With everything on lockdown, a lot of crime has outright stopped. A lot more has continued, just in a new way. Humans are nothing if not innovative criminals. I think it has to do with having a bigger, more connected population of social animals. One guy tries something a certain way, messes up, and gets caught. The next guy learns from his mistake, tries something else. Maybe he gets caught, too. It works the other way around, too. People think up new ways to not be victims. Sometimes. And sometimes, I turn into a weredeer superhero.
Ugh. A superhero. I live in fear of an animal hidden deep inside me that comes out once every full moon to terrorize any of my villain friends it comes across. Oh, right, I don’t have but like one friend in the entire villain community, and his two henchwomen. Last time, I stuck a camera on Reindeer so I could keep track of what happened. My altruistic alter ego informed me that she’s not going to stop her heroics, but she wanted a costume. Well, I made her one.
“Nice,” Reindeer said. That hero’s not me. That’s the only way that can explain her love of the padded red and green costume with the shiny chrome accents. “Like silver, but not,” she commented on the chrome zippers and other metal pieces. She pumped a fist and gave a “Yes!” when she noticed the opening for her tail to slip out of the bottoms. There were also a couple of cameras hidden in the lapel to help me keep track of her. She waved at one of them before slipping the outfit on.
She put it on, then examined the wristbands I’d made. I shouldn’t have made them, but seeing her jump around gave me an idea for helping her movement around an urban environment. Then, I went off on a brainstorming tangent about this whole thing. As a result, the wristbands formed a small hill of metal with the side pointing away from the body ending in small concave divots. Dishes, actually. On the underside of the gloves were a pair of switches. The innermost buttons activated the wristbands and the direction-focused sonic weaponry within. The target would hear them and get a nasty headache along with disorientation. Someone next to them wouldn’t feel a thing.
The outermost buttons activated anklebands, if they can even be called that. Hooves are toenails. The divots down there are wider. When activated, those devices generate a sonic push with enough strength to help Reindeer jump even further than her superstrength would normally allow. It’d probably be a good idea if she used them on her landings. The whole setup was powered by a trio of batteries on the back and sides of her belt. The belt buckle flips down to show how much juice she’s got left. When she flipped it down the first time to turn on the system, a note I’d left her fell out. “Do try to bring it back in one piece, 007.”
The fact that I’m making jokes and extra weapons doesn’t mean I approve. That goes double for when she took off for my store and stole my Psycho Flyer I keep hidden in the backyard. “I’m just borrowing it,” she said to the camera built into the lapel of the costume. “If you got me a vehicle of my own, I wouldn’t need it.” She snorted. “How about a sleigh?”
I hate her. She set off for a nightly excursion, heading over to Detroit and disguising the Psycho Flyer. She retained enough of my own knowledge to handle the Flyer. I was going to joke about if she ever learned to fuck as good as me, but then I wondered what happens if she decides to get her own girlfriend.
The city wasn’t as bright as it used to be. Some buildings had no reason to be lit up now that their inner workings were being done at home now. No clubbing, except those done by people hoping to escape the clutches of the undead. I guess if Reindeer has to focus on anything, she might as well go after the small bunch of them making a slow takeover of the Detroit suburbs.
It would almost be funny. In the movies, there isn’t a lot of reason for folks to be loners. There’s usually at least one complete asswipe who gets dragged along even though the group would be objectively better off without them. In real life, an uprising by the mortally-challenged never really had a chance to become a threat until a mysterious virus forced everyone to isolate from each other. Instead of facing a neighborhood of people with barricades and weaponry, the zombies had time to tear into individual houses and chow down on the inhabitants. Reindeer hadn’t shown up in time to stop them all.
I guess I can relate to that. Part of my weird knowledge of chaos theory and multiverse theory has me think sometimes about all the ways things could have gone different. One word different. A tone here. Being friendly when someone felt like being a jerk. You don’t get second chances. Of course, I can always put that out of my mind and focus on blowing shit up. Reindeer wanted to hijack my body and be a goody-goody, so she got to ponder it.
Reindeer zoomed in front of a mass of zombies shuffling down the middle of the street and grabbed the gunner stick. The screen zoomed in on a few faces that had seen better days. Gnashing teeth, dead eyes, and skin falling off the bone… this wasn’t a pretty bunch. Reindeer caught sight of something though, and flicked the targeting reticule over. The zombies were passing by a Tesla Nitro. Designed personally by Elon Musk personally, the Nitro is said to be powered by an innovative engine combining electricity, solar power, and nitroglycerin. Reindeer took the shot and… holy shit, they’re right about the nitroglycerin part. The fireball knocked all the zombies around it down, threw shrapnel that took out at least a few, and caught a bunch of them in the blast radius on fire.
That still left a sizable chunk left to deal with, but the ones that stayed on fire would be dealt with eventually. Reindeer used the guns to mow through some of the rest. People aren’t all the same height, but she caught an angle and did her best to chop a few down regardless. At the end of it, the Flyer’s HUD showed a count of all the enemies moving. 87.
Reindeer set the Flyer to hover in place, set up a bright flashing pattern of lights, and turned on Weird Al’s “Eat It” through the external speakers. By the time she landed on that first zombie who had the misfortune of being right underneath the VTOL, that thing was a bright advertisement saying “Zombie Food Here”. And she didn’t even do it with a helmet or anything to cover her hooves.
Reindeer hadn’t given them enough time to gather in a horde that would negate her movement capabilities. Some of them crawled and got their heads stomped in. Others shuffled. Reindeer grabbed one’s head and smooshed it between both hands, getting blood all over the camera. She wiped it off the same time she wiped the hungry expression off the face of another zombie with a roundhoof kick.
She punched and kicked and stomped, but the horde slowly pressed in on her. With the benefit of not being in the middle of the action, I noticed when the clouds began to move in. She stayed changed without the full moon touching her still. She jumped up to catch the rope and scope out the situation. The wind howled, and leaves swirled about. “Sprinkling,” Reindeer noted. I couldn’t hear any rain at all over the moaning of the hungry dead. She turned her head and spotted a figure in a robe standing on a car.
The robed person held a rifle that glowed with engraved runes. The zombies assembled around them, not just as a crowd, but as an actual assembly. They were building something out of bodies. A large tube. “Oh!” Reindeer said and pointed a fist at the robed figure. The person dropped the rifle and began holding their hands to their ears. The zombies fell out sync. The guy directing them fell off the car he stood on, at which point. The crowd of zombies blocked Reindeer’s shot. Something changed with the zombies, too. The ones nearest the Flyer stared up at it and swayed. The ones by the robed person stretched out their arms and came after that one.
Unlike the other time I saw a mysterious hooded figure leading a pack of zombies, this one’s robe ripped and tore itself into jagged pieces. Two of them stretched out on either side as long wings and carried the necromancer into the air.
At this point, Reindeer got an idea. She climbed the rope and headed to the cockpit. There in the distance, the unknown mage dove, trying to reclaim the etched firearm from the middle of the remaining horde of undead. Zombies reached for their former master and mouthes gnashed. The wings frequently came away just a little shorter. One time, the necromancer flapped up… and the Flyer plowed into them. I looked on from inside as the person clung to the front windshield of the Flyer, wings unable to flap properly with interference from the jets.
Reindeer went over the loudspeaker. “How do I stop the zombies?”
The figure gave a middle finger.
“I can drop you into the middle of them,” Reindeer warned. The middle finger retreated and a pointer aimed at the enchanted gun.
“You reinstalled the guns on this thing, Gecko,” Reindeer muttered while looking over the console. “Where are the fireworks?”
She flipped a switch. An orb descended from the top of the cockpit and began to spin around, flashing multicolored lights all over while rave music played. Reindeer quickly flipped the switch back up. “The ravings of a madwoman,” she said to the retreating light ball, shaking her head. Another switch, she flipped more slowly. She felt the Flyer jerk as something fell, not realizing she flipped the anvil switch. Cameras below showed it landing on the head of a zombie and crushing it into paste.
