Category Archives: 59. Break It, Bought It

The Claw bought it, and I broke it, so it looks like it’s my job to look after a whole country. Or it is until I offload the Emperorship onto some other unsuspecting sap.

Break It, Bought It 8

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I had my former friend interred on the island. I didn’t know if he had any other family left, but I was giving him a burial. A proper one, despite the hints dropped by Old Man Hoodless. I don’t normally care so much about that thing, but the remains of Good Doctor’s dead, deceased corpse deserve as much respect as any worm fodder I’ve created.

I didn’t go myself. Sent some guys while I stayed behind to answer a few questions. The other signatory nations of the Treaty of Pyongyang were nice enough to allow me to import a few giant monitors for communications, in part because they wanted to interrogate me about my field trip. As for me, I had some fun giving them the same kind of response over and over again. “I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t leave the island. No, I don’t know why people claim they saw me leave. Did I allegedly do anything interesting?”

Technically speaking, all I have to do for an alibi is create some nonfunctional copies of my armor. Costumes and masks still hold power. And when the helmet and masks are pulled away, there are always bald-faced lies.

I met with the legislature, which is about ready to finish their work and create something they’re calling the Directorate. There were lots of bows when I showed up among the tents, at which point I asked if they were ever going to get around to having their own building. That’s when someone with a fancy hat walked up and I noticed a lot of these guys had adopted various ways of standing out. There was the fellow with the sash who wished me well last time, someone else with epaulets, this guy with a hat, and someone else with the kind of belt you don’t get outside of a steel cage match.

“My Emperor, we would be delighted to create a capital building,” said the man in the hat. Think top hat, but with gold sprinkles all over it and a sash of deep red. “As the Minister of Finance, it is my job to approve the location and funds. When I suggested a site for the new capital building, my colleagues insisted I meet with you to discuss it.”

I shrugged. “Sure, lay it on me.”

He held his hands out toward the ground we stood on. “Here.”

“A building for the Assembly or Directorate or whoever to meet right where the old Imperial Palace once stood? It has continuity. Hey, how about this, you build me a throne room and some place to hold diplomat balls, and it’ll work out pretty well.”

He bowed and went right to handling my request. Sadly, it’s only in English where there’d be confusion over whether I asked for a special bedroom for international relations. When the Minister of Finance told the rest of the bunch, I got a short cheer. I held up my hands to stop them then and asked, “I aim to bury The Good Doctor. He may have been an asshole who tried to murder me and my daughter, but he was my friend once upon a time. Is there any sort of place for honored dead?”

The Finance Minister, being closest, decided to take this question. “The previous Emperor arranged for his best servants to be buried at Champion Hill.”

I’m trying to get by bearings since I’m stuck here now. Trying to get oriented. So the city is on the east side of the island, with the palace complex on the west side of the city. Docks are on the eastern side of the city, with a military base to the north. Just to the northwest of the city, on an atoll off the coast, is the nuclear power plant. Champion Hill is north of the palace grounds, in the middle of a business section. I recognize some of those companies. Ricca must have had some pretty good tax laws.

Champion Hill wasn’t big on ground space. Lots of mausoleums and tombs aboveground, with statues and monuments. The staff, an unusual bunch of them, all rushed up to me. A walking rush, but then I am the Emperor. Most were dressed in simpler work clothes, like jumpsuits and t-shirts, but the one in a long-sleeve shirt jogged to get ahead of the others. “Lord Emperor!” he said. “What a surprise!”

The whole bunch bowed at once. I grabbed the lead guy’s head and gave it a shake like it was a hand. “Nice to meet y’all. At ease.”

They stood back up, the man in charge fixing his hair. “What brings You Excellency to us?”

“I’m looking to dump a body in a place no one will find it. I wanted to put him in a nice mausoleum around here. What space do you have available?”

“As the head groundskeeper, I would be more than happy to show you,” that one said. He took me straight away to one particular building. I noticed the others all went about their business, which included a few of them heading into other funerary buildings. “The previous Emperor had many heroes of the Empire whose continued presence would be problematic. They would be placed in here.”

He swung the heavy stone door open. The interior smelled of blood, but was pleasantly cool for this time of year. I saw decaying corpses scattered all over, many in multiple pieces. Deep gauge marks were all over the wall, many of them being three or four parallel lines. I turned to the groundskeeper. I don’t know if any were interred at all. “They weren’t necessarily dead when you put them in here, were they?”

“Such was the will of the Emperor.”

I looked at him, then pushed the door closed. “Ok, we’re going to retire that one. Wait, I might have one more job for it. But first, where else do you have?”

He didn’t look me in the eye as he answered. “The others are full.”

“Really?” I asked. I walked over to another mausoleum I’d seen staff enter and pulled that door open. I found a pair of junior groundskeepers within, working at a lab setup on folding tables. They looked up, surprised.

“What’s all this then?” I asked, stepping in and examining the little chemistry lab they had set up in here. I recognized many of the chemicals and the processes they seemed to be involved in. “Well this just won’t do.” I pointed to one particular beaker and shook my head. “You need more heat, and you need more ventilation. I’m surprised you haven’t blown yourselves up.”

One of the drug cookers mumbled the word, “Plot four,” under his breath after I said that. I clapped my hands together, causing all the others to jump a little. “Ok, first off, we’re going to get y’all set up in a better spot than this. Better equipment, a better building, and no risk of us arresting you. Trade-off is, I get a cut. And clear out some of these things so I can stick some dead people in here. You got anything cleaner than this one?”

They showed me to another they were using to grow some very lovely and aromatic plants. The head groundskeeper said, “We call these ‘Dead Man’s Party’. There is nothing stronger on the market.”

“I’ve seen what some of the supers smoke,” I replied. Everybody always brags about their marijuana.

He stepped back to the rear and pulled open a vault. Inside was a smaller variety that looked all dark and dead. “This was an experiment by one of my men that we kept, but never could sell. When Chaow first tried it for himself, we thought he died. He awoke from his coma three days, but we knew it would never sell.”

“I can see why. We’ll see what we can do for the hardier superhumans out there, provided you don’t need to grow them in here to get the quality?” I looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

He bowed to me. “We will have them cleaned out within two hours per your wishes, my Emperor. We will then worry about maintaining quality.”

So with all that set up, I was able to have a nice, private funeral for Good Doctor. I didn’t have time to invite my other friend, Mix N’Max, who had also worked with myself and Doc, but I did send him a bouquet as consolation. Not flowers, though. It’s the groundskeepers’ fault they left one of their bushes behind, after all.

Despite all that closure, I think things are coming together. The power’s back on. Food’s getting out there. We now have a burgeoning drug industry. Foreign businesses are coming back. And, we had a hell of an announcement of the new constitution. I gathered the Assembly in front of a building, the old Imperial Department of Public Good. Well in front of it. We wanted it to be a backdrop, not right on us, for reasons that’ll become apparent, along with the presence of a see-through splash shield. They presented the Constitution and announced elections. A legislature that then elects a smaller group of Directors overseeing most of that branch, with executive power ultimately resting in the Emperor, who gets a veto and all that mess. They were a bit dry, to be honest. I started to doze, but nobody noticed since I had my armor on.

After they were done came my big speech, borrowing heavily from stuff folks like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, Eugene V. Debs, and just a hint of Paradise Lost. But I’m not going to sit here, post an entire speech, and expect everyone to think it’s awesome because a bunch of people clapped for me in a country where I’m allowed to have them all killed. I even got applause for the section about opening up the country to men and women, supers and norms, of all countries and creeds who seek to escape past mistakes and misunderstandings. A sort of neutral ground, where all can be treated equally in my eyes. I had to try really hard not to put up my hand and stage whisper that we’re really lenient on criminals funneling drugs, money, and other goods through the place.

The event concluded with me bringing out the staff of the Public Good people and all the little orphans they had been taking care of. They stood there. And watched as I sent a signal that set off detonation charges to implode the Department and make it collapse in on itself. A little bit of debris reached us to be stopped by the shield.

The first to react were all the children, my Qiang included, who cheered like crazy. The head of the Department rushed over to my side. “Emperor! What are you doing?”

“I’m putting a stop to what you do to and with the children.” I tried to shoot him a glare through my helmet. “You are out of a job.”

“But I have served the Empire loyally for twenty one years! I am a master at molding these children,” he pleaded.

I smiled under my helmet. “You know what? For your service, I have a reward with you. For your service, you shall be interred at Champion Hill.”

“I… thank you, my Emperor,” he said, reluctantly.

“You’re very welcome,” I responded. Meanwhile, off to the side, the groundskeepers all got the signal. They walked up to escort this fellow away from me and to his eternal reward.

