Category Archives: 75. Facing Mot-ality.

We all someday have to face knowledge of our own mortality. It doesn’t usually come in the form of an insane, pissed off super who wants to consume everyone on Earth.

Facing Mot-ality 5: Facing Incarceration

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“…and after we finish pulling your arms off, we pull the remaining bone out and insert rods of jagged crystal salt into the stumps,” someone said. The walls of my containment cube were still opaque.

I just sat back and spoke aloud. “What the prison lacks in personal accommodations, it more than makes up for in efficiency. Beds? Toilets? Masseuse’s? They’ve done away with all of that in favor of a hard, level floor. The color of black marble behind a thin layer of glass, it provides both a firm, supportive structure for sleep, and a versatile shit surface. While circumstances often vary by stool to stool… viscosity, color, length, firmness… I could go on and on. And have, in the bestseller I’m writing, ‘Everybody’s Poop’. It’s a children’s book. I’ve gotten sidetracked though. The floor holds the shit well, and cleanup is as easy as hitting the floor really hard.”

I smacked my fist against the floor near the shit corner, prompting its anti-kinetic properties to activate and causing my fist and the nearby feces to bounce. The surface underneath it looked good enough to not even think about eating off of. “The unique properties of the material used in the construction of this prison is fascinating. The fact that they don’t use it more often implies some weakness.”

Another voice joined in, different from the outside. “I hear you’re a woman now. Guess it was too hard being a man. Now you need your proper place. You’ve degenerated.”

I continued on with my involuntary hotel review. “The food service appears to be implemented using superspeed, or perhaps some form of teleportation related to whatever force brought me here as opposed to ground zero of my D-Bomb, this Fort Memorial. When it comes to the guards, I’ve had more intelligent. Most prison guards are more polite to genocidal dictators they know will be released.”

They started talking over me before I even finished. I think it was something like, “You’re not going nowhere no time.”

They abruptly shut up as more voices approached. I stopped hearing anything, suggesting some sound canceling barrier to go along with the impediment to my sight. The walls went clear a moment later, showing me two horrified looking guys standing side by side just in front of the cube. Another sat behind the guard desk near me. Standing next to that guy now was the general who was so happy to have me here, along with Titan, Venus, and a short-haired woman in a red uniform of a sort.

“Do you have those restraints?” asked the general in accented English.

Titan nodded. He held up a foursome of shackles. “These will disable her powers.”

“Fine,” said the woman in red, looking like she’s swallowed something that disagreed with her.

The general patted the sitting guard’s shoulder. The gun emplacements stopped following my eveyr move and stayed in place. Three of the walls of the cube swung down like a skirt while the last held up the ceiling. I slid down the slope in front of me to land right in front of the two guards. “Evenin’, fellas. You had something to say about what you were going to do to me? Salt rods and showing me my proper place?”

One was thicker, fatter, but clearly muscular underneath that. He pissed himself.

Titan stepped around in front of me. “Stop playing with them.”

“Nice to see ya, big guy.” I said, projecting a wink. “Not that the stay hasn’t been refreshing, but it’ll be good to get home.”

He held up the cuffs. “Someone had to come rescue you,” he said.

I rolled my eyes under my armor, then started violently coughing. I held up a hand and turned away. As I hacked the last two times, my helmet’s lasers fired scarlet beams that carved through the wall that remained standing, toppling it and the ceiling of the cube. I shook my head and turned back to Titan, where I now saw the remaining heckler being helped down, passed out in the arms of his colleague in the wet pants. I held my arms out for Titan. “Yeah, not like I could have gotten out of here anytime.”

The secret, if y’all are wondering, is light. It passed right on through instead of pouncing off, which suggested lasers could handle this. Possibly nanites and chemical weapons. The former because I use them for everything, the latter because they got air in their somehow.

I let Titan put the shackles on over my gauntlets. I was pleasantly surprised they did nothing to me, but that makes more sense than the things working through my armor. He grabbed one of my elbows and led me around the desk to where Venus and the person in red were chatting quietly. “We’d be happy to have the new team visit while they train,” Venus told her. She nodded to me, “We will try to keep them away from Ricca.”

“Our leaders must be flat-out retarded letting you take her,” Red said to Venus.

Venus’s smile got a little sharper as she looked Red in the eyes. “If someone saved your world and everyone you loved, would you let them be locked away in a cage and then executed?”

“You may lose us all our best chance ever to kill this psycho and be done with it.” Red nodded over her shoulder at me.

Venus didn’t have anything really to say to that, but she has a mean glare on her. She grabbed my arm to escort me out of there with Titan. We passed side doors every now and then as we headed down a straight corridor. One looked to be nothing more than a storage closet for machine parts and ammo. If there was any other reason for the building’s existence than myself, I saw no evidence of it.

The infonet of my homeworld opened up to me along with the door that allowed us to exit. Outside, we saw a trench with metal laid over it for us to cross over. Then it was around the barricade, past more disarmed guns, and out a wall. There waited for us a six-wheeled small armored car. Two seats up front, a small truck-style bed behind it. The kind officers over here like for personal conveyance in an official capacity. Capable of a diverse set of roles with room for a gun in the back. The driver looked like he’d just shat a pine cone when he saw who he was driving back. Titan took up most of the back and tried to hunch down to keep from slowing us with his wings’ wind resistance. Despite that, there was a little bit of room up front for me while Venus sat in the cab.

“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so universally hated,” Titan yelled over the rushing air as we got going.

“I’m sure they’ll warm up to Venus before they get to know her!” I called back to him. I pinpointed the highest-traffic area of data in the area and looked over to the nearby metropolis. Buildings reached into the sky, with ribbons of suspended roads and walkways after about the midway point, painting the lower parts of the city with shadows. The rust and dirt added to the image. Half the city in the sun, the other in shadow.

I had so much new stuff downloading, but some things hadn’t changed. I turned out to have more than enough time. Our half hour ride shouldn’t have been possible. We ended up in an area with a gentle, shallow crater and a few walls. I didn’t realize until we’d driven down into the cleared space that this was the place where my memorial had been. Aww. They’ll never give me another one, either.

Everything around suggested they’d fortified the area the memorial. My repeated trips across the divide had left it a bridge to our world, which further justified the defenses. They were gone, but there was a part in the middle where you could see through to Canada.

“I hope there isn’t a vigorous customs process. I carry a lot of baggage. ‘Do you have anything dangerous to declare?’” I shared a laugh with Titan.

“I know we have every reason, for everyone’s good, to see you locked away,” he said. “You did right by us. What’s it say if we leave your feet in the fire after what you did? Mot was a tough mother.”

“He didn’t appear again or anything, did he?” I asked. We rolled to a stop.

Titan shook his head. “Not since you disappeared.”

I smiled under my armor and let them pick me up. No big ceremony, just being muscled through the portal while anyone around helping rebuild the place tried to kill me with their eyes. We emerged to a smal checkpoint with Canadian customs agents. “Ha!” I said.

Venus nudged me with her elbow. “You might shut up. We pulled a lot of strings to get you back.”

One customs agent waved us forward with a clipboard in hand. “We just sent you two in, didnt’t we?” He asked of Titan and Venus.

“Told you it was a short visit,” Titan said.

“I see you brought back someone in cuffs,” he said, looking me over from atop his light brown mustache.

“Extradition,” Venus said.

“This looks like that Psychopomp Gecko fellow. Do you have citizenship here?” He asked me.

“Probably no-” Venus went to answer for me.

I holographically projected several forms of ID into the air. “American, Argentinian, Peruvian, Brazil, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Irish, Ukrainian, Holy See, Belgian, North Korean, South Korean thanks to some talks that are going on, Riccan, Russian if you don’t look too closely. Oh, and Molossian.” One last, more crude ID popped up, over top of me shaking hands with an older white man in a fake general’s outfit.

“Molossia?” The Customs agent asked.

I shrugged. “Small country, best known for its tourism industry and burgeoning salt mines.”

Venus pointed to the Vatican one. “How in the world do you have citizenship with the Vatican?”

“That’s between me and the Pope,” I told her.

“There are a lot of passports there I don’t want the full story about,” Titan said.

