Category Archives: 74. Hare-Brained

Like a rabid rabbit, I’m no longer entirely right in the head. And just consider where my baseline was before that…

Hare-Brained 11

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It didn’t help me get sleep. Maybe it was the lack of endorphins related to killing those particular people, but the tension was still there. Took something a lot stronger than Max’s medicated beer to help ease me out of it. Like some diazepam, and the soothing sounds of a Korean woman saying words in Japanese while moving around. Upon reflection, to people who don’t know about it, that probably looks like some weird fetish stuff instead of a way to relax.

I was quite surprised when I dreamed I was in some room at Master Academy. I looked down to see a pair of boobs I recognized, but only two arms, holding a power suppression collar. I looked up when I heard Venus saying, “This is a lot to ask me to believe.” I looked up and saw we were in an office. She was seated across from myself and… Ares. I thought they found parts of his, but maybe that doesn’t matter so much. The guy had an arm of metal, as natural as if he was just made of the stuff. Perhaps he can regenerate eternal, shiny and chrome. He still looked old, but instead of wearing some old leather vest and sandals, the old man wore bronze hoplite armor, with a bronze helmet sat in his lap. Behind him, at the door, stood several other supers I recognized from around the school, and a few who I have to assume are newer ones based on context.

“After the murder of our peace delegation, I would have no other reason to come before you about this,” Ares said, glowering at her.

“That was Psycho Gecko, not me. He… she’s unreliable and paranoid,” Venus said.

“She should be. Barkiel tried to use my death to justify a measure we cannot take. When I showed myself, he called for the visitors to back him and do it by force. When that failed, he tried coup by robot and tried to destroy us with a small nuclear weapon. Something is very wrong, and I am here to offer our surrender on all your points that are possible while we uncover what has happened over the past months.”

“The god of war asks for peace,” Venus said. She took a moment to look at him. “You said he was trying to call for some measure. What’s going on? Are we about to be hit by some sort of weapon?”

Ares closed his eyes and massaged his nose with a pair of fingers. “There was a god who transgressed against the rest of us and sought to take control over the pantheons. He began consuming healers to absorb their powers and to cow us by keeping our peoples from healing. A group of them allied with the Hindu pantheon to lure him into an ancient prison for gods. The prisoners inside rebelled. It almost failed, but the last of them sealed the way out.”

“You wanted to put us in the prison?” Venus asked.

Ares shook his head, “When we first created our agreement with our human descendants and the visitors to keep our existence a secret and protect Earth, we realized the prisoner, Mot, could be what was needed to cull people with powers.”

Mot. FUUUUUCK.

Ares went on, “The visitors have been more aggressive ever since supervillains started breaking out of prisons all over the world. I think Barkiel’s snapped. Worse, he knows where Naraka is.”

“Where?” I asked as Dame.

Ares looked to me, then to Venus, “I would rather not say.”

“We can help guard it from Barkiel,” Venus said. “Consider it one of the conditions of your surrender.”

“The Hindu prison Naraka is underneath one our shrines in Varanasi, marked by a symbol of three hares chasing each other around in a circle.”

Within Dame’s mind, I got a flash of memory. Barkiel relaying a message on behalf of this Council. “Play along. Give him locations, but warn us first. We want to control where he goes instead of allowing him to pick randomly. Use this map, but not any of the sites I’ve crossed out.”

I remember the map he showed Dame on a monitor. Munich was one of the crossed-out sites. Others included the storage depot I told Venus about. Varanasi, India didn’t have any information about it, even for Dame to see.

“Dame, are you alright?” asked Venus. “Maybe you should put that back on.” She pointed to Dame’s power collar.

I smiled with Dame’s mouth. “Sure thing.” I dropped the collar accidentally on purpose, and reached for Dame’s cell while picking it back up. A ringing in my head helped bring me back to my own body that fought through the drug-induced drowsiness to answer hang up on Dame’s call.

So now I knew where Barkiel was. And, more importantly, I knew this had something to do with Mot. I injected myself with nanites to clear up the sluggishness while I put on my armor, two legs at a time. Because even when I’m a woman, I am a god among men.

I did two things on my way out of the palace. First, I left a note for Qiang, telling her I’ll be back and not to let everyone make a mess. Then I shut off the water to the kitchen sink and pulled it out of the wall. I carried it like a club as I headed to the missile base, where my ordinance technicians were already clearing space out of a missile. The techs all bowed as I helped myself into the rocket, with one ready to shut and seal the hatch of the capsule. But before he did, he asked, “Any further instructions, Empress?” I buzzed him with a pair of drones that I flew in.

“Yes, hand me those two rockets there,” I told him. He dutifully handed me a couple of those rockets a person could stand on that I’d never ended up selling as a means of personal conveyance. “Good, now prepare for trouble, and make it double, once this rocket’s blasting off again.”

He looked puzzled but nodded, “As you wish, Empress.” I fired off a message to his superiors anyway ordering Psycho Flyers deployed to India to pick me up and mop-up whatever was going to go down.

Rockets are fast, that’s for sure. You can get moving much faster than jets in these bad boys, and make all sorts of distance if you’re willing to hit the outer atmosphere. The reason they aren’t that popular a method has more to do with the fact that the human body has trouble going that fast and that high. Bones break, you have trouble breathing, there are pressure concerns. That’s not even touching on the landing. By the time the rocket itself broke off and obliterated itself, the nanites were having to extract my tailbone from my throat and patch me up. And while I could have made a capsule designed for travel given a little bit of time, I was rushing here. Venus, Ares, and the whole lot of people who are supremely pissed at me probably knew I was on my way to Naraka.

I had to beat them there, so I rushed the rocket and had to break my way out of the capsule. Two hands on the kitchen sink, and with a hand each on my rockets, I hopped out and let them slow my fall.

The Naraka Shrine was in another walled-off courtyard with tents and shakes. Folks were milling about, with the tall robots Barkiel used standing guard at the gates and doorway to the shrine. Black but for glowing red accents and a big red oval on their faces, they held up arms ending in plasma cannons as big as some people’s heads. And they were keeping them trained on the people in the courtyard, who had definitely noticed me. Some little kid was there, hopping up and down. “Look, up in the sky! Who is it?”

The robots all turned as one to aim at me, so I let go of the rockets and dropped, letting the blue plasma pass harmlessly overhead. I tried to land standing, with bent knees. The weight of the armor and force of the landing took me down to a knee. Not the best position to be in when eight big-ass robots decide you’d make a good torch.

The closest two got a rocket through their heads and collapsed. From out of my cape flew the drones, a pair of laser drones this time. They carved through the next pair who advanced on me. I used my stance to jump, then flying over a blast to knock the crap out of one of them, then turn and send the next closet smashing into the outer wall. Before it could pull itself out of the indentation it left, I had run forward and impaled it through the midsection.

Behind me, another pair of robots lined up for shots. I turned with the impaled one and caught a pair of blasts with its body, watching him melt away with each shot. The rockets looped around in the sky and came down, tearing through their heads and torsos to pin the wreckage to the ground. I dumped the remains of the impaled robot next to them and quipped, “Vlad to see me?”

I spun when I saw the Hares coming closer, but they didn’t SEEM hostile. One older man raised his hands up. “Thank you! We thought he would kill us before the Council could send help?”

“Who?” I asked.

He pointed into the shrine. “He’s one of the Visitors; said he was the Captain now. He ordered his robots to keep us under guard for what comes next.”

Food for Mot. Yummy. I shared Barkiel’s desire to see them dead, but if any of them had powers, it’d just make Mot stronger, IF he got out. And he wasn’t supposed to get out. I was supposed to have had 30 years to prepare for him, according to the Future Venus from that timeline who spared my life in the hopes it would change the future. So the timeline’s changed… yay.

I headed in and found more robots. Less sarcastic yay! I turned a corner and found myself facing a couple of them guarding a door. I jumped up and hooked my legs around one’s neck, twisting around to wrap a pair of my arms around the second’s neck. I’d hoped to twist the heads off, but I couldn’t bring enough strength to bear for that. Instead, we all tumbled down. They both aimed their cannons at me, so I grabbed them and kindly adjusted their aim just in time to see them put holes in each other.

That room had more captives who were eager to get out of there and I let them. Mot and Barkiel were more important.

Down the hallway, down a staircase, because if they’d imprisoned someone in the air I’d have noticed. Trailing drones, I found myself in a long, dark corridor with a pair of heavy stone doors halfway open on the other end and a couple robots on the other side. They spotted me. Instead of trying to fight, they started pushing the doors closed on me. The drones began to move in a circle, chasing each other in front of me, lasers carving through the door. I charged up the energy sheaths on all four gauntlets as I ran.

When I hit the cut portion of the door, it flew inward, nailing those robots to the opposite wall, which looked to be rough cave wall. To my right was a gentle stone slope that humanity hadn’t built, though it had left skidmarks on. Tread marks, I mean.

I also heard the sound of fighting from up ahead. I started charging the energy sheaths on my upper arms just in case. Around the bend, I saw Apollo hopping around, all nimbly-bimbly, like a cat. He had on a leather outfit with a skirt like something they’d expect me to wear in a fantasy game, but he just jumped around shooting his light arrows from his bow a gleaming blue and nickel machine menace.

It was Barkiel, I saw, in walker armor. Like with power armor, it’s my hands and feet in the boots. His armor was a good twelve feet tall, with his head sticking out of the neck. He probably had his arms and legs down the arms and legs of the armor, but he wouldn’t lose a hand if it did. I thought his exposed head would make him easy pickings until a light arrow sparked and disappeared against a dome that appeared out of nowhere around his head when it got close. Apollo reached out with his spare hand and another field lit up, glowing red, tight around Barkiel’s face.

The alien laughed. “Like my latest apparatus?” A grenade shot up from over his shoulder, bounced against the roof of the cave, and exploded into a thick cloud of black smoke. He jumped to the side, jets igniting on the soles and belt of the armor. When the smoke cleared, Apollo had taken up a new position but was firing nowhere near Barkiel.

The real Barkiel had raised both arms toward Apollo, the ends glowing. Trailing sparks, I skidded between his legs, bouncing my head off the invisible field as I passed too close to him. When he fired, the energy sheaths around my gauntlets absorbed some of the power for the suit’s back-up batteries and deflected the rest at the ceiling. We all looked up for a second to see if this stalactite was going to fall, but nothing. Then Barkiel looked past me to Apollo, who had now turned to focus on the real one. “Is she with you?”

“I thought she was with you,” Apollo said, eyeing me.

“Apparatus. Helping me hunt down you Hares, helping me escape, attacking your own people. You’ve been playing all sides here, haven’t you!” I yelled.

“Ha!” he spat the laugh at me. A quartet of missile tubes rolled over onto his left shoulder from behind his back. “You made such a great enemy, but if you’d like to make up, why not kiss under the missile?” He fired the tubes, but lasers spilled out from one of my flanking drones to detonate them close to him. His shield caught most of it, but I think a little bit was inside it. It looked like we scraped the paint on his ride.

The other drone fired at him from behind, aiming for center mass. The thing wasn’t really agile enough to get us along with it. Apollo leapfrogged me and fired his own arrows at the guy. I stepped out of his path and charged for Barkiel.

A wave of force went out from the walker in all directions, pushing me back enough to halt my run, knocking one of Apollo’s arrows into him, and throwing my drones into the walls of the cavern to their destruction. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Gecko!” I continued my charge and split off a couple holograms, one to dodge to my left, another to stay in place, and then me branching off to the right. Something flew off the chest of Barkiel’s armor and right through the middle Gecko, but I stopped, armor shaking, and flew back until I was suspended over it. I couldn’t reach out without getting pulled back into a huddled bunch.

“You sent the bomb, didn’t you!” I yelled at the extraterrestrial asshole.

“Yeeessss!” He said, sweeping his arms after Apollo. The god tried to outrun it, but then Barkiel just moved his left arm to the side quicker and took him off at the knees. At least Apollo ducked the second beam before it could take off his head. He disappeared in a flash of light then, leaving me alone with Barkiel. “See? He ran and left you to me.”

Barkiel looked at me and winked, then hit the jets on his suit and flew it to a wall I hadn’t been paying particular attention to. “I’ve been on this planet for so long. You have no idea.”

“Why are you letting out Mot? He’ll kill everyone!” I said. Weird to hear me object to something like that.

“I want to go home,” Barkiel said, stepping up to wall with actual stones laid out in around a round center stone, like a sun. He touched the center one, which slowly lit up with a glowing overlay of white light and ancient runes. “I never wanted to be stuck on this backwards planet. We have that in common, don’t we?” He tried to look back at me but couldn’t turn his head all the way.

Whatever this thing was, I had no access. None to his suit or that wall, either. The only machine I could still connect to outside of my suit was a drone that wasn’t getting airborne anytime soon. I tried it anyway, watching it hop around. The laser still seemed usable, though. “I’m trying to remember… this threat that some of the Earthlings believe in if they’re exposed or… Sam said if Earth got too advanced or there were too many supers…”

He cut me off before I could slowly work it out to cover up the sounds of my drone hopping around. “Yes. If Earth is a threat, my people will get off their lazy, aristocrat asses and deal with the upstarts. That is my ride off this rock of ignorant savages. You can leave as well. In fact, do you want to come with?”

“No,” I said. “I left my world, but my world sucked. It sounds like yours does too if they give so few shits about you. This is my home. I have a family here, and friends. How long have you been here stewing instead of doing anything?”

“Fif. Teen. Hundred. Years,” he said. The blocks around the central one lit up. He started tapping on one and the light flew into the center. “Fifteen hundred years with dirty monkey men. I could have had a family. I used to have friends. We could have reported the place as a threat, or advanced you to the point of getting us home. We could have even come forward during other alien attacks and taken their ships. Israkeel didn’t want to risk the stupid barbarians though.

He laughed as he worked on more of those perimeter blocks. A couple more went fast, but he had to stop some to consult a holographic display I couldn’t translate. “You were perfect. One day, you started breaking supers out of prison, and I realized what I could do. The others, they just wanted to use the collars, and I did pass relay orders to make that happen. I eagerly overstepped my bounds. I guided you and made sure you survived. Do you think it’s any accident you’re a woman now? I knew that would rile you up, the big bad supervillain and his fragile male ego, so I put advice in the right ear.”

