I wasn’t sure Pritchard Ajax would even be capable of squeezing out a spaceflight, but it’s not like I was gambling with my own life in the process. I mean, Forcelight might be able to survive a shuttle explosion.
Well, spaceplane. They were very insistent on the terminology. It’s basically where a a big plane carries a 1950s sci fi-looking rocket-plane hybrid real high, at which point the rocket plane rockets into space. It looked much older than it was, though it surprised me to find out it wasn’t the most recent of the company’s planes. “We had another one, a newer one,” the pilot told me. It was just he and me, so I was filling in some gaps in my knowledge about private spaceflight after he announced our altitude. I’d loosely heard things, but filed it away under “North Korea” for some reason.
“Yeah? What happened to that one?” I asked. It wasn’t exactly a roomy plane, even with just the two of us. The thing was designed to only seat three.
More quietly, the pilot answered, “It suffered a failure.”
“It blew up, didn’t it?”
He didn’t say anything. Yep, that’s why I had put it in that particular mental filing space.
“But this one’s sound, right? It’s in good shape?” I asked. It better be. We were attached to the bigger plane, just waiting to be hurled into space like Gaia had decided to binge drink the night before.
“Yes, she is. We kept her in a museum after her big flight.” The pilot gave a more enthusiastic nod at that.
“So, this is the first time this thing has been flown in awhile. There a reason for that?” I doublechecked the spacesuit I had on.
“After the flight where she actually made it to space, the company retired her to keep her from getting damaged.”
Ah, yes, of course. They got to space, but decided to keep the ship from flying any more in case it couldn’t do that again. I began to realize I’d gotten ripped off in my deal with Ajax. “The flight where she actually made it to space?”
“She won a prize for getting past a hundred kilometers twice in a week.”
“Any further? Like orbit?”
“Well, the prize was about getting to space, and that’s the boundary. But don’t worry, she had the equivalent of three people in her at the time.”
“…but not actually three people.”
“The equivalent of three people is good enough!”
“Except for the part about not even risking three people when you could sacrifice some crash test dummies. Or are we boldly going where only Vesta Aerospace’s trained astro-chimps have gone before?”
“You wish. We took a dog up. More more docile.”
Quite the mess I got in. I told Ajax I needed orbit, not the bare edge of space. Anyone could go to the edge of space. Just being that far doesn’t exactly exempt you from immediately plummeting back like a stone. “Congratulations,” I told the pilot. “You chased a prize that was already won back in the 1960s.”
The pilot scoffed. “Yeah, right. Those were government planes. They didn’t own those.”
“Who owns this one?”
“Vesta Aerospace, in conjunction with both Death Valley Ventures and Solar. I guess no one person owns it.”
I laughed at that. He didn’t get the joke. I just hoped that Forcelight at least got up there before becoming the punchline.
That doesn’t mean the action was entirely up in the air. I sat with Max in the middle of a campsite about thirty minutes from Empyreal City, whittling away at wood and tosing the scraps into a fire in front of us.
“It’s good you focus on a creative hobby,” Max said, chewing into a round, purple thing.
“Thanks. Figured, after putting together all the rockets and all the discs, I deserved a break that involved using a knife. And the secret, or so I’ve read somewhere, is to imagine what you want the wood to be, and then remove all the parts that aren’t it.” I turned my head to acknowledge him in a friendly enough way, though I kept my view focused on the carving itself thanks to my helmet’s display. Yep, still spending most of my time in my armor. The smell could be better. Probably why Max’s assistant, Holly, insisted on tossing a pack of incense into the fire in front of me.Then again, she had been eating smores, so she could just be baked.
Max nodded toward the piece of wood in my left hand as I scraped the knife along it, smoothing an edge. “What did you imagine that to be?”
I gave it a couple practice swings. “Well, it started out meaning to be an elephant, but then I took too much of the nose off, so then it was going to be a horse. Then I accidentally cut too much of the dick off, and figured we’d go with a goat. Then this leg went and I figured, hell, why not go for a starfish? Naturally, that led to throwing stars and next thing you know, I’m holding a shiv. You ever go to prison, this sumbitch will make sure the vampire gang doesn’t pick on you. Isn’t that right Ethan?!”
I called out to another fire over where Ethan Basford grumbled and held onto some small metal chest while the Claw minions chatted around him. He didn’t join in when they started tossing popcorn into each others’ mouths. Just kept muttering to himself and his precious little treasure.
It was then I noticed the Claw super with the metal tail, metal teeth, and scythe hand approaching with a bottle of whiskey. She stopped at the edge of the fire and grinned at me, teeth gleaming. “Hey, Psycho Gecko. Hello Mr. Max. May I speak with Psycho alone?”
Max shot me a look like “Hey, now I’m Mister Max. What are you getting in to?” then closed his eyes to nod toward her. He stood up and dusted off his pants. “You two have a nice talk. Don’t let it hold you up from moving on.”
I waved at him as he left, “Yeah, lots of ground to cover. Make sure the new arrivals are there.”
She sat down across from me with her, wrapping her modified arm around her legs. She unscrewed the top of the whiskey with her natural hand and held it out. “You want?”
I shook my head. “Nah, not my preferred taste.” I tossed my shiv into the fire to burn with the rest. “You wanted to talk?”
Gotta give the boobs some credit, I get a lot more attention with these things around, not that this person had much opportunity to see them. Before she could say anything else, I asked her, “You came with the Claw’s people, but I don’t recognize you from anywhere.”
“I am Girl Robot,” she said, though I got the “Girl Robot” part from my translator. The name in Vietnamese involved a weird U and O, so I’ll gladly stick with the English version, no matter how generic it is.
“A lot of cyborgs where you come from?” I asked. I crawled around the fire to get a better look at her parts. The metal ones, pervs.
