I think I’ve stated before that I really hate it in video games when you need something for a quest, only to be told that I have to do a sidequest for another party to get the thing I need. It’s annoying. I mean, you’re saving the world, and these bozos decide they can’t let you have the thing you need to stop some soul-sucking fiend from hell until you go back to their old apartment and retrieve their +1 couch of chilling. Protagonists shouldn’t be bothered with that.
It’s a good thing I’m practicing playing nice with others. The secret, I find, is anger management. I’ve gone through several hundred stress relief toys. Squeezed to death, the poor dildoes. Silver Shark was nice enough to take Qiang out to see the new schools being built for kids on the island. Good thing, too. Citra was suddenly too tired and unable to walk after all the anger management.
Escorpio and Cuerno helped too. Not that way, though Escorpio’s look with the scorpions and the gold… Anyway, they’re both important to the Paradise City Cartel, and they respect that I’ve worked with them and upheld their end of the bargain. I’ve still got my eyes on them, though. It’d be advantageous for them to have more power with what I’m throwing together than helping facilitate Ouroboros’s attendance, so I’m watching them closely. Especially Escorpio, since he’s here on the island.
My big problem turned out to be the Yakuza, the other major gang presence in Paradise City. I did my homework and found that Yakuza shell companies are part owners of a lot of expensive real estate around the place, mostly hotels. Hotels with massage services and shopping arcades. What that tells me is there’s likely prostitution and whatever it’s called when they make fake versions of fancy clothing and purses.
The government here knows it too, given some of the archives I checked through. The feds have bigger problems than that these days. Some uninsured survivalist type decided to get around not paying by getting a couple dozen friends together to take over a Veterans’ Hospital in Idaho or something. They talked a big game about being patriots, then dumped some of the bodies of patients they had to kill when they fought back. The government has bigger things to worry about than the Yakuza bringing over Japanese women to give tourists a happy ending.
I stopped by the Yakuza’s crowning jewel, the Gulf Majesty Hotel, built with a reinforced foundation on an island across a short bridge from Paradise City that is still considered part of the area. It sat on a six foot rise due to that solid foundation, with a cast iron fence to dissuade non-guests from loitering. They had a valet and everything, though I waved him off from taking the cabby’s keys. “Here you go, buy your wife something nice,” I said.
He took the cash, but grumbled. “That bitch is divorcing me.”
I shrugged and tossed in another $50. “Buy a new wife then. A better one.”
“Like hell I’m going through that again!” He declared as he peeled out, “Fuck it, I’m learning to suck dicks!”
I turned to the valet who avoided reacting to the scene and put my arm around his shoulders to draw him close. “There goes a man and a dream. A dream of sucking cock. Love is a beautiful thing, eh?” I turned the Dudebot’s head toward the valet. They were real close when I asked, “Say, I don’t suppose you’ve been through a divorce, have you?” He rapidly shook his head, so I let him go and headed inside.
In the lobby, I nodded toward the front clerk, who looked at me and walked briskly toward a back room. Five minutes later, a man with a name tag reading “Manager” approached me as I waited, checking on the brochures for local attractions. Gun ranges, parasailing, shooting guns while parasailing…
“How may I help you, sir?” asked the manager.
“I am quite lonely and looking for some companionship,” I said.
“Perhaps you are looking for our massage parlor?” he suggested.
I shook the Dudebot’s head. “I’m more of a conversationalist. I was looking for someone educated, perhaps even important, to sit down and have a bit of back and forth with.”
The euphemisms really didn’t matter in so openly corrupt a city as Paradise, but a lot of criminals are still use to the affectation. Plus, it feels cooler. This manager went from having a potentially crappy day to feeling like he’s in a spy novel or something. Little did he suspect that what looks like an everyday rubber chicken is actually an ambulatory grenade. And hidden within my shoes is a device that, when moved at high velocity toward an opponent’s posterior, kicks their ass.
The manager scurried away. When he returned, I was ushered toward a special elevator in the back for more important guests who are goin’ straight to the top. Literally, it skipped most floors of the hotel. The manager hit a button only marked “Business”. The elevator door shut, but the elevator didn’t go up. The rear of the elevator, which appeared to be just another wall, slid open to reveal a smiling Japanese man flanked by a pair of guards. He bowed to me. “Psychopomp Gecko. At last, I have the honor to meet you myself.”
I returned the bow. “Japanese dude. Hey, what’s up?”
“My name is Mitchell Mori, and your timing is most auspicious.” He turned. His guards both parted to the side instantly, like water. Nah, water’s not that instant. They parted like instant soup. I went to walk along the corridor and Mori locked step with me, the two guards following after. The manager quickly pressed a button and closed off the elevator to me.
“My timing is not a coincidence. Where there are no problems, I create them, but where there are problems, I solve them. It is my contrarian nature,” I said.
He led me into a small office, sparsely decorated, but warm nonetheless. I think it was all the thick, dark brown wood. Something about being a woman makes thick wood more appealing to me for some reason.
The guards stayed outside, and he circled around to his side, waiting on me to sit down. Then it was time for pleasantries. Lip service at least. How am I enjoying the city, where am I staying, that sort of thing. Then he got into the good stuff. “I expect you are here because of our recent superhero problem?”
I leaned forward. “Superhero problem, you say? Tell me more!”
It seems a group of teenaged do-gooders arrived in Paradise City recently. They’re looking for someone, and in the process have found their way into visiting some shopping arcades, massage parlors, and hotels in the area. Being both superheroes and essentially children, their resulting attempts to find whoever they’re looking for have caused a few problems. And fires.
“Your presence brings with it an opportunity to stop these heroes with as little difficulty as possible. What do you propose as your price?” He folded his hands in front of him and looked onto two of my robot’s helmet’s eyes.
“Oh, I have just the thing, and it won’t even cost you any money,” I said to him before making my offer.
The thing about an extortion racket is that it’s so easy to put two and two together. A guy comes around and threatens you if you don’t pay protection. If you don’t pay, bad things happen to you. Nobody’s fooled. Reverse the order a bit and it gets easier to hide. Some group clearly unconnected to me goes around, making trouble and causing property damage. I’m already known to be in town, already known to help with just that sort of thing, and suddenly the victims are eager to be extorted. Of course, using the heroes means I only have a certain sort of control over them, but my qualifications speak for themselves. And I speak for them, too. Hell, it’s hard to get me to shut up about my qualifications. Have I mentioned I kill people today?
Across town, our five teenagers were just heading into an Italian restaurant. They were out of costume, though the Asian kid didn’t have one of his own. I’d tracked them there with something of a rough plan in mind. They went in to be seated and I sent my guy into the restaurant’s restroom. Despite the damage done to its leg, my Dudebot’s hologram systems were good enough to keep me unnoticed in there. It would have been serendipitous if the kid had noticed his own dad, but is this just real life, or is this just fantasy?
Real life, obviously.
The dad texted his son from inside the bathroom. The son raced off to go see him, not telling his friends anything more than “I need to use the john.” I didn’t follow him in. I’ve already seen how this movie ends. Something about not having the cash to pay for the pizza, so what other method of payment can he give his father?
With the son out of the way, it was my time to rough up the others a bit. Not a lot. Just enough. I walked on over to their table where I think the guy in the letterman jacket realized something was up. He squinted at me a moment before I slammed the table up against him. He bent back, the table rolling over him and out the window. It got one of the girls too, the black one. Always a good way to phrase things. “Hey, which person was it? The black one!” She had her headphones on and held her nose after the table had passed over them and out the window. The other one, the white girl who I’d last seen in ballet-themed spandex, she had ducked low. I gave her an easy kick in the face to bring up some tears and break her nose.
The Dudebot was knocked off its leg before I could put the other one down by a white and blue blur that knocked it into a wall. I pulled it out and turned it into a storm of fists courtesy the speedster of the group, Step. I threw a few to his midsection to get him to back off as I sped up the cybernetic portion of my brain and the Dudebot. Metal fists missed him by an every narrowing margin while he ducked and laid down his own punches, up until I caught one of his. His eyes bugged out in this “Oh crap” look before I squeezed down hard. I fired the eye lasers but he punched the Dudebot’s view to the side so it could just carve out part of the ceiling instead. A light fixture fell and hit a waitress who looked like she was just one day away from retirement.
If he wouldn’t let me blast him, I’d just have to give him a big ol’ hug. I pulled him in close and squeezed real tight. It felt like it lasted a long time, but that was the overclocking. In real time, it didn’t take that long at all until I was disappointed by having one of the robot’s arms pulled away. Step slipped out and returned to the side of his friends, who were recovering a bit. Plus, for my brain’s sake, I couldn’t keep running it that fast.
Hussle, the super strong guy with the football letter, threw the table I’d already thrown at me. Ugh, so derivative. I rolled under it and popped up beside a nearby table to grab a large bowl of salad I hurled at him. I also hurled a person on the floor tripped up by a chair who had previously been eating the salad. Lock, the ballet girl, tried to throw off my aim but did her little voodoo that she do too late. Made me look like I was doing a Sieg Heil and the person still went flying into a wall. Gotta wonder about a white girl whose first instincts are to throw up a Nazi salute when she’s in trouble. I had to fight it with my other hand, but my nosejob had worked on her after all. She had to stop and wipe her eyes.
My hands down, that’s when Step sped into me for another couple of hits, then zoomed off. Pop tried to knock me off-kilter with her sound shenanigans, but I turned the volume down and thus was not distracted when Hussle came barreling at me. He tried to get me low in a tackle, but I grabbed him around his waist from behind, picked him up, spun him around and around, then threw him down through a nearby table. He knocked down a running eater as he flew through the air. Breadsticks went everywhere. I grabbed an errant meatball out of air and threw it right at Lock as she readied another sound blast, but Step caught it in midair. He did the same to the breadsticks, the brea knife, a fork, a toddler, and a cheese grater, distracting him while I kicked a bottle of olive oil onto the floor.
He went skidding off, allowing me to successfully fill Lock’s mouth with my breadstick. Grabbing some linguine from a nearby plate, I walked over, kicked Pop away, and tied Lock’s hands around her back. Then I did one of those ballet lifts and tossed her onto a wine rack. She went from a dry white to wet and red in a hurry. Pop tried again to give me intense snapping and crackling sounds to hurt me ears, but I just smooshed a plate of chicken parmesan into her face. Hussle jumped and even though I turned, he managed to catch me in a bear hug. I projected a bright light into his face. “Go into the light!”
Now, in the middle of all this, one might be curious what the goal was. Why hadn’t I killed anyone yet? And what were those two guys doing in that bathroom?
While I elbowed Hussle in the gut and drove the air out of his lungs, my guy was hugging his son, sobbing like a baby and telling him how much he loved him and how proud he was of him. Yeah, I had the guy bugged in case he wasn’t loyal. It happens. “I want you to know that I can’t stay here anymore, but it’s not because I hate you. I would never hurt you. My fate is fixed, but your destiny is yet to be seized. But whatever you do, do not follow us. If you come after us, the Emperor will kill you. If you stay here, he will kill you. Go back to Abnormal and never forget that I love you.”
Meanwhile, I had Hussle upside down, giving him a wedgie and dunking his head in minestrone. I dropped him as things began to rattle and vibrate in the Dudebot. Pop was behind me, hands to her headphones, trying anything she can to help. She looked to be straining herself. I turned and flung a pizza pan, pizza slices flying off it, right at her neck. It doubled her over in time for me to hop over and gently toss her out through the already-broken window and onto the hood of somebody’s unfortunately-placed car.
The speedster, desperate and slick with olive oil, made one last try for me. I ducked under his reach and grabbed him by the back of his tights. I picked him up, smashed his head through another window, and just carried him along the whole wall like that, right through the few wall barriers between. I ended it by leaving him there, holding his legs apart, and kicking him right there in his little super testes.
