaur ranching?”

The trailer hauling the captured dino to one of my lab compounds made quite a scene. I answered Venus’s call before it finished the first ring.

“You traitorous bastard! I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you!”

“I made a deal. He wanted one with me because SOMEHOW word got out that I was Banshee. Gee, I wonder if anyone had been spreading that rumor. So I finally agreed to save The Saurus for quote-unquote ‘research purposes’. You should be glad I did. Now, for once, can I get a little trust and respect from one of the alleged ‘good guys’ around here?”

“Are you going to release him to me, at least?” Venus asked, voice chilly.

I narrowed one eye incredulously. “You have a way to get him back to you safe house unnoticed, and the medical equipment to bring him back to 100%? He’s in bad shape right now.”

“I have regenerative nanites from Forcelight’s company. They’re a miracle in a bottle.”

“A miracle for humans. Do they work on dinosaurs?”

She paused for a long time after that, then answered, “I don’t know. I haven’t tried them on Kid Saurus here yet.”

“He’s with you?”

“Yeah, we got to him before any villains could. He’s shaken up and hurt, but I don’t think there’s any permanent damage.”

Damn. Son of a bitch tried to fellate a 200+ MPH semi and the worse they can say is “shaken up.”

“I know that we have doctors and veterinarians. We can do more for The Saurus than you can. You can let the little guy know that. But I have some bad news about Oligarch. He’s close to his endgame, and he’s not going to stop until you’re out of the picture. I have reason to believe he wants you dead. Good news is, I have a way to pull the rug out from under him.”

“How?” she asked, voice losing its angrier edge, but sounding a note of impatience.

“Well,” I told her, “first thing’s first: you’re going to have to die.”

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Local Politics 11

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When your superhero nemesis thinks you’re a businesswoman and minor villain of the opposite sex than she knows you to be, and then claims to need your help, you might expect she’d be Johnny on the Spot. Apparently, that’s how things work in your world. In this one, Venus took her sweet time getting around to me. Then again, that probably means my disguise is holding. She tends to give me top priority in our normal encounters, so it’s actually a good thing for her to ignore my womanly charms. My bosomy manners. My hiptastic entreaties, some might say.

I may not be IN lesbians with her, but I wouldn’t mind being lesbians with her. Wink, wink, nudge, nude, say no more, say no more. Actually, not sure there’s much else to say there unless I turn this into an erotic story. Then again, maybe it’d get me more of an audience.

So there I was, bosoms heaving, hair wild and untamed. I glanced at Venus from behind my apron, holding a full bottle of oil in one hand. “How do you like your…eggs?” I asked her.

She squinted. “I’m not hungry. Why did you ask me that way? Nevermind. I’m not staying for breakfast. I wanted to speak with you about what I mentioned the other night. Do you remember?”

I nodded and went back to fixing myself breakfast. A nice, balanced meal of eggs, grits, and country fried steak. My appetite’s been winding down a little bit without quite so much action going on, but I still like to pack it on. I burn a few more calories than most humans due to the cyborg parts, and it’s nice to build up a reserve anyway for the inevitable nanite regeneration. You wanna keep that mass, you better build up an ass.

“First, let me apologize for the delay. The Oligarch has a large group of villains at his beck and call, capturing my colleagues. They haven’t gotten me, not yet. So there’s a crime wave I have to handle without much help. Someone murdered a circus last night. We found six corpses this morning.” She hook her head as if to banish the thought.

I hoped she didn’t notice my snort. Six. They must not have looked in the clown car. I wanted to see how many clowns would fit.

Hey, I said I didn’t have as much action going on. Besides, they barely put up a fight. Ya know, if you call the snake lady trying to bite you a fight. Or something other than “kinda hot.” Too bad the dissection revealed her to be fake. Wish I could have seen the look on the face of whatever cop tried to use the restroom there at the crime scene. Once he looked up, I’m sure he didn’t have any trouble peeing, except stopping.

But enough reminiscing about fond times. “Sounds terrible,” I told Venus, checking on my gravy.

Venus paused a bit and I wondered if it was something I’d said. Then again, I hadn’t said anything that bad. After another couple seconds, I prompted her with, “You were saying you needed my help?”

“I should apologize for that. I shouldn’t frame it like I did. Oligarch, he threw me for a loop. Let’s drop the coercion. This isn’t about what I think I have on you. This is me sincerely asking for help from someone I hope and pray is unaffiliated. Plus turn around and look at me.”

I rolled my eyes, stopped stirring the gravy, and turned the heat down on it. When I did look, I found Venus down on her knees. Hey, maybe it’s not too late to turn this into an x-rated serial after all!

She actually got down and begged me. I mean, she didn’t know she was begging who she thought she was begging, but she was begging me. I took a picture and saved it. That one’s going on a Christmas card. Or into Photoshop.

“Please,” she said. “I’ll need help to stop whatever he’s doing.”

Huh. So it turns out I’m the undoing of The Order after all. Ok, yeah, I agreed. I think I have a weakness for Venus on her knees. Funny, I don’t usually give in when men or women are on their knees asking for stuff. Mercy. A little more time. A chance to make it right. Maybe Venus is just a special case like that. Or maybe it’s because I envisioned killing her and Oligarch off in one fell swoop.

I guess I’d somehow slipped into one of my little “Kill Venus” phases. I never can tell, day to day, what I feel about her. I’ve built her up in my mind, and a part of me knows that. She’s a hero; she’s my hero. But my hero can’t save me. Hell, now that I think about it, I know for a fact my hero fails to save me. Well, maybe the future invasion will go just fine with one fewer hero. Then again, that might also be why she doesn’t save me.

That’s it, I decided I’d go over to Fortune Cookie’s in person to ask her about that one. But first, I had to continue my mummer’s farce.

I turned back to my food, flipping eggs and breaded cube steak over. “Ok, ok…get up. You’re giving me too many ideas. First, no costuming. No being a hero.”

“But-!”

“But I might have safe houses, and few business ventures that could be useful for rearming. Maybe a communication network, unless Oligarch has randomly decided to intercept Double Cross emails.” I smiled to myself. I actually did have people at work building a bunker underneath Double Cross Headquarters, as well as a couple other sites. I’d say that you never know when you’re going to need a bunker that can withstand an alien invasion, but I actually do know. “You’re asking me to risk my life and livelihood. I have a lot of people to think of here. You go out and fight, you risk your life. If I go out and fight, I risk the life of every Double Cross employee, including their families.”

I glanced back at Venus, who now stood, arms crossed. She nodded. “That’s fair. I respect your dedication to your people’s safety. That’s not something I normally have to take into account with allies.”

I shrugged. “The mask isn’t my identity like it is with y’all. I wore it to get what I wanted.” I stopped, catching my tone. For a moment, I realized I sounded a bit like my usual self when talking to her. Not the voice, of course, but a certain condescension. I tried to cover it up. “That’s…sorry, I think I let these cook a little long..” I busied myself with the food some more. “I’ll talk to my assistant and arrange for what we talked about. Care for breakfast?”

I heard the terrace door open. “No thanks. I had a biscuit on the way here. There’s lots to be done.”

