The birds sang . The sun shone brighter in the sky. I hate when it does that. I rolled over and threw a rainboot at the window toward the sun. “Somebody turn that damn thing down low!” I grabbed a nearby tree and shook it back and forth until the birds flew off. I couldn’t do anything about that sun… yet. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll come up with something to block it or drain it.
As much as I’d like to walk around as if I’m in a great mood, there’s war to worry about. Losing a bit of happiness was the trade-off there. I can feel happiness when I survive and my head isn’t displayed on a pike. Why they’d bring fish into this, I don’t understand.
With recon and now my hijacked satellites keeping an eye on things, I’ve been able to track the readiness of my enemies in real time. I have a pretty good count of their numbers and equipment. And, let’s be clear, bronze armor is still a poor defense against bullets.
It just so happens that we have plenty of those here. Who’d a thunk it? There are civilian militias being called up just full of people who have been drilled and know how to use rifles they happen to have with them. As usual, I’ve opted not to make a big deal about it. I also decided to call for a similar volunteer militia from the ranks of the Deep Ones. From what I understand, the Directory’s been struggling to find appropriate land for them to settle on, to keep them separate from all those human people.
That plan can kiss my ass with lipstick on. “You’re fighting for a new home,” I told an assembled bunch of them. “And I’ll make sure that is more than just words. You will be welcome here. You won’t be segregated. If I have decree a land grant myself, this will be made true. I know not all of you are fighters. You came here to get away from that. For those of you who want to help but can’t stand to fight directly, there are things you can do, as well.” They couldn’t see me smile under my helmet, but I did anyway. “How many of y’all are familiar with video games?”
The drones are simple enough. Most have a treaded base and torso with a machinegun and rocket pod attached. The next most numerous are the humanoid ones, but I have to save those for myself. It was easy enough to adapt the tread drones to work with conventional controllers, but the balance issues of a bipedal drone preclude putting them in someone else’scontrol. I’m absolutely not giving them access to flight-capable drones with explosives. There are no training wheels with those. They fall the wrong way and kablooey.
There’s a special one in particular who is all mine. The fact that he looks like a naked, muscular man makes that a little awkward, butI’m not the one to go fucking myself. Enough of the world wants to do that for me, and I don’t intend to give them the satisfaction. Instead, I decked this one out in fairly similar clothing and gave it the same axe recovered when we rescued VelocityRaptor. I practiced with that one around the base, catching some glances from the men.
This model had been slightly upgraded from standard humanoid ones. I managed to give it better strength and durability in general, but it was a quick job. It couldn’t move as slowly, and I still had to worry about the joints. Plus, the flesh on it can be maintained by nanites, but will start dying soon after deployment. I should have a couple of hours before it becomes an issue, which should be enough for what I’ve got planned.
I led the Deep One volunteers to the base and let the men there acquaint them with controlling the drones. They’d run a full course. As for me, I had a way to help matters just slightly. It might even make the whole thing irrelevant, though it’d probably better if I still integrated everything.
The French once made sure to create a system of white supremacy in their colonies precisely so the people would never join together to declare independence. The idea was to give free people of color, some lighter than the whites, fewer rights. Oh, and the enslaved blacks would naturally have even fewer. Except the whites didn’t like all this equality talk coming out of the French Revolution and thought they could take over. So the coloreds revolted against the whites to stand up for France. And then a bunch of the slaves revolted, likewise, and proclaimed themselves loyal servants of the French king, who was being manhandled quite a bit in the Revolution. Long story short, France loses their most prosperous colony, Napoleon loses 50,000 men, and France has to sell off the Louisiana Purchase.
In other words, turns out there are pragmatic reasons to not be a dick sometimes. This is one of those times. Besides, if I let personal disgust justify keeping completely separate from humans, I wouldn’t have a half human daughter, or much sex.
Back to the plan. I went ahead and accellerated it when I saw Vercingetorix the Barbarian and his little party began to make their way to the Bronze City. It wasn’t night time, as I’d have preferred, but it would still allow for deployment without any real problems. I retired to an isolated room in a bunker beneath the base where I could concentrate on just the MechaBarbarian.
I walked him to the chopper where that daredevil pilot had quickly gotten use to being my go-to guy. This guy made for a wild ride, even if I never installed a stomach in the evil double. He took me up high enough to seem like another recon flight to give me a view of the city. It expanded from the harbor like a sort of blob. It had a curved outer wall, the parts closest to the harbor looking noticeably older and of different architecture. There looked to be farms and manors outside the city that we’d have to be careful of when dropping in. The area inside the outer wall was the most spread out, with one building in particular in the center and close to the first inner wall.
It got much more crowded inside it, and it looked like the roofs could have been used for streets as well, they were so close and interconnected. The largest building in the city, like a sort of fortress, stood in that section, though it connected with the final wall, which looked to be the oldest one of the lost. It separated everything else from the harbor and the district immediately surrounding it. That area bustled with people hard at work building and supplying ships. Like little ants just waiting to be stomped out.
I jumped from the chopper a short distance out of town, behind a hilltop manor. The chute kept this bucket of beefcake and bolts from falling apart on contact with the ground. I headed to the city at a sustainable run.
The guards recognized me. “Hail, Vercingetorix. Where are your vicious band?”
I pointed backward with a thumb. “They are on their way. First, I must speak with the King. I have encountered the outsiders again and need to inform him of dire news regarding his daughter.”
The guards straightened up smartly and one walked me in. He made small talk, but Vercingetorix’s lack of interest didn’t strike him as out of place. I had more important things to look at, like all the people. I got to see what they were like, and see how they were preparing. They didn’t appear at all concerned about a retaliatory invasion that I could see. I passed a group of teens drilling like amateurs, but the guard only smiled at them. “They will soon get their first taste of war. To suffer hardness with good cheer, in sternest school of warfare bred, our youth should learn; let steed and spear make him one day the- pardon!”
He stopped short from whatever he was maybe reciting as children ran up to hound us both. They were excited to see us, but I caught a glimpse of one of them feeling around my loincloth for a money purse and winked at him. He backed off, but I think one of this friends got a coin from the guard. I grabbed a couple of them as well on instinct. From the coloring, it looked almost likegold. It was paler and not as lustrous. Worth looking into, I suppose.
The King Garth’s palace turned out to be that big fortress in the middle section of the city. This Vercingetorix fellow has quite a reputation to be let in like that. Saved me the trouble of killing my way through. It’s important to have a Plan B. And just about every plan works if you keep murder in mind as a back-up.
The men guarding the palace looked like they did this kind of thing full time. They weren’t testosterone freaks like the barbarians, but they were able to stand around all day in bronze helmets and armor resembling a muscled chest, with heavy spears and short swords. The sandals didn’t really go with the skirts, but they wouldn’t be the first military with a fashion problem.
Just before one of the rooms, a pair of them crossed their spears in front of me. “Your axe.” A teenage pretty boy without facial hair ran up and held his hands out for the axe. I dropped it into them, whereupon he fell down from the weight.
I glanced down. “Perhaps you need experience grasping a heftier shaft.”
One of the guards frowned at me. The other snickered. They uncrossed their spears and let me in.
King Garth, this curly blonde king in a tunic and simple circlet, rose from his throne and excused the courtiers discussing whatever preparations they made. He stepped down the dais to greet me. “Vercingetorix! Have you assembled your men? The honor of both our houses needs restoration.”
