Now, while it may be everyone’s dream to live in a palace with their two beautiful Asian servants and their kidnapped Asian daughter, but getting into that position creates several problems. Might raise a few questions about myself and race, too. Nonetheless, it simply wasn’t going to work for long. The power was off and order had collapsed on the island.
For most people, that wasn’t such a big deal. Your average person is more concerned with living their life, paying the bills, and eating their dinner. Except the biggest employer just fled the island, I cut the power, and any criminal elements on the island are running around, fully aware they can get away with murder. Well, unless the Dimension Rangers get them, but what are they going to do about it? They’re used to killing monsters and mutants. It’s a bit harder to justify cutting someone in half when they’re a toaster thief just trying to support their son Daquan.
The boss is gone. Now most people don’t have jobs, and those that do won’t for long because most of their customers don’t have jobs or they can’t do them without electricity. People are afraid to go out unless they’re in armed mobs, and that mistrust means killing people over misunderstandings that used to be part of everyday life. “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that was my pack of cookies. Please don’t lynch me.”
I don’t even know where they get their food here. If they imported most of it, this place is all going to starve. If they grew it somewhere around here, they need to get gas into trucks from storage to get it where people can eat it.
In short, I kinda fucked an entire island over.
I think any militaries interested in getting back at Ricca realized something was up, too. They didn’t open up on the place as wildly as one might have expected. Instead, a day after I forced the Claw and his people to retreat, people showed up to offer aid. It’s a little hard to get good information without being there myself, so I can’t tell if the first to show up were the Yakuza or Cape Diem. Cape Diem is an international aid organization run by the Titan. He takes heroes and villains alike, doesn’t mess with politics or crime, and instead focuses having people with powers help those around the world who are in much worse situations than your average Gotham City. As for the Yakuza, it wouldn’t be the first time they provided aid after a disaster to ingratiate themselves with a populace. The arrival of either group might be an attempt by international forces to establish a beachhead.
Soon after they arrived, there was a brief clash. The Dimension Rangers attacked the Cape Diem camp, maybe looking to get one of the villains taking refuge there. Ricca left plenty of people with superpowers and cybernetics behind, and not all had their brains washed with the Unity drug.
I was out keeping track of things, having already confiscated all the supplies I needed from the residence wing of the palace. A group of five young men and women approached in color-coordinated clothing, looking all around as a telekinetic in the Cape Diem uniform planted a perimeter fence in the ground. They looked to the food tables, pointing to someone in the middle of a bunch of kids and old people. “Ranger Dimensional Enforcement Team, Go!” they called out. A blast of light engulfed them. The light dissipated to reveal them in armor that could be confused with spandex. As they posed, the ground exploded behind them and destroyed a part of the fence the telekinetic had just put down.
All the people eating noticed the explosions and fled, while more uniformed Cape Diem personnel ran up. These guys had a band across their chests and arms that read “Security” in multiple languages. Before they could step in, something flying overhead cast a shadow over the land. A large man landed, the ground shaking under his boots. He stood up, tall as a semi and built like one to boot, with dark blue skin highlighted by orange, especially where bone showed through on his wings.
“First warning: do not attack my people,” he said, eyes glowing.
The red one spoke up. “You aren’t going to hide the unjust forever. That man is thief, and almost a murderer!” He pointed to the now-abandoned tables.
“A warzone is the wrong place to discriminate against people for what they have to do to survive. Stand down now and leave now. You only get one pass.”
The Rangers posed, then weapons appeared in their hands. They charged, but Titan swept his wings forward and knocked them all over. He jumped forward, grabbed each of them by the leg, and threw them to the other side of the island. I guess he was serious about giving them a warning. On the one hand, it’d be fun to see him sent after the Riccan government in North Korea, but I managed to pull this one out pretty well.
I didn’t have much time to worry about that. While the main action is going to be in North Korea now, I expect we’ll get plenty of people showing up here to loot the place. Thar be science in them thar hills!
I returned to my section of the palace to see the younger of my two lady servants running back to the main bedroom. Curious, I fingered the water bottle on my belt and followed.
It was Qiang, sick in bed. And not just regular sick. Blood from multiple holes sick. The older servant kept her eyes on Qiang as she tried to smear more and more of the local nanite jelly onto her. “It isn’t working!” she yelled
I pushed them both out of the way, pulled off my gauntlets, and pressed my hands against Qiang and the jelly. She whimpered as I asked went in for diagnostic. The data being shared across the nanites showed a massive viral infection, and a foreign object the size of a pinky finger just below her heart. I reached down and pulled off one of the bottles of my nanites and poured that into her mouth, making sure they dug into her. These were more highly concentrated than what the Riccans normally used, and better programmed for delicate work. I diverted some to keep her stabilized and fighting whatever this was.
Over the course of the next couple of minutes, the majority of the additional nanites examined the object and pushed it to the surface. I tore open Qiang’s shirt just before they opened her skin, pushed it out, and closed it up again without a scar. It was hollow, with a nub right next to the opening. When I cracked that open, the nub turned out to be there just to prevent me or my daughter from connecting to the small system inside, which was a simple remote opening system. Something sends a signal, and it pops open. That’s it.
“Traitorous bastards,” I said, aware of the irony. “They left a little something in case I turned on them.” I took a swallow of my other bottle of nanites and sent them to look all over for a similar foreign device, starting in the same area. They almost immediately found infection by a similar virus already. Lethargy, too. And I’d gotten really damn sweaty. “I think I need a lie down too,” I said, settling on the bed next to Qiang with my armor on. It really wasn’t the time to leave it off.
I caught the virus relatively early, but the thing was designed to hit hard and fast. I still ended up in bed there next to Qiang for almost a day, with a bit of light hemorrhaging. Just like treason, even a little bit is still enough to cause major problems.
The servants stayed by us, bringing food and dealing with all the smells. I don’t know why, but I’m going to find them something large and golden to keep for that. Maybe gemstone-encrusted. Regardless, I owe them for looking after myself and Qiang. I certainly owed them their lives. I tried to tell them. “You don’t have to stay with us. The Empire is gone.”
The older one looked to the younger one, who bowed her head. Then the older one put her hand on the chest of my armor and leaned down. “My lord has been good to us. I know what happens to women with no place to go in a lawless land and what you did not do to us. If we leave, who will protect my daughter?” She turned to look back at the younger one and held her hand out. The young lady moved forward and took it. “Her father left us behind when the Emperor evacuated. Do you want revenge for what he has done to you and your daughter?”
I nodded. Her smile was thin as she looked into my eyes. “You will need us to deliver news of your death.” Hard to argue with that, especially when I was busy trying not to shit my pants and hoping Qiang would still pull through. Then she added, “My daughter will need an ambitious husband. Our lives are the playthings of heaven no more.” That raised my eyebrow, though she patted me on the head and left to go get some more soup, leaving me in the room with her blushing daughter and an awkward silence.
The next morning, the younger one was tending to us, giving Qiang a sponge bath, when I heard crashing from the outside. The older maid ran in and locked the door behind her. She ran around the bed just before a scooter broke through the door. Seriously? They really skimped on the craftsmanship in this place. The guy wearing the moped stopped it and a couple more people joined him. All of them wore denim jackets. The one on the left had a top knot and pulled out a katana. The one on the right raised a spray can to spray his pompadour, then pulled out a lighter. The one who busted down my bedroom door sported a mohawk made of Tesla coils sticking out of his head.
I bent over Qiang to grab my gauntlets and slide them on. “What do we have here?” asked the scooter rider as he looked everyone over. I think he asked it first to be intimidating, then he noticed me there. “One of the nobles who left us to fend for ourselves?” I put up my gauntleted dukes, but he laughed and said, “You brought fists to a lightning fight.” Electricity crackled up his coils and then arced at me.
I caught it with my gauntlets, the instantly charging them. I jumped right at him, a punch to his torso turning him into a giant splatter of red. Noticing I’d gotten between his buddies, I ducked. The pompadour goon sprayed flames over my back and screamed as the one with the top knot caught him with a slice of the katana.
“Ooh, a swing and a miss,” I said. I stood and yanked the katana out of top knot’s hands, then threw him out of the room. Pompadour was too busy putting pressure on a wound in his shoulder when I picked him up and carried him back out. “We didn’t start the fire,” I sang, badly. He raised the can toward my face along the way, but I bit his hand and he dropped it. “It was always burning since the world’s been turning.” I then tossed him on top of the rolling, screaming friend of his and pinned him there with the katana, sticking them together. “Shishkebab’s almost done!” I called back to the room.
“Dad?” called out a voice I hadn’t heard except in whimpers for the past day. I made it to the bed again in an instant, hugging Qiang to me. “What happened?”
“You got sick, then I got sick, then some bad people broke in. Then they got very sick.” I paused, hearing the screams still coming from the other room. “Very sick. But we’re both a lot better now.” I looked over the two servants. “And we’re going to be leaving here soon, when you’re feeling better.”
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“North Korea. Daddy’s going to teach you how to assassinate people.”
And while all air transport is gone, I know some of the other nobles of the Riccan Empire have to have their own boats. I don’t even need a yacht. Just enough to take me, a kid, and enough food and water to make it there. “But first, I’m going to need get clean.”
I drew my own damn bath and peeled my armor off there, dumping it aside to be cleaned later. The door opened behind me and someone stepped in, someone heavier than Qiang. “You know, we can drop the whole ‘my lord’ business. I don’t need someone to wash me.” When arms wrapped around my chest, I sighed. “And you don’t have to do all that because your mother wants to hitch your wagon to mine.”
I turned to find it was the more muscular one looking up at me with a smile. “I have needs of my own.” She shoved me back, where I tripped over the edge of the jacuzzi and fell into the water. As she stepped up to the edge of it herself and began to undo her clothes, she added, “She can have you when I am finished.”
I left that bathroom feeling less clean, actually. And I left the island feeling slightly less fucked. But only slightly.
I have been hard at work building bombs. And while building bombs, I’ve been keeping Qiang with me to learn. It started when she ate something that disagreed with her. The color also disagreed with the carpet, so I brought her with me to keep an eye on while I work. These things are easy enough to make for me now that I can focus on her and help her understand the changes that are going on in her body.
And if that sounds awkward, just wait until I go female to help her through puberty. I’m gearing up to be one hell of an embarrassing parent. She doesn’t realize it yet because it’s new to her, but most of the civilized world frowns on someone listening to Barbie Girl or Cotton Eye Joe. I think she also likes learning how to fight back against people. There aren’t so many assistants waiting around, but I have taught her some tricks for dealing with them. You don’t have to be large to punch someone in the balls. It is a little trickier for women, but toes and shins are still within easy reach of her.
I also have her messing around with a tablet that I added games to. Educational stuff. Like a game to help her with math, or science, or movement patterns of guards. There’s even one in there about firearms and how they can be taken apart. It’s so easy, even a child can do it.
I didn’t have her help me with the bombs. I just kept putting them together, looking all dutiful and all. I might need them. After all, the world was kinda screwed. Despite my intervention, perhaps erring on the side of “because of,” the Claw managed to take over entire other nations. He wiped their memories with that Unity crap and had his own men standing in the wings, ready to replace their muddled confusion with assurances of who they were and who they served.
