Category Archives: 53. The Empyreal March

“It is a period of civil war. Psycho Gecko, striking from a hidden base, has won his first victories against the evil Noob Heroes.

During the battles, he managed to steal secret plans that don’t make much sense, but somehow tie together the Ukrainian mafiya, militias, and the United States government. Despite the dawning of peace in Empyreal City, his fights and sudden attacks from unknown forces have caused the occupation of their city by the imperious forces of the military.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Psycho Gecko figures he can kill enough folks to save his people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”

I mean, it can’t be any worse than the prequels.

The Empyreal March 7

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And I thought this was going to be hard. No, I really thought it’d take more to get the military to back the fuck off. Thing was, it wasn’t the reporter showing that the soldiers were rescued and being taken care of, nor that innocent people were hurt or killed in the attack. It wasn’t the illegality of the soldiers being in the city in the first place. It wasn’t the lack of reinforcements. It wasn’t all sorts of things that were so easy to predict.

Nope, it was the incompetency of the Commander-in-Chief. It’s amazing. I’m not meaning to make all this political, but he’s the one inserting himself into everything and failing. Apparently the idiot went and watched the clip of the video in the middle of some hotel restaurant and it leaked out. I’m beginning to understand what people mean when they can’t even. They chose this over me. They fucking chose THIS over me.

Worse, it totally stopped me from being able to hold out. I just… seriously? I had it all planned out. I’d let things deteriorate, push to get my connectivity restored, and push for having my recovery improved with nanites. Maybe have something dramatic happen, wake up to an attack so I can singlehandedly save the day. It would have made a great music video.

Seriously, though, this just seems like stupid way for things that to end. I mean, the military’s still around. When the school’s scouts came back, they just burst into the cafeteria talking about how the military’s pulled back to Central Park. A cheer went up among everyone.

Well, almost everyone. I caught a distinct glare from Good Doctor, who sat beside Elita the Warrior Woman. She didn’t look too friendly either at that moment. I checked my food, a plate of some of the worst meat loaf I’ve ever stuffed into any hole on my body. It probably wasn’t poisoned, but just because neither Elita nor Good Doctor tend to use it.

Good Doctor’s power makes him deviously competent at finding weak points. Armor, both natural and artificial, as well as all the various weaknesses of a human body. Got an old knee injury that acts up? He’s your guy.

Elita’s the muscle. Big, strong, and with the ability to level a building if she’s mad. Unlike me, that’s without using explosives. There are ways to work around that, but it’d be a very bad thing to let her get her hands on you. There are multiple parts of her body she could use to snap me like a twig, some of them more fun than the rest. Then again, no body part’s that fun if it’s breaking you in half. I’ve never had my spine snapped in an amusing and entertaining way. That’ll have to go on the bucket list.

It’s entirely possible they’ve decided my usefulness is at an end. The same thought crossed my mind when I passed by Psychsaur walking with Victor Mender. Minotaur stepped behind them, holding a clipboard and chewing on the eraser of a pencil.

This was a bad time to have things so readily on my mind. I walked away briskly, wondering if it made any difference at this point. But am I just paranoid and schizophrenic, or did Psychsaur watch me leave?

Down in my little prison cell room, I started packing what I could carry. I slid into my armor and wished the place had a few more exits. They might kill me. It’s really the only option left. If they try and hold me, I’ll keep trying to escape. Things will get worse. That, or they’ll have to stick me in a situation that’ll cause a major deterioration of my mental state. And considering my brain at the moment, that also means they’ll never let me go. Or if they do, I’ll be some shambling old Alzheimer’s victim threatening people while pissing myself.

So I put on my armor. I strapped my chickens onto my belt. I packed my half-rebuilt laser potato peeler, its single blade with a gap in the middle still not sharpened enough to my liking. I wrecked my armor-printing machine. I loaded up spare materials and tools in a handy little bag and opened the door.

“Going somewhere?” asked Good Doctor from behind Elita the Warrior Woman, who did a great job of blocking off the hall.

“Ah, my old buddy. Now, I know what you’re thinking: should I kill Gecko? I can point you to a website with several answers to that question that may surprise you.”

“Why do you persist, even now, in claiming I am your friend?” He shook his head, glaring at me from under slicked-back hair. He liked to do that before “operating,” if he had a choice. In one hand, he held one of his scalpels. In the other, his mask, a sort of leather helmet that encompassed a visor area and a lower face covering.

I sighed. “It’s how I’ve thought of you. A wayward friend. You were ashamed of what you were, but you were still a friend.”

“You know why I did it. She meant the world to me. Then you…” He looked down, then lifted his mask over his face.

I nodded. “Yeah, I did. Maybe someone else would have eventually. You knew what she was. There are many risks, and you used to be one of them. I did what I chose to do, but so did she. She could have walked away at any point.”

“Could you?” he asked, his voice somewhat muffled now.

I pondered the question for a moment. “Huh. Point to you then. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise how it all ended. I hate that I did that to you, but I have to think about my life. I don’t have the luxury of imagining that my death serves some greater purpose to the world than long-overdue justice.”

“That works for me,” Elita finally spoke up. “You did so much to the world, I don’t know why the Academy left you alive.”

I shrugged. “I owe them a debt for saving me, I guess. A debt they intend to call in. But yeah, bad things goes down when I start believing in higher causes. That’s part of why I miss just going around doing my own random shit.”

She clenched a very painful-looking fist. “Got any fancy websites for me before I pound you?”

Under my helmet, my eyebrow rose. So many things I could do with that one. I just had to settle with. “Yeah. Www.gofuckyourself.com.” I opened my mouth and let loose a piercing banshee scream in a tony designed to paralyze the human body upon being heard. A gift from my time in the Cube. They used it to keep inmates under control when being handled or moved. I replicated it.

Both former villains went down, allowing my to hop over them and head up into the school itself.

There, I actually found another group headed by my way. Minotaur, Mender, Venus, and Psychsaur. Venus was even in her power armor, all shiny with its heavy plates. I didn’t know how many of them it would take to whoop my ass, but I knew how many they were gonna use.

“Please,” I thought. I turned to head down the opposite direction of the hallway but felt my body lock up

“Sorry,” I felt in my mind. “Why?”

“I must be made whole,” I thought back. I tried speaking and told the approaching heroes. “I’ll go. I’ll leave.”

“I am afraid I cannot let you do that,” said Mender’s computerized voice. “You brought an attack down on my children. You have been a menace to us despite our leniency. Remove your armor now. It is not as though you can leave.”

Someone must not have found out Psychsaur cozied up to me.

I screamed again. Psychsaur tried to cut me off, and it stopped me for a moment, but that was a moment when her own body became like jelly. It actually worked. I could move again, while Minotaur and Psychsaur crumbled. That just left Venus and Mender. Easy.

A pair of cannons rose from the back of Mender’s wheelchair even as Venus stepped forward. “You can’t win.”

“Ya know, I didn’t even want to fight right now. Can’t you just let me go? Are your morals that set in stone?” I asked.

“Some things can’t be compromised,” she responded. She jumped forward, over the downed bodies of her colleagues. She punched with enough force to break bones. I caught it easily. The left hand came forward in another punch, and I caught it as well. A metal spike shot forward but didn’t penetrate my gauntlet. My HUD reported a power surge. My gauntlets fed incoming excess energy to my suit’s batteries. “Lets get you out of that armor and back in your cell.”

“Oh, look, that ECM trick.” I jumped up kicked her in the chest, letting go of her fists to send her stumbling back to fall over her stirring friends. I turned and ran, dodging a lightning bolt and catching another with my gauntlet.

This time, there was no telekinetic force catching me, and the rest of the students didn’t get involved as I fled the school and into the city. I found a building that’s unoccupied above the first floor due to damage. Hell, I escaped at all! I guess I should have realized it when Psychsaur had to lock me down on her own. Or maybe I should have realized sooner that I even could make myself escape. It’s confusing. What did I know and when did I know it? It must have been when she gave me the ability to cuss and hurt people again.

That’s it, Psychsaur doesn’t die even if she was the one behind Mecha Gecko!

So now I rebuild. Get myself a proper lab going again, build up my own supply of nanites. Maybe take over the city. The Ukrainians had to run and hide, so that probably put a damper on their big money-makers. The military’s going to be on its way out. The Master Academy is a bit defensive, and I already know these newbie heroes couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

And I do have an agenda. I was serious about owing the Master Academy a debt. Despite my actions, I still hold to that. So first, I make Empyreal City great again. That includes making it a bit safer for them. And I kinda like this place. I think I’ll keep it around, and that means finding a way to encourage people to not completely abandon this city, blown up and disaster-prone as it is. I mean, it’s really been hammered a lot lately.

