Mischief! Treason! Exclamation points!
These things greeted me as I awoke one night during our siege. We’d spent the day blasting music at the chateau. In particular, a song well known to the people of Empyreal City called “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom”. The commander approached me at one point to express his confidence in his men to take the chateau given the power of the inhabitants they faced so far. I figured we’d just wait it out to be cruel, but he’d recommended caution with the new soldiers and the unusual opponents. I might need to put in for someone more bold, but that he showed plenty of boldness when he stated that one reason to attack was that, “The men are tiring of the siege. They believe we are engaging in torture at this point.” Then he pointed to where the speakers were stacked up to play music.
I had myself a chortle at that one. Soldiers for a dictator being squeamish about torture? See, this is why it’s important to have a chief interrogator. “Heh. Go ahead then.”
He bowed. “Thank you, Empress. We will attack at night. I will have you informed so that you may ready for the assault as well.”
So when I woke to the sounds of gunfire, I thought maybe we’d been overheard. They had a big wolf, with big eyes the better to see us with and big ears the better to hear us with, up until some red, blood splattered woman took his head off.
I jumped up and caught a burst from a microgun. The person holding the other end was one of my Riccan Dragon soldiers. He wore bulky power armor and held a rotating, fully automatic 5.56mm miniature minigun plugged into the suit’s power supply. A mini minigun, hence the name microgun.
The bullets didn’t do jack shit, but that’s really beside the point when it comes to me being shot at. So long as I’m in my armor, the most important part of being shot at is who’s doing the shooting. In this case, my own guy. I was just about to kick him in the figgin when another soldier turned and shot him. And then another soldier shot that one. And on and on. They just kept shooting away at themselves. I got up and looked around and the whole camp was firing away, like the world’s most hardcore game of paintball.
“Empress almighty,” said a voice over the comms that I recognized as my commander. I’ll admit, I was flattered. I couldn’t see him in all the commotion. The muzzle flashes and scattered fires made it hard to keep track of everything.
I cracked my knuckles and looked around, knowing I’d have to quiet this shit down to get anything done.
It wasn’t five minutes after I finished laying them out next to each other that the welcome committee showed. A flash of light lit up the sky and revealed a circle of all sorts of weird looking folks surrounding me. There was the guy with the bow, now sporting a tanned line. An Asian fellow twirled a guan dao and ran a hand down a magnificent straight black beard. The iron-pierced man was there too. I could spend way too long talking about the menagerie in front of me, though the old bearded man with long hair and a tie dye shirt stood out for sheer hippieness alone. Socks and sandals? Clearly a man of great cruelty.
It wasn’t just them, though. All around me, blue-clad men stepped out of the woods, like a special operations team. From the numbers they brought, they clearly saw me as extra special.
“See, dudes, I told you, uhhh, yeah,” said the sandal-socked hippie, turning to the folks and waving his hand around at all the people. “Yeah, man, told you I still got it.” He looked to me and flashed the peace sign. “Make war, not peace.”
“Dammit, Ares,” said the bowman. He stepped up and shoved hippie back. Then he turned and pointed at me with the bow. “You are our prisoner, Psychopomp. I have a bottle with your name on it,” He pulled out a glass snifter.
“Offering me a drink?” I asked. “Hemlock or something with the ancient Greek name?” I pointed to the hippie.
Ares stepped forward again, “My man, hey, I had this amazing acid trip back in the Summer of Love. Mind,” He pantomimed his head blowing open. “Blown. Changed my entire outlook on life. I hear you could seriously use some, man. You gotta mellow out.”
“Shut the fuck up, Ares,” said the archer, who glared at Ares, then turned and walked to me. He held the snifter out for me.
I looked down at it. “Brandy? Gin? Bourbon, maybe?”
“Touch it,” he insisted.
I projected a raised eyebrow on the outside of my helmet. The archer was not amused and held his bow hand toward me. I doubled over as something felt all freaky and twisted around in my lower abdomen. I had to pee really bad all of a sudden. Plus the weird ache and tightening there and in my lower back. While I was incapacitated, I saw him approach, press the snifter to my head, and-
I saw a bright light at the end of a long tunnel. But there’s no way I could be dead. Even if I granted the light at the end of the tunnel, we all know there’d be crackling flames and the eternal screams of the damned instead. Of course, when I looked down, I could see I was in a weird room with sharp angles and weird lights off in the distance. My view from the drones outside showed the guy with the bottle still standing there. Only I was gone. My armor was left there for some reason. Of course I wouldn’t get my nanites in here to figure out what that one guy did to me. Last time it was cancer. This time, it’s a smaller bladder or something.
They left the bodies of my men laying there, but a woman in a skintight black outfit stepped out of the darkness. Dame. Fucking Dame. She got quite the friendly welcome for someone supposedly on my side.
She said something to my captor. He said something to her and slung his bow into a holster on his back before raising the free hand to work his weird cancer powers. She doubled over, then screamed like a little bitch. Her body bulged and slimmed in places. Blackness shot through her hair. Whatever he was doing, I was glad it hurt her. I was significantly less happy when she stood up as a copy of myself. Down to the arms, which flailed around as Dame tried to figure out how to work them.
By now, one of the spec ops guys had popped a flair and called down several choppers. Some were helping the gathered Hares up into them. I got photos and video of as many faces as possible, but none popped up in an initial quick scan of my database. I got distracted watching Dame wiggle my beautiful body into my armor. Ya know, taking turns looking down, comparing. The areola were too wide, and I’m more of an inny between the legs. Where I was bleeding. Internal bleeding.
Dame, in disguise as me, left with them all. Likely going to hitch a ride to Ricca, just not on that chopper. Not enough fuel capacity. It gave me time to send out a warning to certain parties, including Venus and Titan. Didn’t have time to edit all the video evidence down, so I hope Venus enjoys the view of my boobs.
I jumped up and down a bit while looking at them, and sent it as a supplemental video to her. The hell with it, I sent it to Psychsaur as well.