He can do the same to any country where the leader is in a fixed position and power is more or less concentrated. That’s a lot of countries. It works just as well on Prime Ministers as it does on Presidents. If that doesn’t work for some reason, I can help him send a death squad instead. Or a conventional bomb. Or a bomb that tears things apart by sending a chunk of it to another dimension. The world is Ricca’s oyster, and I helped them crack it.
It’s the apocalypse, alright. I always knew I’d have a hand in it.
At night, I carried a sleepy Qiang back with me to my room, where I put a little work in on something that occurred to me on my armor. Smaller, secondary capacitors, that I can detach. It might seem like an easy way to keep extra batteries on hand, but I rigged them to be capable of exploding, if I say so. It can only be triggered if they’re detachd from my armor, too. I killed the Oligarch with his own power armor’s self-destruct system; that doesn’t mean I’m eager to be hoisted by my own petard. Petard hoisting is hard on the boxers.
And, more than that, I still had the Rangers.. On the day of their projected arrival, I made sure to get up early. Like, before the PM. I know, right? They were still a ways off. I wiggled free of Qiang and let her sleep while I pulled my armor out from under the bed and got equipped. The batteries were charged, except for the extras. I threw that on just in case. I like having my armor.
It was great. They had the stupid ship with eyes and everything. I caught a better glimpse of it through a satellite feed. It belonged to the Russians, but they’d given Ricca unprecedented access to their defense infrastructure recently. How about that?
I caught a glimpse of a young man and his friends, five in total, standing on the ship, looking toward the island. The frontmost one wore red. By his side, a blue one started pointing toward the island. That’s when the yellow one ran back toward the bridge and the ship stopped.
I panned out, curious and expecting to see some giant monster unleashed. Instead, I saw a shimmering half sphere cover the island. The ship, something of a big, modern-battleship looking-thing, turned sideways and unleashed a broadsides. Anachronistic offense aside, the attack did nothing. The shield gave a little, rippled even, but didn’t disappear. If anything struck the island, I didn’t notice. The ship just stopped there.
Curious, I headed out to the main palace, looking for answers. I found Lu watching a small army of assistants scurry about with their duties. “Hey there, Luey Luey. What seems to be the officer, problem?”
He set his jaw and looked at me. “The island is under attack. It will be sorted out shortly.”
I pointed up. “I noticed something’s up with the sky. What is that? What’s going on?”
He turned toward me and bowed his head. “My lord, the protective barrier is in place to prevent any hostile incursion or bombardment of the glorious homeland of the Empire. We are perfectly safe. Your devices are the only way in or out to my knowledge. Go back to whatever you are doing and the situation will resolve itself soon.”
I headed back, but I didn’t care to just let things resolve. Uh uh. I needed to find whatever generated this barrier and take it out. Positioning suggests it is centrally located. However, I know it’s possible to have the shield generated by one machine and distributed evenly by other nodes. That’s a potential issue. My first two initial ideas were the palace itself and the Institute of Science. Somewhere on this damn island has to be a military base, but I never bothered going there. I should be able to use the satellites to find it, but not everything’s so easy around here. The island stretches down quite a ways, even harnessing geothermal power to keep the island lit up.
And there it was. So simple. Just kill the power. No matter where the thing was, it would need power, and a lot of it. If anything, it’s surprising that it managed to power up at all without causing a brownout or blackout. Except I don’t know where that is, either. I’m beginning to suspect keeping me segregated from most of the island was a strategic choice, and one I went along with way to much.
Maybe I should destroy a lot of stuff and hope I hit something vital. Either way, I should see to Qiang. And at least warn off the servant girls in case they get shot just for being in the same room as me. I get the feeling I’m going to be on Claw’s enemy list soon if I do anything about this forcefield.
I didn’t have time to set on a strategy before I made it back to my place and found Dame waiting there for me on the couch. I raised an eyebrow looking at her. She stood up, walked over, put her arms around me, and whispered, “I couldn’t help seeing you again.” With barely any vocalization at all, she added, “The forcefield cut me off.”
I nodded. “I know. I’ve been thinking about it, too. I think it’d be quite a feat to separate us. But if we did get together and all that, then break up, I’d want you to take the kids.”
She raised an eyebrow. I nodded toward the bedroom with Qiang. “But take good care of them. They’d mean the world to me, or at least the lives of everybody you’ve ever been friendly toward.”
“That’s if I could leave you at all,” she replied.
I hugged her. “I’d never force you to stay with me if you didn’t want to. You’ll have to trust me that I’d leave you a way out. But enough about that. I just came here while I thought about what to do about this crisis. I’m going to have to get out there and do something.”
“Something to help?” she asked.
I nodded. “I need to go to work. I wouldn’t want to wait around here all day with some sort of attack going on.” It was possibly the best heads-up I could give her.
But first, I went to the kitchen area and grabbed some bottled water. I emptied a couple bottles and filled them both about three quarters with what nanites I had manage to stockpile again. Dame left, pausing to look back at me before fleeing, making nary a sound.
I made my way to the Institute of Science, keeping my eyes peeled. I never understood that phrase. I mean, sure, I found a nice pair of eyes on this guy who had stopped to take a selfie in front of the palace. They’re blue, and maybe 20/20, but I don’t know what peeling them is supposed to do. It defeats the purpose, really. I mean, there’s the eye jelly, but you don’t see more with all of it exposed.
At the Institute of Science, I kicked the door in, charged in, and yelled, “Ok, motherfuckers! This is a dick measuring contest, and today y’all came up shor-!”
The wall behind me blew open and in stepped a power-armor clad pursuer in smooth, rounded, pitck black armor with a sword in hand. The assassin who had come through from my old world had switched into that bulky armor soon after arriving. While our last meeting didn’t see them wearing it, they had it on this time. I looked at him, then back at the security guards. They pulled out glowing rifles and fired at him.
I suppose there’s one good thing about being on their side. “Go to it, boys,” I said, crawling past them. Checking back there, I saw they shot him with lasers. After a few shots, his armor shifted into a mirrored shine that took the edge off the shots. Oh great. I’m fighting the fucking Borg here. Guess I’ll have to make sure I take him down in one good shot.
I left them to it, letting the guards get nice and slaughtered, and ran for the elevator. It dinged open to reveal War Man with a black 35x32mm barrel sticking in my face and a large drum under that. I scooted to the side. War Man spread his legs and fired a burst of grenades at my assassin, who just finished playing hibachi chef with the guards. The Man O’ War stepped out to deal with the threat, for which I gave him a small salute and took the elevator he left behind down.
I felt plenty of shaking from up there, but nothing messed severed the cables. I wasn’t at risk of dying so much as being kept away from the bombs I needed. If anything, this assassin’s arrival might help cover things for me. I won’t bet on it. Instead, I calmly walked down the hallway to my replacement lab, setting up targets and timers.
Another unfortunate thing I’d forgotten was to figure up just how damn thick the Institute was. I set up the bombs with a way for me to access them, but didn’t think about how far underground and how there was no way to connect to them from outside the building. This was the wrong time to be making mistakes, especially with the barrier already putting me on edge. Times like these, I begin to suspect I’m not as clever as I otherwise think I am. Then I remember I’m the smartest, prettiest, handsomest, and most humble son of a bitch on this planet and any other.
Something crashed down into the elevator car behind me. It turned out to be my bestest best friend in the whole world, the anonymous killer guy.
I turned around. The armor really didn’t look that bad. Part of one arm formed a thick shield, though they still had the sword in their right. My unwelcome stalker stepped out of the elevator and turned, swiftly slicing the bottom half so that it fell. A moment later, War Man plunged down through the hole in the roof made by my uninvited guest and down the elevator shaft after the bottom.
I snorted. “Ok, that was pretty good. Say, how’d you get in here, anyway? Swim ahead or something?”
The reticulated and inarticulate taintmuncher didn’t even grace me with an answer from they’re hoity-toity mouth. They charged, and then ran into a D-bomb that appeared right in front of them, clanging. Then they both just up and disappeared. They weren’t the only ones. The entire island quaked.
Now, I suppose I could have targeted everything underneath this place. The whole volcano or what have you. Just completely disappeared it. Problem with that is the lack of buoyancy up here. It’d get really wet here, and this armor feels inadequate for navigating marine environments for a long period of time. Rather than end up as a cameo in the next Finding Nemo movie, I put a hole right through the mass of land, allowing water to flow freely through the middle. I doubt I got rid of the geothermal power station, but based on the way the lights went out, something’s telling me it finds it harder to operate.
I know, I know, most people wouldn’t blow a hole through an underwater mountain just to turn off the lights. I had to climb out of the building to get a signal up into space, which wasn’t that hard. Nobody knew I’d struck at Ricca yet. The power was down, as were most electronic communications. I stood there, in the ruins and corpses on the first floor, and pulled up the satellite view.
The Ricca Palace Central Complex, gone, but not the residence wing. The barrier around the island, gone. The Kremlin, gone. The White House, gone. The Great Hall of the People in China, also gone.
I was spent, or I’d have aimed for the United Kingdom, too. As it stands, I took out the two main tools of the Claw’s, and some innocent bystanders who happen to be part of the UN Security Council’s five permanent member states. Or the Empire of Ricca attacked them, as far as everyone knows and I’ll disseminate.
It’s the apocalypse, alright. I always knew I’d have a hand in it. Only, now it’s not half the world aimed at the other half. It’s the world aimed at one specific nation. Ooh, and here some anonymous source from Ricca’s Institute of Science has leaked to the world that Ricca used up all of its available bombs, with no way to replenish their stock. What well-hung devilish rogue did that, I wonder?
It was along the way to pick up Qiang that I confirmed things weren’t over yet. I saw a massive VTOL plane take off from the Palace grounds. Escort helicopters took off with it. The island rumbled around me and I turned to see the giant battle ship had become a giant robot. The choppers engaged, firing missile after ineffective missile. Then it was the Rangers’ turn. The robot’s arms folded in front of it so its outer sides pointed forward. They were the same sides with the broadside cannons, which they put into play with a coordinated barrage that destroyed the Riccan choppers but bounced ineffectually off the escaping plane.
I’m not counting the Claw dead until I see his body, and Qiang and I didn’t see any freaky alien genotypes in the wreckage of the palace. They didn’t kidnap her or anything, which was a count in favor of the Claw being smart. Kidnap the girl I’ve claimed as my daughter? Definitely going after him. Don’t kidnap her? Fifty-fifty, even accounting for my moral peculiarities.
Despite my disappointment, the visit to the ruins made a nice field trip. I had the servants pack us a picnic lunch. We ate it as the island descended into chaos and the Rangers began fighting off loyalists and others who took advantage of the power vacuum to have their way with the innocent.
If only I had a fiddle.
