Venus was kind enough to offer me the hospitality of the Master Academy while I waited on my ride. After everything that happened, we all agreed I needed access to as many showers and fresh clothes as possible. Plus, and she didn’t actually state this, I think she was worried about all the laughing I’d been doing. Couldn’t help myself. It kinda had to do with the intersection of Gecko and Tripura. She was so nice, and she was me.
Too bad she had to kill. I just can’t catch a break, even when I don’t know hardly anything. But she killed to save an entire city, except for that part when she murdered someone for being a dick to her. The ratio of assholes to innocents makes it clear how much better a person she was. I could try and argue something about tabula rasa, but most people have really weird ideas about that. Like, they think being born with genetic preferences that can change over time somehow means the mind is born with knowledge. You know, because we should really call a baby’s inborn preference for cinnamon at birth “knowledge”.
Eh, this Earth will grow out of that at some point, maybe realize that a stream bed’s curves determine what path the water travels, but it’s not a stream without the fluid.
This sounds nice, but part of the reason I was tittering to myself so much is my ability to recall the name of that thingy on the table that salt falls out of. A mind is a terrible thing to lose, and now I’ve got mine back. And so many things are being reevaluated that it’s caused me the legitimate giggles, and some instances of laughing to spite the alternative.
It disturbed everyone around Master Academy West. They sat me in a common room with, like dark woods and a tv and books all around. If it was a social spot, it wasn’t after I got there. So I kept staring off into space, comparing memories, reconciling things, and catching up on the news. Like, seriously evolutionary psychologists? A paper about why the Jews are genetically predisposed to dominate the world? No wonder the brownshirts are marching.
In the middle of sitting down, arms around my legs, laughing my head off to myself in a dark room with the lights turned off, I noticed a guy arguing with Venus. “How long is she staying here?”
That snapped me out of my thousand-yard stare. “Hey, stop assuming my-”
“She’s a criminal, a murderer, a- a- I don’t even know what she’s committed so many crimes. And she’s transphobic,” said the teen boy to Venus.
“I’m not transphobic. There are very few people I hate more than I hate almost every one of you damn humans,” I said.
The guy actually responded. “I don’t hear you dropping the N-word or any other racial slurs.” He walked into the room, staring at me. A bit androgynous and chubby, with a wide nose that almost makes me think it’d been smooshed as a kid.
I grabbed him and pulled him onto my lap, cradling him with four arms. “It’s ok there. Shh, shh, shh. Let me tell you a little story.”
“Gecko, let him go,” Venus said. I held up a finger.
“Just a quick story and he goes free unharmed, deal?” I asked.
From my lap came the teen, “I’d rather just go if I have any say in this.”
I patted him on the head. “Hush, Venus is speaking for you.”
“You promise not to harm anyone? This is just a story?” she asked.
I nodded a bunch. “I wouldn’t dare hurt the snuggly little Master Academy students here.” I gave the student a shake. The wind picked up in the room and blew some curtains a bit too much to be the AC. “It’s just a brief story of an assassin who learned how to use medical nanomachines to perform reconstructive surgery to alter the assassin’s looks. Colors were easy, adjusting flesh and cartilage as well. Muscles, harder, bones harder still. So many things were changed… face, hair color, eye color, even skin color. And in all that time, nobody who knew the assassin’s identity questioned anything about the assassin’s personality over the fact that the assassin changed appearances so often.”
“That’s not strictly true,” Venus spoke up.
I blew her a raspberry, then continued. “Then one day the assassin grows a bodacious pair of boobs and starts wearing skirts. Suddenly, everybody starts wondering if they should call the assassin something different over THIS change. THIS change was unusual. This change caused them to worry about the assassin’s mental state more than usual.” I chuckled at that part. “The assassin just changes and doesn’t think much of it. The assassin thinks it’s stupid to assume anything off about a person just because they want to be a woman.”
I pushed the teen off my lap. “Story time’s over kid. Now get out of here.”
The tean dusted himself off and looked at me. “Inside, what do you feel you are?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. I’m always just me, no matter what.” I closed my eyes and sat back, hoping they’d get out of my long, beautiful hair.
Venus ushered the teen out, then turned to me. “Maybe it would help you with all your self-loathing. That can be a sign, you know.”
I waved dismissively. “Not all that important right now. But thanks for the tampons and the brief tutorial.” I opened an eye just to wink at her.
“I know about your self-loathing. Do us all a favor and find a version of yourself that’s happier. And just because changing sex isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s a small thing for someone to be made whole on this Earth, you douchecanoe.” Venus crossed her arms as she looked at me.
“If you hate me so much, if the world’s better off without me, why save me?” I asked her, leaning forward, and maybe squeezing the gals a bit for better viewing. She’s not immune to boobs. Hell, these days, the power of boobs reaches far beyond men to all sorts of genders. “Not like anyone there knew what was happening. You could have let me die.”
“We have this talk a lot, but I refuse to go through life believing the best way to solve my problems is to kill everyone,” she said.
I cocked my head to the side, “But isn’t saving me a way of condoning my actions, especially when I kill people like The Claw?”
She shook her head. “Your choices are your choices, but I’ll always hold out hope for you, and I’ll always be here if you want to change. It’s never too late.”
Ugh. It’s like she’s got a psychic around to figure out the best way to annoy me. Oh, right, she’s fucking the only surviving psychic to be in my head. I was more than happy when the Psycho Flyer arrived with an honor guard of soldiers in power armor. We made quite the sight, Psycho Gecko walking up a ramp flanked by Riccan soldiers while a force of Master Academy heroes stood guard.
One long, long, long ass trip later that involved a stopover in Mu for refueling, the Flyer passed right over the military base and landed between the Palace Residence and the Directory Legislature building. The Directors were quite curious to see what all the hub bub was about, and were surprised when the soldiers lined up and I stepped out in my armor. Not a copy, or a replica. Not a Dudebot. Me and my armor.
One of the Directors was pushed by his comrades to come meet me. “Empress, we weren’t aware you were away. We have been denied news and prevented from an audience.” He quickly bowed.
My bow wasn’t so deep, but then I’m the Empress. “It was necessary, unfortunately. If it’s any consolation, I’ve missed y’all too and I’ll be more than happy to provide more information after I meet with my family.”
I maintained a properly dignified dictator-walk until I reached the stairs to the Palace Residence. That was when Qiang got loose and came running down the steps to meet me. I pulled my daughter up in a four-armed hug and carried her up to the top of the stairs where I pulled in Citra, my (politically-motivated) wife. Then Mix N’Max, Silver Shark, everyone I could grab. Even that friend of Qiang’s, Kayla, and her parents who I’ve banged.
I got the 411 inside while snuggling Qiang. Max had a whole presentation lined up, starting with the slide, “Infiltrators, Detainment and Punishment, A Play In Three Parts”
“You may be wondering what we did with Dame, the woman you informed us was made to look like you,” Max said. “First step, identification.” The first slide after the start showed photos of the crowd all photoshopped to wear different clothes. Sam Hain, Max’s assistant, looked very pretty in Citra’s dress. Another slide showed a picture of me labeled “fake” either hugging or kissing.
“Second step, capture,” Max said. The next slide showed Sam’s head pasted to the body of a black lingerie model, perhaps to make it obvious this isn’t Sam’s body. Then a cage falls on the fake me. Then there’s a trapdoor, followed by a picture of an alligator, a school of piranhas, and a train.
“This movie sucks,” I said. “The pacing’s terrible, the acting’s subpar, and what’s with this sound design? Nobody knows how to hold a boom?” Max, ever-present grin on his face, flashed me the middle finger.
I held up one of my own toward him, then made a circle with some fingers and moved it up and down around the middle finger.
“Ahem,” said Holly, the preppier of Max’s assistants. “I worked really hard on this, and would appreciate if you paid attention.”
I didn’t pay much attention to the punishment stuff. More photoshopping, along with stills from movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Passion Of The Christ. “Bottom line,” I asked once we reached the end, “Where is she?”
Max sighed and clicked on to a last slide that said, “TL;DR, she’s in the military base.”
“Thank you,” I said, standing up. I hugged Qiang to myself, then set her down. “I’ll be back in a bit, sweetest of hearts. Mommy has to go see the bad lady.”
And I did. The men, human and Deep One alike, were happy to have me back. They showed me down to a special room, one that’d be hard to find for anyone not familiar with the holding cells. Recently, I’d been the one sitting in a darkened room, with a circle of light. She knelt in the circle, arms and legs held to the floor. She was covered by a thin white dress, barely more than a scrap. I could practically see through it.
I stepped up and pulled out a can of spray cheese. “Wakey, wakey, dearest Dame.”
She looked up wearing a copy of my face. She started to say something, but I filled her mouth with cheese so cheap. I had to find the can in a flop house by the dock where sailors passing helped themselves to a high while they were on the island. “I don’t know how much they’re feeding you. I assume some food’s involved. Wow, I know how to put together a body shape, don’t I?”
She fought to get through the cheese. Since she had nothing to say, I kept on going. “This whole game of spy versus spy and who is better at planning and counterplanning, it’s just needlessly complicated and annoying. Never knowing who to trust… it’s just no fun. So today, I make you a promise. If you cooperate, I won’t kill you. Won’t order you killed or anything like that.”
“Your guards beat the shit out of me every day,” she growled through cheese.
I patted her on the head. “And they’ll stop now because you’re going to be my own personal project.”
Her eyes fluttered and she shook her head. “Whaaaaa-why is everything… doing that?” She looked all around.
I knelt and stroked my lookalike’s hair. “It’s just the nanites, dear. I made sure you only go the best cheese.” I held up the can and shook it, smiling under my mask as if she could see it. Then I sighed. “Not quite so fun knowing what’s going to happen.”
“What are you doing?” she asked, kneeling forward, trying to rest her head on the floor.
I rubbed her head sat beside her, moving her head into my lap as the nanites set to work. “I don’t like where your mind’s at, so I’m changing it. Making a few alterations where I can. Looks like you’ve got that little disease that can inhibit superpowers too, even if you use a gadget for your fun. I had a lot of time on my flight to review everything we know about Unity, the same drug they used to make me thing I wasn’t me. Same drug I bet you were trying to steal from Ricca when they first captured you. Neural pathways to access long-term and short-term memory. Funny thing is, it’s entirely possible to start using these nanites to replace parts of a brain with a, what do you call it, cybernetic alternative. There may be a few hiccups, but that’s why I’m trying this trick on you instead of someone I care about.” Here I felt a little bit of Tripura tug at me. Dame started to scream until I forced her to stop via well-placed nanites.
I leaned in to whisper to Dame. “You know, I felt so normal and innocent there thanks to what your people did to me. Then I get my memory back. All of it. Poor Tripura… but that time gave me so many wonderful ideas about how to deal with you, them, and any other problems that come up. Losing my mind has been incredibly refreshing; I highly recommend it.”
I stood up. “Don’t worry about screaming. You got a mouth, but you won’t be able to. New process like this, I told it to take it’s time. A couple of days and I’m sure whatever you’re feeling will go away. Or you’ll suffer brain damage. Either way, I’ll be back later to pick your brain.” I stopped and waved my hands, jazz hands style. “I’m thinking something old school, maybe wrinkly, but cute and… ya know, pink’s a great color.”
I giggled at her shaking her head and waved it off. “Oh, don’t worry about your silly opinions. I’ll replace those later.”
I don’t know how much it fits my memories, but I have a rough idea of a lot of California being desert, especially to the southeast of Los Angeles. There were suburbs, that’s still a bit of a desert in its own way. And it was near one of those the clouds dipped to the ground.
I’d tried zooming in to figure out what that whole mess was since I got close enough for it to cover a lot of the sky for me. I know something like half the state’s on fire, but this stuff looked different. Things didn’t smell like someone was having a barbecue, either. Not even of people. Wow, I really know what that smells like. I want to say pork is involved?