“It’ll have to do,” she said, lining the Flyer up over the gun.
“You can’t just destroy a rifle!” called the figure on the windshield. “This is America!”
Reindeer snorted and pushed the anvil button. The Flyer jerked again as the second one dropped out and smashed the enchanted weapon beneath its weight. Immediately, all the zombies around dropped dead. Er, deader. Redead. Once bitten, twice dead. The zombies had ceased to be.
And in the morning, my girlfriend woke up to a hogtied necromancer on our lawn and a card with Reindeer’s lipstick kiss on the inside.
I loathe her.
As Medusa promised me, we went to go see Beetlejuice the Musical where it was playing in Empyreal City. We brought along Qiang, too. The play about death was lots of fun for the whole family. We even stayed the next day over, just to enjoy ourselves and feel less rushed. The downside is when it came time for us to fly back, Medusa had sent her flyer off to go help some Exemplars dealing with other problems.
“Just call yours,” she said. I’d finally asked her about it, since it was getting later in the day.
“I did,” I told her. “The problem is, it might not get here in time.” It would be close, but I didn’t have my condition explicitly mapped out. As a weredeer, I know the full moon prompts my transformation into a half-woman, half-deer. I don’t know if I have to actually see the moon, or if its light has to shine on me, or if it has to be night.
Qiang skipped along beside us, playing with a tablet we got her, oblivious to the whole conversation.
“Nobody knows it’s you. Don’t worry,” Medusa said.
I rolled my eyes. “If you were trying to protect someone from a werewolf, would you bring them to the middle of a crowded city and stop worrying?”
Now it was her turn to roll her eyes. “You’re not a werewolf. You don’t hurt anyone.”
“But Medusa, think about all the innocent criminals!” I said, meaning to remind her about those people I hurt, but just causing her to laugh at the inadvertent joke.
“I trust your other half to beat up the right people,” she said. “I’ll tag along if you want.”
I turned and shook my head, putting my hand on her chest. “I don’t want you to see me like that. The full moon brings out a dangerous part of me that I’m not proud of. I become a danger to my loved ones.”
Qiang giggled. She was looking up from her tablet to watch us. While I was distracted, Medusa grabbed my hand. She kissed my fingertips, then entwined her fingers with mine. “Relax. If you don’t want me coming along, I’ll respect that. I’m getting you a body cam, though.”
We got right on that and headed back to the hotel room. I didn’t want to ruin the outfit I was in even if the dress didn’t look as good on me as I thought. I know, I throw money around like it doesn’t mean anything. At least I robbed someone straight-up instead of doing the dishonest thing and scamming them out of cash by selling colloidal silver to cure illness like that bipedal wart Alex Jones is doing.
Yeah, I said it. Sue me, you bloody cumwad. Send a lawyer and try to guess what I’ll send.
Anyway, I got changed into some less expensive clothes that would keep Reindeer warm, provide good mobility, and can be easily replaced. I don’t like what my alter ego does when I change. I’m still going to keep her dressed. Waking up with my clothes shredded in winter isn’t fun. With those precautions taken, I checked in on my personal Psycho Flyer. It wasn’t as close as I wanted. Thanks, bad weather. I set it to fly to the roof of our hotel instead of coming to find me and decided it was time to face the music.
I was pretty much ready, so I strapped the camera onto my head , turned it on, and just watched Medusa and Qiang for a bit. Qiang walked over to show me some clip of these guys playing some sort of hide and seek where someone hides in boxes that look like they’re from videogames, and the people searching for them poke the boxes with fake weapons looking for them. It was amusing.
I lose my memory of the change, and I guess the time immediately before it, so the only way I know what happened for the rest of the night after this point is the body camera. I’m glad I don’t remember it if the footage is anything to go by. It looked and sounded painful. No word yet on the smell. Things grew and snapped into place. Qiang started crying, so Medusa held her and they gave me some privacy. After experiencing the sound of my own screams changing to match a new muzzle, Reindeer stood up and had already ducked her/my way out the door. She caught the elevator at the end of the hall, and waved to Medusa when my superhero girlfriend poked her head out of the room to see what happened. She looked more worried than earlier.
Reindeer went on the prowl. I know, it’s a weird way to describe a patrol, but she was looking for action in the way that involves beating someone up. If she was looking for the other kind of action, Medusa was right there. We’d have had to set Qiang up with something to do elsewhere, but it was possible. Hell, my girlfriend’s dated a woman who is part dinosaur and a guy who was part sloth; I think she’s ok with some hot furry action. And come to think of it, she probably wouldn’t mind if I stopped shaving down there. She’s put up with way more hair.
Despite me turning out like this being connected to my occasional contracts for the Winter Spirit, Reindeer didn’t seem to be capable of flight. Instead, she’d jump into the air on legs that seemed about as strong as the pseudomuscles of my power armor that let me do much the same. I know the transformation to and from being a weredeer does a few odd things to my physique, but I wonder if the upgrades I’ve made to my bones and muscles are still there and help her out.
Reindeer ran and jumped everywhere. She’d land on a roof and jump off. Then she might come in close to a tall building’s walls and run along it briefly before pushing off. The city had been beaten up pretty well over the years, something I had a hand in, but it didn’t take her long to find an area where the lights were a bit darker, a bit dimmer. Fewer in number for one reason or another. She landed on one roof and then I heard a distant scream. Reindeer took off for it. When she got near, she peered over a rooftop to see a man and a skimpily-dressed woman in a courtyard. The woman was on the ground, kicking at him, all tears and blood. The man tried to catch her leg with his left hand, a knife in his right.
Reindeer jumped off the building and was looking down as she landed on the guy’s shoulders, smashing him to the ground. He screamed as some bones snapped, but wasn’t going to be doing too much more with his arms after that. “Are you ok?” she/I asked the woman. After the surprise wore off, the woman nodded, pulled herself to her feet, and hugged onto Reindeer, thanking her. I or she, whichever, didn’t stick around too long. She made sure the woman was fine and kept an eye on the downed guy while the woman ran off really fast for someone in high-heeled boots.
She didn’t take the guy in, but she also didn’t give him any medical attention. Instead, she jumped up to the rooftop and continued on patrol. After awhile, she stopped and sat down, just watching and resting. “Gecko, we should talk. This is my body, too. I’m a lot like you. I am you. The other parts of you that you bury. The part that wishes you had really been a hero. I’m glad you stuck me in better clothes, but I need a costume ’cause I’m going to keep going. I think you die if I die. And can you look into some sort of shoes?” She pulled her leg up to let me see the bottom of her hooves.
Before my evil heroic alter ego could continue on about her plans to to stick around and steal my body once a month, she dropped her leg and hopped to her feet. She set off with something in mind, heading in one direction, then adjusting her course. A few streets over, I heard the sirens. Running toward sirens to help the police. That monster. It’s hard, seeing what gets unleashed on the world by the full moon.
The police were chasing a shiny hovercar. Despite the braking issues of that form of vehicle, it held the advantage by being able to jump over cars on the road. Cops had to wait for folks to get out of the way. Drivers in this city didn’t getting out of the way for anyone.
It was the Privateers, riding around and occasionally firing back at the cops. And… fired off fireworks? That was weird. They’re a rogue military organization, but ultimately professionals. They’d only do something like that if they were deliberately trying to hold the pigs’ attention. “This is a distraction,” Reindeer said. She turned and headed in the opposite direction they were going. It was a simple way to go about it. “I don’t have your homo machina abilities, so I’m giving this a try.”
Ha-fucking-ha. She ended up being right. She caught a scent or a sound or something and turned toward this lab. They had another hovercraft there, cleverly hidden behind four pieces of painted cardboard. I sighed to myself watching that part. I use holograms! Why bother with fucking holograms when cardboard cutouts work?!
Reindeer landed in its open top and kicked in the console. She proceeded to tear out wires that looked like they did something. Before long, the Privateers rolled out a couple of carts full of expensive equipment. They all tossed the cardboard out of the way and one of them hopped into the hovercraft. “What the fuck? Someone sabotaged us!”
