I bounded across the face of a pyramid under a green sky. Behind me, an orb the size of a beach ball approached. It was hard enough running along the smooth, angled side of the thing, though much easier than the side of a skyscraper. It’s much harder when a floating piece of glass rides your ass and tries to blast it off with a laser beam the diameter of a beach ball. I dropped and slid down the side of the pyramid to keep from being pegged by excited photons.
The beam followed, trailing molten whatever. I was invisible, but that didn’t matter to that thing. I’m guessing the natives of this world see some different stuff than most people from Earth do. I considered using my gauntlets, either to deflect the beam or to absorb part of it, then deflect it. They were built to handle Justice Ranger small arms, but it has an upper limit. I was never capable of deflecting the sorts of attacks their giant mecha could produce. I’d rather not test them against this energy weapon unless I have no other option. Still, I began to charge up my lower pair of arms and I had the projectors stop trying to render me invisible if it wasn’t going to work.
I banked on it only being able to maintain that beam for so long, then come back and smack it with my dick. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I’d blow it away with my cock, but I don’t know what my rubber chicken grenades are going to do around this place. Without roads to cross to the other side of, they might run around like chicken with their heads cut off. But dodging I can do. Some might call it “running away” but I argue that facing unknown energy beams capable of disappearing a torso is not the time to argue over valor. I really need a reliable method of defending myself from a distance. Or, as is more accurate in my life, preemptively defending myself. I have to defend myself from people’s attempts to kill me for trying to murder them.
Then again, all the eye lasers in the world are pretty useless if you can’t use them because the thing is a giant laser orb behind you that you can’t take the time to try and shoot because of the big-ass laser beam. I think it’s just really easy to complain when you’re close to involuntary ass hair removal via big-ass laser.
Having founded my guess on the idea that most weapons can’t attack continuously for very long without running into power, cooling, or ammunition problems, I was rewarded with the thing stopping. Unfortunately, the sliding thing was tougher to stop. I had to put my fist into the side of the pyramid. It didn’t go too far. Just far enough to break some fingers on my upper left hand. When you’re as punchable as myself, you get used to a lot of pain. I leveraged myself up and jumped for the orb. The first punch with my upper right knocked it back, but didn’t shatter it or anything. Then I gave it the ol’ one-two with the bottom pair and they put cracks all through the bottom. The orb dropped and began to roll down the side of the pyramid.
I’d been heading out a little further to see what I could see of this place. Wherever we’d entered this world, it didn’t seem to be the same spot they’d sent people through before. There had been no sign of the big tentacle thing that tried to get me before, and no other real defenses. Based on how there had been a drop of a few feet, I think moving the crystal on our end affected where we came out. One of the first villains through, Powder, used her super strength to put together a mound made out of what I assume are the local personal transportation. Some of the villains were swarming all over triangular things and I’m sure some of have already been tossed through whole.
“Hide your kids, hide your wife, we’re takin’ everything ’round here!” I called down to crowds of fleeing aliens. That’s what I’m going with, anyway. I know what dimensional travel is like, so I’m guessing this is mere interplanetary stuff. And not a racially homogenous one, either. I saw all sorts running around. Pale things with long, thin limbs and big heads walked around like greys in denim. No, seriously, whatever they were wearing looked a lot like denim. Denim overalls, denim jeans, denim jackets. I saw a big ape-like furry thing in a toga and sandals, so even alien fashion isn’t so horrible as to include socks with sandals. That was reassuring, actually. Some of these things were reptilian, some had green skin, some blue. They had aliens every color of the rainbow around here, fleeing as we wreaked havoc and stole whatever we could.
“I can’t be the only one noticing it’s hard to breathe here, for sure?” asked someone. I had the comms lines in my helmet turned down low so they wouldn’t interrupt anything.
“No, you’re just a fatass,” someone else responded.
“No, he’s right,” another voice jumped in. “It’s the atmosphere.”
“Anyone know how to read gibberish?” someone else broke in. “I don’t know what I’m robbing. Is this a Whole Foods or an electronic store?”
Yet another person broke in, which just goes to show why I didn’t want to pay a lot of attention to all this. “Shove it up your ass. If it doesn’t vibrate, it’s food.”
A voice with an accent I couldn’t place broke in. “That is how I know you are an American. You would fry it first.”
“Guys, not to interrupt this wonderful attempt at recreating Reddit with real noises, but I’m getting shot at over here,” someone said.
“Walk it off.”
“Shoot them back!”
I broke in. “Cooperation is a part of this. Let’s get some people over there before we find out they have guns that turn people’s crotches into poisonous snakes or something.”
“Woah, I saw that on TV before. There’s this big purple snake thing in another country-”
I cut them off. “That’s nice and we can discuss the penis snake once we’re back on Earth. Look at it this way, you get to steal gear from this place’s version of cops or soldiers or whatever.”
I think that did the trick. There wasn’t a good way to get a sense of where people were outside of whatever they discussed over the comms, and I didn’t like paying attention to all that. Still, those sorts of weapons and equipment were high on the list of goods to take, just like on Earth. They’re valuable, easy to carry, and easy to sell. It wouldn’t be Earth’s first encounter with alien technology, but I’d try to make sure my country gets whatever insights they have to offer first. Until then, I had to do a little robbing of my own.
I landed on what I took to be a sidewalk, right in front of a fleeing thing. I’d say feminine in appearance, but I didn’t have a basis for comparison with this thing’s species. Thin, with blue skin that took on an iridescent glimmer at the curves, and some folds of loose skin where the hair would be. “Stand and deliver,” I said, pulling a rubber chicken out of my belt and pointing it at the alien ominously.
It babbled something in a language my translator program began to work furiously on figuring out. “Your money or your life!” I said again, poking at the alien with the rubber chicken. I looked it over for valuables and found it had a number of bracelets on. I grabbed for those and slipped them off, the alien giving little resistance.
I was admiring them when a pair of those triangular vehicles came humming up the street nearby. The bodies of the vehicles turned as whatever they had instead of wheels moved them from side to side in order to deftly dodge fleeing civilians. The alien tried to pull one of the bracelets away from me and, when I refused, began waving its arms at the vehicles. They came to a sudden stop next to us and these domes on top retracted to reveal three beings in each one.
They got out, another mixture of various aliens. At least one of them looked more like the one I’d just mugged, but red-skinned instead of blue. One of them held the palm of his glove-covered hand toward me and shot some little disk thing. I caught it out of the air and looked at it, at which point it began to shock me. If it had hit and attached, that would have sucked. Unfortunately for them, it clenched my hand and I crushed the darn thing. Still made me stumble back, but it also helped charge up the energy sheaths on my gauntlets thanks to how I’d redesigned them. Three of the others pulled out extending sticks, not narrowed like batons, while the last brought out a staff. I went ahead and tucked my stolen bracelets away.
The three with the sticks came at me all at once. The things looked like wood, but clanged off my armor. A punch each put the three down, but not dead. For most people, they’d be gooey salsa on the sidewalk after one of those. These guys were still intact and holding themselves, though only the sasquatch-looking guy seemed anywhere near close to getting up for another go. It was staff guy’s time for a go while the one who tried to tase me checked on the others. He gave my leg a half-hearted poke that I didn’t think anything of until a metal clamp extended out and wrapped around my thigh. Then a yellow light on the middle part of the staff lit up. He picked me up and smacked me into the street a few times before smacking me onto the armored battery pack I wore on my back.