When father and son left the bathroom, the son ran to see to his wounded but living friends. The father hurried out to disappear into the city and meet back up with me. A medical chopper was there in minutes to see to the injured teens. It wasn’t until they were halfway back to Abnormal that any of them thought to wonder why the pilot was taking them there instead of a hospital in Paradise City. In the end, they got the message. They’ve been sticking around there, likely nursing their first real injuries since becoming supers.
Mori was satisfied. Ouroboros was satisfied. As for me, I sent them each a cake in the shape and coloring of their butts. The video footage I had allowed ass-tonishing precision. And with each cake came a message written in frosting. “I hereby present you with your ass to commemorate the time I handed you yours. Love and snuggles, PG.”
As might be surmised by all the skywriting, I wasn’t really hiding. Hell, anyone could find us by the weed smoke alone. This man is not human. If anyone should have overdosed on THC, it’d be Willie Nelson.
Despite that, the fellow’s surprisingly active. Found that out after an unexpected swing of his with a fireplace poker. Willie had gotten a bit stir crazy, or at least that’s the excuse he gave when trying to build a parachute out of bedsheets. Never underestimate the ingenuity of an experienced stoner. If you’ve seen the things they can make bongs out of, you realize how crafty they are. So I politely gave him an opportunity to fence with me a bit if he was feeling so antsy to get his exercise. He chose the fireplace poker as his weapon. I considered being a dick about it and picking his guitar for mine, but I settled on a loaf of cuban bread from the kitchen. The fact that I’ve bonked him several times on his braided noggin with my wheaty blade while his efforts to hit me have been both legitimate and futile just adds to the fun.
We clashed, bread on iron. Willie gritted his teeth, looking down at the bread incredulously. “What the hell is in that stuff?”
I leaned in close. “This bread was hard enough to be the equal of that poker fresh. Stale, its strength is beyond mortal ability to chew or bend.” I effortless pushed him away. He backed up to the couch, then hopped onto the cushion and brought his poker down in an overhead stroke that I sidestepped easily. I casually flicked the bread at his legs. He jumped over it and spun around, bringing his poker around. I ducked it, then advanced, deflecting his backhand. He ran up the back of the couch just as I started to step onto it, tipping it over. It might have thrown me off, but I managed to step on it and bring myself over even as something twanged and strained in it. “Your powers are weak, old man.”
“You can’t win, Psycho. If you strike me down, my estate shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine!” He spun the poker in his right hand, then swapped it to his left. He tried to speed up, but dropped it on his toe. Then he hopped on over to a bar stool and pulled off his boot. “Time!”
I just shook the Dudebot’s head.”That fancy stuff just has no place in a good fight.”
“They do it in all the movies,” he said, groaning and rubbing his toe.
I tossed the Cuban bread up into the air and caught it. “Yeah, and in movies there’s sound in space, too. If you know what to look for, you can tell the difference between good swordfighting in a movie and the fancy stuff made to look good.”
“How’s that?” He asked. He hopped up and over to the refrigerator to grab himself a beer, then back to the stool. He held the cold beer to his aching foot, then popped it open and helped himself to a drink.
“The serious ones are still elegant, but they look like they’re trying to hit each other and trusting in the other guy’s skill to save them. The jokey ones are trying to hit the other person’s sword.”
“My pappy always warned me about guys trying hit swords in the locker room,” he said, releasing a pained chuckle. “A lot of jokes don’t age well.”
“Eh, I think it’s a sign of progress that you eventually improve yourself to the point that you think your past self was a dumbass. There was a time I wanted to destroy the planet I lived on.”
He whistled and shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like a recipe for a long and healthy life.”
“Dilly dilly,” I said by way of agreement. Suddenly, the Dudebot fell to the side, the system blaring in my head about sudden penetrative damage. I looked down to see a hole in the side of the Dudebot’s thigh. A few things jingled in there. I stood it back up to see if it still supported the weight of the Bot. I knew that wasn’t necessarily the smartest thing if this was an attempted assassination and if I was there in person, but it was still a robot. It’d be a shame to blow the thing up and take Willie with it, but I’ve always been jealous of these jumped-up chimpanzees copying my toys. I got a good view of where the shot came from the hole in the glass, too. A building, taller than this one. I reached down and pulled out the bullet, getting a sense of its likely drop, then fired off the triple eye lasers. They burned through this building’s window and stabbing into an open one on that building. That helps too. Snipers really don’t like stuff getting in the way if they can help it.
With my assailant disposed of, I turned to see what Willie was up to. He was being thrown over the shoulder of a large man dressed all in black tactical gear. The big guy ran for the open balcony door, opposite the direction I’d been shot from. I pulled out a banana and threw it ahead of him. It squished under his boots and he skidded a short distance before having to catch his balance. It took little time, but it was enough for me to catch up to him and pull the screaming country star off his shoulders with one hand. He turned to me, but I went ahead and pushed him off the balcony. He was headed there anyway.
I carried him back inside, and that’s when the third part of this encounter kicked off. Ouroboros walked in, wearing his black costume. It was form fitting, because we supers tend to be a vain lot, and textured to look scaled. It looked like all one bodysuit, the mask covering the upper half of his head and extending down with a portion that resembled a pair of fangs before leaving his mouth exposed. In his hands, he held a pair of curved daggers. When I’d last seen him, they looked like bone. These were black, with a blue glow
“Sup,” I said, nodding toward him. “You’re probably wondering why I called you here tonight?”
“Yeah,” he said with a nod of his head, twirling a knife handle in his grip. “Something like that.” I couldn’t track his eyes behind lenses on his mask, but he probably got a good look at the gaping wound in my leg caused by, if I had to guess, a .50 cal.
Meanwhile, Willie Nelson clutched his stomach and stumbled off. “Where do you think you’re goin, highwayman?” I asked.
Ouroboros pointed after him with a knife. “He’s going to the bathroom.”
“How can you tell?” I asked.
He waved his hand in front of his face. “How can you not?”
I held my hands behind my back. “I think it’s apparent that I have improved myself a bit since we last met. I’m in an improving mood. That’s why, despite how we left things, I didn’t come here to be hostile. I came here to play nice. Sometimes that means grabbing another man’s Willie.”
“You must really like that joke,” he said.
“I do. My sense of humor’s pretty juvenile at times,” from the direction Nelson hobbled off came a long, thunderous fart. I chuckled to myself, some of which wound up transmitted.
After a moment of looking serious, Ouroboros put his hand in front of his mouth and made a show of yawning. “It’s late,” I caught the tiniest bit of his voice trying to crack with laughter, especially as the singer grunted in the other room.
“No,” I said, pointed after Willie. “That skunk in his pants is late. We are both very much alive.”
“Yeah. So, is this a talk or a fight?” Ouroboros asked.
I crossed my legs and sat right there on the floor. “I’ve got this thing I’m doing. A conference right now, but I want to build something from it. A social structure for villains.”
“A crime family,” he said.
I shook my head. “It’s not about control. I’ve got a rough idea that there might be some sort of council that represents everybody. Like, if someone has a problem that needs addressing on a larger scale, they take it to them.”
“Sounds like leadership,” he said. “I’m not in the market for a boss.”
“Neither am I. But I had an idea for being able to agree on boundaries or rules if need be. Two guys both try to carve out some territory and have a dispute, it might be handy to have some sort of mediation. Something better than a big mass vote. I mean, democracy? After these past couple of years?”
He almost smiled. “How many on this council? What kind of rules can they make?”
I shrugged. “That’s for people to hash out, but I suspect there aren’t going to be too many rules. But I’m thinking we have a couple firm ones set in stone. Murder and rape of supers, no matter the side.”
He idly spun his blades. “You’re going to live under these rules too?”
“Kinda, sorta, no. I’ll avoid all that to the extent I can, but I’ll be enforcing the rules and I think you know how that’ll play out. A villain kills another villain, I take them out. A hero kills a villain, ditto. Law enforcement, too, if they get too trigger happy. Not sure if a regular mundane bumps one of us off… now that’d be interesting. Maybe something for your council.”
“My council?” he asked.
“You’ve got power and influence. You show to this thing, you’ll convince more to come along. I scare people. Super people. They don’t like me. You’re respectable. You’re someone they can look up to. Stands to reason you’re a shoe-in for it, probably to head it up. But I’m the enforcer no matter what. The only person who can be.” The shot leg tried to lock up, but I banged on it and managed to get myself back to standing. “Meanwhile, we can both get a cut providing safe haven to other villains with weapons and ammo for sale. Have a social network. Help people work together. Hold fucking dances or holiday parties.”
“A lot of villains do that already,” Ouroboros said. He looked back over as Willie Nelson stepped back out of the bathroom wearing a towel as a makeshift kilt.
“They don’t invite me,” I said. “But I saw what the heroes have. They’re working together and stay in contact. They’re even working with those Rangers from the other dimension, and you guys don’t need two Earths worth of heroes on your hands. Anyway, Willie, have fun. I’ll send you some more weed for you to smoke or weave into pants or something.”
Ouroboros put a knife away and ushered Nelson out. Before he left completely, he turned to me. “Give me a few weeks, but I’ll be there. Feel free to let people know, but I expect a fast jet on standby in case someone tries something.”
I thought about it a minute, a smile forming across my face all the way over in Ricca, where my wife Citra and my daughter Qiang were braiding my hair. The smile was on me, but the Dudebot’s the one that thought back to my recovering agent on the plane, and to Escorpio Encantador flying off to Ricca on a different craft. “I bet I can get everyone to agree to a nice little ceasefire. I’m the enforcer, after all.” An enforcer who is NOT explaining this stuff to every Tom, Dick, and Harry from here on out. Repeating myself so much is giving me the worst case of lockjaw since that night Citra bet me I couldn’t find the clit. Joke’s on her, turns out it’s a myth. That, or I did manage to find it and she just pretended otherwise so I’d keep looking for some reason.
You know, when they talk about how to make friends and influence people, I don’t think they meant having one friend owe you for breaking him out of prison, or having bait for a team of super teenagers with attitude.
Which just proves my point about why I’m not the one who gets elected. I am the one who knocks… people’s skulls out through their anuses.
A lot of people say there’s no such thing as bad PR. I might have even said it once or twice. Those people are morons, whereas I was just making an offhand remark that in no way reflects on my intelligence. See my rule on hypocrisy for more clarification.
I didn’t intend to talk about hypocrisy, though. I wanted to talk about PR. Bad PR, for example, is not good. I recall a pair of conventions that say otherwise. Something about a Lord of the Rings scam artist leaving actors stranded, and then a ball pit on Tumblr. They were one-time things. I don’t want to be a one-time thing. I want to return, again and again, like a plague upon humanity. And that means having proper finger foods at big villain conference. That means clearing up some RSVPs. A lot of them are doing that themselves now that people are flocking in. Flocking, I say!
But I want to try again on one big potential flocker. A motherflocker, if you will.
I decided the best way to entice Ouroboros into an audience with me would be to stay in Paradise City and snob up the place. Just be as obnoxious as I could be. I’m there with my Dudebot, making a big show of attending all the local events. Paradise City isn’t exactly known for its theatre and musical events, but being a casino town has been good for it. It is technically an illegal casino, so it’s not like they can just bring headliners in there. That said, they had an excellent production of Cats, a decent Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat, and the Amazing Johnathan. That’s his assessment. He put it in his damn name to preempt criticism, I’m sure. If I call him “The crappy Amazing Johnathan” it just confuses matters. Kinda like how Alexander the Great added onto his name to make sure he’d keep getting laid. Putz.
So I, the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, went all around this place in robot form.