“Your house will be well taken care of,” I said. “I would see nothing less for a house that shall join to my own.”
I’m on the fence about forcing Elda to marry me. It may not so much be a matter of forcing her, as I think she rather enjoys being well away from everything she’s ever known.
Garth smiled. “Good. Servants, bring us wine! We shall feast our guests.”
“It sounds like quite the party. Sad you won’t be attending,” I said. He squinted, puzzled, before I grabbed his neck and squeezed. Just becuase this thing might shake itself apart doesn’t mean it lacks strength. It has more than enough to ring a man’s scrawny neck until he’s dead. And I do men ring, like a bird. I heard the snapping, then threw him to the ground. The courtiers rushed me, but I bitchslapped them aside. A shame I couldn’t take the royal hairless serving boy, but he was likely underage. With the distractions gone, I raised my foot. “Party on, Garth.” I stomped his chest in. Like stepping on a bunch of those Fourth of July poppers.
That’s about the time a pair of spear shafts sunk into the belly of the fake Vercingetorix. Good thing I didn’t install any nerves. I broke offone and pulled out the pointy bit. One of the guards drew his sword and came at me. I ignored his stabs and instead stuck the tip into his eye. Then I tossed him head-first into a wall. The other guard saw all this and, to his credit, didn’t run away. Instead, he tried to cut my neck off. It lodged there, and put me in range to reach up his skirt and take the bull by the horn, as one might say. I held on firmly and booted him away, causing one hell of a yelp.
And so Vercingetorix fled the city after murdering King Garth and outlasted his pursuers. By the time horsemen caught up to him, he was seen climbing into a giant metal beast that ascended into the sky and disappeared on the horizon. He went into cold storage when I got him back to the island, but I must have dropped those coins I stole off the guard.
Something tells me it’s going to be awfully hard for the barbarian’s people to link up with those of the Bronze City. He’ll have to fight like hell for that.
And afterward, I, meaning me myself, took Elda out for ice cream. I’ve given her a certain amount of freedom to enjoy herself on my island, something she seems amenable to. I even told the soldiers they’re allowed to spar with her. She wanted to get away from her family and explore for herself. I’ve given her the chance for that. Who knows, maybe the only shot I’ll need to conquer the Bronze City is the money shot?
…Nah. All this marriage talk kinda sucks, but at least I get all the warm fuzzies of knowing I’ve fostered a strong-willed woman’s independence right around the time her father appeared to have been killed by a heroic guy trying to rescue her and perhaps bone his way into kinghood.
Dear readers, you’ll be happy to know that VelocityRaptor did in fact result from an attempt to copy Veloci-Raptor. I talked to him about it when I visited him in the hospital, recovering from his wounds. They’d had to proceed a little more slowly with his recovery because of the cybernetics and exoskeleton. I brought him dinner one night while checking on him and asked after it. “Veloci-Raptor attacked a heroin ring my brother was caught up in. Vien told me he tried to escape when a feathered blur in a cape threw him into a wall. The police got him. Three days later, hours after I visited and promised him I would do everything I could to get him free, the underboss had him killed because he might have talked.”
A nurse stopped by to check on Raptor at this point, as they’d detected a change in the villain’s heartrate. Raptor clenched his jaw and put up with the brief check before continuing, though the nurse hurried out as fast as he could to escape the two angry, armored cyborgs. “Vien never would have done that. He would have been loyal, but they were not loyal to him. I knew where he went, so I snuck in and stole. Soon, I had enough for the first surgery, and I took more from them. I heard about The Claw’s people and met with them. They were intrigued by my story and decided to upgrade me. As a show of loyalty, I helped them take over the heroin ring, and killed the underboss who had Vien murdered. I knew when I started on this path that would not, could not be enough to avenge Vien. Veloci-Raptor will remember my brother if I have to carve his name into its scales until there is no unmarked inch of space left on its hide.”
I nodded. “Sounds like you’ve got a powerful flame burning in you. It would be a shame for it to be extinguished before it could consume Veloci-Raptor.” I don’t have anything against that particular hero, though it’s fun to note how much differently the situation would have been handled by a villain. If I went in, I’d have tried to kill people, not wound and capture. No need to get the cops involved. If Raptor’s brother had survived, he clearly wouldn’t have been at risk of testifying against the underboss, so he wouldn’t have been murdered.
After that little black heart to black heart, I went to check on our prisoner. The strawberry blond damsel we’d brought back had been put into decent enough health by the nanites, which at least confirmed she was human. Confirmation of her species was not shared by the guards, the highest ranking of which stepped over to respectfully warn me she’s a spitter. I patted him on the shoulder and assured him I’d faced spitters, swallowers, and all sorts.
When I stepped up to the cell, I saw her looking like a tired, cornered, angry mess in the corner. She spat at me. The spittle hit the fangy grin of my helmet’s front mask. I calmly wiped it away with one gaunlet. “You know what this means now?” I asked in the language she appeared to speak. We’d recovered the data, as well as most of the bodies, from the camp after I sent a second flight over. Some had been pecked at, and others had been dragged off, but nothing over there bothered with the strange plastic and metal.
She stood up and moved so that she stood with her back to the center of the wall opposite of the cell’s entrance. I gestured to the guards to open the door. They looked at me like I was crazy. I imagine that look sounded somewhat different a minute later when they heard the spanking start. I mean, it was my armor. She wasn’t overpowering it. I grabbed her when she tried to kick me in the balls and bent her over my knee, then pulled down that leather skirt of hers and began popping her on the ass cheeks. “No spitting!” I stopped every few spanks to see if she’d learned her lesson. When she spit, she got hit.
Just perfectly innocent stuff. Nothing raunchy at all. The fact that I pulled her hair in a couple of times in the middle of it is incidental. After a few minutes, I stopped to check on her camel-like behavior. She was crying, but hung her head and didn’t spit. “Good. You are learning. For that, you get a treat.” I reached back into a pouch on the back of my belt and pulled out a cup of delicious chocolate pudding. It took her a moment to learn how to open it up, but then she started tongueing that cup hard.
I just sat there as she ate it, watching her. Now, of course, I’m not one to go around feeling attraction to humans. Disgusting species. Have you ever looked at one for long and realized how weird their noses are? I mean, there’s no visual difference between my own evolutionarily superior species and homo sapiens, but they sometimes hit the uncanny valley when I think about them. In spite of that, my armor just happened to rub me the right way so as to cause a minor blood pressue issue in the groin region.
“I am Psycho Gecko, Emperor of Ricca,” I told her. Now, I thought I told her next that I would take all of Mu for myself and she should use her time wisely to make her peace with it. She cocked her head, confused by it. To me, this suggested a translation error. “Can you tell me the meaning of what I just said to you? I believe the translator failed.”
“All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive. Make your time.”
The additional data helped my personal translator program make up the difference. “Good. Yes, soon I shall take over your land.”
“Do you know who I am? My father would never allow you to take his kingdom!”
I shrugged. “I don’t care what he would allow, I just know what I’m going to go. Are you some sort of princess?”
“I am Elda, daughter of Garth, who is King of the Bronze City and the Bronze Men who are hundred deep and a hundred wide,” she boasted.