I’m not quite sure how to do that as a villain. I’m sure as shit not doing it as a hero. But I have a feeling I’m going to have one hell of a fun time figuring it out. I mean, that’s just a given when one of your first decisions is whether or not to assassinate multiple world leaders. I guess it depends on how big a bounty they’ll put on my head when I expose myself to the world.

Now, do I shave the pubes completely, or maybe leave it in some sort of heart shape?

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The Empyreal March 6

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Believe it or not, I did think this through. I feel the need to clarify that, considering the school is now under a siege. This current President doesn’t understand subtlety. At this point, I suspect he doesn’t know the meaning of most words in the dictionary. There’s a rumor going around that he can’t actually read, which is at least somewhat consistent with reports that he often just ignores the speeches written out for him.

It didn’t start as a siege so much, actually. The early morning following Valentine’s Day, alarms started going off all over the place, even as I was taking a post-intimacy walk. The Walk of Shame, some call it. I don’t know why they call it that, anyway. I just got laid. Should be the Walk of Standing Ovations. The Academy Award for Best Supporting Fucker for his work in the documentary “Against The Wall: A Deeper Exploration of Her Pink Floyd.”

Or, if the audience isn’t so lucky, the walk of pelting people with rocks. Some people really don’t like to be reminded that other people have someone else.

Nevertheless, I was on the stairwell down when the alarms started going off. I rushed down to find a window and check out what was happening when I heard the discharge of firearms. They tend to have a fiery discharge and leave someone with a sharp burning sensation, quite unlike myself. That doesn’t mean someone outside wasn’t getting fucked, and I was trying to make sense of who it was.

Some of our refugees were trading shots with a group of soldiers. Not a full-on war front, but a group like you’d send in to assassinate someone. Which was stupid. A compound this large, you don’t just send in one team. At the very least, you’d have multiple helicopters to provide support.

That’s when the choppers flew up. I didn’t get a good look in the darkness, but they thumped closer and provided cover fire that sounded like it killed a lot of unarmed civilians. They weren’t all armed, but some naturally felt the need to go around with weapons in case they needed to murder each other. In this case, it worked out a bit and gave us an early warning sign.

So much of an early warning sign, in fact, that somebody activated the school’s defenses. I noticed something rise out of the top of a stone pillar off in the darkness. There were several in the wall around the school. It must have been a rocket launcher of some sort based on the rocket it launched that shot into one of the choppers. It actually took a couple of hits before it crashed, landing on campus. The other one tried to pull out, and then crashed outside school grounds after taking multiple shots from multiple pillars.

Supers were rushing all over the place, and not necessarily in the best state of dress, either. But they were up and running. And I had an idea. I grabbed a couple of them who I didn’t recognize. “Come here, we need medics and doctors and shit.”

“But we aren’t-!” They didn’t answer so much as I pulled them out and we headed out through a door into the back. We ran toward the downed chopper.

“I’m not killing any soldiers!” shouted one of the ones following me.

“That’s the point!” I said. Yes, we were running to help them. We made it to the wreckage. It’s dangerous to just pull stuff off people or pull them out of vehicles in that kind of situation unless you’re a trained emergency responder. On the plus side, I’ve been the cause of so many similar injuries and crashes that I have a pretty good knowledge of what to watch for. And, it turns out, these guys have some basic training for handling all that.

Between the three of us, we managed to pull a few soldiers free and alive. Others had been thrown clear and were knocked out or otherwise so easily injured to be subdued without much problem. In the end, we had a half dozen of them in various stages of distress laid out nearby. I was watching over them as well while the others rushed in to get more manpower to see to the wounded. There was a lot of need for it, though by the time I had a moment to rest on it, I no longer heard gunshots. That could mean something bad, but what I knew of the school’s size and the student body’s capabilities suggested otherwise.

They all just groaned as I searched them over for any information, weapons, or hidden equipment. That included headsets with camera linkups. A quick glance in one showed they had drones and satellite views of the school. The night was alight with chatter, too. They were in retreat, wondering if reinforcements were coming in from the city so they could get their lost guys. Navy guys, from the jargon they used. Not all branches of the military call the same things the same things. Some people get to the choppa; others get to the helo.

When the guys showed up with some stretchers and a few of the more battle-ready supers, I held out one of the headsets for them. “Here ya go. Let’s just get these guys inside to a nice, warm, difficult to penetrate infirmary where they can heal up for awhile.” I looked down to the soldiers, though they might not have liked being called such. Again, more military terminology stuff. “Now remember, you’re patients, not prisoners. Because we’re not at war with you or anybody. So even though you attacked us for some reason, we’ll patch you up to the best of our ability.”

Yeah, that’s the plan. Officially, we didn’t take anyone prisoner. We’re not hostile, here. Some guy just ordered a death squad in to kill certain people, apparently without adequate intelligence, and now they’re convalescing as patients. It’s simple, really. Just a failed death squad with me watching them sleep at all hours. With my knowledge of all kinds of ways to kill people, not that they know about that. They don’t know who I am. All they know is they were sent in to secure the school, somehow.

Mender had a pretty good idea what happened, though. “They were after me,” he said to the assembled heroes and myself. “If I were eliminated, this school would fall into disarray,” his digitally-crafted voice spoke. “You would have surrendered with a gun to my head.”

I opened my mouth but about three different people elbowed me in the stomach at the same time. I don’t see what the big deal is. I was just going to say, “Speak for yourselves.” Weird thing is, Venus wasn’t anywhere near me. She was standing off by Psychsaur, holding hands. Psychsaur shot me a look. Was that sheepish, I wondered? I mean, the scales and all made it harder to tell. With the reptile features coming into play, she’s got inhuman lips and a face that extends out a bit.

My line of thought was interrupted by a burst of thoughts into my head, most of which amounted to “Sorry,” in various ways that all talked over each other. I caught a wave of embarrassment from her, which oddly caused my own face to flush.

On the plus side, I totally got a sneak peek at some memories that flashed through her head. So that was fun. Irrelevant to the conversation at hand, but fun.

“Do we know why they attacked now as opposed to any other time?” I asked, leaning over the back of a chair in front of me.

“We have ways of determining that,” Mender said. “You are not included in that for a reason.”

I looked around for Good Doctor, but didn’t see him there.

Mender continued on, “I see no reason why you are included in this meeting at all.”

“Maybe because I took charge and got the prisoners… I mean, patients… out of their wreck and arranged for them to be brought in here. Not the first-”

I didn’t think I could be thrown out a door that fast without taking the door with it. It was all a blur. I don’t know if it was telekinesis, super speed, force fields, super strength, or some combination of it all. It’s impressive, actually. No matter how strong an individual villain, there’s something a little awesome about being so thoroughly smacked around by a combination of strong superpowers. Then you snap to attention in a prison cell with a lot of unexplained bruises in unusual places. Tonsils, for instance. We’ve all been there, whether it’s supervillainy or a trip to Mexico on a drunken bender.

So I didn’t get to find out more about these methods, but they probably involve the psychics of the group. And while they dealt with the soldiers and other wounded from the attack, the bunch in Central Park sent a detachment to guard the main entrance of the school. Considering the size of the school, it would have taken probably the entire bunch to encircle the campus, and they weren’t going to advance with the force they sent. Too few men for the job.

Curious about that, I checked the internet for various things. Reporters, news, all that. The legal problems associated with the initial deployment has held up reinforcements, especially now that this President is having some legal problems. And some scandals related to him and officials in his administration having unusually close ties to Russia. The whole thing’s a mess: Ukrainians mobsters, Russians, the President of the United States, domestic militia superheroes, and the Claw. The fuck is going on here?

To answer that question, I decided to kidnap someone who might have the answer. I knew her as Tricia Tijuana, my ex-fake-wife. She once helped me out of prison on behalf of a guy I know in the media who may or may not still like me. He was under alien control when he turned on me. The kidnapping went easy, too. Just a matter of rolling over in the morning and asking her, “Hey, you want a Pulitzer?” She was freaked out, naturally. She didn’t know who I was, but that’s not the first time I’ve put a bag over a woman’s head in bed. Like most kidnapping victims, she warmed up to me once I dragged her back to my place of residence and explained why she should want to be there. Don’t try it at home. I had lots of hurt teenagers there, too. Made it a lot easier.

