Category Archives: 82. Things Fall Apart

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

Things Fall Apart 4

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If all this sounds like things have been a bit separated so far, good. The heroes still don’t like me or trust me. A lot of the villains don’t like or trust me either. Part of that’s because we’re generally less likely to play nice with others. Plenty of them are suspicious at how often I end up helping save the Earth and my close relationship with some of the heroes. Instead of trusting me to corrupt Venus, they worry she’s trying to redeem me. Laughable, right? She is trying, but the idea of her succeeding? Ha!

The division between hero and villain hasn’t just been because of personal feelings. I don’t know who thought it up, but Venus passed on to me an idea to make it look like the heroes and villains weren’t united. She explained it to me thusly, in a private meeting we had one night in a parking garage: “The villains need to look like they only care about themselves. The heroes will be front and center fighting. When the ship gets here, we’re certain they will send down more people and try to take us out. Don’t leave us hanging.”

That was when I got here, after I kinda wrecked Master Academy’s trap.

All this separation is good for me though. The infosphere, datanet, whatever you call the collective digital world surrounding the Earth, it’s loud as fuck right now. I have people spread out all over the world and it’s overwhelming me. If I don’t concentrate so much on what’s in front of me, I begin to lose track of myself. It’s easy to jump into a helicopter that needs support in Ghana or screw with a camera system in Belarus. Checking the road ahead of refugees in Costa Rica and redirecting a GPS. Setting off car alarms in Cairo to ruin an enemy ambush.

For a long time, one of the things that worried me about my archnemesis was her ability to get me to focus on her. To concentrate to deal with her, even if it was just screwing with her. Now, it helps to keep me back in myself. I suppose the fact that she was holding me in her arms as we laid on the roof, staring up at a sky covered by the 8-pointed body of the domeship above us. “I’m not good at romance, but it would have been good to see stars, right?”

We’d met halfway between Rothstein’s, where I’d taken rooms for my guys and myself, and whatever hospital she’d been helping at. The heroes have a makeshift command center, but they don’t rest that well. Sometimes, a villain with a handy skillset slips through. Harder to tell who it is in plainclothes unless they have four arms like I do. A lot of the people who risked staying were also willing to risk nanites.

“There’s too much light pollution anyway,” she said, stroking my hair. “It’s the thought that counts.”

“I think I’ll kill them all,” I said,yawning.

She shifted to look down at me. “There’s no reason for that.”

“I hate them. That’s a good enough reason,” I told her.

She took one of my hands. “I don’t hate them and I don’t think you should either. They’re soldiers, or they’re clones who believe they only have value as weapons. We want the boss sitting in his high chair who thinks it’s their business shooting at our homes.”

It was good to have her there and to be able to focus. What came next required a lot of focus.

They attacked just before first light.

I awoke to rumbling, alone on the rooftop. Even my internal HUD clock read “You fuckin’ serious?” I looked around and saw giant rectangular containers slowing down on jets before crushing buildings and cars. One landed nearby and opened up to reveal a trio of tanks. Jump infantry landed nearby. I rushed to get my armor back on and shot Venus and her friends a message. I don’t know if they noticed me before I got my invisibility going. Satellite coverage went wonky, but they weren’t headed back toward Rothstein’s like I was. I hopped up a skyscraper and saw them converging on the square the heroes were using.

It’s a new square. So much rebuilding around here, I didn’t even bother learning this one’s name. I don’t know if they gave it some legacy name, or went for something new. Based on the number of armored vehicles heading that direction, I knew it soon wouldn’t matter if I learned its name.

They were a silent bunch, aside from the grumbling engines and the marching boots. They didn’t really try to destroy everything in their path. If it was quicker to take the road, they took it. If it was easier to smash through a wall or a building, they did that. The enemy forces were moving in a circle, but half stopped short, where they would have cover. The rest kept going until they were in rage of the trailers and tents the heros were using. They opened fire, as if the heroes were another military force.

I understand the need for a nice, orderly bunch like superheroes to have themselves a centralized location to do all their heroing from. It’s a pretty good way to handle things before the digital age. You just gotta wonder at the invaders expecting nighttime vigilantes to have slept in such a place. I watched through traffic lights and other cameras as one group realized something was up.

The bunch that backed off prematurely did so to avoid getting hit by their compatriots’ fire. They were at least out of firing range and behind buildings. I assume they weren’t ready when the heroes’ illusionist made his move. Eschaton melted tanks. Honky Tonk Hero based one to bits with his enchanted guitar. Warman tried tearing off cannons to use for himself. The Justice Rangers kicked and flipped their way through grey-skinned infantry.

The rest of the enemy army advanced on them, and they weren’t alone. The ship disgorged more infantry. Many of them hung in the air and fired down on the heroes. It seemed like overkill. I was once again reminded of the phrase I stole from a comedian. I don’t know how many of them it was gonna take to kick the heroes’ asses, but I knew how many they were gonna use. The heroes couldn’t even finish off the separated division before the rest of the army met up with them. It would look to anyone else like a slaughter in progress. I could listen in by now. I cracked the code to their communications frequencies. The invaders had a plan where they could even warp in the remnants of the first wave.

I landed in the square at that army’s back, uncloaked, a pair of Roman candles in my hands that I set off. Every comms line the invaders used screeched loud enough to make a deaf man grit his teeth. I dumped the candles away. “I believe this is when the cavalry’s supposed to arrive?” A holographic bugle appeared in my hands. I pretended to play a charge as six grey men floated closer. One of them looked a bit different because of some burns on the side of its face.