I noticed something a lot weirder than that as I walked into this suburb, though. There was no movement among the carbon copy dwelling cutouts that made up the suburbs. Variations on a theme. The same style might have a bush in one spot and a tree in another. I thought there weren’t people at all, but then I noticed the dog. At first, it looked like just another part of the bush, until I saw the ear of corn. That seemed out of place, more so when I followed it down to the dog standing next to the bush, hidden under corn leaves. I took a closer look and found corn growing from a car, corn growing out the open window of a house. Even, it turned out, an ear peeking out from a baby carrier next to an affected woman standing in her driveway.
I really missed my environmentally sealed armor in that moment, even though I couldn’t remember it myself. Less than an hour later, I saw where a crowd of corn soldiers picked their way through the houses and cars. They’d walk up, grab a bunch of corn, and assemble it into a new soldier for their army.
I don’t really know how they noticed me. It’s not like they had eyes or noses, only ears. Regardless, they finally picked up on my presence. I waved at them. “Greetings. Take me to your leader.”
A sound went through them like a breeze through a corn field and they advanced on me. I held up my hands. “It’s ok, no need to grab me. I can get there myself. Just looking for this Centeotl guy.” I remembered the guy’s business card. It was a wrinkled, scorched mess, but I still had it and held it up for them. They stopped where they were upon “seeing” it and opened a path through the middle for me.
“About time I got some respect around here,” I said as I walked through.
From then on, I followed the road and a few corn soldiers to the big camp. The guards there didn’t just let me past when they saw their boss’s business card. These children of the corn escorted me along to where Centeotl stood. He wore dark brown slacks and no shoes. Shame, because while sneakers clash with slacks, they didn’t clash as much as the shirtless look and the body paint, and provide comfort for athletics. And his chest had thick lines of body paint at sharp angles, all in black. He sat sharpening a knife as I approached. Behind him sat a large, round pod of pale yellow material that spat a constant stream of something into the air, forming those ominous clouds.
“Heya, how are you Sam?” I asked.
He looked up at me. “Why did you come back?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know why she let me go exactly. Something about her getting a message that you were going to attack the city and her school.”
He studied my face, but I’ve recently become an expert on acting like I don’t know anything. It happened around the time I suddenly stopped knowing things.
“Who said that?” he asked me.
I shrugged. “No clue. We were walking along, my hands tied and all, when she started fighting the air. After a couple seconds, she looked at me and asked what was going on, how I was making holograms. She said it was a guy with a jean jacket and jeans and a bigass mohawk. Don’t know what she was talking about, but she held a conversation with whatever she heard. Then she just said ‘fuck it,’ and ditched me to get back there quicker.
“What is Barkiel interfering for?” Centeotl asked.
“Who?” I asked.
He pointed up to the sky. “One of the aliens you might know as visitors. He watches the world and tracks our interests. He agrees with me, as would anyone who has seen so much of humanity.”
“So he’s one of us, or at least on our side, but he’s acting against you. Is there… ok, so I haven’t spent much time around the visitors. What’s their deal? You know, is there any reason why they might want different things than the gods and their relatives?”
He waved me over to where a couple of corn soldiers dropped off a metal folding chair for me. I took a seat as he explained. “The gods of the east were already retreating from the world when the visitors crash landed. They heard of creators and gods of the forge, and sought them out to repair their ship. The world and the gods weren’t capable of fixing the vessel, so they were forced to send a message back to their people. They got an answer many years later, time enough for demigods to be born, grow old, and die. They were long-lived and their people would send someone to help, but they lived a great distance away in space and their people here were not important. I’ve had drinks with Barkiel and he said his government often ignores the needs of its people.”
He shifted looked at his knife. “Lookin’ sharp,” I commented.
He nodded and slid it into a sheath on his belt. “Their leader, Tetra, spoke with us and told us to be careful. Their government doesn’t care about their own people, but they are easily threatened by other species. If there were too many gods, if our powers spread inordinately, if our people advanced too fast, our planet could be treated as a threat.” Centeotl pointed at my shorts. “Are you hurt?”
I looked down at a drop of blood on the crotch of my short shorts and thought of how slowly I wished I could murder that guy who called himself Apollo and who claimed he reset my menstrual cycle. Because I’m not supposed to have a menstrual cycle.
I looked up and shrugged. “Just some maintenance I haven’t been able to get here lately.”
Centeotl screwed up his face. “Someone must have tampons you can take around here.” He waved to the houses around us.
I leaned back and crossed my legs over the other. “Yeah, sure, but this is interesting. I haven’t heard so many of these stories.”
“I’m not surprised. You must have been isolated for a long time to avoid the same fate as your pantheon.”
I let my face fall. “Um, can we not talk about that? It’s just wild. Sometimes, I wish I knew as little about it as the presidents and prime ministers.”
He chuckled. “The aliens warned us of computer records, but my favorite story is Operation Snow White. Scientology paid for itself when we discovered the United States had started to find evidence of our financial dealings. They were left with stories of aliens telling them to infiltrate the government, and we stole the documents they obtained about us and destroyed them.”
I clapped for him with all four hands. “Nice. Do you use cults often?”
“I don’t. Barkiel loves them. Did he tell you about that Applewhite man?”
I shook my head, but then the projection of the Denim Dude showed up between myself and Centeotl, standing where he could see each of us with just a turn of the head.
“Speak of the devil,” said Centeotl.
“Talking about me were you?” Denim Dude/Barkiel said, looking between us. “I’m so glad you two met.” He winked at me before turning his attention back to Centeotl.
“Tripura is returned to my custody. It’s a shame to come this far and back away, but I can’t justify an attack now,” Centeotl told him.
“Sure you can. She tricked Tripura and sent her back here to kill you,” Barkiel said, cocking his thumb my way.
I pretended to stretch, with two of my hands moving back behind me. Only the ones with all fingers, though. I pushed the safeties off.
“I hardly see how,” Centeotl said.
“Even if she wasn’t secretly Psycho Gecko in disguise, she still has a pair of guns with her,” Barkiel told him.
I pulled the 1911s and fired into him from the hips before raising one in both hand. I fired my eyes as well as the pistols. The recoil would have been worse for someone with standard human strength, especially one-handed and side by side where I can feel the pressure from each firearm firing. Between my strength and sitting feet from my target, that didn’t matter so much. I was looking him right in the eye with my laser eye, and that counts for something.
Centeotl slumped to the side, to the road, his body twitching. I looked down though to a pain in my chest where a sharpened knife stuck in me. I dropped the guns and reached for the knife, seeing how deep it was in. Deep enough to hurt like hell, turns out.
“Not too bad an assassination,” Barkiel said, looking at the corpse, then looked up to me. “You’ve got a problem there.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” I said. I grabbed the knife, counted to one, and pulled it out. I dropped it, not even caring, because it hurt just as damn much taking it out as it did going in, except with the extra feeling of my eye laser shooting into the wound at a lower power setting to fry the whole bloody mess.
I cut the laser as I started to cough, which caused more pain and some tearing from inside the wound. Then came more bleeding, more cauterizing, more pain. Then I tried standing. Want to guess what I felt then? It hurt like hell to breath, to stand, to walk. Barkiel’s presence didn’t help. “Good going, champ. You saved the day and stopped the corn army.”
I looked around to see the corn soldiers had indeed all crumbled. Then I took a moment to do what so few people do. I looked up and saw the clouds were still there. A glance at the big pod showed it had stopped, but I wondered how soon before it came down, or if it even had a real purpose it could still fulfill. Between that and the pain of walking, I figured it was as good a time as any to steal a car, even though I had to pull a stinky, sticky mess of a teen girl out from behind the wheel of the mini Cooper. Sure, I’d forgotten hotwiring a car, but that part’s unnecessary when someone leaves the key in the thing.
I didn’t bother paying attention to see if Barkiel had left or not. I was more concerned with getting the hell out of there, and he didn’t follow. All the corn made driving out of there difficult. Not easy to navigate a maize. Ha! I knew I had some corny puns left in me.
A funny thing happened on the way back, though. The sky fell. Before I’m accused of being a little cock, it was the clouds of whatever Centeotl had been pumping into the sky. I closed everything up as tight as could be and gunned it, now clear of all corn. But I wasn’t going to make it. I had to find shelter. So I gave the wheel a sharp turn, popped the tires as I jumped the front porch, and plowed through the front door. I continued on through a sofa and slid to a stop in the living room just as the opening of the Simpsons stopped playing on the flat screen hanging off the wall.
I sat there, waiting. And waiting. I reached for the door handle, hissing in pain, then remembered that somehow, for some reason, that stuff would fall just as soon as I opened the door and got out. It felt like a dumb enough action it would force laws of the universe to change in order to punish me. Twenty seconds after that, the stuff in the air fell with a dusty impact.Some got into the house, but the dust cloud dispersed before it got past the foyer.
The first cough didn’t hit until soon after I stopped the roads were no longer covered and I felt safe ditching that thing for that didn’t give off sparks when I drove. I had to stop at the next gas station and hack up blood to the confusion of everyone around. The coughing caused more pain, and I couldn’t stop myself putting a hand near my wound.
I felt a leaf poking out of it. It felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t breath in and something tickled my airway. It looked like I’d gone from being a plant in their organization to being a plant in a gas station parking lot. I opened the car door and tried to walk to a new car, but my foot caught on something. It caught on roots growing down through the concrete. I tripped over and fell there on all fours.
I heard the squealing of another car, then footsteps running closer. I looked up to see Venus there, reached up to her.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a protective case, like for glasses. When she opened it, she had a vial there surrounded by padding. She knelt and raised my chin up. “Even not being you, you ran off to kill someone anyway.”
I hacked out an “It’s what I do,” around bloody spittle. I felt things pushing inside me. Pushing around and pushing through.
“I know. I hoped to have a better you as long as possible. Forgive me, Gecko,” she said.
“Who I am, what I’ll be… why save me at all?” I asked. I felt an enormous pressure in my head and something start to grow and block my throat.
Venus tilted my head back and poured the nanites in. “It’s what I do.”
She held me as the nanites disassembled the mass growing inside me, as well as scar tissue and cauterized tissue. It killed the corn trying to grow out of my holes, and made me whole. And as I stayed there, I felt it all start flooding back. Every nightmare, every trauma, every time I had to sacrifice a part of myself to survive.
It was enough to break me once.
But with it came every success and accomplishment. Killing some of the biggest and baddest motherfuckers around. Every fond memory of friends and family. I can’t wait to see my daughter again. And every skill and resource I’ve been able to build up.
I’m not just the me who broke. I’m the me who shatters cities and makes buildings crumble. I’m the me who scares away people like Spinetingler and who destroys alien fleets. I’m the me who nearly killed a world.
And I’ll be enough to break the so-called “gods”.
Venus and I finally had ourselves a ride willing to take us into L.A. We just had to put up with the back of a pickup truck on account of my smell. I was so happy, I hugged Venus. No, wait, allow me to correct that. I have such a creepy little crush on her, I hugged Venus. For her part, she allowed it and didn’t even act all mean to me once we got into the back of the truck and sat down on a tarp to keep from being burned by the metal.
Knowing our salvation was close at hand, it was easier to let ourselves talk, but I didn’t want to make it all about me. Years worth of blogging to another dimension teaches me I’m not afraid to do so, but I figure I talk enough about me around her when I’m properly myself. So instead, I started mentioning meals I’m going to cook when I get back. Cooking is a wholly under-utilized skill, and one that I enjoy for its crossover. After all, I get to use a knife, cut meat, stab things, poke things, set things on fire, even force my meat into people’s mouthes and squirt fluids around.
This time, it was hot sauces, detailing way of doing it, followed by Venus telling me, “I don’t like cooking. I’d rather curl up in the library and work through A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
I wanted to ask if that’s what the kids are calling it these days but I held my tongue. “What’s your favorite part of it?”
“There are a lot of good parts. I could relate to parts of the first one, but the second one, The Reptile Room, reminds me so much of the academy taking me in. It’s nice to find a family.”
We were alerted to something going wrong, or at least not continuing to go right, when the truck rounded a bend and slowed down. “Aw hell!” We heard from the driver’s open window. When we scrambled up to take a look at the road. We’d reached an area with a little bit of tree and sign cover that shielded the presence of a checkpoint.