In the days after my brawl and the adventure in the Institute of Science, I was informed that my services at the lab wouldn’t really be needed for a short while and that they’d be more than happy to provide me anything I wanted in my room. That’s a fancy way of saying I was under house arrest, as if they expected me to agree. I did ask for a bit of company, perhaps the lovely Dame whose offer of companionship I’d rethought.
Then it was time to watch cartoons with Qiang while braiding her hair. It amused me to see they shoved her into some tight dress again for my satisfaction. They have a skilled spy and thief on their hands and they shove her into tight clothes to dangle her around for my attention. It takes more than just a beautiful, if slim, body, pretty face, a butt stuffed into jeans you can see the thong through, and boobs that look like they want to pounce out to distract me, though. Not much more, mind you. Oftentimes less, actually. I still noticed the way she gave my little nanite armor bath a wide berth.
It had been doing double duty for me lately; healing and upgrading, and the little medical dispenser couldn’t keep up real well. I’d been trying to think of more changes I could make to Qiang. It’d be tough to mess with her bones at this stage of development. That’s not a very subtle change to make. Reinforcing them causes this excessively annoying itch that can’t be scratched because it exists underneath the skin and muscles themselves. I think my daughter would notice that.
Daughter. Daughter. I was more comfortable using that word as a lie than taking it as truth. I shouldn’t have to clarify, but I’m not actually her dad. Just on the off chance someone’s confused out there and thinks I took a dip in the Yellow River while killing my way through Asia. I’m making it up. And even if she tried to steal my helmet and run around with it on, she’s still more honest company than anyone else around here.
Which brings us back to Dame, in her tight jeans and her tight top that looked like someone tied a bandana around her chest. I swear, I could almost count her boob freckles. Of course, I wouldn’t feel confident in my rough tally, so I really should confirm the true number… but that’s not why I invited her there. Nor is it why we hung out and I let her get close. She waited awhile this time. I even meant to fix dinner for her first. Next thing I know, my face was real close to hers and tongue was going everywhere, but mostly inside each others’ mouths.
Qiang didn’t like that demonstration and tried tugging me free. When I waved her off, she stomped off and went to the kitchen. I heard some metal banging around in there before the maids pulled her off. Sounded like a hell of a wrestling match in there, and I have no doubt the tenacity of my daughter would have won out if I hadn’t stopped macking on Dame to go cook.
As I stood up, I ran my tongue over the tips of the fangs I added to my physiology, and then back along the sacs in the roof of my mouth. I’d emptied them of the nanites I’d gathered in there before our little rendezvous this evening. While some didn’t get any further than my own mouth, many others were racing through Dame’s system to find any diseased connections or blockages or otherwise improper build-ups of chemicals in the brain outside what baseline humans are supposed to have. It worked on Sexahol, and the regenerative capabilities of America’s super soldier could defeat it, so why not? The part where I made out with a hot chick is completely incidental, just so we’re clear. Completely. Fun though. I suppose if I want to be sure, I can see about getting some in my dick and then…
Nah, that just sounds painful and rapey.
After a lovely and delicious meal, Qiang wanted to keep me all to herself rather than let the bad, bad woman take me away from her. Luckily, Dame needed to visit the little dictator’s room. I call it that because it has its own throne. She didn’t come out for awhile, and I eventually called over the older, thicker of my maids to ask her to check on my guest. As an added benefit, older one’s got a nice booty too. The younger one’s a little too skinny, which is something I like sometimes, but the older one’s done some physical labor. Possibly some childbearing labor, too. Either way, she’s got some muscle and some fat of her own. Fun for the whole family.
When she rushed back and told me Dame needed medical attention, I had a feeling my tongue had fully worked its magic on her. I found her in the bathroom, losing the dinner I worked very hard to make into the toilet. It wasn’t a pretty sight. It never is. Almost cost me my dinner, especially when I held her hair and leaned down next to her hear. “Hey, you ok? How’s your memory?”
“I can-blurgh!” Another round of heaving later. “What happened to me? How did I no-…” she waited to see if she had anything else to lose. “-not think about everything?”
I shook my head. “The way you’re throwing up, whoever’s been assigned to eavesdrop on me must think I’m a terrible cook now.” I leaned closer to whisper to you. “Don’t worry, though. I didn’t put anything in your food. Maybe it was some kind of reaction though. You never know what you can come down with in a foreign country. Could be Genghis Khan’s revenge. Don’t know for what, though, lucky bastard’s the ancestor of half the world. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
As I helped her with that, I saw Qiang in the doorway. “Sweetheart, our guest will be staying the night. She’s ill. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please be nice to her.”
“I’m not going to have a threeway with your little-” All of a sudden, her face smacked the corner of the toilet. Must have been my hand slipping as I tried to stand up.
“Whoopsy. Sorry about that. Sounded like you were about to insult my daughter, though. Now stand up and let’s get you clean.”
I got her cleaned up and she stayed with me, but Qiang cuddled me close as we talked into the night. I covered the sound a little with TV, some crossover between the Prophecy and Drive Angry created mostly so people could see Christopher Walken and Nicholas Cage in the same movie. Gary Busy got nominated for Best Supporting Actor in that one, but nobody could figure out if any of the actors involved were actually good, except Samuel L. Jackson. Either way, Mike Tyson’s singing scene was perfect for covering up my talk with Dame.
“Venus asked me to spy here. The bastards caught me and took my gadget. My replacement gadget, thank you very much. Some smiling asswipe in a tailored suit took it for himself. They took all the prisoners, lined us up, then killed a couple for show. They gassed the rest of us. Since then… ugh. They told me I was loyal to them. I did things for these guys.”
“Well, you don’t have to do things for this guy. Just try to make your exit from the island subtle, so they don’t have a reason to come down on my head.”
She nodded at that. “Is that all you want?” She pleaded.
I rolled my eyes. “I ain’t banging you. Not tonight, at least. Just get out of here. And maybe keep the Rangers from fucking me in the ass when they storm in here and stop the Claw. I know you can’t trust me, because I’m me. But because I’m me, I know better than to take over a country or the world again. I sincerely believe the world is at stake. Sincerely. I know it’s hard to justify that preemptively. The good guy never draws first in Westerns, and people always assume that you’re just jumping to conclusions or hyperbolic if you say they’re doing this or doing that. Nobody believed William Dodd about the Nazis before it was too late. Nobody believed Markopolos until Bernie made off with people’s money. Yarnell and Mitchell called Pearl Harbor, but nobody listened. This is happening. It has to be stopped.”
I don’t think she took me seriously, either. She looked at me like I was strange. Maybe it was everything that’s happened. She’s had quite a shock. Or maybe, like everyone else, she thinks I’m seeing slippery slopes that aren’t there.
You know who took me seriously? The Claw. The next day, Lu the Majordomo stopped by. “My lord, the Emperor must impose on this vacation you have taken. Your presence at the Imperial Institute of Science is required. An escort will be by within the hour once you have freshened up.”
I left ahead of the escort, mostly fresh already. I just had to peel Qiang off me first. She’ll have to learn to share. I advised her to make sure nobody came and caught her while I was gone, and to keep an eye on my things. Giving her a job seemed to calm her a bit.
I took my armor with me, but didn’t go below ground. I have nothing against mag lev trains. I have something against mag lev trains with giant doors that close over portions of the track. I went to the Institute like they wanted, I just made sure to take the scenic route.
A man identifying himself as the assistant to the Directors topped me outside the lab space they’d given me. “I am sorry, but your original work space is no longer usable. There was an incident.”
“Oh yeah? What, someone try to make their own and mess up?” I folded my arms in front of me.
“I am not privvy to the details. It appears the device you created was also damaged by vandals.”
I nodded. “Sad to see such horrible actions here. Good men often live long enough to see themselves become the villain, often because they tried to do the right thing as far as they knew it.” In other words, the people acting under orders would be declared criminals and saboteurs to cover someone’s ass.
“Yes. Traitors are given no mercy in this country,” the assistant added. “I hope they are merciful toward the families of the traitors, who will face consequences for what they did. It is enough to deter most.” And that’s what I call a threat. It’s not that different from “Nice house you have here. I hope nothing happens to it because you rejected my generous offer.” or “I hope you stop investigating my friend. I need your loyalty, because I would hate to have to fire you.”
The assistant led me to an alternative work space, already full of everything I needed. “Great,” I said, grabbing a crescent wrench. “How big do you need it?”
He directed my attention to a container full of pink gas. “Big enough to transport this. We need two.”
They brought in guards, quite possibly the same team meant to escort me. I didn’t pay them any mind. I had enough dexterity in my armor to build what they wanted for the specific mission they had in mind. And something about Dame’s rejection of the seriousness of all this just didn’t sit right with me. She should take it serious. She has to know how bad it is for someone to be able to do all this to someone. What’s happened to her, she has to know?
Just like nobody else was doing anything different. Russia? The U.S.? All the rest of the world? Nobody was knocking down doors and beating dictators’ faces in. They had support. Popular support. Militias and useful idiots abound.
That container? They’d get it somewhere whether they had me or not. Look at it. One little container. Drop it from a low-flying plane or a helicopter. Smuggle it in a diplomat’s bag and have someone plant it in the right place. Sneak it onshore in a minisub and let someone drive it to where they need it.
No, that’s bullshit. I made myself and my knowledge available for a reason. I can get things places where it shouldn’t be. I advertised that and put it on sale to force a wedge between the alliance I saw growing up. That I did. I succeeded on that front. I also wanted to escalate the situation so people know what the fuck it actually is. Instead of letting the water gradually boil around the frog, this was about ramping up the heat so the frogs realize what’s happening.
So I built the damn bomb around the damn container of Unity and I set the damn coordinates where they said. Coordinates I traced to the Oval Office. Then I did the whole thing over again for the second one. They had me wait before sending that one to the Kremlin.
They never told me where it went. Compartmentalization of information. I wasn’t the only one that didn’t get the full story. The new President, the former VP to the guy they dragged kicking and screaming out of that building the previous morning, held a press conference. It took place less than a half hour after the gas would have arrived. He had a Riccan ambassador with him despite the recent expulsion, and he announced an attempt to lower tensions between them and the people of the Empire of Ricca.
The Russian asshole didn’t even bother to make an announcement. Makes it pretty easy to take over a whole nation when you have so few minds to change.
Yay me. Some heroes saved the United States. Progress, right? Yeah, right.
I had the States handled. I figured I’d come up with something for Russia. Looks like the Dimension Rangers are my last hope.
I went back to my little palace and decided to put on music matching my mood. Infected Mushroom’s “U R So Fucked”.
I’m bad at subtlety for an assassin.
Frabjous day, kaloo, kalay! Well, not that damn frabjous. Frabjous enough. At last, my most prodigious talent comes to the forefront. I have pissed off everybody!
Now, just for clarity here, I’m not one of those eye sluts who are so desperate to be looked at that they think the best way to do so is to go around offending people for no reason. Nor am I one of those gloriously ignorant know-nothings who think that the more everyone hates them, the more correct they are. Let’s be clear here, I work for this hate. I had to kill a lot of people, destroy a lot of buildings, and threaten the entire world to get this hated. Any five year old could, and does, run around yelling about Jews and making fun of everyone, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been teaching Qiang some English. Besides, she’s four.