I didn’t have to worry about the charge in my last hand anymore. I raised all four of my hands for a moment before I got my feet under me a little. I fired my suit’s elbow rockets at the same time I jumped, pulling the staff clear of the alien’s grip. My suit was at least a match for the clamp, able to tear it off, and the alien peace officer himself was less resilient to a flying person in power armor gut-checking him.
The last one fired off another pair of his shocking little gadgets at me as I approached. Once again, a ranged attack would be nice. A laser shot out from the side, severing the thing’s hand and ending the pain and involuntary muscle contractions. And, I might add, leaving the red-skinned alien standing in front of me while I had four charged gauntlets ready. Yeah, no need for the laser now. The others survived a punch each with no problems. Turns out, a couple such hits at the same time will salsafy these guys anyway.
I turned to the person who had helped me. Escorpio Encantador stood on the back of a gleaming gold and black scorpion that went along perfectly with his scorpion-motif armor. “I am sure you would have killed him without my assistance, Emperatriz Gecko. I merely hurried his death along so you have more time to do what you love.” He gave me a bow.
“Yeah, yeah. Now help me get these guys’ pants off!” I said, perfectly happy to have less attention on him helping me out. He politely refused to help me rob the downed cops blind, claiming he had to get over and help with the tentacle monster. I just made sure to gather up as much of the armor and equipment I could, including that taser-launching glove, a couple of sticks, and what may have been an advanced alien jockstrap. That’s a question for the scientists to answer, though.
I was broken away from my robbery reverie by the increasing panic from the various voices on the comms. “Tentacles everywhere!” someone called. Another person was like, “It touched my mouth, ew, fuck it! Fuck all of it!” And that last statement was not good fuck it.
Grabbing my loot, I made for the portal. I found that the fleeing crowds in that area were supervillains who were trying to get away from a large, flesh-shaped slug covered with tentacles. If it was the same one from the other portal, it would be the remnants of one last mercenary. Yeah, they did that to a human. Giant tentacle slug.
Suddenly, a large crowd of the aliens ran for the portal as well, from the other direction. What I thought would turn into a counter attack instead became a massive surge of aliens all throwing themselves at the thing, trying to beat, claw, and bite it to death. It wasn’t until I was jumping my way closer that I saw someone moving more slowly in the midst of them without being trampled. A woman with a face I’d seen plenty of times, though she now wore a form-fitting black dress. Spinetingler’s daughter.
Spinetingler himself soon appeared, though he appeared unconcerned with the writhing, wriggling mess of tentacles. When tendrils came close to slapping him, he swiped them clear with a quartet of blades on the fingers of one glove. He approached the thing and laid a hand on it. By now, I’d landed relatively close by and nodded to the guy’s daughter. I felt her telepathic abilities claw away at my mind, protected as it was by the unique neurophysiology of homo machina. Something about the way our minds interface with computers screws up conventional psionic abilities. My understanding is that it takes a hellaciously strong psychic to break in. “Everything ok here?” I asked.
She nodded. Her voice had a deep echo to it. “My father has this handled. I think everyone should go.”
I nodded again and cut into the comms. “Okily dokily, folks. I hear we better get a move on. Spinetingler’s doing something to the squirming mass over here and I think we’d better skedaddle.”
“Roger, skedaddling commencing,” someone with a mechanical-sounding voice said.
“Keep an eye out for anyone lagging behind. Anyone get caught? Anyone injured?” I asked. I was interrupted by Dr. Creeper stomping by back to the portal in a barebones robot that was more a pair of large chicken-legs with a small tank cannon on top. From his cackling, he was having the time of his life.
Meanwhile, Spinetingler finished whatever he was doing and flew past through the portal as a bunch of bats. Short as he was a few in his belfry, if he was hightailing it, that was a sign. Kinda like when you notice the bomb disposal guy running with a line of pee trailing after. But I stuck around. I got to see as the thing that had once been a man and was now a giant flesh slug began to grow and take something like a humanoid shape. It didn’t get all the formal body parts. It stayed all lumpy and flesh-colored, but it had a pair of legs, a torso, and arms, all with little arms and legs twitching out of its skin. And whatever led it to come after us villains didn’t seem to be in control anymore. It took a swipe at a nearby obelisk, sending it crashing onto more of the extraterrestrial cops.
“Sound off if you are still past the portal!” called Ouroboros over the comms.
“Gecko here. I’m still on alien soil, watching aliens soil themselves,” I answered.
After a few more seconds of comms silence, Ouroboros replied, “We’re waiting on you.”
A bolt of red energy missed my head and zapped a piece of the mound underneath the portal. I turned to see a group of four beings in multi-colored outfits walking toward the scene with short capes on the back of their outfits. They had black and silver running throughout the costumes, but each wore a different color primarily. It was the lead one in red, way too big and wide to be a human, who was aiming a sort of cross between staff and rifle at me. I got the feeling I met his gaze, despite the helmets we both wore.
“Yeah, time to go I think,” I said to myself, as well as the rest of them all. I turned and jumped through to see everyone else milling around the military base. No one had been allowed to leave just yet, as enforced by all the guys and drones with guns around.
There was just no way to handle the raid from within the Institute of Science. Sure, it had the computers and the nuclear-powered toasters, which are always handy to have in a conflict. It was too crowded. Hard to get people in and out, or get booty out. Getting a lot of people in and handling booty is as important for a raid as it is for running a train on someone. I also hated being cut off the way the Institute does to me as a consquence of being built for information security.
It turns out the crystal can be handled and moved. I had it brought out to the military base. It had plenty of room for everyone. Plus, this time all the guns would be pointed at my enemies. That includes if any of these assholes got the idea to strand me over there. Which is why they were keeping a close eye on everyone until I gave the order. “Guns down and power off. At ease.”
The soldiers relaxed. Even the surface-to-air launcher wound down and pointed its payload at the sky instead.
“Trust issues, Gecko?” asked Ouroboros, twirling his knives around.
“What? Me? Naw… just didn’t want anyone leaving before we got ourselves a group photo,” I said, pointing over to the nearby bleachers where a pair of photographers were all set up. “Come on, let’s finish comemmorating the new world order. Say ‘stolen cheese’!”
My people never did find the body. You know what else we didn’t find? A giant octopus-dragon marching around, getting worshiped. Straightened that shit up in a hurry, that fight. After everything that happened, I decided to get healed before organs started shutting down and leaving the cleanup for later. After injecting myself with nanites, I laid down, waved Qiang over, and fell asleep with her cuddled up against me. I woke up the next day to find she had left me a bowl of noodles on the stand next to the bed. First I had to hang up my armor to drain out before helping myself to the cold noodles. A little on the spicy side.
She was happy to see me when she wandered in and caught me in my imperial bathrobe and heart boxers, chowing down on the cold noodles she microwaved all for me. “How’s things, baby girl?” I asked.
