I’d cue the spinning newspaper headlines, but a supervillain kidnapping a superhero isn’t that big of news. And who reads newspapers anymore? Ricca’s moved to an all-digital format for the news. For those who prefer a hands-on approach, a digital ghost copy serves just as well. So, aside from the heroes at the Master Academy, there weren’t really too many people giving a shit about my love life or capture of Venus.
That’s probably a condition you share with the rest of this world, dear reader. Hey, trust me, I feel stupid too. I got played, in the seat of my own power.
I held off on visiting Venus until I had answers. It’s a good reason. It has nothing to do with any confusing feelings that I might have left over which, once again, nobody wants to hear about.
Answers came thanks to Pagan. The Intel chief was enthusiastic about understanding the events of the past couple few weeks. The weak point turned out to be a foursome of spies in particular.
Pagan had the footage for me and everything. Yeah, cameras saw what happened, but nobody watches all the cameras. I can’t, that’s for sure. An AI might manage it, but I’m the last person who should be programming a brand new mind. On the day in question, Medusa visited a tailor. One of the better ones, too. The man in the playing card shirt walked along casually behind her as if he wasn’t a superhero.
Medusa went into the building. The guy did too, briefly. He came out a couple minutes later, texting away, looking like he was feeling his pulse. He must have had the same type of transceiver we removed from Venus. We gassed her one night long enough to have it extracted from her neck. It’s got the range for a city, but what made it so clever and undetectable is how it’s built. With no pressure applied, no power reaches the transceiver. The battery can only power it up to send and receive messages when someone presses on it. It keeps me from detecting it unless it’s actually in use, and they have very simple programming meant to try and keep them communicating only to one another.
Venus appeared soon afterward, as did their larger friend who resembles a minotaur. Both were being tailed by agents. Here’s where the mistake happens, and it’s a big one. The first team of spies spot the second team of spies when they’re stopped watching the heroes talk outside. After an argument, video shows the spies and the spies who are spying on the spies got into an argument. The argument turnd into a fight, spy versus spy. This attracted the attention of the heroes who beat the snot out of them, stole all their clothes except for underwear, tied them up, and tossed them in a dumpster. Then they used cable ties they happen to keep on them to tie the dumpster closed.
After that, the heroes had time to go into the tailors. When they left, Venus had taken Medusa’s place and costume. The minotaur carried out a lumpy black garment bag like you’d use to hold a costume or suit. The spies didn’t see it because, again, they were beat up, tied up, and laying in a dumpster. Unfortunately, my spies are competent enough to free themselves upon waking up from a beatdown. They untied themselves and sawed through the cable tie on the dumpster lid before they could end up added to the biochar.
Biochar is part of our waste management here. We turn a lot of our waste and food trash into this stuff called biochar. Really good for plants and stuff. The cult that grows so much of our food loves it, along with anyone else growing stuff around. We’ve got shitloads of the stuff going to Mu, and we’re trying to open up the Americna market. The only people who want the stuff over there are people obsessed with organics who keep wanting the really crappy stuff made from only wood.
The reason for the big fancy explanation is that the heroes almost accidentally arranged to turn my spies into a nutritional soil additive. It would have been better all the way around. When we didn’t hear back from the spies, Pagan would have known something was up and we might have uncovered the whole mess. Even the spies would probably be better off.
See, it wasn’t great that they let themselves get caught and beat up, or that they had their squabble between spies. The real issue is that none of them informed anybody about it. They agreed to keep it among themselves. Pagan is at least as unhappy as I am. He didn’t give me all the details, but he requested a large number of medical nanomachines. When I asked what he had in mind, he graced me with a lovely explanation,“I trained in the Japanese branch. The Yakuza know how to make amends.”
“Going to make an example of them?” I asked. “I’d very much like if they are not an issue in the future, but it’s crucial that nobody repeat their mistake. I care more about getting the job done than embarrassment. I’m more merciful toward the latter than I am the former.”
“That is completely understood, Empress. I think you would enjoy what I will do. Four rounds of bidding. The loser is the one who bids the fewest fingers. If they fail to provide all the fingers they bid, or all are provided and someone has less than the others, that person loses the round and is punished. The winner of a round gets to sit and watch. The punishment of the final round is truly final.”
“Aren’t you worried everyone will just bid all their fingers each round?” I asked.
He laughed. “I doubt everyone will manage to part with all that they bid. And if they do, it will be a memorable experience for them.”
“You’re an evil bastard,” I told him. “Keep up the great work.”
I mean, I may be slightly toned down as an Empress, but there’s really no moral way to lead a country. I have responsibilities and I don’t like it when people fuck with them.
Which leads me to my own interrogation. I sat there, across the table from Venus, glaring at her. She smiled at me. “It looks delicious,” she said.
Citra, sitting next to me, spooned an extra helping of the broccoli and mushrooms onto her noodles and turned to address Venus, “It is wonderful to have you join us for this formal dinner prepared by my wife, but I am afraid I do not know if we have met.”