I didn’t get a response from Dr. Creeper, but my attack on the spot where the Dimensional Rangers entered has drawn their ire. They’ve been spotted in some sort of battleship departing from Vancouver and headed in Ricca’s direction. Also, the ship has eyes, so it’s probably a giant robot. A robot with big, googly, anime eyes. Saviors of the damn world, and they’re floating around in that. On the one hand, I want to give them shit for not taking the whole thing seriously, but that’s a little too much hypocrisy for even me to excuse. At least they’re taking the bait.
Our friends at the Master Academy in the States are still in the process of dragging their feet. The situation in the House was cleared up with a few casualties. Cameras caught most of it, until the heroes arrived. Something caused a disturbance that prevented all recordings. An unusually shaken House and Senate voted to impeach the next day. The only problem at this point is all the militia stuff going on. Car bombs, IEDs, suicide bombers; they’re doing everything they can to keep the military from removing the former President from office.
That leaves me in a more precarious position than I’d like.
The other people I pissed off were these Riccans. I threw my weight around a bit. They have clubs and stuff here, and I’m always a VIP on the guest list. If I wanted to walk into a jewelry store and take something, no problem. If I took it upon myself to waltz through a grocery store in the buff, nobody called the cops or anything. I walked behind the deli counter and everything, just slapping my meat on the counter and asking a customer, “So, you want the sausage?” Perfect time for someone to go for a cleaver swipe, but nothing. It turns out it’s pretty boring to be a supervillain when no one’s going to stop you but you can’t do anything all that big.
So that’s why I eventually wound up back in this club, listening to really loud music and trying not to think about what was all over the floor. That was when this dame walked up to me, and I don’t use the term in the older sense of the world. Dame walked up to me, a wealthy thief with tech allowing her to become intangible, not so unique an ability around Ricca. The last time I’d seen her, she was about to be executed by heroes who were somehow working for Ricca.
She had her blonde hair long and straight, with plenty of makeup and a tiny blue dress. It’s more skin than I’ve seen her in, but her villain costume was skintight and shiny black, though with a mask that looked all mirrored.
She walked up, looking right at me, bringing a cherry to her lips to eat it. They were nice lips. I’d have loved to lose my cherry to them. “Howdy, Dame,” I said in English.
“Hello, Gecko.” Her eyes ran down my body. “Feeling bold, aren’t we?”
I shrugged. “I’d have said bored. Say, didn’t you get killed?”
She smiled. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“You could, but that wouldn’t answer my question.” I put my hands on my hips. That drew her attention. “You’re alive, and you don’t appear particularly hostile to people around here.”
Believe it or not, dancing isn’t my strong area. I’m not often said to be graceful. I prefer terms like “confusing,” and “likely to kick someone in the balls,” though I feel I’m badly out of practice on both. “Please tell me you want to bring me in for some reason.”
Instead, she stepped close and ran a hand over my shoulder. “Sure, you can come in. Your place or mine?”
I grinned. “Too easy.” I grabbed her hand and tossed her out onto some dancers on the floor. I had guards in restrained and dark long-jacketed suits on me in an instant. I grabbed one and smashed his head into another, sending teeth flying. A third whipped out a baton of some sort and raised it overhead. I punched him, then grabbed his belly with those fingers. With my other hand, I twisted the baton out of his hands and shoved it into his mouth. “Take it, you dirty, dirty boy!” I yelled.
I needed that. Oh did I ever. I just needed to cut loose like I haven’t been doing lately. I wasn’t arrested or anything, and not just because of my importance to the ruling regime. I got out of there because, believe it or not, authoritarian regimes aren’t always that effective at keeping the peace. Were they the worst cops I ever saw? Nope. But for such a bright and shiny place, they weren’t that good at using all those high-tech tools.
I lost them pretty easily after I ambushed one of their police cycles. They didn’t pursue any further than the outside of the palace walls. Too easy.
Qiang missed me, though, and came running as soon as I stumbled on through the door and laid down on the couch. In the middle of all her hugging onto me, I still had to stumble over to the container with my armor resting in nanites, getting repaired. I pulled out part of it and laid down in the nanites, reprogramming them to heal me when I came into contact with them.
It was then, soaking in sweet, sweet healing that I noticed Qiang had a bandage around her hand. “What’s that?” I asked.
“I was throwing the knives,” she said.
I unwrapped her hand and saw a long cut along her palm. “Sliced you good, didn’t you?” I scooped up some nanites and put them in my mouth, then kissed her palm. The nanites went to work immediately, closing it up without a scar. “There, kissed it all better.”
Her face lit up with a smile and I just had to hug her. “You’re getting me all wet!”
“Sorry, sweetie.” I said, letting her go.
“It’s ok,” she said. “They said you would be worse at the home.”
“They did, huh?” I asked. “How so?”
She looked down. “They taught us stuff with bananas…”
“Yeah, ya know, maybe it’s for the best we don’t remember all that. What about your powers? Been practicing?”
She nodded. “How did you know I’d get superpowers?”
“Because if someone’s parents have powers, they tend to get them too.” I’m not really an expert on superhero genetics, but that seems to hold up. “You have my powers, because I’m your dad.”
She gasped, then threw herself at me for a hug, talking fast. She seemed grateful for my little deception. She gets family, superpowers, lots of money, and a life a lot better than she’d likely get on her own. I get progeny of my own. She’s cute, too, real sympathetic; she’ll tug at the heroes’ heart strings while I prepare to tug out their hearts. I’m pretty sure she’s not part of some plot to kill me, and that’s an added bonus.
She’s a departure from the general theme of people hating me, though my reveal of being her long-lost father led to lots of annoying questions. She didn’t want me leaving her side again, but I reminded her I came back every time since finding her.
I left the next night with my armor to do a little scouting, and piss off the Institute and the Claw’s people. Given my unique diplomatic status, I don’t exactly have to sneak around the Institute of Science. I’m not allowed to go places, but I find that security doesn’t want to stop me. Neither does the elevator, nor all these fancy electronic locks. What’s the point of having a reputation for chaotic eccentricity if I don’t abuse it sometimes as a cover?
So I went peeking around, looking for fascinating scientific stuff and asinine heroes who just had to go and get themselves captured. After a bit of roaming and finding people hard at work on cyborgs, rifles, jets, and some sort of deflective shield technology, I finally found something of more pertinent interest in the Chemical Warfare wing. There, I came across War Man being tended to by a doctor while hooked up to an IV dripping phosphorescent red fluid into his veins.
“It was a dark night in the city, the kind of night that reminds you of old girlfriends. The bad ones. Some serious stank had descended over the city, oppressive as a nun and only half as dark. But nothing a private dick like myself hadn’t seen before. It was then that he found himself in the middle of a lab, staring at a man he hadn’t seen in days,” I narrated, putting on a black and white filter in my eyes for the mood.
I stepped into the room as the doctor looked up. “You are not supposed to be here!”
“I looked over the cowering woman,” I continued. “I didn’t trust her for some reason. Maybe it was the beady eyes that revealed a soul like a rat, or maybe it was the smell of piss emanating from her underwear as I approached. The dame who paid me a visit left me in no state to take guff from this gal. She was beautiful, with legs that didn’t end and ruby red lips so sweet, they could suck a softball through a straw. If looks could kill, she had ’em. For her, I would kill. For her, I knew I’d get answers, one way or another.”
“Please,” she said, holding up her hands. “I just work here. I am monitoring the dose.”
“A dose of what, I mused to myself?” I mused out loud. “It looked like War Man, the Man O’ War, was getting an arm full of Mountain Dew Code Red. I hadn’t seen such a procedure carried out since my childhood friend Skippy died on the battlefield of the Great War. It left me friendless. And suspicious.”
She stepped closer, hands held where I could see them. “I will tell you, but we should speak where he cannot hear.” She motioned with his head back to War Man, who peered at me suspiciously, but otherwise kept taking his medicine.
“Ok, I said to the lady,” I said to the lady, “But no funny business. Hands off the cream pies and whoopee cushions, wiseguy.”
She led me over to a corner and spoke softly. “We received a memo you might explore. If anyone asks, you threatened to kill me.” She looked around, checking cameras in the corners of the room.
I put my hand on her shoulder. “Hey, relax. We’re all friends here. Of course I’m threatening to kill you. Now tell me what I want to know or you’ll end up a science project instead of the scientist.”
She fidgeted under my hand. “This is the lab specializing in the drug Unity.”
“The Empire obtained a scientist with knowledge in chemical interactions with the brain. It attacks the neural pathways of long term memories, metaphorically blocking them.”
I nodded. “Then you come in, and take advantage of that lack of memory to say ‘Hey, we’re your friends. You’re loyal to this Claw fellow, and doing his good works around the world.’
“Essentially,” she answered.
“Something tells me you didn’t think up this plan. Who made this stuff, while we’re friendly enough to discuss it?”
She tried to look me in my eyes, but couldn’t figure out which “eyes” to look into. “Have you heard of Dr. Unity?”
The hero behind Sexahol, a drug he intended to turn the world into one big hippie love-fest. It created feelings of general love and lust in those affected. It also built up in people’s brains. He dosed Empyreal City with it, including the UN. Offered me women, too. Offended, I beat his little plot, left him imprisoned, and exposed his plot to the world. A more responsible person might have kept better tabs on him. “I’m aware of the fellow.”
“I do not know exactly what happened, but the doctor was persuaded to give up the secrets of his research before expiring. We engineered Unity and named it for him.”
“And him?” I asked, looking back toward War Man.
She looked back as well, checking the bag of Unity. “Those with a healing factor require regular doses.”
“Wow,” I nodded. “Let me guess, they’d kill you for telling me all this.”
She nodded as well. “I hope your threat of violence will persuade them not to execute me. I have a family.”
“Hey… I think I know a way to make it work even better!” I grabbed her head and pressed it to the wall. She flailed and screamed but did nothing capable of stopping me as I pushed and pushed. Much cracking, and then squishing, ensued. War Man sat up and took notice, but didn’t interfere. He glared enough, though.
When security arrived, I left them to clean up the woman with a hand print through her head. “All clear here, folks. Nothing to see. The security breach is handled.”
The guards in their faceless armor and glowing claw insignia pointed their rifles at me until one of them held up a fist. “He is free to go.”
I nodded to that one and walked past them. “This is not the Gecko you’re looking for. Move along. Move along.”
Ooooooohohohoh. Recovered and rebuilding, the possibilities open up before me. I’ve had to partially disassemble my armor to upgrade it so I have something to sync to. I built it to be less user friendly than my older armor precisely because of this. If the rebuilding process doesn’t go perfectly, it could compromise the increased protection. I’ve repurposed the nanites, the printer, my own handy skills, and some of the decor. They built this area strong, lots of reinforced supports and high-quality electronics. The nifty thing was that I could get some pretty advanced electronic from the bugs around, too.
