Category Archives: 70. Party On

It’s been a year since a child entered my life the usual way: presented to me as a bribe by a nation hoping to buy my knowledge of weapons of mass destruction. This calls for a birthday party, villain-style.

Party On 6

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Woot! What comes before Part B? Part A!

The whole damn island’s having itself a good time to celebrate the birthday of my little baby girl, complete with an impromptu parade from the palace to the Cape Diem compound. When the first fireworks went off, Max took cover and I grabbed the nearest object, a painting off the wall, and prepared to beat wholesale ass with it.

“Watch it, Cinderella,” said Sam said from over by the living room windows. “It’s just fireworks.”

Citra moved up to take my arm and squeeze my hand in both of hers. “Yeah, it better be,” I said, before tossing the painting to the side and checking to make sure I hadn’t ruined anything on the new dress. Qiang said princess party and the tailor did his best to accommodate her wishes for a special dress to wear. It was a Western dress, very much in keeping with the Disney movies that I’ve been known to throw at her, but not any specific one. I told the tailor to make her Moana, Mulan, any of them she asked for. Disney’s not as anal about what constitutes a princess as I am, but my daughter can damn well dress as whoever she pleases.

Instead, she went with a darker pink with lots of frills up and down the front, and her own tiara. With my approval, the tailor went easy on the tiara. Most people don’t realize it, but wearing a lump of gold and gemstones on your head is hard work. Royals build up to that over like weeks or days leading up to official events. So Qiang’s tiara is better than a flimsy gold tiara. It’s durable, light, and gilded.

My own number resembled hers, except I went with a vibrant green that probably looks more at home in Rio during Carnivale, and had a little more space to hide my second pair of arms. If it hadn’t been for all these outsiders, I’d let them out. But I always gotta keep something in reserve when my nemesis is around.

While I was picking at it and making sure Qiang had hers all together, Citra took one look out the window and suggested, “Why do we not make a small parade?” I really should look into what the transit system’s like on this island. Damn delegation. Regardless, I know plenty of things fall off the back of a container ship around here, so I called up my guys in our local police force. They helped a car dealer clear a little space for more merchandise. It’s good for ’em, helps them rotate the inventory.

So my family had a parade of sorts. Nothing all that special to it, only Max was throwing treats at the crowd, and I didn’t really feel the need for security. Anybody who fucked up my dress was going to get a high heel up the urethra. And if they messed something up for Qiant? Oh, even a cyanide pill wouldn’t save them. I’d bring them back to life, and then I’d really fuck ’em up.

While I was keeping an eye out, Citra actually hopped out of our slow procession and carried Qiang down with her. I hopped out after them as they greeted some of the visitors. “What are you doing?” I asked her.

“A princess should meet her subjects, and I think it is good for us,” she said.

I narrowed my eyes at her briefly before stopping myself. We were approaching another group who were getting all respectful and bowing. I stepped back and watched as Citra asked after them, how they were doing, other such platitudes. Empty stuff. Might as well ask how the weather is for all we can do about it. But they liked it. And not just them.

“You want to walk some, Qiang?” I asked the birthday girl.

“Yeah, Baba. I can ride in the car again when I’m tired. I get to be a princess!” She was hopping up and down and running along, eager to follow Citra’s example. As for me, I suppose I can’t fault her for having a will of her own. She is still another separate person, if one thrust into position and events far beyond what her life intended. Chaos can certainly be a ladder, or a pit. So while they were all smiles and spreading good Imperial cheer among my people, I kept a close eye out in case someone decided they wanted to hurt the Empress Regnant on our way to the Cape Diem compound.

Now, even though I was fully prepared to let visitors to my world come in peace, even provide an escort to me, the leader, it turns out the Master Academy people worked something out with Cape Diem. I didn’t see anything change hands, but Cape Diem’s whole portal deal with the UN isn’t something they’d risk losing. I wonder what the cost is for using the world’s only portal network to bring a bunch of kids to a birthday party on an island run by a supervillain. I suppose there are benefits for neutrality. But it’s neutrality that goes both ways.

My minions helped prepare everything, payment being they get to enjoy the party too. As my prior discussion of the cake ratio shows, I put a lot of thought into bribing people with food, fun, and bouncy houses. That even includes the guard detail who escorted the various princesses from the pink castle they temporarily called home. All of them formed a receiving line for my daughter on her way to the cake.

The cake itself loomed over the party like a small castle all its own. It was too big for the compound itself. It’s bad hat to kick your guests out of their own home by bringing in such a giant cake. People mostly contained themselves until we got there, at which point Qiang lost her shit with high-pitched squeals of delight and ran off into a throng of her friends who were being held back by their chaperones from Master Academy. We managed to separate them and, before everything devolved into the inevitable entropic pack of playing people, I let Qiang see all the various princesses. She was excited to meet them, and luckily they’d all calmed down a great deal. Something about being in public, with superheroes around, knowing they were going to be set free, and that this was all about my daughter’s birthday party.

Finally, barely able to contain her excitement and glee, it was time for my daughter to stand in front of her cake. And like all great cakes, it required men with flamethrowers hanging from flyers in order to light the candles. Ok, so required isn’t so accurate a term for lighting five candles. Let me think… fun? Awesome? Nevertheless, she stood there in front of a lower part ready to be cut and served to people. Then I unleashed the real humiliation. “Ok, time to sing Happy Birthday!”

Once I’d finished completely embarrassing her with the help of her friends and a huge crowd of strangers, she finally got a piece of cake, and then servants made sure everyone got cake who wanted it, including themselves. And from there, people mingled, people ate, people played games. I even caught this minotaur-looking super from Master Academy snorting in frustration as he kept missing at the clown dunk. The clown itself had a white face, a big forehead, and red hair. He’d also do this little dance in between throws, glaring right at the minotaur.

And it seemed to go ok. It was more like a big fair for a pretty good amount of time. Heroes and villains and me and my family all mingling. It was almost normal. It felt weird, like I should pick a fight just to have something to do. Fucking ball just wouldn’t hit the target and dunk the clown. I swear, that big-shoed bastard did something to the balls. While missing yet again, and ducking a cream pie thrown in retaliation, I noticed Venus.

It struck me as odd that we’d avoided each other so far. Unless she was avoiding me, which is a crazy thing to think. No, unless she was PLOTTING against me. That’s a sane thing to think. So I went over to where she was looking after some of the kids. “So, what horrifying thing are you going to do now in the name of being a good person?” I asked.

“Watching kids play on a happy day. How are you planning to be an asshole and justify it because other people in the world do bad things?” she asked right back, giving me a forced, closed smile.

“I dunno, figured I’d send missionaries to teach starving kids in Africa the joys of cannibalism.” My smile was more genuine, as was my amusement.

Venus wasn’t so amused. Doesn’t mean she was offended, she just didn’t like me. She turned her head suddenly, checking on a kid that had fallen. One of the Master Academy kids she brought all the way here to my daughter’s party even though she hates me. I looked at her and held a hand out. “I should be a better host. Thanks for bringing everyone. This means a lot to her.”

She shook my hand, and this time the little smile tugging at her lips also tightened up her eyes. “You’re welcome. She’s a wonderful girl. She’s worked magic on you.” After letting go of my hand, she turned to keep an eye on everything, smiling at everyone just walking around, having fun and playing games.

I shrugged. “She’s not so different from me. Orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, and trained to be more object than person. But she’s mine.” I saw a Buzzkill giving piggyback rides to refugee children. “That’s a screwed-up life she doesn’t deserve. No one does. It corrupts you, makes you want to cling to it. Makes you af- it feels more secure that way. Because once you know that’s your life, there isn’t anything that can scare you. I can do that for her, and I can destroy anyone who would hurt her.”