“Speak of the Fire-Starters. It’s ICE. I don’t suppose you have any ID on you?” Venus asked.
I shook my head. “Nope. Once again, good way to control people. Kinda reminds me of that Christian organization that kidnaps kids and takes them to the Dominican Republic.”
“That’s a hell of a thing to remember now,” Venus said. “Alright, let me do the talking.”
The guys up ahead looked like they were dressed for war more than for hunting down immigrants outside a city. They went from approaching the truck casually to rifles raised when Venus hopped over the edge of the pickup. Even with her hands raised, they maintained a pretty hostile stance.
“Hands over your head! Identify yourself!” called one who seemed to be in charge.
“I’m the superhero called Venus!” she answered back.
“Oh yeah? Superhero? Don’t you normally wear costumes?” asked a guy who stepped out with a skull bandana. More skull bandanas. Are skulls scary? How can they be? They’re so happy, always smiling.
The one closest called back, “She’s that one with no powers.”
“Unless you can kill a person with a twitch of your finger, I’m more super than you now,” said another.
“This is a situation where I couldn’t wear my costume. A lot of things didn’t go right, and this gentleman here was helping me get back to L.A.”
I heard a gun cock behind me and turned to see another ICE agent who decided to chamber a shotgun shell for some reason. He had it pointed in my direction, too. “Sarge, we got another back here!” To me, he added, “Get out.”
I crawled out, falling on my back in a landing most bogus. It took me a few seconds to stand up and straighten out my dress.
“She’s my sidekick,” Venus said.
“She ‘s got four arms,” said the one closest to Venus.
“She’s a dark one, isn’t she?” asked one of them further back. “Doing some human trafficking?”
“Oh, yeah, did y’all ever find those kids y’all sold off?” I asked. The one behind me poked me in the back of the head with the barrel of his shotgun, pushing me along until I was standing beside Venus.
“Get this other asshole out of the truck. I want to see them all lined up,” said the guy in charge. Another ran up as Venus and I moved over. The driver heard everything and was getting out anyway, but this other one yanked him out, then to his feet as the guy fell.
I had a bad feeling about us being lined up.
“Come on, I’m a hero. We should be good,” Venus said.
“Uh huh. You stay put and keep your mouth shut while our consultant gets here,” said the Sarge.
The driver, whose hands were raised anyway, raised one a little higher. “They were walking by the side of the road. I was just giving someone a ride.”
“I bet you were. We take human trafficking very seriously.”
Venus tried to distract. “He picked us up within the state. There’s no way this falls under your jurisdiction. Why are you here instead of checking at the border. Any border, state or federal.”
“This looks like a job for ICE man, Mary Jane,” said the Sarge.
Altogether, I counted up nine of these guys. No, wait. Ten if you count the swaggering guy in the red and silver costume and a red domino mask. The fingerless black gloves didn’t quite match up. The matte-finished 1911s in hip holsters seemed especially un-super, and subtle for a guy in a costume. I got a match, though. Manhunter. Works a lot with the government because of his tracking powers. Literal tracking powers. DEA files state he can see a path people travel, able to follow it back to where they came from, or to where they’ve gone. They even have a pretty good idea how much he likes to skim off drug traffickers. The DEA has an equation to figure up people’s skimming from decades of experience.
Venus gestured to him. “Manhunter? It’s Venus, remember? We worked together that time. Tell these guys we’re legit.”
“I remember Venus,” he said, spitting some chew onto the road. “Total bitch. Accused me of pocketing evidence from a jewel theft.”
“Is this woman the superhero y’all are talking about?” asked Sarge.
“I’m not sure. She had a mask on. Emotions were running high from her false accusations. Messes with my memories.”
“I know how that feels,” I said. “Both the emotions and the memory issues. It’s like we’re oddly in sync.” I stepped toward him, transitioning from my hands up to curling fingers through my hair. “Hi, my name’s Tripura.”
“Somebody get this dirty Indian bitch away from me before I throw up. God, wash your cootch.” I stepped back into line as a couple of the guys advanced.
“I’ll have you know the formal term is Native American,” I said.
“You don’t look native. You don’t even smell human.” Manhunter pulled out one of his pistols and twirled it around. “You smell like a dead dog by the side of the road.”
Some of the ICE agents checked around. I got a bad feeling about all this.
“That reminds me of something…” I said, then looked over to Venus. “Hey, you still have those ear plugs in?”
“Ear plugs?” she asked, then reached for her ears. She stuck her fingers in there as I opened my mouth.
What I’d remembered was that frequency I so liked. I learned it from my imprisonment in The Cube, where it was used to induce paralysis in the human body. I figured out how to make my own enhanced vocal cords make that noise, and allow my own enhanced ears to block it out. I released a scream at that frequency and watched them fall. All of them, including our driver and Venus.
I ended it with a cough. “Now that I’ve cleared my throat, I think you’ll agree our papers are in order. So I’ll leave you guys to sleep this off.” I grabbed Venus and our driver, helped them into the back, and slid behind the driver’s seat. I cranked it up, looked at the ICE guys laying there in the road, and smiled. “Speed bump.”
I suppose I should feel bad. Not as bad as Manhunter felt when I drove over his crotch. “Oh wait,” I said to myself and put the car in reverse. I got out, stepped down onto Manhunter and another ICE agent, and began rifling through their pants for wallets. “Your money and your life. Oh, wait, you’re the guys who stopped us. Anyway…” I took the 1911s off the guy. Just in case.
Venus wasn’t happy with my little speed bump, but I didn’t get much of a chance to talk it over with her before the driver politely screamed at us to get out and leave him alone before he gets arrested for helping us. He was nice enough to drops us off in a suburb of the city where Venus insisted on separate rooms. Which got real contradictory when she called out to me asking “What the hell are you doing over there?”
“Jealous? Mmm, if you cleaned me off in that shower, then was as soft as this bed, you could help me make these noises, too.”
We were both interrupted by a concierge stopping by to bring the clothes I ordered. Manhunter skimmed on a lot more than drugs. He even had some gold teeth in there.
Venus didn’t talk to me much after that. A lot of bad history there, and I think she’s realized that even though I’m not me, I’m still me. But in the night, someone else did. The projection of the Denim Dude, the alien member of the Three Hares who has been helping me along as part of his own agenda. One moment he wants me caught, another he wants me out.
I heard “Wake up, Gecko,” and found him leering over me with the projection that looked human. “Good. I thought you should know the others have found you. They know Venus has you now. Now that everyone’s asleep, I wanted to let you know Centeotl’s got a plan. He’s genocidal at the best of times. Now, he wants to clear out the City of Angels and your girlfriend’s sad excuse for an X-Men school.”
“Is he here?” I asked, then yawned.
“Not yet, sweetheart.”
I sat up. “No rest for the wicked then. Good news is, if he’s paying attention to a city, he won’t see me coming.”
“He’s not even sure you are an enemy,” Denim Dude said.
I smiled. “Good. I’ll take a confused mass killer over one who knows to try and kill me any day.”
When I stepped out of the door, Denim Dude whistled. “Short shorts aren’t very tactical, are they?” Not even a comment on the plaid shirt? It’s literally a target on my back, and front, and sides underneath the extra arm holes.
I checked the pair of 1911s and slid them into the back pockets, which I’d cut the bottoms out of to better act as holsters. “Depends on the tactics. A shame we’re back to walkin’, but these boots were made for that. Now, I think I’ll have words with Centoetl.” And a big shame after all this running, I’m heading back just because a few million people’s lives are at stake. But, at least for now, I’m not as much like my real self as Venus thinks.
“Would any of those words be ‘die motherfucker, die?’” he asked with a smile.
“Eventually. But…” I looked back to the door of Venus’s room, where she slept, then off to the bright lights of Los Angeles even in the pre-dawn dark. “Probably anyone who knows the real me won’t fucking believe I’m doing this. But this guy’s definitely got the power to kill a whole city if he attacks.” Plus that debt I have to the Master Academy, not that I’d let Denim Dude in on that.
“Better follow the yellow brick road then,” Denim Dude said. He swept his arm out into the distance, a lighted path appearing in my view.
“Guess I’m the manhunter now,” I said as I started walking, picking a nice tune to accompany my journey toward that growing cloud in the distance that spread out and covered the air from the end of the path ahead of me. He was coming straight on, from the southeast, and at least I wouldn’t run into that particular group of assholes from ICE. I took out the guns and tried spinning them, familiarizing myself with the weight, sights, and mechanisms. And I spoke along to the music this time, so as not to drive off my guide. “A bullet is on its way. Tell the whole world that I’m comin’ home. Someone’s gonna need a grave.”
“How big is this state?” I asked, stretching my arms from the passenger seat.
“We’re in California now,” Venus said. “I took the long way around. Straight on, it wouldn’t take days to get to L.A. from Arizona.”
“Oh, ok. You sure you don’t want me to drive?” I asked, looking her over.
“Did you remember how to yet?” she asked.
I shrugged. “My muscle memory works pretty well. I know it’s getting to you. We keep taking more and more rest breaks.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I wanted to throw the person off our trail. You said he wasn’t omniscient, right?”
“I’d say they’re still only human, but I don’t know that for sure. They definitely aren’t all-knowing. For all their abilities, they don’t seem to utilize them to the fullest extent. I don’t know how many there are, but there are civilians, and then there are the ones doing things. A lot of them just want to live their lives. But they aren’t unified.”
“What do you mean?”
I searched my memory. “I don’t know if it’d help to have my memory back. But… I didn’t get too good a look at the visitors. Aliens, that is. They might just have their own agenda. Or maybe it’s that one who spoke to me. I didn’t see any hint of that with the alien doctor I met, and I probed her. I probed her good. Somehow, at least one of the aliens is working at cross purposes to the others, even has his own robots. He wanted me captured for some reason, but he also wants his allies killed, AND he made sure to release me. That was his doing. He’s playing some sort of game here.”
“You hungry?” Venus asked.
I nodded to her. “Yeah, actually. Thanks. I’m not picky, so wherever.” I waved off at the exit sign that would advertise gas stations and restaurants in most places, but had a single sign here. “And that other guy, Sam Teotl…”
“Centeotl?” she asked.
I looked at her. “Not the name I was given, but what’s that mean to you?”
“It’s the name of an Aztec god of maize,” she informed me. She glanced over to my questioning face and added, “I took a class on Pre-Columbian American history and culture. We have to get certified to teach students if we lead academic classes, and I thought it would be nice to learn about my heritage.”
“Neat. And it could be handy to know who we’re dealing with. I think… yeah, Conner said they don’t really name people after the old god names anymore, but I know they gave me a god’s name when they picked me up. So maybe they drug really powerful supers and convince them they’re gods. But at the same time, it seems like some of them know of older gods. And the ones I’ve seen with old names are really powerful. They don’t match with any known superheroes or villains in my database. A guy who can make an army turn on itself or a guy who can heal or cause injury with nothing but willpower, those types not being heard of?”
“Empowerment happens at all stages of life. Someone would have noticed them, but they sound like they’re good at covering things up.”
I shook my head. “Everything I’ve read from past-me leads me to believe that’s not as effective as you’d think.”
“Most people don’t know about Aztec gods. Limpieza de sangre. Simon de Bolivar. Histories left untold because they don’t involve English-speaking white guys,” she said.
“That information’s still out there,” I told her. “Most people just don’t notice.”
She took one hand off the wheel to snap her fingers and point at me. “Yes, and nobody listens to the people who know it and try to tell people. You don’t have to convince everyone to hide information. You have to make it beneath their notice.” She put that hand back on the wheel to turn us off onto an exit.
She swerved when she glanced at me. “Thanks?”
I didn’t know what she was getting at, so I told her, “Thank you very much? Good point. I’m not 100% right now and I hadn’t thought about that. I can’t remember if old me did either.”
“Wow. Just wow,” she said, glancing between me and the road.