She looked right at me as I moved her hair aside to look at where the metal arm integrated with the shoulder. “No,” she answered quietly. “I am a prototype. I was lucky. I like metal and robots.”
It looked like good work. Incredibly good work. It wasn’t as natural as me, but it was still something. “This is very good work. Do you have any trouble with your parts?”
She reached out and ran the edge of her scythe over one of the lines between my armor’s chest plating. “You could make them better. Your parts are like your real body. It is lucky I get to meet you, because I want to change myself as naturally as you do.” She brought the tip of her tail up. It went from a thick stump, the thickness of another leg, that worked its way gradually thinner until it ended in a trio of blades.
I ran a hand over her tail. “Well, you’ll never be quite the same with your human physiology, but you should congratulate your maker on a job well done when you meet him.”
She gave me a puzzled little smile. “Can you show me how your parts fit?”
Now, I could have been misinterpeting that, but I think she was into me. Just a bit. So, purely for scientific purposes, I removed a glove and ran my hand up the tail, resting it on the base of her tail.
There’s a special spark that passes between two of my species who are both connecting to the same thing, since it’s the nerovus system that’s involved. And this Robot Girl could actually feel it a little bit. Not the same way, but closer than any others so far.
But let’s not dwell on that too much either. I had lots to do in space, too. Lots to do. Lots.
Like detaching! Which prompted me to ask the pilot a question. “What are the odds we’ll survive your trip into hyperspeed?”
“Never ask me the odds,” he responded before the force of the rocket doing its thing forced me back into the seat and pleasantly vibrated Forcelight’s body, making me quite glad she didn’t have balls for fear of reverberation.
When things finally eased up, the pilot turned to laugh at me and announce, “Congratulations, lady. You made it to space.”
I reached over to pat him on the shoulder. “Yep, now to set a new record with this baby. Keep us over here and keep an eye out. We need to stay near Empyreal City for just a little longer…”
“Is something going to happen?” the pilot asked.
I doublechecked the seals on Forcelight’s suit, then smiled.
I know I’m skipping around a little in time here, not much, but I sat around the fire on my own back on the ground at this point. Armor firmly secured. I poked at my dying fire with a stick, looking around at all the others our whole group put together, with all the various faceless pieces of meat to throw into this grinder. Looking around at them, I put out a call. Not some grand horn signalling an attack. Just a phone call. To Venus.
Her voice sounded utterly emotionaless. “Who is this?” If not for the context, I’d have had trouble telling she even asked a question, her voice was that even. I responded with a bit of song.
“Hoofbeats go a-trotting, trotting, up to Heaven, bold. At the gates a-knocking, knocking, sheep in wolfish clothes. Holy jaws are dropping up in Heaven’s hold. Plant my hooves, my hooks, my books!…I’m here, Venus dear.”
Up in space, Forcelight looked out over the atmosphere through a porthole. “There! Fly us at that thing!”
“That? You were looking for that?” The pilot looked incredulous.
“It just released from higher up. Nevermind, forget that thing, pop the door.” I stepped over to the exit which was meant for more terrestrial usage. Under my breath, I gave the scared woman I dragged along into this some motivation of her own. “Get this done and you’re free, Forcelight.”
“You can’t!” The pilot called out. I looked over, more curious if he had left something open and would die. Hey, they didn’t give me all the details, I don’t have to give them all the details either. Instead of suiting up, he had reached for a bright red switch.
“That better be the manual unlock, because you don’t want me to tear this door off.” I told him. Forcelight rose, hovering a little.
“We just needed to know your plan. You will not win,” he told me, then forced a smile onto his face. I almost thought I saw it break into the beginnings of horror as he flipped the switch and the cockpit exploded. The pressure threw Forcelight out into the thermosphere. Gonna be honest, was really confusing for a second. Things exploded, things got really cold and sucky, there was some pressure stuff. Yeah, this wasn’t going like I meant it to.
But Forcelight could fly. And she could reorient herself. I just had to get her pointed in the right direction, take into account the velocity of the falling object, and try to track appropriately. And then just keep firing a whole bunch of blasts from Forcelight’s hands that tore through the night sky at the speed of light, causing distant explosions and breakings, or so I hoped. Kinda hard to keep track of things, so I was reduced to yelling, “Dakka dakka, suck it Kessler!” as I put her hands together and formed one giant beam that I tracked across a swath of space. Satellites possibly blew up or were allegedly knocked into pieces. TV shows were potentially missed. And, as soon as I finish dealing with the aliens, I’ll have to find out just how much of a wreck this may have caused for Earth’s ability to use satellites.
But I had a way to hopefully make sure.
With Forcelight falling, I spared a moment to turn her around and pick off the falling object, which almost looked like a seed to me. It was significantly easier to see with the heat building up around it, and a long blast from Forcelight sent it wildly offcourse and accellerated it. No way would it land anywhere near me, their target.
I tried my best to calm Forcelight’s body and take in the view, both because it’s space and because I needed to check, but I had trouble keeping everything together. The suit was fucked up, and being up that far was starting to do things to her. “I didn’t necessarily plan for things to go so far South for you, Forcelight. But I did what needed to be done, and I did it the best I could under the circumstances. If it helps, I’ll tell the nanites to do their best to keep you alive.”
I let her go, stood up, dusted off my armor, and walked away from the bright collection of fires, allowing the holodiscs to flicker out behind me and reveal that the Fluidics’ chance to rain on my parade was wasted anyway.
But I had one last message. One last announcement broadcast through what signal interceptors remained online after my initial warning that I was coming for Empyreal City. It interrupted regularly scheduled programming across the nation to show my perspective as I put out a fire, then walked to the edge of these woods where Empyreal City stood in the distance, lit up a bit less than before the barrier went up.
“We’re here.” I told the audience, before cutting the feed.
