Category Archives: 66. What Do You Want?

The Shadow Question. What do you want?

What Do You Want 7: One More Question…

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Ah, lovely Missouri. The trees! Ok, so the trees suck. The weather! It’s too cold. The mountains! I don’t like walking uphill. I was lying about the lovely part, too. About the only good thing you can say about Missouri is that it loves company. If the stories from the fountain drunk, whose name I found out was Seawalker after a gift of a bottle of scotch, are any indication, they really love company. Company brings in new kids to kidnap. Company brings business. There could have been quite a conundrum there, whether to wear armor or dress. I solved it by remembering I didn’t like these people and had other shit to do other than leave the country just for their sake.

I gotta watch out for that, ya know. I’ve still got the reverse of diplomatic immunity going on. Ricca is at peace and no one will try to drag me before any courts for my numerous crimes against everybody and everything, including that time I took the world hostage and declared myself Emperor. The trade-off is that I am not supposed to leave the island. Luckily, I have all these nice little robots, the Dudebots, so named because they represent the most awesome dude around and let me chill. Plus, they give me plausible deniability for when I do leave. Everything can just be dismissed as one of these robots.

I still had the Dudebot hiding out in Florida. I’d locked it in a storage locker along with the robot horse I built for wrecking a prison transport. I kept it, and I didn’t’ even have to feed it or clean up after it. I really should market robots as the ideal pets. Hypoallergenic and probably not part of anybody’s plan to conquer humanity. I’ll have to remember that one.

I stayed behind to put the finishing touches on a venue for the big meeting. I know, it keeps getting drawn out, but most people put more planning into a thing before they announce it and start kidnapping guests. While I stayed behind bodily to do my part and keep a tight rein on the Directors also working on this, I activated the Dudebot in Florida to handle lovely little Missouri. It was the robot, and its horse, that arrived to deal with this little problem presented to me. And why focus so much on it? Because helping people is its own reward, and so is murder.

The target was a little town off in the mountains, a ways from anything resembling civilization. It looked pretty crappy, honestly. They didn’t have shit. No farms, no paper mills, not even a call center. You know you’re in bad shape as a township when a call center would be a godsend. I’d expected some of that, though. The story as told to me involved the place having no other income after the mining stopped. That’s often the problem with small towns. The jobs are all elsewhere, but they’re too stubborn to go there.

Speaking of mining, I paid that old area a visit next. I had looked over the town from its borders at sunset, but now had to contend with the darkening of the forest. The horse made the trek easily enough, crashing on through the woods and leaping downed logs in a single bound. I came out of the woods not far from where a dirt road entered the clearing around the mine and its sign with fading letters. There was a building nearby, old and rusty. A refinery where they keep victims alive and dispose of those they no longer want. Of course I’d check it out. It’d be like going to the moon and not visiting the set Kubrick used to film the moon landing.

So I went in there. I disabled a pretty obvious sensor on the place, broke the lock, and stepped inside. Back in Ricca, the Directors around me got quiet and backed away when they saw the look on my face. I called in to the military base that I was going to need some medical teams to deploy. Then I had to arrange for some flights with any local pilots looking to make some money from their side hustle. And when those choppers arrived, I had to convince the pilots the best thing they could do was fly them to certain airports for extraction. All three of the ones I got in were ready to jump out and kill someone, even the guy who didn’t have anything but a rusty chain for the job.

It shows how backwoods the place was that I didn’t even get any visitors until then. I had just helped carry a kid out who had been strapped to a bed for several months when an SUV and a truck painted up as Sheriff’s vehicles arrived, lights flashing. I calmly walked over as a deputy exited each vehicle. “What the hell is going on here?” asked the one closest to me, raising a shotgun through the open window on the door he used for cover“Those aren’t yours!”

I didn’t stop walking as he fired a warning shot, which was his first mistake. The second one was firing an actual shot at me, which did nothing to slow me down. The pellets bounced right off me without breaking my stride. The deputy pumped the gun again and waited to fire until it was right up against me, as if that’d make it any more of a threat to me. I grabbed his head and pulled him forward while poking my fingers into his eyes. I dragged him halfway through his truck’s window before snatching the shotgun from his hands and smashing it over the back of his neck. His struggles stopped along with the snapping of his spine.

His friend was calling in for reinforcements over the radio when the device went exploded courtesy of the boomstick I held in my hands. He turned to me only to get a mouthful of hot barrel. I held him like that for a moment, trying to think if there was anything I needed from him, like information. I shook my head as I realized that wasn’t the case, then grabbed the man’s head and quickly jerked him down against the gun, the stock of which slammed into the ground. A couple seconds later, so did the second deputy’s head, the entire rest of the gun sticking out the back of it and dripping with grey matter and blood.

I got an ovation from the choppers, pilots and rescuees both. Refugees, I should say. Ricca is going to become quite the melting pot.

The unshot radio from the other vehicle squawked. “Hawkins, what’s going on out there? Why’d you go quiet?!”

I yanked the door open and leaned in. Plucking the microphone off its cradle, I held down the button and told them, “Hawkins can’t come to the radio right now.”

“Who is this? What happened to Hawkins?!” asked the thoroughly perplexed voice on the other end.

“He ate his gun. Send more cops,” I said, glancing back using the armor’s 360 display. It’s much easier to keep track of in the Dudebots than in my personal armor. I think if I rework it to be more digital and less visual, that’ll fix the issue. I could also adjust my eyes to make them better integrate with the display. Ideas for later.

“Hawkins, what’s going on? Who is this?” asked the dispatcher or whoever it was on repeat. Sounds like this town doesn’t see a lot of action. Well, considering the rescued young’uns, perhaps they’re too used to seeing the wrong sort.

I gave the radio one law little squawk of my own in response to them asking my identity. “The end.”

The robo-horse galloped up behind me and I hopped onto it as it passed. One of the good things about both being phenotypically female and doing all this by robot is not fucking up my balls trying stunts like that. I miss the wang, though, and I’m not just calling it that because I gave myself Asian features. I took off down the road, cape billowing behind me because that’s cool looking even in the dark.

I found a makeshift barrier at the end of that road and dropped a pair of chicken grenades on the head of the deputy who had just finished putting down a spike trap the horse jumped. I watched as the guy tried to catch one of them and tripped over his own shoes, falling onto the spike trap. He scrambled to get off it, but was caught on top of a chicken grenade when they went off.

I slowed down as I reached down. It seemed appropriate I brought the horse, as it was truly a one horse town. I regretted not painting it white. Shots and ricochets rang out as someone fired on me from the cover of a nearby gas station. I charged up the Dudebot’s optic lasers and set off the gas pumps. Things got bright and loud, but the would-be assassin learned the value of picking the right cover and concealment.

I rode over to check out the house catching fire next to it. A good start. I turned and swept the optic lasers across every building in my path, aiming more for trees, bushes, and anything wood. This proved disastrous for the lumber store and the antique store that sold rocking chairs. From further down this main street, I spotted another sheriff’s truck swerve around the corner, lights on. I heard the engine rev as it spotted me silhouetted against the flames. I cranked up the energy sheath in the Dudebot’s left fist and charged.

It felt like it took way too long for us to play that game of chicken. I could almost see the whites of the driver’s eyes through the windshield, seemed like. Then he dove out the door and rolled along the edge of the rode while a speeding truck came at me, bro. I turned the horse, sparks flying up from skidding metal hooves. A hard punch with my left unleashed all the gathered kinetic energy. It crumbled the grill of the truck and the hood, momentum trying to keep the metal and plastic moving forward in spite of the resistance. The back end of the truck rose and continued, the vehicle flipping over me and my horse to scrape the top along the road behind me.

Before I could take in too much of that lovely accomplishment, I felt, heard, and saw more bullets ineffectually trying to penetrate the nanomaterial cape over the Dudebot’s back. I turned and hopped off the horse to see the Sheriff himself there emptying a nice, heavy revolver into me and doing fuck-all.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asked.