“I’m sorry, but I see here you’re listed as one of our exceptions. You’re not allowed,” the agent said while looking down at his clipboard.

“Really? Don’t even have to look that up on computer?” I asked.

He shook his head and held up the clipboard. It had a list of guidelines and questions, with a column titled Absolute Exceptions: Do Not Let In at the bottom. “I’m not the Black Plague, nuclear weapons, or maple syrup,” I said. “Also, maple syrup?”

“We’re protecting our citizens from inferior syrups that have stabbed other nations. Non-Canadian maple syrups are the reason all the banks are working against us, and they started all the wars. Also, your name’s second to last.”

I looked down. Yep, Psychopomp Gecko, then Jordan B. Peterson. “Huh. Can’t argue with that. Quick question, though, Customs dude. How, exactly, are you going to enforce it?”

He smiled at me. “I’m going to ask you nicely to please leave through the portal.”

I reached out and pushed his chest, knocking him over. I went to step past him and found my head ringing from three gunshots. All to the head. From different directions. One of them from right where Titan stood. He looked at the flattened bullet on the ground, the mark of the helmet, and then down at his chest, feeling for holes or anything.

I sighed as a missile headed down right for me. “Stand back, everyone.”

Titan grabbed Venus and took off. I just stepped aside as the missile’s pointed tip rammed into the walk and stuck there. I popped a hatch open that bore the seal of the Empire of Ricca. Inside, I strapped myself into a seat. The rear thruster nozzle of the missile popped off to allow the second, internal missile to fire, carrying me up into the air. The snipers tried, but still couldn’t penetrate my missile-carried escape missile, specially designed to carry me out of hostile situations. Like myself, it had been armored to resist all small arms, even the really big ones.

I smiled as I dropped the visual shades on my helmet’s camera feed, allowing me to get a clear look at the bright sun as I once again made my escape. The fact that my path to escape left a contrail in the form of the words, “Deal With It” is just icing on the cake.

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Facing Mot-ality 4

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“Before we go, Gecko, I want you to know something,” Mobian said after we’d finished all our farewells at the Hinge. That had mostly involved Mobian gladhanding folks, and I was going to stop him, but the guy took the gifts showered on him by some folks and dropped them off in less well-maintained parts of the station that didn’t look meant for habitation.

They didn’t know much what to make of me. I noticed that, despite all the advanced technology, nobody who wore any sort of armor went with something quite so extensive and different from their usual appearance. Perhaps they thought I was also a machine.

But finally the time came to come, and I’ll note the people throwing themselves romantically at anyone were aiming at Mobian or Cheretha, and Mobian closed the door, pushed a button on the control panel of his ship, and said that earlier sentence of his to me. I looked up from checking on the bomb. Despite the 360 display, it makes people feel they’re being listened to and it helps me focus.

Mobian stepped down from his dais to look at me, putting his hands behind his back. “I believe this trip touched a nerve with you.” He waited for a moment. When I didn’t say anything, he added, “You felt I was using you.”

“Yep,” I said. “Also, it felt like most of that was really stupid. We could have taken that thing from her at any time.”

“It wasn’t that difficult a task…” He started.

“And if something had happened to us on some pointless side errand, that’s it. Earth gets eaten until some hostile alien species shows up and blows the fuck out of it,” I checked over the cables housing wiring. Nothing lose, nothing chewed through in any way. “The security forces were handling the machines, who were mainly there looking for a kidnapped machine that was allowed to be legally treated like a slave on that station. In all likelihood, the machines would have gotten in there and broken it out anyway. All we did was save a few lives on the way to the same thing being accomplished.”

“I thought you might enjoy saving lives. Being a hero,” he said. He looked at his shoes. “You clearly view me as naive, but I know what it’s like to fight and kill. To be valued not by your worth as a person, but by your ability to end lives.” He looked up. “Do you think back there, they know you as an evil person?”

I shrugged. “They seemed scared enough.”

He smiled. “Yes, but you can be scared of a lot of things and recognize they’re not evil. Back there, now, with no other knowledge about you… you’re a hero.”

I made a mock gagging noise as I finished up and closed the D-Bomb up and stood. “Well, they’re mistaken.”

He tapped his nose with one finger. “I’m trying to make you feel good about yourself. I know you think I’m naive, but I understand you. I know I stopped here long enough to help save lives and help you. What about the breach in their security? What about the anti-AI laws? What about the income inequality? I could go back and I could destroy civilization as they know it to fix it. I would be a tyrant to them. A well-meaning tyrant, yes, but a tyrant. And if I failed!” He kissed his fingers. “An unsuccessful revolution for people’s benefit looks very much like a successful defeat of an autocrat. You know why. You know why it’s so hard to do more for people than fix all but the most immediate problems.”

“Because people are assholes,” I answered.

“Right! No. Because people are people. Short-sighted, biased, and easy to fool. Even the ones who claim to be perfectly rational, especially if you claim they’re superior for being so ‘rational’.” He made air quotes. “Tell anyone doing well about the broken system they live in and they’ll think you’re attacking them because the system works well for them. I save the day because it’s easier. And I let them think they’re moving themselves in the right direction because they’re arseholes. I could have gone to any time and place to intercept that message. Why then and there? Why with you?”

“Because you knew I’m at least not on board with that sort of treatment of people just because they’re artificial,” I said. “Kinda makes you wonder how the machines got there in the first place.”

“I am sure that is a fascinating tale, but Cheretha will have to find that one out. The Machine Collective, though, they make for interesting reading if you could see what they’ll do,” he smiled at me. “You helped. Just one incident out of many that helps the universe become a little brighter.”

I hefted the D-Bomb by its straps. “Why are you trying to be so nice to me? You think I’m an asshole, too.”

“I thought you’d like to hear it. This is an important fight you’re going into, and I thought I’d distract you from knowing you can die now,” he said, turning to walk back over to his control panel.

“Wait, what do you mean by that?” I asked. “I could die lots of times before this!”

He turned to wince at me. “You had to live in order to go back in time and make things happened. You even had to warn me not to destroy the message as I’d have been tempted to do when I found out about it from heroes of Earth. The universe wouldn’t have let you died before that.”

“I died originally,” I pointed out.

He cocked his head to the side. “Yeah, but only after the loop had happened. Right after it, in fact. Venus killed you.”

“Can we stop saying Venus killed me?” I asked. “It didn’t happen to me. Doesn’t seem like it would have happened at all.”

“Oh, she did. It was brutal. Hurt her to do it, but she got harder trying to deal with Mot. The damning thing is she couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been involved and she couldn’t have changed it if I hadn’t been involved. You tried to kill her even though she’d fatally wounded you.”

“Why don’t you describe in vivid detail how I shat myself upon dying?” I asked.

“That would be gross. She put her faith in you, and you caused everything to happen again. I think I was always going to stop that message in this iteration of the timeline and risk Earth, but you stopped that. Not it’s all solved, and you can die. Sorry I was the first to tell you, but at least now you know everything in your life was part of some plan involving universal laws of time. I hope that makes you feel less guilty.” He shrugged and shot me a wry grin.

“Bullshit,” I said. “I get you’re suggesting I can’t really be guilty because I was living up to that plan, but you’re also saying I had no choice. That every awesome thing I did, every glorious kill, every prison break, that none of those mattered just because I did one or two things that supposedly had to happen.Uh uh. I could have been a good person and done those things. I could have been the most depraved maniac on Earth. I could have killed Qiang or raped Venus. There were so many choices in my life that didn’t have to go the way they went where I could have done the same things. That ‘plan’ business is no excuse for the bad, and deserves none of the credit for how great I’ve been.”

I pointed at myself with four thumbs. “Get me back to Earth and I’ll show you how much the universe, or multiverse or time or whatver-fucking-thing, was piggybacking on me, not the other way around.”

His smile looked sad at that. “Alright. Back to Earth we go. I hope you survive longer than you did the last time you did all you needed to do for this sequence of events to occur.”

He pressed a button and an entire side of his ship went clear, showing us go from whizzing through a blue and black tunnel to the atmosphere of Earth, pushing through swirling winds to close in on a city. Below me, I saw people fighting among themselves. In front of me, I saw buildings being leveled and flattened, leaving behind a lone man standing at the end of a trail of dirt, as if the city simply had never been developed where he walked. Up in the sky, I saw a flash as a glowing orb vanished into a hole filled with blue and black.