Well, nice to know he doesn’t know me as well as he thinks. Hippity hoppity, little drone. One of these days you’ll get that laser facing me… “If I didn’t kill Centeotl, he’d have attacked Los Angeles anyway.”

“He agreed with me about the need to assert ourselves over the humans, but he would have been glassed like the rest. I relayed secure orders, always from superiors, to hire assassins. You had me worried when you sent that message back…”

There. I fired the laser of the drone. The drone caught on fire from something not quite being in alignment, but the beam shot out and burned enough that the device crackled and I fell to the ground. I hopped up in a hurry, but Barkiel didn’t pay me any mind. I split off more holograms to try and hide my approach, glad I still had a couple gauntlets ensconced in energy waiting to disperse into him. My free hands took up rocket knives. I jumped as the holograms all ran to catch up. He never turned back to me.

And then he suddenly was turned to me. He caught my in midair, one hand on my waist, the other on my head. The, fuck, the projection he’d left at the wall disappeared. Even the glowing circle on the wall faded. At least he had to stop whatever that was. I punched at his arm, but the attacks did nothing to dislodge his grip. The field stayed, glowing red. I shot a rocket knife into his face, but it bounced off, blade bent. Barkiel gritted his teeth and pulled with the hand on my helmet, aiming to take my head off.

“Fuck, this is good armor,” he said after a minute of straining. He let go of my head and held his arm to the side. A long, round rod of metal flipped out from under his arm and into his hand. A white trail rose out of the far end and formed a curving shape that could have been a one-sided blade. “Make this painless on yourself and hold still.”

That’s not how I roll, so I wiggled and reached up to try and keep his hand away.

“I told you!” he yelled and brought the blade down. Sudden pain shot through my left upper arm, right through the elbow and up near the shoulder. I still felt it even though I looked down and saw two pieces of what used to be that arm rolling to the ground. The uneven flesh of my arm wasn’t bleeding, but I saw smoke and felt a sudden coldness around those nerves. Barkiel tried to bring the blade down on my helmet, but my lower right shot up to grab at it. The blade split that arm and carved it in two. Between that and my shiftng, the blade only took off part of the right side of my helmet, and left that arm hanging useless. When he pulled the blade free of it, I got to see it flop to the ground, severed in the bicep.

“This could have been painless,” He said, raising the blade up to wave it in my face. He thrust it, but I moved my head. After three thrusts, there really wasn’t even a helmet left. “Stop moving!” he said before trying a sweep. I ducked my head under it like a limbo dancer ducking under a green snake in a sugarcane field, but he clipped a bunch of my hair. I could smell it as it burned.

“I don’t normally let this out,” he said, sneering at me, setting the tip of the blade against my breast. “But you things are disgusting to me.”

I flipped my fangs down and opened my mouth to spray hot sauce at him. It didn’t penetrate, but it did cover it for a minute. I threw myself to the side he wasn’t holding my hip from and twisted. It wasn’t the best way to hold a person and I tumbled loose, if not in good position, scrambling away. He stepped toward me, raising the blade. “Yeah, cute. Die now- oh shit!”

A bright light had flared up in the middle of the cavern, headed toward Barkiel. He raised the sword. I didn’t get a good look at what happened, the sword wasn’t there anymore, just as sparking rod and a field that glowed red around edges that weren’t closed around Barkiel. I leaped, but Barkiel kicked me away, into a wall where I could see Apollo, whole again, step out of a beam of light.

I heard footsteps, too. I turned to see Dame running down. “The fuck are you doing here so fast?”

She slid to a stop right by me as I struggled to sit up, probably tearing her skintight black tights. “Once I clued you in, they knew they had to come here right away.”

“Than-” I started to say, but she cut me off with a click of metal around my neck. Everything went black, and my hearing didn’t work right. I couldn’t do much of anything except feel. I felt hands wrap around my throat, squeezing. For some reason the ground was vibrating, but that probably had more to do with the big armor stomping around.

I tried to hit her, but the armor wasn’t working too well. My limbs were sluggish as parts of me didn’t want to function right, and without the armor being a real part of me anymore. When I got an arm up, she pushed it back down with one hand and slammed my head into the ground a couple of times, choking with one hand all the while. Of all the people to kill me, I didn’t expect Dame. And I was wrong.

My head jerked to the side and I could see again. I could punch again! I knocked Dame flat on her ass with a punch and reached for my neck. The collar had been blasted by something. A glow attracted my attention to the light arrow stuck in the cave wall behind me. I tugged the remnants off and threw them aside, then told Dame, “Kill me later. For now, we have to make sure he doesn’t release Mot.”

I scrambled up, but suddenly that shaking from before got a lot more noticeable. I looked and saw Barkiel, with a face full of smile, locking up with Apollo. “It’s too late!” he yelled.

The stones I thought looked like a sun slid inward and the wall slid up into the ceiling. Everything past that was darkness. Apollo backed away from Barkiel and the darkness.

“Quickly!” called a voice from higher up in the cave. I saw Ares running down, helmet on, spear and shield at the ready. He skidded to a halt when he saw the opening. “We’re too late.”

Venus was there as well, and Titan. Venus looked to Dame in particular, my neck, and the wrecked collar on the floor.

“Mot!” Barkiel yelled into the darkness. “It’s supper time!”

“Close the door, Barkiel, while there’s still time!” Ares said.

I crawled until I could get to my feet, running over to Venus and Titan. I had to fight through dizziness to stand there with them. “We have to go.”

“No,” Venus said. “We stop this here and now.”

“Nobody’s getting to this door just yet,” Barkiel said. A tendril of flesh wrapped around Barkiel as he grinned confidently at us. He looked down then and realized too late that he was the closest thing to a very hungry being. He tried to pull it off him, but it whipped back into the darkness, dragging the screaming alien along with him.

“I know what we’re dealing with here, and there is no stopping it. How do I access the door’s controls?” I asked Ares.

He looked to me, then shook his head. “It’s too late. Go, all of you.”

“I’m here,” Titan said.

“That’s a good reason to go,” I said. “Imagine something just as hard to kill as you, but it can absorb anyone it touches and gets their powers.”

He squinted at me, then at the opening. Apollo ran back toward us, and past us. Ares held his shield on guard and told us, “She’s right. Go. I fight in the rearguard.”

“What’s Mot do to people?” Venus asked.

“He’s got a couple thousand years of hunger to make up for. We need to go,” I said.

A burst of lightning flashed out of the darkness and floored Ares. He coughed and stood back up, metal showing through holes in his skin.”Go, now!” A long-haired, bearded figure stepped out of the darkness, tendrils trailing from his back. He wore rags that vaguely resembled Barkiel’s uniform and dropped one of the arms of Barkiel’s walker armor as he stepped out.

“This feels wrong,” Titan said, backing up.

Ares jumped forward and impaled Mot with his spear. Mot raised his arms and blasted Ares with more lightning that threw the old man back. Then his hands became icicles that broke off and flew at Ares. The Olympian got his shield up, but they penetrated, stabbing into his arm.

“Venus, slap him,” I said.

She jumped up and hit Titan across the face, then yelled, “We have to get as many people out as we can.”

I turned to head up the slope as well. I wasn’t as quick getting out of there as I was coming in, especially the way the floor kept spinning. I tried to get some nanites into me, but they flew out of my hand with all the spinning. At least I had time to advise the Psycho Flyers to hurry and take on as many refugees as possible so long as I was one of them. Then there was the rumbling, and I passed the fuck out as things began to collapse around us.

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Hare-Brained 10

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In the days after the bombing attempt on my daughter, I left most of the negotiation strategy to Titan and Venus. Titan, Venus, and Psychopomp. Maybe it’s just paranoia or pareidolia, but I’m seeing a pattern. Really, the culprit be chalked up to some shared concepts. Both our worlds had Greeks. One of those threads I’d pick up before dropping it to focus on the plan, only to grab at it again.

My household had a pretty good idea I wasn’t in a good mood. Most steered clear of me. Max kept offering me sane juice, as if I wasn’t taking my meds. I’m perfectly sane at the moment. I’m just pissed as hell. And I did try to relax a little when it was hard to sleep. Then I found out one of my favorite ASMR people retired all of a sudden in July and I went straight back to being fucking enraged!

Aside from that, I stuck to my own preparations. Missiles built, nanites stored up, and making sure a Dimensional Bomb was ready to go. I didn’t care to talk with Venus and Titan about the plan before I met them, or even after. I stepped through the Riccan base’s portal to Cape Diem headquarters where an attendant offered to take my cape or helmet. I waved them off. “Then allow me to show you to where you can meet with the others,” the guy said. I nodded and followed after, all four arms behind my back.

“Hello Gecko,” said Titan.

Venus nodded, “Gecko.”

They’d been enjoying a cup of coffee in Titan’s office. It looked warm. Not expensive, but he had a few things he liked in there, like books and a few photos. One with him smiling next to a woman with a bow in a Cape Diem uniform. One with a different woman and a girl missing a front tooth smiling. His powers may not be related to the Greek gods, but his libido might be.

“If it’s all the same, I think it’s for the best you two take the lead on this one. Let me stand there looking mean, as if y’all are keeping me from killing them,” I suggested.

“That’s a great idea,” Venus said.

“Just one more time… in order to agree to a peace, the following conditions must be met. Point one, they provide us with a vaccine and cure. Point two, they go public with their existence. Point three, they allow people to leave their group who wish to do so.”

“That’s new,” I said.

Venus said, “Dame told me how insular and controlling they are. They had to keep them like that as part of staying secretive. When they go public, there’s no reason to do so anymore. What do you think?”

“Fine,” I said.

“Is your head in this, Gecko?” asked Titan, straightening up.

“Yep. I’m here. My brain’s here. Everything’s accounted for,” I told him.

They shared a look. They didn’t know what was up, but they knew something was.

As a trio, clad in our respective garb, we all set out to the Cape Diem base in Switzerland, merely a portal hop away. I had a pair of Psycho Flyers on approach before this to throw off the Hares. Didn’t want them assassinating anyone. That’d be my job, after all. The Flyers broke off their approach to Geneva, which we were fairly close to, and instead landed a good distance from the city. Even better for my plants, they could swoop in and drop off a couple squads of my Dragon soldiers in no time.

I wish I had tanks I could bring in, but I think we’re at a point where I can outfit infantry with the firepower of tanks and enough armor to make it count well enough. The nanites provide a boost to healing that aids in muscle growth and stamina, along with a few subtle alterations to skin resistance and bone density.

I put Elda on a more intensive version of the program. She was flown off to the United States, to be dropped off in the midwest with her new armor, sword, and supplies. By the time I was appearing in Geneva, she was waking up to find herself stronger and faster in a country raged by civil war. It was her choice whether she stood up for the weak or took advantage of the chaos for her own advantage. I left a way to track her… a ring on her ring finger. It gives me GPS and even her pulse, should I care to keep an eye on it.

She’ll hate me, but I’m good at being hated. Even though the world might be caught offguard by what I aimed for, they really couldn’t be surprised.

Light rain sprinkled down as we stepped into the Place du Bourg-de Four. As impressive as a group as we made in our unusual party, the folks meeting us couldn’t help standing out either.

I recognized Ares. Smart choice for screwing us over. I thought they’d have Apollo, but they instead had a dark-skinned man with eyes the color of clear water and short, light brown hair. Despite the suit he wore, I caught a glimpse of wave tattoos running up his neck, with others on his face; a dolphin underneath his chin and some other fish bent like it was leaping over his eye. Or maybe not his neck. Their face was more feminine than I expected, and I couldn’t get a close enough look at their chest.

Another pair included an exceptionally pale woman with black hair that covered half her face, with a svelte, muscular body like a dancer’s. I labelled her “Rhythm” on my HUD because I found it funny. She was with a swarthy Asian man with an epic curled mustache. Aside from Ares, that bunch were all dressed in something like normal formal wear. Ares, old hippie that he was, more closely resembled Willie Nelson or Tommy Chong. He even had sandals on.

The last two of their group had another person I recognized. Barkiel stood there without his disguise. I recognized him from when he announced their agreement to these talks. The person next to him was taller, with a long jacket, the bottom of which swept out stiffly instead of hanging loosely. This one had a light, short fuzz of yellow hair on her pink head, and a horizontal scar cut through her right eyebrow. I assume it was a her because of the way her chest stuck out further than Barkiel’s did. This species either had mammaries, or something close enough to it.

Six of them to three of us. Not ideal if they hoped to escape, but I know enough to be wary of Barkiel. He’s got tricks.

We stopped twenty feet or so from them. The alien visitor with Barkiel looked to him. Barkiel stepped forward. “Greetings, honored foes. Welcome to the negotiations. Allow me to introduce our party. Representing the Old Gods are Olokun of the Orisha and Ares of the Olympians.” For reasons of politeness, we shook hands. I had the advantage there, being able to shake both their hands at once.

“On behalf of the humans, we have here Margaritte Manx and Ian Borjigin.” Nice names. They’re gonna die.

“In the name of our group of visitors to your planet, I have here Captain Israkeel, and I am known as Barkiel.” Maybe it’s because I’m used to her looking at me with the expression, but I could tell Venus took particular exception to Barkiel upon his introduction.

Venus looked to me after he was done, as did Barkiel when he had stepped back behind his Captain there.

I stepped up. “I have brought with me Venus, champion of the Master Academy of superheroes, and Titan, leader of Capie Diem, dedicated to serving all and saving the day for everyone. I am Psychomp Gecko, Empress of the rogue nation of Ricca.”

When I stepped back, Venus spoke up. “We have come to see if we can come to an agreement over your unprovoked attack on our peoples and our response in kind or if this must continue until one of our sides is destroyed.”

Israkeel nodded, then raised a hand in front of Barkiel and gestured. Barkiel turned and clapped. The waiters from a coffee shop rushed out, setting up a folding table between our two groups. They ran back to get the chairs when Israkeel turned to Barkiel, “Did you want to try out that gizmo to keep the rain away?”

He smiled, “I’m afraid I left that apparatus behind.”

They brought us an umbrella with the chairs and took our orders. Barkiel and I both declined.