I only had a short break to work on all this before my hosts reiterated their desire to see my side of the bargain come to fruition. They’d helped me, and I even got Technolutionary to change Qiang for me. She’s finding it strange, too. At least she’s unlikely to know the full extent of the changes made to her. Just a bit of messing around with an X chromosome, that’s all. Technolutionary’s statement about genetic relation is no longer true.
I’ve been teaching her a little about her new powers, like having her mess around on a computer with the paint feature. That went well until she found my porn stash. Hey, I know I just got the thing last week, but can’t a guy expect a little privacy for his 200 gigs of naked women?
To keep her out of trouble, I dragged her along to the labs with me. That, and I was leaving my suit behind to be worked on and didn’t want her potentially interfering from curiosity. She’s mostly been good about that, I think because I’m otherwise pretty lenient. One of these days, it’ll probably result in her blowing something up, but that being bad assumes I care about things that aren’t me blowing up.
My lab in the experimental whosy-whatsit lab is nice space, with blast walls set up in case they’d be needed. They had a full set of tools there, including a group of observers and assistants who really wanted to know what materials to bring me. They got them lickety split, even though I requested easily twice as many as necessary. I disguised that party because I gave them alternate materials to pick up. My plan, if it’s at all possible, is to find a way to trick them. I want to build a functional one, so they think they know how to make it work. Except it will be incomplete in some way, so their attempts to replicate it don’t quite work.
It sounds nice in theory. Not sure how I’ll pull it off in practice. Add to that, I’ve been distracted just trying to navigate the world infonet. There are all kinds of vulnerabilities in Russia, but I have to find the right one. It’s like looking for a needle in a corpse’s cerebellum.
On the plus side, this is one of those rare occasions when I have help. Unwitting help. Like the Master Academy. They oughta be willing to lend a hand. I peeked in on them to see how things are going and found them in the middle of a hostage situation on Capital Hill. In the House of Representatives, specifically. According to CSPAN, the House was introducing articles of impeachment when a bunch of armed people in bulletproof vests ran in, planted “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, and threatened to shoot anyone who voted to impeach.
…So it looks like they’re a bit busy with that. Saves me the trouble of hacking the Congressional agenda at least. And I couldn’t find Mix N’Max, either. My old friend with alchemically awesome abilities to make a potion inexplicably capable of anything from anything seems to have gone off the grid, too. I should have noticed that before now. Just like how some of the heroes have disappeared, only to reappear working for the Claw. Rather important I look into that while I’m here. You’d think they’d have some of them make an appearance to intimidate me.
Ok, then let’s see what Dr. Creeper’s up to. Last I checked, he was enjoying a nice start to his villainous career in Canada. Now when I checked in, the news finds him tossing giant robots at the Justice Rangers: Dimension Force, who still seemed to be based in Vancouver. That’s where the giant robots came from, and where they kept fighting crime. Must resist urge to go back and punch them in their helmeted faces and give them wedgies with their costumes. I should try to get him away from them. No, better, I need to get them away from him. I dropped him an email.
“Yo, Creeper, sup? This is your homeboy, Psycho Gecko. I been chillin’ over in Ricca for a little bit now, saw you had some trouble. If you can go quiet for a bit, I think your problem with those blasted rangers will go away. Lay low for a bit, and I’ll do something to draw their attention to me.
P.S. Nice turnaround on the new robots.”
That was just the spark I needed to reveal how I was going to throw together some bombs for these bums.
I worked frantically, but with purpose. All my recent practice and boning up on the theory stuck with me enough to come up with two working models. It wasn’t enough just to build the bombs. Ok, so that was a lot of it. But the programming was a whole ‘nother matter, and I had the benefit of an entire other culture with completely unrelated programming languages. I added several lines that limit the ability of the bomb to function if activated at certain times. There is only one second out of every minute when it can be safely activated. Otherwise, it acts more like a normal bomb in the immediate area.
That, and I might have used some stuff in the bombs that’ll break them after a little bit of time. Again, I won’t go into too many details. At least over here, you can get arrested just for laughing at the wrong people, let alone if you’re reading details on bombmaking. So I added a bit of coating at the right point. Caustic stuff, completely unnecessary to what I really need to do, but eats through some wiring that is needed for the whole thing to work. They might figure that one out, but I hold out hope for the programming.
Let’s keep in mind, I’m not just talking about one-off bombs, either. It takes two just for the delivery system. In addition to sabotaging the one-off dimensional bomb, I also put together the pair of delivery bombs in such a way as to screw it up. Once again, it has to be activated at a specific second, but failure to do so sends a signal to the second one to return to sender. For added fun, the second of the minute to activate the regular ones isn’t the same as these.
Now, if you’re someone like me, with a networked backdoor and full knowledge of how to use them, they’re no danger at all.
“Ta da!” I said, upon finishing a pair of dimensional bombs. I turned to see the various assistants all whirl away from staring intently to pretend they were talking and drinking coffee. One guy just got his cup, almost immediately spitting his coffee back out. One pair pretended they weren’t filming me, the one with the camera instead trying to look interested in filming the one with the microphone spank his own butt. I found one of them who looked wide-eyed and frozen, unable to avoid being caught.
“Y’all get all that?” I asked that one.
“Good. Now to test it.” I pulled up a satellite view of Toronto, Creeper’s current battlefield. After several frustrating minutes of trying to find some action, I realized I was an idiot for not aiming where I knew people from my universe would be keeping an eye on: my apartment/workshop.
I’d made them fairly small, so I couldn’t just take out the entire building. But a single floor? Yeah, I think I could pull that off. “Ok, folks, let’s focus on those colorful new heroes in Vancouver. Everyone got their phones?”
The group as a whole shook their heads.
“Really?” I asked.
The wide-eyed one from earlier raised his hand. “Mobiles are banned from the Institute of Science’s lower laboratories, on pain of imprisonment or even…” he took a dramatic pause here. “death.” They all jumped at the sound of lightning before we all turned to see Qiang playing with my phone, having put on a video of ambient storm noise. It’s very soothing. So are those videos where people roll ice cubes around their mouth.
I winked at her and reached out for it, feeling my hand merge with it. I sent a “Thanks, sweetie,” her way before slowly taking it away so as not to hurt her. Then I tapped in to the satellite view of the building and tried to let the rest of the bunch see. “This building is where these heroes came through. I happened to see it happen.”
I stepped over to the bomb and activated the main unit’s countdown at the proper time. I played a flighty version of myself as I played around, looking at their reactions, until I could punch the buttons for the delivery units.
While they did that, I searched for nearby accessible cameras that provided a better view. I soon found a traffic camera down a side street that could make out that floor from the side, albeit at a distance. The bomb disappeared from our universe. As an added bonus, we got to see some sort of squid or octopus fly through the wall into the street. It squirmed around, tossing a car and almost making us miss the moment when the floor it flew out of collapsed in on itself, bringing the floors above it down suddenly. The top of the building crashed down on the bottom portion.
“Aside from the stray octopus, a precision strike that eliminated one floor for certain, one entire building in its entirety. The rest of the city’s infrastructure is intact. This can be done to any bunker in any mountain. White House or Downing Street. Specific offices in the Pentagon. With this power, no one in the world is truly safe. I’m so tempted to just use the other one. At its maximum power, everyone can be killed. This smaller size demonstrates anyone can be killed. Mwahahahaha!”
I couldn’t help myself. With pressure off, thinking of the power in my hands was amazing. I could send the Claw’s palace into oblivion. I could send the oceans into the void. I could destabilize the sun. I could-. I reached down to grab Qiang’s hand as she reached out for the remaining bomb. “No, my darling. This is not for you to play with yet. Maybe when you’re older.”
She pouted up at me and looked back to the bomb, but ultimately acquiesced and stepped back toward me. I patted her on the head. “Good girl.”
One of the watchers went running, so I figured we were done for the day. Took my kid and was heading out, this time through the surface entrance. Qiang and I were skipping along on out when some guards tried to stop me and pat us down. “I am sorry, sir, but it is our duty,” said one of the guards.
“Danshaku is my formal title. Danshaku Psycho Gecko. My profession is murderer. My bra size is A. My shoe size is eleven and a half. Would you like proof of some of these things?”
They looked between themselves. I raised my foot. They bowed and backed away, leaving Qiang and I free to walk out.
“Please wait!” someone called behind us. I sighed and turned around. “Am I going to have to tell somebody my cup size?”
An elderly man, yet another person in a damn suit, approached, bowing. Suit this, suit that. If they’re going to dress for a funeral, why should I hold myself back from making corpses?
“What is it now?” I asked, tempted to ask Qiang for her knife for a more practical lesson.
“I am Director Medekhgui of the Institute. The Emperor was truly wise to bring you to us. You have done a great service, this day and in the days to come, for our people.”
Qiang tugged on the side of my long coat. I looked down at her, then back behind us where she was looking. There, I saw Warman, the so-called patriotic hero who I last saw executing prisoners for Ricca. He walked right by the guards despite the machine gun under his arm. He looked at me, but otherwise didn’t show any recognition. He nodded to the doctor as he headed deeper into the complex.
I nodded toward him as I asked the Director. “What is with him?”
He looked back to him, then nodded to me. “I am not at liberty to share those details with you, though I believe associated knowledge will be brought to your attention. We have high hopes for your project to synergize with others.”
“Sure. I don’t like being left in the dark. Could go badly. I have to custom build these things to fit the mission, after all.”
He smiled. “Our duty guides us, and at times, constrains us. Please, I would not detain you any longer.”
I nodded and took Qiang’s hand to lead her out and hopefully find a nice ice cream parlor, wondering how long it would take before they try to use the bomb I left behind or make their own copy.
Over in the United States, a few of my old captors at Master Academy received emails without a From listed. Victor Mender, the head of the group, as well as Venus and Psychsaur. “Gecko here. The belligerents must be declawed. I’m working on Ricca, y’all take the States. I don’t have anything in mind for Russia, but we’ll see what I can whip up. And before you think I’m alarmist for thinking I’m stopping a potential cataclysm, let’s remember that time I thought the aliens were coming, eh?”
Yes, information, like emails, can travel through the dimensional breach as well. Sure is difficult to find a secure and unmonitored line of communication out of here.
I smiled and led Qiang down the street. “Come on, let’s go learn about superpowers.”
I didn’t much care for the Imperial Institute of Science on my first tour. Even on this auspicious day, I didn’t much care for the place. Ok, so I made sure to bring Qiang along with me, as usual. She’s still clingy, but this time I had something in mind. We talked about it beforehand. She doesn’t know much, but she knows I haven’t hurt her like she was told would happen to her. Instead, I cook for her, I’ve given her a nice place to stay and warm bed, and I don’t mind when she wants to practice her hiding. I think she’s impressed I can find her so easily, and I like the fact that a tiny person who likes owning a knife enjoys hiding around the place, so long as she’s my tiny person.
We’ve compromised on that. I’ve taught her some knifeplay, including safety, and she asks me before carrying around a knife with her. I think it and I both make her feel safe. Not so fond of waking up in bed with the blade near my crotch, though. She can hug onto me all she wants, but I don’t want to get an accidental circumcision because she had a bad dream about snakes.