In my actual body, I was running around trying to arrange living space for our guests. It was hectic, since the best construction Ricca has had since I’ve taken over is a building for the legislature that’s still tent enough you expect tigers to jump through hoops in it. Given how much of politics is a circus anyway, I find it oddly appropriate.
The Directory was worried, too. Some of them were thinking about kicking people out of their houses, but I nixed that idea. Instead, I hit upon repurposing the Institute of Science. I really thought it’d work since Mix N’ Max was due on the island any day. To that end, I scrounged up a group of mercenaries in town plying their trade. Oh, I’m sorry, “Private Military Contractors”. Apparently the term’s gotten bad PR so they just changed names. Same for the company they work for. Shooting unarmed civilians instead of enemies can indeed be bad PR.
Mercenaries, you might ask? I’m fond of my own people by now. Plus, I’ve gotten reports that they’ve been restless and stirring up trouble. This is a win-win. Either I get it confirmed that the Institute’s safe and recover a lot of valuable equipment and lab space, or I rid the island of minor nuisance. It cost me a little, though. Darn private businesses, always trying to jack up profits while doing as little work as possible. And before anyone calls me a communist, just step back and try to prove me wrong.
That’s what I thought.
I did at least warn these guys that elevators would likely be out of order. They loaded up on scout drones, flashlights, and rappelling gear, then disappeared into the Institute of Science. It has been a few days with no word from them. Their company refuses to give me back my deposit. Filthy vultures. That’s their company motto, too. Vulture Company: filthy vultures.
On the plus side, we’ve been gouging them on ammunition.
With that plan gone horribly right in the way less advantageous to me, the day was saved by one of the Directors from the delegation handling foreign affairs. They failed to get me a date with European models or American actresses, but one of them remembered that time he tried to get a Swedish businesswoman to drop by my palace for a drink. That didn’t happen either, but she did have a friend at Ikea who is into some pretty freaky stuff. That fellow was able to ship over some of the new Ikea apartments.
Then things got really heated. It wasn’t cost. Turns out we aren’t doing too shabbily in terms of finances. Thanks to the Deep One immigrants, we have treasures from the sunken depths and exotic foods seen nowhere else. The Island of Ricca; the world’s only source of giant calamari, authentic Japanese World War II paraphernalia, and currently auctioning off Amelia Earhart’s plane.
No, money wasn’t the issue. The damn Swedes just forgot to ship us any Allen wrenches, and my guys say they skimped on nuts. There was one fellow who was pretty sure they gave us more sides than anything else, but it turned out he’d been from a part of the island with weird ruins on it and had… difficulties… with Euclidean geometry. The Director overseeing the whole thing was nervous about seeing me about the issue, what with the perception of how supervillains handle failure. Dude was super relieved when I asked if there was any way I could help the whole thing along.
He let out a relieved sigh as he stood up from his bow. “Empress, it would honor me if I could have your assistance, but I do not know how you will take the suggestion.” He looked me over.
“What?” I asked, putting my upper, public pair of arms on my waist and controlling the urge to do so with my newer arms. “I’m not going to choke a bitch just for chatting with me. Spit it out!”
“Perhaps if you were to speak with them as the sovereign of our great nation… and threaten them,” he suggested.
“Like, with trade embargoes, or the usual threats?” I asked, standing up off the recliner on my Directory dais. Threats sound like fun.
“I believe you would be effective if you threatened them as a supervillain. Then my requests would look more reasonable in comparison.”
“Sold!” I said, jumping up. “Let me get the armor on.”
“Do you need it on?” he asked.
I gave him a patronizing pat on the head before stepping down from the dais. “Of course not, but it’s either the armor or cocaine. There’s a method to this.”
That brings me to the phone call with the Ikeans. I had my new armor on. Yes, I said new. I’d kept the old, two-armed version I’d been using, made sure it was getting proper cleaning. I had the nanites build me a similar copy that better reflected my current body shape. Ya know, boobs, lack of Mr. Dangles, extra pair of arms. That’s what the Directory got to see as I stepped up to the monitor of their own personal communications screen. The Ikeans had one of their own, it turned out. They sold some now.
“Alright, let me tell you… whatever your name is,” I started off.
The guy I was helping whose name I didn’t catch whispered, “Her name is Sjoberg. Mrs.-.”
I held up a hand toward him. “Enough of your idle pratter, minion number 4479! And no covering for little miss snowberg here or however the pronounce names up there in Christmas Town. If you think you’re going to doublecross me, the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, then I have news for ya. You aren’t safe in your little ice castle up there, Elsa, so any fantasy you have of surviving my wrath, just let it go. I am the end times in human form. I will unleash upon you and yours a plague of endless suffering. I will swallow the moon and piss the sun out of existence if it means having my revenge upon you. If I have to beat every last pasty son of a bitch to death in your albino paradise of a country just to get my hands on you, I will, and nothing can stop me. Not an atom bomb, not a power bomb, not even a D-bomb. So you drink your milk and say your prayers, because if you don’t give me what I want, I’ll make meatballs out of you. I’ll take a fistful of those meatballs and I’ll shove them right into your mouth through your anal cavity. I will make that happen, no matter how much I have to break physics to do it, you hear me?!”
I saw part of the monitor on their end actually fall apart before the picture went black. I let the Director handle it from there. He managed to get ahold of her and, from the snippets I heard as I headed back to my recliner, she was much more inclined to listen to him at that point.
Now, with my imperialistic desire for living space quenched, I had time to throw my consciousness back to Paradise City.
Willie Nelson was flying into town. A guy like him doesn’t necessarily mind taking criminal money, especially in a state that’s becoming friendlier toward legal weed. Aurelio Cuerno’s sources heard he was in town for a private show for Ouroboros himself. Well, suddenly there was reason for me to show up at that airport and see if I might meet Mr. Nelson himself.
I almost broke my cover. According to the holograms, I was a baggage handler, but I nearly jumped up to try and save the plane when I saw the way it smoked on its descent. Just trailing smoke like you wouldn’t believe. Thing is, no one was putting out any emergency radio transmissions and the plane was flown perfectly. Well, then the plane taxied over close by and the door opened with a huge puff of smoke. Soon, Willie Nelson helped himself down the steps, smiling. He turned to an aide with him and said, “And that’s how you make a mile-high hotbox. Now, who’s hungry?”
The three others with him all raised their hands. As for me, I wheeled on up to the base of the stairs. I had a cart in front of me with a large, hard case on it.
“Nice to meet you son,” Willie said, holding out a hand for a shake. I grabbed it, threw him in the bag, zipped it shut, and started running. Somebody from that plane took a shot at me, but I didn’t get a good look. From the magnitude of their miss, neither did I, and probably for the same reason: there was a shitload of smoke drifting out of that plane.
Well, I haven’t harmed Ol’ Willie. He and I are sitting around here in a nice penthouse Cuerno let me borrow. I had the drones fly in some of what the growers in the cemetery are calling Riccan Royal for the fellow to enjoy in between shooting the shit and feeding him more food than his skinny frame can possibly hold. Sure, he wasn’t happy at first. Once he figured out I didn’t intend any harm to him and would be letting him loose, he mellowed out in a hurry. That, and he confessed he’d had himself a special lollipop or two on the ride over as well.
Just to make sure Ouroboros got the message, I hired one of the freelance pilots to send him a message. A little skywriting, just to make sure he’d know who to contact. Big message in the sky read, “I got your Willie!”
You know, I love train heists. So exciting. Too bad Florida doesn’t have passenger train lines headed toward Central and South Florida. You’d think making it easier for more people to get to the major tourist destinations would be an easy win, but you’d be wrong. Oh so wrong.
It’s the fruit lobby that put an end to that. The orange growers have that racket going on, see. They need people stopping by at the rest stops to try pure orange juice, eat candy made from oranges, buy preserves, and head out with a bag of Florida oranges.The orange racket will do whatever they can to keep the citrus flowing. They’ve given more than their fair share of bodies a pair of alligator-skin shoes. And by that, I mean they let a pair of gators chomp onto them, then toss them in the water. Those aren’t just regular navel oranges, dear readers. Those are blood oranges.
But enough about the Vitamin C pushers. That’s all mere background fluff to attacking a prison transport convoy headed down south from Paradise City. For the sake of at least pretending to cover my tracks, I let it get some distance away from Paradise City. I actually aimed to go after it somewhere in the Big Bend. That’s what they call that corner with the peninsula.
Florida is fairly flat country. Not particularly hilly, and most of the buildings are extremely limited in height due to the hurricanes. There’s still a lot of woodland. The convoy was headed down the highway with trees all over the place. One prisoner transport, two SWAT vans. The one in rear had a machine gun mounted up top, but I wasn’t too interested in learning absolutely everything about it. I didn’t intend for it to be an issue.
But I was in the mood for an old-fashioned train heist, and old fashioned heistery I was going to have!
I jumped the guard rail from the woods on a steel horse. A robotic horse. Not that hard to throw together back in Ricca and launch on a missile over here. Horses are already fairly fast creatures before you start making improvements on evolution’s design, but most horses would not want to hold a Dudebot. It’s not some silly thing like detecting evil or hating robots. Horses are living creatures that don’t necessarily like heavy shit sitting on their back. Sparks flew every time its metal hooves pounded the highway.
I came up on the SWAT van with the roof turret first. The person on it finished calling down to everyone and turned it to aim at me. I pulled out a cable and lasso with one hand. With the other, I unslung a jar of moonshine. I lassoed the gun and stood up as I approached, moving my grip up on the rope. I swung off, pulling the turret around as I landed on the front left side of the van. The gunner pulled his sidearm, but I threw the moonshine jar onto his head. He fell as it shattered, the liquor causing a hell of a thump. Then I pulled a cigar, lit it, and tossed it in. A blue flame accompanied screams of those inside. One machine gun, but only a single shot taken. A flaming shot.
The van stopped suddenly, sending the Dudebot flying forward to land on the ass of the robo-horse that gleamed in the sunshine. Ah, but doing things Western style means the occasional use of dynamite, like what I had in my saddle bag. I tossed it behind as a present for the SWAT van driver. I’m sure he thought it was nice and safe, me apparently forgetting to light it. You know, up until the fuse suddenly lit itself.
By now, the two other vehicles were trying to contact their superiors and inform them of the unconventional attack. Sure would be a shame if someone jammed it. Meanwhile, the GPS map devices in their cabs rerouted them. “In 1,000 feet,” said a helpful electronic voice, “go fuck yourselves.”
I like to think that even if I wasn’t there in person, I was there in spirit. In fact, further up the road, a line of rubber chickens were marching along to get to the other side. The prisoner transport skidded to a stop. The front SWAT van didn’t, and ended up the size of chicken nuggets. I hopped down off my horse and pulled the door off the front of the transport. The driver held his hands up. “Please don’t kill me!”
I pulled him out. “Give me the keys and I’ll think about it.” He reached down and handed me the keys to the truck. I grabbed the keys in one hand and his hair in the other, then snapped his neck straight back at a good 100 degree angle. “I thought about it.”
When I opened the door, I found that some of the six prisoners within were working on their chains. “Howdy, everyone. Someone call for the cavalry?” I looked around and spotted the face matching the picture Aurelio Cuerno gave me. “Hey you, one moment. I got something for you.” I grabbed something off the horse and came back, then slid him the cake box.
“What is this?” asked the well-muscled latino.
“Just a cake. Surely there’s nothing hidden inside to help you get out of jail.”
He started digging through it as I hopped up and began unlocking everyone’s cuffs. Escorpio Encantador found the bag hidden within the cake in no time, and pulled from it a scorpion medallion. He slipped it over his head and then snapped the chains holding him. Ensconced by a golden glow, the other prisoners all ran out.
I hopped out too. “Before y’all all go anywhere, I merely ask for a moment or two of y’all’s time.”