In the days after the mayhem at the motel, Max was unusually distant. He’d healed me up just fine, but this time he’d adjusted the unknown concoction to minimize the side effects. They stayed away from me, but not as much as last time, so I assume there was less risk of an explosion this time. Don’t know where the green stripes came from. That said, he approached me a few days afterward. “Now that we have created distance from the latest attempt by the extraterrestrials to wipe you off the face of this Earth, I would dearly like a word, my friend Gecko.”
He’d chosen a polite enough moment, after I broke up a minor spat between the Claw delegation and the runaways from Master Academy. Moai blocked me when I started to offer my first incentive to work together: a horrible mutilation from me if they didn’t. Moai took the metal pipe out of my hand and held up a bikini for me instead. Smart magically-animated hunk of rock, that Moai. I need all the rocket parts I can get, and it turns out I don’t look half bad in a bikini. Cold as balls, though. Or lack of balls, in this case.
Believe it or not, I don’t try to oggle myself. Saying I’m a sexy beast is one thing; being sexually attracted to myself, on the other hand, is gross.
After all that, Max walked up with a coat in one hand and a mug of hot chocolate in the other, asked to have a talk, and we sat down in his car.
“Okily dokily, Max. What’s that word?” I held the mug close enough to my face to get all steamed up, but didn’t drink. Not with it that hot. And it occurred to me that it may not be chocolate in the cup.
Max smiled that Cheshire grin of his, “The word? The word is ‘No.’”
I raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have to help me.”
Max poked me in the chest, between the boobs. “I will help you because you are right, friend. If they win, we all lose, and we must work together to defeat this otherworldly threat.”
I opened my mouth to ask what this was all about then, but he cut me off.
“However, let me remind you of a little detail from the other night: you don’t kiss Sam.”
As if reading my mind, he went on, “She is not my property, nor is she yours.”
I smiled too. As he’d spoken, an idea flickered through my head. A private joke. Something I’ve been toying with. I pushed it aside to address the fracturing of a friendship with a man who is keeping me alive while everyone and their mother has decided to make my life a little harder. “This is a rights thing? I thought that was my line. Having freedom means the freedom to take the consequences, and all that.”
“Gecko, I don’t care about the lofty language you use to justify and deceive. Sam and Holly are not my property. They are friends and companions. They shan’t be much longer if you are allowed to do whatever you want with them.”
“Allowed?” I grabbed his finger and pushed it away, possibly causing his ass to suck in air. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past him to have figured that one out. “If you were almost anyone but you, we would need to examine that choice of words. But you are you. And they are with you. Ipso facto Humma Kavula, I will acquiesce. I won’t touch them anymore unless they ask for it.”
I paused for a second as another thought ran through my head. Max saw that look in my eye, which is all the more impressive for them being cybernetic, and responded with, “You won’t even play at finding ways to make them ask for it. I need them, thus you find yourself in the position of needing Sam and Holly. Do not be contrary in the face of a countermanding command.”
Well, he had me there, but in a good way. Anyone who does whatever you tell them not to do is too easily controlled. Every once in awhile, the best way to do the unsuspected is to do what they hope and expect, whoever the “they” in question is.
I sighed and raised my mug up to blow on the chocolate. “Fine. Now, can you tell me if this is real hot chocolate, or is it going to make me look like even more of a Gumbie Cat? I’ve tiger stripes and leopard spots.” I shook my belly to emphasize the coloration changes I’d been through lately.
Max accepted my statement and settled back easily into his seat. “Gecko, you would need to sit upon the windowsill, or anywhere that’s smooth and flat. You’d sit, and sit, and sit, and sit. That’s what makes a Gumbie cat.”
“That’s what makes aaa Guuumbie caaat!”
Holly and Sam soon pulled up with Ethan Basford’s car and a new travel trailer for them to find us two murderous supervillains singing our way through a song from Cats. It also gave me the idea to put on a skintight leotard and sing “Macavity the Mystery Cat” next time a fight almost breaks out. The proper singing technique for that number involves constantly rolling your hips while seductive music plays.
Max probably conveyed my apologies to Sam, especially since I didn’t and it would make her feel better to hear such. I don’t know, it was about time I actually saw to the special thing we’d stop for: The Great Lakes Googly Moogly, aka the only joint Canadian-American strip club. By combining Canadian beer with desperate American women, the genius who thought it up created possibly the most potent force in stripping yet seen on the face of the earth, all on one convenient ship parked on Lake Superior.
They loved us, especially after I worked out a deal to claim to my growing group of malcontents that I might give the pole a try. Unlike all the people willing to let me fight an alien invasion on my own, they believed me. I think the difference is hope, and how good the lie looks. And I don’t mean to brag, but these fucking tits, man.
While our main body made its way from west to east, the more heroic group took things in another direction: down to up.
As a corporate bigwig, Forcelight had somewhat friendlier access to another of the large and in charge sort. Very large. Pritchard Ajax. I’d wonder why so many famous people have weird names, but for both the naming conventions of superheroes and the fact that I’m Psycho Gecko. I’ve said plenty of times that it’s not hypocrisy when I do something, but that’s a stretch that beggars belief.
But we were talking about Pritchard Ajax. I used Forcelight’s status and influence to convince him we needed to meet. He was so enthusiastic about it, his directions advised her to meet him at the airport and be prepared for a quick flight.
After the epic battle to keep her bust inside of her clothing, I took Forcelight and just Forcelight to a private airstrip to meet him. Hopefully, Lone Gunman or Good Doctor won’t get into a fight, but I’d rather prefer Doc come out of it alive, and that’s probably the only sentiment I and the trapped Forcelight share. She has a mouth, and she can’t scream. Hell of a lot more impressive of an accomplishment than taking away the mouth in the first place.