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Break It, Bought It 7

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I didn’t just rush into the situation with Good Doctor blindly. That would just make it easy for him. No, I had to use that steaming pile of think gunk in my head here. The coordinates he gave me were for this artificial island made by the United States right after World War II and gradually abandoned as necessity allowed. Satellites confirmed he was there, along with a boat, and Citra. I even got to see when he burned the boat he arrived on. I could have rushed in there, but I took the time to pimp my own ride to the island. I don’t get many opportunities to have a custom-equipped speedboat. I expect it’ll come in handy. I’m not even supposed to leave the island.

Under Imperial decree, I confiscated a speedboat. I installed armor. I gave it a pair of small mines. I strapped machine guns to it, and a rocket launcher. Darn near blew myself up with that. This whole Doc thing had me on edge, even if he only took Citra. I didn’t want more of this shit, with friends turning on me and plans within plans. Who does, right?

But it’ll pass. One way or another. Doc will die, Citra might die, even I might die, but it will end one way or another. I won’t be so quick to say I just want it to end no matter what, because I’m still fond of living. Even if there aren’t any omnipotent gods out there, I’ve been the devil of a deal enough times to know to be careful what I ask for. That’s probably what got me listening to “Poor Unfortunate Souls” while I worked. Don’t let Ursula fool y’all. Her deal was particularly wicked.

But enough aquatic antics with mermaids. You can never get further than blowjob base with them, anyway.

Now, unlike my armor, I did add a self-destruct sequence to this one. It seemed handy if I needed to ram something and explode prematurely. I swear, baby, it never happens. Don’t worry, I have protection. It can’t explode until after the ejector seat has fired off well away. Ejector seats are fun, if you can get one. Mine comes with its own parachute, and the seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. There’s also a bag that goes over the face in case of emergency, like if I bring a really ugly person with a nice body back to the boat.

The day seemed stormy, and not from the weather. Seemed like a lot of the Assembly people were stopping by. I had let some of them in on it, not yet having learned all the various councils and committees they were working on. It was more a matter of letting them know they might have to bail me out. I told them they might have to print up some new money, and if I was on it, give me a nice hat. I’m thinking a bowler.

One of them even wore a fancy sash across his chest when he stopped by. “My Emperor,” he said while bowing in the Japanese fashion.

I returned it. “Got this baby almost ready to go. No paint job, though. When I get back, I’ll have to see about it. I’m thinking flames and a dark knight riding a unicorn. What do you think?”

“I wanted to tell you that the entire Assembly supports you in the return of Lady Citra. The treaty has disseminated throughout the Assembly and we want you to know that we will not reveal your absence. If anyone claims to see you off the island, we will say otherwise.”

“Thanks. Nice to have a little support, even if I’m leaving y’all in a bind.” I held out a hand. He took it, and bowed his head against it. I grabbed his hair and gave him a handshake on the head. “Close enough.”

Qiang ran over before I cast off, drawing my egress out even further. “Hey there, kiddo,” I said, wondering where Silver Shark was. The cyborg woman was supposed to be watching her and keeping her well away from here. Yeah, she’s alive, and almost good as new. Still a bit tender herself, but between Ricca’s nanotech medical care and all the modifications made, she pulled through. Guess it was too much to hope she could wrangle a kid, though. “What are you doing away from Silver Shark?”

“I snuck away!” she said, hopping up into the boat. “I swapped shirts with another girl when she wasn’t looking and ran away.”

Aww. She’s learning. And taking her clothes off in public. I’d be so proud of her if I didn’t want her far away from this boat so she didn’t smuggle herself onboard. “Smart, though you won’t always be able to do that. Listen, daddy needs you to stay here and try to be a good girl, ok?”

“Don’t go, daddy!” she pouted up at me. No enemy on Earth could attack me like the face of my daughter.

I hugged her, feeling her slowly connect to my armor as well to keep her from doing anything to it. She didn’t seem to understand it enough to power me down or accidentally screw up the strength multipliers on the exoskeleton. “I have to. He won’t stop, and he’ll hurt Citra and more. And if I don’t show up there, he’ll come back and try a different way I won’t see coming.”

“Can’t I go with you?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Nope. I brought you with me before because I didn’t know where he was and I wanted you close in case I had to protect you. I know where he is now, and that you’ll be safe here. I can stop him from reaching you.”

“What if he hurts you?” she asked.

“If he does, he might leave you alone. Don’t worry. I’m coming back.”

She didn’t believe me. Just hugged onto me, crying, yelling “Don’t go!” It’s a good thing I have experience being heartless. I picked her up, gently tied her up to a pole on the pier, and shoved off. I did see Silver Shark running up after her as I left, so I waved at her before cranking the Geckoboat up and speeding off into the horizon.

I don’t know if the island had a name other than whatever secret base name the military gave it. Talk about people not afraid of sunk cost. I can respect that.

I called the satellites back up as I approached. It didn’t look like he’d put any defenses in place. He just left Citra sitting outside on the ground about a hundred yards from a shed. She did some wiggling that convinced me she was still alive. Hear that, ladies? Taking the hint yet? Show some damn effort in bed!

No mines, no guard sharks, no trained seals, not even a belligerent mutated sea bass. It was almost insultingly easy. I swooped around and came up alongside the island and dropped anchor on the concrete. If it happened to slide off, I figured I’d hear the plop in the water. I climbed aboard and kept my eyes open for any sneakiness. Nothing. Aside from Citra, there were waves in the water and the bobbing of the boat. That’s it. I focused on the sheds and other abandoned building entrances, but it turned out to be unnecessary. I approached the tied-up girl completely unmolested, which isn’t a word normally used in situations involving bound and gagged females.

I pulled the gag out first, and quickly. Gagged people always have something important to tell you, like “Look out! They’re right behind you!”

“Look out!” she yelled, voice cracking and croaking. Fucking called it, right? “He’s taking the boat!”

I spun around. Good Doctor, his outfit wet and glistening from the sea, finished slicing through the anchor line and waved us goodbye before hitting the accelerator.

“That bastard,” I said.

“He’s stranded us. He’s going back to the island,” Citra said.

I turned to look at her and finish tearing off the ropes that bound her. “Conserve your water.” In my head, I connected to my poor, new boat and activated the ejector seat. Good Doctor shot into the air, clinging to the seat as the parachute deployed. So much for hoping he’d have been left in it so I could just hit the self-destruct. I helped Citra stand up and regain her feet all while watching Doc figure out how to direct the chute and seat back to land. “You’ll want to hide now. I’m going to have to murder a friend.”

She didn’t argue with me. She stumbled away, trying to find somewhere to hide. I approached the edge of the island where the seat looked to come a little bit short. Indeed, Doc jumped out of it and landed on the edge as the seat itself plopped into the water.

“Clever,” I said to him. “Lure me here, head back, and finish what you couldn’t before.”

He stood up. I couldn’t see his eyes through the visor on his black leather helmet, but I could feel his hatred. “You did not react the way I anticipated to protecting that girl. Rumors say you have a daughter.”

“Jealous?” I asked. He took up a scalpel in his right hand and a punch knife in his left.

“Saddened. I take no joy in what I must do to you,” he said, his voice warping slightly to the tone I often heard when he slipped into his murderous state of mind.

“I’ve seen you take plenty of joy in it. Didn’t think you were the type to go after a man’s daughter. Have you truly become no better than I?” I stepped forward, hands open and palms to him, leaning forward just slightly over my front foot.

“We are, both of us, monsters, but I did what I did to provide a life for my daughter. She was the one thing that justified my actions. The one thing I could live with myself for. Now she is ashes, and I will see anything you care about rendered as such.”

“This really the hill you wanna die on, Doc?” I asked, noting the tension in his body. I knew what his answer would be, but I also knew it didn’t matter. He was never leaving this island alive.

He threw his scalpel at me. I deflected easily, then saw as the hand he pulled back from the throw tossed pellets at the ground between us. Black smoke blossomed forth. I paced a little back and forth, trying to see around it, even calling upon the satellite view. He was inside the cloud. I rushed in and whirled around, my cape helping blow it away. I pulled it close as an emergency warning appeared on my HUD. One of my batteries had been stabbed.

I pulled my cape in close, but not before the other battery reported physical damage. “You lost your glowing heart. You can only last so long.” he called in that smooth British voice of his. I did have power in the capacitors, but he was right. Once that’s loose, this armor of mine becomes much less useful. Then it’s just a matter of pulling my helmet off.

I growled as I jumped high into the air, then grinned as I looked down at the smoke cloud below me. I grabbed my cape as I dropped like a stone. When I crashed back into the cement, the air cushion under my cape blew the smoke out from around me, revealing Doc and kinda breaking something in one of my knees. I grabbed him by his leg and pulled him down to the ground under me, where all it took was one super strong punch to cave in his face. I put a hole through where his heart should be for good measure there. Watching, panting through the pain, I saw his body in its death throes.