“Screw that,” said one pointed teeth tattooed coming from his eyes. “We need to run, now.”
“I can get you out of here quite quickly,” I said. “And even out of the country, to a nice place that doesn’t extradite.”
“Who are you supposed to be?” asked one of them with smooth metallic eyes.
“He is Psycho Gecko, Emperor of Ricca,” said Escorpio. He stepped out of the back of the van, throwing his shredded prisoner jumpsuit to the side. He now wore gleaming armor, obsidian black and gold. It was segmented along his chest, thighs, and upper arms, but showed a lot of skin almost everywhere else. He had a loincloth just to make sure the dangly bits weren’t exposed, and part of the armor tapered off into a curling scorpion’s tail on his upper chest. His face looked out from what seemed to be an obsidian scorpion’s mouth, the ruby eyes of the scorpion set above his own. “And I am interested in his offer.”
“I have recently reached out to many other villains. I am having a meeting with as many of our powered criminal brethren as I can gather. Try to get a bit of solidarity going on. Work together a bit, or at least not working against each other. Plus, easy to find extra firepower next time a hero comes knocking and wants to put you in these lovely getups.” I motioned to the jumpsuits all but Escorpio wore.
Escorpio nodded. “I will hear you out.” Between the two of us and the lack of other options, the other five agreed. Not really big names, but quantity has a quality all its own. Truth is, I’m beginning to think I should have gone about this country by country. The States would be a poor choice for that one to start with, though. Big place.
The Dudebot nodded and headed to the horse to retrieve a bunch of augmented reality glasses. I started handing them out. “Here, put these on and just follow the yellow brick road to freedom. I have a pilot who will take care of you. Already paid off. See y’all on Ricca.”
With them out of the way, I headed back to the prisoner transport, closed it up, and hopped into the driver’s seat. The distortion to the map device stopped, showing me just where to drive to the place where they were hiding prisoners. I also called in news of an assault, even explosions.
It didn’t take long to reach Grove Penitentiary. For having such an old-fashioned name, they were clearly working off a more modern prison design. Electric fences with barbed wire ringed the place.
I stopped at the gate and handed over the deceased driver’s identification. The guard looked at the transport. “Where’s your escort?”
I shook my head. “No clue. This guy showed up on a robot horse and blew one of them up. I got the hell out of there. The front escort stopped to deal with him and I haven’t heard anything since. Didn’t you hear?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Sounds crazy. No one blames you for not stopping. Now come on through, get them to the helipad.”
Open space for a headcount? Well, I knew I’d have to make things loud again sometime. I guided the transport over to a flat space of tarmac meant for helicopter landings. Might be a good spot to have a pilot come in after I bust the door down and dig up wherever they hide the supers. I’m figuring underground, as usual. From the old files I still have archived on Grove from my brief reign as world emperor, this place isn’t set up to hold supervillains anyway. Must have been some fast digging.
I soon found out it had nothing to do with putting villains six feet under. A chunky flying block with a pair of rotors on top descended out of nowhere, landing on the helipad in front of me. The doors to it opened wide enough to admit the whole damn transport along two pair of rails like you’d see at a car wash. Once I drove in, the rails locked the wheels into position and the doors closed. Then we took off.
The ascent took several minutes like that. It gave me enough time to zoom out on satellite view and figure out what’s going on.
The answer was a giant airship. That’s where this little retrieval can was headed. Forget giant helicopter aircraft carriers or huge planes meant to stay in the air for hours at a time. This thing had a balloon to keep it up. Not a bad idea. Generally speaking, airships can stay up for a long time on minimal fuel. Crashing can still be a problem, but I suspect that’s part of the appeal. If anyone does too good a job breaking out or breaking in, they might wreck the whole thing. The guards might even have a way to scuttle it.
This thing looked to be roughly the size of the Hindenberg, which said good things to me about its possible load of prisoners.
When the big chopper block carrying me docked, the rear opened. That’s when I noticed the doors didn’t open enough for the drive or any passenger to get out.
“Stay in the vehicle while we see to the prisoners!” a voice boomed. A glance in the mirror showed people dressed in bulky gear, maybe even some exoskeletons.
I didn’t like this, so I used the eye lasers on the Dudebot to carve out a hole in the windshield as quietly as I could. See, all through my life I’ve had this strange, unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister. Of course, that’s just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe has that. I just listen to mine more. Good thing I did. When those guys threw the doors open, I heard one of them say, “There’s nobody in here.”
I was pulling my surrogate body through the hole when the other one ordered. “Something’s wrong. Drop it.” I felt everything give way in that distinctive feeling you get when all support fails and you’re subject to the whims of gravity. Luckily, the Dudebot could also charge up its gauntlets with energy. It burst out the top of the plummeting box, getting a little nicked by a rotor on its way up, and accelerated back up to the prison with the help of the arm rockets. They wouldn’t last long, so I shot up into the same loading bay that had dropped me before and was still in the process of closing. I still had the lasso with me from my earlier old-fashioned romp on the highway and roped a fixture on the wall to pull myself away from the doors and toward the two unfortunate guards who had dumped me like a crazy ex.
I landed right next to one and grabbed him by his thigh. I turned him upside down and drove him down onto his head. The other raised his rifle and fired at me. The shots bounced off as I stepped closer, grabbed it from him, and flipped it around while ducking. I brought the smoking muzzle up between his legs, tearing through clothing and sphincter alike. He screamed, so I brought my fist overhead and shut him up while pushing him even further along the barrel. Then I picked him up, aimed at nothing in particular, and took a shot. That silenced him, and the shot as well. Not many people realize the human body makes an excellent suppressor. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Yo COBRA!
“What’s happening?” Came a voice from an intercom off to the side. It was near a desktop computer hardwired into the ship itself. I couldn’t find anything going to or from the ship, so it must be operating entirely on an internal, wired network. I pushed the intercom to answer while I fiddled around some with the Dudebot, tearing into one of the more easily accessed redundant wireless interfaces.
“Uh, everything’s under control. Situation normal.”
The voice on the other side didn’t let it go. “What happened?”
“We had a slight weapons malfunction, but everything’s perfectly alright now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you.” I popped open the case of the computer until I could find just what I needed and started splicing the wires together. “How are you?”
He didn’t reply, but I figured he was alerting the authorities. And, a moment later, I saw just that happen as the systems of the ship began to register on my consciousness. I actually sat back and let the Dudebot idle as I worked my way in. Digital stuff is always so much quicker than working in meatspace. I had plenty of time to snuff out the emergency alert and change the access codes. From there, it was just a matter of locking down the guards’ barracks, the guards’ break room, the guards’ kitchen, the armory, and the cockpit. That left a few of them roaming through the halls, but they were easy enough to deal with. I mean, the windows on the thing could only be so thick.
When the cockpit cabin door opened for the Dudebot, the crew up front were still desperately trying to retake control or get a call out to the outside world. “This is your new captain speaking,” the Dudebot relayed to them at the same time as the the intercom system announces it to every cell. “We are now flying the smooth skies of Gecko Air. Now, who wants to get off this ship alive?”
Between what gravity would do to them and threats of letting the prisoners loose on them, the crew decided to sit quiet and let me do what I liked. In the end, I got a cool 68 of 71 prisoners who agreed to come with me. I figured getting an actual helicopter or plane up there would be an issue, so I fell back on something I’d always intended to be used more by villains. I fired off a missile from Ricca and guided in drones loaded with crates of rideable rockets. Just strap on and let Wernher von Braun do the rest.
Once I’d gotten off all those friendly people who decided to attend my little conference after everything I did for them, I initiated an order to leak helium and had the Dudebot disconnect me from the airship. The crew and remaining villains would probably be ok, unfortunately. It was a slow enough leak to drop the thing without so much of the fun crashing involved in it, but it’ll put the damn blimp out of commission for a little bit.
And so my new team’s rockets blasted off again.
It’s not just Alabama and Florida getting my special attention. Dudebots are going out all over the place, as well as Drone Division teams and some of Ricca’s new Navy Deep Ones. They’re a hell of a lot better than SEALs in the water. Whatever Hu did with the old version of the Intelligence Service, he’s not doing too badly with the new one. He’s keeping me updated regularly on the process, which mostly consists of him having scattered groups link up, meet with a nearby interested supervillain, and bring all of them in at once.
Good coordination there, helped quite a bit by a recovering economy. We’re even taking in refugees from all over the place now that the United States can’t or won’t. Haitians, Puerto Ricans, Middle Easterners. And not crappy people, either. Plenty of doctors and engineers who would have been taxi drivers in the United States are finding I don’t care so much about certificates if they’re capable of doing the work. In some cases, we have some handy people for the military. Anywhere the United States coordinated with locals, Hu is looking over files to see who can be of use to the Intelligence Service and who might be a potential threat.
I don’t know when he sleeps, especially now that I ordered him a fancy coffeemaker that could keep an entire army marching for days. I had it sent to one of the hidden detention areas that used to belong to the New Direction before we rounded them up and dealt with them.
It’s not all bad. They’ve been split up and mixed in with some of our new colonists. Yep, the Directory has decided to offer people a chance to start colonies on Mu. They’re predominantly locals, with more cooperative New Direction thugs mixed in, and even some refugees. My ambassador over in the Bronze City already sent over maps, so surveyors with drone backup are off figuring out where to put people, with emphasis on resource rich areas. Some of the New Direction guys might even be useful as guards there, but I passed a message to the Directory that I want oversight.
Meanwhile, in America, I had a couple interesting opportunities at hand. The biggest involved the Cartel’s branch in Paradise City. They invited me to see one of their lovely happening night spots, full of groovy cats and bangin’ hotties. Word. Adjective. Pronoun. But enough about me and my antiquated sense of how to fit in. I wore armor to a nightclub. The doorman actually commented as he looked me over, “Gonna be hard to dance in that.”
I turned the Dudebot’s head to look at a line of scantily clad women at the front of the line. “What can I say? I’m a firm believer in using protection.” I nodded at them as the doorman let me through on orders from the higher ups. “Ladies.”
This place wasn’t built to completely blackout every signal imaginable. The Cartel were relying on a different method of securing their communications. The place was so full of music and people, you’d have to get a bug in there. That’s harder to do inconspicuously with so many people in there and, as I soon found, plenty of guards keeping important people out of the manager’s office. They let me pass with nods of their own, but kept an eye out to make sure no one got any thoughts. The size of some of the glasses at the bar, I’m pretty sure some people are lucky to still have brain cells, let alone thoughts. You don’t often see martinis big enough to drown a man in.
I entered at what might have seemed a bad time. I walked in on one man in a suit with the jacket off slamming the head of a woman into the desk. She held a gushing and broken nose as she raised her head up again. She turned to me, silently pleading behind the flow of tears down her face. So I gave her some advice, “Crying is not a helpful thing to do with your nose like that at the moment. Buck up, sunshine, it’ll get better.”
The manager looked to me. “It is so good to make your acquaintance at last. First, though, let me clear the air,” He was a thin guy. Little. Wiry. Black slick hair, dark eyes, and a straight nose showing he hadn’t mixed it up enough to get his broken so far. He walked around to his desk and opened a box of cigars. He grabbed one for himself that he used to poke something inside the box. Instantly, I felt a jamming signal cutting off cell phone access. I have other ways of staying in contact with this thing that are stronger than a cell phone jammer, though. My host extended a hand across his desk. “You are Psycho Gecko. When I heard a man of your standing had arrived to meet with Ouroboros and he insulted you so, I thought I would have my people reach out to you.”
I shook it, and looked down at the two chairs in front. One was occupied by the bleeding person.