So now the news gets a nice view of wounded soldiers being tended to by the dutiful nurses, right alongside the wounded refugees and heroic teenagers who were so brutally attacked by members of the military just like the ones now parked outside a school, threatening displaced refugees from the recent bombings.

It’s made such a wonderful narrative, and all the better when soldiers began to die in small groups in their movements around the city. On patrol, while responding to criminal activity, even when just hanging out trying to get lunch at Hibachi Yum Yum.

I had to avoid fancy knifework at that last one. The place is barely staying open as-is; it doesn’t need criminal suspicions on top of it.

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The Empyreal March 5

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A little sleep goes a long way, as does good nutrition. Good nutrition injected straight into my veins, just like the Psychopomp Project used to make. Well, it tried it for a bit. Back in the early days of it, before the guys running it really went off their rockers, they tried weaning us off food for a bit in the hopes it would make us more efficient. There were some failures, which then led to teaching us the basics of cooking, including which recipes made the best use of people. Just in case. As long as you have a corpse, you have food. Hell, as long as you don’t mind losing a limb or two, you still have food in desperate situations.

I may have deleted some of those recipes from my memory.

After a little rest and a long shower, it was time to get to work setting upon my enemies and scouring them from the face of the Earth. Which, admittedly, involves getting a video from my brain. Hitting my head against a desk in the library, sadly, didn’t help ideas for that come any quicker. I stopped when I realized I had enough other people around willing to slam my head into things that I didn’t need to resort to it myself lest they get in on the act. And that reminded me of the person who most liked bashing my head against things. Or at least the most prominent person to get away with it: Venus.

And she gave me ideas. Many fun ideas.

Problem was, where to find her? I looked all over that school. I failed to find her, but Good Doctor found me while I was checking the gym. He had normal clothes on, presumably happy to be out of his gear, but I noticed a belt of scalpels around his waist as he stepped in there and walked quite purposefully toward me.

“Hello there, fellow escapee,” I said, smiling. He popped me in the throat with his fist. I held a hand up toward him and put the other one to my throat. I bent over, not wanting to fight him. Just because he didn’t think he was a friend didn’t mean he stopped being one. He took advantage of the position with a kidney punch. Fucker would know how to hit there. And he kept hitting there, which hurt a hell of a lot. I let myself drop, hoping he’d just start kicking instead, at least until he kicked me there a few times.

He left me laying there, and probably with plenty more bruises ready to join the leftovers from my beating. I rolled over. “Gonna be pissing blood for a month now. You happy?”

He was on top of me in a flash, holding a scalpel to my throat. “You took away the only happy thing in my life, you bastard!” He raised the scalpel.

“Stand down!” yelled Venus. I recognized the voice.

Good Doctor heard it too and looked up, then back down to me. I could see the struggle written on his face. “Why?” he growled. “What excuse is there this time? What lies has he told to make you believe his continued existence is necessary?!”

I almost said something, but it occurred to me that pretty much anything I said might force his hand. Plus, I wasn’t sure if Venus had an answer for that. I was curious.

She might have been, too. I looked up and she paused briefly before continuing to walk. “You’re not the courts. You don’t have the right.”

“The right?” His eyes widened in disbelief. “I don’t have the right? He killed my daughter. I have every right. He doesn’t get to hide behind rights and courts after all he’s done.”

“That’s what he says to justify why he kills. I know it’s hard to hear, but you’re a smart man. He killed your daughter and you are compromised by emotion. ” She stood over me. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up between her legs while she’s worn jeans before.

I looked back up to Doc’s face, and I could tell he was learning why I hated her so much. He wasn’t going to do it. I thought he’d slam the scalpel into the floor next to my face. Instead, he clenched his fist and lowered the scalpel to his belt where it slipped into place among a few of its brethren. Taking deep breaths, he stood up and backed away from me.

I just looked up to Venus, who held her hand out to help me up out of instinct, then pulled it back before the offer got all the way out there. I put my hands under my head. “Heya there, Venus. You know, you look good in casual clothes. Also, I need your help with something.”

“I don’t want to know, do I?” she asked, standing well away from my head.

Huh. She looked a lot better in jeans and a shirt than she did in skintight costumes. I could give or take the mask, but the body makes me want to go “Oh yeah, baby, I’m gonna disappoint you so hard.”

“Well, you would need to be closer than that,” I explained. “See, I have this video I took on my eye. Sadly, y’all disabled wifi and cellular connectivity, which means I can’t call it an eye-phone, nor can I upload it in any way myself. And since you teamed up with a supervillain to strip me of my powers, I can’t just connect to something else to get it out there. So I’m sitting on some really useful knowledge, some video that could really help the situation, with no way to get it out there. So I got to thinking maybe you would be able to connect to me and transfer some data.”

“This is some kind of trick,” Good Doctor said. Venus nodded her agreement with his assessment.

“Look,” I leaned up on my elbows. “I’m serious. I didn’t stay in there that long just to get my ass kicked. I don’t entirely know why I went in there, aside from a bad experience with a flashbang and a bunch of soldiers. But I have something useful. Something that could lead your pansy asses to a less violent means of victory. I got my ass kicked for this. An old woman with some serious balls got shot in the face for this, and not by me. Other supers died in that fucking explosion. Look past me and think of the sunk cost fallacy, people.”

They didn’t know what to say to that, possibly because I seemed to give a damn and possibly because my last sentence took the piss out of the whole rest of it. I rolled my eyes then and raised a scalpel I’d stolen off Doc’s belt to my temple. “Ok, so I’ll cut in there, find whatever hole or patch y’all left from when y’all went in the first time, and open the way.” I held a finger from that hand out to dig into my hair, looking for an irregular spot close to where I knew the brain-based hard drive to be. “Venus, you need to stick a finger in, but I’m probably not going to be able to guide you. Come to think of it, that’s a bit of a setback I haven’t thought about. Just look through this last week, particularly my time in captivity. Good stuff. You’ll love the part when I’m on the chair.”

I didn’t give her a chance to respond to all that before I dug the scalpel into my scalp in what I figured was the correct spot. I gritted my teeth. She rushed forward and grabbed my hand, yanking it away. I winced up at her. “Ow. Pull out, not to the side. That hurt.”

Laughter broke her shocked expression. I didn’t laugh with her, just pulled up a small flap of skin and hair. “If you’re doing acting like I’m Patton Oswalt or something, there’s the matter of the data I still need to get to so you can get to it.”

She didn’t let me take the scalpel to my own head again. “No. I don’t even know how to do that if you could get to it!”

I sighed and let her take the scalpel. “What the fuck have you been doing with those powers, huh?”

She stood up and held the scalpel out to Good Doctor who took it. Couldn’t make out much of his thoughts on the matter, but maybe he was glad at least one of his tools got a taste of my blood.

I stood up. “Dammit. The needle and thread’s going to itch like hell now, too.”

“Needle and thread?” asked Good Doctor.

Venus answered back. “He doesn’t get access to nanites, even though he’s just a human now.” I just shook my head, once again being reminded of my horrible and disfiguring medical condition: being human. I headed to the door, keeping a hand on my scalp. Wasting my damn time, that’s all that was.

“Doc, can you tell some moron not talk about me like I’m not even here? Nevermind, give me a few seconds.” I didn’t let the door hit me on my way out and walked to the infirmary for a little bit of self-stitching. They had a couple nurses there working on students, so I just handled myself. Though, I did expect more. They managed to bring in more specialized staff for myself, unless they also have healers. And in this case, it wouldn’t even matter.

Venus caught up after a couple minutes while I was putting my head back together. She stuck her head through the door. “Don’t close up just yet!.”

I sighed and shook the needle at her, the thread still running back to my scalp. “Why the fuck not?”

“What if we plug something in that you could download the information to it?”

“It’s not like I built in USB connections.”

“Well there has to be some way,” she said, exasperation filling her voice.

“Some way other than restoring just one capability to me. This city is dying while we sit around, you know.” I crossed my arms as I looked up at her.

She glared at me. “You don’t get to pull that. It was never that simple with you. Now I’m about to go and have a good time. If I hear you caused any trouble while I was gone, I’ll let the Good Doctor have his with with you and NOT how you want. I’ll tell him it would be more fun to leave you an armless and legless.”

“Geez, Boopsie, a little high strung?”

She messed with her dark hair with one hand. “I have a Valentine’s Date.”

I raised an eyebrow and let my eyes wander in the direction of the city.

She added, “In another state. If you mess up anything, you will be back in that cell. Maybe you’ll keep your legs.”