“Dammit, you fucking fuckhead!” I called, pounding at the remains of his chest with the bottoms of my fists one last time, trying to avoid getting raindrops in my mouth. Small weather front in my helmet is all. I sat back then under the bright, sunny sky. “Other people thought you could live with yourself just fine,” I said to no one. I thought back, trying to see if anything could have stopped all this. It all comes down to Forcelight and her death. Just a casualty in the crossfire, though one who I was glad to see go because of her power. It was a hard train of thought to follow when something in my knee was screaming for attention as well.

That was the state Citra found me in, putting a hand on my shoulder and shaking me. “Get up. You’re alive, right?”

I brushed her off and turned to look at her. She backed away, paling. With a swallow, she asked, “How do we get off the island?”

Oh, right. That. Heh. Cunning asshole did a good job on this trap. In addition to leaving me here so he could go back and do what he would on Ricca, I was now out where anyone could get me. I wonder if he knew that I was only allowed to run free if I stuck to the island. A bit too late to ask him now.

I laughed at that one. Even if I wanted to risk jumping to my boat, which I didn’t bother exploding, my knee has decided it is now jelly. The kind of jelly with fruit in it, except the fruit are bone shards and strips of torn ligament.

A shadow crossed in front of the sun and brought a flapping sound. I looked up to see the Titan descending on wings further across than he was tall. “You shouldn’t be here, giant blue dude.”

He settled on the ground more gently than I did, that’s for sure. “My people saw the message carved on your friend. I still owed you a debt.”

“Well, aren’t you just a beautiful deus ex machina,” I said.

“I think it would be a stantibus celsior ex machina, but I never learned Latin,” he said. He picked me up easily and carried me under one arm. Citra didn’t object to getting out of there. “Click your heels together and say ‘there’s no place like home.’”

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Break It, Bought It 6

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It’s been a rough couple of days. I had doubts soon after starting my search, because it seemed so bizarre that he didn’t try to kill me. He wants it, so why didn’t he do it? I mean, I killed his daughter, so why wouldn’t he go for the kill? He’d never been one to just send threats when he could go in for the kill. My first instinct was to double check all the footage of The Claw’s death and make absolutely sure. I even begrudgingly called Beetrice, though I had to put up with a nigh-unbearable squealing as she realized it was me. The thumbs-ups from the Buzzkills on the island didn’t alleviate my annoyance.

Not only had The Claw been confirmed dead, they locked his remains in a lead coffin and were preparing to launch him into space over in Russia. Yeah, probably after they examine his remains a bunch of times hoping to make their own Claw.

So that just left me with a former friend uncharacteristically targeting my daughter. He’s wanted to kill me, just me, ever since finding out I murdered his daughter. And therein lay the problem. I killed his daughter. He threatened mine. That’s the fucked up thing about letting yourself care about someone, too. When I realized that, I actually found myself wishing he’d go after me instead.

I suppose it’s not that weird, though. I’ve often preferred people to try and kill me. Except, I guess I feel a bit less like dying nowadays. And a bit less willing to martyr someone else upon the altar of my own safety. Rather than focus on confusing feelings, I figured I’d focus on the ones I know all about: homicide and avoiding being its victim.

It’s not like I had an army to swarm the island. I had a few Buzzkills and a couple squads of guys who used to be police or military. I could barely field a football team, let alone scour the entire island. I had only myself to rely on, and that also meant keeping Qiang with me. Anyone I left her with would likely be killed.

I know Good Doctor doesn’t seem that intimidating. A little older now, his power is x-ray vision, except without x-rays. It’s just the ability to see through things up to a certain depth. Pretty good little trick if you’re trying to hide something for obvious reasons, and because he has brains enough to check in places he can’t see through. He’s got a canny power, he’s smart, and he’s willing to kill.

Humanity is quite a bipolar animal, and I mean that in the same sense as including myself this time around. Simultaneously incredibly fragile and difficult to kill, humans are also ill-equipped psychologically to murder each other, and yet do so with ease over the littlest of reasons. Look at skin color. Some people are killed for having a shade of skin achievable by their murderer staying outside in the sun a few minutes. Despite the numerous horrible wars humanity has gone through, it was only relatively recently on this Earth that people learned to train soldiers to ignore humanity and become better killers. Too many in the World Wars weren’t shooting at people intentionally.

There are few times when superheroes are willing to kill, and few have gone through with it. Or had, up until this business with The Claw. I could actually take credit for corrupting them, I suppose, but his crimes were quite severe. Between him and the alien invasion, we might be looking at a time when far more of the heroes are comfortable taking life as a solution. There used to be unwritten rules. Villains don’t kill heroes, heroes don’t kill villains.

Doc is more than comfortable breaking those rules. He’s killed several other superpowered people before. Worse, he was doing it for a good reason. I can get distracted, or go easy on someone, or let them live on a whim. Someone who thinks they have a good reason is already prepared to force themselves to do what must be done.

So, now it should be clear why I’m worried about him. But what have I done about it? After confirming that announcements of the Claw’s demise weren’t premature, I warned Citra and Silver Shark that they needed to get off the island. I’m not entirely sure I want to put all my egg-layers in one basket, and I’d prefer being there to defend Qiang myself, so I kept her around.

I checked over my armor, too. It’s a strength, and also a weakness. I couldn’t help but think of the Oligarch, grand old supervillain of the Master Academy, who kept his armor out of enemy hands by installing a self-destruct sequence. I turned it on while he wore the thing.

I don’t include that function in my armor, which explains why life-support and power armor technology has advanced in recent years. Instead, I now have big batteries to rely on and an exoskeleton built into it that exerts enough force to break my own bones. It took more time than I wanted to spend making sure he hadn’t left any surprises for me there. A poisoned needle in my pants, a blade in a biceps, a cut wire in the crotch, a pile of shit in my boots.

Only once I was sure to be clean did I run off with Qiang. Despite the reason behind our search, it was fun jumping with her. She liked seeing the world from so high up and knowing it was with me. One stop, she asked me, “Daddy, can I jump like you?”

I patted her hair and said, “I’ll teach you how some day once we’re done finding this man.”

“I don’t want to see him!” she said, pouting.

“Are you scared?” I asked, sitting down so I could talk to her on her level. She nodded. “I get that. Big guy, a grown-up, who could hurt you. He already snuck into your room, like a monster in the night.” She nodded again. I reached out and pulled her knife out from where she had it hidden on her. “Monsters don’t like being stabbed, and neither do men. You can always stab a monster. Now, show me how you stab.”

She ran through some techniques I’d taught her, with me gently correcting her. After ten minutes of quick practice, she was giggling and adding little flourishes for fun. With her mind off Doc being some bogeyman for her, I stood up and we resumed our search. The first spot that took us to was the Cape Diem camp. I didn’t wait at the edges this time. I headed right for the medical tent, keeping Qiang close enough to hide under my cape for some protection. I had my eyes on point, overclocked, ready to identify Doc in a seconds. No dice.

Several doctors looked up, many showing signs of superpowers. “What is going on here?!” demanded what looked to be a short nurse with bark-like skin.

“I am Emperor Gecko of Ricca. I demand Good Doctor be brought before me.” I kept my eyes on a swivel, making damn sure no one snuck up using my helmet’s 360 display.

A buzzing from behind me accompanied the arrival of that drone with the hologram projection. “You have demands of us?” the translucent androgyne asked.

I turned, making sure to keep Qiang behind me. “Where is the Titan?”

“Away on other business. I am in command of this camp as of the current time,” answered the hologram.

“Fine, let’s find a corner to discuss this in away from everyone’s eyes,” I said, toning down my voice.

The hologram zipped on over to what could have been a storage shed, especially with a door big enough to allow Titan entrance. The sign on the door read “Administration,” in various languages. “What is this and why do you need Good Doctor?” asked the hologram. I didn’t answer for a moment as I cleared everything for Qiang’s entrance. “And who is she?”

“This is my daughter, Qiang. And this occurred Sunday,” I projected a hologram of what my eye had seen in her room, with Good Doctor stepping in, threatening her, and then leaving his message on the wall. “You’re on the short list of groups I expect could have brought Good Doctor here, since we’re not seeing a lot of other traffic to the island.”

The hologram froze, a projected belt appearing that read “One moment, please.” When it started back up, it said, “The Good Doctor joined our organization soon after our arrival on the island. Upon completion of certification, he asked for and was given assignment here due to his surgical abilities. Records show he went missing on the day in question. His actions do not represent Cape Diem policy in any way.”

I raised a hand. “I figured. Your famous neutrality has withstood worse dictators than me. I don’t want to have to call it into question publicly. I just want him found and delivered to me so he doesn’t harm my daughter. This isn’t about making Cape Diem my armor or anything like that. This is just about bringing Good Doctor before me, and this will have been made right.”

“I will communicate your request to the Director of Operations with the highest priority. Cape Diem would like to apologize for the actions of the Good Doctor in violating our neutrality.” The hologram almost sounded contrite. It had to know they’d be in some shit. A lot of people would see that neutrality as a restriction on an organization to act against oppression, but it also served as the shield allowing them to help people even in countries otherwise hostile to any foreign intervention.