“I hate time travel,” I muttered.

“I hope you never experience it again!” called Mobian down cheerfully. “Hold on, what’s this?”

The rear of the timecraft cleared up to show drones and a cloud of haze floating through the air toward us.

I projected a holographic wink at Mobian. “You see, Mobian, Mot isn’t dealing with the average human warrior here.”

“Didn’t Barkiel beat you up?” he asked.

“Let’s see Barkiel stop me when I bring everything to the table. But if you’d rather they not all follow your ship like they were ordered, you better let me out soon.”

The craft jerked to the side as a lightning bolt ran down the outside of a nearby skyscraper. “Good idea. We make a bright target. Can you get to him?” Mobian asked.

I nodded to him and made sure I had the D-Bomb strapped on. The door to the timecraft slid open and I ran for it. And bounced off. “That’s for being a dick!” Mobian called while I stood up.

“Go fuck yourself!” I yelled back to him before jumping out the door.

Thunder cracked and rolled. Mobian got out of there. The skyscrapers crumbled, but were good enough rods to keep me from riding the lightning. I fell until I ignited the rockets and caught onto drones flying in behind me. I’d been able to take control of them as soon as I left Mobian’s ship, which looked to be dodging and weaving between lightning blasts. Cars exploded and rioting crowds fell still. Most of the drones smacked into buildings or each other and rained down. The winds weren’t kind to them. There were simply too many nanites to be rid of them, however. The ones carrying my added weight, with the aid of my rockets, did well enough.

When I landed in the middle of the maelstrom, it was with a vast cape of nanites stretching into the sky. Mot, long-haired and bearded, but in cleaner clothes, unhinged his jaw and flesh-colored flies flew out at me. Nanites flew to intercept as a wave that captured and broke down the flesh while I made a call. “Hey, we got that unified line thing going on again?”

“What’s she mean again?” asked someone. The nanites move to the side as the flesh flies stopped.

“Good,” I said. “Mobian, can you do that translator thingy again? I want to speak to Mot.”

“I think the time for words has passed,” he said. “I’ll try to recalibrate here. I could use a lot of words you wouldn’t understand, or I could just do this!”

A beam from outside the eye of the storm shot through the sky, then bounced off a satellite dish and reflected down to split into two that hit my head and Mot’s. I looked to the supposedly insane superhuman that everyone’s spent a lot of time telling me just needs to die and waved. “Hello?”

He didn’t say anything, just began to shake. His skin turned into stone, then was pierced by bones that jutted out as spikes.

I continued on, making sure I had everything close at hand. Lasers and firearms alike were trained on Mot. The nanites were ready to close in and block any of those annoying tentacles or flies or whatever else. “For a long time, I was the one they feared. Too dangerous to trust. Governments wanted me dead, and I even got the heroes in on the act. First they wanted to kill, then I got them to kill. Now here we are. You just got out of what I’m guessing is a thousand or more years of solitary confinement. You’re probably a bit fucked up. So I’m offering you a choice here. You can stand down and I’ll take you to my land, under my protection.You can have clothes, regular food, even one of those newfangled baths those people in the boot peninsula keep saying are awesome. We’ll even give you some medicine to make the nightmares stop. How’s that sound?”

He roared and ran at me, rocky body glowing orange. I instinctively sprinted right back at him. When we closed, he swung knuckles with a solid knuckle duster bone blade on them. I dropped to my knees and skidded when I saw him going for a punch. Instead, all he got was a face full of nanites that started trying to take his eyes apart piece by piece.

I popped a pair of molecule-thin whips from my upper forearms and watched them glow red along most of their lengths. I swung them to try and capture Mot’s arms. He turned and yanked me closer by them, which is when the nasty surprises, those small chainsaw blades, shot out from under my bottom forearms and I closed them on his neck.

They weren’t very effective. Threw up a lot of sparks, but didn’t cut into his now-rocky skin. He pulled me close and growled, mouth open wide and dripping spittle. The three false eyes on my helmet lit up and unleashed a triple grouping of lasers down his throat. Mot roared in pain and pulled the whips forward to throw me into that maw.

Tsk, tsk, those darn whips and their engineering. All I had to do was give a command and they detached. Same nifty trick I have for my cape, as a matter of fact. Mot got a mouthful of razor whip instead of razor wit, and I kicked off him to land after backflipping. I opened up on his ass, literally, with the few drones who had gotten through to try and shove grenades and .50 caliber rounds up his poop chute.

“Look-!” someone yelled over the line. The sky grew bright, and suddenly I was about a mile away, hugged in the big, blue arms of Titan. Together, we laid in a combination crater and skid mark within the winds of Mot’s localized hurricane. I’d lost my sight and hearing temporarily. From the smell, it’s possible I lost all my body hair. He didn’t hit me head on, either thanks to Titan or so many taller metal things being around. Even if you’re just winged by lightning, you still know it hit you.

I tried to speak but got nothing but a cough from it. Titan stood up then and roared. He picked up someone’s empty car and threw it back the way we came. After a moment of every muscle in my body being soar, icewater hit my veins. I pulled the bomb around to check it. The fake-detonator was blinking 12:00. I popped it open to check the thing over, making sure nothing was damaged. I found cables burned through. “Guys, I’m going to need a minute to fix the D-Bomb.”

“No shit, Sherlock!” yelled someone. “I thought you were supposed to be a killer.”

“Leave him alone,” Mobian said, but not enthusiastically.

“Hey, your trip, your fucking aesops,” I stood up and stumbled over to a nearby abandoned car. I pulled the door off and set to work smashing in the dash to get some replacement wires. A second later, a brick hit me. Not such a big deal, except for the mob surrounding me that had a lot more bricks. And pipes. And, yes, someone brought tomatoes. It’s not a proper angry mob unless someone has tomatoes.

Before that crowd could run for me, they were cut down by a pair of warriors. One was a large Chinese man with a lush beard and a spear with a blade curved like a scimitar. The formal name for that one is a Guan Dao, said to have first been used by the legendary warrior Guan Yu who would be worshiped as a war god after his death.

Rumors of Guan Yu’s death weren’t true.

The other warrior cutting down those who would distract me was an African man with metal plates pierced into his body and a machete of dark iron that cut through people in such a way as to make Jason Voorhees envious.

I tried to reach out to my nanites and pull them close, but I couldn’t reach them. Whatever had hit me, maybe the mother of all lightning strikes from the way I swear I smelled burnt flesh, shorted them out. The drones too. There’s a reason talking is something best done after someone’s dead, at least according to the Evil Overlord list. This is why I shouldn’t try to be good. You give one guy a chance and he puts your tits in a bug zapper.

It felt like it took forever to swap out the damaged components with a good enough match, huddled low against the car to avoid the winds. I just had to deal with the rain. The nanites could have patched it on the go. It was ready for a test, until the car disappeared under Titan’s ass as he created another crater like he had with me. Mot ran forward, the wall of the hurricane pushing toward me. I stood my ground, something lighter people would have found difficult.

“Come on, you son of a bitch. If you think you can blow me away, then you don’t know how fat this suit makes my ass look,” I growled.

He ran at me with an incoherent yowl of rage. I dropped the D-Bomb and started running the opposite direction, waving my hands for everyone to leave. Guan Yu and the other Hare were way ahead of me. I think they started running the moment Titan pancaked an Audi. Titan was slow getting up, too. I tried giving him a hand. He started to run back toward Mot, but managed to get the incredibly subtle signal I sent by pointing past him and yelling, “Get the fuck out of here!”

I just had to hope-

I was sucked backwards into a hole in reality that closed behind me. The journey was shorter this time, taking both myself and the bellowing Mot behind me to one Earth linked to the one we came from. Even more unusual, I was pulled away in a series of blue rings and found myself crashing into a clear cube.

Alarms wailed. Automated guns like nothing on Earth swiveled around to point directly at me. Some woman spilled a coffee cup sitting up. She pressed a finger to a patch on her neck, but I didn’t pay attention. I was waiting on the second detonation. I felt nothing like it. I turned to the woman. “There’s a monster on the loose, and it’s very important you let me out of this, because that bomb’s totally not sending him anywhere either of us wants to go.”