I turned to look at her then. Nothing like a good threat to round it out. Instead, she smiled at me. “That’s very heroic of you.”

I flinched. Couldn’t help it. “And here I thought we were playing nice.”

“You’ve become a better person,” she said. “You jumped in front of that rocket. See, I think staying with us helped you.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh yeah, y’all putting in a telepathic block to stop me from swearing or killing, that’s what I really needed in my life. Y’all didn’t help that much. Well, aside from saving my life. And… ya know, it’s been awhile since I got the shakes from not killin’ someone.” I looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

She held up her hands. “We thought it would help your recovery. We weren’t going to leave you in the middle of psychological withdrawals while we kept you from murdering anyone.”

I held up a finger in front of her face. “There anything else y’all did to my brain I don’t know about? Any more secret brainwashing to make be ‘better’?”

“No, I swear.” She’d tensed up, her eyes darting past me. Well, if we were drawing attention from her friends, they’d just get to violate Cape Diem’s neutrality and the sovereignty of my nation first.

I folded my arms in front of me.”I get so many mixed messages from you, Boopsie.” Then I just left her there. I wanted to hurt her or at least yell at her. But, and this is an important thing to remember in this instance, this was about my daughter. Besides, an Empress doesn’t get mad. She gets cake. I just have to hope any feelings for her weren’t somehow the result of telepathic manipulation.

And speaking of good feelings, there were Rhonda and Leland, the parents of my daughter’s best friend from Master Academy, just waiting for me to come say hello again and remind them about that threesome they had with a murderous serial killer and Empress.

Qiang could barely able to stay awake long enough to see guests departing by the end of the party. We didn’t have too many who weren’t already here decide to stay the night. Kayla and her parents for sure, but it’s not like all those kidnapped princesses, including all the Marias and Maries from Belgium, wanted to stick around. Even Venus had decided she’d head back instead of take me up on my offer to stay and ease her tired muscles with a refreshing dip in my jacuzzi.

Once almost everyone had departed, though, I heard a shout. I looked to Citra, carrying my exhausted five year old in her arms. Seeing them clearly both ok, I shot the similarly-burdened parents of her best friend a wink and headed off in the direction of whatever commotion we had going on. I found a pair of Security officers holding up one of their own between them. “Something up, guys?” I asked.

The one on the man’s left shook his head. “Apologies for not bowing, Empress.”

I waved off his concerns, “Bow later, talk now.”

“Very well. He got disoriented and collapsed.” I looked him over. Sweaty, even in the lighter gear he had on, but he had a half-full canteen bottle on his belt.

“Get him to our medical tent outside the fence and tell them to contact Dr. Creeper,” I said quietly. Louder, to a nearby family carrying a kid with a balloon tied around his wrist, I said, “Just a bit of dehydration. Make sure to keep drinking water, folks.”

It was when Creeper got there, along with some of the more medically-minded staff of the Institute, that I briefed him with a simple. “We have a problem.”

The man was still disoriented, still out of it. Babbling and feverish. I continued explaining in case nobody got it, “This isn’t heat stroke. We don’t know what it is. Worse, whatever’s going on isn’t being stopped by the nanites in the water or in the dermal patches they’ve applied. We need to find out what this is.”

“We need a quarantine, especially on outsiders,” Creeper said.

Fuck. “That’s not doable. Most of the ones who were here aren’t anymore.” And the ones who are here, like a little superpowered girl and her parents, won’t look so good. “Well, let’s get to it. The sooner we figure out what’s going on, the sooner we fix it.”

I knew arriving back at the palace that this whole situation would take tact. And probably sex. Just make it seem like Rhonda and Leland are having a nice vacation here while their daughter plays with mine. That’s what I was ready for when I opened the door to the palace residence and entered, only to have to hold back a lot of cuss words.

Psychsaur, scaled and feathered psychic hero of Master Academy (and Venus’s girlfriend), was seated at the bar in the kitchen, swaying, talking with Sam and Holly. She smiled a loose, too-friendly smile and her wave to me almost dropped her from the stool. Plus, I could smell the alcohol from where I stood when she opened her mouth to say “Hey Gecko! I’m not driving home tonight, so can I sleep here?”

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Party On 5

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Cue the Pink Panther theme.

Imagine, if you will, dear readers: a robot in my heavy armor sneaking carefully through a neighborhood in Florida. Not Orlando, where King Mickey reigns supreme, or even Miami. Everybody knows all about Miami. Hot as fuck there, especially this time of year, but my target did not hide there. Technically, I don’t think she’s really hiding. But whatever she’s doing it, she’s doing it in the very strangest part of the strangest state in Americastan.

The Florida Keys are odd, even by Florida standards, complete with their own semi-serious secession movement. There’s not much to fear from the Conch Republic, though. I think they’re seceding to get rid of daylight savings time and extend happy hour. They call themselves the Conch Republic; how important could their demands be?

The house in question had its own airstrip behind it, which made it rather easy to locate with the aid of drones. Ubiquitous little spy devices. Give everyone their own civilian drones to play with and nobody pays that much attention anymore to how often they zip around spying on people.

A gunshot rang out.

Ah, that’s right. I hear some people are selling drone shot for shotguns now. Good thing that was a cheap civilian version meant to blend in and help me spy on the area. It’s a little tougher to manage drones and a Dudebot at the same time, but I found what I needed. An airstrip with an older prop plane named “Conch Rage”, a Conch Republic flag hanging from the porch, and the presence of somebody capable of firing a shotgun.

I almost wish I could have felt the humid and windy night air for myself, but my own body was back in Ricca. I couldn’t just go myself. I had to get fitted for a big poofy dress for the party. So the Dudebot stalked the night of Florida’s archipelago.

“If anyone’s out there, fuck yer drone and stop spying on me or I shall unleash a rain of hellfire upon you like a thousand boots to the upside of your ass!” yelled someone from the porch with more cheap beer than wariness of tempting fate. Because fate is a petty bitch at times. Or is that me? Or is that both of us?

I didn’t actually need the guy’s house. It was his plane I was there for. He had a bit of fuel out back in a can, so I fueled up while he got more drunk. The house’s occupant finally came running once I started the darn thing. I started to pull away, but I turned and tossed him a life preserver ring. “Man overboard! Hold on tight!”

Between the alcohol and an unwillingness to let someone steal his plane, he actually did. It was probably mostly the alcohol, truth be told. He grabbed onto that ring as I taxied out and took off, dragging his drunk ass into the air. Once I’d gotten safely into the air, I called back, “Doing ok back there?!”

I couldn’t make out any words, so I figured I’d take it easy on him. “You look tense. Relax a bit!” And with that, I threw him a cool, refreshing beer. It thunked off his forehead and spewed a bit of beer belatedly. “You know what? Relax a lot!” I turned and hefted a cooler, dumping beer and ice at the trailing life preserver. I shook it all clear and, seeing him still holding on for dear life, I tossed the cooler at him too.

At that point, it was time to put in for a landing, and I had just the spot. A local hotel where a Belgian woman was vacationing. A woman with Marie in her name. I could have just snuck inside the place no problem, and in fact I did in order to find out which room she was in. But anybody can break into a hotel room. Being a supervillain means breaking into a hotel room with style. And fucking your nemesis, preferably in the ass. But mostly it’s the style part. Still a bit about the fucking though. I want to make it very clear that fucking is still an option.

It just wasn’t going to be much of an option in the hotel in question when I brought this old, WW2-era thing plowing into the opposite side of the building to the room I was aiming for. Which, come to think of it, meant this was a bad time to look Asian. And I suppose I didn’t have to holographically project the rising sun flag.