The gun clicked and didn’t fire, so then he tried to whip the barrel at my helmet. I caught it and yanked him forward by it. I grabbed him by the throat and lifted him. “I’d say I’m Death, because that’s normally what I do best. I kill people. With you, I think I’ll take my time. How many was it in that refinery?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he lied.

“You’re not talking to a rube civilian or an out of town cop here. You know many superheroes who kill cops? No, better question…” I tossed him down. He backed away on his ass “And it’s not the one I’ve recently obsessed over. Who are you? I already know. What I want to ask you is… how many bones are there in the adult human body?” I stomped on his foot and ankle to stop him moving any further from me. “One-hundred and eighty to go.”

Before I left town later that night, I made one last change to the sign with its hokey old population count. I burned that part off and left the remnant’s of the Sheriff’s skull hanging as a large zero.

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What Do You Want 6

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“What do you want?” I’ve taken to asking people. The question’s been on my mind a lot lately since Max drugged me the other night. I asked it of a person on the street. She said money. Kinda petty, the sort of thing a job can handle. I asked another one, a guy. He said he wanted to have sex with a beautiful woman. I introduced him to the first woman and things sorta worked themselves out from there.

I’ve been asking the villains, too. Hexadecibel got his money and brief amount of fame for stealing a nuclear weapon. He’s already getting job prospects emailed to him, as well as the usual opportunistic offers for him to be in a porn and him to be in somebody’s Youtube music video.

I talked to the passed out villain when he finally woke up. He wanted to forget about his ex. It took a lot to keep me from giving him brain damage to accommodate him, but then I asked further, to see how much Unity I’d have to swing for him. The drug could block long-term memory and take care of that for him, but then he told me quite a tale. It was rather long for a full recounting, beginning with his moving to a new town as a kid, following his noticing all the runaway and missing kids. He and his childhood friends investigated.

The story turned out to be relatively simple. There were no monsters under the bed, just monsters down the hallway. Just your average small town that kidnapped young girls for human sex trafficking. Not a fun scenario to be stuck in as a teen. In the end, the friend who was a girl fled. The friend who was a guy stayed in bed with irreparable brain damage and a nice, restful coma. “And I got the fuck out of that town!” he said. “I got out and I drank and I thought ‘I’ma fucking get some powers and burn that mother down!’ Then I get ’em and try to get some people together, but everyone says I’ll get sent to Butt-Fuck City if start killing the police. Fuck the police! One of ’em already took me to Butt-Fuck City and that was my own dad! I need a drink.”

I agreed. “You know, I like you. I can’t help it, I just see a little bit of myself in you. Don’t worry, not in the butt. And it just so happens that I am the perfect person to fuck the police. In fact, that’s part of the reason I gathered you and all these others here.” I sat down beside him. “I want to help folks like yourself deal with law enforcement. Right the sorts of wrongs that cops ignore because you’re a criminal, or because the so-called do-gooders did ’em. Tell me the name of the town and I’ll slaughter them all mercilessly.”

He looked up at me, blinking. “All the people, or all the cops? It was mainly the cops who did it.”

I waggled my hand. “I can start with the cops and see where it goes from there. Collateral damage really depends on the mood I’m in day to day.”

See, it’s folks like that who need me. Those poor unfortunate souls in pain, in need. I do intend to take care of that guy’s problem with law enforcement, but it had to wait. I was on a stakeout of my own.

I had the nuke moved to one of the office buildings in the financial district. Rather than risk my own guys, I contacted the same mercenary group who lost a team to the Institute of Science. They were quite eager to make up for the loss of personnel and equipment with some quick cash, so they took the gravy guard duty job. I didn’t like that situation either. It occurred to me that I needed to learn how to put my own people in real danger. Shielding my soldiers and security forces wasn’t the same as shielding my old minions like Carl and Moai. I can’t do all this on my own and the forces under my control need to be competent in the field. But I think this case is clearly worthy of exception.

They set up cameras and motion sensors. They maintained drone sentries at various points. They had guards in full gear while others patrolled dressed as a hot dog vendor or landscaper. Ya know, a more innocuous profession that looked like it belonged there and gave someone an opportunity to hide a gun inside a leafblower. I even noticed where they began setting up sandbags and armor plating around a few choke points and the main storage room in question. It wasn’t a bad job. They knew their stuff.

I could still spy on them via their own cameras and my own. I wanted to call it out as a weakness, but them I remembered I’m their boss. Just another of those weird moments where I remembered I’m the authority now. Hell, I’m something of a voice for reason now. Fear for any world where that’s true.

The SEALs were professionals too. More than that, they were the guys who didn’t decide to quit all the tough training and hard missions to take a bigger paycheck pulling easy duty. Plus, while the private contractors can pull some pretty nice deals from some companies, they don’t get access to the kind of freaky dark project shit the military develops. I’m not talking about the cheapos they shove off on the regular military because the people pushing for a bigger budget prefer spending millions on jets that’ll never fly instead of hundreds on gear for the infantry grunts. With the exception of the marines, the best of the best tend to get the best of the best.

I probably sound like some sort of camo-wearing cheerleader right now. I have the legs for it, but this is simple pragmatism. Some enemies aren’t worth underestimating, and I’m one of the few villains who reasonably rates a military response.

It was about four AM Riccan standard time when the first cameras went down. I didn’t have an alert set up; I was just awake when it happened. Doing stuff. I don’t have to explain what stuff to y’all. And no matter what anyone says, none of it involved dressing up as Sailor Moon.

Anyway, it was four AM and cameras at the office building went down. The obvious ones, anyway. The drones didn’t catch anything because the guys meant to send them out were sleepy. That’s why they went in so early in the morning. Any guards active in their way went down, quietly. They were just in the way, then they were dead and gone. It was impressive how well they were disappeared. And, as a dictator now, disappearing people is something I’m supposed to specialize in. It was mere minutes before the SEALs slipped into the room where the nuke was kept. The mercs wouldn’t have seen it. Their stuff was all shut down.

My cameras ran on their own power sources as repurposed holodiscs. That is, disc-shaped hologram projectors, with the cameras being usable for spying as well. The holographic camouflage and self-contained power supplies likely contributed to their survival. I watched as they entered into the room containing the nuclear bomb. Or that’s what I told people, at least. “Does this look like a nuke to anyone?” asked one of the men in a whisper.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. But when the boxy thing in front of them began to count down, one of them did lean down to start cutting wires. Was it the red one that deactivated it? Oh wait, I know this cliché, so none of them did anything. They were just wires I put there to look good. They and the whole floor of the building went up in an explosion that absolutely ruined the city’s sleep. Which is good, because I wanted a lot of witnesses for this next part. Sure, it’s nice to have camera footage of the U.S. Navy sneaking into a building, killing guards, and then messing around with an object that then explodes. What’s even better?

Alarms set off and the old Cold War alerts began to play. “Nuclear launch detected.” Is there any other phrase that could cause people to go from zero to 100 on the “losing their shit” scale? As the leader of the nation’s military, I immediately go on the line with the military base and ordered them to fire the missile interception system. That’s how history will record it, at least. You know how fancy this place is, with all the mad scientists. It’s entirely possible someone worked out a way to intercept a nuclear missile that actually worked.

The base prominently launched a barrage of missiles into the air, including a perfect replica of the United States’ own rockets with a nuke attached. Some distance away, a pre-placed explosive detonated and knocked recognizable portions of the rocket loose. The warhead tumbled a little off target. I had hoped, of course, that it would land right on the deck of the destroyer floating around a few miles off the coast of Mu. That’s where the SEALs came from if the tracking device shoved into the traded prisoner is any indication. I love it when a plan comes together. I also love it when a nuclear warhead detonates. Sure, the thing wasn’t on deck, but close still matters with horseshoes, hand grenades, and hydrogen bombs.

The military’s listening operation went up in a mushroom cloud the world would see and register. I suspect the President of the United States was shitting his onesie within minutes. Everyone would know one went off. Meanwhile, I was comforting Qiang and reassuring her that she didn’t have to fear the American nuclear arsenal anymore. She cried and hugged onto me, but I patted her with all my arms and squeezed her close. “Don’t worry, I stopped them. We’re safe.”