Reindeer lifted the hovercraft up like a boss. Are people still saying that? Fuck it, she’d be a boss character in a videogame, so I don’t care. Seriously, she lifted a damn hovercraft and overturned it on top of most of the Privateers. The equipment probably made it out ok, but it looks like Reindeer shares my disregard for collateral damage. A couple of privateers were left. One pulled out a military machete. The other whipped out a pair of pistols and squeezed the triggers.
I didn’t see any projectiles, but Reindeer screamed and brought her hands up. It knocked her over, but when she brought her hands back down, they were covered from blood. Her ears? She didn’t have time to ponder it before machete guy was in her face, swinging. She bent over, then raised her head. The machete was gone. Oh, she used her antlers. Then she dropkicked her assailant, sending him flying into the guy with the pistols. She got up faster than they did and ran over, smashing one of the pistols.
One of the others raised the other, but Reindeer jumped and landed. I saw from her point of view as the Privateer raised the pistol and fired at her. Poor guy forgot his physics, though. Sure, Reindeer cried out in pain again and it threw her off. But that meant she splashed onto the guy and slammed him back down onto his friend who was still on the ground. They struggled for the pistol, but she won it when her antlers cut into the guy. She tore the pistol apart and spun to her hooves. One kick and one punch, and those two were out.
If this was a movie, that’s when the cops she called beforehand would have arrived. Ugh, calling the cops. I can’t… I just can’t…
Ok, so the cops got the Privateers, and the rest of the night proved fairly uneventful until the morning sun vanquished this horrible curse.
Longtime readers know it’s been awhile since I woke up in a field covered in blood with no memory of events the night before. Not since I cut down on bath salts for getting in the way of my cocaine habit at least. Priorities, people.
So I woke up covered in blood, took one sniff of the situation, and said, “Something foul has happened,” and then… it’d be weird if I started things off this time by mentioning that and didn’t elaborate any further.
So, the other day, I asked Qiang about some of the pictures she had of me in her room. They were of me as Reindeer. For those in the audience taking some bath salts, that’s what I was called when I was turned into a half-person, half-deer being late last year due to a magical dick-measuring contest between St. Nick and the Easter Bunny, or whatever else Spring has. Some dispute between magic related to the seasons as part of a plan to raise awareness of climate change by turning people into half-animals and turning power plants into regular plants.
Then, the Spirit of Winter added to my misery by giving me a pair of horns like on a female reindeer. I also had some lost time that turned out to be me doing weird stuff that undermined the Spring side of the conflict. Mindful of that lost time, and naturally wanting to show an interest in my daughter, I finally felt like asking her about it.
“It’s from when you became a big deer last month!” she told me.
“You mean in December, right? Last month was January,” I reminded her.
“Yeah, you did it then, too,” she informed me.
“I don’t remember that. Did I do anything?”
She showed me where she got the picture from, which was a news snippet about Reindeer, framed in the light of the full moon, beating up some people who robbed a liquor store. Not even bank money. Who gets bent out of shape over liquor store cash? Whether you’re stopping it or stealing it from them, it’s a lot of work putting someone in the hospital for just a few hundred dollars. Anyone robbing a liquor store probably needs that cash for rent, or an abortion, or drugs. The real assholes rob pension funds. Beat them up.
The articles didn’t mention Reindeer burying her muzzle in anything that would explain why I don’t remember that. I don’t like losing control to the extent that I engage in what appears to be legitimate heroism. I didn’t find any strange bags of cash around the place, so I think I just gave it back. I don’t know, really.
It scares me, that my personality can shift so much.
So when I woke up Sunday morning covered in blood, I was a lot less worried about it than the other time it happened. You wake up covered in blood, you don’t immediately assume something good happened. First thing I did, after all, was call up Medusa to make sure I hadn’t decided to solve our relationship problems the easy way.
What I learned would shock me to my core, which risked exploding. It’s really unhealthy for anyone in at least a mile radius to try mess with that power core I keep in me.
“You didn’t kill me.”
“Good,” I told her, until she went on.
“You turned into Reindeer and ran off to the city. You said you wanted to do what you always wanted.”
I held out hope in this regard as well. “Murder… uh… no, I already killed the Pope that time. And the President…”
Medusa interrupted my ponderings to tell me, “You said you had been desperate your whole life to be a hero, that it was the fantasy that got you through your worst times as a living weapon on your world, and that a lot of your attempts to fix this Earth are a twisted reflection of what you wish you could do tainted by your pessimism and haunted by your past as a merciless killer.”
After a couple of dumbfounded seconds, I said, “Nah, that can’t be it. That’s way too poetic for me.”
“Regardless, you showed up right when a mad scientist was trying to take revenge on a bank that seized his house.”
“Wow, that’s a real dick move for me to defend. Maybe I was talking some hero nonsense after all.”
She got a little irritated at that response. “Hey, I’m not on the bank’s side either, but he didn’t come to me. He made a giant duck that was wrecking the whole city.”
“Why would a duck do that?” I asked.
“Because ducks are assholes!” she said.
That checks out. Ducks are assholes. So are geese. Ostriches, too. A lot of birds, really. Don’t even get me started on roosters, those cocky little bastards.
I was interrupted by the appearance of a helicopter overhead. The sight of it sent a chill up my spine, or maybe that’s because I was in a field, half buried in snow, with no clothes on but rags that covered less than most of your options at Victoria’s Secret. No, the chill was from recognizing the chopper as a news chopper. I was being filmed by the news. “Uh, Medusa, there’s news people here now.”
“Try to keep your face covered if you can. Tell them ‘no comment’ if they ask questions. Refuse to go on the record. Where are you?”
“I’ve activated an internal tracking beacon… weird that I got that despite the whole transformation. Why did it do that to my eyes, but not the internal stuff, do you think?”
“Wrong time to want the answers to questions. Don’t give them any. I have pickup on the way.” She hung up then and left me to fend for myself against the media.
The chopper landed, the cameraman ending his filming before they got a real good, close look at my nips and my tucks. The reporter leading the way came up, averting his gaze. He even took his coat off. “Hello there, miss. Cold?”
I was, and accepted it. “Thanks. Who are you and why are you out here?”
“You’re a story, young lady,” he said. “That was something, what you did there.”
“What did I do?” I asked. I could have gone looking on the internet, but it was snowy out and I was very nearly naked. I don’t usually mind the nudity, but it becomes somewhat distracting when your nipples get hard enough they could cut precious gems.
“We should get you in shelter. Would you like a ride in the news chopper?” he asked.
“Hasn’t anyone told you not to pick up hitchhikers? I’ll sit inside and you can tell me, but we better not go anywhere,” I told him.
He nodded. “Deal, let’s go.”
What they showed me was footage of a duck the size of a bus quacking its way down the road, overturning cars and snapping at buildings with its beak. Not even a lot of destruction in my estimation, and it was being steadily herded toward a nice, fancy bank at the end of the street by a man in blue scrubs, a welder’s mask that completely obscured his face, and bright yellow gloves. He would occasionally throw these grenades that would shrink anything in an area or grow things in an area, leaving additional destruction, but he seemed careful to avoid hitting people with it.
That didn’t stop the duck from managing to pull someone out of a restaurant. The duck tossed them up in the air and meant to catch them in its mouth, but then a brown blur came flying in from the side and grabbed the person before they could fall into the fowl gullet.
The various videos and the news chopper’s footage caught Reindeer dropped in, landing with a clippity clop as if she or I or whoever had been super jumping or even flying. The light caught my antlers and eyes in a strange way that made them look like they glowed white for just a moment as I landed.
Reindeer set the man holding his bag of groceries down. “Nobody has to get hurt! Just turn around and go home,” I called.
“Someone’s already hurt, and it’s payback time!” answered the scientist. He pointed to Reindeer, aka me, and ordered “The bill has come due! Quackers, attack!”
I grabbed a loaf of bread out of the grocery bag and jumped up, kicking off a wall to land on a roof on the opposite side of the street from the wall. Also, a song started playing. The cameraman interrupted to point out, “Phones started playing that for some reason. We’re trying to find out what the song is.”