The silence was tense enough while we all waited, though at one point Olokun looked to me and asked, “You were our Tripura Sundari if I am not mistaken.” Their voice was soft then, feminine.

“One of your tricksters used a substance meant to hide my memories and called me by that name,” I responded.

Olokun looked to Ares, this time speaking with a voice that suggested the ownership of dong. “Many decisions were made without my input.” When he turned to look at me, he smiled, his voice softening once more, “I hope you were welcomed warmly into our hospitality.”

When Titan spoke, everyone noticed, “It’s an old tradition among various gods that hospitality is to be respected. Each of us welcomed one of yours with hospitality and was rewarded with betrayal.”

Olokun folded their hands in front of them like a prayer, “I must apologize. Again, there were questionable decisions made behind the backs of the chain of command.”

“With all due respect,” Venus jumped in here, “how can we expect any agreement here to be honored by your people if it is normal for them to ignore your chain of command?”

Olokun shared a look with Israkeel. Israkeel raised her nose before answering, “You have our full attention now and we give you our word we are instilling discipline and respect into the ones who lack it.”

“And we’ll just take your word for that?” I asked.

Israkeel smirked, “We are all here to give our word to an agreement.”

“It’s about trust,” Venus said, nodding to Israkeel, who returned the gesture.

Things kicked off in earnest once they all got their drinks. Israkeel opened things up at that point. “Empress Gecko’s message to us incorporated the phrase ‘unconditional surrender.’ I should hope this was mere affectation.”

Venus responded for me. “We have conditions. First, if you want us to stop dismantling your operations, we will need a cure and a vaccine.”

Barkiel leaned over to whisper something to Israkeel. I cranked up microphone sensitivity enough to hear him tell her, “Gecko is in possession of a cure.”

Israkeel said, “Agreed.”

Except Olokun and Borjigin were whispering back and forth too, with Olokun asking, “You said we were twenty years from a vaccine.”

“I said thirty years, but somebody panicked. You can’t agree to this, because it’s not physically possible” Borjigin told him.

“We agree to whatever they want. They can’t kill us for trying to vaccinate them,” Olokun whispered back. Then, loud enough to where he or she was supposed to be heard, they said, “The gods agree.”

Borjigin tightened his jaw, but added his agreement as well. I saw the other human put her hand on his forearm. I think they all knew they didn’t have a vaccine ready.

“The second thing we demand for is that you allow your members to leave if they want,” Venus said.

Olokun shook her head. “Unacceptable. Our people must stay with us for our protection and theirs. The world would find us out.”

“Our third condition is that you let the world know about your group anyway,” Titan said, grinning.

Manx nodded along to that one. “We would lose our status and become pawns to be used as leverage to co-opt our powers for the worldly governments. We just want to protect ourselves.”

“You lost the right to talk about protecting yourselves the moment you used my portals and their countries to distribute a virus that’s killing people and trying to handicap supers,” Titan said through a smile that could make a shark back off.

“As I said-” Olokun started, but they were cut off by Israkeel.

The alien captain bowed her head, “We took the course of action we felt was best. We have reason to believe the growing population of superhumans is a threat to the entire Earth, including our loved ones among you.” Israkeel smiled over at Borjigin, who flushed.

“Is that why you sent my daughter a bomb?” I asked. Venus went bolt upright at that, as did Titan a half-second later when he’d processed it.

On the other side of the table, the Three Hares delegation looked between each other except for Barkiel and Israkeel. The Captain looked right at me. “None among us did such a thing.”

“Allow me to remind you then,” I projected an image of my shaking daughter holding the box. “Fingerprint scanners to activate a timed detonation. Gun-style, uranium rings and uranium core, with just enough deuterium and tritium to make it spicy.”

Israkeel laid her hands down on the table, palms up. “We’ll do whatever you want to assure you we weren’t behind this and make this right.”

I pushed the table over between us. I punched right through to grab Israkeel’s throat and squeezed, then got another hand on there. Any human and I’d have been crushing spine while blood spurted, but the alien was tough.Venus grabbed at one of my free arms and tried to pull me. She didn’t have much luck until something severed the choking hands. Titan grabbed onto me as well and lifted me in a bear hug.

Venus, at least, had time to notice the lack of blood coming from my wrists, and the lack of flesh within the armor. Then the D-Bomb went off, setting off a cascade of events.

First, I lost contact with the Dudebot I’d given four arms to as the D-Bomb within it tore a small hole in reality, big enough to take Venus and Titan with it. Their intervention stopped me from having to give them a hug. At the same time, another bomb activated on Ricca, disappearing from the bomb lab Dr. Creeper had kept the device in.

Titan, Venus, and the Dudebot reappeared in the Directory building where I sat on my throne in my real armor. In Geneva, another new one torn in reality spat out the shell of the nuclear, hollowed out but sitting on top of a large, black, rounded bomb of the sort seen in cartoons. If the Hares had a moment to read, they’d might have noticed it read “That’s all, folks!” written on the side of the cartoon bomb in white paint. It went off before they possibly could have.

I could have gone nuclear, but for Max’s medication. People hold nuclear weapons as particularly awful, no matter how few their death toll in comparison to conventional arms. A terrorist bombing in Geneva would be glossed over. I was a supervillain. I do things like that. A nuclear attack on a foreign country is harder to walk away from without your metaphorical nuts in a literal vice.

The Psycho Flyer began to move it, the soldiers onboard getting instructions and photos showing them who to make sure is dead.

“What did you fucking do?!” Venus yelled at me in the Directory building.

“They tried to kill my daughter. Peace is off the table,” I told her.

“I should take you in right now. This alliance is over with!” she yelled back at me.

I just laughed, a short and cynical bark. “They tried. To kill. My daughter. And probably me along with her. I warned them. I told them it would happen. If they sent another assassin, I’d send one of my own, and it would be the only one I needed to send.”

“You’re just a scared bastard,” she said, walking up close to make tuning her out harder. “You don’t care about making the world better anyway. You say you want peace for your daughter, but you’ll never get it. You’re too scared of giving peace a real chance in the end, because if people can put aside hate and revenge, they can improve and you’ll know you’re wrong, you’re wrong for killing them instead of giving them a chance, because you’re a hurting, jealous little man who wishes he was a hero but has to settle for killing everyone he thinks is wrong with the world except the worst part of it. Himself. Yourself. You have to make sure everyone stays wrong so you can prove yourself right!”

She slapped me across the helmet, once, then again. Then she punched me, grabbed my helmet, and slammed me to the ground. She raised her fist and extended a spike that I knew could generate an electric current. She didn’t know it wouldn’t penetrate anyway, but still all I did was look up at her and ask, “Are you going to kill me?”

“I should. Do you know how many people are going to die?” She asked, and I swear there were tears in her voice.

“Every Hare I can get my hands on,” I said. “But not me unless you want that speech you gave to apply to you, too.”

She pulled the spike back in, but gave me a punch to the belly that knocked the wind out of me. She stood up and began to walk out, accepting a wing draped over her by Titan.

I smiled to myself in spite of the discomfort and pulled myself back onto the throne of Ricca. Words can be weapons too. I prefer bombs when available, though. They were effective enough in Geneva, as my soldiers soon reported back they had the remains of five individuals in the middle of a wrecked street with some big water main busted and flooding the area. Manx and Borjigin were a mess. Israkeel was in slightly better shape, meaning her body had been blown into a nearby building where being impaled through couple of support beams finished her off. Olokun had stayed relatively intact better than the humans, but that was a moot point with identifiable body parts scattered all over.

That just left Barkiel. The other one who hadn’t ordered a drink. The one who, upon playback of satellite footage over Geneva, disappeared all on his own around the same time our side of the table had.

Tricky little Barkiel. I’ll find him too.

If even gods bleed, I know what he’ll do.

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Hare-Brained 9

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I’m “swearing” off women other than my wife. Yes, the square quotes are intentional. I didn’t swear actually swear or promise or make a deal about anything. I’m just going to try. I don’t know why it seems worthwhile to me. I don’t love Citra. We’re friendly but not friends. Maybe the best reason I can come up with is the dignity of my position. I mean, just imagine how hard it’d be to take a world leader seriously if I had strippers and porn stars doing tell-all interviews describing what my sex parts look like in an embarrassing way. Like saying it’s abnormally big and resembled a Sarlacc pit.

I know, it’s weird. It’s just that her feelings suddenly matter more after a few of Max’s beers. Not that they were completely out of mind. Carl, Moai, Qiang, Max… not the first people I cared about.

I confronted someone I didn’t care about, too. I visited Elda. Technically, she’s supposed to be my wife as part of a political marriage with the Bronze City over on the island of Mu. I betrayed her and put her into a coma while marrying Citra who used nanite surgery to look like her. I stopped by a special room in the hospital that no one knows about and left a sword in there. “Hello Elda. Long time no see.”

She didn’t respond, naturally. The equipment hooked up to her showed her to be healthy enough. The nanites were keeping her comatose. She’d lost weight, though. I sent out out an order to nanites and the medical staff. “A bit skinny there. I’ll work on that. I’ve wronged you, Elda. No duh, right? You had dreams of being some warrior princess and here I come to be the one to marry you. I should have worked something out with you that didn’t involve hurting you.” The nanites made sure my message go through to her, because science. Hail science!

“I’m sorry. This sword is the first of the gifts I’ll be throwing together for you. They’ll bring up clothes later and I have armor being printed off for you. Before I… there’s a fight coming up involving people who have a reputation as gods, and the powers to back it up. When I go, I’m going to make sure we drop you off somewhere. Give you a shot at being your own person, as you deserve. I’ll throw in some money and arrange for a tutor on this crazy new world you’ll be in, but I think you’ll fit in. The land I have in mind is a land of conflict, where you can find your way for good or ill. A land where you can, with effort, become who you want to be out from under my shadow.”

I stepped close and laid my hand over hers. “I am by far the shittiest spouse you could have gotten. I hope you find a better life than I obviously planned for you.”

That decision’s going to bite me in the ass at some point. But it’s still the right one. Ugh, that statement… I need a beer.

Speaking of things that can fuck me over, Hu. Hu’s attempts to get me to understand proportionality, like Citra, rubbed off on me. The dude’s still not being my liason another time, but he’s got good skills and he cares. He just fucked up. I suppose the case could be made for how I shouldn’t have killed that judge or Wong the Director, but I can rationalize it another way. Hu is still good at his job despite his poor judgment, in which he went above and beyond his authorized powers. Wong and that judge’s entire job amounted to their judgment and how they used it. They both showed themselves incompetent with the powers vested in them, which was hazardous to my nation.

Side note: Queen Beetrice, the giant bee woman obsessed with snoo-snooing me to death, has heard I did a good job on the courts and thinks I need to help out over in North Korea. They are my people too, but I guess her self-education hasn’t prepared her for making North Korea’s judicial system less gulag-y. I got her some notes, but that’s the best I could do. I have more important things to worry about than that at this point.

I have the Place du Bourg-de-Four under so much surveillance it would make a porn site feel forgotten. Do you know how many rats fart there on average each day? I do. Disturbances in the pattern of rat farts could be the only indication the Three Hares have snuck an ambush into place or deployed some form of weapon. Rat farts start petering off and then I find out there’s poison gas hidden around that’s been killing them off slowly while waiting on me to get close.

The Hares wouldn’t expect me to pay attention, but I’ll show them. I’ll show all of them. There’s an ancient conspiracy uniting ancient European, African, American, Asian, and Oceanian mythology, involving gods and aliens guiding the world while remaining hidden, and the rats will tell me if they try to kill me. Yes, the Three Hares will rue the day Psycho Gecko started taking her medication! Mwahahahaha!

So like I said, the stuff Max is giving me for my mental health has done wonders to make me a more sane and functional person. And it’s all thanks to my extensive drinking of alcohol. Couldn’t have done it without putting all that beer in me. It’s practically made me a role model compared to my old self.

That doesn’t mean all my problems are solved. In addition to keeping an eye on the Three Hares, the United States government wants me to give back Rhonda, Leland, and Kayla. I’ve refused on the grounds of Ricca being safer. The envoy from the U.S. Started to laugh at the idea that U.S. Citizens are safer in an foreign dictatorship until I showed him the front page of the latest newspaper showing brutal murders committed by police, children being rounded up and placed into internment camps, and constant mass shootings. The only response was an awkward, “We didn’t realize you subscribed to American news.”

He’d had a drink of water. It would have been so easy. An aneurysm. A heart attack. A stroke. He sat there, speaking as if I needed to do what he said or I’d be obliterated. Because how dare anybody challenge them. The rest of the world just has to let them push them around. Makes me want to find something big to shove, whole, up that guy’s ass. Reminds me a lot of myself.

Well, Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day. The Visigoths didn’t have dimensional technology. I do, so I’ve been throwing one together. It’s all part of the plan, you see. Get peace, or make them die trying. But that’s all boring. I’ve built plenty of those. The really interesting stuff happened, as it so often does, when I was in the shower.

I was sudsing myself up with all four arms, getting my curves nice and clean. The door rang. It was that pizza I ordered that I didn’t have enough money to pay for.

Fanservice over. I was farting my way through another shower when someone screamed my name. It’s not an unusual sound for the shower, but I do prefer the person screaming it be in there with me when the magic’s happening. I didn’t think too much of it, until more voices joined in. Figuring the household wasn’t turning into my own personal chorus of the damned, I threw a towel around my waist, another around my boobs, and a last one around my hair. The final towel I tightened into a spiral for self defense.

I found Silver Shark, Citra, and Rhonda all surrounding Qiang. My daughter held a box between both hands. The top of it had fallen open toward me and I read the phrase “Hold your hands on the markers for the surprise!”

I started to ask what was going on until I realized Qiang was shaking. One second I was in the hallway, the next I was by all of them at the door. Qiang looked up at me. “Mommy what is it? It said to pick it up?”

I looked down at the digital timer inside the box. It was made of a black composite material, with two things sticking up that could have been shortwave antennae until one of the tips began to glow and turned to point at me. The other light up with a hologram of a dark silhouette. “Psychopomp Gecko. The glorious apparatus will negotiate with your successor.”

The Three Hares, those slimy sons of parakeets.