“And I’m sorry,” I told her. “I just can’t put this all together, and I don’t even know if it’s because I forgot something or what. He could just… ya know… turn the crazy off and on. He’d just make a nonsense leap and make it work or try things and figure it out based on how the other people reacted. And hate people. And kill them.”
I put my feet up on the seat and wrapped my arms around them. Venus made an effort not to look at me as she turned into a lone diner. “Are you…?”
“I’m fine. I got a lot of thoughts bouncing around an empty head.”
“You want to talk about them?” she asked.
“Only the ones that are useful. You hate him and he’s me, so let’s stay off him.” I stole a glance at her face but couldn’t quite figure it out, so instead I went through eye choices. With a blink, my cyborg eyes looked like normal brown ones. I’d have hidden my arms, but I still had on the same damn dress. I probably stank, which is why I recommended a booth back away from the door and anyone else. The fact that the guy sitting in the bar stool was a cop didn’t help matters. I still don’t trust them; Venus, on the other hand, parked right next to the guy’s cruiser. I know he noticed us, or at least the smell coming off me, but he didn’t seem to react before he paid for his coffee and left.
Dinner was crappy eggs. I don’t have much room for experience, but they gave me gas almost the moment I laid eyes on them. I shoveled them down instead of talking. I think Venus was hoping for me to open up. A heart to heart between us ladies. I kept my mouth shut, up until I noticed Venus focusing on something out the window. I whipped my head back to see what was going on. The cop was still there, joined by another state trooper. The first was sitting at his car. The second was standing at his window, talking. He shot a glance toward the car, then toward us after the first trooper said something.
“We must have an APB out on us,” Venus ssaid.
“Centeotl had a cop corral to himself. It slows us down more than we already were slowed.”
“If I went the direct route, he’d catch us faster. You can’t fly out of Phoenix either. Maybe we should have risked Las Vegas after all. What are you doing with that toast?” she asked.
I finished sliding the buttered toast into my dress. “Might need these for later. I’ve been reading, and I seem to like improvised weaponry. You go out and flirt with them a bit. I’ll sneak up behind them on my hands and knees. You push them over me, and then I’ll knock them out with the bread.”
“How?” she asked.
I shrugged. “I dunno. My understanding is that I rarely know what I’m doing.”
“How about you stay here, take the toast out of your armpits, and finish eating? I’ll talk to them. They’ll understand.” Venus laid enough money out to pay for the meal and a tip, took a final sip, and went out to have a chat with the cops. She grabbed the door and opened it.
A colossal shape of green and yellow things collapsed on the cops and their cars in the rough shape of a bird. It roared through a beak of corn and collapsed into piles. I reached across the table to grab Venus’s toast, eating one slice and shoving the other under my dress.
Outside, the corn began to reform into humanoid shapes. Corn men.
“Gecko, any ideas?” Venus asked.
“That’s a-maizing!” I said.
“Fuck!” Venus said. The sentiment was echoed by the host, waitress, cook, and another couple of customers in the place.
We had a good seven corn men outside, fairly bulky. I checked the sky, though. I mean, a corn bird flew here? I don’t know enough about corn, but it can’t be a good substitute for wings and feathers. The only body parts it’s any good at are the ears. No more corn droppings were coming from birds in the sky,
Why just send a bird? I dunno. Will I be able to pop ’em? Dunno. How will butter factor into it? So far, it’s better than my critical lack of deodorant.
“We need weapons,” Venus said, looking around. “Anyone got a gun or a knife?”
“Could always use your teeth,” I suggested. “Turn ’em into a corn meal.”
“Not the time or place!” she yelled as the corn men broke into sprints toward the diner. One came for the door and got checked hard by Venus pushing it out as it impacted. Another came behind it and reached in for her, but she took its arm off by pulling the door closed. She kicked the arm away, the limb falling apart into unmoving cobs.
A pair crashed through the window on the other side of the door, toward her. She had her hands full with the door.
“Goose!” I yelled and ran at her. She figured out my meaning and dropped down to allow me to jump over her, planting a foot right through the body of the closest corn man. Corn soldier? The plant man had a shot at me, but instead it reached past me for Venus. I reached into my shirt with a couple hands and brought out bread. Finding me an obstruction, it reached to push me away or otherwise move me, but I caught the end of its cob hands with the buttery side of the bread.
“What are you doing?” Venus called from where she pulled the head of a corn man off.
“Assault and buttering!” I yelled back. Ok, I can totally get why I harassed her. Her groans bring a smile to my face.
Despite that, the corn guy reached for me and its “hands” slipped right off me. “I need a weapon! Quick, before it gets me in the corn hole!” I called out.
I reached all around and felt something slip into my hand. Three different hands pulled back different objects. A plate I smashed over the corn assailant’s head. A napkin holder I bashed into its chest. And, most useful, a heavy cast iron frying pan that I used to hit a home run with the ears that made up its head.
“You good, Gecko?” Venus asked. She was beating another corn cob guy with a cheap metal chair.
“I’m good, Venus. I really creamed that corn!” When she groaned again, I added, “You sound sick.”
“Don’t say i-”
“Maybe you should take something for your digestion?”
“Maybe some Pepto?”
She didn’t say anything, just beat the crap out of the corn, until I added, “Or some corn’ll clear you out!”
“There it is!” she yelled, taking one last bash that left both the chair and the corn a big, mangled mess.
And there it was for me as well, as I had the other one coming at me. I’d just neglected it because I’d been able to butter it up and leave it mostly harmless. I looked around as it struggled to punch me, moving so it slipped right off. I saw something over the counter that looked useful and pointed to the cowering chef. “You! Open that and prepare to set it on high!”
He opened the door for me as I reached all four hands into the corn man, grabbed hold, and tossed him over the counter, head first into the toaster oven. The coils heated up and soon the corn man was convulsing, its head popping.
“Corn soldiers? More like corn puffs,” I said. The cook, whose name tag read Jesus, wept.
“They’re holding back. Maybe you got the leader,” said Venus as she slammed the door against one’s neck repeatedly, finally popping it off and kicking the separate cobs apart.
“I don’t think so. These are just the soldiers, and who knows when their leader, the Colonel,” I said, catching my breath. Suddenly, all the corn started rattling and began rolling out of there to the remaining corn people. Venus barred the door, but it piled up and rolled out the broken window. Except for the popped stuff in the oven. That stayed put.
The corn out there formed up into a truck-sized feline shape. Venus pointed out at it in the parking lot. “Is that a jaguar?”
I stepped over beside her and looked. “My system says it’s an Audi.”
“The monster thing, jackass!” Venus said.
“Oh! Wouldn’t know. Ok folks,” I turned back to the other inhabitants, who the cook was ushering into the kitchen. “Oh, you’re ahead of me. Look, I’m sure there’s a back way out, so I advise all y’all to go out that way. And run. I don’t know what’s about to happen, but it’s not going to be pleasant to stay here!”
They all ran for it out into the flat, dusty desert of the Sonoran Desert. “In some ways you’re too much the same, but it’s nice to see you’ve changed,” Venus said, offering a thumbs-up of encouragement. “Now how do we take out this thing?”
The jaguar roared, somehow. It stalked forward slowly.
I raised an eyebrow. “Well war… war never changes. How about we lure it inside and blow it up?”
“Works for me,” Venus said. She hopped the counter to start screwing with the grill, stove, and oven, pulling gas lines out. With a crash, the jaguar body checked the cop cruiser to the side to make more room as it came closer. That’s… awfully strong for a bunch of plants.
I grabbed a bunch of silverware and tossed it in the microwave. I put it on high for twenty minutes, then turned and gave the jaguar a pair of middle fingers.
The jaguar ignored me, instead breaking through the window on the other side of the diner, closer to Venus, and headed for her, eyes fixed. It pounced, crashing into the grill when Venus dove for the side.
I grabbed her and threw her outside the diner, then hopped the counter to head after her. “Run, motherfucker, run!”
We got halfway across the parking lot, the jaguar’s roar following, when the building went up, followed by a shitload of popping and explosions that threw us to the pavement as the cars parked right in front went up too. Things whirled by, barely missing us, and my ears had to deafen slightly to avoid damage. When I looked up, I saw that of the two cars that weren’t close enough to blow, one of which was the additional cop cruiser, they didn’t weather the debris so well. A bar stool meant to be fixed to the floor was sticking out of the hood of the cop car. The other one, the Audi, had its tires shredded and a piece of wood sticking out embedded in in the front console.
“Oh, that’s right,” I said to myself, my hearing coming back. “I could have just shot it with a laser when we got close enough. Sorry, Venus, I’ve been a bit forgetful lately.”
I looked over at Venus, who looked around, then yelled at me, “Did you say something?!”
With no cars left driveable, Venus and I had the unfortunate task of gathering up whatever water we could find in Watergate containers we could find, and hitchhike. Well, slightly less unfortunate for me, as I got to walk alongside her, humming “A Horse With No Name” as we walked along the interstate. And poor little Venus walked along with me, resisting the urge to smash a scorched pitcher full of water over my head.
After the first hour of me singing to myself in my cell, the deputies of Ruby, Arizona seemed to treat it like a bit of a game. They weren’t listening, so they just had to put up with the complaints, screams really, of the prisoners in adjacent cells. They wanted to keep us separate after the whole “shooting up the bar and street” incident, but they weren’t opposed to verbal sniping and other ways of making us wear each other down. I think they underestimate my capacity to sing despite people not liking the song.
I read that I was bad at it, but I didn’t quite understand that until I heard the grown men on either side of me break down and weep. Eventually, they fetched me for interrogation. They sat me down in a little room with the mirror they can see through, and tried to ask me questions.
“Help us out here,” asked the deputy who brought me in. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail and sat her hat off to the side so she could act like she was talking to me as a person instead of as my captor. “We don’t have any ID on you. That name you gave us, Tripura? Not in our system. Your fringerprints fucked with our system. Eah pair of fingers gave different results. Since I don’t have a real name for you, should I call you Tupac, Elvis, George Carlin, Asa Akira, or Lee Harvey Oswald?”
I set my elbows on the table and looked her in the eye. She had pretty eyes. “What about the others?”
“We didn’t check your second pair of hands. One of them doesn’t have enough fingers. I don’t know a lot about supers, but you don’t get new fingerprints when you get superpowers.”
“Honey,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows, “You wouldn’t believe what a super can do when she’s got this many fingers to work with.” I raised the three unmaimed hands to show off some jazz hands.
“Put those away before I handcuff them under your ass,” she said. “It takes more to seduce me than a pretty face and extra digits.”
“Like what?” I asked, running a finger over the tabletop in a spiral and pretending to care what she said. Women, am I right?
“A penis,” she said. “I doubt you can pull that off.”
I smiled. “Wouldn’t be the first penis I pulled off. So what you’re saying is, you’re looking for a threesome?”
She coughed. “Whatever I’m looking for, I don’t want it from you. Who are you?”
Something felt familiar in my mind. “What do you want?” I asked, wondering if that was it. Wasn’t that in my blog somewhere?
“I want to know you are,” she asserted.
“I’m the excuse you give when you cannot follow the rules,” I said, something about that seeming right too.
“That’s nice, but how about a name?”
“Tripura Sundari. That’s who I am right now.”
“Right now? How about who you are when you’re at home?” she asked, fidgeting.
“Any time, really, not just at home. I know that I used to be a pretty bad person. But without those memories, am I even the same person? My capability isn’t the same, but neither are my feelings. I think I hate fewer people, but I care about fewer people too. As the dust-up in the street shows, some things are still instinctual and necessary. And what kind of a place is it that a woman can need to know how to kill people just for stopping in town?” I turned from my ponderings to glare at her. Maybe the hate isn’t there, but the capability still is. The sense of injustice.
“They claim you fired first,” she said.
I burst out laughing, then stopped when I saw she had a straight face. “Uh huh. Without any guns, I fired first.”
“You were witnessed with the bartender’s shotgun and the sheriff’s revolver,” she said.
“Any witnesses saying how I got those?” I asked, settling back in the chair and crossing my legs.