It took half an hour before the hologram directed me over to a large circular metal framework. One moment, I saw right through it. The next, I saw the Titan standing in a large room. He stepped through and unfurled his wings, then came to stand in front of me. “Emperor Gecko, I would like to convey my sincerest apologies for the actions of this rogue agent in violation of our neutrality. The Security Division is coming through now and they will help you find him. There are a lot of men and women who come to us to escape their past, and this threatens that deal.”

With my blessing, they spread out. I briefly entertained the thought that this might be some ploy to take over the island, but that’d be it for these guys. No more Cape Diem. Best to keep my paranoia on a leash in that circumstance.

With them safely swarming out, I found Qiang tugging on my cape. “What about the train?”

“Train?” I asked, trying to figure out what she meant. Oh, the maglev. The one underground. Underneath the palace. That’d be a handy place to hide a person. “Right, the maglev.” It seemed perfect. While the Cape Diem supers spread out looking for their former colleague, I carried Qiang to the palace and set to work finding the way down. It turned out to be below some light rubble in the same crater that housed the legislature. If I hadn’t been down there already, I likely wouldn’t have noticed it at all. And the fact that it didn’t have that much blocking the entrance suggested Qiang had been right. We both slipped down there, Qiang using some of those lessons I gave her to pad almost as silently as myself down there.

We didn’t have to go too far to find MRE wrappers and more. I swear, he left that pile right in the middle of the way down just so I’d step in it. Ugh, going to take forever to clean that out from under my boot. And yet, no Doc. Nothing in the platform, and the doors to the rest of the track were firmly shut.

The hologram found us on our way up, the drone not having to worry about stepping in any slick, stinky piles left by my old friend. “Emperor Gecko, there is a situation.”

The hologram intendant led me to where they were dragging Silver Shark out of the water. She was missing a foot, a fin, and she had a scalpel jammed through her throat. More than that, she had coordinates carved on her back with the note, “Come alone or the girl dies.”

I mean, I could bring people along. It’s only Citra. He didn’t even get Qiang. Maybe he expected to send her off the island. See, it’s those paternal instincts why my kid’s still alive and his is dead. But soon, oh so soon, I’ll have to arrange a reunion for them. Because I am going to find him, and I’ll find him a grave man.

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Break It, Bought It 5

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Ah, it was a nice, easy-going day. The security team didn’t run across any weird subterranean mole monsters in the geothermal plant. All clear, meaning they could go on the streets and keep an eye out for anything too disruptive. Meanwhile, I tossed some engineers and geologists down there to see if we’re going to have a problem with that big hole through the undersea mountain base of the island. I know, you hear words like “engineer” and “undersea mountain base,” and you expect them to be more exciting. That’s why I’m thinking of having the palace rebuilt to resemble a giant skull.

That ought to be easier now. Peace is almost declared. Only almost.

I don’t know how Beetrice did it. I’ve hardly spent any time around her to see any growth in diplomatic ability or anything like that. I hope she didn’t fuck them into submission. I know I used that to solve a human resources issue, but it doesn’t make for good foreign policy. If you do that, having an attractive leader is just inviting lots of wars. They hate you because you’re beautiful. More like they want to be fucked into submission by you.

Ok, so let me get in to what’s going on. A small swarm of Buzzkills arrived on the island bearing a case for my eyes only. They didn’t know what the hell was going on with all these people setting up a tent city legislature on my lawn. I was out there watching the days session in my robe, having just awoken at the crack of noon. I’d spent another late night out enforcing my word as law. Last night, bird was the word.

We had an attempted break-in at one of the markets. Even though everything was pretty much under government control, there were a few certain supermarkets that received all the food. People might sell their own homemade produce or what-have-you, but food from the Agriculture Mall was distributed at these certain hubs. There’d been an Institute of Science idea passed around about lacing the food with Unity to ensure compliance. I didn’t see anything following up on it. It goes the other way, though. They’d also considered using the markets to distribute an edible vaccine. State control is a bit like fire or death rays; it can be used for good or evil.

It had been a small gang led by someone in a bird costume. Really long beak, cape of feathers, a general green and black color scheme going on. Not a terrible costume, but he’s going to look stupid if he can’t fly. Unless he’s supposed to be The Amazing Ostrich-man or Emu-tilator.

“Go. Take what you can and spread the petrol all over,” he commanded. Then he jumped as some of it splashed against his boot, then onto his calves. “What are you doing?” He whirled around to face the person who dared to splash gasoline on him.

He found me, standing on the dead body of one of the guys he brought with him, holding a gas can in one hand and a flare in the other. These things are really coming in handy for me. I need another flame-spouting saxophone. To our bird man, though, I said, “Me? Nothing. Just thought I’d stop by for a midnight snack. I’m feeling like chicken tonight.” Then I tossed the flare.

That story ran a bit longer than I intended. But I digest. I mean digress. Yes, digress. I actually don’t digest because he really could fly.

So yeah, I’d missed some sleep the night before, as someone will do in that situation. I wake up, check on the lawn, grab a newspaper, wave at the people bicycling by, then have some bee people land with a chest in front of me. Some days, it occurs to me that my life is a little weird.

I sipped a cup of something I’d been assured was tea, looked at the chest, then up at the Buzzkills. “You really shouldn’t litter. If those guys decide to make it illegal, I might have to kill y’all.”

“Forgive us, Emperor Gecko,” said one, bowing deeply. “We bring an urgent message from Queen Beetrice on the negotiations in North Korea. She has been trying to reach you by phone, but the number you gave her is not working.”

I told her not to call me, that I’d call her. When she insisted on having some way to contact me, I gave her a number for this church in the United States run by a former porn star.

“Oooh, yeah, shame about that. So, you’re delivering something to me?” I asked

The Buzzkill who took the lead nodded. “Yes. We would have warned you if the number was correct. As a matter of fact, my Queen wishes me to ask you for a cor-”

“So!” I clapped my hands together. “Let’s see what’s in the box, shall we? It must be important.”

“Queen Beetrice would be more than happy to explain everything you need to know if only you gave her a call,” the Buzzkill persisted.

I bent down over the chest and started opening it up. “No, that’s fine. I’m sure it’ll all be self-evident.”

“It’s locked,” said one of the other Buzzkills a second before I popped it open. They’d really make great faceless minions, if someone didn’t care.

And, really, I do care. I care a lot. I’m a caring individual. Life is a precious thing, as relatively sparse as it is in the universe. The existence of a multiverse somewhat undermines that, but I think my reasoning is still justified. But gems and priceless paintings are also precious things, and that makes them ripe for stealing or destroying. I mean, look at me. I hate people, but I still consider them special enough that I don’t go around killing all of them, barring a couple of times I got a bit agitated.

That level of self-control is why I didn’t feed anyone the peace treaty. That, and Buzzkills mouths are… interesting. Not interesting in a bad way, but not human.

So I’m somehow not being arrested or sent back to my home Earth. I mean, I was going to try and make that happen on my own, treaty or not. On the one hand, I should give her credit for making sure that happened. On what I wish was someone’s severed other hand, the condition for this is that I never leave the island of Ricca, where I will be officially recognized as Emperor so long as I hold that title. Oh, and all the countries involved in this treaty agree not to try and knock me off the throne.

I stay, I’m fine. I take one foot off the island, like to steal a nuclear power plant, and it’s open season on me until I hit Riccan shores again. It was a smart move by them. I gotta recognize that. That’s like studying Hitler and not acknowledging the Night of the Long Knives. You can hate someone and still see when they pulled off a piece of brilliance. They have every reason to believe I’ll be deposed and killed or exiled. I have a bad track record for ruling.

North Korea is to remain separate and under Queen Beetrice’s rule, who declares fealty to the Emperor of Ricca. While the rest of this is typed up, there’s a line here written in pink pen that adds, “as his future wife, to be married no later than one year from this date.” I guess Beetrice didn’t convince them to include everything she wanted. People keep wondering why I’m not looking for relationships all the time, but do y’all see the kind of shit that goes down when I stick my dick somewhere?

There are also restrictions on building up military, allowing in people to make sure the government isn’t doing any human testing, developing or building weapons of mass destruction, and returning the rest of the captured territories to whoever ruled them before the Claw made his big move. There’s a legal term for that. In the States, it’s called “We totally didn’t lose the War of 1812.”

I think Beetrice ceded a bunch of rights to offshore oil, fishing, and other useful territories. I pretty much have no sovereign water now. So yeah, that’ll make the populace happy when they decide to rewrite whatever toilet paper bill of rights their representatives come up with.

Oh, and then there’s the trade restrictions. Boring. Yawn. They don’t want us having plutonium, uranium, or excessive amounts of orange juice. Either they want to spread Scurvy or they’ve heard about my skill with explosives. I’m just saying, the world’s lucky Isaac Newton got popped on the head with an apple. If it had been an orange, shit might have gotten real. George Washington cappin’ Redcoats with an Uzi. Man, I wonder what the time-traveling Teddy Roosevelt and Nikola Tesla are up to?