Before long, the BBC reported on Ricca’s nuclear warning system going off and the Intercept team’s fast deployment of a missile screen to stop the launched projectile. My guys did absolutely nothing to stop reporters tagging along on the salvage operation to recover the rocket for the sake of confirming the identity of the assailant. I loved the footage, even if the camera work was a bit awkward from the radiation suits. No sooner had divers from the cruiser hauled up a piece of rocket with the star spangled banner on it than a la loud horn blew. An American destroyer cruised up with an officer announcing via bullhorn, “As part of salvage operations on behalf of the United States of America, this site is off limits. Vacate now!”

I could kiss that captain right now. Both captains, actually. The Riccan one refused to acknowledge the American ship’s hails, and then the American one for projecting the hostility just as soon as evidence appeared to confirm they were behind the attack on my nation.

I made damn sure to put as many foreign nationals as I could before the camera. My first instinct was women and children holding puppies, but I remembered I wasn’t in America anymore. Americans don’t give a shit about foreign kids and foreign puppies. Just like with that whole Hawaii business, the only thing that matters to them are their own business interests. This whole operation worked so well, I didn’t even have to threaten them to go on TV about it. They heard the drills. They saw the pre-dawn sky illuminated by a preemptive nuclear strike upon a nation the United States hadn’t declared war on.

Rumors were already circulating that the military was claiming they had nothing to do with it, that someone just happened to steal a warhead and nobody knows where the rocket came from. The general response from all the Riccans I hired to troll on Facebook is, “How stupid do they think we are?”

Hexidecibel can brag all he likes. The President could release footage of his heist. They could put the unedited tapes out there proving that the SEALs didn’t set off a bomb on Riccan soil to try and destroy our early warning system. A dozen little things can happen to poke holes in the theory I crafted that makes me appear to be a victim.

What do you want?

People want to believe the worst in the world, and the scenario I’ve created is worse than the reality. People want to be afraid. No, really, they do. Because once someone has terrorized you, they’re the bad guys, the bullies. You get to be the victim. It’s incredibly difficult to get people to believe the truth after they’ve already accepted a lie like that. And even if people believed the truth, what then? Do they really want to acknowledge that I can arrange for nuclear weapons to be stolen from the most powerful nation on Earth?

What do I want? I want the United States to stop trying to spy on my little meeting of supervillains. I want villains to think I can protect them from anything up to and including a nuclear missile.

Now, what do I want next?

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What Do You Want 5

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I know what everyone’s wondering. I know it because I keep getting asked over and over again. I’ve been asked it by Sam. “Can’t you just make your own nuke?” And by Holly, “Don’t you have any nukes around here?” Even Silver Shark weighed in, “Aren’t you smart enough to build your own?”

I am indeed capable of throwing one together. There are probably plenty of villains on this island who can help with that. My answer was simple. “It’s not about making a nuke. It’s about taking one.”

The crowd of people who have all taken to camping in my palace didn’t find that satisfactory. “I bet Maxxy could even build you a nuke!” Sam said, gesturing toward Max.

I looked over to Max, who stood in my kitchen, pouring cereal into a pint of yogurt before taking a spoon to it. “Gecko knows what she’s doing. Leave me out of this,” he said, chomping on fruit loops and congealed dairy.

“Thank you, Max, you are a scholar and a gentleman.” I nodded toward him and crossed all my arms. I looked down to see Qiang mimicking my pose and reached down to hold her against me with my two lefties. “As I was saying, I am easily capable of making a nuclear weapon. I’ll even teach my little psycho bunny here if she wants to learn when she’s older.” I turned and kissed the top of Qiang’s head, then pretended to bite her hair. She giggled at that and hugged onto me.

I will, but only when she’s old enough to handle nuclear weapons, so at least fifteen or sixteen. I don’t want to pressure her into it, though. After all, she might prefer for her first WMD to be a chemical or even biological weapon. I can help with the chemical part, but I’ll have to impart on her that a biological weapon is a huge responsibility. I don’t want to help her build one of those for her to just forget about it and leave me to take it out and clean up after it.

“Making a nuclear bomb also does some weird stuff as far as international treaties. Now, even though people don’t invade countries who develop the bomb precisely because they now have that bomb to use against invading countries, it still creates some international tensions. More importantly, I don’t want to make one because it’s more important for it to be stolen. I have a lot of old files stored away, hogging valuable gigabytes I could use for more important stuff, like porn. Some of those files include the location of places where a certain large nation of imperialist pigs.”

Holly held up her hand. “Question! Do you have to call us pigs like that?”

“Yes,” I answered bluntly. Then I held up a booklet. “It says so in the manual.” I handed it over to her. The cover featured a row of grinning prisoners standing in front of a happy firing squad. “So You’ve Become A Dictator,” read the title above it. She took it and started reading through as I continued.

“There’s a group of these guys around, they’re spying on Ricca, and some of them have almost certainly come ashore without us detecting them. In retaliation, I’m going to steal one of their bombs. Just a bit of harmless tit for tat.” I pulled out another booklet and threw it at Sam just before she started to stifle a laugh at the thought of anything tit-related with me now. She caught some more of my educational reading, “The Dictator’s Guide To Preemptive Strikes”.

“Now, this next part will require all of you to practice the important skill of shutting the fuck up… but I’ll leak that we have it in some hidden site and wait for whoever they’ve got on the island to make a move for it. Then I snap the trap before Admiral Akbar can so much as perform vocal warm-up exercises.”

The joke landed a bit flat, in part because Max was busy with his cereal and Holly had become engrossed in the dictator manual. And that was the only reason nobody liked such an obviously phenomenal reference. “Wow, this is really mysoginist,” Holly said, never taking her eyes off the booklet.

I shrugged. “High turnover from purges, civil war, and regular war. They pretty much all turn women into baby factories.”

“Even the women dictators?” she asked.

“Check out the roster on Page 78,” I said.

She flipped to it. “Wow, that’s a lot of guys.”

“That’s why they’re not called vagtators,” I said. “So, we have any questions about the plan?”

I got a rousing chorus of mildly disinterested “No”s and one question from Qiang on if I was going to fix hamburgers. I told her yes and set her down, then realized she was wearing the same dress as me. “Who got you this? You’re almost as pretty in that dress as your dad.”

“I didn’t used to hear these kinds of sentences until I met you people,” said Silver Shark, shaking her mechanically augmented head from where it sat on a neck that could adjust to let her shift it to face directly up when in the water.

“Miss Shark got me this!” Qiang answered, pointing at Silver.

“Aww, did you tell her thank you?”

Qiang nodded.

Silver Shark spoke up. “I told her about Valentine’s and helped her get a dress in case she got a Valentine of her own.”

“Huh,” I said, thinking about it. “That’s right, Valentine’s. Completely slipped my mind. I didn’t even notice if they celebrate it here.”

“They celebrate it,” Max spoke up. “The women give chocolates to men in this part of the world.” He looked at me, then down at his pint of yogurt and began to sidle off to the side.

“That’s remarkably astute. What an amazing thing for you to know, Max. Mind if I ask how you know this and, come to think of it, why my wife didn’t get me anything? Where is she, anyway?”

Sam crossed her arms. “She’s probably sleeping off the sedative Max gave her after she caught him eating all the chocolate you were supposed to get.” She stuck her tongue out at Max. “Happy VD, Maxxy.”

I turned to find a Max-shaped hole in the wall. That would be this one chemical that weakens most forms of wood only in spots with pressure put on it. Useful for making personalized doorways, but not so much preventing someone from following. Still, I was more concerned about checking on Citra. She was indeed still asleep and loopy. I figured I better get her something to make up for missing Valentine’s. With the aid of Qiang, I worked on a pink, heart-shaped cake.

“Oh god, the attention to detail. That’s so gross,” said Sam as she watched me finishing the icing.