“Boom Boom Boom by Grace Mesa,” I said.
The other guy with them flinched. When the cameraman looked at him, he said, “I used to live in EC, and that sounds like a song a villain forced to play everywhere one time.”
“Back to the video,” the reporter said.
I, Reindeer, waved the bread at the duck, keeping its attention. It tried to fly up and snap up the bread, but I gave it a kick with my hoof that helped enrage it. It had to rise above roof level to follow me as I hopped away, leading it out of the city. After several minutes, I found a good, clean spot, a field outside the city limits where there weren’t a lot of buildings around, not even suburbs.
I stopped and turned, taking a fighting stance. The shadow of the colossal duck swept overhead, but then the big bird seized up and started shaking. It fell, landing on top of me. After several minutes, Reindeer burst out, clothes a mess and covered in gore. I began to wander away, dazed, and jumped my way out into some other fields.
“We followed the trail and found you here. It’s a miracle you’re not in worse shape after you reverted, but we think you probably had fur on all night,” the reporter said.
“How did you kill that thing? Do you have some other powers that let you shoot laser beams?” asked the cameraman eagerly.
“If I had to guess, it was the Square-Cube Law that did it in. If you don’t adjust your growing and shrinkage, it’s a killer. Something that big can’t function with organs the same relative size as a duck. Probably had a heart attack.”
Outside came the sound of something heavy landing. I hopped out of the chopper and tossed the coat back to the news guys. “Leave my face out of this if you know what’s good for you.”
Well, Reindeer’s civilian identity being escorted away by the Exemplars didn’t exactly do anything to keep them from making a big story about the superhero Reindeer saving the day and definitely being a hero. The insightful part was the mention in the article of others, not many, who likewise seemed to have retained the ability to turn into their half-animal forms. It only seems to happen when the full moon occurs.
Dammit. Turns out I’m now a weredeer.
This is Gecko, checking in. I’m feeling lazy and getting a bit of a medical work-up now that I’m no longer an herbivore. We’re also trying to figure out a way to check my brain chemistry. It’s not particularly interesting, and I don’t feel like pummeling drunks to make my life interesting. To that end, I figured I’d tune in to some of the stories crossing the radio waves of Outlaw X. I’m sure they’ll be particularly festive as villains try to take advantage of the holiday season for some festive fun.
So, without further ado:
You heard it, you heard it, you heard it on the X.
Today’s story involves the intersection of super crime and the more mundane variety. It’s about life, and the family you find to share it with along the way. And while we’re at it, folks, be careful the substances you abuse. I’m no stick in the mud, but when you’re not disciplined enough, those substances can abuse you right back. Not all prisons are made of metal and cement.
It was the day after Christmas, and Brandon Williams was still on house arrest. He hadn’t even picked it up in a particularly fun way. Rather than a spectacular blaze of criminal glory, like a bank robbery or a diamond heist, Brandon had been a lifelong petty criminal. The snobs might note that honest work left him with a damaged back and while surgery could have fixed it, he lacked the money to do anything but treat it with an ever-increasing number of pain pills. He had stolen a chainsaw from a neighbor and sold it. He once led Game Wardens on an hour-long chase after trespassing to hunt deer. The nefarious plot that stuck a GPS monitoring device on his ankle this time was grand theft gasoline, and the matter of a purloined slushie.
Now, before we go much further, it’s important to point out we don’t mind a lot of Brandon’s actions. If you want saints to judge from on high that it’s wrong to mess around with painkillers, you’ve tuned in to the wrong station. He is just a person who is getting by with a little help from his friends’ property. While we may disagree in heated moments, being a dickhead is not the height of evil. Neither is selling oxycontin for money.
That became more difficult when he returned home with a monitoring bracelet on. He needed money. Going to jail isn’t cheap, and neither is getting out on house arrest. He was sure his daughter had used some of his cash stash to feed herself while her mother had alternated between sleeping all day and staying out all night. Riley Williams hadn’t had the best life, but she had been an accomplice. An unwitting one at times, even one under duress. It didn’t help that she knew her dad got mean without his pills and worse if he didn’t have any money in exchange for them. She liked her dad to be either high or drunk because the alternative sometimes left bruises.
Riley’s limited interaction with her father’s “dayjob” was about to end. This Christmas, she graduated from accomplice to junior partner. The promotion included a motivational speech about Daddy not being able to go outside or he would be arrested, so he needed Riley to go hang out at his favorite corner store to sell pills and she better not come back without a lot of cash or some EBT cards. “And make sure to get the PIN for the EBT card.”
Riley was plenty motivated to eat after her father’s last stint in jail before going before the judge. She didn’t care as much about presents; those come from the dollar store. She wanted to help her dad and she wanted to eat. So she grabbed the bottle of oxy and a light jacket for the cold.
Despite what her father thought, she hadn’t had much to eat at all. Her stomach ached. It hurt so much. Her dad probably wouldn’t miss just one. Not as mad as he got without them or as sleepy as he got with a handful. She thought one would take the pain away. She was caught offguard when it worked so fast and the pain faded. The cold remained. But it was so easy to let her mind wander.
She wondered what it would have been like to believe Santa was real. To have presents delivered by him, under a tree, like the movies. The movies she saw looked so nice. All the food, presents, and a family that smiled at her.
It was still cold. Maybe another pill would help that. She was nearly to the corner store.
It began to rain.
She tried to hide from it in the store, but the clerk yelled at her. “Get out, and tell your papa to bring me the money he owes!”
She stood there, looking back outside at the roaring precipitation. The clerk raised a flyswatter as if he’d hit her. “Go on, git!”
“What if…?” she asked, raising the hand with the pill bottle.
“Out, before I call the cops, pillbilly,” the clerk responded, reaching for the phone.
Riley ran out of there, into the downpour.
Sewer Runner hated the rain himself. He didn’t mind the way it made his fur smell now. The man-rat had to be used to worse smells than that. He didn’t always hide in sewers, but he had enough experience in them to escape the hot blue fuzz. See, he hated the rain because it kept people indoors and at home. He burgled houses even before obtaining his unique gifts, and he knew the best way to get away with it was waiting until people were gone.
The trade-off had been how often it keeps people from shopping. He needed food, and what he could no longer obtain from residences, he picked up from a small store. He’d left a screaming cashier behind him, so he hadn’t meant to stop and enjoy the scenery. Regardless, seeing a young girl laying passed out on the wet sidewalk. For God’s sake, the only shelter she had was a little jacket and a newspaper. The soaked photo of the politician on the front page wasn’t doing much to help her out. He cursed under his breath and switched over the ham he’d absconded with to the claw holding the twelve pack of soft drinks. Picking her up, he tossed aside the newspaper where someone in the Senate vowed to address the most important issue of the day: immigration.
Sewer Runner didn’t want the cops after him for kidnapping some little girl. He didn’t think over the full implications of his decision to drop her off until he got near the church and saw a cop car parked out front. Cursing to himself, he hid in some bushes next to the sidewalk and scoped out the situation.
The preacher, with the help of the police, was evicting an old man in ratty clothes. Even an actual man-rat felt comfortable calling them that. He could almost smell the alcohol on the man from here. Runner wondered if he could get the cops’ attention. They could look after the girl and get her medical help, even if the church was no sanctuary. He changed his mind on the risk when the cop helping the homeless man into the back of the car turned off his own body camera and “accidentally” bumped his head into the roof of the car a couple of times.
Sewer Runner hated to keep the girl out in this weather any later than necessary, but he didn’t feel safe leaving her with anyone in this bunch. All of the bunch, except the banged-up homeless man, looked up when a bell began to ring.
“Crap,” Sewer Runner muttered to himself. He didn’t have time for odd jobs and sidequests. He was running late. “I hope you don’t tattle, girly.” The bushes rustled behind him as he ducked down a side street and opened a manhole. “You’re gonna wake up screaming, aren’t you?”