With her on her way gone, I couldn’t help but sing softly to myself, “You’re a tough little tadpole to love. Naughty lilies and lures; oh I was knocked to the floor. Never tasted as sweet a poison as you have. You’re an urge that can never be cured. You’re a bad little love and I’m yours. So trust me, trust me, darling dear. I’m so sincere; there’s no need to tear. Trust me, trust me, honeydew. Just like I trust you.”

I hummed the same tune when I attended the latest meeting of The Order. We’d graduated from a rundown community center to a hotel conference room. Lucky us! They even provided coffee for our band of nocturnal costumed criminals.

As for me, I scored major points with a few boxes of donuts. Well, except with a couple of villains. A tall, thin woman without a mask, in a barely-there tube top and short shorts said she couldn’t have any because of her diabetes. The razor blades dangling from earrings helped me identify her as Powder. Well, at least she’s not paranoid about “toxins” or “chemicals” being her food. I liked this little vein tattoo she had on the bend of her elbow.

The other guy, Roadkill, had plenty of tattoos of his own. I could only make out the ends of his sleeves under his jacket and the tattoos that climbed his neck. I pictured him as the sort to have them all over his head, too, but that was covered up by a metal mask that didn’t leave a clue about if he even had hair. He was a little husky, though, and his objection wasn’t diabetes so much as dieting. Good for him. Not easy to handle all that temptation in this day and age.

I distributed all but one box, which I kept to myself. Oh, come on, like that’s anywhere near the most evil thing I or anyone in the group had done.

Now, since I don’t like listening to Oligarch, I’ll skip past the boring stuff and just say that he wants to go public soon. According to him, Captain Lightning hasn’t been checking in as much lately. He’s had stuff to juggle in Syria. Oligarch wants The Saurus next, which is difficult because of how big the T-rex is. After that, he insisted Venus needs to go and we’ll be all set. The broad strokes are ready.

Two major heroes left to beat and imprison, and he wants to make a big announcement and declare the city his. I’m sorry, declare the city ours. I’m sure that little bit was just a Freudian slip.

Yeah, like I said, I had a whole lot of good reasons to barge in on Fortune Cookie, who had a nice little apartment above some New Age crystal shop. Fitting, I suppose. I knocked on the door for a solid twenty seconds with no answer. Maybe she wanted her privacy. Too bad for her, I climbed up the fire escape and crashed in through the kitchen window. She moved her bowl and kept on munching on cereal as I stood on the table and shouted. “Ta daaaaa!”

Fortune put down her spoon long enough to give me a polite golf clap. “Very good, Gecko.”

“Were you watching? Not easy to go through a window without getting hurt.”

“Very nice flip, Gecko.”

“Awww, you didn’t watch at all.” I hopped down and pulled out a chair, brushing off the glass. Sharp glass on a chair is a real pain in my ass. “Now, I haven’t been all up in your face this whole time. I know you don’t like me, what I do, how I do things, my body count, my company, and the people I’m working with. That’s obviously a bit of a barrier between us. But things are happening again. I need a bit of guidance, specifically about Venus. There are events happening, and I have to know the answer…does Venus die before the invasion? Or during it? Or, when I die, if I still die, is she alive?

Holy shit, now that I actually phrased it, I think I understand why Fortune Cookie’s clairvoyance powers are so complicated. Because, if I did things right, I no longer die. Or if I’m doing things right. And the answer to the question I’m asking Fortune depends entirely on the answer she gives.

Fortune put down her spoon and sighed. “There are so many reasons I can’t answer that.” She rubbed her forehead. “You are altering the future because you already know part of it. When everyone else acts, they act according to how they would have always acted. I can see them easily. Even you. Knowing the future upsets that. If I give you one answer, the future turns one way. If I give you another, it turns another. I can’t answer that question for you. I want to help you, but it’s hard to do that with you interfering.”

I picked up a piece of glass and tapped it around on the table. “Well that’s great. Everything I’m doing to keep that future from happening means I can’t keep tabs on it to find out how it’s going. I appreciate what you’ve tried to do, but is there actually anything else you can help me with?” After a second, I dropped the glass, trying to avoid any implied threats.

“Act like yourself, like you normally do. I will see clearly. But aside from that, there are still things I can tell you from time to time.” Fortune actually put her hand over mine.

“Broad strokes, then? Things I can know that won’t necessarily change?” I shook her hand off. “And you don’t have to worry about this false sympathy. What do you have for me?”

“I keep seeing an old insane asylum being blown up on Friday the 13th. Does this sound important?” She narrowed her eyes. Why do they call them almond eyes, anyway? It’s just nuts. Then again, terms like chocolate, mocha, coffee, and cocoa often get thrown around when describing non-Caucasians, so maybe it just goes back to the odd intersection of food and sex that some people have. Like sticking a cucumber inside an orifice somewhere. Yet another thing I don’t get about humans. I invented the dimensional bomb, but you sick sons of bitches invented analingus.

“When you say explode, do you mean a little bit, like survivable, or is this-?” I started, but she interrupted me.

“It’s big. Very big. Hard to survive.”

Great, so it looks like I have to save some damn heroes. Fortune Cookie is really right about me not acting like me. But it’d still help me to get those prisoners out of there. Speaking of analingus, what do you want to bet this asshole’s going to get a tongue-lashing?

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Local Politics 10

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“And then they were looking for an engineering achievement to rival the Eiffel tower, until this guy named Ferris got an idea for a giant moving wheel…but enough about The Devil in the White City. Time for the good stuff.” I looked down at Wildflower and began flashing her. “Well?”

“Beautiful,” she said, looking up at me with rapture on her face. She wiggled around to try and take in as much of the UV light from the portable UV lamp I carried. She’d gotten incredibly pale and lethargic, too. The guards informed me she hadn’t even been finishing her swill. And this is high quality swill, with at least a 50% chance of not containing any spit. “If only you could bring me something to help me sleep.”

Actually, I didn’t agree with the swill policy. Too much spit takes away from proper swill consistency. I mean, we’re basically talking gravy, grease, and food bits. Or maybe grits that have been watered down. There’s a lot of good swill recipes out there. Surprise your family at Thanksgiving this year with a healthy portion of swill.

Besides, you have to feed prisoners at least enough to keep them healthy. That’s part of why I brought some nice stew for her. That, and it made her like me more. I’d been paying visits to her and realized that I had to do better than fast food. Plus, cold weather is excellent for stew.

Turns out, she liked the UV light a lot more. It gave me an idea, too. “You know, if you were to pull off some of your clothes, you might be able to absorb more of the light through your skin. Go ahead, give it a try.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” she asked.

“Well, ya know, caring about you as a friend…”

“And being a lesbian.”

“I had my suspicions about you, Tigerlily.”

“No, you are. You’ve been flirty.” She had a point. “You’re like a guy sometimes.”

I shrugged. “Maybe I like women. Still, this isn’t about that. How are you?”

Wildflower reclined in the light, taking it in. She looked greener already. He stare bore into me in contrast to her luxuriating pose. “I can hear the voices. People screaming. I’m not the only prisoner here anymore.”