“You are but one. You cannot save your friends,” said the one in charge. “Turn off this music and surrender.”

I cranked up “Free Your Hate” too loud for me to hear anything else they said even if they shouted and ran for them. I tripped though, when the ground rumbled even more. In front of me, a line of giant drills pierced the street. The group floating in front of me turned to look at the signature Drill tanks of the Drillers opened wide. Fire, ice, and sonic weaponry covering them, a menagerie of menaces were loosed onto the streets of Empyreal City, right against the backside of the invading army. Unicorn fired a spiral beam from his horn through a line of infantry. A squad of Drillers hopped on top of a tank and started cracking it open like a safe. Crankshaft rolled up into a ball of metal and flesh that Gearshift kicked toward a soldier who reloaded his grenade launcher. She waved her hand and Gearshift kept rolling and even accelerated, bowling over the soldier and smashing into the side of another skirted light turreted support vehicle.

The jump infantry took to the air to join the supporting fire from above. They wouldn’t find the air any more welcoming. Spring is the time for bees, and Buzzkills filled the air by the hundreds. Led by Queen Beetrice, the bee people fired spines and pierced armor with stinger swords. The sky was ours.

The six in front of me turned back to face me. “We will kill you,” said the lead one.

I let a hologram walk forward while I turned invisible. “You know how ‘try’ is a synonym for annoy? You may try.”

The lead one clapped his hands together. Where the hologram stood just exploded spontaneously.

The six turned back to the battle. The lead, with the spontaneous explosion powers, gurgled in surprise when the Nasty Surprise shot through his throat. Same for the one next to him. I jumped onto the next one and crushed his skull between two other hands. Blood fountained everywhere and negated the ability of my cameras to work or my projectors to project. I grabbed onto the next closest one, who instinctively flew upward. His eyes started glowing as he glared at me. I shoved thumbs into them, cackling and yelling, “Thou wouldst stare at me, mortal?”

It’s not so funny in writing, but I guess you had to be there, covered in blood, squishing a guy’s eyeballs. He didn’t find it funny. He screamed. Screaming has to be a product of being social animals. I can’t imagine a loan predator, surrounded by enemies and prey, screaming when it’s hurt. No, it’s a social thing, letting others in your pack, herd, or gang know you need help. Benevolent person that I am, I decided I would help end this Praetor’s misery. No problem whatsoever. It was a snap!

That left me a good distance up with some rockets to ease me back down. I reached up and found myself caught my a pair of Buzzkills. The remaining two must have figured it out. The one with the burn started off, but eased back and let his comrade come first. That one spouted metal spikes. He stayed back. The spikes shot off him. I wasn’t so much worried about myself as I was my two helpers. Unfortunately, there was only so much I could do. I raised arms and legs to try and block, but the Buzzkills still went slack and began to drop. I could even still survive the fall, as long as the spikes sticking through my armor and squishy bits didn’t kill me.

I fell toward the waiting arms of the spiky son of a pin cushion, trying to think how problems like this are usually solved. The idea of solving a puzzle box briefly came to mind. Ridiculous. Laser flashed out, and I fell through the two halves of the spiky son of a bitch and right to the burned man. He spread his arms and a green wall appeared in front of him and forged a wedge that flew at me. It smashed into me and plates melted off. I had nothing left but the armored undersuit I stole off a future version of my nemesis before I killed her. Even the spikes that somehow penetrated were gone.

I couldn’t see shit through my melting helmet, but I felt when he caught my throat and began to squeeze. “The others did not realize your power is not in your body. Your spine and heart will soon join it.”

The remains of my helmet fell away, showing that I at least still had both cybernetic eyes working. “Do I know you?” I gasped out.

“It is too late to surrender and see yourself spared. You will die when those my master answered to take your planet,” Praetor M said before punching his hand into my belly. You know how you get hit sometimes and it knocks the air out of your lungs? That, plus I think one of my kidneys exploded. It was like he tried to put his arm through me. I swear, my back fucking popped.

“Look in my eye while you kill me? Face me!” I pleaded. Praetor M obliged. It made it easier when my eye warmed up and another laser shot out, lobotomizing him. I grabbed his hand and pried it off my throat while he thrashed around. Then I reached into the hole, setting my thumb on the bridge of his nose, and pulling. One, two, and then I tore the front of his face off, trying to laugh at the pain and around the lack of air. “Face me!”

I fell, but someone caught me. I was kinda having trouble there, keeping conscious. I think it was the lack of air. I looked up at a Buzzkill, who jabbed me with a syringe of what I soon realized were regenerative nanomachines. I gave her a thumbs-up. She smiled. Mandibles make it hard to tell, but I have experience because of Beetrice. When I’d gotten a bit less aerated, I looked around because I swore we were going up, not down. I looked over and saw the Domeship next to us. We rose and she set me down on the deck. All around, I saw more joining us, flying under their own powers or being set down by more Buzzkills.

I didn’t have the full electronic suite of my armor anymore, but I still had the electronics in my body. I reached out to hear Warman giving orders. “-board, board! I’m tired of being on the defense. This time, we’re invading. We’ll take this ship and we’ll take it to their world.”