I stepped right up to the Vesta Aerospace jet as the door opened. Pritchard stepped out onto the top of the steps, dressed in dark blue pinstriped suit, bright red shirt, and no tie. “Ms. Young, we meet at last!” he exclaimed with all the flair of a supervillain about to launch into monologue. He had the look of one, too. Could have been Lion Man or something with the beard and long hair like that. It was almost ’80s hair, it was so wild. The Rum Tum Tugger is a curious cat is what I’m saying here, folks.
“No, no, no, Mr. Ajax, we meet at first!” I answered. Away from Doc, I could be more like myself.
We greeted each other with an air kiss, because nothing says class and refinement like being too good to kiss someone lest you pick up some of their lower class skin filth. Maybe I’m reading too much into that.
“Come in, come in,” Pritchard ushered me into the jet.
I took a seat and found myself served by a waitress I would have sworn I recognized from dirty pictures online. Here is where most people would deny looking at such, especially after having expressed a dislike of most of you humans on both a personal and physiological level, but a guy has needs. A guy without another of his species in the entire universe especially has needs.
“Where are we going?” Forcelight asked. “If you have a destination in mind, I could have met you in the air.”
Pritchard guffawed and sat across from me. “That’s right. This must be less exciting for you. You fly anyway! But I doubt your flights are this nice, eh?”
“You got me there, Mr. Ajax.”
“I know you mean that to be informal, but there is incredibly important business to discuss.”
“Please, Ms. Forcelight, try to relax. We aren’t going anywhere. I wanted to give you a relaxed meeting in the sky, away from the milieu of boardrooms and offices, not to mention the dreary cliche of the lunch meeting. We will fly around, though with amenities and luxuries you may enjoy. If you’re hungry, we can have a bite. If you feel like a drink, the flight attendant is an excellent bartender, though we have many softer beverages as well.” As if on cue, he held out a hand and beckoned over the flight attendant. She offered him a dark glass of…root beer? The teetotaling, lion-maned businessman gestured expectantly, but I waved the stewardess off.
Pritchard chuckled to himself, took a sip, then continued, “If you can’t take your mind entirely off of business, perhaps a financial report or political news? I hear Congress is still debating about your competitor, Double Cross. They harangue the villain who created it, the lizard man, but they are at a loss on what to do. Most of its assets and corporate officers are in Empyreal City, a place no one wants to go to. Or leave, come to think of it.”
I raised an eyebrow. “While that’s interesting, especially given my own intimate experience with Psycho Gecko, I am here today to talk to you about the next frontier for Earth, business, and really everything. The final frontier, in fact. Space.” I could almost hear the opening chords of the Star Trek theme song in my head. “I want to go into space as soon in the near future as your organization can provide. I know your Aerospace division has had its fair share of setbacks…” Which is about like saying North Korea’s had the occasional whackjob ruler. “…but I’m willing to lend certain expertise, funds, and equipment to make it a reality.”
Pritchard had some really big teeth. I realized it because he kept smiling. I really hate smiling sometimes. With Max, it’s like a quirk. He’s a little touched in the head, ya see. But this guy wore it like a business suit: unnatural and meant to keep you focused more on form than functionality.
“Many fine and talented individuals such as yourself have expressed the same interest, but I find myself particularly glad you decided to interest yourself in a journey to the stars. I’ve said to myself recently, I said, ‘Pritchard, if only you could find a good way to broach the subject with Ms. Long, the both of you could go down in history together.’ Now do you know why I said that? Don’t answer, the anticipation is killing me.”
Really? Talking like that, gravity could also do the trick.
He continued rambling on. “I started researching space because I felt, with the groundwork laid by NASA, enough of the technologies were developed to make spaceflight commercially viable. Despite that, there have been bumps on the road to putting a millionaire on the moon.” Amazingly, his grin grew even wider reminding me of Tim Curry but more molest-y. “There are several problems to take into account in space as well, such as repairs, maintenance, and the well-being of the crew. Indeed, I felt your company’s nanites were singularly well-placed to convey a huge boon to my company. Alas, I never found the time or opportunity to approach you. A thousand pardons, may the gods punish me beneath an ever-turning wheel.”
You’re a couple wheels short of a cuckoo clock, aren’t you?
“Now you come to me, like divine providence, like Pallas Athena herself to share your wisdom and to defend our people in their time of need. I have made do without you, Grey-Eyed one, and have built a ship that can attain space flight. It can, in fact, meet with several capsules already launched into space over the past year in the efforts of constructing a colony ship, which we are in dire need of.” Pritchard swept his hand out the window, taking in an Earth in the sights of alien conquest. “I believe we can come to terms on both of our ambitions.”
I picked him up and hugged him like a little girl snuggling a puppy, except if the little girl was perhaps hoping to break a couple of the puppy’s bones accidentally on purpose. Which, at this point, means I just have to work on the bed-wetting and fire-starting to make this situation even more familiar.
“Great,” I told Pritchard, setting him down to try and catch his breath and make sure all his ribs worked properly. “You get me into space in less than a week and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
Seeing as I’d appeared to slow down and enjoy the sights in our trip, the excitement that marked our earlier movement abated. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing. People had time to think about the actual attack, which sounds like a bad thing for most people. I’d much rather they chicken out before we get there and the front line decides they’d rather be fifty feet behind me.
We also got more volunteers. They trickle in here and there, some useful as bullet shields, others actually capable in a fight. There’s a militia that thinks the government is working with the aliens and the devil. They don’t get along well with the Moonies for some reason. A handful of small town supers like Shadowcrawler.
They were all a bit surprised when, on a detour from the epic showdown with the aliens, I decided to visit a tourist attraction. I could have gone with the world’s biggest ball of aluminum foil, or perhaps the popcorn capital of the Midwest, or even the world’s only existing sculpture of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount carved entirely out of various cheeses. No, instead, I visited South Dakota’s most famous tourist attraction: the United States’ biggest ball of exhumed Native American bones. I’d make a comment here about them having bad taste to throw that exhibit together, but you have to remember the tongues are all rotted away. And, technically, it means they don’t have to worry about being on an old Indian burial ground.