The only one left was the guy who held onto my bottle. He turned and walked back to the chateau, and the propped up doors. He burnt and image into it and knocked. I don’t know what he said, but the door glowed and then swung open good as new, pushed by a man in a black coat and top hat, wearing shades. The man’s face seemed to glow white from underneath the skin in contrast to the orange glow of the cigar in his mouth. This one I knew even without the facial recognition database. Baron Samedi had, among other things, been the gatekeeper for the Back Alley Voodoo Bar in Memphis for decades. I always figured he did other things than let people into the villain bar.
Before I was carried over the threshold into wherever my captor was taking me, I sent another order and video message. This one went to my men, all laid out.
My soldiers get first priority on nanites over prisoners. They help them recover from injury in the middle of a fight, and can restore stamina after a hard day of exercise. They can even be used to cut off blood flow to the brain exactly enough to put someone to sleep without harming them, and then maintain that sleep. And from the calm manner in which they awoke, the bellicosity Ares imparted upon them had ended. That means they didn’t want to fight anymore. Not each other. They really wanted to shoot the Hares, and I included the last vectors of the non-Dame choppers. I gave them orders: open season on the rest of the Hares, but leave my cuntdouble alone.
It’s a good thing I did that. I lost consciousness after my captor passed through the door.
I awoke in a dark room, sitting at a bare wooden table. It was cold, despite the robe now covering my body.
A man sat across from me. A bald black man with weathered skin and a soul patch. No iron or chainmail here, just a business suit. “Good morning, Tripura.”
“Is that supposed to be a name, or are you just trippin’?”
“Your confusion will pass,” he said. “I have been asked to debrief you.”
I looked down and motioned toward my crotch. “Clearly already done. I need to have a word with someone about my crotch, by the way. What’d he do this time? More cancer?”
He smiled. “Please allow me to conduct my psychiatric evaluation. Give me the first answer that comes to your mind, please. If your house was on fire and you only had time to take one thing out, what would it be?”
I shrugged. “The target.”
He furrowed his brow. “Second question. While walking along in desert sand, you suddenly look down and see a tortoise crawling toward you. You reach down and flip it over onto its back. The tortoise lies there, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs, trying to turn itself over, but it cannot do so without your help. You are not helping. Why?”
He disappeared as soon as I threw the table at him. They had left my legs and all of my arms unbound. The man appeared again from the darkness behind me. “You must calm down, Tripura. You have been undercover for far longer than we expected.”
“I’m not your Yama, and I wasn’t undercover,” I said, turning toward him.
“You are and you were. You are Tripura Sundari, a member of our order.”
“That’s a Hindu goddess. Kinda. Sorta. It’s a little confusing,” I said.
“We disguised you as Pyschopomp Gecko, the notorious killer who tried to rule the world. He died two years ago when he fought with a giant robot in Empyreal City. You were given much surgery and placed in the wreckage to be found. Your healing scars were excused as injuries. But in order that you may serve as a part of our apparatus, we had to strip your memory from you. It is time to come back to us, Tribura Sundari.”
Well that’s just bullshit, plain and simple. “Yeah, right. Good luck getting me to believe that.”
The man smiled and raised a hand full of yellow powder that he blew into my face. I coughed and swiped my hands. Blinded and hacking, I needed a moment to get my bearings. Someone pressed a glass of water to my lips and I drank. Then I was helped up and the water was poured over my face. I shook my head off and looked to the man standing there. “The fuck was that?”
“Tripura Sundari,” said the man in front of me, whoever he was.
“No, that’s that thing you were saying was my name,” I said. I tried to think back. He’d just said something about two years ago… and I KNEW he was lying, but I was thinking back and I couldn’t remember why I was sure. The more I thought about it, the more he seemed right. I was found in the wreckage, a little hurt.
The man kept talking. “Welcome back to your home, Tripura.”
“I don’t remember you or this place. I showed up here all of a sudden and I hated you from the instant I saw you,” I said.
His grin stretched wide, “These feelings will linger, but the facts do not care. Let me show you to your home, Tripura.”
I still felt defensive, so I did not take his offered arm. Perhaps he’s right, this guy… “What was your name again?”
“I am Mbeku,” he answered as he led me into the darkness around the light. My sight changed to allow me sight in the dark, and I saw the hallway we were headed to, marked with three rabits chasing each other in a circle over it.
I felt so tense, with lingering paranoia when I saw others dressed in all sorts of costumes around. One man kept staring at me while adjusting something. The word wouldn’t come to mind, but the name appeared in my vision. A bow. It’s a weapon of some sort.
“Greetings,” he said, catching me looking. “Do you remember me?”
I shook my head.
He smiled and held out his hand. “I am Phoebus Apollo, the true Apollo.”
I took it, allowing him to kiss my hand. “And I am Tripura Sundari. Pardon my memory.”
Ya know, they almost got away with it, too. Problem is, my brain’s like one of those things they call a computer. I can search stuff, and I even found where I keep this file open, doing running commentary or reports after my adventures. And do I ever have adventures, stretching back further than when I suffered extensive injury two years ago. These files document all of that, and more recent ones. Like Apollo capturing me. Or my discovery of a drug called Unity that affects memories. And a cure.
I can read about them, but they still aren’t my memories again. Not yet. But these folks were kind enough to invite me into their organization, thinking they have me fooled. It’d be a shame to waste the opportunity.
Unless I run across regenerative nanites first. Then I can stop being Tripura and go back to being Gecko. They named me after a Hindu goddess or something, with a name that means stuff about being really beautiful.
Stuck with a name about being really pretty when I’ve beaten up other people named Apollo and killed alien conquerors. I’m gonna have to crush someone’s skull with my kegels for this.
Things have changed since my men arrived. The Hares were spread out in smaller search parties that seemed like a good idea when they thought they could overpower me. When my guys arrived, they caught several search parties by surprise. Not all made it back, but not enough are in a state to provide usable intel. My guys get first priority treatment with the nanites.
And after days living off whatever I could find in the wilderness, I got first priority on the rations. My weird correspondence with that projection mostly abated, though he showed himself a couple of times. I was halfway through an MRE of rice and pork when he appeared. “I don’t believe I have ever, and I mean ever, seen someone so happy to eat food meant to survive a bomb.”
“All the howling from the wolf and those sniffers drove away whatever game is normally here,” I mentioned around a mouthful of rice. “I have had to eat things you wouldn’t believe.”
“You have a lot of nerve complaining about nuts and berries,” he said, shking his head.