Sewer Runner’s destination wasn’t the sewers. He didn’t technically have to use the sewers to get around. In fact, the people he was meeting preferred if he didn’t. They were all meeting in the backroom of a derelict liquor store that served as their lair. As cramped as it was, the addition of two people and one stolen ham smelling of the sewers. The drinks were probably fine.
“You’re late!” announced the hairy, somewhat spherical man by the name of Varmint. He was human, if a bit furrier than normal. Then he saw the girl. “What are you doing with that?”
“She was passed out. Couldn’t get her help in time and I thought, shit, we have some of that nano-goo, right?” Sewer Runner explained. He set down the food and drinks, which Varmint snatched up.
Varmint sighed and shook his head as he adjusted his grip on the ham, but a voice from one of the small side closets called out, “Bring her here!”
“Sure thing, Panda,” Sewer Runner said, leaving Varmint to finish the delivery while he walked to the supply closet where Danger Panda tsked at him.
“I wish you didn’t shorten my name like that,” said the woman in the raccoon costume. The man-rat’s eyes traced the curves of her outfit down to where the heavy metal hammer blocked his view of her ass. She turned to him and handed over a mason jar of clear liquid. “Try this, and hurry. The Supreme is nearly here.”
“Now who’s shortening names?” he snarked. He set about his business, laying the girl down on the cot that served as the group’s attempt at an infirmary. They didn’t have a lot of the medical nanites. They weren’t as easy to find as they used to be. Sewer Runner tried a capful of the goo that contained countless of the little robots. In spite of the dinner he was now holding up, he waited.
Finally, the little girl coughed and retched up some water and phlegm. She looked up at him, then reached into her jacket and pulled out the bottle of pills. With a raspy voice, she asked, “Wanna buy some?”
“God no,” Sewer Runner said. “Is that what you were doing out? Jesus… hey, you in bad shape when I found you. You’re not going to say a big rat kidnapped you if I let you go, are you?”
Riley shook her head, then sniffed.
“Sorry for the smell. It was the quickest way here,” Sewer Runner tried to explain.
“No, not that…” Riley said. They both heard her stomach rumble in response to the scents wafting out of the room Varmint had disappeared into.
“Hey, you hungry?” Sewer Runner asked. “I think the Supreme will be fine with a guest just this once.”
“This dinner of the Order Of Vermin is officially begun! Dig in!” announced the old man with the wild grey beard at the head of the table. He sat down, adjusting the boot he wore on his head and motioned for his guests to eat. He even smiled at the little girl. He leaned over to the unpleasant, hairy villain next to him and whispered. “Varmint, I seem to remember you stole the contents of a delivery truck for a toy store. Do you have anything left?”
Varmint nodded between mouthfuls of a casserole made of corn, cheese, and rice.
“Good,” the old man said. “See to it that the girl picks out something fun for herself. And don’t be stingy.”
Varmint swallowed, then wiped his mouth and nodded again. “Yes, Vermin Supreme.”
Well, Brandon Williams ended up cussing up a storm without his pills or his beer. They caught him messing with the ankle bracelet, trying to get it off so he could go out and see what was keeping his daughter. Back he went into jail. The mother’s being investigated for neglect of her child from her own cell, after she ran off the road and wrapped her car around a pole on stage at a titty bar. And as for Riley, whose life was threatened with a cycle of abuse and crime? Well, for one Christmas, she got to live her dream. It stunk a little, but it was hers and she loved it.
With all the money I’ve stolen, I’m no longer down and out. But with my house chewed up by the lead teeth of an autocannon, I’m now up in the inn. Or the small guest house, as it were. Between the house getting shot up and me running off to resolve the whole thing, I haven’t had time to do what I needed to take part in the annual feast day of the United States. I hear its origins go back to this time some starving Europeans were helped out by the Native Americans they soon thereafter exterminated. Really puts into perspective how much I could have been seen as a hero if I wasn’t so often a pawn in the games of the powerful.
Little did they all know that, with the support of friends and family I could trust, this pawn would go on to be a queen.
Qiang has had a little experience with Thanksgiving, and more would help since this is her home now. Plus, who doesn’t like to have a day when you and your daughter can stuff lots of delicious food down your throats? But the turkey wasn’t thawed. The dressing wasn’t dressed. I hadn’t even cut the cheese!
Even the option of grabbing food from a Chinese place wasn’t available. They didn’t have one in Radium. So I really thought I was kinda screwed. I continued thinking so when Medusa showed up on my door, but that also involved the good kind of screwed. Especially when she smiled. I don’t know why she’s with me, but I do so love that smile. She could do so much better than me. I threw my arms around her and hugged. Qiang ran up and joined us, squealing all the way.
Medusa bent down to pick up Qiang and kiss her on the cheek. “How are you?”
“Good! Mama made pretzel snacks and I was watching She-Ra,” she responded. It’s true. Found a recipe for doing stuff with pretzel sticks, peanut butter, and dipping chocolate. Double the hands makes easier work, even if I lost a pair of arms and ended up replacing them with another body I control. I need to give her a name.
“You like She-Ra, huh? Are you a Princess of Power too?” Medusa asked.
Qiang nodded happily, then added, “I think I could beat She-Ra.”
I laughed at that. I’ve moved away from using the TV stuff as a lesson for my girl. She’s learned a lot, and she still does some of the exercises, but it occurred to me that I could just let her be a kid. Sometimes that means she wonders about fighting characters and we get a little fighting practice in that way. She doesn’t think it’s fair when I wear glasses with googly eyes for lenses though. She’s too busy laughing to fight back effectively.
Medusa let Qiang down, then looked to me. I raised an eyebrow and said, “Hey Adora.” When she cocked her head in confusion, I added, “It’s from the show. If you follow it, that was actually pretty flirty.”
I let her in and she walked with me to the tiny kitchen corner of the living room where I had a chicken in its packaging, along with a clove of garlic, a lemon, and an onion. “Looks like you’re making a go at it,” she said.
I shrugged. “You don’t just go to a place and declare it a home. And I got really lucky and remembered to grab that. It’s no turkey, but I can do amazing things when you let me shove object A inside orifice B. And we know what the B stands for.”
“It would make a good addition if you want to bring it by the school,” she said. “We’re having a get-together for people who don’t have a big family to spend the day with. A lot of new arrivals to the town have a troubled history without a lot of family in their life, for good or bad. Someone thought it would be a good idea to see if we can handle a meal together.”
“Sounds risky. What next, a hero falling in love with her villain?” I asked.
She grinned, then ran a finger down my forehead. “You fell in love with me first. Admit it, evil doer.”
“Yeah I did. Got away with stealing you, too,” I grabbed her hand. She started slightly when my other pair of arms wrapped around her from behind and started nuzzling the back of her neck.
“That’s not fair,” Medusa whined, not sounding at all like she meant it. “Neither is not having the time… or space.”
She had a point. This place was tiny, maybe Qiang shouldn’t be able to hear every single aspect of my sex life.
The redhead pulled the hair away from Medusa’s ear to whisper to her, “Fine. I would love to eat out with you. Later. For Thanksgiving.”
She’s so cute when she’s blushing that heavily. She stayed and we calmed down over cups of hot chocolate. She even, I noticed, made an effort to address my other self as me, too. See, and here I wanted to gradually try and see what I look like, but now this gives me ideas to do a twin thing. I don’t know if I’m overthinking this or not overthinking this enough, especially because a relationship is involved. That and my own weird issues about bodies. As soon as I get done questioning my own mental health due to a prolonged period without my medication and unknown alien medical treatment of my brain, I should probably see someone about that.
That little party she was talking about sounded like a good idea, except for the fact that she invited me to it. I have to wonder how many heroes, or even other villains, are going to be happy with me as a neighbor. But I went, sending just the one body and resolving to bring back a big plate for the other one. Chicken and mac and cheese for everyone! Albeit, that’s much less of a celebratory thing if you’re vegan and lactose intolerant. We all have our struggles with intolerance. Even my poor daughter has issues with dairy, which is why I used tiny machines to reprogram her body to be fine with dairy. And that’s how we’re finally going to solve issues of bigotry. Little robots that make people better.
