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 lacking back 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.