“T’would be but a flesh wound, m’lady. But fine. I’ll sit here. What am I going to do, email my brain to someone?” I waved her off. “Now go on with your life. Go ahead. I’m just the nemesis you don’t have anymore time for. Shoo, shoo.”

Well, Venus left to go get ready for her date. Which she went on. With Psychsaur. Bit of a surprise there. Psychsaur picked up my attractions, but I thought Venus was Catholic. They weren’t the only ones doing couple stuff, which just further rubbed in that I was likely to be left rubbing one out alone. I had options, but that wasn’t the main thing on my mind. No, before I grabbed a box of wine and a pair of hoses to drink it with, I had to build myself a small transdimensional receiver.

It’s one of those capable of picking up a signal I bounce out of another dimension. Venus gave me ideas, sure, but not just the ones Psychsaur got to share. Ideas like “how about I trick the heroes into fixing me a little?” And it didn’t quite work yet, but I think I know how to make it work. So I fixed a receiver and prepared a small section for broadcast into another dimension, at which time it will be bounced back to the receiver, ready to be attached to a secured and untraceable email pointing out that Master Academy is in possession of an extremely damaging video. Sure, the White House has filters and all sorts of ways to track people down, but I know full well just how secure they are and aren’t. It comes with being emperor and doing interesting things in the Lincoln bedroom with a pair of Korean twins and a Japanese schoolgirl. We got so wild, they could have renamed it the Kennedy bedroom or the Clinton office.

And then it was off to MY date. Because I can totally get one, and not just with hookers. I know it’s not polite to call them that, but the chances of them ending up dead with me are pretty high, and they’re hookers when they’re dead in the trunk of your car.

On that note, Happy Surviving Valentine’s Day.

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The Empyreal March 4

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You know what else I spy with my little eye? A boot. To be fair, the kick lost something since they sat me back in the chair. “Answer the question!” yelled one of the trio of soldiers in the room.

“Ok! I’ll tell you what you want to know!” I spat a glob of spit and blood onto the floor, then nodded toward the soldier to my right. “His mom was the better lay.” That earned me a punch along the jaw that felt like something popped over there. I think he felt it too. The human head is one tough bunch of bones.

That’s not a lot of comfort when his buddy got me in the gut with a punch from the left and the one in front kicked over the chair again, spilling me to the floor. With my hands tied like that, I couldn’t block myself. That makes a bit of a difference. After a couple of stomps, they righted myself and the chair. This time, I hocked a tooth chip loogie before laughing.

“Yeah, keep laughing. We’ll knock the rest of those teeth down your throat,” said one of them. It didn’t matter which.

“When you’re done with that, break out those sexy spiked heels you look so pretty in and walk on my chest a bit, will ya?” I threw my head back to laugh and caught a fist to my ear that caused me to stop and wince. Fucking ears, man. They just had to turn this torture session uncivilized, didn’t they?

They’ve dragged me in a couple of times, asking me who I am, where I come from, and what my powers are. The only answer I’ve given them so far is that I’m just a citizen who exercised my right to self defense. They didn’t believe me the first, second, nor apparently the third time. This time, instead of taking me back to my tiny cell in the reptile room, they dragged me to a larger holding pen. It had plenty of grass, rocks, and thin little trees that would make a very poor and very obvious ladder if someone attempted to use them to climb the steep sides of the enclosure. Not that any of the other people waiting around in there was aiming to do so given the lack of anything to down the trees with other than their own bodies.

“Shit, they got him good,” said a bearded fellow with tan skin who bent over a pile of branches, bark, leaves, and grass.

“You should see the other guy,” I said. I took a few steps, then flopped right on my face on the dirt.

I had an eye up where it could still look in that direction and saw the man pause and look at an old lady sitting nearby. Her wrinkled old face looked at me over the blanket she bundled up in before she said to the guy, “He’ll wait. I’m freezing.”

I gave them both a thumbs-up. “Don’t worry about me. I’m just gathering my strength. I’m secretly ready to pounce. Any minute now. Any minute.”

Bearded guy’s eyebrows raised and lowered real quick as the only commentary on that statement while he went ahead and started knocking some rocks together, trying to get sparks to catch. “What’s this place they dragged me to?” I asked.

“This is for the normals,” old lady answered. “They beat everyone to make sure we don’t have any powers. They expect someone would try to fight back or break out before now. I was a reporter when Jimmy Carter’s evil twin from another world showed up. Now, his men knew how to put a beating on. If any of my kids tried to beat someone up like this, I’d smack the taste out of their mouths.”

The fellow with the beard tried to one up her even as he worked. “It’s still not as bad as that time when the Chernobot attacked.” The sparks caught and he cupped his hand around the burning grass, feeding leaves to the flames in hopes the fire would grow big and strong.

“That nuclear-powered wimp? My cigarettes are more likely to give me cancer,” responded the old lady.

“What about the Rat Emperor?” a voice called from elsewhere. There were other people sitting a bit higher up, in groups.

“What about the Rat Emperor?” the old lady asked by way of answer.

“Psycho Gecko,” I suggested.

“He destroyed my apartment,” she said.

Meanwhile, our fire was starting to grow. The would-be Prometheus looked up and said, “My daughter’s school, too. He was an asshole drama queen. Good riddance.”

“Ooh,” I winced.

“There, there,” said the guy who just insulted me. “You’ll be back on your feet in no time. I’m afraid we don’t have any medical supplies, but you’re welcome to a room in our swanky hotel.”

I spent a couple days recovering, otherwise my escape would have been much quicker. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t walk, just that it was really painful. I wasn’t going anywhere, anyway. Just an enclosure with high, thick metal walls all around except for the observation window. I didn’t see anyone back there most of the time. They kept them out of sight.

The lack of food didn’t do much to help that, either. They gave us stuff from military Meals Ready to Eat, just not the heating pads. The entrees are really not fun cold, but our civilization has discovered fire. Just not sure whether we should work on the wheel, pottery, or writing next on the tech tree. It takes a lot of work to get railroads by a time period best known as the early Middle Ages.

Sorry, but I made use of some of my downloaded games while I was infirm. Probably sounded a bit weird to the other around, but a guy’s got to stay entertained. Plus, it helps me practice. There’s nothing quite like being told you’ve ended Russian civilization. Now, if only I can get a rabbit’s foot and ramp up wine production, I’ll be the undisputed agricultural ruler of Stardew Valley!

But y’all didn’t come here to read about me playing games and drinking the little bottles of Tabasco that come with the MREs. Or listen to podcasts, though I’ve found some delightful ones. No, you came here to read about my amazing exploits as a premiere kicker of fine keister.

I soon found myself a night owl again, seeing sights others miss during the day. One night, for instance, I needed a break from Hotline Miami because the game was designed to cause headaches if played too long and found myself coming back to the world looking in the direction of the old lady. She had huddled over the smoldering remnants of her fire, her back and blanket toward the entrance area and its obvious cameras and the big window. She had her hands cupped over the fire and a small floating fireball between them. The old broad has been holding out on them.

A few hours later at dawn, the feeding door opened and a half doze soldiers rushed in, keeping an eye on everybody awake. They spread out, the moonlight glinting off uniforms that seemed unusually shiny and lacking in armor. Heat and fire-resistant material, if I had to guess. A pair approached the old woman, who sat up suddenly.

“You have a choice,” one of the men said to her.

She shook her head slowly. “You’re sworn to uphold Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I have as much choice as you do. Are you going to defend your people, or murder because someone told you to?”

I could see the man frown down at her. Then he raised his rifle and pointed it right in the old woman’s face. A part of me got some wood from it all. The next few moments, I figured, would be pivotal.

“We have our orders,” said the soldier. The shot echoed through the enclosure and woke a lot of people up. I heard a baby start crying. The soldier looked up at everyone, then lowered his gun to put another couple of shots into the old lady’s chest. The others kept up a defensive posture, ready to respond if anyone tried to react while the pair that had approached the woman dragged her body off toward the feeding enclosure. I just watched and let them go. It’s easy when you’re as coldblooded as myself, especially because they almost certainly had reinforcements nearby in case anyone reacted emotionally.

Most of the group seemed to be in the dumps about it. Nobody, not even the bearded guy who seemed to know her, moved to take their place by her fire. They huddled up and tried to get to sleep under their blankets and next to their fires and all that. Everything was peaceful for about an hour. Then I calmly stood up, did some light stretching to knock the kinks out, and yawned. I turned sideways so I could address the people higher up on the ridge, which I put at about two dozen, and keep the window in my line of sight. “Anyone want to get out of here?” I asked.