“Don’t mind her. Merely a waitress who thought I would give my life for her, or at least twenty years if she had succeeded with her deception.” He slammed the palm of his hand flat on the desk, making her jump. “I know how much you enjoy the feeling of taking a life. Please, be my guest,” the manager smiled.
I nodded and held up my pointer finger. “Sure thing.” Then I turned and walked out of the room. Despite making good time on my trip, he was on a landline by the time I walked back into the room. “Nevermind, he is here again,” he said before hanging up.
I sat down the giant martini glass on the edge of his desk in front of the underling he wanted to be rid of. She had stopped crying, but didn’t look any prettier for it. She looked up at me as I sat on the desk. “Care for a drink, my dear?” I asked. I didn’t wait for an answer before I grabbed her head and held it under the surface of the cocktail. She put her hands on the edge of the glass, which was indeed larger around than her face, and pushed. Slick with blood and tears, and facing the unforgiving metal of my robot surrogate, her hands slipped off and she tried with the desk. It didn’t work either.
Only once she weakened did I let her up, pulling her face out of it, then rapidly bringing it down to smash through the glass itself. Sharp glass scattered under her where it didn’t tear into her skin. I kept going, though. Her face and very top of her neck hit the desk. The rest of her I forced to the floor with a loud snap from her vertebra.
I threw her body to the side and sat down in the other chair offered. I saw the manager smiling a grin not often seen on adult outside of a windowless van. He motioned to the corpse. “To think, some of my own people doubted your identity. Who can doubt such art as this?” He kissed the tips of his fingers, then sat down.
“Whew, I don’t know about you, but I feel like a drink after that. I’ll have a White Russian,” I informed him. The Dudebot abides.
He sent off for the drink and made some small talk about the unseasonably cold weather., introducing himself as “Aurelio Cuerno.” It has snowed three times in Paradise City this winter. Prior to the first time, it hadn’t truly snowed here since the 70s. Even now, there were areas with puddles that had been frozen for days. In Florida. “What I find fascinating is that Ouroboros does not use his system to change it,” Cuerno said.
“Perhaps problems with it caused this weather. Maybe it’s part of some plan he has in mind,” I mused.
It wasn’t until we received our drinks that he asked the question of the hour. “I have heard of your conference. I am most interested in hearing your plans and whether they still include Ouroboros.”
I swirled glass and the liquor within “My plans are simple. I want a big family of supervillains. One network where we can all communicate. Coordinate amongst ourselves in groups. Join together if need be.”
“Mmm, that is an ambitious project.” He leaned back in his chair, then nodded his head to where the fellows who brought us our drinks were picking up the body off to the side. “What is your plan for dealing with informants and undercover law enforcement?”
“Who has two thumbs and is absolutely trusted to not be an informant by anyone on Earth?” I asked, pointing back to myself with both thumbs. “There’s a lot to figure out as far as structure. Leadership council, for example. However, I think I am more than qualified to execute any enforcement of penalties, which by necessity would be concerned with limited offenses. Murder of a villain, or betrayal of this organization. We can fill in gaps as needed, though I think a promise to have me curb vigilante murders of villains will be a powerful incentive.”
“Fascinating… and I see a way in which we may help each other in our projects.” He reached down and messed around with a drawer before setting a velvet bag on the desk between us. “I owe my life and my loyalty to the man this belongs to. He is like you, a man of exceptional abilities. Unlike you, he was captured and lost his armor. I have done everything I can to find out where they are holding him, and I have failed in this, but I have many resources. I have people who owe me debts, and those who need what I have to sell them. It was in this way I found out my own boss, Escorpio Encantador, will be transferred from where he is being kept to a facility in central Florida along with other superhumans the police have corralled. I would be honored if you would do me the favor of rescuing him, and I believe he would be amenable to your offer if you did. Indeed, there may be a few such villains on the transport grateful for a rescue.”
I nodded along to the last few words. “I like this offer. No fuss. No making me wait. I have a country to lead, after all.”
“I see no reason to make a powerful enemy when I could have powerful friends,” he said. He raised his own glass, some form of whiskey. “Come, let us drink. To fulfilling our ambitions,” he said, raising his glass for a toast.
Like most people, I’d gone my entire life avoiding Alabama. I’d been to Paradise City, FL before, but I tried to go there through Georgia. Not much better, though Georgia does have marginally fewer pedophile politicians. I would know. I have all their FBI files. That’s why nobody in the state ever reported an unregistered jet flying in with a power-armored visitor onboard. I wanted to save some of the information for later, so I slipped them some counterfeit money instead. They’re just Alabamans. No need to spend the good money on them.
I had various contacts in the criminal air travel industry, some old, many new. One of them flew in on his very own black, unregistered helicopter. Again, I know shit about Alabama politicians you wouldn’t believe. This state has a problem.
It was the black helicopter that flew me out to Abnormal, Alabama. I didn’t name the fucking place. They have a place called Normal, Alabama in the northern end of the state. Turns out they have an Abnormal, Alabama in the south. Abnormal, Alabama has finally lived up to its name. Somehow Ricca’s Special Intelligence Service was the first to figure out there were a shitload of unusual incidents. It became a freaky intersection of magic, extraterrestrials, and superhumans, all warded off by a plucky team of teenagers with attitude.
I read through Ricca’s specific dossier on the whole thing. Interesting adventures, if not really world-threatening. I’m sure they had lots of drama of their own, but the part I was most interested in involved the Riccan agent’s own child being the team’s sidekick. I’m sure it’s all fascinating, but I’m here to help pull him out of a risky situation. The situational briefing said he’d been working to try and turn or sabotage the team while maintaining cover and manipulating events from behind the scenes as a prominent member of the community.
I had Hu let the agent know I was on my way. He included a postscript revealing that I’m cool and unlikely to murder him for failure. I didn’t even have to tell him to put it, either. He activated an emergency transponder to lead myself and my freelance pilot right to him. When smoke drifted up from the location off in the woods, we knew we were close. And fashionably late.
We came to a stop above a clearing with a log cabin in it. A large and formerly expensive truck sat nearby. On fire. Hence the “formerly expensive” designation. Out in the yard, a teenage boy stood looking back at the cabin from near the truck. In the cabin doorway stood our man, rifle in hand. By the clearing stood four people in makeshift costumes. That’d be the teens’ team. The boy by the truck started to walk toward them, but our agent fired a beam that swept across the ground in front of him and left a line of fire for a brief second.
I couldn’t make out all the things shouted back and forth among tears and flames, so I figured I’d drop down and give a listen. I landed with a lot of give, hitting my knee briefly before popping up onto my feet. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’m looking for a good time.” I cracked the knuckles on my gauntlets here for emphasis. “Have I found it?”
“This must be the freak your dad works for,” said whatever teen heartthrob died and made his own self leader of the group. “Step.”
Before I could figure out the brass balls on some teenager trying to tell me to step, I saw one of them in a blue and white spandex suit blur.
Now, my cybernetically enhanced brain can easily overclock to think fast enough to handle super speed, and my eyes can even keep track of it, but my all too fleshy reflexes and muscles just aren’t designed for that sort of thing. That’s why they were back in Ricca, pinned down by a sleeping Qiang who I didn’t want to move in case she woke up and stopped making such a funny and cute face.
Fun thing is, a robotic body can be much more responsive. The three “eyes” on the helmet of the Dudebot I sent fired lasers. I like lasers. They’re colorful, there’s less lead exposure, and they move pretty darn fast. Fast enough, in fact, that the nubile teen… boy, I guess? Let’s go with that. The boy skidded to a slow stop, holding his smoking shoulder. “I thought that was spot on. I’ll have to get that adjusted when I have time for it. Should have plenty of time to do that here in a minute or two.”
The main one looked to the other two in the group, a black girl with headphones on, and a white girl in more spandex. With the black bottoms on, the latter looked more like a ballet dancer. He called out to them, “Pop and Lock time.”
The ballet girl held her arms out to the side and my Dudebot did the same despite me not telling it to. The motors in its arms struggled against whatever force held it in the girl’s position. The hands could still move, but the arms wouldn’t lower no matter how much I tried. The other girl put her hands on her headphones and tapped a button on the side. The resulting cacophony of sound jolted me into nearly waking up Qiang until I had the Dudebot mute it. It was like a bunch of little sonic booms going off next to the Dudebot’s head, at least as far as sound is concerned.
The guy said something I couldn’t make out without sound. I could read his lips a little since his mask was basically a red bandana, but something about “Dime to show us all.” He leaned forward and sent dirt flying as he sprinted toward me with all the speed of a horny teenager.
I fired off the rockets in the gauntlets. They separated from the Dudebot’s arms and flew around, curving to smack Pop and Lock in their heads. They both fell, putting an end to my arm raisings, but still left me with a charging teen. With full motor control once again possible, I slammed the Dudebot’s head down in a headbutt… to the groin. I unmuted the situation in time to hear him mutter something about. “My one weakness,” before he clutched them and bent over.
I recalled the bot’s hands to their proper places, then raised raised his chin up with the left one. “A little higher, just a little more. There, perfect.” I wound up and clocked him one in the jaw that sent him flying. He embedded in a tree that then fell over in this direction, pinning him there. But the robot’s fist and head were registering significant blunt damage to the internals, so I suspect he’d live through it all. I figured the leader of this bunch as a brick. With my help, he briefly became a flying brick.
“Hussle!” shouted the black girl and the uncostumed kid still standing around. They both rushed to the other guy’s side.
As for me, I turned to my agent. “It’s time to go. Will it just be you joining me on this flight?” I cocked the bot’s head back toward the teens. “It sounds like you’re expecting at least one guest.”
“I’ll never go with you!” yelled the man’s son.
The man appeared more sheepish now, in his dress pants and his longsleeve shirt and holding his laser fire rifle. “He and his mother don’t understand. They were part of my cover,” I looked back to them. Perceiving a threat there, the father hurriedly added, “And I love them both.”
“They are loose ends,” I pointed out.
“Who are they going to tell? Who would believe them?” he asked. Stupid questions, but I noticed the way his hold on the rifle twitched. He wanted to point it at my back.
I whirled on him and approached. He bowed quickly and held it. Quietly, so only the pair of us could here, I said, “Pst. Beg me to spare them loud enough so they can hear.”
“Your Imperial Augustness?” Oooh, Augustness. Don’t hear that one often. Maybe I should keep a tally on each new form of address.
“No, trust me, go with it,” I assured him. Louder, I asked, “What was that?”
“No- My-… Emperor, if my service has been of any value to you, I ask you a kindness just this once. Spare them. He’s my son, and they are his friends. They just… misguided.” He never rose from the bow, though.
I let those words hang in there are for a couple of seconds, then placed the robot’s hand on his head. “Fine then, whatever your name is. Just this once. Now hurry up and into the chopper.” I signaled the pilot, who began to descend. I turned to the teenage hero team. “But just this once. Pray you don’t encounter me twice,” I told them. Then I grabbed the agent and hopped into the chopper with him.
The flight out of there was much more pleasant, I thought. After closing the doors, I pushed a cooler over to the man trying to figure out what to do now that the life he built collapsed. “Here, have a cold one. Have as many cold ones as you need right now. The debriefing can wait until after your hangover.”
He took me up on it. I like to think I’m not that bad of a boss.
He was still sleeping the whole thing over when I loaded him into the jet and we stopped off at Paradise City International Airport. I left him behind on the jet and passed some cash to the luggage people. “If anyone gets the drug sniffing dogs out, I’d appreciate it if y’all could get some of whatever they find and send it to this guy in here, especially if it’s pot. He’s had a hell of a week.”
The baggage handlers smiled and pocketed the money.