“Don’t look so grossed out,” I told her. Qiang passed me a more red shade of icing that we’d whipped up. “Everyone has them.”

“I can’t believe you think that’s a romantic gift,” she countered.

I rolled my eyes. “You’d whine the same way if I pulled out my actual heart and gave it to her. Some people just aren’t happy, and you’re one of them.” I stuck out my tongue at her, then returned to careful decoration of the large muscular blood pump, all while thinking about stage two of the nuclear plan. A gal’s gotta have secrets, even when she’s a dude. Especially when she’s a dude, some might argue.

I had plenty of time to finish before it was time to send Hexadecibel on his way. We had to wait for an appropriate time due to time zones, but I soon strapped on my armor and gave him a set of Riccan augmented reality glasses to wear. We launched from the villain village. One moment he was there, muttering incantations in a circle, the next he was gone and in a bunker somewhere. I lost him there for a few seconds until a smaller portal opened in the circle that let the signal through.

“I got shunted, man. I’m nearby the room.” he said as soon as I could see and hear the situation. Teleporting in like that set off alarms. The glasses overlaid a path for Hexadecibel to follow to the storage area. I saw through his eyes as a squad of guards tried to accost him. Arms grew out of the concrete around them and pulled them against it. He stopped to rifle through one of their pockets before I urged him to forget about mugging them and get the big stuff. It took a bit of maneuvering until he found himself coming out into a two-story room. The floor gently sloped up in a ramp to a door on the second story. Underneath it was the opening of a bunker. “Back!” I yelled just as the opened fire. Good reflexes on those soldiers.

Hexadecibel didn’t go back. He magicked up a concrete wall. A big, beautiful wall, the best wall, nobody builds better walls than Ricca. “Shit,” he said.

“You got this?” I asked.

The view moved from side to side. “I don’t know. Maybe I can. Let me try something.” He jumped up and threw a fireball at them. The rate of fire sounded like it picked up dramatically as he landed, but so did the screaming. After a couple of seconds, the shooting stopped while the screaming continued. Hex dropped the wall cautiously, but no fire picked up. He headed up the ramp and stopped in front of the door’s keypad. “Do you know the code?”

“Give me something big enough to bring my hand through,” I told him.

He put his hands together, made a few hand gestures that created glowing runes in the air, then pulled them apart. A small portal opened, about as big around as a softball. I pulled my gauntlet off and pushed an arm through the portal and against the pad. Soon, my body connected with the wiring and allowed me to interface with it. I had it open for him, then pulled myself free and back to my own location as soon as I could. “You’re good to go.”

When he opened the door, it led to row after row, rack after rack of warheads. He stood there for a moment. When it looked like he wasn’t moving, I ahemed and said, “Hey, there may be soldiers coming up behind you. Get in and shut that door.”

He hurried in. “Sorry, I think I peed a little. There are so many.”

“The country’s had the ability to annihilate all life on Earth for more than half a century. That’s a lot of spares left laying around.”

“I guess I didn’t think about how many that means. How many do you need?”

“I said just one and I meant it. Preferably one of these near the door. They’ll be a bit more fresh.”

“Ok, you should back up.”

I moved further away from his little circle. Meanwhile, the connection showed him pulling out some mixture of a powdery substance and spreading it in a circle around one of the racks that only had a single warhead. There was some chanting, some more runes, even a bit of a red glow then… pop! The air made a little popping noise as Hexadecibel and the nuclear warhead just appeared in his little circle on this side.

“Whew!” he shouted and clapped his hands. “That was intense, man. Hey, I still hear the alarm though.”

I heard it too, then I realized. “That’s not so much an alarm as it is a loud squee.” Too late, I looked up to find myself tackled by an enthusiastic giant bee woman. Queen Beetrice, ruler of the insectoid-humanoid Buzzkills and the nation of North Korea as part of the Riccan Empire.

“I thought you were watching the Olympics,” I told her.

She just hugged me tight. “I heard you were getting me a nuclear bomb!” she said, attempting to squeeze me out of my armor like Popeye opening a can of spinach.

“Let’s talk this over elsewhere,” I said to her. I had to give the military guys the orders on where to hide our bit of ill-gotten goods. They’ll see to it.

I, on the other hand, had to go make another cake, and bees have really weird-looking hearts compared to humans. Meanwhile, at the rocket plant, custom orders began to trickle in every few hours, spread across different shifts, meant to match different sorts of rockets than the we use on Ricca. With the nuke secured, I was ready to prepare stage two.

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What Do You Want 4

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The diver we detained sang like a bird. After he finished tweeting, Mix N’Max tweaked the formula a bit and got him to talk instead. I know, we didn’t handle things the way the civilized countries do, with waterboarding and torture. All we did was treat him ok to gain his trust then subject him to drugs that loosen his tongue, like savages.

“Who are you?” Max asked after giving the guy a hell of a dose.

“I’m a lance corporal with the United States Marine Corps,” the man answered, groggily.

“Yes, but who are you?” Max asked.

I stood outside the room, watching through a one-way wall. Basically, we had this thin fabric on the wall, something they derived from cuttlefish skin. A camera fed us a view that was put on a wallpaper-thick monitor. As far as the person inside was concerned, there weren’t mirrors for us to watch him through. You know, because we’re trustworthy here. And speaking of trust, Sam and Holly were standing on either side of me. Sam took a moment to tell me, “If anything happens to Max, I will choke a bitch.”

I waved off her concerns, but she added, “And you’re the bitch.”

“Yes, yes, sure, sure. You’re talking as if I haven’t choked more bitches than a big-dicked zoophile.” Come to think of it, I have slept with humans while male, so that’s an accurate description of me. No, wait. Huge-dicked. Megaladong, leviathan of the watery, moist depths.

I turned my attention back to Max and our captured Lance Corporal. “Enough with who he is. I want to know what he wants and why he’s here.” From my lips to Max’s ears courtesy of a thing in his ear.

It’s entirely possible that we have some folks around here who aren’t supposed to be. We’ve seen lots of naval activity in the area because of the island of Mu. They’re looking at the place. A whole new age of colonialism may well begin, but I’ve got first dibs because I married into the royal family of the Bronze City. With my own guys in place scouting around there, I think I’ve found some options for advancing them a little further along the tech tree and conquering the place. Truth is, it’s my ambassador who came up with that idea. Mine tend to involve turning them into super soldiers with enhanced muscles and armor embedded in their skin.

The guy we’d captured was nothing like that. Plain ol’ human. If he had any powers, he hadn’t used them. What he did have was a tongue he could use to tell us what was going on. “We were briefed that villains had gathered on Ricca. We are supposed to monitor the situation.”

“You would think they’d be glad to be rid of them for a time. Why do they care?” Max asked.

The marine shook his head, but also nodded. “Marco heard from his boyfriend who works the radio. He overheard one of the brass saying they think this is the same thing the last guy did.”

I realized he was talking about the Claw and the Unity drug. His people gave it to supers, blocking access to their long term memories so they could convince them they worked for him. So, I guess I hadn’t realized what this might look like to outside groups.

“Why are you here?” Max asked.

“I’m supposed to scout the island for infiltration,” he answered.

“Him and what army?” I asked Max through the earpiece. In my experience, recon marines don’t send in just one person to take a look. They typically operate in squads.

“Was anyone with you?” Max asked.

“My squad. You captured me, but they got the job done. We always do. Oorah!” He sat up straighter.

“I think we got all we needed out of this, Max. Hey, by the way, that stuff you gave him isn’t fatal, is it? Especially knowing you gave some to me.”

Max shook his head as he left the room. He waited until he was out of there to answer. “No, you’ll both be fine. Did you want to kill him yourself now he’s talked?” Max gestured toward the door.

I shook my head. “I have a better idea. I’m going to make an example of him.”

The next day, after he’d sobered up, I marched him right up to the docks. He stood there, hands tied behind his back. “Care for a final smoke?” I asked him as he faced the water.

“No. Let’s just get this over with,” the Lance Corporal responded.