I nodded, trying to look sad. “Yes. They’ve captured a lot of heroes. Things are pretty depressing out there.”

“Even if I get out, it won’t be enough,” she said, curling up and wrapping her arms around her legs.

I knelt down and put a hand on her knee. “I’ll get you out. I’ll get you all out. Somehow.” I looked at the ground and bit my lip. I know, it didn’t inspire confidence. That’s probably why Wildflower put her hand on mine and gave it a little squeeze. I made sure to turn my gaze away from her.

“Hey, look at me,” the heroine said. I did. “Thank you for everything. I believe in you.”

I made up an excuse to leave soon after, but left her with a thick blanket. Next to the door, I saw the guard watching a monitor. He tried to avoid looking at me. I put a hand on his shoulder, “Too bad, bucko. No gay porn this week.”

Back in the outside world, Crash had a message to pass on to me. “Hey, I don’t know where you’ve been going, but I don’t like you being out of phoneshot. Anyway, that bug doctor wanted me to tell you that the grub you brought back isn’t a normal queen bee grub.”

“It’s giant and made by bee people. I hope I wasted money on an entomologist capable of recognizing it isn’t a normal grub.”

“It’s started to transform, and he says it’s not developing right. He wanted to see the mother, so we showed him. He thinks that what’s wrong are the queens. They aren’t right. They aren’t all bee. Or all bee people, whatever.”

“They aren’t?” I asked.

“He said the legs were an obvious giveaway.”

I took a moment to wonder at that, then slapped myself in the forehead. Yeah, she had extra legs, and managed to grab hold of me with extra arms. Eight limbs total. “Insects have six. Arachnids have eight.”

For those with amnesia, it’s worth remembering that when I first obtained these Buzzkills, they were in the custody of an anthro-arachnid in Japan. She took over her group of insectoid villains after a coup and seemed to be abandoning the Buzzkills. She must have been doing something else to them. “So what’s all this mean?”

“He thinks they won’t work right unless there’s a full-blooded queen.”

I don’t know how that’ll help anything. Besides how the hell am I supposed to do that? I really don’t want to go all the way back to Tokyo. Then again, that spider lady wouldn’t even have full-blooded ones. What am I supposed to do, make one?

Now there’s an idea. “Thanks for passing all that along, Crash. How’s the business side of things?”

“We’re surviving. Everyone’s making their own decisions pretty well now.”

“Okily dokily. Keep me abreast of any developments. I need to go talk to a man about a bee.”

Fifteen minute later, I stood on a street corner in a dirty coat, fake beard, and tinfoil Napoleon hat. My voice sounded normal on my end, but I scrambled it in the call. “Technolutionary! How’s it going?”

“Terrible, Gecko. We’re mapping your entire genome. I hope you don’t have any harmful mutations, or they’ll be part of the new race we’re going to create.”

I hated to do this, but this was right up his alley. “I’m trying to sabotage someone…a Japanese gang that uses these bee people as minions. They corrupted the queens to make them more amenable to their rule. Made the queens crossbreeds, I think. I want to uncrossbreed a grub that’ll become a queen, or something like that.” People looked at me oddly as I spoke like this, all the while crawling on the ground and addressing a pigeon.

“I’ll look if you have the grub.”

“I’ll rustle that grub up to you. Is there anything else you need?”

“Oh? Interested in my needs suddenly? Come to think of it, I’m set for now. I have all the test subjects I need, and the supplier you gave me has provided everything I’ve asked. It’s been quite refreshing, actually.”

I stood up and brushed myself off, then wandered off to go call up Moai. Suddenly, I realized the flaw in having someone that can’t talk keep track of the advanced scientific research Technolutionary worked on. But… “After you give me a rough outline in writing, I need you to do a drive-by grubbing. Actually, better not throw it at him. It might…burst…or something gooey like that. Just get it to him. Eh, you can actually work on the outline after you get it to him.”

I know Moai got it out to him before the end of the day before giving me an idea of Technolutionary. He had been using the homeless again, and most of the supplies he’d ordered looked like they could have matched what he’d been doing. Except he’d also been getting some of our prosthetics. He might have a few for testing if he’d made further progress in merging humans and technology. Yeah, when I saw he’d been getting a few each time, I told Moai he probably should sneak around Sigma. I think Technolutionary’s stockpiling his robot people.

Robot people, bee people. Whatever happened to people being people? Or, in my case, multiple people. It’s almost like they’re making up for the fact that I’m like three or four people. Myself, Missile Patriot, Banshee, Norma Mortenson…yeah four different people at least.

I woke about noon the next day to a ringing in my ear. It wasn’t because of the Manischewitz wine bottle on the nightstand, either. Good stuff. I like the Concord Grape especially. That shit is my jam.

But, no, the ringing was Technolutionary, who decided to start my day off yelling.

“You ask the world of me twice in a row! I’m not magic, as you well know. These interns…. I swear, you’d think they never ran a centrifuge before.”

I winced. “They’re interns. Geez, don’t you ever sleep? It’s the middle of the day. And, anyway, many of them haven’t run a centrifuge before. Even if it wasn’t so hard that Sigma Labs couldn’t do it.”

“The people behind Sigma aren’t around anymore. Nevermind the scientists. The test subjects alone would be an amazing find. A light shining into the darkness of ignorance.”

And there’s another idea. “What about if I could get you the DNA from one of them?”

“The more the better.”

Back to the sanitarium I went, along with a cooler full of beer. Sewer access makes moving supplies there difficult, but I could at least wheel that much in to help make my visits more tolerable for the guards. Depending on how much of Wildflower I decided to carry out of there, it might be nice to have them friendlier toward me or potentially drunk. Plus, the ice can help flesh fresh. Keep your flesh fresh with new solidified water today!

Solid water, a Double Cross product, all natural, organic, no preservatives, no MSG, and biodegradable. If people complain that we’re rebranding ice, I’ll just say it’s because our ice is fat free. How many other bags of ice actually say they’re fat free? What do they have to hide, huh?

Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Double Cross has lots to hide! Big secrets! Skeletons literally packed into our closets, and that means we don’t want to waste time lying on the little things.

Anyway, the guards that I was pretty swell and wanted me to stay and have a beer with them. In fact, they wanted me to have several beers. I’m sure many women would have been uncomfortable with a bunch of criminals in monster clown masks inviting her to down a twelve pack at night in an abandoned insane asylum, but not me. After all, I was the serial killer who tended to wear a mask.

One of them did interrupt me before I could head right in to see Wildflower, though.

“Since we got used to your weekly visits, we go ahead and disarm the failsafes,” he said, bending down by a set of wires by the bottom hinge of the door.

“Failsafes?” I asked. While the guard was distracted, I messed with his computer and decided to give it monitoring problems.

He stood up and played around with some wires on the top hinge. “C4. Man-Opener delivered a load, set it up. If anyone tries to leave who doesn’t know about it, the ceilings will blow up.”

“Sounds messy for anyone stuck underneath it,” I told him. “Just the two there?”

He dusted his hands off, “Yup. Go on in.”

I walked in, hands behind my back. Wildflower looked up at me from her rusty old caught against the wall, wide awake. “You’re back?”