“Just hold onto it… let me look.” I checked it over from various angles, then popped an eye out and eased it down between the bomb and the box. While it had pressed against the sides of the box with either pressure sensors or fingerprint scanners, there wasn’t anything like that on the other sides. “How are your arms, sweety?” I asked as I popped the eye back in.

“They huuurt!” Qiang whined.

I nodded. “I nee you to keep your hands there, but we can set them it down on something. Let’s just sit you down, ok?”

She nodded and I guided her over to a little table in the living room where she could sit down and rest herself and her arms. “A person can be perfectly strong, but holding something out in front of you with arms extended makes anybody tired quick. It’s- no, we’ll discuss Tai Chi later. What we have here is a small example of an implosive-explosive sub-molecular device. Not a big deal at all, I promise y’all.”

It was the size that was so astonishing. Excellent miniaturization. The thing wasn’t round, but it was a couple baseballs in size.

It seemed like a longshot, but I reached in with a finger and pressed it to what I’d identified as a crucial computerized part of the initiation sequence. A lot of these explosives, it’s really a matter of chemistry and physics. Fire or water can set stuff off, or simple kinetics. It often just depends on which chemicals are used in the process. Even an atomic bomb isn’t that complicated of a weapon. My ability to bond with computers would be useless against Little Boy, for instance.

The difference here is that this thing had sensors rigged up, and a timer. I’d have just put a timer on to scare someone while the thing detonated whenever I wanted. This person put one on to tell me I had five minutes to fix the problem.

When I linked up with it, I found that an internal mechanism was capable of reading when the timer reached zero to activate an internal explosive driving… ya know, unless I want this censored in that dimension, I should probably keep the specifics to myself. Don’t want Optimal Outer Control getting in trouble for teaching people how to build a nuclear weapon, regardless of the availability of plutionium over there.

Regardless, the flaw wasn’t in the fundamental function of the bomb, but in how it was meant to be triggered. The sensors on the side were fingerprint scanners, which meant they specifically targeted my daughter out of a desire to die by having as much of their body shoved up their own ass as humanly possible. They would trigger the explosives that would initiate the fission reaction if released. Otherwise, the timer would make it all happen.

It was actually pretty simple to trick the computer in there into increasing the amount of time and holding onto a false positive for the scanners. “Ok, hon, you can take your hands off.”

“You promise nothing bad will happen?” my crying daughter asked.

Oh, something bad will happen to someone for this. “Mommy promises.”

Qiang pulled her hands away quickly, then started jumping and screaming in relief when nothing happened. I managed to put the bomb into shutdown mode, then disconnected and called up the Institue of Science. Dr. Creeper practically flew. Actually, he completely flew. I heard him roar in on an old-fashioned rocketpack that looked like if Wile E. Coyote joined the Third Reich. “I vill personally deliver zis to a secure room for decommissioning, my lady,” he announced.

I leaned in to whisper so no one else would hear. “Make sure the room can contain a nuclear bomb. This one’s crude and small, but still.”

He nodded, tucked the bomb under one arm, raised a fist to the air, and blasted off again.

“There goes trouble,” said Silver Shark as she watched the trail of his rocket power through the air.

“Make it double,” I said flatly.

“Are you alright?” she asked, looking at me. “I expected you to be pissed, or to go laughing mad.”

“I’m fine, Sharky,” I said, cracking my fingers and walking back in. Even when I hugged my girl to me, the cold rage in me refused to yield.

I’ll get peace when the Three Hares rest in it. All of them.

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Hare-Brained 8

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Micro-managing my island is fun and all, but I’m missing all the fun stuff. Despite being a dictator, it’s considered bad form to just kill any of my citizens I’d like. I CAN, of course. Even the Directory’s pretty well gutted at this point. Security, Intel, and the military are all my guys. But it still benefits me not to be a malevolent dictator. Follow along here. If I’m an asshole, that spreads a lot more resentment than necessary and I get people willing to cooperate with coups and assassination attempts. If I keep everyone poor and without the basics, that opens me up to Robin Hood situations.

Machiavelli once asked if it was better to be feared or loved. In The Prince, he concluded that it was better to be feared. He was also a proponent of democracy who argued that the tyrant to be feared should live within a conquered city and arm the citizens of the city. I’m not listening to Machiavelli on this one. I’m just a feared assassin and dictator living in the city I conquered while allowing my people free access to all kinds of goods being smuggled or shipped through- FUCK!

Well, all the more reason not to piss off everyone. And all the more reason to put tiny machines I can control into the water supply.

I think it’s pretty clear I’ve gotten antsy waiting around. Y’all see it. Max has noticed it. Holly actually approached me one day asking if I had any fairy dust to sprinkle on her and help her fly, so she definitely noticed.

I tried to channel that energy toward building more stuff, Dudebot modifications, armor maintenance, etc., etc. And I didn’t take Max’s medication anymore, but I’m willing to think about it. As soon as negotiations are over.

Speaking of negotiations, I finally got word back on that. It happened while I was sitting in on a court hearing. Bank robbers helped themselves into a passing car. They forced the driver into the backseat at knifepoint and tried to escape from Security. Security laid down a tack strip at Wong Way, popped the tires, and now there was a hearing about possibly charging him as some sort of accomplice. The Imperial attorneys figured he might have brought the car along and pretended to be kidnapped to save his own skin.

I showed up to make sure the courts were working smoothly, but I think I’ll have to take a look at finding some way to keep something like this from even making it to court. The attorneys representing the Empire need a little shaking up over it, and I might implement some sort of public defender program. The guy’s just sitting there without an attorney, ignorant of arguments, procedures, motions, and all that.

The judge was quicker on the uptake than the Imperial attorneys. He banged his gavel and declared, “I am not inclined to press the matter further with someone whose only crime was being borne on the Wong side of the tacks.”

I nodded and got up to leave when I saw Barkiel standing there. One of these purple humanoid aliens of the Three Hares, he favored jeans and a denim jacket, projecting a disguise of himself as just another guy with sandy blonde hair. This time, he let the human projection fade into one that more accurately showed himself in a uniform that included a short jacket with poofy upper arms that reminded me of those fancy uniform pants, the jodhpurs.

I raised an eyebrow. Barkiel clicked his heels together and stood up straight. “I have an official announcement for Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca and North Korea.”

“Can we take it outside?” I asked, quietly. Looking around, it didn’t seem anyone else had noticed the projection. I walked through the projection and the door to find a more suitable place for receiving an emmisary from a hostile group. My first thought was to sit on the nearest throne, but… fine, ok, I led him to the lobby of the courthouse. “A most unconventional audience, Barkiel.”

“Thank you for seeing me, Empress,” he said, floating over to stand in front of me and perform a formal Western-style bow. “My superiors wish for me to inform you of the receipt of your message and our desire to meet with you and representatives of the other belligerents.”

“As it happens, my island is a great place to have such a meeting. Here, in the Directory Building, in a week.” I tapped my toe on the floor, figuring the impatience and annoying sound might mess with Barkiel.

He kept his voice calm and downright monotone as he responded, “Your island is unacceptable. We suggest Jerusalem as an alternative.”

I shook my head. “First, that’s insulting to my island. You should go outside and apologize. Second, that’s not happening. Just about the only thing Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in that city can all agree on is that I’m not allowed there anymore. Which is really stupid, because I was Pope once. That changed before I could do anything about the kid-fucking too, and the world’s worse off for it.”

Barkiel tried not to laugh. “We need a neutral location. We propose Switzerland.”

I was going to propose Mu, but Switzerland isn’t too bad… “The Island of Mu.”

“You maintain a client state on that neutral location. Should you agree to a meeting in the public square of Place du Bourg-de-Four in Geneva, we would be willing to acquiesce to your desire on the date.”

A public square isn’t a bad idea. It’d be much harder for them to pull off replacing everyone around like in that John Wick movie, and being outside gives a lot more options to get away if it’s an ambush. Plus, I can keep an eye out with satellites and even launch on the place. It’s bad form to launch missiles at Switzerland, but it’s not like they’ve helped any of the major world powers out in a war lately. The thing about neutrals is that they have enough sympathy to your cause not to attack you themselves, but they’re more than happy to stand by and watch your enemy throw your corpse in a ditch.

I nodded to him, “You bring your leaders, we bring ours. And we meet in a week, when the autumnul equinox has brought me to my full power.

No matter what, my preparations shouldn’t take too much longer, but I have to have time for Titan and Venus. So a week from when we talked: September 24th. And the part about the equinox is just a straight-up lie that might put doubts into someone’s head if he tells them about it. Never be afraid to lie to your enemy… it’s kinda their fault if you’ve killed a bunch of their people already and they choose to believe whatever you say.

Barkiel didn’t stay to goad me into anything. I think someone had a way of keeping an eye on him, because that alien’s been helping me take down his people. Well, technically he’s been helping me kill off the divine part of the Three Hares. He even helped me escape from them. I don’t know what game he’s playing, but I know he’s not entirely opposed to me succeeding.

I immediately sent off a transcript of the conversation to Titan and Venus and called up everyone to check on how we were doing. Still no vaccine. The island shield seemed to do well, but they found some more issues when testing it. Something about regulating the flow of electricity and concerns about heating. They’re working on it. It’s not the first shield the Riccan Institute of Science has dealt with, even with the post-Claw brain drain. It should be ready in case anything goes down when I decapitate the Hares.

But first, it was off to dinner with Citra. My poor wife has gone through a lot. Not labor, ok, but she used to be my maid, then her mother and I had sex and I agreed to marry her, then married another woman and made her pretend to be that woman for awhile. Such is not the origin of a happy marriage, but I’m at least trying not to be a complete asshole.

So I took her out. I’d wanted to get all dressed up and go to this fancy place, but a little bit of Max’s beer prompted me to get the novel idea of asking her what she wanted to do. “Dance with me,” she said. And so instead of fancy dressing up that I enjoyed, we threw on skimpy clothes and went out to this dark club with pounding beats. I don’t normally dress like that, as I’m a villain in the streets and a freak in the sheets.

It was there in the club I discovered my wife is considered something of a hotty. Or at least a lot of the guys thought so when they saw her in a leather skirt and stripper heels. Which, if I’m not mistaken, explains where my pair disappeared to. We should really go shoe shopping together.

Stripping can be good exercise, and you never know when you’ll need to fight using poles. Plus, the heels are really good for inserting into enemy weak spots, like eyes or urethras. I have trouble getting them in on the first swing, but I am known for my dogged persistence. And doggy-style insistence. Which explains why Citra preferred to dance up on me from behind and whisper in my ear, “I got a new strap-on.”

I wrapped my arms around hers, holding her hands and keeping her close to me. “I’m a poor excuse for a husband.”

We danced way too slow for a place with a spinning discoball that helped reflect multicolored lights through the black lights of the dance floor.

“You’re my wife though,” she said, whispering in my ear before giving the lobe a little nibble. “Evil supervillain Psycho Gecko is concerned about taking time off for her wife.”

“I may be sleeping around, but this is supposed to be a partnership between you and I, but I’ve forced you into roles you were never prepared for. Mother to a child you didn’t want or ask for. Wife to one of the most hated people on Earth. Empress to a nation you were a servant in. You’ve had no say in this, and that’s not what I want. So, to once again drag out that most interesting of questions… what do you want?”

I felt her press a kiss against my hair where it covered the back of my neck, then return to my ear, speaking a little louder to be heard over a new song that started up. “I’d like to go to college and be the second best Empress on Earth. And I want to have you all to myself. And I want to put a baby in you.”

That brought a raised eyebrow. “I can think of two ways that last one’s possible right now, and I have to warn you that I’m not into unbirthing.”

She giggled in my ear. “Max has some ideas about that provided you don’t give your daughter and her best friend a baby half sister first.”

I rolled my eyes and leaned back against her. “Just not a lot of guys I feel that way about… and the thought DID occur to me. It felt symmetrical in a freaky way.”

“Mhm, I bet.” I let her turn me around to face her. The face I saw wasn’t hers. It was Dame’s. “Maybe this is the woman you would like a baby with?” She held up her phone and pressed a button, at which point her face began to change again through what I recognized as nanite plastic surgery. After a few seconds, she had Venus’s face. “Or her?”

I smiled in a crooked, skeptical sort of way. “You really don’t want me messing around anymore, do you?”

She winked at me, then noticed something over my shoulder. Her smile faded. “It’s Wong.”

“I mean, if we both agreed I could do it, it wouldn’t be, but clearly that’s not the case here.”

She pointed over my shoulder. I turned to see one of the Directors I recently sent home on indefinite leave. It was him and a half dozen other guys with Uzi pistols and swords that looked like short machetes with handguards, known colloquially as butterfly swords.

I broke into the DJ’s computer and made an alteration to the playlist. The crowd were understandaly confused when the song changed to “Danger! High Voltage” by Electric Six. I kept dancing along with Citra as irritated people left the floor, making plenty of room for Wong and his gang to surround me, illuminated by the colored lights from the discoball spinning overhead.

I pushed Citra down my body. Lower, lower… until she was safely on her knees while I faked moans.

“I knew if I watched, you would make a wrong move,” announced Wong.

“Oh yeah. Right there. There, there, there, oh my ME!” I yelled, raising my face and firing my eye laser. The discoball redirected the laser all over the club and the men who came to voice their vociferous opposition to my tyranny, frying them and catching parts of the club on fire.

I laughed as Citra stood up and checked out the corpses. “As hot as this has been, it’s kinda dead on the dance floor now.”

She smiled and took my hand to lead me off to a night of spousal fun, telling me, “I don’t want to set the world on fire. I just want to start a flame in your heart.”

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Hare-Brained 7

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Sitting around and waiting isn’t much of a life for me, but it does give me time to catch up on doing things that need doing. For instance, we had a successful first test of the shield generator. It’s more my design, but the guys at the Institute of Science said they built in a few redundancies for the sake of security. When I asked for specifics, since the entire thing’s made for our security, they showed me fake panels on it that just look like you’re doing stuff if you mess with it. Now that it’s functional, they’re going to wire those panels so that messing with them sends a signal to myself and the men and women of the Riccan Armed Forces.