She looked at me like I’d suggested shitting on her mother’s chest, but in a bad way. Her eyes shot down then. When she spoke, I realized I’d forgotten to speak to her in my original language. Wherever I was, I was on my home Earth, where they didn’t speak English. I still heard her as she said, “He’s still here. The trap worked.”

Then she stood up and walked around a lazy U of a desk to spit on the clear container that held me. “I would sooner scalp the hair from your body than leave you alive. Even trapped, your bomb destroyed Fort Memorial.”

“Please,” I said in my tongue, putting my hands together in pleading. “I must know: did a Dimension Bomb detonate here?”

She pounded what I’d taken for glass with her fist and stumbled back. “Yes, you bastard, at Fort Memorial! I’ll see you burn forever for what you’ve done to my love!”

I relaxed and breathed in. It sounded like they had reports of the second one going off, and Mot’s not very subtle. They’d have spotted him, which meant he was now working on quite a tan. I don’t care how strong a super is, good luck walking on the sun.

I broke out into laughter again. The weight was just gone. And it made a good excuse for experimentally banging on the container I was in. After the EMP hit, I was in less of a good mood. I turned away from the woman as if examining the container, my lower right arm charging energy. If any defense knew what I was trying, they didn’t let on. Except when I unleashed what should have been a punch that could spank a tank, the EMP again went off as I bounced off the walls. Those same transparent walls lit up briefly before the glow moved down below the cube where I couldn’t see.

“Don’t try that again,” said a man’s voice. He wore our equivalent to a General’s rank. “After all these years, you’re back in our hands. You should have stayed dead. We will bury you all the same.” He smirked past his salt and pepper mustache at me.

“I doubt that,” I told him. I flipped myself around so I was sitting, not laying in a mess on the floor. “I’ve become much more resourceful since I left.”

“I doubt that,” he said. He stepped up to the sentry’s desk and reached for a button on it.

“Mhm,” I said, just as he pushed it. The cube began to darken. Before it did completely, just in case it messed with sound, I called out, “You’ll never figure it out on your own!”

I hope they heard that. Because as happy as I am that I probably killed Mot after dumping him in the sun, what I really have as a resource right now are a bunch of people who should be grateful. Some of them might even be friends. And I do so hope these folks share the good news of my capture with them.

And at the same time, I wonder if I failed. If the bomb was too messed up, if the coordinates were reset somehow, if he actually survived being sent to the core of a damn star.

So that’s where I waited, imprisoned, over more than a week since the confrontation took place in most people’s view. Schroedinger’s Gecko. They ended up gassing me, checking to make sure I was actually out, and then cutting my helmet off to allow me to sleep. They disabled the energy sheathes as well. But at least it allowed me to eat.

Eating so I can survive.

Surviving so I can wait.

Waiting to see if my adoptive home gives a shit. And pretty sure Mot’s ass is eating hot thermonuclear fusion on a level way beyond a mere nuclear weapon. This universe isn’t big enough for TWO gods of death.

…that would have been much more badass if I wasn’t the one now imprisoned.

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Facing Mot-ality 3

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What the Machine Collective loses in toughness, they make up for in numbers. Though, for most folks on this station, they’re plenty tough enough. And it just got monotonous killing the endless robots. They all looked the same, which might be racist if they weren’t all literally the same few models ad infinitum.

I had to break it up somehow, which lead to stunts like Mobian yelling at a group of them and letting them chase him into an art gallery. He ran in and ducked behind an exhibit. When they came in looking, I waited until they got close to the sculpture. It was a marble sculpture of one of those heart-shaped aliens, but with a dignified, serene face and either an enormous wang or a stand to rest on. I picked it up and started wailing on them, smashing them to pieces.

“That was subtle,” Mobian said, stepping out from behind the display he’d hid behind.

I set the statue down. “Subtle enough to take them out.” I had to stop as my stomach rumbled.

“Yegads, I heard that from here. When’s the last time you ate?” Mobian asked.

I waved it off. “Before I put on the armor. This is a permanent seal, but someone decided we were having an adventure in space, where they don’t exactly make hamburgers.”

“I didn’t know that,” he said, patting my shoulder. “How about we go kill all of them in the food court and I’ll find something that can fit into your armor” he said, walking along with me as I headed out of the gallery. “Can you swallow pills? It won’t help your stomach, but it’ll give you nutrients. Maybe the vapor bar, as long as you stick with the bar food vapors and none of the alcohol.”

Just before we got to the door, the statue collapsed behind us. Mobian turned and looked back at it, then turned to me. “Duct tape will do ‘er. Best we run and get that food now.”

Despite swarms of killer robots, we made good time to the nearest food area. Unfortunately, after so long without food, the smell got to me. Mobian turned to help me up, “Just a little further now…” He looked past me. “Or a little backward if you’ve got more fight in you.”

I saw ’em coming, those damn tripods and squidlegs and everything else. I closed my eyes to concentrate. I heard grunting and parking from ahead of us thanks to a crowd. Mobian ran to the side to get out of the way, leaving me standing between the giraffe alien with a force of dwarfs, and the advancing machines. I was distracted, but I didn’t need too long…

Chaos broke out among the mob of machines. They teetered around, startled and panicked, then turned and opened fire on one another. They did most of the work themselves with the aliens barely having to mop up the place. Mobian ran up to get between myself and the dwarfs, who turned toward me with disk-guns in hand once they’d dispatched of the robo-remnants. “It’s fine! She’s on our side. Gecko, that was brilliant, how long have you been able to do that?”

“Not long. Had to study their OS. Hey, who’s a lady have to butcher to get some food around here?”

“I need food for my companion here, the one who made the Machine Collective shoot itself. Food, yes please? Vapor bar, she needs it.” he asked of the giraffe and her dwarf contingent.The giraffe yipped and a dwarf came over to lead me further into the food court area. That was my best basis for comparison, as it seemed to be a sizable communal eating area with various bars and food kiosks scattered around it. They’d fortified it, though, and beings of all shapes, color, and size huddled around. Amazingly, the place STILL had a Sbarro.

They led me to one kiosk in particular that still had a couple of employees hard at work. Without a basis for comparison, I had no way to tell if they were dirty, but they did seem a bit slow and tired. I pointed to something that resembled chicken.

It should be noted that this could have meant pretty much anything in the universe. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someday discovered the universe’s first conquerors had been intelligent chickens who fell into ruin and mindless servitude to the new races that came about. Only flaw, is what do I do about the dinosaurs? That’s not a problem you just drop a meteor on and hope it goes away.

They handed me a cup with a top on it and gave me two middle fingers. I was too hungry to object though, so I just took it and looked it over; a mouthless alien with a smile in its eyes gave me the bird with each hand, so I guess the gesture has different contexts far enough out in space. I popped the lid off and took a puff of gas to the face. The filters detected a full complement of vitamins, so I let it on through. The taste was incredible. Unexpected. Fruitier than I thought it’d be. And it thickened with my saliva, so I was able to just swallow the stuff instead of clogging my lungs. A bit dry, but I’d manage.

It was enough to keep me going. “Gecko! You’ve eaten. How did it find you?” Mobian asked hurriedly on his way over with the giraffe person. It yapped at me, stopped, then looked between myself and Mobian. He smiled back, then gestured to me, then went “Oh!” He pulled out a small cube and held it between us. It shot out a light at both of our heads.

“Mobian, if I find out you’re putting anything weird in my head, I’ll shove yours up your ass,” I said to him.

“My, what a crude one is this,” said the giraffe in a feminine voice. “I am Commandrix Cheretha.” She gestured like she was running her hand up the air over her face.

“Empress Psychopomp Gecko,” I said, giving a sort of salute with closed fist over open palm that I’ve used before.

“We normally keep the Collective from attacking through a signal to our transmitter that confuses any machines who get too close. It failed to function correctly, so how can you?” she asked.

I looked between her and Mobian. “My biology is capable of integrating with computers and I make sure to have a way to connect wirelessly. I’ve had no interference like that since I got here.”

“It isn’t directed inside the station,” she said.