“You clawed out the bartender’s throat, took the shotgun, shot the sheriff, then came out shooting.”
“At a bunch of people with guns who just so happened to have their rifles and machine guns on them that I’m pretty sure the bartender called there because he didn’t like my skin tone. And rather than shoot at me, with all my camo and bulletproof vest on,” I spread my arms to show off the dress, “they shot at the bar, somehow putting chemicals on the bartender’s hands to make it look as if he fired his shotgun.”
“That’s a claim we can investigate, but we would like your cooperation. We don’t even know your name.”
I leaned forward all conspiratorially and waved her in close. She humored me… some. She wasn’t getting too close to me. So I closed the rest of the distance suddenly and grabbed her by the lapel, pulling her toward me. I scowled at her and narrowed my eyes as they stared into hers. “I’m Batman!”
That’s as far as it went, but they did help themselves to a bit of brutality despite me letting her go. That’s why, when deputies went to lead me out, I accidentally knocked my head on someone’s baton behind me. Part of me wanted to take it off him and show him how to find the anal G-spot.Which is difficult, because I now don’t remember where it is. He got a couple hits in before I caught it and tossed it to the side. I stared “Kill me, or don’t bother hitting me in the first place.”
When they walked me back down to the cells, I noticed the guys on my way were gone. “What happened to the others? Medical aid? Bleeding eyes?”
The deputy closed the cell door on me, then informed me, “They made bail. Enjoy your stay.”
Another day, another night in jail. I figured it’d be useful to stay here until Venus finally showed up. Any minute now, I’m sure. I can make bail any time I want if it comes down to it. There’s a lot I don’t remember, but I figured out my laser eye. I even got some practice in that night, carving a message into the ceiling of the cell. “Brooks was here.”
My patience was rewarded the next day when I was woken up at the ass crack of 8 AM, when no reasonable person’s eyes should be open. “Wake up! Your lawyer’s here. God knows how he found you.” Another deputy led me up there, though this guy didn’t resort to a cheap shot with his baton to motivate me. Just a couple pairs of handcuffs.
The lawyer wasn’t who I was expecting. I had photos and video of Venus. A lot of photos and videos. I’m fairly certain I photoshopped some of these, too. One with Venus posing naked on a beach. One with Venus touching her toes to her head, also nude. One with Venus in a gang bang. One with Venus and a woman with a scaley skin condit- oh, nevermind, that’s probably from spying on her. But they weren’t all explicit, like this one with Venus in a wedding dress standing next to a picture of my old armor under an arch with lots of white and yellow flowers woven into it.
Anyway, I had pictures of her, and pictures of a lot of others associated with Master Academy. I didn’t recognize the dark-skinned guy with the long black hair and the grey suit and bolo tie. The original academy is still in California, so maybe they sent someone from there? Still bugged me though. I annoy Venus to death, but it sounds like she’s the only hero trusted with me. Whoever he was, the guy had seen some sort of action. He had this scar down the right side of his face. All the way, like down from the side of his forehead, through his eyebrow, down his cheek, and then stopping at the jaw line. He smiled as he saw me. “Good to see you again, Ms. Sundari. It’s alright, I’ll clear this up in no time.” He looked to the deputy who fetched me. “Where may we have a private conversation?”
We were shown to a private room off to the side. A nicer looking room than they use for interrogation. The table and chairs here weren’t the bare minimum of functionality. Once the door closed, the man turned to me. “Ready to go, Sundari?”
“Who are you?” I asked.
He whipped out a business card for me that named him as “Sam Teotl, Attorney at Law” with some interesting calligraphy on it that formed an embossed image of a three rabbits chasing each other around in a circle in such a way that they all had two ears even though there were only three separate ears.
The Three Hares had found me first.
He reached down and tore my handcuff chains apart. “Damn humanity. My parents and grandparents sacrificed for them, and this is how they repay us. I envy you for being able to live completely apart from them.”
“What about them?” I asked, nodding toward the cops.
“No human is worth one of us,” he said.
I saw something else out there, though. A bald man with a goatee with a bulge or two from the inside of his jacket. He had another man with him, grey-haired and grey-stubbled, holding a briefcase. I’d have thought they were Master Academy too, but Master Academy heroes don’t carry guns. Unless it’s a hero with gadgets, I suppose. Then the one with the briefcase turned his had while they talked to the desk sergeant and I caught a glimpse of a Nordic rune.
If they’re Master Academy, then I think Venus really picked the wrong pair to send to pick me up. The desk sergeant, desk deputy, whatever their rank the office’s secretary, he pointed back to the room I was in and said something to the deputy who brought me to the Hare.
“We’re made,” I told him.
He cracked his knuckles. “Let me handle this.” He stepped out of the room, asking them, “Is something the matter, gentlemen?”
I followed after, which prompted these two to nod to each other. The bald one pulled out his gun and aimed it at me while the one with the briefcase popped it open and struggled to pull something out. The bald guy didn’t get a chance to fire before he dropped the gun and grasped at his throat. A bunch of leaves sprouted from his mouth, then his body shuddered as more grew from his eyes and ears.
His friend dropped his case and his sawed-off shotgun before Sam Teotl blew something that looked like dust at his face. The man gasped and began to swell up like an allergic reaction on steroids. He turned to me, “Let’s go.” I stepped past both the newly-growing corn plant and the swelling man. I heard a cop shout for us to “Freeze!” but I think Sam handled him. I know he was a few steps behind me when I got outside.
Where I saw a tanned beauty with dark hair getting out of a car. She was in civilian clothes, but I’d seen parts of her she’d only shown to Psychsaur. Venus looked at my arms and asked, “Gecko?”
“Boopsie! Quick, we need to get the fuck out of here.” I heard gunshots behind me as Sam continued having his way with the deputies. I ran over and threw myself into the passenger seat. I’d reached over and got the engine running again before Venus was even fully inside.
“What’s going on in there?” she asked.
“Drive first, questions about the Hare guy who just tried to recapture me later!” I yelled.
I swear I could see a man step out of the sheriff’s office and stare at the back of the car before we lost sight of that part of town. At my insistence, Venus got us the fuck out of there and didn’t stop until we were halfway to Phoenix, which was supposedly the fastest way back to California. She was a little less compliant when the first thing I did after we stopped was grab her and hug.
“Was it really that bad?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you after the nanites,” I said, releasing a laugh of relief.
She took my hand and looked at it. “Can it wait until we get to the Academy?”
“It’s not my hand I need help with,” I told her.
She looked me over. “What’s wrong?”
Oh fuck it. Memory-me better be more right about loving her than he is about hating and distrusting her. “You know what Unity is, right?”
She nodded. “The drug that keeps people from remembering anything. The Claw used it.”
“The Three Hares used it on me,” I told her. “Part of my brain is on hard drive in there, and I have access to my blog, so-”
She recoiled, mouth open before responding. “You keep a blog? Troubleshooter never found it.”
“Not the time, Venus. I’m off my game without my memories, and we have a god after us.”
“You’ve reached Master Academy East. No one can come to the phone right now, but your call is important to us. Please leave a message after the beep.”
“Hey Boopsie, it’s Tripura. Sorry, Gecko. It’s Gecko.” I said over the telephone. “I really need some nanites right now. I’m in a little place called Ruby, Arizona. Little place, a bit on the dry side. I’m in a teensy bit of trouble, but you probably expected that. Please get down here and please, please, please bring the nanites. Absolutely essential.” I waited a moment, trying to think if I had anything else to say before adding, “Bye bye now.”
I hung up the phone and handed it back across the bar to the bartender. He didn’t seem to like the look of me. Fair enough. I thought his combover was shit.
I’d seen worse bars, though. Good lighting, so they meant for their clientele to be seen. A few lazily spinning fans on the ceiling to help fight off the heat. The bar itself was a big horseshoe shape in the middle of the room, with smaller metal tables, a few booths against the walls, and a pool table. A busy night would leave it pretty crowded. The floor was painted concrete, with dips to drains in a few places. It was a bigger place than I expected in a town this size.
I wandered into Ruby the night of the attack and laid low for a day. There were a lot of state troopers in the area the day afterward. They left, and I came out of hiding, desperate for something to drink. The bar was nice enough to let me make a phone call for free after I turned out not to have any cash on me.
“You sit tight, someone might buy you a drink,” said the bartender. He turned and checked his cellphone, texting or something.
I heard someone enter through the bat-wing doors that hung at the lobby. The door to the outside was normal, but they had a small antechamber after you entered where you had to pass through the old-fashioned saloon doors to get into the main area. Directly across the main bar area was a simple single door that I took to be a rear entrance. A man entered in a tan sheriff’s outfit, complete with cowboy hat with a star on the band. He moseyed on over to the bar and set the hat down. “Hey Bud. How ’bout a Bud?”
“Get a new joke,” The bartender grabbed a bottle, popped the top, and set it on the bar right in front of the sheriff, who thanked him. Then he turned to me, “Heya. Haven’t seen you around before.”
“Haven’t been around before,” I answered, smiling at him. I kept my injured hand below the bar. Still hurt, and I could feel the fingers I’d lost even though they were gone.
“New, huh? You have anything to do with that business down the road?” He pointed off in the direction of the buses despite us being several miles away and inside.
I shook my head. “No. Boyfriend trouble. Got tired of his shit and the abuse, took the shitbeater but didn’t have time to grab my purse on the way out. Just my luck, even the car broke. Why? What happened wherever?” I waved my good hand back in the same direction.
“Don’t entirely know. Some sort of attack… bombing, maybe. Didn’t find anyone alive. Sure would be nice to find anyone from that, find out what’s going on. Seen anyone like that around?”
I shook my head. “Couldn’t tell you, seeing as I got here just a little bit ago.”
“You drinking anything?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No money.”
“Not even water? Bud, get her something to take the taste of the desert out of her mouth,” he called to the bartender.
The bartender promptly got me water from the hose thing back there and set it down, only for me to raise the glass to the sheriff. “Even though I always save room for desert, it’s much appreciated.” I took a nice, tall drink and shut the fuck up.
“Young lady,” said the sheriff, who I just noticed had some grey at the sideburns. “Would you mind awfully coming by the station? I’d like to help you out while you’re in town and maybe you can answer some questions for me about your boyfriend who wronged you.”
I let out an “Ahh,” after finishing a good, long sip and looked at him. “I’d rather not. I’d much rather go and put more distance between me and him before he comes around claiming I’m crazy.” I put the bottoms up on my glass, managing to swallow the rest in one long take that felt like I was pouring it directly into my belly. It’s like I was ignoring my gag reflex on muscle memory. That explains the stuff I read about blowing North Korean generals for loyalty.
I put the glass down. “Thanks and all, but I better high-tail it.” I stood up and he grabbed for the jacket I wore over my dress, opening it enough to catch a glimpse of my hurt hand.
“Jeeeesus Christ, girl!” He looked at me. “What the hell happened to you?”
The jig was up. End of the line. I had no choice but to tell him the truth. So I looked him right in his soft hazel eyes and said, “I told you, he abused me. You think I want to be here when he rolls into town?” I pulled away and started to walk toward the door. Except I heard a lot of engines out there, and a bit of a ruckus. I think that’s the term. I had definitions, including like knowing when something’s a hullabaloo and when it’s a ruckus. And a side note that one of them also denotes a famous uncle.
Behind me, I heard a gun cock. I ignored it. Uncle Hullabaloo or not, I poked my head out and saw a lot of guys with guns, and a pickup truck with a light machine gun mounted in the bed. My HUD identified that as a “technical” and the insignia as a prominent anti-brown person militia called the One Percenters. It counted fourteen in total.
I turned and walked back in to where the sheriff stuff with revolver cocked, but pointed down at the floor. “You want to come with me to answer some questions,” he told me.
I shook my head. “No, we need to go because there’s a fuckload of people outside who shoot people with better tans than they have.”
“Aww shit, just what I need.” He walked over to check the door, then came back in. “What the hell are they-” He was interrupted by the blossoming of red on his chest like a spontaneous eruption of marinara.
Hey, that’s awesome, I remember marinara!