I poked at her mouth, but she moved away. “Your people haven’t invented braces, I see. It’s metal you attach to your teeth to force them into a straigher position. Also, a shame about your nose there.”
“I wear my scars proudly,” she said. “I will prove myself the equal of any man.”
“I mean, you didn’t. You got caught, then rescued by that big guy. Was he the man you’re promised to or something?”
“Vercingetorix is a barbarian from the Central Wastes. He is a warrior known far and wide throughout the land. That you do not know of him shows your stupidity and arrogance.” She almost spat the words at me, but left it at words.
At the risk of my penis becoming, perhaps, too erect, I really wanted to cut this meeting short and find the nearest of any of my suitors, or even Silver Shark again. That’s not a knock on her. She rejected me, and I can’t help but feel that the cheating had nothing to do with it, considering all the dicks I sucked in North Korea to get that country straightened out. Perhaps most people wouldn’t consider that to be “straightening” out a bunch of guys, but I stand by my actions.
“Were you expecting his help?” I asked, returning to the interrogation. In my head, I started thinking of stuff to de-mortify lil Gecko. Soccer. Seafood. Rainboots. Wait a second… well, ya learn something new about yourself everyday.
“He’s likely after a reward. My father will certainly have offered a bounty for my safe return before he marries me off to whichever merchant or foreign leader he needs the aid of.” Having grown somewhat comfortable with me around, she went to lay down on the cot fixed against the wall of her bunk. She quickly adjuster herself when her ass reminded her of the spanking.
I nodded. “I hear you. I prefer the idea of marrying for love, for some reason.” Now I cocked my head as an idea occurred to me. “Probably because I’m likely to let my spouse die or kill them myself unless I actually like them for some reason. But enough about me. Your life sounds fascinating. Tell me all about it.”
It might be surmised I was looking to get jiggy with her, which is certainly a biological response I had. After all, it pays to be a good listener around a potential partner, especially if you’re looking to get on their good side. Really, it always pays to be attentive to what people say for things to exploit or use against them, but that also means manipulating them with gifts or even showing you care by remembering basic information about their lives. Especially when that person ran away from home to try and be Xena: Warrior Princess.
She knows customs, legends, and myths. She also knows what this Bronze City and its Bronze Men look like. I’m getting a general hoplite vibe from her descriptions, so I’ll have to be careful not to attack with a million men in wicker-clad power armor. I sat and talked with her. Elda didn’t exactly swoon for me, but she seems to tolerate my presence. I responded by sending over some better pillows and blankets for her. A carrot, though I doubt she’ll let me do anything to her with my stick.
I returned to find Silver Shark pacing in front of the residence. She stomped up to me. “About time!”
I held up my hands, but otherwise headed for the door. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, just that reconaissance flights of Mu show armies gathering and navies being built, including in a big northern city that has a lot of metalworking. That hunky guy you pissed off has been spotted riding a big ass bear and gathering a team. And then there’s what Citra did.”
That caused me to stop. “What did Citra do?” I turned back to Silver Shark.
“What she thinks you wanted,” she said. Silver crossed her arms. “You better not hurt her.”
I facepalmed. “Hurting people is what I’m good at. Why does anyone expect any different? I mean, I hurt you by fucking a single pirate chick, even though I somehow didn’t hurt you when I sucked off half of Pyongyang’s military.”
“What?!” she said. Her mouth opened and closed, quite like a fish actually, before she processed it enough to go on. “You bastard!” She raised a claw, then stopped, then shook her head and walked off. “I need some time before I do something I’ll regret!”
Is it any wonder I decided to build an remote-control duplicate to take my place around hostiles? Especially with how good I am at making people hostile?
Inside, I found rose petals on the floor, with a note in beautiful calligraphy. “Beetrice is trying to win your heart by entertaining your daughter. Follow the roses.”
They led to my bedroom and what appeared to be Venus in those red and gold robes of Citra’s. She spoke in Citra’s voice, using the local language, as well. “Hello, my Emperor.” Well, you could say it wasn’t just the floor where something rose.
I can prepare for war against barbarians any day. Actually, Citra gave me an idea. Well, an idea beyond wheelbarrow position. Like, what if I take one of the robot drones they’re building and coat it with flesh and muscle so it resembles the barbarian, then send it to assassinate the leader of the resistance against me?
The only way this plan gets any better is if I could use time travel for it.
“What exactly am I looking at here, besides the obvious?” I asked. VelocityRaptor had streamed a video taken by his helmet camera of what he claimed to be a major discovery. It appeared to be a rocky valley with only a tree. The tree didn’t appear to be in too good of shape, either. Its roots looked like they were maybe arm thickness and spread out along the surface, curling around jagged corners of the rocks it sat on before disappearing down into cracks. It had a thick, pale brown trunk that shot off limbs all along starting a couple feet up and rising up to a mess of branches twenty feet up. No leaves anywhere on the thing or below it.
“As I said, this is a major discovery.” He’s good at repeating things, I’ll give him that. I suppose he should be, considering I’ve already encountered a heroic raptor with superspeed before. That one wore a cape and called itself Veloci-Raptor. I keep meaning to ask if this is just one of those convergent ideas, or if VelocityRaptor’s a villainous cyborg-robot knockoff, like Cyborg Superman, MechaGodzilla, or the bad Bill and Ted robots. The other one might have been more eloquent, though. This guy informed me, “This is the Tree of Wonders.”
“Wow,” I said, “I certainly wonder what’s so important about it.”
He turned his head, taking in the area surrounding the tree. It resembled a crater full of jagged rock. Periodic skeletons and mineral deposits littered the vista. “Once we analyzed the local language, we gained information from our captive. Villages we came across told us much the same. There is a legend about this tree. They say a spirit lives in it that can grant the desires of whoever controls it.”
He walked around the tree, looking at it from all sides. “It doesn’t look impressive to me.” He stepped closer to it. “Are there any tree spirits here?”
He didn’t get an answer, so I spoke up. A magical tree that somehow wasn’t guarded by the most powerful bunch of people in that land. “Fascinating, really. I guess we know where this thing is now. Maybe file that away for exploiting the locals, but let’s keep on the lookout for anything important. Any weird kingdoms of guys with crappy iron weapons, or wizards, or anything?”
“My apologies, my lord. Please give me another chance,” he stammered on.
I rolled my eyes to myself, which caused me to pay attention to my own surroundings again. I’d been building another deathbot in the residence. Something with treads that adjust to the terrain. I didn’t have anything set as far as weapons or a top yet, but I’d come up with something. The previous one had been more of an impulse thing. I bet I can make this one resistant to probing long enough for it to reach Master Academy. I might make more of the other ones, though. Sometimes you have enough enemies around that it doesn’t matter if you drop in a robot that tries to murder anyone.
Not all impulses are bad. Citra passed by and ran her hands through my hair. I caught her hand and pulled her onto my lap, where she cuddled up to me with a smile. “Just be cool, ok?” I requested. She took my hand, but didn’t try anything with me. I returned my attention to VelocityRaptor, who had continued an apology that must have been pre-written. “Are you still talking? I get it, you followed a lead you thought sounded good. A magical tree isn’t really that unusual of an idea nowadays. You didn’t even try and wish for ice cream yet.”
“Ice cream?” he asked.