“What?” someone asked. I turned and shot a laser from my laser eye, carving a quick circle in the glass of the window. Hurt like hell, the heat starting to cook my eye socket, but that’s the price I pay.

I ran for the hole, giving a Tarzan yell. A pair of soldiers stepped up, aiming their guns. Even if I wasn’t hurtling toward them due to momentum, I wouldn’t have stopped. Instead, zigged to the side until only the one on the left could aim at me through the hole and popped him in the eyes with the laser. He dropped his gun and held his eyes. His friend moved to take his place and got a hole through his forehead instead. I jumped through the opening left, wondering if the folks behind me would follow.

I know, why didn’t I just let them in on the plan? Because there were cameras and ways for the soldiers inside to figure out when people were colluding. The old lady’s death showed that much.

Once I got through the gap, I found it was a curved corridor with some nice plaster walls. I didn’t notice so much last time, what with all the beatings. A pair of soldiers came up around the curve to my right. I swiped my hand, catching one’s eye. He screamed and went down, but his buddy had a good chance for a shot. Would have, anyway, if I didn’t drop down to the ground as fast as I could. I quickly popped my fangs down and forced the venom sacks to squeeze their contents into my mouth. I rolled over and spat a spurt of Tabasco sauce into the second soldier’s face. He screamed as well, leaving one eye between the both of them. I barely even felt it this time as my laser eye shot out and severed the trigger finger of the one still capable of seeing.

That gave me enough time to stand up and slash their throats with my blackened zirconium fingernails, shooting blood into the air.

I heard gasps behind me and turned to see a crowd of the normals standing there, looking at bodies. “Grab a gun if you want to fight,” I said, panting. With a moment to think on it, I felt pretty damn tired. It was the laser. Imagine a sugar crash without the rush. But I didn’t have to do it alone. Some of the normals did step through and grabbed up guns from the soldiers. That’s when I noticed the bullet holes in the glass. “Hand me one, too,” I said.

I only needed it so far as the next enclosure up. The section the others had come from turned out to be another enclosure. Through the glass, I could see a pretty big group of folks, a burnt line in middle of an enclosure that had lots of dead, brown grass along the bottom, still wet from morning dew. On each side of the line stood men and women, a dozen in total. I guess they didn’t want to put too many superpowers together in one spot. Except, it occurred to me, they’d use tougher glass for that. It meant my eye wasn’t likely to do a lot to it.

Though, and this is when I felt kinda stupid, they still had a door that was pretty easy to open from this end. I threw it open and waved out at them. “Hey!”

I ducked as a fireball flew in and splashed against the wall behind me. I jumped out, showing my non-military clothing. “Hey!” I yelled indignantly this time. “Cut that shit out! We’re escaping, after all.”

The line, it turned out, curved over so that it divided up the ground leading to this door as well. On the left side, the supers started to approach. It was the ones on the right side, including one with fire, who were more cautious. “And who are you anyway?” Then he stopped and got a good look at me covered in blood and with weird stains on my face from the Tabasco.

When we opened the door to the next interior section, we found a squad of soldiers for about a second before fire and energy blasts flew. The soldiers quickly decided to regroup elsewhere. While they were at it, I spread out, opening doors and cages. People from a number of different legal situations took one look at the conditions they’d been thrown into, then at the escape attempt, and decided that the saying about the enemy of my enemy sounded pretty damn good. Good Doctor was in one of the low-power enclosures with another eleven folks. “You, with me. We need to find a weaker wall out of here. I have an idea where to look too.”

He looked around at the growing chaos, the sounds of screaming in the air, and nodded. “We’re going to need someone with some punch,” he said in his lovely British accent.

“Anything you can see that’d show us where they’re hiding folks like that?” I asked.

He scanned the area, utilizing his power of what’s commonly called x-ray vision, though that’s an inaccurate description. There appears to be no radiation involved, and it has different parameters than x-rays. “There,” he pointed into the interior of our little curving circle. “Lead blocks and rooms. Lead is often used to contain our stronger fellows.”

I nodded and headed for one of the intersecting corridors. We were finding little resistance, various superhumans spreading throughout the facility. They pushed back the military, which did not want to face them in this initial attack, and helped release their own kind while Good Doctor, the normals, a few other supers, and I all headed inward to find the rooms for the stronger sorts. The ones who could jump free, or fly, or punch their way out. So many handy release buttons on the outside of these rooms, many of which appeared to be custom-built.

One room had Elita the Warrior Woman chained to the floor, which was all one piece with the rest of the room. Lead, too, from the sound of it. I just smiled my fanged smile and hit a little button on the outer wall. The chains snapped open. I had to stand back as she punched through the door. “Hey there, darlin’,” I said. “Some of us can’t fly. Mind opening a door?”

A roar and explosion from what I figured was the front of the facility caused her to sneer.

“I think we should go sooner rather than later. I fear they have some means to contain a full-scale outbreak that will be going into effect soon,” said Good Doctor. “Let’s go back to the area you found myself in. The walls there should present no challenge to Elita here.” He nodded deferentially to Elita. She snorted and cracked her knuckles, but followed along as we all headed right back.

I know, boring trip, except for the rumbling all over the place. Some of those really powerful ones we’d let loose might have come along peacefully, or maybe they’d been contained by special means, but now they were free and angry. It felt like a low-grade earthquake, at least until the sound of extremely rapid-fire gunfire started up. Miniguns. And explosions punctuated everything. Whatever the hell was going on, I was missing it, and I didn’t need to see it yet. I was in no shape to. I just had to hope the adrenaline would keep me upright long enough.

Elita smashed right through the window back to Good Doctor’s holding area and took a running start across a rocky area with a small stream running through it. A series of punches bent a section of the metal exterior wall down and provided us a ramp to freedom, and just in time. I heard helicopters take to the air behind us. They seemed focus on that area, so our exodus, and those of others jumping and flying to freedom, went unmolested. Indeed, the zoo turned out to be at the edge of the military’s staging area, without even a Concertainer wall to hold us in.

I stopped as we got out and looked around. To no one in particular, I said, “Ah, smell that?”

“The smell of freedom?” asked the bearded man, carrying a discarded rifle with him.

I shrugged. “No, I mean I think I crapped myself. No time to stop now though.”

A burst of speed brought forth from our freedom, the freed prisoners got the hell out of Central Park. I barely stepped off the grass when an explosion behind me leveled the Central Park zoo.

Soon, having stolen a car, I made my grand entrance into Master Academy with a crash at the gate. Apparently they’re keeping it firmly closed, even when Psycho Gecko, the Good Doctor, and Elita the Warrior Woman are all carpooling.

I woke up in my cell underneath the school, hooked up to an IV drip. I’m already working on editing everything I saw to the best possible light. The beatings. The heroes chained up. The old lady and her defiance before taking a shot to the head like masochist bukkake.

I spy with my little eye, a turning point. In this conflict.

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The Empyreal March 3

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“You’re pinning the blame for this new loyalty oath thing on me?” I asked. I hadn’t performed any major operations in the few days since that announcement, instead working on my armor some more. Since I couldn’t leave maintenance to the nanites or a machine designed to repair everything, I had to put more time into keeping it in working order. I’d been interrupted in the middle of a bit of necessary crotch maintenance. Totally letting it out some to accommodate me. Yep. Nothing to do with bad smells at all.

Venus stood in the library, holding an empty box. Minotaur stood back a ways, doing more watching than helping. An orange young man with six hands carried an empty box in each hand. “They’ve reviewed what you’ve been doing and it looks like everything you do is just making things worse.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’ve done stuff, but they’ll use any excuse to do what they want. The doofus said he’d send in troops if there was another explosion. There hadn’t been any, but gosh if a bunch don’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. All I did was sneak in and play dress-up with the lean, mean killing machines and he’s gone all House Un-American Committee on y’all. If it wasn’t me, it’d have been something else. I bet that’s why the army was situated in such a lousy position anyway.” I pointed at her with the objects in my hand; a screwdriver and the portion of my armor that’s more or less a codpiece.

“You still gave him the excuse, and got those heroes caught so they could be his exemplars of this new way of doing things.” She started grabbing my tools and scraps and started piling them into the box.

“Hey now, those are mine. I stole them fair and square,” I admonished her.

She didn’t stop. “We’re relocating you back underground. You don’t have to stay down there all the time, but we don’t want you out in the open. There’s going to be a tour of the grounds for some very important people.”