While the rest of the bunch explored and purchased commemorative bones from the gift shop, I had a special lunch with Max, Moai, Holly, and Sam. Not special in terms of being all that grand, though and day when I make my fetuccini alfredo is a good one. Nah, this was special because I trusted these folks over all the rest.
“This is ridiculous,” Sam said, watching some of the Moonies swordfighting with what we all assumed were fake bones. “Why did you want all of us to sit together today?”
Max cocked his head to the side, looking at my helmet. I’d taken to wearing it more and more, both as a precaution and to hide some of my distractedness as the Kingscrow Trio worked on the problem of the alien storms. He looked like he had something to say, but he didn’t get around to it.
Instead, I slipped off my helmet, shook out my hair, and started chowing down on a bowl of pasta. After getting a little in me, I gave them an answer without looking up. “To let you know what’s going on. Why we’re not in Empyreal City already.”
“Because you’re waiting for more people?” suggested Sam.
Holly offered, “You’re scared?”
Max responded to them with a stage whisper, “It’s a trap.”
“Ding ding ding, we have a winner.” I really didn’t want to speak. I make a mean alfredo. “It’s gotta be.”
“Then where are we going to fight them instead?” asked Holly, carefully picking through her plate so as to avoid getting my creamy white sauce all over her clothes.
“There,” I answered, nodding. “In Empyreal City. We’re going to spring the trap, but I want to figure out what all it’s going to be first. My guess is that it has something to do with the rain, first.”
Max steepled his fingers. “Yes, if I had such power and wished to conquer earth, I would let it rain all at once.” He pointed at me. “So why haven’t they?”
“Well, I have an idea on that, but it assumes they’re smart bastards who bothered to learn about Earth. I mean, they may be alien, but I can at least figure out some of why they are doing what they are doing based on what they are doing. After all, when someone pulls a knife on you, it’s reasonable to assume they don’t like you and would like to express that in an unhealthy way. Unhealthy for you, preferably.”
I looked between the group, who waited for me to go on.
“Right, so they opened up the barrier. That’s a sign there. They want me to come to them, and they even goaded me with Venus. Why? What do they have to gain?” I dipped a garlic knot in the sauce and took a bite before continuing. “What they always have to gain: us. A large force of people, powered and unpowered, who want to resist the aliens so hard that we’d throw ourselves at them. And any military forces that show up to assist us.”
“They’re suckering us in,” Holly summed it up.
I nodded. “Beats the hell out of gassing everyone now that they’re here, only to find that the world’s leaders and militaries were hidden in Cold War bunkers meant to survive nuclear fallout or ready with MOPP gear to fight back. I mean, let’s be honest,” I pointed with my fork toward where the militia practiced sloppy marching, “These guys are worthless compared to the crew of one aircraft carrier, one nuclear bomber, or even a tank. A few rifles compared to a submarine packed full of intercontinental ballistic missiles? It’s no contest, and to believe otherwise is to be as crazy as those fuckers right there in their hunting camo.”
Moai leaned over and nudged me on the shoulder. I turned to look at him, then at a pad in front of him where he’d written the word, “So?”
“So, I have a team out there trying to figure out how they do their alien rain dance. It’s all last-minute, and they don’t even know they’re working for me. We’ve ruled out planes and their own ships.”
“What about those weather buoys in Paradise City?” Sam asked.
I shrugged. “They could make it rain, yes, but that manipulates things like temperature, density, ions. It doesn’t add completely new stuff to the air that isn’t naturally occuring.”
“Do you know that it isn’t done that way?” Max asked. “Or do you assume it isn’t?”
“Ass, you, me,” said Holly, referencing some saying about assuming, rather than extending an invitation.
Moai scribbled more on his pad, then held it up. “Still no mind control organ chemicals.”
“I wouldn’t put it beyond the scope of their abilities to manipulate the chemistry of the air and create that substance. In all likelihood, the elements used are on Earth already. They just have to be put together in the correct way.”
I shook my head. “I’m not buying it.”
“Why?” asked Max, leaning forward.
I stopped to think on it. “…I mean, if they could make that stuff localized with hidden machines all over the planet, why use the rain? Why not sneak one close to the White House, turn all the air into a cloud of that stuff, and so on?”
Sam added her two cents again. “Do you know they haven’t?”
“Captain Lightning is there. He’d know.”
Max looked me straight in the eyes, losing his smile for the moment. “What if he’s one of them?”
“I trust that he isn’t.” Sam made a face as I said it, while Max shook his head and smiled.
Pretty preppy Holly is the one who dared ask, “When did you start trusting heroes?”
I glared at them and didn’t say anymore, thinking about how much of a point they had. I was being a bit too trusting despite knowing about all the infiltration.
Max broke up my reverie. “Try satellites. If it looks like any other satellite, they could drop a package from space that opens at the right altitude to influence rain.”
I nodded and murmered my thanks.
Over at the Long Life corporate headquarters in Kingscrow, Forcelight looked up suddenly from her, Good Doctor’s, and Lone Gunman’s examination of maps and other wide-ranging charts to exclaim. “Space! The final frontier…”
Good Doctor ahemmed patiently, as he had to do a few times in our association together.
“Satellites. They could have satellites up there dropping something to cause the rain.”
“Like a chemical weapon,” Gunman added.
The Good Doctor put his hand on Forcelight’s shoulder. “The field of debris orbitting the Earth would hide it. From what you told me, perhaps they hijacked pre-existing satellites. Brilliant idea, sweetie.”
I really didn’t care for Doc acting all fatherly toward me. It’s been weirding me out, though I know it’s because I’m controlling his daughter’s body.
“Good. Now what do we do about it?” asked Gunman impatiently.