“Try vanilla, chocolate, whatever you want. Ooh, chocolate ice cream with Nutter Butter pieces is a good one.” I got a confused look from Citra, who’s only hearing one side of all this.
VelocityRaptor’s head tilted to the side. “I would never question your wisdom-”
“Eh, feel free. I welcome feedback, so long as you’re not being a complete asshole. I’ll even tolerate light assholism, depending on the context. I know I’m unimpressed, so now you have an opportunity to show my first impression was wrong. Now stick your hand on that tree and ask for ice cream.”
“Yes, sir.” VelocityRaptor approached, having to pick his way over the roots. He placed a metal claw on the trunk of the tree. “I wish I had chocolate ice cream with pieces of Nutter Butter in it. Agh!” He whipped his head around to see roots grow up over his legs. He clawed at them and chomped up until he was covered in a thick brown substance. “It’s cold!” he yelled. At the same time, things shook on Ricca.
Citra looked around. “Earthquakes?” I squeezed her hand, but she still kept looking around.
“Eat your way free, Raptor!” I egged him on.
“I’m lactose intolerant!”
“We’ll talk about your anti-dairy bigotry another time. For now, get yourself out of there.”
I left him to that and tried calling on the rest of the guys to let them know what happened. I couldn’t raise anyone, so I borrowed a Chinese “television” satellite. The only TV channels that thing carries are whatever Beijing’s intelligence service want to look at. I went ahead and marked down the company that did it as possible non-official cover to be confirmed and sold off later, when the expedition isn’t at risk. The campsite showed the rest of the men sent over were busy getting their asses kicked a mile away from VelocityRaptor. Unfortunately, while China’s ok at forcing kids to dig out computer parts from scrap piles, they aren’t the country that actually makes all this equipment. The thing was limited in how far it could zoom in and identify the assailant.
It annoyed me to not be able to do anything to protect my people, but the Dimension Rangers ship-robot has been spotted approaching from the east, Americas. And, shit, just imagine what they could do with a tree that grants a wish but tries to kill people? They have a few different members to spare.
Finally, VelocityRaptor’s viewpoint cleared up as he pulled himself away from the reaching roots of the tree. They tried to pursue only so far before he shot a gout of flame from his helmet and convinced them to stay back. I spoke up as he took a moment to clear penetrating roots and wet ice cream off. “As tends to be the case, life has served up not just one, but a whole six-pack of douche brew. I need you to get to your camp. It’s under attack.”
“Yes, sir,” He said. He reached down to his waist and and flipped open a part of the exoskeleton. He punched a green button and doubled over with a pained groan. He stood up a couple seconds later, breathing normally, and raced off.
As for me, I sighed and helped Citra off my lap to go get my armor. It was a quicker way for me to travel to the Institute of Science and its Drone Warfare storage. Because I could have tried to put together robots out of prosthetics, but they weren’t ready in time. At least a few of these were good to go. I put out the call to that daredevil military pilot to delivery my menagerie of mechanical menaces.
Ooh, I like that name.
A bit of heavy lifting later and the cavalry was on the way. Tuning back in to VelocityRaptor, he arrived at the camp. The expedition set up in a relatively flat area with short grasses marred only by the occasional boulder. Another of those loincloth-clad barbarians who never heard of a shirt or tunic stood in the middle of a ring of my dead soldiers. He undid the restraints on a strawberry blond woman in leather. So that was the prisoner. Not bad looking, but modern orthodontics would do her good.
Our barbarian friend could use a barber. The male ponytail is so 1990s, and that double-headed battleaxe! Ugh, some people have no taste in weapons. Having done my duty as judge, it was time to be jury and executioner. “Hey, Raptor. I know you’re a little fucked up right now, and not in the fun way that involves a bong made out of a human spleen.” Best to lighten the news with spleen talk. It’s an inherently funny organ, much like the penis when exposed to Alaska or Deep One females.
Anyway, back to Raptor. “I have reinforcements on the way, so try to stay alive long enough to beat the crap out of these guys so bad, they’ll think it was their monthly dysentery session. We’re gonna run the Oregon Trail on them. You got it?”
He didn’t respond. I don’t think Raptor was entirely there anymore. He roared and pounced toward the barbarian. The axe to the face must have hurt, but whatever Raptor injected himself with must have been the good stuff.
He swung his tail around to and drew a line of blood from the barbarian who lodged his axe into a connection between two of the larger pieces of Raptor’s tail. Raptor tossed it off into the distance and managed to slice up the woman’s arm. The barbarian tackled him and threw him to the ground, but doubled over from a tail to the crotch. If the drill hadn’t been damaged from the axe, that could have ended it. He had to resort to lifting up the barbarian, who grabbed onto the appendage and tore it off. The large man hopped onto Raptor’s back and used the portion he tore off to choke Raptor.
Raptor reached up and dug for the barbarian with the suit’s claws. He pulled him over, dropping the man down in front of him. The barbarian gritted teeth so big I could tile a bathroom with them as he caught the blades on the side and pushed them back, overpowering the exoskeleton. “I am going to tear your head off and make you eat it!” They were stalemated until the prisoner ran up and swung the axe into Raptor’s side, knocking him over. The barbarian stood up grabbed it, then raised the weapon high.
Machinegun fire from the helicopter knocked the axe to the sideand ruined the potential strike. One of the drones, a torso on a quad copter, flew out the side door under my direction and fired a laser, trying to hit him. I ended up putting a hole through chest of the woman he’d come there to save instead. When it got too close, he hurled his axe at it. I maneuvered to evade it, but the thing somehow curved in midflight to hit the drone.
Then a tripodal sphere landed, followed by a miniature tank resembling a toy, a torso on four legs, and other prototypes. The barbarian decided it was time to leave while the robotic extensions of myself helped VelocityRaptor into the chopper that lowered itself. They grabbed the axe and the woman’s body while they were at it, too. I felt like pissing off this guy, and then it turned out she wasn’t quite dead yet. An emergency dose of regenerative nanomachines would keep her stabilized.
“I got ya, Raptor. And we’ll be back for the other guys, too.”
I liked the idea of hurting that guy, and not just out of sadism. See, the thought occurs to me that I might need that tree, and he likely knows where to find it. The Dimension Rangers are close, too. I need to evaluate the threat of this island and figure out if they’re going to rally some iron-age army against me, or use a stupid wishing tree to erase me from existence. At least now, the guy only knows about Raptor.
This has also thrown it in my face how much I need to expand my personal reach off the island, and I’m working on that. I’ve got a factory retooling itself to create drones and robots. I myself have taken custody of a large amount of nanites for a special project related to this. Bit by bit, they’re painstakingly assembling a replica of my armor, but with an android drone inside.
I know, it’s not everyday the supervillain dictator of his own country builds a mechanical duplicate of himself in his signature armor to send out after his enemies. Something like this needs a special name. It’s just hard to find something that conveys the correct sense of doom my enemies need to feel. So, instead, I settled on calling it a Dudebot. The name’s subject to change next time my sex does.
The expedition is away, an armed force of security, workers, and VelocityRaptor for superhuman support. I would have preferred to send some scientists away, but I have yet to see them return to the island. Instead, I just have this bickering around here. It’s like fucking Conan around here, nothing but the lamentation of my women. Except Qiang, of course. It was all too tedious. I considered killing them all, too. I’d moved back in, because I’ll be damned if they’re going to inconvenience me that much. They walked through, bickering, trying to show off how they looked in dresses to make up my mind.