“I suppose I can understand that. Y’all wouldn’t want to show the proper authorities your little hidden prison anyway, especially with the Loyalist heroes’ little buddy held down there. You know, I don’t think my time beating up Ukrainians adversely affected anything.”

“Did it help?” She turned and looked at me with one skeptically-raised eyebrow. “Did it accomplish anything, or was it just an excuse for you to hurt people?”

“I mean, hurting people helps me. It’s also valuable training. Not to mention, it curtailed various Ukrainian mafiya operations around the city while they relocated and got set up again. Y’all were stopping muggers. I stopped the people who don’t make such obvious waves.” I winked at her.

She rolled her eyes at that, then looked over to Minotaur and Swiss Arm-y Guy. “Enjoying the view?”

Minotaur snorted. “Just tell me what to lift.”

She pointed off into the corner to my armor-makin’ machine. “That looks big enough. And you can get more of the little stuff,” she said that to the other one. Finally, she grabbed my helmet where it rested on a bust of Mark Twain and tossed it to me. “You’ll probably want to wear that down there.”

“Like it? A little different, but I’ve liked the idea of having multiple eyes on it, even if only in an aesthetic sense. A subtle way to get to people. And I’m not stuck with pink, gold, and white as my color scheme.” I spun my helmet around and set it on the table while I continued refreshing my crotch armor.

“I’m not stuck with those colors. Besides, I heard you like pink. Your ex mentioned it.”

“A master criminal such as myself is allowed the occasional indulgence,” I responded.

“Pink nails, pink shoes, a poofy pink dress, pink ribbons for your pigtails…”

“You should have seen me in the tight pink dress.” I bit my lip and let my eyes roll up. I looked damn good in that thing. I looked ‘guy checking you out accidentally walks into a sign’ good. Sadly, I hadn’t quite mastered ‘girl checking you out accidentally walks into a sign’ good before everything happened with the alien invasion and another sex change. There’s alw- crap, they won’t let me fiddle with nanites.

My occasional foray into pink notwithstanding, the relocation was cheap and easy as myself when I wear lots of pink. They didn’t restrict me, really, just wanted to keep me under wraps, though I think Venus’s talk was meant to be a subtle hint not to stir up even more trouble.

To be fair, I didn’t set out to do so this time. All I meant to do was buy a shitload of hot wings for the big night of watching great commercials and a short concert interspersed with a football game. I have nothing against a bunch of men in tight pants piling on each other to see who can touch the other groups’ ball. Hell, that could easily describe most superhuman conflicts right there. I just don’t happen to follow it.

All I did was set out to obtain some delicious hot wings. I got myself a big box of them, and was walking home. Just minding my own business, thinking of maybe picking up some pink nail polish, when I was accosted. Accosted, I say, by a trio of rogues intent on besmirching the good name of Empyreal City by engaging in street crime like common riffraff. Like Riff Raff, I had a hunch, though mine was that they didn’t know what they were getting into but were aware that the city’s superheroes were grounded. I could not allow such perfidy to stand, I say. And I said as much to them, until the gentlemen pulled a firearm on me.

Well, I didn’t have a weapon of my own to ready in hand, so their call of “Your money or your life,” was instead answered by myself grinning and going, “Do you accept payment in chicken instead?”

Sadly, I had to go back and get more chicken, but I don’t believe those street hoodlums will be causing me anymore trouble. Indeed, the one will be lucky to walk if he ever makes it off that fire hydrant, and his friend with the gun was last seen trying to hack up a box of chicken wings, box included. I impressed the third one so much, he accidentally ran into a sign while trying to run off. However, it left me replacing my wings and passing by the same area in time for cops, some soldiers, and one of those idiots with the loyalty oath to finally have responded. I just hoped to pass them by, walking on the other side of the street and behind some parallel parked cars. I didn’t take it as a good sign when one of them, presumably the one from the hydrant since he lay on that stretcher belly-down, pointed in my direction.

“You!” called out the super with the flamethrower. He pointed in my direction.

I looked around, confused, then pointed back behind me. “Oh, he must have gone that way. If you hurry, you can still catch him.”

He raised his flamethrower. “Stop and put your hands over your head.”

“One, don’t just point a weapon at someone,” I said as he approached. “Second, you might pick words more carefully.” I indeed raised my hand, throwing the boxes of chicken wings into the air right toward him. He raised his arm and shot a spurt of flame at them. Spicy.

I jumped up and slid over the car hood, almost singing my eyebrows as he lowered the stream of flame while firing. I stayed low to rush him, and even he wasn’t stupid enough to try and lower his aim to take me out. Not with a car there. Cars really don’t explode easily when shot with a gun, but flamethrowers are a different story. I reached inside my jacket to wrap my hand around the handle of my laser potato peeler. At last, its time has come!

I’m still not entirely sure where the flashbang effect came from. I don’t think I saw the actual grenade, but then everything lit up like a flashbang and my ears were ringing. I felt myself thump into the flamethrower guy, and tried slashing. Something hit me in the face and burned, but it was solid, so I figured I didn’t have to worry about losing my hair. There were a lot of arms and fists all of a sudden, take my face’s word for it. I stabbed and slashed, but something metal hit my hand and knocked it loose. My eyes and ears adjusted quickly to find myself being knocked on my ass by a squad of soldiers who, to be fair, were being much less lethal than you’d expect from soldiers. One of them did the barrel of his gun against my forehead and say “Stop.”

They had these big magnetic shackles for my legs and arms. Put a pair on and they were pulled together. And as much as I hated it, I’m not so suicidal as to try and when the gun barrel’s right there. So, after getting trussed up like a pig for a barbecue, they frisked me and it was off to the zoo!

I wish they’d at least left me the laser potato peeler before tossing me into one of the reptile enclosures. At least they remembered to take the big metal cuffs off.

But I’m cool with it, I think. There’s no need to fear, I am here. No, no, no, just think about this. I’ve been planning stuff, and things have been going to shit. So clearly, my mind is the problem. To exceed the limitations of my mind, I must lose my mind. I must stop planning. I must become one with the piss which I take from my enemies. Because I care about some people at that school. I care about stopping these assholes, solving the Ukrainian mystery, and eventually stopping the Claw.

The more fucks I have to give this situation the more fucked-up it becomes. And from that perspective, I’m in a great place. My enemies surround me. No prison has ever held me. And while they’ve upgraded the defenses of this makeshift, the look I got at them showed those walls, emplacements, and sensors would do a great job of helping keep people out. This zoo, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have too many more additions made to it. Certainly not enough, I think, to hold off a big escape with all these superpowered prisoners.

So what do I spy with my little laser eye, hidden fangs, blackened zirconium fingernails, and paralyzing scream? Opportunity.

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The Empyreal March 2

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Times like these make you wonder how much a city can take. It’s been one asskicking after another for Empyreal City. The military occupation isn’t making the rebuilding effort go any faster, especially the way they’re sent out to investigate any and all superhero activity. I assume crime is up, but that’s because it doesn’t take too much to realize that.

The reason why “in broad daylight” is a statement of boldness for criminals is because most prefer to rob a place when no one will likely see them to report it. With Empyreal City’s resident crop of nighttime rooftop-dwellers grounded at risk of having a .50 caliber rifle shoved in their face, a lot of criminals are back in action. Hell, I even robbed a bakery. It’s part of an evil plot, I swear.

As for what they do when they actually catch heroes, there’s some sort of detainment. They were trying to keep it quiet, but they didn’t have very good cells. The first breakout made it pretty clear where they were squirreling captured supers away to. Officially, they’ve been declared criminals and villains, whether they’d always been heroes or had only recently gained that distinction thanks to the big post-invasion amnesty. That’s the problem with letting the law decide such issues.

And then there’s me, taking it all in while running around and doing my thing. Fixing my gauntlets while scared library regulars watch the TV for the latest round of outrages. Eating a midnight snack in the refectory after knocking over a few costume stores and supermarkets while nocturnal supers sit around with coffee and smartphones to see if any friends got busted. Even sparring against Leah in a mostly-empty gym. “Kinda empty in here, isn’t it?” I asked.

She didn’t say anything, at least in response. Unless the gasping and groaning was meant to be a response, but I figure it had more to do with her discovering the joy of being on the receiving end of a kidney punch. I sat down on a nearby bench while she recovered enough to crawl over and pull herself onto it. She lay there for a few seconds, then said, “Ow.”

“See?” I asked. “Really effective. It’s kinda like it knocks the fight right out of you.”

She nodded her currently-bright red hair. “I thought wrestling with you would be more fun.” I think it was meant to be innuendo, but the pain in her voice messed that up.