So it looks like everything’s done and wrapped up, right? Peace in our time. Happy, happy, joy, joy. Hell, I didn’t even have to sign the thing. I apparently signed my name in bright pink pen, and with different handwriting, then wrote “Call me.”

I didn’t call her, despite the Buzzkills annoying me about it. They were so rude, I didn’t even invite them in for vodka and scones with myself and Qiang. Gotta work on alcohol tolerance while they’re young. Instead, I told them to find some other housing for a stay while they recovered from the trip. They just flew in and I’m sure their arms were tired.

It was in a drunken slumber that the goodish news got a lot less good. I had cut off Qiang after awhile, but I kept on going until I passed out. That isn’t too bad on its own. I just don’t tend to do it. It messes with waking up from the dreams. That night, I dreamed of the Good Doctor walking with slow, deliberate purpose into Qiang’s room, where she slept like a mess on her bed. He wore his costume of black leather and a mask that could have been inspired by surgery garb if it didn’t have a visor. The tools of his grisly trade glistened around his waist in the poor video quality of the dream.

The Good Doctor turned and looked right at the camera, then walked over to Qiang’s bed. I wanted to wake the hell up when I saw him pull out a scalpel. Luckily for everyone and the world that he instead carved a message into the wall. “Any time I want.”

I woke up to Qiang’s screams in the morning. It wasn’t a dream. The Good Doctor is here for me or for Qiang. Would he kill her? Had I not killed his own daughter, I’d say no. But now he wants me to know he’s here and he just might do it.

Clearly, my dear old friend is in a lot of pain. He wants to die. As his bestest best buddy in the whole wide world, I should support his decision.

With vigor.

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Break It, Bought It 4

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I’ve finally uncovered the geothermal plant that used to power the island nation of Ricca. The records at the Institute of Science led me to a mundane-seeming shoe store. The first hint had to be the name. “Gary’s Shoes,” is a bit unusual in a melting pot island of the entirety of Asia, but we do have the occasional Suparman among the names around here. I looked at the place, and doublechecked the address in the files I downloaded. Other than some dried, broken eggs smeared on the display window.

I waved over a work gang. Not prisoners, by the way. See, some of the people at the National Constituent Assembly were workers around here who formed protective gangs to see to their neighborhoods’ safety. Blue collar guys. Just the sort of folks I need heading down there to look in on the place, with a smattering of some other types I’ve seen milling about. The Institute had files on some of the military for potential testing purposes. They wanted to enhance loyal soldiers. Disloyal soldiers could also be used for other reasons.

These guys didn’t want to be exposed to mob justice. I didn’t want them there either, so long as they weren’t the type to go shave the skin off people’s feet and electrocute them. There’d be grudges involved that could mess with all this. It wasn’t easy to pick all this out, though. The high military command center had been in the part of the palace that I sent off into the ether, and I’ve found that the military barracks didn’t keep detailed records of who was torturing people. In retrospect, most of regimes don’t do that for this sort of reason.

So we had to work on trust. Trust, body cameras with a live view, and microexplosives. Because, as Al Capone once put so famously, “You can get more with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word.”

But more than kind words and guns, people like food. I’ve been looking into that. When the island lost power, a hell of a lot of food couldn’t be kept. Add onto that the collapse of social order and no peacekeeping force, and things got rough.

I stopped by Cape Diem to get a better look at their side of the operations. The food kitchen is one thing. I’ve seen some cyborgs there, and other types who come up as Riccan military, but I’m not going in there to drag them out. I got my ass kicked bad enough by the Claw, and I think Titan’s still tougher than him. I survived the Claw. I wouldn’t even call that one a victim. I just arranged the circumstances for him to lose even harder.

Before I go in there, I’ll see if he can meet with me about talking to any of them.

They’re giving out food for people to take home. In fact, it seems like they’re doing that more than they’re feeding people now. Last time I looked, the situation was reversed. Having power changes everything. Doesn’t keep the broken record from sounding any less annoying.

As I watched, the Titan flew back into the camp, carrying a huge liquid storage tank on his back. Other flying superhumans arrived with him, carrying people, hoses, axes. One of them rushed someone over to a tent decorated with all sorts of symbols denoting its medical usage.I tracked the direction they came from with some “TV satellites” who only sell those channels to the CIA. They had been firefighting.

I owe these guys a lot, so I slid on up to the border of their camp and waited. After several minutes and one failed game of HUD Solitaire, Titan approached. Big guy. Andre the Giant would have to look up to him. Bulging with muscle behind skin a dark blue, except where orange showed through around the eyes, fists, and some parts of the wings. The fiery eyes made it hard to look them in the eyes.

He brought a little drone with him that projected a see-through hologram of an androgynous person lacking most details.

“Emperor Psycho Gecko,” said Titan.

I nodded. “Titan. And while the Emperor part is nice, it’s not strictly required. In fact, seeing how well y’all have done organizing here, I had a proposal for you.”

One offer of an emperor-ship and long, uncomfortable round of laughter later, Titan calmed down and looked to me. “I appreciate the offer, but no thank you.”

I waved it off. “Think nothing of it.” Bastards. “But I owe you a debt of gratitude for all you’ve done for the island. Don’t take it badly if I’m trying to get make y’all useless for here, but I’d like to set up something where we help you out with land or other resources once you’re done helping out.” I offered a hand. Titan shook it. Some press people from Ricca’s propaganda office took photos from in hiding nearby.

They had been in the Institute’s directory, too. Something about microchips and implanted cameras. I swear, cybernetics are to Ricca as guns are to the United States. The right to bear metal arms, or a third arm, or even a metal laser scorpion tail.

“I”m especially glad to see you picking up the slack for us while I get stuff organized. That person brought back earlier, any idea how they’re doing?” I asked.

Titan cocked his head thoughtfully. “He should pull through. We have a fine medical team, including an amazing surgeon who just joined us. If you’d like, I can send an adviser over to wherever you’re governing from now to help coordinate with you.”

I projected a Cheshire grin on the outside of my helmet. “Fantastic.”

“He turned to the hologram person and said, “I think we wanted to start with making sure the food is actually getting to market. We’re just having trouble negotiating with the people at the Imperial Agriculture Mall. They don’t trust us, but you’re the leader. Have you stopped by there?”

“I hadn’t,” I admitted. I was trying to find actual farmers, and hadn’t known what to make of the place. It looked too corporate and clean, talking about the most advanced farming techniques in the world. You know, bullshit. Propaganda. Something the old North Korea would build to give visitors pamphlets about how they had real farming just like the big boy countries, meanwhile half the people look like they caught Anorexia Plague.

That little meeting inspired me to see them after all.

The Mall lived up to its name in appearance from the outside. I knocked on the door and found it shoved open with a half dozen double barrel shotguns shoved out against various parts of my body. “Easy there,” I said. “And whoever’s holding that one real low, I’d appreciate you not attempting to feminize me. Not that you could.” That last comment caused someone to cock a gun loudly for a threat. What still bothers me is that none of these guns had pump action.

A man’s voice called out, hinting at age. “Who is it? We don’t want any solicitors! You see the sign?” One of the shotguns edged toward the side. I turned and saw a sign, written in Ricca’s pidgin. “Private Property: Trespassers make great fertilizer.”

“I’m the Emperor,” I said.

“Emperor?” asked the voice from inside. “What Emperor?”

“Of Ricca. You know, this country you’re in?”

“Oh, that Emperor.” The door opened and out stepped an older Caucasian man in a set of overalls and a straw hat. “Howdy there, Emperor. My name’s Old Man Hoodless, but you can just call me Old Man.” He grabbed for my hand and shook it enthusiastically. “This is some mighty impressive armor, son. Mighty impressive. Come on in and meet the family!”

It was a lot to take in. The “family” turned out to be people of all ages and colors, dressed in simple clothes. Some of the guys had really long hair. A pair of young women had flowers in their hair. Another one had a tie dye shirt on. “Hippies?” I asked. The one with the tie dye raised her eyebrow and a gun that pointed upward at the ceiling. “Not quite hippies,” I added.

“I’m Tideflower Rainbowheart,” said one of the young women, stepping forward. “We welcome you with this laurel and hardy expression of love from Gaia and the Spirit of Humanity.”

I took it and threw it on top of my helmet while browsing lists of cults. “Nice to meet y’all. It’s nice to finally get over here, but we hope soon to have it where y’all won’t be aiming guns every which way to fight off bandits or anything. The island is slowly coming back to order.”

Old Man Hoodless put a hand on my shoulder. “Mighty fine armor, boy, but we ain’t armed on account of bandits. We got to protect ourselves from them damn puth varmints! We heard chatter from our spy they’re launching a unilateral attack.”