It also gave me time for a nice lunch meeting with Hu that I didn’t rush. It was overdue, but I wanted to prepare first. Part of that preparation involved a nice lunch outside on a balcony. Yes, I have balconies. I’ve sometimes imagined I’m never going to keep finding rooms and other areas on this house. I’m going to notice a door I never opened before, look inside, and find an entire dead menagerie of exotic animals. The smell will be horrible. But at least I knew about the balconies. Being outside, missing them would be particularly egregious.

I munched on some lumpia as Hu was sent out to meet with me. “Hey there, Hu,” I said, waving him over with the fried, flaky roll in hand. I moved a file folder out of the way as he sat in the only other chair available. Instead of files, I pushed over the plate of lumpia. “Care for one? I made them myself.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” he replied.

“You’re welcome.” I set one on a plate that I pushed toward him. “They’re not really all that authentic, since I focus on meat and don’t care for the normal mix of veggies. But I didn’t say they were authentic, just that I made them.”

“Are you alright, Empress? Have you been drinking again?” He took off his shades and pulled out a wipe to clean them off. He appraised me with bare eyes and I gifted him with a smile. He set his glasses down to try a bit of my lumpia.

“No, silly. Just offering you food here. And I offer all my people of Ricca my protection and services as the sovereign. I am the state, so they don’t have to. I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy ruling. And despite the fact that I am a vicious killer known to utilize chemical, sonic, and dimensional weaponry, I’m trusted with both. You trust me to rule, and you trust that I didn’t poison you on a whim just now.”

He looked down at the roll he’d taken a couple bites of. Then he looked up at me and sat back. I held up a hand to reassure him. “Nope, I didn’t poison you, but the point is that you know I cooked it and you trust me. It’s just lumpia.”

I lifted the plate up so I could grab one underneath it and throw the empty plate at the floor, smashing it.

“Empress?” asked Hu, still no longer touching his lumpia.

I smiled. “I wanted to be dramatic and smash a plate, just not while wasting the food. I think it’s damn good lumpia.” I set the plate down and continued. “There is an enormous trust placed in me that is not put in you. You are not the one people look to when things go wrong. When rebels storm the palace to throw someone’s neck into a guillotine, it’s mine they’re after, not yours.” I grabbed the file and set that on his plate, then flipped it open. “These signatures creating a paper trail, though, are not mine. Some people know how much I dislike paper these days. Plus, I’m a career criminal even if you don’t count my time in politics. Creating more evidence someone could use if a team of heroes decides to make their name delivering me to the UN? Not smart for me.”

“I can explain,” he said.

I nodded. “Good, because that’s why I invited you. I want to know why you’re issuing orders in my name for the sorts of things only I can sign off on. It was apparently quite the secret.”

“You hadn’t been entirely well after returning from captivity. I’ve been led to understand your nightmares are worse. You had been irritable, more murderous. Instability is the bane of nations. I used my own judgment to moderate your impulses militarily so that your disregard for human life did not extend to the grandiose crisis created by your predecessor. I feared you would lash out and create a similar situation to the one that required his removal.”

“What about my demeanor and drinking?” I asked. I wanted to keep the questions as open-ended as possible. Let him create a story to be tested and knocked down, if need be. Knowing how much I was messed up, I went back through the recordings of my memories.

“Your substance abuse convinced me I was right. Heavy drug and alcohol usage is a sign of distress after a traumatic period. I began researching therapists as well, but this is a delicate and private matter.” Hu picked up his glasses and tapped the side. A file appeared in my own augmented reality with a few names of therapists with dossiers attached. I checked to make sure they were real, then I skimmed to see if he’d done more work than a Wikipedia entry. Everything looked legit from that brief view.

“Doesn’t matter. Talk to me. Question me constructively. Suggest better alternatives. Let me know when I screwed up. I welcome that kind of interaction to help me improve. It’s better than not figuring out my mistakes until I have Eschaton halfway up my ass. And by all means exercise your power to do what you think is best. Issue your orders. But you don’t get to issue my orders.”

Hu sat there in silence for a minute after I stopped, then bowed his head. “Empress.”

“Intelligence Chief Pagan will see to your replacement. Take the day to organize the files for the continuity of your successor. Then you will be put on leave for the immediate future while Pagan decides your reassignment.”

Hu sat for a moment, then reached for his lumpia. He took a last, deliberate bite. He set it down and stood up, then bowed low. “By your leave, Empress.”

“Go, Hu.”

I got to eat another one before my next meeting was shown in. She sat across from me, smiling. “Hi baba!”

“Hello dear. What’s this I heard about you making fun of another student?”

“I don’t know.” She bowed her head but looked up at me.

“You don’t know?” I asked. I moved aside Hu’s plate and tore a roll of lumpia in half for her on her own plate.

She took it and began to munch happily, at least until she remembered what this was about. “The kids at school made funna this boy who had a bow in his hair and I said ‘Did you assume his gender?’ like you do to be funny and everyone laughed.”

I may have made a mistake. “Hon, let’s have a little chat, and then we’re gonna make a deal that involves ice cream.”

It’s a good thing most kids can understand all this gender stuff pretty easily. I explained to her about the differences between gender and sex, and how some people might be a certain sex but realize they’re a different gender, and this is just how people are. “And you shouldn’t make fun of people for that,” I finished, not adding that it’s really too lazy. Any asshole can make fun of someone for that, and they do. Just a constant stream of identical assholes, all needing to be torn up. “And you helped me realize that joke I made is a lazy one that works like how those bullies act even if I didn’t mean it that way. So from now on, I want you to let me know if you catch me saying it. Let’s try it for a week first. If we both get through it without using that joke, we’ll have big sundaes.”

She giggled. “Ok, baba.” Of course, then she had to sit up all excited and go, “I get it, because, because, because they’re just like you!”

I looked at her, wondering how I was going to explain the thing that is Psycho Gecko to my daughter, when she hopped out of her chair and walked over to hug me. “I’m sorry, mommy.”

Ok, let’s just leave that behind and focus on the other big major meeting that’s way more important and relevant and not gushy and in no way involves warm, fuzzy feelings or ideas about raising a child to be a better person than the parent or anything at all like that. We are dropping further discussion of Qiang calling me mommy from here on out. It’s dropped. It’s done.

After another day of observation to see how, if at all, Mix N’Max took my discussion with Hu, I invited him along to go fishing with me. Just the two of us on a little catamaran, switching off playing Kevin Costner as we headed out into the water. We each brought our kit: dynamite for me, pescacide for him. That’s fish poison, and that’s why I wouldn’t eat seafood from our fishing trips even if I did eat seafood. And even if he claims to have a way to treat them to make it safe.

Far out in the water, we opened a cooler, I pretended to drink, and began setting our lines. He took a jar out of the cooler and tied it to a rope before poking holes in the lid. I fetched out a bagged chicken, threaded it with fishing line, stuffed the dynamite inside, synced a blasting cap to a detonator, shoved the cap in there, and tossed the chicken overboard. The secret is to get good distance on the throw, and to include a bobber that lets you know when it’s a safe distance away to detonate. You really don’t want to lose track of an explosive cock. It’ll sneak up behind you and, bam!

I let us enjoy the fishing for a bit. Even set a timer for it. Max noticed when it went off. “Is that the Godfather theme?”

I reached up and squeezed the tip of my nose, shutting off the alarm. “Yeah, just to remind me of something.” I checked around to see where my bobber was. I’d had some nibbles, but nothing big, so I pressed the button. The water blew, causing the boat to bob a bit. I waited for the seas to settle before standing. “Well, guess I better get that net.” I walked on over to where we had this big net on a pole in the middle section. Max was sitting on the rear of it, legs dangling out over the water in some cheap flip flops. He’d smeared himself with something to avoid darkening his gothly-pale skin. “Hey, Max… just why have you been drugging me?”

He turned to look at me, standing there behind him next to a pile of dynamite, a net and pole in hand. “Are you going to kill me?”

“I’d rather not. I’ve buried enough friends. But I want to know what you’ve been doing to me and why.”

He shifted to the side so only one leg was dangling and he could better look at me. “I wanted to help you. I was trying to medicate your mental health.”

“Without discussing it with me.”

“You’ve been worse than ever and you never want to work through this stuff with anyone. You keep collecting traumas to carry on your psyche without ever offloading it.”

“Why the fuck is everybody so fucking worried? I function! I do more than function, this is how I win. It fucking sucks, but it’s made me the awesome being you see before you today.”

“Nice sarong by the way,” he said.

“Oh, thanks,” I showed off a little. I’d picked that shade of pink for its potential to cause blindness from how the brightness, and because it matched my bikini.

Max tied the end of his rope to a metal loop, then turned all the way around to face me while sitting. “It’s great that everyone is worried for you. It means you have people who care. That’s new for you, because you were alone for so long that you resented that and saw it as weakness. You’re still kickass, but think how much better you’d be if you were healed up there. Not to take away who you are as a person, but to get rid of the damage that’s keeping that person from being 100%.”

That made a frightening amount of sense to me, and I’d made sure my drinks on the way out here weren’t spiked. I turned away from him to contemplate this and scooped up floating fish from my dynamite blast. After a moment, I called back, “Never do it again, dude. And seriously, you’re on some Buddha level shit right now.”

“I haven’t felt my face for days!” he called back happily.

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Hare-Brained 6

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I feel like I’ve finally found an occupation that fits my contempt for human life and the whims of the little people’s lives. But seeing as I’m not a god (don’t tell anyone I’m not, dear reader), I’ll settle on enjoying being a sovereign instead. Getting the courts figured out is a difficult thing, but I think I killed enough people to make it work. I just kinda, sorta, maybe had to make an executive decision to take back all power related to the courts. Had to rearrange some things, make a few more judges, that sort of thing. I’m trying to give people a fair shot in a post-authoritarian society, but the only people with experience are the people who used to work for the last authoritarian regime.

It helps that I’ve been unusually focused lately. I dunno, it’s like I’m getting into a new swing after my imprisonment. Fixing things that need fixing, reprimanding Directors, and working on some special projects. I think the shield generator project is going to work out, but I’m also wondering about a better system of high speed transit to and from the island. A mag lev bridge is too unwieldy a public works project right now, but I’m considering gauss transportation.

I was talking it over with Max the other day. Load passengers up in an appropriate container and use electromagnetic forces to hurl the container at high speed across the ocean. I was trying to work out the appropriate velocities over some more beers Max brought over and just kinda lost interest. Seemed a bit farfetched and dangerous. I put it aside to figure out some new laws I was rubber stamping. And writing. If the Directory’s going to screw up so much, I’ll just have to take over all that. For fuck’s sake, one of these guys made a list of prohibited names of men divorced women are allowed to date all because of his marriage going south. I’m not going to have my Security guys waste time arresting women for screwing every Tom, Dick, or Xue who comes along after they divorce.

But, hey, I made it up to them by sending the Directors home for a holiday. They’ll be fine. Makes it easier for me to handle peace treaties and all that, too. I find myself sympathizing with Simon Bolivar’s advocacy of a military dictatorship to walk a people toward democracy because they had no experience with self-rule.

It seems as though the Hares might be working at the problem from the other end. A militarized hierarchy that handles most of the important stuff, but has a problem with volunteers and possibly resources because everybody’s so independent. The aliens do their thing, the various pantheons and other groups do theirs. It’s entirely possible the regular ones on the ground don’t even know about the power collars. Dame didn’t, before all this. If I have to go public in some way, that might help me splinter them. But if it that was such simple leverage, why didn’t anyone in the group try it already?

It bugs me. I can’t help but wonder if they’ve got a trump card hidden to deal with that.

In the hopes of finding that out, I managed to get a bit of time to talk with Titan. It wasn’t easy, though. I ended up dropping in with a Dudebot where Titan was busy clearing some mines away. It was a stretch of land in one of the Stans where someone had decided they didn’t want some tribe or another moving up into their country and dropped a bunch of mines that have also been taking off the legs and destroying the vehicles of pretty much everyone moving through. Hold a gun to my head and I still wouldn’t tell you I cared which Stan it was. The one that really likes that rapper Eminem, maybe? Anyway, Titan was there stomping through, trying to cause as many vibrations and step on as many mines as possible.

While moved from the south, I approached from the north to find a bunch of guys in sandy camo sitting around on trucks. “Let him, “ one was saying to another who checked out the scene through binoculars. “We’ll set more tonight. He won’t be back for months.”

“Not worried about saying that where he might hear?” I asked via the Dudebot. They all turned to point their rifles at the remote-controlled robotic copy of my armor.

“We’re an authorized military checkpoint. We’re allowed to be here,” said whoever I took to be the ranking officer of the dozen men all aiming at me.

Another Dudebot seemingly de-cloaked nearby. The group swung their rifles around, then back to the first one. “Mmm, but if you were publicly using mines, you wouldn’t be letting them destroy those, would you?”

The leader raised his voice. “Somebody has to protect our people, even if the worms who call themselves our leaders will not! Identify yourself and step back!”

For Titan’s sake, I made sure to record on my end. “I’m Psycho Gecko.”

Disappointingly, the leader signaled “Retreat!” They all hopped in their trucks and began speeding off, kicking up dust. I could have gone after them, but I was having a pretty chill day. Sittin’ around in my granny panties, breaking open another of these six packs Max brought me, farting whenever I felt like it.

The soldiers weren’t too far off when I caught sight of Titan on approach. The guy’s wings shouldn’t lift him, but I guess that’s the benefit of being insanely strong. On the other hand, he’s going to have a hell of a time trying to get a colonoscopy done.

He landed near me, folding his wings up and doublechecking the discs he held onto. “Psychopomp. This is a surprise. You didn’t kill them?” he nodded toward the trucks trying their hardest to blow out their engines escaping.

“I dunno, felt like letting them go for some reason. Of course, I only announced myself so no one could connect you to their deaths when I sent in video. I really oughta go kill them, though. Otherwise, they’re going to drop more mines as soon as you’re gone.” I pointed a thumb back toward the areas where Titan had been having a blast.

He stared after the retreating soldiers, the sun gleaming on the sweaty blue and orange skin of his exposed arms. “Thanks for the consideration. I’m sure it’ll be handled.” He turned and checked back to where they’d been stopped, then looked to me. “What brings you to my neck of the woods?”