The whole thing messed with me reading Dr. Seuss to Qiang. It was meant to be a prelude to a later unit on post-World War II Japan and teaching her the famed wrestling hold, The Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gradunza. Instead, we had to practice our “Don’t fuck with me” glares. When the three ladies backed off, I turned and smiled at her Qiang. “Good job, sweetie. Did you see the way they stopped in mid-sentence and everything?”
She giggled at that and we returned to our lesson, though the gradually increasing bickering from the rest of the residence left me with the choice of murder or changing locations. So I threw on the ol’ armor and we headed out to the Institute of Science. I could have taken her on a walk around the island, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Everything felt combative, like I couldn’t stay still. Like I needed to beat the crap out of someone and kill. Instead, I took my kid where I could give her some lessons on understanding her connections to the digital world. I hadn’t gone over it with her as much as I’d have preferred.
Growing up with these kinds of abilities, I had time to get used to them. They were a part of me. It’s like the difference between people who grew up with computers and someone who doesn’t have any idea about them and suddenly gets one. It’s not an insurmountable handicap, but the person who grew with it has a lot of instinctual knowledge. There’s a reason superheroes who get powers aren’t instant experts in their usage. I taught her more about her new heritage, which is pleasantly strong in someone who is now a halfbreed.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, mostly because I haven’t done much thinking on the subject. Despite all my talk about hating people on a deep, personal level, I am biased against homo sapiens. They sometimes look gross, and they’re backwards, and they’ve done horrible things to homo machina in general and specific. Maybe I could make Qiang entirely homo machina. Or maybe change the rest of the DNA in her to a more suitable mother to have a child with me.
I wonder what Venus is up to? Just a random question, of course. Completely out of nowhere, without connection to prior statements. But since I thought of her, I figured I’d see about a nice present to send her, showing I’d been thinking of her. I found it as I searched through a computer in one of the offices of the Institute of Science while Qiang played with a monitor she was connected to. “I’ll be right back, baby girl,” I told her. “You keep playing around with that. See if you can make it look really weird.”
I considered grabbing something from infectious diseases. I even stared at the door a bit. Yep. Big, heavy door, sealed, with all kinds of warning signs. There were no windows. I found a computer on the outside. After a reboot, it couldn’t give me any specified status information on the interior of the laboratories inside the whole section. After a bit of searching, I went ahead and ordered a purge. It showed me an image of flamethrowers turning on.
Unleashing uncontrolled pathogens will just have to wait. Nasty business, anyway. The Claw probably didn’t worry so much since he was so utterly inhuman as to not be affected, but I guess I’m close enough to humans for interbreeding. Never occurred to me that was the case, but that’s kinda how evolution works with emerging mutants. They gotta fuck someone.
They had a section specifically focused on drones and robotics, but on a lark I decided to check out what they’d managed as far as chemical warfare and drugs. Those two were in different places, but I’d gotten administrative access to the network that let me see what the different hands had been doing once upon a time. So many different groups working on projects related to each other without ever knowing it. A drug to cause temporary paranoia with specialized storage conditions. A design for a drone with a sprayer and holding tank designed to meet those unique conditions.
Destroyed. Something went wrong in that part of the complext. Looked like there had been some fires.
Or, and this was cool, a few projects all centered around bugs. They have a section called Entomological Warfare, which almost unleashed a project to hold the world’s agriculture hostage during the Great Depression by unleashing bugs on what was left of the usable farmland, starting with a test in the United States. World War II happened at first, and Ricca was caught between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Bugs are dead, and records of storage were lost.
Normally, I’d pin this all on the world hating me specifically, but that’s really not the case. Shit happens. That’s reality for you. If you want a unifying theory of why history unfolds the way it does, shit happens is the only thing an honest historian could give you. And I do have it nice. I keep getting away with this shit, day in and day out. I’ve lost friends, experienced more pain than most people could while living, and the entire world has nuclear-fucking-fireballs just ready to turn this island into a useless piece of charcoal, but I still got away with it. I’m the leader of a fucking nation.
Now that I’m a political leader, I could round up everyone wearing glasses and murder them. I could withhold food from people of any category. When they’re my own people, it’s fine. It’s ok. I could just keep breaking this place. It wouldn’t surprise people. Hell, they might even be counting on it. Give them a reason to pull those triggers, especially if there’s nothing left on this rock but all the people the crazy Psycho Gecko sees fit to let live.
Ugh, I gotta stop ranting like this. This is the way I start talking before I start killing people for their own good. For some reason, people don’t listen to your reasoning after the first round of murders. I wonder if I can kill that instinct out of people?
Geez I need a hobby. Hell, maybe I should marry Beetrice. If I’m busy screwing her, I’ll be less likely to screw everyone else. Thoughts for later. I had to scrounge up parts. Instead of having a bunch of doomsday weapons handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve got to build something instead! Perhaps something that shoots serrated silver platters at people…
Instead, brought what I grabbed up to the office to put together my diabolical little deathbot. I was putting together a nice ball drone with the ability to roll around and a few limbs inside to help it maneuver up stairs, along with a pair of holodiscs to help mask it. I wasn’t sure on the weapons, what with all the problems this thing would face getting into the States, so I settled on an age-old classic: knives.
With the agility I’ve given this thing, it could play esports on a South Korean level while stabbing people at a Jack the Ripper level. If I didn’t trust this thing to go homicidal, I’d give it a try at making fries. It’ll basically attack anyone on sight. And once I get it sent to Venus, she can go fuck herself at a Vlad the Impaler level. I suppose I should be more cautious about indiscriminate robot slaughter, but caution’s for losers and quadriplegics.
It also gave me a teaching opportunity. “What’s that, baba?” asked Qiang, sitting in my lap despite my work. “Is that a drone?”
I shook my head. “This is a robot.”
“What’s the difference?” She looked up at me.
I kissed her forehead. He skin had started changing a little as the nanites helped rebuild her body according to her altered DNA. This is my daughter. My daughter is half-human. “Robots can do things on their own, like make things. A drone is controlled by a person all the time.”
“I don’t think I get it,” she said.
“I gotta get you a remote-control car sometime. You get a controller and tell it what direction to go. This thingy here will go around on its own,” I told her, “I’m sending this to a friend I miss. She would make a really good mommy for you.”
“Are you gonna marry her? What she look like?”
“Bring me that screen you were playing with earlier and I’ll show you.” She scrambled out of my lap to go bring it to me, which gave me space to attach a few parts. She brought it over right by my head, and I had to make her wait a little while I finished screwing in a support. Then I turned and pressed my hand to the wiring on the rear of the monitor. After a few seconds, a picture of the tan-skinned, dark-haired Venus appeared. She wore valkyrie armor without boots for no reason I care to elaborate on and rode a tiger-striped unicorn in mid-jump over a wall of fire. She still had her mask on over it all.
“Is she pretty?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. I know it seems hard to tell, but she is. And she’s a good person. She’s going to be visiting us in a little bit. She might be angry, so try and act real cute, ok?”