Aww. I missed most of the ground battle. Though, when I looked around, I noticed something. Aside from myself and the Buzzkills, all I saw were heroes up here. Next to me, a gorilla wearing a jetpack grunted as he landed.

I waved to him. “Gorilla Awesome? They really brought everyone along, didn’t they?”

A huge explosion below drew our attention. Awesome, the Buzzkill, and I both looked down at the flames. I hissed in pain from tenderness when I bent over and straightened up. “There goes the neighborhood.”

We swarmed the ship, though the “we” seemed to be pretty much only heroes and whatever Buzzkills decided to attach follow along with me. I don’t know if that’s because of any particular orders to that effect. We didn’t see much resistance. Someone jumped out with a pistol and got a stinger in his neck, one through the cheek, and another through the temple. A woman in unusual clothing stood next to him, screaming. Gorilla Awesome jumped ahead of us and picked her up. He shushed her, then politely asked, “I am truly sorry. Where is the command center of the ship, that we might minimize loss of life?”

She kept screaming, so he set her down. The Buzzkills raised their sting swords, but I held up my hands. “Leave her in peace. We’ll find someone else.”

Gorilla Awesome held out his arm as someone tried to scuttle past. He grabbed the fleeing man and pulled him in close. “You there. Where do the people in charge work?”

“Please don’t kill me,” he said.

“Deal,” Gorilla Awesome said, grabbing the man’s hand and shaking it.

The bridge, I suppose it could be called. Sounds of fighting were ever just out of reach as we approached. It was in the large dome, inside an inner dome at the center of that one. Because so many people can’t resist putting the spot all the important people hang out in somewhere central or where they can see things, without regard to how much of a target that makes them. The outer dome had a park paved in metal mosaic tiles and walls made up of warped pentagonal shapes. As we rushed along, the outer dome began to glow red hot in one spot. It melted open and Eschaton followed, heading toward the inner dome. Warman jumped through the opening, firing cannon that spat green fire from one of three rotating barrels. The green fireballs burst through the inner dome, and Eschaton flew through. Warman landed, then followed Eschaton in a single bound.

By the time we got in there, a man in pearl white armor with a trio of horns arching up. He wielded a three-pronged spear that he used to hold back the stream of blue flame pouring from Eschaton’s hands. Warman strode up next to Eschaton and raised his tri-cannon. Gorilla Awesome raised a meaty arm, a grappling hook shooting out to wrap around the spear.

The armored man muttered something and let the spear go as Gorilla Awesome yanked it away. He slapped something on a pedestal the moment before his face disintegrated and he fell, blackened skull cracking into pieces.

The ship shook, and through the holes I saw a blinding light. I felt more than saw the next part, where an infinite blackness stretched out containing expanding droplets full of lights. We passed through something red that felt like it scraped my nerves as we passed through. The light fell away, and my head was assaulted by new information. Data, in languages I don’t know. I managed some of the encryption, but others were merely familiar. The communications came through from all around, maybe through the dome itself, and through me.

“Grand Executor, why have you returned?” they asked. I saw a pair of faces. I saw signals flying all around us.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. It moved up along the back of my neck and over my hair. I raised my head, focusing again. I looked up to Venus in her black power armor. She looked down to me. “Put me through to them.”

I nodded and concentrated. “You’re on.”

She spoke, and I sent her words out. “Leaders of this invading world. I am Medusa, a hero of my world. We have defeated your army, taken your ship, and defeated your Grand Executor. I must stress that we want peace. Chief Executor Paldrin did not give us peace. The Grand Executor did not give us peace. We are here on your world and I ask you, will we have peace?”

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Things Fall Apart 3

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Ah, war. A time of bloodshed and thundering guns. I’ve participated in a few before. Sometimes as an assassin working for a side; other times as an enthusiastic fan. When you don’t have connections to the world, it’s easy to be a fan of a war. Just invoke a plague on both their houses, crack open a beer, and watch a fireworks show.

But this is the Earth where I keep my family. As much as I’d prefer to be there with them, giving my daughter lessons in urban warfare, I’ll have to settle for making sure she’s safe to come back home to. That’s why I instead gave the invaders a lesson in urban warfare. Nothing quite like shoving some knowledge inside a pliable head. Strong enough power armor, any head’s pliable.

These were a different sort. Whatever raiders, robotmen, and thunder riflers had been pushed to the side. In the case of the otherworldly animals, this bunch were just as willing to kill them off if they got in the way. Instead of the raiders’ segmented armor or the riflers’ wool uniform, they had something I recognized as light ballistics vests. In testing, I found the less bulky plates the tankers wore were just as capable of absorbing lead as the stuff the national guardsmen are using. The new infantry have stuff that’s a little bulkier, even the grey ones.

I got a good look at them. I’d killed enough of them, after all. A few wore jetpacks with short wings sticking out from either side. Those tended to have a reflective visor built into their helmets. The others just get regular ol’ helmets.

The fighting has been intense. My squad have been keeping ourselves scarce, working with fellow villains. We decided not to present a unified front, not exactly. It might have gone better if my speech hadn’t been released to the wider public. But there was still room for villains to, say, ambush a light motorized infantry unit with flamethrowers trying to burn through Green territory. The eco-friendly gang of hippies had one of the most drastic effects on Empyreal City. With all the rebuilding the city does almost constantly, they stand out for spreading all sorts of plants across their territory. They went from smelly and mostly harmless potheads to having horned heads and smelling of musk thanks to whatever they’d started smoking.