Things have been fairly smooth so far between myself and Qiang, and I think it helps that I don’t give a crap about some of the messes and we have a pair of maids. I don’t even think I’m that bad to them. I cook for myself. I don’t puke all over the place. Hell, I haven’t even been taking them up on the offers to bathe me or sing me to sleep. It’s not that I dislike sex or anything, but sex with unwilling partners brings back bad memories. I don’t trust them to be making those offers of their own volition, given my situation here.
If these goose-stepping fuckbots ever decide to have me assassinated, I’d rather the people in what amounts to my household don’t have any extra reasons to help them.
And I do expect assassination. If I had to guess, they’ll watch me while I make bombs until they know enough to recreate them, then off me. I’m considered something of an untrustworthy person, I believe.
That’s why I was incredibly suspicious of the special underground route to the Imperial Institute of Science. The second time around wasn’t much better, but it was an important day. The day to get my species back, when I could start working over Russia and the Ukraine. I also had something in mind with Qiang, which is why I made sure to bring her, knife and all.
I had been ushered down to the underground maglev line for the event, the servant not arguing with me bringing a knife-wielding little girl with me. Huh. Didn’t I have some other little girl following me at some point? Pale, long black hair, all that? Or am I thinking about the tall, thin guy in the suit with the weird arms and no face? It’s hard to keep track of these things.
It was also hard to gauge the route to the Institute of Science. Between the speed, the turns, and the various giant doors that blocked off regular intervals of the track, they didn’t want anybody know how to get from point A to point B. Those doors were a big problem for me. All it would take is one of them “malfunctioning” and I’d be nothing more but a pretty splat.
The arrival platform was gleaming white. Seriously, how many people does the Claw force to work in janitorial around here? Everything’s clean, and there’s way too much white.
We walked between a pair of arching stone arms that rose up to hold a sword in one and an atom in the other. The room appeared to narrow, but not as a trick of perspective; it actually narrowed to a single metal door that held an elevator. This time, the assistant didn’t take me down to the Experimental Warfare labs, which was all about lateral thinking in warfare. I was impressed by their suicide drone bombers. I can see all kinds of handy situations for those.
This time, we went down to Soldier Enhancement. The door opened, leading to a long corridor. This is the part where you’d expect windows showing cyborgs and genetic experiments and all, but this was one of those cases where the Claw chose practicality over theatricality. I’d been told on the first trip this is where they did that kind of thing, but I hadn’t been down here myself.
The assistant led us down, then took a right at the crossroads. When the door opened, it looked like some mixture of an emergency room and quarantine. Think one huge semi-private room, with some sort of thick plastic cubes with decontamination showers outside each of the doors. They weren’t perfectly clear, so at least the people inside had a tiny bit of privacy.
We were greeted by a man in close-fitting purple and blue power armor with a lab coat, a smile across his exposed face. “Psycho Gecko, how wonderful to see you again!”
“Technolutionary, you’re here,” I said. Power armor notwithstanding, he’d long been studying the merging of man and machine. My ability to do so naturally turned him into something of a stalker for me. I worked with him to save the Earth from alien invasion. We came up with a process to turn humans into my species, homo machina. When Master Academy saved my life but rendered me human, it wasn’t a surprise to learn he’d been part of it. Now, time to render unto Emperor Gecko that which is Emperor Gecko’s.
“The dynamic, devilish duo, together again at last!” exclaimed my former stalker.
“Word,” I said. “I’ve certainly been waiting a long time for this meeting.”
He looked down and noticed Qiang, who hid against my leg. “And who is this?”
“This is my daughter, Qiang,” I said. I felt her grip around my leg tighten.
“I didn’t know you had a daughter. I didn’t know you would bring little Qiang to watch her daddy’s transformation.” He looked up at me. “I have everything ready to get started.”
“What about the homo machina DNA? That’s still good to go?” I asked.
He nodded enthusiastically. “Oh yes. The Buzzkills from Korea have all the samples we would ever need, you dog you.” He pointed to a wall, where fuzzy black carapace floated in a jar. Buzzkills, insectoid bee people I used as my minions for a little bit, mostly related to the alien thing. Their queen, Beetrice, had something of a crush on me for some reason. Strange bee reasons, and I think because I’d been such an important presence in her life. While bigger and stronger than me, I’m not opposed to the bee look or the Amazonian stuff, so I did eventually go for some snoo snoo with her. So now I guess I have lots of kids. Not sure how I feel about whatever put one in a jar for all this.
“There is an additional concern I have,” I said. As near as I can tell, Qiang has no understanding of English. She can tell when she’s being addressed and called, but that tends to involve her name, too. “Do not look at her, but I would like her to be altered as well.”
His head cocked slightly. “She isn’t homo machina?”
I shook my head. “In fact, we might need to replace an X chromosome of hers.
He thought it over for a moment, eyes looking upward. “She’s not really your daughter, is she?”
I grabbed his chin and looked him in the eyes. “Yes, she is.”
I settled into my quarantine square. Qiang insisted on holding my hand and staying with me, which would make my plans for her easier. I spoke to her in her language. “I am getting back my powers, but they have to treat me and I might get sick. You may get sick too. The man I spoke to said we will be stuck in here for at least a day, and you will have to stay with me, ok?”
“How will we eat?” she asked.
“They’ll bring us food,” I said.
The process had supposedly been made safer, but it still felt like shit. I was loaded up with regenerative nanites to keep myself running and to help spread a retrovirus that went in and inserted the correct DNA where it needed to go, while helping accelerate growth so I don’t have to wait until everything gets replaced. Hell, some parts of the human body would take far too long for that.
I got achy, tired, weak. They certainly suspected the range of options to trigger the dead man’s switch I bragged about having connected myself to my bomb. Anything to keep my heart from stopping, though. I recognized a strange smell at one point, soon accompanied by a little dulling of the senses. Qiang, in a chair next to my bed, fell right to sleep without ever dropping my hand.
Some of Technolutionary’s team came in, immediately prepping a little bed to set as closely next to mine as they could. By the time she woke up, I was there to hold her hand and tell her she had gotten sick like I said might happen. Things got a bit messy there. She threw up. While cleaning her up, I threw up. That prompted her to throw up some more. She started crying, so I held her and told her she’d be just fine, all the while grinding puke into us both.
And it was. We were fine the next day, and they let us shower thoroughly.
Technolutionary was there to greet us as we came out, all clean. “How are we feeling today?”
Qiang doesn’t understand English, but from the glare on her face, she didn’t appreciate his cheerfulness. I concurred, I just didn’t show it so well. “I feel more like myself.”
“You want to test it out?” he asked.
Five minutes later, he showed us into one of the Soldier Enhancement labs that had its own firing range. “Here is where we test our weapons,” he said, showing off a gun that featured no trigger. “And that is Hyuk. He was a prisoner of war, but he is useful and cooperative, so he has been put to work here.” He nodded toward a guy cleaning standing out on the range, messing with something hanging from the ceiling.
“Cool,” I said, grabbing the gun and grinning wide as I felt my body reach out and connect to it. I could feel the system inside and find the simplistic program to fire it. I raised my arm and the gun. “At last, my arm is complete!” Lovely musical, though not the best quote for the situation in retrospect. I turned and fired, shooting some bright blue ball projectile, hitting Hyuk in the hip and collapsing him. Then I noticed he’d hung a target up for me. I’d just assumed, him being a prisoner and all.
“He’s not the target!” Technolutionary called out.
I shrugged and pulled away, removing my hand a bit too soon. It’s been awhile. “You’re right, I need to work on my aim. Was trying to hit him in the dick. Hey, you still got a dick, right?!” I then turned to Qiang, who was looking back and forth between the gun and Hyuk. “Want to play too?”
So now my Qiang is homo machina, like me.
It might seem odd that I was allowed so much time to freshen up and see about my own business, especially for someone like the Claw. This whole place stinks of protocol and etiquette. I mean, let’s remember that Western notions of etiquette evolved from people being so barbaric they had to have a card put in front of them telling them not to eat with their fingers. Putting so much emphasis on it around here just makes me suspect they’re likely to fly off the handle in other ways.
It’s like a helmet in that way. Armored helmets gave rise to two things: increased casualties and decreased fatalities. The decrease in fatalities is nice; it means soldiers were getting wounded instead of dying. The increased casualties, though, had to do with the helmets giving them a sense of being protected, so they took more risks.
Eh, this is all probably just some attempt to defend my own noted contrarian attitude and lack of manners. At least they gave me time to get the stink of my armor off me, and some time to clean up the armor’s interior. I still had some maintenance to see to, but the printer can handle that after a little more work.
They got me a nice, tailored formal outfit. Lu walked in right as the guy first finished up taking my inseam measurements. “How are things for our most honored guest?”
I shrugged. “Not too bad. Hey, is that fellow going to be coming back in here anytime soon to finish me off? I sensed a real connection there.”
Lu’s eyes stayed firmly above my waist despite the joke. “He will have your suit soon. The best fit of anything you have ever worn, for free. No one would turn down the honor of having their clothing worn by one meant to have a special audience with the Emperor.”
My eyebrow rose, if you can smell what the Gex is cookin’. “Cool. So what is this? Dinner? Dancing, maybe? A movie? Is Wonder Woman out yet? I’m a little on the fence about DC’s attempt to copy Marvel, so the movies leading up to Justice League feel like more of an obligation than recreation. Plus, I’m not colorblind, so I don’t think the visuals are for me.”
Lu nodded his head. “You will meet with the Emperor in his throne room, which has three tiers. Do not take your armor or any weapons. I would advise you to take nothing with you. Do not advance to the next tier unless so commanded. Do not insult the Emperor or his country.”
“Wow. Insecure much?”
I saw a twitch. Lu had to put some effort into keeping his face from being hard and frowny. “Your sense of humor precedes you, Lord Gecko.”
Oooh, I’m a lord now. Take that, stupid singer who said I’d never be a royal! I suppose it could have been meant as an insult, too. Lord is a step down from emperor. But if I looked that deep into it, I might also try to parse if the feng shui of my indoor mansion was meant to cultivate negative chi or some shit like that. I just don’t have enough time to worry that much about it.
They sent the outfit over a few hours later. Knock knock; who is it? A box with my clothes in it. It really was a nice outfit. Black and gold. The Claw seems to like gold. I wonder if he lost something in an unfortunate smelting accident. Very much like a suit, but with a longer, thicker coat marked with flowery, swirling patterns that covered the arms and stopped around the shoulders. The undershirt featured a gold Claw on the breast pocket. It came with its own set of segmented sunglasses, too.
I turned to show off to Qiang. She wore red robes and pants. “What do you think?” I asked in the local tongue. No response. I bent down and opened my arm. She ran over and into my arms. I’d been trying various languages every once in awhile. She’s content not to talk much with me, so I’m not forcing the issue. She’s clingy, but she also doesn’t give me lip or even pout about anything I do. She also eats pretty much everything I cook.
They didn’t let me take her to the big audience. Lu was very clear on that. “You must leave your consort behind.”