“There was a big flood, and then they said a big bunch of land came up, and all the frog people are cleaning up where you had the big fight.” It all came out, mile a minute.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Much is changed. Are you done playing with monsters now?” A feminine hand reached out across the bedroom doorway wearing gold claws over fingers. It was Citra’s hand, which I saw as she stepped out in a red, high-collared Chinese style dress out of theatre or a fantasy movie. The makeup, the headdress looking like horns…
Silver Shark also stepped out, the large cyborg wearing a similar dress, though larger. They went a bit more whimsical with her makeup around the cybernetic eyes on her modified face. “I think he likes it.”
“Daddy, you’re drooling,” Qiang said.
I reached up and pushed my mouth shut. “Well, ladies, nice as it is to see you’ve both had a makeover, there are more important things around than the women in my life.Come, Qiang, let’s go see how the clean-up is going and whatever you’re talking about with a bunch of land.”
I started to walk past them, but Silver Shark put a hand on my chest. “You have to deal with us. We spent a long time figuring out what we wanted.”
“You both look beautiful,” I said. “But I have so much shit to take care of, including something about new land, and a little matter of necrophilia to take care of.”
“What’s necro whatever?” asked Qiang.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said to her.
“You have to deal with us sooner rather than later, because Beetrice arrived while you were resting,” Silver said. “She says you’re supposed to be getting married soon.”
The giant bee-woman, Beetrice, is surprisingly astute as a diplomat, and incredibly enthusiastic about bedding me. Way, way too enthusiastic. If she was here, I’m surprised I didn’t wake up to find myself tied down with a ballgag in my mouth. It’s not that she grosses me out or anything, with the exoskeleton, fuzz, and mandibles. It’s just that I don’t like her the way she likes me. Plus, she likes to almost kill me. Death by snoo snoo and dehydration.
Speaking of her skills as a negotiator, she added a clause to the peace treaty about marrying me that probably isn’t what everybody legally signed. I bet she’d get the United Nations to say it was binding anyway if they knew how much I didn’t care for the idea.
“She’s on the island? Wonderful.” Then I quieted down and cupped my ear, trying to listen out while remotely accessing cameras and digital devices nearby.
Citra stepped up to me and distracted me quite well by cupping my face in her hands. “You made a deal with my mother to take care of me. You know what she wanted.” The cold metal felt nice against my skin.
“You’re not something to be bought and sold. You should be the boss of your own life. Go do your own thing. You can make it on your own.” I grabbed her hands and held onto them for a moment before pulling them away, wondering when the sappy music was going to start up. I only meant to hold onto them for a moment, but she was pretty.
“You don’t buy people,” she repeated back, her eyes flicking over to Qiang. She pulled her hands away and crossed her arms. “What would I do? I have lived a servant’s life.”
I shrugged and gave her a little smile. “You could be a maid? Go to school or something. Find yourself someone you love.” My smile got a little less friendly as I realized something. “But you’d rather keep living in a palace, wouldn’t you?”
“You are another foolish American, thinking everything is about love and doing your own thing.” That caused me to back my face on up a moment while she continued. “The people do not love you. They know you are strong. You will keep them safe if they keep you happy. They like the lifestyle you offer them.”
“First, I’m not really an American.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “Second, whatever happened to people liking me for me instead of because I have a big house?”
“I’ve had you. You’re an ass,” Silver Shark said. “You cheated on me, remember?”
I threw my hands up. “I don’t see what the problem is. You could have joined us at any time. What are you doing in all this anyway?”
She ran her claws over the fabric of her dress. “I liked the makeover. Some of the benefits were nice, when you weren’t being a jerk. Tell you what. I hear Queen Beetrice loves you for you.”
“I mean, maybe I should try Beetrice?” I said. “After all, I get a choice in this, too. I’m the big emperor guy in charge. Maybe I’ll chug a bunch of energy drinks and sports drinks, lay back, think of England, and then sell my amazing new combined energy/sport drink that you’d think someone would have invented by now.”
As if on cue, the palace’s landline began to ring, the ID placing the caller as Beetrice. I bent the knee pretty damn quick. Silver and Citra shared a laugh at that. “Damn injury, you know,” I tried to cover for it. “Just fought a giant Cthulhu. No big deal. No reason to give a guy a break before you start throwing booty at him. Anyone got a ring or something? Or what’s the tradition here?”
Citra spoke up. “Your family delivers gifts to my family, but my family is dead. Do you have any family?”
I shrugged. “Just Qiang. Other than that, I dunno. If I do, they’re on the other Earth that the guys with the giant robot ship are from. I think I remember an aunt. Either way, not an issue, but I can always give you presents. That it?”
“Then you give me jewelry in a hair combing ceremony.”
“Pretty easy to see these traditions don’t have anything to do with love. Ok, fi- wait a moment. Before I agree, there’s someone I have to consult on this. I looked to Qiang. “What do you think about her?” I nodded toward Citra. “She been nice to you?”
She nodded. “She’s alright.”
Dammit, Qiang! I needed her to be my wingman on this. “You think she’d be ok as my new wife and your new mom?”
She looked up at Citra, furrowing her little brow. Citra smiled warmly down at her, her eyes ligthing up and narrowing the corners of her eye. Silver wore a smirk. I turned back to Qiang. “You were in on it, too? Quite the conspiracy here.”
Before I could say anything else, I heard knocking at the door. “Hello! Psycho Gecko! It’s Beetrice! I couldn’t get you on the phone, so I came here myself!”
I stood up at that and prepared myself to greet my admirer. She rushed upstairs, wearing a dress that, based on the cleavage, back, and slits, was designed to spend more time on a floor than on a person. I gaped at it up until she wrapped her arms around me and tried to squeeze my lungs out through my mouth.
Why do I always forget about the strength? “How are you this strong?” I gasped out.
“What?” she said, stopping to look into my eyes with segmented ones before stealing a mandibled kiss off my lips.
“Insects can’t really get this big due to atmospheric conditions, let alone mate with humans and homo machina. It just occurred to me,” and here I had to take a moment to cough. She set me down for that. “I might be able to improve my armor if I were to study your body.”
A pair of “Ahems,” came from off to the side, where Silver and Citra frowned. Was it something I sai-oooooooooh.
“Did I interrupt something?” Beetrice asked.
“You know what? I think you did. Beetrice, please talk things over with Citra and Silver. Qiang, dear, let’s hurry on out of here and give them some privacy.”
I took her hand and rushed out under the reaching grasps of all three women, er, females. I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to marry one of them, Citra or Beetrice. I just didn’t really plan on marrying. Ever. Citra wouldn’t be too bad, I guess. I know where I stand with her. Beetrice just turns me off, liking me so much. I mean, Venus would be nice if she and I didn’t want to kill each other.
I think I’m getting some insight here.
First stop, the military base! I had called Intercept to see what they were up to and they informed me they still had a piece of Cthulhu in quarantine. This was conveniently the kind of thing that would keep me well away from the palace. Qiang was excited to see the place and all the soldiers, who had swiftly assembled to salute me in my imperial bathrobe. I didn’t have time to grab clothes, remember.