Soon, a boat arrived with a group of pissed-looking marines aboard. Before they got too close, I offered again. “Seriously, man, you know this is good shit.” I held up a joint for the marine.

“I’ll be lucky if they don’t discharge me after this. They’ll probably stick me in Antarctica.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. I bet they’ll reassign you even harder if you’re high. Hey there, fellas!” I waved at the incoming marines. “It’s not the halls of Montezuma nor the shores of Tripoli, but welcome to Ricca.”

They really wanted to use those pretty guns of theirs, but instead made sure not to point them anywhere near me. That’s the sort of thing that causes international incidents.

I pushed the Lance Corporal toward them. “As the leader of this fine nation, I gladly and publicly return your soldier and ask that the United States refrain from trespassing again.”

Drones with cameras hovered into view, recording and broadcasting for posterity and international viewership. It’s not a good day for the States’ military or its State department. Then again, what State department? They still haven’t rebuilt it after all the damage caused by the one Moron President last year.

The marines got their man back, the marine got to go back, I got information, and it looked like everything was one big happy, stupid deal. Thing is, I’ve been the devil in the deal before. I tracked them back to their ship and I put the drone guys on alert to check the entirety of the island. We’ve had visitors.

I mean that in two senses of the words. First, we’ve had these recon guys here. We’ve also had all these villains around. The two are linked, and not just because the latter caused the former to come out here. Having a bunch of unfamiliar people around makes it easy to sneak someone in to get a look.

I know, why bother? Not like we’re doing anything wrong here. But as a serial killer, I’m used to being misunderstood by people. They never want to see the good side of me. The caring philanthropist fighting overpopulation, for instance.

More than that, this is an opportunity. Lots of things are. Mistakes are opportunities to learn, for instance.

I took myself a walk out to the villain village. I saw that one guy again, the rocker dude with the occult tattoos. He had his glowing hands up as he directed these magical rock guys walking around, picking up litter. It looked so much cleaner around. Still had a guy sleeping on the fountain, but he hadn’t wet himself, and there wasn’t technically a pollution law in place to deal with the wet farts the guy kept ripping.

“Interesting powers. Magic, right?” I asked him.

He smirked and waved his hands around, shooting a burst of flame from his wrists. Then he returned to directing the little stone men. “I know what you’re wondering. Where did the lighter fluid come from?”

I chuckled under my helmet as I approached. “I’ve had a certain question on my mind lately, and I was curious how some other folks might answer it. A simple question with a complex answer, which is how you know it’s a real son of a bitch. Unfortunately, you can’t look in the back of the book for the answer this time around. What do you want?”

“I want to get this shit cleaned up because it stinks and I hate stepping on it. People were afraid to wear flip flops. Oh, was that the question?” When I nodded, he paused and looked off into space. After several seconds. “I want money and I want to have fun.”

“But why?” I asked, aware that question is far more annoying to most people.

“So see, I actually wanted to be the lead guitarist in a band. My friend and I called ourselves the Sex Change Psychopaths.” Dammit, they stole my band name. “It was just us two, so we weren’t a real band and we didn’t have instruments. We thought we could attract some real rockers if we made a kick-ass music video and then they’d teach us how to play, my man. My buddy, Robert, he said that wouldn’t work because we’d need to know how to play to make a kick-ass music video in the first place. And I’m all ‘Uh uh, man. We just need to go to a crossroads.’ He’s got this annoying little brother who wants to be part of the band and we didn’t want to let him, but we need him to drive us.”

I pulled a bag of popcorn out of my utility belt. “Sorry to interrupt, but can you warm this up for me?” I held it out to him.

“Sure, no probs.” He took the bag in his hands. They glowed red and the bag expanded amid a chorus of pops.

I took it back when he finished. “Thanks. Now please continue. You needed Robert’s little brother to drive you.” I moved my helmet up just enough to expose my mouth for eating the popcorn.

“Yeah, see I had a problem with this cop in town, Derek the Dickwad, and I got my license revoked. Rob kept failing the test, so that meant we had to go with Ralphy, Rob’s brother. We go out to this crossroads at night and do some stuff we read about online. Nothing happens, so we pack up and go to leave, but Rob’s pissed and makes Ralphy give him the keys. Rob’s leaving when he hits this guy’s goat. There’s some people out there who raise goats. We get out to check and see what Ralphy’s gonna have to get fixed and I notice the goat landed in the pentagram we drew. Then things get freaky as fuuuck. The car dies and we hear laughing and shit everywhere. We left some candles out there and they flare up, and Rob was too close. He’s on fire and gets too close to the circle and this hand just grabs him. I don’t remember anything until the next morning.”

He finished with his little stone men. With a gesture, they all marched over in front of one of the buildings and settled into place as little statues. “We realized we had these powers. We could do things, make shit happen. Ralphy, too, and he threatened us with going to the cops if he didn’t get in the band. We kicked ass for awhile, but Rob, man, it screwed with his head. He started murdering people, and I wasn’t into that. Ralphy wasn’t either. He and Rob got in a fight. Ralphy got hurt and Rob got away. Last I heard, he’s trying to find some way to end the world. Ralphy’s hunting him down and he’d sometimes come after me. I tried the band thing, but it started making me try to be like Rob and kill shit. So I became a supervillain to make money and be famous instead. It’s been wild.”

“So that’s it. Just money and fun. What about if you’re caught or killed?”

He pointed to his chest. “That’s what Hexadecibel’s about, my man! I’m Hexadecibel, by the way.” He didn’t bother with a handshake.

“Nice to meetcha. Say, I have a way you can earn some scratch. Depending on how your skills are, it might even be real easy.” I tossed the bag of popcorn away to the side.

“Hey, I just cleaned that. And I’m good. I can make these stone guys, I do stuff with sound. I’m not cleaning there again, but I’m the right guy.” Eh, not so much. The best guy for the job would have asked what it was before talking themselves up for it.

That became apparent to him when I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “Hexadecibel, I need you to get me a bomb. But not just any bomb. I need you to steal me a nuke, and I know just the American installation with a few to spare.”

It’ll be purely for hunting purposes, of course.

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What Do You Want 3

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Today, the great nation of Ricca welcomed a most esteemed visitor. He stepped off a boat, pale of skin, velvet of jacket, and frilled of shirt; Mix N’Max at last arrived on the island. He stepped down the gangplank right toward me. I met him in friendly hug, the both of us exclaiming the other’s name. “Gecko!”

“Max!”

“Gecko?” asked a feminine voice from behind him. It came from one half of his assistants, Sam Hain, who I barely recognized without her purple hair. She’d gone for something of a punk cancer look, except for this tiny puff of it at the front that was bright green. She also looked pale, but I never remembered that as an affectation she liked to share with her boss. I figured it had more to do with her shaky walk down to the ground that ended with her bending over with her hands on her knees for a few seconds. She had the sea sickness, that Sam Hain. And yes, it’s Sam like Samantha, not pronounced like Samhain. She had on her boots, her fishnet stockings, a lacy black skirt. Excellent seafaring gear, of course. Takes a brave woman to think a corset is appropriate gear for seasickness, but maybe she was trying her hand at formality.

Her friend did not have same issues. Holly Wayne ran down in a flowery dress that didn’t quite match up with the purple highlights in her bleach blonde hair. Even tugging along some of the luggage, she seemed no worse for wear. “Oh my god, Gecko? You look… pretty.” People can be a bit unsure of how to refer to psychopaths having sex changes. Ooh, that’s a nice band name: Sex Change Psychopaths.

“How do we even know that’s Gecko?” asked Holly, standing up. She held her back ramrod straight as she walked toward me.

“You can’t tell?” asked Max, turning toward her with his arm around my shoulders. He held up a hand toward me face.

I did likewise. “Yeah, it’s totally obvious.” I sent Max an email with my picture on it. The rest was the same teamwork that once made us part of a deadly trio of villains. The Dark Triad had been comprised of the three villains known for so many years as the only few to survive breaking one of the unwritten rules of superpowers by murdering other supers. Mix N’Max, Psycho Gecko, and the Good Doctor.