I was turning seemingly before I even registered the loud blast from the shotgun. I pounced on the bartender, who didn’t have time to swing the gun my way before I grabbed the barrel with my lower hands and clawed out his throat with an upper one. I pulled the gun out of his hand and just started beating his head in with the stock until he looked like… crap, I hoped another food would come to mind. Is it borscht? The name comes to mind, but I don’t remember what it looks like.
Regardless, I took the shotgun with me as I hopped the bar again to check on the sheriff. He was wheezing and looking up at me. I think I had some red on me, whatever that means. I leaned down to pat him on the head. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry you died for me. Nobody should die for me except my enemies.”
He wheezed loudly. Maybe he was speaking. I held his hand for a moment, at least until the door to the bar opened and a man with a skull bandanna stepped in. Suddenly, his head resembled more marinara. I don’t know from my own records how good, if any, I’m supposed to be with firearms, but it appears doorways make perfect chokepoints when wielding a shotgun. And I must know something about them, as I cocked it automatically to dispose of the used shell.
I looked down and saw the sheriff had breathed his last. So I grabbed his revolver, found a strip of leather with six extra bullets hanging through a loop, and stole his pepper spray while I was at it.
“Ok,” I said to myself, breathing in and out purposefully. “I need something to get my heart pumping.”
A guitar riff started up in my head, with a little title in the lower left of my vision popping up for a second with the words “Pumping (My Heart) – Patti Smith” in it.
“Alright you bastards,” I called out. “You came here for a woman, now I’m gonna show you nuts!”
They opened up on the front of the bar with absolutely everything they had. Shotguns, rifles, the machine gun. In response, it’s like my ears lowered the volume on everything. Cool. They all ended up stepping forward until they’d formed a line of lead-throwing luddites.
After they emptied their main weapons, they pulled out pistols and shot their load into the bar there, too.When those were done, still a few more pulled out back-up guns and fired a few last shots into the place, save for one of them whose gun looked especially plastic and jammed on him.
I tried to whistle like I’d seen people do but couldn’t, so instead I called out. “Oh boys?” They looked to see me pointing a shotgun at them with one pair of hands and the sheriff’s revolver with the other. Wind pushed a wad of newspaper through the street between us and the sun hung hot on at this, high noon. “Don’t y’all feel stupid right about now?”
The guy nearest to me went for his knife and took a .357 to his throat, the blood spilling down his Punisher skull t-shirt. The next one in line fell over too, a hole in his head matching up with the trajectory of his friend with the new tracheotomy. The one after them deepthroated shotgun pellets.
They scattered more after that, but were struggling to reload everything at once. Pop goes the weasels. I wasn’t a perfect shot by any means, but that didn’t matter with the shotgun. Made the revolver half-useless after a couple shots, though I was able to pop it out and reload it with some weird trick involving three rounds between my pointer and middle, then three more between the middle and ring finger. Those six went quick too, and I’d only managed to get like nine of them, maybe? People sometimes take more than one bullet to kill, looks like. The shotgun was used up after only four more shots, too.
One of them ran at me with a big serrated knife in hand, but I beat him in the head with the shotgun stock again. Another came up behind me with hi-power aimed at my head. I ducked and threw a free and up so the gun shot overhead. I whirled and caught him in the rips with the butt of the revolver, then poked his eye with the barrel, causing a bit of a sizzle as hot barrel met eye jelly.
The remaining four, including one big bald one with a leak where I got him earlier, grouped together and raised their own assorted rifled and handguns like an incontinent firing squad. That was when the deputies arrived in a trio of squad cars, taking up positions with the doors shielding them, shotguns in hand. “Everybody fucking freeze now or I’ll send you to the farm upstate to run with all my childhood pets!” screamed one skinny little fucker. “On the ground, all of you!”
The remaining One Percenters dropped the guns and laid down on their bellies.
I ahemed. “I just want it clear that I did not shoot the sheriff, but I did shoot the vigilantes.”
“Did I fucking stutter?!” screamed skinny fucker, almost foaming at the mouth. He fired a shot into the air, his hat falling off. “I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do NOT want to fuck with me. Unless you want a buckshot enema, get on the ground now!”
So I’m in jail now. Solid enough roof over my head, good walls. They’re still trying to figure out exactly what happened at the bar there, but it’ll take them some time. Hopefully time enough Venus gets here. The others they took into custody are locked up, too. Different cells, same hallway. Occasionally, one tries to taunt me by claiming they got friends coming for them. “Yeah, and let’s remember what I did to the last friends you had.” I told the last one to try that. Then I laughed. And, ya know, I’ve been feeling kinda bad about these Three Hares people… but not these assholes. Not one bit.
I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad one, but it’s the one that kept me alive enough to ponder that.
This field trip with the Tuatha de Danann seemed like a great way to learn, but they were probably regretting the decision to bring me along when Conner showed up at my door in armor. My grand costume for battle involved a saree.
“Is that what you’re wearing?”
I shrugged. “I suppose. I think they give me leftovers and lost and found, because I have no idea where my clothes come from.”
“You fight like that?” He asked, looking me over.
“Why not? I fuck wearing less.” And out the door I went, to be led to the cafeteria where the Tuatha de Danann were readying their equipment and drinking a few last beers. Cleaning swords and armor. Polishing spears. Posing with shields and spears, taking photos with cell phones.
The photographer gave a thumbs up. “Awesome. That’s going to be my new wallpaper.”
“My man, you’re not even in it,” said one of the guys in the picture. He winked at the one with the phone. “Get one of me on my own, flexin’ my guns.”
Some of the Tuatha walked around in armor, breaking it in, and moved with a clear grace that showed lots of practice. They walked with the kind of smooth practice of those who had done a lot of sweaty stuff in armor. Except Conner. Poor fellow was a jingly mess.
A fellow with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail stepped forward. “The lady who broke Lugh’s jaw. You need armor or axe?”
“I’ll wing it,” I told him.
“This is your crew?” asked a voice behind us. I turned to see Apollo, whose eyes drifted down. “Tripura, what a surprise.”
“Good Apollo, I’m burning to do something with myself besides walk around bored without knowing or learning or doing anything.”
“We’re busy, but I’ll send someone around tomorrow. I’m sorry. There is so much to do and our leadership focuses on bigger issues, like the mission for these fine people,” He pointed to the Tuatha.
“And this fine lady,” said Finn. “We’re short one. Lugh broke his face on her fist. Iff she could do that to Lugh in a wee brawl, she could handle taking his place.”
“She’s tougher than she looks,” Apollo said, looking into my eyes. “Here, there’s one last part of us reclaiming you I hadn’t gotten to yet.” He raised his hand and I felt my skin crawl. That’s all there was to it, too, and a look down revealed it had changed color. I had dark brown skin.
“Am I black now?” I asked, wondering if we were going to the United States. This could be a threat against my life.
“You look Indian,” said Conner. Ah, right. I’m supposed to be some sort of Indian goddess. Plus, Apollo wouldn’t want me being recognized as Gecko if we’re going to encounter any of my own guys. It’s not proof that he suspects me, though.
“Oh, ok. Then I guess I’m ready to go beat some people up. Now who are they and where are they?”
“We don’t know who they are,” Apollo said. “Until recently, the forces of Ricca were aimed against us. We have dealt with that issue.” He scratched at his nose. “We believe there were more working with Psychopomp Gecko. We are too busy moving everyone and covering the havens. Thank you for meeting the call. We need help in North America.”
For fuck’s sake, and after he gave me brown skin.
“What kind of help do you need from the Tuatha de Danann?” asked Finn. “We’re not a moving crew.”
Apollo looked him in the eyes specifically. “No, you’re the old gods of Ireland, strong protectors. Our brothers in North America need your aid. Communes have disappeared from the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Shephard them to safety.”
So we got put on escort duty. I can only assume from my inherent dislike of the assignment that I hated it with such a passion before my memory loss that the loathing remained after everything else was taken from me.
Which kinda faded when we all walked through a magic doorway opened by Baron Samedi and I found myself looking at the smiling face of a dark-skinned beauty with feathers tied in her hair. We were at a dusty old gas station. The GPS put me in Arizona. And wow, some shit was going down in Ricca. So much was happening everywhere, in fact. It was a mess. Even just expanding my consciousness that far created so much angry buzzing in my head. It had been so much more peaceful back underground.
That caused a bit of puzzlement, even as I looked out at a set of buses. Three of ’em, and nice ones. Tour buses. I think the one in the rear had a pool. Son of a bitch, they stuck me in and a bunch of other people in a hole to get drunk, but these guys are riding around in style.
“This is a step up from the hole we were just in, isn’t it?” I asked, elbowing Conner in his chainmail-clad gut.
“Volunteering has its benefits,” he told me, then nodded to tanned beauty in front of us who was speaking with Finn.
I turned to him, “Please tell me you know how to pronounce some of those Aztec and Incan names. I’ve seen those things.”
Finn turned to us. “Men, and woman, this is Rachel, the second in command of this convoy. She wants to distribute us among the buses so none of them could be isolated, and so some wouldn’t be left unprotected.”
Easy for him to say. If I even have eggs. I’m not saying I do. In fact, I almost certainly don’t, no matter what that god said.
Finn continued, “Everyone, stow your arms quickly. Do your best to blend and look like regular people. Remember, this land is under civil war. There may be threats all around us as we speak.”
He’s right, we were in the middle of the Arizona desert. Days past, wannabe-soldiers with Punisher skulls would come out to shoot at women fleeing domestic violence. Just like the Punisher does in those comic books. With all the local violence and economic woes due to trade wars, it’s possible some of them have been stuck at home, having to abuse their own wives and then threaten them with guns instead. Just one of the many ways the United States has changed lately.
Luckily, I was perfectly situated to be discrete. As a brown-skinned woman in clothing associated with the Middle East, I was guaranteed to fly under the radar in the American southwest. Especially with the extra pair of arms. Dresses that hid my arms were easy enough to come by, at least. Add on a jacket, and I’m uncomfortable, but not flapping my arms everywhere. I’m starting to wonder why I even bothered with these things.
They stuck me on the third bus, looking after a bunch of people who didn’t seem all that threatening. I still couldn’t figure out how me from before the Unity missed all thee people, all these hiding spots. All the resources. These are just regular people. I had a pretty low opinion of regular people, but the point I used to emphasize about the difficulty of keeping them quiet still stands. It seemed futile to theorize on it without my memories and expertise.
I had a nice collection of things to read and watch, but I noticed this older, dark-skinned guy sitting across the aisle from me. He spent a lot of time staring into a mirror. It was a smaller one on a stand, set on a table in front of his seat because these are some nice fucking buses. From some of the knocking I’ve heard, calling it a fucking bus is entirely appropriate. Conner noticed it too and, red-faced, move more toward the front. No clue why they brought him along, unless they thought it’d be a good assignment to start him on. The other one with us sat looking at photos of the group picture, and then on the one who posed just for him.
So that left just myself to notice the guy with the mirror. Then he pulled out a handful of dice and tossed them around. One kept going over the edge of his table, bounced off the seat on the other side, and rolled over toward me. I reached over to pick it up. He held up his hands to catch it, so I tossed it over. “Pardon me, young lady. I should have known better than to try this in a moving vehicle,” he said.
I nodded toward the mirror. “What are you doing, anyway?”
“Scrying and divination,” came the answer.
I’ve read that my HUD is supposed to give me a warning over magical phenomena, but I don’t believe anything showed. So I asked, “Any luck?”
He frowned at that. “No, and that’s the problem.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Maybe not. Isn’t that stuff a lot of bullshit anyway?”
He clamped his mouth in a soft smile. “This isn’t the divination used by charlatans who rip off the gullible humans.” He spoke like he wanted to spit on someone. “The visitors believe my powers operate on the quantum level, perhaps relating to string theory. Do you understand quantum mechanics?”
I shook my head.
“Me neither,” he said, then coughed. “I can feel certain particles that shouldn’t be felt. It’s like… what did she tell me? She said that on the plane of time, everything is fixed from the perspective of a normal traveler. The future must happen, and that means that something already exists where I am in a place, and others are in that place with me. There already exists a point in time when I am dead. My powers learn this and warn me.”