I gave them all a salute back, as did Qiang, and I met with the commanding officer, of a rank called Shouho, as well as the Issa of the Intercept team. They conspicuously avoided mentioning my clothing choice, and they were more than happy to show Qiang all about this helicopter while they showed me to a holding area with six pylons surrounding a tentacle, a glowing yellow barrier connecting each pylon.
I looked up at them. “Handy. Do they fry anything going forward?”
The Shouho spoke up. “The barriers are kinetic, requiring only power. This is an abnormal deployment to secure the anomaly.”
“Very good,” I said. “These look quite useful. We must construct additional pylons.”
“The military could use an expansion in material and manpower. For that, additional supply depots are required,” the Shouho responded.
I held up my hands. “We’ll handle that another time. For now, open this up for me. I’m going to need some alone time with it. It’s not a corpse, but it’ll do. Bow, bowm, bow bow bow.” I started to saunter forward, continuing to mouth porn music. When I saw them looking, I stopped, “Listen, you don’t want anyone to see this next part. Things are going to get freaky. Look at me, Shouho Whatever.”
I pointed at myself and the Shouho said, “Shouho Zhu Luankui.” He straightened up.
“Look at me, Zhu. Look at me. Freaky. That’s what it’s going to be like. You’re going to want raincoats out here if you stand in the splash zone.” I turned away and continued my preparations.
The Intercept Issa interrupted me before I could get into it. “Sir, what are your orders regarding the island that has appeared?”
I paused and pulled my boxers back up. “Ok, let’s go see what this is all about.”
It took me fifteen minutes to reach the beach with an enthusiastic driver and a few close calls. I found the Deep Ones hard at work on the beachfront. They were taking over most of the clean-up, with the locals more than happy to sell them noodles, dumplings, and so on. I thought we were going to have a problem there, but the Deep Ones had some serious bling. Gold and gems. I stepped over to pat the shoulder of one of them who was helping himself, or possibly herself, to a bowl of noodles. “Is it good?”
It kinda nodded its head from side to side. “Yes, good. Not the same as food from home.”
“You smell funny!” said Qiang, looking at a little Deep One that ate with what I assumed were a pair of parents.
I shrugged and focused on the one I’d stopped. “There may be opportunity there. Provided it isn’t poisonous to us, people might like it. Thank you, and the rest of y’all for helping out here.”
“Uhh, you’re welcome,” the Deep One said. “Thank you for allowing us to stay.”
I nodded and left it to the rest of its meal. Qiang had gotten into a game of tag, so I left her to it.
After all, I didn’t stop here just to gladhand the immigrants. I came to see the giant fucking island right off Ricca. I can see it. Granted, my eyes are better than most people’s, and height limits how far a person can see before the horizon’s a problem, but it’s there. I could even make out the mountains.
The satellite images showed more. Just offshore, having risen from the sea, a landmass roughly with roughly two million square miles of area. An entirely new continent that shouldn’t exist according to all the people who study plate tectonics and geology. The soldiers at the base were already calling it according to the name being popularized by the Deep Ones.
It is the island continent of Mu. It’s right here by Ricca. And it will be mine.
I turned back to the crowd of gathering Deep Ones. “Who wants to go claim some land for their new country?”
The nation of Japan formally condemned the actions of Ricca in kidnapping its citizens, stealing its infrastructure, damaging its power grid, pirating a couple of their ships, and carting off some of their land. And yes, stealing land by physically moving it is carting it, hence why the people who map it are cartographers. If you just steal it by occupying it, it’s Manifest Destiny.
The official response from the Empire of Ricca, as written by me, boils down to a simple question: the fuck y’all talking about? Sure, Japan has a general idea where the reactor went, but they didn’t have eyes on it the entire way, nor did anyone involved identify themselves. We’ve kept the workers who had been there from contacting their homes. Had to keep a close eye on them, too. They’re not entirely eager to be captives, and they had to do a lot of work on the reactor to get it fully settled. It hooked up to the grid just fine and passed a safety check, but it has played havoc with the plant in smaller ways that could get worse.
I’m also trying to work on a completely automated system to handle the work there, but that’s slow going. Keeping one perfectly functional is one of the gaps in my knowledge of nuclear reactors. Destroying one is much easier, especially if I want to take the surrounding environment with it.
The National Constituent Assembly found out about the entire exchange the same time the rest of the world. They’d set up something of a pavilion in the crater of the main palace. It’s all very makeshift, but it keeps the weather off them and gives them areas where they can discuss things with a modicum of privacy. It’s right there by me in case they need me to rubber stamp anything for them. They’ve got themselves some TVs and computers there now. That was how they saw the Japanese Prime Minister’s remarks on the situation. One group in particular came to meet with me, identifying themselves as the Foreign Relations Committee. Citra let them in as I finished to make us all a lunch of noodles and eggs. Noodles were an important part of the diet around the island now, but I didn’t ask where she got the eggs.
“Gentlemen, how is the politicking going out there?” I set aside a bowl I’d been munching on. “Looks like a hot one. Y’all got all the fans y’all need?”
“The Assembly is doing well, your Eminence. We are here as the Foreign Relations Committee. We just learned that the Japanese believe you stole something of theirs.”
I shrugged and sipped out of a mug that said “World’s Best Japanese Dad,” someone had left in the break room of the power plant. “You’re sweating. Here, dry off a bit.” I handed the spokesman a Japanese 5,000 yen note to use as a napkin.
He looked at it, and the oddly-named mug. “Emperor Gecko, we are the provisional government. How are we to respond to this theft? What if Japan attacks in the middle of negotiations?”
I waved it off. “They won’t see a thing, don’t worry.” At that moment, I had painters working on a mural meant to camouflage it. Ships would see the atoll and things past it. I asked if they could just do a picture printed onto a sheet, but the workers made some good points about it being easily torn, hard to hang, and almost impossible to print.
“But what if they do?” asked one of the other committee members.
I shrugged. “Then tell them you tried to get me to give it back, but I wouldn’t. I was an asshole, or I threatened you, or something. Think about it, gentlemen… you have a bona fide scapegoat on your hands. The nation can get away with anything because you have me to pin it on. You guys are just the innocent legislature in all this, trying to control me. It gets to always be my fault, not yours.”
Their eyes all brightened up and they looked at each other. “One moment,” said the guy who had first addressed me. The group all huddled together and spoke to each other in hushed tones for a minute. Then they broke apart, turned, and bowed to me. “Thank you. We will work out an appropriate response as soon as we make formal diplomatic contact with Japan and Queen Beetrice. Have a good day, your majesty.”
I’m only going to take being the leader of this nation serious to a point, so I might as well give them some leeway there, too. Besides, it’ll make it easier to justify getting rid of me whenever I can manage to leave. On the other hand, diplomatic immunity is one hell of a neat party trick. If I play my cards right, I could have a fun time before giving up the throne.
I got a bit too much soy sauce in the eggs, but it was a pretty good lunch overall. Soy sauce can be strong sometimes. Best to cut it with some mushrooms. They soak it up into an explosion of flavor.