I shrugged. “Not a fan of the berries, but the nuts came in their own gravy. And people prefer the term ‘Rocky Mountain Long Oysters,’ thank you very much.”
“I dearly hate interrupting a meal, but I believe some of the people inside are trying to get away and another team are moving to reinforce the lodge,” he pointed in two different directions.
I called up the commander of the expeditionary force, because we needed a regular military command in addition to my own whims. As a dictator, I may be in ultimate command, but it’s best not to leave every piece of military strategy to a gal who just spent her morning teabagging a corpse with another body’s torn-off teabags. “I have a tip about some runners. Same rules of engagement as the rest of this. Dead bodies are no big deal.”
I set off in the direction my projected adviser said the reinforcements were coming from. He informed me that, “These are good Samaritans. It seems real reinforcements are unaccounted for. Neither group is prepared for the heat you bring.”
I didn’t realize I’d found them until I was hauled off the ground by man resembling a tree trunk with twisted root legs and branches for arms. He held me up in the air and stretched his trunk above the tree line. “Is this the lady causing all this fuss?”
“Empress Psychopomp Gecko,” called a man below me. A… rather hunky guy. I’m not usually into that sort of thing on a guy. A long beard, dark as ripe forest soil. A chest bare except for a thick carpet of hair. Stag horns on his head and a fuzzy little tail sticking out above the loincloth that covered up all his naughty bits. The dirty feet weren’t my thing. Most of him wasn’t my thing. But at the time, I could see myself being his thing. “I am a lord of forests. I offer freedom for freedom. You for the prisoners in the chateau.”
“Mmm, how about some petite death in exchange for not giving you some big death?” I asked. “I’ll break your dick off so I don’t break his stick off.” I nodded toward the tree man.
The tree guy spoke up with his creaky, amused voice, though he addressed the horny guy below me. “This may be the rare time your power over women should be tamped down.”
I rolled my eyes under my helmet. “Someone’s getting’ awful assume-y about my gender just because I like having boobs and pretty dresses. Bend over and I’ll show you how hard a dicking I can give you without a dick.”
He shook me around a bit. “Hush.”
I reached down, grabbed the first finger wrapping around my torso, and snapped it to the side. “This wittle pitty went to market…”
He threw me at the ground, where I bounced off and coughed up something liquid in my helmet. Aside from that and the overwhelming pain in my chest, I was probably fine. Couldn’t have broken more than three ribs, the pussy. When I stood, I found the lord of the forest standing in front of me and he didn’t look quite so friendly anymore. I suddenly noticed those hands and feet tapered off into claws. I pointed off to the side, “Holy fuck, it’s Johnny Cash!”
He turned to look. I shoved my boot into his groin. And then I flew back from the force of the kick, my knee feeling like it was going to take a vacation. Or at least a break for awhile. I projected invisibility, but was thrown into the air before I could do much of anything. A friggin’ tree grew up under me and tossed me up to about face height on the tree guy, who swiped and caught me in a mass of branches and leaves where his hands had been before. As they caught onto me, vines grew and pulled my arms and legs apart. I had a little freedom for twisting and pulling, but the forest lord guy put his hand on the leg of the tree guy and I was suddenly pulled taut.
“Hope your men will be more agreeable than you are, Empress,” said the lord as they started making their way through the forest.
I had my personal drones, but I figured I’d wait. Just a bit. While I was at it, I called up my commander. “I’m gonna need our specials for a little job.”
“Yes, Empress. They are not being utilized at this moment.”
“Good, I’ll see to them personally.”
I noticed that whatever strength increase the tree guy got, it faded fairly soon. But I didn’t break way then until the three markers on my HUD got close enough. Then, I brought my drones up. Their lasers carved through the vines holding me and allowed me to tear my legs free. From there, I jumped onto the shoulder of the big tree man.
Down below, the forest lord turned to look up at us. Then a bronze-armored man on all fours plowed into him with a shiny titanium horn at forty miles an hour. Most people would have been killed instantly. The forest lord fell was knocked down. Bronze Rhino had to shake the impact off, too. He’d been one of the rescues form China who used to serve The Claw. I didn’t get his whole story, but he decided to wear the armor again because he had nowhere else to go.
VelocityRaptor skidded to a stop. The chrome cyborg opened the jaws of the raptor head on his his armor and unleashed a gout of flame upon the downed hunk, who went up like a leaf and screamed like a Wilhelm.
“No!” called tree guy. He raised a foot to stomp, but got my cutting into the side of his head with a Nasty Surprise on one arm.
“Hey big guy, got wood?” I asked.
He began to fall. I looked down and saw a buff woman with cybernetic parts resembling a shark pushing on the tree man’s foot, pushing him over. Rawr. Now Silver Shark’s my kind of woman. The kind with more machine parts than organic ones, who barely even looks like a woman through all the muscles. It works for me, may not for you, dear reader. Find someone your body parts want you to be with, either brain or below, and do what comes unnatural and depraved.
Giving Tree here was as susceptible to fire as his friend. With that lordly fellow busy becoming dust in the wind, we chased after a crawling tree to hack and burn away at him. In short, we tore him a new ash hole. And I began to wonder if I needed a flamethrower drone. The real problem’s the fuel, ya see…
That distraction forced my forces a little thin, but the chateau people never got away. We settled in for another night behind barricades made of downed trees that blocked the view of my people from the folks in the hunting lodge. Everything quieted down at night ever since the howling trackers attempted a midnight sortie our first night here. The men built campfires behind the barricades, but the would-be commandos found nobody around them. When they rushed in, they were the only dark shapes moving around bright fires against a background of wood barricades. The fire lit them up, and then so did the guards on duty. Shame, though. It would have been a good strategy if my commander hadn’t proven himself to be a cunning chap. A way to try and wear us down in the dark.
I was happy to teach the commandos some comman-don’ts.
I settled in at dusk, healing those ribs and checking on the embassy attaches in Paris who had the unenviable job of finding and babysitting Qiang when my quick trip here turned into a longer affair. Then my spirit animal showed himself again and I realized I hadn’t seen the denim jacket dude since he sent me after the giant woody and his horny friend. “Good going earlier. Now, I don’t suppose you would want to see the secret entrance to the chateau’s basement, would you not?”