They refused to heed the call until their territory was safe. I told them I’d guarantee it. Then here comes the invaders with flamethrowers and grenade launchers trying to make me a liar. Well, if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a productive member of society. I’ve been a liar for a long time. I even lied that the invaders made me a liar. But I only lie when it’s absolutely necessary. Actually, that was also a lie. I do it for all sorts of reasons.

When I showed up with a squad of my guys and a few villains who felt like being useful, the burn squad was hard at work demolishing the entire neighborhood. We’d headed there in the back of Crankshaft’s pickup truck and stopped just around the corner. Not my call, but Crankshaft didn’t want to risk his wheels. The outside of a corner store we passed looked like its walls were made of thick vines, which is why I didn’t take the burn squad’s actions as overkill.

One of my soldiers approached, curious, and reached out for the wall. A thinner vine whipped out at him. A red-clad woman with a small mallet, Red Plague, reached for his shoulder, but he jumped back before she could pull him back.

Crankshaft’s partner, who wore a yellow jumpsuit with two checker-patterned stripes, and a mask that resembles flames, laughed. “Maybe we oughta let ’em burn it.”

Red Plague rolled her eyes. “We don’t need more dead and homeless, Gearshift.”

“We’re gonna have plenty enough, commie,” Crankshaft said.

“How are we doing this?” I asked, glancing around the corner at a quartet of skirted vehicles with turret-mounted flamethrowers. I saw fifteen… no, sixteen soldiers. Some also had little guns with prominent canisters that added to the firestorm. I saw a man with a twisted tangle of horns and tusks try to rush them, then erupted in a blaze courtesy of a grenade from one of the soldiers.

Red Plague looked up at the vines. “Get me to an overwatch position and I’ll make them sick. I’ll do what I can around all this heat.”

I glanced up as a grey man zoomed in like a bird or a plane. He had a bigass sword in one hand. Couldn’t see what was in the other. I smiled under my helmet. “Look at that, it’s my reason for living… killing. I can head in, disable one or two of the vehicles, then I think the big guy will be on me. Probably better if I hold im off. Crankshaft, you got a way to survive getting shot?”

He cracked his stained knuckles and grinned. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and bands of metal popped out of his skin in pieces. “I’m tougher’n I look.”

“I’ll get him and these others there lickity split,” Gearshift said. She looked at my Riccans, who nodded. Crankshaft moved over to grab Gearshift’s arm, trying to lock eyes with one of the soldiers. He tugged Gearshift away from them, muttering something.

I shook my head. “They have guns. Those work from a distance. A couple of you, stick with Red Plague. Wait for her to do her thing. Once cars go boom, that’s the cue for the rest of you to open fire. Crankshaft, use the confusion to get into them and knock out any remaining vehicles before they light us all up.”

Crankshaft stuck his fist out. Gearshift put hers on top. The two looked to the rest of us. Red Plague snorted and put hers in, followed by me and my soldiers. “Kickass on three. One, two, three, kickass!” said Crankshaft. Lucky the soldiers we were here to kill were far enough away not to hear us.

The squad leader of my bodyguards picked a couple of guys who boosted Red Plague up to the rooftop and jumped up after. They stayed low and began to pick their way over to a better position. Minicameras took in my environment, processed it, and projectors created the impression that people from any angle were seeing what was on the other side of me. Thus invisible, I jogged along as quietly as necessary.

A couple of soldiers took up the rear, but the whole group were great at keeping an eye on each other. I decided not to risk taking them out. The vehicles were more important in my eyes. I might even take them all out. “Plague, you in position?”

“I have a good spot. My phage friends are going to be hitting them any second now, then give it a minute for them to feel the full effects.”

“Heartburn? Excessive flatulence? Herpes?” I tried to clarify.

“Vomiting, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes. If I had more time and it wasn’t so hot, I could make them laugh until they shit themselves.”

I chuckled and got into position behind the nearest of the wheeled, skirted, armored hybrid of a jeep and a humvee.

I grabbed for the thing’s skirt, which looked like metal. I dug my fingers in and tried to find something a bit more structural. I had to get under there pretty well until I found a piece solid enough I felt I could lift, all while the thing trundled along. Not everyone knows this, but the secret to lifting heavy objects is to sneak up behind them, lift with your back and power armor. My armor and my enhanced musculature strained. It’s been awhile since I lifted heavy crap.

The skirted thing bucked and jumped, then I lifted and swung, smacking it into another right beside it. I lost my grip, which killed any chance of me using it on the others, and then someone decided to light me up. Even with my armor’s climate control, I still felt the heat rise and my body rush to sweat. I instantly cranked the A/C up so the batteries on my back didn’t explode or anything like that, and tackled the offending soldier. He fell back and I grabbed his gun, shoved the barrel into his mouth, and pulled the trigger to unleash fire from the smoking, hissing barrel point blank into his skull.

Behind me, the metal and napalm sandwich I left behind skidded and rolled, flames wreathing the both of them. They didn’t explode, but both gunners were either cooked or tenderized. Nobody would be using either one of those.

I looked up and through myself to the side to keep from being cut in half like the man underneath me was. The grey man’s tree trunk-wide sword split my own victim and caught fire when the man’s gun exploded. He opened his other hand. A black orb floated out and pulled both of us toward it. There we were, both of our chests stuck to a black magnet. The lack of EM distortion showed it wasn’t magnetic at least, but that wasn’t so fun when I was now stuck within kissing distance of a man whose sword could pleasure a whale.