“Just a chat. Some questions I wanted to ask you,” I told him.

He nodded. “I got a minute if these don’t blow first.” He hefted the discs he had stacked up.

“Mines?” I asked.

“Duds,” he answered. “Or probably duds. You never know with mines. They sit out in the wild and degrade. You could walk on an old mine with nothing happening, then something slots in just right and blammo.”

Or some are just designed to allow two or three activations before going off, but he doesn’t need to hear about Riccan products, especially ones that count as war crimes moreso than regular minefields. “Yeah, I know how that works. I really don’t mean to take up much of your time, so this can wait until you’re finished.”

He shook his head. “Since you’ve been spotted here, that means I’m confronting a potential threat to my operations. Looks bad to let you sit around watching.”

The Dudebot shrugged on my command. “Ok, fine. Titan, considering your name and powers that seem to live up to it, I need to ask how you came across those powers.”

“Name and… ? Is this because the Hares think they’re gods? They went after my people too. If I was working for them, they wouldn’t have needed a sleeper agent. Those storage depots wouldn’t have had mysterious accidents.” He glared down at me. It was probably hard to stare down a robot with three camera “eyes” arranged in a triangle, but he gave it a go. “It’s possible the people who gave me powers were related to the Hares, but I don’t know.”

I waited for a moment, letting the Dudebot rock on its heels until Titan continued: “I’m not telling you my origin story. You wouldn’t be able to verify anything and if I were a Hare, I’d just be lying to you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

He had a point there, so I figured I’d move on to Plan B. “Just curious what our endgame is. Figured we’d all have a talk on it. I know you wanted some revenge against them, but I somehow doubt you want to kill them all like I might be inclined to do.”

“I want the disease done away with completely,” he said. “They created an unstoppable disease. It’s already hurt a lot of people. We could be facing a global pandemic if it mutates. I want to hurt them for using my portal network, except then I have to call it restitution.”

“So revenge is a part of it, good. Gotta be honest, I’m not sure if talking with them is going to work out, and it’s not like we can just hand them all over to governments who don’t even know they exist. There’s not really a way to contain any of them.”

“What about the Academy?” Titan asked. He grabbed one of the mines separately and began messing around with it. It was a delicate job that he somehow managed despite the large fingers.

“I broke out of there and I didn’t even have the ability to turn any doorway into a portal to another place. I’ve already been trying to get people to notice them, but I think we have to force them to reveal themselves.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, but Venus and I are talking about a space prison,” Titan said.

I hopped up and down, clapping. “That sounds awesome! On every level except practical, that’s cool shit. Let me know if you figure anything out and I’m just going to keep on having my guys wreck their shit until they set up a time and place for the meeting.”

“Let us know, and feel free to send along more tips like the last one,” he said, waving to me as I jumped away with the Dudebot. I left the bot hidden a few countries away, in Egypt. The tomb’s already been looted, but they do not want to open that particular stone box and risk the Dudebot’s curse.

Also neat, turns out I didn’t have to do anything about those guys. I kept an eye on the news for that region out of curiosity, and it turns out the minefield wasn’t completely cleared away. An army unit was moving along that highway for some reason when it was caught by mines in an area that suggests the field extends further than government officials previously indicated. Titan apologized and vowed to keep someone around there clearing it all up until they can be absolutely sure.

And then the news came down. Hu called me up with news from some negotiations with the Privateers, those former UN counter-insurgency guys who set up a base off Africa, and they believe they’ve narrowed it down to a city in the Iberian Peninsula. That’s Spain, or Portugal, but nobody’s cared about Portugal since the 1700s.

I almost ran after it myself until Max brought me this mixed drink with a little umbrella in it and I got distracted for awhile. By the time I got back around to thinking of it, I guess I’d sent orders for a team of elite operatives to go in, figure out where all this was coming from, and blow it up with an Earth-shattering kaboom. Hu had a copy of the signed orders in case I doubted them.

Which is odd, because I don’t really sign orders. As many a dictator has done throughout history, I prefer not to leave a record definitively proving my connection to anything. So I think maybe it’s ok for me to sit this one out, seeing as I need to have a chat with my Intel liaison and my friend about how my diet appears to be affecting my job performance.

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Hare-Brained 5

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“You did what?!” yelled Venus at me through the phone.

She interrupted me in the middle of proceeding over a bit of judicial housekeeping. One of my judges was taking kickbacks to imprison people. Unlike the Americans, we don’t give private prisons contracts that depend on them keeping a certain percentage of rooms occupied. This situation puzzled me as a result. Hu dropped me the details: he’d been taking bribes from gangs to give rivals longer sentences.

I pulled the guy aside for a chat, just the two of us, over drinks in one of the island’s many fine establishments of seductive delight. “I am honored by your presence, Empress,” he told me upon my approach to meet him at the entrance. “But I do not believe this is a respectable establishment.”

“Despite your profession, I wouldn’t judge the respectability of the workers herein if I were you.” I slipped my arm into his to guide him inside. I even paid the cover for him. I’m classy like that.

Inside, I guided us to a table next to the wall. A female Deep One with an epic rack sauntered over. “Get you something to drink, handsomelings?” she asked.

“Are those real?” I asked stopping myself short of groping the bouncy pair.

“Yeah. All natural. Touch if you want.” She jiggled them from side to side for me. “You know we mate with humans, don’tcha?”

I gave them a squeeze. “Filthy habit, laying down with those ugly humans.” I turned to the judge. “No offense.”

“Of course not, Empress,” he said, averting his gaze as I motorboated the amphibious fishwoman, raising a hand with a wad of cash from the judge’s wallet. She snatched it out of my hand and was happy to let me take as much time as I needed until I was pulled away by Venus’s call. I had to leave the judge getting a lap dance from a woman whose tattoos moved and changed.

That brings us back to Venus yelling “You did what?!” at me.

“What did I do?” I handed a bouncer some money and he ushered me through the door into the private rooms.

“You know what you did,” she responded.

“Yeah, I know what I did, but I don’t know if you know what I did. I’m not ‘fessing up to anything until it turns out you already know.”

“This is no time for jokes. You know what I mean,” she said.

I shook my head, even though she couldn’t see it. “I swear to you, Venus, and you should know I wouldn’t lie about something like this… I never do only one thing you think is unforgivably wrong. If only you know where I stuck my face earlier, for instance. Let me know which horrible thing you’ve discovered and I’ll let you know what I think about it.”

“Dame.”

“I know, I know, I let her live. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of being judge, jury, and executioner, it’s that many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Not many, but some. Maybe one in a billion if I’m being generous. Really, the ratio is heavily on the living people that deserve death side of the equation, but I didn’t indulge this time.”

“You raped her mind!”

I flopped down on a heart-shaped bed. “That’s being a little dramatic, isn’t it? How much of a mind could she possibly have?” She hung up at the worst possible moment. I’d just decided I liked the bed. They had really fluffy pillows.

Venus had kinda ruined the whole trip, so I headed back out, despondent, to find the judge enjoying the show and a beer. I slid into the seat next to him as the next girl came out. A cat screamed and the multicolor lights around the stage flickered. Rough, droning guitars began to play, a song I recognized as “It Took The Night To Believe”. A pale woman appeared on stage, her loose white dress not really working with the usual strip club aesthetic. She swayed and took a step forward, then the lights flashed off. When she reappeared, she was crab walking, showing off enough leg to see the garter for tips. Another flash, she was upright, her head twisted at an angle usually accompanied by a loud snapping sound and the cessation of life. The next flash left her spinning around the pole, arms twisted around and her mouth stretched unnaturally open. That’s when the dress came flying off, showing tattered lacy bra and panties.

I was in love, and soon short of cash. I even used some of my own money.

Sadly, this whole meeting was business, not pleasure. I dragged myself away after her dance and back to the judge. “I’m having fun, but you seem to be taking things a little too seriously. You gotta relax.”

He sighed. “It’s difficult to relax around one’s sovereign in a gentleman’s club.”

I shook my head and stood behind him, massaging his neck muscles. “Here, let me help you loosen up.”

“I’m not sure-” he started, until I slammed his head forward into the table, busting the bottle.

I grabbed his hair in one hand, the bottle of the broken bottle in another, and jammed the jagged glass into his neck. The blood sprayed into the air over a table dancing vampiress, as did the cash I threw out while yelling, “Make it rain!” The vamp ran her hands down her bloody breasts, mouth open wide in a hiss.

Venus got back to me about 6 AM locally, but I had the call routed through my brain. “Hello?”

“I’ve had time to cool off and get some sleep. We need to talk.”

“Sure, sure. Glad you don’t feel like yelling anymore.” It made it easier to keep from waking anyone on my bed up.

“You’re quiet. Are you breaking in somewhere?”

“No, I just don’t want to wake up the vampire.” Though, with her snoring…

“What are you doing with a vampire?”

I smirked. “Daisy chaining.”

“What?”

“It’s like sixtynine, but I also had the fish woman and the onryo woman… I don’t think she’s really one, because I’m pretty sure those are ghosts, but I figured I’d ask her over breakfast. I make fantastic eggs, something you’d know if you were so lucky.”

She cleared her throat. “You’re trying to avoid the subject.”

“I’ve made my family safe from an enemy who is inexplicably good at finding me and who works for our enemy. Our enemy. She fooled you too. She’ll never be able to fool me again and it got us valuable information.”

“You don’t do that to people.”

“You don’t. I’m responsible for a nation. Millions of people rely on me for prosperity and safety. That means I know things they would hope never to find out about. When their lives are threatened, I eliminate the threats. When someone infects them with a disease that could kill them or take away their abilities, I’m the one who failed them. Turns out I have the perfect moral temperament for a world leader.”

She said, “You’ve gone full Nixon. You never go full Nixon.”

“This is morality, not legality. Remember how slavery used to be legal in your country? But seeing as I’m the Empress here, you don’t have any way to punish me anyway. All you can do is wake me up in the middle of some very lovely sleep and chastise me for invading Dame’s head.”

“It was despicable,” she said.

“Despicable and right aren’t necessarily incompatible. But, if it’s any consolation, tell her I’m sorry.”

“Wow. Oh my god, do you mean the nation of Ricca, is that what you mean?”

“No. I, Psycho Gecko, am sorry. I’ve gotten to know her more closely than anyone else. And whenever you remember she betrayed you too, and you get all pissed off, I want you to let her know that she may seek asylum here. There are advantages to being someone I know can’t act against me.” I felt the woman I was spooning with start to stir. Her dark hair twisted out of the way as her face looked back at me, almost completely turned around backwards. I pressed my lips to her for a kiss, my tongue dancing with what felt like a couple of tongues in her surprisingly roomy mouth.

Meanwhile, seeing as the call went through my brain, I just thought further responses to Venus that came out on her end as sound. “Geez this stripper’s hot.” As I said, my thoughts. “Anyway, I’m going to have to set up a formal meeting with you and Titan about our endgame. How’ve you been doing?”

“Surprised you’re thinking about how this all ends. Your tips were good. We found where they stored stolen artwork and other valuables in one. Another had a server farm we’re looking over. We took a few people into custody but we had to put them in the hidden cells. We can’t just beat up people guarding a building and insist the cops arrest them because of some conspiracy they’re tenuously connected to.”

“I have video evidence. And I ooooooh… sorry, real life stuff happening… and I followed that guy who was dead.” I squirmed as the Deep One stripper’s hands groped and fondled me fondly.

“The fact that you’re involved committing crimes in other countries makes it questionable. If that’s all we have, the cops will be useless.”

“Yeah, you might see if there’s a way to make them useful. Use some influence with politicians if you can to prep them for this going public. I’ll do what I can on my end, but Belgium’s of limited use as an ally in this regard.”

“You’re allies with Belgium?” she asked.

“We’re still in talks. Medical aid and technology exchange deal, but the Belgians are starting to waffle,” I told her.

“Anyone would if they had to put up with you using that joke as often as I’m sure you do.”

I started to answer, but instead I squealed like a stolen Ferrari in a getaway.

“You sound like you’re occupied with something else,” Venus said. “Let me go now.”

“No, you don’t have to hang up. Stay on the line. Hey, how husky can you talk?”

She hung up.

After eventually escaping my bedroom and fixing a lovely breakfast, I left the strippers pleasantly chatting with my wife, daughter, and ex-girlfriend who all showed up at the first sniff of food. I had a pretty damn important piece of info I needed to confirm with Max and Dr. Creeper over at the Science Institute in a conference call in my study.

“I’m sorry,” Max told me. “Without a vaccine, any cure is only a temporary reprieve from the disease.” He referred to the one that afflicted the brain with the condition that allowed superpowers of all sort to be disabled by the power collars.

Dr. Creeper’s faux-German accent came from the phone set between us. “Doctor Smith has failed to find a vaccination method. If subjects have a reaction, it is the severe one that risks death. Perhaps if ve could integrate the cure with the human body or nanites?”

“No can do on that,” Max said, shaking his head. “That’s now how it works.” He nodded to me, then over toward the minifridge. I nodded and he walked over to fetch us something to drink.

“You could just try!” Creeper said.

“Doc, if Max says he can’t do something with chemicals, that generally means it just can’t be done.” I waited a moment before remembering I could try to soften the blow. “But thanks for your zeal. The fact that you care so much is why I trust your people are doing their best.”

Max tapped me on the shoulder with a beer. Not my favorite, but it was a breakfast beer anyway. Seems like he’s been wanting me greased with alcohol a lot lately. I grabbed it and took a sip while he popped the top off his own. “Creeper, how are we on that shield generator project?”

“Ve vill be ready for a test soon. Do you anticipate needing it vithin the next veek?” he asked. Is it just me, or is he emphasizing his “w”s more than usual?

“Hopefully not. I just always like to have more weapons and gadgets in my arsenal. Never know when you’ll need to pull them out and surprise someone.” I said, whipping out a serrated rocket knife for emphasis to a man who couldn’t see anyway. Meanwhile, Max looked behind me, trying to find where it came from. “I want us prepared for the peace talks, because I’m going to make peace happen no matter who loses their head over it.”

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Hare-Brained 4

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Everyone wants to keep me away from the fighting for all sorts of reasons. Mental health. Thinking up a plan. Signing off on laws. Clearly, my heroic and neutral allies, and those around here on my island, are trying to prep me for being the diplomat of the bunch.