I leaned forward. “That’s confusing. And if you can’t alter it, what good is a warning?”
“That’s why I don’t believe the visitor doctor who tried to explain it. My warnings have changed things. I think because I know the future, I can alter what is in my influence to change. If I’m going hiking and I feel like a tree is going to fall on me, I can decide not to go. The tree will still fall. The visitors tried to pass on some babble about quantum temporal distortions, but it’s a ruse. They’re brilliant, but I know they aren’t as brilliant as they want us to believe. But we have our secrets from them as well.”
“That’s nifty stuff to know… so no luck… that mean bad luck, or does that mean something’s interfering with you sensing anything?”
“Bad luck. I’ve had a bad feeling growing for almost two weeks.”
It was six hours later that I awoke from a hazy, passed-out sleep because of a screaming explosion. The bus screeched, but so did metal in a different tone as something ahead of us collided. Then our bus turned so suddenly, it felt like it would tip on its right side. I threw myself at the opposite wall on instinct. It probably didn’t help, but I’m calling that one a win because we didn’t overturn. Unfortunately, we did stop.
My ally, the smiling man in denim, appeared to me. “So good to see you unharmed.” I heard whirring noises from outside, but the denim dude seemed unconcerned. “Don’t worry. You are going to be fine. Just let this play out.”
From further back, the Tuatha de Danann warrior with the gay crush ran for the front of the bus in gleaming plate, a spear in hand. He roared his battle cry until it ended amid more whirring and a wet “Hork!” sound.
Conner came running back and found me. “Tripura, it’s time to fight.”
I shook my head. “They’ve already won. It’s time to get these folks out through the back and get out of here before they can surround us.” I pointed to the rear of the bus.
“But if we don’t fight…” he said.
I stood up and slapped him across the face. “Wake up, dammit! This is a trap. The others are already dead. You can’t win here, so focus on surviving.”
That got through to him. “Everyone, to the emergency escape!” He began herding everyone on there. Women, children, and men who had some weird connection to a group and were being slaughtered for it. Sure, a group that opposed me. I mean, I know it opposed me, but I couldn’t feel that then. I just knew someone wanted to shoot that mother with her kid, or kill that young couple in love, or murder that awkward fat Irish guy who jingled in his chainmail. What the fuck, man?
“Does anyone have wine or rum? Any alcohol?” asked Conner as he ran along. He picked up half a bottle of something off a table and started shoving folks aside to get to the rear ahead of them. “Let me through. Don’t open that exit!”
He’d be trying to call up Baron Samedi to make it a doorway to another site. It flickered across my mind how much they use him for stuff, plus whatever he does on his own time. It was the middle of the night, too, and the guy might just be sleeping. No wonder they tried to have other ways of moving people.
I stopped, looking at them all, and got a really dumb idea. And I knew it. My entire way back to the front of the bus, I kept thinking about how supremely stupid it was. Grabbing the empty bottle of tequila off the bus’s bar didn’t make me feel any smarter. But then, when does an empty bottle of tequila ever mean anyone made a good decision?
The door ripped open before I got there and a hulking black robot pushed its way inside, climbing the stairs and looking at me. It pointed an arm with some sort of energy cannon on it at me, then raised it over my head to aim at the people in the back. My swing shattered the bottle and knocked its aim high enough that the blue burst of light melted the ceiling of the bus along the mid-section. It looked down at me, then froze like that as the denim guy appeared again.
“What are you doing?! They’re with me. Let it happen and let’s get you out of here,” he said.
“No,” I said.
His face shifted to pink as shook his head and did a doubletake. “What?”
“These aren’t like Apollo or that wolf or any of the others who fought me. They probably don’t know anything about any of the virus or the collars. Shoot Apollo or whoever’s in charge instead.”
“I can’t, and I can’t believe you, of all people… the Unity must have done a lot more to you than I thought. They did this to your baby girl.” Behind the one robot, another pushed in as far as it could and adjusted its aim over the top of the seats on the my right, but held its fire.
That one had a bit of an impact on me. I’ve seen pictures video, but it was like watching someone else’s home movies. As far as I was concerned after the Unity hit me, I had never met Qiang. I had no reason to think any more of her than the kids behind me now. I know I loved her. The real me, that I wanted back with all my memories. I felt like shit that I didn’t care about her, but that’s what the Unity did. “The leaders who are nowhere on this bus did that. They’re the ones you and I need to kill.”
He just looked at me, but the robot raised its arm. I grabbed the lip of its cannon and jerked it upward again.
The good news is the wound was cauterized instantly, and I have more fingers to spare than I used to. The bad news is I have fewer than when I went on that trip. I stumbled back from the pain, screaming myself out of breath, then heard someone call my name from the back.
I turned and saw Conner ushering in the last of the refugees through the door and calling for me. “Tripura!”
“Get the fuck out of here, tosser!” I yelled.
His face instantly fell, and that was before the blue burst caught him right on the belly. He fell through the door and into the darkness beyond. A boney, black-skinned hand reached in and grabbed the emergency exit and slammed it shut.
I looked up to see the Denim dude tsking and the robots backing out the doorway. “You need to get right in the head. You’re free. Follow the road you were headed along and you’ll find a small town, but try not to let the cops see you. And Gecko? Get some fucking nanites in you. You’ll come around once you get your memories back.”
It’s creepy how nice they are to me here. Some of them have to know who I am. They’re all so… nice. I think I expected worse of an ancient conspiracy pulling strings behind the scenes. The Unity would have disarmed almost anybody else entirely, but there are still too many questions about their plans.
Or… “Why me?” I asked Apollo. I saw he had stopped by for a break. One of the few I could recognize, and one with some authority.
He reached for his bow with one hand. “Why you?”
“Why was I picked to go out and by that man?” I raised my hand to my head. “I can’t remember who I was that I would choose to be Psycho Gecko. Was I violent?”
He eased at that and reached out to brush my hair. “You are a many things. A part of a trinity, and a trinity unto yourself. You are a creator and caregiver, as a mother, but also a destroyer. You volunteered as a way to help your people.”
“But where are my people? Are there no gods who knew me from before?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Your pantheon fell. Come, let me get you a drink.” He put his hand on my lower back and started to guide me to the cafeteria.
“Oh, I couldn’t. Besides, I have this weird medical issue I need to see a doctor about,” I said, slapping his hand away as it dipped down to fondle my ass.
“Medical issue?” he asked, looking me over. His eyes glowed with light for a moment. “You have pieces in you from your infiltration, but otherwise you’re healthy.”
I pointed downward. “I was bleeding when you first brought me in.”
He smiled and patted me on the shoulder, leaving his hand there. “When we brought you in, I had to make sure you were fine. I gave you a check up and sort of… reset your period in the process.”
My what now?
“Oh. Ok. Well… that’s strange,” I said. “I’ll have to take you up on that drink another time. I have something very important to do elsewhere.”
More like this guy “reset my period” and is wanting to buy me a drink. I’m not sticking around for whatever he wants to stick into me. I don’t have a period, I know that much. As it stands, I ended up with a drink I wasn’t expecting thanks to a group hanging around some rooms.
Someone was excited and passing around beer. Not bad. I don’t think I’d drink it regularly, but most of my notes on beer referred to it as “piss that eventually incapacitates” under taste. Someone else grabbed me and started dancing with a bunch of Irish music starting up. I think I got pulled into a circle of people before managing to spin away and catch a wall. A bigger guy with a great red beard caught me before I could smack my glass on the wall.
“Whoa, lady. Get your feet under you and air in your lungs,” he said with a strong Irish accent. He pulled the beer out of my hand when someone else got too close and almost knocked my elbow. “Easy there, wouldn’t want you all wet!” He laughed awkwardly, his eyes showing more alarm than joy there.
“Let me guess, that came out wrong?” I gave him an out.
He kept laughing and shook his head, looking down. “Yes.”
“It’s ok. It happens. I’m new here still… what is all this?” I motioned to the whole hootenanny.
“We’re all new here, but that’s the point. Finn here’s a new pop!” He pointed to a tall, blonde pale guy. “Shame it had to be under these circumstances.”
“Finn. That’s a god name?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not rightly. He’s named after a hero. I’m just Conner.”
“Well, just Conner, I’m Tripura. So are y’all Irish gods?”
“We’re the Tuatha de Danaan,” he informed me. Information popped up from an internal database. I have no clue how I stumbled across the name of the Irish pantheon of gods who displaced another group called the Fir Bolg after a war. It also offered to link me to a horror podcast special about a seaside British pub, but I don’t know what that had to do with anything.
“I’m from the Hindu pantheon,” I informed him.
He furrowed his brow and looked down again. “Sorry to hear about your people.”
“Thanks… anyway, a new baby. Happy occasion and all. I haven’t seen a real doctor around though. She didn’t have it down here, did she?”
“No, heavens no. They have a doctor up above, one of the aliens.” He pointed to the ceiling. “Sorry nobody told you. We’re all a mess, concentrated here. They bring in more every day.”
I thanked him and left to go see about this doctor, pondering the things he said. I didn’t go after Ireland, so the Tuatha de Danaan being here is odd. And more keep coming in? Someone else must be going after them. Venus, or maybe Titan put together a group of supervillains in their old costumes.
The fun started when a drunk stumbled into another drunk and they began to discuss the accident as drunks do. With fists. Somehow, in all the commotion, someone threw a glass in my direction. I swatted it to the side where it broke against the face of a woman standing there. She sank down, holding her face. The woman next to her looked down at her friend, then raised a hand toward me. I don’t know for sure she was trying to hit me. I just know I punched her in the face before I could.
Things got out of hand after that. Someone came at me and I fed him his own shoe. Not sure if he was trying to kick me. It wasn’t just me against everyone. This was a full-on bar brawl, minus the bar. At some point, someone threw a spear that burned a hole through the wall. I got distracted watching it and someone knocked me through it. “You assholes wouldn’t a’ punched me if my back wasn’t turned!” I said, pulling myself up. “Get out here and fight me like a man!” I yelled back in, putting up all four of my dukes.
Everyone was too busy brawling among themselves, the cowards. Even Conner was scrapping, and I was feeling the effects of the godly brew on my system, so I made for the bathroom to assault people with my smell rather than my four fists of fury. Whatever those Irish gods drink turned out to be a bit stronger than I’m used to, because I woke up the next morning still on the toilet.
I wish I could remember if I often dream of dressing up with green hair and green toenails and singing sultry songs at a bar.
Having at last confirmed there was a doctor, I decided I would see to a visit. Ya know, after I got cleaned up.
I was visited upon this Summer’s eve by a single ghost. Or he could have passed for one. It was the regular-looking human in the denim jacket who I knew was originally a denim-clad humanoid with pink skin. “Enjoying our hospitality?”
I cupped my palm and held it up to my ear. “Just got pulled into something. A birth celebration. These are strange people. Things just don’t match up.”
“These are the normal folks instead of the ones trying to kill you,” he said. “There are always normal people behind the killers.”
“I know, I think,” I said.
The denim dude pushed his face close to mine all of a sudden. “I wonder what normal people are behind you.”
“You couldn’t fathom the number of normal people I’ve left behind me,” I said, meeting his eyes. Neither could I, right now.
He grinned and floated back. “Excuse me, please. Fascination is normal for my people. We get fixated on something and we can focus as long as we need to or until we die. My people live a long time. A long time.”
He at least was able to direct me to the doctor to make sure the shiner is all I had to show for my fight, but this wasn’t just a call for appearances. So hard to find my way around this three and four story monstrosity of a building, all mashed together in the middle of a walled-in area. It wasn’t put together to look good, which I feel should mean something. But I had to stop critiquing architecture and knocked on the door and prepared to finally get my hands on something to free my mind.
“Come in and take your pants off!” was the response I got. Times like these, I really wish I knew my normal reaction to that invitation. Without a proper reference point, I entered and dropped my skirt.