I hopped up and walked over to the company landline on Forcelight’s office desk. I never bothered to memorize her secretary’s name, so as soon as someone picked up, I ordered them, “Get me the number for that company trying to do the private spaceflight, Vesta Aerospace!”
With that problem solved, I thought I could rest easy. We moved on from the bone exhibit and got well out of town before we crowded around some other small town’s various highway hotels and motels. I could have slept in the car just fine, but Moai insisted on keeping watch on it, which would also allow him a good view of my room so as to keep an eye on me.
Everyone let me have a room to myself, no one daring to suggest they keep me warm after this one Moonie offered to give me the smoothest anal probe I’d ever felt. He held up one of the fake bones for emphasis. After I tested out just how good the souvenir was on his ass first, I decided to show him that it could also be used to check the tonsils and throat like one of those tongue sticks the doctors use. He just about ate a bar of soap getting clean again.
Imagine my surprise when I was rousted from my sleep by a familiar voice coming from a familiar mohawked head that I could barely make out in what little light penetrated the motel room’s gloom. Sam settled onto the bed and kissed me as she finished securing my right wrist to the bedpost. I would have stopped her, but my left one was already tied as well.
I didn’t remember Sam being that stealthy, and I that’s with me in one of my more paranoid moods.
She grabbed my chin and pushed my head back against the pillow so I couldn’t see her as she leaned down. I gripped whatever straps she used to hold my arms out when her wet tongue trailed over my throat.
“Gonna be honest here, Sam, I didn’t think you were into this sort of thing with me.”
She giggled, still keeping me from seeing her. “Mm, tying you up and killing you? I’ve wanted to do it for a long time.”
Her nails dug into my skin even as what I had assumed was a tongue now gently flicked over my throat, drawing blood.
Not to sound like the History channel here, but my first assumption was aliens.
Unfortunately for Sam, whether some altered real one or alien copy, my nails were much stronger than hers. Blackened zirconium. They cut through the straps like they were all the tissues now being discarded by any bondage fetishist readers. Well, unless they’re into this sort of thing too.
I brought both fists right at her. One knocked into a much harder body than Sam should have while the other hit her on one of her elbows and forced her to give up some leverage. It was enough for me to angle my face toward her and fire off a stream from my laser eye. “Eat light amplification through stimulated emissions of radiation, bitch!”
It glanced through the side of her head as she rolled, using her grip to drag me to the floor. She tried to wrap herself around me, but I continued to roll and got her upper body off me. From the feeling of the spikes that dug into my waist from her legs, it was a good call, and it allowed me to carve off her head. I heard something splatter in the dark of night. The smell betrayed a lack of blood coming from her, as did the amount of spray from what should have been a cauterized wound.
I sat up and pushed, wrenching her off of me with a hell of a lot of pain borne of dragging spikes. I saw her get onto her hands and knees and forced myself to jump on her upper body, pushing her down. I raised up just before her back got as horny as her grasping legs had become, and grabbed her where women tend not to have any spikes: right between the legs.
With one hand in her ass crack and the other in her neck hole, I threw her against the side of the bed and tried to pin her there. She sliced the air back at me with hands that had somehow become blades. Whatever this body was, and I couldn’t see it too well, it wasn’t covered in skin.
“Ok,” I told the assassin as I held it against the bed by its ass. “We can either skip the killing and go right to the sex with a headless body, or…” A spray of black slammed into my face, almost forcing me to lose my grip. I avoided it by firing the eye laser again and keeping it on until the thing in front of me stopped. When it did, I grinned and told her, “Fine, we’ll do everything in order then.” I cackled as, mindful of the spikes, I grabbed the body’s feet and forced them apart.
Now, between all that noise, it was rather surprising no one had ran into to join me already, but I discovered when I bounced out the door of my room that they had noticed and were gathered around in confusion. The sight of me using a humanoid body like a pogo stick, with my foot jammed up its ass to push a vaguely gem-like core against the ground as I bounded, only made that confusion worse. And it didn’t help at all that said body was headless, with clear skin that showed black fluid inside.
After a couple good cracks on the parking lot, the core split and the whole body spasmed and died in my grip. My new toy broken, I settled back down with an “Aww.”
“What the fuck?” asked a nearby Sam and Holly simultaneously. Max yawned and approached behind them.
I helped myself off my impromptu ride and walked over, stealing a kiss from Sam. She slapped me, getting black gunk and blood on her hand, but I just told her, “They really did their research on their doppelganger.”
I laughed to myself as I walked back, ignoring the crowd around me and the sound of Sam spitting up and yelling, “Seriously, what the fuck?!”
At least, until I slipped on my own blood and fell, rather painfully reminded that the stitch in my sides wasn’t due to exertion so much as attempted execution. “Medic!”
Come Thursday, my merry cross country trip met with a bit of resistance when our lovely caravan made its way through a ghost town. Not an expression, either. There are still a few old Wild West towns out there with some restless spirits. They’re nice enough folks, if a bit backwards. This one guy kept wanting to feel me up outside the ruins of his old shop. I had to threaten to burn it down to get him to give up the ghost. I guess it wouldn’t be much of a threat in most of those old places, but they’re a bit of a tourist attraction, so they used some of the money to renovate. So he went from skulking around the ruins of his old, deteriorated ice cream shop to trying to grope me outside his fancy Howard Johnson’s.
Could have just grabbed my armor and energy-punched him to undeath, what with the way the energy can affect ghosts, but whatever. It got solved and we got enough gas. Like most tourist traps, it’s really becoming commercialized. It’s only a matter of time before someone puts a call center there or something.
The gas and the groping weren’t the problem, though. It was when someone shot the bottom half of the beer bottle while I was downing it. I looked over and found some rickety black bag of bones. Which sounds like a special operations skeleton instead of the old, goo-covered bones that had shot me. Somehow. Half the gun was lumpy rust, so I didn’t know how he managed that, though I figured out the hat with the hole in it had more to do with hiding the core.