“Would I?” I asked, not entirely sure how the double negatives worked out there. I got it figured out after a little counting. “I might.”
Even as the sun fell, the trip around the entire area didn’t leave me exposed. We had drones and Flyers set up to monitor the perimeter. One of the squaddies or privates or whatever we call them even figured out they could detach breaching cameras to provide a better view. We had the better view and superior communications. Better weapons, tougher armor, and nobody around to stop us. Technically, NATO was supposed to be meeting about us, but the current American President threw a temper tantrum. So it’s pretty much open season in Europe nowadays. I get the feeling a lot more countries are going to start developing their militaries accordingly. But for now, that means I control this part of France.
Even, it seems, a weathered wooden door hidden behind a bush against a hill. “That’s the escape tunnel, eh?” I said. I looked it over. The door had vines crawling on it. It was a good sign that they hadn’t been pulled loose. The dirt around the bush didn’t appear trod upon. A few people might have gotten out if they were careful, but they hadn’t pulled off a bigger escape.
“You should go in,” the denim-clad projection suggested. “Have some fun with them. They won’t even know you’re there.”
I thought about it. And I thought about my aching ribs. And how I didn’t know what this guy was playing at, other than that he was one of the Hares who found some benefit in me killing some of them. Though, if anyone asks, nobody I killed was superhuman. I mean, not like there are any bodies left of the reinforcements from earlier, right?
So I turned and began to walk back to camp. “One moment, let me just get a little something handy…”
The projection grinned as I went back and grabbed a crate out of one of the Psycho Flyers. He wasn’t quite so happy to see me pull out a directional mine and rig it so that anyone trying to get out that door would learn a valuable lesson about being flammable next to explosives. “I could do that, or I could use this thing to track if they’re trying to escape.”
“That’s a mine,” he pointed out.
I nodded, “Yep. It’ll tell me exactly when someone came this way and got blown up.
He disappeared, leaving me to read a story to my daughter over the phone and contemplate just what the Hares, all of the Hares, were up to. It hasn’t escaped my attention that this guy might be sending me off into fights meant to get me caught or killed, that wascally wabbit.
Ah, to be kill-horny in France. This country has a long history with murder, taken to epic levels during the Revolution. I’m something of a fan of that kind of history, and was able to impart some of my knowledge over the course of a few days while I waited for my army to show up.
I walked around my small encampment where I’d caught a trio of… something. As far as they’d been concerned, I’d been sleeping during the day and formed a rudimentary shelter against a downed tree. One had moved quicker and seemed to be sniffing me out. Didn’t heal any quicker from that spike wound to his leg from when he approached the fake camp. Screamed pretty good when I hauled him up out of the pit, and put up a struggle that hinted at extra strength. Just like the morphine he’ll need now for that hole in his leg. The next in his trio was a step up even more, with battle axe, stout shield, and chainmail. I had a pair of arms for each weapon, though I had to aim low for his face to break his nose instead of my skull on his helm.I grabbed his well-trimmed beard and tossed him in the spike pit with his hairy friend. The last fellow seemed to be nothing but human. He had a hunting rifle, a ski mask, a bulletproof vest, and night vision goggles, but no real frills.
Perhaps I’d been wrong to hop out of that chateau after all, especially when they could so easily be bound with their own cables, bungees, and handcuffs, and hung upside down from trees. But open wounds and blood rushing to the head was no reason to ignore a little history lesson. “Now, most people, if they know any history of the revolution at all, are acquainted with the idea of the guillotine. Quick, easy, and less chances of screwing up than with an axeman or a hanging. But fewer people know about the ships. Fun idea. They loaded ships up with prisoners, tied up so they couldn’t swim. Then again, these were the days when sailors probably couldn’t either. So they’d take a boatload of prisoners out there on the river, get a lifeboat ready for the skeleton crew, and pull a plug built into the bottom. The crew would get away, but the prisoners were left to sink to their deaths. I think they called them Republican Baptisms since the first ones were clergy. Nuns and priests. Thousands of people in mass drownings. Bodies floating everywhere.”
I leaned in close to the one with the bad leg wound. It bled down his outfit, which was simple camo, easily purchased from any hunting or outdoors store. He actually snarled from behind his gag. I leaned in and pretended to recoil. “Someone could use a bath.” He kept on trying to intimidate me, so I shoved his gag even further into his mouth. “Might teach you to wash your socks next time,” I said. I wasn’t working with my full complement of bondage gear, but I can adapt.
I tapped him on the forehead with this knife I got from disarming them. He looked so funny, annoyed like that. I laughed, watching him squirm, all red-faced. I took the handle of the knife and smashed it into his jaw again and again. Then I grabbed his ear. “No piercings, I see. Well, don’t say I never gave you anything.” I grabbed his lobe and pulled his ear out to the side, then jammed the knife right through that fold in there that’s part of the tougher part of the ear. I whispered to him right in his ear so he could hear me over his own muffled yelling. “Or do so that, I guess. Lots of double negatives going on.”
The regular guy made some noise too. Poor guy, just needed some attention. “Hey, cut that out,” I stepped away from my stinky plaything and took the knife with me through the side of his earlobe. I brought the knife over and rubbed it against the ski mask where it covered his nose, “If you keep making noise, your little mask is going to get all bloody.” I traced the knife up along his neck and over the vest. “If your mask is all bloody, it’d be hard to hear you if you spill. Your. Guts. Ahahahahaha!” I ran the sharpened metal over the exposed skin that showed on his belly where the shirt had pulled down from gravity.
I smacked the flat of the blade between his legs and discovered I had misjudged the sex of my pursuer. “Oh, pardon me, ma’am. Didn’t realize I was dealing with someone of the fairer sex here. Unfortunately for you, fairer or not, you appear to be nothing ut a human. So fragile.” I plunged the knife into her soft belly and left it there. I turned then, holding my head next to hers. She screamed like you wouldn’t believe, so I tugged the vest down enough to cover her head. Not easy to do with all that wiggling.
I stepped over where the Medieval LARPer hung, a curtain of chain mail keeping him particularly blind and deaf. I lifted the chain mail up enough to look down at his face. “Paying attention down here?” I let it fall and smack him in the face, then jumped up above the treeline.