I flashed the laser eye at its lowest power, just briefly, so that it would briefly glow through the sunglasses. Setting Qiang down, I took them off to look Lu right in his fleshy eyes. “My child is obviously quite traumatized by how she has been treated by your people. If I leave her here, it may set back the trust she has in me. In order to counteract this, see to obtaining information for me. I want to know where she is from and how she ended up in the custody of the Riccan state. Without some light reading to occupy my mind, who knows what mischief I’ll get up to?”
I leaned forward and cupped my hand to my mouth. “Here’s a hint. I will seriously wreck some ass. Like, all the things you think I do with her, to whoever in this palace I get my hands on.”
The demeanor of stone came back to Lu, quite possibly because I dared to make an explicit threat. He opened his mouth to respond, but I just patted him on the cheek. “Good man, glad to hear you’re amenable. You know, you might just move up in this empire if you keep that up. I’ll put in a good word with you, how about that?” I walked right out the door.
He caught up to me eventually. I guess he didn’t want to dump me on a subordinate. We walked in silence, him leading me on a long walk toward the main court in the central building. “I wonder if anyone’s considered putting in one of those moving walkways. If done right, I think it’d really increase productivity around here. Sure, there’s always the possibility of a break down on them, but that just turns it into a floor. No more inconvenient than it is now, in fact.”
The court’s outer tier had a floor of what looked like marble. I pondered the designs on it for a second, trying to figure out what it was supposed to be. I couldn’t see all of it, as the room in front of me was blocked by a curtain. Lu turned to hold his palm out to me, then stepped through the curtain.
From behind that curtain issued a voice I had communicated with before. It was deep, but with a screechy quality, almost like two voices in one. It’s part of the reason I couldn’t ever be sure I was talking with the real Claw. “Thank you, my faithful servant. Welcome, Psychopomp Gecko.”
I stepped to the curtain and gave my little fist-over-palm headbow. “Hello again, Claw. It seems the upper hand is on the other foot this time around.”
Something rumbled, like boulders rolling around. I looked around for any openings, and even stepped to the side in case of a trapdoor. Huh. That spot on the floor looked like a gas planet. A zoom showed moons orbiting it. Before I could go into it further, Claw began speaking once more. “You talent is for destruction. It is well you embrace your true self and aid my rule. I will unleash your fiendish delights on Earth and bring it to order in the aftermath.”
“Quite an idea,” I said. Clearly, he and I differed on how to treat the world. Then again, I differ with myself half the time. I suppose I’m just a mess of contradictions that way, weebling and wobbling between killing people to impose my view and loving the planet for what it is, between running around on fire and killing anything that threatens my life. But then, something tells me consistency is one of those myths people claim to believe in against all evidence, like supply-side economics or the anal g-spot. “I look forward to using the knowledge locked in my special brain to great effect. I anticipate being made whole again now that I am here. Of course, I offer you the same loyalty you showed me.”
“You offer the world for your species returned to you? You are a poor negotiator.”
I shrugged. “I’m a simple man. A modern man. A man of the future, in fact. Though perhaps I may ask for later consideration on some minor favors. I’m sure you understand that, like a dog who catches a car, I haven’t planned everything ahead all the way. And though it may seem an imposition, I deeply hope I may recover my form first. I have already demonstrated the technology to you and the entire world, and I will work faster once restored.”
“This is agreeable, yes. Go with my blessing and bring my will to the world, Danshaku Psychopomp Gecko.” My translator pinged it as a loaned work for something like “Baron”. I have a feeling I was insulted. Then again, I threw in one of my own when I said I’d be as loyal as him. Ah, court politics. Fucking waste of time.
“Thank you, Emperor. I am more than happy to service you.” It would have been so easy. So very easy. I had the eye laser, my banshee scream, my blackened zirconium nails, and even my fangs. I doubt Claw could fit in the building if he was some giant monster, which meant he had to have been at a killable size. At the same time, I couldn’t help but worry about the ease. This guy’s supposed to be smart. I know a lot of people who are smart do stupid things from time to time, and sometimes people aren’t as smart as they think they are. This time, I couldn’t help but feel this was a test as well. Maybe there’s a speaker and a bomb past the curtain, or a deathsquad. Something like that.
More than that, I realized that if I tried anything then, I’d likely never get changed back to my proper species. And sure, I was risking the lives of millions or even billions of people not taking this opportunity… but they can always make more people. There’s just the one me, and I’m me, which I think is far more important than other people who keep hogging my oxygen on this planet.
Lu coughed as he stepped out through the curtain, perhaps realizing I was lost in thought. Past him, I saw another curtain further on before he dropped the one he came through. Lu spoke up. “The Emperor has many duties to attend to as the Supreme Ruler of our people. If you will return to your residence, I will send someone by soon to show you the facilities you shall soon work at after your surgery.”
Eh, so what if I was getting snubbed. At least I could get back to my own business.
On my way back, my sunglasses blinked with a bright light that became a small dot in the upper corner. Focusing it prompted a file to open. Qiang’s file. Born in one of the island colonies closer to China almost five years ago. Father unknown. Mother reported to the Interior Ministry for suspected treason several times by a next door neighbor. They didn’t even redact her fate. Executed by death flight. That had to be fun. If Ricca’s anything like Argentina, they stripped the mother naked, shackled her, drugged her, then tossed her out of a plane into the ocean. It’s the Russian judges you really have to impress in that competition. They prefer to save the high scores for divers who do all that and break through a layer of ice when they hit the water.
The government took in Qiang and sent her to the Imperial Child Welfare Center in the city.
It’s a common joke that the more friendly-sounding a dictatorship tries to be, the worse it is. The Republic of so-and-so is in constant depression. The Democratic Republic of so-and-so is killing its own people. The People’s Democratic Republic is a bunch of people running around killing each other. The Imperial Child Welfare Center sounds more like the second one. If they called it Happy Sunshine Children’s Academy, then I’d be on the lookout for pint-sized drug kingpins shooting up the place, sitting in a drug den on a pile of skulls with a booster seat. If Qiang’s status as my gift is the norm, the Child Welfare Center’s going on the hit list.
It’d be one of the few. That thought prompted me to smile at the Claw’s hospitality. Yeah, I was situated at the palace. I also had no hard currency, no good idea of my surroundings and what they were, no in-roads with the locals, and was undoubtedly under constant surveillance here in a way that’d be easier to give the slip if I lived elsewhere. Sneaky sneaky.
So I worked on my armor and decided to print up some ball drones of similar design to the one I recovered from my former Earth. I had to do the maintenance by hand with it doing the printing, but it also gave me time to chat up Qiang in Riccan and different dialects of Chinese. “Do you remember your mother?” I asked in one. In another, “Do you know why they sent you to me?” In a third, “What did your mother tell you about your father?”
The questions were a bit dickish for a kid in her situation, but emotional reactions are harder to contain. For all I know, she understood me perfectly other times but just didn’t want to talk. Turns out, the secret was firing off an elbow rocket. Her face lit up and she rushed over to me. I cut off the rocket before she could get hurt and held the end away from her. “Do it again!” she exclaimed in one of the forms of Chinese. Not Mandarin or Cantonese, but a Chinese language all the same. They have so damn many. If there’s one thing China has more of than smog, it’s languages.
With her newfound ability to talk, she was soon my new partner in crime, complete with me explaining knifehandling. I was in the middle of showing her the difference between holding a knife to chop an onion and stabbing someone’s liver when we were interrupted by the man sent to show me the lab. He was young, unlike his boss, and nervous. “It is an honor to meet you, Danshaku. I hope I’m not interrupting but I was sent to show you to the laboratory facility,” he said, looking us over.
To be fair, Qiang and I would have made a lot of people nervous. We both stood there, side by side in front of the door, me holding up a knife in my left hand while she held hers up in her right. American Gothic mixed with a gender-swapped Bates Motel.
After a long second of him looking at us, I held out my right hand for a shake, saying, “Knife to meet you.”
Qiang held out her knife at first before remembering to swap hands, but I couldn’t tell if it was really accidental. I think I like this kid.
I didn’t actually go straight to Ricca. The Riccan delegation had a brief stopover in Los Angeles that was supposed to be kept under close scrutiny. Unfortunately for the FBI, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and Master Academy West, this one fellow had his intangibility powers. After stopping us at the airport and helpfully announcing that we would be spending the duration of our refuel inside the plane, he just smiled and came back to inform us about staying sequestered.
“I did have a little stop I wanted to make before we left the continent,” I mentioned.
He nodded. “Of course. You want to secure the bomb.”
I shrugged. “Something like that.”
He looked at his watch and tapped something, then seemed to examine it. “We have a team that should be able to move by water from here. Will that be sufficient?”
I nodded. “Yes. It’s accessible from the west coast. I’d like to go along, too.”
“Very well. I would be honored to take care of your gift and see it to Ricca in the meantime.” He played around in the air over the watch with his fingers. After a second, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pair of those segmented glasses. “Follow the yellow brick road.”
I took them and popped my helmet off. I noticed him take a step back, but not say anything. I’m sure I stunk a bit. I gave the glasses a try and they showed the world tinted slightly blue, with a glowing yellow line leading from the plane off into the distance. Augmented reality. Nifty.
“You have a way to get me out past all these people?” I asked.
“Oh yes.” He knelt down and touched the floor of the plane. A section of it gained the telltale translucence of his intangibility powers. I noticed as I looked through that it had another line going straight down, and through the ground.6
Before I could go, I felt a little extra weight on my leg. I looked down to see arms wrapped around it, one holding a juice box. Qiang was hugging onto me.
I turned around to the kid and peeled it off of me gently. I lifted it up so I could look it in the eyes. “Hey there, Qiang. I know you want to hang onto me, but this is just a side trip. Just go with this guy, and you’ll be ok, ok?”
No response. No languages I’ve tried have gotten anything like that. I set it down, patted it on the head, and turned to the envoy. He pulled his head up from the bottom of the plane. “It is clear. Ready?” I jumped. I landed on the tarmac under the plane. A moment later, the envoy joined me. He quickly pressed his palm to the tarmac then, doing the same to it. I saw tunnel underneath. “Remember, find the path and follow it. Off you go then.”
I dropped through and looked up. The ceiling had closed, and the envoy was likely hopping back into the jet. As for me. I slipped the glasses off and popped my helmet back on while I navigated the tunnel. I found my way, raising the glasses to get a glimpse at any kind of crossroads, eventually coming to an exit near the edge of the airfield where I could hop the fence and follow a route through the city and toward a dockyard. With all the super-powered people keeping an eye on things and the Pinkertons’ experience with supers, I thought it was going to get hairy there. Instead, it went as smooth as a Brazilian’s Brazilian.
The yellow brick load didn’t lead me by any strawmen without brains or heartless metal men, but instead to a nuclear submarine. From a yellow brick road to a yellow submarine. A yellow submarine. A yellow submarine. “We all live in a yellow submarine!”
“It is not yellow,” said the Captain. “And please get down from that console. You can’t even see out from here.”