“I’m…sorry. I don’t really know what I’m doing here. I was thinking of you. I think about you a lot, you know. Especially when I’m trying to go to sleep. So I thought about how you can’t sleep and I had my people make this.” I brought my hands around and showed her the small case I brought. I opened the top and revealed a needle.

Wildflower sat up. “What is it?”

“Just something to help you relax and sleep. It just gets you to sleep, though. I’m not an anesthesiologist.”

Wildflower jumped up and threw her arms around me. “I’m so tired, but being here reminds me too much of Sigma. I keep thinking something might happen. I can handle guards, but I don’t want a supervillain jumping me.”

“I could watch over you…” I trailed off, giving her the option to accept.

She nodded, then held out her arm. I took out the needle and set the case on the floor. I slid it in, finding a vein, and injected her. She stepped closer to her cot and I went with her, easing her down when the drugs began to affect her. It was almost sweet, watching her drift off. She ran her hand through my hair, then it went limp as she conked off.

With her out like a light, I went ahead and started extracting blood. Not too much. Not enough to kill her. Hell, not even enough to weaken her. Yeah, yeah, all that talk about body parts was just for laughs. I know it wasn’t that good of a joke, but how about a hand?

I grabbed hair and skin samples, too. Just in case. Little things she wouldn’t miss.

And maybe I sat with her for a few hours playing Payday 2 offline in my head and eyes. What? Doesn’t mean anything. Maybe I’m just lazy and like to relax inside decrepit old buildings. Besides, no one was around to think I’d come down with a case of Tourette’s every time the drill jammed in the game and I had to fix it. Seriously, I hate that broke-dick, piece-of-shit drill.

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Local Politics 9

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Empyreal City is quickly becoming a darker place to live in. I see it now on the faces of people scurrying about their day both in the office and on the street. Fear. They’re on guard from whatever might happen next. I think they can sense the inclement weather on the way. My forecast calls for a shitstorm.

It’s not from the bombings. I’ve decided to take a break from those as we approach Halloween. I’d prefer people to be festive. I spend the rest of the year tricking; I have no problem letting people have a treat.

Double Cross has been having a real treat, as well. With heroes outmanned, regular criminals and villains alike are pulling in more and bigger takes than ever before. There’s always something, after all. Gold. Bearer bonds. Electronics. Even fashion. My personal favorite is the shipment for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. They had cutting edge body armor and weapons capable of taking on supers. Not a lot of them, of course, but still the kind of stuff the military or would deploy. They had a few pieces of loot with them, spoils recovered from lairs and villains. Don’t know what I’m going to put in this Ming vase. A peace lily, perhaps?

I can’t discuss rising profits for Double Cross without also giving credit to Financial. I got a call from this guy with a Russian name, claimed to be fairly high up in a brotherhood of some sort. That’s a way of implying he’s in the Russian Mafia. The Bratva. They’d probably be more subtle about it if they thought I had any idea what was going on. This fellow, a bookie out of Vegas, told me I should look into my Head of Finance. He’d been playing around with my money.

“Really? Why tell me all that?” I asked.

“Hey, you deserve to know when your employees risk your money betting on college sports.”

I snorted in laughter. “How much did he win off you?”

I got silence from the line.

“You wouldn’t be trying to get him fired if he lost to you, because then he couldn’t pay you. Don’t let the company’s name fool you. I stand behind him and the huge amount of money he made me. And that you now owe me, I’m guessing, or maybe that you’ve already paid me?”

“You will get your money,” he told me, bitterness in his voice.

Woohoo, more money. I put called up Finance and told them to throw themselves a party over the sports betting. “And make sure to get the little paper cone hats.”

Ah, cone hats. The cheapest way to give someone a hat. Decent way to blind someone, too.

It gave me an idea: party! With people so down in the dumps, why not have a big bash? No, seriously, why not? Sure, it’s short notice, but it turned out I have plenty of volunteers to handle security. The only other thing I needed to do was refreshments and entertainment. Easy peasy, what with the overall bad mood of the place. Open party at Double Cross! Drunk white women for everybody!

I did have some actual work to deal with before that. The situation down at the docks required more of my attention. I’d had my guys lock down the whole place. Yeah, that went over well. I had conspiracy theorists all over the place, too. Apparently, it was all part of the U.S. President’s attempt to take over the country by martial law, which was secretly orchestrated by Big Oil working together with Big Tobacco and the NRA at the behest of the Illuminati, which took its orders from the invisible reptilian aliens running Scientology, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and the Roman Catholic Church as part of a conservative plan to turn the country into a fascist dictatorship.

Or something like that. The particulars are different, but it’s always the same kind of stuff. I’m sure I could add JFK and the moon landing in there, too.

I had to do something about that, and fast. So I wasted a few days having consulting entomologists work up a reason they turned hostile. They answered that for me: the queen. The hive likely operated under the control of a queen that the others protect and take direction from. When I separated them from their old hive, they allowed a new queen to mature and take over. She must not have liked me.

They said my options were to get on her good side, take her place, or become male. Which might answer why they liked me in the first place. I was a male wearing an orange and dark grey exoskeleton. All I needed was wings. I already had the giant stinger, ladies. I mean, I don’t have it at the moment, but still…ladies.

Clearly, I needed to assert my dominance over the queen. Normally, that process involves latex and a whip. This time, it’ll require a more subtle hand. Less latex…more short yellow and black dress and a deely bobber headband.

Carl and Moai insisted on following me at least as far as the quarantine line. Crash didn’t insist on it, but I made her drive the rest of us, with Moai sitting in the trunk. Still, she seemed generally worried at the possible loss of her paycheck. I bet she hasn’t been able to spend much of it on anything other than cars.

The dark didn’t bother me, nor did the humming mass of hostile bee people hidden throughout the shadowy dockyard. One of them jumped out at me, stinger sword at the ready. I held out my hand in the Vulcan salute. “Greetings! I come in peace. Take me to your leader.”

The inhuman life form reacted with hostility, making me reconsider leaving behind Crash and her red blouse.

The Buzzkill thrust at me, aiming to impale me through the belly. Wearing flats this time, I dodged easily to the side and grabbed the arm at the elbow. “Now, now, this is a weapon, not a toy. If you’re not going to treat it with respect, I’ll just take it away from you.”

The Buzzkill smacked its bulgy forearm into my face, causing me to release the appendage. Then it slashed at my head. I ducked under and waited for it to try and regain control. While inertia left it vulnerable, I took hold of its arm and twisted it around by the forearm in a hammerlock. “You know, it just occurred to me that limb removal is much easier with a sharpened object, like a knife, or a shovel, or even bone. Hey, do y’all have bones?”

I twisted further, and further, and further. I stepped back, then drove my knee into the anthropomorphic insectoid’s upper arm as hard as I could.

Nothing seemed to break, but the blow caused the Buzzkill to escape.

I raised my fist again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear an answer. I said, ‘Hey, do y’all have bones?’” I pulled back as if to punch the Buzzkill in the face. When it brought it arms up to block, I insteaded ran to my left of it. Hooking its arm, I jumped and pulled myself across its shoulders so that I came down on its other side, grabbing its head in a facelock. My momentum carried me down to plant its face into the ground.