One thing I did to try and work on my skill at diplomacy involved a nice dinner for some of the top Directors, just to help the flow of information both ways. I even cooked for them myself. I could tell these top brass were quite uncomfortable being in my presence at such an event, even more so that I personally saw to the food. I figured I’d break the ice with a little joke as I sat down at the table with the rest of them. I took my seat, raised my hands, and announced, “Truly, I tell y’all, one of you will betray me.”

All conversations and faces fell. Suddenly, one guy on the end jumped up, knocking over his chair. He ran for the door of the building I’d borrowed for the occasion. I grabbed the gravy boat off the table and threw it. Tricky as it is to throw something that’s spilling viscous fluid out of it, it clanged off his head and he fell down. A pair of the security detail stepped in, looked at the groaning man on the floor, then up to me. “Have this one eliminat- no, ya know what? He’s a Director and he might be useful. Throw him in a cell somewhere and find out who he works for.”

I looked around the table to all the other Directors I’d invited. The guys supposedly making laws about all the important things but who had instead gotten into fights subsidizing personal businesses and a funny fight about naming certain roads that has some walking along the intersection of Ug Lee Street and Wong Way. It’d be funny if not for the fact that part of the reason I’m getting so much paperwork from the courts is because they’re doing that instead of reinforcing the courts and writing laws to fill in the gaps.

“Now then, gentlemen, I hope the rest of you stay and enjoy this meal as we have ourselves a productive conversation about the proper place of the judiciary and why I value not having to spend all my time running Ricca.” I smiled around the table, prompting many a fearection from the gathered Directors. “After all, you’ll find I miss the gravy more in this meal than I do any one Director’s company.”

I think it went well, but it was only the first step in what I was doing. See, I’d gotten this idea into my head that perhaps I don’t necessarily need to destroy the Hares. I just had to sit down and have a proper thought about it while drinking some cocktail Max gave me. I dunno, it’s like things became clearer, though it gave me some terrible dry mouth.

So one thing I know is that the portion of them that are aliens have convinced the whole group to hide their supers. Because the aliens are just sitting around waiting to be retrieved, but their government’s liable to just blow the crap out of the whole place if it looks really dangerous instead. No wonder they targeted me. Being dangerous enough to justify orbital nuking is what I do best.

Dame didn’t like being kept under lock and key with that group, and they already kept most members out of the loop about what was going on. As a result, she doesn’t know what prompted them to start doing things now. She hadn’t really been brought in on anything until Master Academy called her up to help me. They left out the virus and the power collars, but the phone call started with “We are calling upon you to serve as one piece of our apparatus.”

That’s the same sort of language they used for Funhouse, who no one’s seen since the multiplier was apparently gassed for not following orders and leading me to a site that let me identify and hunt down the Three Hares.

That hands-off approach is why she was able to hang out with people who can literally read minds without problems. And it’s why, ultimately, I decided to give her to her friends in Master Academy. I even made a little ceremony of it.

I escorted her to the Cape Diem camp. A small crowd gathered around us, curious. Everyone likes a show, especially people working. I held onto her with one hand. She didn’t put up a fight and knew she couldn’t. Merely having the power to control her like a puppet with my fist up her ass didn’t mean I had to exercise it. I could do a lot of philosophizing about the nature of power, but it’s just a simple thing. I’ve spent most my life with a hankering for human life and the ability to kill almost everyone I’ve ever met. And I only tried to kill everyone on Earth the one time.

I slipped a scroll out from between my breasts and flicked it open. “Our lovely nation of Ricca has only grown stronger by the contributions of the best of all cultures on Earth and a few from below it. As an outsider to this island, I know this more than most. Ricca has given me family and a higher purpose. But this goodwill does not extend indefinitely. And so I am formally removing the supervillain known as Dame from the island and evoking my right to Jus Primae Calceus, otherwise known as the Right of the First Boot. Begone, woman!”

I stepped back and kicked Dame’s lovely, if skinny, ass over the border into the camp. She stumbled but caught herself and turned. I shooed her away. “Go. I’m sending you back to the heroes. Let them deal with you. You’re not my problem anymore.”

She was more than happy to run into the arms of nearby Cape Diem personnel who were to escort her through the portal. She might even miss the island. Sure, I was horrible to her, but I’m her enemy. That’s to be expected. She’s going back to people she’s known as friends who now know she was working with the Hares. She thinks she’s heading back to friends.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in her head or because of my bout with temporary sanity, but I almost hope it’s not too bad for her. I sent off an email to Venus letting her know that, just in case they have irreconcilable differences, I might be willing to be the island of last resort for Dame.

Note to self: don’t do this brain and memory thing ever again if I can help it. It makes them way too sympathetic, and I found myself looking out from the wrong body more than once.

With that taken care of, the next thing I had in mind required waiting. It would have been less of a wait, but the Director who ran turned out to be working with the Chinese. Despite that setback, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be waiting long.

Yeah, right. In my dreams.

I was enjoying another night of overpressure and screams. Just being caught in an endless fight, bare hands, no armor, endless enemies and no way out. Dimensional bomb right there, and I understood I activated it. I was running to get away while people swarmed me. Every time I killed them, they’d rise right back up. I could tear off faces and they’d stand back up. Snap necks, up again. Pull out a person’s heart, stand right back up, hole and all. Just me being clawed at by a never-ending mass of undead who would claw or bite chunks out of me. When I finally got to the edge, there she was. The one who betrayed me. She smiled and waved. The shield went up and trapped me in there with the never-ending army and the bomb in the middle.

I just kept fighting, never knowing when it was going to go off or I’d finally be too exhausted to keep fighting. Now, all that was fairly normal up until I looked up and a giant bug stabbed through all of it. Think Tyrannosaurus Mantis. A big, stabby mantis. It carved through all of that, then turned to me and scooped me up in its arms and lifted me up to where a teen boy stood on top of the giant mantis. I was set on the insect’s head and just took a moment to breath and look around, but the guy reached up for me. It felt like we were jumping and things got fuzzy.

I woke up gasping as I tried to breathe, my body being pushed down into the bed. I looked up to see the same boy on top of me, hands around my throat. I went to move my arms, but then something stabbed through the upper pair that were outside the sheets and pinned them to the bed. Looking up further, there was a giant mantis again, though not dino sized. More like basketball-player sized, with me being bounced like a basketball while the little guy choked me.

This one, I didn’t want to give a laser lobotomy to. I opened my mouth and dropped the fangs I’d installed. Handy things. Also handy? Forearms, but less so when bitten by fangs. To my surprise, he kept choking with one hand and used the other to punch me in the nose. Which means no more mister nice bitch. My laser eye lit up and I took both his arms off.

He fell back screaming, and the mantis parked next to me growled. I didn’t know they could do that. It raised its claws brought them down toward my head, but I got all four arms up and grabbed them.

Now, a standard mantis body can’t content with a standard human body even if made bigger. Just wouldn’t work as far as things like breathing and circulation, but there’s also the neat thing about muscle becoming less efficient as the size of the animal increases. Humans have bones and muscles enough to support all their bones and muscles. I had reinforced bones and unnaturally strengthened muscles. And, after a moment of pushing, I also had a pair of torn-off mantis claws for souvenirs. I shoved one through the giant bug’s head, then turned to the screaming, cowering, pantless little assassin trying to crawl away from the foot of my bed.

I jumped off the bed and landed with my knee planted in his back, probably fucking up his bladder. Boo-fucking-hoo. I kept him pinned there as I tore his shirt open and began to carve. “Stop squirming, ya baby. If I make a mistake, I’ll have to cross it out and rewrite it, and you’ve only got so much skin.”

When sending a message written on the back of a living victim, it’s important to be as clear as possible. That’s why I broke out the thesaurus and made sure to use the most precise words possible, no matter how long. I decided to hurry when I noticed more and more flies and roaches gathering in the room. The guy commanded a big bug, so it occurred to me he might have the loyalty of smaller ones. They all scattered their own way when I finished and put the final exclamation mark on the matter by driving the claw through the guy’s skull.

The next day, I had Hu and the Intel people pick him up and prepare to drop him off at the site of the next raid. For all the time I took writing it, it’s a simple message, really. Just seeking to have a chat with folks from the Three Hares and see what we might do to convince them to stop the proliferation of both diseases and power collars.

But, while simple, no message is quite so impactful as the one carved on the body of the assassin sent to kill me.

“Dear crazy conspiracy asshats: I, the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca, Destroyer of Worlds, Mistress of Mayhem, cordially invite you to make the necessary arrangements for a diplomatic summit wherein we shall gather and discuss the terms of your surrender, nay your unconditional acquiescence. To that end, I also request that you stop sending assassins. If you do not, I will send one of my own and will not need to send another. Especially not another five. Get the message already. Hugs and blowjobs, Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca, Destroyer of Worlds, Mistress of Mayhem. P.S., Now I’m just fucking with this guy before I kill him.”

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Hare-Brained 3

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Greetings again, dear readers. I come bearing news and fingering the bunghole, but that could be too much information for y’all. Maybe a little working the taint, I dunno. Regardless of what I do in the privacy of my own kitchen, it gets results. And so does Intel.

Hu got a hold of me. They traced back the shipment of collars. It’s a good new lead, and one Dame didn’t know about. This suggests Max may have been correct in criticizing me for not thinking and going a bit, shall we say, wonky there. But Hu trusts my judgment still. As an underling, he has no choice but to trust me or risk that judgment. He brought me the whole story one day while I was sitting in the Directory building, checking over some judicial appeals and other important documents they thought I should look at. Looks like the Vatican’s extradition request for that priest isn’t getting approved!

“We traced the collars to a ship called the Rangoon. In deference to your desire to better acclimate to current events and focus on your family, I took the liberty of authorizing the interception of the Rangoon.” Hu said. The captain proved more than generous with information once he learned we had no desire to uphold or be held to maritime law, and access to shitloads of valuables. Literal shitloads, including the finest in ancient golden chamber pots. Caught between the carrot and where we might stick it, the captain pointed us to an outpost he called the Flying Dutchman.

This Dutchman, unlike the mythological ship or its Disney version, turned out to be a semi-submersible oil platform off the coast of Mauritania. Hu spoke about it like he knew, but I’d never heard of it. “In fairness to your Imperial majesty,” Hu told me when I murmured something to that effect, “The best kept secret is that in the news of any African country other than South Africa.”

“So who runs the Dutchman?” I asked.

“That would be Colonel Duray, formerly attached to the United Nations Taskforce On International Stability. They were originally meant to travel around the world and bolster governments threatened by socialist revolutions during the Cold War. After the fall of the USSR, the task force was downgraded and repurposed to combat terrorism. It saw a resurgence following the United States’s last presidential election, when they began to shirk their UN and NATO duties. Last year, the United States attempted to completely defund and disband the task force after it was ordered to intervene in the U.S.A. Duray took the unit AWOL instead. Since then, they’ve functioned as a mercenary force called the Privateers. They stole from the United States and other nations with the justification of keeping weapons out of the hands of those who escalate conflicts, but have seen action as pirates.”

With that information to go off of, I knew where to search. This isn’t the first time my decision to stay in America upon coming to this world left me ignorant of world events. “Quite a story. If they were any closer, they could be frequent customers or enemies. We need to find out if they’re related to the Hares though. I wonder if the Psycho Flyers have the range for this…” I stood up, tossing papers aside.

Hu caught a bundle and handed them back to me. “Surely every action we take does not require you to attend to it personally. You are the will of our nation. Decide what must be done and we shall do it for you in your stead.”

I coaxed him in closer with a finger. “Cut the bullshit. What is this?”

“Empress, you are too important to run around after every single problem. You are a ruler now, not one of the soldiers to be risked and captured if need be. If word of your capture had gotten out, it would have threatened the new social order and risked plunging the island into anarchy. While I’m being frank, there are rumblings about your mental health as of late. You are scaring your people.”

I ground my teeth and took a seat, pondering. As much as I felt insulted over him calling me out over my sanity, it has always been my policy that underlings be allowed freedom to speak and criticize me. A supervillain who kills people for telling her things she doesn’t want to hear is a supervillain who is the last to know if security systems are shorting out or someone defected and snuck out through a secret tunnel. Plus, there’s a lot of minutia I don’t like to handle and it’s easier to delegate it if people think they’re allowed to have thoughts of their own.

I took a deep breath and released it before continuing. “It’s been a hell of a year. Any particular recommendations on where I should focus my attention on this matter from here on my throne?”

He bowed. “Respectfully, Empress, now may be the best time to increase the pressure on the Three Hares by allowing your allies to raid the locations you have learned about.”

At the time, Titan was the one most likely to be awake with how time zones work, so I called up Cape Diem first. I snapped my fingers for a Directory page to bring over a mirror and nanites. I was trying out skin tones and making some alterations. I called up Qiang and let her watch from my perspective as I changed up a few features.

“I like your eyes! Baba, can I have eyes like that?” she asked.

“Sure thing. You want them with this angle or…” I moved a few things as far as inner and outer angle. “Like this?”

“That’s neat. I want to look just like you!”

I smiled. “Fine, but only if I get to look like you too.” My nose shifted to a button nose like hers would probably turn out to be once she grew up.

“Hello, Gecko?” asked Titan’s voice from elsewhere in my head.

“One moment, gotta extricate myself from how I was passing the time,” I said, before swapping back to Qiang and telling her I needed to handle a very important call. Then, I could come back to Titan. “Heya. You sound a bit out of breath. Did I pull you away from something important?”

“No. I finished my business before I got here. Your friends are kidnapping refugees.”

“I’m not aware of my friends doing anything. Max has all the ingredients he could want right now.” To my knowledge, there haven’t been any additional attempts on my life. With Hu’s concerns, he might have intercepting people, or maybe Max has been looking out for me.

“The refugees were kidnapped by a cabal of low-level magical supervillains. They escaped, but I managed to recover the victims,” Titan informed me.

Huh. I bet that’s why I got that invitation for beer and bratwurst from those guys I don’t know. “Was this around Poland?”