The Dudebot was welcomed through the oh-so-conspicuous front door of the Paradise City Casino, for lack of a formal name, the seat of power for Ouroboros. Ouroboros isn’t the biggest or strongest, but he managed to become the crime lord, and de facto boss, of Paradise City. His casino is a major source of revenue for a beach-front tourist city that lacks any other major source of income. As I found out from the last time I was in Paradise City, he’s adept at handling a major drug cartel and the Yakuza.
Also, he locked me in a vault to hand over to the superheroes chasing me. My visit could have gone better.
I didn’t actually enter the lavish temple of cash and chance this time. I couldn’t get any signals coming in or out of the place, so I didn’t risk sending the Dudebot in and handing over a deactivated robot with a bunch of fancy stuff attached to it.
I stopped the Dudebot in front of the place and waited patiently. My table would be arriving shortly. That wasn’t some expectation of being served by the guy, either. I had a table loaded in a rocket and shot across the world. The thing drifted in carried by a quartet of drones. Another two carried a reinforced chair strong enough to hold the Dudebot, and I sat it down there, waiting with fingers folded. He knew I was in town, and he had to have some inkling I wanted to talk. I’d left him a drunken voicemail, after all.
Ouroboros is not stupid, which led to a couple contradictory courses of action. I’m still the best assassin around, so it’d be smart to not meet me outside. I’m also a world leader making my nation a one stop shop for illicit everything. I heard we even have a store that sells both exotic snakes and exotic snakeskin boots. They sell hats and belts, too. They’d never get through the anacondas otherwise. Great jerky place next door. I took Qiang out for some, seeing what she likes. She had fun playing with some of the animals, too.
But that was in Ricca. In Paradise City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, I sat near the dead grass and stared at a woman made hideous by lack of sleep and surplus of booze. I didn’t wait all night. I was willing to wait pat of the time, as a show of good faith, but I did leave before he got there. I even included a little note on the table, courtesy of the Dudebot’s lasers.
“Keep the table, and this lovely chair. It is the only seat you will have at the table.”
Minor backfire there, him not seeing me. I meant to pick a big name here to legitimize the whole thing, like when someone who knows their stuff endorses something. But it’s not all for naught. I got an RSVP in the affirmative for Mix N’Max, a lot of interest from some others, and a yes from Spinetingler. I didn’t even know I knew his email address. I didn’t even know there were still bellsouth.net addresses active.
I also received emails from villains leading crews for the Yakuza and the local cartel. They sense an opportunity, so I’ll stick around. After all, I’ve got a spare seat to fill.
I wish drunk Gecko could handle the problems he created here. Well, inconveniences. I had enough sense while drunk not to really give out my phone number, so I have that going for me. It’s my email inbox blowing up instead. Yay, now I’m organizing an event.
First thing’s first, a little bit of basic body modification. I ate a big meal, hung one of my batteries around my neck, put on a snug armored undersuit, hugged a butchered pig, slipped on a suit covered in all sorts of material, and took a dip in a pool of nanites.
I’d put a lot of planning into what I wanted to change. Adding a little lift to my butt is one thing; adding a new pair of limbs is quite another. I thought about just having it grow a new pair of organic arms in line with whatever I had, but then I remembered I could be more awesome than the humanoid standard. So I pivoted to purely cybernetic prosthetics. Robot arms. Laser fingers, man. Maybe the hand turns into a minigun.
When I first thought about melding flesh and metal, that’s when decided to take a look at Beetrice’s arm. The human form is quite inefficient in many ways, and I thought I’d look at an alternative version. I could have gone for tentacles, I suppose, but then women would just launch the pussy at me 24/7. Think the London Blitz, but unrelenting bombardment by lady parts. And, sure, some guys with nice asses.
Eh, like I care that much, but people like to think I’m interested in finding one particular pussy to settle down with and fuck. Or, if we’re being fair, one particular dick to slide into my ass until it gapes alone for it the rest of my life. I mean, let’s be fair. I can take some serious dick. The secret is to not think so much about it while it’s going in.
I’ll have to go into all this another time. I’m getting sidetracked from the changes I made to myself. I grabbed the side of the tank with four hands. It took some getting used to the new appendages sticking out from where my arm pits used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still have arm pits. I have double the arm pits. That’s why I had the stink glands removed. Boom, problem solved.
First stop, the kitchen. “Baba’s a spider man!” called Qiang as she saw me walking around the extra arms. I practiced waving at her with each hand in turn, then grabbed knives.
“Spiders are eight legged freaks, my dear. Insects have six legs. So I’m a bug now.” I made a cutesy voice and drew my arms in close. “Dun squish me, Qiang! Nuuuuu!”
She fell over herself giggling and I began to juggle the knives, trying to get the hang of my new arms. It was rough at first. The blades fell against my skin plenty of times, but the nano material I’d incorporated has rendered my bare skin stab proof and mostly bullet proof. I mean, there’s only so much you can say anything’s bulletproof in a world where the .50 cal exists, but I can handle most things you’d see at a shooting range outside of California.
Well, Qiang saw me juggling knives and ran up with her own knife to try. One failed juggle later, I dunked Qiang into the nanite dip. Now she has stabproof skin. She’s a growing girl, though, so I don’t know how that’ll play into things.
I couldn’t sit around juggling knives and loaded firearms with my daughter all day, and not just because we ran out of ammo. The emails kept piling up and I knew I had to go before the Directory. My plan was simple. Go up there and ask, “Hey, remember that time I saved y’all’s asses?” And hide the extra arms under my dress. It’d be easier if I put them lower down on my torso, but it worked out better mechanically to stick them right under the main ones. I picked out something with a little slack in the sides so I could hold them down there in case of a surprise attack by rebellious fiends whose first attack cuts off my arms.
When I ascended to the stage and announced my intention to hold a large conference with every supervillain in the world, they were surprisingly supportive. There were no official objections to me throwing a giant shindig with all those villains. I even got some applause. Always nice to have people confident in my success, no matter the audacious plan. So after the applause calmed down from my announcement, the first thing I needed help with was the venue. “Anyone know of a place, like a big stadium or anything, where we can fit everyone?”
“The Imperial Hippodrome, Empress Regnant,” said the Secretary Pro-Tem. It was a different guy from the other day, however they decide it, but these Pro-Tem guys seem to have preference for answering back to me among all these guys. “It was originally built for the 1940 Olympics, but the games were canceled. We were permitted to use it for football. With your permission, Imperial Eminence, may we authorize the resumption of our league after the convention is finished?”
“Hey, that’s a great idea!” I said, sitting up in my recliner. If I’m going to oversee this thing from time to time, I want to be comfy. “In fact, you might see if some of the visitors we have might want to participate. I’d emphasize that no powers would be allowed on the field, but this is great.” I really do. Sports is a pretty good way to get a lot of petty frustrations out of the way. Good distraction, builds a community, and it can be quite profitable. Especially, soccer, if you think about it. All you need is a ball and some simple goals. Much less startup cost than American football, or even baseball. Plus, you’re not training your peasantry to beat people up while wearing armor or how to properly use a club.
The fact that I’m utterly bored by it shouldn’t detract from the soccer idea.
As I walked out of there, a number of men met with the Directors. I spotted bank folks, people from our burgeoning arms industry, and some drug representatives. And when Ricca says drug reps, we’re not talking Sudafed and Viagra. These are the kinds of guys who make the cocaine Sudafed pushers snort at their fancy decongestant parties in Vegas with all the hookers. Most didn’t pay me any mind, perhaps due to a sign Qiang held up for me. It read, “Solicitors will be disemboweled, then fed their bowels.” I’m so proud of how she did on that assignment. Her spelling is good and her penmanship is a lot better than mine.
“Empress, a moment of your time!” said someone in a suit who couldn’t read. Qiang turned toward him as he rushed forward, knife appearing in her little hand. D’aww, who’s mommy’s little stabber?
“My name is Hu,” he said. “I worked for the old Special Intelligence Service. I desperately need to speak with you.” Despite that, he didn’t try to disarm or harm my daughter, so smart move on his part. Since he was the only one to approach, I decided I’d hear him out.
I nodded, and he moved past Qiang, only for me to grab him and flip him onto his back on the pavement. I had to hold Qiang back, and didn’t realize until I’d done so that I’d used one of my lower arms for the task. Nobody could see the arm, just a bulge under my dress. I let it flop down in front of me and pretended to scratch balls I didn’t currently have. Give ’em something to guess about. Then I picked up our very Special intelligence agent and guided him into the Palace Residence for a talk.
As soon as I walked, I called out for Citra. “Dear, we have a guest.” She’d been hinting about trying to be romantic, so I didn’t want us all walking in to find her reclining somewhere wearing nothing but cherry blossom petals.
“I’m thirsty, Baba. I want a drink,” Qiang said as I walked with the intelligence guy to a side room that had been intended to be the study of the apartment. I motioned toward the kitchen. “Go on and get yourself something. Bring me back something as well, please. And you, Hu?”
Hu bowed his head. “The Empress honors me, but I would not impose on her gloriousness or the heir to the throne.”
Qiang had run off anyway, so I gestured for Hu to sit. He refused up until I lost patience with him and sat anyway. “So, Special Intelligence Service. It makes sense the Claw had spies, but I’m surprised I hadn’t heard from them.”
He adjusted the glasses on his face and reached into his coat to remove a disc small enough to fit inside the palm of his hand with room left over and held it up for me. “If you do not have the augmented vision glasses, I have a spare pair, as it is important to see through them for our discussion.”
I smiled and tapped my head beside my eyes, shifting to the Riccan government’s augmented reality frequency. “I have that capability built in. Go on.”
He pressed a button on the disc and a screen appeared for only us to see. “The Service has been devastated by the events that led to your coronation, Empress. This is not a criticism, merely statement fact.” He looked uncomfortable stating uncomfortable facts.
I shrugged. “Facts have the ultimate authority. It is we who must bow to them. I value the truth from subordinates. Go on.”
He brought up a roster. “This is a list of our Non-Official Cover agents. They serve under the guise of civilians. As you can see, the status of many is unknown.” He scrolled down the list, showing that very thing listed under the heading of status. “We lost contact with them. Due to their cover identities around the world, it may be difficult for them to check in. If there are dead drops or secret back channels, many of those who oversaw them either died or abandoned their duty. Some defected, bringing the identities of other agents to their new masters.”
He stopped on one of the agents listed as KIA. It showed CCTV footage of a Chinese takeout restaurant in Dublin suddenly being raided by a special operations team of some sort. One of the cooks tossed hot noodles at them from the grill while the delivery boy pulled a gun out of a paper box with dragons on the side. As small as a one of those tiny Walther guns James Bond used, the shot penetrated three men in body armor before piercing the engine block of a black SUV pulling up outside, and seemed to continue onward. He didn’t too many more shots in, going down under a hail of gunfire. The cook in the back turned and fled out the back. The spec ops team thought they had the old lady at the register, but she whipped out a pair of chopsticks and soon had a group of highly trained specialists down on the floor.
It was then the wall became see-through and someone shot her from the outside. A man stepped in wearing a dark blue suit with gold necktie, his eyes hidden behind glasses. I still recognized him as the Riccan agent who brought me in when I’d offered the secret of my dimensional bombs for sale to the highest bidding nation. Looks like he offered himself up to another country.
“Those are not the only threats,” Hu said. Off from the kitchen, I heard something shatter. “Do you need to see to that?” He asked. I shook my head in the negative. Good thing I gave Qiang that stabproof skin. I didn’t kidproof the house, I houseproofed the kid.
When he seemed satisfied I cared more about what he had to say, Hu scrolled down to another name, listed as Incarcerated. This one brought up a pair of video screens side by side. He played the one on my right first, showing an Egyptian hero swinging a khopesh sword, curved forward rather than backward. Every swing, sand burst up and and swiped at a group of what I at first took to be ninjas. It wasn’t he stabbed it into the ground and hands of sand grabbed them that enough of one’s face mask came loose for me to see it was a mummy.