The aliens’ latest attack really pissed me off. It’s not because I’m an alcoholic, or because they’re getting to me. No, what really pissed me off was that, of all the times for me to fight an undead gunfighter in a Wild West ghost town, it had to be this idiotic stopover. Not even a whole stay, with a horde of skeletons coming after me! Just some random alien-controlled undead gunslinger. How dare they steal that really cool experience from me?
So I lowered that broken beer bottle and spat out some of the glass and beer in my mouth. “Well, cowpoke, I hope you’re feelin’ frisky. ‘Cause I’m the quick, and you are so very much the dead.”
It ground its teeth, a molar falling out, then raised that old revolver again. It cocked the hammer back, at which point I saw some of that black goo slide down into the mechanism. When it fired, the goo shot out as fast as a bullet and winged my cheek.
While it reloaded and tried to go off fully-cocked, I ran to the side and threw the remaining bottle piece at its gun. It really didn’t do much, since it wasn’t all that heavy. The alien skeleton cowboy decided to move its nonexistent ass, trying to dodge to the side, but I was a bit faster. It’s a matter of stability and durability.
Most people in my situation would run directly at a gun-wielding assailant, but of the many differences between myself and most people, two were relevant in this situation. First, I’m smart enough not to charge in. I mean, I know some people try to claim that trained gunmen couldn’t effectively draw and fire on someone charging within twenty feet, but I’ve never known a trained gunman who didn’t appreciate the target sticking their face against the barrel. It makes aiming easier.
I even saw Lone Gunman pull that off. Some nut, maybe a grieving family member, ran at him and pulled a knife when he got close. The same amount of time it took him to pull a knife, Gunman had his pistol out and was firing into him point blank. Probably didn’t help that Gunman had a LOT more experience and muscle memory drawing a gun than the other guy had with a knife.
Oh, I got so into all that ranting that I never mentioned the second different thing about me. That would be the laser eye. Which I made use, sweeping it across the thing’s body while the skeleton stopped any pretense of needing to reload and starting putting holes in my holes. And I don’t mean I was shot in the vagina. That I still have due to my critical nanite shortage. But I gotta give the skeleton a hand for its courage under firing at me. Someone needed to, after I carved off its gun hand.
I expected it to fight to its death some more, but then a glowing forcefield covered the cowboy hat’s holes. Every bit of black goop pulled up into the hat, leaving the skeleton to fall the rest of the way apart while the hat hovered there, then began to fly off. Trying to zap it revealed the forcefield could deflect anything my eye could dish out without burning most of my face off.
I’ll admit, it was really cool, in a stupid and cheesy way. As much as I wanted to nab that hat, I also had a lot of blood to try and keep in my body. Standing there with my enemy fleeing in a far too intact state, I knew I was going to feel those shots in the morning. And with a pinky, given the size of the hole in my arm, my hip, my gut, and my chest. Luckily, it completely missed my boobs, and almost missed one of my lungs. Funny how you lose track of all those in the middle of a fight when the adrenaline kicks in.
See? Stupid aliens totally ruined my chance to have an epic fight with undead gunslingers all on their on. And I had to grab something from Max that he assured me would likely heal me. Given how he’s normally pretty good at throwing concoctions together, I could only assume it became iffy because healing wasn’t the primary goal of the bubbling liquid I poured into my gullet. If anyone’s wondering, it tasted like carbonated grape soda foam mixed with codeine.
Shortly after drinking it, I awoke to find myself being driven by Moai, with everyone else’s cars far to the rear. Sam was tracking Moai and I with binoculars, they were so far back. I think I saw her hand something to Holly, too. Either way, whatever Max gave me fixed what ailed me. At first, I thought it filled the holes in with some weird purple scabs that felt remarkably smooth, until I spotted them on my hands as well.
Yep, I’d been polka-dotted.
To get the bad taste out of my mouth, I screwed around with the radio until an appropriate song came on. In this case, “California Love,” by Tupac.
Not that it mattered to those our little trek had picked up. We aren’t exactly alone anymore. There’s this biker gang for starters, Satan’s Poolboys. Maybe all the good biker names were taken, though I suspect it has more to do with the message I saw on a pair of their jackets. The first, worn by a man whose handlebar mustache was big enough to have its own handlebar mustache, said,“I love to ride my Harley.”
The second, worn on a burly biker with covered in enough tattoos to shame a Yakuza, had on a jacket that read, “I’m Harley.”
Some of those flyers who had been following us from Los Angeles were hanging back still, but within sight. Probably still on the fence about joining up with us.
Then there were the Moonies. The Moonbats. It’s not an official name, but their bus had their website’s URL on the side, and I figured they deserved the name once I read it. I guess it’s not completely crazy for there to be a militant abductee support group, but no extraterrestrials Earth has ever encountered were as focused on the human anus as the ones they claimed to have met. The fact that real aliens are out there means people can’t completely dismiss those types, however.
They sped up to wave hello to me, many not practicing proper gun etiquette vis a vis where they pointed the things in relation to other people. They had a couple of supers with them, though. One guy had blades all on his skin. You know how there’s a generic spiny super in a lot of shows, movies, and comics? Like he’s just got spikes or quills sticking out? Imagine that, except with half-saucer blades that orient themselves along the skin. He was bound to be more useful than the lady holding onto the outside with her suction cup hands and feet. Not all powers can be winners, folks.
Even with all that help, something was missing. Parts of my body, for one thing. As easy as the skeleton was to take down, and as much as any of these folks could have done to it, I realized I needed more on hand. I didn’t have any explosives to speak of, no trusty laser potato peeler even.
Seeing an off road to a town coming up, called back to Max to lead the group while I made a pit stop for something more befitting my trip. It wouldn’t take long. I just needed two stores, and a hardware store was one of them.