Mobian chimed in. “As long as they have a way to travel that bypasses the signal, there’s no easy way to stop them on the Hinge. Until now.”

Cheretha put a hand on his shoulder and turned to address him. “Silence yourself. We will remove the cause once we have disposed of the symptom.” She turned back to me to say, “We are winning, but slowly. The bulk of the Collective is in the Science district. I do not know what they are after. However, we should endeavor to keep it from them.”

“Ok, lady, I get what you want from us,” I told her. “What I’m confused about is why should I care? I’m here for one reason, and it’s really not to fight this war for you. Mobian’s excited to help, great for him, but if you examine the smallest piece of the smallest part of any particle that makes up an atom, you still won’t find me giving a fuck.”

“I have access to the message you were here for. It’s yours for whatever purpose you hold if you help. If you refuse, I will bury it deeper than your desire to mate,” she responded.

I looked to Mobian. “We could…”

He shook his head and held out his hands. “No! I believe we are here for a purpose and that includes helping out the Hinge. Besides, it should be benefit everyone to have friends far and wide.” He smiled at me.

“Right, so this was all a way to inconvenience me in some sort of minor revenge scheme,” I grumbled.

“I would never revenge myself on someone so integral to events on Earth. Disrupting the timeline is a delicate process.”

“Not that delicate or else we wouldn’t be here now,” I reminded him.

He rolled his eyes. “You should try doing anything to remove yourself from existence and see what happens.”

Cheretha stepped between us both and looked to me. “You, help.” She turned to Mobian. “And you, be quiet and take us to your ship.”

Now that I’ve cracked the Collective’s code, the return to Mobian’s timecraft took no time at all. Before too long, the machines realized to leave us be. All the better, since Cheretha’s guards didn’t come with us. “They will take the enemy from the rear.”

“The rear, my favorite place to take an enemy,” I said.

“You have no chance with her,” Mobian said as he led us into the craft and rushed up the dais. He pushed a few buttons, spun a wheel, and looked up. “We’re here.”

“Anticlimactic as usual,” Cheretha said.

I laughed as I launched myself out the door, fists raised. “Ok you metal assholes, I’m gonna tear you apart like I do the English language!”

I found more aliens huddling around in, this time in tight, white-colored clothes. I couldn’t make out what they said, but I heard someone around, singing. Cheretha stepped past me. “We are here to defend the lab. What do you have that will help, and what do you have that the Collective wants?”

One scientist said something, but another in a cleaner and fancier white jumpsuit yelled at it. It had fur over a round face with four eyes, and metal arm reached out the side of its head, rotating from holding a pair of glasses to a tablet. An argument soon broke out, but I just couldn’t concentrate on it for the singing. I walked over to a door it emanated from.

“Gecko?” asked Mobian.

“Shh, I’m trying to listen to the song,” I said. I put my hand on the door and a portion of it turned clear.

I heard Mobian say, “Nobody’s singing. Is anybody here singing? What is she hearing?”

It was a quadrupedal. At first, I imagined it had light grey skin from how smooth and organic it looked. The joints could have been mistaken for folds like you’d see in skin. It stood with hands clasped together, supporting itself on two legs like ours and a pair of thin legs curving down from its shoulders into tapered points. It had no face, which was a little different, and no sex characteristics, which made complete sense.

Cheretha stepped up next to me. “It is one of the Collective. This lab belongs to the Dark Horse Combine.”

The fancy-suited scientist, or whatever it was, blooped furiously at us. It tried to push past me, but I picked it up by the throat with one arm. “Why?”

Mobian walked up and looked in as well. “There is no consistent galactic law regarding civil rights. Many societies don’t classify them as people.”

“That is the Combine’s property by our law,” Cheretha said. “You have destroyed them as freely as the rest of us. More.”

“I’m a homicidal maniac, of course I had no problem killing stuff. Are you saying this is a slave?” I turned my face toward Cheretha.

“The Machine Collective is entirely comprised of escaped servile automatons,” Mobian informed me.

The scientist bleeped out something. Cheretha looked up at him, “He says this one is different. No known civilization has registered a machine of its design before.”

“The Dark Horse Combine,” Mobian said, tapping the side of his nose. “Say, they manufacture arms and war automatons, right?”

The scientist blubbered some more and reached for Cheretha. She moved out of his reach. “One of those.” She turned to Mobian. “You tell her what he said.”

“He said it is inevitable that artificial intelligences will inevitably turn on the biological ones. The only way to prevent this is to destroy them first.” Mobian sighed and turned to Cheretha. “You’re going to make us complicit in this.”

Cheretha raised her muzzle and looked away. “The duty of the Commandrix to the laws of her station is clear. I will not trample the law for an emergency. It is unfortunate we were too late to prevent the Collective’s progress to the laboratory.”

The furry-faced head scientist, or at least the nicest-dressed one who put up the most resistence, kicked at me and tried to beat on my arm. Cheretha turned to glare at it. “We arrived too late to save everyone among the science team.”

I turned the scientist sideways, grabbed each leg with an arm, and pulled it in half. Pea soup, or something with that color, went everywhere. I threw his upper body on the floor. His little skull-mounted helper arm tried to pull him away. I swung his lower half at the upper half, beating his head in with his own ass until he was so much mush and pea soup on the floor.

Cheretha looked down, then over to the remaining team. “Open the door.” The one who had spoken up stumbled over, holding a hand over its mouth, and tapped a bracer on its wrist. The door in front of me swung open. I stepped in as the singing stopped, looking at the siren that called me.

It wasn’t so much a language that came over the connection. It was more like feelings.

I heard it? I wasn’t machine? Yup, true.

I walked over.

I didn’t think they had a right to take it just because it was a machine. It was an amazing being as well, in design. It found my armor interesting. I was there to release it so that it and its Collective would leave in peace.

I know what y’all are thinking, dear reader. “And then they all fucked!”

No, I took its hand and lead it out, over the dead body and out to where the Machine Collective were crawling over everything. It got a bit overwhelming, there in the inner ring of the station. Looking into the sky, I saw the ground instead. Like, instead of ground and cities being stretched on the outside of a sphere, imagine if it was run along the inside of a cylinder. If I kept walking to one side, I could end up on that same part of the city I looked up at and it would still feel like I was standing on the ground. It’s a concept I’d been educated about as far as space stations went. To actually experience it was disorienting.

I looked to the siren as I let it go and tried to express that if it was ever around Earth, to look up Empress Psycho Gecko of Ricca, where I don’t enslave people just because of their race or how they look or the fact that they’re artificially-created.

I mean, sure, I kidnapped some people for lab tests, but that was just because of dumb luck and them passing through.

I think I got a maybe. The siren raised its tapered arms. I saw a room appear above the walkway. It was like everything behind it had been a wall and someone ripped it open to show the place hidden behind it. It grew taller and wider as the Collective crawled, trundled, and otherwise maneuvered around to jump through it. They were all leaving.

I walked back in to find Cheretha touching her datapad. “The Collective are leaving in peace so the attack is called off. Here is your message.” She held it out for Mobian.

“Let’s just delete this,” Mobian said, winking at her. He pressed something and my legs gave out. I couldn’t move my arms, head, anything. I crashed to the floor while Mobian asked, “Gecko? What’s wrong?”

“Don’t know. Surprised I can speak. Can’t move anything.” I felt aching and a burning feeling spread from my gut. “Was there something in that gas they gave me?”

Mobian bent down and grabbed one of my hands. He dropped it, watching it flop. “Can you feel that?”

“I can feel it, just can’t move it. It’s like I went all wobbly, and my stomach’s blowing up. Ah! Fuck, felt like someone just gave me a lobotomy,” I said. I tried to grit my teeth, but I couldn’t feel them anymore. “I don’t know if I have teeth.”

Mobian frowned, then looked down to his waist as it made a beeping sound. He held it up and pressed a button, watching streams of numbers rolling past each other. He looked down at me, then at the datapad. He began tapping on it some more. “It’s a good thing there is a temporary deletion function that can restore a file before final deletion. How do you feel… now?”

I groaned and pulled myself up into a sitting position. “What the frell was that?”

“You know what I said about removing yourself from existence?” He asked. “This message has to go through for some reason or you don’t exist.”