Puth…no, PUTH. People for the Unethical Treatment of Humans. Militant offshoot of PETA that kills people’s pets and farm animals. Unlike PETA, they also kill plants, since they’re smart enough to do math and communicate by sound, figuring that humanity will be better off once it has nothing to eat. Since they don’t want to be hypocrites, they also murder people so they won’t slowly starve to death in pain because all their food is gone.

From outside, I heard an explosion. Old Man Hoodless raised his gun. “Okey dokey, let’s bust a cap in these PUTHies!”

The family scrambled to their positions, opening up small windows to fire out.

I raised my hands. “Please, people, there has to be some peaceful way to resolve this!”

Everyone looked at me until I started laughing at my own joke. Then I turned, reopened the door to go out, and instead fell underneath the pounce of a lion. Its fangs glanced off my helmet before it lowered its maw to my throat. I grabbed its jaws before they could close on my neck. While it wouldn’t be penetrating my armor anytime soon, a lion could easily crush a human windpipe with its mouth. A Gecko’s armor, though, can tear the jaw off a lion. I opened its mouth so wide, its head came off. Then I wore that as a hat as I stepped outside.

A helicopter had landed in front of the compound, moving its floodlight over me to highlight me and mess with my vision. My armor and eyes collaborated to dampen my light sensitivity so I wasn’t blinded. A half dozen men and women had spread out, aiming guns at the place. Something about the light made them seem eerie for a moment, faceless men with guns, until one of them shouted and broke the spell. “You monster! You murdered one of nature’s most majestic creatures!”

“You brought it to a fight!” I yelled right back. “But if you like animals, I got a chicken for ya!” I pulled out a chicken grenade, tore its head off, and tossed both into the helicopter. I don’t know if the ones who jumped on my cock thought they could save it or because they instinctively figured out what it was, but they weren’t fast enough. The helicopter went up, along with four of the attackers.

The others didn’t let that stop them. Once we all managed to get back to our feet, the remaining four raised their guns. Three of them were immediately blasted off their feet by the Family. The last one pointed at me and sent a flock of hummingbirds after me before his head exploded courtesy of Old Man Hoodless’s complementary buckshot sampler.

The hummingbirds swarmed me and tried to find an opening to peck me, but I grabbed my cape and used it to gather them all up around me. I stopped, dropped, and rolled around, crushing the angry, pointy little birds under my body.

“Good job, I reckon,” said Old Man Hoodless as he helped me up. He brushed off my shoulder, then turned to everyone. “It’s safe to come out now. Let’s give thanks to the great spirit of humanity for this blessed day!” The rest of the Family stepped outside and joined hands in a circle to sing with me in the middle.

“For a bunch of hippie-like people, you’re not that concerned about the loss of life?” I asked once they’d finished and the Old Man showed me in. He had most of the others run off to gather up the corpses while a little girl ran ahead of us to go fetch tea.

“We’re not hippies,” Old Man Hoodless insisted, then swung a door open out of the lobby area and into an elevator with clear sides. It shot up to show me their Mall.

The area of the mall would be large enough for a conventional farm the size of, well, a mall. This wasn’t just farmland under a roof. It was like a parking garage of crops. One floor might be wheat, the ceiling a set of UV lights mimicking sunlight. Next, corn, or rice, or an orchard. Drones flew about, tracking everything. I saw a floor where they flitted about the trees, removing applies in swarms and delivering them to a basket.

They even had layers with animals like cows, chickens, and goats, even sharing their environment with a few plants they wouldn’t mess with. More of this Family were shoveling shit and transferring it to other layers.

“My Family believes in old-fashioned values of hard work and returning to the land,” said Old Man Hoodless. “As well as communal childrearing, communal property, and communal bathrooms.”

“Any problems with people sharing bathrooms with someone they’re attracted to?” I asked.

He scoffed. “People are shitting in there, gotdangit! It’s no place to fall in love.”

“I’m surprised you’re using drones,” I said. “Returning to the land and old-fashioned hard work, ya know…”

“That’s fool talk. Just because we’re returning to the land doesn’t mean we’re stupid. Technology and science are a gift from the Spirit of Humanity, sent to help lead us to a self-made promised land on Earth. We spread the good food, then the good news. I like to think it works better. You think the Amish could put together an operation like this?” He pointed through the window at members of his Family shearing several llamas.

“Clearly not,” I said. Almost as if in response, the elevator quickly returned to floor level, where the door opened to reveal the young girl from before holding a cup of tea for myself and a mason jar of it for Old Man Hoodless.

Hoodless grinned as he took his from her. “Ah, my youngest here knows her way around the kitchen.”

“Your daughter’s a lovely girl,” I said as a meaningless compliment, but Old Man Hoodless shook his head.

“My youngest wife. We accept that the Spirit of Humanity doesn’t want us to deny ourselves as many lovers as we wish to take. The last guy who talked to us from the guvmint used to threaten us over it.” He squinted at me.

I shrugged. “Hey, so long as it’s consensual, I don’t care who you’re nailing. Just not the animals, please. As this one vampire once said, ‘If you’re going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.’”

“Hot damn!” Old Man Hoodless clapped me on the shoulder, his hand lingering a little longer than I’d have preferred. “I can’t wait to tell my husband!”

Seeing as I’m not so much into old men who like touching me, I changed the subject. “You’ve been growing a lot here. Did you lose it when the island lost power?” I held the tea up to my helmet and activated a new function I’d added. A straw extended down into the cup, though an interior filter system tested it first for anything harmful.

He took a big sip of his. “Naw. We got backup generators and big freezers. Been keeping everything stored up, waiting for things to get better. We had ta run off all sorts of folks wantin’ what we got. We didn’t want to send it to market only to get shot up without enough people keepin’ the peace. We had so many bodies for the soil, we had to hang some of them up in the freezers.”

Analysis complete: just tea. “Well, I’m the new law in town. The new Emperor. And I’m happy to help y’all spread the good food to the people of my island. And if anyone thinks to gorge themselves, well…” I looked up to see some of the Family wheeling the wheelbarrows over toward the elevator.

Old Man Hoodless held his arm out. “Pardon us. As Gaia feeds humanity, so too does humanity feed Gaia.”

I nodded to him and stepped out. “I think we’ll get along. I also enjoy the occasional bit of farming. Sadly, with all the idiots I’ve planted, none have grown into a dumbass tree, and none have had a green thumb I could rip off to replace mine.” I turned back to him after we’d let the cultists and the bodies hit whatever floor they were going to and swapped hands with the tea. I went for a handshake. “I’ll supply the murder, the guards, and the market. You supply the food. How’s that for a deal with the devil?”

Old Man Hoodless grinned and took my hand, shaking it firmly. “Provided you’re as blind to our religious freedom and recruitment as the last feller, I think it’s mighty fine. Yessir, mighty fine indeed. A’course, we’ll remember the man who made our holy mission possible when we join with Gaia and the Spirit of Humanity.”

And once again, the day is saved, as I officially team up with a murderous cult to protect the proud nation of Ricca. On the other hand, I think I’ll hold off on taking Qiang to see all the animals. I’d really hate to have to kill my main food growers. I’d do it, but I would not be happy. Welcome to Ricca; enjoy food fresh off the cult corpse pile.

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Break It, Bought It 2

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Nothing like staying up late at night murdering hooligans to make you resentful of peacekeeping. A couple of guys had decided to run around a neighborhood at night, smashing up the place. Not so bad. More of an annoyance, especially because I’ve heard rumblings about gangs not letting people leave their homes. Except they’d been setting fires. That’s just what we need, a fire burning down half the island because emergency services collapsed.

“Good job on your reading, honey.” I said to Quiang. I’d set it up so I could listen to her and help her practice her reading. I’d even left a little camera for her to wear that would show me the book so I could help her with the words. Seems like the kind of thing a parent would do. I don’t have much personal experience to go on there. “Daddy’s got to take a break for a minute or two. Be right back.”

Below me, the pair I’d come looking for were lighting up a Molotov cocktail. Future Corpse One held the bottle while Future Corpse Two flicked his lighter trying to set fire to the rag at the top. “I think it’s out of fluid,” said Two.

I landed between them, grabbed the bottle, and smashed it over Two’s head hard enough to shatter it. I turned and shoved my hand into One’s mouth, held it open, shoved the bottle in there, then kicked him in the nuts hard enough that it carried him into the air a short distance. I turned to Two then and snatched the lighter from his hands. “This town deserves a better class of criminal,” I said to him. I flicked the lighter. Nothing. I tried again. Again, nothing. “I think you’re out of fluid,” I said to him. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll help you find more. It’s dark, though.” I reached to my belt and pulled out a flare. “Here, take a light.” I popped the flare and threw it at him.

All in all, it was a brief but thoroughly enlightening experience for him.