“Yeah. You know what’s going on?” he asked

“Nah, just vague stuff I heard through the grapevine. I’m not really part of the normal villain social scene. They don’t like me. I invited myself along to Secret Santa one year and they all converted to Judaism on the spot.”

“Venus said you liked to tell pointless, unrelated jokes.”

“I wanted to talk to you about the Hares. I got a few spots for you to check on.” And a sudden urge to RSVP in the negative to that beer and brats invitation.

“Shouldn’t you get Venus on the line for this?”

“She’s probably asleep,” I told him.

“She’s a hero. She patrols. Hold on.” I heard beeps, then the sound of distant sirens.

“Hello?” came Venus’s voice.

“Venus, it’s Titan. I have Gecko on the line. Do you have a minute?”

“Yeah, I guess. The Question are long gone.”

I spoke up here. “The Question? I have questions.”

“Pro-government anti-government terrorists. I don’t understand it either. They wear masks with the letter Q and just blew up an NPR affiliate. They like riddles.”

“Huh. Never heard of them, but they sound fun. Listen, it’s about time I shared some of the love with y’all as far as the Hares, if y’all aren’t too busy.”

“Let us worry about that,” Titan said.

“I’m emailing a map along to y’all with relevant info I obtained from a high-value prisoner who grew up in the Hare conspiracy. The individual did not particularly enjoy the isolated lifestyle of the Hares, but I believe I’ve located more important sites than what we’ve run across before. I have important duties to attend to instead.”

“How are you doing after your capture?” asked Titan.

“I’ve been saner,” I said.

Venus spoke up, “I can recommend a good therapist.”

“They’d have to be bulletproof,” I said, laughing it off. I went ahead and sent the emails. “The encryption key is 12345. I know it’s the sort of thing a moron would use for their luggage, which is why it’s the last thing they’d expect from me.”

Titan sighed. “It’s one of the most widely used passwords. If that’s everything, are you sure you can’t give me a tip about the refugees in Poland?”

“Sorry guys, I should really see to these things around here. I’ve got to shampoo my hair and look over some judicial business… oh, I’m getting attacked by ninjas. Gotta run, buh-bye!”

I hung up on them and stood up. They had all they needed from me. I checked out the mirror. “What do y’all think? Like the new look?”

The trio of ninjas who had dropped into the Directory building took fighting stances. No stage pajamas here. They were in tight black outfits with balaclavas pulled over their faces, light armor vests and plates on their limbs. One held a couple of kunai, another wielded a metal claw, and the last had a handscythe with a chain attached to the bottom of its handle.

The Directors scattered, which made quite a sight since many of them had adopted the practice of wearing sashes in some attempt to out-bling each other.

The one with the scythe, a kusarigama as they like to call it, swung the chain at me, sending the weight on the end of the chain right at my face. I snatched the chain out of the air. That ninja pulled it back, scraping some skin off my hand. I took a step in that direction and that’s when the kunai came for my head. My head snapped back.

When I lowered it back toward them, I held the kunai in my mouth, the bladed end held deep in my throat. Claw guy came at me then. I grabbed the kunai and tossed the wet end at his face. He swiped it to the side with his claw. He brought it across again at my torso. I threw myself back on my throne, laser eye blaring to life and searing a letter Z through his torso, smooth as Zorro.

He fell, only for the kusarigama’s weighted chain to come swinging for my face. I got a hand up. It stopped a lot of the damage, but still left me stumbling and trying to spot the ninjas between all the circling birds. I raised my hand in time to block an overhead stab from the guy with the kunai. Better my palm than my eye hole.

“I got one of those, too,” I used one of my spare hands to whip out a thin trench knife and cut him from cock to Adam’s apple. Smoke appeared all around me, burning at my eyes. The kusarigama’s chain smacked the head of its dead, deceased compatriot to the side.

So there I was. Knife versus chain and scythe. I’d already killed two. I was an assassination target on the edge, willing and able to sate my rampant murderlust. I stepped forward and the chain forced me back. Again and again, the remaining ninja used it to keep me at bay, my knife sparking as the chain slid across it the last time.

I pushed a lever on the side of the knife and tossed it in the air in frustration. “Fine, I get it, I shouldn’t have brought a knife to a chain fight.” The rocket in the handled of the knife fired suddenly, more like a momentary explosion. Only momentary, as the blade lodged itself in the chest of the remaining ninja. He reached up to grab it, then refused to pull it out. Then he dropped his weapon and turned to run.

“This is what happens when you buy your ninjas American. Adios, cowboy. ” I reached under my dress and came out with another rocket knife, one in each hand, and switched them on, aiming. The ninja fell dead with four knives in his back. “Knife meeting ya. Man, I hate missing all the action.”

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Hare-Brained 2

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The Munich raid went well. The point of the thing was to blow a hole in that big ol’ privacy fence around their compound. The Germans are investigating it now, and finding all sorts of weird things scattered around. Drugs, a couple of stolen artifacts, uranium; all sorts of things that will draw a lot of attention to that compound and have people investigating. Expose them, force them to run again, exhaust them.

I’d had… feelings. Thinking of a plan, part of me remembered all the kids and innocents there. Attacking would risk killing civilians, even if a lot of them do have powers. I lived among them, danced with them. I drank beer with them and perhaps even Frenched one or two of them under the influence. I spent a night rocking back and forth in a chair, thinking about what to do. I was practically distraught.

But now, I had video showing they were all ok. The local news reporters provided that glimpse, but I quite enjoyed the view from various drones flying high above it. Can’t blow shit up in Europe without a few different militaries becoming interested. So seeing everyone come out of this fine and dandy, it was such a relief. Such a relief, I started laughing. And, my oh my, it seems my finger slipped on a button in the middle of all my laughter. Looks like someone shouldn’t send up drones for recon with their payloads.

It was so sad, I had to laugh about it. It’s a natural way to handle this sort of bad news, after all. Laugh so as not to cry.

If the cruel fate of the Munich compound wasn’t enough, the Hares themselves are playing on my emotions. I’ve letters expressing the feelings of the Three Hares. The night of the bombing, for instance. I got up to handle some business in the bathroom. I was going over plans for a new island shield and crapping when the jacuzzi began rattling. The nozzles burst out into the tub and streams of water stretched out and formed into a person, a woman with a metal visor with a single big, round glass eye on it and gems on either side.

“Psycho Gecko! Prepare to die!”

I put aside the hologram I was working with and reached for the rear of the toilet. “May I at least have a courtesy flush first?”

“I guess?” she said. Small gems began to light up leading to the glass eye, three on either side. I reached back behind the toilet. As I’ve mentioned before I often keep a gun there in order to clear up any problematic clogs. That’s why I whipped out the Smith & Wesson Schofield. I missed that first shot, causing the cyclopean assassin before me to duck and charge more of those gems up. Another miss, then a hit on her shoulder. When she turned, the final gems lit up, and that’s when I popped her in the central glass eye.

“Fuck shit!” she screamed, grabbing at the eye. I dove off, pulling my panties up. I wasn’t there when she took her hands away and instead shot lasers from the six gems leading up the glass eye. Three smaller beams shot out, putting holes in the marble toilet. But since these were three all along a band, beams were flying all over the place. They bounced off mirrors and mirrored surfaces, so it’s a good thing I was staying low and crawling behind her. When she stopped and looked around, I tackled her from behind and pushed her down.

She cracked her chin pretty good on the lip of the toilet where the seat didn’t cover. I grabbed a handful of her hair and pushed her face down into the bowl to let her gurgle on dinner. I had the Schofield still in hand and gave her a shot in the back. Then I lost my grip on her as she turned to liquid again and flowed down the toilet, flushing it in the process. I jumped up and pointed the Schofield down the bowl, then noticed the blood smeared on me and smiled with an idea. I wiped blood onto my hand and pushed it into the toilet bowl, making a minor programming change.

The pipes in the jacuzzi, toilet, sink, and shower began to rattle. A huge chunk of the room shook. Blood began to spurt from the sink. It started to fill the jacuzzi. The shower head shot off as bloody water rained down. Finally, the toilet reversed and sprayed water and blood all over the ceiling.

When those of the household who cared about my health came running, they found me laughing and soaking wet with blood and water. I shut the bathroom door as I saw Max and Silver Shark run up.

“What’s going on?” Max asked.

I pointed at the door in all my giggling, then waved my hand. “You don’t wanna go in there. Whew!” I couldn’t hardly finish speaking for all the laughter.

Speaking of funny incidents, another occurred as I was enjoying a quiet night in my study, just working on some new material for this joke I’m playing on the world. Mix N’Max walked in and passed right by me to address a chair. “Gecko, you’re doing it again.”

Dame fell to the floor as I awoke and she scampered out of there. I yawned and looked up at Max from my chair. “Whoopsy. Can you blame me for making sure an extra pair of eyes watched out as I slept?”

“I can blame you if they’re her eyes. Look, Gecko, we go back and I’m afraid I have to suggest something is more wrong than usual with you,” he knelt down in front of me to look me in the eye. Even his smile looked apologetic.

“I must use any and all resources to protect myself, Max. It’s the way of the world. Besides, I’m rehabilitating Dame,” I indicated his grin. “So turn that lack of a frown upside and around.”

“How is holding a woman as a slave in her own body rehabilitation? You’re better than this,” he told me.

“I AM better than this. I’m so good, I made Dame perfectly trustworthy. Never again can she betray me for anyone. Always there, in her mind. THAT’s why they wanted me. The world’s changing, and I’m like a god of the new world order.”

“You’re not a god,” Max said, pointing his finger at me. “Remember the rule on godhood.”

I rolled my eyes. “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes. Everyone knows the Aykroyd Rule.”

“No, the other rule. The one about supervillains who start declaring themselves gods. Does that ever end well?”

“Well-”

He held up one finger. “Nebuchadnezzar.”

“Gesundheit,” I said.

He cocked his head to the side in a look that said “Really?” even though he didn’t.

“Fine, tried to consume a ball of energy bigger than his own head a little too fast. Blew up.”

Max raised a second finger. “Aria.”

“Used a device to boost her powers, but someone managed to block them long enough and record her super voice to use it against her,” I answered.

“Following the pattern?” he asked.

“Technically it isn’t a pattern until there’s three incidents,” I reminded him.

Max looked at me, lowered the first two fingers, and raised the third one, the ring finger. “You want to be this one?”

“That’s hardly-” and then I shot up into space without crashing through roofs or walls. And it wasn’t really space. I’ve been there. I was being thrown with force instead of drifting without gravity.

I crashed into an asteroid and was thrown at another nearby one while the first one broke in half. The second did as well when I hit it. I bounced off and then stopped in the middle as the asteroids. Those four then crashed into each other, breaking in half. They kept colliding and breaking until a bunch of baseball- and basketball-sized pieces banged into me. Finally, one the size of a large dog slammed into me and sent me hurtling through space again. I landed on a small planet, or possibly one of those things Pluto is, and bounced off in further defiance of physics. The next planet I headed for grew a face and a pair of arms. It slapped me between both hands.

The planet on this trip through Disney’s Fantasia planetarium skipped arm day. I’ve taken worse hits. Didn’t even squeeze any organs out of me. The two arms grabbed hold of me from either side. The planet opened its mouth wide, exposing the glowing liquid hot magma. It unleashed a volcanic roar.

“Get some Jupiter!” I yelled back as it lunged for me.

Then I was laying down on the floor of the study, yelling at the ceiling, which looked to be missing a ceiling fan. I noticed books laying around and crawled off a broken chair. I found Max wobbling from side to side with a pencil-thick needle in hand, standing over a woman in a green catsuit who was foaming at the mouth.

“How’d you see through all that?” I asked. “I think I got beat up by a solar system.”

“Oh Gecko. Precious, vanilla Gecko,” Max said. He winked at me, then looked back down at the catsuit woman. “She has the Three Hares on the back in a shade of green barely lighter than the primary coloring.”

I staggered over to confirm it. “Another damn assassin. I think I need to send a message back to the Hares.”

“You’re mad with power and determined to kill them all. What do they have to lose in sending killers after you?” he pointed out. “That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Here, help me with the body.”

“She’s still dying,” I said.

“Give it time,” Max said, bending down to grab her by the feet. I took her shoulders and helped, with us stopping in mid-carry for Max to spray some air freshener when she shat herself in the throes of death. Outside, I saw a lot of the rest of the place jumbled up, with Citra and staggering around.

“Where’s Qiang?” I asked her.

She pointed upstairs. “In bed. Are we safe?”

I stopped beside her as we carried the dead woman around and kissed my wife on the cheek. “Safer than those who attacked us.” Then it was off to see to the respectful treatment of the dead.

We dropped the corpse onto a table in Max’s suite while Sam and Holly recovered with some drinks. “What you’ve told me about their isolation and heredity, the Hares’ DNA could provide amazing insight into superpowers as they relate to genetics,” Max observed.

“Plus, you want to do things with her beautiful corpse,” I added.

He patted her boots. “You know I only care about what’s on the inside. Pass me the scalpel?”

I tossed it to him and started cutting the woman free of her clothes for the autopsy. “I guess I’ve been a bit screwed up. They took my memories from me, and they’re mine. But for that brief time, I was clear of every fucked-up thing of my past. It was… clean. I had morals, and ethics, and I think even a conscience. The did it to use me somehow, and then that whole thing. It reminded me of Elizabeth, back in the other world. And a phrase Venus has been using lately.”

“Oh?” Max asked. He stepped closer to start carving into the sternum. “What’s that?”

“I’d rather not say, but it was the closest thing to washing away so much of what keeps me from changing and being better.” I looked down, which had me staring into the eyes of the corpse.

“It’s tempting,” Max commented.

I nodded. “Even for us. Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do to someone is show them another way. A ‘what if?’ scenario.”

“I like to take the wrong lesson from my enemies,” Max said, peering inside the woman’s chest cavity. “They had more of an endgame than killing you. What’s your endgame besides killing them? Right now, you’re like a dog chasing a car. You wouldn’t know what to do with it if you,” he paused and took his hands out of the woman’s chest to pantomime catching something in midair. “Caught it. What do you want the world to look like at the end of this that doesn’t involve you trying to claim you’re a god?”

“Good question,” I leaned on my elbow, looking down into the woman’s eyes, my eyes taking the same turquoise tint.

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