Speaking of explosions, that started. Yep. Big explosions. I pulled on my armor first thing while calling up the power plant. “What’s going on out there?” asked the on-duty guard supervisor.
“I don’t know. I heard explosions, I called you. It’s nothing to do with the reactor?”
“Not here,” he answered. “Hey, could you make sure the guys get some of those new rice chips?”
I hung up on him, kissed Qiang’s cheek, slipped on my helmet, and ran outside to jump to a perch on a tower of the building. The smoke drifting up was nowhere near the reactor. It came from another direction. The grounds of the Imperial Institute of Science. I hadn’t done too much to that place. It had been abandoned. It’s really surprising that more things hadn’t blown up there before now.
I should have been on top of that more. I kicked off to land hard on the wall around the palace grounds and then headed out into the city. I had to adjust the satellite view I’d been using to keep track of the atoll power plant. They had done a good job painting the top face of the buildings. I could only see half of it from above in a quick glance.
The god’s eye view of the Institute didn’t show anything giant, which was a good sign. I was a little worried we had a kaiju situation on our hands. We’re in the right part of the world for it, I just introduced nuclear power to the island, and we’ve got a lab full of strange experiments. Well, it wasn’t a kaiju. It wasn’t anything but a letdown. No robot armies, or weird half-man, half-pineapple monsters. Just too much crap plugged in and running when the power got restored. But I’m still glad it drew my attention to the Institute.
The whole thing was opened up to me a hole that had been blown straight upward, which is a weird way for it to act. Most things that explode aren’t really directed any specific way.
Amazingly, the blast didn’t appear to hit any other rooms at the Institute. Even the walls were still intact, of all things. Door wouldn’t open, though. The keypad was wrecked, and anything else that might open it was trashed. I had to climb back up to the surface and head back in the entrance.
Someone had secured it by piling up metal and trash in the elevator. By the door to the stairs flashed a red light with a sign below it reading, “Lockdown”. I punched in a code and about five different things slid out of place before it opened for me. I hunted down the explosion from a new direction and found the room had been labeled as “On-Site Munitions Storage”. I didn’t find any pink mist or meat chunks, so I’ll have to get a full inventory from administration. A check of the walls revealed they were built of something way the hell thicker than anything else around here, directing the blast upward to a weaker part of the structure to protect the rest of the facility. Something very unstable hemmed in on all sides by dense stuff. Like a demon core. Or a political rally.
With that mystery solved, I got a look at the rest of the place.
Now, I have all kinds of weapons. They had War Man’s old weapon stash here. There’s a gun that shoots these mines that fire off a stream of flames. Then there’s a sword here with a bunch of layers of some sort of super-thin metal. I twisted a knob on the bottom of the handle and it fell apart into five different swords. Unless you’re good at throwing swords, it’s terribly impractical. Still cool. I didn’t care too much about all the prototype ballistics, but I went all around there cataloging stuff.
I needed to keep track of this stuff so it didn’t get used against me, plus this is the kind of place that makes prototypes. Those things can blow in your face if not used correctly. Like when I opened up what looked like a commercial freezer and found a gun attached to a glowing green backpack. A label on the wall read, “Warning: Nuclear Hazard.” The inventory for that room informed me they had invented a nuclear flamethrower. Well, it’s not really a flamethrower at that point, though it’s hardly the first quibble to come to mind. Mostly it has to do with having an unlicensed, prototype nuclear accelerator for a backpack.
That lack of people surprised me, actually. I wasn’t finding dead bodies anywhere, though I know the place had been occupied when I put a hole in the island and dumped the ocean on the geothermal power. I know they had been here, and I doubt everyone abandoned their pet projects.
The answer turned out to be in the elevator. That low, I went to check on it and found it wasn’t just metal gumming up the works. There was organic matter at the bottom of the pile of metal. Not crushed people. It stretched out and down. Skin you could see through. Ligaments. Chunks of metal held together by muscle. It reminded me of a web more than anything. I plucked a strand and heard something skitter from below.
I came back with the nuclear flamethrower. Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea in this context. I was just about to start burning my way through when a large, pointed limb pushed it all aside. The thing that crawled out had a lot of the rest of that flesh with it. It looked rotten, and I was really glad my helmet filtered smells. A big spider of rotten meat stretched over metal that showed through where the gore failed to go far enough. It crawled out on pointed legs, revealing a torso that sat upright in the middle section of its body. That part looked more humanoid, save for its head being nothing but a mask of skin with eight holes. Whatever was inside gleamed, and perhaps functioned as an eye. The limb that pushed the blockade aside pushed toward me, a leg now punctured from the inside by a bloody scythe that kept extending further than I’d have liked.
I lit it the hell up with the nuclear flamethrower. Squeezed the trigger and a everything in front of the mouth of the weapon started glowing green. It was an unusual effect, but the organ parts blistered, burned, and fell off. That front blade fell off when some ligaments bubbled and dripped like grease. The thing howled and scrambled back for the hole, a sound made all the worse by its voice being deep and an answering call from down below.
It wasn’t helped by a red light flashing on the body of the flamethrower, which didn’t want to stop firing. I shoved the business end of it into the hole that cyber spider crawled out of and held it there, firing until the multitude of howling halted. Then I fired it even longer, because this was no time to be stingy with the radiation. It was the only way to be sure, and it gave me enough of a working knowledge to figure out how to shut the radiation-thrower down safely and lock it back up in its freezer.
And so once again the day was saved from the monsters who might not have gotten out if I didn’t go investigating the building full of weapons I’d left unattended for like a month. Plus, I have lots of new toys to play with and inventions to sort through.
Empyreal City welcomed me home with indifference. It may not sound like a good welcome, but it’s better than getting off the plane and staring at a firing squad of superheroes.
I’m sure they had plenty of stuff to deal with on their own. Checking the local news once I got off the private jet, newly re-Norma-lized. I kinda miss Mr. Dangly down there, but it’s how I’m known. And I did build the boob space into the armor already.
Amazingly enough, this city has plenty of trouble without me. Organized heroes versus organized villains would be bad enough, but now there’s a damn serial killer hanging around. Well, counting me, another serial killer. But one without any superpowers. And without natural abilities that qualify as superpowers. Probably without any power armor or gadgets, but they don’t know that for sure. All they know is some guy’s been wrapping people in bubble tape and shooting them in the head.
Well, they assume it’s a guy. Same reason why they assume he’s white. They didn’t even realize he was out there until I left and they had enough time to properly check over the statistics. See?
So they’ve had their own distraction, and nobody noticed Norma’s absence thanks to Crash. Dear Crash. My put-upon personal assistant left me a bunch of unchecked emails documenting her descent into near-insanity and subsequent harebrained plans to cover up my absence, including an incident where she may have stolen one of my cars. I’m so proud of her.
When I got back to Double Cross HQ, I found her in my office, checking between the computer, her tablet, and paperwork while talking on the phone. “No, I’m afraid Ms. Mortenson isn’t available to speak to you today, but if you leave your email, she’d be happy to contact you at a better time.”
I held my hands out for a hug, “Miss me, Crash Test Dummy?” She got the nickname after I first wrecked her car. The replacement vehicles rarely fare any better.