With it down, I held its non-blade arm up behind it. “Now, point me in the direction of your queen. Is she this way?” I pointed in one direction with the captured limb. The Buzzkill shook its head. “What about this way?” I pointed the opposite way. Again it shook its head. “Ok, what about THIS way?” I tugged its arm at an unnatural angle with the assistance of my foot, hearing a cracking sound. Beneath me, the Buzzkill raised its head like someone doing yoga and released a high pitch squealing buzz like someone doing radio. After what seemed like a literal minute, it collapsed back against the ground.

“I’m not hearing a yes or no,” I reminded it. It shook its head, so I let it go. I wouldn’t have trusted that information, but I figured I could always find another one to ask for directions.

Turns out, I couldn’t trust that Buzzkill. I could, however, trust the building overflowing with hive guarded by a pair of really big Buzzkills holding spears made from salvaged metal. Once I spotted that, I abandoned my direction of exploration and made what I can only describe as a beeline for it. Shivering, I stopped right in front of the guards and instructed them in my most commanding chattering. “Well? You gonna get that damn door for me or what?”

And now for a brief educational moment from Psycho Gecko. When in a place you’re not supposed to be, one of the things that helps is to act as if you belong there. Having proper or faked credentials helps, too, but you’d still look weird acting nervous. It’s just like how the best way to lie is to believe a lie. That, and clench your butt cheeks, but that’s mainly if you’re hooked up to a polygraph.

They walked me inside the warmer formal hive area and presented me at spearpoint to the Queen, whose throne looked more like a cup. She also looked bigger, in terms of height, width, and even a bit of girth. Also, she had extra arms and legs, at least compared to a human. She didn’t seem happy with me, but I had to figure that out based on subtle context clues. Like the way she pointed at the guards and they pointed their spears at me.

“Queeny!” I said with faux-happiness painted on my face. “So good to see you!”

With a voice that kinda grated on my head, “You smell like the one who brought us here but female. You are kin of the kidnapper, or a mate. Either way, the kidnapper is weak. He left us with no one to care for us. He ran when he saw we lacked blind obedience.”

She stopped talking as if waiting. Was there a question in there, or does she just really like giving exposition? I decided to speak up. “I am Psycho Gecko, the one who took you from Japan! But I am changed. I am now the queen of my own hive. I have been busy. Seriously, it’s hard running your own hive. You should try it sometime.”

Still just lookin’ at me, Queeny.

“Listen, I want you back. I liked working with y’all in Japan. What will it take to work out a deal?”

“No deal!” She says forcefully and stomps three of her legs.

I looked around, trying to see if they had a need for anything I could offer. My gaze settled on another, much smaller cup seat off to the side. “Aww, is that your heir in there?”

“You stay away!” She pointed at me.

The guards pointed their spears at me. The one to my right thrust, but I stepped back and pushed it upward into the throat of the other guard. That one dropped her spear for me to grab and poke out the first guard’s eye with it. Then I remembered bees had lots more eyes than humans and began poking it a lot more times in the head to be sure. With guns, Zombieland recommended a double tap. When it comes to stabbing weapons, I prefer to take my inspiration from Jack the Ripper. His victims sure as hell didn’t stand back up and make a full recovery, that’s for sure. I then spun to the side, took a stance, and hurled the spear at the Queen Buzzkill.

She caught it and let out a furious smell to alert the rest of the hive. I grabbed the other spear out of the throat I stuck it in and ran at the Queen, leaping to impale her with it like Buffy with a wood strap-on and a vampire girlfriend.

The Queen caught me. Damn her extra arms! She pulled the spear out of my grasp and tossed it away, then held my arms close together. She brought me closer. Whatever she said, she said it while chittering and humming.

I didn’t have a lot of ways out, but I did have at least two. I twisted and smacked her in the head with my boobs and the metal weights hidden on my bust underneath my dress. Brass knuckles would have been noticed, but not brass nipples.

Still, it hurt the Queen at least as much as it hurt me, because her grip loosened. I pulled an arm loose and yanked the spear out of her other arms, then drove it into her head. I kept going until I had her pinned to the floor like a bug collector.

When the rest of the hive guards swarmed in, they found me sitting on the throne, rocking a royal grub in my arms and cooing. And holding a spearhead awfully close to the heir.

“Hi there, everyone! Guess what? The old queen had a bit of an accident, but luckily I’m here to take care of this queen grub. Don’t worry, as long as she’s with me, nothing bad will happen. Be an awful shame if y’all didn’t obey me and divided my attention. That’s how accidents happen…fires start…grubs get fed to giant birds. But y’all wouldn’t do that to me, would y’all?”

With my new bouncing baby grub ensuring the loyalty of the Buzzkills, the quarantine was lifted and everybody went about their normal, totally-not-covered up days. Nope, no bee people here. Bee people in a dockyard…ridiculous. Next, someone will tell me they saw bee people in the sewers or at an old, unused candy factory in the industrial sector.

Absurd, and I urge them to prove me wrong, no matter how great the risk to their own life!

Freaked the hell out of Crash when she saw it, too. If not for the fact that I needed the grub alive, I’d have tossed it to her while saying, “Here, look after this.”

That matter taken care of, I was ready to party come Halloween night. A good time was being had by all on the ground floor, with the lobby and plaza open for all who wanted to attend and enjoy the music, sweets, and booze. I’d have thrown a parade, but there’s only so much I can arrange last minute without threatening people’s lives.

Even Venus came. “Venus! You’re here. So good to see you out and about tonight and not thinking I’m some sort of suspicious criminal.” Perhaps I played up the innocence a bit much when I noticed her by the candy bar.

She brushed her hair out from in front of her mask and face, grabbing a caramel apple lollipop out of a bowl. “It’s Halloween. Everyone takes a break on Halloween. Besides, I may have bigger problems than a dirty businesswoman.”

“You do indeed,” said Oligarch as he slipped out from behind the chocolate fountain. In contrast to Venus, he wore a crisp, tailored business suit instead of a costume.

Venus narrowed her eyes and tensed. I’d swear she almost threw a punch then and there. Good for her. There’s so few guaranteed breaks from the fight, she managed to make sure there’d still be one. “I knew you weren’t dead.”

The Oligarch smirked, “So good to see the Master Academy taught you that much. It is not the same institution as in my day.”

Perhaps that was the wrong time for the DJ to start playing “Brand New Day” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

“Now, now. No fighting, whatever this is,” I chided, laughing in my head at that one.

“It’s just a friendly warning, Venus. You don’t want to stay in town, or what happened to Forcelight will happen to you.”

I unwrapped a Warhead and popped it into Oligarch’s mouth so this wouldn’t escalate and so he couldn’t reveal my part in things. “That’s enough out of you.” His eyes opened wide as the intensely sour sensation restrained him.

Then I grabbed Venus and swept her off to the dance floor to make a fool of myself. Ya know, no matter how much people say you’ll never amount to anything, you can always still make a fool of yourself on a dance floor.

Still, it took a few seconds to notice she was trying to talk to me. “What’d you say?” I asked over the sound of Neil Patrick Harris declaring his desire to kill Captain Hammer.