“Well, ya know, they warn you your first time’s going to be painful, but at least you finished quickly,” I told her with a smile.

She smiled back with a bit of playfulness in her eyes. “I’m just glad it was with you, Master.”

I rolled my prosthetic eyes at my young former ward. “You and the innuendo. You keep this up, and no one will believe I haven’t messed with you that way. Then, when people see all the bruises, we’ll really get a reputation.”

She sat up and rubbed at her biceps. “I don’t mind. In fact, I’m glad it was you to beat me up this time. The way you do it is like a real fight. I know what to expect when I get hit for real.”

“Why is this place so empty again? I believe I asked that question once already, but you have been avoiding answering it.”

She shrugged. “Kids don’t want to be heroes so much if it’ll get them thrown in jail by that jerkwad. I’m surprised you’re not more opinionated about him.”

I shrugged. “Who wants to hear my political opinions? Or hear me salivate at the schadenfreude of his voters turning against him? Or listen to me rant about how he seems more popular to protest against than vote against? This is the section of my biography where the writer’d be like ‘Did anything happen that didn’t seem to be about the new President?’”

“Come on,” she elbowed me.

I turned away. “No, and I’m frankly appalled by the implication, especially while they’re serving fried chicken in the refectory. I don’t know about you, but I’m showering.”

That night, I set out to put my plan in motion. That had been a large motivator in not letting a sparring match with Leah go on too long. She needs to keep up on her whoop-ass studies, but sometimes a guy’s just got shit to do. Plus, she learned a valuable lesson about kidney punching. It really is very important for someone who wants to mess people up for a living.

I needed my strength, after all, for my target was well guarded. It was the base of the guards, the military shantytown in Central Park. Whatever commanding officer consented to send his people in apparently drew the line at quartering soldiers in people’s homes. Instead of setting up outside the city of commandeering office buildings, they somehow wound up in Central Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a matter of even more politics, them trying to hold onto an exposed open position in the middle of a city. Maybe because they’d taken to holding supers in the park’s zoo.

They still had fences and guards up to deter casual entrance to the camp, but I didn’t trust it to be that easy. Mostly because it shouldn’t have even been as easy as it looked to be. Instead of barging in against these guys, I stopped to observe the section of perimeter fence I’d opted to try and penetrate. The whole thing just seemed too easy. Therefore, it had to be. If only it wasn’t the time of year most animals were trying to avoid the cold. I figured I needed a dog that could pass for a stray.

Half an hour later, I returned with something to approximate a vicious feral street dog. According to the collar around the Chihuahua’s neck, his name was Spanky. I stood back and punted him toward the perimeter fence, then ducked close to the grass and activated a hologram. These holodiscs aren’t as awesome as my old system, but their invisibility screen ought to hold under those circumstances.

Thirty seconds after unleashing Spanky’s yapping fury upon the fence, a fifteen-foot walker stomped onto the scene, sighting on the annoying little yapper. Sadly, it didn’t open fire. It just stood there, a bipedal machine with two thick, humanoid legs that stood on three-toed feet. The legs met at a platform that held thick, boxy torso with the pilot inside. It didn’t have a head so much as a set of sensors, none of which resembled a face. Its right arm consisted of a pair of box-like missile launchers . One on the outside was connected by a rotating joint to another. Its left looked like a minigun, so it had that going for it too. I got a very good look at it in the moonlight, especially when it decided to point both arms in my direction. It didn’t advance, though.

I jumped back, looking like some weird blur that tried to blend into the sky and background as my holodiscs struggled to hide me in vain. So on top of the motion sensors, they had something magnetic or something that could detect whatever heat I put out.

Operation Whitewash would have to be heavily modified. First, by unleashing Operation Yapper. I visited more homes and plenty of Pet Stores before heading back. I let everything out. Kittens. Puppies. Parakeets. I had all sorts of animals running all over that perimeter, keeping the guards busy all night long. If it hadn’t been for seeing me earlier, they might have just disabled the alarms or lowered their sensitivity. I had to stick a lot of metal on those animals, even use a hairdryer on a few to make sure they were good and warm.

They kept responding, albeit turning it into less of a full-blown emergency each time. By the time I stopped, they had resorted to sending out a single walker again unless they saw something worse. That time, he very nearly opened up on a bunch of snails all sliming their way around a bush. It stepped forward instead and poked the bush with the minigun, dislodging a few of the slugs. It was when it swiveled back around to head back toward the main area that I stepped out of the bush and followed along underneath it with my cargo.

When the soldiers fell out the next morning, it was discovered that someone had made a joke of them, just in time for someone to have tipped off the news. Soldiers were rushing all over the place, their faces painted bright white, wigs of jarringly bright colors stuck to their heads. Then they had to worry about tripping over their own feet given the giant shoes, many of which were just oversized for the person and painted red.

Needless to say, the new President threw yet another tantrum over it. His Press Secretary tried to cover it up by informing the press that the camp hadn’t been infiltrated, nor had any soldiers been painted up as clowns while they slept. The differences between that statement and the truth almost caused the press to miss his next announcement. He brought out the three militia supers I’d had an altercation with but hadn’t disarmed. “We are now implementing our own special Super Federal Marshal program. These brave patriots have taken a personal oath of loyalty to the President and are ready to be sent into the field alongside our military to ensure the safety of Empyreal City now that the heroes there have proven themselves to be so untrustworthy that events like what happened last night could occur.”

One of the members of the press raised their hand. The spokesman pointed to him, prompting the question, “If nothing happened last night, then how did the events of last night prove heroes were untrustworthy?”

“Next question!”

I was just sitting in the common room at the time, looking for a change of scenery while working on my gauntlet. I don’t know why all the adult Master Academy capes in the room were staring at me. When Venus started to say, “Ge-…Puss…” I just shrugged.

“It really is offensive, you know,” I said without looking up. “You know how damn hard I worked on it? I planned and plotted. I had to deal with fucking aliens. I laid groundwork years in advance. Then this motherfucker comes up and gets elected while bragging he could shoot people and grab women’s pussies. This is why folks like me don’t believe in the American Dream anymore. Work hard, take over the world, and everybody wants to take you down as quickly as possible. But if you’re born with money and have everything handed to you on a silver platter, you can go around bragging about all the despicable things you’re going to do and still win an election legally. It’s a damn shame.”

“There there,” Venus said, patting me on the shoulder. “If it’s any consolation, lots of people hate him too.”

“I don’t see people building giant robots to oppose him! Seriously, you want a giant robot? I’m going to need materials, but I have the hookup. Hell, you get me wood and some lasers, I can carve one up for you, what do you say?”

No takers, not even when I mentioned that I could use peach trees and call it “The Im-Peach-inator.” For some reason, they remain committed to nonviolent opposition against this one. I don’t see why. I think I was much more benevolent of a dictator.

I’m beginning to think I just don’t understand this world.

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The Empyreal March 1

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Apparently taking in refugees causes something of a shitstorm. Mender was not happy to see all these kids running around on his lawn. I offered to program his computer with the cranky old man voice so he could yell at them to get off, but he turned me down. He almost blasted me with his cannon when I counter offered with Gran Torino Clint Eastwood instead. He made sure to call me into his office, where he locked it down and secured it from his chair. He then proceeded to attempt to ream me for bringing them in.

I say attempted because I didn’t care. I say ream because that’s another term for someone plowing the backfield. There’s a popular meme that the Inuits have a bunch of different words for snow, as opposed to those sensible English people who only have a bunch of other words for snow. Flurries and powder aside, English has a lot of different ways to describe attempted verbal sodomy. I suspect it’s the Germanic roots of the language. German sounds like the kind of language that would do that.

So now that we know the English have seventy different words for tearing someone a new asshole, I’d like to reiterate that they work best when someone gives a shit. Damn, there really is a lot of ass-related stuff on the English tongue.

Getting off analinguistics, I think my meeting went pretty well. Mender didn’t send me back down to the cells underneath the school, probably because he’s so worried about drawing attention to them at all. His idea to keep my stuff in the library under better lock and key isn’t so bad. Plus, have y’all ever heard Stephen Hawking try to yell at someone?

Note to self: still gotta work on my moves. I’ve got a list of grudges to settle now, and I shall be avenged for my dance-off loss!

Sadly, that must wait. Always with the waiting. Because now we’ve got soldiers in the city. I hear the governor’s losing his shit over it, because he never asked them here. There haven’t been any additional bombings so far. The National Guard would probably be fine for him. He’s asked for them, but these guys are actual Army. So, in addition to displaced citizens camped out on campus and the hunt for whoever pulled off this bombing, there are protests over the illegal use of the military on U.S. Soil.