“What? How does my existence rely on aliens trying to kill me?” I asked.

“Is it possible you interacted with them in the past?” Mobian asked.

“If you count the time of the dinosaurs, yeah,” I said. “Other than that, the only other time was pretty well after I started existing in this universe.”

“Let’s follow this along then. They come back. They have access to time travel, so they somehow do something that helps you exist? No, that’s not right. That is what they would do if they got this message. We know that because in the other timeline, they sent me to lead you into a trap in the past, as you said. Then they fail to kill you.” He put a finger over his lips, puzzled.

“Yeah, and I took their ship, chased you and Future Venus, and you went back in time through the dimensional breach to go back in time in my universe.” I didn’t like where this was going, because it was dawning on me.

Mobian pointed the finger at his lips toward me now. “You said the aliens sent to kill you looked like rangers. What do you mean?”

“Like the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers. They weren’t exactly the same design, but the uniforms were similar, with each one wearing different colors. That’s the city where they first appeared, a little more than ten years later.”

He and I looked at each other. I sighed and looked down. “And if the Rangers didn’t exist, it’s entirely possible my life would have gone in a significantly different direction and I’d never have found my way to this universe. Was that time’s way of saying I wouldn’t even be alive today if that happened?”

He glanced at the numbers on his pager-thing, then put it back on his belt. “And Earth’s history would change. Good for you. You created the Justice Rangers.” I shuddered. He smiled at that. “And without them, you would be dead and never have found your new home.”

“Fuck me in the Alps, no wonder I had a bad mood. Time itself is going out of its way to stick it to me.” I looked up to find Cheretha and the science team standing there, eating small snacks out of bowls.

“What are you going to do about the message?” she asked.

I looked to Mobian. “I think we need to put it on hold for about thirty years. Any idea what that translates to here?” I asked, nodding her way.

“I know what to do,” he said, tapping away on the datapad. I stood up, amazed at the memory of pain that made me want to groan and the lack of any now. It was more abrupt even than healing.

“There,” Mobian said, handing the pad back to Cheretha. “Thank you.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “Before I go, I just want to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And d’you know what?” He turned to look at me. “You were too.”

I waved him off. “Yeah, I get it. I’m great at killing. I would kill them on a sphere, I would kill them over here. I would kill Mot here or there, I would kill even a Hare. I would kill green eggs and ham. I’d rip the head off Sam I am. See you on the damn timeship so we can get to the important stuff.”

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Facing Mot-ality 2

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It’s been a frustrating game of cat and mouse. Or I suppose it’s cat and cat, but then that means one of us alleycats is gonna get screwed with a prickly dick. Part of me wasn’t exactly eager to face him. Really made me wish I hadn’t taken along some of Max’s beer when Mobian showed up to offer me a ride. Since Mobian’s little glowing orb craft was able to appear within it, it also made me hope Mot lacked any sort of temporal manipulation.

I lowered the island’s shield long enough to fly out of there instead of resort to time shenanigans, also allowing me and the Riccan military to bring drones and other equipment out. Some things don’t fit so easily through Cape Diem’s portal network. Dr. Creeper’s new Mecha Troopers, for instance. Hopefully they’ll help, but I’d rather have tanks of some sort for this encounter. Light infantry and drones are ok for raids, not so much open warfare.

Mobian managed to sync up people worldwide with a line of communication to help us coordinate. It gave the heroes and Titan’s people a chance to try and counter some of the emergencies happening: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and a biopic of Dick Cheney. It was more than mankind could ever handle on its own. And then there was me, trying to fill Mobian in about the Three Hares and Barkiel.

“The alien, Barkiel, meant for Mot to draw those forces to the planet,” Mobian said, tapping the side of his nose in thought.

“Yeah, except they wanted me handed over to them,” I added. When Future Venus and Mobian claimed to need my help and then took me back to the time of dinosaurs, it was part of a deal they’d struck. The aliens who saved Earth from the rampaging Mot 30 years in the future wanted me as payment. “And the ones who came to collect me were the same ones from a world we raided.”

“What raid?” Mobian asked, looking up from the control panel on the raised dais.

“A team-building exercise among villains. When we finally cleared out the Institute of Science of experiments gone wrong and everything else that had been unleashed in the chaos from my disagreement with the guy, one room had a weird crystal that opened a doorway to an alien world. They had abducted some people I hired to help me and sent them back through the portal to attack us, so I returned the sentiment in kind and then closed the door. But before I left, I saw those same beings. To me, they resembled rangers.” I growled the last word. Couldn’t help it.

“Barkiel waited more than a thousand years, driven mad by hope. He implemented a plan to kill billions… when the way home was on that little island,” Mobian said. He shook his head. “The universe loves a tragedy.”

“Any chance we could just go back and take him?” I asked.

Mobian threw a switch. “Absolutely not. I wouldn’t kill me and try to fly the ship unless you want to die. It,” he flipped a toggle.” is,” another, “mine.” He spun a wheel around and turned to look at me. “History gets no rewrites on my watch.”

“Unless you want one, shouldn’t you get me to the battlefield already?” I asked.

“Trust me, you’re already there,” he said.

“I don’t feel there,” I said, looking around the ship.

Mobian pointed to the round wall of his ship. A view appeared of long rod in space that several l lights were zipping to and from. “That’s because you’re here now,” he said. “The Hinge of Shevara.”

“Any other day, I’d probably love to hear the story behind that, but shouldn’t we getting back?” I asked.

The Mobian snapped his fingers and the view rewound through a flash of light that showed us far above the eye of a hurricane in a city. Another glowing orb like the Mobian’s ship appeared then. The reversal reversed itself, showing us now quite close to the rod hinge of Che Guevara, or whatever. I noticed the line of communications to Earth had gone quiet too. “I’m here to stop that signal from getting through. You’re along for the ride.”

I threw up four hands. “Couldn’t you have done this AFTER dropping me off?”

“No!” he said. He turned and walked over to me, looking me over. “You are involved with this. You’re in the thick of it. I needed you to trace the signal.”

I holographically projected a raised eyebrow over one of the three false eyes of my helmet.

Mobian circled around me. “You don’t belong here. You’re supposed to be dead. Eliminated from the timeline. Ex-ter-” he stopped to cough. “Sorry, I’ve heard the phrase a touch too often but it came to mind.” He stopped in front of me, holding his pointers to his thumbs in my direction. “You are a direct cause of an event and not meant to be here, ergo my amazing ship was able to trace a causal-temporal link to find bring us here.”

I didn’t feel anything, but the Mobian smiled. “We’re here.”

“Nice as it is to know the universe partially revolves around me, whatever we’re here for, let’s do it quick.” I said, following him to the door. I dropped the bomb off inside the ship, hoping I wouldn’t have need to use it up before I got to its intended target. Besides, destroying space stations is much moe fun when I’m not on them. I half expected the ship to lock me inside again, but I passed through into a room with bright yellow wall panels.

“Relax, wherever you’re going, you’re already there. You don’t trust yourself?”

I didn’t hesitate a moment to answer, “No.”

“Fine. We just need to find the Communications Transit Depot. Simple enough,” he walked on into a crowd of aliens of all shapes and sizes. Hearts, stars, mushrooms, clovers and blue moons. Those aren’t lucky charms, those are just some of the body shapes I saw on display. They all steered clear of this one race that looked remarkably humanoid but for the intense orange skin, bald heads, and tiny hands.

“Oh don’t touch them. They’re belligerent,” said Mobian, catching me staring.

“They seem familiar, but I just can’t place them,” I said. “Hey, you said communications transit?”

“Right. Yes, well, the universe is a large place and no matter how good your communications network is, it can take awhile to get there and you risk signal degradation. The Hinge serves many purposes, but it also has a Communications Transit Depot where it stores incoming signals, cleans and enhances the signal, then boosts them to the appropriate destination.” He explained it all to me without breaking stride, even as a red creature floated by hanging from twin gas bladders that helped it resemble the cartoonish heart shape.

“You think we got here in time?” I hurried after, dodging a crowd of things green things with long, thin bodies and limbs. To me, the faces looked female, but they lacked boobage. Instead, they had four long, leafy protrusions extending from their necks, which is why I had nicknamed them Clovers. Given they might be plant-based, I’m going to ignore the hand gesture one gave me that the others responded to with noises like rapid creaks. I couldn’t help but the first music to come to mind.