Doc had been a good guy, and I don’t just say that because he’s dead. He had been a good guy blackmailed into villany, but I know he had a taste for it. Once his blackmailer had been dealt with and he had a chance to live with his daughter, he took it. I never did accept it, but our difference of opinion didn’t become truly problematic until I killed his superhero daughter. It was for a good cause, but that didn’t matter. Once I started to accumulate my own family, he showed up to try and deprive me of it. I had to kill him.

“How have you been, dude?” I asked Max. “It’s been too long.”

“I had this great setup in Vegas. It was awesome!”

We spent the evening getting caught up. I showed him my palace, and my daughter, and my wife. Well, technically Citra’s just pretending to be my wife, but close enough. They took it pretty well.

“Who would give you a wife?” asked Holly.

“Who would give you a child?” asked Sam.

“Is this all the alcohol you have?” asked Max.

I answered in order of importance, starting with pointing Max toward the vault where I hide the seashine.

After quite a bit of drinking, we wandered off into the most somber hours of the night toward the big state cemetary. I say somber hours, but they’re the same early hours that super criminals like us often do our best work. This wasn’t about robbing, not even graverobbing. That business isn’t as lucrative as it used to be in the days of undisturbed Egyptian pyramids and medical colleges needing cadavers.

There was more drinking, some alleged crying, and some strange substances were ingested. I won’t specifiy too many of the actions, except to note that I smoked something and then took a trip away from the graveyard. I was being sucked away from the Earth I was living on and toward the Earth I came from. Screw that. I wanted my Earth, not that old one. My Earth, with my daughter, my obsessed bee woman, my old magical Moai statue, my former minions, my current friends, and even that poor woman who decided to be my wife. I wanted to grip the ground and hold tight no matter what forces tried to tear me away.

Then I found myself back at the tree. This pissed me off because I hate extended dream sequences. I would torture a damn tree if I needed to. I figured I was safe once it grew the face of Good Doctor. That kind of cheesy symbolism was a better indication of my own mind playing tricks than having never left the tree. It didn’t make me feel any better toward it. Its branches grew at me like claws. I grabbed it by the trunk and squeezed like I could choke it off. “What do you want?” I asked it.

The words echoed. The tone changed and the tree moved its mouth in sync with them. I really gotta cut out… whatever the hell it is I smoked. The damn echoing felt like it wouldn’t stop. Felt like it reverberated deep inside me, so I tried to yell things to stop it.

“I want Qiang to be safe! I want to get rid of the worst people!” That didn’t work. It surprised me, because I thought those were pretty good answers. Revelatory stuff that went a little deeper into my core and how I’d changed than most people would expect. While true, the answers didn’t stop the echoing question, so I kept throwing out answers. “Truth, justice, freedom, reasonably priced love, and a hard-boiled egg. I wanna be free. I wanna be free to do what I wanna do. And I wanna get loaded. And I wanna have a good time!”

It just wouldn’t end, so I sat there, punching the face of a tree monster, trying to figure out what I could say or do to make it shut up. I tried kicking it in the balls, for instance. No balls. Poked it in the eye, but it was just wood. I even tried thinking really, really hard. After what felt like hours of dealing with antagonistic plantlife, I was tired. I hung there, slowly thunking my head against Good Doctor’s face in ineffectual headbutts. I finally stopped, sighed, and said, “I just want to live and make this place better.”

I paused. “Wait, how long have I wanted to live?” I looked at Good Doctor’s face. “And don’t you get any ideas about that other part. I said make it better, I didn’t say saving kittens out of trees and flying around with my underwear showing. Those types have sat around letting bad people do plenty of bad things because it’s easier than rocking the boat.”

I awoke the next morning to find myself laying on top of a mausoleum. I crawled to the edge and tumbled off, startling Max awake from where he slept curled up on a grave. “The fuck did you give me last night?” I asked my friend, grabbing his neck and lightly swinging his head side to side.

He coughed and pulled away. “Drugs. I made this strong stuff that’s like LSD on steroids and Beta blockers.” I couldn’t easily process this statement at the time due to the LSD on steroids and Beta blockers in my system.

“What?”

“I made it to get in people’s brains and mess them up for questioning.” He groaned and rolled over to me, his face really close to mine.

I slapped him. “Dick move, dude. Why would you give me that?”

He held his hand to his cheek. “Sorry, I think it happened while we were drunk. I think the seashine melted my fillings. I didn’t realize you might have smoked it until you were yelling things at the sky!”

“What things?” I asked, grabbing onto his lapels. Then a massive, nasty burp came up and I just let it go in his face. He winced and tried to keep his mouth shut, then turned his head and coughed a few times.

“It was all gibberish. A lot of things were messing with its intended purpose, but I didn’t hear anything private and nobody else could either.” He patted my ands and I reluctantly released him.

“Fine… gah, let’s get back to the palace. My mouth feels like I had a hobo-eating contest.”

It was Sam who opened the door to the palace, which looked to have had quite a party on it sown. I saw Silver Shark sprawled over a couch and Queen Beetrice hanging over the counter. Sam yawned and looked at me with my hair resembling the starship Enterprise. Then she looked to her boss, Max, whose clothes were all frumpy and wrinkled. “You two have yourselves some private fun?”

In deference to her being Max’s minion, I didn’t try as hard as I could have to hit her.

Later, after being rested, showered, and enjoying some hair of the dog that bit me, an idea crept into my brain. My brain was recovering from a lot, including my admission to myself that not only do I truly have some altruism of a sort inside me, but I don’t really want to die anymore. That wasn’t as important as recognizing a problem that Max’s drugs provided a solution to.

Armoring up again for appearance’s sake, I dragged Max along with me to the military base where they held our unknown diver. “The guy’s spoken in English before, and his gear matches up with U.S. Military, but it only tells us so much. We don’t know what they’re doing here, what he was sneaking in to do, even if he was the only one sneaking in here. For all we know, they could have a whole base set up in those old ruins off in the western part of the island.” I stopped and smiled to myself at that one. “Ok, that’d be pretty funny if they did that. Problem solved if that’s the case. But until we know, I figured you could give our friend in there a sample of what you gave me last night. I want him talkin’ like a Furby.”

Max smiled and pulled out his syringe gun. He swapped out a few parts right there in front of me until it more closely resembled a bong crossed with a super soaker. “I’ll smoke him out.”

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What Do You Want 2

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“What do you want with us here on Ricca?” asked one of our friendlier interrogators. I’d honestly expected the people here to be total dicks and rely on torture, but I’d been pleasantly surprised there. A lot of people think torture is interrogation these days. They’re too used to movies playing it up, probably because the truth is boring. People want to see someone get beaten up and have their ear cut off, like Reservoir Dogs or The Dark Knight. Except that got the interrogator murdered in one, while the other one was given bad information that played right into the villains’ hands. Plus, ya know, one of the characters doing it was a psychopath and the other was supposed to be the hero.

I don’t have to worry about being seen as the villain. Them’s the breaks.

So, between a reversal of the island’s brain drain and the good sense of remaining soldiers, it looked like they were making headway on our prisoner. As a plus, the pot made him not just sedate but downright enthusiastic about the cavity search. Hu informed me later that it almost irritated the soldier who does those searches. He takes pride in rough cavity searches. His superior made sure to remind him he was to search the tooth cavities first.

It’s nice having something handled without my constant supervision, though I’m glad the report mentioned the cavity search. I think Hu realized by now what kind of person I am. I need more people like him. Loyal and competent. I mean, there used to be Moai. He was good as a bodyguard, but as a magically-animated Moai statue, that was his main skill. Carl wasn’t even as good with that, though my former minion made a decent face for the company so long as he had the right people working under him. Now Crash was good at lightening my load. My personal assistant from my brief stint in the corporate world wasn’t too bad at that. Good getaway driver, too.