He raised his sword with no backswing. I popped my Nasty Surprise mini-chainsaws and met his blade to hold it back. My lower arms grabbed at the orb, pushing and beating at it. I switched off one of my Nasty Surprise arms and used the other two to help keep the sword at bay. He went to backswing, but had to cut it short when I grabbed his hand and tried to force it down onto my free chainsaw. He needed to get the sword between us to stop that. And while all that happened, I swiped up with the mini-chainsaw, carving into the orb. It sparked once, twice, three times a lady, and pushed us apart when it burst and fell dead to the ground.

“Let’s dance before I cut your legs off,” the grey man said, flipping the sword around easily.

I sent a silent order to my squad and started charging a gauntlet with energy. “I’ll warm up the big band for you,” I said just before a grenade went off between my opponent’s legs. He flew up, spinning, and every member of my bodyguard unit raised their microguns to have a turkey shoot. The flames surrounding us drowned out the glow surrounding my lower right fist as I force-fed energy into a field that would magnify the effects of my punch.

Despite all the bullets, no blood had been drawn off the guy. My uppercut to his gut changed that. My fist punched a hole in his belly under his ribs and my arm sank in. His neck bulged at the arm sliding up it and his head burst open to reveal my hand. My fingers formed a rudimentary mouth as I put on the world’s goriest ventriloquist act. “Wow, I picked a fight with the wrong woman.”

The sound of someone vomiting drew my attention. Standing next to a pair of downed invaders was Crankshaft, puking. I looked around and found Red Plague among all the downed and soldiers, my guards, and a couple of Greens who held a pistol to the head of one sobbing wounded invader. “Might need to ease off on the disease.”

She shook her head and grimaced looking at me. “That’s not me this time. It’s you.”

“It is you, Psycho Gecko.” I looked over to the Greens. A large man there, long white fur flowing out from his head and forearms, a single long horn glowing amidst the flames. “You’re serious about fighting for us, too.”

“Serious as a heart attack,” I said, tossing the dead clone super aside.

“Then so are the Greens,” Unicorn said.

Red Plague stepped up beside me, her neck stiff to keep from glancing down at the mutilated clone. “And so are the Reds.”

I checked the sky and the massive domeship partially blotting it out. “I’m glad we’re on the same page. Those taint jugglers up there think this is a war epic. Let’s write them a horror story, instead.”

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Things Fall Apart 2

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The domeship is still, STILL, taking its sweet time. They’re just inconveniencing us at this point, I swear. But as I flew into Empyreal City with my personal bodyguards, my Buzzkills hot on our trail, I found the city wasn’t prepared. Instead, it had tri-cannon tanks rolling down the bigger roads while other vehicles tried to shoot down anybody flying through the air. I first became acquainted with that when the Psycho Flyer went into evasive maneuvers to dodge explosions and shrapnel as we headed to the Master Academy.

I just stood up to get a drink from the refrigerator. I landed on the ceiling in a way that made me exceedingly happy to no longer have balls. I pulled a Jean-Claude Van Damme up there. In power armor. Then we did a loop de loop, with me smacking against the rear loading door. A sudden reversal, the kind of maneuver few aircraft can pull off, sent me shooting forward toward the seats again with a “Wheee!” One of my guards grabbed me and helped me strap back in before another barrel roll.

“This is your pilot speaking,” said the intercom. “Folks, we’re just facing some mild turbulence caused by AA guns. We’re going to try and push through it, and have you landing in no time.” I felt the Flyer release missiles to answer the incoming AA fire. “If you look out your windows you’d see nothing, but I can see- Empress’s tits!” The Flyer pulled a downward U-turn that involved all of us being upside down for several seconds. More missiles departed, then he came back on the intercom. “Empress and gentlemen, thanks to ingenuity and a well-placed building, we are temporarily out of danger. We should be at our destination shortly.”

I pinged the cockpit. “One second here… did you just use my boobs as a swear?”

“Sorry,” he said, then made a noise with his mouth to sound like interference. “Cutti-… out… inter… damaged… on’t… kill me.”

After that, the intercoms no longer functioned. I looked to the other soldiers around, who were anywhere but at me. “What’s this about people using my tits as a swear?”

It’s amazing how little time it takes to fly anywhere once someone’s aware you know they use one of your body parts in a swear. If I picked up on the context and mumbles of my retinue, it’s actually swearing by my boobage. Like “Empress’s tits, that fish was three feet long!” or “Empress’s tits, that was a close one!”

I still don’t know why they focused on the boobs, though. I put way more work into my ass. I can snap a person’s neck in the right shorts.

We did not land safely at Master Academy. Master Academy wasn’t a safe place to land. Even with the Domeship in Jersey, they had folks besieging the Academy. The Academy had the windows all barred and much better perimeter defenses than I remembered. Their energy shield still worked, though it seemed to come and go from what I saw. A quartet of tanks sat outside the place, with motorized artillery parked further back, and smaller troop carriers between those points. With that kind of setup, I was more confused how the invaders hadn’t broken through already. The motorized artillery just sat there, though. I wanted a closer look at their missile racks, but all I got were the tanks raising the two outside barrels of their triad of cannons to fire at us. They weren’t as good at hitting us as the formal AA, but they were still worth dodging.