We actually had a nice day. I finished putting my deathbot together and arranging for shipping to my nemesis’s home at the Master Academy. By the time it ended, I felt pretty chill. We made a night of it, me taking my daughter around to this new casino that opened up. She liked the slot machines a lot more than I did. She ruined my poker game, which I insisted nobody cheat either for or against me. All it took was her shouting about how funny the guy looked with the sword going into his head and everyone folded, including the guy who had just bet. We had to go around the time we got to this table where a pair of guys were passing around a revolver with only one bullet. Shame I had the kid with me, but she’s going to have a better life than me.
So I was pretty mellow that night when Intercept linked me a transmission from the expeditionary force. “VelocityRaptor here. I was told I should call in because you know my name and it would take too long to explain who another person is and why you should care.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Damn… whoever told you that deserves a promotion. Don’t bother telling me who, I don’t care. What do you got for me?”
“We have encountered Bronze Age villages. We haven’t figured out how to talk to anyone yet. We do not know the language, but we had skirmishes with little resistance. One of the soldiers almost took an arrow to the knee. He’s fine, but we have a prisoner now. Some girl. The technicians are trying to use the translator to analyze what she says and they expect to know more before long. They have samples for analysis if we ever get people who can analyze things.”
“I’ll find people who will put the anal in analyze, that’s for sure. Anything else I need to know?”
“Not at the moment, Emperor. This is the end of our report.”
“Thanks man. You need to check yourself for clowns, because I’m here to tell you, you have It. You’re going places. Now get out there and go some places.”
I sat there on the line for a couple of seconds before adding, “You going to hang up?”
“I didn’t know if you were going to hang up first, Emperor. I can hang up.”
“It’s ok, I can hang up first.”
“That’s unnecessary, I’ll-” I cut him off, hanging up. I do so hate these long goodbyes.
They’re campaigning for the Empress-ship. I didn’t think the batch of people I ruled over even gave a damn about my love life, so long as I didn’t do something stupid like getting peed on on tape. Most of that involves lobbying Qiang, since I’ve been avoiding the palace residence. I’ve been able to call Qiang out to me for lessons or meals in spite of their attention. I just tell her it’s part of her sneaking training.
I’ve been busy aside from all that mess. Like handling this little diplomatic mess with the Faust/Hephaestus people. Alhazred admits he had been a Cthulhu cultist hoping to see his god, and that all three were hoping to explore the island for ruins and so forth. His associates, Pickman and Hero, hadn’t actually done anything wrong while they were here, and Alhazred did help me lure Cthulhu here. In the end, I decided they would be allowed to use the island for storage and trade. I didn’t give them everything they wanted. They aren’t going to use the place for testing or collaboration with our own science people, at least partially because the Institute of Science is still closed. They don’t know it’s closed, but it made a good stick to hit them with, same with rejecting the customer service call center.
As part of my mercy upon them, I even gave the three an aerial tour of the island. I even saw to their safety with who the Shouho claimed to be our very best remaining helicopter pilot. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to them. There was some wariness from the passengers about that, so they made sure to stay restrained in their seats. I reassured them by ordering the doors be kept shut firm on their little ride, including one that separated the pilot from the passengers. That way, there’d be absolutely no chance of them falling out, or onto instruments, or the pilot trying to throw them out. I told them that myself. I promised them, completely out of thin air, that the pilot wouldn’t toss them out of the chopper. I then reiterated that there will be nothing to worry about.
As for the pilot, I told him to show me his best and most showy aerial maneuvers. Good thing the doors were shut for that barrel roll. As soon as they landed, I sent some of the soldiers over with the hoses to make sure the interior was hosed off of our little spew crew in there. They must have read my mind, because they didn’t bother letting out the Faust delegates before starting the hosing. When Pickman, Hero, and Alhazred slipped or fell out, they didn’t stop.
When I saw that, I leaned across to the the Shouho and mentioned, “Give them a little bit of a bonus for this.”
He held out a tablet for me. “Your Eminence, we have a member of the returned I wish to bring to your attention. He is enhanced.”
The returned appears to be their polite term for deserters who come back to Ricca’s service, in case I decide that someone who deserted can be punished but someone who left and returned won’t be. It’s mostly a stupid distinction, but when I once asked the Shouho about it, he started talking about how a military needs discipline and needs to know that desertion will be punished going forward. I picked up what he was putting down, or thought I did until the Issa politely informed me they left the whips and ballgags in their crates in a storage shed. Then I figured he didn’t want people deserting in the future.
This one was a man with extensive cybernetic augmentation, much like Silver Shark. His legs were gone below his thighs, replaced with knees that bent the other direction and feet ending in three-toed claws. He bent forward over the legs, his back weighted down by a gleaming chrome spine that connected his tail with an armored helmet that covered his head in the facade of a dinosaur with a mouth of fangs. The spine had a pair of short pipes around the lower part of it. He was a raptor, albeit a featherless one, with an armored chest and an exoskeleton running along his arms that ended in curved, sickle-like claws. He still had hands under them, and the raptor’s face with its sharp-toothed maw popped back to show it was a helmet. Underneath it, he maintained a neutral expression.
“Welcome back to the fold,” I said. Meanwhile, my eye HUD’s identification program made a match. “You’re the one they call VelocityRaptor, right?”
He nodded. Speaking in the Ricca pidgin, he noted, “That is the name the Americans gave me.”
Good restraint. The name doesn’t sound right in Riccan. “May I have a demonstration of your abilities?”
He nodded and the helmet lowered itself onto his face. The eyes of the raptor lit up red. He turned and those pipes shot flames a few inches into the air before he began running, gathering speed to run to the other end of the base and back fast enough to leave Olympic sprinters in his dust. While he was leaving, a pair of the lowest-ranked men ran up and began setting up dummies that looked like featureless humans.
He skidded to a halt and raised his tail. The end of it began spinning. Once the first of the soldiers had finished and gotten clear, the drilled into the chest of the dummy before swiping the head off. The other one had its chest torn open with his claws, leaking straw on legs that were ripped off one by one by Raptor’s. He ended by using the helmet’s jaws to crush the head and tear it off.
I gave him a polite golf clap. “I mean, they just got them put up and you already destroyed their work. That would seem rude to some people.” I got no response. “From here on out, you owe allegiance to me. You serve this Ricca going forward, and so your oath will be to this Ricca and you will serve out the term of your enlistment from now. Try not to take so long a vacation again.”
He bowed to me as best he could. “Thank you, Emperor. You are generous beyond all measure.”
I walked over and patted him on the back of the head. “No need for all that. Flatter me later, or whenever I feel like it. Right now, I just want to know if you’re ok with entering into new and unfamiliar situations, and maybe with getting nice and wet.”
He rose up to look at the grinning smile projected in front of my helmet where the mouth would be. “Sir?”
I had to throw together an expedition to Mu, and he was going to be part of it. After the first immigrant Deep Ones reached it and claimed a beachhead for the Riccan Empire, I decided to get some Manifest Destiny going. I’m also looking into importing lots of sand and building a bridge right at the surface to connect Ricca and Mu so that I can go there officially without the entire world throwing a tantrum and a nuke.
The peace treaty says I can’t leave the island of Ricca, which is a lot more restrained than if I never left the Empire of Ricca. But an entire new continent just appeared in the Pacific Ocean. They couldn’t just dismiss it if a land bridge suddenly appeared to make Ricca and Mu part of the same landmass.