As Sir Isaac Newton once said, “Holy shitballs, either this weed’s really fucking lit, or the planet’s attracted to me.”
I fell back to Earth, grabbing the knife, and bringing it all all the way down and out the top of her chest. I turned to the bulge-eyed tracker whose knife I borrowed. “”Ya know, I was gonna torture her, but it looks like she already spilled her guts. Hey, I’m gonna go ahead and split. Mind if I keep this? Thanks.”
I’d have loved to leave some parting gifts for them, like conveniently places claymore mines, or more spike pits, but I didn’t have forever. If one bunch could catch my scent, another could, especially after I’d gotten some red on me from the hunter back there.
It wasn’t a couple hours after leaving those three alone in their camp that I had my next close encounter. He leaned against a tree, not even hiding. I hiked along and then there he was, in denim jacket and plaid pants, like some old British punk. He looked at me over a pair of sunglasses and asked, “Don’t you ever feel your astonishing talents are wasted fighting your own people?”
I threw the knife, but he wasn’t there. He was behind me, walking toward me. I turned to punch and it went through him, as did he. I turned again to see him staring me right in the eyes. “You cannot hurt me now, but you should loosen your elbow and shoulder more when you throw.”
I waved my hand through the guy. “A hologram?”
“I can confirm this is a projection.” He looked me over. “Your planet breeds impressive killers. I especially enjoyed your lesson to them. Mass drownings… everyone lifting off their feet as the ship sinks from beneath you. The cold water embraces everyone, left to stare at each other as they watched the water overtake them. Some float more than others in waters murky with other drowning victims.”
“Sounds like it’s something you’d heard of,” I said.
“I have also undertaken a study of the history of this planet.”
“Well aren’t we just two perfect little nuts in a sack,” I said. I pulled one of my drones from scouting ahead so I could spy behind me and see how much time I lost to those tracking me. “I bet they all suddenly know where I am, right?”
“No, deadly one, not at all. You have attracted much interest from my… coworkers.” He kept up with me despite never seeming to walk.
“Doesn’t sound like you’re fond of them. One too many stolen lunches?” I crashed through bushes and broke small branches on a tree off in one direction before jumping over the treeline to land in the opposite direction and kept running, making some effort to avoid doing the same this-a-way.
“You’re no favor to him, but that’s a good thing for the both of us,” He motioned from himself to me.
“Something tells me you’re not doing me any favors either.” I headed down a hill.
“I’m more sympathetic to your cause than you know. Why not aid each other while our interests converge?” He pulled his sunglasses off and hung them from his jacket pocket. “We don’t have to be allies of friendship, but of convenience. I want the Great Wolf dead. You want to punch him in his glass jaw. I hope things work out. I’ll be rooting for you.” He grabbed his glasses again and slipped them onto his face. “I leave you to deal with it.”
A howl echoed through the woods, close by. I skidded to a halt at the bottom of the hill, calling my drones in closer. Another howl from closer touched something unthinking inside me, something that wanted to run, no matter what would chase.
The giant wolf approached through the trees, drooling onto grasses and weeds. “None violate my house and live.”
I cracked my all of my knuckles through my gloves. “I’ll violate your corpse when you’re dead. Doggy style.”
“I am the King of the Wolves! And you are but a bitch,” he growled out before charging me.
I disappeared, holograms of myself racing out to take a fighting stance. He snapped fruitlessly at a couple before a black-haired ghost woman appeared in the wolf’s face, screaming. He flinched back, which is when I fell on his snout. I’d meant to get him in the head, but he moved back further than I’d prefer. An uppercut clacked his teeth together and knocked a fang loose. Glass jaw, eh?
I jumped and punched him in his wet, snotty nose. “Bad doggy! Learn to take a punch!”
He lunged, snapping his mouth at me. The fangs started to crush me, but I got both pairs of arms pushing on the top and bottom portions of his damn muzzle. I got my knee under me to free one hand that went to my belt. The drones moved in, blasting the Great Wolf’s eyes with lasers. He howled in rage, then snapped his jaws shut on something he chewed on.
I looked down at him from up the hill, juggling rubber chicken heads. “Suck my cocks, bitch.”
When the grenades went up and blew apart the wolf’s head, releasing one last howl despite the utter impossibility of it from a headless beast. A last few heavy splats of blood hit me from the open hole at the top of the wolf’s neck before the shaking body collapsed.
The sky got darker and I looked up to the sight of Psycho Flyers taking up position near me, firing down on my pursuers. I turned to see a drop cable land near me and noticed that denim dude standing near the corpse of the giant wolf. He held an oversized heart in his hands, something I figured had to do with the hole in the wolf’s body because I’m a master detective. The landing of one of my armored soldiers obscured him for a moment. The denim disappeared, heart in hand.
The soldier near me bowed. “We are here, Empress.”
I patted him on the shoulder as he stood back up, others dropping down near us. “Good. Let’s get this war started.”
I missed that feeling of news coverage. The BBC talked about Psycho Gecko’s Blasphemy. Al Jazeera wondered which holy site was next. Outlaw X loving detailed the attacks, starting with my ride of the valkyries in London. Fox News ran a story suggesting rich Jews were secretly financing my attacks in order to draw attention away from a pedophile ring Hillary Clinton runs out of the basement of the Alamo. Not all PR is good PR. Some of it’s just fucking stupid.
It helped that I was rampaging around the United Kingdom, one of those countries that news people actually report on. Anybody who’s ever tried to hold someone hostage in Croatia knows what I’m talking about there. As Dame promised, there were many old religious sites with the Three Hares icon. They didn’t all turn up anything useful. Some had no secrets to share. Some had been long abandoned, with careful demolition yielding no further results. Others had been emptied before we got there, leaving little for us to find other than signs of human occupation in places humans shouldn’t have been living.
They didn’t all have that magic door, though. Good thing the proud interrogators of Ricca were on the job to follow up and ask questions in the area afterward. Or, more likely, they bribed a shitload of cops to ask a few questions for them. Nosy neighbors are a great source of information. They get so pissed about big trucks in the middle of the night, people moving, all that.