“I’ll call you back, have a nice day, buh bye!” she said to the phone, then jumped up and ran around the desk to me. She meant to stop, but then I stepped forward and wrapped her in a hug, bringing my mouth toward hers. She got her hands on the front of my face and pushed me away. “Stop! No! You kill people!” She finally slipped away by dropping to the floor and standing back up a ways away.
I set my hands on my hips. “Don’t I deserve a bit of welcome-back lovin’?”
“Get it from your girlfriend,” she countered, sounding annoyed. Then she remembered who she was and who I am. “Um, sorry. I don’t want-…if I absolutely have to, I’ll kiss you, but…”
I waved her off. “Don’t worry about it. The moment passed. And speaking of girlfriends, has Wildflower been around?”
Crash blew some hair out of her face. “Yeah, she broke into the penthouse shortly after you left. She watches the building from time to time. Sorry, but it’s hard to keep her out…” She lowered her eyes, her body shifting toward the door. Ah yes. The price of failure. You have failed to accomplish an impossible task, otherwise competent person whose expertise in no way relates to that task. Now you must suffer eternal consequences for momentary weakness!
“Yeah, I’m aware of that. By the way, nice hair. Growing it out and letting it go black? Can it go back?”
She twirled a finger in her hair. “I needed to look more ‘in charge’ around here. So, did you do everything you needed?”
I raised an eyebrow, wondering how out of the loop she must have been. Then again, I know how hard it is to keep up with any news that doesn’t personally affect me. “Yep. Registration won’t be happening any time soon. You might go look up on WikiLeaks, see if anyone you know is on the small list they had already gathered. After you give me the rundown on things.”
She took a deep breath and blew it out. “This is going to take some time.”
Crash caught me back up to speed, but it did indeed take awhile to catch me up on the numbers. On the plus side, the EC VA is loving us. Prince Pomerania, the former sixteen-time World Champion in various wrestling promotions and current head of my Marketing department, used his autonomy to work out a discount for veterans that saw prosthetic limbs fly off the shelves. We already had a good reputation, but it helped us on several levels to not charge an arm and a leg for an arm and a leg.
Carl’s security teams aren’t doing the best. Carl, my former henchman, is some sort of Vice President, but I put him in charge of our personal security force after the last guy had too many of his own cronies and launched a minor coup. Unfortunately, lots of people are complaining about harassment, laziness, tardiness, and at least one claim of defecation on a hallway plant. While I talk that over with him, I better check their backgrounds, too. I’ve pissed off at least two different private security firms; I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to infiltrate my own ranks. Or worse, if one or two of them might already be in here, which would explain how someone managed to plant a bomb under my hotel room.
Over at the labs, Wonder Harrison, the stoner-in-chief, has created something he calls “Looking Glass” to help defend people’s minds if the aliens happen to be the some of those telepathic types. We didn’t have a captured pet psychic anymore, but he’d been selling it on the side to some supervillains who like to buy from Double Cross, and they reported success in avoiding psychic intrusion. From what I read of how it fucks them up, I almost wouldn’t believe them. However, they reported all that while coming back to buy more, instead of testifying about it at trial.
Over in Financials, one of my guys invested the company’s money in enough tickets to guarantee a win in the Powerball, then tried to abscond with the money. The nerve of that asshole, trying to abscond! What, fleeing was too low class for him? Remembering how I’d fired his predecessor out of a cannon, the head number cruncher caught him personally. It was apparently an epic battle of paperwork that left my guy’s pinkie nearly severed.
I’ll have to get him a medal. Maybe something off the black market, like that one for vampire veterans where lots of blood loss is involved. The Medal of Pallor.
Might make up for him losing some money on the football playoffs, but what would really make up for it is if he wins big with Superbowl betting. Double Cross has a very high-risk, high reward investment strategy.
The minutae of all this burnt me out in no time. Even hearing that Technolutionary had grabbed a few more homeless people off the street for further experimentation didn’t seem that interesting. You’d think he’d aim higher after we turned a Senator’s daughter. Ah well, what’s the worst that could happen? You know, aside from a hobo with the power of technopathy?
We could call him “iBum”.
I suppose it’s a slightly better fate than what the cards normally hold.
Almost brain dead from going over reports and updates with Crash, I awoke in my office, wondering who was tapping and why I had a blanket over me. The chair part wasn’t so bad, in case anyone wonders how I can sleep at night. I can sleep on lots of stuff less comfortable than chairs, up to and including the mothers of those I wish to insult.
The tapping noise turned out to be a man in red, white, and gold tights, the chest resembling a retro jacket with buttons above the nipples, wearing a cape that fluttered as he floated effortlessly in the air, backlit by the rising sun.
Fucking sun. One of these days, I’ll come up with some new massive source of hot gas and destroy that thing for all the trouble it has caused me. Maybe someone’s mother…
But first, I raised a finger toward Captain Lightning, my visitor, indicating I needed a moment. Then I calmly walked to the elevator, got on, and tried to escape. Well, that was the plan, except glass shattered right after the doors closed and then they were pulled open again. Captain Lightning got on beside me. “Going my way?” he asked jovially.
“Venus can’t keep a damn secret. Here to bring me in?” I asked, slurring a little as I tried to get the proper feeling back in my cheek. Bleh. Must have drooled all over my desk.
He looked me over, barely looking his age. Sure, he looked a bit older, with lines on the face and some grey in the hair, but this was a man who fought the Nazis. “I don’t think you’d do so well in a rematch.” He smiled, but shook his head. “No, I came to talk to you about this.” He held up a stack of photos showing the charred remains of Senator Powers, then the remains being autopsied, then a weird round growth at the base of his skull where it met his neck.
“Side effect of those FBI powerballs, maybe? Is that a tumor?” I held the paper close, then reached up to wipe some eye boogers out of the corners. Without some point of reference, even a banana, I could’t tell how big it was. I don’t know if Powers kept growing or shrunk after death, or any of that.
“No, it’s not a tumor. According to FBI medical examiners who were extremely pissed to know that restricted and experimental equipment had been stolen by a politician, that is some sort of communication device. Do you know anything about this?”
I smirked and handed the pictures back. “Sure, now you believe me.”
“I think it’s a lead. You uncovered some troubling information with potentially widespread ramifications. I want to know why.”
I thought back to my confrontation with Powers and stepped out back into my office. Then opened my mouth and did an audio replay. The voice of Senator Powers came out of my mouth. “Pinkerton told me you’d find a way to survive that bomb, and I didn’t believe them. They said you’d come for me too. I was going to make this world perfect! They showed me…”
“Senator Powers…” mused Captain Lightning, who had followed me.
“I do what I do for the good of everyone. To make the world a better place,” I finished off with, from when I met with him in my current guise. I took a seat back at my desk and used some sexual harassment summaries from the Human Resources Department to soak up a puddle of drool I’d left behind.
Then I backed it up further, to the conversation with Max Muscles, now sounding like the Jersey hero, “I started losing time. Blackout, man. Not cool, bro. I got out of control, just too much fun. One of my bros recommended AA, so I went there. I started talkin’ to God, and he gave me this feeling. He guided me. He told me I could make the world a better place. Like, a heaven on earth. He brought me here, and then he said I needed to make a sacrifice for the good of everyone.”