Before you could yell “Curses!” someone ran up. It looked like a man praising the hero and thanking him profusely, until the needle came out. Whatever it was in the hero’s veins, it knocked him out quickly. The thankful man then pulled the sword out of the sand and motioned for the mummies to help him carry off the hero.
When that finished, Hu put on the next video, showing inside a home with the same kidnapper from before. He hears something, and goes to open the door. Sand floods in, moving in and knocking over his wall. The ceiling collapses. The camera gets rolled around quite a bit before it settles on a view of the Riccan agent kneeling, pleading to the same hero from before accompanied by a few faces I remember. They were some of the heroes and villains kidnapped and brainwashed by The Claw, former Emperor of Ricca, with a drug that could block access to memory. I’d arranged for them to be healed by nanites and get the drug out of their systems. They were vindictive enough to end The Claw right when he was about to kill me. Looks like some of them kept on being vindictive.
“It sounds like we need to figure out what’s become of our people and resources,” I said.
He sat up straighter. “Yes, Empress. I was a desk agent, but I am one of the Service who remains loyal to the Empire. Please allow me and my confederates to reform the Service. I can promise you there is much to be salvaged. Agents are making contact. Some will link up and return. Others will hold their cover or maneuver into new areas. Others will need our help.”
He gave me a glimpse of the file of one of our agents in Alabama of all places. He was requesting aid due to the meddling of troublesome teenagers with superpowers. His last query had been asking if it would be appropriate to break cover and seek asylum with Ouroboros, the supervillain ruler of nearby Paradise City, Florida.
Hmm. Ouroboros would be a good place to start. He’s got some pull among villains himself for being canny enough to take over and hold a city without being one of the really scary powers.
I smiled. “I think I would like to see to this one. It may play well into my own plans.”
He nodded respectfully, then looked up as Qiang ran in, soaking wet somehow. She handed me a juice box, then turned and shoved a Yoohoo into Hu’s hand. She sprinted out while yelling an apology, “Sorry for the big water thing in the kitchen, Baba!”
Tsk, tsk. That daughter of mine. We really need to work on her escape artistry. I’ll have to pick up some straightjackets for her in America. If anyone will have them to spare, it’ll be Alabama.
As the dictator of my own nation, it’s nice having people who listen to me and do what I say. The world would be a better place if more people did that. Alas, they just weren’t ready. But that doesn’t mean large swathes of the world won’t listen. The ones that do are just plain nice, though.
Starting with the Directors. They were exceedingly grateful to be rescued by me. Really reaffirmed their loyalty, but I did have a few things to discuss with them. I’d have had a few of them over, but they didn’t really have a hierarchy now that the last one made such a bad impression and I had to kill them. Instead of inviting a few of them over to discuss some issues, I had to go to the Directory. Keeping with my casual attitude, though, I dragged along my armor for a little cleaning and maintenance.
I carried my armor in there and sat on the stage previously reserved for the High Directorate. Pulling out a gauntlet, I turned it around so I could inspect its nozzle. The Directors were in the middle of some sort of roll call procedure, so I had time enough to spray on solvent and let it work on the gunk. The stuff I use is great for dissolving all sorts of crap, especially stuff I’ve neglected to clean off. The stealth aspect has generally been more important for my use of the armor, so I’ve let the rockets sit uncleaned for way too long. Plus, this stuff has a strong smell shortly after use.
“Emperor… Empress… I must apologize, my lord or lady. Our first concern appears to be your form of address?” asked the secretary pro-tem.
I raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me, my form of address? First thing on your minds after an attempted coup is what to call me? Am I correct in assuming this is about whether to treat me as male or female?”
“That… is correct, your Imperial Eminence,” said the secretary. “Do you prefer to be called ‘Emperor’ or ‘Empress’?”
I waved my hand. “Whatever.” If they weren’t going to focus on the serious stuff right away, why should I help them jack around? I had some important stuff to clean. Scrub, scrub, scrubbing with the copper brush took precedence over helping these guys waste time. That’s why I brought it, and it’s important to really get in there with a little muscle. And just because I went from handsome to pretty doesn’t mean I stripped out the enhanced muscles I’ve given myself. Hell, I can compact muscle like y’all wouldn’t believe. I could snap a man’s neck with my kegels. Like a pair of steely, sexy nutcrackers, except used on a guy’s neck instead of nuts. Would not want to actually fit the head up in there, though.
Another Director stood up. “To reflect our sovereign’s current state, I propose we use the word ‘Empress’.”
Another stood up, “We have Empress Elda. We would need to rename her as well.”
That gave me pause before I remembered Elda. Red-headed, tanned chick. Nice body, crooked teeth. She was the Princess of an important bronze-age nation state on the recently resurfaced continent of Mu. I married her, then betrayed her and almost killed her. Citra, my former servant girl-turned consort, insisted that we keep Elda alive and comatose. It was a wedding gift to her, as Citra’s my de facto wife. She even took on the appearance of Elda to make it look good and everything.
She was a bit shocked to see me back as a woman, while I was suddenly reminded I told her she could look normal. And so she did indeed look like her normal self, but with Elda’s red hair and tan skin. She took it well, all things considered. Awkwardly trying out a kiss, then realizing she didn’t mind it so much. Plus, we can do each other’s nails now, get our hair done together. I’m actually a better fit for a lot of her old clothes since she kept some of Elda’s dimensions, too. No sex yet, and she doesn’t want to be seen with me in public. It’s been an adjustment for her.
As this inane debate in the Directory attests, it’s been an adjustment for many, like when one skinny Director with an impressive pair of shoulder pads in his suit stood up and declared. “We can’t have an Empress married to another Empress? They’re both women!”
Heads looked at him, then at me. “Gay marriage, people. Legalize it. Equal rights for them. Oh, and transgender people.” I wouldn’t say I’m trans mentally. I’ve changed so much of my body around I could have easily lost track of it but for the Psychopomp program only picking boys and making damn sure the training reflected that. Spending awhile as a woman is just a thing I do sometimes. I’m secure enough in my masculinity to wear dresses and boobs and just the CUTEST sandals. Hell, I think every guy should give it a try at some point or another if they can.
But enough about my super manly love of skirts. I stared down the Directors, who must not have thought of that so much. Unlike them, I don’t need to blink. I actually don’t. It’s the cybernetic eyes. And even if I did need to, they can hold liquids. I could just fill them full of saline and expel it in small enough doses so I wouldn’t have to blink. The wonders of cybernetics. I’m actually thinking about putting in some new teeth, like a new row of them. Or a couple more arms might be nice. I’ve been considering that one off and on since I made the Whirlygig arms, and it came to mind again when I only had enough limbs to throw three knives at the High Directorate.
The Directors relented. The Secretary Pro-tem turned to the others. “All in favor?” Everyone said “Aye.” He turned back to me, “The ayes have it.” Damn straight they do. Cyber-eyes. Because when you stare into the void, the void loses the staring contest. “We will work out the specifics later. More importantly, we have decided to declare Psycho Gecko Empress Regnant. For brevity’s sake, this may be shortened to Empress. Empress Elda is officially the Empress Consort, to be shortened to Consort.”
A small cheer went up from the assembled Directors as if they accomplished something. “Alright, you bunch of old ladies, now that you’ve figured out what you’d like to call me, we need to get back to figuring out some shit. We have some work to do here, people. We’re gonna need more submarine pens, bigger docks, larger airports. I’ve got a scientist I kidnapped eager to turn Mu into the breadbasket of the empire. Possibly the hash capital of the world, too, he started asking questions about poppies. I still see it as a win. We’re not just finding our feet again after a stumble; we’re hitting the ground running and then launching into a spinning roundhouse kick that’ll knock the rest of the world on its collective ass.”
I spent the day taking a tour of the island all over again. The Farm cult’s still working along, organizing a mission trip. Old Man Hoodless didn’t seem to enjoy my company so much now that I come with my own door knockers, but he mentioned he’d been speaking with our mutual friends at Cape Diem. Cape Diem were looking for volunteers to go to countries experiencing famine. The Cult intends to head over there, hand out food, and invite people to join them on their multi-story farm compound where they have no shortage of food. Sounds like a winning strategy.
As a welcome-back present, Old Man Hoodless officially presented me with several jars of moonshine that could serve as drink, improvised explosive device, and engine degreaser. I thanked him and told him it would take a prominent spot in the Imperial liquor cabinet.
Then it was off to the military base to hand out medals. The men were a little off their game saluting a commander in chief in a kimono with her hair up. We worked out a way to do medals for the Deep Ones, who hadn’t entirely grasped the concept of modesty. Probably because their penises were retractable. “In thanks for your actions putting down the attempted coup, I award you the Order of Loyalty.” And then I stuck it on the drone operator’s slimy scales. It’s based on some sort of old explosives technology, something called a Lamprey mine.
After the ceremony ended, I ordered a few kegs of beer to be delivered to the base. Even threw in some of that new “seabrew” crap. I understand Ricca’s the first nation with its very own seabrew distillery, which is made from kelp somehow. I had a bottle brought to me for tasting once. More like the makers dropped off a bottle as a gesture of goodwill. I smelled it coming from outside the door and the jar had a warning label to avoid opening in rooms with too many lights on in case it started a fire. I awoke the next morning with a dry mouth and a surprising amount of wood furniture missing its varnish. Decent stuff. It’ll go well with the moonshine Old Man Hoodless gave me.
That said, I stumbled downstairs and found myself caught in the squeeing hug of a giant bee woman.
“I’m so happy to have you back Gecko, I love you, love you, love you!” Beetrice, Queen Bee of the Buzzkills said as she picked me up and spun me around several times.
“Please don’t do that, Beetrice, or you may end up quite dirty,” I said. She stopped, nearly giving me ass-whiplash, and hugged me tight. “I thought you preferred me with a penis. What are you doing here?”
“You called me!” she said. Oh, for fuck’s sake, I drunk dialed my ex. But then, I like to think that this world as a whole is my ex, and I’m just waiting for it to fall in the dumps and want to hook back up with me again.
“I believe I was drunk, so what did I invite you here for, exactly?” I asked. I looked up into some of her eyes, being unable to properly look her in all of them at once.
She flexed one of her large, exoskeleton-clad arms. Unlike my power armor, hers is a natural part of her body. She’s better about clothes than the Deep Ones, though. “You wanted my body. You said something about making arms.”
That sounds like me, so I nodded. “Right. I’ve been thinking about extra arms. I don’t suppose there’s anything else I did last night?”
“Um, you said something about calling a bunch of other people,” she said. She set me down and stepped back to a notepad half-embedded in the wall of the hallway. “These people.”
“Odd, I don’t use paper that much.” I took it from her and found it filled with names and numbers. Men, women, and the technicolor rainbow in between filled up one side; the other had phone numbers and email addresses. Every single one was checked off. Every single one also hit in my recognition software as supervillains. I dropped it on the floor. “Well crap, looks like we’re moving faster than intended.”
“We are?” Beetrice asked, bending down to pick up the list. “You only called them last night. What are we doing?”
I reached out and took Beetrice’s hand, running my fingers over the shiny but firm natural armor where it grew out of her body. “I’m going to host a conference. It’s high time we set up a new system. The heroes have academies and social networks. We need a network of our own. A formal network. A union of sorts. The Mafia once had The Commission to govern all of organized crime within the United States, with their own problem solvers for anything that threatened the greater group. I think we need something similar.”
