The next major stop on my evil organization hit list was Los Angeles, and not a single speed limit went unbroken along the way. The news about Three Mile Island Part Two hit in the meantime. Outlaw X reported on it a bit, as did civilian newspapers. Larry the Reject insisted on getting his news by hardcopy.
I normally didn’t keep headlines from my crimes. Or even see them. This one tickled my funny bone, however. “Nuclear crisis at Three Mile Island! No fatalities as power companies take (falling) stock of a bleak and dangerous future for nuclear power.” I guess it wasn’t that funny on its own, so maybe it was the complete picture that amused me. Next to the stories about fracking earthquakes, coal mine collapses, climate change, and a new study on lung cancer, it seemed more humorous.
Despite the headline, there was no definitive proof that Pivot’s guys were hacking up glowing phlegm. At least they weren’t likely to show up in a hurry. From what I read, the guy in purple and yellow had equipment to generate portals, but their range and size were limited. They sounded too limited to bring along Man-Opener and Rumble. I had to assume all I’d ultimately accomplished was a delaying tactic, though it would have been nice to leave more bodies behind me.
By the time we crossed the border to California, I wished I hadn’t brought the rejects along. It wasn’t them, it was me. I’ve done my best work when I didn’t know what I was doing. Even after they demonstrated their powers, I couldn’t think of any solid plans to use them. Scratch that, I could think of plans, but they tended to involve these guys dying.
This is our little secret, but I didn’t want these guys dead. They reminded me of myself a little. Except Roberta, who had been a bit clingy. I tried asking Harry. He was the bald one, amusingly enough. I queried him about whether Roberta seemed to have a crush on me.
I imagined that claws capable of digging into steel and concrete would be painful if used on a person.
I couldn’t judge Harry’s expression since everywhere but the top of his head was covered with curly golden locks of hair, but he mumbled, “You’re the nicest anyone has been to us in the months or years since we’ve been taken. I was in that cell for nine months, and all that time nobody ever touched me or looked at me without flinching.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, which instinctively made me want to knife him, but instead I patted him on the shoulder and thanked him for the insight.
I needed to find some way to keep them safe. I needed to get some payback for Carl. I needed to check in on Leah, too. That’s one reason to hate being bored. I remembered all those other people wrapped up in this.
They took Carl because he was working for me, and they killed him. They even used some corporate speak term and said he was “liquidated”. Didn’t even hold him hostage like they tried with Max. They caught Max when they caught Carl, too, so it’s not like they killed Carl because they learned a lesson. They didn’t even kill Max when they caught him a second time.
So much of what they’ve done doesn’t make sense for sane human beings. They’ve kept me in the dark so long, I have to assume they’ve been working me over without me realizing it.
That led me to conclude I needed to check on Leah. The teenaged “girl with no name” as I called her. She wound up in my care after a series of events involving her being bullied, blinding a cop, running away from home, and getting caught up in a hero’s scheme to make everyone love everyone else. I acted as the devil on her shoulder even as I taught her some basics on surviving the metahuman side of the world.
The angel on her shoulder had been Venus, a hero from the Master Academy right here in lovely California. Their main compound was just north of the city, near the base of the San Gabriel Mountains.
I could have called and set up a meeting under a white flag, but that wouldn’t have worked too well.
Sneaking into that place? Now that would have looked hostile and probably gotten them all on my tail. I needed to speak the universal language of friendship.
I rolled up in front of the place and played the siren song of the diabetic: ice cream truck music. The signal for children to gather and the sound of unadulterated hate for adults who had to stay in and work, all wrapped up in a cheerful package. It was the closest to being a Disney pop star I would ever manage.
The academy looked open and inviting. A modest brick wall surrounded a large, lush yard. The metal gate kept out any strangers. A bronze sculpture looked toward the front from a raised dais. It appeared to be a sculpture of a Catholic priest with glasses, holding a staff with a cross atop it in front of him. A quick zoom revealed the words, “In Memoriam And With Thanks, Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez” on a plaque.
Around it sat three buildings. The one behind the statue was the largest, but they just looked like large houses or small mansions. Condos, maybe.
Even though I was shut out of the place by the gate, the kids came to me. They teleported, they flew, they leapt, and soon a crowd sought out the welcome relief of a cone on that hot Friday afternoon. They didn’t notice my armor because I had overlaid the image of a kindly ice cream vendor over it.