I need more people like that. I’ve done a poor job managing this as-is, but running an entire nation? I’m going to need more people to execute my will in the executive branch. And not just that. I need a branch to overlap with the Directory. That’s why I wasted a little bit of my valuable time figuring out a list of the sort of people I need under me. Despite what the Directory’s Foreign Affairs Committee insists on, none of them are Angelina Jolie. Qiang’s been practicing her sneaking around them when she came running back to me one day talking about how they wanted some American actress to date me and adopt her.

Nobody needs to hear about the minutiae there. They need to hear about other minutia. Like how that scientist I kidnapped, Dr. Quincy, came banging on the door of the residential palace. Which was odd. I’d left him with the food cult on the island. Just dropped him off there after the kidnapping and told Old Man Hoodless to give him as much seed as he needs. That provided some context for when he banged on the door and yelled, “Those crazy cultists are trying to do unspeakable things to me… to death!”

I pulled the door open, letting him fall over onto his face. I nudged his head with a pink-nailed big toe. “Now, you haven’t been making a mess of things and getting your seed everywhere, have you?” Despite the angle, he could only see so much when he looked up, as I’d stuck myself in some shorts. I couldn’t help but laugh at his expression when it came to the bulge between my legs. When I realized who was knocking, I decided to have a little fun using some wadded-up socks. “You hearing me, or are you thinking about you and I doing some unspeakable things together?”

He skittered to his feet, doing his best imitation of that fish. The red one that likes to snap its mouth a lot. Oh, that’s right, the Red Snapper. “I’m terribly sorry, but is Psycho Gecko in? The Emperor?”

“You’re talkin’ to her.” I asked, spreading my upper arms. The lower ones were hidden inside my loose-fitting shirt as much as they could be.

“You’re a woman?” he asked, incredulous.

I raised an eyebrow, spread my legs, and put my upper pair of hands on my hips. “Sugar, when you’re as awesome as me, you can be whatever you wanna be. Hey, who has four thumbs and doesn’t give a damn?” I slipped the lower arms out from under my shirt and together all arms pointed back at me with thumbs. “This gal!”

The extra arms made him jump as well. I ignored it and pulled him in with three arms while the last closed the door off. “So what can I do for you?”

“I need space!” he said. “Space of my own.” I pushed him over toward the sofa, tossing one of Qiang’s toys off of it. I sat him down and took a seat nearby.

“If you’d like, we can launch on the next rocket into space,” I suggested. “Probably be safer than the Institute of Science.”

“You have an institute? What is going on there?” he sat forward, taking intense interest in all I had to say. I couldn’t tell if it was because I mentioned science or because of my legs.

“I fought a few monsters there. Sent in mercenaries the other day. They haven’t returned. I’m afraid after my little coup and the resulting loss of power to the island, some of the experiments created a dangerous work environment there.

“I’ll clear it out! I don’t care, I’ll do whatever is necessary to leave those cultists behind. You know they tried to seduce me into joining with beautiful girls?” He complained for some reason.

I shrugged. “I’m familiar with the technique. I know a thing or two about cults. Truth is, it’s the leader who has the most sex, but it’s a lot easier to hijack the agenda as a follower. You leave a couple of bombs behind and suddenly everyone’s convinced the leader told them to do it. It’s kinda like that COINTELPRO thing.

“Be that as it may, I really must insist on lab space. I will grow you an army and lead it myself if I have to!” He tried to slam his hand down for emphasis, but all it did was make a toy go squeak.

“Do you have to?” I asked. “Lead it yourself, I mean. I’d rather you not be at risk.” I laid a hand on his shoulder, using more my feminine charms. And by that, I mean being a woman touching him. It’s not a high bar. Just hoping to take advantage of a little goodwill and compromised decision-making. It’s not my fault the Americans get like that if you so much as wink in their direction. I’m certainly not helping it, but everybody made it quite clear they don’t want me fixing their politics.

“I have to. The plants won’t listen to anybody else,” he said, looking at me, eyes moving from my face to my arm to where my hand rested. “I must go in there personally.”

Elsewhere, in the villain village, the PA system started up. “Ahem, this is Psycho Gecko speaking. As an added rule, I want to inform everyone that the Institute of Science is off-limits. A power outage left us unable to track whatever happens in there, and I don’t want anyone getting in and stealing any of the valuable equipment or data, especially not the experimental weapons! Gecko out.”

“Well, if you must, allow me to see you to the Institute myself,” I told Dr. Quincy.

He huffed and he puffed as we arrived at the Institute, and not from trying to blow it down. I let him carry his bag of seeds. We arrived just in time to see a small horde of supervillains rush into the Institute. “Well, that settles it,” I said. “Way too dangerous in there for you now.” And, now that I think about it, a pretty good place to do business. Set up some food stalls, beer sellers, maybe people to sell weapons, armor, and gear. I could get a lot of tourist money out of the Institute of Science. I quietly sent off a message to the Directory about getting some merchants out here. This place is a gold mine.

Visions of recovered equipment being bought back cheap by a Directory liaison danced through my head. The supers would find something valuable, drag it back up, and sell it off when they got greedy thinking about other stuff in there. It may not always go that way, but it sounded like an opportunity.

“Well… how about the military base?” I offered to Quincy with a smile. Then I pointed my finger awfully close to his face. “Just watch it with the Triffids. You want to be the next Norman Borlaug, I can make it happen, but you gotta let me set you up to save the world.”

He rolled his eyes. “As if you care…”

“Let’s just say I’m seeing opportunities all around…” I swept my hand out. “About time all my occasional pessimism came in hands. The world as you knew it is changing. The United States is no longer the world’s arbiter of peace. It’s too busy handling its own internal conflicts from groups that were already the most numerous source of domestic terrorism. Its people don’t want international deals anymore. Good.”

I felt a monologue coming on, but this wasn’t a place for any heroes to call home, so I wasn’t worried about interruptions. “The American farmer produces a huge portion of the world’s food supply. Or they did. They skipped out on that deal here in the Pacific, so now it’s countries like Japan and Ricca making the money they could have made. We’re about to that point with Canada and Mexico. I want Ricca and Mu to be the world’s breadbasket. When countries want those exotic foods, they come to us with their wallets open. When people need aid for a famine, I want them buying from us. When someone threatens Ricca, I want a bunch of nations to sit up and say ‘Wait a damn minute, they grow the coffee and beef everyone from our leaders to our commoners eat.’ I’m going to quite literally raise the steaks.”

I projected a hologram in front of Quincy of a grand, growing Ricca, full of gleaming skyscrapers and a new United Nations. “I want to topple the United States of America without firing a shot. All because they let me. All because of your vision for a better world backed by my own selfish motives.” I turned to him, letting the hologram drop. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions, I’ve heard. Can’t the road to heaven be paved with bad ones? Won’t you trust in my desire for revenge?”

He pulled me close, getting a bit hands on my loose shirt. “Cara mia!” he exclaimed, then tried to kiss me.

I pushed him away. All hands on deck, not all hands on dick here. “Ew, no. You are not my type. I’m flattered, but no. Come on, champ, let’s go hit up a titty bar instead. That’s what a gal like me calls a win-win.” Plus, I needed a drink. Being hooked up to the world’s internet can be tiring. The things I see: the useless arguments, victims of all sorts of crime reaching out in vain for help, children with cancer and parasites, starving parents having to decide which children lives. Total buzzkill, so I opted to go for more than a buzz. If I can’t take out my anger on those responsible and share my amazing ability to murder with those in need, I can at least use them. I’ll make them pay and I’ll make them who their emperor truly is.

I’ll also have some vodka.

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What Do You Want 1

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One of the bad things about being the law is laying down the law. Having to lay it down while not being the law isn’t exactly fun either, but then people expect entirely different things when you bring out the handcuffs. Not an image I wanted to go with here, either, and yet another reason why I showed up in my armor. The new armor. It took a lot of work to get it wearable. The shoulders were tricky. No wonder most people put extra arms lower on the torso.