“Is that from the Mos Eisley Cantina? Anyway, here we are,” Mobian said, leading me to a room with multiple consoles on glowing platforms. Each one had different sets of controls all in different marked-off areas of the console. He picked one empty of anyone else and headed over there. “These depots are amazing, but they tend to be backed up.” He turned to look around, then slipped something out of his jacket pocket. One weird whizzy sound later, a holographic monitor appeared and scrolled through to something in a language I couldn’t understand.

“Here it is. Yes, it just arrived yesterday. My, that’s impressive speed.” He nodded and turned to glance at me. I just shrugged. “If you knew how far away from Earth we were right now, you’d be impressed.”

“Yeah, while I’d normally love the prospect of tearing up an alien space station or getting a second chance to rampage through time, my mind’s on Mot,” I told him. Behind us, another party entered, heading toward us. It looked like a white giraffe with a smaller muzzle and eyes on the front, in armor like chunky rocks. There were twenty others, most of them short little things in chunky rock armor, all of them in helmets. There was one of the heart-shaped aliens, though. Just like the others, it had a big round disk, like a wheel, pointed at us. “Mobian,”

The giraffe said something and Mobian’s head whipped around. “Cheretha! I hadn’t thought I’d run into you here.”

The giraffe answered back. I couldn’t make out what she was saying. My translator programs’ good, but there’s several worlds of difference between figuring out the human languages and tongues of the extraterrestrials. Note to self: Tongues of the Extraterrestrials is also a good name for a band. And a porno. And a Scientology book.

“Mobian, do I need to give us some privacy?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No! No, that would be a bad idea for all of us. We’ll be more than happy to come with you, just let me finish my transaction.” Mobian turned and pointed back to the console. The giraffe barked and one of the rocky little dwarfs fired a transparent wave from the disk, blowing up the console and shorting out the hologram.

I ahemed. “You sure, Mobian?”

“Do not tempt me with watching you get your arse handed to you here and now, Gecko. Let’s go with the nice, friendly staff and get this cleared up.” Mobian smiled and raised his hands to walk out. I sighed and a hologram of me walked along with him, hands raised, leaving me behind unseen. It might’ve worked until the heart—alien swam over to me, honking and huffing. That one could see me, and brought the attention of some of the dwarfs. They pointed their disks all over, but at least a couple had them in the right direction.

“Fine, fine,” I said, appearing and raising my hands for real. I just had to take comfort in the fact that we do show back up at the battle, right?

They put us in alcoves off in a quiet corner and down a hallway. There was a circular desk that another dwarf sat at, still with its helmet on. Another led us into our little nooks and left alone. I tried stepping back out and was thrown against the padded wall as a result. “Huh, guess the padded room wasn’t meant specifically for me this time,” I said, sliding down to a seated position. In another alcove, this big rodent thing chittered away at my predicament. It had two front paws that looked more hands, while another four stretched down to the ground. Like a capybara centaur with a blue hair spiked out from left to right over its head. If the Planet of the Rats had a statue of liberty, that’s what its head would look like. And long, droopy sideburns, if you can say that about a thing with fur all over its body.

Mobian had gotten comfortable laying down on his bed, but waved a hand toward the capybara. “It’s her first time off planet. I swear, can’t take her anywhere.”

The capybara clucked at Mobian, who responded with, “Earth. I’m saving it again.”

If they were worried about the guard, they didn’t show it. It just sat there at its desk, watching something on a holographic monitor. I could almost make it out on my side, but not enough to be helpful in whatever language it was.

“No, you’re sitting in a cell,” I said. “How does being incarcerated help us, by the way?”

“I will work this out, I promise. Cheretha and I have to talk, that’s all. We left things in a bad place, and I’m not supposed to be back here if we’re being honest.”

“Wow, trespassing on your ex’s property. Now all we need’s the new boyfriend out here in a tank top,” I said.

The station shook. Mobian sat up and the capybara quieted down. “Does that normally happen?” I asked. The guard at the desk looked up at us, but twisted and pulled frantically at something on his desk, checking a holographic screen.

“Only when something’s gone terrible wrong,” he said. “A disaster like a redirected meteor that no one intercepted, or a rogue black hole, or even-” he stopped as a sound started up that even I could recognize as an alarm. “invasion.”

The guard stood up, pulled a disk out from under the desk, looked at us, then hightailed it out of there.

The capybara started chewing on the wall of its alcove then. We heard other sounds. Turns out in space, you CAN hear people scream. The odd shake didn’t help matters. I looked up and around, trying to see about hand holds or obvious weaknesses.

Meanwhile, the capybara chewed on something that sparked. It tested a paw and found the barrier gone and ran out of the cell before ducking under the desk. A mess of robotic parts stepped in on a nest of mechanical legs. It had a big round head with lenses all around, and a thin mechanical pincer with something held in it. At this point, I’m just assuming anyone or anything holding anything else is a weapon.

“Hello gents,” said Mobian. “I see you’re from the Collective. Don’t mind me. I’m just a prisoner.”

It checked the other two nooks in there before turning to Mobian. After a second, another joined it in the room, a round saucer on a tripod with a lens on a cable stalk. Just assuming whatever rotated around at the top of the saucer but on the outside of the eye stalk was a weapon too. The noises they made were like synthesizer music, but sounds without a tune. They stepped closer, losing track of the rest of the room from the way the capybara rushed out from under the desk and slapped the wall next to my nook.

The machine thingies turned to stare at the capybara. The one with all the extra eyes stalked closer on its tentacles. It blared noises, backing the capybara up against the wall of my cell. It made music like laughter.

Then I yanked it up to where I hid on the ceiling, tearing it apart and spraying the lower part of the cell with oil and parts. I dropped from my handholds in the ceiling, uncoiling more like, becoming visible one again. The tripod just looked at me as I raised my three-eyed helmet toward it and released a joyful “Haaaa!” from my fanged mask.

The tripod let out a loud, dissonant tone and fired at me, missing and hitting the walls with sparking ball lightning. I jumped and slammed it into Mobian’s nook’s barrier. It bounced off and onto my thrusting arm which went through it. I lifted it up as the machine shook and went still, then tossed it aside and hit the panel to free Mobian. “You know, I just wanted to kill a guy and get it done with, but you wanted to go sight-seeing.”

“Be that as it may, we need to fight through the Machine Collective’s invasion, gain access to that file, and stop it from getting to its destination. Otherwise, the same aliens that stopped Mot before will come to Earth and it won’t matter if you beat him or not. Are we on the same page?” he turned to me.

The capybara saluted with the boxy thing that the first of the machines had held in its pincer. I looked between the two of them. “Aw fuck. If you’re gonna mess with my schedule like this, it better at least be fun, star prince.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at me. “This is nothing serious. We’ve got time enough for an adventure, and I never thought I’d see the day I faced the Machine Collective with you on my side. Brilliant.”

He ran out of the room, leaving me to laugh as I realized. “A trip to the intergalactic mail depot where I get to go on a killing spree? Hey Mobian, does this mean we’re going postal?!”

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Facing Mot-ality 1

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I know, I had to do it. I passed out, of course, but don’t believe the hype. I wasn’t out long enough long, just long enough to wake up in the arms of a man with the body of a Greek god. I don’t know when Apollo circled back around, I just know he was carrying me.

I got the sense Titan had been shielding us with his wings. He stopped to look back, but Apollo yelled something back. I don’t know if I hit my head again, but I know I passed out. When I woke up, I was propped against the door of a really hot building. The smoke was making me cough, but a Venus ran out with a baby in her arms. I fell down, hacking and vomiting.

Next thing I knew, I woke up strapped with my belly to the front of a cart that rolled down a street. I couldn’t see where I was going, but there were gunshots and impacts against the back and ass of my armor. I tried to turn, but then I hit some sort of barricade and the cart flipped.

Not good times for me, and the didn’t get better until I awoke coughing to a Riccan medic applying nanites via aerosol spray up my nose. “Easy, Empress. You’ve suffered a lot of brain trauma.”