“Who was that?” Lightning had taken a seat across from me. He had pulled out a cell phone and was tapping on its screen. A quick attempt to sneak a peek revealed some pretty hefty security measures, especially for someone as tired and lazy as me.
I rolled my eyes. “Max Muscles. I got him out quietly for an interview. I had a hunch from that last bit Powers said, which is from earlier than the ones where he’s referencing a ‘they’ that might be the Pinkertons. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mary Malady said something similar.”
“She attacked him out of the blue and made him look good. That’s worth checking.”
Searching through my recorded memories, I spouted out another audio playback: “For the good of everyone, we must break their laws and drag them to utopia. They require a strong hand.”
Lightning frowned. “And that one?”
“Oligarch. He spouting that kind of stuff, claiming The Order was for everyone’s good. His goal was to wipe out the heroes and villains of Empyreal City, I’m sure.” I woke up my desk computer and started looking for a video from my time in The Order.
“Didn’t he only imprison the heroes?” Lightning asked.
In response, I swiveled the computer monitor around and showed him Oligarch’s use of a miniature nuclear missile to destroy an asylum. “That building is the one he imprisoned the heroes in. As far as he knew, they were still stuck in there when he blew it up. At least until a certain badass broke in to rescue the heroes…” I muttered the end of the sentence quietly.
Lightning heard and laughed. “But they broke out first?”
I stuck my tongue out at him. “They still wouldn’t have gotten out in time if not for me and my help. But he gathered all the villains into a union, captured a huge chunk of EC’s hero population, and tried to kill them. He probably would have arranged a neat accident for most of the villains, too. All while spouting utopian nonsense. Probably an accident involving the military retaking the city, I bet. Poised to exploit the tragedy, a prominent Senator, and you wouldn’t believe how tired I am of that word now, uses blackmail and minor coordination with a hero and villain to push through a bill which would have involved obtaining identities and power information on the nation’s superheroes and incarcerated or reformed supervillains.”
Lightning leaned back in his chair, contemplating. “So far, this is just a conspiracy. The not-a-tumor fits, but it isn’t conclusive either, even if we find one on Mary Malady or Max Muscles. When you said it was aliens, I thought you were joking. Were you?”
I shook my head. “Nah. No joke. I had an adventure earlier this year in Europe. Was recruited by a clairvoyant named Fortune Cookie because I’m an evil, murderous son of a bitch and sometimes you need that to keep someone from freezing time and effectively ending the world. I guess time sort of…wrinkled, maybe? I saw stuff from the past, and I saw a bit of the future. Alien invasion. I died. Or will die. Or I was supposed to have will died, but now I will only maybe die because I saw I died, which hasn’t happened yet.”
I couldn’t resist adding to the confusion, but I clarified it by adding, “This is all about preemptive self-defense for me.” Sitting back in my chair, I crossed me arms. Only, I sat back too fast and almost toppled backwards. I had to catch myself by my toe on the desk and reel myself back in.
Having worked all that out, Captain Lightning looked up at me. “Preemptive self-defense. Are you from Florida?” He chuckled at his own joke. It faded in a hurry as he said words he no-doubt never thought he’d say. “I’d like to see if we can find the same…structure… in Malady and Muscles, but I think I believe you.”
Raising an eyebrow, I appraised him, and the building’s cameras, for any signs of deceit or people waiting to arrest me. “Why is that?”
“For the same reason you don’t need to blame Venus for my visit.” He held up his phone and showed me a one-sided text conversation. “This phone is supposed to be damn near unhackable, tech boys say, and less than a half dozen men and women around the world have the number.”
He’d scrolled up to let me see the first of the messages. “Hello, my name is Fortune Cookie…” it began.
She pulled him in. I figured he wouldn’t go the same way as Oligarch or Powers, but that confirms he’s clean for sure. “So, Captain Lightning and Psycho Gecko team up to fight an alien invasion. Who’d a thunk it?”
It was Lightning’s turn to shake his head. “Any number of heroes, villains, politicians, soldiers…regular citizens…anyone else could be involved. I should be able to scan someone and tell if they have one of these tumors-”
I interrupted, “Not a tumor.”
He laid the photos on the desk and stabbed at them with his finger for emphasis as he talked. “Whatever they are, I can find them. Without cutting them open, mind you.”
Aww. “Well, I can keep doing what I do to try and help the city, but time is short. I have a guy empowering people, my company has a few things going on to that end. Can’t say there’s much for me to do on a personal level other than help build some weapons.”
He pushed the photo of the tumorous communications organ thingy toward me. “Find a way to kill this that won’t hurt someone.”
I looked at him, then picked up the photo and tore it in half. “Done.”
“No, smartass, I’ll bring you the Senator’s…whatever…and Mary Malady’s if I can get it. Can you kill it?”
Can I kill it? Can I kill it? Can I kill it?
He acted like he hadn’t told a hilarious joke when my office echoed with unconstrained evil laughter.
Though he did lay a firm hand on my shoulder, look me in the eyes with orbs that glowed like plasma globes. “And that better be all you kill,” he said, the sound of distant rolling thunder punctuating his words.
Every party needs a pooper, I guess.
A funny thing happened on the way to Australia. Yeah, Australia. I had a hunch. All good evil geniuses need a hunch, though usually they come separate on their own person.
Unfortunately, neither Penny nor the President could confirm anything, so I said my goodbyes to the Pres and dragged Penny onto airplane. Oh, Moai and Carl came too. I had to ship Moai, but he got full use of my luxury crate this time. I suggested he try something a little light, like “The Importance of Being Earnest” or “John Dies at the End”.
As for the rest of us, a public worked out wonderfully. Penny didn’t understand it, but I like to surround myself by people. I do it not out of any enjoyment of the human condition or anything like that. I’m sure witnesses to my little joke last time around have their own suspicions. But really, no matter how seriously anyone took that, it’s not like I said anything about turning pacifist, now did I? Nope, though I still like to get out in the middle of people in order to better remember why it is I want to slaughter them wholesale. It’s all well and good for philosophers to debate the sublime reasoning of humans, but it’s quite another to see two people’s battle for an armrest set to the soundtrack of a crying baby.
And just like that, my life of killing people seemed perfectly justified. It wasn’t my fault, your honor! The baby was clearly asking for it! After all, the mother gave it milk, a pacifier, a toy, a bedtime story, cooing, singing, and a fresh diaper. Clearly, this baby’s inability to shut the hell up showed it to be dangerously irrational. It may have snapped and killed us all! I mean, who is going to stop a murder baby? People would coo and call it adorable no matter how many heads it bashed in with its rattle, no matter how blood-drenched it got, and no matter how ugly it is. Seriously, I’ve never understood people’s inability to see that. Then again, I don’t always get abstract art. Maybe babies that are so ugly appeal to the same sense of people liking abstract art.
It would certainly explain the significant amounts of poop involved in both areas. That kid was a perpetual-motion machine of bodily sewage. Put in a tiny bit of food, get a tidal wave of crap in return. That little fucker could have solved the world’s power crisis if given enough vegetable paste.