The plane caught fire and tore itself apart as it broke through walls and dragged along floor. The wings didn’t make it past the first room. By the fifth room, there wasn’t a whole lot left of the fuselage at all. I actually came skidding to a stop just before the room of my target, Princess Marie-Christine Daphne Astrid Elisabeth Leopoldine. The final Belgian princess.

I got up from my seat and walked around the flaming motor at the front of the stolen aircraft. I politely and quietly knocked on the wall to the last room. “Room service!”

“What the fuck is going on out there?!” cried the room’s occupant, which told me she was indeed in.

“Quiet in there, I’m being subtle!” I yelled back, then smashed a hole through the wall. I found the old bird in bed, hand near a lamp she’d turned on. She threw it at me, but I caught it and threw it right back, knocking her on the shoulder as she rolled to get up. I hopped on the bed, wrapped her in my cold metallic embrace, and set off the D-bomb, hurtling the Dudebot to Ricca.

The Dudebot dragged her over to a waiting Deep One guard. “Book ’em. This is one sick son of a bitch. You wouldn’t believe what I caught her doing in bed with a lamp.” The guard nodded and grabbed the screaming woman for a trip into the waiting castle. Sure, she was the black sheep of the royal family, but I doubt the atmosphere can get much worse there.

What surprised me more was seeing equipment being brought in that resembled enlarged holographic projectors, and seeing the 3D assemblers going at it building another pair of buildings and otherwise crowding out the military base.

Yeah, Venus’s idea to have all this linked to Cape Diem and partially on their grounds was looking better and better. Good thing I have an amicable working relationship with them. They’re fond of kids anyway, and I made sure to let them know anyone housed that site is welcome to the party too. Gonna be harder for the heroes to start shit with all those hostag- guests present. Refugees and Cape Diem capes. Saving the day by doing good deeds in other countries instead of just fighting first world problems.

And as for all that equipment now doing stuff on my military base, I intended to go right up to the guys loading it and find out what their deal was. Then I received an email from Pagan, my new head of Intelligence, informing me he was preemptively implementing additional security measures without my prior knowledge. So, I guess that’s good. That’s what I pay him for. Putting booby traps around without telling me first.

It put me off a bit, that having happened, but I figured it was a good thing. Delegation and all that. Letting other people worry about some stuff for me. It gave me more time to avoid Beetrice, the giant bee woman, queen of the Buzzkills and North Korea, and probably the best diplomat loyal to my Empire. Someone leaked word of Qiang’s upcoming birthday party to her and she arrived bearing presents, a retinue of Buzzkills, and an intense desire to hug me to death.

I didn’t care for the Buzzkills being around either. They don’t seem to be making a big deal about it, but they are my kids too. Only I’ve never shown any affection or fatherly anything toward them. They haven’t been making a big deal about me being their dad either, but it’s just strange to me. Almost all the interchangeable insectoid minions known as Buzzkills are my kids

See, this is why I should have gone after the Toybox. Leave me alone with time for idle ponderings and I end up wondering if bee people are going to call me Daddy. Bee people aside from Queen Beetrice, that is.

Luckily on several counts, I didn’t need to ponder for long. After a couple of days hoping for something to go wrong, something did. That is, I was awoken one night to digital alerts. We had an intruder on the island, at the base, in the conservatory, with a candlestick!

The last two turned out to be false alarms, but I slipped into my armor and jumped right out the door, getting caught by Beetrice in a hug as she flew back to the palace. “There’s a break-in!” she said, slowly turning me into a humanoid accordion with her embrace.

“Take me there, and less squeezing my lungs,” I said. She held me by my sides instead. The side of my boobs, the side of my ass. For a being whose palace has so many hexagons in it, she sure is a fan of curves. I “ahemed” several times as she flew me there, but she just interrupted her humming to ask, “You aren’t getting sick, are you?”

The mother of my children, folks. Take it from your old pal Psycho Gecko: keep the sex out of insects.

Something was wrong at the big pink princess castle, and I don’t just mean the obliterated front drawbridge or downed guards.

“Take me inside, Beetrice,” I directed before interrupting her giggling to clarify, “NOT that way.”

She buzzed on in there, past beat-up guards, broken walls, and Deep Ones who had been smashed with fallen debris. Our interloper burst through walls without regard for all our hard work we put all the machines through to build it. That inconsiderate bastard!

Thing was, the interior was nothing like I knew the inside of the castle to be. I programmed the damn thing. There were way fewer rooms, and no way to the upper stories. I don’t remember putting in a bridge or lava either, which is the room where Beetrice dodged a fireball. She yanked me to the left to avoid a charbroiling and brought us down to hover over the lava, with plenty of heat. “Seriously, where’d they get all the lava from?” I asked myself. “Beetrice, remind me to ask Pagan later if this is from the volcano under the island. I really need to know if we have access to that again.”

“When did we get a dragon?” she asked.

“I dunno,” I said, looking at the dragon and its foe. The man in front of it would have fit in at a bodybuilding competition. He had to be like 6’6”, with vertical teal and black stripes on his tights. Yeah, tights. And they were tight. I could make out butt muscles underneath the round hammer strapped to his back. He took a fireball head on, too, before firing some multi-streamed purple energy blast from his hands. Then, glowing purple, he flew over the dragon, which had advanced down the bridge to face him. Safe on the other landing, he withdrew his hammer and held it aloft, the beams of purple light flowing into the hammer from all directions. When he brought it smashing down on the bridge, the entire thing shook and briefly glowed purple. Then the bottom of the wood began to fall out and the ropes on that end snapped, sending the dragon plummeting to its presumed death in in the lava below.

The man in the costume turned and ran in into the next room. “Beetrice, follow that ass!” I instructed. As we crossed the gap, I looked down at the dragon and saw the hologram fail and paper burning off whatever robotic sentry Pagan had left behind. A frustrated yell came from ahead of us.

The next room was empty save for the hero and a broken holodisc that couldn’t maintain the illusion of a room full of women. Then the walls themselves began to churn and move, with ratcheting noises coming from all ’round. The hero turned to look at me, his face turning from rage to worry as I told him, “Sorry, but your princesses are in another castle.”

The roof collapsed in on him. As I soon found out, the whole of the castle was meant to fall in on itself, a fate I barely avoided thanks to my queen bee. She landed and refused to set me down, carrying me in a hug that didn’t look all that Imperial to all the soldiers and guards who showed up, with flyers hovering in the air. I spotted Silver Shark and VelocityRaptor in attendance as well. The real pink princess castle became visible briefly at the guards’ shift change, but by then they’d dug out the unconscious hero and brought him before me for judgment.

“I’ve agreed to cut back,” I said, trying to look intimidating while aggressively snuggled by an amazonian bee queen. “Take him to Cape Diem. Tell them to shove him through a portal or something. And whoever’s reporting to Pagan, inform him I need a dungeon, preferably with an oubliette or two. Maybe a labyrinth.”

When I dismissed them, I ordered Beetrice to return me to my palace, at which point she confronted me with the burning question of her night. “A labyrinth?”

“Yes, it’d be perfect for the babe.”

“What babe?”

“The babe with the power.”

“What power?”

“Oh, let’s not start this again.”

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Party On 4

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The big day draws near. Now that I have fewer people to kidnap, I’ve had time to deal with catering, including getting a big-ass cake done. The design almost gave me diabetes just looking at it, but it had to be huge. We’ve got a lot of guests, and I’ve done some rough calculations on the additional cake necessary to offset the hard feelings from the kidnapping.