I made an appearance at our new village to find it a little on the dirty side. Sure, you had some new shacks thrown up by some of the villains. A guy in welder’s gear hung off the side of a building, having affixed an entire new room that hung right off without any other support. I suppose I should be worried, but he did it. It hadn’t fallen down in the installation. At this point, it all depends on how much stuff he put in there.

I had to step over bottles and some trash that had just been left around. An empty keg rolled by like tumbleweed. Someone had erected a small fountain in the center of the village, impressive work for such a rush job. Also impressively, someone was laying on the raised edge of the fountain, his left arm and leg danging in the water, with a drying wet stain beginning at his crotch and running down the side of the concrete.

“What do we have here?” I asked to no one in particular.

Someone stepped over, a fellow in black tank top, black leather pants with strings of long platinum blonde hair dangling behind him and a tattoo sleeve featuring pentagrams and Baphomet and such. “Oh man, he passed out from drinking earlier so we thought it’d be funny, see, to stick his hand in the water. He totes pissed himself.”

“Did he drink all this?” I asked, gesturing toward the abundance of bottles and cans strewn about.

“No. It was pretty epic,” said the tattooed guy. “Hey, when are you going to send people around to clean all this up? It’s starting to stink.”

I shrugged. “Dumpster and recycling bin’s by the road. They actually have a pretty decent recycling setup here. A little more efficient, and they’re working on using 3D printer-based machines and nanites to really make it happen.”

“What about picking up the trash?” the guy asked.

I waved him away. “I’m sure y’all know how to do it without being told. That’s just one of those common sense things.”

“And if we don’t?” he asked. I heard cracking noises from him clenching his fists.

I looked down at them and laughed. “Yeah, that’s the sound of some bones you want to bang against hard metal. You really don’t want to attack me. If you must know, though, what happens is… you sit here in your beer bottles. The exact same thing as if you lived in a house and left all this trash laying around it. I think you’re mistaking natural consequences for coercion. Do what you want with the trash. Make a damn fort out of it for all I care. I’m not your daddy.”

Not really anything to be done about the noise complaints unless I want to implement some sort of beer shortage. Ooh, or maybe I should get Mix N’ Max to dose them all with something that prevents them from getting drunk.

My citizens have voiced concerns to both our Security patrols and their Directors about these villains. Robberies, threats, some minor scuffles with locals. This all got passed up to me. Imagine my happiness at realizing what side of the villain-law equation this time around. My pure, unadulterated joy.

I passed someone leaving an apartment building with an unusual necklace in hand. “It doesn’t matter how many times I clean this, that fish smell, ugh!” She threw it away. I hijacked one of the Drone Division drones to retrieve the thing, with orders for the operator to drop it off with Security and have them return it to its owner.

“Hey, the robot stole my necklace!” the woman who tossed it away said. She wore thick coveralls, bots, and had a gas mask hanging around her neck. I didn’t know if it counted as a costume or not.

“Looks like a Deep One necklace, so it’s going to be returned.” I said.

She pouted, giving me another unwelcome “adult telling off kids” feeling. I might have found myself living in a shotgun shack, or in another part of the world, or behind the wheel of a large automobile. Instead, I found myself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and asking myself, well, how did I get here?

I turned and hopped up on the fountain’s edge and cranked up the volume from my helmet. “Greetings y’all, and welcome all you dang foreigners from other nations. For those feeling a bit hungover, or blind, or deaf… well, I don’t have accommodations for the deaf people currently, but you’re not listening anyway. If you’re wondering who died and made me king, the answer is The Claw. I’m Psycho Gecko, leader of this nation of Ricca. Which also means I’m the one responsible for protecting this place.”

“What does that mean?” someone asked from behind me. People were coming out to look.

“It means that y’all are guests here, and acts of foreign aggression will be answered by the leader of the Riccan military, who is me. If y’all attempt to become citizens, it would then mean answering to Ricca’s law enforcement for committing crimes. That is also me. Cause trouble, and your asses are molasses. In other words, I’ll reduce you to a sticky brown fluid.”

“You and what army?!” asked someone. Ah, that contrarian nature I know so well from my own self.

I pulled out a horn with my lower left arm. I squeezed the red, squooshy end of it, causing the horn to blow out an “Aoooga!” Drones flew in from all around the village, armed with visible weapons. Helicopters swooped in and hovered at the edge of the scene, gun-toting soldiers within. From the ground walked out more of my Dudebots. “Now, I don’t know how many of y’all it would take to kick my ass, but I know how many y’all are gonna use. I’m not worried.”

I hopped down and walked over to where the coverall woman was standing. I put an arm around her, photo op style but without grabbing her ass. “I know how to kill, and I know how to be merciful. Think of it as me barely containing my homicidal urges around y’all and just looking for an excuse. An excuse like stealing from MY people.” I grabbed the woman, lifted her overhead, and threw her face-first into the edge of the concrete fountain. She landed with a wet crack, her head gushing. I put my boot on the back of her neck and pushed her down, scraping her mess of a face against the side until her face was nestled where the fountain met the ground. Then I lined up the shot and punted her ass against it, breaking her spine at least in two as she doubled up on herself.

I knelt then and picked her up over my shoulder. “Now y’all have had yourselves a warning. Spread it among yourselves. I just have to take this body somewhere for a private, uh, coroner’s report. Yep, that’s all it is. Got to examine why she appears to have been violated in several holes, including the new ones. If anyone needs me to come back out here for any reason, just know I’ll be upset at the interruption, ok?”

I’m not sure if that was the right way to handle that. I was caught in a dilemma. Either kill her and appear to be hostile to villains, or don’t kill her and appear soft. It was while pondering if this was truly a time with two sides that I realized something else I could pull. I stopped dragging my victim off toward the palace and instead pulled out a pair of nanite syringes. Within minutes, I was running back to the village square, holding a slightly-less broken body in my hands. I laid her down on the ground there in front of everyone, my armor piping out the sounds of thunder.

“She’s alive!” I shouted over the thunder as the body twitched. I paused it quickly as she shuddered and went still again so I could press my hands to her body and feel around for a pulse. When she gasped again and continued mending, the thunder abruptly continued. “Aliiiiive!”

It got less dramatic when, upon opening her eyes, the woman screamed nonstop for like two minutes and crab walked away from me. It was only partially because her body wasn’t completely right, and the physical scars were fixed relatively quickly. The mental scars from her ordeal will likely last some time.

Amusing as it was to part of me, I realized it was more something the original Gecko would do. The one I killed when I took the name, sadistic bastard. I expect our discipline problems aren’t finished, though. I might talk to the Directors, see if any of them can get these guys some entertainment. Prostitutes, gambling, Cards Against Humanity or other board games.

With that handled, including a word with the cemetery drug growers to see about pushing some weed in the village, I was all set to handle the day’s lessons with Qiang. Before I could, I found my intelligence chief, Hu, outside the palace.

“Empress,” he said, bowing his head before continuing, “Someone infiltrated the island.”

“Oh?” I crossed my arms. Freaks people out when you’ve got extra.

“Yes, we caught a frogman. We believe he is an agent of a foreign military.”

Great, we we got SEALs roaming around. “Let’s go see him, then.”

Hu showed me to the detention center at the base. I was shown into a room where I came face to face with a Deep One. I turned to Hu. “They prefer to be called Deep Ones, not frog men. Actually, hold up.” I turned to the Deep One. “Do y’all have a preferred name for the species, or is Deep One ok?”

He let out some sort of guttural croak singing that you had to be an aquatic man-creature to pull off. I shook my head. “Sorry. I’m sure your girlfriend already tells you this, but our throats just can’t handle that.”

The Deep One stepped aside to show me to a prisoner stripped down to a thermal layer, wet and bloody, tied to a chair.

My mind went first to what I’d pulled off on the woman in the village, but then it went further, to the Gecko who tormented me as a youth in the Psychopomp program. The one I had to kill way back when, or he’d have been the one they let loose on the world. “Well, well. I see we’re going to get our kicks finding out who’s paying us a house call and why.” I turned and headed out of the room with Hu before instructing the intelligence chief, “We’re gonna need a lot more weed. And some Cheetoes.”

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