You didn’t think it would be that easy, now did you? Eh, I suppose that depends on your definition of easy.
I awoke on an operating table while some very nice doctors were sewing some organs shut inside me. It was important business and I didn’t want to scare them, but the screaming is really automatic at that point. First, because I thought I might be in a morgue. Then, because I was opened up and being sewn shut. It’s a perfectly acceptable answer to waking up and finding that they have to force some really delicate parts of you together like a damn quilt.
The lead surgeon didn’t panic, though he did pause long enough to indicate to someone else in the room to put a gas mask over my face. After that, things went back into dreams.
I had a weird dream. I was all cut up in an butcher’s shop and I was trying to slowly will pieces of meat to come to me so I could create a body for myself. I knew, in that way you know things related to your dream situation, that I had to pull myself before the vegans arrived to destroy me. Just before I woke up, the butcher’s shop began to shake from the thunderous sound of an approaching monster sent by the vegans. The tofurkey approached.
I woke up to mild discomfort before the tofurkey could gobble me up and found myself in a hospital room. My eyes focused on the faces of the people around me. Citra, Buzzkills, and Qiang, who had to be held back from glomping me. I looked around at them, then had a thought. I opened my mouth slowly and raised my arms in spite of an IV feed. “Braaaaains!”
One of the Buzzkills almost took my head off, but another one stopped her from following through when I started laughing. That first one huffed, but then wagged its finger at me when I started to groan. There was still a little pain in my chest. Some tenderness. Like, that tenderness where it feels like you need to scratch.
“You should not laugh,” Citra said.
“Might pop a stitch, right?” I asked. I reached over and pulled Qiang over to kiss her on the top of her head, then ruffled her hair. She giggled.
“That should no longer be a problem, sir,” said one of the Buzzkills. It saluted.
“At ease, kiddo. What’s not a problem anymore? I saw the stitching going on myself. The anesthesiologist might need a refresher course or two.”
“Father,” the other Buzzkill spoke up, the one who believed my zombie act. “Father, sir. Sir. You were very bad off, but then your fiance brought us a new batch of nanites.”
I looked over to Citra. She blushed. “Silver helped. We met with the Yakuza about power to the island. They did not restore it, but they are helping to build replacement power sources. We convinced them to power the nanomachine factory. It would cost us, but your recovery should be much easier.”
I felt around on my chest. “Then what was the surgery for?”
The more formal Buzzkill spoke up. “Sir, I’m Bzzkck, leader of your personal guard unit. You were badly injured in the attack by the Claw’s… imposter… and they had to stabilize you. When you were well enough, Queen Beetrice had you moved to the island of Ricca to keep you away from everyone. There’s a lot of arguing going on there.”
I nodded toward her. “I’m surprised I didn’t wake up in custody, or in another dimension in a room with voyeuristic intentions. Well secluded, where I can’t see at all. But enough of that mind flip, we mustn’t let time slip away from us.
Bzzkck, whose name absolutely won’t get annoying at all, continued. “That is what the arguing was about. The Queen wanted you far away but within the jurisdiction of the Empire.”
I thought about this a moment, “So nobody gave me up to the Dimension Rangers?”
“No, sir. There are laws against that sort of thing.”
“Not even with all those supers there?”
The less-experienced Buzzkill had been fingering the tip of her sword before pulling her finger back all of a sudden and jumping. When Bzzkck looked at her, she put the stinger sword behind her back and said, “I think not everyone wanted to hand you over after how you helped them, even though a lot of them said bad things about you.”
I chewed on this a moment, then started unhooking myself. “Well, sounds like I should enjoy my freedom while I have it. Citra, any idea where my clothes are?” I paused with the IV needle half outof my arm. “Oh, right.” Looking around at the others, I asked, “Where has my armor got to?”
“I took it to the residence,” Citra answered. “When the doctors clear you, we will return there. The bees are crawling all over it.”
“At least we won’t be short of honey,” I said.
Despite me jumping the gun and getting myself up, the doctors at the Imperial Medical Center, because every damn thing’s got to be The Imperial, acknowledged that the new nanites had restored me well enough. They even gave me a tube to take in case anything popped open on me, since it really was better than them for most situations. They didn’t say anything, but I think they needed the room. The place was absolutely crowded, and it also just got power back. As I walked out, I told Citra that she’ll have to put me in contact with those Yakuza guys.
For my part, I was glad to be away from the murmuring and bowing by all the little people waiting to be seen. Someone with a broken leg shouldn’t be getting down on their knees just because I’m around, though it might be a good way to hurt someone in the near future. Still better to just kill someone outright. I think I’ve shown by now how risky that can be.
The island has seen better days. Silver Shark pulled up with a reinforced convertible with a Pope-style protective bubble on it. “It’s the only thing I can drive,” she said by way of explanation. That led to even more of a show, exposing me to a bunch of people who have been trained to worship the guy in charge and others who look more resentful. It also gave me a view of the island as we passed through. The luxury locations haven’t taken the Empire’s withdrawal from the island well. Regular folks were just trying to get by. Most of them had no time for dancing and probably little appreciation for people living the high life.