The pilot took the Flyer in close to the tops of buildings, hugging them, trying to keep from putting the target out there to get shot to pieces while we figured out what to do. And I began to regret Ricca’s reliance on superhumans and power armor infantry over a more traditional armor unit. But I had something for that anyway. One of the guys dropped off a scout drone. I expanded my consciousness, no LSD necessary, and hopped into it, moving it in to keep a cautious eye on the situation at Master Academy. It grated on me to do so. Feels like I spend so little time in my own body. I half worry I’m going to forget how to get back to it. But I have to keep at it. My ability to crack the enemy’s systems is going to be incredibly important. Because those nice, shiny tanks have all sorts of things on them to keep drivers and gunners from fucking up, and communications is paramount in an urban environment.

More tanks rolled up and began to encircle the place. It was an awful lot of firepower. I didn’t think they had the shields for this. In this wonderful, fast-paced world, it can often take too long to get a response when you really need help. That’s why I, Empress Psycho Gecko, and everyone at the wonderful world of Ricca, specialize in delivering dynamic, some might even say volatile, solutions to a number of problems in mere minutes. In this case that, meant intercontinental missiles carrying beefy anti-tank missiles directed to a number of on-site targets by me. The part where I played air guitar while blasting “Raining Blood” was just icing on the cake.

I think we did a pretty good job minimizing collateral damage to the people I cared about. That one street with all the launchers was fucked. The flanks of the Academy weren’t much better.

The call from Venus came immediately. “That was you, wasn’t it?” she asked.

“Ma puce, of course it was. I decided to rename that street ‘The Road To Hell’. Oughta keep them off your asses for awhile.”

“We wanted as many of them on our asses as possible before we turned the area into a killzone,” she said. “You should have called me when you got in town.”

“Well excuse me, princess. We were just getting in town when we came under fire, then we tried to hook up with y’all and found the whole place was a bit explodey. How the hell did y’all have a shield that could do that, anyway?”

“It’s not a shield, it’s an illusion. The Academy’s been trashed for days. At first, they maintained the illusion to distract from the evacuation. Then Mender had an idea.”

“Darn ideas. More trouble than they’re worth, I tell ya.” I set the drone to return and came back to myself. Looking down, I could see a couple of tanks stop and begin the delicate process of a three-point turn to avoid going near the Academy. For those who don’t know, a three-point turn is when a tank forward and to the side over someone’s car and a small tree, backs up over a bench, then pulls out over an abandoned bike so that they’re going the opposite direction as when they started. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, which is probably why the rear-mostof the tanks went into hover mode instead and just rotated its base. I marked that one on my HUD as the first to go if I engaged this pair.

“If you have any, now’s the time to share. Where are you?” she asked.

“Not too far. We’re parked on a building near the Academy. Looks like there’s a little pizza place across the street. The name’s ‘Pizza The Action’ and it has a superhero on it whose powers include her midriff and the tops of her boobs being bulletproof.”

She groaned. “The one with the hooker heels?”

“I wouldn’t call them hooker boots,” I said.

“They’re bright red and have straps going up to the knee. There’s no way a real hero could run in those things.”

“Sounds like you don’t chase many hookers,” I said. “And I know they look bad, but they’re surprisingly comfy, as far as heels go.”

“No,” she said, her exasperation becoming a bit happier.

“Oh yeah,” I told her. “Maybe I’ll show you, once this is all done.”

“Easy, girl. You want to show me something, show me how we get the supervillains to help fight. We know they’re here because we sometimes see them robbing places. It’s not a big deal, but sometimes they fuck up the electricity and water, or they steal food.”

I chuckled. “Using me for my connections, I see.”

“I didn’t know you had hooker heels or I would have asked for you to bring those, too,” she answered, which got a laugh out of me. “I hope you know I wanted you with me regardless. You’re the baddest bitch I know who still understands what happens if the planet blows up under you.”

“I’ll see if I can round up any more bad bitches and get a bitchfest going.” I knew right where to start with. I ordered the pilot to follow the bouncing ball: a digital trail toward Rothstein’s Sports Grill. And to turn on the adaptive camo of the Psycho Flyer this time. It either worked, or anybody with guns decided not to bother with us. It gave me long enough to pull up VillainNet.

I hadn’t bothered before because I figured most of them would have the sense to look around and go, “Ya know, these people trying to kill all of us may not take too kindly to our continued existence.” There’s an important lesson there: don’t underestimate the stupidity of people. No matter how low you think human intelligence can go, folks can always dig deeper.

VillainNet was abuzz with people passing info. A lot had left already, along with a lot of people. Others were settling scores and grabbing everything not nailed down. I intended to crash Rothstein’s and make it clear, there and on VillainNet, that some asskicking was in order. I found Rothstein’s protected by a glowing blue cube, prompting me to ask in an chatroom, “WTF is up with the infinity stone around Rothstein’s? Hulk better not be getting smashed in there.”

“screw u, weere hiding” was the reply from Badguy6969. There’s always someone like that, and his profile showed that it was someone named Crankshaft, a chop-shop mechanic turned into metal.

“If you think hiding’s gonna help, you really are a crank. Let them get tanks set up and they’ll turn this place into a speedbump.”

The replies were an avalanche of folks asking “why?” in various ways, with various cusswords attached. None of them involved my tits. One common variation is why they should fight for a horrible government that wants to lock everyone up or worse. I’m paraphrasing and condensing there. And did they have a point? Sure. Except that government already surrendered and was dissolved. Probably in an acid bath, here’s hoping.