Even thought I spent a lot of time throwing togethe a group to conquer a new world, that doesn’t mean I neglected Qiang. Like I said, I was still feeding her and teaching her stuff. Basic strength training that she thinks are handstands, or crab walking. Good ways to build her up without pushing her too far and damaging anything. There are also our “dance” lessons that incorporate moves for a bit of self defense. She thinks it’s all fun and games until someone comes at her and she gouges an eyeball out.
When she’s not eating or attending Psychopomp University, I give her lots of time to be lobbied by the prospective Empresses. I actually had to assert myself after they got carried away once. My daughter asked for some ice cream and ended up being given progressively larger portions. I’d given her a network communication device, encrypted to keep anyone but myself out. It also means restricts her from calling just anyone or going online, which is all the more important when that kind of thing’s built into a person’s head. We’re talking home-style encryption too, with a different programming language.
So she called the hotline right to my head because she felt bad and threw up. I kicked the door in and tossed everybody else out. The giant shark cyborg, the giant bee woman, AND the ambitious servant girl. I got on to Qiang, but it’s hard to hold her accountable for that. Instead, I considered giving the other three a chopper ride. Between the three of them, they’d wreck the thing.
Instead, I ended up being able to make an example when, in the middle of applying nanites to the sweet-sick girl, Intercept called me with a tip from Flamebeard’s ship. They’d been taking a look at Mu and noticed a ship. A long catamaran-style ship with sails at the front and a number of burly rowers. He’d gladly take it out for us for a good price.
I rejected the offer and had Intercept keep an eye on it to let me know when we had a landing. The pacing was horrible, though. Took them awhile to reach us on that boat, and it’s tough maintaining anger for a long time.
I stepped out on the beach to meet and greet them. They responded with arrows. I suppose if this was that Civilization game, I’d have been beaten easily by the dozen or so loin-cloth clad men who charged forward, sweaty muscles exposed as they wore hardly anything but a little bit of leather and fur. The raised sword and axe and a sort of wooden club with nubs placed around the end.
Behind me a ways stood Beetrice, Silver, and Citra, along with a crowd of Buzzkills, guards, and VelocityRaptor. The three women were obviously not prisoners or tied up in any way. Just guests with a large group of guards, legitimately so in the case of the Buzzkills, who watched me bitchslap the colons of a group of people. Sometimes, the colons were still internal. I suppose it worked out that they were hostile. A peaceful group of traders would have made a different sort of example.
They seemed to be led by a particularly large one, muscular, but not overly so. We’re not talking about bodybuilders with those showy, useless muscles. Big guys, round, with arms used to swinging weapons and backs capable of lifting women and gold from those they come across. He came at me with a sword that bent when it hit my forearm gauntlet. I stomped his foot as he tried to straighten it and kneed him in the balls. When he dropped the sword and attempted to grapple with me, I hit him with an open palm to the throat, then reached down to turn He-Man into She-Ra. He had a lovely singing voice as he fell to his knees.
“Finish him!” my armor announced. I grabbed a gonad in each hand from that sack I took off him, ripped them apart from each other, then smashed them into the sides of his head until the top burst and his brain spurted out.
I turned back to the crowd, where I saw a couple of the raiders had gotten past me and the guards had punched their tickets to eternity. “It seems our new neighbors have a bit more balls than brains.” Then I stepped closer and gestured with a single finger for the ladies to join me in a private huddle. “Someone who wants to be a mother to my child really ought to remember what being a parent means. And let’s also not think too much about hoping to bully me into a position while we’re at it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go teach my daughter how to use her very own flamethrower.”
Kids love flamethrowers.
My people never did find the body. You know what else we didn’t find? A giant octopus-dragon marching around, getting worshiped. Straightened that shit up in a hurry, that fight. After everything that happened, I decided to get healed before organs started shutting down and leaving the cleanup for later. After injecting myself with nanites, I laid down, waved Qiang over, and fell asleep with her cuddled up against me. I woke up the next day to find she had left me a bowl of noodles on the stand next to the bed. First I had to hang up my armor to drain out before helping myself to the cold noodles. A little on the spicy side.
She was happy to see me when she wandered in and caught me in my imperial bathrobe and heart boxers, chowing down on the cold noodles she microwaved all for me. “How’s things, baby girl?” I asked.
“There was a big flood, and then they said a big bunch of land came up, and all the frog people are cleaning up where you had the big fight.” It all came out, mile a minute.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Much is changed. Are you done playing with monsters now?” A feminine hand reached out across the bedroom doorway wearing gold claws over fingers. It was Citra’s hand, which I saw as she stepped out in a red, high-collared Chinese style dress out of theatre or a fantasy movie. The makeup, the headdress looking like horns…
Silver Shark also stepped out, the large cyborg wearing a similar dress, though larger. They went a bit more whimsical with her makeup around the cybernetic eyes on her modified face. “I think he likes it.”
“Daddy, you’re drooling,” Qiang said.
I reached up and pushed my mouth shut. “Well, ladies, nice as it is to see you’ve both had a makeover, there are more important things around than the women in my life.Come, Qiang, let’s go see how the clean-up is going and whatever you’re talking about with a bunch of land.”
I started to walk past them, but Silver Shark put a hand on my chest. “You have to deal with us. We spent a long time figuring out what we wanted.”
“You both look beautiful,” I said. “But I have so much shit to take care of, including something about new land, and a little matter of necrophilia to take care of.”
“What’s necro whatever?” asked Qiang.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said to her.
“You have to deal with us sooner rather than later, because Beetrice arrived while you were resting,” Silver said. “She says you’re supposed to be getting married soon.”
The giant bee-woman, Beetrice, is surprisingly astute as a diplomat, and incredibly enthusiastic about bedding me. Way, way too enthusiastic. If she was here, I’m surprised I didn’t wake up to find myself tied down with a ballgag in my mouth. It’s not that she grosses me out or anything, with the exoskeleton, fuzz, and mandibles. It’s just that I don’t like her the way she likes me. Plus, she likes to almost kill me. Death by snoo snoo and dehydration.
Speaking of her skills as a negotiator, she added a clause to the peace treaty about marrying me that probably isn’t what everybody legally signed. I bet she’d get the United Nations to say it was binding anyway if they knew how much I didn’t care for the idea.
“She’s on the island? Wonderful.” Then I quieted down and cupped my ear, trying to listen out while remotely accessing cameras and digital devices nearby.
Citra stepped up to me and distracted me quite well by cupping my face in her hands. “You made a deal with my mother to take care of me. You know what she wanted.” The cold metal felt nice against my skin.
“You’re not something to be bought and sold. You should be the boss of your own life. Go do your own thing. You can make it on your own.” I grabbed her hands and held onto them for a moment before pulling them away, wondering when the sappy music was going to start up. I only meant to hold onto them for a moment, but she was pretty.
“You don’t buy people,” she repeated back, her eyes flicking over to Qiang. She pulled her hands away and crossed her arms. “What would I do? I have lived a servant’s life.”
I shrugged and gave her a little smile. “You could be a maid? Go to school or something. Find yourself someone you love.” My smile got a little less friendly as I realized something. “But you’d rather keep living in a palace, wouldn’t you?”