“I know you’re involved in all this, Ms. Mortenson. You’re going to help me find out what happened.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do.” She stepped closer, lowering her voice. “You owe me.”

I owe her? Well, I do…but I only said that as Gecko. “What do you mean?”

“I know you killed that mafioso. I bet you used the cannon. I have more on you, but they’re not as important to me.”

Whew. Still an interesting development, but whew.

Not that she stuck around to give me a Happy Halloween, if you know what I’m saying. Sadly, I think any chance of us having a relationship is more like the next holidays: The Day of the Dead.

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Local Politics 8

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Work, work, work. Too many things to do and not enough time to discuss it all. According to Technolutionary, his work is still taking time. To think I was ever concerned he’d pull this off on his own. He assured me that the delay was merely a normal part of the scientific process. I told Moai to sneak over there and get a glimpse of what Technolutionary’s doing.

I also haven’t heard from Fortune Cookie in awhile. I always thought seers blabbered all over the place. I know I wouldn’t be able to resist. I’d also have been banned from state lotteries and Las Vegas. Not that Vegas would be all that happy to see me anyway, I suspect. I’m beginning to suspect that other villains really don’t like me. Maybe I should ask her more about that. I just figured that if she’s willing to actually help me given her obvious discomfort for me and my methods, she’d prefer to have more input. Then again, maybe that’s the only way she can stand it.

It’s important to get a sense of people like that. Deep down, through all their differences, people are fundamentally the same. They want the same things. They react the same ways. Everyone bleeds the same color. I should know. I have lots of experience among a wide range of people.

I left her a message at her number, which claimed to be a psychic hotline. I told her I wanted her to get back to me about this Order of supervillains seen around.

Kinda important to keep a handle on this. While my stuff is working on profitability, I have to juggle this Order mess and somehow make them further my goals. At first glance, capturing heroes doesn’t necessarily work with that. I haven’t been the most clear to y’all, so here’s what I need: more superhumans. I need more heroes, more villains, more neutrals, and more defenses in general. I might even need a specific way to draw the foreseen alien invaders to this city. Sure, in the movies, they love to stop by Empyreal City. But how do I know these aliens don’t like rural America? After all, people out in the middle of nowhere always complain about waking up with probed asses. Personally, I’d blame the moonshine and the horny neighbor, but they went with aliens and there might be a hint of truth to that.

Ok, so I need to lure in the ass-probers and make sure I have a large group of men and women in spandex costumes to beat them off.

That’s why I requested the guys making the prosthetics create a few sets with room for weapons. Gotta fix those up and get them into the right hands. Well, not the right hands. If they had hands, they wouldn’t be getting the cybernetic parts, unless I wanted to be as much a dick as OCP and amputate someone’s limbs to give them that stuff. The question is: who do I upgrade? It’s reasonable to assume I wouldn’t want to give all that power to some cop who’d just turn around, barge up into the boardroom, and shoot me through a window. Buuut, if I gave it all to a career criminal, there’s really no reason he or she wouldn’t try the same. Or just take off and run.

I need someone with a sense of duty, and some loyalty wouldn’t hurt either. Like the Buzzkills. Well, hell, the Buzzkills. I’d forgotten about them. Ok, let’s table the cyborg discussion. I called up Carl and asked him about the Buzzkills.

“We put them up at the docks, paid up. They have a whole warehouse to themselves,” he informed me. “The people who deliver the sugar never said anything.”

“Just humor me and go have a check. Make sure they know you work for me. Make sure they’re getting enough food or whatever.”

Let’s see, what else…I checked on Wildflower and Forcelight, too. With Forcelight’s powers being what they were, we had to keep stuck in a cement block. I hear they had a hell of a time getting the catheter set in there so she could use the restroom. That’s not the sort of medical care you can just hide in a scoop of ice cream. They also keep the room dark. I don’t know if that helps, but it couldn’t hurt. I mean, might drive her insane with fear, but you kinda expect someone in an asylum to be mentally ill.

Then again, that Rosenhan guy would take issue with that. Famous psychiatric experiment. A guy and a few helpers claimed they heard a voice saying stuff and got admitted. Then they acted normally and told people they stopped hearing any voices, even started taking notes. The staff didn’t believe them and would only let people go if they took medicine and admitted they were still mentally ill, though some of the other patients did guess they were actually sane researchers. As for the staff, they decided that all this note-taking and claiming to be sane were more symptoms of insanity. The guy himself, Rosenhan, was stuck in there for two months.

When some other institution heard about this, they claimed it would never happen there, so Rosenhan told them that over a period of three months, one or more fake patients would try to get in, and that the institution had to guess. During that time period about half of the patients who came to the institution were suspected of being fakes. Rosenhan never sent anyone.

The study had a nice name, too. “On being sane in insane places.”

I guess it doesn’t really have a lot to do with actually having locked heroes up. I just find it interesting how easily the sane can be trapped in that situation. And now heroes are in that situation. Plus, with the staff taken to wearing clown masks, it looks like the inmates are running the asylum. In a lot of cases, their just monster masks painted to look like clowns. I like ’em, and the guards like that they’re staying anonymous in style.

I gave Wildflower some more decent food and a stack of books. I gave Forcelight a ridiculous hairdo.

My little Pyscho Sanitarium, as I’ve personally nicknamed it, is a little too thick for cell phones, so I didn’t get Carl’s messages until after I got out. He sounded worried. “They’re taking people! Get down here! I’m callin’ security to get guns!”

Oh great. Now we got a fucking horror story on our hands. I called him back once I hopped in my car and got no answer. Repeatedly. I called up Double Cross Security, too, wondering who and what they had on the way to the warehouse. All I got from the man on the line was a “Huh?”

“VP Carl said he’d call in. Something happened at a warehouse by the docks, he said he’d bring in backup.”

“We don’t have any record of anything like that, ma’am.”

“I’ll get back to you,” I told him, then checked in with Accounting. I had them trace where we were renting a warehouse and delivering huge quantities of sugar. I also had Crash go down, find that armor in the art gallery, and bring it in her car. “And no wasting time looking for someone else’s car to bring it! Lives could be at stake.”

Which was true. Even if the Buzzkills or other folks around the docks had already ended Carl, their lives would still be at stake.

Then it was back to Security to arrange for my own personal army to invade a small section of Empyreal City. They would move in from the south with our own fleet of vehicles, including Tacticals and armored cars with turrets. I’d head in from the north. I met Crash at the gate there to get my armor. Yes, she saw me don it. If she didn’t explicitly know it before, now she does.

The only thing she asked me was, “You don’t want me to take my car in there, do you?” She pointed toward the north gate.

I shook my head even as I noticed a few husks of beehive in the fence. Little pieces, like from normal insects. “No, this is something I have to do alone, with a private army. Your car will only end up totaled, somehow. I’d find a way. While this is the season for people to explicitly not split up, I think you’ll probably be ok if you’re nowhere near this place.”

I chose stealth when heading in this time. I crashed in through the gates riding on the roof of somebody’s modified station wagon. Its front doors formed an angled bulldozer blade on the front of it, and I controlled the wheel and speed with a pair of ropes.