As thankful as Medusa must be that I’m not in control of a country anymore, she seemed plenty happy to see me walk through the double doors to the school’s cafeteria, which was a pretty standard-looking cafeteria if you ignored the paper mache turkey statues everywhere. Kinda makes it worse in my view. Like those stories of Vlad the Impaler dining in the middle of a forest of his victims.
It was a diverse group, though. Pretty sure some were aliens, including at least one of those Visitors from the Hares. Medusa managed to escape from a couple of guys, one of whom was white but had these thick dreadlocks with neon lights integrated into them glowing purple and blue. “Hey! Glad you decided to come out of your shell for the holiday. More out of your shell.”
I blinked a few times and blew some red hair out of my face. That phrase tickled something in my brain, like there’s an revelation waiting to happen. I put it out of mind and smiled. “Interesting crowd you’ve got here.”
“Orphans, refugees, people who had to find a family, people kicked out of families… I do not know a lot about my own heritage as an orphan, but many have a good reason to be disgusted by a celebration of colonization. I choose to view it as a day when people who do not wish to do that can be together with family and remember their blessings,” she said.
“…Yeah, that’s one way to justify it,” I said. “Though blessings is a bit more religious than I’d care for.”
She rolled her eyes and kissed my cheek. “Good fortune then. Come on, let’s go set this food down. Qiang, let me help your mom and I’ll show you the kids section.”
“I see it!” said my daughter, running off. Another revelation tickled my mind, that even though I’d adopted that girl and then did a creepy thing where I replaced her father’s DNA with mine while giving her my “powers,” she was reminding me a lot of me.
She led me through a crowd that was half-milling, half sitting at big table. No one was eating yet, but many of those seated had the hungry look of the wolf in their eyes. One woman had the elongated muzzle and extensive body hair of the wolf. After a moment, she clutched a silver pendant around her neck, closed her eyes, and became more human. Hey, she’s more honest. Some of us monsters hide inside a regular human body.
Again, that weird tickling in my brain, like that fairy from Ocarina of Time.
I got plenty of looks, but I think most of them were aimed at the cock I set down on the table.
Then came the time I didn’t really want to do. Mingling. I can mingle. I have the capacity to mingle. I just don’t have much tolerance for it. It’s like Christmas music. You’re capable of enjoying it, but by the time the three months of holidays are over with, the last thing you want to do is mingle all the way. Luckily, this is one of those areas where Medusa complements me. “Hello everyone, this is my girlfriend Delilah.”
Between the Feds and the sheriffs, the name ended up sticking. If I’d been more serious about it, I still don’t know what I’d have gone with. Victoria, maybe? Open your eyes, Victoria… just something from a song that speaks to me.
So I got introduced around on Medusa’s arm, meeting people and trying to keep track of names. I even met an older fellow with a paunch named Dave who told me he’d called the cops on those guys breaking into my house. “Thank you,” I told him. “I could have handled it on my own, but thanks.”
He waved it off. “We’re building a community here. We all handle outside problems like that.”
And before long, it was time to sit down and eat, with folks welcome to give whatever blessings they wanted, to deities foreign, domestic, imported, and extraterrestrial.
We didn’t make it through before someone shouted, “Now I remember! You’re the bastard who stole my sidekick!” Someone threw a glass of water on someone else, who followed up by smashing a piece of pumpkin pie into the first person. Next thing I know, I’m shielding myself with a platter like Captain America and fending off some guy charging at me with a turkey for a helmet and wielding a meaty leg as a club.
I grabbed a ladle of mac and cheese and flung it into his face, causing him to skid on the tablecloth. He couldn’t stop his momentum as I smacked him with the platter and sent him flying. Lucky for him he had a helmet. It might have been a friend of his who dumped a bowl full of cranberry sauce on my head, though.
By the end of the night, Medusa, Qiang, and I all walked out of there covered in various foods. I had grabbed a bit of cheesecake before someone could fall in it and was nibbling on the piece. I reached over and offered some to Medusa. “No thanks. This was a horrible idea.”
“Are you kidding?!” Qiang and I both perked up.
“That was awesome!” My kid shouted.
“The food was good. The entertainment was fantastic. If more Thanksgiving arguments went like that, we’d all have a lot more fun,” I added.
“Aww, you guys,” Medusa said. “I could hug you, but I won’t.”
“Yeah, I got you good with the gravy!” Qiang giggled.
Medusa’s mouth dropped. She looked to me, “Can you believe that?”
I nodded. “I can. You smell delicious right now.”
You’d think a gal could take a vacation without problems cropping up. I don’t just mean various day to day issues of running a dictatorship. Unlike a democracy, I actually have to be responsible to my people. If I screw up, I can’t blame another party that then has to fix my mess.
I mean just trying to relax. Have a good time. Like swimming. My family hung out at the beach a bit. It’s real popular. We have all these little boats that can go out there and set up awnings for shade or grills for cooking. I was out there, swimming with this big fruity drink in my hand that glowed bright green. Pretty sure that wasn’t a healthy radioactive glow, but it failed to set off either my internal Geiger counter or my Giger counter. The former measures radioactivity, the latter measures whether a substance contains an alien parasite that will try to mate with my mouth. I mean, aliens mating with my mouth aren’t a dealbreaker normally, but I’m still trying to make monogamy work.
Where were we? Swimming, right. I was out there with my nemesis-turned-girlfriend, my bribe-turned-daughter, and my ex-turned-bodyguard. At the moment, Medusa and Qiang were playing chicken with some other swimmers. Silver Shark was off doing something. Not sure. I saw her jumping onto a pad at one point to launch people into the air, but that had been before I picked up the bowl of liquor. I took a sip of my ridiculously large drink and felt a bump.
I looked down and saw a fin pass by under the shining water. Ah, that’s where Silver Shark went. She’s one of the ones who had a problem with my lack of monogamy after I blew a bunch of North Korean military officials to gain their loyalty. It bumped me again and I reached down to try and run my hand over the metal of her cybernetics. “Easy there, Shark. We aren’t that close anymore.”
A squeal of delight drew my attention to that big pad thing, where a kid splashed in the water and Silver Shark hopped off the pad.
Oh. Shark attack. I took a drink because I was gonna need it.
I turned to try and find the shark that had been bumping into me. A big fucking shark came right for my chest, eyes black, before it dived. Sharp teeth stabbed into my leg as I was dragged down. My ears caught screams before I was pulled under.
Bastard probably thought I’d just let the leg go. Someone bit into the wrong bitch. I grabbed the plastic cup my drink came in and broke it so that it was jagged. It wasn’t easy to keep track of what was going on with the water rushing around, but we seemed to be heading into deeper water. I went a-jabbin’ into that sleek undersea predator. I felt its jaws let up, but the fact that I was in front of it meant I didn’t get away. This time, it chomped down on the side of my belly. It hurt, but my body’s a tough piece of meat and metal. I stabbed into it for a handhold then bent toward it to bite it.
We must have taken a downward turn at some point, because I smacked into the bottom and threw up a bunch of sand. The shark let go and shook the front part of its body to get loose from me. It tried to swim away, but it found the steely grip of three of my arms holding onto its tail. Now it was my turn to smile and roll my eyes.
I can only imagine how it looked when that shark burst out of the water and flew through the air toward the shore. I know I didn’t look the best when I walked out of the water and toward the crowds. My leg and belly were bleeding. Medusa and Qiang ran up, my former nemesis now asking, “Are you ok?”
Qiang hugged onto me and I gave her a quick hug in return, saying, “Yeah, I’m fine. You should see the other guy. In fact, let’s go see the other guy.”
I walked past the concerned citizens gathered on the shore and grabbed someone’s folding beach chair. I folded it up while pushing past the crowd that gathered around the shark itself. I looked down on the floundering finned fiend and started whacking it over and over again with the side of the chair. When that broke apart, I tossed it down and looked around for something else. Someone held a bottle of sake out for me, so I grabbed that, sipped some, then started beating the shark with the bottle.