As easily as that worked, it surprised me that the Oligarch, the Academy’s nemesis, hadn’t tried that. Maybe he felt it was too strange for a villain to lure out kids and teens that way. Just as in the regular criminal population, no one respected superpowered pedophiles.
Then again, no one respected me either, and I used the presence of the kids and a mysterious ice cream truck to lure out the supers of the Master Academy. It worked. A pair of adults approached swiftly while I served the kids. I didn’t know the guy, but I recognized Venus without difficulty. I knew those brown eyes and that body. She had muscles in all the right places to whoop ass.
The weird thing was seeing her dressed like a normal person. Flip flops and tank top normal. You know you caught a hero off guard if they’re wearing flip flops and a tank top. Superman never stopped a robbery in flip flops. Batman? He got his flip flop stuck on the gas pedal and wrecked the Batmobile.
Venus pushed a button on the fence, causing the gate to open. “Hi there,” she said, squinting at me.
“Hullo.” I waved at her.
“Never seen you around here before. New route?” She studied me, hoping to remember the face.
I leaned on the window counter. “I’m going to level with you, I’m here because a villain needs to speak to you. Don’t worry, there is nothing in the ice cream. He doesn’t want to put up with fighting you just to get a few answers from you. It was this or sneak in. So, truce?”
Some of the teens dropped their cones hearing all that. The guy from the school looked between Venus and me, then began to usher the younger folks away. Venus glanced at them, then nodded to me. “Alright. Is he far?”
I held my arms out wide. “He’s right here.”
To her credit, Venus didn’t go against her word. She just told me, “Alright. Park that thing, get out, and we’ll talk about this in the yard.”
Everyone was cleared to the buildings by the time I followed Venus through the gates. I barely got past them when something beeped on Venus. She glanced down to read a text on her phone.
When we got far enough away from anything, she whirled around to me and pointed a finger at me. “You could have at least told me it was you, Gecko.” Then she glanced down at the ice cream sundae and spoon in my hands.
I held it out for her as I dropped the illusion. “I brought you this as a gift. It’s got extra nuts.”
Cautiously, Venus reached out and took the sundae from me. “Thanks-“ she started to say.
I cut her off with. “It’s extra nutty, just like me!” I held out my arms, laying on the cheese.
She just shook her head.
I slumped as if pouting at her rejection of my cheesy glory. “If told you who I was from the start, you never would have agreed to talk.”
Venus fired back with an accusation, ignoring the sweet, melting goodness I gave her. “And you used the kids against us!”
“I didn’t do anything to them,” I pointed out. “In fact, I was being heroic. I was fighting against intolerance. Lactose intolerance.”
“I’m seriously reconsidering letting you talk.” She narrowed her eyes, keeping her phone ready in one hand.
I held up my hands. “Listen, I’m serious about just talking. Can’t you have a conversation with someone who breaks the law without threatening to bring them in? I mean, this is important to me.”
She scoffed. “Nothing is important to you.”
“Carl was. Leah is. Hell, this guy I’m dealing with might even think you’re important to me.” After a moment of awkward silence, I followed that with, “You know, they might THINK that.”
Her face was red, but the way she clenched her hands suggested there was more anger than embarrassment at me saying stuff like that. “Shut up about the false romantics and get to the point.”
“Leah may be in danger. You too, possibly, but I doubt they’d go that far.”
“Explain,” she said curtly.
“Hephaestus is still after me, but it was never about a song. The new head, Prime, has something personal against me and started all this to kill me. I tried to get Carl, my henchman, back. Found out they killed him. That didn’t make a lot of sense until I found out they have it out for me. Venus, if they wanted to kill me over a song or if they hadn’t spent millions trying to kill me, I wouldn’t be as worried. They have to be getting desperate. I’ve hit them in six different cities, destroyed logistics and research areas, and helped foment a breakaway group opposed to them. They hated me before and now they’re desperate. If I was trying to kill me, one of the things I’d do is go for Leah, so I need you to at least check on her for me. ”
Sounded horrible, didn’t it? Talking about all these feelings. Nobody wanted to hear me bring up feelings about this or that, least of all me.