I nodded and sat back, working on breathing. Not the best way to apply nanites, but it does get to the lungs a lot quicker, and I remembered something about smoke at the time. After a moment, I had time to ask, “Anything permanent?”

“Not now that we’ve applied the nanos. You were out of your own, Empress,” he pointed out. He pulled out a flashlight. “I need to check pupillary response.”

I let him go through checking me real quick, but once he seemed sure I was ok, I shooed him off. I looked around as I made sure to signal the nanites to emphasize my brain and essential organs over my lost arms and any skin-deep injuries. The carrier bay of the Psycho Flyer was loaded down with the injured, my soldiers doing their best to see to them. They hadn’t been sent out for a rescue mission.

I didn’t see the heroes, Hares, or Titan in there. They’d stayed behind to help with the evacuation. Even the Hares. The news showed Apollo trying to whisk people out of ground zero as Mot stalked the city, then left for greener pastures. And they get a lot greener around there.

And once I got back in control, I was able to contact Titan’s people to coordinate getting the wounded to Cape Diem bases for medical treatment and evac via portal to better places, including some who went with me to Ricca. I had other things to prepare. I couldn’t run myself ragged trying to get more than a billion Indians out of the way of a being that devours people, or the next billion next door in China.

It had been an emotional whiplash. Rage at Barkiel trying to kill my daughter. Tension. And then all kinds of shit from the actual fight with Barkiel that hadn’t even been processed. Sympathy. Humiliation. Indignation, which isn’t quite the same as anger. I can tell, because there’s still plenty of rage from knowing he played me like a harp from hell. And I know it’s boring to mention I spent time processing this kinda shit, but not doing so got me into this mess. For all I know, I had plenty of other enemies who would send a bomb to kill my daughter. My first assumption was to think it was the Hares, and that’s exactly what Barkiel wanted me to think to make his plan work. I can’t be going up against Mot with that kind of handicap.

So I And, let’s face it, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. If Barkiel was telling the truth, it sounds like pretty much everything I’ve done since that whole time travel mess has played into this. And I didn’t even go anywhere good, like to go back in time and become Genghis Khan’s father, or kill slavers during the American Civil War, or punch Hitler in his face while wearing Puerto Rico’s flag on my chest. But no, I had to go, leave behind a broken time machine, and not save myself as a kid.

Barkiel really hammers home how important it is not to get too wrapped up in all that. For all his manipulations, he let loose a super with who-knows-what powers that promptly devoured him. It was that, or face the god of war. The same asshole wannabe deity stayed behind to fight something he had to know he couldn’t beat, and then Apollo carried me out. Going to subtract points for using me as a door stop and a battering ram, though.

All that stuff and more went through my mind as I laid in a nanite bath in full armor, healing and repairing. I sent a great many of the nanites out to build more and steal materials. That involved a raid of the refrigerator, for instance, where I made absolutely sure they didn’t touch anything with Max’s name written on it. The guy’s full of so many substances that eating after him or stealing his food could mean all sorts of nastiness. Only guy on earth who could start a zombie plague with an STD.

If it seems that I was basically sulking in a tub, yeah, a little. But I was rebuilding myself. And, more importantly, I was building a little something to deal with Mot. It would take a lot to kill him, and the future-that-won’t-be used armies and supers had plenty at their disposal. But they didn’t have my brain. Which sounds a lot more braggy than intended. I don’t know exactly what’s going on with my other Earth of origin and the portal to it in Canada, but I have to imagine there was some reason they didn’t step in to help in the other timeline.

Why bring up that delightful place? Because of the technology required to breach the dimensional barriers of the universe and cross into a new dimension. That’s right, that simple little weapon is the answer. Because when ever problem’s a nail, then stop, because it’s hammer time.

Qiang sought me out in my little tub. “Mommy? Are you ok? They said you were hurt.”

I had to connect to a music speaker around the house. “I’m ok, sweetheart. I got hurt, but unless I’m destroyed completely, I can come back better than ever.”

She hugged the side of my tank. “You broke the kitchen.”

I laughed through the speaker. “I was mad and did something stupid.”

“Why’d you do that?” she asked. The pouty and accusing way she asked that made me laugh again.

“Honey bear, someone made me so mad I couldn’t think straight and I did dumb things.”

“I don’t want to be so mad that I, that I, that I don’t, um,” she went on.

“Sweety,” I interrupted her, “Everyone gets mad. Even people who go around all snobby saying, ‘I don’t get mad or sad, everything I do is because of my brain being smart’, but it’s their brain that gets mad, too. Because they don’t think they are being that way, they don’t realize it and don’t know how to deal with it. There are good ways to deal with anger.”

“Like when you and Uncle Max drink that stuff?” she asked.

Huh. She got me there. “Yes, but that’s a special drink for adults that can also make people act stupid if you don’t use it right. I’ll teach you more once I’m done beating someone who is very, very bad.”

“Some people say you’re bad,” she said.

“This person’s way worse and bad things are going to happen if he’s allowed to do what he wants.”

“What kind of things?” she asked.

I didn’t tell her, but I’d been keeping track of that. At first, he seemed to be moving at just a walking pace. They could try to move folks out of the path. Try. It’s hard to hundreds of thousands of folks to up and move in so little time, and those are the ones capable of moving under their own power. Then he teleported straight to another city. The noises coming out of Allahabad don’t sound good. One guy on the Indian military lines just kept repeating “They’re killing each other. They’re killing each other. They’re killing each other,” over and over until I found a way to disrupt his signal. It went out on its own soon afterward.

Morale’s important right now, and this is the time to manage it. That’s part of why I’m taking my time. The other part has to do with a pair of D-Bombs. They’ll be a bit on the crude side rushing this through. Less precise, and I won’t have enough to teleport them in using another bomb as a sort of wormhole. That means hand delivery, and this HAS to go right. I don’t know if I can trust Dudebots. I think this has to be me. Or maybe I still think I have to personally do all this.

There’s basically a hurricane moving across India. There are random earthquakes. Gotta give the Hares credit for however they sealed this guy up if it was able to stop this sort of thing. California’s even on fire again, but that might just be how that state works now for eleven months out of the year. Ricca’s shield has had to go up because of all the tsunamis.

Oh great, superspeed. He’s got superspeed too. I had a top, down satellite view and he just zipped right the fuck out of Allahabad and crashed into Lahore, Pakistan, population 5 million while heroes are still playing catch up trying to calm people down and get them out of Allahabad in India. He dragged the hurricane with him. If it was almost anybody else, that’d be awesome. A superspeed hurricane. That’d be a good name for a band.

Suddenly, a bright orb flew through Earth’s atmosphere and began to fly into the hurricane clockwise to the hurricane’s counterclockwise spin. “People of Earth!” a voice said, taking over all frequencies and channels. “I am the Mobian, and I promise you that Earth will not fall while I live. This being is Mot, and he has powers beyond that of any superhuman to walk the face of the planet, but he can be stopped” He spoke with such conviction, I gotta say I got goosebumps.

As usual, someone had to fuck it up. “General Mayhew here. We are monitoring the situation and the world wonders: how? What is Mot after?”

Mobian sighed. “Your life. I know that Mot will only rest when the world is ashes. I’ve seen it in a future that cannot come to pass. You can’t debate him, you can’t buy him off with money or a fiefdom. It is at the core of his being that every human is inferior and must be purged.”

“Mobian, if this is meant to inspire hope, you’re doing it wrong,” chimed in Titan’s voice.

“I’m Psychopomp Gecko,” I said. “This is my home, and I’ve never met anyone too powerful to die.” There in my palace, I rose out of the solution of the nanite tank. Taller than I had been, and ripped. I looked so good, I could have done an infomercial, or even porn.

“You have a plan?” asked this General. I pulled my armor out from the solution and slid it on, nanites melding it to my skin.

“I need Mot held in one place and I need to get close to him. Then I’ll need everyone to run,” I told them just before I slipped on my helmet and the nanites built up a final seal meant to be permanent.

I gave Qiang a long hug before I grabbed the D-Bomb cluster by a pair of straps I’d built onto it.

To that same channel Mobian had opened up, I said, “I looked and saw a pale horse. Its rider’s name was Death, and Hell was coming after him.”

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