It died eventually. I like to think it wasn’t entirely from being on land. Someone offered to make me a special dinner of shark fin soup, but I declined and threw the shark over my shoulder. “Hey, Qiang, wanna go with me to the taxidermist?”
“What’s a taxidermist?” my daughter asked.
“It’s where grown-ups go to make stuffed animals out of things they hit with their car. Only they don’t cuddle them or hug them or play with them. They just stick them on a wall.”
“Mama, are you going to be ok?” she asked.
I patted her on the head. “I’m just fine. You can stay here and play with Medusa and the others if you want.”
Reassured, she ran over and grabbed Medusa’s hand to lead her back to the water. Medusa looked at me concerned, but ultimately decided I knew what I was talking about. So I dragged the shark off with me.
“Yep,” I told Mix N’Max later, in my bathroom. We were in my hot tub, soaking. I pointed up at the shark mounted on the wall overhead. “I caught one that big once.”
“Stop it, you’re making that up,” he told me.
“Ah!” said Holly, one of his assistants, as she stepped into the room and saw the shark on the wall. “Oh my god. You put a shark in your bathroom.”
“Let me see!” called Sam, his other assistant, who ran into the room and seemed disappointed. “Oh, a dead one.”
That wasn’t the only interruption either. I was out on a date with Medusa, which was a raincheck after she missed our last one to go wreck a concentration camp over in the States. She was treating me all gentle and all after the shark attack. Normally, and quite predictably, I don’t tend to like people babying me, but I liked it in this context. The way she held me in her strong, muscular arms.
Then she got a call from one of her hero buddies. I listened in from the other side of the dinner table as she asked for details about something. She gave me a sheepish look when she hung up. “I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
“You do? There aren’t any other heroes in places that speak English?” I asked, wagging a piece of steak at her.
“It’s one of those grey areas that known heroes can’t mess around with. It’s that Deputy Program they implemented. Portland PD’s got an arms deal set up with another group like the one that got into that shoot-out at the mall last week. I want to put the fear of God into cops selling off evidence and armories while claiming they’re deputizing white supremacists.”
I folded my lower pair of arms across my chest while continuing to eat with my upper arms. That’s another great thing about having extra arms. I can show my disapproval while still shoving food into my mouth. “Fine. Arachnoid might want to help out, while you’re at it.” She clapped her hands and stood up. I sighed, but felt a little better when she bent down to give me a quick kiss.
“I’ll be back as soon as possible, don’t worry. Besides, we had half a dinner,” she said, before rushing off to go help people or whatever nonsense she was up to these days. It’d gotten a lot easier for her ever since we got the tele-chambers set up. The scientists used the data I stole from that other dimension to figure out a way to create an intradimensional portal. It was a hell of a strain on the island’s power supply, but we put a hell of a lot of work into that system having its own separate power supply. We’re really growing all the way around over here, and the ability to teleport people anywhere in the world or call them back has helped tremendously. So have the Deep Ones. Without them and other refugees, we’d be terribly understaffed.
So with her off, I was left to finish my meal with the prospect of having both dessert and “dessert” alone. As it was, I took my time with the first and ended up trying to survive overeating by catching up on the island’s news. That was interrupted by an alert on my internal HUD that started just as the ground started shaking. I thought it was an earthquake at first, until a big white mass of fur slammed through the ceiling of the restaurant nearby, knocking my table over and me out of my booth.
I looked up at the thing, which quickly raised up. More of the ceiling fell in under an even bigger and longer white-furred thing the size of a car. I connected to the city’s drones and cameras to see what the hell was attacking the restaurant. I beheld a giant bunny, thirty feet long if you didn’t count the head. I was going to give its height, but it sat up on its haunches and looked around, which made the length the same as the height in my book. It hopped, crushing another building under its weight. People ran, screaming in terror as it leaned down to nibble at the top of a tree.
I answered the alert from the Institute of Science and Dr. Creeper, its head. “Creeper, why is there a giant bunny running amok in my city?”
“I have here the scientist to blame for it, ja,” he said in his faux-German accent. “He has been a naughty boy, experimenting with a food additive meant to increase the size of animals who eat it. It is meant for livestock, but this is too far!”
“Huh. That’s actually kind of impressive. While I’m unhappy with the immediate result, I think he’s on to something. We’ll discuss this more once I’ve killed Thumper here,” I said, calling a Dudebot to carry my armor to me and putting the military on red alert. They always knew, being so close to Japan, they might have to deal with a giant monster. I doubt they expected it to be a rabbit. Someone lost the betting pool, I’m certain.
“You can’t do that!” Creeper yelled.
“What? Why? Is it important for the experiments? The only survivng sample of whatever caused this? Will it explode into a pair of rabbits half as big over and over again?” I asked.
“It’s so cute,” he answered.
I took a moment to think about the reason my Science head was giving for not killing a giant rabbit causing hare-raising terror in my city. As if on cue, it jumped a few more times, tearing a swath of destruction and flipping a bus that landed with an explosion. I told Dr. Creeper, “That’s not a good enough reason,” and clambered my way out of the restaurant.
The Dudebot met me, having jumped from the palace with my armor that I pulled closed around me. The robot doppelganger of mine wouldn’t fool anyone up on how my latest armor looked, but it had two arms and all the usefulness of my prior suit, so it was still worth keeping around. I jumped onto Big Bunny’s head and grabbed its ear. At the same time, the Dudebot made for its front paw and tried to pull it out of the way so we could topple this lagomorph. The bunny shook its head, jerking me around, then turned and kicked the Dudebot halfway to China.
I grabbed onto its fur and gave it a mighty punch that knocked its head down. It responded by rolling over and trying to crush me into a car. I let go and it rolled back over, exposing its belly to me. I flew up with a punch that caused it to jump and kick at the air, barely missing me while I fell. I landed on the front of the car and rolled backward off it, a little winded. The bunny recovered as well, but its fur stuck out when it landed and a portion of the city went dark. It hopped forward again, off whatever power lines it had been on, and started trying to shake that out. I threw a car at it. It bounced off, but the bunny began to flee. It made for one of the island’s skyscrapers and actually began to scramble up the thing, its fluffy paws smashing through glass as it lifted itself up straining steel. If that thing tipped over, it would do a lot of damage. I jumped after it, the sight of Psycho Flyers in the air making me grin.
They’d named the VTOL aircraft after me. The heavily-armed transports opened up on the bunny, firing machine guns and unleashing rockets into the white body of the rabbit, that began to turn black from the attacks.
At the base of the tower, I felt pretty useless until I found a pretty young woman frozen in terror. I grabbed her, and also that guy she was with, and gave them a push in the right direction, which was away. “The first rule of giant monster attacks is not to stand still near the thing and stare at the giant monster!” I yelled after them. Then I noticed it was getting darker. I looked up to see a burnt white mass descending upon me, filling the entire sky from my perspective.
When I did manage to crawl out, it was next to some amateur reporter streaming from his phone. “I think it crushed the evil dictator here to death. It wasn’t the Flyers’ fault. It was bunny that killed the beast.”
“Who are you calling a beast, asshole?” I grunted, prompting him to flee.
The helicopter hovered over an otherwise-unimpressive building in the southern burrough of Empyreal City. I looked down on it, briefly wondering if they’d renamed the neighborhood recently. Blow it up, rebuild it, blow it up, rebuild it. So much of the city’s been replaced recently, it seems pretty meaningless to keep the same name.
I jumped out of the helicopter. The cape didn’t do much to break my fall, though the glass skylight and vinyl floor helped. I landed in an upstairs hallway of the fifth-story. Five above ground, two below. My target would be aboveground. As I looked around to figure out which way to go, I caught a glimpse of the place’s logo: a giant handing fire to really tiny people. They’d taken the size connotations of the name “titan” quite literally when depicting Prometheus. It’s a good thing for them I don’t keep eagles, otherwise I’d be tempted to emulate more of that legend.