It’s one of those areas of science from my more advanced home dimension. Whereas the power armor and nanotech are the results of the hard sciences, my world also advanced in the social sciences and humanities. For instance, we discovered that there is a ratio of discomfort to cake that allows someone to completely offset all dislike from a situation with application of the proper amount of cake. I had to leave out various factors, though. Dairy tolerance, differences between frostings, the ice cream and milk modifiers.

But enough about confectioneries. I also handled the balloons and the shopping. Well, I’m not sure shopping is an accurate name with all that theft. But I didn’t want to just get Qiang the normal toys. She’ll have pretty much one of everything anybody else could possibly have. Then I realized she needed one of things people couldn’t have.

I didn’t need a toy store, or a toy factory. I’ve wrecked China enough for all that. I need… The Toybox.

“The Toybox is a legend,” said Max.

“What’s the Toybox?” asked Sam, his assistant with the more goth or perhaps punk look. There’s a certain point where I can’t tell them apart. But I suppose she’s grown some. She shaved her hair down except for a green poof at the front, so she’s got that going for her. She sat with us at the bar for our mid-afternoon drink. There’s breakfast, like screwdrivers, followed by mimosas or champagne at lunch, something with a bit more zip at eleven or so, then lunch, then the mid-afternoon drink around 3 o’clock, with more drinks at dinner and later at supper. Of course, we don’t always make all the appointments, so there’s the option to put them all together throughout the night.

“Ooh, I know!” That was Holly, the cheerier and generally preppier of the two. She’d been to Sea-Offee. A Riccan entrepreneur partnered up with Deep One suppliers who had cultivated some beans that sunk in airtight storage before the beans themselves went extinct. There’s also a gimmick about iceberg iced coffees, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a common lie.

Holly set her coffees down before answering, “So like so many supervillains went around stealing prototype toys and special toys for gimmicks and stuff or to sell to people. The toy companies got together and used their money to build a secret vault where they can lock them up safely. So the legend goes.”

“But why?” asked Sam. “Why not destroy them or sell them themselves? They aren’t useful anymore, are they?”

Max and I looked at each other before focusing on her.

“You never know when you’ll need a prototype. You can make an inferior version to sell to everyone else,” he said.

“They often have features later editions don’t and provide a practical model for implementing them,” I added. “Those can come in handy later on.”

“It can be even more valuable if the product’s good,” Max said.

I nodded my head toward him, “The artistic value, too.”

“Yeah, they make good trophies,” Max said.

“Some of them are toys they never put into production,” I came back with.

“It all sounds like stupid bullshit to me. I bet they wanted to make a vault to feel special,” Sam said.

Max and I both nodded. “That’s also likely, yeah,” I told her. It really is. Makes me wish I had a giant vault full of traps and valuables just thinking about it.

“You’re going to break into a vault that may not exist to steal toys that don’t work right when you already have everything you already need.” Sam was trying to be the voice of reason, which made it easy to ignore her.

I turned to Max, but he cocked his head to the size and said, “She has a point.”

“It’s a natural way to get Venus’s attention so I can get her here,” I argued.

“I don’t want to tell you your business,” he started, “But I will anyway. Does she bring little kids along when she goes to fight you?”

I shook my head.

“Don’t you want Qiang’s friends to come here?” he asked.

I raised a hand parallel to the floor and shook it back and forth a bit. “For her, sure.”

He adjusted on his stool and was about to talk, but Holly spoke up, “You didn’t go around kidnapping a bunch of princesses for their company, did you?”

“There was one who was actually real pleasant to talk to, but that was mostly about Qiang’s birthday.”

It was Sam’s turn now. “Hey man, if you do stupid shit, you might ruin her birthday. I remember one of my birthday parties, my mom and pop got into an argument over the cake. They both bought me one just like I wanted, but they each got mad at the other for trying to show the other person up by going behind the other’s back. Mom threw his in the trash, he threw hers out the window. I didn’t get any cake.”

I shook my head. “Destruction of cake. Those monsters. Somebody get me the Directors, we need a new law.” I started to stand up and see to that when Sam reached out and put a hand on my lower right forearm. I looked down at it then at her with a raised eyebrow.

“This is her day. Don’t fuck it up for her,” she told me.

Max clapped a hand on my shoulder, subtly moving sliding Sam’s limb away from me. “Think about it this way: now you know what to steal for her next year.”

I pondered it for a moment before heading off into an office area where I’d hung the communication screen. This is one of the newer models using Riccan paperthin display tech, so it just looked like a painting and wasn’t too out of place with other pieces of art around here. I don’t know who hung this one painting in here, but it was nothing like the rest of their aesthetic. Some old-timey looking thing with a woman playing the piano, a guy with his back to the viewer strumming a guitar, and another woman just standing there, all on a black and white floor that looks sorta like a chessboard.

Boring.

When I was nice and ready, I put out a call and, after a second, Venus’s helmeted face looked down at me. “Who is this?”

I sat there in my pretty red and gold dress, face powdered and made up, my hair running through another golden headdress. I only raised my top pair of arms as the lower pair were hidden inside the dress. “It’s your absolute favorite supervillain in the whole wide world. Did I catch you at a bad time, Boopsie?”

She stared. “Gecko?”

“Empress Gecko,” I answered. “Well, Emperor’s fine, but they insist on calling me Empress right now. I swear, you tuck your nuts between your legs then shove them up inside a pussy and everyone loses their fucking minds.”

“You sound like Gecko. Pretty hologram. What do you want?”

“Hologram? Hey, can’t a guy just put on a dress, do up his hair, grow boobs, and wear makeup and a vagina just because he feels like it? You’re getting awfully judgmental for a Catholic bisexual, you know.”

She reached up, fingers hitting the visor over where it covered her nose before she lowered that hand out of view. “What do you want?”

I straightened myself up. “I’m throwing Qiang a birthday party and she has requested her friends attend. That includes you for some reason, but also that girl she used to hang out with over there, and the others from that school.” I took a moment to consult my memory. “Kayla, that was the name of her friend. She can even bring her parents, if she’d like.”

She looked down at me, thinking. “Is this a plot?”

I gently shook my head, not wanting to fuck up my bitchin’ hairdo. “There are plots involved in it, but this is not a plot. This is my daughter’s birthday and she wants her friends there. Unfortunately, that means… you.” I rolled my eyes. “Good news is, I can provide lots of cover for you-”

“We’ll come.”

“-excuse me?” I asked. I didn’t expect her to just agree to come here like that without some sort of incentive. Over to the side, Citra stood with a photo of one of Belgium Marias with today’s newspaper. She looked at me curiously and started toward the screen’s view, but I raised a hand to wave her off surreptitiously.

“Qiang is a good girl and we enjoyed having her. I think we can make arrangements with Cape Diem to come to the party. When is it?”

“Wow, ok, this actually moves up the timeline a bit. I was planning to rob a place or threaten to in order to get your attention. Dammit, you’ve foiled me again,” I said that last sentence playfully. “A week oughta do it. Should be enough time to wrap up any sudden problems that’ll show up. And if anyone gives you any trouble over coming to see me, you can always give them some spin about it being a rescue operation to get back all those kidnapped princesses.”

“You have them, don’t you?” she asked.

I waved it off, trying to say, “No, no, of course not…”

But that’s when Citra stepped into view, smiling wide while holding a picture of a pissed-off Belgian woman with a newspaper in one hand and giving the V-sign with the other. “Hello,” Citra said, way more happily than I expected. She waved at Venus.

Venus gave her a small wave. “Hi. Who are you?”

“I am Citra, Empress Gecko’s wife.” She linked her arm with mine.

“That is so sweet. Smile, I’m taking a screenshot,” Venus said.