We also moved about. Dame didn’t like traveling with me, so Qiang and I had ourselves a little father/daughter road trip. We left the British Isles as quickly as possible in order to find something to eat, though. I was forced to express my displeasure in British cuisine after it turned out a waiter hadn’t intended me to bang his head into the table, then mash his skull. Then there’s the blood pudding incident. We don’t want to talk about the blood pudding incident.
Just me and muh daughter, driving around Europe. She was absolutely delighted when people started driving on the right side of the road again, even though it meant much less swerving from me. She’ll get used to cars heading straight for her. I still remember my first headlights. When there was still adrenaline involved.
Being in France tempted me to hit up the big tourist spots like the Louvre and rob them blind, but I have a child to look after. I have to think of her. That’s why we robbed a candy store instead. I wish I could say it had the Three Hares and we went on an amazing summer adventure of life, love, and lollipops. Instead, I punched the teller and Qiang, too distracted by her armful of candy, missed her shot to grab the cash. Instead, I grabbed bunch of those giant suckers, licked it, and smacked a cop in the face who tried to stop us right outside. The guy was going to have such a big bruise once he pried that thing off his skin.
I had to leave her behind for the next attack, and I was glad for this one. Dame met me in her normal guise in the twilight of the French countryside. More specifically, she asked me to wait in south-central France, at the edge of a great forest near a mountain. She tried to get the jump on me, but my armor’s traditional 360 degree display stifled her attempt. “Hello, Dame. Lots of trees around here. Please tell me this isn’t about some musty church in the middle of nowhere.”
“This isn’t about some musty church in the middle of nowhere,” she said, floating down to land next to me before solidifying.
“Good. Now I need you to get down on your knees and pretend you’re licking ice cream.”
She slapped me, which might mean she likes me. We’re in France, so I think I was supposed to grab her and kiss her at that point. “Don’t talk to me like that again or you can find your own hares.”
“Why is it that bitches always get testy when you break out the sexual harassment?” I asked.
“Ask your mother if you can catch her at the dog park,” Dame said. “Shut it already. You make everything profoundly less fun.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d gotten down on your legs already,” I mumbled. “Ok, ok, what are we doing here?”
“Off in this forest is the Chateau du Maquis, a former church refurbished as a hunting lodge following World War II, in honor and recognition of the Maquis du Mont Mouchet. They fought the Nazis in guerrilla engagements ending with a final attack where the force was dispersed, but not destroyed. The Nazis brought everything to stop attacks from infantry hiding in the woods; the Luftwaffe, artillery, armored units, motorized units, and veterans from the Eastern front all fought. 3,000 Germans fought 2,700 French and only managed to kill about 500. The rest lived to fight another day.”
“While the Nazis ended up as history. So where’s the forest in question? Is it behind all these trees?” I raised a hand up above the eyes on my helmet to shade my view.
“It, it.. it… flames, the flames, flames on the side of my face. Breathing… breathing.” Dame threw up her hands. “Come on, get in my car.” She pointed to a dark blue Aston-Martin.
“Hardly a fitting vehicle for a supervillain,” I said. Her response was to eye my rented Yugo. “What? You’d be surprised how much plastic explosive you can fit in one of those things. It’s the perfect car to blow things up. Nobody cares about the loss of a Yugo. Nobody investigates too hard. Nobody mourns the Yugo.” I looked back at it and gave the car a thumbs-up. A stiff wind blew and the wheels fell off. “So, your car?”
The Chateau, as Dame only informed me upon nearing it, had a minimal occupation of caretaker. No big security force. No police anywhere around.
“Sounds like the perfect place to run a side hustle. What are we looking at? Drugs? Weapons? Not to be too stereotypical, but wine smuggling? I could smuggle the shit out of some wine. Takes a whole ‘nother class of mule to pull that off. Or push it in, as it were.”
“Vacations. The wealthy need a place to hunt and hold secret meetings.”
“Which brings us back to the drugs and weapons and wine shoved up someone’s ass,” I told her. “They going to be put off by us showing up in costume?”
“Rich people. Isolated chateau,” was all the answer Dame provided, or needed to provide.
Heavy on the stone, steeples, and climbing vines, the forest pressed close to the chateau grounds, obscuring it. It felt confined by the forest. Perhaps that explains kicking the doors completely down as I did. “Everyone, drop your pants and raise the roof!”
An old man looked up from pushing a broom in front of an empty fireplace. “What are you wanting here?”
“Must be a Parisian,” Dame said to me, stepping up and slapping me on the arm. “Pardon me, my eccentric friend and I interested in the grounds. Is there anyone present who could educate us?”
“If there’s anything to know about the chateau, I would know it,” said the old man. He continued his sweeping past the fireplace. Didn’t even bother to pick up an old machete laying next to it, though. “I must finish. Then we will talk.”
I decided to set the doors back up while we wait, and noticed the old, burnt wooden Three Hares above the door. Dame helped herself to a glass of wine while I checked the Hares over for a trick entrance or some sort of mechanism. Had to pile up a couple of really old chairs to do it. Older than this place if it was only built after WW2. The Hares symbol itself might be salvaged from another site, which means a whole ‘nother trip involved.
“Any weirdness around here, Dame?” I asked. “Maybe help us narrow down where what we’re really looking for.”
The old man appeared at the doorway on the opposite side of the building suddenly. Fast old fart. “The Beast was caught around here.”
I checked with Dame, who almost had to waste a drop of wine to surprise, then looked to the old man. “The Beast, eh? May I ask which beast?”
“The Beast of Gévaudan. It was a giant wolf, the fiercest such beast to ever stalk the forests of Earth. For three years, the Beast claimed the lives of the innocent. Hunters came and failed. They shot a greatwolf and stuffed it, but the attacks continued. The hunts of man and wolf continued until Jean Chastel shot the Beast with silver. Its body disappeared into the care of a surgeon who confirmed it had feasted on human. This is the story of the Beast of Gévaudan.”
“Interesting story. Werewolf?” I asked.
“Here wolf,” said the old man, dropping to all fours. His clothes disappeared into long, grey fur upon the rise of a wolf the size of a bull.