On approach to the grounds of the former palace, I thought the place had seen a surprising number of well-wishers. The car had to slow to navigate around piles of photos and flowers. Even some of the tiles had been torn up from the courtyard. Zooming in, I saw pictures of all sorts of peoples, names written on tiles, and a few signs that asked “Why did they have to die?”
I hope they won’t hold the Claw against me. After seeing him wiped out by an army of angry superhumans, I’m not eager to end up in a similar situation. I could definitely use those guys here, but I don’t feel them anymore. They must be well and truly purged of nanites by now.
My armor, it turned out, went to pieces. A lot of it is salvageable, but it’ll take some work. A bit less with nanites, though they are the inferior Riccan variety. First thing was popping it out so I could even fit into it, then they’ll focus on patching the holes from my recent perforation.
Word must have spread of my release, because I soon had quite the crowd of well-wishers outside the residential section of the palace grounds. I waved at them through some windows. “I appreciate the food, but I think they let it get a little ripe,” I said for mine and Qiang’s benefit. I had her with me. We’d been talking and getting caught up with what she did while I was hurt. Some kind of fruit smacked the window near me, which didn’t bother me. The things were built to be bullet proof at minimum, possibly on up to rocket proof. “But go on, sweetheart?”
“So the one guy said that he would take me with them to their place so you would do what they say, so I got him with the knife, and so I ran and got away. Then Citra found me.”
Silver Shark came running up and pointed out toward the crowd. “Gecko! They’re revolting!”
I made a so-so gesture. “Not necessarily the prettiest cross section, but I wouldn’t go that far.”
“Sir,” said a Buzzkill who ran from the other direction. It might have been Bzzkck, but it’s hard to tell. “The people are angry.”
A bullet bounced off the glass just in front of my face, startling Qiang. She hugged onto my leg. “So it seems,” I responded. Perhaps I’d been wrong about local leader worship.
When stepped out to address them, I had changed back into the hospital gown and was helped out by Qiang. I took a big risk doing it this way, but the thought occurred to me that this was not the time to counter violence with violence. I kept the Buzzkill detail and Silver Shark, but all this was up to any potential shooters.
“Hello folks!” I said, waving to them with my free hand. Qiang kept a tight grip on my other one, squeezing it really hard. She didn’t want me coming out here and she brought a knife in case she needed it. More quietly, to her, I whispered, “It’s ok. Sometimes, people get really mad. You may not be able to make them stop, but you can control how you react and do your best to stop it. If I come out here in my armor, lots of people will die and everyone will be worse off. If I don’t do that, people only maybe die, and only maybe be worse off.”
“Come on, let’s have a talk. I hope you don’t mind if I sit, though. Many have felt the Claw’s wrath lately, all of us included.” I said as I sat down slowly. I exaggerated pain and tenderness, of which little remained. Some of the people approached, cautious of the Buzzkills and the shark cyborg. I waved them on. “I apologize I have no tea for you all. My daughter wanted to brew some, but I told her it would take more than the pot she had. Please don’t hold it against my family.”
There’s such a mish-mash of cultures, and I never bothered learning Ricca’s own peculiarities, so I’m just aiming for stuff about family and weakness and so on. Got the idea about showing weakness from George Washington, though. The guy once broke up a conspiracy of unpaid Revolutionary War soldiers that way.
I looked up at the people around me, some of whom yelled. Most just muttered. I patted the ground. “If there’s anything I can offer, it’s a seat. Please do.”
I put on a benign smile and waited. The closest ones eventually sat down, though many further out continued to stand. “I understand there are some problems here.”
“The Emperor left us to die!” I heard. “He ruined the island,” someone else added. Amongst a chorus of agreement, someone else added, “We don’t have food or water! We had to fend for ourselves!”
I took it all in for a minute, then raised my hands. After a few seconds, they quieted down. “The old Emperor messed up. That is part of what led me here. If anyone else wishes to become the sole man responsible for fixing this situation and sitting where I am, I would appreciate it.” I paused for a moment as the area became plagued by a sea of invisible crickets. Then a baby started crying. I pointed in that direction and spoke to one of the Buzzkills, “Go fetch some food for that child and their guardian, please.” The Buzzkill saluted and ran back in.
I turned back to the people. “First thing’s first: I don’t know where all the members of the previous government are. Many fled. I need people to help me. Whatever councils or groups or gangs have been coordinating in my absence, I wish to meet with. Power is being restored. I want to meet with the farmers or whoever provided food before so we can work out how that’s going to go. We’ve got the nanite factory running again, which will help if anyone is sick or injured. There is only so much to go around, but we will try. That is why I will be out and about to help keep order and prevent murders and looting. Let us build a new Ricca together.”
I actually got applause. I guess that’s good. I was banking on someone taking me up on being Emperor instead, and spaced a little when nobody did. I might have to make sure I kill some people’s uncles while I’m out and about, because I need someone to take over great responsibility for me.