I concentrated and dove into VillainNet, overriding it and sending out a video of my helmet as I spoke. And I sent it out everywhere. I didn’t want any of these fuckers pretending they hadn’t seen it. “When the bodies are bulldozed into a trench and covered over, do you think anyone’s going to care which one sat it out? If you want to get out here and fight me because you took their deal and are willing to side with the people who would kill me, fine. I can live with that. But don’t sit in there and whine about how you don’t care if we all end up in the burn pile just because you don’t like this government or that government and both sides are all the same.”

“I’m not asking you to fight for a so-called democracy where the party in power admits allowing people to vote undermines them. I want you to fight for you and those you love. If you want a better tomorrow, then first make sure there is a tomorrow. Stop waiting on a hero to show up and make it all better for you. If you don’t care enough about your beliefs to fight for your life and a better future, who will? I should be obvious, there are already plenty of people ready to take both away from you. So even if you don’t like who you’re fighting alongside, get out there. Save the world today. Build the world you want to live in the day after that.”

A pair of tanks rolled up near Rothstein’s and turned their cannons toward it. Oh well, not like anyone wanted to hear my grandstand anyway. “Anyway, the psychopathic, serial killing mass-murderer has to go do more to save your sorry asses than y’all will.”

I charged up my gauntlets, opened the trapdoor, and jumped down. The rockets on my elbows flared to life. I fucking piledrove that tank. Tore a hole right through it to the sewers below. The second tank reversed course with its ability to hover and began to get out of there. I came bursting out of the sewers through a hole now in front of it with one of the city sewers’ many giant alligators in hand, and tossed it at the tank. It fired and destroyed the gator in a spray of pink goo that covered me as I approached low and jumped on top of the tank’s turret.

“That’s not an explosion,” I said in a horrible excuse for an Australian accent. I pulled out a machete with a built-in grenade. The lasers on my helmet flashed out as they cut open the hatch on top of the turret. A grey man raised a pistol at me, but I cut his hand off, then stabbed the machete down his throat and kicked his body back into the tank. I hopped off and, realizing the video was still going, turned to walk away from the tank. A plume of smoke and someone’s loose arm erupted from the opening as the machete detonated. “That’s an explosion.”

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Things Fall Apart 1

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Myself and my personal squad of troopers deployed to Empyreal City. Unfortunately, the rest couldn’t come. When I ordered people shifted over to help defend Empyreal City, what’s left of my military command gave me the bad news. “We can’t. We increased the number of Flyers, but constant deployments eroded maintenance standards and problems piled up, and most of our pilots are either on dangerous amounts of narcotics to remain awake, or suffering sleep deprivation.”

Both the machines and the people were falling apart without rest. “For future reference, factor in the need for rest and maintenance of both when interpreting my orders unless I say otherwise,” I ordered. “Allow them rest and refit. I need a military capable of fighting, not just dying. We’ll leave the dying to the other side.”

It hampered my efforts, but I have Buzzkills on the way to make up the difference. They have to cross the Pacific on ships, but they’ll be there.

It’s a good thing the domeship they have takes forever to move, but not so good for everyone along the way. With the modern proliferation of cameras, there are plenty of ways to keep track of the domeship, but also plenty of people being killed as spies for doing so. More of their jet infantry have been going back and forth, but the bottom eight-pointed star has opened up in places. A bunch of vehicles dropped out, usually some variation on being triangular. They fell, but slowed as they approached the surface and came to hover just over the ground. Air-cushion vehicles, or hovercraft. But then wheels and treads unfolded from the bottom and they got to fighting the military. As usual, the best course of action was to ignore the assholes in Washington and fight the enemy. It’s not the first time the enemies foreign and domestic have included members of their own government.

A pair of large armored vehicles with a trio of cannons turned toward the source of the video and fired. The video went dead, probably like the person taking it.

My bunch made it to the American West Coast just as one of the engines failed, which was doable, but the pilot recommended we land and fix it. Good pilot. The second engine went on our way down, and he managed to turn it from a crash to a landing. Really good pilot. We ended up just outside some little town with a sign that, frankly, insulted the crap out of me. Murder capital of the world?

Everyone knows the murder capital of the world is a circle of land surrounding me equal to the length of my largest limb. Which, admittedly, is a bit smaller now that I got rid of the dong. They’ve had this sign up here for what looks like years without it applying, the liars.

A sheriff in an old beater pulled up and got out. Nervous fellow, looking at a serial killing, mass murderer supervillain in power armor and eight bodyguards with more firepower than his entire county. Instead of raising his gun like far too many people have done toward me, he asked, “Are you with those alien sumbitches trying to take over?”

I shrugged. “No. We’re here to kill ’em.”

While I found it unusual he didn’t try to attack me despite having no chance, I put it off on him being smarter than the average person I seem to run into. I was forced to reevaluate him when he ran around and hugged me, crying. And sniffling. “Ew… human, you’re leaking on my armor. Get away.”

The two closest of my guys grabbed him and pulled him off me. One put his microgun to the man’s head, but I held up a hand. “No, don’t kill him.”

“Why not?” asked one of them.

“I don’t know,” I admitted.

The pilot ran up, wiping his hands on a rag. “Hold up. We need parts. Plane parts, car parts, anything like that?”