Dame jumped up, tossing the wine bottle against the mantle of the fireplace as she put distance between herself and the old wolf. I was more focused on the knowing eyes of the old beast until the fire started. I thought it was the fireplace itself until I saw the machete was burning. From the flames, like ashes, slid an arm, then the rest of a dark-skinned human body with iron plate piercings running along the arms, the chest, and everywhere else not covered in red pants and shirt. He set his red sash around his chest and picked up the machete. When he spoke, the words I heard didn’t match his lips. “You come to my house with weapons and violence in your heart?”
I threw my cape back, unleashing a pair of laser drones. “Violence is such a simple description for what I do. I prefer if you call it a nightmare.”
Dame lit out of there without so much as a “Sorry,” and a piss in her pants. And as I squared off with the two, I heard things. Things like a car revving up and speeding out of there. Things like creeks and snapping branches. The satellite imagery showed more things were out there. I began to suspect I was entering that point where I didn’t know how many it’d take to whoop my ass, but I’d soon learn just how many they were gonna use. If they’re all as tough as the one at the first site I hit in England, that won’t be many.
So I jumped out as well, pushing the broken door out and knocking over someone. I didn’t get a good look at them as I slid a ways, then jumped off and into the thick woods surrounding the place. A dropped rubber chicken grenade set a fire to spread and cover my tactical re-mobilization away from the main area of conflict.
Whatever these guys were, however good of trackers and hunters, it’s a bit tough to hunt someone more powerful than a locomotive who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. I called in my own dogs then. Or at least their voicemail. “Titan, I’m going to need the Riccan soldiers in France. It’s better if you don’t know pretty much anything else about it. Oh, and if you see Dame come around, tell her she owes me a lot of ice cream.”
I smiled, hearing the crashing of trees in the night and the flutter of fleeing birds.
Nice place for a hunt. I’m hunting Hares, they’re hunting Gecko. Time to see who’s the top predator around here.
Despite numerous objections from Dame, I took a little bit of time to prepare. I had my reasons though. It wasn’t about annoying Dame. Well, it wasn’t ONLY about annoying Dame. There were a few factors, but what I decided was most important this time was fun. Sometimes, in this wild and hate-filled world of ours, you just wanna have fun. I am the right gender for it momentarily. Or sex. I think I kinda screw the words up a bit when I’m probably mentally a man who was physically male and made myself phenotypically female.
I’m proud of the fact that there are no words to describe me sometimes. In fact, some of my favorite times are when the best people can attempt are screams.
So when I was finally ready, I called up Dame. I know she has some sort of permanent residence around the city, but nobody ever wants to give an evil mastermind their home address. The spycams gave me a heads-up as she tried to fly through the floor of my room. For those who don’t remember, she possesses a gadget that allows her to become incorporeal with certain strange interactions with electricity. And with me, considering my abilities.
She flew through the floor and settled onto her feet in the outer suite. I burst through the door in full regalia, “Nice to see you!”
“I’d say the same, but I hate you. What the fuck is this?” Dame asked, pointing to my costume.
I twirled the spear in my arms and slammed the butt into the floor. “Fucking awesome, that’s what the fuck.”
“Are you sure this is the time to play games?” she asked.
“Lady, these events represent a paradigm shift that may very well change everything we know about our ways of life. For the entirety of the rest of human existence, it’s likely powers can be shut down. Anyone who can slip a collar on a super can stop them. We might as well have as much fun as we can while we still can. People have expectations of me. Glorious expectations. It’s sometimes nice to live up to them.”
“Should I ask where you got that thing?” she asked.
I shrugged my head to the side. “They have some sort of vegan thing going on here. It’s like some sort of symbol of these guys who eat beef.”
The old cathedral was still in service, a few hundred years not being particularly old in Europe. It had just let out its service when the strains of music began playing all over the city around it. High above the rising music, a figure stood in a black cloak and hat, face covered by a pale, grinning mask.
I kicked him off for blocking my view and took his place. The light glinted off the scales of my armor, the dome of my horned helmet, and even the pointy cones on my boobs. My robotic horse stepped up behind me, nuzzling my shoulder. “That’s right, Bot Stallion.”
“Are you done posing yet?” asked Dame from behind us.
The horse let out a whinny at my command. “Bot Stallion says hello,” I called back to her. Then I swung onto its back and raised my spear. “Havoc!” I let loose the drones of war, which rose and followed as I rode the horse off the side of the building. The Ride of the Valkyries roared out, heralding my arrival.
Bot Stallion shot our grapple lines that hauled us back against the side of the building. It cantered down the side of the building and jumped off before we smashed into pavement. Someone’s car broke its fall while keeping us moving forward, this time at the doors of the cathedral. The rockets on the horse kicked in then and hurtled me even faster toward the main part of the building.
I’m sure it had a formal name, probably ending in -tory or -cristy or something. I know what to call the door at least, which soon began a career in teaching reptiles martial arts after I broke through it on my robot rocket horse.
A priest stood there with hands raised. “What in God’s name is going on here?”
“I am Psycho Gecko. Gods have no place here,” I told him. The drones formed a circle around me and began flying after each other, lasers aimed downward and cutting deeper with each pass.
“What do you want from us?” the priest asked, clasping his hands.
I raised my spear and looked to the roof, catching a glimpse of the Three Hares symbol in a place of prominence where worshipers could easily see it. Then I threw the spear in between laser beams to impale the priest. “Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da-!”
The floor dropping out from under me cut me off as the drones finished with this layer. That put me in the basement, with Dame floating around. Her skintight black suit was a tough darker than the shadows, but it was the glittery, crystalline mask and bracelet that really stood out. “Nice to see you finally,” she told me.
I got down off the horse as the drones joined us. “I’d say the same, but I hate you.”
She pointed up. “Was that really necessary?”
“Yes,” I told her. “But I’d rather not talk about it here. If you’re so confident in your quiet shortcuts, my dear, feel free to get us an invitation.”
She nodded and pressed something on her bracelet. She turned translucent and dove into the floor of the basement. She surfaced again, muttering to herself, then went swimming through the floor, looking for something. For my part, I started checking all the candelabras and torch holders attached to the walls, the older the better. “You wanna give up yet? I got plenty of laser. Not like the world’s running out of light yet.”
“Shut up,” she said from out of the floor.
“Actually read an interesting line in a book. Not a bad book, just not entirely profound. But they had this phrase I thought was pretty good.”