“You are another foolish American, thinking everything is about love and doing your own thing.” That caused me to back my face on up a moment while she continued. “The people do not love you. They know you are strong. You will keep them safe if they keep you happy. They like the lifestyle you offer them.”
“First, I’m not really an American.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “Second, whatever happened to people liking me for me instead of because I have a big house?”
“I’ve had you. You’re an ass,” Silver Shark said. “You cheated on me, remember?”
I threw my hands up. “I don’t see what the problem is. You could have joined us at any time. What are you doing in all this anyway?”
She ran her claws over the fabric of her dress. “I liked the makeover. Some of the benefits were nice, when you weren’t being a jerk. Tell you what. I hear Queen Beetrice loves you for you.”
“I mean, maybe I should try Beetrice?” I said. “After all, I get a choice in this, too. I’m the big emperor guy in charge. Maybe I’ll chug a bunch of energy drinks and sports drinks, lay back, think of England, and then sell my amazing new combined energy/sport drink that you’d think someone would have invented by now.”
As if on cue, the palace’s landline began to ring, the ID placing the caller as Beetrice. I bent the knee pretty damn quick. Silver and Citra shared a laugh at that. “Damn injury, you know,” I tried to cover for it. “Just fought a giant Cthulhu. No big deal. No reason to give a guy a break before you start throwing booty at him. Anyone got a ring or something? Or what’s the tradition here?”
Citra spoke up. “Your family delivers gifts to my family, but my family is dead. Do you have any family?”
I shrugged. “Just Qiang. Other than that, I dunno. If I do, they’re on the other Earth that the guys with the giant robot ship are from. I think I remember an aunt. Either way, not an issue, but I can always give you presents. That it?”
“Then you give me jewelry in a hair combing ceremony.”
“Pretty easy to see these traditions don’t have anything to do with love. Ok, fi- wait a moment. Before I agree, there’s someone I have to consult on this. I looked to Qiang. “What do you think about her?” I nodded toward Citra. “She been nice to you?”
She nodded. “She’s alright.”
Dammit, Qiang! I needed her to be my wingman on this. “You think she’d be ok as my new wife and your new mom?”
She looked up at Citra, furrowing her little brow. Citra smiled warmly down at her, her eyes ligthing up and narrowing the corners of her eye. Silver wore a smirk. I turned back to Qiang. “You were in on it, too? Quite the conspiracy here.”
Before I could say anything else, I heard knocking at the door. “Hello! Psycho Gecko! It’s Beetrice! I couldn’t get you on the phone, so I came here myself!”
I stood up at that and prepared myself to greet my admirer. She rushed upstairs, wearing a dress that, based on the cleavage, back, and slits, was designed to spend more time on a floor than on a person. I gaped at it up until she wrapped her arms around me and tried to squeeze my lungs out through my mouth.
Why do I always forget about the strength? “How are you this strong?” I gasped out.
“What?” she said, stopping to look into my eyes with segmented ones before stealing a mandibled kiss off my lips.
“Insects can’t really get this big due to atmospheric conditions, let alone mate with humans and homo machina. It just occurred to me,” and here I had to take a moment to cough. She set me down for that. “I might be able to improve my armor if I were to study your body.”
A pair of “Ahems,” came from off to the side, where Silver and Citra frowned. Was it something I sai-oooooooooh.
“Did I interrupt something?” Beetrice asked.
“You know what? I think you did. Beetrice, please talk things over with Citra and Silver. Qiang, dear, let’s hurry on out of here and give them some privacy.”
I took her hand and rushed out under the reaching grasps of all three women, er, females. I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to marry one of them, Citra or Beetrice. I just didn’t really plan on marrying. Ever. Citra wouldn’t be too bad, I guess. I know where I stand with her. Beetrice just turns me off, liking me so much. I mean, Venus would be nice if she and I didn’t want to kill each other.
I think I’m getting some insight here.
First stop, the military base! I had called Intercept to see what they were up to and they informed me they still had a piece of Cthulhu in quarantine. This was conveniently the kind of thing that would keep me well away from the palace. Qiang was excited to see the place and all the soldiers, who had swiftly assembled to salute me in my imperial bathrobe. I didn’t have time to grab clothes, remember.
I gave them all a salute back, as did Qiang, and I met with the commanding officer, of a rank called Shouho, as well as the Issa of the Intercept team. They conspicuously avoided mentioning my clothing choice, and they were more than happy to show Qiang all about this helicopter while they showed me to a holding area with six pylons surrounding a tentacle, a glowing yellow barrier connecting each pylon.
I looked up at them. “Handy. Do they fry anything going forward?”
The Shouho spoke up. “The barriers are kinetic, requiring only power. This is an abnormal deployment to secure the anomaly.”
“Very good,” I said. “These look quite useful. We must construct additional pylons.”
“The military could use an expansion in material and manpower. For that, additional supply depots are required,” the Shouho responded.
I held up my hands. “We’ll handle that another time. For now, open this up for me. I’m going to need some alone time with it. It’s not a corpse, but it’ll do. Bow, bowm, bow bow bow.” I started to saunter forward, continuing to mouth porn music. When I saw them looking, I stopped, “Listen, you don’t want anyone to see this next part. Things are going to get freaky. Look at me, Shouho Whatever.”
I pointed at myself and the Shouho said, “Shouho Zhu Luankui.” He straightened up.
“Look at me, Zhu. Look at me. Freaky. That’s what it’s going to be like. You’re going to want raincoats out here if you stand in the splash zone.” I turned away and continued my preparations.
The Intercept Issa interrupted me before I could get into it. “Sir, what are your orders regarding the island that has appeared?”
I paused and pulled my boxers back up. “Ok, let’s go see what this is all about.”
It took me fifteen minutes to reach the beach with an enthusiastic driver and a few close calls. I found the Deep Ones hard at work on the beachfront. They were taking over most of the clean-up, with the locals more than happy to sell them noodles, dumplings, and so on. I thought we were going to have a problem there, but the Deep Ones had some serious bling. Gold and gems. I stepped over to pat the shoulder of one of them who was helping himself, or possibly herself, to a bowl of noodles. “Is it good?”
It kinda nodded its head from side to side. “Yes, good. Not the same as food from home.”
“You smell funny!” said Qiang, looking at a little Deep One that ate with what I assumed were a pair of parents.
I shrugged and focused on the one I’d stopped. “There may be opportunity there. Provided it isn’t poisonous to us, people might like it. Thank you, and the rest of y’all for helping out here.”
“Uhh, you’re welcome,” the Deep One said. “Thank you for allowing us to stay.”
I nodded and left it to the rest of its meal. Qiang had gotten into a game of tag, so I left her to it.
After all, I didn’t stop here just to gladhand the immigrants. I came to see the giant fucking island right off Ricca. I can see it. Granted, my eyes are better than most people’s, and height limits how far a person can see before the horizon’s a problem, but it’s there. I could even make out the mountains.
The satellite images showed more. Just offshore, having risen from the sea, a landmass roughly with roughly two million square miles of area. An entirely new continent that shouldn’t exist according to all the people who study plate tectonics and geology. The soldiers at the base were already calling it according to the name being popularized by the Deep Ones.
It is the island continent of Mu. It’s right here by Ricca. And it will be mine.
I turned back to the crowd of gathering Deep Ones. “Who wants to go claim some land for their new country?”