I charged off through the docks, blaring out Two Minutes to Midnight from my suit while navigating around cargo containers, equipment, cranes, and all that. My HUD couldn’t tell me where Carl called from, and I don’t know what he’s driving now. Maybe the very station wagon I commandeered.

You know, I figured there’d still be some workers wandering around. Something, anything that reacted more readily to all the noise and movement. That’s one of the things about hunting. It’s easy to see a moving target, since most of the environment doesn’t move. And when there is a lot of movement, still targets stand out a lot more. That’s why you flush things. That, and it makes the bathroom smell better.

Rather than take the scenic route, I figured I’d just pop in the nearest warehouse for a quick look-see. I had to jump down and hang off the rear. It was that or get knocked flat on my ass. I don’t go around getting my ass kicked for y’all’s entertainment. I do it because asses have needs to. Fetishes, even. Listen, my ass is a consenting adult and I stay out of its business, so y’all should too.

That building didn’t have much. Just huge, ominous hives. The wheels of the station dozer crunched over it. I pulled to a stop and waited as the Buzzkills buzzed out in miniature form, then grew into anthropomorphic, androgyne black and yellow bee people. They looked a lot brighter back in Tokyo, and their angles were rounder and curved. Here, the black didn’t reflect anything and the yellow was darker. They had spines sticking off their bodies now.

I waved at them and hopped on top of the car. “Hey guys!”

I couldn’t make out their buzzings, but some of them knelt.

“Yes, good. I deserve it. But can anyone tell me what’s going on? I hear something about people getting taken, and then my friend Carl disappeared around here earlier today. Anyone got any answers for me?”

They all stopped and turned toward a larger section of the hive where a bit of human flesh stuck out. I jogged over and pulled out…some random person. “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much-” I shoved her back in when it turned out she wasn’t Carl.

“Guys, Carl isn’t a woman. Don’t y’all know the first thing about human gender?”

The nearest Buzzkill glanced at me, then around at its buddies. Then its hand morphed into a curved mixture of stinger and blade. It took a swipe at me. I grabbed its blade easily.

“Hey, you’re not supposed to attack me! I’m your boss. I’m your god. I give you sugar! Sweet, sweet Colombian sugar!”

Just then, I got a call in on my secret identity’s line. “Boss! It’s me. Security got me out, but they had to fight for it. Are you around here too? They had to burn one of the nests. The bugs are goin’ nuts!”

That explained some of the hostility, like how two more of the Buzzkills stepped up in front of me to try and free their friend. The others maintained their distance. I let go of the one I had, trying to see if I could salvage things. “I understand the other guys did something wrong. We’ll fix it. More sugar, right? After all, you’re a growing species. I brought you over in a single crate.”

The three Buzzkills seemed to consider it, buzzing back and forth between each other. I thought I remembered something about colony insects using smell, or even interpretive dance, in order to communicate. Unfortunately, the only smells I naturally produce make people want to kill me, so instead I settled on shaking my hips like Bombalurina during Macavity the Mystery Cat.

When they went quiet, I had a feeling negotiations didn’t go favorably. I reached into the hive and pulled out the captive woman just in time to catch the three stinger blades they shoved at me. What else was I going to do? Dodge? That’d require mild effort on my part.

“Ah, fuck it.”

I turned invisible and escaped, making sure not to make a smell that would give away my position. Getting out wasn’t difficult. The difficult part will be taming the Buzzkills all over again. I’ve put my top entomologists on it, which required hiring some top entomologists. In the meantime, the docks of Empyreal City are currently under quarantine by sufficiently bribed police under orders from sufficiently bribed agents from Customs.

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Local Politics 7

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I got to be mission control for a crime. Normally, I’m a hands-on kinda person, but watching and advising turned out to be fairly entertaining, too. Gave me an idea or two for the future, while we’re at it.

So the first part was fairly simple. When I’d talked to Professor Electro, we’d gone over that there were two main ways to start things. Either hit someplace smaller and leave enough of a mark that everyone knows he did it, or get it into position for the big score and perform a demonstration there. The problem is the lack of time. You start throwing lightning bolts around, you either wind up with significant police and hero attention or a bunch of worshipers. I suppose it depends on who you aim at and if anyone wants to base a system of governance on some guy on a mountain handing out lightning bolts.

We opted to try a demonstration first. Everything and everybody fit into a moving truck that stopped outside Global United Trust. The bank, with offices only in the United States, is particularly divisive after losing a lot of people money back during the financial crisis. Like the rest of the people, they got into the mortgage-backed security business.

Not sure if I’ve explained that before. This is going to be one of the more boring, educational sections for y’all, but parts of it are important for understanding the overall scheme.

Basically, big banks started making home loans so they could use the debt as an investment. According to Einstein, compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. Regular interest is pretty strong too. This doesn’t sound that bad so far, but where they really got greedy is when they realized they’d made about all the loans people could afford. So banks began to go after people with worse and worse finances by making the payments look small at first and by telling these people they could afford it. After all, they’re banks. Why would they ever want to lose money by loaning money to people they know can’t pay it back? Well, they did because the mortgage-backed securities were so juicy and could even be sold off to make immediate money.

This only lasted as long as people kept paying their mortgages. I said they made the payments look good at first, remember? Yeah, once a certain amount of time passed, those payments went up. Or giving a loan to people with no ability to pay it back led to the natural consequence of them failing to keep paying it. Either way, that amazing source of income suddenly got cut off. But don’t worry; the banks insured many of those investments.

Of course, as y’all may or may not realize, too many expensive claims coming in at once messes with an insurance company’s ability to actually pay out. Insurers don’t just keep premiums in bank accounts to earn interest for them. Well, some of it they do. They’re required by law to keep at least a certain minimum in there. The rest is invested to make more money. Anyway, the companies who insured these securities weren’t able to pay the claims and started going bankrupt, which suddenly meant that all these banks were going to lose their money after all. On top of that, there’s apparently this thing called a credit default swap where people essentially took out insurance on other people’s debts that would pay out if the other company defaulted, which made a killing for a lot of people, up until they realized that the people who owed them money didn’t have it to pay.

That really exacerbated things. Dear readers, y’all shouldn’t exacerbate so much. You could go blind.

That, FINALLY, is where Global United Trust came in. They made a lot of money in the short term, then lost a lot of money. Global United Trust being quite a bit smaller than some of these banks at the top, they could have lost a lot of people’s lunch money. You earn a fuckton of bad will by telling people “Sorry, you can’t have your money back because the bank needs it to pay off our own debts.”

That’s why runs are so dangerous, and I don’t just mean the sort caused by adding too much Rotel to your taco meat. Banks also only keep some of the money in people’s savings accounts. They reinvest too. That’s one of the ways they actually make money, doing things like investing in bonds, real estate, and mortgage debt.

All of that is why most of the money in the United States doesn’t exist in dollar form. Ones and zeroes, just like the financial stratification of the U.S. And, hey, I know I sound like the Red Menace here, but I wouldn’t have to steal from the megarich if they spread the wealth around a little more. If people could make good money from middle-class people with less risk, they would rob them instead. Simple as that.