“I think I got it,” she said. She disappeared down below. Soon, I heard a click. I looked around to where an old candelabra bent into a wall. A five foot section of the wall around it popped back as well. I poked my head in and found myself looking at a winding staircase. It was at that point I began to regret already using the Phantom of the Opera theme song in my adventures. But it saved Dame from the ill-effects of my singing, so there’s that. Instead, I hummed the Tales From the Crypt theme. A line of laser drones followed faithfully while Bot Stallion took up guard mode in case the heavy construction blocked my ability to reach out to it.
“You’re not even trying to be quiet, are you?” asked Dame at the base of the stairs.
“That implies I’m avoiding a fight. Instead, this might just be an empty air raid shelter,” I looked around, finding this corridor to be fairly narrow. “Though…”
“An air raid shelter with that staircase?” she asked after checking up where I’d come. “And this sort of entrance.”
“Why can’t you suggest there are people here to kill more often?” I smiled at her and winked before skipping through the corridor.
Poor Dame floated through walls to catch up, “That’s not what I said.”
“It isn’t?” I aske,d playing at a frown. “Strange. That’s what I heard. Perhaps you have a speaking problem.”
She glared at me. “I’m not arguing with you. It only encourages you.”
I skipped along until we rounded a corner and I found myself looking at a larger gathering room. There were cheap plastic tables all about, like it was used for a large meeting or conference. Two things really stood out above all that. First was the door on the opposite side of the room, like someone stuck a regular house door on the dark stone of a cathedral. The second was a man reading a magazine who tossed it aside when he saw us and scrambled to his feet.
“Who are you?” He asked, holding out a cupped hand. I felt pain ripple through my belly and up my chest. It was like pressure, and something squeezing me all over. I felt like wheezing. Then it reached my head and I felt nauseous. I threw up, then collapsed back against the wall.
Dame bent down by me, then looked back up at the man. By this time, he’d pulled out a composite bow and plucked it, firing a bolt of light at Dame. She whirled rapidly into the wall that the lightbolt tore a chunk out of.
The bowman turned back to the room. “Time’s up! Go, go, go!” Then he looked at me, eyes lighting up. He stepped closer. “Who are you and your friend?” He looked me over.
When I caught him staring at the cones over my boobs, I asked, “You like my knockers?” The right boob popped open and a boxing glove popped out, smacking him in the face. I lifted myself so that when the left one fired off, it caught him in the balls. He bent over in front of me, giving me enough opportunity to say, “My eyes are up here.”
He stood back up, teeth clenched in anger. I pointed behind him, where the drones had gotten into formation, flying around in another circle, this time with lasers aimed at him. I’ll give him credit, the man took more photonic bukkake to the chest than most could, but he cut and ran. Or disappeared into a flash of light. I was hoping for sliced and diced super salsa, but I’ll take light-based teleporting.
When he seemed busy not being present, I went ahead and reached under my scale mail skirt for a regen nanite fix. Whatever this fucker did to me, I had them log it for later inspection. That was the position I found myself in when I saw a group of kids come running out of a side hall. Like eight of them. Five teens, a young boy still in single digits, and a pair who looked like they were twelve. They saw me, eyes wide, and all except one of the older boys ran for the door. He looked to me and raised his hands as if to do something too.
The drones took aim at him and his friends. “Stand down,” I said. The dizziness was still there, but I had enough strength to drag myself to my feet with the help of a wall. “Whoever you little shits are, you’re coming with me.”
“Or what?” asked the teen.
Dame poked her head out of the wall next to him, “Yeah, or what?”
The boy fell over one of the plastic tables. He got his feet under him and ran after the others, who were doing something to the door. They hauled it open, revealing a sunny area with tree branches swaying in a breeze.
I smiled and began to walk toward them. “Come here, kiddies. Come to Gecko!” I stumbled against a table though, so it was time to inject myself with more nanites. “Run and I’ll shoot you full of photons.”
“No,” Dame said, floating out in front of the drones. She punched a couple of them, disrupting the electronics and shutting them off. The others she stood in front of. “Not children.”
I was interrupted by hacking up blood from my internal injuries, so I didn’t press the point. Not too much. Not with how I was able to bounce a signal through the portal. Sure, GPS showed me in London and Istanbul at once. But it was specifically a location not on Dame’s list. It must have been nobody’s business but the Turks’.
The door didn’t stay open long. They rushed through with whatever they had on them, at which point I could roll onto the table. “Whew. That hurt. Go double check if you can about where that door leads. Or gimme a minute and I’ll do it.”
“I’ll do it,” she said. When she opened the thing, it was just stone wall. “It’s a portal.”
“They must be doing neat things with stolen Cape Diem technology,” I said. “And nasty things with whatever they put in me. Come on, let’s get out of here and leave cleanup to the cleaners.”
On our way out, I passed a team of Deep One Riccan soldiers on their way in to tag and bag everything. I needed the drones to help move myself out, but I recovered before Bot Stallion got us back to my hotel.
“Now can we finally talk about what that was about?” asked Dame, slipping off her bejeweled mask and tossing it to the side as I began to lose the valkyrie getup.
“Hunting. I don’t know who these guys are, which is just amazing. I can’t find anything in all my numerous stolen top secret files about these Three Hares, so they have done a phenomenal job staying under the radar. But they’ll know we know where they are based on these raids.” I sent text massages to Titan and Venus then, informing them that the Three Hares site was indeed connected. They had Dame’s list, too. “Or that I know, since I’ll be the one hitting up everything. And if they start to panic and move things around, we’ll know thanks to some friends.”
“Stop beating around the bush,” she said.
“But that’s what I’m doing. Beating around the bush and seeing what flies off. Seeing where it flies to. If they stay still, we might miss them.”
She crossed her arms. “Are you feeling alright?”
I shrugged and read the diagnosis from my nanites. “Surprisingly lucid considering I just fought off brain cancer. And lung cancer. Liver and prostate too. That guy gave me tumors. Literal fucking cancer. I’ll have to thank the bastard who did that to me with a bit of chemo therapy just for him next time I see him.”
“Next time?” Dame asked.
“This isn’t over yet. I’m still hunting wabbits.”