I put my arms down and hopped to the floor. There really was a lot of yellow on the submarine from the uniforms of the Imperial Riccan Navy sailors. They got me to Vancouver lickity split, and all the easier due to recent intel showing submarines of the U.S. Navy were deployed elsewhere. Apparently the intel was obtained by someone just asking the President where they were. At least I didn’t pick the dumbest side out there.
The submariners kept a stash of regular clothing for covert shore party operations, which made the whole mess easier. I led them through the stormiest city in the world to one of my storage lockers. I know, minimal security, but also minimal notice. Hell, they won’t even open those things until years after the money’s run dry.
“Behold, my shit!” I said, throwing the door open.
“This is not the bomb,” said the sub’s executive officer. Indeed, he was correct.
“This is better than a bomb. This is my very own 3D printer; capable of building me some armor and all that. I bet y’all have good ones, too, but this one is mine. And that over there is my small-scale nanite thingy. You think I’d keep a bomb in this place, where anyone could stumble onto it?” I put my hands on my hips and tried to act like I was glaring at him through my helmet. Yeah, now way would I leave my bomb with this handy stuff. It might get sucked through if I ever fired it off. Nah, the bomb was in the unit next door.
“Too bad I didn’t move that drone I recovered though. That would have been handy to have. Still, this stuff is important to me, so get it loaded up in the sub. While you’re doing that, I have one last transaction to make.”
The bank was closed, of course. Even though no door is truly closed to a man with explosives, I opted instead to kill the power to the bank, knocking out those pesky cameras and alarms. Then all I had to do was pry open a side door and sneak through and avoid the guards, who weren’t overly concerned with getting out and patrolling the place. It was cold enough with the power on, and the vault was closed. The money was secured. The power was off to the computers, and there was only so much most people could do with a couple of towers.
All it took to accomplish my goal was find the fanciest offices in the place, open up their towers, and mess around with some flash memory on the circuit boards. Slip them out, hook them up to a modified laptop, screw around with the code, and shove them back into place. I suppose I could have just waited and held up the bank during the day, but that risked bringing those damn rangers around. This way, whenever the computers boot, it gives me a nifty back door to let me see things and work in the background. First thing’s first: a find the biggest accounts and empty them. Then go from there. I didn’t know what to expect in Ricca, but I knew I could handle it. The money is just a way to make sure of that. And even if it doesn’t work out, I’ve gone through a lot of money lately. Time to fill the coffers back up and see what I can blow it on. I wonder what would happen if I dumped all the cocaine in Columbia into the ever-present storm over Vancouver…
The Claw’s frustrated seamen weren’t happy about getting the runaround, as I saw from their faces. They expected a bomb. They expected glory. Instead, they got to be my chauffeurs in case anyone targeted the Riccan envoy’s jet on the way to the island. Did I not mention that concern?
My entry to Ricca was accompanied by a small parade of vehicles, I suspect more for show than security. I mean, I still had my armor on, so I was already pretty confident in my security. At least they helped with the equipment I brought. It wasn’t a big show with crowds of adoring fans or Moon Pies thrown from the vehicles or anything, but still nice of them to do it for me. More like a swift funeral with flags. Gotta get that casket in the ground before the person inside slips free of the straightjacket and starts banging on the lid. Just gotta make sure I’m the cause and not the effect.
So I got to see a relatively clean and modern city until we reached the palace, which served as their capital building while remaining attached to the imperial residence. The thing gleamed, which doesn’t usually happen to buildings more than a year old, let alone fifty. Bright, multi-colored tiles made the walkway and outer yard colorful us as we drove through the outer wall, a dusky red color with a little roof/awning thing up top of bright white. The cars stopped just inside and we got out. They ushered me on through a smaller door to exit into a courtyard where the tiles formed intricate patterns.
“This is impressive and all, but it sounds like the daily commute’s going to be hell,” I said.
“This the quadrant of retainer residency,” said a man who stepped out, wearing a robe. Thirties, maybe, with jet black hair. He spoke in the local mixed language, a fusion of Japanese and one of the Polynesian languages, with plenty of loanwords sprinkled in. I’d boned up on the lingo with the help of a language update to my translator program. Figured I’d need it.
The fellow moved smoothly, as if knowing he had absolute control over his body. Perhaps that’s what it took to work around this court. “I am Le Cong Lu, Majordomo of the Imperial Castle. You may call me Lu, or Mr. Lu if you prefer formality.”
I didn’t really go for all the bowing stuff, so I compromised. I brought my right hand in front of my chest, palm up and up, holding my left fist over it. Then I gave a short bow of my head. “I am Psychopomp Gecko. You can call me Psycho Gecko, Gecko, Gex, or White Chocolate.”
Lu didn’t show so much as a raised eyebrow at my take on the gesture, nor any major emotions. “If you please, allow me to show you to your quarters. You may refresh yourself after your voyage.”
“Sounds good. I assume my kid will be there?” I asked.
He turned, gestured for me to follow, and began to walk into the palace. “I am afraid there has been some trouble with the child.”
“Oh no, please don’t tell me it ran off or had to be executed or something like that,” I said. The sarcasm might have been easier to recognize in English.
“Nothing like that, Mr. Gecko. Your child has been trouble for the caretakers. Hiding, running off, locking doors, and refusing to bathe. I am deeply embarrassed that my staff have been unsatisfactory in this matter, and will be more than willing to make amends with their discipline.”
“Nah, don’t worry. I’ll handle the kid. The good thing about an uncultured barbarian such as myself is all the stuff I can get away with. The little one won’t find me as easy to evade due to my lack of propriety.”
“So you say, Mr. Gecko.” Neat. He found a way to avoid commenting one way or another on that. I hope they have good TV here, because watching politicized personal manners is going to get boring quick.
My quarters were simply magnificent. Big ol’ palace, and enough rooms to serve as my own mansion right there inside.
The Majordomo called out as he entered, “Attend!” Two women hurried politely out of the kitchen are, eyes turned down.
“These were the caretakers of your suite, meant to serve all domestic needs you wished. They will be properly disciplined, if not dismissed and replaced now.”
I raised a hand. “I just got here. I understand this is your area of expertise, but I would like to at least experience their competence or incompetence for myself. As I said, I will see to the child. Where is it?”
The majordomo looked to the two maids/housekeepers/cooks/bedwarmers. The older and thicker of the two spoke up, soft and quiet. “The child is locked in the pantry, from the inside.”
I nodded and walked past them. The majordomo stepped forward to have a quiet word with the pair while I walked to the kitchen. It took some doing, the kitchen being kept out of view, which didn’t seem to fit the rest of the place’s aesthetic. I’d boned up a little bit on the culture, too, though it didn’t help that Ricca had all sorts of imitations and homages from various captives, allies, and attempts to make captives and allies. It was nestled between the dining room and a room that could have been a study of some sort. One of those rooms a person could have a guest over with some minor privacy.
The kitchen looked absolutely new, like it had just been made and cleaned up. I knocked on a door I figured was the pantry. I got back a wordless yell. Yep, right door. Now, I figured I wouldn’t really find an axe in all that. Instead, I grabbed a cleaver.
Lu and the maids appeared with the swiftness of an Igor as soon as my hand touched the cleaver. “We would be more than happy to provide you the means to cook for yourself if that is a passion of yours,” Lu said. “If this does not suit you, your staff will serve in this capacity.”
I nodded toward him. “Noted. I do like cooking, but that’s not what I have in mind at the moment. Lu, you shall need to order me a new door. Oh, and someone draw a bath for me.”
I saw one of the women, the younger and slimmer one, frown slightly. I carried the cleaver over to the pantry door. “Little pig, little pig, let me come in. ‘Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.’ Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in!” I swung the cleaver at the door.
I could have busted right through it in one hit, even with just my fists. I drew it out, hearing a few screams come from inside after I made a good sized hole in the door. I stuck my helmet against the hole then, looking inside to see Qiang stop screaming and look at me. “Here’s Johnny!” I said.
Qiang rushed the door, unlocked it, opened it, and hugged onto me. I gave it a pat on the head and swung the cleaver so it would stick in the door. Still speaking in the local language, I told it. “Hello kid. I hear you haven’t been taking baths.”
Qiang clung to me as I carried it upstairs to where the more muscular girl had gotten a jacuzzi tub filled up in record time. In a gold bathroom. I mean, probably gilded, but so much gold. Gold tiles, gold ceilings, a golden jacuzzi, and even a golden shower! “Wow, look at this.”
“If you will excuse me, Mr. Gecko, I will leave you to your hygiene,” Lu said, bowing out literally and figuratively.
“Sure thing. Thanks Lu, nice meeting you. Have a good one.”
Qiang looked up, saw where we were, and started trying to slip down out of my arms. I motioned for the girl, more like a woman in her case, to get out of the way. Managing to somehow face me the entire way, she moved past me. I tossed Qiang right in the bath. It gasped as it tried to swim to the edge. I stepped over toward the toilet and looked around. “Is there a bowl cleaner?”
The woman was right there beside me, holding out a golden-handled toilet brush. “This ever been used before?” I asked. She shook her head.
“Good,” I said, my helmet giving me a view of the kid halfway out of the bath. I turned and pushed it back in with the brush, then started scrubbing it as it tried to escape. Eventually it settled down and pouted at me angrily. “Brushy brushy!” I said all cheerfully. Then I tossed it aside, where it one of the maids caught it before it could hit anything. “Now come on, can’t bathe in those clothes.”
After handing Qiang’s wet clothes to the maids, I commented more for myself when I noted. “Huh. That’s one mystery solved. I don’t know if she likes whatever girls clothing is around here, so find me a selection of outfits. Girl, boy, neutral. Use your own judgment, and I’ll figure something out.”
The maids nodded. They shared a look then before the more petite one spoke up. “Do you require aid in your own bathing, lord?”
I cocked my head to the side, then popped my helmet. By the time I finished pulling it off, I noticed them both having taken a step back, the one who asked the question now squeezing her mouth shut.
“I suppose I could use one too,” I confessed, then looked back to where Qiang was trying to crawl out. “Nah. Like I said, I got this. You all go bring some clothes.”
Qiang at least settled down when I hopped in too, though she spat water at me. I responded with a splash. Soon, we were splashing back and forth. I gave her a little dunk. She tried to dunk me under, but I ignored her and laid back to enjoy a good soak with her trying to push my head underwater. She eventually gave up and hugged onto me again, soon falling asleep in the water. She didn’t even wake up as I carried her out and bundled her up in a plush towel for a night of sleep.
Well, perhaps it will throw suspicion off myself to be stuck taking care of this girl. That’s all. This has absolutely nothing to do with my own childhood. They almost certainly know I have thoughts about turning on them; I’m a villain. But perhaps they’ll doubt all that if they see me taking care of Qiang. They’ll never realize that she, too, is now part of Operation Deep Cover Mudskipper: the plan to assassinate the Claw and either stop or minimize the coming conflict. Hey, every great spy operation needs a cool nickname.
Though, if the female I’m in bed with is any indication, I’m not much of a James Bond yet. Because Qiang and I aren’t that way. If anything, I’m more of a professional, like Léon. Ah wait, that movie’s not so good an example either.