Gonna kill her. Gonna kill her so hard. Gonna kill her and paradox the shit out of Future Venus because she won’t live long enough for me to kill her in the future when she time travels to the past. I swear, she’s trying to bait me just as I’ve often tried to bait her.

I put a hand over Citra’s and gave it a gentle squeeze. She intertwined her fingers with mine and leaned against me. I took a breath and carried on. “Anyway, now that the pussy’s out of the sack, you can bring the whole school over, no shenanigans, and you get to walk away with the princesses that we officially do not have here. And, more importantly, I will have less time to draw out party preparations and decide to rob places for more and more extravagant gifts. We’ll have entertainment, too. There’ll be music and games. Clowns and a dunking booth, even.”

Venus grimaced. “Some people don’t like clowns.”

I waved that off with my free hand. “The clowns will be in the dunking booth. It’ll probably be therapeutic. And don’t worry about the clowns either. They’ll float. They all float.”

That got a shiver from Venus at least. “Let’s work it out with Cape Diem and I’ll see you next week, alright?”

“Fine by me, Venus. Oh, and just so you know, the theme is Princesses. Do dress accordingly,” I said, feeling my grin take on predatory menace. I’ll get a picture of her dressed ridiculously even if I have to roofie her and take all her clothes off myself! And I guess I can put more clothes on her at some point, too.

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Party On 3

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Before I went too much further, I had to deal with an issue at home. Because, fuck me, some people have some misconceptions about me. I was informed one of the Directors had a special gift for me he wanted to discuss with me over the phone because he was seeing to the offloading at the docks.

“1,500 kids? Where the fuck do you get 1,500- oh I’m sorry, interrupt your damn Empress while you’re at it, 1,475 kids? I don’t give a shit about the price. I understand what the phrase ‘fall off the back of a truck’ means, but most people don’t consider children the sort of thing that falls off the backs of trucks. I don’t care what that video shows, I caught her before she hit the ground, and this isn’t about her. This is about 1,500 kids that you decided to buy… why? What do I need kids for?! Anything worth doing is worth training an adult to do. What I want you to do is turn the boat around and send them back. It’s the United fucking States, it’s not that hard to sneak in. I know a bar in Mexico, place called the Titty Twister, caters to truck drivers. Pay a few of them enough, they’ll get them in. Worse comes to worse, you take them in through Canada instead.”

I put on my helmet so I could slam my head against the desk in my office for the appropriate slamming sound. That’s one of the problems with integrating cell phone technology into your brain; it’s so hard to manage a satisfying hangup. I’ve got a pretty liberal immigration policy for Ricca, but people begin to wonder what the fuck’s going on once you’ve smuggled in 1,500 kids. And do you know how hard it is to find a buyer for children in bulk?

I mean, sure, there’s China and its sweatshops. The Vatican and its child molestation. South Korea and its professional gaming slaves. And whatever it is Russia does with kids. Probably science experiments, if they even can pull that off now. The place got royally fucked. No, czarally fucked. For some reason, investing almost all legal power into a mortal man instead of some sort of system of government turned out badly for them when he died, especially with various crimelords free of control and eager to prevent any future president from being able to control them.

The Claw, being long-lived and difficult to kill, managed it for a long time. I just found it easier to shove some of the responsibilities on other people by making them draw up a constitution. That allows this Directory bunch to run the country while I sit around remotely controlling a robotic doppelganger in Belgium. I’ve had a small castle made for them all to be kept in at the military base, with plenty of room for all the other princesses I have villains and mercenaries kidnapping for me. They’ve had time to make their own deliveries. The princesses haven’t tried anything stupid, like escaping. The Deep One guards are fairly intimidating to regular humans, but we also keep drones around. And we’re on an island.

It’s gotten out that someone is kidnapping them.

I naturally got a call about it from an interested source. As in, Venus, the nemesis who has overstayed her welcome in my life. I was on my throne, laying around while my Dudebot scouted the Royal Castle over in Belgium. One of the Directory aides ran up with a phone for me. “The Director of Foreign Affairs sent this,” he said.

I took handset off the phone and held it up to my helmet. “It is I, the great and devious Psychopomp Gecko, master of death, destroyer of worlds, eater of souls. May I ask who’s calling?”

“Gecko, it’s me.” said a familiar voice.

I hung up. Six and a half minutes later, the phone rang. I answered it, fairly certain it was the same caller as before.

“Sup, Venus?”

“You have no idea how big a hassle it is to call you. I have to call my friend in an embassy who calls someone he knows in another country’s embassy who directs it to that country’s Riccan embassy who sends the call all the way to his boss in your government.”

“Wow, that sounds just-” I hung up again. When she called back, I decided to reveal, “Ya know, I made sure lots of people know that if you’re reaching out to me, to go ahead and get the call to me. It’s complicated this way, but you won’t give me your number.”

“You keep hacking my phone anyway.”

I nodded. “Oh, that’s right, I refuse to give you my number. Anyway, I’m a very busy world leader here. Can’t spent all day playing phone tag with you. What do you want?”

“Are you kidnapping nobles?”

“Nah,” I answered.

“You’re lying.”

“If you’re just going to say that about any answer I give, why bother asking? Venus, y’all worked out some sort of crazy reverse diplomatic immunity for me. It’s open season me if I leave, so clearly I don’t just run off from the island.”

“You were just over here during the holidays,” she reminded me.

“Yes, and maybe someone needs to give you and your friends a stern talk about aiding and abetting international fugitives from justice, but it won’t be me because I’m adhering to the terms of my agreement.” Either I’ve gotten really good at envisioning Venus’s reactions to my antics, or she grinds her teeth loudly. “I have not left this island and I am not kidnapping royals. If I had some sort of plan for that, why would I wait until after that big wedding in the UK?”

“I don’t know what you’re doing, but we know you’re having royal women kidnapped for whatever reason. I shouldn’t have to remind you that being a leader means worrying about war instead of jail.”

I laughed at that one. “Right, like anyone would invade a country that actually has weapons of mass destruction. Only an imbecile or a madman actually declares war on someone like that, what with millions of lives all snuffing out in the first few minutes of any such war. Plus, ya know, I can teleport my bombs anywhere in the world. No, I’m perfectly safe here. But if you’re looking for kidnapped royals, then I have to say thanks for thinking of me, but your princess is in another castle. Oh, but while I have you, I was hoping to invite you to a party-”

She hung up on me that time.

Over in Belgium, I used the Dudebot and satellites to recon the Royal Castle. It’s a misnomer, though. It’s a palace, but not really a castle. The difference isn’t just pedantic. A castle is an actual fortress, designed to withstand knights and catapults. Palaces are designed to protect nobility from living in a mere mansion like one of those dirty plebians who worked for their money. Or worse, who don’t even have money. With today’s military technology, the difference can be negligible.

They have the Royal Castle locked down tight with guards and dogs, and guards as ugly as dogs. I mean, they’re trying. It’s the thought that counts, right? Plenty of people would be deterred by those shitty defenses. Lots of folks wouldn’t go after the last four princesses in Belgium. There are actually five Belgian princesses left, but one of them lives over in the U.S. Or something. Princess Marie-Christine Daphne Astrid Elisabeth not only continues the trend of having either Marie or Maria in her name, but appears to be something of a black sheep. She lives abroad and estranged, already spent all her money, and talks about how maybe Belgium would be better off without royalty. Given some people I’ve seen elected to power, I’m not sure she has room to shit talk the monarchy.

Regardless, Marie-Christine wasn’t gathered up by the royal family and shipped to the Royal Castle for safekeeping during this kidnapping spree. The other four were inside this sad little piece of architecture they thought they could defend with probably more armed guards than their normal standing army.