In the middle of all that, as Mender very much reminded me, is me trying to avoid anyone knowing I’m alive. And Vicky’s very much considering that the costs of having me around are outweighing the benefits.

I suggested that perhaps a group of superheroes hiding their illegal detainment of prisoners shouldn’t act so much like a group with something to hide, but I left that office with the idea in my head that I might better do something to get in his good graces. And, as I told him, the students themselves could use something humanitarian to take their minds away from worrying.

Oh, and Venus complimented me on opening up the school and finding a way to take kids. Awful lot of crap I’m catching just for wanting to buck up some teens hiding in a library.

I relocated my machines behind a few bookcases, then took a walk well away from campus. It was easy to use a hologram to sneak past the campers. It’s not like we have the whole city there. Once past them, I just reverted to looking like myself. My current armor is different enough from my older models that no one recognizes me based on it. Well, almost no one.

I made a tour of the blast sites. They’d gotten everyone out by now, emergency workers and supers working tirelessly around the clock in the days following the attack. I was trying to figure out some crap, but almost everyone else had an advantage over me in the investigation anyway.

Post office, hospital, police station, firehouse, an apartment building, and a satellite FBI office. It’s an odd list of targets in my eyes, and the places themselves looked weird to me. The apartment building, for one thing. Low-income housing, with lots of colorful graffiti. Specifically, the colors of red, green, and a mix of yellow and purple.

For those who don’t remember, which includes me half the time, the Reds, the Greens, and the Yurples are local Empyreal City street gangs. I have, from time to time, gotten mixed up with them. This looked like they’d all been marking their territory here, fighting over it. Could just be a piece of territory. Could be something more. Won’t know that until I chase down someone.

The police station’s a normal target. Everyone wants to blow up a cop coop. Go out there and knock on any random person’s door, they’ve almost certainly thought of it. I bet a kind, old granny would even have it mapped out and a batch of ingredients in the pantry. She’s got nothing to lose at that age. Granny don’t give a fuck.

The same could be said of the FBI office. So much crap around Empyreal City that could fall under Federal jurisdiction. Then factor in the anti-gang stuff: task forces and specific anti-gang intelligence gathering. Oh, and the anti-super task forces. Can never rule that out.

The fourth one I stopped at was the one at Crater Probably Memorial Hospital. That just seems suspicious because of the militia guy being there. And how there was no warning or evacuation. Everything would be wrapped up in a nice little bow except that he’s not among the victims. He was warned, so his little group had some foreknowledge of the attacks. Which means they let them happen. It’d be great to use against them, too.

And that, finally, is where someone showed up who did know me for a bad guy. I don’t know when the person spotted me the first time. I tended to travel by jumping, albeit carefully enough not to break my legs, and this guy was stuck on land. I just don’t know which guy it was because more than one showed up.

I was checking out the wreckage when a larger truck rolled up. They hadn’t lifted it up and stuck it on giant tires, but it had armor plates on the front and doors, with one of those chrome things just behind the cab that had lights mounted on it and a person standing and holding onto it. The driver and passenger doors opened, and three individuals hopped down onto the street near the hospital. The driver had this helmet on, thick metal with large, dark holes where the eyes would be. It encased his entire face, stopping at the chin but probably making it very difficult to talk.

The one from the rear had hands encased in thick metal with large bolts at the knuckles and thinner bands that stretched up to his elbows. From seeing him in action before, those bolts could extend on the edge of pistons. The one who stepped around from the passenger’s side had his left arm encased in a pair of cylinders joined by thick hoses attached to tanks on the upper arm portion, the lower arm portion ending past where a hand would in a nozzle with a pilot light flickering to life on it at that moment.

In other words, more of these newbie militia heroes had arrived on the scene, all together, while I was examining the hospital one of them was kept at. Fun times.
“I recognize you. Boy, you’re in a whole heap’a trouble now,” said the one with the piston fists.

I cocked my head to the side. “You sound pissed-off, but you look pist-on.” That got a groan from the one with the flamethrower. “See? You friend over there’s flaming and he knows what I’m talking about. Blow that light out and it doubles as a glory hole.”

“I’ll glory your hole!” He said. He almost rushed forward, but the one with the helmet and presumably laser eyes stopped him.

“Like you’d even fit!” I yelled back, then laughed.

The one in the voice tried to say something, but his voice came out like some sort of Mrs. Doubtfire wannabe. Like his helmet was stuck on Bane from Dark Knight Rises, except the accent was Midwest. When settlers settled the Great Plains, they didn’t have room in the wagons for soft As. “Hit-Man,” he nodded back toward the one with the piston fists, “He says you were the one who attacked the camp. You are not going to come quietly.”

I shrugged. “You got me, I’m a screamer. Oh, wait, you meant bringing me in. Eh, I could do that, but then there’d be all this evidence the cops got their hands on. Stuff like the camp and the weapons and the prisoner in it. Ooh, and quite possibly that bit where you guys knew about the explosion here and dragged your friend out. But if you’d like to risk that getting out to the police and the news, be my guest.”

They all chuckled. This Hit-Man fellow, with his exceedingly insulting name, said, “Nobody believes the lamestream media anymore. This is our country now. America’s for real, native Americans!”

I cracked my knuckles. I mean, I’d kill a regular person off the street just for using that stupid term, let alone people I already disliked, like these guys. “So, you wanna be Native Americans, do you? Better get ready for a history lesson.”

A thingy shot up from his back over his head and erupted in bright light. So not a flashbang after all. Just a flash. Still, this is not the first time in my life I’ve been flashed by three guys by a destroyed hospital. I’ve been to New Orleans during Mardis Gras, after all.

Figuring on laser eye starting something off, I raised one arm and cranked up my gauntlets with my free hand, then brought it up. The energy sheaths are pretty good at deflecting laser blasts of all sort. The modifications I’ve made haven’t changed that, though they’d be useless against a laser even when complete. They’re not done yet, but I hope to allow them to do things in reverse a bit and draw energy from certain attacks into the batteries.

Between the time it took for me to crank it up and the different ideas these assholes had, flames roared and the temperature soared. My sight cleared to get a glimpse of the flames, which blinded me up until they stopped. Except, just behind the flames, a giant piston fist came my way and pounded me in the chest, the pistons shooting out at the moment of impact to add to the blow and knock me back into a broken wall. It broke as my hands pounded against it with the stored power from the energy sheath. I thought the standing upper portion over my head would fall on me, the whole mess was so flimsy. Then I took a laser to the helmet. I quickly charged my gauntlets and smashed them back again, knocking the upper portion down in front of myself and giving me some momentary concealment.

Good thing, too, because I got wonky diagnostics from my battery. Of all the things, at all the time. Could have been the impact or the heat, but something went screwy and that was a bad place to fix it. I thought to check over my holo discs as well. It didn’t look too good at first, what with all the soot and fire… except I still had one on under my cape on the rear of my suit. I swapped it out for the front one and had it project my surroundings as best I could so that when I shuffled back away from the approaching trio, they didn’t notice anything suspicious. Well, not until they all jumped around in a pincer attack that caught a poor, headless chicken just trying to cross the road.

The explosion knocked all three back and left them vulnerable. I stepped forward, drawing the newest iteration of my trusty laser potato peeler. All the deadliness of a potato peeler, coupled with the unbridled kitchen handiness of a laser in one package.

Right about then is when a quartet of fucking APCs rolled up along the street and knocked the heroes’ truck out of the way. The gunners trained some really big rifles on the three heroes while the vehicles themselves began disgorging heavily-armored soldiers, many packing the kind of guns they use to snipe tanks. They came deployed to deal with supers, and increased toughness is pretty common among supers.

I didn’t know how many of those things it would have taken to turn me into Swiss Cheese Man, but I knew how many they’d use. And I still would have been willing to take them on if I’d had a reliable power source. Unfortunately, my battery was fucking up and this armor isn’t something you want to walk around in without powered assistance.

Instead, I figured we’d just have to call this one a tie. I backed away until I got to a safe distance, leaving the three heroes to explain the fight and explosion. I’ve been here at the library ever since, cleaning, repairing, and upgrading my armor. Extra holodiscs behind the cape for repairs and other tricks. Reinforced battery to keep my power supply secure. And I’ll have these gauntlets done in no time.

Then, just like Stephen Hawking, I’ll kick their heads open and dance all over their beautiful minds so hard, they’ll never walk again.

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