Believe it or not, it’s not me who did anything about it, either. That honor went to Penny. She got my attention by tapping me on the shoulder and directing my view to the window. “I saw something on the wing.”
I patted her condescendingly on the head. “Oh, don’t you fuss. It’s probably just a gremlin or some other sort of creature hoping to bring this thing down. We’re almost to Australia, though, so at most it’ll dump us in the middle of a bunch of sharks or toxic octopi.”
She glared at me. “This is serious!”
Everybody loves to tell me that, but so few of the situations really are. I stuck my tongue at her, but I leaned over her to peer out the window anyway. Typical. She didn’t want to trade me the window seat, but now she wants me looking out it. Wait, typical of what? Darn pop cultural linguistics osmosis!
I didn’t see anything out the window, though I saw something in the window’s reflection. It surprised me. A plane window clean enough to reflect something? It just isn’t done. Next you’ll be telling me Penny was an evil robot sent to assassinate me!
So, anyway, what I saw was Penny’s mouth opening wide and the barrel of a laser poking out. She grabbed for me, but it was too late to hold me still. I wiggled downward and pulled my body away. She activated her oral laser too late and burned a hole in the window.
That sucked. It blew quite a bit too. Cabin pressure problems, you see. Oxygen masks dropped from the overhead compartment. I knew I was supposed to place the mask over my own before assisting anyone else with theirs, but it seemed like a bad time. Besides, Penny turned her face toward the rest of the cabin.
I grabbed her by the throat and angled her head upwards. I didn’t put a lot of thought into then forcing her to carve out a hole I could throw her out of. Looking back, I don’t know if she was a robot from the start, or if Technolutionary replaced her at some point between when I met her and the flight. Hell, I don’t know if she even knew enough to understand what was going on.
I’ll tell you what I did know. I knew she was shooting a laser beam out of her mouth to try and kill me while we were both inside an airplane. Not only that, she managed to get a few last shots in on it while she fell through the air.
On the plus side, at least I didn’t have to put up with any more of her mouth.
So despite a little fire and lots of screaming, we managed to put in a safe little landing in the waters of the Coral Sea off Queensland. It was a big mess. Lots of boats to rescue us, some waiting around, official statements, and then releasing people’s luggage. You’d think it’d be more likely they would have found my armor, but they realized pretty early on they were dealing with a laser mouth. Under those circumstances, they thought a bag check was unnecessary. Free at last, Carl and I made our way to Brisbane to hide out while Moai flew over separately.
The reason we were in town is I wanted to send Venus a few presents so she wouldn’t forget about me. When I thought of what cute and cuddly little critters I wanted to jump out of a box and surprise her, Australia immediately came to mind. I left Carl to prepare for our stay. The usual. Transport, a steady source of decent food, and a list of places of interest. In the short term, the hotel we checked into was more than happy to call us a taxi.
I don’t care if they called us freaky, tentacle-faced motherfuckers. The process helped me acclimate to Aussies driving on the wrong side of the road. Figures. Fill an island with criminals and they all wind up driving in the oncoming lane. On the other hand, it worked out pretty well with all of them doing it.
Anyway, enough about the driving habits of highly alcoholic people. I had to go meet a man about a wombat. I met the fellow at a public bench. He wore a trench coat and a fedora, thereby making my own trenchcoat unfashionable. I sat down next to him and tapped my foot on the ground in a complex code. Then I slid closer and pressed my cheek to his. “Hey, you got the stuff?”
He held up a hand and nodded, looking around with eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. He opened up his coat, reached past the cheap knockoff watches hanging on the inside, and pulled out a big fuzzy puppy thingy.
He held the wombat out to me as it swung its little legs in the air. I just stared at it. He shook it up and down toward me. “Take it!” he hissed.
I held out my hands. “The fuck is this shit? This is a wombat? I mean, I know I saw the pictures, but I expected hidden claws and fangs…maybe giant poison spines. Are you sure this thing is from this continent?” It was a fat, fuzzy, brown rodent thing the size of a small dog and no tail.
The man sighed, then dropped the wombat in my lap and gave it a hard slap on the back of the head. Angered, the critter snarled with its cute little snout and started clawing at me. I growled too and grabbed for its cute wittle paws. While I worried about that, it bit into the front of my coat. It didn’t get through, but it damn sure bit in and held on. As for me, I stood up, holding its front paws and trying to shake it off.
Next to me, the man quickly glanced around, then stood up and tried to get away from my display. I didn’t let him. Trapping him with an arm on either side, tried to dislodge the wombat by ramming my body against the other man’s. “Get off! Get off! Ah! Ah! Get off, you hairy bastard!”
Passerby stopped to watch as I humped the fellow with the marsupial between us. “It’s ok!” I shouted to curious voyeurs. “This isn’t what it looks like! We’ve got an animal between us!” That drew gasps. In retrospect, we looked really bad with both of us in coats like that. You can hide a lot under a coat, like nudity.
Trying to get away, the broker turned and tried to climb over the bench. I grabbed him by the shoulders and held him as I rubbed my belly and the toothy marsupial against him. The wombat dropped to the ground and started chewing on some grass. I let out a sigh and clapped my broker on the shoulder. “It’s ok. It’s released.”
“Please let me go,” the man said.
I stepped back and picked up the wombat. It had calmed down somewhat. I lifted it up and cuddled the little guy. “You know, these things are some fuzzy little evil attack rats. How much for a box of fifty?”
“Fuck that!” exclaimed the unscrupulous and cowardly broker. “I can’t get you that many.”
He turned around and scooted to the side to get away. I stepped closer, settling the wombat on his shoulder. “Now, now. A fellow like you must know someone who can get me a bunch of these things for a little experiment.”
“Get it off me.”
“I think we’ve gotten it off enough already,” I stole the fedora off the man’s head and set it on the wombat’s. I ruffled his hair. The man’s, not the wombat. “I’m new here. I’m sure I could give you a nice finder’s fee for your trouble. And for this guy.”
“Get it away and I’ll hook you up.”
Grinning, I lifted up the cuddly killer critter and set it on my own shoulder, letting it keep the man’s hat. It turns out wombats are excellent at persuading people to talk. My contact there was all too happy to keep his word and give me a name and a number. He relaxed a bit more with the nasty business of wombat combat out of the way, though he had one last question for me.
“What do you want these things for? Who are you?”
I gritted my teeth and stared at him like some grim, angsty avenger of the night. In a voice like gravel, I answered, “I’m Wombatman.”
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.
I know y’all have had to get used to late updates lately, and unfortunately I can’t be completely certain they’re going to stop this month. Optimal Outer Control’s a bit busier than usual in his normal time now, and it’s cutting into all the fun stuff like “the internet” or “sleep” or “anything other than work”. Because of that, I’d like to say that updates will probably be at least an hour later than they have been. I anticipate tonight’s might be even worse than that, and I apologize.
Y’all will be informed when things calm down, but these are the sad, sad consequences of OOC having to work for the Man. Hopefully, we’ll be getting a donation button installed soon that people can help him out a bit without supporting criminal activity.
See ya a little later on, folkd.