On the political side of things, I didn’t expect much from asking a bunch of people to throw together a group of representatives in a hurry, but they surprised me. I ended up with various committees and gangs in attendance at the palace who were either picked to represent some borough or neighborhood, or who had already been doing so. It’s just so nice to see some competence. I get a little jaded at times watching people rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic that it’s nice when something goes according to plan.

Which made it all the more frustrating when this group decided to maintain their fealty to Emperor Gecko instead of replacing me. After that little fiasco, I left them to sort out details like composition and rules and so on. I had a meeting with the local boss of the Yakuza. It was time for their humanitarian efforts to pay off as I wheeled and dealed. Or, to be more honest, attempted to not murder a guy and instead come up with some preposterous scheme to restore power to the entire island.

“It’s simple,” the Yakuza fellow explained to me. I hadn’t listened to his title, nor did I care to go back and reread. “We run underground powerlines from our island to yours. It will cost more until the new nuclear power plants are built. We would be more than happy to front much of the capital necessary for your own switch to nuclear power, if necessary.”

We sat in a small room at a higher-end bar that hadn’t been ransacked like the others. The Yakuza boss sat further away from me, at the other end of the table. The one doing all the talking was an underling sitting closest out of all his delegation.

I mulled over their offer. “So this will be able to handle the entire island’s power supply, unlike those generators you brought?”

He bowed his head. “Yes.”

I thought about it a minute. “Why can’t we just steal the nuclear power plant itself?”

“Pardon me. Would you please rephrase the question?” he asked. Geez, don’t know what about that didn’t make sense.

“You have a nuclear power plant over there. I need it over here. What if we took it from over there and brought it over here,” I pantomimed grabbing something and bringing it back over to me to illustrate the point.

“It is a large building with foundations in the soil of Japan.”

I nodded. “I’m aware of this. The question remains the same.”

“We would be unable to perform this. We would gladly provide power to your island while you work out a plan,” he answered, likely expecting there’d be no plan. One had come to mind, but I was gonna need some manpower.

“I would be more than happy to allow your group to operate on the island in return for power, and in gratitude for having aided the people of Ricca so far. I hope we can have a fruitful relationship, devoid of extradition treaties and nosy law enforcement.” When we went to shake on it, I gave him a little soul to go with it. Some fries with that shake. Fist bump, up and down, finger wiggle, all that.

From there, it was back to the assembly of committees, or whatever name they gave themselves. “Yo, dudes and dudettes!” I called out. “How far along have we gotten?”

One guy who had been standing on a table in the cratered courtyard looked up. “We are the first National Constituent Assembly. As soon as we have resolved the shape the government will take, we will dissolve and the people will decide representation. Do you approve, my Emperor?”

Yeah, sure, why not? “I approve of the steps you take for the people.” And it’s incredibly easy for people to say and do horrible things in the name of the people. “I need the aid of those same people to help provide for them. Not everyone has returned to the service of their country.”

We lost a lot of people who had just been brainwashed. I didn’t send out any orders one way or the other. The Koreans didn’t make a stink about letting them go, so I don’t think they’d have tried too hard to keep them there. I bet others are on the fence about serving the guy who killed the fellow they were loyal to, maybe some are so loyal they’re staying there until the war is technically resolved. Oh crap, I left Beetrice to negotiate a multi-national treaty with my life on the line.

Anyway, I’ve got a handful of loyal supers actually on the island with shaky loyalties. I could spend way too long looking into that, or I could go ahead with a plan that doesn’t necessarily involve them. I chose to go ahead. It was cheaper this way. Well, relatively.

It was late at night when the workers and I approached first while the ship went on, picking up an order of inflatable rafts, rice, and whatever else people are buying up on Ricca. We had plenty of boats to get to the mainland ourselves, but a trashed island could always use a few million more.

It was night, but it turns out Ricca had a rich nautical tradition. Most of the guys got their boats to shore without a problem, save one or two collisions. They spread out and began drilling down with the equipment we brought. Miners, demolition experts, and so on. They didn’t have to go far enough to hit lava or anything like that. Just far enough to help break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar. It took hours to get enough holes dug and loaded with the explosives. Meanwhile, I unpacked my armor and pulled it on, then commenced pounding anchors in and attaching heavy duty cables.

A lot of the guys were spreading worried chatter, especially after the night manager at the plant stepped outside to ask what we were doing there. After he saw the expansion blueprints and one of the resting workers who used to be a foreman gave him the runaround with some construction terminology, he went back inside to get us documents showing where all the ground cables were that left the site, just so we wouldn’t accidentally mess with any of them.

The foreman called me back over. “We need to go over these blueprints, with your permission.” I swung by there, trying to stay out of sight of the people inside as much as possible. After some consultation I had hardly anything to do with, they figured out we needed a few more holes and got to work. They knew what they were doing this for. I think it even excited them some to try this. I took some of the others to fix the last of our cables into place.

Our ride was that cargo ship returning. I’d given the captain and rather special crew extensive leeway with money and equipment. Many of them were former Riccan military who ditched the uniforms when the island was abandoned. They also knew the stakes, and that I was in a forgiving mood these days. When they came back, it wasn’t just with the ship we rode in on, now loaded with supplies. It was with five ships, some cargo, and at least one whaler. I didn’t get the best look at them in the middle of the night.

Those cables I planted earlier were run out to the boats, which most of the guys took back to the ships. Next came the part I least wanted to see. The more moving parts in any plan, the less likely it is to go off without a hitch, and we were running lucky so far. All this ships sitting around here would look suspicious to anybody whose job was to watch out for a bunch of strange ships not acting like civilian traffic. Except it was taking way too long to get the boats reloaded with some of those sailors and inflatables.

Our luck decided it ran far enough. “We have a problem,” said one of the captains, his voice coming through my earpiece. “They found us.”

“Any idea where they are?” I asked, even as I started hijacking satellites and tried to patch in to the Japanese Defense Force’s naval communications. Even my skills, you can’t just instantly break into Japan’s defense network that easily. Unlike the United States, they’ve been staying up to date. Their security could nab you so many different ways, you’d think you were surrounded by tentacles. Then things get really nasty.

Oh, sure, as if I wouldn’t make a tentacle joke about Japan.

“I’m on it,” said a digitally distorted voice. “I know right where they are. It’s called electroreception, and it’s why sharks are awesome.” That’s the happiest I’ve heard Silver Shark outside of sex. Made me a little jealous, as a matter of fact.

“The rest of us better step lively. Don’t go so fast you miss anything, but the coffee break’s over and now it’s time to use up some caffeine,” I said. The first wave of sailors began running around getting the inflatable rafts set up.

“All done. They’re dead in the water and sinking,” reported Silver Shark after a good twenty minutes. By that time, we’d gotten the rest of our ground team over.

I sorted through messages and found where they’d sent out a report about us beforehand. They didn’t get a distress call out, but they had called in backup. “We might see more company. I think it’s time to go. Last check, cables secure?”

The ships all answered in the affirmative. “Good. Looks like we got our part done. I think it’s time we blow this scene. Get everybody and the stuff together. Ok, three, two, one, let’s jam.” It seemed like the crack was louder than the explosions that caused the earth to reverberate under our feet. Alarms immediately blared from the nuclear plant, which the sailors flooded into. They were to make sure the night shift kept the place running. I’d considered a forceful evacuation instead, but we needed someone to run the place and train replacements.

Between the power of the explosions and the pulling of the ships, the power plant and a little bit of the land it sat on pulled off mainland Japan and into the water. Though auto-inflating rafts began to deploy around the edges, more were being swept underneath before opening.

It took the entire rest of the night to move the plant, but it finally settled into a small atoll just north of Ricca shortly after daylight broke. Nuclear power and atolls just go together in my mind for some reason. Natural fit. One safety check later and it was confirmed: the Empire of Ricca now has its own nuclear plant, and some new ships.

Welcome to Ricca. Our national motto: I swear, it fell off the back of a truck.

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Break It, Bought It 1

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You didn’t think it would be that easy, now did you? Eh, I suppose that depends on your definition of easy.

I awoke on an operating table while some very nice doctors were sewing some organs shut inside me. It was important business and I didn’t want to scare them, but the screaming is really automatic at that point. First, because I thought I might be in a morgue. Then, because I was opened up and being sewn shut. It’s a perfectly acceptable answer to waking up and finding that they have to force some really delicate parts of you together like a damn quilt.

The lead surgeon didn’t panic, though he did pause long enough to indicate to someone else in the room to put a gas mask over my face. After that, things went back into dreams.

I had a weird dream. I was all cut up in an butcher’s shop and I was trying to slowly will pieces of meat to come to me so I could create a body for myself. I knew, in that way you know things related to your dream situation, that I had to pull myself before the vegans arrived to destroy me. Just before I woke up, the butcher’s shop began to shake from the thunderous sound of an approaching monster sent by the vegans. The tofurkey approached.