No alarms went off as I headed down the hallway. My sudden approach may have been surprising and destructive, but this wasn’t like a lab developing chemical weapons or advanced AI. Everything I’d read about Titan Labs showed it to be the kind of place trying to revolutionize life in less violent ways. Food production, non-toxic lubricants and cleaners, and better water purification. I hear ya on that last point. I don’t like seafood anyway, let alone when they’re loaded full of anti-depressants and birth control pills.
A place like this probably had security that would look into the helicopter and my sudden arrival, but I didn’t expect anything too tough to handle. I’d landed on the cleaning level. The worst challenge ahead of me was the testing they did in the hallway. I came around a corner to the elevator and spotted a pair of people in coveralls, with hoods, surgical masks, and bags covering their shoes. They ran for it away from me, then dove and slid along the floor. Vinyl floor is a little conducive to sliding, but these people just went on and on and on. Further along the hallway, two groups of people in similar outfits cheered the slider on their side as they approached. A quick check of the rangefinder showed the finish lines were a hundred and fifty yards from where they started. It wasn’t a question of if they’d make it, but which one first?
I’ll have to raid this place again if I give myself a truly massive wang. In the meantime, I had a scientist to kidnap. I put on some music, an older song called “Old Time Rock & Roll” and ran for the elevators. They were along the corridor that had been slid along. I found out how that worked as I got close and felt my feet try to fly out from under me just as the piano was starting up. I maintained control long enough to stay on my feet, but skidded right past the elevator. I had to punch into the wall and stop myself, then flying myself back that way. The second pass of the piano and the elevators worked out.
Truth is, that kind of lubricant would make an astounding area denial weapon. It’d make an attempt to sneak up or charge into risky business.
The people were puzzled by my appearance, but the approach of the racers proved more important. Before I could hit the call button for the elevator, it lit up with an arrival. I stepped to the side and projected invisibility. It’s not so much invisibility as an extremely accurate projection of the environment around me on different sides to the extent that it doesn’t look like I’m there. It worked wonderfully on the two guards who stepped briskly out of the elevator and onto the floor, then landed hard on their asses.
I didn’t have to hide from them, but then I’d have missed moments like this. I stepped in and pushed the door close button until it finally closed on me. Once that was done, I scanned the corners of it for a camera. Found the little son of a gun and pulled out a spray can. The monitor watching it would have gone dark almost instantaneously, followed by a little bit of additional white letters that read “Out Of Order”. Once I’d finished that little masterpiece, I dipped the brush in some odorless paint thinner and beat it off against the corner of the elevator, ending the invisibility projection in the process.
They’d installed one of those security keycard readers to restrict people’s movements to whichever floor they were headed to. I slipped off a glove and fingered the slot until my body worked its magic. “When I get that feelin’, I need sexual healin’,” I said, cutting the music in my head. But only after I’d already done some singing, for safety’s sake. I didn’t have the external speakers on, or else the infrasound of my voice may have caused vomiting, headaches, and anal leakage. It was a tight fit, getting my fingers in there, but the biological merge worked and let me worm into the system.
They didn’t make it as simple as labeling the floors, but I had time to fight my way through if need be. And I hoped no one would be stupid enough to work on water purification on the upper stories of a building with unrelated labs underneath it. You’re asking for a flood.
Next floor had some special restrictions in place to keep people out. Seemed as good a place as any to start. It turned out to be amazingly white and clean. The place looked new, except for the polished bones of a skeleton laying on the floor. Maybe it’s some sort of statement about effectiveness? I didn’t have to guess long. I tossed a sphere the size of a baseball out that bounced off the wall and landed on the floor. The clear plastic rolled along, an internal pair of cameras staying parallel with the floor. If I can take an eyeball out and use it to scout a room, I could afford to make a cheap scout capable of moving on its own.
It moved along, rear and fore cameras giving me a remote view. Before I could even really get that far along, though, a siren approached it. One of those thick disc robots, like a giant Roomba, came around the corner in front of it. The thing shot my scout with a hard stream of some gunk that began to dissolve the plastic around it. Then it moved forward to finish the job with scrubbing brushes.
It appears I’d wandered into some sort of testing zone for cleaners. I think they’d made the stuff a bit too strong if it can eat through plastic. A mite indiscriminate too, if the skeleton’s any indication. While a fun diversion, though, these were not the droids I was looking for.
The next floor was more my style. My armor detected high levels of methane and shit almost immediately. Fertilizer. Could cause a lot of chaos if I grabbed that cleaner bot… but nah, I still needed to make sure this was the right place. Just in case this floor had patrolling robotic cows that destroy scout drones, I tossed a few of them out. They spread out along a few corridors, but I soon found the place was primarily centered around a few large rooms where all the action happened. It was a little bit like the farming cult back on my island of Ricca.
I stepped out to see what plants they were messing with in these indoor fields.
On one side of me bloomed a gigantic cocoon, or so I took it for at first. As my gaze traveled up it and I saw the cocoon had split, I found myself staring at a corn cob. A humongous corn cob. And despite the size of the cob and the leaves, the kernels were all of normal size. On the other side of the hallway, cocoa pods hung from trees growing beside sugarcane plants, but it wasn’t a greenhouse. There were no heaters, no stronger lights. I slid a window open and my armor registered a decent 74 Fahrenheit.
“Cool beans,” I said while poking a cocoa pod.
Suddenly, a door at the end of this corridor opened and a man stepped out. “What’s this?” he asked. At the same time, he pulled out an eggplant and threw it at me. Not threatened by eggplants, I didn’t try to do anything in particular other than swat it aside. It burst and poured thick purple smoke around. I ran on through and caught a tangerine that exploded, presumably with flavor as well as concussive force. It knocked me back a step, I must admit, but then I ducked low and kept on going. I could see the fruit chucker pulling back to toss a watermelon at me, so I went to go re-invisible and found the projectors had been stained and unable to function.
He didn’t have enough oomph to get the watermelon very far. It fell and broke apart into a mass of vines. The reached up and grabbed me as I jumped over. Part of the melon grew up and opened into halves, showing off rows of dark seeds that gleamed wet. That was a surprise, so I used one of my own. A cable shot out from under my left forearm. It lit up with electricity as I whipped it from side to side, slicing through the watermelonster. I retracted it, then pulled the vines off.
The fellow assaulting me with plants tried to run past, but I shot out the cable again, sans electricity, to knock him off his feet.
“Please don’t hurt me!” he shouted as I pulled him up to his feet.
“Hurt you?” I brushed him off. “This was pretty fun, actually.” I looked him straight in the face, getting a positive ID. “Dr. Quincy, I see. Just the man I was looking for. Nice to meet you.”
“Are you here to kill me?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m here to offer you a job.” I punched him in the gut just enough to double him over, then whipped out the zip ties. With him secure, I had time enough to break into his computer and steal as many files as possible. He even had a refrigerator there with important-looking samples. I laid Dr. Quincy against it,
I saw the elevators ding open and a large force of security guards take up position. I distracted them with the scout bots rolling under foot to trip them up. Then I radioed the helicopter. “I’m ready. Set depth for floor three and then drop.”
Above me, the crew of the chopper punched in the setting on the barrel of a rocket tube and fixed a cable from a spool to a hook on the rear of it. The lackey aimed down at where an augmented reality site showed I’d set a target. They fired, launching a tapered rocket at the building that fixed onto the target. It punched through two floors, creating a larger hole in its wake. Then it bounced against the floor there in front of me. I dragged Dr. Quincy and his sample fridge out, attached both to the metal end, and gave it a tug.
The device had been designed to hold the weight of my armor plus another person, so a small refrigerator didn’t hurt it. I just didn’t go up with it. I jumped through after it, landed on the roof, then made the leap up to the chopper on my own to help load the wriggling, panic scientist in.
“Trust me, Doc. You’ll love your new country,” I assured him. “Plenty of room to grow all these nifty plants, and you’ll live well. Yep, you’ll be shitting in high cotton. Just not in the cotton you design to smother people when they least expect it, alright?”