It really wasn’t that hard to just sneak in. Jump some fences, sneak in behind a patrolling guard, invisible as a fart in the wind, but twice as deadly. It took me awhile to find where they were actually being held. I had to go through a lot of bedrooms, and even when I was sure I found the actual room, it turned out to be sadly empty. On the plus side, I know one of the remaining princesses wasn’t wearing panties. I hope it’s not the 55 year old.

All the bedrooms… empty. Which wouldn’t be entirely suspicious, but even the ones that looked like room for the guards didn’t have anyone in them. And it occurred to me there should have been more staff in general. I expanded my search and was a little less gentle, like someone finding out his girlfriend has problems cumming from just penetration. As this tends to do, this did eventually lead me to a room full of women. Also, a gaggle of guys with guns aimed right at a door that opened all by itself. Had to be like twenty of them packed in there along with the four nobles I was after. They stood on a platform of a sort, with a slope reaching out several feet in all directions and bolted to the floor.

“Test it,” said one of the security detail. A man stepped forward and fired a shotgun, peppering my armor with buckshot because that’s the kind of gun that’s awesome for shooting into a doorway. Natural chokepoint, after all. And with only one way in or out, a shotgun would normally shred someone to pieces there. It just ticked me off a bit and prompted the one giving orders to turn and signal something to a woman sitting at a computer near the princesses. The computer person made twenty-one, a fun number for every occasion. “Activate it! Open fire, protect the princesses!”

The guards opened up on me all at once. Just a good, long, loud few seconds of automatic fire. Right as it petered off, one guy thunked a grenade at the doorway that began to spew smoke. As a whole, the group turned to stare at one mustachioed guard in goggles, the nearest asking “Really, Dietrich?”

I stepped the Dudebot out of the cloud, the smoke marking it for everyone to see and preventing the cameras and projectors from working properly to conceal it. Or the panties stretched over the helmet.

“Are those my knickers?” asked the skinny blonde 29 year old of the bunch, Maria Laura Zita Beatriz Gerhard.

“Score,” I said, pumping the Dudebot’s fist. Then my helmet started blasting “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”.

I jumped and put my hand through the nearest guard’s skull. His body fell back down and I grabbed the legs, yanking him into the air to smack another into a very heavy classical marble statue that fell over on top of that one. Another flew into a vase that looked pretty old. I tossed the body at his head, snapping it back.

The next one in front of me got a punch through his gut, leaving a hole that let me see yet another one behind him who was trying to get me with a shotgun he managed to reload. I reached through the hole and grabbed the guy’s crotch. He screamed as I pulled it back, the gun firing off to the side. I think it got another of his team. I turned to someone flanking me and whipped the torn-off dick at his face, causing him to be momentarily blinded. I grabbed his gun out of his hand and slammed the barrel into the top of his skull. Then I bent him over and emptied fifteen shots through his asshole into another pair of guards.

A shot to the back of the Dudebot reminded me they were trying to get around behind me. I turned and brought the ripped dick straight down. The guard, a woman with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, opened her mouth in shock and, amazingly, took the entire thing down her throat. “Holy crap, that’s just great,” I told her. She flailed her free hand and reached for the bloody cock. “You doing anything later?” I asked.

She shot the Dudebot in its crotch. I kicked her onto her back. “Rotting, eh? Sounds fun. I’ll leave you to it.” I stomped her groin. She sat straight up, at which point I kicked her head off with the other leg.

“Got it!” shouted the woman at the computer, hitting a button. The four princesses, all huddled together, were cut off from everything else by a shimmering barrier. “Now you can’t get them!” she said, turning to give me a triumphant and teasing grin.

I plowed through everyone else, pushing them aside, to grab the woman and lift her up. Then I turned to look the princesses themselves and cocked my head toward the dead bodies and regrouping guards. “So, you wanna come with me, or do you want all of them to die in fun and inventive ways while you stand by and watch. Then I find my way to y’all anyway.”

“You’ll never get them!” said the struggling woman in my grip, her legs kicking at my armor with futility.

Princess Astrid Josephine-Charlotte Fabrizia Elsabieth Paola Marie, a name that makes me want a deep breath just thinking about it, spoke for them. “It is our duty to stay strong for our people. To be their spirit and will. Though their bodies fail, that indomitable spirit remains.”

I shrugged and slammed the woman on the ground, leaving her splayed out on the ground while the Dudebot stepped as close to this shield and the device emitting it as possible. Then I activated the Dimension Bomb hidden on it.

When the bunch reappeared and the Dudebot returned to my control, I saw that about half the technician who activated the shield came with it. The entire device didn’t come with me either, which is why the shield didn’t last so long. I smirked to myself as the Deep Ones rushed up to take the princesses into custody and lead them into the castle, but I threw back a parting insult to the various Marias and Maries. “Outside of ghosts, you won’t find too many dead men who give a crap about spirit. Real easy to sacrifice other people for your own life, isn’t it? Enjoy your stay, ladies.”

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Party On 2

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Not having the slightest clue how to gather up a bunch of Belgium princesses actually seemed like a problem to me. Maybe I just haven’t felt creative lately. It made a good alternate excuse for why I was doing yoga in the slimmer armor I’d designed based on a future version of Venus’s outfit. My suit’s pseudomuscles and exoskeleton were always at least a little bit separated from the rest of the body. This version, the material has to be right on the muscles in question in order to amplify the effects and the kinetic energy exerted. If I’d thought to tear into her body a bit, I could have found if she used the sort of internal power source I preferred.

So I was just doing all kinds of yoga stretching in my living room, in tight armor. After about a half hour, Mix N’Max, my villainous friend with the mad chemists’ touch, walked over to me. “As a friend, might you consider doing that in another of your many rooms? You’re distracting the girls.”

I looked to see his two aids, Sam and Holly, look away with red faces. I shrugged. “Eh, sure.” I blew them both kisses as I walked away, teasing.

Meanwhile, I’d just decided to say “fuck it” to any grand plan and just kidnap the women in whatever way I could. This is about a birthday party, so why be so uptight about it?

I put on airs of uptightness long enough to call up the offices of the King Leopold III Fund. It’s all about the environment and conservation, but it’s also done stuff as far as indigenous peoples. More importantly, its president is none other than Princess Marie-Esmeralda Adelaid Lilian Anne Leopoldine. Some people only get one or two names, and even three isn’t abnormal. Darn royals end up with a whole slew of them. I could be a royal ass too and start giving myself names. The Great and Devious Psychopomp Von Alexander-Victor Persnickety y Appaloosa Gecko the I, Empress of Ricca and North Korea, Protector of Mu. In lieu of business cards, I’ll have to hand out pamphlets. Maybe I’ll hold off on that until I take care of that Mot project that can damn well wait until after my daughter’s birthday party. That way, I can include the title “God of Death” to it.

A person with that many names is invariably a busy person, so that’s why I had to make an appointment as a representative from my nation. Between Ricca’s native wildlife and the newly-returned island of Mu appearing, I could make a good case for meeting with an environmentalist who cares about natives.

While I was waiting on a meeting with Marie-Esmeralda, I was able to acquire a handy tool in the form of a delivery van, and managed to move some money around to various accounts such that I could drop a few gold coins on the desk of a secretary at the charity.

As for the van, I painted the whole thing white, tore off a portion of the back, and added a clear bubble of bulletproof glass. On the side, I added emblems of a lizard creature in a robe and popehat within a blue circle that had “Crocodylus pontifex” around it in various languages. The finishing touches were these little flags I stick in the windows of a crucified Godzilla. Perhaps if it hadn’t been for work, I could have added a mural of a skeleton wearing a sombrero, riding a tiger while trying to rope a unicorn, with a fire-breathing eagle in the air behind all of them.