“You think all the bad guys will join forces?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No, just come to an agreement. Something to help us set boundaries, make sure people aren’t stepping on each other’s toes. Help people find like-minded individuals for heists. If the heroes want to come at us with huge super groups, we have to be able to call on something similar with a lot less hassle. Maybe we’ll even solve that problem of he rest of us kicking the crap out of anyone to do a good job of taking over the world. On top of that, set up a few rules of conduct we can get the heroes to agree for both sides. Murder, rape, that kinda stuff.”
Beetrice giggled as I traced a finger around a particular armor plate on her palm. That hand brushed at my elbow. “Mmm. But you like killing people. Oh, and how will you get criminals to agree to rules like that?”
I smiled up at her and raised her arm and the hand up to nuzzle. “My dear, no matter what form governance takes, there is one thing human nature requires of all of them: an enforcer. If crook or crimefighter steps out of line, I’ll be the one to make sure they don’t do anything wrong ever again. Something tells me I’ll have no shortage of supers to murder. Just disappointed I probably won’t get a shot at Venus.”
Back in Ricca, the High Directorate helped themselves to a wonderful dinner just for themselves. It was a five man group, mostly from the ranks of the formerly disadvantaged lower classes of Riccan society. Chief Director Hsin-hung showed off his status with a well-tailored, gold-pinstriped suit. On the wall behind him hung a disc. He did not wear the disc when he and his supporters pushed through a resolution creating a High Directorate, but he did when they named him Chief Director. It gleamed as he announced that the High Directorate was to see to the administration of the island in the absence of the Emperor. Of paramount importance was the island’s defense.
They insisted the military and police should follow their orders. Luckily, I had the loyalty of one group and the fear of the other. The High Directorate then learned a valuable lesson when it comes to a group of civilian politicians bossing around a military: it’s kinda hard to force a military to do anything since, by definition, the military has all the really good shit for blowing things up. Now, a clever bunch of people with popular support could figure out all kinds of ways to undermine the military. The High Directorate turned out to be lacking there. They tried to recruit their own paramilitary group.
I’d call it an amateur move, but I’ve seen amateurs do better. I’ve supported amateurs doing better. That’s one reason I know that most revolutions can’t afford to pay professionals anyway. I mean, they’re generally the result of middle or upper-middle class privileged people wanting to be the upper class, but nobody focuses that much on paying debts during a revolution. Not financial debts, at least. Some people are all too happy to take advantage of a little chaos to settle other sorts of debts.
All the members of the High Directorate had come back for those debts. Financially, they dressed and ate well. One of them carried a number of engraved and plated weapons on his person, even after disarming for dinner. Guns have some uses, especially for the unimaginative folk, but most people have a limited number of hands to use them with. Rifling through the coat closet, I’d found where he dropped off an automatic rifle, an LMG, a bolt action rifle, and a .44 magnum revolver with a sniper scope on it. Not that they’d be useful, but I hid the ammo.
I know, I keep bringing up myself, but where am I in all this? To answer that question, let’s go back a few hours to before this little dinner. Just making it clear I got ahead of myself at the start here and we’re now backin’ dat ass up so as to prevent confusion. Well, more confusion than usual.
I snuck back into my own country. No one was trying to stop me, but it seemed handy. I’d kept up with the news while oversees, and now seemed like a good time to do something about it. My arrival proved timely, as well.
I’d snuck up to the building they’re throwing together right in front of the Palace remnants. It’s still partially tent, but they’ve got a lot more walls and supports up. I didn’t wear my armor, and sent Qiang along to practice sneaking into the palace. I got looks wandering around like that, but that’s because I’m beautiful and colorful. I’d never been female on the island.
I got there and saw a large group of mostly young men standing around. They wore jackets with a sunrise of some sort. Like a half circle cut by a horizontal line, and a bunch of smaller lines reaching up from the half circle, as well as an arrow cutting through the half circle to point upward. I saw the same symbol graffitied around with the phrase “New Direction” underneath it. They all hid their faces one way or another. I saw them in bandanas, surgical masks, face masks, and some even resorted to facepaint. There were a lot of them milling about, pretending they were guards or something.
I went to pull open a door and a pair of these guys rushed up to stop me. “Nobody goes in!” one of them yelled from behind a plastic mask in the shape of a guardian lion. One of those statues, that is, somewhat resembles a dog or a lion. The other one had red facepaint with squiggly black lines of it, but I didn’t recognize the pattern if it took inspiration from anything. That one stuck some cheap revolver gun in my face, a Rohm knockoff. Really cheap gun, and a potential danger to people on either side of the barrel. It was a testament to my abilities as an actor that I managed to look a little bit afraid.
“You’re pretty. Why you want to go in there when you could come with us?” asked the one with the gun.
“Why would I want to go with you when I can cut my nose off?” I asked.
He raised the pistol. “I could shoot it off.”
“Hey man, she’s too pretty to waste,” a third one said as he walked up, holding a long and hard piece of wood in his hands. A baseball bat, that is. He grabbed my arm. “Come on, don’t cause trouble.”
He led me away from there. “You got some nerve, girl. I like that, but most of these boys are intense. Just stay out of our way.” He let me go when we got twenty feet away from all the rest of them before letting me go. “You don’t want to be here today.”
“What’s going on here today?” I asked, putting all my weight on one leg and a hand on my hip. Trying to emphasize the hips and chests here with a nice stance.
He held up the bat to point at me while holding it near the top. He didn’t do it in a threatening way. His eyes were wide open, all concerned. “Don’t ask questions like that either. Just go.” He swept the bat off to the side. “Get out of here before you get caught up in this.”
If not for all the new construction going around so close to the former palace grounds, it might have been tough to maneuver around. I also had an opportunity to grab a goat and seaweed kebab from a small place catering to the workforce. Not bad. I didn’t like the seaweed, but not bad.
I circled around. Despite the debris being cleaned up, these New Direction guys didn’t cover the whole area. I managed to sneak in despite broad daylight working against me to look in on the Directory at work.
I edged forward, hearing a gavel bang on wood repeatedly. “The Lessers will sit down and know their place!”
That was from the central of five people sitting on a platform above the rest. In front of them, even more Directors jumped up from their chairs to yell at them. One of them, wearing a pair of sashes that criss-crossed his front and back, jumped onto a desk and shouted above the rest at his colleagues on high, “You will not usurp the power of this institution or of the Emperor himself!”
One on the far right pulled out a gleaming pearl and gold derringer and pointed it at that one. “You are acting like insolent dogs. This is why only we can be trusted to lead Ricca into its new direction.”
Seeing as I am the Emperor, that would have been a good time to step in and assert myself, but the High Directors had given some sort of signal. New Direction goons ran in with their varied arms. Some of them gave war cries as they forced the regular Directors down to the floor in short order. The one with the sash was hit in the legs until he fell down. Others were attacked with blunt weapons or pistol whipped. Some just needed to be held at knife point, but they were all put on their knees.
The High Director banged his gavel again. “You are all to be tried for treason against the state tomorrow. We shall see how cooperative you are to the High Directorate then. Take them away to the Yomi cells.”
The New Direction whooped enthusiastically as they led off the governing body of the island to some sort of holding center not related to my own military or police. I transmitted orders to the Deep One Drone Division to keep an eye on this group and surveil wherever they go, but without crowding around and making it obvious.
As for me, I went to go retrieve my armor from the docks, where it had been airing out after my latest cleaning. I think even some of the fish were gagging on the smell. Once I’d acquired my famous formal wear, it was time to crash the High Directorate’s congratulatory dinner.
I moved carefully, despite the heavier armor. I had to do a lot of cleaning to get my hologram projectors up and running again. Still, sneaking is something I do well enough. It got me the gun-lover’s ammo easily.
I very nearly killed the servants for convenience. They belonged to this head guy, Hsin-hung, but they were still my citizens, so I had to do things a little differently. Like when I snuck up behind the chef in the kitchen, tightened a cord in my hand, and jumped up behind him. The apple fell into his mouth naturally enough, obstructing his ability to cry out. The cord yanked back on his head, and I tied it around there easily enough. The chef turned around, eyes wide, only to see the fanged grin of my mask there. “Hello. I just needed you quiet. By the way, got a cup of sugar I can borrow?” I swung a bag of sugar right into his balls, knocking him to his knees where he could be easily handcuffed to the stove.
“Now then,” I looked around the kitchen, “Next course is going to be dessert.” I looked around, trying to see something I could whip up in a hurry. Ooh, whipping cream. I could make that work.
In the dining room, the High Directorate were no doubt surprised to see a giant cake wheeled out just before the main leg of lamb was supposed to be sent out.
“What is this?” asked Hsin-hung. “The cake is too early. Send it back.”
“I am afraid I can’t, sir,” said the waiter I’d roped into helping out.
“I am the High Director. No one’s orders supersede mine,” he responded.
The waiter spoke quietly. I couldn’t hear it from my position. Hsin-hung had some problem with it, too. “What did you say?”
“The Emperor’s orders do!” the waiter shouted. I heard the scrape of metal as our resident Director Gun Nut pulled a piece on the waiter. Then nothing much.
“Why isn’t is shooting?!” asked the disappointed would-be killer.
I exploded out of the top of the whipped cream shaped like a cake, topless. Bottomless too, I suppose I should say. What I’m trying to get across is my nudity. I was naked, with boobs covered in whipped cream. If I had a camera, I know what I’d be putting on a calender as a national fundraiser. So I popped out of the whipped cream cake. I threw a pair of knives and spit a third one like I was rapping a sick rhyme. As bad as my singing is, my rapping is downright lethal. So is a knife to the throat, and that took care of three of our High Directors.
“Whew. That takes care of those,” I said, looking around. I turned to wink at Hsin-hung and the gun guy. “Heya. How are y’all doin’?”
“What treachery is this? Guards!”
I held up a finger and stepped out of the box the cream had been shaped around. “Yeah, there aren’t really too many of those left now after someone sent them the soup. I know some chemicals that give people the jungle shits, I shit you not. Didn’t want anymore people running in to arrest people in the name of the Emperor. Funny thing, that, I didn’t authorize arresting the Directors.” I climbed onto the table, shaking off a bit, and quickly stepped around an ice sculpture of an Eastern dragon.
“This woman is not the Emperor,” said our resident firearm lover. Click, he tried another gun. Another gun. Another gun. Another gun.
“Yeah, I could convince you, maybe put my armor back on, but why? So, you guys arrest and execute directors in my name now?” I kicked Hsin-hung’s knives away before he thought to pick them up. I leaned down to look at him. “Awful lot of power for a director to admit for me, the ability to just execute the legislative body of the island.”
I heard the other one jump out of his seat. I grabbed a silver plate and turned, bashing him upside the head and laying him out on the table, then smashed the edge of the plate down on his throat repeatedly until I left a bent plate embedded in his flesh while he bled out. Then I turned back to Hsin-hung, smiling around the blood that had sprayed all over my face. “Don’t get me wrong, I say I have that power anyway. Nice to have you admit it, though.”
“What do you want, you crazy bitch?” Hsin-hung asked.
I booped his nose. “A world my daughter will be safe in. And that means not having a stupid revolving door of people who think they have what it takes to challenge me. You want that crazy shit, take it off the island.”
Hsin-hung folded his hands up in front of him. “My mind may be open to this proposal, Emperor.” He emphasized the word as if to admit acceptance of the delusions of a madwoman.
I made a clicking noise with my mouth, then grabbed the ice dragon off the table and smashed it into Hsin-hung’s head over and over again until brain oozed out onto his gilded hardwood chair. “Yeah, it’s important to stay open-minded.” I snapped my fingers and the waiter rushed over. “Fetch my armor. It’s brisk outside.”
H e nodded and ran off. Meanwhile, the Riccan Security team and Deep One Drone Division received the order to move in and rescue the Directors and eliminate any of the High Directorate’s thugs who got in the way.
Now that the country’s back in order, I can finally move the world in a New Direction.