Venus had calmed down a bit during my explanation. “Alright, I’ll peek in on her, see if she’s still fine. But first, I need to know if you’re responsible for something that’s causing some international problems.”
I nodded, wondering if she meant trashing New Orleans or starting a meltdown at Three Mile Island.
Instead, she picked something more tame. “Russia lost contact with its gecko sex research satellite recently.”
“Didn’t do it,” I answered quickly.
She raised one eyebrow skeptically. “You sure?”
I rolled my hand, hoping she’d move past that already. “Yeah, believe it or not, that’s just the kind of stuff that happens when horny geckos get it on in zero G. Back to Leah already!”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I mean, we keep information secret too. You know, you seem to be genuinely worried about her.”
I crossed my arms in front of my chest and held my nose up high in the air with a sniff. “Preposterous. Care? Worry? Feelings? These are blasphemy in the sacred book of Psycho Gecko. Now bring me oranges and a pack of carnivorous guinea pigs; it’s time for my daily ritual of exfoliation and a colon scrub.”
Venus had been raising her phone, but stopped. She lowered her voice. “You’re trying too hard again.”
I gave a snooty harrumph. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Without the guinea pigs, I would never lose that unsightly dead skin. And the oranges are excellent at cleansing my intestines. Or maybe I got that reversed…”
Her lips twitched slightly. “We both might be mistaken. But if you ever get tired of getting yourself blown up by supervillains, if you ever feel like changing, we can help you out like we did Leah. There might even be pills involved that can make you more…personable. Now let me make my call.”
Venus turned away from me then and dialed. She spoke quietly, not facing me. That was unusual. Most heroes wouldn’t turn their back on me. Venus had what few other heroes had: The skills to kick my ass. Three houses full of backup. Hidden automated defenses. Most of all, she had balls. Not literally, that I knew about.
I actually took a step forward, intending to check, but then I saw the discarded sundae on the lawn right where I was going to step. I whipped my leg around, turning me completely away but not stopping my motion. I had to throw my arms back to catch myself before I fell ass to banana.
The laughter of onlooking kids drew Venus’s attention. “Hold on,” she said to whoever she was talking to, then, louder, “What are you doing back there?” She turned back to find me holding a holographic saxophone up to my helmet, pumping my hips in the air.
“Oh, me? Nothing. Just practicing my sax moves. I can blow all night long.”
Venus rolled her eyes and turned away to take the call. At least her lack of interest meant she likely didn’t have balls or the hot dog to go with them. I went ahead and did indeed practice some moves with the saxophone. I never learned to play, but I had some ideas about weaponizing one.
Plus, they were practically designed to be the raunchiest musical instrument of all time. I had to insert one in someone’s body!
Alas, my innovations in violence had to wait. I noticed Venus go stiff, no pills required.
At that, I started heading for the gate. Venus called out to me, “Gecko! We still don’t know where she is. They may not have gotten her. Her mom said their emergency kit was taken!”
“How many days ago?” I asked as she jogged to catch up to me.
She answered when she got close. “Five. Are you alright?”
I couldn’t stop the laughter from pouring out of my mouth. I turned my head to the sky, running gloved hands over my vaguely-harlequin style helmet. I shook my head. “No! Hehehehehehe.”
Venus got ahead of me so she could look me in the visor. “I’ll have to stop you if you cause a ruckus.”
I pointed my finger right in her face. “You’ll have to try, but maybe I can be persuaded to keep the destruction limited to their buildings.”
She stopped at the gates, letting me pass her. “I don’t suppose I could convince you to bring them in alive, maybe to us?”
My suit’s speakers caught my snort of amusement. I hopped into the ice cream truck and called out to her. “There’s no reason why a girl who is important to me needs to be taken hostage or killed just to make this serious. I was always going to kill these sons of bitches. It was only a matter of how much pain they were in before I ended it. Mark my words, Venus, Death rides a pale ice cream truck…of doom!”
I turned on the jolly ice cream jingle as I puttered away in the truck, planning my delicious revenge. A plan? I didn’t have one. Motivation? I had plenty more than I needed. Motivation, ice cream, nuts, caramel, and chocolate syrup. With that, I could crumble any empire any given sundae.
Soon, I knew Prime would come to hate the taste of my sweet revenge, gag on the multicolored sprinkles of vigilante justice, and choke on the waffle cone of my hate.