Sorry, no. This was the hardest kind of labor: boring. It did get slightly less boring when my Dudebot was accosted by a man who tried to mug me for some strange reason. He wanted the wallet I had, anyway. What was I doing with a wallet? Eh, I found it somewhere. With my van fully renovated and cleaned of all that annoying blood splatter, I found the princess had finally arrived back from a conference and eager to talk.

The secretary was a chubby, happy woman with a short head of bouncy curls. Perhaps she’d have minded letting in a walking robotic suit of armor, but that’s not what she saw. Instead, she saw some random Asian guy I found online. It wasn’t that bad of a disguise if you take into account Ricca being something of a melting pot of East Asian cultures and ethnicities. And that’s a lot of ethnicities. China’s got more than 50 all on their own. With that kind of background to my disguise, I can’t really blame this one on racism.

The bubbly, bubble-butt secretary showed me into the office of Princess Marie-Esmeralda, where the princess herself stood up to greet me. It was warmly furnished, not with a bunch of tacky gold stuff like someone who just came into money wanting to flaunt it. The place was warm in a classic, subdued way. Brown wood, white carpeting, flowers in vases. I suppose if I was the sort to know all about the different sorts of architecture and interior design, I could paint more of a picture. My preferred medium of art is the human body, instead, so that’s just an area where I ain’t not gonna talk good.

In English, the international language of business. “It is so wonderful to meet you, Mr…”

“My name is Yusuke Chang,” I said. People who know Asian names are laughing their asses off right now. “I have been asked to represent the glorious Empire of Ricca in outreach with the rest of the world. We would not remain a terrorist state forever, your highness.”

“Please do not allow my title to stand in the way of the discussion. You may call me Marie, Mr. Chang.” She found a way to nod regally, and not in the condescending queenly way. Like she had grace and gave a damn. “I would be honored to speak with you about environmental outreach. Please, have a seat. Thank you, Therese,” She said to the secretary before looking back to me, “May we offer you refreshment?” Her eyes flickered past my robotic double to the door as someone started a vacuum cleaner elsewhere in the building. Therese turned to look, but didn’t leave just yet.

I shook my head. “I am fine. I require only time to make my case.” I waited for her to finish dismissing Therese, who closed the door behind her and shut out the sound of the vacuum cleaner. Then I sat the Dudebot down, carefully distributing its weight to keep from breaking the cushioned wood chair.

“The organizations I head have been interested in you nation for some time. Ricca is unique in the world for its ecological footprint and the quality of its medical technology. I understand you have provided space for a permanent Cape Diem base on the island?”

I must confess, I got lost in the role a bit. We focused on medical cooperation between our two countries, as it turned out she also heads an organization named after yet another princess, The Princess Lilian Foundation, that’s been known to fly kids to other countries for heart surgery, as well as trying to foster scientific cooperation in the medical field.

I had to cut her off in the middle of talking about the professorship they offer. “I’m sorry, actually. I actually kinda like this talk, but I’m afraid it’s time to cut to the chase. Or, if you’re slow enough, the lack of chase.” I stood up and dropped the hologram, then jumped over her desk. She slid out the bottom of the chair, causing the Dudebot to take a chair back to its ball bearings. They’re kept between its legs, but they really weren’t in any danger. It was the chair that cracked apart.

The princess tried to call out, but I put a metal hand over her mouth, hauled her up, and slapped a small device with a pair of small orbs on it onto her belly. She had only a moment to release any unmuffled cries once I threw her into the air and one of the pair of Dimension bombs detonated, shifting her to another dimension. Once there, the other one went off and dropped her right at the expectant detention area on the military base. It had been spruced up for the occasion of hosting princesses, appearing like a small fortress. Really more of a small castle. Something got mixed in with the 3D assembler, which is basically just a giant 3D printer, and the darn castle came out pink. Nevertheless, she had plenty of room and amenities there.

The brief scuffle brought Therese running through the doors to find what appeared to be Princess Marie-Esmeralda rubbing her rear. “Your royal highness?!”

The hologram shook its head, rolled her eyes with a smile, and gestured to the broken chair. “Just an accident,” I responded in Flemish, hoping the vocal match checked out enough for someone she likely interacted with regularly. Sounding like any random person is easy, and I’m not half bad at such exact matches in person. Remotely piloting a full-body robotic copy from the other side of the world makes it a bit trickier.

Luckily, Therese seemed convinced, up until she looked around and asked, “Where is Mr. Chang?”

The hologram flashed the princess’s pretty smile. “Mr. Chang had to leave suddenly. I must go as well.”

Something about the response puzzled Therese, but I didn’t stick around to find out. I had more work to do on my reptilian Space Popemobile, having had an idea right there in the office of my holographic disguise.

That led directly to me scooting around Brussels in the Space Popemobile, chasing down a trio of teenage girls. The three had been walking around, enjoying their freedom on a nice, sunny day, getting some ice cream. Then I skidded around the corner in the modified white van with the bubble dome up top. With the yank of a lever, the left side of the van flew open and a chute shot out. The girls dropped their cones and cups and began to run for it as the chute began to suck. And suck. And suck some more!

The one in the rear turned out to be Princess Laetitia Maria Nora Anna Joachim Zita. These fucking names. Well the long name didn’t help her out any when she went up the shoot and got dumped in the bulletproof bubble. The next one up tried to run across the road, so I shoved the first lever back and pulled the other. The left side vacuum retracted and one extended from the right instead, pulling up Princess Louise Sophie Mary. Finally, someone with a decent name. That just left Princess Elisabeth Theresia Maria Helena running in this group, for fuck’s sake. And what’s with Mary or Maria? It’s in all the damn names. I swear, one of these damn princesses is just going to be named Maria Mary-Maria Mary or something.

Elisabeth, the heir apparent to the throne, couldn’t be nabbed until I switched vacuums again, and she decided to try stopping and holding onto a light pole. I skidded to a stop just as a car rounded a corner in front of me and honked at me. Flipping another switch caused a hand giving the insulting V-sign to pop out of the front hood of the Space Popemobile before it turned and shot at the windshield of the other car like a hand trying to poke someone’s eyes out.

Free of that distraction, I backed up and began sucking. Then again, some readers might think I started sucking long ago.

To the awkwardness of everyone, the sixteen year old girl had a stronger grip than her clothes. A royal nude in the streets? For shame. Shame, shame, shame. Luckily for her, she didn’t have that much better of a grip. She got pulled up the shoot into the orb, at which point I had the Dudebot turn the Popemobile around. It sped down the roads of Brussels, picking up speed. Another great thing about a bubble full of abducted teenage girls is that I made it soundproof. That one really paid off for me, because I know they were screaming their heads off.

The speedometer climbed. 120 kilometers per hour, then 130. At 140, napalm spilled out behind the rear tires, leaving twin lines of flame down the road. At precisely 141.622 kph, or 88 miles per hour, the first Dimension bomb in the Popemobile activated and I lost connection with the Dudebot. I felt it as it returned to our dimension, the Space Popemobile skidding to a controlled stop at the military base, just in front of the castle I’m hiding the kidnapped princesses in.

Meanwhile, a rocket and drone setup deposited another Dudebot in the German countryside just outside of Belgium. Cool as that was, all their princesses are not belong to us. But they will, no matter if I have to send out giant fungi minions or mutant turtles with wings and hammers. I’ll have them, my pretties. Their little dogs are optional though.