Another humanoid, more violet-skinned than pink, stepped out from behind a curtain, snapping a latex glove onto her hand. From the way she looked me over, I think the doctor was seeing me now. I wasn’t opposed either, even if she lacked mammalian mammaries. “That was a joke. You look like you’re new so I shouldn’t expect you to know that. You can put your skirt on, unless it’s something,” she twirled her finger in a circle toward my hips instead of finishing the sentence.
I didn’t get dressed, partly for why I was there and partly because I hoped this would go someplace. “I was in a fight yesterday, and before that there was some bleeding down here.” I pointed between my legs. “I really need a close examination down there. There’s a lot I need to know about. Down there.”
She smiled and my HUD displayed a suggested playlist starting with a song called “Pussy Pussy Bang Bang”.
I left the office having not learned anything official about ovaries, but having had a good time regardless and stumbled into that Conner guy. “Hey, whoa. She worked you over, did she?”
“Yeah she did,” I said. “You’re trying to get in on my doctor-patient confidentiality, are you?”
He shook his head. “No, but I was sent by Finn. You impressed him yesterday.”
“Didn’t he just finish knocking someone up?” I asked.
Conner blushed red, which looked really funny going with his red beard. “That’s not what I meant at all! The Tuatha de Danaan have been called upon to strike back against the enemy hunting us. We would take nine to the fight, but you broke Lugh’s jaw and Finn saw something in you. He says you’re a warrior and wants you with us, if you’ll join.”
Perfect. A chance to link up with whoever’s fighting the Hares. A jolt ran through my body and I quickly nodded my assent. “Yeah, yeah, sure. Uh, I’ll talk to you about it later, ok? I just realized I left something in there…” I pointed back to the doctor’s office.
He smiled wide and started running back to tell this Finn guy the good news.
I knocked on the doctor’s door again. “Uh, doc, you can stop messing with that remote now. I think I found that, uh, massager we lost.”
I should have locked down the Unity better. It’s a hell of a mind freak. Dr. Unity used to be a superhero before he decided to spend his retirement bringing about world peace with a drug meant to force people to love each other. I stopped his little drugged-up free love fest but he got away. As far as I can tell, he’s dead now, care of The Claw using him for his own chemical program. They named the drug they developed Unity in his honor. It messes with access to long term memory and increases suggestibility.
So that’s why I think my name is Tripura. Now, as others might have noticed, and what took me a bit longer, is that a lot of these folks are running around named after gods. That includes me now. Ares, Apollo… not even the first guy I know going by that name. Last one I knew was Paveman’s kid, I think. This one’s just OP, though. Enhanced durability, teleportation, light arrows, doing weird body stuff to people.
I still don’t know what he did to me, but at least the bleeding and other discomfort stopped. Unity, god names, and the latest on my medical status. Not a lot of things that are known, but I have suspicions. Suspicions based entirely on memory stored in the computerized part of my brain, as well as in this blog itself.
I just have to confirm it, so I did some wanderings once I found the clothes they left me. They cut out holes for the extra arms, never mind what that does to the garments. But they also gave me surprisingly free reign. You know, to recover my memory. I used it to try and figure out where I was. I couldn’t get a signal out, so either they dug deeper when they built this location, or they’d reinforced it with lead or something. I’d be surprised they don’t have themselves some sort of magical god metal, but there are only so many ways to do metal. Put elements in the wrong order and you end up with salt or something instead. ‘
This place was a lot less dark than the others. More open, as well. It was arranged like a giant hashtag, with personal rooms on the outside and the middle portion taken up with various common rooms. Meeting hall, refectory, game room, library, exercise room, and a small classroom. There were people here. Regular people, in regular clothes. Only occasionally did anyone wear any odd costume or armor.
I saw a woman hugging children. A man put his hand on her shoulder and she kissed one of them on the cheek. “It is time for your lessons on the other side.”
That kid hugged her and left with the man. Then the mother stood up, rubbing the other’s hair. “Come, it is time for school for you as well.” I made a note of the direction the man and kid went and followed this pair to the classroom on this side. Kids were filling it, including one with glowing purple orbs for eyes, and another with pointy ears and dragon wings. Ok, no big deal. So then I went where the others went and found my way to a doorway I hadn’t yet explored through.
And up a staircase. And out into the sunlight. Feeling myself reconnect with the world all at once was a bit much without being able to remember how to manage it so well. I didn’t even know what all these alerts were I was getting. It overwhelmed me for a moment.
“You’ve been inside long?” asked a guy who wandered up on my while I had my hand over my face, trying to adjust. I had to learn to mute a lot of stuff.
“Something like that,” I said. “I am Tripura.”
“Reynard,” he said, giving a Western bow. Chin length brown hair, goatee, piercing blue eyes. I didn’t like the look of him. Can’t tell if that’s the Gecko part of me or the part with drug-induced amnesia.
“I’ve not heard of that god,” I said. He laughed. “It hardly matches with Ares or Apollo.”
“This is the human part of the compound,” he said, holding out his hand to indicate the building in the center and the high walls surrounding all of it.
“Human part?” I asked.
“You must be from an isolated cell. You’ve never seen where they put the demis before?” When I cocked my head, he explained. “The ungifted children of gods and visitors. Humans”
According to what I’ve looked up about my own memories, this is all very culty.
“This is all very new to me,” I said. “I have never been involved in any of this.”
He smiled a thin smile. “We are learning new things now that we have been found. They are evacuating locations, moving everyone around. However, I hear this does happen from time to time and then everything is alright. It will probably be alright soon, and then you can return to your life. Until then, may I show you around?” He offered his arm.
I took it and let him guide me around. There was certainly less farming and crafts than the notes on cults leads me to expect. I’d have said less sex, too, but he did show me the school. Someone’s popping out plenty of kids. They had a few classrooms, and they were all young kids. “Where are the older ones?”
My escort pointed off in the distance. “They go to normal schools. The schools here get educate them until they can be trusted not to tell everyone their father is a sun god or their sister can command legions of insects.”
I shook my head. “Nobody tells?”
“Why should they hurt their family and friends? Money? We have all the money we need. Attention? The visitors have ways to let them be superheroes or villains. There is nothing to gain, but many examples of what happens to outsiders who know. Ask Camulos or Matunos to show you the eagle of the lost Ninth Legion of Rome. They love to use it to scare the children away from telling boyfriends or girlfriends.” He chuckled. “It’s a more exciting story than what happened to Thonis.”
The Ninth Legion of Spain, Roman’s mysterious lost legion. Exact fate unknown. Thonis… Egypt? City slid into the water. Fate very much known, but apparently helped along. Enough people like Apollo and Ares, and they could have dominated the world. Which begs the question: why not?
And another question to be begged here is why they decided to keep me when they could have done worse. I suppose that’s the point of taking someone prisoner. And on top of that, if these guys are known for killing Roman legions and cities, what are they planning for Ricca? And my daughter? I don’t want them ending up like Proctologus Ticklum and whatever heavy-handed treatment his legion received.
All this sociology is fascinating in its own way, but I need access to whatever the leadership’s doing. “These children seem young to be destroying Egyptian cities,” I mentioned to Reynard.
“They are kept separate, as are gods like yourself,” he said, eyes narrowing, flicking toward . “Perhaps you should return to the god quarters until someone eases you into things. You are new here?”
“I wish to help. They are but children,” I said, waving my arm as if presenting a sandwich or a brand new car.
“We have top people helping them,” he said, guiding my back around toward the door I came from. “Top people.”
“Ok,” I said, sing-song. I think I was doing pretty good at pretending to be an airhead with my head emptied out. I wish the jokes he told were at least worth laughing at the way I did, but I likely played into his suspicions of being another Unitied super. United? Whatever. Maybe they do this often. A bunch of people drugging supers into their own army? Too many questions. Not enough bodies hitting the floor.
I waited until night to head back out. Most were sleeping, but not everyone inside the underground area. But, oddly, no guards. Not even outside, when I stepped out into aboveground again, dressed in the darkest, most casual stuff they brought me. According to some of might notes elsewhere, expensive designer turtlenecks are actually a bad thing to bring along when spying, despite what certain secret agents think.
The interior overhang of the wall was angled, cutting down on my profile from the outside. I rolled over to get a view of the city. Cologne, Germany. It doesn’t smell as great as you’d think. I still haven’t figured out where I store phone numbers and email addresses to let Venus and Titan know. I’m kinda on my own here, and it’s really fucking with me. I had a damn map of locations with people taking nanites. Titan’s people use them if I knew where they were and how to call them. I could launch a damn rocket to carry me nanites if knew how. It’s all there, all easy to get to, but I just don’t fucking KNOW.
I paused a moment to headbutt a tile on the wall. No time for this shit.
I’m Psycho fucking Gecko.
Losing my mind comes with the territory.
Reynard told me where to find some sort of clue with his eyes. The wall helped me get close enough to jump across to the roof. More ceramic tiles. I cracked a few on landing, as they’re more sensitive to weight. And I weigh a tiny bit more than my size suggests.
Nobody wandering around seemed to notice anything. I don’t know if any are guards, or civilians, or guards masquerading as civilians. Some kind of amazing spider-woman, I crawled to the edge of the roof, hung down, and forced a window open to slip inside.
I successfully infiltrated a janitorial closet. I took a mop and the sliding wheeled bucket thing with me. It took a bit of wheeling to find anywhere with a guard. I figured I could go over and try to come up with a lie to get into the door. But that’d let him see my face, and he might not believe it. Killing him would expose me before I learned anything useful.
So I waited around the corner. And waited. It was boring, but I found where I kept the TV shows and movies. A hell of a twist in that Titanic movie. The movie post-iceberg is an entirely different animal. I had to pause it though, when the guard got up and left for the bathroom. I hopped in the wheeled bucket and pushed off the wall and floor with the mop, sliding toward the door and catching myself before I could burst through it. It was unlocked, which makes sense. I think they have special locks in place of guards elsewhere. I slipped inside quietly.
The room was packed so badly, it felt like the janitorial closet again. The back wall was taken up by a mass of monitors and computer towers with a person asleep on the keyboard. To the left were shelves with pieces of armor that came up as SWAT gear, which is normally associated with another country’s police force.
On the other side was a door in a frame. I know what they can do with that. I have to move quickly, stepping around the sleeping person to take a look at the monitors. One was a camera on someone sweeping downed helicopter wreckage and bodies. Another was on someone herding people into a van. Most interesting to me was one focusing on another person at another monitor. The resolution was a bit off, but he had unusually pink skin and about half his head shaved, with like a giant mohawk that fell over on the right side of his head. He wore a denim jacket and seemed to smile as he looked at me.
I cocked my head to the side, wondering if he had something to do with the guy who projected himself to me. That theory gained some traction when his appearance shifted to look just like video I took of him for later identification. Suddenly, the denim human appeared in front of me, raising a finger to his lips. “Do you know who I am?” he asked.
I shook my head.
A sly smile crossed his face. “You never knew. But don’t worry. You’re here. You’re awfully curious, Tripura.”
I checked back behind me, wondering if the guard had finished his whizzing in a whiz. The denim guy floated on over there, right through the shelving. “I won’t tattle, but you have to help me. Together, you and I are going to get me off this primitive rock. That means you have to hurt these people more. I knew they’d take you in if they caught you. That’s what I was doing with the emergency exit, but you weren’t cooperative.” I looked around, checking the shelf with the SWAT gear again, but then the projection moved to block my view. “Oh, you better get out of here. Now.”
I hopped back into my bucket, slid out the door, and glided down the hall before anyone spotted me. Then I went back in the closet, and outside, where I fell and failed to break anything because of my cat-like reflexes. The projection of the denim dude greeted me in my room. “About time you made it.”
I gave him the bird as I stepped in and plopped on the bed.
So let’s count it down:
Hares? Still alive.
But believe me, I am still alive. I’m doing spywork and I’m still alive. I feel fantastic and I’m still alive. While they’re dying I’ll be still alive. And when their children are ashes I’ll be still alive.
Still alive, still alive.
Ooh, look, I remembered a song!