When we caught back up to them half an hour later, Moai still drove. I stood on the rear of the car, past the back seats, with bungee cords holding me to the car by my belt loops. Our car blasted out “Careless Whisper” with me pretending to play along on my new saxophone until I got a break and angled the mouth of the sax up and to the side. With the press of a button, a gout of flame spewed into the air. It nearly hit one of the flyers who had been following us, making him regret catching up for a moment.
Got me nice applause from the Moonies, at least. I made sure to wave at them as I passed by, and called out, “May you ride eternal, shiny and chrome!”
The flyers were not to be the last of our recruits on this leg of the journey, either. I’d picked up one in that little town. All black skin, weird legs that curled under him like a clawed frog. He had little glowing teal spines sticking off his back and some points on his arms. They complemented his slitted red eyes and the trace amounts of luminescent teal on his curved horns and straight tail. Shadowcrawler, he called himself. Apparently a big fan of mine, or at least he had become one when I decided to fight the aliens.
But he wasn’t the only one to join up. The next day, after I forced Ethan Basford to give him a ride, we got a still more welcome sight.
Coming from an angle, a cargo plane adjusted course to match us, then came lower and lower, showing off the pilot’s impressive gonads and the golden claw symbol on the side. The rear of the plane opened as it dropped still lower and moved in front of us along the road, turning that highway into one hell of a no passing lane. One by one, three buggies dropped out of the back of the plane, moving aside with uncanny precision to not only stay up there ahead of us, but also to move aside in time so the next could exit. Then a car dropped out and the plane climbed.
They dropped back to us as a group, each of the buggies carrying six masked men in yellow, loose-fitting shirts with a black claw insignia on the front. Their masks had built in goggles that reflected the sunlight and hid their eyes. They looked ungainly at first, until someone in the lead car made a circle gesture in the air and they pulled off a part that revealed nose, mouth, and ear holes. Credit where credit is due; the Claw may be a vaguely racist stereotype Asian Pacific island supervillain dictator, but at least he cared about his minions’ comfort.
As I pulled up beside the lead car, I saw he sent more than just minions. A woman with metal teeth and segmented metal tail waved the scythe-like metal claw that replaced her right hand at me. She must have been a newer underling, or the Claw’s internet agents are just that damn good at censoring outside information.
She slapped the driver, another of the regular Claw minions, on the arm. He waved at me politely, but concentrated on his driving. In the backseat, though, were more. I recognized Podling, that being the nickname of this round stone carved with symbols and runes. Don’t let that fool y’all, though. When it comes time to fight, that thing floats around and does all kind of magic shit. And it sat right beside a Japanese mercenary named Senpai who had a fondness for knives and bondage that mixed interestingly with a voice capably of compelling people to do what he said. He blew me a kiss through the gag strapped to his face.
“Oh what a day,” I told Moai as I tuned up my new rocket sax before me and my allies had a chance to make the sweet music of battle. “What a glorious day!”
Meanwhile, in a diner a few miles outside of Kingscrow, Forcelight sat humming to herself with The Good Doctor and Lone Gunman eating dinner beside her. Doc focused on the TV, then on a tablet in front of him.
“Plotting something?” asked Gunman, gripping his fork a little tighter. Forcelight reached over and broke off the head of the fork, though that still didn’t solve the problem. It just left him with one jagged piece of metal instead of four smoother ones.
Doc looked up, eyes flicking briefly over the broken utensil before looking at the others. “In one definition of the word, I am. I am attempting to ascertain why these cities were picked and why only these cities. Surely they could accomplish their perceived goal better by dousing the entire planet at once, correct?”
Forcelight nodded at my command. “Sounds right.”
“Maybe they only have so much,” Gunman suggested. “They have to spread it out.”
Doc ran his hand through his hair, gripping a short-trimmed mane that had many more grays in it since he went to prison. Then again, the Earth currently has more grays on it than when he went to prison, too. “That is one idea. Infect a wider range of countries and in so doing make it impossible to isolate anyone. Note that Madagascar has already closed their borders, however. I don’t feel that is the full picture, but neither is my original theory that they must have limited supplies. If that was the case, why these targets? Political capitals are understandable, right? Empyreal City is a populous city as well, noteworthy for its superhumans. But Johannesburg? That is not a large city.”
“That still could support the containment theory,” I said through Forcelight, still controlling her like a puppet. I didn’t even have to stick my hand up her ass to work her mouth. Unfortunately. “Although…hey, has anyone actually seen ships passing by any of the other cities?”
“Other than Empyreal City,dear?” It was weird seeing Doc looking at me like that, though at least I knew it was because I was controlling his daughter’s nanite-enslaved body from afar. “No, as a matter of fact, they have not.”
Gunman sat up straighter as he thought through this little riddle. “They could be using airplanes instead, but someone should have noticed if they were.”
I, by which I mean Forcelight, frowned. “I think we have a mystery to solve before we meet up with the villains.”
“We should have plenty of time.” Gunman nodded.
Doc raised one finger before politely correcting him, “I checked, and it is technically only forty hours of straight driving time to get from Los Angeles to Empyreal City. If Psycho Gecko has enough people to drive constantly, it won’t take long at all.”
Huh. He was right, too. Might have to slow up a bit, both to help gather people along the way, and to give this group time to figure out the cloud thing. It’s an intriguing question, and suggestive of either weakness….or strength. Yes, dramatic dots, it’s that intriguing.
“We’ll have to hope he gets distracted,” Forcelight said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll decide to touch up Mt. Rushmore before fighting the aliens?”
Goal one: reach the city full of an alien army where they conveniently removed their shield in order to meet my challenge. Goal two: figure out why they haven’t yet gassed the entire planet into being their puppets. Before we get the fat lady warmed up to sing, I better look into how my Admiral Ackbar sense is acting up, because my mind can’t repel tingling of that magnitude.