“We have,” Venus said, folding up her napkin into her own lap. She’d been provided a dress for the occasion. “I was impersonating Medusa, but I helped you with the gifts. I’m known to Gecko and everyone else as Venus.”
Citra smiled wide. “You’re the hero my wife is in love with!”
So fucking glad I sent everyone else out of the palace for this confrontation right about then.
Venus looked at me, then laughed at my expression. I can only imagine what such a glare looks like with a bright red blush going on. “No, I’m not,” I said slowly.
“This is wonderful,” Citra said, taking my hand. “Are you two going to stay together?”
“We’re not together,” I told her. “She was lying to me and playing with my trust.”
Like I wasn’t even fucking there, Citra continued, “I want to thank you for your advice with the First Lady of Peru. It was the perfect gift. I think we will have a trade agreement soon.”
“What’s all this trade agreement and gift stuff?” I asked.
Citra turned to finally address me instead of the elephant in the room. “I have the Foreign Director keep me aware of the birthdays of wives of other heads of states. I send them gifts you can only get from the island. Venus helped.”
I closed my eyes and rested my head on my elbow. “Dear, you can’t go letting my nemesis handle the duties you took on you as my consort and wife.”
I heard her lean closer as she teased me. “Oh? You had no problem with her taking on those duties then.”
“Dear, I’m trying intimidate my nemesis,” I told my wife, opening my eyes to look into the foolish grin of the troll I apparently married.
“The Empress Gecko does not wear glitter on her lips to intimidate people,” she responded.
“Wrong!” I said, looking to Venus, who was getting dinner and a show. “I’ve killed people set to Celine Dion. I can wear glitter makeup if I want to!” I totally can. I can leave my friends behind. ‘Cause my friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, then they’re no friends of mine.
Venus coughed away from the table, and took a moment looking down to gather her thoughts. “I’m glad that worked out, Citra. Gecko, relax. You know I know you’ve had a crush on me for years, and you know I’m happy to help.”
Citra held her hands up, palms together like she’d clapped. I held up a hand, “Don’t expect any more help. Venus is the enemy.”
Citra, having gained some sort deathwish, continued her defiance of me. “Last week she was your snugglebunny, this week she’s the enemy. Next week, she will be a part of our family and you will call her snugglebunny again.”
I pointed a finger at Citra. “That’s enough.” I pointed with another hand at Venus, who was looking down into her own lap, hair falling over her face so I couldn’t see her reactions. “She’s not part of our family. She hates me. I kill people. I killed her boyfriend, twice. I annoyed her, stalked her like a creep. The only reason she hasn’t killed me is because her morals are worth more to her than my life. If I wasn’t some stupid villain for her to pity and throw in jail, she wouldn’t even look at me. I’ll never be good enough for her!” I blinked, thinking back over the last part of that and explaining, “In her eyes.”
I looked between the two women. Citra bowed her head, hiding her feelings behind the neutral expression she’d long since mastered. Venus looked down still for whatever reason. I didn’t know what she was thinking. And, fuck it, at that point I just didn’t care. Even just being here, as herself, she was kicking my ass. I stood up and stormed out, plate in hand because I was hungry and wanted something to do with my mouth right then.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far down the hall before growled and smashed the plate and its contents onto the floor. How DARE?! And then to come up and hug me from behind, to nuzzle into the hair at the back of my neck. Well, check out the ovaries on the former maid-turned-Imperial consort, daring to come up behind me and cuddle after that shit in there. After a deep breath, I took her hand and squeezed it for comfort, trying to explain. “You might think it’s cute, but it isn’t. Venus doesn’t like me at all. This is just toying with me. Tempting me with ideas like she does, because she’s happy to put up with her nightmare if it means saving someone. That’s all I am. She’s my weakness, because I love her, and I’m just another random person. I just wanted to get rid of the obsession. Great Jupiter’s sphincter piercing, woman, after what you pulled in there, I’m glad she’s probably escaped and got halfway across the island by now.”
I went ramrod straight when the woman holding me spoke, because it wasn’t Citra’s voice. “I’m not going anywhere yet, snugglebunny,” Venus said, holding me tight to her.
“Fuck you,” I responded.
“That’s no way to talk about your new partner,” she told me.
“Stop it,” I said. “Why are you saying this?”
“Because you need someone to be the angel on your shoulder,” she said.
“I should lock you back up,” I told her.
It was her turn to squeeze my hand. “I think I can get out, and you know I can beat you up. Being here, I’ve seen how much you changed.”
I scoffed, still not turning around. “You want to do this for yourself. Feel good about setting some other lost soul on the ‘right’ path.”
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the vacation and other benefits, but I want to do this for you. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal, but if I am, I can lift you up here with me. I couldn’t do that as Venus, but I think I can as Medusa.”
“You’re just a hero with a plan,” I said, turning around in her arms, my fingers tracing over her soft skin.
“If I wanted to run, you think I would have run to you?” she asked, gracing me with a sheepish smile. “What do you say? Medusa and Gecko, partners in crime?”