That’s why we went after Global United Trust. Prof. Electro hopped out of the van, accompanied by a half dozen men and women wearing black coats, black gloves, black pants, and wearing black Lycra underneath all that to further protect their identities. According to Carl, minions hate being identified working with specific villains. It gets them punched on more often by heroes, or charged as accomplices to actions that would be crimes even during wartime.

Before anyone could get a good look at everyone, the Professor and his crew headed down an alley next to the bank and popped open an exterior door to the security room. I’d sent out some interns to find the blueprints for the bank. Don’t say Chat Des Combes didn’t get me to listen to at least some advice before the French catburgler in the skintight suit turned on me back in Europe.

I’m already changing everything about how I operate, so I might as well take in the occasional piece of good advice. Keep the good, ignore the bad; “but test/examine everything. Hold fast/on to what is good,” as the Christian holy book says in stark contrast to the bumper sticker that reads “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Once in the security room, the security guard cashed in his life insurance policy and the team plugged a USB drive into the security computer that gave me control over it for my viewing pleasure. They then spread out, some through the connecting hall and some through windows that gave office workers a scenic view of graffitied alley walls. Coming up behind everyone, they forced tellers down at electro-gun point.

Professor Electro’s own creations, the electro-guns are designed to shoot electricity at people in defiance of conventional physics. Tasers have to use those little line things to convince electricity to go through another person before it heads to the ground. Lightning is a notorious hippie like that, always trying to hug the Earth. And no, he wouldn’t tell me how he does it.

The civilians went down also, except for some old guy who pulled his concealed handgun and then dropped it once his heart attack started. Professor Electro, resplendent in his lab goggles, breast plate, and lab gloves, marched the bank manager out in full view. Two of the minions went to work packing up the teller cash while the other four ran out and unpacked the Lightning Rod. I used the capital letters because Electro named it that. It isn’t actually a rod. It looks more like a box with four swirly antennas on the sides and a pump going through the middle.

The minions had to get it out because it needed a straight shot to the sky with its antennae. I told the Professor I could get a chop shop to add a sun roof to the truck if he gave me enough time, but he wanted to hurry on this one.

“Everyone, please file outside into the street!” Prof. Electro announced, waving his electro-pistol around the room.

This is where he and I had a bigger difference of opinion. I’d suggested he just bring out the manager, or even leave them all in there. The Prof. Insisted that we minimize casualties. This from the guy who wanted to threaten the entire city with the machine! When he told me that, I wished I had a metal glove or something to hit him upside the head with. Even though I shut him up in the office by pointing out that he should be willing to carry through with whatever he’s threatening, he called an audible in the field and led them all out. I even heard him mutter over comms, “We could have taken the one in the office if not for that psycho henchwoman.”

Louder, addressing the crowd, he said, “Behold! I will now demonstrate the power of my Lightning Rod!” With that, he ordered the henchmen away, revealing his Rod to the assembled hostages to great gasping. He set to work, adjusting the knobs and levers. The tips of the swirly antennas glowed, then released beams of pale blue light into the air. Almost immediately, lightning crackled across the clear sky and a bolt struck the bank, trashing the electronics.

Professor Electro and his somewhat-stunned gang cleared out of there before anyone knew it caught fire because the police were on their way at that point. Even without alarms, plenty of people had cell phones outside to catch the attack and report it, with videos making it to Youtube before Prof. Electro even escaped.

The next day, Prof. Electro stood atop 30 Park Place, a skyscraper still under construction. A shame we couldn’t use one of the better looking buildings instead of one of these newer monstrosities. I actually like the arches and points of the ones from the early 1900s as compared to the giant glass sticks everyone wants to put into the sky nowadays. It also didn’t help that some of those older ones house financial services. Prof. Electro and I considered some of those, but he accepted my reminder to back up his threats if necessary. And he definitely didn’t want to be on one of those buildings when struck.

So he sat on the roof of 30 Park Place, not passing Go, not collecting $200, and addressed a Giant Screen that featured icons of a dozen major banks and insurers who had interests in the residential and commercial buildings of New York. “Ladies, gentlemen, parasites… what I did to Global United Trust was only the tip of the iceberg. Pay the amount I forwarded to each of you to the accounts I forwarded to you within the hour, or the entirety of the iceberg will fall upon you like the Titanic…which really sunk by aliens, but nevermind that now. You can lose millions each….or this wonderful skyline becomes target practice and you lose everything, just like what the aliens did to the Titanic.”

I wasn’t sure about letting them know they weren’t the only ones in that boat, but the Professor claimed it would set them at ease to know that they weren’t the only ones in that situation. They got to keep it within the family, with an understanding that they could help each other get out of it.

I invited some others to watch the view from the cameras, satellites, and Giant Screen. Moai pulled up a recliner just in time for Crash to settle into it when Carl walked into the art gallery. “Hey boss, I got the cooler!”

“Good, hand me soda.” I held up my arm, hand in position to hold a bottle. “Hail Hydrate!”

Carl handed me a bottle. “Hail Hydrate, boss.”

“Hail Hydrate?” Crash asked.

“Hail Hydrate.” I told her.

She held up her hand. “Hail Hydrate!”

Carl handed her a drink. “Hail Hydrate.”

We didn’t have much of a view for awhile as the clock ticked down. Prof. Electro got his ass out of there. Then, at about the thirty minute mark, Forcelight flew into view. She glowed white, which matched her long hair and blank eyes. She’d altered her costume, though. She wore clingy black and grey with gold trim.

It figured. As the owner of a medical company with a lot of hospitals and research facilities, she and her board probably had connections with one of these captains of finance. The project that gave Forcelight her ability to fly and manipulate light as if it were solid put a hit in the coffers of Long Life, her company. The resulting loss of money forming a superhero team called Shieldwall actually convinced the Long Life Board of Directors to remove much of the financial decision-making power from her.

They needed the money, in other words, and she could get back in her own people’s good graces by helping out. She wasn’t quite who I expected to fly in and try to save the day. I’d hoped for another sighting of my dear Venus. I’m sure I’ll get over it.

“There’s no one here. Just the screen,” she spoke to a device on her wrist.

I held up my phone and spoke, my voice coming out of the screen. “That’s right. Professor Electro can fire his device from anywhere in the city. Much of this was a deception, I’m afraid. But you don’t shouldn’t worry about that. You have bigger problems.”

She blasted the screen to pieces, then looked around, noticing the situation she’d fallen into when she wasn’t looking. The Oligarch, Terrorjaw, Man-Opener, Giuseppe’s Toy Soldiers, and numerous other villains flew into view from lower floors of the building. Herne the Hunter rode his motorcycle up the side of the building and landed it on the roof, aiming his spear right at Forcelight, his ghost hounds appearing at his heels.

You could almost hear the ding as the lightbulb went off in her head. Maybe that was the ka-ching as the various accounts on my side computer monitor began to fill up with the requested amounts. Or, more likely, it was the microwave announcing that our popcorn was finished right at the best part.

Still, a shame we didn’t fire off that Lightning Rod again, but at least my little Psycho Sanitarium got itself a new tenant.

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