I woke up to mild discomfort before the tofurkey could gobble me up and found myself in a hospital room. My eyes focused on the faces of the people around me. Citra, Buzzkills, and Qiang, who had to be held back from glomping me. I looked around at them, then had a thought. I opened my mouth slowly and raised my arms in spite of an IV feed. “Braaaaains!”

One of the Buzzkills almost took my head off, but another one stopped her from following through when I started laughing. That first one huffed, but then wagged its finger at me when I started to groan. There was still a little pain in my chest. Some tenderness. Like, that tenderness where it feels like you need to scratch.

“You should not laugh,” Citra said.

“Might pop a stitch, right?” I asked. I reached over and pulled Qiang over to kiss her on the top of her head, then ruffled her hair. She giggled.

“That should no longer be a problem, sir,” said one of the Buzzkills. It saluted.

“At ease, kiddo. What’s not a problem anymore? I saw the stitching going on myself. The anesthesiologist might need a refresher course or two.”

“Father,” the other Buzzkill spoke up, the one who believed my zombie act. “Father, sir. Sir. You were very bad off, but then your fiance brought us a new batch of nanites.”

I looked over to Citra. She blushed. “Silver helped. We met with the Yakuza about power to the island. They did not restore it, but they are helping to build replacement power sources. We convinced them to power the nanomachine factory. It would cost us, but your recovery should be much easier.”

I felt around on my chest. “Then what was the surgery for?”

The more formal Buzzkill spoke up. “Sir, I’m Bzzkck, leader of your personal guard unit. You were badly injured in the attack by the Claw’s… imposter… and they had to stabilize you. When you were well enough, Queen Beetrice had you moved to the island of Ricca to keep you away from everyone. There’s a lot of arguing going on there.”

I nodded toward her. “I’m surprised I didn’t wake up in custody, or in another dimension in a room with voyeuristic intentions. Well secluded, where I can’t see at all. But enough of that mind flip, we mustn’t let time slip away from us.

Bzzkck, whose name absolutely won’t get annoying at all, continued. “That is what the arguing was about. The Queen wanted you far away but within the jurisdiction of the Empire.”

I thought about this a moment, “So nobody gave me up to the Dimension Rangers?”

“No, sir. There are laws against that sort of thing.”

“Not even with all those supers there?”

The less-experienced Buzzkill had been fingering the tip of her sword before pulling her finger back all of a sudden and jumping. When Bzzkck looked at her, she put the stinger sword behind her back and said, “I think not everyone wanted to hand you over after how you helped them, even though a lot of them said bad things about you.”

I chewed on this a moment, then started unhooking myself. “Well, sounds like I should enjoy my freedom while I have it. Citra, any idea where my clothes are?” I paused with the IV needle half outof my arm. “Oh, right.” Looking around at the others, I asked, “Where has my armor got to?”

“I took it to the residence,” Citra answered. “When the doctors clear you, we will return there. The bees are crawling all over it.”

“At least we won’t be short of honey,” I said.

Despite me jumping the gun and getting myself up, the doctors at the Imperial Medical Center, because every damn thing’s got to be The Imperial, acknowledged that the new nanites had restored me well enough. They even gave me a tube to take in case anything popped open on me, since it really was better than them for most situations. They didn’t say anything, but I think they needed the room. The place was absolutely crowded, and it also just got power back. As I walked out, I told Citra that she’ll have to put me in contact with those Yakuza guys.

For my part, I was glad to be away from the murmuring and bowing by all the little people waiting to be seen. Someone with a broken leg shouldn’t be getting down on their knees just because I’m around, though it might be a good way to hurt someone in the near future. Still better to just kill someone outright. I think I’ve shown by now how risky that can be.

The island has seen better days. Silver Shark pulled up with a reinforced convertible with a Pope-style protective bubble on it. “It’s the only thing I can drive,” she said by way of explanation. That led to even more of a show, exposing me to a bunch of people who have been trained to worship the guy in charge and others who look more resentful. It also gave me a view of the island as we passed through. The luxury locations haven’t taken the Empire’s withdrawal from the island well. Regular folks were just trying to get by. Most of them had no time for dancing and probably little appreciation for people living the high life.

On approach to the grounds of the former palace, I thought the place had seen a surprising number of well-wishers. The car had to slow to navigate around piles of photos and flowers. Even some of the tiles had been torn up from the courtyard. Zooming in, I saw pictures of all sorts of peoples, names written on tiles, and a few signs that asked “Why did they have to die?”

I hope they won’t hold the Claw against me. After seeing him wiped out by an army of angry superhumans, I’m not eager to end up in a similar situation. I could definitely use those guys here, but I don’t feel them anymore. They must be well and truly purged of nanites by now.

My armor, it turned out, went to pieces. A lot of it is salvageable, but it’ll take some work. A bit less with nanites, though they are the inferior Riccan variety. First thing was popping it out so I could even fit into it, then they’ll focus on patching the holes from my recent perforation.

Word must have spread of my release, because I soon had quite the crowd of well-wishers outside the residential section of the palace grounds. I waved at them through some windows. “I appreciate the food, but I think they let it get a little ripe,” I said for mine and Qiang’s benefit. I had her with me. We’d been talking and getting caught up with what she did while I was hurt. Some kind of fruit smacked the window near me, which didn’t bother me. The things were built to be bullet proof at minimum, possibly on up to rocket proof. “But go on, sweetheart?”

“So the one guy said that he would take me with them to their place so you would do what they say, so I got him with the knife, and so I ran and got away. Then Citra found me.”

Silver Shark came running up and pointed out toward the crowd. “Gecko! They’re revolting!”

I made a so-so gesture. “Not necessarily the prettiest cross section, but I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Sir,” said a Buzzkill who ran from the other direction. It might have been Bzzkck, but it’s hard to tell. “The people are angry.”

A bullet bounced off the glass just in front of my face, startling Qiang. She hugged onto my leg. “So it seems,” I responded. Perhaps I’d been wrong about local leader worship.

When stepped out to address them, I had changed back into the hospital gown and was helped out by Qiang. I took a big risk doing it this way, but the thought occurred to me that this was not the time to counter violence with violence. I kept the Buzzkill detail and Silver Shark, but all this was up to any potential shooters.

“Hello folks!” I said, waving to them with my free hand. Qiang kept a tight grip on my other one, squeezing it really hard. She didn’t want me coming out here and she brought a knife in case she needed it. More quietly, to her, I whispered, “It’s ok. Sometimes, people get really mad. You may not be able to make them stop, but you can control how you react and do your best to stop it. If I come out here in my armor, lots of people will die and everyone will be worse off. If I don’t do that, people only maybe die, and only maybe be worse off.”

“Come on, let’s have a talk. I hope you don’t mind if I sit, though. Many have felt the Claw’s wrath lately, all of us included.” I said as I sat down slowly. I exaggerated pain and tenderness, of which little remained. Some of the people approached, cautious of the Buzzkills and the shark cyborg. I waved them on. “I apologize I have no tea for you all. My daughter wanted to brew some, but I told her it would take more than the pot she had. Please don’t hold it against my family.”

There’s such a mish-mash of cultures, and I never bothered learning Ricca’s own peculiarities, so I’m just aiming for stuff about family and weakness and so on. Got the idea about showing weakness from George Washington, though. The guy once broke up a conspiracy of unpaid Revolutionary War soldiers that way.

I looked up at the people around me, some of whom yelled. Most just muttered. I patted the ground. “If there’s anything I can offer, it’s a seat. Please do.”

I put on a benign smile and waited. The closest ones eventually sat down, though many further out continued to stand. “I understand there are some problems here.”

“The Emperor left us to die!” I heard. “He ruined the island,” someone else added. Amongst a chorus of agreement, someone else added, “We don’t have food or water! We had to fend for ourselves!”

I took it all in for a minute, then raised my hands. After a few seconds, they quieted down. “The old Emperor messed up. That is part of what led me here. If anyone else wishes to become the sole man responsible for fixing this situation and sitting where I am, I would appreciate it.” I paused for a moment as the area became plagued by a sea of invisible crickets. Then a baby started crying. I pointed in that direction and spoke to one of the Buzzkills, “Go fetch some food for that child and their guardian, please.” The Buzzkill saluted and ran back in.

I turned back to the people. “First thing’s first: I don’t know where all the members of the previous government are. Many fled. I need people to help me. Whatever councils or groups or gangs have been coordinating in my absence, I wish to meet with. Power is being restored. I want to meet with the farmers or whoever provided food before so we can work out how that’s going to go. We’ve got the nanite factory running again, which will help if anyone is sick or injured. There is only so much to go around, but we will try. That is why I will be out and about to help keep order and prevent murders and looting. Let us build a new Ricca together.”

I actually got applause. I guess that’s good. I was banking on someone taking me up on being Emperor instead, and spaced a little when nobody did. I might have to make sure I kill some people’s uncles while I’m out and about, because I need someone to take over great responsibility for me.

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