It took a few seconds for him to end his crying and get enough mucus off his face to answer. “Bob’s garage has a lot of car parts. Does those little quadcopter drones for the kids, too. It’s right next to the hardware store. But we’re in a pickle. The hardware store’s got a whole nest of giant spiders from the aliens. You’re a godsend if you can get rid of ’em.”

“A lot of people would say I’m closer to the other guy there,” I told him. I turned to the pilot. “Can we fix this without solving every sidequest along the way?”

He looked back at the Flyer, then to me. “I can rig something to get us there, but it could fall apart at any moment. I may not be able to rig something next time.”

I turned to the sheriff. “It’s your lucky day. We’re gonna have us an arachno-whack.”

The town was a bit bigger than I expected for a place bragging about how many people there are dead. They even had an old rollercoaster and Ferris wheel on a wharf. Bob’s garage turned out to be Bob’s Garage, next to Bob’s Hardware, Bob’s Bait & Tackle, and Bob’s Mani/Pedi. Bob gets around.

Bob’s Hardware was covered in spider webs, some of which caught birds with noticeable claws and scaly tails. I think this little war’s going to fuck over Earth’s ecology for a long time to come. “Alright, boys. Time to shop and pop.”

Cue the clash, and The Clash singing “I Fought The Law” in my armor. I jumped through the clouded window and found out it was clear glass with a giant spider web on the other side strong enough to catch me momentarily. I tore it down as I came down and stood up looking like a mummy. A spider the size of a bulldog hopped on my back and tried to bite down on my skull from behind. I reached around for something to hit it with and found a mallet. A couple hits later, I realized it was one of those stupid rubber mallets. Takes forever to kill something with those things.

A second one of the eight-legged freaks came at me from the ground. Instead of being covered in fuzz like a tarantula, it was a black, thin-looking thing with yellow markings on it. It bit down on one foot, so I hopped and stomped it under the other.

I kept banging away at the spider on my head, which finally knocked it off, then tossed the mallet at it. That broke one of its legs. I looked over and found a bin with all these long nails in it. I grabbed two fistfuls and punched them into the spider’s head before it could get away. Picking it up, I remarked. “I have such sights to show you,” before punting it outside where a woman with a voice like my pilot screamed.

I’m not normally a gun person, but I did arm myself with a nailgun. The next spider that lunged for me got nailed right in the eye. I held it against the wall and kept nailing the creepy crawler until it stopped moving. When I stepped back, I noticed I’d stuck it just underneath a “No Trespassing” sign. I like it better my way.

I was tackled by another spider, a bigger one. It knocked me into an aisle that had been full of preserves, jellies, and marinades up until my entry into it. Lots of broken glass after myself and the horse-sized arthropod made our way into it. This one bit down on my armor, but couldn’t get in. I managed to kick it a few times and knock it off, then stood up and looked around. The next time it came at me, I grabbed it and shifted its weight into the shelf. It fell and we crashed into an aisle full of paint and paint products. I grabbed some wooden stirrers and jabbed them into four of the thing’s eyes. It backed off, giving me a moment to look around and come up with a can of primer. I swung it in front of me, smacking the arachnid in the head with it as I sang, “Spider can, spider can, does whatever a spider, oh, hey man.”

We had gotten to the end of the aisle and one of my bodyguards unleashed a torrent of copper-jacketed lead. The spider flinched away and tried to jump up to the ceiling, but I grabbed its legs and pulled it down into the line of fire. I had nothing to worry about with my armor, but what ol’ Shelob made up for in ugliness, it lacked in bulletproofing. Still, to conserve ammo, I pulled the thing’s face apart in half before the soldier could blow his entire wadcutter.

We didn’t run into any bother big ones after that, and it was fairly easy to finish off the rest of the place so our pilot could check off his shopping list. He needed the car parts more than the hardware store, but it was something of a package deal. I had time to hit up the nail place and find some nail polish while he pimped our ride.

Once we were done and back in the air, I called up Venus to let her know we’d be over there shortly.

“Wonderful! We could use your help. The villains don’t want to coordinate with us and you’re something of a leader to them.”

“Wow, that’s shitty,” I said.

She laughed over the line. “You’re getting better at it.”

“What am I doing over here anyway, Venus? I have Dudebots I can use. As important as Empyreal City is, it’s just the one city. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, ya know.”

Her voice took on a less-than-amused tone. “If I believed that, I’d have let them kill you to make the world a better place. I look back sometimes and I think that would have been a mistake. I am not a hero to only the many and screw the few. I want to be a hero who can help everyone. I will not abandon them. I will not write them off. I will fight like hell for everyone because they deserve it.”

“And bringing me along on the suicide mission, eh?” I asked, chuckling.

“It gets all the Justice Rangers in the fight. More importantly, I know by now you have a plan. Kill another few million people,” she said, clearly underestimating me. “You and I both don’t trust Mr. Omega and his plan. But my friends have a plan. We’re taking that ship to show we can, and then we’re going back to the other world. We’re going to find a way, diplomatically or otherwise, to stop this. We’ll make the case directly to their people if we have to. Your friends will probably make a good case for peace in their own way. I choose to believe we can bring an end to this without superweapons and strange rites, but first we need to win. For that, I want Earth’s most homicidal defender by my side.”

Awww… “Venus, I can’t wait to hug you sometime in the murder capital of the world.”

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