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Party On 1

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Well, I finally had the talk with my daughter. Not the talk about sex, that has to wait. Probably until after the talk about nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. It’s important a girl has plenty of protection before she starts doing the dirty deed dirt cheap. Making the beast with a billion backs. Which reminds me, I need to learn how to take apart and clean an artillery cannon in time for her first date. I’ll just be there, sitting on the front porch, the Riccan air force and army surrounding me, cleaning a cannon in my lap. “Now you better have her back by 9, kiddo.”

No, I sat down Qiang because she’s almost certainly turned five, but neither of us know for sure when her birthday is. “I’ve put this off long enough because I was stealing stuff and rescuing people, but it’s been a year since the Claw brought you into my life. So I think it’s time we had a party. It’s very important that we talk about if there’s anything you want.”

She kicked her feet back and forth, looking adorable in a dress someone made for her to match my own, her hair done up in a miniature version of the same headdress I had. “I wanna have a princess party!”

“A princess party? You’re already kind of a princess. Just a party for you and all your girl friends?”

“I don’t really have any friends,” she said. “I used to have some friends back when I lived at the bad place, but there aren’t any other kids I play with now. I guess I want a party where everyone can come!”

Huh. That’s not really a good sign. The lack of friends more so than the generosity, but the generosity’s something to keep an eye on. That’s simply no way to live. What kind of a world would it be if people were just nice to each other simple because they can be? Maybe that’s part of wishing a better life upon her, but it still irks me. Irks, I say!

“We’ll have to see about getting you enrolled in whatever schools they have for kids here now. Something to let you interact with more people. But that’s later. A princess party where everyone’s invited. You want a poofy princess dress?”

She nodded enthusiastically. “I want lots of princesses!”

“Have they been showing you Disney movies?” I asked. Another nod. “Ok, so princesses. Got it. And a big cake, that’s a given. Anything else special?”

A water slide. Lots of presents, of course. I had several catalogs from toy stores around the world for her to circle anything she liked. I don’t know what would be a traditional birthday party for her or for Ricca, but I know the one I’m going to throw.

But just before I left her to figure out her presents, she looked up at me and gave me one last major request for this little shindig. “Oh, oh, Kayla and everyone else from the school in that city! Can they come? Can they, baba?”

Kayla and that school in the city. That’d be Master Academy’s Empyreal City campus. Really the wrong crowd to invite to this thing. Inviting a school full of heroes to a birthday party on an island that sells drugs, guns, and pirated rock n’ roll to all comers? That’s a recipe for trouble.

But I smiled. “Sure, baby. It’ll take me a little bit to get everything and everyone together, though.”

The sound she made caused me to activate diagnostics on my ears. I thought it had to be an internal high-pitched squeal from the volume and intensity. It ended up triggering my ears’ flashbang protocols before I patted her on the head, pried her off my leg, and left the room. I also began to regret my instincts that my daughter needed more friends her own age. It was like the universe decided to spank me with some karma. There are a lot of great things to be spanked by if you’re into that, folks. Karma is not one of them.

The island already buzzed with activity from our recent rescue of loads of special criminals. I say “special” because they weren’t all necessarily super in the sense of having superpowers. A superhero doesn’t necessarily have superpowers. For some, it’s just training or gadgets, even just something like a cop who wears a costume. And if they wear a costume like that, they’re super. Just like even if they have superpowers but don’t use them for this grand game of heroism and villainy that I participate in, they’re also still super. Some of them, like the members of Cape Diem, use their powers to do things humans can’t do, and even wear costumes, but are also considered neutral.

The island is now hosting a mix of all of those liberated from China, and that does include neutrals. Even some Cape Diem members. Even some heroes China had tossed in prison for investigating into areas inconvenient for the government. So even though what I’d done should count as grounds for war as an attack on another country, people were rather silent on the whole issue.

It also gave me a lot of villains to get registered on VillaiNet who were eager to make some money or just pay me back. I’d assembled a group of them in a conference room at a local branch of a big-name bank that doesn’t shy away from doing business with criminals. I shouldn’t even bother hiding who our corporate accomplice is anyway. What, are governments going to do anything about it? For fuck’s sake, they’ve been caught laundering money for terrorist groups and drug cartels before and got away with less than a slap on the wrist.

“Ok, folks, take a good look. These are our targets. Princesses, one and all,” I said, pointing to a holoboard. Think of it like a whiteboard or a chalkboard that works off holograms instead. Pagan, my new head of Intelligence, assured me these were all the current princesses, barring a divorcee that didn’t count anymore. “I call dibs on the two hot twenty-somethings from Japan.”

That brought groans from the group of assembled villains. “You would, wouldn’t you?” asked one of them, one of the ones who hadn’t been rescued.

“Shush,” I said, “If it’s that big a deal, we can swap. Maybe I’ll take the York one. Maybe the Belgian teen.”

One of the villains raised an arm that glistened with scaly patches. “Do you really need us to grab all of these? Some of those wrinkly cunts might break if we put a hand on them.”

That got some chuckles from the group, and a follow-up from the be-clawed, hairy villain who had also come from the First Court of Hell. He now wore a tiger-skin jacket and had died stripes into his hair. “Or they die of dehydration being touched by a real man for the first time in fifty years!”

“I guess you’re volunteering then, to make sure that won’t happen?” I asked him, prompting good-natured “Oohs” from the audience. A few of them patted the tiger guy on the back in response. He adopted a smug smile and waved away the suggestion, taking it in good fun at least.

I held up my hands to quiet down all the jokes and commentary. “I know, I know, everyone wants to kidnap a young, pretty princess in case they take a liking to y’all, but there are some things to consider. This isn’t about wetting your wiener. Kidnap them and deliver them unharmed to the island. No molesting, no groping, no fondling, and no rape. If you’re here to rape, you’re in the wrong room.”

That prompted one fellow in a grey suit jacket to stand up. Didn’t even look like a super. “Excuse me, pardon me, coming through,” he said as he worked his way down his row. He waved a polite goodbye with the newspaper in his hands and left the room.

“Okily dokily, now that he’s gone…” I sent out an alert to Security with the man’s face so they could keep an eye on him. “This isn’t supposed to be about any harm to them. Bring them here so they can attend my daughter’s birthday party. It’s money for y’all and a bit of reputation from the prestige involved. Also, the gratitude of the Empress of Ricca, a country which has proven itself capable of jailbreaking people from the middle of a worm-infested Gobi desert, among other such prisons. Trust me, y’all are getting the easier part of the party planning. And, since I’ll need a break from that, I will take one or two myself.”

In fact, I set out immediately to get ahead of all of them. That’s easier to do when you control the airports and have the odd remotely controlled robotic double hidden around the world. The robot doubles, the Dudebots, are built to resemble the armor I so recently used, but with only two arms. Most people haven’t realized I have extra arms now, and even fewer know I’ve updated the armor. At least I incorporated the light armor’s design with the heavy armor. That way, I can go back to playing a guessing game a little bit with anyone who encounters both myself and a Dudebot.

Now, I haven’t spent that much time in Belgium. I know they have a lot of mucus, so much so that many of them speak phlegmish. It was where the great World War II battle known as the Battle of the Belge took place. It’s located in Europe, just under the Nether Region. And it’s got nine fucking princesses, I learned when I picked one of them to go after. The fucking is meant as a cuss word, and shouldn’t be taken as a statement about what the 67 year old princess does in her spare time. She can fuck all she wants, as long as I don’t have to see it or picture it in any way. Some guys and gals like hairless cats, some like ’em grey.

I’m going to have to come up with one hell of a plan to kidnap all this Belgian royalty, from the oldest of the tiara wearers to the youngest Brussels sprout. And I think I know how, through a plan involving needless complexity, mandatory nudity, and necessary violence.

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